This was my husband (60 yrs) and mine (55 yrs) second cruise. The first was a seven day Carnival cruise out of Galveston in 2010 that was done to determine if we would be able to be on a ship for any period of time. That trip went well so we proceed to book our South Pacific cruise on the Paul Gauguin. We choose this cruise line because of its size and itinerary. Since we were going to be spending a sizable amount of money on the cruise and I was not familiar with the line I decided to use a cruise travel agent specialist. The specialist was able to answer my many questions and I was pleased with the service provided and would recommend using one. Example - our cabin always faced the island when we were in port. I am not sure we would have known to request this if booking on our own.
We decided on the B Veranda category and were very happy with this choice. The room was a very comfortable size and we did not feel cramped. After being on the ship I think this is better than the A category (and a lower price). We liked being on the same level (8) as the pool, the Grill and where the entertainment was in the late afternoon - example - the Les Gauguinies dancers. (The A Veranda suites were on level 7) We were also able to get the wi-fi service connection in our room without going down to the computer room. This category came with Butler service. At first I wasn't sure whether I would use this service or not but after having it I would definitely get it again. Our butler Abner really made the trip special. We enjoyed our daily snacks that arrive at five pm every day and our drinks that he brought also. He scheduled our excursions for us, made our dinner reservations and set up our room service for us. Our fruit bowl was refilled every time we left the room (we ate a lot of fruit) and after the first day when we had brought in a bowl of chips there were a fresh bowl every afternoon. Note - the room is very dark at night and the bathroom has a step up - if you feel unsure of yourself at night you may want to bring a night light.
Our eleven day cruise was the Cook Island and Society Islands. This included two days at sea and we really appreciated the down time on sea days.
We flew to Papeete from Los Angeles. We had flown to LA the day before to break up the length of the trip and to ensure there was no chance of missing the flight to Tahiti. We got to the airport in LA about two hours before our flight. There was a representative at the Air Tahiti Nui counter area to confirm our travel with Paul Gauguin. We splurged on Business Class and thought it was worth the money. We have been on some planes/airlines where Business Class was not worth the money.
When we arrive in Papeete the local representative checked us off her list and showed us where to load onto the buses that would take us to the ship. The check in at the ship was done very quickly and our luggage arrived in our room within 30 minutes. One of the restaurants was open for a meal but we weren't hungry so just went to the Piano Bar area for a drink and visited with the bartender and listened to the Piano player Sal (very good). We were tired after traveling and went to bed around 11PM. I have to say it was the most comfortable bed I have slept on while traveling and the linens were excellent.
Each day the ship published a small news flyer that was targeted to the US, Asian, Australian and International news. This along with the flyer of the day's activities was left at each cabin. There were plenty of activities for whatever your interest were that day. We did enjoy the show every evening at 9:30PM. The band that played in advance of the show and in La Palette later in the evening- Siglo did a great job.
The ship set sail around 1AM and we awoke the next day at Huahine. We did not plan an excursion but did take the tender into port and did some walking around the small town and up the hill a short way. One thing I really liked was the cruise line set up a red carpet when you exited the boat with a roped area. They also had fruit juice, water and cold towels for you under an awning that they set up at each location. We then returned to the ship to lay by the pool and look at the scenery. We did use the marina platform off the back of the ship to kayak later in the day which was fun. I wanted to wind surf but the water was a little choppy.
We ate lunch that day and most days at Le Grill which was on deck 8. There were plenty of selections of hot and cold foods as well as a chef making pasta to order. Later in the afternoon they had a small menu such as hamburgers, etc. The French fries were really good. It was more casual than L'Etoile for lunch since it was mainly people who had been around the pool and just wore cover-ups.
That evening we had reservations at La Veranda the French restaurant on the ship. The menu was excellent and it was difficult to decide what to order. We normally eat a large lunch and a light dinner so we had to work on changing it in order to enjoy the menu offerings during the trip. You are asked when you arrive if you prefer to be seated with other people or at a table for the size of your party (2). This is true at both La Veranda and L'Etoile. We alternated sitting with other people and sitting by ourselves.
The next day we were at sea. We attended some lectures and I had an oriental massage at the spa. I was pleased with both the lectures and the spa treatment. It was a very relaxing day. I recommend if you enjoy spa treatments to check for the specials found in the daily flyer. I also used the fitness center and was happy with the equipment. You can watch TV on most of the equipment and head phones are available at the spa to listen to the programs.
The ship's library has a good number of current books and they aren't locked up so you have access to them 24/7. The video's are also current and easy to check out.
Tuesday night was Captain's Dinner night. We sat at a table with the Cruise Director Michael. He was interesting to talk to and you could tell he enjoyed his job.
The third day we arrive on Aitutaki and took the first tender to port. We had arranged a snorkel tour with Teking via the internet independent of the cruise. The cruise line also used Teking but their tour was not as extensive as the one we did as we had more stops to snorkel. The lagoon is very beautiful but they are in the process of recovering a lot of the coral and clams due to something killing a lot of them off. The island and the reef area were visually very dramatic. We were glad we had listened to a lecture on how the different islands were created so we could better understand what we were observing. That night we had reservations at Le Grill. It is smaller so I think that is why you need reservations. The food was excellent. My husband and I both like fish and there was always a good selection.
