This review covers a cruise on the m/s Tere Moana from December 7-14, 2013. This was a round trip from St. Maarten.
Summary: The Tere Moana’s size creates too many compromises to be worth the micro-ship “experience”. The bottom line is that despite predominantly sunny skies, there was sufficient swell in the eastern Caribbean to provide an uncomfortable ride and make a shambles of the itinerary. Despite the ships limitations, the crew did an outstanding job and provided a level of grace and personal service that I have never experienced anywhere else. Keep in mind, however, that there were only 52 passengers aboard with a capacity of 90.
Paul Gauguin touts the fact that their smaller ships can go places that larger ships can’t. In the case of the Paul Gauguin it appears that they succeeded in providing a good balance of stability and features (according to fellow passengers) but they went way too far with the Tere Moana. Simply stated, the Tere Moana is too small to be able to handle the Caribbean Sea. If there is one thing you should take away from this review, be prepared for constant and sometimes fairly extreme motion. This includes when tied up at a pier. For experienced boaters, who would consider something like a sailing charter it might not be objectionable but I am going to bet that for most people it would be a struggle. Tere Moana’s size also means that your itinerary is at constant risk of change because of fairly minor changes in weather (swells, in this case). If you are flexible, fine but if you have your heart set on the destinations, you are more likely to be disappointed than in the case of a larger ship (to be sure, larger ships also miss ports due to weather). During our cruise, the captain sought out larger, more protected anchorages rather than the smaller ones for the sake of passenger comfort. For me, Jost Van Dyke and Les Saintes were the kinds of smaller destinations that I was hoping to experience and did not.
Embarkation (and disembarkation): Both were amazingly simple and quick. There is no comparison with conventional cruise ships. Check-in was a bit confused and the outgoing cruise director (more on this character latter) basically told us we could hang around and wait for a ride or walk to the ship. “it’s over there, you can’t miss it”. Well “over there was in between 5 other ships tied up in the massive port of Phillipsburg and a 10 minute walk with carry-ons. Fortunately, I knew exactly what the ship looked like and we managed to find it. Once we got to the gangway we were descended upon (in a good way) and all was well. Back to the outgoing cruise director, while we were checking in my wife casually asked about the weather (it had been marginal in St. Maarten). His response was, “It’s going to be bad, very rough”. My wife then asked, “should I put on my seasick patch”. The response was, “yes, take everything you have!”. So, at this point I am starting to picture the cab ride back to the airport but my wife decided to soldier on. In truth, the weather was a bit rough in the beginning but that was absolutely no excuse for scaring the hell out of a passenger short of cancelling the trip.
Cruise: From hour one, the Tere Moana was chased around the Caribbean by swells. Early on we were informed that we would stay in St. Maarten overnight and the following day rather than departing for Tortola. At this point, Jost Van Dyke was already a casualty. We did not actually set sail until Monday morning and proceeded to St. Kitts. The schedule was further revised sending us next to Guadeloupe then St. Barts and on to the BVI. Thus, another “small” port, Les Saintes was gone. That lasted until the next morning but the seas were too rough and we turned around and headed for St. Barts, skipping Guadeloupe. Keep in mind that this whole time there was barely a cloud in the sky. This was all about swells.
So, you get the basic point. Unfortunately, we had to make the trip back to St. Maarten from the furthest point, Virgin Gorda, rather than St. Barts so we set sail at 6 PM and were underway during dinner which I could not finish because of the motion. That’s what happened. Was it a fluke? I have no way of knowing but I believe the conditions we faced would have been easily handled by any other cruise ship. Check what happened to other “smaller” ships that were in the area if you are curious (Seabourn, Windstar, etc.).
On the positive side, especially with such a light load, the ship seemed almost deserted. You could have all the space you wanted whenever you wanted it. This particular group did not have many “sun” people and the upper decks were virtually deserted. As a tip for those that like being outdoors the loungers on the top deck, forward are wonderful.
Food: Breakfast and lunch were served as buffets but there was always a chef present preparing eggs, omelets, waffles (breakfast) and items like tacos, freshly fried fish, etc. (lunch) to order. There was a lot of choice without a lot of distinction. The desert selections for lunch were very nicely done. The food experience was a step up from the large ship experience but not a large one. The atmosphere, however, was 50 times nicer without all the hustle and noise. There was a “barbeque” on the beach in Virgin Gorda which was fun (basically, what they would have done on Jost Van Dyke).
Dinner was presented formally and they did a good job but appeared to be stretched. No one was in a hurry but I do wonder what it would be like at full capacity. There was another “barbeque” on the pool deck one night with a local steel band that literally stood in the pool. Everything was served “wedding style” from two gas grills but it was fun.
Entertainment: Entertainment consisted of a single keyboard player who seemed to be everywhere and performances by other members of the crew that had musical talents. The maître d’hôtel was particularly talented. All in all, it was fun and exactly what I expected but a far cry from any other ship I have ever been on.
Conclusions: I strongly suggest that you seek out reviews from others on this cruise especially because a good 80+% of the passengers had previously been on the Paul Gauguin. These folks had already experienced the excellent Paul Gauguin Line service on a much larger ship.
We were glad to have experienced the Tere Moana but would most definitely never venture onto a ship that small again, at least not for a week. Again, I have to say the crew was just super. I don’t know if the weather just dealt them a bad hand or if the Tere Moana is just an unplayable lie (at least in the Carribean). Regardless, if you are looking for super food or entertainment you need to look elsewhere.
Just a final observation for Paul Gauguin Cruises…you guys are doing some serious harm to your brand. Most of my fellow passengers just loved your product before the Moana and many are not so sure after.