The purpose of my review is to give you some insight on cruising with Paul Gauguin cruises and to offer some tips to make your vacation more enjoyable. I talk about the good and the bad, so that you can be a better-informed consumer.
This is my second cruise with PG cruises. My wife and I like that the m/s Paul Gauguin (PG) ship visits exotic locations, the crew and staff provide great service, and the ship is a smaller ship, with only 332 passengers. Our previous one was 7 years ago and the itinerary was Society Islands & Tuamotus. This time, my wife and I wanted to revisit French Polynesia and see Fiji, and hopefully find vibrant corals that have not been bleached out (we found some!). We also had family members who wanted to experience the allure of the South Pacific. So, seven of us and a family friend went to the cruise from Tahiti to Fiji, which occurs every two years. Six of us did a pre-trip stay on our own at the Hilton in Moorea. Five of us did a post-trip stay at the Intercontinental Fiji, through PG.
Overall, our cruise portion of the trip was very good to excellent. People in our group were impressed with all the beauty of the area and the turquoise blue water at the islands. The staff were friendly and helpful. We were routinely greeted in the hallways with “Ia Orana” (Hello). Our room was kept spotless (thanks to excellent room steward Rosenita). The food was very good, especially in the main dining room (L’Etoile). There was Afternoon Tea (with yummy pastries and snacks) in Le Grill. Bar staffer William took very good care of us for our drink orders.
When we previously cruised with PG, all the shows were on the pool deck. Now there is a showroom called the Grand Salon on Deck 5. The PG “ambassadors”, Les Gauguines & Les Gauguins, performed Polynesian dance routines twice in the Grand Salon during the 13-night cruise. We had the musical talents of the Duo Marc & Abi and the Rhodes Brothers. We had the amazing magical shows by Gustavo Vierini. Gustavo also demonstrated his remarkable mentalist abilities in the Piano Bar several evenings. The Sound Wave Band provided live music and featured some excellent voices. Alex provided beautiful piano music before and after dinner in the Piano Bar.
My wife and I had a Category C, balcony room, cabin #741. It was cozy without being claustrophobic. There was a sitting area with sofa and stool by the balcony door. There was also a round glass top table by the sofa. Our room attendant kept a basket of fruit for us on the table. In that area was a large cabinet with multiple shelves, a small TV, and a refrigerator. The shelves were not very deep, so storage of clothes was limited. Behind one of the cabinet doors was the room safe. It was very temperamental. Most of the time, even if I had the safe open only a short period of time, it would not lock when I closed it; I had to keep reprogramming it with the original code I used. The balcony had a small table and 2 high-back chairs. The refrigerator was stocked with waters, soft drinks, and some beers (as I recall). It would be restocked for free the next day. There were wine and other drinking glasses above the refrigerator area.
There is a small desk towards the front of the room, by the bed, with a stool for sitting on. It is flanked by 2 closets. The leftmost closet has side-wall-to-side-wall hanging space and 3 large area shelves for clothes or other items. The rightmost closet has about half the hanging space of the other closet, 3 small shelves, and 1 large shelf. There is a small hanging bar attached to the back side of both closets. The desk contains the only practical outlets for plugging in your devices, and there are only 2 outlets: one the US style and the other the European style.
The bed was comfortable with 2 pillows for each side. Controls for lights by the room were at each bedside. There was room underneath the bed to store several large suitcases. A key card needed to be kept in the slot by the door, to provide power in the room. Our room attendant provided one for us. The room attendant also provided 2 fresh towels for pool use every day.
In the hallway were 2 hooks, and a small dresser with 4 drawers for storing clothes. [Tip to passengers: bring magnetic hooks to attach to the walls of the cabin for hanging hats, clothes, etc. on.] The bathroom has 1 sink, a central area to put toiletries on, and two medicine cabinets with shelves for more toiletries. One problem in the bathroom is the placement of the toilet paper; it is hard to reach, because it’s on your extreme left side, and mostly behind you. If you’re right-handed, you have to reach across and behind you. My wife found a workaround, especially at night. Take out one of the loose rolls of toilet paper from underneath the sink and place it on top of the counter—easy access then.
The bathroom has a combination shower and tub, with a handheld shower head. There are pump bottles for shampoo, conditioner, and shower gel. Bar soap is provided by the room attendant.
I think there was more shopping than on my previous cruise. There were high end pearls that could be purchased in La Boutique (the gift shop). I don’t think the t-shirt selection was as good as it used to be. Apparently PG stopped selling several years ago the PG Cruise t-shirts with a map of the islands being visited.
