My DH (dear husband), my sister and I, age range 45 to 60 are not first time cruisers. First time on Paul Gauguin. And first time on "all Inclusive." cruise.
Our past cruises mostly Celebrity mid size ships, always balcony cabins
Cruise selection based mostly on itinerary and dates rather than the ship.
our Opinions & reviews are subjective.
French Polynesia is on our bucket list. It is one of those "someday I'll" dream vacation.
Right before our planned cruise to Mediterranean, this PG promotion letter from our TA arrived in our mail box. PG was offering attractive promotional fares, and third person free. My sister who has been to French Polynesia 15 years ago, convinced us by her comment: this was the place she has wanted to go back .
So, we 3 decided to take the "someday I'll" dream vacation on January 5, 2011.
Now I am back, I tell everyone I know: this is one place everyone should see before he/she dies! I wonder if heaven is as beautiful as French Polynesia? :=))
cruise ship: Paul Gauguin
Before we left, I read through reviews, roll calls, discussion among past and new passengers of Paul Gauguin. The reviews, comments were mostly positive. In fact, I got the impression that past passengers are vehemently loyal. This PG cruise must be something pretty special.
After 9 days on the ship, I can understand why.
I know I can go on and on about all the details PG does which make the trip so special for us. Similar to other CC, I can't help it! So Please bear with me!
Upon arrival, after a long and uncomfortable flight, PG welcomed us right at the airport, with FP signature leis. Our exhaustion, and sleepiness were replaced with excitement. PG staff were efficient; we did not have to wait long. Swiftly, we were being transported in big comfortable buses. Outside the terminal, the cruise director came onto the bus, with her cheerful smile (at 1am in the morning!) greeting us, and explaining the check-in procedure. The wait was not long.
After we handed in our passports, got our sea pass, with champagne in our hands, we were led away to our cabin by our cabin stewardess. There was some sandwiches, snacks waiting for us in our cabin. To us, the embarkation process could not have been more pleasant!
We have a balcony. The room was small; especially with an added single sofa bed, there was really no room to maneuver. However the bathroom is spacious, compared to other cruise lines we have been on. It has a full-size bathtub! The bathroom has lots of storage cabinets, and plenty of room for hanging clothes (definitely needed for swim wear.)
Storage / closet space was always an important feature. We find we have quite a bit of room for the 3 of us! The space under the bed was room enough to store our 3 big luggage, and 2 carryon.
The balcony was shallow; barely enough for 2 chairs and a table.
Our balcony was used a lot during this trip. Discussions on CC, whether balcony is necessary for this itinerary, or for this ship. I am glad we did have a balcony. (I have to admit my DH was right.) We use it everyday, especially nice to wake up in a picture of paradise every morning. For us, it was definitely worth the extra $, especially if you have the 3rd person in the same cabin. We do sit out on our balcony frequently, just absorbing and admiring the scenery.
Our cabin 608 was above the Grand Salon where nightly entertainment was presented. We were not affected by noise or music.... The entertainment usually ends around 10pm, and we were pretty exhausted after a full day in the sun, snorkeling, or other water activities. We slept well.
I think this is where PG particularly shines, and this is how they managed to create a loyal following! Words do not do justice to the attentions the staff lavished on us. Even though we were warned by our TA that we would be spoiled, we had no idea!
No matter how you slice it, PEOPLE makes the trip memorable and precious! We could not say enough about the service! We were all treated like royal guests, with genuine care, respect, and sincerity!
The following are examples. The second morning at Le Grill, I requested one whole papaya, cut in half; half for me, and half for my sister. This is how we enjoy our papaya—scooping with a spoon. Every morning since, as soon as we were seated, Raffy, the head waiter, had the staff bring us a papaya, cut in half, the way we like it.
One morning, we also requested the same at La Veranda, La Veranda does not have whole papaya. The next morning, La Veranda had it ready, but we ate somewhere else. Not until we returned a few mornings later did we realize that a papaya has been waiting for us! Imagine our dilemma! Both dining rooms prepared papaya for us, and we could only have breakfast at one place each morning! To please both, we decided to have papaya for breakfast and for lunch!
Francis at Le Veranda was serving us dinner on our 2nd night. When he came to take our order, my DH loves to joke around. DH ordered a double cheeseburger. We all laughed. However, the next morning, at breakfast, Francis recognized my DH, and did in fact brought him a Double cheeseburger!!! How he made an impression! Not just on us, but everyone around our table! We all had a good laugh. My DH learned very quickly, he has to be careful what he asks for, on PG!
