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If your kids are dying to swim with Nemo … then a visit to the Great Barrier Reef is a must. Erin Holmes of Explore With Erin recently took her 8 & 9-year-old kids for a snorkel and shares her top tips for keeping your little ones safe and entertained during your visit to this remarkable bucket list destination.

From the moment “Finding Nemo” hit the screens, my kids had it in their minds they had to meet him. And after “Finding Dory” hit the screens, it was impossible to change their minds. Add to that the discovery that the Reef may disappear soon and we found ourselves with a Great Barrier Reef family holiday destination.

So it was with great enthusiasm (and much fanfare) I revealed our August family vacation to the Whitsundays in Queensland, Australia. With one whole day dedicated to a swim with Australia’s beautiful sea creatures at the Great Barrier Reef.

Many parents fear to have their children near water, but Australia has safety measures and precautions that will soon have any doubts leaving your mind. To help ease your mind and make the most of a day at sea, my kids and I have compiled 5 great travel tips for your Great Barrier Reef family holiday.

Don’t be afraid of a tour

Some people may balk at tours, because of the number of people and the inability to proactively meet your kid’s needs individually. However, Cruise Whitsunday is the perfect way to manage a day at the Reef. The cons seem to become pros on a full-day cruise. With so many people on the boat, the kids got to make friends and keep themselves amused.

This tour is also less scheduled. You sail to the Reef, have free time at the Reef and sail home, so there is not much structure … leaving it an easy way to manage your child’s own schedule. Some of that schedule may be nap time and being on a large tour boat means there was plenty of room for exhausted naps all the way back to the mainland.

Remember 5 important items

It’s a three-hour sail from Airlie Beach to the Great Barrier Reef and three hours home again, so you’re going to want to be prepared for the journey with young ones.

  1. Towels – You’ll be in the water, make sure you bring towels to dry off. And stay warm.
  2. Sunscreen – The Australian sun is hot and its UV rays are dangerous. In Australia we advertise ‘slip, slop, slap’. Slip on a shirt, slop on some sunscreen and slap on a hat. Please don’t forget how unforgiving that sun can be, even on a cold day.
  3. Swimsuit – Sounds like a pretty simple thing, but believe me one of our party literally forgot his swim shorts. You don’t want to come to the Great Barrier Reef and not hop in it.
  4. Snacks – The cruise provides a pretty delicious buffet and snacks throughout the day, but you may want to bring a few extras for those kids that are picky or just plain hungry at all times.
  5. Something to do – As I mentioned it’s a long 6-hour journey. Have the kids bring a book, coloring, cards or if you’re really at your wit’s end, their electronics.

Make sure you wear a wetsuit

It may be hot in Australia, but our waters are chilly. A wetsuit will keep the children warm on their Great Barrier Reef family holiday. But more importantly, different types of coral can be quiet prickly and the water is often filled with small jellyfish (stingers). A wetsuit will protect you and your munchkins from both. For us, these were part of the cruise cost and given out at the pontoon.

Water safety

The water is deep in many places and shallow in others. But obviously, even when it is shallow you are unable to stand, as the coral is protected. Many tour companies will be able to help your small ones with pool noodles and/or floaties.

My 8 and 9-year-olds are competent swimmers and had no trouble swimming the Reef by themselves. Snorkels, googles, and flippers were also provided for the tour.

The boat itself has an indoor and outdoor section, so you can rest assured they will be safe when staying inside.

Please make sure you keep an eye on your little ones at all time.

Go out and visit more

The Great Barrier Reef is not the only thing worth visiting in this beautiful part of Australia. Make time to visit so many other destinations around the area. Whitehaven Beach has the whitest sand and the most turquoise water you are every likely to see. It is one of my most favorite beaches in the world.

Consider a stay at Big 4 Whitsundays Adventure Park. The kids will love all the on-site activities from jumping pillows to water slides, heated pools, and mini golf. There are so many family-friendly Whitsunday accommodation options nearby.

Lastly, head north to Bowen for warm orange sunsets, pictures with the Big Mango, and the greatest Australian dinner, ‘fish and chips’ on the beach.

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