We choose the Australs and Society Islands 11 day voyage on September 1rst, 2012, from Paul Gauguin Cruises for that it offered the best itinerary to visit French Polynesia and for the small size of the ship (330 passengers). After a 7 day stay in the enchanted Taha'a Island Resort, we enjoyed very much our cruise : the ports of call were well selected, the shore excursions were well organized, the ship was just the good size for tranquillity and range of services, the staff was very friendly and helpful and the cabin was comfortable.
We boarded in Papeete at 3:00 PM, we were directed to the Grand Salon for check-in and to our Balcony Room (#726). All things go very fast. It left us enough time before dinner to unpack our things and visit the ship.
The luggage were already in our room at our arrival. The stateroom was exactly as expected : a very comfortable bed, a small sitting area, a large window giving on the balcony with a table and 2 chairs. It is compact but convenient and we had enough room to store all our things. The bathroom was small but was efficient. There was a full bathtub with a good shower. We had no problems at all with hot water and pressure.
We went to Huahine, Bora Bora, Taha'a, Raietea, Rurutu, Moorea and Tahiti. Huahine is the Women Island and very unspoiled. The snorkeling there was phenomenal. We stayed two days in Bora Bora, the Pacific Pearl, but it was often cloudy so we kept a less good memory of this island. The snorkeling excursion close to the barrier reef was excellent but not on the second day in the lagoon since there was too much current. We spent a day on the Motu Mahana in Taha'a, the Vanilla Island, and the organization was stunning. There were tenders from the boat every half hour, beach chairs, a picnic barbecue, a bar and we could make snorkeling between the two motus close to the barrier reef. We visited the Sacred Island, Raietea. Then, it took a complete day and two nights to cruise to Rurutu. The swell was strong (13 feet high) and many persons were sick, but not us. We could unhappily swim with the humpback whales, the weather did not permit the tender to go to the island. Rurutu is a bad port of call because it is located in the middle of ocean; no reef could stop the waves and currents. The captain decided to come back very fast and it took only one night and one day to anchor in the marvellous bay of Opunohu in Moorea for a two day stop. Moorea was our best port of call. The weather was sunny, the island was spectacular and the snorkelling was very good : we saw dolphins, whales, sharks, rays and many lively corals and colorful fishes.
Food was the highlight of the cruise. The menu at the main dining room L'toile varied each evening and was wonderful (lamb from New Zealand, salmon from New Zealand, lobster from Nova Scotia, tuna steak, veal filet, mahi mahi, etc.). The red or white wine from France, New Zealand, California and Chili which was included was very good and served generously at the lunch and at the dinner. We made reservations for the two specialty restaurants : The Veranda and the Grill where we ate twice each one. At the Veranda, it was a more cozy atmosphere and the first time we took the 5 service menu (from the 3 star Michelin Apiccius Restaurant in Paris) and it was delicious: tuna tartare, vegetables broth, mushroom tart with gambas, beef filet, fresh fruits with vanilla ice cream. At the Grill, we took the green tossed salad with oil and miso vinaigrette, the New York pepper steak and the banana split which were very good. The last night of the cruise in Papeete we ate outside on the deck at the Grill for the second time. It was the best terrace in town and a happy end to our cruise. The breakfast at the Veranda was impressive : omelette, fried, or Benedict eggs served to our table, pastries, english muffins, croissants, toasts, cookies, oatmeal, cream of wheat, cereals, a large variety of fruits (kiwis, pineapple, orange, watermelon, etc.), juices, yogurt, cheese, cafe, etc.
The service was excellent everywhere on the ship. Every member of personnel said hello and was smiling. In the restaurants, the service was very attentive and efficient. The room was cleaned twice a day. We went to the Staff show (singers, dances, video) at the Grand Salon and it was emotional because we could see all the work required for a cruise.
The check out was well planned and we disembarked at 10 AM and sat on a bench in the shadow to wait our transfer from Tahiti Nui travel to our hotel in Papeete.
Overall, it was a fabulous cruise, with remarkable service, gourmet food and attractive destinations. We highly recommend Paul Gauguin Cruises for a perfect trip to French Polynesia.