Review of Paul Gauguin Cruise from August 27 to September 10, 2011
We stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel for a two-night precruise packaged purchased through PG Cruises. Some people have written that this hotel is tired. Well, it's not that it's "tired," per se, but this is French Polynesia and I think the property was very nice. Maybe some people are expecting too much. We arrived on a Thursday night into Papeete with our 14-night cruise leaving on Saturday night. Customs at the airport was a breeze and we even got lei'd as we came out of the baggage claim area.
We reserved an ocean-view room at the Intercontinental and were VERY pleasantly surprised when we walked in. We didn't see that spectacular view of Moorea until the morning of course, as we finally arrived at the hotel at around 9:00 p.m. However, at daybreak we awoke to a great view of the Tahiti-Moorea channel with Moorea looming in the distance right from our ocean-view room with a deck on the first floor. Wow... finally in Tahiti after anticipating it for so many years. Anyhow, with our precruise package we had an "American" breakfast provided each morning of our stay. Well, this was really a European-style breakfast rather than an American-style breakfast. Great food in a fantastic poolside atmosphere. Sure, we paid for the breakfast ($45 p/p) in our "package deal," so it really took the sting out of the "sticker shock" of the islands by prepaying for it, and it's nice to not owe anything when you check out of the hotel.
I had prereserved a rental car for our first full day in Tahiti and just had to pick up the phone at the Avis counter at the hotel and within 15 minutes, an Avis agent met us at the hotel to take us back to the airport in Faaa (about 5 minutes away) to pick up our car. Once we secured our car from the airport we were off on our drive around the island of Tahiti Nui. Took the entire day and saw all the pertinent sights of the island from a tour map I had downloaded from Frommer's website (Google "Tahiti Circle Drive" if you're so inclined).
Having the car made it nice, because we were able to stop at a market on the way back to the hotel to pick up a bottle of wine, a baguette, and a hunk of cheese, which we enjoyed when we came back to the hotel just in time for our first sunset over Moorea. If you can swing it, I highly recommend doing the precruise stay as you can rest for a day or two before the cruise departs. It makes it that much more relaxing by the time "cruise day" comes around. Plus with the ship leaving at midnight on Saturday night and the plane arriving from the west coast of the U.S. at around 9:00 p.m., it just seems a little rushed if you fly in on the same day as the cruise -- not to mention basically missing the first night of the cruise. Plus all your transfers are included -- airport/hotel, hotel/port. Some friends we made on the cruise that arrived on that late flight were a little irritated at this situation, as well they should be.
As I mentioned, the Intercontinental provides the breakfast each day of your stay and also you can eat lunch there (included) the day of your cruise. The seafood buffet some people talk about is only on Sundays so those folks must have had cruises on the PG that left on a Sunday. Ours was the 14-nighter leaving on Saturday, but the "sit-down lunch" at the Intercontinental's restaurant was nothing short of spectacular. You get a choice of a starter and an entree or an entree and a dessert. We're talking top-notch gourmet lunch here. We opted to sleep in on Saturday and just go for the lunch instead of both breakfast AND lunch. I don't know if anyone could eat both. I can't imagine. WE even missed the first-night dinner on board the PG because we were absolutely STUFFED from lunch at the IC.
Okay. Now we come to the Embarkation -- YAY!!!
When I write a review, it's usually pretty long, but so much about this GREAT ship has been written by previous cruisers that I'd simply be repeating so much that's already been said.
Another reviewer before me said it best: Once you step on board and trade your passport for a cold hand towel and a glass of sparkling wine, that really sets the tone for things to come on this cruise.
I've got really nothing to complain about the cruise in a major way, but during the trip, I made a few notes about a few little things that I think call for some improvement on the part of the company.
But first a few standout employees that you will DEFINITELY get to know if you go on a PG cruise. Most of these folks have been aboard the PG for about 10+ years. Sure they come and go for their vacations and off-contract time, but I think that's usually for 3 months or so out of a year.
Anyhow, Efren, Elmo, Ernesto, and Glenn come firstly to mind. These bartenders, servers, etc. (all-around utility folks) are TOP-NOTCH. They are friendly, they remember your name for two weeks after telling them ONCE what it is, and they move around the ship from the Pool Bar, La Palette (aft lounge), the dining rooms, and even on Motu Mahana (PG's private island where a great day is to be had in Taha'a, complete with BBQ, bar, floating bar, snorkeling, kayaking, and all-around LAZINESS). There are other great staff among this very cohesive crew, but these guys are at the top of my list.
