French Polynesia and The Paul Gauguin


If you have a travel bucket list I’m going to guess that Tahiti is on it.  Who hasn’t seen pictures of the turquoise waters and not been drawn to them and said, “One day I want to go there”? If Tahiti is on your bucket list, keep reading.  I will share my recent experience aboard the award-winning m/s Paul Gauguin, cruising Tahiti and the Society Islands for 7 days.  Yes, I am suggesting a Tahiti cruise in French Polynesia, and I will tell you why.

There is a myth associated with Tahiti; that it takes forever to get there. False. Paradise is only an 8-hour flight from Los Angeles.  It’s in the same time zone as Hawaii, and it shares the same warm trade-winds Hawaii enjoys.  There are several flight options from Los Angeles, but most are with Air Tahiti Nui, which recently reconfigured their fleet and made improvements to business and economy classes. 

Getting to Tahiti is easy, and once you are there you can take a short flight or a ferry to one of the other Society islands, or you can take a cruise.  There are large cruise ships that sail in Tahiti, but Paul Gauguin is a small luxury cruise ship accommodating only 322 passengers.  She was built specifically to navigate the waters of French Polynesia, and her small size allows the ship to go where larger cruise ships can’t.  

The advantage of taking a cruise in Tahiti is you get to visit different islands from the water, and enjoy the contrasting landscape of the dark blue of the ocean next to neon-blue lagoons and lush green islands as you approach, anchor, and depart. Imagine having coffee on your veranda with a breathtaking view of Moorea and its crystal-clear blue waters between you and the island. Or picture yourself enjoying a glass of champagne from the teak deck as the sun sets over Bora Bora in the distance. Sailing in Tahiti means you get to see motus from all angles and gaze in amazement, as each lagoon seems more spectacular than the last.

Cruising with Paul Gauguin Cruises in Tahiti means you can kayak or paddleboard from the ship’s onboard watersports marina.  If you are a SCUBA diver, your zodiac will depart from the ship taking you to sought-after diving spots. Being on a small ship of just 300+ passengers means you get on and off the ship quickly.  If you want a lounger by the pool you don’t have to get up early to go save one with a space-holding book and beach bag, as there are plenty of chairs for all who want them. 

Paul Gauguin is a luxury cruise line, and your needs are taken care of before you are aware of them, like a fresh beach towel, or replenishing the fruit basket and minibar in your stateroom.  Drinks are included in your cruise fare, so if you want the drink of the day, a Bali Hai maybe, or your favorite beer, or a mimosa at breakfast, indulge! Gratuities are also included with your fare, which makes for consistently great service without the inconvenience of adding tips at the end of your voyage. 

The crew-to-guest ratio on the Paul Gauguin is 1:1.5, which is one of the highest at sea. It’s evident the cruise line is invested in making your vacation special. The Polynesian entertainers onboard offer gracious hospitality and seem especially interested guests are as engaged as they want to be.

Dining onboard does not disappoint. The specialty restaurants are not subject to an extra charge.  You cannot book these alternative venues until you are onboard, and I will give you a big tip.  Book La Veranda, the French restaurant, on the first day.  If you wait a day or two to make a reservation they may be full for the rest of your sailing.  

On the first morning of your cruise you can collect your snorkel gear (no charge) to use for the duration of your cruise.  There are plenty of opportunities to snorkel, and the snorkel gear is good quality. If you want to book excursions to explore the islands, the ship has several good tours to choose from. My favorites were jet skiing around Bora Bora, and an ATV guided tour in Moorea up to the Belvedere Lookout for views of Cook’s Bay, Opunohu Bay and Mt. Totui. 

Another great day was hanging at the beach and visiting the floating bar for fruity drinks off Taha’a, on the private motu Mahana.  This is included in the cruise fare, as well as a day at a private beach on Bora Bora, and these are not considered shore excursions.  All but one of Paul Gauguin’s French Polynesia itineraries overnights in Bora Bora and Moorea, so you have adequate time to explore each island.  Otherwise, shore excursions are available to book 90 days prior to sailing.

If your Tahitian dreams involve staying in an overwater bungalow, that works out well either before and/or after a cruise. Odds are pretty good Tahiti is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for you, and you should make the most of it. Paul Gauguin sails from Papeete, right next to the ferry terminal, where ferries operte to and from Moorea, only 11 miles away.  This makes Moorea an easy destination for the Tahitian island overwater bungalow experience.  Bora Bora is roughly 150 miles from Papeete, and you would want to fly there, as the boat option is an all-day trip.  Flights run several times a day to and from Bora Bora.

This is my recommendation for a bucket list trip to Tahiti; book well-in-advance to secure the stateroom you want.  Fly into Papeete two or three days prior to your cruise, take the ferry to Moorea, and stay at one of the premiere resorts in an overwater bungalow to get adjusted to the time zone and begin relaxing in style.  By the time you embark on your cruise you will be completely relaxed and will appreciate that your cruise is all-inclusive and that you have already paid for it all (other than optional shore excursions). 

If you are planning a trip to French Polynesia, you need to assess what you are most interested in.  Some people go straight to Bora Bora and have no interest in other islands.  If your goal is to spend “x” number of days at a world-famous resort and then go back home, you have several options of fantastic resorts. If you are looking for a broader French Polynesian experience and want to visit more of the 118 islands and appreciate their differences, a Paul Gauguin cruise is the way to go. It’s a cost-effective way to travel among the islands, because your food, drinks, and gratuities are included and, although I haven’t mentioned it yet, French Polynesia is quite expensive. Paul Gauguin Cruises offers 7-, 10-, 11- and 14-night itineraries, which are all round-trip from Papeete. Some itineraries visit the Cook Islands; some the Marquesas; some  the Austral Islands; and some the Tuamotus. Figuring out which cruise itinerary is best for you depends on your time allotted, what you really want to see, and what your budget is.

Planning a trip to Tahiti requires careful consideration of your options. Don’t just cross Tahiti off your bucket list, but cross it off and put a big happy face next to it.

For assistance you can contact Nanci Browning.