We have been talking about a South Seas cruise for the past 15 years and finally made the plan a reality! This was my first cruise and now I am spoiled for the rest of my life. The seven day Paul Gauguin Cruise experience in the Society Islands is fantastic. I do not like crowds so I thoroughly enjoyed the small ship.
The eight and one half hour flight from LAX to Papeete was the absolute worst part of the otherwise fantastic trip. As other reviewers have noted coach on Air Tahiti is extremely uncomfortable. The seats are small the "in-flight" entertainment is extremely dated. The food is fair. I struggled with the ideal of upgrading as it is very expensive and would rather spend the money on another cruise! Be warned if flying out of the Tom Bradley terminal in LAX there is only one bar and very limited food (think hot dogs and pre made sandwiches) once you are past security. The international terminal is moving so this may be corrected in the future.
Arrival in Papeete in the pre-dawn hours was as expected. The line through immigration was long and slow. The non US passport line was much shorter and when they were done did not assist the US passport line. All in all it took about an hour and the luggage was waiting.
Pre-cruise day room
Our pre-cruise room was at the InterContinental Hotel. The room was adequate, the view was wonderful. The room was a little noisy as you could hear other guests (mostly children) talking loudly in the hallway. Breakfast was very nice followed by a walk around the grounds before vacating the room at 1:00 p.m. to wait for the 2:30 bus. The luggage instructions were always a little confusing.
The arrival at the dock set the stage for a very memorable cruise. We were greeted and taken to the main salon where everything was very organized. I did not expect to be photographed but for security sake that is a good thing. We were personally escorted to our cabin where we were introduced to our butler and stewardess. Since I never had a butler before I did not know what to expect. Unfortunately somewhere along the line I expected "Mr. French" from "Family Affair" so it was a little disappointing. Overall the service was remarkable. The staff addressed us by name and always greeted with a smile. We had the Veranda stateroom that was very spacious and beautifully furnished. Being on the same floor as the pool and the La Veranda restaurant was very convenient.
There was way too much food, breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and 24 hour room service. The breakfast and lunch buffets were basically the same every day. The lunch entrees changed. It would have been nice if the lunch menus were published so you would know what to expect. The dinners were always great.
When booking the cruise I did not expect the excursions to be so expensive. We did not receive the price list until a couple of weeks before the cruise. We did not decide what to do until the first day on the ship. Everything we wanted was available and since I had no strong preference it really did not matter.
Raiatea -- We did the Pearl Farm and Snorkeling. I had no ideal about how cultivated pearls were created. It really is a fantastic process. I could have spent less time in the "souvenir" shop as I had no desire to purchase any! We did not listen to the instructions of getting snorkeling gear prior to departing. Fortunately were figured out we needed the gear before we left the crew kept the place open for us to get the gear. The snorkeling was great even though it started to rain.
Taha'a: - The day at the private beach was great, plenty of food, drink, swimming, snorkeling and relaxing! Definitely catch the first launch there and the last one back.
Bora Bora -- We did bus tour. The island was a little disappointing there were unused cars literally stacked one on top of another in the yards of homes. I guess when you are on an island there are limited options for unused junk. The tour guide was great and there was the usual stop to purchase items!
Moorea -- Definitely the most beautiful of the islands! We again did the bus tour. The scenery is gorgeous!
The entertainment provided on ship was always good. The locals providing entertainment were always fascinating.
It was very hard to leave the perfect vacation but the departure process was well organized and allowed us to remain in the cabin and then on the ship for the maximum amount of time. The tour through Papeete was very good. The guide was a native who had lived in the U.S. and then returned to the island. With that background she was able to provide excellent insite into the island and the culture.
The post hotel day room was at the Radisson. The hotel is very dated and very depressing. I would not recommend it for more than a 6 hour stay. The view is gorgeous but the room decor definitely need work.
The flight back to Los Angeles was just as miserable as the flight to Papeete. There was a very long wait at the airport. Customs at LAX was a pleasant non-event and the lines were very short, of course you have the customary long, long walk from the arrival gate to customs!
All and all the cruise, cruise line, ship, staff and fellow passengers were wonderful. Looking forward to another.