Paul Gauguin Cruises Reviews

Year Started: 1998
Ships in Fleet: 2
Category: Luxury

Summary: Runs the Paul Gauguin in Polynesia (Tahiti to Bora Bora). The ship was acquired from Regent and remains a top quality ship. The line also has the Tere Moana sailing in Europe.

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Paul Gauguin Cruise Ships

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Regions:Caribean

Good for: Overall Service. Seniors. Luxury Travelers.

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Overall Rating
4.00
from 7 reviews

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User Reviews

7 User Reviews of Paul Gauguin Ships
South Pacific/Tahiti
Publication Date: July 16, 2007

I will make this brief since Karen Jones wrote a review on a 2006 cruse and I agree with that review. The Paul Gaughin is a small ship (320 passengers and 214 crew). That should tell you something about the service -- it could not have been better. This is the finest cruise we have ever been on and it is a must-do for anyone who enjoys luxury cruising. First, we never waited in line anywhere for anything. When we arrived at the ship on a bus from our hotel, we stepped off the bus, pointed out our luggage, walked up the gangplank and were led by a hostess to the registration area. It took 2 minutes to check in and we were immediately led to our cabin. The luggage arrived in less than 10 minutes.

They have 3 restaurants. The Grill on the 8th deck is not up to the usual Regent standards and I would not eat there. We ate in the main dining room three times for dinner and the other 7 nights ate in the smaller specialty restaurant. Although you needed reservations for this dining room

and they did fill up most nights, we usually made the reservations the night before and twice at lunch the same day that we went to dinner there. We never waited even 2 minutes when we showed up for breakfast, lunch or dinner. The food was always excellent and the service was outstanding.

This ship has its own tenders and each of the two hold 100+ people. We also found none ever filled to capacity so we also never had to wait for another tender when we wanted to go ashore.

We stayed at the Intercontinental (beautiful resort) and we spoke to no other people who stayed elsewhere that were particularly impressed with their hotels. By the way, the specialty restaurant at the Intercontinental, which is in a "grass hut" perched over the water, is the best restaurant in Tahiti and one of the best we've eaten at anywhere in the world. However, it is expensive. We would recommend not spending additional time in Tahiti as it seemed to us just another bustling town with not too much to offer.

Karen commented on the band and mentioned that she had heard that the prior band, Siglo, was outstanding. Well she heard right. They are back and they told us they are under a "long term contract." Their lead guitarist doesn't even know how good he is -- should be with a top name band. They play hits from the 60s to the 90s but are equally at home playing backround "island" music for the Tahitian dancers.

There is one shore excursion we would recommend as a must-do. It is snorkeling on the Island of Moorea (this is the closest island to Tahiti and can be seen easily from Tahiti). You will make one stop where you not only will be in 3-4 feet of water with plenty of large rays (and be able to hold and feed them), but at the same stop there is a drop-off into 9-15 feet of water. There you will swim with sharks up to 8-9 feet in length so close you could touch them. These sharks are in the wild but used to people and are "well fed." It is amazing to be so close to such majestic animals.

July is certainly the best month of the year to take this cruise. You will typically find the weather is fantastic and the water is calm. We looked at the weather report before we went and I thought it was a misprint. The 10-day forecast caled for the high every day of 84 or 85 degrees and the low of 73 to 75 degrees, with no rain. Well, the high every single day of the 10-day cruise was 84 or 85 and the low was 73 to 75. They were wrong on the rain -- we did have a 1/2 hour shower one day and about 3 hours of rain early one morning as we were arriving at one port.

These cruises fill up quickly so you'll have to book well in advance. I would recommend up to a year in advance if you want to go in July.

Bon Voyage!

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South Pacific/Tahiti
Publication Date: October 7, 2006

Pre-cruise: We arrived in French Polynesia on October 5th in the late morning. Although we'd booked through a travel agent and thought we'd be at the Intercontinental, we landed at the Sheraton Tahiti. The room was a "Deluxe Oceanview room". Well, we did have a view, if you could ignore the septic field which stretched out below us! The room was large with lovely wood floors, a nice bathroom, and a comfortable bed. We were on the fifth floor. When you hear that the Sheraton finally has a beach, don't be misled. Yes, they've got sand. It's about 2 feet from the ocean and a foot or so higher. Access to the ocean is tough over algae covered rocks. I guess that tides would move a regular beach away. Snorkeling was poor here, as there were a lot of ocean swells.

