Although we had heard so much about the Paul Gauguin, we weren't exactly sure how it would compare with our other cruise experiences. Would its food and service be as good as other 6 star cruise lines? Would its unique destinations be the focal point? How casual is casual? What kind of activities would they have? What would the atmosphere be like? How about the demographics?
Food and service - Overall the food and service were superb. However, there were lapses that you don't usually find in 6 star cruise lines. Specific dishes fell far below expectations (chicken that was overcooked, stir fry that was unpalatable, steaks that were overly fatty). Offsetting were the exceptional dishes like the ahi and steak the first night, the tasting menu at the La Veranda, and the foie gras any night --yes the foie gras. The service at the restaurants was outstanding as was the service from housekeeping. The travel concierge was less than accommodating on a few occasions.
Destinations - Without question this cruise is all about the water. The first three destinations (all atolls) were a diver's paradise, but for those of us who didn't, the choices were more limited. In fact, other than water activities (diving and snorkeling), there was much less to do - no towns or shopping or culture or locals to interact with. The last three destinations had more to offer. We enjoyed the snorkeling in Rangiroa and Bora Bora, but we were hoping for a little more variety. We found the best opportunities in Moorea and Taha'a. Moorea because of its wonderful interior beauty and Taha'a because of its pearl and vanilla farms and the special motu run by the Paul Gauguin.
Casual dress - Having read about the ship on Cruise Critic and on the ship's own site, we did know that we would be dressing down from our prior ship experiences. So we weren't surprised that the dress was tropical. We were surprised at the number of passengers who said that this was a major reason for choosing the ship. We happen to like the formal nights on other ships, as we rarely dress up at home any more. When packing for your trip, leave the jacket and cocktail attire at home.
Activities - There were activities shown on the Daily Schedule; so I guess the ship felt obligated to offer them. However they did nothing to promote them and the attendance was nonexistent. We have never been on a ship where no one went to bingo, played bridge, showed up for ping pong, etc. The activity which attracted the greatest participation was the communal 3,000 piece puzzle that was missing 8 pieces and was mysteriously taken apart within hours after its completion. Even at the motu run by the ship in Taha'a, there was no one encouraging participation in any of the activities being offered.
Atmosphere - Not only was the atmosphere among the passengers casual and friendly, we have never been on a ship where the crew seemed as amiable and accessible as the Paul Gauguin. After having dinner with the captain and meeting him throughout the cruise, we know why. He is all about teamwork and supporting his crew. There seems to be no caste system on the ship, a far cry from what we have experienced on others. When faced with any problems (which there were on this ship as others we have been on), we found him to be totally open and not looking to divert responsibility. Kudos to Captain Toni Mirkovic.
Demographics - Surprisingly diverse. We expected an older crowd and although there were many passengers in the 50's, 60's and above, there were also a sizable number of younger passengers. This diversity did not cause any problems, but instead made for an interesting voyage.