My Honest Reefsleep Whitsundays Review: What You Need To Know
We’ve finally ticked off our Whitsundays bucket list and spent a night on the Reefsleep with Cruise Whitsundays. If you’re looking for Reefsleep reviews and unsure whether it’s worth it, read on because I’m sharing everything you need to know before booking it.
Expect to learn about what you need to bring with you, whether you’ll get any sleep and how you’ll be spending your time on this 1 night and 2 day adventure on the Hardy Reef in the Great Barrier Reef.
At the ReefWorld pontoon, there are two accommodation options; Reefsleep which is where you sleep on the top deck of the pontoon in swag tents under the stars, or Reefsuites which is Australia’s first underwater hotel rooms.
In this unique experience, guests have the opportunity to spend the night (or longer) out in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef.
While many tourists flock to Whitsundays for the exceptional Whitehaven Beach or the popular Hamilton Island, many people don’t realise that it’s a three hour boat ride from Airlie Beach to the outer reef called Hardy Reef.
This is where you’ll find the best snorkelling and diving in Whitsundays which is also accessible from the ReefWorld pontoon (unless you’re staying on Hook Island which I’ve heard is also very good).
Best time of year to visit
Wondering when the best time of the year is to stay on the Reeflseep experience? We asked most of the staff at the time of visiting and they all confirmed between May-July is the best time of year because you’ll get mostly great weather and it’s whale season. They told me they see whales all day long swimming near the pontoon. The temperature also doesn’t change that much from the day into the evening temperatures so it doesn’t get that cold in winter.
When we visited in November, I made the rookie mistake of not bringing any warm clothes because I thought it would be really hot. It was windy in the afternoon and quite cold. Don’t worry about it being cold in the Reefsleep because it’s not.
How long to spend on the Reefsleep experience
If you’re wondering how long to spend on the Reefsleep, one night is a good enough timeframe. I asked the staff what the most popular amount of time people spend on the pontoon and they said it was indeed just a night. Even though it’s just one night, you’ll feel like you’ve been away much longer in a good way.
Reefsleep vs Reefsuites?
Wondering whether you should book the Reefsleep or Reefsuites? While there are 12 Reefsleep swag tents and only 2 Reefsuites to book, bare in mind that you may have to book way in advance for a Reefsuite.
We managed to take a quick look into one of the Reefsuites when we first arrived to be able to bring you this guide, and it really is a wow moment when you open the door into the room.
The floor to ceiling glass windows in front of the bed, as well as the glass bottom floor and bathroom window really is quite something to be seen. What I noticed was how the sound in the room definitely reminded me that we were indeed in an underwater room as you can hear the sound of the water, like you are indeed underwater.
Although there wasn’t many fish swimming around when we popped into the room, the guests who were staying there said there were schools of massive fish all swimming around at night time. This is because they are drawn to the lights to be able to find food easily. I would have loved to have seen that in the room.
We asked the staff which they would prefer out of the two options and all said the Reefsleep simply because you get to sleep under the stars.
Personally I would have preferred the Reefsuites because you get privacy and space from the other guests. If you’re staying in the Reefsleep, you’ll have access to your swag tent until 2pm the next day which is pretty amazing.
What to pack
If you’re unsure what to bring with you, make sure you bring the following:
I brought my carry on suitcase and it was too big to fit into the drawer in the tent. Now realising, I would have brought a small backpack instead.
Thongs & swimmers
Beach poncho (I regret not bringing mine)
Hairdryer and toiletries
Playing cards (you’ll get enough phone reception to get a text if you’re with Telstra but that’s about it)
Warm jumper and trousers
Rain coat (we did experience a couple of showers)
You don’t need to bring
A towel as they are provided. The beach towels aren’t big so you might like to bring your own
Getting to the ReefWorld pontoon
Firstly, do not be late for the boat departure from Port of Airlie at Airlie Beach. We arrived about 10 minutes before the boat was to depart (you’re supposed to get there 30 minutes before) and from that moment on, it felt a little hectic for us, but luckily we had reserved seats at the front of the boat because we were staying in the Reefsleep.
As the boat was packed, we quickly realised that there were day trippers on this day trip on our boat too (I suppose I didn’t realise this and maybe assumed the boat we would be getting on was just for the people staying on the pontoon).
It was a three hour boat ride with a stop off in Hamilton Island to drop off/pick up more passengers which I quite liked as I’ve not seen it before and it looks so much fun watching everyone drive around in golf buggies in the marina. The boat can stop off in Daydream Island as well to pick passengers up, although it didn’t on our trip.
