The ideal way to see French Polynesia: Paul Gauguin Cruise Review by C2Dan

Paul Gauguin 5
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The ideal way to see French Polynesia

Sail Date: January 2011
Destination: South Pacific
Embarkation: Tahiti (Papeete)
If you want to see French Polynesia, or if you just want to spend an enjoyable vacation in a beautiful part of the world, then the M/S Paul Gaugin is for you. Here are some specific comments:

• The Paul Gaugin offers a number of different itineraries. We selected the longest, a 14-night cruise that includes the Tuamotus and the Marquesas as well as the better-known Society Islands. We loved stopping in the remote Marquesas, which are very scenic, thinly populated and rarely visited by travelers. On the other hand, the shore excursions and other activities in the outlying ports are quite limited due to the lack of a tourist infrastructure. Because of the distances involved, this itinerary includes four days at sea, and one of the long passages was quite rough.

• If you have a choice, you should consider the season. In January, the weather was quite warm (although never oppressively hot) and humid. During most days, we had several showers. They generally passed More quickly and had little impact on our activities. However, the sky was at least partially cloudy most of the time.

• I believe only about two passengers were under the age of 25. The median age was below that on most of our other cruises, but children/teenagers should not expect to find many peers. Moreover, there are no special facilities or activities for minors.

• The ship is relatively small. This meant that there was never a line for anything. (The vessel was filled to about 80% of capacity for our cruise.) On the other hand, you cannot expect the facilities and entertainment that a larger ship would offer. For example, the pool is quite small.

• The crew seemed eager to please. The ship offers tours of the bridge and the galleys. When a port call was cancelled due to high seas, the crew made use of the additional time in the next port by offering rides in the inflatable boats. The onboard experts narrated the impromptu tours of interesting geological formations.

• One problem, especially noticeable during summer (in the Southern Hemisphere), was the lack of shaded outdoor areas. While there was never a lack of deck chairs, there was intense competition for the few chaises in the shade. My advice is to bring lots of strong sunscreen, especially since the onboard store charges $30 for a bottle.

• The gym is small, but few passengers used it. I never had to wait for a treadmill. The equipment is top-notch.

• Our cabin seemed small, but storage is brilliantly designed. We had no problem accommodating and organizing our belongings for 14 days. The sleeper sofa is narrow, low and uncomfortable, and there are no other places to sit apart from the bed and two round hassocks. For this reason alone, we were glad to have a balcony.

• The cruise line makes a big deal out of its "marina," the water-sports platform that descends from the stern of the ship. However, the marina was not open during some port calls due to rough water. When it was available, its usefulness was very limited. For example, kayaks could only be operated for 30 minutes and only within a 180-degree radius from the platform. (Therefore, it wasn't even possible to circle the ship.) The kayaks were also made available for use from the beach during calls near the cruise line's private islands, which was more enjoyable.

• We ate our dinners in L'Etoile (the main dining room) or La Veranda (where reservations were easy to obtain on a same-day or next-day basis). We did not try Le Grill, which involves eating in a drafty, semi-enclosed passageway. For some reason, the duck served in both restaurants was almost inedible, but all other dishes ranged from good to superb. The presentation was always exceptionally attractive. The breakfast and lunch buffets in La Veranda were excellent. The coffee served throughout the ship is of poor quality, and Starbucks-quality specialty coffees are simply unavailable. Likewise, the free Hinano draft beer offered on the ship is terrible (think Coors Light with less taste); beer connoisseurs need to pay up for a better brand.

• Embarkation and disembarkation could not have been easier; we basically just walked on and off the ship. Our luggage was delivered to our stateroom almost instantaneously.

• Overall, the service is very attentive and friendly. The waiters do not attempt to channel their counterparts at the Ritz, and the service is not as formal as on a Crystal ship. There were occasional lapses, when the wrong dishes were served or long pauses between courses occurred. Moreover, our cabin attendant seemed over-stretched. However, most waiters quickly remembered our names and personal preferences. Less

Published 02/16/11
Helpful? Thank C2Dan

Cabin review: D

Port and Shore Excursions

We did not sign up for a shore excursion from the ship, since we planned to return to Bora Bora for several days after the cruise. However, I would highly recommend booking a snorkeling expedition with Christophe Poch at Reef Discovery. (Note that you can save some money by contacting Reef Discovery directly or through your travel agent, rather than through the ship.) He picked us up at our resort’s dock in a boat that was relatively small, sturdy, and fast. Over a period of about 3-1/2 hours, we stopped at four separate locations to see a huge variety of fish and corral. At each stop, Christophe explained briefly what we should look for and then let us enjoy the water on our own. With only five guests in our group, we never got in each other’s way. The emphasis was on the fish and the reef, not the refreshments. After snorkeling in the Caribbean, Mexico, the Galapagos Islands, the Fiji Islands, Tonga, the Great Barrier Reef and a number of locations in French Polynesia, we consider our morning in Bora Bora among the best experiences.

We booked the "Lagoon Cruise and Snorkeling" excursion on the ship. This involved a trip on a large, motorized outrigger canoe that was filled almost to capacity. While the canoe was cramped, the snorkeling was quite good.

Huahine itself is beautiful, and we found a nice beach near the pier, where we watched local schoolchildren receive a swimming lesson.

Read 34 Huahine Reviews

We booked the "Aito Off-Road Safari" through the ship. This excursion includes a trip in a four-wheel-drive pickup on a rugged and steep private road that leads almost to the top of "Magic Mountain," which affords fantastic views. The excursion also includes a stop at Belvedere, where the view over Cook's Bay and Opunohu Bay is also spectacular.

Read 109 Moorea Reviews

The ship actually anchors near Motu Mahana, the cruise line's private island in the vicinity of Taha'a, which in turn is the sister island of Raiatea.

We booked the "Coral Garden Drift Snorkel" excursion on the ship. For experienced snorkelers, this is a great experience. A couple of boats picked up the group directly from the ship. We were dropped off at a small island and walked for a few minutes to the head of a pass through the reef. The guide collected our reef shoes, and we drifted single-file through the narrow pass over the corral. Those who wanted had the opportunity to repeat the process, and there was also time fo additional snorkeling at the end. The corral and the fish were exceptionally colorful and diverse. However, the current is quite strong in places, and the water gets very shallow if you miss a turn and are pushed outside the curvy passage. In this case, the cruise line really means it when it discourages novices from signing up.

We ate lunch on the Motu, where the cruise line serves a nice buffet. Bar service, a massage tent and the ship's kayaks are also available.

Read 34 Raiatea Reviews

This is mostly an embarkation and disembarkation port. If you need a place to stay overnight, the InterContinental Resort has beautiful grounds and pools as well as a great view of Moorea.

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Member Since 2010
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