I’ve always been intrigued by French Polynesia, with its dozens of remote islands, unique biodiversity, and access to the turquoise waters of the South Pacific. Yet while I travel as frequently as I can, mostly throughout North America, Asia and Europe, French Polynesia always seemed like too much of an investment, particularly given the time that it would take to experience it properly.

Paul Gauguin Cruises - French Polynesia Helicopter

Recently, an opportunity arose to experience French Polynesia through Paul Gauguin Cruises, a small operator specializing in this region. Over the years, I have considered cruise vacations but have been wary of booking one. The combination of large crowds and small rooms conjured up images of a mega hotel on the water where the experiences are typical and the service impersonal. My husband and I also enjoy independently exploring cities and sites, so I worried a cruise might be too low key for us.

Paul Gauguin Cruises - French Polynesia Deck

The more I researched Paul Gauguin Cruises, the more I warmed to the idea of a cruise. We decided to try a seven night trip to Tahiti and the Society Islands to test the waters and get a glimpse of an area that I’ve always been keen on visiting. Overall, we had an incredible experience and would wholeheartedly recommend Paul Gauguin Cruises for the following reasons.

Paul Gauguin Cruises - French Polynesia View

1. The Small Ship Atmosphere.

With a maximum of 332 guests, it never felt crowded, with ample room on the decks, in the bars, pool area, theatre, and restaurants. It was perfect for us as we were able to have time alone but also the opportunity to meet many of the other passengers. A nice feature of this ship is that it is small enough to sail into very small ports and between reefs allowing us a more authentic, less commercial cruise experience. Because the ship is smaller it’s well suited to the shallow waters surrounding the islands, allowing guests to see them up close without getting off the boat.

Paul Gauguin Cruises - French Polynesia Resort

2. It’s All Inclusive.

Although we read that the boat was all inclusive, we were pleased to confirm that it truly was; all food, alcohol, daily entertainment, water sports, and even gratuities are fully included. Further, airfare from LAX was included. Many water sports are also included such as snorkeling, kayaking, windsurfing, and paddle boarding. As off boat excursions are optional, these are excluded and vary in cost accordingly.

Paul Gauguin Cruises - French Polynesia Island

3. The Islands.

Our seven night cruise departed from Papeete, Tahiti and the first evening we sailed to the island of Taha’a. Here we spent the day on a private island with a stunning beach, where we enjoyed a buffet lunch and floating bar. That night, we sailed to Huahine where we spent our second day. This lush island, noted for its vanilla plantations, has small mountains, waterfalls and rainforests that we enjoyed exploring. We then sailed on to Bora Bora to spend days three and four.

Paul Gauguin Cruises - French Polynesia Helicopter

We chose a helicopter excursion that took us above the island and surrounding area. It wasn’t cheap but worth every penny to see Bora Bora in its entirety from the air. Afterwards, we sailed from Bora Bora to Moorea where we spent days six and seven on a glass-bottom boat and a snorkeling excursion that included swimming with sharks. We then sailed back to Papeete, Tahiti to disembark on day eight much to our dismay. Overall, it’s an excellent itinerary with every island unique with its own culture and landscape.

aul Gauguin Cruises French Polynesia - Glass Bottom Boat

4. The Outstanding Service.

With a guest to staff ratio of 1.5 : 1, the service on the ship was superb, from our cabin stewardess to the dining room servers and bartenders. The staff provided a personal level of service, most learning our names and where we were from early on. The restaurant staff got to know the wines we liked and the tables we preferred. During the cruise, we learned that Paul Gauguin Cruises has very low staff turnover, with many spending years with the cruise line. As a result, the entire staff was eager to demonstrate their deep knowledge of the region, share their unique expertise, and ensure that every passenger enjoyed their stay.

5. Five Star Dining.

Before we departed, we had heard about the high quality of dining on The Paul Gauguin and we were not disappointed. Daily lunch buffets and a-la-carte options are available, with the buffets always highlighting a particular cuisine. The piano bar is a fun spot to meet other guests while enjoying pre-dinner drinks and canapés, which are also served on the deck. The dinners are extraordinary; the main restaurant, L’Etoile, offers open seating and although we did not know any other passengers when we embarked, we never ate alone (although we could have if we preferred the privacy). The ship also hosts two smaller restaurants, La Veranda and Le Grille, which both require reservations for dinner. Various wines are available with lunch and dinner along with mixed drinks and beers. While the ship is small, it offers an impressive variety of food and drink with an emphasis on the local. Room service is also included and available 24 hours a day though rooms boast an impressive list of amenities including a mini bar stocked with beer, sodas, water and juice.

6. The Staterooms.

Unlike the big box cruises, almost all of the staterooms have an ocean view and balcony, so there really isn’t a bad room on the ship. The rooms are spacious with a queen-sized bed and sofa and the bathroom features both a tub and shower. Thanks to a recent refurbishment, the rooms are well designed and modern. For those seeking more space and personalized service, there are butler suites available.

Paul Gauguin Cruises - French Polynesia Water Sports

7. Water Sports.

A terrific feature of the Paul Gauguin is that it has a retractable marina built onto the back of the boat, allowing guests easy access to the South Pacific’s spectacular waters. From the marina, you can chose from a range of water sports including windsurfing, paddle-boarding, and kayaking. Scuba certified passengers can catch a boat off of the marina that transports them to scuba diving sites. PADI certification is also available for beginners. Snorkeling is available daily and provides an opportunity to experience the exceptional biodiversity of the South Pacific.

Paul Gauguin Cruises - French Polynesia Water Excursion

8. Excellent Excursions.

There are many excursion options to chose from when docked at the various islands including scuba and snorkeling, boat trips, historical tours, biking, and beach experiences. We opted to book excursions every other day to ensure we also had some downtime and found that each outing was well organized and informative. Information regarding excursions is provided well in advance of the cruise, allowing guests to book what they are interested in before their trip.

9. Night Sailing.

One of the aspects we enjoyed most about our cruise was that it never sailed during the day. As the earliest the ship left a port was 5:00 p.m and often arrived at the next port by the morning, we were always able to spend our days exploring a new island or partaking in water sports from the boat’s marina.

Despite a healthy scepticism of cruise-travel, I immensely enjoyed my first cruise experience and highly recommend exploring smaller cruise lines as you do your own research. While typically more expensive than the large, standard cruises, the amenities, service, and atmosphere are certainly worth experiencing such a trip at least once in a lifetime.

Photos from Paul Gauguin Cruises French Polynesia Cruise

Paul Gauguin Cruises French Polynesia Cruise

Paul Gauguin Cruises French Polynesia Cruise

Paul Gauguin Cruises French Polynesia Cruise

Paul Gauguin Cruises French Polynesia Cruise







Paul Gauguin Cruises French Polynesia Cruise

Paul Gauguin Cruises French Polynesia Cruise

Photos from French Polynesia / Paul Gauguin Cruises courtesy of Catherine Peters