Michael, our dining room waiter, at the main dining room, L'Etoile, made my DH feel very special. He went out of his way to satisfy all his requests.
The wine steward, Kelly at La Veranda was simply fabulous! He provided comic relief, balanced with sincerity, and genuine care for guests. We felt he has our best interest at heart. I regret we did not get to say good bye and properly thank him for being a big part of our trip!
Ivan, the maitre d' of La Veranda, seemed to have only "yes" in his vocabulary. He would try to accommodate. By the second time he sees us, he already remembers our names.
We ordered coffee every morning to our room. Room service was seamlessly prompt, and courteous. Always with a smile. We asked our cabin steward, Maria, for more bottle water, no pop or juice. From then on, we have water bottles; we never run out!
Grant, the chef, after each dinner, always managed to come out behind the kitchen to mingle with guests, checking on them, ensuring they enjoyed their meals. The food just seemed to taste so much better when I know someone like Grant cooking with heart.
With a small ship, we get to interact with the staff frequently. And they are always so eager to help, to please; it is easy to understand why we feel connected to them, like family.
Food is as part of cruising experience as its itinerary and the ship. Living in Vancouver, we are spoiled with fresh ingredients, plenty of seafood, and ethnic variety. We become food critics in our own minds. To us, Fantastic Food is a significant factor of a great cruise.
We spent only 2 nights in the main dining room. The rest, we spent dining in Le Grill and Le Veranda. Le Grill has more selection we like (fish, seafood). We leaned toward Le Grill where food is not smothered in sauces and creamy liquids... We like the taste of fresh ingredients, seafood, as simply and naturally as possible. We also prefer the intimacy of the "room".
What we always look forward to, in cruising different parts of the world, is to sample food and flavor unique to that region of the world we are visiting---local ingredients, greens, herbs, fruits and spices.
PG does an amazing job in this respect. We find local fish frequently on the menu; coconut juice or milk is frequently used; papaya, plantain, bread fruit, etc... Local favorite dish such as POISSON CRU was featured a few times. Grant also taught us how to prepare it on a culinary presentation.
In chatting with Grant, we understood some of the logistic challenges PG has to overcome to bring us these "local" foods, fresh. We appreciate the food even more!
One way we test if the "restaurant" is good is by how their lightly-seared sashimi-grade tuna was prepared. There is nothing worse than over-cooked rubbery tuna. And let's just say, my DH ordered Tuna every time it was on the menu, and his plate was always cleaned! In fact, we enjoyed all the seafood selection on the menu.
We celebrated our every meal on PG! The tastes were exquisite, and the presentation of the dish was always a conversation starter. Oh, I should not forget to mention—I thought their portion was just right! I did not have to leave food unfinished and wasted!
It was a treat to listen to Jean Michel Cousteau's passion - Ocean adventures & life of undersea world.
His presentation not only brought awareness of how connected we are to the marine life, but also how we can assist in preserving the precious and beautiful life of the underwater.
We learned that we are all connected.
I was also fascinated with how important corals are to the ocean life, and to us, and how fragile they are! And the amazing things these scientists are developing or discovering to help the ocean life is humbling!
Too many activities to choose from, and I know I have missed many. This, alone, is a reason to go back!
FITNESS & WELLBEING
My DH and I love walking around the track, walking off our dinner while enjoying the outdoor fresh air. This is one area we find the ship is not conducive to our walking routine. We used the stairs instead.
I enjoyed the yoga sessions. Outdoor was simply divine. Perfect setting for me. A small group of us managed to take advantage of the little space we have, and enjoyed our stretching. There were limited amount of yoga mats; we made use of beach towels.
I don't exercise in gyms. My sister does. And she found the gym adequate. For a small gym, she did not find it too crowded.
Could not express how much joy I got out of snorkeling! For someone who is afraid of water and who cannot swim, I LOVE IT ALL! And I have to credit and thank the on-board marina and their complimentary equipment service! If PG did not offer this wonderful service, I would never have discovered the joy of snorkeling and the delight of discovering the water world!
Kayak, also Complimentary of PG, seemed fun, except it was a bit too windy for a newbie to attempt.
With PG, I really revel in "all-inclusive" cruise! Very "liberating!"
I really enjoyed the part where we were NOT constantly being sold to:
No yoga/pilate/spinning classes to sign up for fee; no diet classes for fee; no "gold by the inch"; no special drinks with automatic service charge or tip...NO announcements to tell us how we can spend more money on the ship...
