Without a doubt, our sailing on the Paul Gauguin was our best cruise experience after 18 cruises. I am not sure we will be happy with a "regular" cruise ever again. So many aspects of this cruise will make it hard to not want them as part of future cruise experiences.
I had a little concern about the Paul Gauguin sailing due to what I thought was a high fare for the 11 day sailing and due to the smaller size of the ship. Would it be a rough ride and would we get seasick? Would we get stir crazy and feel closed in or notice a serious lack of space resulting in a lack of enjoyment for ourselves? Nothing could be further from the truth. When you take everything into consideration, the PG cruise epxerience is a great value!
This will be long review but important informaiton for a potential Paul Gauguin passenger. Here goes. Overall, this is the best cruise ship and cruise line we have ever sailed - by far! The ship is a wonderfully smaller vessel with ample space for the 330 passengers (if at full capacity). The ship is clean, beautifully appointed, nicely laid out, and has everything any passenger would need at sea. The staterooms (we had a window stateroom - but often perfer a balcony room) are very beutiful, well designed, with TONS of storage space. In fact, we have never in 17 pervious sailings had so much room for our clothing and other personal items. We had entire areas empty in our room after putting everything away. The bathrooms have a tub/shower combination and are very large with lots of space to store items as well. The bed was marvelously comfortable. No twin beds pushed together with the split down the middle. The linens, towels, toiletries, and other items were of the highest quality. Our room was appointed with fresh fruit and flowers as well and stocked with beverages that were restocked daily. We didn't miss having a balcony on this ship during the entire 11 days.
The food was everything one would expect. It was high quality, very artistically presented, well prepared and alwasys in good supply. No less than 6 entree choices for each dinner meal. Breakfast and lunch were served both buffet style and by order from the table. We often ate from both. The buffet and the menu choices will satisfy any pallet. The specialty restaurants are by reservation but at no charge. We ate twice at La Veranda and it felt a little more upscale and the service was slightly more attentive if that is possible. If you don't like the food on PG you are a food snob. While the restaurants serve only specific hours and for 2 hours in duration, the limited meal service didn't have any impact on our experience and there were never any lines or rude passengers in any of the dining venues or elsewhere for that matter.
The beverages were high quality and always served cheerfully. We had champange with breakfast along with coffee and diet Coke. Had champange or wine at lunch, drinks by the pool and around the ship from 9:00am til bedtime. Same with dinner; whatever you wanted they found a way to get it to you. If you wanted a chardonnay rather than a viognier they happily brought it to you. The best part is you didn't have to ask for beverages. The wine glasses were always topped off often without noticing this action. The wait staff constantly asked if they could bring us another of our beverage of choice or something else. "Mr. Scott, may I bring you another skinny pirate?" I heard that more than a few times.
The staff was the best on any ship at sea. They learned your name within a day or so and then began to address you by Mr. or Mrs. (first or last name here). The entire staff smiled nonstop and left us with the impresion they loved their jobs and making our cruise the best ever. Whiled there may be a few wonderfully attentive servers on other cruise lines and ships, the entire PG staff was on their game and happy to provide you whatever your heart desired. Too many people to mention by name - they were all that good.
Entertainment was good to great given the size of the ship and that these same folks also do many other things each day of the cruise. The staff entertainers were very good. Dan the piano man was one cool dude. Steve the cruise director a nice and friendly man who also loved to sing. The locals who performed did so with passion and enthusiasm. Only one bad entertainment experience to mention - Lord Nobody! This poor soul was to be an illusionist of sorts but was very bad at his craft. His show was so bad many (I mean lots) of people left in the middle of his act; it WAS that bad. He had a second show from what I was told and only 20 total people showed up with many of them leaving before the end of his poor second performance. His name proved to be very appopriate - Lord Nobody. Perhaps Lord No Talent would have been a better choice. Sorry dude!
The ports were awesome. It is why we book the trip having spent our honeymoon in Moorea and Bora Bora years before. Nothing has changed - still the best place on earth. Of course, the locals are so welcoming and friendly; it is part of their culture. Each port was very interesting. The two Cook Islands were a bit under developed and I highly recommend booking excursions on those visits or getting a scooter to explore like we did.
Many of the excursions were quite good too. Many can be booked independent of the cruise line before you go. Mark's Motu Picnic and Snorkel on Huahine is particulary wonderful. The picnic is the best part!! The poisson cru on this excursion is the benchmark for this local Tahitian dish - best ever! Reef Discovery on Bora Bora is excellent as well. I tried to book a horseback riding excursion direct on Huahine but the vendor who normally charges $69 dollars pp directly wouldn't take reservations when the PG was in port - reservations had to go through the PG at $179 dollars pp for the same experience. Didn't like that so the Mark's Motu Picnic got our business and it worked to our advantage. A Great time!
On-borading and Off-boarding is well done and organized. Going aboard was easy and our luggage beat us to our room. The unlimited champange at check in was a glimpse of things to come for our cruise. Leaving the ship was even better. Most cruisers know the feeling you get from the crew on the last morning aborad - that "get off the ship" look and feeling. Not so on the PG. The full Breakfast treatment is one clear exception. However, the bar opens at 9:00am and service is as always until you actually leave the ship - one of the perks of the all-inclusive beverages. The ship also serves a full lunch before asking you to depart by 12:30. Nonoe of the "kick you off and now fend for yourself" feeling. The day rooms before and after the cruise are wonderful, nice, clean, and welcoming. The Intercontinental pools are excellent! If you have to buy a meal or drinks hold on to your wallets! I can't speak about the Radison but the Intercontinental was a nice property and we would stay a few days on either side of a future vacation at the Intercontinental for sure.
The other passengers - we either drew a lucky group or the smaller ship and level of clients makes for a wonderful group of fellow passengers. We found only one family to be "over the top" - a family from Columbia who gave off the entitlement vibe. They also traveled with small children and three (3) nannies if that helps you envision what I am implying. I wouldn't really recommned this cruise for an entire family if your kids are really young. Other than this unhappy lot, other passengers were the most cordial, well-mannered, nice, friendly bunch of people.......... ever. A special shout out to the following people:
David and Shirley from Dallas/Ft. Worth
Sam and Lee from San Francisco
Horst and Anna from Switzerland
Thomas and Marianne from Switzerland
Nat and Frances from Tallahassee
Ted and Betty from Vancouver, BC
All in all, the best vacation we have experienced since the honeymoon. I need an negroni!