French Polynesia has long been the center of the universe for romantics looking for the ultimate get-away-from-it-all vacation. Adventure-seekers are equally drawn to this chain of 118 islands and motus (little islands) and make the long-haul trip to dive, snorkel, hike and swim with sea turtles, black-tipped sharks and stingrays. Enter Paul Gauguin Cruises, whose flagship of the same name was purpose-built for the region. In a destination that truly is the draw, this luxury vessel provides a comfortable, all-inclusive cruise experience, where the ship, appropriately, serves as a background to the scenery.
Service onboard is among the best we've experienced on any ship, with 214 crewmembers anticipating every need. (We had to laugh when, while attempting to get a cup of tea from the self-service station, three waiters intervened, instructing us to sit down while they served us.) Crew seem genuinely happy performing their jobs; the proof is in the number of crew who have impressively long tenures with the ship, according to Paul Gauguin's hotel director.
For that reason, crewmembers know these islands intimately and pass along that expertise to you. You'll learn about the Polynesian islands from residents themselves, as well as from renowned archaeologists and marine biologists. You'll go ashore with highly rated guides and tour operators, and pre- and post-cruise partner hotels -- Pacific Beachcomber operates six mid-level and luxury resorts on the islands -- will wow you.
Dining options are excellent, with fresh-caught seafood and over-the-top French cuisine, as well as Polynesian standards that will have you eagerly anticipating your next meal. Wines, cocktails, spirits, juices and soft drinks are included in the cruise fares and available all day.
Paul Gauguin's marina, which opens to the lagoons in various ports, is a fun chance to play on the water without needing a tender to leave the ship.
Paul Gauguin is meticulously maintained, though it doesn't have the bells and whistles of newer ships. It doesn't need them. Those searching for a vacation that combines some lazy days with more active outdoor pursuits will be hard-pressed to find a better fit in French Polynesia than Paul Gauguin.