Having heard and read a number of wonderful reviews of the Paul Gauguin we chose to sail in August to celebrate my birthday. We booked "independently" through a local travel agent and the communication from PG cruises was difficult at times - unlike previous cruises this was not a seamless experience. PG cruises is clearly focussed on the American market and as NZers we had to pay in American dollars into an Australian bank account which was a difficult process involving additional bank fees. (Hint to PG, the NZ and Aus dollar is strong at the moment and we are close to Tahiti - you are missing an opportunity to fill your boat!)
We selected the majority of our shore excursions prior to travelling but there were problems with time clashes in our initial selection. The PG website would do well to include departure times and lengths for all its shore excursions to allow better planning. Frustratingly the website would not work for us to book online and our travel agent had to do this manually.
But finally we did get to board, not a moment before 3pm as previously mentioned by other reviewers. The boarding process was very efficient and friendly and we were shown to our cabin by our butler and sipping champagne within minutes of boarding.
We indulged ourselves with a Grand Suite - it is indeed grand. Starting with the balconies, the side balcony is a reasonable size with two chairs and a table, the forward balcony is accessed via a door and has a further two chairs plus table and then two loungers and still plenty of room plus you get to have a forward view as you sail into ports whilst the top deck is still closed. It is only very slightly visible from the top deck but if someone cheekily uses the emergency exit beside the cabin they can tuck their head around the corner and see most of your forward deck - not that I saw anybody do so the entire time I sunned myself out there.
The mini bar is supplemented with additional full size bottles of spirits - gin and whisky, along with a bottle of Bollinger on boarding. We had a nespresso machine but you had to request milk to be delivered.
There was plenty of room with a couch large enough for three, two lounge chairs and a very comfortable vanity chair. Suffice to say we had room to entertain others which we enjoyed doing so.
I will do a separate thread in the PG forum about the food - I have a dairy allergy and did have some issues. Briefly though the food was excellent and the service very attentive, staff were quick to learn our preferences though a bit slow in topping up our wines. We did enjoy our dinner with the Cruise Director Michael Shapiro on the second night - all at his table were excellent company.
We did not see much of each evenings entertainments having exhausted ourselves on excursions and just needing the rest anyway we were often asleep early but the reports from our fellow travellers were glowing.
Day one in Raiatea we chose to go kayaking. The ship does not dock until mid morning so the excursions are basically afternoon excursions. The local guide was enthusiastic and informative and we drove ourselves silly by choosing to paddle in different directions at the same time no doubt amusing our fellow paddlers.
Day two we lazed on the private motu at Taha'a and enjoyed the BBQ lunch. The snorkelling here and indeed throughout most of the trip was a little disappointing to me - I saw much more in Fiji (but the boats that service Fiji are definitely down market in comparison to the Paul Gauguin).
Day three we arrived in Bora Bora and I can see why this is described as the most beautiful atoll in the pacific. We enjoyed a morning snorkelling with the sharks and rays and then the coral garden. This excursion was the highlight of the trip, I never imagined myself swimming with sharks and it was awesome. We had a quiet afternoon on the boat before having a private sunset cruise - our guide for this was indulgent to our whims and provided charming entertainment in the background as we sipped champagne and watched the sun slide into the ocean from a picturesque location.
Day four was also in Bora Bora and we had an afternoon Land & Sea excursion. The off-road section of this is VERY bumpy - do not go on this excursion if you are timid or worry about the vehicle tipping violently about for it does. The guide even plays this aspect up. But you do get to see some amazing views. We finished by snorkelling at a different coral garden to the one used by the previous days tour so got to see some different sights.
The evening cruise to Moorea was a little rocky and my partner did struggle. Fortuitously we had chosen to dine at Le Grill that night which is located in the centre of the boat - the best place to be when the ship is in motion. Our excursion the next afternoon was cancelled due to a lack of numbers, but we were informed in time for us to book the morning on the catamaran tour - though whale watching is not an advertised feature of this excursion we did indeed get to spend some time watching a mother and calf as they cruised along the coast line just outside the reef.
The following day we went whale and dolphin watching, this is mostly done outside the reed and my partner was definitely not coping so they dropped him back to shore and he walked back to the boat. The excursion operators offered alternatives but he was happy back on dry land! Again we got to see more whales, but few dolphins on this trip. It was also rewarding knowing that this excursion supplements the research funds of a local American university lecturer.
By that evening the boat was back in Papeete and it was a sudden reminder of how quiet it had been in all the other locations we had anchored at.
Disembarkation was smooth and trouble free. Though we did discover several others going to the same hotel as ourselves at the same time and we would have been happy to share transport but as PG had already arranged individual transfers it was too late to do this. Those who have booked travel etc via PG get and island tour - this sadly is not offered to the independents though I think it should be.
Overall, this was an excellent cruise on a well appointed and maintained boat with wonderfully attentive staff.