There was a table set up for working on a puzzle on Deck 6. Three to four puzzles were completed during the cruise. There was a library area with lots of books. There was a compact Fitness Center with work-out machines, mats, free weights, 3 treadmills, and 2 elliptical machines. You could watch TV from some of the treadmills and ellipticals. My wife and I both had massages at the Spa. I had the Polynesian massage which seemed to involve using thumbs to get at some of my tight muscles. Even without a spa appointment, you could reserve the excellent Hammam (steam area) for a 30-minute period at the Spa desk. The Hammam had a steam room, and a hot and cold shower room with towels and bathrobes.
There were enrichment lectures presented during the cruise—on Captain Cook and his voyages, and on Polynesian culture. I found the one on Polynesian tattoos fascinating. I was surprised that one of these lectures was scheduled by PG on an At Sea day during the time of a crew safety drill; the lecture was repeatedly interrupted by Public Address (PA) announcements and the ship alarm alert system.
There are many other activities going on during the day and evening, as shown in the daily program: shuffleboard, morning stretch, Polynesian dance class, social bridge, trivia, karaoke, disco, and many others.
There was a salt-water pool on Deck 9, with lots of lounge chairs around the pool. My wife and I did water aerobics in the pool to work off some of the delicious food we were eating. There was no hot tub.
Something unique about the ship is that there is a Marina on Deck 4 (aft), and the back of the boat can swing down to water level. This allows boats to pick up scuba divers for some trips. You can also kayak and paddle board from that area—when it is allowed. On my cruise, you could only do it at the stops in French Polynesia at Moorea and Taha’a (but not Bora Bora for some reason).
You could also kayak—which we did—at PG’s private island, Motu Mahana, off the coast of Taha’a. My wife and I didn’t do any shore excursions at Taha’a, so that we could spend more time on the Motu. We enjoyed the floating bar at the Motu. There were plenty of lounge chairs and shade on the Motu. One highlight was the Barbeque Lunch. Another was being served drinks in your personal coconut. There was an area for snorkeling. We liked feeding the fish near the shore. [Tip to passengers: don’t feed bread to fish; it’s not good for them; instead bring some fish food from home.] You could buy souvenirs from local vendors who came to the Motu.
In general, the food was very good on the cruise. And you could get free wine, beer, and alcoholic drinks with lunch, Afternoon Tea, and dinner—and from any bar at other times. There were premium wines and top-shelf alcohol that you could purchase. For example, you could get a Margarita with Don Julio tequila, but you would have to pay $5 US to get Patron tequila. At the dinners, there would be 2 featured wines, one red, one white, that would be served. You could ask for something different (e.g., a Chardonnay instead of a Sauvignon Blanc). The wine steward/bar staffer would take care of drink orders during meals.
Initially we planned to eat multiple meals at the specialty restaurants, Le Grill and La Veranda. Instead, we ate at each of the Specialty Restaurants twice and changed back to the default restaurant, L’Etoile, because the food was just as good, we liked the atmosphere there, and the servers Angelo, Dave, and wine steward Glenn knew us by name and learned what we liked. PG was willing to sit our group at the same table of eight each night we dined there. (We did give the Dining Room manager a heads-up when we planned to eat there.) Be aware that the menus for the specialty restaurants change about halfway through the cruise. It’s the same menu for the first half of the cruise, and the same menu for the second half of the cruise. We selected our dining days so we could have the different menus at the specialty restaurants.
We decided that we liked breakfast and lunch at La Veranda better than at Le Grill. You had a view out the back of the ship, you could eat outside, and the buffet had lots of tempting choices.
My only complaint with L’Etoile was that most of the time when I ordered meat cooked “medium”, it came out undercooked (not even medium rare); I would have to send it back to be cooked some more. I was disappointed one night when we ate at the French specialty restaurant, La Veranda, and saw that a regional Bordeaux wine was served rather than an AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) quality wine. One of my group noticed one time at lunch that expired (for 6 months) olive oil was being served at Le Grill; that was brought to the attention of management, and the problem was fixed.
We generally liked the PG shore excursions that we did. We tried to do as much snorkeling as we could. I learned from the Shore Excursions Director (formally the Travel Concierge Manager) Sorin that PG vets the excursion operators. For example, PG interviews companies for suitability for whale watching. Sorin and sometimes the Ship Safety Officer check boats for safety (e.g., enough life jackets), attitude towards sea animals and the environment, and willingness to work with a cruise ship.