The ship departed at 6pm for our next stop which was Rarotonga. We did a snorkel trip here off of Muri beach. I did not find the snorkeling here to be very good compared to other places. If I visited again I would just go to the beach and maybe kayak. I did find out they have whales there in August. I would consider going back again in August when the whales mate/birth.
Note - both Aitutaki and Rarotonga use New Zealand currency. I would recommend you get some at the airport or you can get some at the dock at a ATM located nearby. The ship does exchange US dollars for French Polynesian currency and does not charge an exchange fee. You can also exchange FPC back at the end of the trip if you do not use all the money. They have a fair rate. The ship does not exchange for New Zealand dollars.
Once again we departed and had another sea day - more great lectures and relaxation on the pool deck.
Bora Bora was as beautiful as the pictures you see in the magazines. The view from our veranda was fabulous. We arrange snorkel trip with Reef Discoveries via the internet - they only take six people at a time and we were ecstatic at the quality of the trip. If we went back I would do the same snorkel trip both days. As it was the second day we just went into town and rented bicycles for about two hours which was fun.
The best part of the cruise was Taha'a. We did the Coral Garden drift snorkel ($119) which was excellent. You were able to get very close to the coral and fish - for some people too close as there were a few scraps. However the guide had first aid available on the boat. After the snorkel excursion we were taken to the private Motu that Paul Gauguin has for their guests. It was set up with plenty of lounge chairs in the shade or sun as you preferred. Two bars were set up as well as a food area. If I could make one recommendation to the cruise line it would be to spend two days here. Taha'a did have over-water bungalows and if I were to do a pre-post cruise addition this is where I would do it.
The last part of the cruise was Moorea. We did the golf excursion to the Green Pearl ($165). Course needed some rain but it was fun to play. The second day we caught a ride to the town and rented some bicycles. We had planned to go around the island (49 miles) but after about 90 minutes decided we better go back as we didn't think we could finish it. Another person who started about the same time did finish the trip - about five hours with stops including lunch.
That night was the Polynesian night at L'Etoile and La Veranda - you could eat at either one - no reservations were required. Once again the food was outstanding.
We did do a galley tour with the Chef Mark - he did a wonderful job of explaining the operation of the many galleys on the different decks. It explained how when we ordered room service the food was always hot or cold as the dish required. Note - you can also order off the L'Etoile dinner menu in evening as well as the regular room service menu.
We did not buy any black pearls (I always seem to lose jewelry) but did buy a painting of a fish. We went through several small art galleries on Moorea and enjoyed seeing colorful works. The pearls are beautiful and very tempting - prices are similar on all the islands. If you want black pearls you will not find any more beautiful than in these islands.
The last night on Moorea we had beautiful weather for our farewell to the islands and our return to Papeete. We were requested to have our luggage outside our door by 9:30PM that evening.
Before I do the wrap up on the final day I would like to say that the staff was exceptional - I have never experienced such friendly service with so many smiles.
The final morning we were requested to be out of our room by 9:30AM. The cruise arranges a bus tour of Tahiti and a day room at the Radisson for those who arrange air travel through the cruise line. You can go directly to the hotel if you do not want to do the bus tour. The tour and the transfer to the Radisson is scheduled for times between 12 noon and 1PM. The ship has breakfast and lunch available as well as bar service at the pool. We had a day bag pack so I wore my swimsuit with a cover up and enjoyed the morning at the pool. We had lunch and then went on the bus tour of Tahiti.
The tour stopped at the author Hall's house who wrote Mutiny on the Bounty, a waterfall area and a landing sight of Captain Cook. The tour driver was very knowledgeable. Personally I would have skipped the tour and just gone to the hotel as I would have preferred not spending the time on the bus. By the time we got to the hotel we only had about 3 hours before we had to leave for the airport - just enough time for a swim and a shower.
The Radisson staff was very well organized and did a good job getting everyone set up with their rooms and explaining what was available for use. They have a very nice facility with a great pool and access to a nice black sand beach. Note-the shops there only accept a room charge or local currency.
We boarded the bus around 6:30PM to go to the airport. We arrive in plenty of time - the gate agents were not even there! This is where being in Business Class was nice as we pass through quickly. We went to the lounge to wait for the flight. The lounge was okay but not as good as the one in the LA airport. The flight back was uneventful and customs in LA went smoothly.
I definitely recommend this cruise line and this itinerary. I would do it again.
I would like to make a few comments on packing - especially for you ladies. Based on what we did I could have gotten by with the following: 6 summer dresses, two cover ups for swim wear - five swim suits - which includes a rash shirt (long sleeve)and board swim shorts for sun protection during snorkeling, three pair of shorts, three shirts, Teva sandals, dress sandals, tennis shoes, Deck shoes (Topsiders) - my husband - three pair linen slacks, six tropical shirts, three golf shorts, three golf shirts, four swim suits, long sleeve rash guard, sun hat (with flap down the back for neck coverage. We did bring our own snorkel equipment with reef water shoes and our own golf shoes with some tees and balls. This is not a formal cruise - nice summer dresses/slacks for women and slacks/shirt at night for dinner for the men. The bath products provided are excellent and plentiful - no reason to pack any unless you just have to have your type of product. We did bring six tubes of sunscreen and one aloe vera which we fortunately did not need to use.