This review is meant to be critical with a purpose. I hope that PG cruises make the appropriate changes so that you get what you paid for, that I can return on a different itinerary and that they succeed as a company. To qualify my review I have sailed on 5 cruises including the large mass floating buffet line ships. I have also sailed on the Paul Gauguin in 2011 to French Polynesia on the 14 day Marquesas Islands itinerary. The Paul Gauguin is by far the best ship I have ever sailed on, in the best location in the world. She is 5+ star in every regard with the best food, drink and service in a paradise location.
We were planning a trip to another Caribbean island this spring when we received the brochure from PG cruises showing the new Tere Moana and the Caribbean itinerary. Based on the brochure and our past experience on the Paul Gauguin, we were sold. We expected the same great all inclusive food and service, on an even smaller more intimate ship to great Caribbean ports where the large ships don't go. It is obvious that PG cruises has marketed the Tere Moana toward those previous guests who loved the Paul Gauguin. We were already sold on the PG product, so we expected the same this time because that is how it is advertised. As my review title indicates, the Tere Moana is advertised to be the same as the Paul Gauguin but it is not. Even though the ships and locations are different, they advertise the same product or cruise experience. This is my biggest issue as the Tere Moana did not deliver the luxury, top notch experience that Paul Gauguin did. Bottom line is that we did not get the value expected as was advertised for the high prices that we paid.
During our sailing on March 23, we had 70 passengers and no children. The PG cruises sales dept staff and VP were also onboard. They were actively asking for guest feedback as well as making their own observations and notes(over 20 pages). They openly admitted that things were not up to par and that changes would be addressed to the President Diane Moore directly. I was asked to email my comments that we discussed onboard so that they could pass them on. We were told that we would not recognize the ship in 6 months due to all the changes/improvements that would be made. I relished the opportunity to have dinner with some of them and discuss the issues. Many gueats made their opinions known and did not just smile and say everything was great. Good on you PG sales staff for this but it means little unless those changes are made. We were informed that there were problems with the refurbishment company who is being sued by PG cruises. Obviously there are some issues that are beyond the control of PG but I believe that they launched this ship too early before all the advertised levels of service were ready. We had hoped that 3 months in that all the kinks would be worked out. Obviously they were not and that was reflected in the comments and notes of the sales dept staff themselves.
My problems started well before we sailed. It was like the PG cruises office was divided between the Paul Gauguin and Tere Moana because we had absolutely no issues on our last cruise. I emailed them to find out the port locations as they only listed the island itinerary. They responded to my email with a letter showing a changed itinerary but no listing of the exact port locations. I emailed again with another request for the locations and questions about the Virgin Gorda BBQ, timings and excursions. They never even responded to my email. I had to find out through a TA and other members here on CC. Nice customer service.
They ended up sending me the wrong change of itinerary letter not once but twice - through our TA and me directly. I only found out about the errors through other CC members. Then when PG cruises realized their errors, they did not bother to email any of the guests to apologize nor clarify the correct itinerary. Thanks to those here who helped, it was invaluable. Something that I learned from previous cruisers on this itinerary about tenders in Virgin Gorda proved to be correct and still makes no sense. They send tenders from North Sound to Gun Creek for the ship Baths shore excursion. Some of us wanted to take the tender over and then get a taxi to do our own tour of the Baths. We were told only those with ship booked tours could take this tender. We were told we had to tender to Bitter End Yacht Club which is at a location with no roads to the rest of the island. We pleaded with them to let us go on one of the tenders to Gun Creek after the Baths tour tenders were done. They agreed because there were only 4 of us but we would have to make arrangements for our own tender back before the tenders started at 12:30 to the beach BBQ at Prickly Pear island. When we showed up for the tender there were other ships excursions people going anyway and plenty of room available. Why not tell us that before and let us know that we could go anyway? Why not let people off to explore the island on their own as opposed to going to a dead end location with a yacht club? We booked our own return tender which they told us we had to but when we showed up early there were a whole bunch of guests there waiting and plenty of room available. We did not even need to do this and they never bothered to tell us we could come on the already scheduled tender anyway. We met other guests on the pier in the same situation who had to argue to get tenders. They are obviously trying to prevent non-ship booked excursions to the Baths. We paid $14 per person each way for the taxi and $6 per person fee to enter the Baths. The ship tour is $90 per person.
We took the great advice of CC members on the previous itinerary who advised not to show up before 3pm at the Galisbay pier as they were not allowed in and waited outside in the hot sun for an extended period of time. We showed up around 4:30 and we were the only guests in sight. This was the fastest and easiest cruise embarkation ever. Our bags were at our room waiting for us before we finished our welcome champagne and paperwork which took about 5 minutes.
