There’s a boat trip to the reef, and then there’s a Celebrity Cruises’ Private Journey Gold Class boat trip to North Queensland’s iconic Great Barrier Reef, writes Brian Crisp.

Both trips leave Cairns Harbour to go to the reef on the same sunny Queensland day, but Celebrity Cruises has dialled up the drama to create something exclusive for its passengers.

Celebrity Cruises is bringing its ship Celebrity Eclipse to Australian waters for the first time in October and with it comes an exciting brand of shore excursions that the cruise line calls “Private Journeys”.

These top-of-the-range ultra exclusive shore excursions can be tailored to the needs of Celebrity guests. If you want something (anything really) included in your tour – just ask one of Celebrity Cruises’ Destination Insiders and if it can be done they will make it happen.

Celebrity Cruises’ guests who book Private Journeys can reserve a tour exclusively for their group or completely customise a uniquely spectacular itinerary just for them. Celebrity Cruises’ team of Destination Insiders will guide and inspire guests using their vast knowledge of the destination and they have private cars, limousines, aircraft and individual local guides, all at your disposal.

We were granted a sneak peek at some of the Private Journey tours that will be offered to travellers when the Celebrity Eclipse stays overnight in Cairns.

The ultimate shore excursion experience

Our Private Journey Gold Class Reef Tour starts at 7.30am when we board Down Under Cruise and Dive’s ultra modern, high-speed reef day tour boat, Evolution, for a two-hour trip out to Saxon Reef.

The 35-metre three-level custom designed and built catamaran is the youngest – and most luxurious – of all the reef day boats in Cairns Harbour.

Our group of seven is ushered past the other Down Under Cruise guests into the private sanctuary Gold Class lounge where we have access to televisions, a wine fridge, coffee machine, ample safe storage, prescription dive masks, wetsuits and our own marine biologist to help unlock the secrets of the Great Barrier Reef.

Our marine biologist briefs us separately from the rest of the boat trip, kits us out in our gear, talks us through all the options available on the day and importantly, hands out sea sickness tablets to make sure everything that is eaten, stays eaten.

He organises a beginner’s scuba dive exclusively for our group as soon as we reach Saxon Reef. If you have never scuba dived before it can be scary, but having your own marine biologist who literally does hold your hand through the whole process makes it so much easier.

After the scuba dive he then takes us snorkelling beyond the safety ropes – so we get to go where other passengers can’t – and points out the myriad of life under the warm 23 degree waters of the North Queensland Coast.

And then it’s time to indulge…

Lunch – a steaming hot barbecue of fresh fish, prawns, steak and salads – is served in our private dining room before we hop onboard the SubXplorer semi submersible for a tour of the outer wall of the reef.

If seeing the reef from underwater and on the water is not enough, the next part of our adventure includes a 10-minute scenic helicopter flight to view this World Heritage-listed site from above.

I’ve been lucky enough to visit the reef about 10 times before, but I can honestly say that nothing compares with this trip. It was the best by a long shot. Prices start from $650 per person and Celebrity Cruises’ Destination Insiders will work with each guest to completely individualise the experience to suit their needs.

What other Cairns shore excursions are available?

During the Cairns overnight stay guests also have the choice of a Mossman Dreamtime Walk or an Ultimate Crocodile Adventure .

Conducted by the local Indigenous people, the eco-certified, Mossman Gorge tour takes guests on a guided walk along private, gentle tracks, visiting special places and culturally significant sites, past traditional bark shelters and over meandering cool rainforest streams. Prices start from $263.13 for adults and $233.73 for a child.

If you would prefer to get an up close and informative look at giant saltwater crocodiles, you can visit Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures and watch expert handlers perform death-defying demonstrations with these ancient creatures. You will also explore the lush woodlands to see other native reptiles and wildlife. Prices start from $146.63 for adults and children.

Celebrity Eclipse will sail in Australian waters from October 2022 through to April 2023, with a series of three-to 13-night itineraries visiting Australia, New Zealand, and the South Pacific.

GETTING THERE: These shore excursions will be available during Celebrity Eclipse’s 11-Night Great Barrier Reef sailing, departing November 3 this year, and the 10-Night Great Barrier Reef sailing departing February 28, 2023