My wife and I recently completed an 11-day cruise on Paul Gauguin, visiting French Polynesia and the Cook islands. It was one of our most enjoyable cruise experiences ever. Prior to the cruise, I unsuccessfully tried to find answers to a ... Read More
My wife and I recently completed an 11-day cruise on Paul Gauguin, visiting French Polynesia and the Cook islands. It was one of our most enjoyable cruise experiences ever. Prior to the cruise, I unsuccessfully tried to find answers to a number of questions relating to this adventure. Now that I know the answers to these questions, I thought that it might be useful to share what I have learned with those who may be seeking the same information.
Getting to Tahiti from North America can best be described as a wearisome journey. Most of the direct flights leave from LAX. The trip is about 8 hours and most of the flights arrive in Papeete at around 10:00 PM. There are a few that arrive in the early evening as well.
If you are on one of the 10:00 flights, you will have to make arrangements for a place to stay that night along with arranging a ride to that place from the airport as well as transportation to the ship in time for its departure. The ship typically departs sometime in the evening. Guests can start coming on board around 3:00 PM.
Passengers who arrive on the earlier flights can avoid the cost of lodging in Papeete but will have to make sure that they have transportation to the ship arranged in advance as the ship departs very soon after the evening flights have landed. Guests whom I spoke with who had arrived on early evening flights said that they were too tired after their flight to enjoy much of the first night’s experience on board.
The cruise line offers pre and post-cruise packages that include transportation and lodging but they are a little pricey. We found a simple but adequate studio in Papeete through AirBnB. The owner picked us up at the airport when our flight arrived, greeted us with flower leis and provided a quick driving tour of the Papeete before taking us to the apartment. Very convenient.
Papeete is not a place that you need to spend much time visiting. A day in town is plenty. We had two and were very happy to board the ship when the time came. One thing that is worth doing while in Tahiti is to take a tour of the island by car. There are many ways to get this done but I recommend that, unless you welcome the prospect of getting hopelessly lost, you consider using a local guide rather than renting a car.
In our case, the owner of the apartment we rented had a family member who did island tours. We decided to take this tour at the end of the cruise when we had about 16 hours to kill before boarding the plane for home. After the 6 hour island tour, we were allowed to go back to the apartment to rest up until our host again came to pick us up and drive to the airport for our midnight flight. The $150 charge for the island tour, day-use of the apartment and transportation to the airport was a welcome bargain.
Onboard the M/S Paul Gauguin
This cruise line offers a number of stateroom and service options that can greatly affect your cruise experience. Many, but certainly not all things are included on Paul Gauguin cruises. Among the most notable inclusions are food and drink.
There are three dining venues which are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Room service is also available for no additional charge. Two of the eating venues offer buffet-style meals during breakfast and lunch and then morph into reservation-only specialty restaurants for dinner. The main dining room is primarily a sit-down dinner venue with no reservations required. You should try all the options as they each offer a different enjoyable dining experience.
Paul Gauguin cruises are not for the low budget traveler. My wife and I normally opt for a stateroom with a balcony when traveling to warm weather locations. On this ship, rooms with balconies can cost up to $3000 more than the same room with a window instead of the balcony. We gambled and chose a window stateroom on deck 4. It was a good decision.
The Paul Gauguin is a small ship with about 300 passengers. There are many places on the ship where guests can be outdoors enjoying the view. We took advantage of this and never missed the absence of a balcony. Travelers with mobility issues or those who like to take advantage of room-service dining will probably want to go with the balcony upgrade but for us, the cost savings provided funds to purchase a few very useful ship services such as Internet, laundry and excursions.
Internet service on cruise ships has come a long way over the past few years. For travelers like me, who must remain in contact with a business at home, having Internet access while traveling is a requirement, not just a luxury. P G Cruises offers reasonably-fast wireless Internet service throughout the ship. They also have a computer room where guests can use the provided work stations. The Internet manager is friendly, helpful and very competent.
Internet service on cruise ships is usually expensive. The Paul Gauguin is no exception. Services packages can be purchased based on blocks of time, (not amounts of data), ranging from a few minutes to unlimited service throughout the cruise. Choosing from the various offered service packages can be a bit of a crap shoot.