The food at the bar was HORRIBLE. The restaurant is much nicer, but very expensive. This was our first exposure to the high costs of FP. Service was terrible at the front desk and at the bar, although the people were friendly, if you could reach them. Ice machines on

all floors were "temporarily out of order" with slightly yellowed signs proclaiming this. Both the pool and the spa are quite nice. Also, although I'd thought that it was a short walk into town for groceries, it was hot and humid and nearly made my husband and I fight. We took a taxi after that first walk! We stayed here from Thursday night through Saturday morning when we discovered that "late checkout" doesn't seem to be an option in French Polynesia. We went to Papeete in a cab with 2 other cruising couples just to burn off some time, and had some fun at the local market. Did a little pearl shopping, and headed back to the Sheraton to wait for our transfer to the ship.

The Ship: The Paul Gauguin was made for this trip (really, this ship was built specifically for this area of the world.) There are 9 decks. When you first arrive, they ask that you verify your luggage. Quick and easy with only about 5 couples at our time. Then, they walk you up the gangplank and to a table (no lines!) to present your passport and credit card (for ship purchases, etc). Then, you're led away to the first glass of champagne in a long line of free drinks. Next, you're escorted to your suite.

We had a "C" level suite, #714 (which is right next to the forward bank of elevators). That means it's a room with a balcony but without a butler. Just what we wanted! The room is smallish, but pretty usable. The storage could be improved, with a lot near the bar/TV area, but less in the dressing area. There's a set of 4 drawers under the Tiki god who was positioned between the room and the bathroom. Otherwise, both my husband and I had a closet with some shelving and some rod space. The bathroom included a full tub (great for rinsing and storing our snorkel equipment). Plenty of storage space in the bathroom. Do not bring an "over the door storage unit", as we never got close to filling up all of the storage in this cabin. Also, the under bed space is taller than most cruise ships, so we were able to put extras besides the suitcases under the bed. The balcony comes with a small table and 2 resin chairs. For us, it was plenty of space to have morning coffee or to sit and read. If you want to "sun", I'd suggest going up to deck 8 or 9. There is complete balcony privacy from above and both sides, but watch out for tenders, other boats, etc. if you're thinking of being outside unclothed!

Our luggage was delivered within 15 minutes of our arrival to our room. Also, there was a delivery of a small anniversary cake, some appetizers and a bottle of champagne, so we ate and drank while unpacking and stowing our luggage.

We did find the small observation area on Deck 8. Go forward past the cabins until you reach a door which says "emergency exit". Through these doors, you'll find yourself between 2 balconies with a view off the bow of the ship. Nice and quiet, until folks above on deck 9 see you.

The Food: We ate most of our dinners in L'Etoile. We very much enjoyed both the food and the service. We ate twice at La Veranda and were not as impressed, although the presentation was nice. The service was much slower and we simply liked the food better in the "main" dining room. We'd have skipped the second time, but it was by invitation of the Hotel Director and we wanted the honor of dining with him.

We never ate at Le Grill for dinner.

Breakfasts are available at 3 locations. The first, La Palette begins service at 6:30AM with coffee/tea, fruit, juice, and breads. A more extensive buffet is available at 7AM at Le Grill. At 7:30AM, one can have their choice of a full buffet and/or cooked to order at La Veranda. Lunches are served (most days) at both La Veranda and Le Grill. Both are comparable, although La Veranda has air conditioning. Le Grill offers "light snacks" from 2:30-5PM. This includes pizza, burgers, etc. Afternoon tea is in La Palette from 4-5PM. We never went.

Room service is very fast and responsive. I've heard that you can order off of the regular dining room menus, but we didn't.

Drinking: We were provided 2 LARGE bottles of liquor in our room. (We never opened one of them). We discovered that it was a short hop up stairs to reach the pool bar where we could get glasses of juice or fruit punch to bring back to our room for afternoon drinks on the balcony. Also, we only paid for one drink the entire cruise. If asked, beer or wine would be provided at lunch. A waiter quickly discovered my husbands' love of Hinano (the local beer) and my taste for anything tropical with rum and both were given freely throughout the cruise. We only met one person who seemed to enjoy his liquor a little too much on the whole ship

.