Our cabin stewardess (Cynthia) gave us excellent service. We hardly even saw her (I guess as it should be), but she serviced the cabin at least twice a day. Fruit and flowers in the room every day is a nice, elegant touch. The bed was super-comfortable. Lots of storage space within the cabin.
Another thing that stands out about the PG experience is the "Block Party"... On day 2, at "cocktail hour," all the PG cabin stewardesses are out in all the stateroom hallways where they encourage you to grab a wine glass from your stateroom and they pour you a glass of wine and encourage everyone to come out and introduce themselves to their neighbors. What other cruise line does that?!?! The PG makes it REALLY EASY to meet new friends. This of course can be done on your own, but the all-inclusive nature of the cruise really encourages this. We always meet new people via a CruiseCritic.com website "roll call" before all of our cruises -- and this cruise was no exception -- but we've never really met so many other people and had dinners with so many new friends on all the cruises we've ever been on -- and as a fellow "Roll Caller" mentioned to me the last day, she and her husband had never wanted to spend as much time as they did with fellow passengers till they went on this line. It's a great demographic of people on this cruise. Just about everyone we met were well-traveled, very secure 50-, 60-, and 70-something folks. There were a some passengers on either side of that number -- i.e., a handful of toddlers traveling with their parents and a couple of teenagers traveling with theirs, but I wouldn't really classify this as a cruise that kids would enjoy, particularly. Maybe this was due to the length of our cruise (14 days). Perhaps the shorter PG cruises have more young travelers aboard. Frankly, I don't think I'd make the long trek from the west coast for 8+ hours for a cruise of only 7-10 days on the PG, but that's just my personal opinion, of course.
Another reviewer also wrote that they never really had to WAIT for anything. I'd say that this is pretty much the case, except if you need, say, the second or third tender off the ship. Every port we went to was a tendering port. Now if you're in a ship-organized tour, you won't have to wait -- or if you get the very first tender -- that leaves for the dock right while all the ship's excursion passengers queue up in the Salon.
As I've been saying, the cruise was great, but did I catch the French Polynesian "flu" that so many people refer to on the cruise-ship boards? No, I don't think so. The PG experience was great, but there are many other places on the planet we'd rather visit before returning. Sure, the PG is a great ship with a great crew and screams for a return visit, but probably not next or every year before seeing other places on our "bucket list."
The food was consistently FANTASTIC throughout all three of the dining venues. We ate in Le Veranda (French, reservation only) four times. The menu changes every four days. We ate in Le Grill (Tahitian, reservation only) once. This is the restaurant that's on the pool deck that converts from a breakfast/lunch/snack buffet during the day to the restaurant at night. I very much enjoyed it, but my wife preferred the other two inside restaurants for the most part. We had room service a lot more than we normally do (some rough sea days that we just couldn't make it to a restaurant). Very good food and prompt service. We ate the balance of our dinners in L'Etoile (main dining room) -- some nights with some of our new friends at table no. 1 (Large 12-top in the center of the room). Fun but difficult to manage conversation LOL. The service in ALL of the restaurants was TOP NOTCH every time. You really go into a food coma after two weeks or so of this cuisine. Although it's fun to splurge, it's nice to be back home now eating less-rich food.
As far as disembarkation goes, this was probably THE MOST pleasant disembarkation days we've ever experienced on our many cruises we've taken over the years. Our travel agent provided us a day room at the Radisson in Papeete as our flight wasn't scheduled till about 11:00 p.m. on disembarkation day. We were the LAST passengers off the ship at 12:40 p.m. so we enjoyed a final Bloody Mary in La Palette before a fantastic lunch in La Veranda at 11:00 a.m. -- literally featuring a roast pig that the pork was sliced off of -- ya think this was intentional and subliminal? Yeah, me too LOL. If you haven't seen Papeete and you have the day room at the Radisson, then this plan offers a several-hour tour of some Papeete highlights. Since we did the around-the-island drive before the cruise, we opted to be taken straight the hotel. The ship sends around a form the first week asking what your preferences are and if you don't OPT OUT of the tour, then you are ON the tour whether you want to be or not so keep that in mind.
