Summary: the islands and waters of French Polynesia are beautiful, exotic, and clean. The towns and roads are populated by people who are friendly, charming, inviting, and helpful. And I highly recommend you visit them on a cruise ship (especially if you are a scuba diver)…once alternatives to Paul Gauguin become available.
The M/S Paul Gauguin is a tired, clunky ship staffed by crew ranging from competent through lazy to actively obstructionist. I have been on many cruise lines, ranging from economy Norwegian to top-end ultraluxury Sea Dream (more expensive than Paul Gauguin…but just barely), and I can honestly say that I have never been on a cruise where so many times I have been told “no.” For example, when we discovered that the chef aboard the Sea Dream II was Polish, we asked half-jokingly if he would be making pierogies…and that night, freshly made pierogies were waiting for us. That’s service. On the much less expensive (but still luxurious in its own right) Regent Seven Seas Navigator when we asked for a glass of white port only to be told they had none, they had the requested wine FLOWN IN the next day. That's service.
I appreciate that Tahiti is much further from other population centers than the Caribbean (Sea Dream, Silverseas), Bermuda (Norwegian), or Alaska (Regent) and this makes certain requests for things they do not have on-hand impractical. But I was never told “no” to any reasonable request and the more upscale lines, and even Norwegian in most cases, bent over backwards to meet every guest request.
Quiet, away from the elevators and the service/laundry station. Drape hardware and balcony door creaks when underway. Bath fixtures worn. Outlet in front of stateroom mirror (i.e. the only outlet; there's another in the bath but it is for electric razors only) needs replacing and plugs don't stay securely in. Ask your steward/ess to stock up the fridge with bottled water so you have something to take ashore with you.
My two-star opinion of Tahiti is meant for Americans/Canadians only, for the simple reason that Hawaii is so much closer, so much less expensive (Kaui is very similar), and you don't need to know French. Aussies/Kiwis, instead of Hawaii, go to Tahiti instead. By the way, a LOT of Ozzies aboard the Paul Gauguin, I'd say about 20-25% of the passengers.
We were in and out and had to take the spine-shattering ride in a shell on the pack of a oversized pickup truck with no shocks. By the time you arrive at the beach - the only place the free vendor goes - it's time to come back. Hardly the island's fault.
OMG, Bora Bora is beautiful. And big. And that's the problem; youll only see a tiny fraction of it. If I were to do it again, I'd do a combined Bora Bora and Fiji airplane vacation and spend a week here to do it right.
I give Rangiroa three stars "by default" because I honestly don't know how to be objective here. DON'T GO TO RANGIROA if you aren't booking a tour. If all you are going to do is find a beach and swim, go on a shorter cruise and save a fortune. If you do book a tour, understand in advance that you will personally encounter lots of very big, very dangerous fish. If that makes you uncomfortable, go for it anyway (by all accounts they may look scary but they stay safely away). On the other hand, if that may make you panic and rip your mask off...maybe stick to the lagoon beach after all.
The one place where the ship will stop long enough to do some real exploring. Not the whole island, but you can cover a fair bit of the north side. Gorgeous, of course, plus finally time to enjoy it.