Posted 01 August 2011 - 08:04 PM
I have finished my complete review of the Arenui and am posting it here should anyone be interested.
The Arenui (pronounced Ar-ren-nooey) is beautiful, a 43 meter/140 foot Indonesian Pinisi (Phinisi) sailing boat touted as a luxury "boutique liveaboard." She has eight passenger cabins--two above-decks and two below--that hold 16 passengers; our 12-day cruise had 13 passengers, leaving Bali for Komodo and diving various sites en route.
There are approximately 20 crew members on board, and all are friendly and efficient. Whether it was donning your gear, rinsing your wetsuit, or bringing you a towel and hot chocolate after a night dive, the crew was very helpful. Sometimes they were a little too helpful, like when your water glass would be cleared away as soon as you turned your head, your wetsuit would be turned right-side-out to dry (when you really wanted it left inside-out to dry better), or they took it upon themselves to dry your camera with compressed air (please do not do that). Two of the stewards double as massage therapists, and let me tell you it is pretty decadent to be able to get a nice (and inexpensive) massage on the sun deck after a dive!
Built about two years ago, a high percentage of reclaimed wood went into building the Arenui, giving her a warm, aged feel. She is appointed with an all-wood interior and local art pieces and as such is easy on the eyes. The main deck has the dive deck on the bow, the dining room/lounge and galley midship, and the four upper cabins aft. The bow and midship areas have slick, sloped wooden decks, typical for this style of ship. While there are a few non-slip mats out on the dive deck and at the entrance to the lounge, they are not fastened to the floor and the mats themselves slip. Moving around the boat, especially while wet or when the boat is rolling, must be done with caution lest your slip and injure yourself. For a week I had a painful bruise on my hand from one of my falls which happened when I was dry but the wet mat slipped out from under me. If this boat was built specifically as a dive boat it makes you wonder why the deck wasn't designed differently--"all other Phinisi boats are built that way" is not a good reason.
Her upper level is a large, spacious outdoor area containing both a sundeck and shady areas. Comfortable padded lounge chairs and benches, plus a fresh water shower for cooling off, make this a lovely place to spend time. Just watch out for the stairs. The staircase leading from the main to the upper deck is steep and slippery, with the top step overhanging about half of the second stop. It can be quite treacherous, and several guests fell and hurt themselves during the course of the cruise. Looking at the staircase from the side you will notice the prefab unit was installed 90 degrees off--what should be the textured treads on the steps are now the rise--which accounts for its awkwardness.
Most cabins are quite roomy and contain ample storage, especially for a liveaboard, and our queen-size bed had a comfortable mattress. But overall I did not feel the cabins lived up to their "boutique" moniker. All cabins have private bathrooms but they are the typical head-plus-shower that leaves the whole bathroom wet after use. A true luxury boat would have a separate stall shower. In addition, the upper cabins have bi-fold doors leading into the bathrooms, rather than an actual door with a closing mechanism. If the boat was experiencing any considerable motion, such as it did on the many nights where it motored to another location, the bi-fold doors would slam open and closed throughout the night. We eventually had to stuff a washcloth in the hinge in order to get some sleep. Our cabin had a few roaches in it and I kept finding small gnats scattered across the daybed. Of course, that was nothing compared to a couple in another cabin who, possibly because of their non-functioning air conditioning unit, had a bad cockroach problem and many times had roaches in their bed and even running across their faces! We were on the first cruise out of drydock, where the bugs came aboard; we found out on the last day that they hadn't time to fumigate before our cruise began but it was going to be fumigated as soon as we left (of course that didn't do the other couple any good). Due to their locations, all of the upper-deck cabins also seem to be plagued with exhaust fumes.
One thing you are not going to do on the Arenui is go hungry. A typical day's schedule is as follows:
7am - continental breakfast
8:00 - dive one
9:30 - full, hot breakfast
11:00 - dive two
1pm - lunch
3:00 - dive three
4:30 - snacks
6:30 - dive four (night)
8:00 - dinner
With this schedule I'd be quite surprised if anyone left the boat without gaining a few pounds! Meals were typically Western-style with some Indonesian influences, and were completely delicious. My guess is that the chefs were restaurant-trained as the food was on par with our restaurants at home (San Francisco: land of amazing food). Even the presentation was top-notch. As a vegetarian I obviously cannot eat the meat and fish on the regular menus, but instead of having me make do with whatever vegetable side dish was available, at each meal the chef prepared a special plate for me. He even went so far as to create vegetarian snacks for all so that I could eat them as well. And just in case you were hungry outside of meal times, there was always a bowl of fruit and some cookies available to munch on. Soft drinks, teas, and instant coffee were also always available and free, while alcoholic beverages and "real" coffee cost extra.
Diving off the Arenui is done from skiffs, with guests and dive guides divided between two different boats. Your gear is waiting for you on the skiffs, and crew handle putting camera gear on board so you can have your hands mostly free to negotiate boarding (divers do carry their masks on board). Four or five divers sit on either side of the skiff, but they are so small that it is difficult to put on your fins without kicking the person across. There is no dedicated space for camera equipment. It would have been nice if the skiffs were large enough that everyone could gear up at once instead of taking turns. Entries were via backward roll, and exits were done up a ladder after doffing your gear which the crew would then haul up on board.
Since most all your gear is kept on the skiff, or in the hold while the boat is underway, you never have access to it during the cruise. Sure, a crew member can run down and grab something if you ask them, but if you are one of those people (like me) who likes to set up their own gear and keep an eye on it during a trip you are out of luck.
But let's get to the real reason we were on the boat - the diving. Our itinerary took us west from Bali, crossing north of Lombok, Moyo, Sangeang, and Banta, then travelling down the far side of Komodo to Rinja. Dive sites were varied with everything from muck to volcanic black sand (warm in places due to underlying thermal activity!) to gorgeous reefs covered in soft coral. Water temperatures at the more northerly sites averaged a pleasant 81F, but the south sides of Komodo and Rinja islands had temps in the 73-75F range; divers were layering up with all the neoprene they brought along to ward off the chill.
The diving itself was spectacular, as Indonesian diving should be. Dives were typically limited to 60-70 minutes, depending on the situation, and we were allowed to dive our own profiles. With few exceptions divers were allowed to go off on their own (as opposed to staying right next to the dive guide); the flip side of this was that if you wanted to take advantage of the incredible spotting skills of the guides, it was your responsibility to find them underwater, as they would not wait for divers. During the course of our cruise we were able to cross off many iconic species from our wish list--pygmy seahorses, frogfish, stargazers, Rhinopias eschmeyeri, etc.--thanks to the aforementioned spotting skills.
Overall, I had very mixed feelings about the Arenui. Let me say here that I am no stranger to liveaboard diving, and have done many trips on some of the most highly-regarded boats in the world, including the Na'ia, Undersea Hunter's Argo, Solmar V, Manthiri, etc.--all top-notch quality boats with superb crews and great food. So when consider my experience on the Arenui I not only compare it with those world-class boats, I also compare it with the boutique hotels I have stayed at. I am also not a person who puts form before function; it doesn't matter how nice something appears if it does not do the job well. With all this in mind I feel the Arenui is a pretty boat, with a quality crew and delicious food, but it falls short of being a true "luxury" boat for the reasons I have described above. I also feel it is a boat for people who are used to the pampering of five-star hotels and to them that is more important than the diving itself. Would I dive with them again? I honestly do not know.