As we spent three hours on the boat, I would recommend getting a seat at the top of the deck, just because I feel like it would be a little more chilled out. There were forms for us to fill out and a lot of staff on the mic selling snorkelling safaris, diving and helicopter tours for when we reached the pontoon.
I have to say the three hour boat ride goes very fast so you won’t be bored. Plus, you get access to the free bar while you’re on the boat so you can order soft drinks, beer and wine throughout the trip if you are booked into the Reefsleep or Reefsuites. Just bare in mind if you want to do any snorkelling or diving to wait until afterwards if you’re drinking alcohol.
You also get morning tea on the boat before the waves pick up and it gets a little bumpy. This doesn’t last too long, and I didn’t see anyone sick on the boat so you should be fine unless you suffer from sea sickness easily.
You won’t get the pontoon to yourselves
Just an FYI but the day trippers arrive at 11am on the same boat as you, and they’ll be there until around 2:30pm. During this time the ReefWorld pontoon is pretty hectic and there are a lot of people around, especially on the bottom deck.
If you’re staying in the Reefsleep, you’ll be asked to leave your luggage at the top deck inside the roped off area only for Reefsleep guests. You won’t be able to access your tent until the boat leaves with the guests from the night before, until after 2:30pm when the day guests depart. Along with the day trippers, you’ll be served lunch on the boat you came on which is parked up next to the pontoon.
In the 3h30m that the day trippers are on the boat, you can go snorkelling or diving like we did. To be honest the time goes fast so you won’t feel like you’re waiting for the day trippers to leave, but it sure is a nice feeling when they do.
Should you go scuba diving or snorkelling?
You can snorkel and dive straight off the ReefWorld Pontoon into the Hardy Reef in the Great Barrier Reef! As we both have our scuba diving licence, we started with a dive off the old pontoon opposite ReefWorld.
Just to let you know, there are only two dive sites to choose from off ReefWorld. We also asked about night diving and they don’t run it due to health & safety.
While we noticed a lot of the coral was dead during our dive around the Hardy Reef, we got to see some cool underwater life, a standout being the giant clams. If you’re interested in diving at ReefWorld, you’ll only go around 10-12 metres deep because there’s not much to see if you go deeper. The visibility is pretty good and it’s a great spot for anyone looking to learn to dive or to try an introductory dive.
The snorkel safari guided snorkel tour will go along almost the same spot as we did during our dive but it’s an extra cost if you’re here on a day trip or if you’re a Reefsleep guest. If you’re staying in the Reefsuite, the snorkel safari is included in your booking.
We went for a snorkel off the pontoon after we woke up and it was actually a bit better than diving for us. This could have been because of the time of day and there being less people in the water at the time.
Jump on the free semi submersible tour
If you’re on a day trip or staying at ReefWorld, you can jump on the semi submersible tours which is a 30 minute boat ride underwater around the Hardy Reef so you’ll be able to see some tropical fish and coral while learning all about the Great Barrier Reef. This is a brilliant activity for families, and if you’re lucky you might even see some reef sharks and sea turtles.
Take a look in the underwater observatory at night time
If you don’t feel comfortable going on the semi submersible tour, you might prefer the the underwater observatory instead which is an underwater viewing chamber. Located on the pontoon, this is the perfect opportunity to see the fish underwater without having to go into the water. It’s also a better option if you suffer from claustrophobia and would prefer to pop down and back up above the sea level whenever you like, unlike the semi submersible tour.
At night time, make sure you pop down to the underwater observatory after dinner because you’ll more than likely see big schools of fish and the giant groper called George. It’s an amazing experience and definitely worth seeing.
Optional activities (paid tours to consider)
If you’re looking for more things to do aboard the Reefsleep, you can book the following tours while you’re on the boat on the way there:
Helicopter rides take place at the ReefWorld pontoon, which is also located near to the famous Heart Reef. The 10 minute tour is a great way to see the Great Barrier Reef from above which I highly recommend. We did this scenic seaplane ride on our last trip to Whitsundays which also included Whitehaven Beach on the amazing Whitsunday Island, an incredible experience from Airlie Beach.
The guided snorkel tour (snorkel safari) is basically where you’ll be taken on a small boat near to the other pontoon (will take only a couple of minutes) and then drift back to the ReefWorld pontoon. On this tour you’ll learn all about the Great Barrier Reef and Hardy Reef as well as the coral and fish you’ll spot along the way.
Book a scuba dive or introductory scuba diving experience and go a little deeper than you would snorkelling to see the fish and reef much closer.
Expect a lot of food
There’s so much delicious food already being dished out on the Reefsleep, you definitely won’t go hungry. We were given morning and afternoon teas, lunch, canapes, dinner, breakfast, followed by more morning teas, lunch and another afternoon tea. I think by the time we got to dinner, I was so full, I struggled to eat much more!