For many passengers, Drinks, alcohol provided a significant value. Even though I did take advantage of this opportunity to sample a few cocktails, we still valued our bottled water the most. I would also not discount our Specialty coffee in the morning, or the occasional beer, definitely fresh coconut juice in Motu Mahana...; simply fantastic!
I wake up every morning, pinching myself---am I really here? in paradise? We have seen many stunning pictures, and read in words the beauty of French Polynesia....all I can say is - you have to be here. You JUST have to be here.
Bora Bora, Moorea--see separate review.
Motu Mahana / Taha'a
Motu Mahana could be a glimpse of what I would like heaven to look like. This motu has it all: beautiful blue water to swim & snorkel in, island to explore, beach to sun tan on, or just lay on the lounge chairs.
Can we be more spoiled than we were on Motu Mahana? This private beach island was catered mostly to us passengers of PG. The staff staged the place, and put on a fabulous BBQ, accompanied with cocktails, fresh coconut juice, opened on the spot, even ice-cream!!!,
if those were not enough, PG arranged interests lectures that were both educational and fascinating: why Taha vanilla is famous; how to look as gracious as a Gauguine in pareo; what animals / shells to stay away from underwater from naturalist Megan, how to prepare Poisson Cru in less than 30 min. with chef Grant ...endless list of activities to capture our interest and imagination.
We briefly walked around the island. I always look forward to the street vendors selling local fruits and vegetables. Found a quiet beach to snorkel in. Even in the rain, my DH and my sis both enjoyed the beautiful water and marine life.
We did not make it to this island. The wind was just too strong the ship could not enter the narrow channel safely.
It was well-organized and relaxing kind of departing. We took our time saying good byes to our new friends, the crew. We then walked around Papeetee, before heading back to PG for lunch! We chose the complimentary tour. We 3 found many sights interesting, and a good way to spend the time before flight home. Some passengers were too tired, and wanted to head to Radisson. Why would they sign up for the tour if they just want to head to the hotel?
The spacious room at the Radisson had a great view, and it was nice to be able to freshen up. The most unpleaant part for me was the waiting: waiting in line to get on the bus; waiting in line at the airport, and then waiting to get on the plane. As expected, the trip back home was never pleasant after a great cruise!
Looking back, I tried to capture the essence of why we so much enjoyed this cruise. On this cruise, I think we were able to focus on only the ESSENTIALS: the tastes, the smell, the sights and the sounds of the astonishing beauty of the islands and people. Simply put, I think with PG, we were able to be PRESENT. and to be in AWE of the precious MOMENTS of NOW.
We need to go back to experience that again!
On the second day, we had pre-arranged a private tour with Maohi Nui. 12 of us for LAGOON Full Day. This tour was very memorable for me because it was also a turning point. The day before, I had resolved I was never going to enjoy snorkel. Well, this tour changed that. I actually swam with the black-tip sharks, tickled the huggy sting rays, visited the coral garden (not as much as I'd liked)! All day, I could not stop smiling and laughing! The local Polynesian BBQ was a highlight! Wonderful feast! Local cuisine! Where we had the BBQ was a quiet "private" island, with stunning view of the mountain and beautiful warm ocean to swim in. Picture perfect!
The underwater walk was one of the best excursion I have ever experienced! small group, max 8. The guides were very gentle, and cautious. Alan noticed that my sister was carried swiftly away by the strong current, he jumped into the ocean without any hesitation trying to "rescue" my sister. Fortunately, everyone was fine.
For all those who have signed up for this underwater walk—the comments have been: you gotta try it. In an intimate ship, word of mouth is the most powerful. No doubt in my mind this is the reason why this particular excursion was sold out the next day. So, I recommend you sign up as soon as you can! The second excursion we signed up was 4X4 safari touring the island. There were 8 of us. We all enjoyed the mountain ride up to the peak, and the view points along the way up and at the peak were majestic.
As with most tours, the time allowed was limited. I wish we had more time. The only part I personally did not care for was a stop at a souvenir/distiller shop. I am not into drinks or knick knacks. Drinks may be made from local fruits, but the Knick Knacks were mostly made in China. Most of our group made no purchase. That stop was a waste of time, in my opinion.
However, I did enjoy the tour guide’s illustrating how the local fresh fruit, flowers, plants are used in their daily life. For example, the ladies use shampoo flower for shampooing their silky thick hair; or use unripe rambatan fruit as paint or dye. How natural and organic! We also picked up and tried some ripe fruits, which have fallen off the trees. Love that!