The staterooms on the Tere Moana are beautiful. They were spacious and modernly decorated. Storage space is the most I have ever seen on a cruise ship. Great touch having an Ipod docking station in the room. Shower was a standard small circular unit. No issues with heating or AC as others have previously stated. I missed having a live camera feed channel on the TV to see the ports as we arrived or show our route progress. We always had bottled water, beer and pop in the fridge. There was even space for our own drinks/food in the fridge. There is even bottled water at the reception desk available each morning prior to departing the ship.The only issue that we encountered in relation to our room was that the steward did not replace our beach towels every day but this was fixed by simply asking for them.
Food is a very subjective topic. Every meal on the Paul Gauguin was fantastic. Food on the Tere Moana did not match those high standards. I would rate the food as very good but not excellent. It did not stand out above Royal Caribbean or Norwegian. Breakfast and lunch were buffet only which was a disappointment. Although lunch was buffet, there was a different theme every day and was very good for the three times we ate there. The mexican and caribbean themes were particularly excellent for a buffet. Breakfast was a disappointment with exactly the same dishes every day in the exact same spot. One would expect breakfast ordered from a menu on a luxury ship. The dinners were different every night and obviously the best meal on the ship. There were not two venue choices for dining as advertised in the brochure. Breakfast and lunch were in the Veranda while dinner was in L'Etoile. There are two venues but not two choices. This was set and not a choice as advertised. Dining was always open seating with people usually forming their own tables according to numbers or able to sit at a large table with whomever else showed up. We ate with many different guests at different tables every night. It was quite warm in the dining room as previous reviewers have stated. Overall, the dinners were very good but some nights were exceptionally better than others. I was particularly disappointed there was no lobster available on a luxury ship. I have read that others say this is because of sustainable food. This reason is in contrast with the New Years Eve meal on the ship when they had lobster tails. Dinners on the Paul Gauguin were outstanding every night. Paul Gauguin left me continually excited for the next meal but I did not feel this way on Tere Moana. One thing that must be pointed out are the desserts/pastries. Not just ourselves, but almost every guest we dined with commented on how poor the desserts were. Some even said the pastry chef should be fired. Personally, I thought the pain au chocolat was the worst I ever had. This was obvious when on multiple nights every person at the dinner table left their desserts unfinished including the birthday/anniversary special cakes which everybody left.
On both ships the wine was good but not great. I consider myself a bit of a wine snob so this is important to me. Each night there is a red and white available to choose from at dinner or the bar. The good thing about this system is that if you don't like the wine on a particular night then you can still ask for a wine that you enjoyed from a previous night. There were a couple I really enjoyed and would drink any day. Chris and Vishal made sure I always had my preferred wine, even without asking for it. Great service from all bars onboard and of course top shelf liquors. I was disappointed to see that on a luxury cruise they charged extra for cheap wines. I did buy quite a few extra charge wines because I enjoy the better wines. The included wine retails for $9 a bottle. The wine that I had to pay an extra $30 for actually retails for $16 a bottle. For the price of this luxury cruise, I find it absurd to charge extra for such low price wine. I would understand charging extra for $100 wines and champagnes.
Service was exceptional on the Paul Gauguin but not so much on the Tere Moana. It has been stated many times in all the previous reviews that service and the crew is a work in progress. While I felt that every crew member was friendly, genuine, caring, and hard working, a lot of them either lack the experience or had not been trained to the level of Paul Gauguin. Here are some specific examples: my wine glass never went below half empty while other guests sat waiting/had to ask, or in some cases, served themselves. We noticed the level of service was very different within the dining room depending on which table you sat at and who served you. I personally had excellent service from Gede and Vishal, they were equal to the service level of Paul Gauguin. Another example was when we wanted to eat outside for breakfast and a waiter asked me if we were moving tables. I told him, yes we were going to eat outside. He then stood there and watched as we struggled to open the outside door with plates and drinks in our hands. On Paul Gauguin, this never happened as they even carried your plates from the buffet to your table. We were able to order extra dishes or make substitutions regularly but one night, two people at the table asked for extra items but never received them and nothing was said. One thing we found odd at dinner was the "Always Available" choices at the bottom of the menu. Each time somebody asked what was the fish, chicken,or steak choice, the waiter pointed to the feature menu item on the top of the menu and said that's the choice. So in essence, there was never a "Always Available" choice different from the features listed on the menu. While we never used room service, others commented that it was very limited and not very good. I personally enjoyed every meal but others dining with us did not.