Now, you want a "tired" hotel as mentioned before, the Radisson provides this. It's really a charming Tahitian hotel, but it definitely needs some work. It seems like this hotel has been somewhat forgotten by the maintenance department. It's not TERRIBLE, but it just needs some work. We got to the hotel at around 1:00 p.m. and didn't have to be down in the lobby for the trip to the airport till around 6:30 or so. They did give us a suite but we hardly used the room except for taking a shower before leaving and sitting on patio having a drink as we came down off the excitement of the trip. We went down and soaked in the pool for awhile, which was very pleasant.
The trip to the airport was about a half-hour, and then the 2-3 hour wait for the plane home. Typical.
Now, I'll mention some of the things that in my opinion call for some improvement aboard the PG. Most of these are MINOR, MINOR things, but they were in my notes as we went along and were simply annoyances at the time, but I figured I'd mention them anyhow, just in case TPTB are reading any of these reviews. Food for thought.
I know I mentioned about the great food aboard the PG, but I think that breakfast should go longer in Le Grill for those who like to sleep in a little bit. The "all-inclusive" aspect of the cruise tends to make you drink and socialize more than you might on a pay-as-you-go cruise so this lends itself to staying up longer. The Le Grill and La Veranda restaurants offer breakfast only till 9:00 a.m. I think running this till 10:00 tends to let the passenger wake up a bit later if they're so inclined for going to breakfast instead of ordering up room service. There is a continental breakfast that runs till I think 11:00 a.m. or so, but it was a limited selection, of course.
Tenders.... RUN MORE THAN ONE!!! At least during the peak "on/off" hours. This would make the wait a bit shorter during those times.
Karaoke ... sort the songs by artist instead of by title (This is such a MINOR, MINOR complaint, almost not even worth mentioning). Perhaps entering all the songs in Excel and sorting on the Artist field and reprinting -- or -- set up a laptop by the Karaoke station for people to search for their song.
Sure, you're not in your room THAT much, but the TV channels could use a little improvement. That said, Fox News Channel was a very nice touch instead of the usual liberal drivel that's shown on most lines. I think, though, that PG should videotape the lectures and shows so these can be watched in the stateroom on perhaps a loop channel. There are several channels not even in use in the TV system that could be used for this. The scheduling of some of these lectures are at very inopportune times. They're either too early during the day when people are enjoying sleep-in, relax time (i.e., on sea days) or they're much too close to the time passengers like to get ready for dinner after a long, hard day of enjoying the services of the pool bar or a port excursion, etc. Having these on a loop tape would enable passengers to take advantage of the very informative enrichment lectures that PG provides.
In-Room Announcements: Please don't make trivial announcements before 8:00 a.m. ON MY IN-CABIN P.A. SYSTEM!!!! I should only hear an "Abandon Ship" announcement IN MY ROOM or something similar.
OPEN THE SUN DECK and BAR for public use instead of only opening it for private parties. The bar up on the Sun Deck NEVER opened throughout the entire cruise. It would have been nice to go up and have a drink up there instead of just at the pool bar. Sure you can come down to the Pool Bar and then go back up there with your cocktail, but there's a bar up there that begs to be used and enjoyed by ALL the passengers.
Clock issue... the time changed by one-half hour when we got to the Marquesas Islands. If you're going to change the ship's clocks, then change ALL the ship's clocks. Time was very confusing for the half-hour we gained in the Marquesas for a few days as the time on the TV in the stateroom never changed, but the time on board the ship was actually a half-hour off for that week or so. It made it rather confusing for wanting to take advantage of shipboard activities not knowing for sure -- without calling Reception -- whether it was 7:00 or 7:30 p.m.
OK, lastly -- and this is how trivial most of these "need for improvement" items are, but the charcoal drawing on one wall in our cabin was EXACTLY the same of the natives greeting Captain Cook as the one on the opposing wall of the cabin. Put two DIFFERENT ones in there -- HAHA... yep, that's what I mean about some of these items -- i.e., how trivial they are.
In closing, if you're considering traveling to French Polynesia, make a wise decision and call your travel agent and book passage on the Paul Gauguin -- especially if you're considering a land tour in this part of the world. Sure, it's expensive -- no doubt -- but a land tour will be just as expensive -- if not more -- and by going on the PG, you save the hassle of finding bars/restaurants, not to mention inter-island flights to wherever you want to go. Plus, some of the places we went to were so remote that the average land-tour traveler probably wouldn't even think about traveling there. But on the PG, you get a real flavor of the different peoples that exist in this LOVELY part of our planet.