Sometimes there are lapses. I heard from a family member that the boat for the snorkeling trip at Beqa Lagoon almost left 2 passengers in the water. There were large swells, and the 2 other passengers were not easily seen. The missing passengers was brought to the attention of the boat captain before he was about to leave, who then located them. On the other hand, on one of my snorkel trips, the boat captain called out passenger names after each snorkel stop, before leaving, to make sure all passengers were present and accounted for; that was an excellent practice by that boat captain.
If you like diving with sharks, there were several such dives during the cruise. At the dive at Beqa Lagoon, there were lots of sharks, including bull sharks. Dive staff from the ship accompanied the divers and watched out for sharks from the front and back; they had long metal poles with hooks to deter sharks that got too close to the divers.
Because PG only travels to Fiji every 2 years, some information was outdated. For example, there were no changing rooms at Beqa beach for those who wanted to attend the Fire Walking show and go swimming later. The Port Talk indicated that there would be such facilities.
Maps for each of the ports were available at the Shore Excursions Desk (formally the Travel Concierge Desk). The quality of the maps varied. There was more information on the maps for French Polynesia ports.
Shore Excursions arranged for currency exchange when we visited Tonga and Suva, Fiji. Passengers were told at the Port Talk that the exchange for Tonga would be on the ship starting at 8 am and would last until 2 pm. That would allow those going ashore on the first shore excursion, with the tender leaving the ship at 8:30 am, to exchange some money before leaving on their excursion. At the last minute, the currency exchange was moved to the pier at Vava’u, Tonga. That practically prevented those on the first shore excursion from getting Tongan money, because tours generally left as soon as all the passengers got off the first tender. And then, the bank representative left in the morning, and did not stay around until 2 pm to buy unused currency back. Passengers had to walk to the Bank of South Pacific to re-convert money. Fortunately, the currency exchange worked better at Suva, Fiji, when the ship was able to actually dock (so, no tenders needed), and the exchange was at the dock as you exited the ship.
I generally do not purchase Internet usage on a ship. I find the prices expensive and not cost-effective. Service can also be slow. I try to find free or cheap Wi-Fi at the ports. At Bora Bora, I found free, adequately fast, Wi-Fi at the Bora Bora Visitors Center by the pier; the network name and password are posted. At Aitutaki, Cook Islands, I found Wi-Fi I could purchase at the Bluesky Post (BlueZone), a short walk from the pier; for $5 US, I could download 200 MB worth of data. In Vava’u, Tonga, I purchased Wi-Fi at the Tropicana Café (3 Tongan dollars, about $1.30 US). At Suva, Fiji, I did the Uprising Beach Resort shore excursion; I got free Wi-Fi at the resort.
We used PG Cruises for some parts of our vacation and not others. We did not use the PG hotels for our pre-stay. We did an air deviation, because we did not like the itinerary that PG offered—arriving late at night to board the ship: we like to arrive a day in advance in case there are flight delays and to start adjusting to the time change. (And then we decided to do a pre-stay on our own, which also would have required paying for the air deviation.) We did use a PG hotel for our post-trip stay. The only PG transfers we had were in Fiji—from the ship to the hotel and from the hotel to the airport for our flight back home. Be aware that the flight from Los Angeles to Tahiti is about 8 hours long, and the flight from Fiji back to Los Angeles is about 10 hours long.
We did our own pre-stay, because we did not like what PG was offering. We wanted to stay close to Tahiti, and not take any inter-island flights which would reduce how much luggage we could carry for our 3-week vacation. The Intercontinental (IC) Moorea was being renovated, and we wanted to avoid the noise and construction. It was a good decision. Employees at the hotel ended up going on strike, and PG had to move guests booked at the IC Moorea to the IC on Tahiti, which was OK but not as exotic. My wife’s brother has also stayed multiple times at the Hilton Moorea, and highly recommended it. It was easy to get to (take taxi to ferry terminal, take Terevau ferry to Moorea, take taxi to Hilton). It was a wonderful pre-stay.
Our pre-cruise (while-at-home) experience with PG was not good. Shore excursions were not available to book until 60 days before departure. For my previous cruise, I think that shore excursions could be booked sooner. There should be some advantages to booking a cruise early, like being able to sign up for some—the more popular—shore excursions 6 months or so before the cruise. Anyway, the more popular shore excursions were booked within hours of becoming available in July: whale watching/dolphin expeditions in Moorea, snorkeling in Savusavu, and snorkeling at Beqa Lagoon. When my wife and I tried to sign up online, we discovered we were locked out of signing up for any shore excursions. We contacted our travel agent to get the problem fixed. By the time that happened, we missed out on signing up for those popular tours. We tried to get on waitlists. Our travel agent said we were. But when we called PG, we were told we were not signed up for wait lists—which we then requested. That was the first of several situations where PG told our travel agent one thing, and PG told us something different when we called up. That is a surprising situation for a company with PG’s reputation. [Hint to passengers: sign up for shore excursions as soon as possible; if you have any problems, call PG directly and have them sign you up while you’re on the telephone with them.]
