It’s so hard to know where to begin with this review. The Paul Gauguin had come highly recommended to us, and we so wanted to love this ship and this cruise, but in truth it fell short of our expectations in some pretty basic areas. The cruise wasn’t horrible, and we still enjoyed ourselves, but for a line that touts itself as luxury, we found we have had considerably better experiences on some mass-market cruise lines. I will try to make this review as balanced as possible, giving examples of both the positive and the negative.
A little about us: We are in our mid-40’s, and are experienced world travelers with over 45 countries, and 14 cruises under our belts prior to this one, in addition to countless land vacations. Historically, we have always cruised with mass-market lines, primarily Celebrity, with Princess in second place. This was our first “luxury” cruise, and were being joined on board by 3 other couples, one of which is my best friend and her husband, whom we see infrequently as they live in a different country. I should also mention my friend and my husband have dietary restrictions for medical reasons.
Airport greeting and day room at the InterContinental:
We were met at the airport without incident, and directed to the bus to take us to the InterContinental Resort Tahiti. Check-in was smooth, and we were in our room shortly. Our bags came fairly quickly. The room was nice, and we enjoyed the buffet lunch and the pool area. After lunch we were waiting for the transfer to the ship, and there was a lot of confusion among the guests as to where to wait, who was supposed to go on what bus, etc. This was the first indication I got that communication is not a strong suit amongst the PG employees. Perhaps it’s a cultural thing, perhaps they’re used to a lot of repeaters who know the ropes, or maybe they’re just poor at communicating. Regardless, this was a common theme throughout our cruise.
We were looking forward to finally being on board! Our bus arrived at the ship, where there seemed to be confusion as to whether we could enter the port. A PG representative came on board, followed by the International Hostess, then there was a rush to get us to complete a form about our health before being allowed into the port area. Given PG ran the transfer, and the bus was from a single hotel, this could easily have been completed at the InterContinental, or even on the bus ride over. Finally, we were in the port area, and embarking the vessel.
We were directed to the Grand Salon, where we were given sparkling wine, then a very militant woman ordered us to take seats. Her communication skills were extremely poor, and when I asked what the procedure was she said we were going to be called by cabin number. This turned out to be entirely wrong, as they were calling people up in the order in which they were seated, which I have no problem with, but would like it to be communicated to me in an honest fashion. While we were waiting my best friend and her husband came in to the Grand Salon, so I got up to greet them, fully intending to return to my correct place in the queue once I had said hello. From the way we were treated by the woman with the communication challenges you would have thought we were committing a crime. She bustled up to us and loudly demanded that I return to my seat immediately, and she sent my friends to the opposite side of the room. I was mortified, but we came to find as the cruise went on that this person, who ironically is part of the Guest Services Department, seemed to have nothing but disdain for the guests. Frequently throughout the cruise we witnessed her rolling her eyes at passenger requests, and she seemed to relish giving incorrect information, or as little information as possible.
We were finally called up to check-in, which is done at a table at the front of the Grand Salon. There are about four representatives sitting along the table, and there is little room to stand as you are dealing with your assigned rep. While we were being checked in the rep sitting beside my rep informed me that I needed to move over 10 cm, which is about 4 inches, as I was encroaching on “her space”. So in the space of 20 minutes I had already encountered 2 staff members with a bad attitude toward the guests. This did not bode well for the rest of the cruise.
The cabin and housekeeping:
After check-in we were escorted to our cabin, number 767 off the stern of the ship. My understanding is that this cabin, along with the four adjacent cabins, were originally a lounge that was converted to 5 odd sized and shaped cabins, and therefore are also newer cabins than the rest on board. Ours was the largest of the five, with an oversized balcony, and it was very nicely appointed, with a large, beautiful bathroom. There were flowers, fruit and chocolates in our room, a luggage protector on the bed for us to unpack, and a fridge filled with pop, bottled water, and two kinds of beer. While unpacking we found we needed more hangers, and our request was quickly fulfilled with one call to housekeeping. Unfortunately, this is where the positives about this particular cabin end. The first time I went out onto the balcony I noticed that the carpet in front of the balcony door was damp, and noticed a musty smell. I assumed at that time that they had just shampooed that area of the carpet and that it would dry. I was wrong. It turns out that the sliding glass door in this cabin does not seal properly, so not only was water coming in from rain and from the crew hosing down the balconies, but the smell of diesel from the engines also seeps into the cabin any time the engines are running, which is pretty much always. We spoke with housekeeping on a number of occasions about the constantly wet carpet, and one afternoon my husband went back to the cabin to find the door propped open and an industrial fan inside. There was no staff around to ensure that no one entered our cabin, which simply is not acceptable. My husband called housekeeping and complained about our cabin being left open with access for anyone who chose to enter.
