My wife & I have cruised extensively, mostly on mass market brands like Celebrity, Holland America, Princess, NCL & RCL. On September 4, 2010, we embarked on a two week cruise experience on the Paul Gauguin and now for us, cruising will never be the same. Our itinerary included both the Marquesas and Society Islands. No more big ships- no more same old- same old for us. Yes, our bank account may still be feeling the sting as we enjoy the “after- glow” of a five star cruise experience, but some things in life are worth truly worth the extra dollars. We only go around once and we are true believers in occasionally spoiling ourselves. Here are just some of the reasons we will likely never go back to the mega ships again:
• Only 260 passengers for 14 days: No problem finding pool chairs and no waiting for anything. Embarkation in Papeete took seconds, not hours!
• A small but highly practical ship- no glitz but very passenger friendly & functional. We experienced 14 foot swells on several days but we felt like we were on a ship three times her size. Great stabilizers and beautiful and spacious cabins. I highly recommend a regimen of Bonnie, Ginger capsules and the pressure point wrist bands for any concerns about motion sickness. It worked well for us.
• EVERY MEAL was INCREDIBLE. I’m a very picky eater and not usually impressed by gourmet fare, but the chefs on the Paul Gauguin know how to make guests ecstatic over the thought of each dining opportunity. We were pleased with truly remarkable meals, including a nice inclusion of Asian fare mixed in almost nightly. No real need for the specialty dining experiences as the main dining room is special within itself. The food on Paul Gauguin is truly one of the defining differences from other cruise lines. It was truly “memorable”
• No need to wear formal wear or sports jackets. It’s country club casual every evening which makes total sense as we were cruising in one of the most casual and laid back regions of the world- French Polynesia. We sailed below the equator, an area not known for tuxes and ties- thank Goodness! Best of all, each evening was open dining in the Main Dining Room so we could eat anytime between 7-9PM. LOVED IT! • The all inclusive concept at sea is simply brilliant! Forget the usual constant room charges for drinks by the pool or wine or cola with meals. No tips and no hassles. No cash or credit cards needed.
• While the mega ships are focusing on becoming destination of their own, Paul Gauguin is simply a first class means of getting to some of the most drop dead gorgeous scenery anywhere in the world. With lovely people on each island and outstanding tender service in each port, excursions, while a bit expensive, are all memorable and many times downright “life changing”. Experiences included petting Rays in the wild, snorkeling with over a dozen Black Fin sharks and watching a mother Humpback whale and her baby from only a few yards away. These are images that will stay with us forever.
• We are in our mid fifties and while most of our fellow passengers were a generation older, they were clearly an upscale and highly educated demographic who we enjoyed mingling with. We made new friendships which will likely last well into the future. It is so much easier to get to know fellow travelers when there are less than 300 passengers on board.
• The nightly shows were targeted for an older demographic than ours. We would have enjoyed some entertainment aimed for a younger crowd that appreciated Crosby Stills & Nash rather than Frank Sinatra and Broadway. Guest lecturers on the other hand were informative and enjoyable. We were so tired and full from exceptional food and invigorating excursions that we almost always turned in early. Thank goodness for the gym that had an ample number of treadmills and cross trainers to combat the high calorie intake that fine food inevitably produces. I actually managed to maintain my pre-cruise weight thanks to a strict walking regimen on the ship’s treadmills.
• Another key difference from more mainstream ships is how the crew strives to make passengers happy. No special request goes unfulfilled. For instance, I mentioned to the chef how much I enjoyed the cold vichyssoise at dinner. The next day he had a special order of the remarkable soup waiting for me at lunch. Mention to a waiter how much you enjoyed a particular dish and you will likely find the recipe sent to your cabin the next morning. FRESH food is purchased at each island so the chefs are always preparing surprises based on local specialties. While on the subject of crew, we could tell the mostly Philippine crew is well compensated and truly enjoy their jobs. They smiled, laughed and spoke of their longevity with the ship. This speaks volumes. On numerous occasions, random crew members addressed us by our last names, a courtesy more prevalent at a Ritz Carlton property than on a cruise ship. Such a refreshing change!
We made sure we spent several days in Papeete prior to sailing to help us adjust to jet lag and get acclimated to the climate and surroundings. We also booked one hotel day after disembarking in Tahiti which gave one final “chill day” before making the long trek back home to Tennessee.
We would sail Paul Gauguin again in a heartbeat. I hope the relatively new owners of the cruise line consider adding another small ship to their fleet so returning passengers can experience even more beautiful places. From what we overheard on board, many passengers on our sailing were repeat customers. Now we know why.