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After months of trying to decide what epic adventure we’d take for Buddy’s 40th, our friend and neighbor mentioned they were going to take a trip to Australia soon since it was fully open for travel again. And it clicked … we’d go see the astonishing wonder of the world we’d both been dreaming of experiencing since childhood. Then I found a tour that included both snorkeling AND sleeping on the Outer Great Barrier Reef, and that was the point of no return.

In late summer, a few months before Buddy’s big day, we decided it WAS happening and booked our flights and tours. Despite needing to pay off debt, despite only having one week of vacation time to use, and despite my fear of swimming in the open ocean. I knew that it would be a cherished trip and the perfect way to celebrate an amazing human. But it was so much better than we could have ever imagined thanks to our incredible experience with Diver’s Den.

snorkeling in the outer great barrier reef

Our Trip with Diver’s Den to the Outer Great Barrier Reef

There are a handful of tour companies that offer the experience of sleeping on the Outer Great Barrier Reef. First, we narrowed down the options to those that left from Cairns where we were based. Then, we compared to see what tour aligned best with what we wanted: 1- a tour focused on adventure and not partying, 2- a comfortable private room, and 3- a variety of snorkel sites.

Diver’s Den met and exceeded those expectations. This wasn’t a boat with slides and games for kids or a place to party, it was a place for people who wanted to experience the wonder of the Great Barrier Reef for an extended period. It was outstanding. Buddy was glowing with joy to be able to spend the start of his 40th decade in such an incredible place.

snorkeling in the outer great barrier reef

Top Things We Loved About Diver’s Den out of Cairns:

  • Great for snorkelers and divers. Since the liveaboard boat is focused more toward scuba divers, I was worried we’d feel like the afterthought as snorkelers. But, they made sure to focus on our specific needs and even had a guide go out with the snorkelers at each site. On our first snorkel of the trip, we were the only snorkelers on the transfer boat so we got a great tour, even getting to “find Nemo!” All of the equipment was also very high quality and we were given a thorough briefing at each site.
  • Many snorkeling/dive sites. There’s a transfer boat that takes you out to the main boat that is anchored a few hours out from the Cairns harbor. You get to snorkel two times on the way out then three more times on the main boat per overnight, plus a unique “sharks after dark” experience! Each site was spectacular and the guides pointed out many things we would have missed if out on our own.
  • Own room with bathroom and hot shower. Having a private room to shower off and relax in between snorkel sessions was lovely. We watched the sunset out our window while cuddled up on the cozy little bed and were able to spread out our belongings all over the place without feeling bad!
sleeping on the great barrier reef liveaboard room
  • Delicious, healthy meals. The chef on the boat was wonderful! Each meal was delicious and used healthy ingredients. As someone who doesn’t eat meat, I had plenty of options as well which I really appreciated.
divers den schedule and meals
  • They made Buddy’s birthday special! When we arrived, I secretly handed the woman in charge of the interior some candles and asked if there was a way she could add them to dessert. They not only added them to a yummy cake, but they also sang to him. So sweet!
birthday celebration on divers den liveaboard cairns

  • Hotel transport included. A shuttle to and from our hotel in Cairns was included with our stay and it was such a nice touch. Even though it was a short walk, we were exhausted from the two days of non-stop fun and appreciated the ride.

If you are serious about seeing the very best of the Great Barrier Reef and being immersed in its wonder, we’d highly recommend this liveaboard tour. If you are traveling with little kids or just want to get drunk on a boat, this probably isn’t for you. (Note: they won’t even let you have alcohol until you are done snorkeling for the day as a safety precaution). However, there is time between snorkels to nap on the deck and take in the views, which I highly recommend!

Our Outer Great Barrier Reef Snorkeling Experience

We went snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef six times total during our overnight trip, which lasted from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. the next day. This included two areas of both the Saxon Reef Coral Gardens and Norman Reef (which also had caves for the divers to explore). They briefed us on what to expect and what to avoid before each session. While sharks were not a concern since reef sharks are not aggressive, they did give a serious warning not to touch the venomous cone snail. I didn’t even know this innocent-looking potential killer existed, so appreciated the heads-up. We do think we saw one, but that was probably the most danger we experienced.

great barrier reef

Every snorkel was incredible. While we saw dozens of fish species, it was the colorful corals that seemed to go on forever that had me in absolute awe. I thought I’d be afraid out there in the middle of the ocean, hours away from land, but I was too mesmerized to be scared. It was just stunning and completely overwhelmed me with emotion, especially because earlier in 2022 it was announced that this upper area of the reef was in its best condition in DECADES. Talk about good timing. I couldn’t get over how fortunate we were to be experiencing something so beautiful together, especially after the pandemic had paused our travels for multiple years. To say we were grateful is a vast understatement.

After a day filled with amazement, we really pushed outside our comfort zones to do the “Sharks in the Dark” experience Diver’s Den offers. They have everyone lay on the metal platform on the back of the boat, then lower you down enough for you to be just under the water … while throwing in food for the fish and reef sharks. It felt like I was on some kind of redneck ocean amusement park ride – hilariously random and kind of terrifying. Sharks would swim right up in front of our faces, but they were only interested in the fish and no one was in any danger (I don’t think haha). It actually was a great experience to overcome my fear of sharks. There are many species, and reef sharks especially are very docile. Now I see them more as big fish! Which is a nice change of outlook.

On our second and final day, I was the first up and watched the sunrise from the deck of the boat just taking it all in. My inner child was ecstatic. I remembered dreaming of the day I’d get to see the world-renowned reef in person. That little girl felt so proud in that moment, especially of how I put my fears aside and just enjoyed being in such a magical underwater environment.

sunrise on great barrier reef

Everyone kept sayin the Outer Great Barrier Reef is where it’s at. After snorkeling at Fitzroy Island, we thought we had pretty much gotten a great feel for the wonders of the reef, but we had no idea what was awaiting us when we ventured further out. If you plan a trip to Australia to see the Great Barrier Reef, don’t miss a trip to the outer reef. And if you get the chance, staying overnight on a liveaboard is an amazing experience. For those wanting even more time, you can stay for multiple days or even take the opportunity to become a certified diver. Oh! And if you wear glasses, I HIGHLY reccomend getting prescription goggles. Best spontaneous purchase I’ve ever made. They are easy to find in the dive stores around Cairns!

snorkeling in the outer great barrier reef

Read more about our time in Australia here.

Snorkeling & Sleeping on the Outer Great Barrier Reef with a Diver\'s Den Liveaboard Experience