Our room stewardess did a very good job keeping our room clean, and she was very friendly and polite. However, she was often forgetful about things like extra towels, which is not a big deal, but once again, if a ship touts superior service they should actually have superior service.
Our first dinner was in L’Etoile, and it started off well, with the Head Waiter, Cesar, coming by to discuss dietary needs with my husband, and my best friend who had called ahead with dietary information prior to the cruise. The staff was a little off, and continually forgot to refill our water glasses with bottled water, but the food was excellent and it was only the first night, so we cut them some slack. As the cruise went on the service in L’Etoile did not improve, with the exception of Cesar, and our Sommelier, Arthur, who were excellent throughout. We were given dirty looks when we asked for bottled water or sparkling water, and our glasses were often left empty for long periods of time. This was especially annoying to my husband, who does not drink alcohol, so the bottled water was his beverage of choice at dinner. Finally my husband asked for a bottle of still water to be placed on the table so he could help himself, and was told no. We were also denied the cheese cart on one occasion until I insisted. This in particular left me aghast, as the cart is visible in the dining room, and cheese is offered on the dessert menu! Also, not once was coffee or tea offered to us after dinner in L’Etoile.
We had been allowed to make our specialty dining reservations through our travel agent ahead of the cruise, as we were a party of eight. We had reservations to eat in La Veranda two nights, and Le Grill two nights. The second evening on board was our first of two reservations in La Veranda. At breakfast that day we went to check our reservation with the Maitre d’, Alex, and to ensure he had been advised of the dietary restrictions of our group. He told us that there were no substitutions allowed to the La Veranda menu, so if our party could not eat from the menu as it was we would not be able to eat there. Once again, my jaw was on the ground. Substitutions are a far cry from dietary restrictions, and when the mass market lines bend over backward to accommodate my friend’s gluten intolerance it’s pathetic that a “luxury” vessel simply dismissed her needs in this particular dining room. When we arrived at L’Etoile that evening Cesar was surprised to see us, so I explained to him what happened, and voiced my disappointment that in two days on board I had heard “no” more times than I could count. Cesar later had a word with the Maitre d’ from La Veranda and made sure we were accommodated for our reservation later in the cruise, but this situation simply should not have happened in the first place. In the end, the food in La Veranda was excellent, and our friends ended up eating there a second time for dinner prior to the end of the cruise.
By day three on board we had discovered Le Grill for both breakfast and lunch, and this became the regular spot for most of our group most days. The staff in Le Grill was clearly the best trained and most accommodating of all the dining venues on the ship, and by the second time we went there one of the staff, Ryann, had adopted my friend and took it upon himself to ensure that whatever arrived at the table for her was always gluten free. We also had dinner there one night as a group of 8, then 4 of us returned later in the cruise for another excellent meal. The food was as outstanding as the service.
The lounges and bars:
On our first day we went to La Palette Lounge, where we were greeted by the very friendly and competent staff. They turned out to one of the highlights of this cruise, and we spent several evenings in La Palette with Jayson and Michael taking excellent care of us.
In addition to the great service in the La Palette Lounge, we found that the two other bars on board, the Piano Bar and the Pool Bar, also had very good service, always with a smile. Randy, who ran the pool bar, deserves special mention, as he was probably one of the busiest barmen on board, yet always managed to keep everyone happy. He also made the best lattes on board.
This cruise experienced a lot of rain, and some pretty rough seas, and as a result a number of the shore excursions we had booked were cancelled. This is completely understandable, and not the fault of the cruise line. However, when we went to the shore excursion desk to enquire what was activities were not cancelled and still had space, we ran into our favourite eye rolling employee once again. I mentioned previously that she seemed to relish giving incorrect or minimal information, and we experienced this for ourselves the first of two days in Bora Bora. Due to the rough waters our Aqua Bike Adventure Tour was cancelled, as were the snorkeling excursions our friends were taking. We went to the Excursions desk to find out what else we could do, and were told there was nothing, other than renting a car or hiring a taxi around the island. A little later that morning we discovered there was a tender to a motu, where there was swimming and snorkeling, and a bar set-up for the guests. It would have been nice if the shore excursion rep had told us that! So, off we went to the motu, where there was indeed a bar for the guests, but as no one communicated to us where it was we didn’t find it until some time later, as we couldn’t see it because of blessing ceremony that was taking place in the same area.
