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Paul Gauguin

Itinerary

Two nearby volcanoes erupting from an emerald sea created Tahiti, the largest and most populated of the Polynesian islands. Tahiti Nui (meaning big) is the largest section of the figure-eight shape, while Tahiti Iti (little) forms the smaller area. Though connected by a narrow strip of land, from the air they almost appear to be two separate islands.

Tahiti serves as the gateway for cruisers traveling to the Society Islands and other South Pacific destinations. Because passengers land at Faa'a International Airport, Tahiti is the jumping-off point for embarkations.

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Huahine, pronounced wah-ee-nee by the French and who-a-hee-nay by Tahitians, is rugged and isolated and offers a taste of old Polynesia. Historically, the island is one of the three most important Polynesian archeological sites, along with Easter Island and Raiatea; ruins in the form of stone and coral temples remain from the days of royal rule -- as do 400-year-old stone fish traps that are still in use.

Intriguing as is its history, what Huahine does best is force visitors to kick back and relax. With only about 5,000 inhabitants (compared to Tahiti's 170,000), police officers double as mailmen, and tourist infrastructure is purposely kept to a minimum. The pace of life -- even in the main village of Fare -- will slow down even the slickest city slicker. Trust me when I say it takes time for us city types to adjust; early on in my visit I waited impatiently for my meal at a waterfront cafe and change in a boutique selling vanilla beans and colorful pareos (silk wraps); later on I finally gave in to "island time" -- and it felt great!

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  • Day 3
  • Day 4

The island of Rarotonga lies at the heart of New Zealand's Cook Islands, its beautiful lagoon sheltered by an encircling reef system. While narrow sandy beaches ring the island, the center is dominated by dramatic, lush green mountains reminiscent of "Lord of the Rings," which was filmed at least in part in New Zealand (proper; not here).

While most of the ports are in French Polynesia -- and within a few hours of each other by cruise ship (like Moorea and Tahiti) -- it takes a full day to sail to Rarotonga and another day to get back. So why is this out-of-the-way port a mainstay on South Pacific itineraries? For starters, the sea days are a nice benefit for those who consider their ship as much a destination as the ports; plus, we found the day's journey down and another back increased anticipation and whet the appetite for a change of pace from French Polynesia.

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  • Day 6

Bora Bora is the haute haunt for honeymooners and celebrities, some of which have reportedly stayed in over-the-water villas at a cost of $15,000 per night. And a meal or drink at the island's famous Bloody Mary's Restaurant & Bar, which has hosted stars from Willie Nelson to Nelson Rockefeller, is as much a part of the Bora Bora experience as swimming in the gorgeous blue-green lagoon three times the size of the island's actual landmass. What's good news for cruise passengers is that it's cheaper to visit Bora Bora by sea than on a land-based vacation -- and you generally get a two-day call.

The island is a high-end playground dependent on tourism (i.e. you'll find more resorts than old fishing villages and simple lifestyles here), but it's still not as slick and Hollywood-chic as you might expect. Internationally acclaimed novelist James A. Michener once wrote that Bora Bora was the world's most beautiful island, and we have to think he was in the right ballpark with that one. Within the warm turquoise waters and snow white ring of sand is a mountainous interior dominated by two majestic peaks -- Mount Pahia and Mount Otemanu, the remnants of an extinct volcano.

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Bora Bora is the haute haunt for honeymooners and celebrities, some of which have reportedly stayed in over-the-water villas at a cost of $15,000 per night. And a meal or drink at the island's famous Bloody Mary's Restaurant & Bar, which has hosted stars from Willie Nelson to Nelson Rockefeller, is as much a part of the Bora Bora experience as swimming in the gorgeous blue-green lagoon three times the size of the island's actual landmass. What's good news for cruise passengers is that it's cheaper to visit Bora Bora by sea than on a land-based vacation -- and you generally get a two-day call.

The island is a high-end playground dependent on tourism (i.e. you'll find more resorts than old fishing villages and simple lifestyles here), but it's still not as slick and Hollywood-chic as you might expect. Internationally acclaimed novelist James A. Michener once wrote that Bora Bora was the world's most beautiful island, and we have to think he was in the right ballpark with that one. Within the warm turquoise waters and snow white ring of sand is a mountainous interior dominated by two majestic peaks -- Mount Pahia and Mount Otemanu, the remnants of an extinct volcano.

