Paul Gauguin Cruises, named after the famous French painter who found a passion and, ultimately, obsession with Fresh Polynesia in the South Pacific – is the best luxury cruise experience you can have on the seas today. With an innate sense of who they are and who their customer is, the cruise line offers curated trips through various itineraries that would make even the most jaded traveler excited again.
As a recent guest onboard their ship for the 7-day, “Tahiti and the Society Islands” sailing, I realized, as someone who is not a natural lover of cruises in general, that I could actually fall in love with the experience. The key, for me at least, is choosing a line that limits the amount of people on-board – Paul Gauguin can only accommodate 332 guests. Also, lines that look after every detail from start to finish. This is the ethos of Paul Gauguin.
The cruise started in Tahiti, with a sailing time of 11:00 pm. After a long flight from New York to Papeete via Los Angeles, I was ready for a good night’s rest and also ready for those postcard views that have made French Polynesia so famous around the world. The fact that this part of the world is so remote and somewhat hard to get to, has, luckily, protected it from mass tourism that has permanently changed destinations like Hawaii and the Caribbean. As I checked-in to my beautiful stateroom and popped a bottle of champagne left as a welcome near my outdoor balcony, I knew this experience would live up to its reputation.
With only two ships and itineraries that focus largely on the Pacific Ocean (some trips last up to 17 days and hit ports like the remote Marquesas Islands, New Caledonia and Fiji), Paul Gauguin is a well-oiled machine that feels like a family-run establishment catering to travelers with the most discerning taste. Their second boat, the Tere Moana, cruises the Caribbean in-season.
After an 8-hour snooze, I awoke the next morning in the island of Huahine – the “Garden Island” – and indulged in a beautiful breakfast at Veranda, one of the three restaurants onboard. In the glimmering sunshine I immediately noticed the details of the ship: a colorful, yet well-done color palette of greens, blues and turquoise juxtaposed against the stark white of the ship and it’s rich mahogany wood accents. Hallways lined with sculpture, traditional Polynesian art and original works from Paul Gauguin. Inside glass cases were artifacts from the sea, antique books and other items that all tie into the Gauguin story.
Over the course of my week onboard I grew fond of spending my time wandering the halls and finding hidden corners to explore. Each corner of the ship is accounted for – from ballrooms to the casino, restaurants to the pool deck – it’s all very intimate. You won’t find the grossly oversized public spaces or facilities that have become synonymous with the act of cruising.
As someone who is not a fan of package vacations or an itinerary that is planned throughout my stay like I’m a kid a summer camp, I was nervous about the cruise. Would it feel like a prefabricated Polynesian experience? Would I have to take drink tickets to the bar to claim my cocktail allotment for the evening? These ideas made me shutter. Not here. Not on the Paul Gauguin. They’ve somehow figured out a way to offer a well-executed, planned-out itinerary and experiences that are there for the taking, but not in a way that feels false or cookie cutter. In fact, most of the experiences they offer, such as shore excursions, are made-up of small groups of people. Most of the activities I chose had no more than 6 others. Participating – which was a miracle.
The ship has been renovated and feels modern yet still soft enough to speak to a specific era of cruising the South Pacific, in style. It’s not overly modern and not outdated, but just right. It was clear that the staff of Paul Gauguin live by the old adage, “cleanliness if next to Godliness”, as rooms, public spaces, outdoor terraces and every other corner is kept-up meticulously. I notice every detail of how clean or not clean spaces are, and Paul Gauguin impressed me.
There are seven useable decks to the ship – each one offering something different. You will find entertainment options, like Le Casino and a ballroom where nightly performances are held. You will find restaurants, bars, lounges, sun decks, reception areas, an activity desk, a marina for water sports, a platform where the tender leaves for shore each day and much more. There are endless things to do onboard that it makes it almost difficult to leave.
A week on the Paul Gauguin wasn’t enough for me. I left asking myself the questions, “Am I really a cruiser?” As I got to know the staffs’ names over the course of the trip as well as those of fellow guests, waiving hi and stopping at no fewer than 8 tables on the way to my own for dinner – I realized that Paul Gauguin changed me as a traveler. They made me fall in love with cruising – in a certain way of course. I am grateful that I went through this growth and evolution as a traveler and am happy to have had this experience. Paul Gauguin really is the best and an experience you have to live first-hand to understand.