Review: Sheraton Mirage Port Douglas (Great Barrier Reef)

Cairns is a city, that’s where you’ll fly into when going up to the Great Barrier Reef. And you can use it as a jumping off point to the Reef to be sure. But ever since I was a kid I preferred to stay in the town of Port Douglas about an hour away.

There’s only one place though where you can use points from one of the major hotel loyalty programs there. Oh, there’s a Best Western and a Ramada. But Starwood has a property — the Sheraton Mirage — which was the first big resort in the area (formerly just Mirage).

It’s a large hotel with meandering pools and is nestled just beside the beach, but it’s a drive out from town. Many will rent cars, though there’s convenient van transport as well.

Previous installments:

  1. Introduction: Virgin Australia and Delta Business Class, the Great Barrier Reef and Sydney
  2. Concourse Hotel LAX, a Hyatt affiliate
  3. Virgin Australia Check-in and Star Alliance Business Class Lounge
  4. Virgin Australia Business Class, Los Angeles – Brisbane
  5. Virgin Australia Brisbane Lounge and Business Class, Brisbane – Cairns

After an hour’s drive from the Cairns airport we arrived at the Sheraton Mirage Port Douglas Resort. Having flown Austin – Los Angeles – Brisbane – Cairns I was pretty exhausted at this point.

I booked the resort on cash and points, 5000 points and $75 per night, for three nights. Paid rates at the time I booked were showing over US$600. That surprised me because it was definitely still shoulder season while I was there.

On arrival I realized that the place was mostly deserted. The whole town of Port Douglas was still as it wasn’t yet ‘the season’ at the end of March. But the hotel was exceptionally so, as it was undergoing (much needed and long overdue) renovations.

I had requested an upgrade using Suite Night Awards. Apparently the rooms out of commission for the renovation meant they didn’t have suites available, but they did put me into one of the prototype refurbished guest rooms.

Ground floor rooms have balconies walking out at pool level. I was up a floor, there’s no balcony on these.

The room features a bed, a sitting area by the window, and a desk.

The bathroom was clearly redone, and quite nicely I thought.

Even though I selected breakfast as my platinum amenity, chocolates were delivered to the room.

Beside the bed is the minibar area with coffee setup.

The problem with the coffee setup was that they offered a French press but no water heater in the room, and there was a machine for pods but there were no pods.

Waking up in the middle of the night, my first night there, I decided I was awake and wanted some coffee. I rang room service, and though they’re 24 hours they explained to me that room service delivers food and I wanted beverages. I asked them, “but you offer beverages with food, right?” They said yes — but only wine and beer. Then they challenged the idea that I’d want coffee so early anyway, “You mean you want to be up the rest of the right?”

I asked if they could deliver pods for the machine that’s in the room, but they didn’t know of any such machine (apparently it’s only in the renovated rooms and I may have even been its first guest).

Finally they figured out that they could get me pods the next day, make sure the water heater was replaced, and would actually just bring me up coffee. All good, though I was still a bit out of sorts from the travel, and I suppose I just had difficulty making sense of it all.

For the room itself, I liked the renovation but found two shortcomings:

  • When you open front door of room all of the room’s lights turn on. That’s fine for when you’re entering from the outside, but less desirable when leaving or opening the door for someone from the hotel.

  • The room doesn’t have universal outlets, or nearly enough outlets. I bring my adapters of course but it’s something worth rectifying.

The hotel’s grounds are a series of pools surrounding buildings of guest rooms, along with the main building at the center of the hotel with restaurants and conference space.

The main building is where breakfast occurs each morning. I certainly got value for my Platinum amenity, as it was completely without charge for the both of us — except that I learned quickly that espresso drinks weren’t included.

The resort is separated from the beach by a few feet of trees that you can walk through.

There’s a ‘bus’ (a van, really) that runs a scheduled route past the Sheraton. There’s a discount for buying a roundtrip ticket, and of course you’ll need to get back, but I still found it better to buy the one-way fare. That’s because while only one company runs past the Sheraton on a scheduled basis for pickups, either company will drop you back off at the Sheraton from one of the designated pickup points along the main street of Port Douglas. If you buy the roundtrip ticket you’re locked into using the same company going back to the hotel, and that could mean waiting as much as half an hour versus 15 minutes.

The hotel itself is only 5-10 minutes out of town – a bit far of a walk, but not at all of a long drive. So it was convenient to go to town during the day and each evening rather than staying on property.

The Sheraton Mirage Port Douglas is an older property, and off the main drag of town, but is a true resort in the Port Douglas area and so a solid jumping off point for the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest while still remaining accessible to dining and other options in the town of Port Douglas itself.

The renovations will help bring the property up to speed, and make it a bit more modern. It appears to be getting the care that it needs.

Still, some improvements could be made (such as with outlets, and making sure the lighting and coffee situations are straight). And service is a bit Aussie, like questioning why I’d want coffee and not to go back to sleep at 3am. That and one day I was in the room when housekeeping came by. I twice later in the day asked for service but didn’t get it, instead receiving a ‘Make a Green Choice’ card under my door at the end of the evening.

I was more than happy with the stay. I’ve been to Port Douglas since I was a teenager, and will certainly go back, odds on staying again at the Sheraton.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I will be in Port Douglas in a couple of weeks, but was concerned about the older rooms. No status with SPG, so concerned that is where I might be put. Did you see the older rooms?