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  • Day 9

They don't call the heart-shaped Moorea "the magical island" for nothing. Dominated by spiky mountain peaks, turquoise lagoons and lush tropical foliage, Moorea is the favorite port of call in French Polynesia for many cruise passengers and crew.

It's said that the idyllic Bali Hai, the fictional island from the musical "South Pacific," was based on Moorea -- and the island looks the way you probably imagine a tropical paradise to look (even unsightly power cables are buried underground to further the paradisiacal effect). Even better is the wide, shallow lagoon that surrounds it. You can swim or snorkel right from shore, or take a short boat ride out to a secluded motu, a tiny islet.

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They don't call the heart-shaped Moorea "the magical island" for nothing. Dominated by spiky mountain peaks, turquoise lagoons and lush tropical foliage, Moorea is the favorite port of call in French Polynesia for many cruise passengers and crew.

It's said that the idyllic Bali Hai, the fictional island from the musical "South Pacific," was based on Moorea -- and the island looks the way you probably imagine a tropical paradise to look (even unsightly power cables are buried underground to further the paradisiacal effect). Even better is the wide, shallow lagoon that surrounds it. You can swim or snorkel right from shore, or take a short boat ride out to a secluded motu, a tiny islet.

Read More

Two nearby volcanoes erupting from an emerald sea created Tahiti, the largest and most populated of the Polynesian islands. Tahiti Nui (meaning big) is the largest section of the figure-eight shape, while Tahiti Iti (little) forms the smaller area. Though connected by a narrow strip of land, from the air they almost appear to be two separate islands.

Tahiti serves as the gateway for cruisers traveling to the Society Islands and other South Pacific destinations. Because passengers land at Faa'a International Airport, Tahiti is the jumping-off point for embarkations.

Read More

Two nearby volcanoes erupting from an emerald sea created Tahiti, the largest and most populated of the Polynesian islands. Tahiti Nui (meaning big) is the largest section of the figure-eight shape, while Tahiti Iti (little) forms the smaller area. Though connected by a narrow strip of land, from the air they almost appear to be two separate islands.

Tahiti serves as the gateway for cruisers traveling to the Society Islands and other South Pacific destinations. Because passengers land at Faa'a International Airport, Tahiti is the jumping-off point for embarkations.

Read More
Cruise Critic Editor Rating:
5.0
258 reviews
Why Choose Paul Gauguin?

Pro: Top-notch service and gourmet dining in three restaurants

Pro: Top-notch service and gourmet dining in three restaurants

Con: Limited onboard activities during days in port

Con: Limited onboard activities during days in port

Bottom line: Active cruise that highlights French Polynesian destinations

Bottom line: Active cruise that highlights French Polynesian destinations

Paul Gauguin Overview

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.

