This was my 2nd PG cruise - 1st was January 2010 and if I wasn't lazy I would have written a proper review and would have it rated all areas the highest possible. It was fantastic. This was also my 5th time traveling to French Polynesia so I would like to think I know what to expect and what I like and dislike. I was very excited to learn of this cruise after a refurbishment in Brisbane. The combination of FP and new places I have not been to me before was the draw for me. I had concerns with this ship in open water if the weather was bad - more on this later.
I did all my pre and post cruise on my own as I used points for air and hotel. Flew into Sydney then on to Brisbane. The afternoon of the 26th were supposed to embark but when we finally got to the port after an Amazing Race-like horrific cab ride (directions should have been better, we were not the only ones whose cabbie had no idea where we were going) we were told that the ship was not ready and we would be heading back to be put up at the Sofitel. I only wish the cruise line had called me earlier like they had done with local residents so I could have saved the cab fare of $65(and the time). They had my number! Due to tremendous flooding all Australia Day celebrations were cancelled so I thought it would be a most boring evening.
The hotel however was great and we had an open bar and a great meal. This snafu cost the PG about $80,000 I estimate.
The next morning we were taken to the ship now ready to go. Embarkation was efficient and we were ready to go. A local Aboriginal troupe entertained us before we left and the crew was all smiles. What happened the next week was...
We had a nice sail away but I knew leaving a day late we would lose a port. Our first itinerary change saw us losing the 2nd Fiji port - Savusavu. It was also announced that there was a cyclone in the area so seas would be rough. Indeed they were. People became seasick and also people were bouncing off the walls.
After 2 days at sea we made it to Noumea, New Caledonia. A nice enough place but nothing special. On my own I went on Le Petit Train, this is also offered as a ship's tour but are more $$$. This was a nice trip but BEWARE: We were told if we got off at the beach we could use our ticket as a bus pass. This was not the case as the pass expired at 10am and it took an hour to flag someone down from the "train" operator to take us back to this ship. We were stuck overnight here due to the impending storm but finally left the next day for Port Vila, Vanuatu which was not on our itinerary! Winds and high seas caused us to have our porthole closed, people in balconies could not use them, etc etc. We got to Port Vila and the ship was boarded by local officials who demanded money to allow us to stay. Turned out to be $5000. There were a lot of taxis to take people places but for me I just walked around and took in the sights. It had its charm but it is a very dirty port. The "free" shuttles to places were not free, we were told they took US$, this was not the case for most places and we simply got there too late in the day to do anything and left too early the next day to explore the way I would have liked to. However, we were being kept safe and that was most important. 34 minutes after leaving Port Vila they were hit with a 7.1 earthquake centered 77 miles away. I think the P & O Sun which was still anchored there had problems. We also heard two other ships in the area had damage from the storm.
We left Vanuatu on our way to Fiji still skirting the cyclone and by now our schedule was more screwed up and we lost another port - Tonga and were told Taha'a would be lost and Bora Bora would be shortened. This angered many but still, we were being kept safe. Wind and sea was very rough the next couple of days. My porthole room saw water hitting the portholes and waves rising above our room. I think that is 25 feet above the waterline! One day the elevators were taken off line we were rocking so much. By the way we did not have the pool in service the first week!
Ok - now on our way to Fiji - Suva - was looking forward to it, turns out to be a dumpy place with lots of poverty. Busy place, we did a ship's tour to a village a 45 minute drive. It was a good show but the surrounding area was not safe for many due to rains. A few people fell walking around. The tour was nice but I felt overpriced. However I did see local culture so no complaints.
No on our way to Aitutaki which was a major draw for me on this cruise. More days at sea, more bad weather. A week - still have not seen much sun or the stars. The ship was not made for this many sea days - it got a bit boring but Michael Shapiro the cruise director and the crew did a great job keeping us busy and entertained. The Super Bowl was beamed to us via satellite at a cost of $5000 and to the 170+ Americans aboard it was much appreciated. We had a good party though the food was a bit on the weird side. We even had a pool with boxes and good prizes. This put most in a better mood. Once again we were soon to learn of another missed port - yes Aitutaki due to high swells due to another cyclone that was around. However now our original French Polynesia itinerary was back on. People were generally happy that the Taha'a day on the motu was back - many people including myself lobbied to make this happen. This day is one of the things that separate PG Cruises from the other choices available in the area. Once we got to FP the weather was awesome. Bora Bora was tremendous. The ship offers many tours but we were on our own pearl shopping and then the use of the PG private motu which is in a great setting. Drink and fruit are offered but chairs would be nice. The next day on Motu Mahana was the day that all expect in this part of the world and PG knows how to make this day special. Drinks, food, entertainments, locals selling pearls and vanilla. It was the perfect day. Swimming and snorkeling great, there are kayaks one can use - this is the day that made most forget our crazy trek to get there. Next day was Moorea, much to do and see, I chose to rent a car and see places I had never seen my 4 previous trips as well as shop for local juice at the Rotui factory and jams at the agricultural school. We rented a car from Albert's for $100 for 4 hours. Its only $12 more for 8 but we were "done" after 4! That eveing we sailed into Papeete where I went to the Roulettes for dessert - this is a great place to eat; very inexpensive and you get a lot of local flavor. Next time I will skip the last dinner and eat here. The next morning there was time for some shopping in town before we left the ship.
I realize that this is not a normal review but this was not a normal trip. Partial fault does go to Paul Gauguin for not having the ship ready out of dry dock on time but the weather was totally out of their control. They made a terrible situation decent and by the end we really had a great time with lots of stories to tell. Service on this ship is superb. Food is very very good for the most part - room service, especially the salmon was superb. There were vendor issues in Australia so I will forgive some of the missteps and no chocolates on the pillows! Grant the exec chef I felt did a superb job with the hand he was dealt. The crew was always willing to go the extra mile and a few remembered me from 2 years ago. Jacques the hotel director is a real gem, seek him out if you have ANY problem. Entertainment consisted of a guest musician, Aaron Meyer who was very good, the always funny and entertaining Devlin the Matador of Magic, some local troupes and of course the AMAZING Le Gauguines who are always around the ship and are a HUGE reason why I will return in 2013 for a 3rd cruise on the PG.
You could definitely tell the crew was out of its comfort zone of French Polynesia and out of their normal routine but it did not affect them in any negative way that I could see. The new carpeting, wall treatments etc etc etc looked nice but I would have expected a more French Polynesia theme. Maybe when it is truly completed...The casino took a turn for the worse as a few traditional slot machines have been replaced by electronic penny and nickel machines that just plain stunk and a roulette table was put in that was a bust on our cruise. I heard this was for the French passengers but this was an American table with the "00" - big mistake. There were guest lecturers that were mostly good, some were well attended. This is a great ship with a great crew. You will be hearing no doubt more negative reactions to this cruise but the bottom line is that we came out of it safe and happy. Due to some of the problems every passenger on the ship was given a $1000 certificate toward another cruise between now and the end of 2013. Big savings if you stay on decks 3 and 4. The company realizes they have made mistakes but in the end they made most people happy I believe. So there you have it: Flooding, 2 cyclones, an earthquake, up to 30ft seas, missed ports...We made it to the end (some people left early) and ended up having a great trip. I cannot give this a 5+ rating like I would have my last one due to some of the problems but rest assured that this is a great ship.