When it comes to entertainment, time off the ship is nearly as important as time on it. Paul Gauguin's itineraries vary little, so most cruises will include two stops at the line's private motus (little islands).
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 snorkeling for those who want a little more activity. The Marina staff bring over the ship's kayaks so you can explore the area before and after enjoying a buffet spread for lunch. There's an open bar on land and a floating bar if you can't bring yourself to leave the water. You'll also get a chance to participate in a game of volleyball or a session on coconuts, the most important crop in French Polynesia. Beach chairs are set up for day use, and picnic tables are available (with umbrellas) for lunch.
Paul Gauguin Cruises also maintains a motu in Bora Bora, but it's more basic and doesn't have the facilities you'll come to know and love at Motu Mahana. There are no bathrooms or beach chairs on this motu, though a small bar is set up where you can order from a limited drink menu that includes rum punch, soft drinks and beer. Snorkeling there means battling some current, but if you're comfortable in the water, the payoff is gorgeous coral, schools of colorful fish and stingrays. The beach itself is glorious, and palm trees provide shade; just be aware of the dangers of falling coconuts.
For the main islands, shore excursions, which aren't included in the cruise fares, 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. Private excursions, such as rental of a fishing boat, can also be arranged.
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, and an evening of most-requested songs.
A small casino onboard features two gaming tables and several slot machines. If you feel like playing some Caribbean poker but find the casino empty, simply ring the bell on the gaming table, and a dealer will come running. (Because of 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 (a signature of the region), tropical clothing and Paul Gauguin logo merchandise.
Virtually all entertainment and enrichment onboard revolves around French Polynesia and its colorful people. That has the potential to get kitschy but instead is fascinating and endearing. For example, Paul Gauguin is unique in that a group of talented Tahitian women and men 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 and gentlemen add a dimension to the cruise that can't be experienced elsewhere.
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.
Other activities onboard during the day are appropriately subdued. Passengers can catch a Polynesian "zumba" class in the morning, learn French or Polynesian games, make leis or show off their knowledge with a game of trivia.
For straight-up relaxing, passengers can head outdoors to the ship's aft on Deck 8, adjacent to La Palette, where there's a couple of wicker couches, along with some tables and chairs. This spot is a quiet one from which to watch sailaway. Be warned, though, that despite constant cleaning from the crew, soot is an issue there. If you're wearing light-colored clothing, you could walk away a bit smudged. A better option, which is somewhat more secluded, is located outside on Deck 6, aft (behind La Veranda), where a number of tables for four are located. There, the views are just as good, but there's an awning that catches any soot.
Bar du Soleil, located on Deck 9, has lovely views but was rarely open during our sailing except to host private functions.
The generous passenger-to-space ratio is one of Paul Gauguin's calling cards. This ship feels intimate, yet never crowded, and numerous venues appeal for those looking to relax with friends.
Head to the Internet Center on Deck 5 to check your email 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 MB of data, while the medium package costs $49 and provides 250 MB of data. For those who want to share data or stream anything, the large package costs $99 and provides 750 MB of data. You can also pay per MB at a rate of 40 cents. 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, as well as the library, which stocks a few shelves of mostly English-language books. You'll also find a small selection of games, such as Scrabble or Life.
Reception and the travel concierge desks are located on Deck 4, as is the scuba desk, where enthusiasts of the underwater sport or those looking to learn can book excursions and instruction. Passengers can also book excursions with the travel concierge. If you don't want to book a ship excursion, visit the travel concierge each day for an island map and suggestions on what to do in port. Staff are accommodating and knowledgeable.
Paul Gauguin has a small spa, Deep Nature Spa by Algotherm, where passengers can partake in an assortment of treatments, such as a 30-minute body scrub ($80), 45-minute facial ($150) or 40-minute aroma steam bath ($140). Unique Polynesian-inspired spa treatments like Monoi oil massages ($80 for 25 minutes) and the signature Bora Bora Deep Blue Massage ($240 for 90 minutes) are also available. A steam room is complimentary for all passengers, though those with spa appointments are given priority during busy periods.
You can book traditional hair-styling ($135 for a shampoo, cut and blow dry) and nail services ($25 for a polish change) at the adjacent salon.
There's also a small fitness center with free weights up to 20 kilograms (44 pounds), stationary bikes, treadmills and elliptical machines. Keep in mind, most cardio machines track in kilometers. It also offers a universal weight machine, two machines for back exercises, and mats and balls for stretching and abdominal work. The space is tight, though, with little room for spreading out. It's busiest around 7 a.m. each day, so plan to exercise at off times if you need more space. The ship lacks an outdoor jogging track, and that's a disappointment for many cruisers, though passengers who want to take it outside can walk around the sun deck on Deck 9; 20 laps equal a mile. Running isn't permitted on the sun deck.
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. Those who opt to windsurf should have experience, but novices are welcome to try standup paddleboarding or kayaking. The marina is also the spot where you can borrow snorkeling equipment to use throughout the cruise, but passengers can't 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 single-tank day dives is $95. A full open-water certification will cost $750.
If you're looking for something a bit more passive, try the pool on Deck 8; it's the only one onboard, but it's deep and seldom crowded. The pool deck, with its wonderful teak planks, has very little shade for lounging, so plan to lather on the sunscreen.