There are a lot of facts you should be aware of before signing up as a passenger on this boat some of them good some of them not so good. My wife and I spent a week aboard the Tui Tai in early October 2013. We booked the midrange stateroom for two and the diving package for one. Our total fare was $ 9,000.00 US.
TAXI to BOAT: The Tui Tai website says the ride is a "quick 30 minutes". Nothing could be further from the truth. It is a long 2 hours on a very bumpy road. Even when the Chinese finish the road in 2015 the ride will be over 1 hour. Transportation is in a very hot, broken down bus with no place to stop during the ride. Luggage will be piled all around you. Definitely a long miserable cargo ride to the boat.
DINGHY: There are two inflatable dinghies for transport. One has an engine that keep dying when away from the main boat and the other is held together with duct tape. In rough weather there is no place to hold on and it is very easy to end up in the sea. If it is raining you will definitely be wet by the time you land. Each time we left the main boat it was a question of when and how we would get back.
BOAT: As many of the other reviewers have noted this boat is neither new or well-maintained. The boat itself is over 30 years old and originally started its life as a ferry. It can accommodate up to 24 passengers but they will sail with as few as four (the week before us had 4 guests and the week after us they had 7 booked).
On our trip there were 13 passengers and the boat spaces felt comfortable, however with 11 more (for a total of 24) people it would have felt crowded particularly if you are not traveling as a friends. The rooms are small but since you won't spend much time there is not usually a problem. Even on rainy days there was amble room in the interior of the boat to relax but again if there were 24 passengers it would definitely be crowded. Each room has a private bathroom with an on-demand hot water heater and shower. Water pressure varies between weak and nonexistent and the toilets frequently stop up. In our stateroom there were a number of compartments for storage and a hanging area to hang up a few garments. The bed was comfortable the sheets were clean and ample pillows for good night sleep if at anchor.
Once the boat gets underway the engine vibration begins to rattle many unknown components in the boat and she begins to show her age and sleep becomes difficult. Also as the staff walked back and forth past room numbers 11 and 9 they would frequently be having various conversations and yelling down to the deck hands below which means anytime the boat is moving it's unlikely the passengers in those rooms will be able to sleep. Think of this boat as more of a very expensive backpackers hostel then a luxury accommodation.
LIABILITY WAIVER: Once on board you will sign a liability waiver that allows them to do anything with you or your personal belongings and you will have no recourse. If you have any problems during the week the owner will be quick to pull out the waiver and remind you that you have NO recourse. This in itself should give you a second thought about booking this boat.
MOVEMENT: Although this is a sailing vessel with three large masts only one is equipped with a sail and by the condition is not been used for many many many years. If it is your dream to sail between the Fiji Islands this is not your vessel. The seas between the islands were very calm even during a rainstorm they did not become overly rough.
The boat moves in a relatively small area of Fiji visiting 5 to 6 islands in a relatively small area. For the most part we never motored for more than 1 to 2 hours moving from location to location and several times we returned to a previous location we had visited the day before.
RATS: While eating dinner one night the RATS were walking up the ladder to the upper deck in plain view. Not something you want to see while you eat or any other time for that matter. We did see droppings and indication of other rodents throughout the boat.
SEXUAL HARASSMENT: Beware that female guests may be offended or feel harassed when the owner is on board. During our cruise the owner and his frat buddy kept showing pictures of gooey ducks and making references to men's reproductive organs. This occurred numerous times and seemed to be a running joke between them as they showed various women the pictures and told off colored jokes.
DIVE: Divers should avoid this boat at all costs. (I know this has been said in previous reviews but it is worth repeating) Previous reviewers have noted problems with equipment and the difficulty of getting in and out of the inflatable dinghy after the dives. Other reviewers have noted safety lapses with the dive master. I concur with these assessments particularly the difficulty of getting in and out of the dinghy. I brought my own equipment and I was comfortable with getting in and out of the dinghy so I felt that I would be able to dive without a problem during my cruise.
NUMBER OF DIVES: When booking your trip you have two options to pay for dives. You can either prepay for the week or you will be charged one by one for each dive ($90 per dive). I chose to prepay for the week and paid $900 for three dives a day up to 19 dives. Unfortunately, they don't offer three dives a day. The other divers on board were equally concerned about the lack of opportunity to dive and we talked to the activity organizer and they were able to add a third dive on two days. But still you are paying for 19 dives with the opportunity to dive at the most 14.
The owner responded on 4/25/13 to another review by saying "If you are a scuba diver and diving is your main focus, rest assured, your Tui Tai trip will include 3 incredible dives each day. Sometimes we can offer more, and our staff will personalize your experience and add a dive if we can." Based on my first hand experience this is simply NOT true!
DIVE SITES: The dive sites are hit or miss. They can be spectacular or a wasteland of dead corral. The funny thing is that there are hundreds to choose from and yet we seeming always made one bad choice each day. One day we were in current so strong that you had to swim full force just to stay still and yes we swam against the current for most of the dive. Another time we swam for 30 min across dead wastelands only to spend the last 10 minutes on the most lush beautiful reef. One day we went looking for a new dive site and found the most spectacular dive site I have ever seen.