The only difference with the food is you’ll have your first lunch on the Cruise Whitsundays boat you arrived on, and your second lunch at the table on the deck of the pontoon. Lunch on the pontoon was a sit down meal rather than a buffet, but all the food was pretty good.
Free alcohol on board the Reefsleep
Reef suite and Reef sleep guests get free beer, wine and soft drinks from the beginning of the trip, although beer at the time of visiting was either Corona or Great Northern. If you want to order and cocktails or spirits, you’ll need to pay for them out of your own expense. I asked the crew if guests tend to get carried away with the free alcohol and they told us they don’t as many people tend to have a couple of quiet drinks when visiting.
What’s it like sleeping in the Reefsleep swag tents?
I was quite cold during my visit in the latter half of the day, but thankfully there are blankets you can use to keep warm. With that in mind, I wondered whether I was going to be really cold in the night. Truth be told, you won’t be cold at all.
I have never slept in a swag tent before and they are much more roomy than you think and super comfortable. These quality swag tents have secret storage containers inside the tent so you can put a few things in them. There’s also a light switch inside and a charging dock for a portable fan if needed. We didn’t use ours, but we kept a little bit of our tent open in the night anyway for a bit of air flow.
If you’re wondering about charging up your phone or camera, there are charging stations behind the bar, rather than in your tent.
One thing to note is that there are two covers to open to get in and out of the tent. If you leave one of them open, just make sure you use the clips to secure them, otherwise they will flap onto the tent in the night like ours did. I have seen photos of the tents being completely open but I don’t know how you open them up fully because it looked like they were properly zipped in.
There is a drawer below your tent (just like you’d have under your bed) to store your stuff in. As I mentioned before, I brought my carry on suitcase and it was a bit too big to put into the drawers. I would totally recommend bringing a small rucksack to be able to put it in your drawers easily.
Other than what the tent is like, remember you’ll be sleeping next to 11 other tents in what feels like a luxury glamping experience. However, lying in bed with the lights off, looking up at the night sky is an amazing experience and totally worth booking the trip for. We loved this and it really felt like a wow moment for us while out in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef.
You’ll share the bathroom and showers
If you’re staying in the Reeflseep, expect to share the bathroom and showers with everyone else. They are clean and modern with enough space to get changed and plug sockets to use a hairdryer etc.
What were the other guests like?
There was 17 of us staying in the Reefsleeps and Reefsuites and we managed to speak to most of the guest on the boat while we were there. It did feel a little segregated with the older Australians hanging out together, a couple of German travellers and then a group of English and Australians who met on the boat on the way there.
I think it’s very pot luck with the people you’ll be spending your time with, and could easily make or break the experience because you’re staying in such close proximities of each other. With that in mind, that wouldn’t put me off booking this incredible experience because it is a once in a lifetime trip that everyone should do.
What was the Reefsleep experience actually like?
While I found the boat ride over a little overwhelming, I really enjoyed seeing the reef and sleeping on the pontoon. Having done the Scenic Flight on our last trip, I remember us flying over the Reefsleep, and this time I just couldn’t believe we were actually spending a night in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef on that same pontoon!
I suppose I thought it was going to be much more chilled out than it was, purely because I didn’t realise the day trippers would be on the same pontoon as us.
Although the day trippers were only there for 3h30m, it did feel pretty cool seeing the boat leave us there to have the entire pontoon to ourselves. Maybe that made it feel extra special for us.
Our guests did tend to keep to their own groups but I think it’s totally pot luck with the guests you’ll get on the trip so don’t worry too much about connecting with everyone.
I have to highlight that the crew are excellent here and I have to give a special shout out to Nat who looked after all of us so effortlessly, I thought she was brilliant.
Would I do it again?
I’m glad we got to experience the Reefsleep and I can see why it’s such an amazing experience and opportunity to spend a night on the Great Barrier Reef in a special way. Being able to see the sunrise from one side of the boat and sunset from the other side is a pretty cool experience.
So, you should absolutely book either the Reefsleep or Reefsuite trip as you won’t find anything else like it in the Whitsundays!
If you’re looking for day trips to Whitehaven Beach, I highly recommend either Ocean Rafting or Red Cat Adventures. We have done both of them, and they are excellent.
For islands, I have heard Hook Island and Hayman Island are supposed to be incredible with South Molle Island being an underrated island to visit on this jet ski adventure.
And if you’re staying in Airlie Beach, check out our Best Things To Do In Airlie Beach guide. We share everything there is to do including visiting the amazing Conway National Park, Cedar Creek Falls and some local hidden restaurants.