We have just returned from our second trip on True North. On both trips we have had the dubious pleasure of having Craig Howson, managing director and part owner of True North on board. On the first trip, we did to the Sepik river, Craig was with some fishing buddies and they were an awkward presence but fairly easily avoidable. They drank a lot but kept pretty much to themselves. The trip to the Sepik was fascinating and very enjoyable. In addition to seeing the Sepik river there was some great snorkeling and fishing on offer and the other passengers were all very pleasant.
Our most recent trip was to Raja Ampat. Again it was very beautiful with lots of great Snorkeling. The scenery was spectacular and the sea life and corals were some of the best we have ever seen.
Craig was again on board but this time accompanied by his wife and 3 of his children, together with some friends and their children. In all there were 8 adults and 7 children in the group. In general they didn’t make any effort to engage with the rest of the passengers. The children we were told ranged in age from 13 to 6 years, but in truth there was one 13 year old and the other 6 ranged between 9 and 6 years. 3 boys shared a cabin but all the other slept on the floor in their parents cabins. Fortunately 3 of the other passengers were on their own otherwise a ship meant to be carrying 36 passengers would have actually had 41 on board. As it was there were 38 passengers on board. This group got special treatment all the time and the rest of the passengers were made to feel that they were just being tolerated on someone else’s holiday. Cruise critic says that you are unlikely to have children on board but this is clearly not the case. Our understanding was that the managing director was on board at least 12 times a year and his children traveled at least three times a year with him. Trying to avoid school holidays and asking before you book may mean that you can avoid children but there is clearly no guarantee.
Most of the children were fairly good but 2 were absolutely feral and I think that once you get 7 fairly young children together, especially with 2 amazingly rude and naughty ones, on a fairly small ship with very little outside space, you are going to get a lot of noise and disruption to the other passengers. All of the other passengers were very unhappy about the situation and almost all had to complain at some point about the children’s behaviour. Part of the problem was that the parents of most of those children were busy drinking and oblivious to where their children were and what they were doing. You can be unlucky with any group on such a small ship but the fact that they were in a group with the company’s managing director made it very awkward.
What was most concerning though was that Managing Director of True North would take a group of 15 people out on a tender together. This was despite a tender only really being designed to maybe carry 8 people at most and that he would definitely not have had a zero alcohol reading which legally he should have. There was then more drinking and smoking on the tender. Not a good example of the company’s regard for safety or for the staff.
It’s hard to say if the crews attitudes were also affected by this. On both trips we felt that while the staff were all very pleasant the cruise was being run more for their benefit than that of the paying passengers. Often crew were put on tenders for snorkeling expeditions while passengers were told to wait. There were a couple of occasions where there were virtually no crew on board because they were off water skiing or wake boarding. The final helicopter flight for passengers had to be cancelled because management had sent the crew up on flights which put the pilot over time so he couldn’t fly for 24 hours.
One crew member who was meant to be driving a tender and keeping watch to make sure everyone was alright would get in and snorkel himself and pull the tender along as he went. He couldn’t have seen if anyone was in trouble because he was head down snorkeling. He actually hit a couple of passengers with the tender while he doing this and his poor attitude for safety meant that a number of passengers requested that they not be put in his tender. Safety in general didn’t seem to be a high priority.
The cabins are comfortable but not particularly luxurious. The ship is small and there isn’t a lot of comfortable outdoor space. It is well kept but the furnishings are getting close to needing a refresh. One of the steps down to the back where you got on the tenders broke and had to be patched up so it seemed like the ship was probably becoming due for a fairly major overhaul.
The food was fine but not what you would call fine dining. The serves were really too large. In the first few days lots of things were crumbed and deep fried. It was as if the food was being catered for the children’s taste. I think that after some passengers raised concerns it changed but while it was less fried it was very meaty.
On our last day we were shown videos of a number of recent True North cruises and to our amazement almost all had some children on board. Admittedly you could be lucky and the children could be well behaved and there were certainly never as many as the ones on our trip but it’s just too much of a risk and too disappointing for the money involved. For something that is very expensive and which is meant to be a luxury experience you would think that there should be an age limit for children, that they should have to have their own cabins and there should be a limit to the maximum number on board. The crew also need to be reminded that they are there to look after all of the guests not just a special few and that they are not on holiday themselves. I don’t think that anyone really objects to them joining in on activities but guests and their enjoyment should come first.
All this for over $25,000AUD per person for a 10 day trip. It was definitely not value for money and we will certainly never travel on True North again.
The cabin was fine. They are comfortable and a reasonable size but not particularly luxurious.