Entertainment: This is the place where Regent is "different" than the lines I've previously sailed on. Les Gauguines are great, but the shows aren't anything like what you'd find on a mass-market cruise. No production shows. However, if you're interested in learning things, they've got some great lectures. A sampling of evening activities from one day (5:30PM-11:00PM) gives us a tourism & Environment lecture in the Grand Salon, Arts and Champagne by a Gallery owner, Casino, music at the piano bar, stargazing, Music by the Orion Band, "Tahitian Showtime starring Les Gauguines", Dancing, and Disco. The band: I'd read a lot about this cruise prior to going. It seems that there used to be a "great band" Siglo, onboard. Now, there's the Orion Band. Folks who have some talent, but we were not impressed by the lead singer, Olga. My husband compared her to an "ABBA wannabe without the spirit". She just didn't seem to want to be there. One evening, she sat down while the group played and rolled her eyes while playing her maracas.

The Ports: We embarked in Papeete, Tahiti. This is a city. This is a city which was on strike by our disembarkation time. The local market is a nice place to visit, but on the whole, I'd rather avoid large cities on vacation. We didn't do any excursions in Tahiti.

Raiatea: My husband was feeling ill this day. We wondered if it had anything to do with the food at the Sheraton, as he's got an iron stomach. Once onboard, we saw more excursions added to the original list, so we'd booked the Coral Garden Drift Snorkel. However, we were allowed to cancel this just a few hours before it was to occur. Friends whom we'd met earlier were in line and quickly booked themselves into our spot. I spent part of the day poolside (in the shade of the canopy). I met some new and wonderful people that day.

Taha'a: Our rainiest day. I'd bet that this is the highlight of the trip, but due to constant rain, it wasn't as good as it could have been. Yes, there was an open bar and a barbeque. Yes, there was snorkeling and kayaking (we saw the first of MANY rays while kayaking here). However, a lot of the craft sessions were moved or cancelled due to the rain. I wish they had had a make-up class on Pareo Painting, as we asked and were told it had moved to the ship and we'd missed it. Still, it was a lovely island. The crossing this night was as rough as it got. Some folks had to skip dinner.

Bora Bora: This was my sick day. Luckily, although we'd booked the "Waverunner Adventure", the sea was choppy and they allowed anyone who wanted to cancel the ability to, without penalty. We cancelled. Instead, we did some shopping in town and then did some classes. Les Gauguines offered multiple classes throughout the cruise, ranging from language, folklore, crafts, and cooking. These remarkable women sang, danced, acted as translators (as needed), taught classes, and made everyone smile.

Tonight was the honeymoon/anniversary celebration. We received an invitation to this event a day or two before.

Bora Bora Day 2: I was feeling great this day and had feedback from friends about the "Island Circumnavigation by Jet Boat" excursion, so we tried it. WOW! We got to snorkel in 2 different places and then had a fast ride to shallow water to play. We had time with sharks and rays, at our first stop.

Mo'orea: We prebooked the "Lagoon Discovery with Snorkeling" tour here. Again, we swam with rays and then went to a coral garden. Saw a very large Barracuda. Nice, but a bit redundant, after the Jet boat. In the late afternoon, we attended an enrichment lecture by Dr Michael Poole. We were interested enough after the lecture to book his Dolphin and Whale watching tour for the following day. There was space available.

Mo'orea Day 2: We went in the morning on the Dolphin and Whale watching tour. Dr. Poole is interesting in his field, but taught at roughly a 9th grade level. However, this trip became the absolute highlight of our cruise when we spotted humpback whales and were allowed to enter the water with them. I doubt that this is a regular occurrence, but it was wonderful being in the sea with 3 adults and 2 calves! I wish I'd gotten more pictures before the whole group entered the water, splashing and making enough noise to drive the whales off. We participated in the Galley tour in the afternoon. For anyone who's done a galley tour on a BIG ship, this is a WAY different experience. My husband said, "see one kitchen, seen them all", but I really liked it.

Alas, we were back in Papeete. On Friday evening, we ate dinner with the Hotel Manager who told us that a strike was happening on Papeete. When we asked how the ship handles this type of event, he went in to great detail about previous strikes and what the line does. Rather than chance missed connections, folks began disembarking on Saturday morning earlier than scheduled and were ferried by tender to the Sheraton hotel so that they could then be transferred to the airport. By the time we needed to disembark, the main road had been cleared of strikers and our transfer to the airport for the quick flight to Mo'orea for our post-cruise stay.

