This was our 34th cruise, second to Tahiti, but first on Paul Gauguin as we have mostly sailed with Princess, Carnival, Celebrity and Norwegian. We drove to LAX and arrived much too early and had to hang around this most boring of airports. After security the seating at the gate was very crowded, standing room only with many international flights leaving at the ungodly hour of 11pm. The Air Tahiti Nui flight left on time and we sat in economy class in row 16. The seats are on the small size but foot room with generous. They served a cold light meal shortly after takeoff and a hot breakfast shortly before landing. The plane cabin itself was cold with long pants and a sweater and my husband in jeans and a sweatshirt. off. Similarly, the flight back from Tahiti after our cruise was cold as well. The flight landed on time in Papeete slightly after 6 am. in the dark. Be prepared to climb down the stairs.
Once we arrived in Tahiti, there were three lines through passport control. Once we cleared passport control, we picked up our bags and made our way to the Paul Gauguin Cruises transfer bus. Our bags were loaded onto a separate van and the bus left for the short trip, 10 minutes or so, to the Intercontinental for the included day room .
Check in at the Intercontinental was organized. They have a table set up with everyone's room keys. You just have to provide a credit card for incidentals. Breakfast was served 6:30 am to 10:30 am and was complimentary as part of the day room package. Bags had to be placed back outside the room for pickup at 12:30 pm and we were asked to vacate the room at 1:00 pm. We enjoyed the lovely pool and beach and also took the hotel's shuttle to town to Le Marche. We caught a cab back. It was pleasant to have a shower and a bed.
This left some time to kill as buses to the cruise ship did not depart until 2:45 pm. onto one of The bus ride to the ship is short and we were on the ship around 4 pm. There was a short wait in the main theater before we could turn in our passports and pick up our room keys and then we were off to our room. We were in cabin 421 near the travel concierge, the room was spacious compared to other cruise lines as was the bathroom. We did have some noise from the tenders being lowered each day, but that was our wake up call. We were able to get flippers from the dive dock.
The demographics of the cruise were ages 40-65 with some older and younger folks but only 2 children. There was a medical conference attended by 80 physicians mostly and many French speaking Canadians.
Food: On the first day food is available at the grill but not very exciting. However the included booze was a pleasure all cruise long. Basically though the food quality was excellent, especially at lunch, and a big step up from the generic cruise lines we have frequented. We ate dinner in La Veranda only once as it was hard to get reservations but actually preferred L Etoile because of the high ceiling and feeling of openness. Meal times were limited with dinner not available until 7pm. People were always lined up to get into the dining room by 6:45. The Piano Bar was a nice venue to have a pre dinner drink.
We attended a few of the shows, the Gauguines, Michael Shapiro, the CD and quite the ham, and the Krew Kapers. For a small ship the theater venue was very nicely set up. There were also 2 local groups who came onboard and a very good band Siglo. We were not interested in the magic show or the piano player but enjoyed the enrichment lectures by Michael Poole and Mark Eddowes. I bought an internet package to keep in touch with home, never rented a DVD and my trusty Kindle had some sort of stroke because I could not access the most recent content I had loaded up my reading for the cruise and it disappeared (even the book I was reading on the plane). La Palette was a nice setting facing the wake but there was frequently soot and smokers. The pool area was well maintained and actually deep and swimmable but sometimes they was a towel shortage toward the end of the day.
Huahine: We arrived on a Sunday so options were limited without a ship's tour. We walked the 5 minutes to the beach near the dock which is actually the Maitai hotel. The beach was small but there was some snorkeling and there was an interesting museum in the lobby and the grounds were nice to walk through.
Cook Island excursions:
We generally prefer doing independent excursions. The order of stops in the Cook Islands was reversed secondary to weather considerations. This was also mentioned by a previous review so we also had to contact Avis and Teking to rearrange our dates. However, the Travel concierge was most helpful and responsive. I must mention that this was the first cruise where the travel concierge or shore excursion people would actually provide information on the ports, beaches, transportation that had nothing to do with the ship's excursions.
We rented a car and had a great day. We drove to Titakaveka to snorkel and then to Muri Beach. We had lunch at Sails and stayed on the beach afterward.
We did the Teking tour. The King as he likes to call himself arrived late and we waited with a small group of cruisers. He then picked up 3 other couples (Italian). His boat was not the best but adequate, he was very knowledgeable about the area and we got our money's worth, I was exhausted about halfway through. Make sure to bring towels as they were not provided as promised. The Aitutaki lagoon was spectacular with several snorkel stops as well as motu stops and a delicious motu lunch. The photographs we took were amazing. There is little shade make sure to have loads of sunscreen and some type of cover up and hat.
Day 1: We did Reef Discovery and had Pasquale, there were 2 very nice boats, Christophe in the other one. They were very prompt. We saw rays, a moray eel and Stingray and and great coral.
Day 2: We went to the Motu quite a long ride from the ship. We had a zip open beach blanket which came in handy in several of the ports. Bora Bora sunset was amazing.
Tahaa: Just another great beach day. There were only a few vendors and prices not that great. We were able to catch the first tender almost every day.
Day 1: We decided to take a cab to the Hilton and buy a day pass for 6000xpf. Cab fare was $20 each way and getting a cab back took 20 minutes after a call was made. It was a lovely setting and snorkeling was great.
Day 2: we took the free shuttle van to the stores in the "town." It was probably the hottest day We bought a pearl for my daughter. We then ate lunch back on the ship, and started packing.
Last day we had to vacate the room by 9:30 but could check a day bag in the theater. We went back to Le MArche and had lunch on the ship afterward. We were off the ship and on our way to the Sofitel by 1:00. We had a day room at the Sofitel which was adequate at best. Shower and a bed, nice pool, but the beach was lacking. We were taken to the airport at 8pm for an 11pm flight. The lines were long and it was hot, got back to LAX at 11am.
It was a wonderful cruise, we had the most amazing weather, not a drop of rain. To wake up everyday and see French Polynesia is a fantasy, you just keep pinching yourself. If its on your bucket list, just go. It really for active people, don't wait till its too late to really enjoy it.