None of the waitlists ever cleared. I did check on availability, almost daily, in the three weeks before leaving to go on the trip. On two occasions, I found a single slot open for one of the previously-fully-booked snorkel trips. I signed up immediately, and got a morning slot for my wife, and a few days later, an afternoon snorkeling slot for me. Once I got on the ship, the Shore Excursions Desk opened up another snorkel time, and I was able to get my wife and I signed up for the same time. (But then the Shore Excursions Desk did not notify each passenger who had signed up previously that the times had changed. One family member showed up at the time printed on his original shore excursion ticket, and missed the snorkel tour. There were good intentions, but flawed follow-up.)
For the whale watching trip, I was able to book an alternative private tour based upon a suggestion made by one of the passengers on Cruise Critic’s roll call for the cruise. I signed up for a tour by the Moorea Activities Center (MAC).
What I learned on the ship was disappointing. I talked to Sorin about all the problems I had signing up for shore excursions. He told me that he was never informed by the PG Main Office about any of the wait lists. He only learned about the booked sign-ups a few days before the cruise. He did get complaints from passengers about the full snorkel tours for Savusavu, and his team was able to arrange for a third snorkel tour to accommodate the requests. [Hint to PG: notify the team on the ship in advance about the demand for wait lists for shore excursions.]
PG did not provide sufficient information to do planning for your own tours. When I scheduled my private whale watching tour, I relied on the information PG provided about the itinerary, namely an 8:00 am arrival in Moorea. I selected a morning tour, meeting a representative from MAC on the pier about 8:20 am. Unfortunately, PG did not publish more useful information: that there would be tenders from the ship to the pier, and the first tender would not leave the ship until about 8:30 pm. [Hint to PG: let passengers know at the time of booking when they will first arrive physically at a port to do something, not when the ship arrives.] Then, another situation came up. PG prioritizes who can get on the first tender leaving the ship: namely, those who have booked a PG shore excursion, not passengers like me who have booked a private excursion. Fortunately, my party was able to get on the first tender, and the MAC representative did wait for us, because we were in the first tender to arrive at the pier from the ship (two other guests did not show up, and missed their tour). Remark: PG personnel are only checking that you have a PG shore excursion ticket to board the first tender; they are not reading it to check that it is for that day and time. Tickets are collected on the pier for each PG shore excursion.
Sorin later told me that passengers should come tell the Shore Excursion Desk that they have booked private tours and need to get to the dock by such and such a time. That way, the Shore Excursion Desk can decide if more than one tender is needed at a certain time. Communication between passengers and the Shore Excursion Desk is important. [Tip to passengers: if you’re on a private tour, let the Shore Excursions Desk (Travel Concierge Desk) know.]
There was an issue with my PG transfer in Fiji, and I don’t know where the fault lies. We were transferred via PG to our hotel; we actually did a very enjoyable shore excursion on the disembarkation day and ended up at our post-stay hotel. When we checked in to the IC Fiji, there was absolutely no information about when we would leave the hotel to catch our ride to the airport several days later—this should have been an included PG transfer. One of us recalled that the excursion we took before we arrived at the IC Fiji was through Rosie’s Tours. There was a Rosie’s Tour desk by the main restaurant at the IC Fiji. Someone checked with them, and they had the transfer information. Nothing was ever delivered to our rooms.
Originally they told us that we would leave the IC Fiji at 6:30 pm to go to the airport. The Nadi airport was a minimum of a 1-hour drive away. And Fiji Airways asked for a 3-hour check-in for international flights (ours was scheduled to depart at 9:40 pm). There was no way to arrive on time with the scheduled departure time from the hotel. I had to go to the tour desk and complain to get an earlier departure time of 5:30 pm. (There was a Captain Cook tour group staying at the hotel with some guests who had the same flight as us; Rosie’s refused to move their departure time up from 6:30 pm.)
Be aware that Ponant recently purchased the m/s Paul Gauguin ship, and perhaps even the PG cruise line. The purchase supposedly happened at the beginning of the cruise; two of the owners came onboard the ship at Bora Bora, and stayed on for the rest of the cruise. There could be some future changes. Hopefully management will not mess with the successful elements of a PG cruise. Read Less