Post Cruise: We stayed for 3 days at the Moorea Pearl. We had a Garden Pool Bungelow and it was wonderful! A very nice sized room (smelled like a kid had a bed-wetting problem, before I finally hauled out a scented candle and burned it) with a private "yard" and pool. The pool was about 6'x7' and about 4.5' deep. Just right for cooling off. The fence surrounding it was over 6' tall, so we were able to have complete privacy in our pool or on one of the two lounge chairs beside it. Food here was expensive and mediocre. We did get picked up one evening to go elsewhere for dinner. The travel concierge at the hotel was great for answering questions and making reservations. Although we were asked to check out by 11AM and our pickup wasn't until 5:30PM, the hotel kept our luggage safe (but accessable), had a shower room, etc.

We did manage to upgrade to business-class for the return flight, by getting to the airport by 6PM for our 10:10PM flight and staking out a place in line. I'd thought that the seats would be more comfortable, but after discovering that coach was less than ½ full, I'd probably have been better off in coach (I'm really small, so the business seats just wouldn't adjust comfortably for me). The upgrade cost p/p was $600. The lounge at the airport was wonderful, though…air conditioned with snacks and a bar. Quieter than the regular waiting area, as well (if you could block out the TV news).

Other observations: Our cabin stewardess wasn't the best…by any means. She left our anniversary cake in the fridge, but took away the forks. She left us without bottled water every day, she didn't restock the sodas, she never restocked either bar napkins or coasters, she put the "packing cloth" down by 8AM on Friday, she insisted on doing our turn-down service one evening while we were trying to get ready for dinner (made us head out to the balcony, as when I answered the door, she INSISTED that she had to do it THEN). She was the ONLY crew member who wasn't the best I've ever seen.

If I were to do this cruise again, I'd skip the post-stay. Not that it wasn't nice, but after the PG, the service and prices in French Polynesia were very apparent. I'd still do the pre-cruise (but NOT at the Sheraton) so that I went onboard fresh.

Kudos:Sabine, the head waitress on the PG for her terrific attitude and service above the ordinary. One woman whom we met had celiac disease. She'd notified RSSC prior to the cruise. Each dinner, Sabine came to her and discussed the modifications which could be made to meals. Sabine went out of her way to make this cruise the best trip ever! Clifford, a bar waiter, was the friendliest guy we've ever met on a cruise. He greeted us with a smile (and knew our names by the second day) and was generally a great guy. Jerry was the butler for our neighbors. He, too, learned our names and made sure that he took time to speak with us each time he saw us. He didn't have any "duties" to perform on our behalf; He just cared. Michael was a favorite waiter. Simply a great crew member!

I will go on an RSSC cruise again without hesitation. It was the best cruise EVER!

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South Pacific/Tahiti
Publication Date: July 12, 2006

Absolutely the best cruise ship in the industry. Outstanding service, friendly crew, and every accomodation was provided to exceed the customer's expectations. French Polynesia is beautiful and the native people are friendly, cordial and very respectful of the numerous tourists who visit their islands. Overall cost of the cruise is a little higher than most, but the service, food, cabins, and port calls make the cost a great bargain.

There are activities for children that are designed around an educational theme with the Cousteau Society, but don't expect them to be entertained every single minute by the staff. The itinerary provided ample opportunity to venture off on personal sightseeing and shopping trips and the excursions are varied and appeal to all ages. The ship's own marina in the aft section allows for water skiing, kayaking, and sailboarding at no additional cost.

One suggestion for customers opting to use the Air/Sea Travel Package: you will not have a great deal of flexibility with airlines to make changes and/or upgrade reservations. With the Air/Sea arrangement, tickets are purchased at a "bulk rate" and have numerous restrictions. Plus, we experienced some delays using the transporation vouchers when

being bussed between the airport, hotel and other venues. A better option may be to arrange individual flights on the airline of your choosing and have more control of your time while in Tahiti. There is a lot to see and do on every island and each has it's own unique qualities. The Paul Gauguin is a must for anyone wanting to experience the apex of cruising.
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South Pacific/Tahiti
Publication Date: June 21, 2005

I just returned from an 11-day cruise on the Radisson Paul Gauguin, and found it to be the most disappointing cruise I have taken. After an absolutely magical Mediterranean cruise last summer on the Celebrity Galaxy, my family (myself, my husband, and my kids, ages 19 and 24) wanted to do an even more special cruise. For this reason, I decided to investigate the more expensive, upper tier cruises, and we decided to go to French Polynesia, based on the overall allure of the area and the wonderful reviews we had read about the Radisson Paul Gauguin. Because we had such a great time the previous summer, we decided to do another 11-day cruise, and we took 2 full weeks, staying in Papeete before and after the cruise.

