My husband and I just returned from the October 2, 2010 Paul Gauguin 11 day cruise to Tahiti and 6 six other islands. Honey, let me just tell you a little story about our experience with the Paul Gauguin. Having been on seven cruises this was not my first rodeo. The Paul Gauguin experience was the best cruise I have been on. Since I am a foo foo girl and enjoy being pampered and spoiled this was the cruise for me! I am from the South and with that being said, you might imagine I am a little picky, having experienced southern hospitality my whole life. In the South we like to go above and beyond what is expected and do just a little something extra just for fun. Paul Gauguin does all that. I'm not a travel agent and my husband and I still work so I am not going to sugar coat anything. This is how it happened and you can decide if it works for you.
The Paul Gauguin was wonderful in so many ways and I really believe it is the only way to see Tahiti and her islands. Food and drinks are extremely high so if you do a land package you better consider yourself warned. To follow are more details about our experiences with our trip. I shall include the good, the bad and the ugly (well really, there was no ugly, just costly!). I am a realist and I am just telling you what really happened. Perception is reality. I threw away my rose colored glasses years ago.
Let's just start with the food. UMMMMM Yummy GOOD! French pastries, bread, deserts were to die for. All bread products were just delicious! I started out by trying the yellow fin tuna dish and it was a bit fishy for my taste. I tried several different fish dishes and even the sushi but I do not like raw meat or fish so I can only say those who like raw things will probably like it. I'm a texture girly and it just made me nauseated. I tried the poison cru that other Cruise Critic posts raved about. This was served on the private beach barbeque. Well now, that was just raw tuna salad and I do not do raw tuna salad! All beef dishes were great and cooked to the perfect medium I ordered. So tender it just melted in my mouth! ( could not eat the beef or tuna tar tar for the above reasons. Yuck!) The vanilla crème Brule with the vanilla powder grown in Polynesia was my very, very favorite dessert. I got that whenever and wherever I could find it available. The afternoon teas I found just before the cruise ended and regretted that I missed those because they had an almond nut pudding in a tiny glass cylinder that was just about as close to oral heaven as there is!
Where I come from we cook our fish for tuna salad, add boiled eggs, sweet pickles, onion, celery, mustard and mayonnaise and our own special seasonings or touches like cranberries and nuts. If you like sushi (I don't) you would probably like it. People who ate the sushi seemed to enjoy it and it was readily available. When it comes down to it I only like fish that does not taste fishy. Give me blackened grouper and cobia in Florida and I will eat fish and really enjoy it. Alas, to each his own.
Lunch was an elaborate buffet with different themes such as Asian, German and American. This too was also very good and had lots of choices for the picky eaters LIKE ME!
There are 3 dining areas and you had to make reservations to get into 2 of these. I did not like that because we were turned away more than once because "they were full." It was obvious that there were lots of empty tables. This was a common complaint by many passengers and several of us felt we missed out on trying some menu items that were never again available to us. This should never happen on an all-inclusive now should it or it cannot be called all-inclusive! I did like the open seating concept so you could sit at a table for two when you wanted to be all lovey-dovey or you could agree to accept a large group table if you were in the mood for company and carrying on. It was wonderful that there were no crying, whining children on this cruise when we went. I would think that children would be extremely bored because there are no activities for them on the cruise. We are in our mid fifties and the median age for passengers was probably 65 or so. Anyway, back to the food! Dinner had to be eaten between 7 and 9. That is a lot later than we eat at home in central time zone. I would like to have been able to eat at 6. Eating late just makes you fat! Also, since there was a 5 hour difference in time zones we were up by 4:30 or 5 each morning and had a hard time finding coffee that early. I really NEED my morning coffee!
Excursions were somewhat high priced but you can expect that on a cruise. We took 2 around the island truck tours, one on Bora Bora and 1 on Moorea. They were 45.00 per person. I did not use the spa because the prices were really high. Just to change nail polish it was 25.00. I pay 35.00 for a manicure and pedicure at home. I know what you are thinking; this was not home!
We had a category C room with balcony and it was very nice. Most rooms were this size but some had portholes and some had windows. There was plenty of storage (I brought 4 suitcases and honey that was WAY too much to bring). The beds were comfortable and the rooms were aesthetically pleasing to the eye. The balcony is the only way to go as far as I am concerned. We could see so much from there and the ocean in that part of the world is by far the most beautiful water I have ever seen. We have been to Hawaii, Bermuda, the Caribbean and Florida and all paled in comparison to the South Pacific Tahiti ocean painted with so many glorious shades of blue and turquoise. (I do believe the category D is the same as the C so you may be able to save money by getting that instead of the C. Those cabins I believe were just one level lower on the ship and that would be just fine.)
Entertainment on the ship was somewhat limited and geared towards the old folks. The main shows were a group of young Polynesian women who sang and danced native songs. They are called Les Gaugines. They were very good and my husband liked the way they could shake those hips to the beat of those native drums. I asked someone why they didn't have some half naked men for the ladies and was told they used to have 4 men and 4 women but nature took its course and too often pregnancy caused contracts to be broken so they went to all women. Such a shame! I like a good looking, strong, exotic sexy man to prime the pump a little if you know what I mean! I can just hear those drums now. Primitive and primal works for me!
Uhhumm. Back to the review.
