Paul Gauguin Cruises operates a lovely ship built for the South Pacific’s tropical aqua-blue waters, and its long-serving crew, proudly hailing from French Polynesia, are happy to share their local knowledge and enthusiasm.
Snapshot: The ship, named after the French Impressionist painter who lived in Tahiti in the late 19th century and brought to the world images of French Polynesia and their culture, plies the South Seas year-round. Owned by Pacific Beachcomber, a French Polynesian resort hotel firm, the ship has resided in these waters longer than any other, so it has become an integral part of the island scene. In August 2019, Ponant, the French small ship cruise line, announced that it had bought Paul Gauguin Cruises and will continue to operate the ship under both its familiar name and banner.
Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers: PAUL GAUGUIN, built 1998, 332 passengers (ever so slightly above our 300 max. but also a more than worthwhile exceptional exception)
Passenger Decks: 7 passenger decks are numbered from 3 (lowest) to 9 (highest). Elevators, forward and aft, connect all decks but 9, the Sun Deck; and the aft set do not serve 3.
Passenger Profile: Americans, lots of French (as ship sails largely in French Polynesia), other Europeans, Australians and New Zealanders, generally 45 and up. It’s popular with honeymooners and during school breaks, also families. Younger travelers often prefer an island resort. Every cruise is bilingual English/French, and their website lists all the languages catered for.
Price: $$-$$$ Expensive
Itineraries: Cruises (many different variations) last 7 and 10 to 14 days. However, the most frequent are the 7-day circuits that take in Tahiti and the Society Islands calling at Huahine, Bora Bora and Moorea. The ship tends to anchor rather than dock and that allows changing views from the ship as it rhythmically swings in an arc of about 120 degrees. Some itineraries add Tahiti Iti, the seldom-visited other island that makes up Tahiti. Additional itineraries with more sea time add either the Tuamotus, Cook Islands, Marquesas or occasionally Fiji and Tonga.
Included features: For Americans, roundtrip airfare from Los Angeles (unless otherwise stated), and for everyone, all non-alcoholic and alcoholic (beer and select wines and spirits) beverages throughout the ship; cabin fridge stocked with soft drinks, beer and bottled water; and all tips to crew (some like to tip extra). There’s complimentary access to retreats on Taha’a and Bora Bora when the ship calls there.
Why Go? It’s cruising in paradise, especially for those who love tropical climates and stunningly beautiful seascapes, lush landscapes that rise from the blue waters, gorgeous white-sand beaches, quiet lagoons for out-of-this-world snorkeling, diving trips, and lots of watersports to try out from the ship’s stern marina or during a day ashore.
When to Go? The summer months are hot and humid with afternoon downpours, but being near and on the water softens the heat factor. The driest months are June to August. Families come during the school holidays.
Cabins: Arranged in eight categories, cabins vary from relatively spacious suites down to windowed and twin porthole units. 70% have private balconies and as the ship is often peacefully at anchor, they see considerable use. There is a generous display of woods for the cabinetry and accenting. Many have tub baths for relaxing after an active day ashore or watersports from the stern marina.
Public Rooms: Le Grand Salon acts as the theater and lecture hall; La Palette and its bar face over the stern; Bar de Soleil serves the highest Deck 9; Piano Bar is intimate; and the Captain’s Reception Lounge is located just aft of the bridge. Additional spaces are a small casino, La Boutique, Spa and Fitness Center, and Fare Tahiti, a Polynesian art gallery with Gauguin drawings, photographs, and ceremonial items.
Dining: Cuisine reflects both French menus and ingredients and Polynesian with its locally available fresh seafood, fruit and vegetables. The formal dining room, L’etoile, with views aft on Deck 6 offers a French menu for dinner only, with reservations. La Veranda, with 180-degree views located aft on Deck 6 serves buffet breakfast and lunch and dinner by reservation at night. Le Grill outside and aft of the swimming pool on 8 serves buffet breakfast, lunch, and an elaborate afternoon tea and Polynesian dinner by reservation. There are no extra charges for any of the restaurants, and wines are complimentary.
Activities & Entertainment: Watersports are based at the stern marina for scuba diving excursions, kayaks, wind surfers, paddle boards and snorkeling — the gear is also often offered from the beach as well. Enjoy onboard special interest lecturers in history, nature, Polynesian culture, and storytelling, and also live music and performances from the on-board entertainment troupe known as Gauguins & Gauguines. Spend a day on the line’s private islet Motu Mahana with watersports, snorkeling gear, barbecue and bar service.
Shore excursions may be a day at a beautiful beach with a barbecue or by the pool at one of the owner’s Intercontinental Hotels, on Bora Bora or Moorea; bumpy off-road safaris to visit a pineapple plantation and archeological ruins, driving through forests and past pink and red ginger, white gardenia, red hibiscus and tiare, the red flower the Polynesians wear over their ear, and finally upward to scenic viewpoints; Aquabike underwater scooter for two to view undersea life such as reef sharks and stingrays; ATV excursions; and snorkeling and diving outings. Some trips are quite expensive.
Special Notes: Be sure to bring insect repellent with DEET.
Along the Same Lines: Windstar Cruises operates WIND SPIRIT (148 p) year-round in French Polynesia; Captain Cook Cruises and Blue Lagoon Cruises both use much smaller ships to sail amongst the Fijian Islands.
Contact: North Americans, contact Paul Gauguin Cruise at 11100 Main Street, Ste 300, Bellevue, WA 98004; 800-848-6172. EU contact: Beachcombers Croisieres Limited, 3rd Floor Ulysses House, Foley Street, Dublin 1 Ireland; +1 (425) 440-6171; www.pgcruises.com.