One additional fact is that it was not unusual for the drivers to get dropped off and then the boat left the area to go somewhere else. While this was never a problem for us, if you had an issue and had to surface the boat would not be there to assist or take you to safety.
DIVE TIME: For some reason the tanks are filled only to 2000-2500 psi and all dive time times are 40 minutes. The air was often tasted very bad and was of doubtful quality. Given that most dive shops shoot for a 60 min dive this means you get 2/3 of a dive each time. Note: This is not due to divers running out of air because we all almost always had over ½ tank left. It also had nothing to do with safety because all dives were shallow with no Deco stops. This is about minimizing effort while maximizing dollars.
While we were on the boat the compressor broke and the staff had to go to great lengths to get filled tanks. One night they drove in the small boat for hours through the driving rain to get tanks filled. (again the tanks were underfilled and with questionable air quality) It was incredibly nice of them to make the extra effort to get the tanks but equally disappointing that the compressor is in such poor shape that it would break in a way that can't be repaired. Again great effort by staff to overcome management issues.
DIVER AREA: The dive equipment area on this boat is VERY small which causes all kinds of problems. There is no place to change in or out of the wetsuits so you have to stand in the hallway. There is no wet or dry area. There are no rinse tanks for equipment but there is two overhead showers to rinse off your body. The gear is stored in cheap plastic racks along the outside bulkhead. (see pictures) There are no lines to hold the tanks or gear secure. The gear is passed up and over the rail each time into the boat.
The result is that the equipment is not rinsed very well and it often falls or is banged on the bulkhead and metal rail. An example of how this can be bad for the equipment is on the fifth day of our dive the divemaster dropped my gear smashing my primary regular and first stage. $1500 worth of gear ruined and the rest of my three week trip in jeopardy. Note: when I talked to the owner he blamed another guest for the damage despite three guests witnessing the staff dropping the gear.
The Dive Master indicated to me that he was aware of the lack of proper gear storage but stated that "management" refused to get the right equipment. Even filled tanks are left lying on the deck unsecured during the voyage creating a serious safety hazard. (see pictures)
DIVE MASTER: Our dive master (DM) was knowledgeable, capable, impressionable and fun to dive with. As an underwater photographer with professional equipment I am looking for unique pictures underwater. My primary complaint about the DM (in addition to the selection of dive sites noted above) is that he was mostly interested in taking his own underwater photos. One other diver complained when the DM pushed him out of the way so the DM could get a picture. I have several pictures where I was lining up a shot only to see the DM's hand and camera in between my camera and the subject so he could get the shot. He sells the pictures to the guests so he wants to ensure he gets the best shots.
DIVE SAFETY: The DM would drop into the water and make sure everyone was ok and then ignore you the rest of the dive. One new diver on our dive ran low on air but the DM was no where around so we had to share air and take her through the safety stops ourselves. On more than one dive the DM was so busy getting his own pictures that he left the group and couldn't be found. Even after we surfaced and signaled the boat he didn't surface because he was off taking pictures. Note: This was brought to the owner's attention but he refused to believe it
SCHEDULE: The website shows a sample itinerary and the next days activities are discussed and written on the board the day before. The problem is that they NEVER follow the schedule. If they say be ready at 3:00pm they really mean 3:30-4:00. If they say 3:00 pm "Fiji" time they mean 5:00pm. By the days end the schedule will be so off that events become rushed or cancelled.
CREW: The Fijian people are some of the nicest I have ever met. The crew on the boat are incredible. Quick to greet you by name and willing to do anything to make your visit better. There is a large crew on boat and they are almost like family. In the evenings they will gather somewhere on the boat to sing, play cards and drink kava. If you happen by, they will invite you to join in if you like. Members of the local villages will come out to the boat at night and join in on the sing along and to share kava. Friendly, happy, and eager to please is how the staff can best be described.
Captain John was incredible. A quiet and measured leader, he was quick with smile and set a great example for his crew. Like the chief of a village his crew responded with respect. It is unfortunate that he is the one that has to respond so often to passenger complaints that resulted from the management's lack of actions.
WIFI: Good news is that wifi is available. The bad news is that it is only available about four times during the trip for about 2 hours. They use a 3G cellular signal and a small router in the salon. You can get wifi (when available) in the salon and the seating area outside but nowhere else in the boat. They won't tell you when it becomes available so you have to check often. You can upload a few low-resolution pictures but forget any high resolution ones.
POWER: You will need an adapter for your electronics if you are from America.
OWNER: The American playboy who is one of the owners was actually on our cruise with his current girlfriend. (a local and former employee from the boat) As the manager of the operation he is the one responsible for many of issues described in this review but he doesn't seem to be interested in the operation anymore. For example, one of the guests who saw RATS walking up the stairs during dinner and she pointed them out to him. He made an offhanded comment but took no steps to investigate.
Another example is when my dive gear was broken he was informed and I was told he would meet me to discuss how to make it right but I never heard from him.
Another example, he didn't want his girlfriend and he to get wet in the rain so he had the boat go out of the way to deliver him close to his home which resulted in most of the days activities being canceled or delayed.
The owner is a nice enough fellow but it may be time to give the boat back to his exwife's family and look for another line of work or play.
I am happy to answer any questions.