The cruise line did a lot of pushing the Tahia Collins Tahitian Pearls the whole cruise. They are indeed very lovely but VERY expensive. The ship's gift shop was dedicated to her wares. She had at least three shops on the islands that you could be shuttled to for free if you wanted. I bought some nice jewelry at the dock at Moorea for a lot less. (Moorea was my favorite island followed by Bora Bora.) I heard from other passengers that the pearl farm excursions mostly y tried to get you to buy more pearls. Imagine that! Pearls, pearls, pearls! Seemed to be just about the pearls. And the pareos. They sell those everywhere too. (they are just oversized scarves or swimsuit cover-ups if you ask me).
With this particular cruise date we were promised a post-cruise free night's stay at the Radisson Plaza Hotel that also owns the Paul Gauguin cruise ship. We were told this was because of a Tahitian holiday and the planes did not fly out the day we were supposed to leave. I thought this a little strange when I checked the internet and could not find any Tahitian holiday then. I asked around and found out it was because of a strike in France. (Tahiti is owned by the French). Well anyway, the hotel was truly beautiful with gorgeous black sand beaches. It was very remote to anywhere else so once you were delivered there you were just about held prisoner to the very high food and drink prices on their menu. We paid about 22.00 US money for one very mediocre cheeseburger and fries. I believe this was the least expensive meal item. My husband ordered a Jack and Coke thinking it was about 7.50 and when it arrived the Jack Danielle's and the Coke came separate and cost about 15.00 or so. I heard some people walked about 3 miles to a McDonalds after they priced the menu at the hotel. I was on vacation so I sucked it up but I was not a happy little camper by any means! Also, we were told there would be a free shuttle to town the next day if we wanted to go shop. As soon as I was checked into our room I stopped by the hotel desk and asked about this. They told me the bus had 22 people already signed up and it was full and that I could take a local taxi for about 30.00. I tried to give my name in case someone cancelled and they would not take it. I heard the Intercontinental was much better but we did not get to choose where the cruise line sent us. If I had it to do over again, I would have waited to take the cruise on a date where I could just go home right after getting kicked off the boat. (Both hotels were owned by the same people who own the Paul Gauguin) I would certainly recommend a pre-cruise stay as opposed to a post-cruise one. This would give you an idea of what to see and do ahead of time. You could possibly learn more about the good stuff and the hype before wasting a lot of time and money.
Here is a mini story within my story about leaving the ship. The whole feel of the ship changed two days before the cruise ended. The nice cloth towels in the restrooms were replaced with paper towels. This struck me as kind of hokey. It became just a little slower getting food and drinks. (We never used room service but I heard they did a great job.) All guests had to be out of our staterooms by 0930 to leave the ship at 1230 or later. The crew was busy cleaning and getting ready for the next passengers so you had to just scavenge a place to hang out. Fine, I could deal with that. Buses picked us up for some 2.5 hour tour to kill time before we could check into the Radisson Plaza. This was pretty boring and we went to some writer guy's old house that I never heard of or cared about and that was a great big waste of time. We stayed the night and all the next day until we could be taken to the airport to leave on Tahiti Air Nui at 10pm. We flew all night in very crowded seats in the middle where the air conditioner did not work and it was just the most miserable plane trip you can imagine. Just about 8.5 hours of a living hell. This was not a good way to end a very pricey vacation because it just didn't give me a warm fuzzy feeling about wanting to go back! If money flows at your house like honey you should go first class. It doesn't at my house and I didn't.
The last thing I want to talk about is the islands. The Tahitian people were very nice people but seemed to have a sense of hopelessness and despair. There is a 40% unemployment rate and several resorts had closed due to economic times. I just felt there was very little opportunity for self improvement and quality lifestyles. Quite frankly it would be a boring life to live there. How much fishing, dancing, pareo making and pearl farming can one do?
I conclude my story with what bothered me most about the whole vacation. There were roaming, starving dogs on most islands and that alone almost broke our hearts. We were told the people like to have dogs in their gardens to kill all the rats. Also, the people will not starve there because coconuts and fish are abundant. The poor dogs cannot help themselves. I would ask any veterinarians in the area to have a little compassion and please neuter these animals. Nothing deserves to starve to death. We fed some when we could and I can tell you that is was so sad because they were in small packs. Alpha dogs would stop omega weak dogs from eating and it was just pitiful. Those dogs were just skin and bones. I was disappointed that the natives did not show more compassion for life than to just let these dogs starve. So much for paradise! I guess this should have been as close as you can get on earth, but the reality of starvation really bites! I had to love on my dogs just a little more when I got home.
If you want to see Tahiti I do recommend Paul Gauguin cruises highly. The small size of the ship made it so easy to get around. Also, all-inclusive is the only way to go in my opinion. I will look for small ships headed to closer places or all-inclusive land packages for my future travels. Bloody Mary's was a fun place on Bora Bora. If you want to walk over there you just get off the ship and go right and follow the rode around until you get there. It is a 45 minute walk at a brisk pace so you must be in good shape to do this. Also, watch for cars because those people drive like they do in LA and you could get run over! I also need to tell you that the language is French or Polynesian. All ship announcements were giving in French (for the 5 French passengers on the ship) then in English. Therefore, everything took a lot longer including the shows. If I had to listen to many more "wee wees" I would just P Puke!
So what did we learn boys and girls? 1. There is no perfect paradise. Not even in the South Pacific. 2. This is not the Garden of Eden. 3. It takes more money, more money, and more money to do things in Tahiti that you might be able to do at home for a lot less money. And finally, 4. Even with all her bumps and warts, America is still the very best country on earth! Like Dorothy said, "There's no place like home!" Believe it Honey! Next trip: Alaska!