CruiseClout score: 95.0
Paul Gauguin: Paint your South Pacific dream with the brush of luxury
Sailing the fantasy-like islands of Tahiti and French Polynesia on Paul Gauguin Cruises' flagship the Paul Gauguin is just about as dreamy as a cruise gets. The ambience is casual chic and oh so French from morning croissants to the gourmet-style cuisine at night. The sleek vessel is as romantic as the South Pacific ports it has been returning to for the past several years. In fact, many passenger redo vows on board, some even get married on the ship under a celestial Gauguin-like sunset echoing its vibrant colors off a blue lagoon.
It's been a while since we sailed on the PG, but friends who have been on more recently confirm that the experience is as good as ever, maybe even better. We loved everything about her, from the lavish buffets spread on deck for breakfast to lunches the likes of which we hadn't seen since back in the day when the very French food-centric Paquet Lines was in business.
Built specifically to sail the shallow waters of the region, the Gauguin can explore remote areas inaccessible to bigger ships. Since its maiden voyage in 1998, the m/s Paul Gauguin has been the longest continually operating, year-round luxury cruise ship in the South Pacific. No other ship has offered this level of single-destination focus and expertise on a year-round basis for such an extended period of time.
The ship reflects the informal, relaxing environment of the islands coupled with five-star service, comfort and luxury. Culinary sailings with Michelin-starred Chef Jean-Pierre Vigato and ecology sailings with Jean-Michel Cousteau are always popular with Paul Gauguin visitors.
Where the Paul Gauguin sails
Destinations: The Paul Gauguin sails in and around Tahiti, the Society Islands, Cook Islands, Tuamotus, Tonga, Fiji and the Marquesas.
This 4-minute video from Paul Gauguin Cruises takes a look at cultural immersion and experiential travel in French Polynesia and the South Pacific.
Highlights of my Paul Gauguin cruises
Paul Gauguin's food is some of the best afloat. The crew is a pure delight, as was our captain. (I was accompanied by my first mate, Richard.) But the pièce de résistance is hands down the retractable marina from which free water sports are provided such as windsurfing, kayaking, paddleboarding, Zodiac cruises and snorkeling in one of the gorgeous lagoons. The ship also offers PADI certified scuba diving techniques and lessons.
Food fabulous food
Ooh la la, the cuisine is tres bon on the Paul Gauguin. It is meticulously presented for mouthwatering appeal in all the restaurants: starting with Eoile, a dinner-only venue, and continuing on with La Veranda, the casual indoor/outdoor eatery with floor-to-ceiling windows that serves an amazing buffet at breakfast and lunch and becomes a dinner venue at night serving gourmet fare. Tip: Order fish, which the chefs prepare perfectly and is usually fresh from the sea. You'll need to reserve a table at La Veranda and Le Grill.
Even the ultra-casual Le Grill serves up impressive Pacific Rim rare. You can enjoy either breakfast or a light lunch lunch by the pool with freshly prepared salads and ripe tropical fruits (some ships serve fruit that is hard as a rock). This spot is fun at night when they serve up Polynesian dishes and lots of drinks. Take note that Paul Gauguin cruises are all inclusive, so your drinks and tips are already covered in your base fare.
The raison d'être of this cruise is visiting the islands so by day there is little to do on the ship as just about everybody gets off to take a tour or make their own way. I must say we did some numbers crunching last time and learned that it's cheaper to book a tour on the Internet or even when you arrive than pay for the line's offering. However, when you are on a Paul Gauguin-organized tour, you are assured of safety: If the tour doesn't arrive back in time, the ship will wait for you — no such guarantee if you're on your own, and some excursions have been late getting back to the ship.
On board you'll find a small fitness center and the Deep Nature Spa by Algotherm, which wasn't called that when I was on, but I do recall fabulous facials and massages. The French know how to pamper!
What I love about this cruise is that they bring local Tahitian dancers on board who outperform many shipboard troupes. There's usually a large complement of adorable youngsters along with hunky guys and gorgeous gals who've mastered the art of hip swaying, similar to the hula. Les Gauguines and Les Gauguins, the ship's own troupe of Polynesian entertainers, perform ote'a — a complex line dance accompanied by drums conveying the ancestral legends of the Polynesian people. Sometimes there's a pianist, rock band or singer. It's always been highly entertaining during our three or four trips on the Paul Gauguin.
Stateroom creature comforts
We've stayed in various stateroom categories from top suite to veranda suite and can't complain, especially when we upgraded to one of the Owner's Suites, 531 square feet of luxury that comes with butler service. The smallest, cheapest suite is 200 square feet and has two portholes: Do it if you must, but to me a balcony is simply de rigueur on these cruises.
Lots of couples choose the Paul Gauguin. Guests are very discerning global travelers, and while many have cruised before, for some French Polynesia is a first. That's a real treat for us because we have been to the area many times by air and sea and know our way around. A few times ashore, as in Bora Bora, we took some passengers by the hand and showed them how to take the bus to the beach for just $1 U.S. We also gave them a list of our favorite restaurants. They were thrilled.
The black pearl experience: Epic!
Tahitian pearls are some of the most exotic and desired pearls in the world. Guests can take a shore excursion to a black pearl farm or for those more inclined to shop on board, at Hinerava.
We did sail on the Paul Gauguin as a guest of the cruise line — meaning pretty much free (we paid for some extras) — but I can unabashedly admit I would do it over and over again, even after I've done it three or four times (lost count). See Cruiseable's Ethics & Disclosure policy.
Have you been aboard the Paul Gauguin? Please share a story, tip or discovery. What did you like best? What was the best part of your experience? I'd love to hear!
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Top highlights on this ship
- 5-star-plus, luxury cruise ship sailing around Tahiti, French Polynesia and the South Pacific
- Unsurpassed service and attention to detail amid elegant, relaxing surroundings
- All-inclusive pricing: select wines and spirits, soft drinks, bottled water and hot beverages
- A choice of three dining venues
- Access to an exclusive, private beach on a motu off the coast of Bora Bora
- Watersports marina for complimentary kayaking, windsurfing, and paddle boarding
- Optional PADI dive program and certification
- Full entertainment program including Polynesian artists
- Optional stays in overwater bungalow can be added to booking
Top dining options on board
“I sat transfixed on my balcony as we approached Moorea, its series of jagged volcanic peaks and lush greenery perhaps even out-paradising Bora Bora.”