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Cruise Reviews

Sail Date: December 2017
We went to see the different islands. If we had known in advance there are no ports with docks we would not have chosen this cruise as I have back issues. One must tender in to all the islands. I had signed up for excursions in advance of ... Read More
We went to see the different islands. If we had known in advance there are no ports with docks we would not have chosen this cruise as I have back issues. One must tender in to all the islands. I had signed up for excursions in advance of the cruise but had to cancel all. Such a disappointment. This is not the trip for older adults. I did not see any information offered by the ship in regards to tendering. From our cabin all the islands looked beautiful. Our in room service by our butler was excellent. The food was very good and we did enjoy Le Veranda for dining. The dining crew were exceptionally good. They could not do enough for everyone. We did wish there had been onboard lectures about the islands. There were experts on board but we could not find where they might lecture if they did so. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2017
We had cruised on Paul Gauguin once before, and gave a disappointed review for disorganization, among other things. We had not planned on ever going back, but we were given some incentive after the previous experience, and the South ... Read More
We had cruised on Paul Gauguin once before, and gave a disappointed review for disorganization, among other things. We had not planned on ever going back, but we were given some incentive after the previous experience, and the South Pacific is just too good to stay away. SO glad we gave it another try. First, we were treated to an uncrowded ship. There were about 230 on board, though the capacity is 332. Turned out to be a timing thing, as our sailing ended on Dec 23rd. We were told the shorter Christmas cruise was to be full. The ship was lively, but there was never a wait or any difficulty getting deck chairs, dinner seating, etc. That was nice. The service, the itinerary, and fortunately even the weather, were exemplary. Though it was the rainy season, we had showers but no all day rains. The seas were calm the whole 10 days, and dolphin sightings were frequent. My wife is vegan, and was pleasantly surprised to see that they now have vegan options on the menu. Nevertheless, head waiter Raffy was extremely helpful for her. We like lunches out on the deck at La Veranda, and Raffy would escort her through the buffet every day to discuss details of the ingredients and prep. We also had great personal service from Ricardo and Eduardo (these gentlemen have been on the Paul Gaugin for 20, 10, and 6 years, respectively). Best line of the cruise came when my wife asked about the kiwi soup, and was told “It is the fruit, not the bird, madame.” Having been out there before, we booked only one excursion on this trip because we had a pretty good idea what to do on our own on most islands. Pia and her excursion staff were still helpful. We’re doers, not shoppers, so we snorkeled, biked, hiked, and even rented a car on Moorea (the excursion desk scanned our drivers licenses and all the car rental paperwork was done on the ship the day before) The one booked excursion was to make sure we swam with sharks and stingrays. It was great—but we ended up seeing them on our own in a couple of other locations as well. We met several very nice people on the ship. You get to know people a bit because it’s a smaller ship, and you’ll see people with similar tastes a lot. ( i.e. We morning people are always up on Deck 8 at La Palette for coffee and fresh juice drinks by 6:30 am). We still have a few other bucket list destinations to see, but once those are done, we will certainly consider the South Pacific on Paul Gauguin again. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2017
On a scale of 1-10, my wife and I would rate our December 2-13 (2017) Paul Gauguin cruise to French Polynesia a 9.9. Our central goal was to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary in style, and we set high expectations for our trip. This ... Read More
On a scale of 1-10, my wife and I would rate our December 2-13 (2017) Paul Gauguin cruise to French Polynesia a 9.9. Our central goal was to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary in style, and we set high expectations for our trip. This cruise exceeded our expectations in nearly every respect. The few issues we encountered we’re minor but we’re more than happy to share our general impressions and recommendations with you. Because we wanted this trip to be “extra special,” and as worry-free as we could make it, we chose to make all of our travel arrangements through Paul Gauguin, including roundtrip airfare from Los Angeles to and from Papeete, arrangements for our vow renewal ceremony, and a two-night stay in an overwater bungalow at the end of the cruise in Tahiti. Trip arrangements and transfers were flawless. We’re glad we made this decision. But this brings us to a couple of recommendations to consider. The flight on Tahiti Nui to Papeete is scheduled to get you in quite late (10:55 p.m. in our case.) Our particular flight was delayed in LA and as smooth as the transfers were, we didn’t board the ship until nearly 1:00 a.m. The ship actually began to pull out of the dock before we had our cabin keys in hand. It made for a very short first night on board the MS Paul Gauguin. We would highly recommend that you arrange to arrive one day before you embark. This will also give you the advantage of boarding early, unpacking, having a nice “first dinner” on the PG, making your dinner reservations at La Veranda and Le Grill, and