There is something special about a ship when almost half of the 280 passengers are repeaters on a cruise line that sails very limited itineraries.
This was our second time sailing on the Paul Gauguin in four years. First we did a two week Tahiti, Society Islands/Marquesas itinerary. This May 2014 we wanted to see new ports. We booked a one way from Papeete to Fiji- 13 night itinerary, cut short a night by crossing the International Date Line.
We have been frequent Celebrity cruisers but as we get more seasoned traveling the world, we are scaling down to smaller ships like the Paul Gauguin, Seabourn. There is nothing better than visiting a small village or port on a small ship. The alternative is disembarking with hoards of thousands of people from multiple goliath ships.
Paul Gauguin does it right. The service is TOP NOTCH. It’s on par with the attention to detail we saw on Seabourn. In the dining venues, waiters made a point to get to know our name, our preferences and they made us feel special. We especially like the country club casual dress code. As crazy as it may sound, we wouldn’t be opposed to shorts or jeans. We are simply not formal night folks and not having to dress up on our vacation is very appealing.
Food choices were wide and the quality was outstanding. If improvement could be made, we recommend more variety at their lunchtime menu, as the same menu and warmed over buffet offerings became tiresome. But for sure, Paul Gauguin is on target at breakfast and dinner. The food is fresh, well presented, portioned just right and delicious. The service gets high marks.
We upgraded to a larger verandah cabin (807- forward) and were very happy with the comfortable bed and ample storage and balcony area. If you are susceptible to sea sickness, pick a cabin mid-ship and an itinerary with fewer sea days. The Paul Gauguin rides well in gentle lagoons. She was built to sail the shallow blue waters of French Polynesia. She is prone to motion in open waters. I highly recommend the latest versions of the Transdermal sea-sick patches which are very effective these days compared to the earlier versions years ago. We read reviews that some cabins were noisy and hot. We did NOT find that to be the case. Noise levels in the aft will likely diminish after the ship’s scheduled dry dock early this summer. Reportedly engine repairs are planned to alleviate a strong vibration which plagues the aft dining venues and cabins. The ship underwent a $7 million refurbishment in 2012, and we found her to be in great condition and well maintained.
While the television programming was limited and repetitive, including too much FOX News, the Guest Relations desk provided FREE DVDs of movies, which was a welcome addition to the onboard entertainment. Overall, entertainment was not memorable. Les Gauguines, local heritage singers and dancers, were as always, a wonderful addition to the cruise. The cruise director, Steve Wood, was seldom seen and his stage show was dated and “lounge-lizard like. A guest singer from France did not measure up to professional status and some walked out early in each of his shows. He just wasn’t a good singer. Surprisingly, the Pilipino band and singer also fell flat. Their playlist of was dated and repetitive and their musical skills need some work. This was the first band from the Philippines I’ve heard that wasn’t very good.
The lectures were interesting and enjoyable. We knew the evening shows would be lackluster on a small ship so we opted to watch movies in our cabin. HELPFUL HINT: We always download movies on my laptop before we cruise and bring our own HDMI cable from home. Many ships at sea today have a port in the back of the TV to plug in a HDMI cable, which plugs into your laptop or video player. Bringing your own movies guarantees you’ll have handpicked video entertainment if you are not big party person late nights. If you aren’t familiar with an HDMI cable, ask your kids or seek the advice of a salesman at a big box electronics store. A cheap cable should cost you less than $30 or you can bring one from your TV at home.
We especially like the “all inclusive” atmosphere on this ship. Fares include all gratuities, most alcoholic beverages, soft drinks, and all of the fine dining venues. It’s anytime dining on this ship with complimentary 24-hour room service and water sports.
After sailing two different itineraries, we much preferred the beautiful and unforgettable islands of Tahiti, The Society Islands and Marquesas. Fiji, The Cook Islands and Tonga were interesting and pretty, but just don’t match the “life changing” beauty of French Polynesia. Make sure you add a day or two pre or post cruise and stay at one of the over-water resorts in Tahiti. We booked two nights at the Hilton on Moorea. I highly recommend their lagoon rooms which are built over the water and offer incredible views. Food is pricey but not unexpected when booking a remote property. This is bucket list stuff for sure.
The average age on our cruise was probably 65, but we were delighted to see some younger couples and professional people that made for a fun cruise. Personally, I think kids would be restless on this ship, without the usual kid’s club type of facilities.
The tender system was efficient and timely. We booked our own activities so I can’t comment on the ship’s tours. We prefer to “do our own thing” which grants us the freedom to tour on our on schedule. We usually find it’s less expensive to make our own arrangements. When we are tired and ready to call it a day, we simply ask the driver to take us back to the ship rather than being part of a captive audience on a motor coach.
Paul Gauguin is not a cheap cruise, but it is worth every dollar spent. If you have the financial means, book a Business Class seat on Air Tahiti Nui or Fiji Air. They have nice service and it’s much more comfortable up front. This cruise line frequently offers discounts off of their brochure rates. It’s worth the investment for a voyage you will never forget.
Like I said in the beginning- many on our cruise were sailing Paul Gauguin for the second or third time. They obviously have enjoyed the experience too.
Next stop-Azamara Cruise line from Dubai to Turkey in March, 2015. Can’t wait for our next experience at sea!