We did do some other excursions through the ship, all of which were excellent, including:
The 4x4 Safari Adventure in Huahine with our driver, Joe was fantastic. Joe has a particular fondness for the sacred blue eyed eels, and was feeding them mackerel from his mouth, causing them to leap up out of the water to get it. On return to the pier we had a fairly long wait for the tender, and here’s another example of where communication was lacking. This was our first port, so we did not know what to expect at the tender pier. When we arrived for the return tender there was a hut set up with local vendors selling their wares. Inside the hut were a couple of drink dispensers, and a few folding chairs, many of which were occupied by the vendors. We thought it strange that there were no cold drinks or towels being offered to us, or that any shade was provided, and assumed the drinks in the dispensers were for sale by the vendors. No one told us that the hut was there for the passengers, and that the vendors were just an added bonus. The PG employee working on the pier did not offer the information, and no one offered us anything. By comparison, when arriving back at the ship or a tender pier on a Celebrity cruise there is always a canopy with furniture set-up so you can be comfortable while you wait, and there are staff members offering and serving you cold water and fruit punch, and cold towels. At subsequent tender piers it was a little more clear that the chairs and beverages were there for the passengers, but still no offer of services. In fact, when my husband went up to one of the staff in Fakarava and asked if there were cold towels in the cooler he was told yes, but not offered one. He had to specifically say, “Well, can I have one?” then he just opened the cooler and took one himself.
The Lagoon Cruise and Polynesian Feast in Bora Bora: if there is one excursion we did that is a “do not miss” it is this one! We took a boat first to a sandbar where we could swim and snorkel with stingrays and black tipped reef sharks in water that was less than four feet deep. We then went on to a coral reef area, which was about 20 feet deep, where there was more swimming and snorkeling with views of the coral reef and thousands of beautiful fish. Even for people who no not snorkel I would highly recommend this tour as you can see so much just by looking down into the clear water. Finally, we boated to a motu where lunch was prepared in a pit oven and on a barbecue. We had roast pork, chicken and taro leaf stew, roasted breadfruit, and roasted plantains from the pit oven. From the barbecue there was mahi mahi and reef fish. This was all accompanied by fresh fruit, fruit salad with coconut milk, champagne, and red or white wine. Everything was delicious, and you can’t beat having a meal at a table set in the surf!
We also rented a waverunner on Moorea, which took us almost halfway around the island. Not only did we have a great time just riding out on the water and looking at the beautiful scenery, but were also lucky enough to see a pod of dolphins!
The cruise director, Michael Shapiro, was a decent entertainer. He sounded a lot like Barry Manilow, and clearly knew it since he sang a lot of Barry Manilow tunes throughout the cruise.
The Gaugines and Gauguins were charming, and we enjoyed their entertainment in the dining room and by the pool, as well as in the Grand Salon.
Probably our favourite show was the crew show, “Krew Kapers”. We thought they did an excellent job, and we had a lot of fun pointing out the crew members we recognized.
We really enjoyed the band, Santa Rosa. They were at their absolute best when they were playing top 40 music, as that’s what their voices lent themselves to. On our last evening we were the only people in La Palette for about half an hour, and we told them to just play whatever they liked. They did fantastic covers of Eminem and Rihanna’s Love it When You Lie, Ester Dean and Chris Brown’s Drop it Low, and PSY’s Gangnam Style. They’re truly a talented group.
The pianist, John, was a lovely man, and had great style. He played a lot of his own original music, which we enjoyed very much.
We had a good time on this cruise, but felt it was overpriced for the end product. Every mass market ship I’ve been on has both outstanding and poor staff, and for the price I pay for a mass market cruise I can live with that. For a luxury cruise ship to have staff that is no better trained than the staff on a ship that costs one quarter of the price is simply not acceptable, and I will not be giving PG any repeat business. The highlights of the cruise were the quality and variety of the food, the excellent bar and lounge staff, and the destination. The lows were the one person in the Guest relations/shore excursion department, and the dining room staff in La Veranda and L’Etoile, with the exception of the few outstanding staff I mentioned.