While cruising on Paul Gauguin in January, 2011, we heard that an itinerary featuring whale watching, and in some cases getting in the water with humpback whales was being developed for September 2012. Humpback whales make the trip from Antarctic waters every year to mate and give birth off the islands of French Polynesia. We couldn't sign up fast enough when the voyage was published. We were away from home when our cruise documents arrived, so, by the time we called in to sign up for the whale watching excursions, they were full and we were put on the wait list. We were told Paul Gauguin was pulling out all the stops to take care of as many as possible. In the end, we were moved up and ticketed on the excursion. However, many guests on the ship were not able to get on the list. It is a little difficult to understand how or why a ship with a capacity of over 300 guests would set an itinerary where a large proportion of guests would not be able to participate. The morning that the ship arrived off the island of Rurutu, the winds were up and the ship moved to a more sheltered anchorage. Passengers were told that due to the winds, there would be no landings on the island & the whale watching would take place with large groups on the ship's tender, instead of the local fishing boats that had been booked. This was the first-ever visit of a cruise ship to Rurutu, and the local population had made great preparations. There was huge disappointment when no one could go ashore, and the locals went to great lengths to make landings possible but to no avail. In the end they came out to the ship in their own boats and put on one heck of a show. However, this became an issue in Polynesian newspapers, and the people clearly were not happy. The wind died down, the waters smoothed out, but the die was cast. It was very frustrating to watch one of the small boats that had been booked for our excursions come out with six people who got in the water next to the whales while more than 50 of us watched from a tender who could get nowhere near as close. Perhaps there was an overabundance of caution on the part of the ship's officers, perhaps not, but the majority of the passengers felt that way. It is clear, though, that they should have been there face-to-face with the guests explaining things instead of requiring others to put out brief blurbs on the PA system. There seemed to be no effort made to look at possible modifications to the program as conditions improved.
Eighteen months ago, we had a conversation with the son of Dr. Michael Poole so we were aware that at this time of year there were many whales off the island of Moorea, and in many ways easier to approach in better waters. We had made sure to sign up for Dr Poole's excursions, even though they were listed as dolphin watching tours, as this time of year there was as much or more interaction with whales as dolphins. Again, because of the way the excursions were listed, many people on a cruise advertised for its proximity to whales didn't get the opportunity because they didn't know this option was available, until after the limited capacity had been filled. By the way, our experience with Dr. Poole was beyond magic! In the water so close to a huge mother and her calf in water described as "clear as gin." This trip is listed again for 2013. It is clear that Paul Gauguin needs to take some lessons learned from this trip and rethink how they can make this work.
Having said all this, the ship and its staff were as outstanding as ever. It is cruising in great comfort, with great everything else, and a staff that makes sure one feels as if they are the most important people on the ship. It is clear that the most important commodity on this ship is the crew at every level. After Paul Gauguin underwent it's refurbishment earlier this year, the furniture at the pool deck bar was replaced with new stuff, including sofas arranged in a horseshoe around a table. It seemed to me that once two or three people were sitting there, others would be reluctant to sit down. I was talking about this with the guys at the bar one afternoon, and the next day the sofas had been rearranged so that smaller groups could sit down together,and still interact with the wider group. It is this culture of caring for the guest that begins as you board, and continues until you disembark, knowing that the next group boarding in just a few hours will get the same treatment.