Should you purchase the unlimited package and never worry about running out of minutes or go with one or more smaller packages? The unlimited time package can be purchased any time for $29 a day but once purchased you will be billed at this rate for every remaining day of the cruise. Service for an 11 day cruise will cost $319.
You can also pay as you go for 55 cents a minute or buy time packages that reduce the cost per minute to as low as 20 cents. If you run out of minutes, you can buy another package.
My wife and I each bought the 400 minute, large package for $80 apiece. 400 minutes was more than enough for me to handle my work communications and just barely enough for my wife to feed her Facebook addiction while keeping in touch with the kids. Your mileage may vary. Users must remember to log off after every session or the usage clock will keep on ticking.
As stated previously, the Paul Gauguin is a small ship. This is a good thing in many ways but it also means that some of the guest services that are common on the larger ships are not available. This includes washing machines that guests can use.
I spoke to several guests who planned to try to make it through the entire cruise without using the ship’s laundry service. This is not something that would have worked for us. Polynesia is a hot and humid place. You will sweat and your clothes will seldom be usable for more than a day or so before they will need washing. We elected to purchase the ship’s laundry package for $199. It was money well spent.
Every morning we sent a bag of clothes to the ship’s laundry. In the afternoon, the clothes were returned cleaned and pressed. My wife was in heaven.
The Paul Gauguin is unique in the sense that it provides some services that are not available on most cruise ships. At the top of this list is the Marina. The Marina is an area at the stern of the ship which caters to water sports. When anchored, large doors open up on the stern creating an outdoor deck with access to the water. On the first day of our voyage, most of the guests visited the Marina and checked out snorkeling equipment, which is provided for free. I brought my own but to my surprise, the ship’s gear was high quality, comparable with mine.
The Marina also stocks a collection of kayaks, wind surfers and stand-up paddle boards, all available for guests to use for free while at anchor in most of the ports. They also offer scuba equipment and scuba classes, (for a fee). I was excited about the kayaks but the reality was that guests could only check them out for 30 minutes at a time and were limited to where they could go with these toys. Still it was fun to climb off the Marina deck onto a kayak and paddle around for a while.
Another of included ship services are the very interesting lectures given by onboard experts. On our trip we had a guy who shared his oceanographic expertise on subjects ranging from coral, to whales and even tsunamis. These lectures became a must-see event every afternoon.
Like most cruise ships the Paul Gauguin offers a selection of excursions at each of the ports of call. We considered a couple of the in-house excursions but quickly learned that we could find more appealing options on our own. Some of the ports offer much more in the way of excursions than others. A few of the places we visited did not offer much at all. In those locations, we simply walked around or took the local bus somewhere. While we did not take advantage of this, renting a bike or motor scooter looked like it would be fun on some of the smaller islands.
By far, the most enjoyable excursions that we experienced were on Bora Bora and Moorea. On Bora Bora we joined a Wave Runner, (Jet Ski), group which took us all the way around the island, sometimes at speeds of up to 45 mph. The water and scenery was absolutely beautiful and the ride was exhilarating to say the least. We booked this through the cruise but found out later that the ship’s mark-up was close to 75%.
Similar Wave Runner tours can be found on Moorea but at the recommendation of a shipmate, we chose a 3 hour ATV tour of the interior of the island. This was a fantastic experience which I highly recommend. We booked this tour online from the ship, prior to arriving in Moorea. Check out http://www.mooreaactivitiescenter.com/atv Combine the Jet Ski and ATV tours for the best deal. You will not be disappointed.
While we did not partake of any of the scuba excursions, those who did gave them rave reviews. Scuba and snorkeling excursions can be booked on your own but from what I can tell, the ones that the ship offers are probably the best options.
One thing to keep in mind when booking an excursion that is not from the ship is that you are on your own. If your tour boat or bus breaks down and you cannot make it back onboard before the ship sails to the next port you, will probably be left behind. It has happened. If something goes wrong with an excursion booked through the ship, the crew will use every resource to bring you back before sailing away.
What to Bring?
There probably no absolute correct answer to this question. Since we had daily laundry service, we probably could have brought fewer clothes. There no need to bring anything fancy. Resort casual is appropriate for all ship locations after 6:00. The rest of the time guests are usually in shorts or swimsuits.
