Paul Gauguin - 2014-03-10 - 11 days - Society and Cook Islands
This is a somewhat difficult review to write as myself and my wife (64,60) experienced some highs we have never had on a cruise before, and some things we would never have expected on a cruise of this type.
We joined this cruise with a doctor and his wife who are friends and were taking the cruise and its medical related lecture series. You did not need to be a doctor to go on the cruise and he was engaged in lecture primarily on sea days. There were about 270 cruise passengers on board and approximately two-thirds of them were Canadian.
The expense for us was great, but as others have written and I can confirm, to go to see that part of the world is expensive and the cruise all-inclusive pricing was worth the cost when you consider your accommodation, ease of transit, world-class food, and more.
In fact, the food was the best I have had on any cruise (we have been on more than a dozen) and I can not think of a meal or snack I did not enjoy. There are three restaurants to choose from, two of which are reservation only for dinner. Reservations were not at all difficult to obtain. The staff gave us great service and we ended up eating dinners about 70% of the time in L’Etoile where we established great relationships with Ariel as waiter and Arthur as wine server. On occasion we were seated outside of their areas, but Arthur would hunt us down to serve us. On the two nights that lobster was on the menu, I was able to order a serving of it and a serving of the beef filet as well. There were no issues ordering whatever you wished. Not a dessert eater (one night I ordered the cold banana soup from the main menu), but my wife tells me they were really excellent and there were numerous chocolate options. I did enjoy the creme caramel on the evenings it was served. Most breakfasts were in La Veranda or up in Le Grill. La Palette was a place for a very light breakfast choice and there was a wonderful juice bar there.
There were a number of places to have a beer or cocktail, but one minor complaint from the four of us who travelled together, the hours were not convenient to our schedules. Even the pool bar which was supposed to be open longer hours had to close a few times due to the wind and rain. It was unfortunate that the indoor lounges were not open more often as the weather on this cruise did not make it enjoyable to sit outdoors very much. As far as variety of things to drink, there was enough. Some writers have mentioned there were many top shelf choices, however there were a number of items that did cost extra if you ordered them. That said, I enjoyed the Johnny Walker Black and my wife loved her Grand Marnier. The same was true for the wines. There was an adequate number of choices, but it took a bit of time to sample and choose a wine that fit for you… not always pleasing in taste. Of course, there was a optional list that you could have purchased from, but we never did do that.
Our room was good. It was a smaller room than we have had on many other cruises, but it was fine for us with enough storage for our clothes and bags fitting under the bed. The balcony was tiny, but worked for sit down, not lie down. Unfortunately the weather was such that we did not use the balcony as much as we would have liked. The bathroom was a nice layout and we had a tub with shower in the tub. We had some difficulty with the sliding door to the balcony on the first day and they were quick to fix it. It worked well until the last couple of days, not sealing properly, and we did get that repaired again. The room had only two NA style outlets and I called the desk and within five minutes a maintenance person brought two adaptors for the European ones to accommodate the electronics I took. Our room was 625 and while I had some wonder when the room was assigned and looked at the floor plan for deck six, it was extremely quiet. Close to the stairs and the gym. Really a good choice other than one day when we heard the tender drop early in the morning. The major disappointment was service to our room. It was the poorest I can recall from other cruise experiences. The lady doing the room constantly moved our things to places she thought we should store them, did not make up the room with any consistency in time... not making up the room one night before we retired and then entering our room at about 9:30 that night while we were in bed to do the turndown. There was never anything creatively done with the bedding and some nights not even the small piece of chocolate was left on the pillow. In discussion with our travel mates, the opposite was true for them and they raved about the service. Just a bit of a bad draw for us. Should we have complained early in the sailing? Perhaps, but we are not that way inclined and simply put up with it.
The gym was small, but useful. I never had an issue finding a treadmill or bike to work on and there were free weights and other equipment. Neither of us used the SPA, but I did find out on the second last day that you can book a 25 minute steam bath at no charge.
The public areas were good and there was a small theatre that had the shipboard entertainment, which my wife went to and enjoyed a few times. We both went to see the comedian/magician and I enjoyed his act, as corny as it was. There were a number of lectures in the theatre as well as port talks and these were quite well received.
The casino is tiny with one blackjack table, one roulette table, and about a dozen slot machines. Though the program would give hours for the casino, the tables were really open only for tournaments. Fortunately I won one of the blackjack tournaments so had a positive outcome, but I would have liked to play a bit more. Tania was the croupier and we talked quite a bit about the timing of things. I think she would have liked to have a bit more time to work at the tables. My wife likes to put a few dollars into the slots. Insert dollar bills, play, and when you are finished playing the machine delivers you a paper slip telling you what its value is. However, the machines don’t take the slips later… you must put in more bills and wait until you can find a time when the casino manager is in his office; that was very infrequently.
There was one small shop on board and the staff was not at all pushy. My wife bought her black pearl souvenir from this shop which was on our floor as was the library.
At sea ship activities were run by the staff and were fairly simple craft type things to do, nothing special at all. On a larger ship, I have had a good number of more interesting things to do on sea days and again, with the weather we experienced, we found ourselves more inside that outside the ship. I could find lots of good places to sit and read or play hearts on my iPad!
The pool area was never crowded and I did not go in the pool. There wasn’t a hot tub on deck.
With the exception of Papeete the ship stopped offshore and we tendered to a dock. At two of the ports we could not drop anchor and so the ship floated. This made tendering an interesting prospect and we were unable to complete the process in Aitutaki so missed our planned excursion. We also had a slight change in itinerary due to the weather so our first excursion was on the island of Huahine. Our guide was excellent. The tour was cultural highlights and was much more. Three hours easily turned into five after Paul, the guide, determined that no one had an afternoon event to attend. Other tours we took were okay and I would neither recommend or not recommend them. The one excursion I took without my wife was the Three Coconut Trail hike on the island of Moorea. This excursion is very strenuous and certainly needs a lot of thought before signing up. The description in the excursion booklet and the video do not tell the tale of this hike. There were six passengers who set out along with our guide and a member of the ships excursion crew who was shooting video. The climb was not the steepest I have ever done, but it certainly was the slipperiest and most difficult. I was definitely the slowest in the party, but the group stayed close together with some stops on the way up for our guide to comment about the vegetation and history of the area. The climb up was two and a half kilometers and going down was more treacherous for most of us. I fell twice on the way down, damaging my camera. While this excursion was the highlight of my off ship activities, I would recommend it only if you do a lot of walking and hiking at home. I had mentioned the lectures and a fellow named Mark Eddowes captivated my wife and my friends with his talks, though not me. He led an excursion on the day I took the coconut trail hike and my wife participated in that one, enjoying it greatly. She also took another snorkeling excursion with our friend which she also enjoyed, this on our second day or Moorea. I would say the only excursion we did not find that valuable was the bus tour on our final day after docking in Papeete.
I would enjoy seeing this part of the world again, though there are many more places in the world to see. The Paul Gauguin was an experience, as I said earlier the cost was high, and it gave me an appreciation for the smaller cruise line experience.