getting a good first night sleep. Also, consider saving the over-the-water bungalow experience for Bora Bora or Moorea. We do recommend that you conclude your trip with an additional night or two back in Tahiti. This was our second cruise but our first “small ship” experience—and our first trip on the MS Paul Gauguin. What a difference! This is a ship that strikes a perfect balance between informal and formal. PG describes it as “country club casual.” By day, just about anything goes and you’ll see shorts and sandals. Think Tommy Bahama at night… slacks or khakis and tropical shirts for the men and sun dresses for the ladies. Don’t pack the jeans and dinner jackets for this voyage. (And probably leave the kids home for this one.) We were assigned Stateroom 615 (Category D) with a balcony that made our living space feel brighter and more spacious. The layout of our cabin was generally well thought out and there is ample storage room. We used the balcony to store our snorkel gear and reef shoes. Now for the bad news: There are two standard electrical plugs in the cabin (one by the vanity at bedside and one underneath the television). None in the bathroom. We’d suggest you pack one or two “multi-plugs” or powerstrips. And internet service is hit and miss and numbingly slow. That’s it! We would be hard pressed to identify another complaint or concern about life onboard the Paul Gauguin. It’s that good. The over-all ship layout is terrific. Everything is quickly accessible but think “downsize” in comparison to larger cruise ships. The smallish swimming pool, Le Grill, and the La Palette Lounge are on Deck 8… La Veranda, the spa, a decent sized fitness center, boutique, a small library, a jigsaw puzzle table are on Deck 6… the small casino (one blackjack table and 13 slot machines), comfortable piano bar, the internet café, photo shop, and the multi-functional Le Grand Salon where you’ll enjoy evening performances in a comfortable, casual, and close-up setting… the reception desk, dive desk, and concierge are on Deck 4… and an innovative watersports “marina” is on Deck 3. We didn’t choose to scuba dive on our trip but fellow passengers who did so, raved about it. On the downside, there’s no hot tub, sauna, or jogging course on board. Service is impeccable… really. Almost over-the-top at times. (Did I really need someone to carry my breakfast plate back to the table for me?) You’ll be on a first name basis with wait staff in a short period of time and you’ll probably have one or two favorites who seem to keep an eye out for you. My wife has wheat and dairy intolerances and we couldn’t believe how well she was taken care of during this trip. Dining options are great as well. All three restaurants offer the same fare at breakfast and lunch. I’d personally rate the breakfast and lunch buffets as very good but not great… maybe B+. If time is pressing (e.g. you have a morning excursion scheduled), the buffet is the perfect answer. If you have the time, you might have a slightly better experience ordering off of the menu. For dinner, L’Etoile on Deck 5 is the ship’s principal restaurant and reservations are not required. Reservations ARE required on the two smaller more specialized restaurants (La Veranda on Deck 6 featuring French cuisine and Le Grill on Deck 8 with more of a Polynesian flare). All were terrific. Consider making your dinner reservations on your first day for the two smaller restaurants. The rule of thumb is that you are limited to a total four reservations—two at each. Near the end of the cruise PG schedules a Polynesian Night and the menus are the same in all three restaurants. You might want to verify when this is scheduled and avoid using a reservation for this particular event. On those days when you don’t have an onboard dining reservation, consider trying one of the island restaurants. We had a great dinner with two other couples at the St. James Restaurant in Bora Bora and experienced a great dinner and the best sunset viewing of our trip. You’ll receive a daily La Orana newsletter that will detail shipboard activities. Typically there are port talks and guest lectures in the Grand Salon… a range of onboard Polynesian activities led by Les Gauguines & Gauguins… and good (but not great) evening entertainment in the Grand Salon that typically run from 9:30 to about 10:15. We would highly recommend that you book your “must do” excursions in advance of your cruise. Some fill up pretty quickly. Excursions are pretty subjective things. Our favorite experiences were the Lagoon Cruise with Beach Break on Aitutaki (our favorite stopover)… the Pa tour on Rarotonga… the Sharks and Stingrays Encounter on Bora Bora… and the Sunset Sail on Moorea. We’d also suggest that you make a point of getting down to the ship marina the first day at sea to check out your snorkeling gear. With a maximum of 332 guests, you will get to know a good many fairly quickly. There is a feeling of community that you won’t find on larger ships. On this particular sail, most of the passengers were about our age… in their 50’s and 60’s. A significant number (maybe a third) were French-speaking. Other than a fun block party on one of the first few days where the ship organizes cocktail parties in hallways for passengers to meet their “cabin neighbors,” PG doesn’t need to work at getting people together. It just happens. By the end of the cruise, you’ll be on at least a face-recognition basis with nearly everyone, and you’ll likely make some good new friends along the way. Our Paul Gauguin experience was a wonderful one. It will not be the cheapest traveling you’ll ever do but it will be among your best. And we can’t think of a better way to celebrate a special occasion… like a 50th wedding anniversary. Read Less