The private beach BBQ as advertised in the brochure, was one of the highlights we looked forward to on this cruise as we had done the same with Paul Gauguin on Tahaa. On the first night, they announced that lunch would be a "surprise" private BBQ on a beach at Prickly Pear Island even though everyone already knew that. Food consisted of fish, chicken, steak, hotdogs, hamburgers, and a salad bar. While the quality and taste of the food was excellent, I find it cheap to serve hotdogs and hamburgers on a luxury cruise. Go on the mega ships if you want to stand in line and eat that stuff. Why not have lobsters and champagne since it's such a small number of guests and make it a truly special BBQ? The only drinks offered were canned beer, pop, and wine. How hard would it be to offer rum punch that could easily be pre-mixed in one container? Oh but wait, you could buy mixed drinks at your own cost at the public beach bar. The floating bar on Tahaa was one of the most awesome things we experienced. I don't think it would be that difficult to do the same thing on Prickly Pear.
Other things that were disappointing on this cruise:
-running out of certain wine/port/cider early into the cruise and never replenished after being told it ran out,
- no bottled liquor in the rooms,which is common on luxury ships and all inclusive hotels,
- very limited 5 minute briefing on the next days port(example: many guests were upset that they did not know much about the sailing regatta in St Barths and missed a truly remarkable experience), even the VP had to ask me for directions to the beach one day,
- lack of port facilities: we had a sign with the tender times posted, while the other luxury ships in port(Seabourn/Windstar) had tents to shade the sun, drinks, cold towels and snacks. We looked like the poor child on the pier next to those ships. PG cruises should take notice of how luxury cruising is done,
- lack of entertainment:one steel pan drum performance and one staff singing night both of which were awesome. This was the only night everyone showed up in the lounge after dinner. Take a look at the Paul Gauguin who bring in dance troupes each night from different islands to perform to see how it should be done. Other nights it was karaoke which was terrible(hence why nobody ever showed up) but it must be pointed out that the talented Alex on piano and snorkel equipment was great. I asked for a song to which he did not know the words but the next night he had them memorized and sang them perfectly. Bravo, thats service.
Things that confused me or which I have no answer:
- the whole issue above about tenders to Virgin Gorda makes absolutely no sense,
- the ship did not maintain its posted itinerary timings. When it says a particular port at 8am, that is the time the ship arrives, not the time you can get off it. First tenders were usually 845am. Scheduled departure time was late in the evening or at night but we usually left early before dinner. The posted times said last tender at 6pm even though the ship was not scheduled to leave till later but in small print below the tender times it stated separate tenders could be privately arranged after these hours. Nobody ever took later separate tenders as nobody wanted to go on their own. Not a very user friendly system and nobody ever spent any time on an island in the evening. What I don't understand is why we left so early and sailed for extra hours and did not arrive early enough to get guests off at 8am when all these islands are so close,
- why did we sail from St Barths at 9pm to get to St Martin for 5am when they are only an hour apart in rough seas that sent items flying, suitcases banging into walls that were in the hallways and kept everyone up all night? The rocking/rolling was absolutely brutal when there was no need for it,
- no comment cards available on the ship....I will let you figure out that one.
I have to mention the much publicised zodiac tender situation. We were told by the sales staff that this was due to an issue with the refurbishment company and that the real tender boats are coming soon. I actually liked the open air zodiacs, felt adventurous and was able to see more of the beautiful ports/boats. I am 40 and it was easy but I am willing to bet that a 70 year old passenger might not enjoy this. People did get splashed up front and some had difficulty getting up on high piers despite the assistance of experienced and helpful staff. One day we watched the largest man on the ship lose his balance trying to get out of the zodiac and fell back knocking over the smallest woman on the ship. By some miracle she was not hurt but the potential was there for a broken neck/back. I did not observe a first aid kit or spinal board on the zodiac and would hate to see what would have happened if that man or woman had been cut open from getting knocked over.
Overall I would rate my cruise experience as a 4. This was mainly based on great weather, beautiful beaches/islands, all inclusive and the fun we had with other guests that we spent time with on the cruise. I would give the ship, its food and service a 3. Everything about the Paul Gauguin was 5 star. This is where I am most disappointed. Paul Gauguin has set the bar so high for us that everything else falls short. It is sad that PG cruises markets and advertises the Tere Moana to be an equal product and in some ways even better because it is a smaller more intimate ship. They need to make improvements, stop the false advertising and lower prices for this ship to be on par with Paul Gauguin. The bottom line is that we did not get nearly the value that we paid for and a lot of the luxury class cruise ship standards did not exist. I truly believe that anyone who feels this is a 5 star luxury cruise has not sailed on the Paul Gauguin nor the other small luxury class ships. I hope PG cruises makes the necessary changes that they told us they would because I would love to go to the Greek Islands in the future.
Did I get value for the money paid? NO.
Would I recommend this cruise to my friends? Not at this price/value.
Would I return? Only when it is on par with Paul Gauguin.