Known as the ‘gateway to the Whitsundays’, Arlie Beach began life as a ramshackle coastal settlement but has now morphed into a bustling holiday destination known for its water sports and lively restaurant and bar scene. A number of new developments, such as the Abel Point Marina and Marina Village, have transformed this once sleepy backwater into a dynamic tourism hub with plenty of shopping, eating and touring options. Airlie Beach is a mecca for outdoor types. Hiking, sea kayaking, horseriding, parasailing, skydiving and, of course, sailing are all available. Airlie Beach also offers a good range of fashion boutiques, local markets and outdoor cafes. And don’t miss the free Sunday afternoon entertainment on the Esplanade.

Who goes there: Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises, Princess Cruises, Silver Seas, P&O Cruises.

Cruisers like: Long known as a beachside haunt for backpackers Airlie Beach is now going upmarket with several ritzy developments, but retains its laid-back vibe. Most people are here to explore the Whitsunday Islands and the Great Barrier Reef, but Airlie Beach offers a vibrant shopping, dining and night life scene. Some of the best restaurants, bars and cafes are clustered along Shute Harbour Road, while bargain hunters should check out the local market held on the beachfront on Saturday mornings – this is a great place to pick up locally made jewellery, clothing and unique souvenirs. The village’s other major attraction is Airlie Beach Lagoon, which is ideal for a spot of swimming and sunbathing.

Best for: Couples, families and older cruisers – in fact anyone who wants to explore the Whitsundays and the fabulous underwater world of the Great Barrier Reef.

Getting around: Most ships operate courtesy buses from the port into Airlie Beach. Once there cruisers will find plenty of public transport options and taxis. Guided tours operate into the hinterland, national parks and rainforest.