First, let me say I delayed writing this review for several weeks while I wanted to allow time to slip back to reality. There is no way to really capture the experience on the Paul Gauguin in words. Suffice it to say this is much more than a cruise ship. It is an intoxication (and no, I'm not the first one to use that analogy--but it applies).
This ship, while not the newest or most "glitzy" thing of the sea, lives and breathes French Polynesia. I can never think of these islands again without thinking of the Paul Gauguin. And yes, I've been here before on another ship on almost the exact same itinerary. What makes the Paul Gauguin so special is the staff and the crew. From the captain down to the room steward, it was like sailing with kindred spirits. No one seemed to be doing anything they did not enjoy. The entire crew seemed to be in the "zone" the entire trip. No attitude, no disengaged behavior--just exceptional people all the way around. Imagine a cruise where the food and beverage manager stops for 20 minutes of casual conversation after dinner, or where the chef takes the time to sit on deck with the passengers and give out his best recipes--or where the captain makes sure a passenger with too much to drink gets back to her room safely? And if that is not enough, how about the two beautiful ladies who run the gift shop stopping by to have a glass of wine and chat on the back deck after hours about where to find the best pearls or what to see in Moorea? And I must take exception with the reviewer who criticized the excursion desk. They went out of their way to be courteous and helpful in my opinion.
Michael Shapiro, the cruise director, deserves special mention. As someone else said, he seemed to be everywhere all the time. He is truly gifted as an entertainer as well; in fact, the night he performed Broadway hits in the theatre was actually the best entertainment of the entire cruise. But he was just as likely to randomly sit down at your table during lunch and interact with you as if he was on the cruise with you as a passenger.
The food was outstanding--truly exceptional. Every single meal exceeded anything I have ever had on any ship, and I've sailed more than 20 times. More remarkable, the wine and mixed drinks were first rate. The wine is good quality and flow freely all day--literally and figuratively. Ever had the experience of ordering a cocktail on one of the major cruise lines and getting something that tastes like watered down lemonade? That does not happen here. I am a bit of a cocktail snob and expect my drinks to be made properly. The bartenders here are excellent and do not cut corners. If you order a french martini, mojito or a mai tai, it's going to be the real deal. That may not be important to most people--but to me it speaks to the overall quality standard that is found in all details on this ship.
So what if a patch of carpet on the ship has a few watermarks or if the decor behind you beds looks like the back side of drab quilt? That stuff does not really matter in the big scheme of things and is easily forgotten. I found the ship to be clean, very comfortable and for the most part tastefully decorated. If you want purple walls and garish paintings of the Statue of Liberty every time you turn around, choose another cruise line that specializes in that motif. They probably have the immaculate carpet you seek to round out your cruise experience.
I had some concern about encountering a possible "snob" factor on the Paul Gauguin, but that was quickly dissipated. By the way, Paul Gauguin marketers, what constitutes the difference between a polo shirt and a golf shirt? I heard that conversation come up many times among the male passengers. The cruise brochure asks you not to wear golf shirts but "polo" shirts are OK. I guess the difference is something they teach you at the country club? At any rate, business casual was all you really needed. No tuxedos or formal nights on this cruise. Everyone was basically friendly--including the one celebrity one board. There were a couple of people who were briefly unpleasant to others, including to the wait staff, but no one really cared about their "moments".
The itinerary was superb. Like many reviewers have said, Moorea is the favorite stop of many people. I'd recommend staying in one of the over-water bungalows on Moorea instead of Tahiti or Bora Bora if you want to do that pre or post cruise. The Sofitel on Moorea is excellent, and only a 35-45 minute ferry ride from Tahiti. That said, the Intercontinental in Tahiti is also very nice. I was shocked to see another review criticizing the stops in the Tuamotus--Rangiroa and Fakarava. To me, these were real gems. Pacific atolls have their own unique beauty and are a nice counterpart to the more mountainous islands. There was not time for the excursion on this particular trip, but the Blue Lagoon in Rangiroa is spectacular if you can get to it. Fakarava was also a wonderful experience. How can someone not have enjoyed that? Oh well--different strokes for different folks.
I could go on, but it would just be more praise of this cruise. Don't let the cost of the Paul Gauguin frighten you away. The drinks and the gratuities are included. There's also no special charge to eat a gourmet dinner. I usually run up a $1500 to $2000 bill at the end of most 7-10 day cruises on other cruise lines for all the wine, drinks, reservations at the special restaurants, gratuities. etc. My bill at the end of this cruise was microscopic in comparison, yet I had fine wine, fine food, martinis daily and grand marnier every evening after dinner at no cost. This is actually a bargain once you add it all up.
Lastly, as we were in the Papeete airport waiting for the flight back to LAX after the cruise,we ran into several of the crew who were on their way back home to the Philippines or other places. It was like running into friends--not crew from a cruise ship. We knew them by name and as fellow cruisers. Something about French Polynesia seems to bring everyone down to earth--but at the same time, you awake in a dream every day. The Paul Gauguin is the perfect ship for the perfect cruise. What are you waiting for?