Among the other items that came in very handy for us was an electrical outlet converter (French to USA) and a 220v to 110v international power converter with US plugs and USB charging ports. We always pack a Bestek MRJ201GU converter when traveling internationally. Adding an extension cord or two might be helpful if you have a lot of stuff to plug in.
The ship provides 220 v hair dryers so you can leave yours at home. If you plug a 110 volt device into a 220 power source, it will probably go up in smoke within seconds. Most computer power supplies can handle both voltages but as my wife can confirm, curling irons will not.
Of course, you should bring a camera or two. A waterproof camera will help you better describe to your friends, all those strange and beautiful things that you saw when you went snorkeling. Binoculars are great to have, especially if whales are in the area.
Unless you pick up a local cell phone, telephone service will be difficult at best. The good news is that the ship’s WIFI has enough band width to make Skype calls possible when on board. Put the Skype app on your phone, connect to WIFI and you are in business.
There will be a lot of quiet time while on board the ship. If you like to read bring a couple books. Even better, pack a Kindle. Most days you are likely to find a large percentage of the passengers sitting in a shady spot on deck with their Kindle in one hand and something from the bar in the other.
Bring plenty of sun protection. This includes hats, sunscreen and a shirt or rash guard to wear while snorkeling. I did not bring the latter and paid dearly for the error. On one of the first days, I went snorkeling for a couple hours without considering that my back and shoulders would be exposed to the sun for an extended period of time. The result was a second degree burn that took weeks to heal.
A couple of our shipmates showed up with something that I would have never considered packing. They were from Oregon and loved to fly fish. They brought along a couple of small backpacking fly rods and some flies. When I saw them wading the shallows, casting away, I was very envious. They must have recognized my desire and let me borrow one of the rods. Who would have thought that I would have the opportunity to fly fish while on a Polynesian cruise? I even caught a few small fish. Wow!
The makeup of the passengers on this cruise covered a wide spectrum. Because it was winter in North America, there were a lot of Americans and Canadians from cold weather locations. There were also a significant number of French-speaking people onboard, probably due to the fact that French is one of the official languages spoken in Polynesia.
While the average age of the passengers was probably somewhere north of 60, the group was quite active and lively. There were a significant number of newlyweds, both young and old. There were no small children and only a couple of teenagers. IMO, this would not be a great cruise to bring small kids. There were a few wheelchair-bound passengers but not very many. The ship’s staff did an excellent job accommodating those with special needs.
This was our first cruise on Paul Gauguin and the first visit to Polynesia. Both experiences were beyond excellent. The staff on the ship went out of their way to make sure that every passenger was having a great time.
The waiters in the dining rooms made a point of quickly learning everyone’s names, addressing each of us by name as we came and went. After a couple of days, they learned where we liked to sit and what we liked to eat and drink. I felt a little like Norm from Cheers whenever I walked into one of the dining rooms and was greeted with a friendly shout-out, “Welcome Sir Bob”.
Among the most impressive staff members was the tireless Sommelier, Eduardo, who seemed to be everywhere. He quickly recognized that my wife and I were wine fans. Whenever we sat down for lunch or dinner Eduardo quickly found us and went out of his way to make sure that we tried the best from his sizable wine list. Very impressive.
As for Polynesia, the beauty of some of the lagoons defies description. Rugged mountains, clad with tropical vegetation, contrasting dramatically with the colors of the calm water that range from crystal-clear to a Tanzanite blue and everything in between.
We visited seven islands on this voyage. Bora Bora, Moorea and the private Motu, (island) near Taha’a were the most memorable. The ship stayed overnight in Bora Bora as well as Moorea which allowed us to take in more of what these islands have to offer.
One of the things that helped to make this trip so great was that, unlike many of our travel adventures, nothing went wrong. Although it was the rainy season, aside from a few sprinkles, we never had any weather issues. It was hot and humid but not oppressively so. The people on the ship and on the islands were all friendly, welcoming and helpful.
Polynesia and Paul Gauguin are great combination.
I am hopeful that we will be able to visit again. Maybe when the rumored new ship goes into service sometime in the next couple of years. Read Less