By Celece Seegmiller for The Spectrum Newspaper 9/13/2015
Two and half years ago, I wrote about Paul Gauguin Cruises for this column and I immediately added it to my bucket list. One glance at their brochure is all it took for me to decide that this might be the perfect way to explore the islands of the South Pacific. Little did I know that a few years later, I would have the opportunity to discover beautiful French Polynesia for myself. It’s only been two weeks since I returned from this vacation of a lifetime and I could not wait to write about my experience discovering the beautiful islands of Tahiti, Huahine, Taha’a, Bora Bora, and Moorea.
From the moment Rob and I boarded our nonstop flight on Air Tahiti Nui in Los Angeles, we felt the spirit of French Polynesia. Everything from the beautiful Bora Bora blue décor to the warm welcome set the tone for this incredible vacation. We were greeted with flowers, pillows, blankets, eye masks, socks, and ear plugs. I can’t remember the last time that happened in coach class. With spacious seats, in-flight entertainment, and complimentary meals and drinks, we had everything we needed to make our nonstop flight comfortable. Time seemed to fly by and eight hours later, we arrived in paradise: Tahiti.
After an overnight at the lovely Intercontinental Hotel, we boarded the award-winning luxury cruise ship, the m/s Paul Gauguin. The renowned m/s Paul Gauguin was built specifically to sail the waters of the South Pacific. With just 332 guests and 217 crew members, the 1:1.5 crew-to-guest ratio is one of the highest of any cruise ships. While I already knew about the crew-to-guest ratio, experiencing it for myself was something else. We were greeted by the captain, cruise director and various staff members before we boarded the ship. Within minutes, the crew knew our names, stateroom number, and drink preferences. In 24 years of travel, I have never experienced this level of genuine, friendly service.
While Paul Gauguin is a luxury experience, they provide an extraordinary value. All inclusive fares include roundtrip airfare from Los Angeles, spacious accommodations, all meals, complimentary beverages including select wines and spirits throughout the ship, all entertainment, gratuities, and more. Spacious suites and staterooms (more than 70% with private balconies), a choice of three open-seating dining venues, and an extensive spa are among her luxurious attributes. Our balcony stateroom was 239 square feet and had more storage than we could use – that really says a lot as we tend to over pack for every vacation. The bathroom was very large and even included a bathtub – a rare luxury on a cruise ship. The recently renovated ship radiates warmth, informality, and Polynesian flair.
Perhaps the best feature of the m/s Paul Gauguin is the way we were introduced to Polynesia with educational seminars, entertainment, and the crew members. The beloved troupe of Gauguines—local Tahitians who serve as cruise staff, entertainers, and storytellers—add the unique personality of Tahiti to every sailing. They are eager to share their culture and offer classes on everything from Tahitian language, cooking, and dance classes, to lei making, and various ways to tie a pareo. On the day we were in Huahine, a local children’s dance group arrived to perform their traditional song and dance. They selected audience members to dance with them and then gave their beautiful leis and flowers to the audience members. It was one of the highlights on the cruise. There were daily lectures on a variety of topics ranging from the coral reef system to the ruins discovered on the island of Tetiaroa. Paul Gauguin has a 17 year friendship with famed oceanographer and environmental advocate Jean- Michel Cousteau. Mr. Cousteau shares his passion for the ocean on select sailings in 2016 as a guest lecturer and will also accompany several dives from the ship. The Cousteau experience is not limited to adults only. Designed by Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society, the Ambassadors of the Environment Program is available to children ages 9 to 17 for a nominal fee on select sailings throughout the summer months.
A few days later, I received a surprise engagement proposal from Rob while we were in Moorea. On our way to dinner, we made a detour and entered the Owner’s Suite. We were greeted by The Gauguines, who were were playing their ukuleles and serenading us with the beautiful Tahitian love song, Love and Honesty. The room was lit with candles and we were treated to a beautiful evening with a private dinner, butler, and song and dance. It was truly an evening I will never forget and speaks volumes about the personal service and attention to detail we experienced with Paul Gauguin.
There are not enough words to describe the beauty of French Polynesia. I continually referred to the water as “fifty shades of blue” as we snorkeled with reef sharks and stingrays and swam with dolphins. My favorite day was on Paul Gauguin’s private Motu Mahana, an islet adjacent to Taha’a. We were greeted by white-sand beaches and crystal-clear waters. We spent the day kayaking in the turquoise lagoon and relaxing on the beach. We enjoyed lunch and entertainment from the Gauguines. They prepared a traditional Polynesian feast and included a floating bar in the lagoon. I can honestly say I’ve never pulled up to a floating bar on a kayak before to order a drink.
I only have one complaint about this cruise: Seven days were simply not enough. To remedy the situation, I decided to go again next year on the 11 night Cook Islands and Society Islands itinerary in September. This itinerary includes Tahiti, Bora Bora, Moorea, Huahine, Taha’a, and two of my favorite islands, Aitutaki and Rarotonga. In just 365 short days, I will return to the beautiful South Pacific and I can’t wait to visit paradise again. Let the countdown begin!