If you want to see French Polynesia, or if you just want to spend an enjoyable vacation in a beautiful part of the world, then the M/S Paul Gaugin is for you. Here are some specific comments:
• The Paul Gaugin offers a number of different itineraries. We selected the longest, a 14-night cruise that includes the Tuamotus and the Marquesas as well as the better-known Society Islands. We loved stopping in the remote Marquesas, which are very scenic, thinly populated and rarely visited by travelers. On the other hand, the shore excursions and other activities in the outlying ports are quite limited due to the lack of a tourist infrastructure. Because of the distances involved, this itinerary includes four days at sea, and one of the long passages was quite rough.
• If you have a choice, you should consider the season. In January, the weather was quite warm (although never oppressively hot) and humid. During most days, we had several showers. They generally passed quickly and had little impact on our activities. However, the sky was at least partially cloudy most of the time.
• I believe only about two passengers were under the age of 25. The median age was below that on most of our other cruises, but children/teenagers should not expect to find many peers. Moreover, there are no special facilities or activities for minors.
• The ship is relatively small. This meant that there was never a line for anything. (The vessel was filled to about 80% of capacity for our cruise.) On the other hand, you cannot expect the facilities and entertainment that a larger ship would offer. For example, the pool is quite small.
• The crew seemed eager to please. The ship offers tours of the bridge and the galleys. When a port call was cancelled due to high seas, the crew made use of the additional time in the next port by offering rides in the inflatable boats. The onboard experts narrated the impromptu tours of interesting geological formations.
• One problem, especially noticeable during summer (in the Southern Hemisphere), was the lack of shaded outdoor areas. While there was never a lack of deck chairs, there was intense competition for the few chaises in the shade. My advice is to bring lots of strong sunscreen, especially since the onboard store charges $30 for a bottle.
• The gym is small, but few passengers used it. I never had to wait for a treadmill. The equipment is top-notch.
• Our cabin seemed small, but storage is brilliantly designed. We had no problem accommodating and organizing our belongings for 14 days. The sleeper sofa is narrow, low and uncomfortable, and there are no other places to sit apart from the bed and two round hassocks. For this reason alone, we were glad to have a balcony.
• The cruise line makes a big deal out of its "marina," the water-sports platform that descends from the stern of the ship. However, the marina was not open during some port calls due to rough water. When it was available, its usefulness was very limited. For example, kayaks could only be operated for 30 minutes and only within a 180-degree radius from the platform. (Therefore, it wasn't even possible to circle the ship.) The kayaks were also made available for use from the beach during calls near the cruise line's private islands, which was more enjoyable.
• We ate our dinners in L'Etoile (the main dining room) or La Veranda (where reservations were easy to obtain on a same-day or next-day basis). We did not try Le Grill, which involves eating in a drafty, semi-enclosed passageway. For some reason, the duck served in both restaurants was almost inedible, but all other dishes ranged from good to superb. The presentation was always exceptionally attractive. The breakfast and lunch buffets in La Veranda were excellent. The coffee served throughout the ship is of poor quality, and Starbucks-quality specialty coffees are simply unavailable. Likewise, the free Hinano draft beer offered on the ship is terrible (think Coors Light with less taste); beer connoisseurs need to pay up for a better brand.
• Embarkation and disembarkation could not have been easier; we basically just walked on and off the ship. Our luggage was delivered to our stateroom almost instantaneously.
• Overall, the service is very attentive and friendly. The waiters do not attempt to channel their counterparts at the Ritz, and the service is not as formal as on a Crystal ship. There were occasional lapses, when the wrong dishes were served or long pauses between courses occurred. Moreover, our cabin attendant seemed over-stretched. However, most waiters quickly remembered our names and personal preferences.