My wife and I booked this cruise as a relaxing way to see Tahiti and the Society Islands. My wife researched both staying in hotels, pensions and cruises. Despite the relatively high cost of the cruise, the Paul Gauguin was actually an economic choice when we included meals and transportation. Our booking was relatively simple. We tried to book it on the website but the site only listed class B cabins and above as available. When I called, they did have a class D cabin and I was able to book it. We had a minor issue with them running the credit card. This appears to be related to change over from Regent Seven Seas to Paul Gauguin becoming independent. We booked our own airfare since LAX is really out of our way. I also called several weeks before the cruise and booked several excursions. The service on the phone was very polite and courteous. We did have problems with our excursions which I will detail later.
We arrived 1 day before the cruise and stayed at Sofitel outside of Papeete. The hotel was nice but the service was horrific. This made us appreciate the service on the Paul Gauguin that much more. We boarded the ship as soon as we could the next day at 3pm. Embarkation was simple and made as pleasant as possible. We were greeted at the dock. They took our luggage to the room. We had our picture taken (to sell us $30, no thanks) and were given cold towels. We were taken to the Grande Salon and were given our room keys and had security pictures taken. We were given a glass of champagne and personally taken to our room. The stateroom was very nice. The bed was comfortable. There is a ~20 inch TV hooked up to the closed circuit TV system for the ship. It plays informational channels and new run movies. The movies on our trip were wonderful. Any movie that was out and we wanted to watch seemed to be on. The bathroom is basic and functional. There is a fridge with coke, tonic water, bottled water, and beer. This was restocked each day. We had a balcony which my wife loved. The housekeeper was absolutely wonderful. We loved her. She did a fabulous job cleaning the room not once but twice a day. They use ammonia or other chemicals in cleaning the room. My wife started coughing each night after the cleaning. I asked the housekeeper to cut down or change the cleaner. She happily did and my wife stopped coughing. We looked at the spa. It appeared very nice but we never had a need or desire to go. The fitness facility is basic. There are 2 bikes, 1 stair climber, 3 treadmills, 2 elliptical machines, basic dumbbells, and 2 lat stations. Each machine has a TV tied into the closed circuit stations for viewing. They provide headphones if you need them. Towels and water are also provided. I used the fitness room almost daily. We looked at the "library" which is really about 5 book shelves of mostly English language books and some French. We never took out a book. Most of our down time was during at sea time. I can't imagine trying to read a book while the ship is rolling back and forth. There are board games available but we didn't use them either. The pool is relatively small but nice on a hot day. It is a salt water pool.
The dining options were excellent. Breakfast was either room service or buffet. At night, they leave you a card that you fill out and leave on your door telling what and when you want for breakfast. We ate breakfast twice up at Le Grill. It is largely buffet except eggs and pancakes. Service was excellent. We had coffee instantly and waiters would often try and carry your plate to the table for you. Lunch was buffet also. We often just chose room service due to excursions. Room service was perfect. Once, I accidentally spilled my salad while the server was still in the room. He immediately grabbed it and had a new salad to the room in less than 5 minutes without my asking. Dinner was the real experience. We ate almost exclusively at L'Etoile. This was an unbelievable first class experience. The staff and waiters on the Paul Gauguin could not have been nicer, more attentive, or more wonderful. The food was gourmet, well portioned, and beautifully plated. The menu at L'Etoile changed each night but chicken and salmon were always available. Wine flowed freely and was quite good. You have the option of having a private table or group table. Group tables are divided into English and French speaking. We ate privately the first night. After that, we always sat at a group table. It was a great opportunity to get to know others and made the cruise more enjoyable. They serve tea between 4pm and 5pm at the aft bar each day. My wife and I went whenever we could. It was a nice added touch. The pianist, Hal, was pleasant and great at his job. There is a pool side bar ready to serve any drink you can think of. They make a great Mojito or Bloody Mary. There is also a bar outside of L'Etoile for before and after dinner drinks. They had wonderful canape there.
I will review diving separately from other excursions because the staff are separate and the experience was very different. My wife and I are are both PADI certified. The Paul Gauguin does offer certification on board. I actually heard the dive staff try and talk people out of doing their certification on board due to the time requirement. They were doing people a real favor. Doing PADI certification is quite time intensive and really would take over a person's trip. The dive staff was absolutely wonderful. They speak both French and English. We dove 4 times. Each dive was an adventure. We did 2 dives with sharks. We saw both Lemon and Black Tipped sharks. I would highly recommend the diving but get your certification before going on the ship.
The general excursion desk was a disaster. This was really the only bad service that we had on the whole trip. They never seemed to know what was going on. They were very disorganized. We had booked a Photo adventure on Moorea several weeks prior to the cruise. When we got our tickets for our other excursions, we were told by the head of excursion desk "We have your reservation. We are having trouble getting a hold of the photographer. We will issue your tickets when we hear from him." 3 days before we were to arrive in Moorea, we still hadn't heard from the excursion desk. We went to the desk and were again told the same thing. The day before arriving in Moorea, we went back again. Now, we were told by a woman at the desk "We don't have you on the list. So, you won't be able to go." This woman did not appear speak English or French (my wife is a native French speaker.) I asked to speak to the head of the excursion desk. She only wanted to talk to me on the phone which I declined and insisted that come out of her office and speak directly to me. She reluctantly came out and started talking about how she had not received a email so we couldn't go on the excursion. She never gave an adequate explanation and did not appear to be honest. In the end, they should have been coming to us with updates rather than us having to chase them down. They would have been far better off just saying "I'm sorry we over-booked, lost the reservation, whatever. Let us make it up to you by ...." I did report the incident to Paul Gauguin Cruises on the comment card. I have not heard from them. We ended up renting a car and doing our own "Photo tour" for 1/3 the price. Consider yourself warned in regards to excursions. Make sure you have a back up plan.
The minor issue occurred during disembarkation. During the trip, a card is dropped off in your cabin asking how you plan on leaving the ship. In our case, we had arranged a hotel for 3 days on Tahiti. We told they we would need a cab at about 1130am. The cruise was nice and allowed us to stay through breakfast and lunch (which were provided.) The disappointing part was that they charged $15 dollars for arranging the cab. $15 is not much but it is upsetting when it was not listed on the card. I probably would have arranged my own cab if I had known. A minor issue but an annoying one. The excuse from the reception desk was that they called to shore and therefore they charge $15 for any service that they arrange on land. This fee is listed in the daily programs. In reality, you know that they made 1 phone call and arranged all the cabs for all the guests. I find this annoying and a poor choice on Paul Gauguin Cruises part at the end of an otherwise wonderful cruise.