Paul Gauguin Entertainment
Paul Gauguin's beach BBQ day, hosted on Motu Mahana, a tiny island off Taha'a, is legendary. The beach is perfection with powdery white sand, and the snorkeling there is some of the best in the Society Islands. The Marina staff brings over the ship's kayaks so you can explore the area before and after enjoying a buffet spread for lunch. There's both an open bar on land and a floating bar if you can't bring yourself to leave the water.
Paul Gauguin Cruises also maintains a motu (little island) in Bora Bora, but it's more basic and does not have the facilities you'll come to know and love at Motu Manaha. Still, it shouldn't be missed because the beach is glorious.
The cruise line also emphasizes its enrichment series and invites some of the most fascinating lecturers around to speak about French Polynesian culture and the local eco-system. We went to several excellent presentations by anthropologist Mark Eddowes and marine biologist Dr. Michael Poole, both of whom also lead ship-sponsored shore excursions.
Shore excursions generally take place in small groups and include everything from hiking, diving and snorkeling to visiting pearl farms and swimming with stingrays. The majority of ship-sponsored tours are priced per person between $55 (think Le Truck island tours) and $120 (for options like the AquaSafari Underwater Walk and various scuba opportunities). Excursions like horseback-riding and a WaveRunner/ATV combo are more expensive.
Back on the ship, central meeting places before and after dinner are the Piano Bar and Grand Salon (both on Deck 5) and La Palette lounge on Deck 8 aft. Live music is featured nightly at both the Piano Bar and La Palette, and you'll find the Grand Salon is a comfortable venue from which to enjoy shows like "Viva Polynesia," featuring the ship's Tahitian hostesses, Les Gauguines; the ubiquitous "Krew Kapers"; and an evening of most requested songs, played by the resident musicians aboard the PG.
A small casino onboard features two gaming tables and slot machines. If you feel like playing some Caribbean poker but the casino is empty, simply ring the bell on the gaming table, and a dealer will come running. (Due to local laws, the casino is only open when the ship is at sea.)
Once you've won a few dollars, head to La Boutique, which is stocked with black pearls from Tahia Collins, tropical clothing and Paul Gauguin logo merchandise.
We're sticklers when it comes to music and theater, and many cruise ship shows have disappointed us in the past. That's why we appreciated PG's approach to entertainment. They simply hire excellent musicians who know every song ever written. Pop band Siglo was a veritable jukebox, and from the sail-away party through the farewell toast, they had travelers dancing.
Paul Gauguin is also unique in that a group of talented young (and beautiful!) Tahitian women travel with the ship to teach passengers about French Polynesia, as well as to sing, dance and tell the lore of their homeland. These young ladies add a dimension to the cruise that can't be experienced elsewhere else.
Paul Gauguin Public Rooms
The generous passenger to space ratio is one of Paul Gauguin's calling cards. This ship feels intimate, yet never crowded, and there are numerous appealing venues in which to relax with friends.
Head to the Internet Center on Deck 5 to check your e-mail or surf the Web. Internet plans are available, based on the amount of data used, not the amount of time spent online. The small package costs $29 and offers 100 MBs of data, while the medium package costs $49 and provides 250 MBs of data. For those who want to share data or someone looking to stream anything, the large package costs $99 and provides 750 MBs of data. You can also pay per MB at a rate of 40 cents/MB. Wi-Fi is available in some cabins, as well, although connectivity speed can be disappointing in certain areas of the ship.
On Deck 6, check out the small Fare Tahiti art exhibit in front of La Veranda restaurant, and the library, which stocks a few shelves of mostly English-language books.
Paul Gauguin Spa & Fitness
Deep Nature Spa by Algotherm -- the same outfit used at Pacific Beachcomber's InterContinental properties in the Society Islands -- has replaced the Carita Spa that you may remember if you sailed on PG when it was under the Regent banner. You can book traditional hair-styling ($135 for a shampoo, cut and blow dry) and nail services ($25 for a polish change), as well as unique Polynesian-inspired spa treatments like Monoi oil massages, black-sand body scrubs and the signature Bora Bora Deep Blue Massage ($240 for 90 minutes).
There's also a small fitness center with free weights, stationary bikes, treadmills and elliptical machines. The ship, however, lacks an outdoor jogging track, and that's a disappointment for many cruisers.
A hallmark of Paul Gauguin is its retractable aft marina. When sea and weather conditions cooperate, the marina is the venue for complimentary water sports like windsurfing, water-skiing and kayaking. Snorkeling equipment is available for use throughout the cruise, but passengers cannot swim or snorkel from the marina platform.
There is also a comprehensive SCUBA program onboard. Refresher, referral and certification courses are offered. Up to three dives per day are scheduled and led by the ship's onboard dive instructors. The per-person price for most dives is $95.
If you're looking for something a bit more passive, try the pool on Deck 8. One caveat though is that there's very little shade available on that deck. Slather on the sunscreen!