  2. I stayed there over NYE a year and a half ago. It was a dump. Room smelled like mold, carpets were gross, everything was bad. The buffet was so crowded and food quality was low.
    If you had seen it like that, you would have walked out.
    Glad to see it is getting the fixes it needs!

  3. Any idea when the renos will be complete? Might be in PD in March and don’t want to deal with the risk of an unrenovated room or construction disruption.

  4. Thanks for the review, I’ll be going ATX>SYD>CNS and I am thinking about staying at this Sheraton. I think right now it’s a toss up between here or just camping out at Daintree National Park (essentially 2 opposite ends of the spectrum)

  5. @Jeffrey

    good spots worth visiting in Port Douglas, and Cairns, Rattle ‘n Hum Bar & Grill, in both, and Paddy’s in Port Douglas, and The Pier Bar in Cairns, have fun on the reef.

  6. Gary –

    Thanks for the report!

    When we were there in 2009 in May, we remember feeling rather depressed by the emptiness and the old feeling of the hotel (especially the rooms), and even then they were talking about renovations. Glad to see they’ve finally started. Hopefully they will improve everything about the hotel as much as they did the bedrooms, because Port Douglas itself is a real jewel.

    Other than changing the sink from pink oval to white rectangle, and changing the tub from pink to white (plus changing the fixtures from gold to stainless color), the bathroom looks the same as I remember from 2009, so I don’t know how much I would say the bathrooms are “renovated.” “Freshened” maybe?

    Are they redoing the restaurant also?


  7. I stayed there in 1993 with the family. It was great then. No doubt many changes since. I have vague memories of a tram on the property. One thing that has not changed and that is Port Douglas and the Sheraton are ideal jumping off points for exploring the Great Barrier Reef and the rainforest and taking a river cruise looking for salties.

  8. We stayed there April 2014, I didn’t have elite status or anything, just Preferred Guest Plus. Was put in an SPG Preferred Guest Plus room, and it was perfectly fine. It was big, and the bathroom was rennovated. Unfortunately we went during the Cyclone last year, so one day we had to stay in the hotel, we swam anyway despite the high winds and rain cuz you get wet anyway swimming! The hotel was a bit older and still in need of some upgrading, but to me it was perfectly fine and I didn’t have any complaints at all…I want to go back soon actually…

  9. @ greg99 — I stayed at this property for three nights in March in one of the non-renovated rooms (they were starting renovations in a few weeks) and my impression of the bathroom vs. Gary’s photo, and of the property as a whole, is the same as yours from 2009. As you also allude to, there are “upcoming renovation” discussions on the flyertalk page about this property going back many years.

    That said, we totally enjoyed Port Douglas, including our stay and the staff at the Sheraton, and were amused by the unbelievably over-the-top 80s-ness of the property. The huge wooden R2D2 lighting control units next to the bed (probably very cutting edge when they first opened), the gigantic floral pastel headboard that was at least 15 feet wide (much wider than the bed itself), pretty much all of the furnishings and decor. I’m sure the renovation will provide some much-needed updates — I imagine the property was really impressive in its heyday.

  10. it was developed by Christopher Skase, he also developed the Mirage on the Gold Coast, now branded an InterContinental. Skase became one of Australia’s most wanted fugitives, he was connected to the royal family in Majorca where he had refuge from the authorities, who cld not extradite him, and he died there, aged only 52. He was a highly leveraged entrepreneur in the ’80’s. A fascinating character who at one stage owned a national television network amongst his business portfolio.

  11. We were there in December 2013. I wrote a review on TripAdvisor and the gist was that the place had great bones, was a good deal as a SPG Platinum, but was in bad, bad shape. The furniture in the room was beyond awful. And the place was empty so I doubted they would ever find the resources to upgrade the place. Glad to hear the work is being done and not at all surprised that some of the stuff is nuts – that’s kind of the vibe I got.

    I was also turned off by some of the people behind the desk. Aussies are so wonderful and friendly and these were foreigners. I guess it helps to have a lot of languages covered but I missed the warmth and can-do attitude I found throughout the rest of the country.

  12. @Tim O’Brien – the Mirage on the Gold Coast is a Sheraton property (on Main Beach). The InterContinental you refer to is a different property further north in Sanctuary Cove.

  13. @Daniel, you’re right, my bad, he had those Mirages and the Princeville Mirage in Hawaii, sold to the Japanese, Mitsui and Nippon Shinpan.

    c ’89, $433 million deal, payments were divided. Mitsui and Nippon Shinpan paid a total of $151 million for the Port Douglas resort and $124 million for the Gold Coast Mirage, and $158 million for the Princeville Mirage in Hawaii.

  14. I stayed here a couple of years ago and also found the hotel very tired. Good to hear it’s receiving some love as it should really be a great location and property to stay at.

    What was worse than the hotel was the golf course attached to the resort! It was in terrible condition, to the point where it looked like there was nobody maintaining it. There were a grand total of two people working in the whole clubhouse. I almost asked for my money back, but they’d given me a discounted “locals” rate and I actually felt sorry for the poor buggers working there!

    Would be interested to hear if the course has or is being renovated too…

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