So here is the bottom line - 11 days is too long for a cruise in Polynesia on a boat that has much more limited activities and public spaces than the bigger cruise lines. In contrast to our previous Celebrity cruises (Galaxy in the Mediterranean and Constellation in the Caribbean), there was only a very small swimming pool, in full sun, and very little

shade to be found on the deck. There were no jacuzzis, no whirpools, and the fitness room and sauna were small and not nearly as pleasant on the Celebrity cruises. The food on the ship was amazing, and the rooms were very nice, but altogether, we found it very, very dull. I realize that we had high expectations of the ship, since the cruise cost about twice as much as our previous cruises, and it just doesn't offer what we had experienced previously on the bigger ships. My kids found the whole experience very dull. I think that if we had gone on a 7-day cruise, it would have been a better experience, since we would have avoided the almost 3 full days on the ship with not much to do. We ended up playing endless games of poker and even resorted to gin rummy - we can do this at home, not on a luxury cruise in Polynesia!

I also wish that Radisson had planned the overall itinerary better. We ended up on the Marquesa islands on Sunday and Monday, which were not idea. On Sunday, people were wondering why they even went to the island from the boat, since everything was closed, including the Paul Gauguin cultural center which we were very interested in seeing. We did an excursion on every island, but the excursions did not fill the day, and we found ourselves back on the boat with no shade and one tiny swimming pool that was not very appealing.

Papeete was also dull, with everything closed up tight from Saturday at noon and Sunday, and the Radisson Plaza hotel, while on a beautiful bay, was also lacking. We had no air conditioning in our room, as it broke down after running for a couple of hours, there was only one restaurant with very mediocre service, and the jacuzzi was taped off for repairs.

We have decided we would go back to Tahiti to spend time on Bora Bora and Moorea - fabulously beautiful places, with amazing water and lovely resorts. But for a really wonderful vacation with sightseeing and new experiences, don't go to Tahiti - there's just not much to do there. And for young people (teenagers and young adults) this is definitely not the right cruise. My kids are not interested in the types of activities offered by RCI and some of the other cruise lines (rock climbing walls, etc), but a larger boat, with more bars, lounges, swimming pools, jacuzzis, saunas and a bigger whirpool would be a better choice.

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Paul Gauguin
Publication Date: January 11, 2003

If you were to close your eyes, and dream of a tropical paradise, you'd wake up in French Polynesia. From the azure seas, to the cloud encrusted volcanic mountains, the Society Islands make the path for the Radisson Seven Seas cruise ship, the Paul Gauguin. For seven days, you are a part of a dream which compels you to stand back, and just admire what the best that nature has to offer.

If one were to imagine a more idyllic magical place, Moorea would come into mind. This is my favorite of the islands on the itinerary of the ship: Raiatea, Motu Tahaa, Bora Bora and Moorea. Every morning you wake up to your dream, just by looking outside your balcony. Cruising for me is the best way to take a vacation, since you are part of the environment you are moving through, you naturally see and do more than you would on any land-based vacation. Every morning and every evening is different, for the sea rarely treats you to the same mood twice but always surprises you at the end of the day with an incredible sunset.

The Paul Gauguin was

built specifically with this voyage in mind, and does so to an almost full ship each week of the year. Winter is typically hot (very hot) and with short periods of rain, while the summer brings some needed relief in the form of cooler temperatures (and no rain).

The rain never lasted more than a few minutes (except on the island of Tahiti) and helped to help cool things off and while umbrellas are provided, I found them not necessary in most cases because of the short duration.

The people of French Polynesia are very warm, kind and gentle. While they say that it is not Polynesian culture to tip, I think it will become more of the norm as tourists keep innocuously shedding a bit of culture as they travel amongst the Society Islands. For now though, it's refreshing not to have to tip, and believe that somebody is serving you because they truly want to.

Travel arrangements made through Radisson/Carlson Travel will assure you quality flights and all the necessary transfers and hotel stays, and for this trip all ran smoothly. Friday night before the cruise I flew into LA, and stayed at the Airport Hilton. While it wasn't the most modern of hotels, it had it's purpose and was fine for one night.

Friday night I went out to Manhattan Beach and with my friend Marni ate at a very good restaurant called, "Beaches" (117 Manhattan Beach Blvd) and had an incredible dinner, along with a few martini's. Marni had the Chipolte Salmon (which was slightly hot and a fusion of wonderful flavors) while I opted for the Surf (filet mignon) and Turf (grilled shrimp with a salsa seasoning). Both of the meals were outstanding. The evening was capped off with "Mud Pie" which was a scintillating chocolate lovers dream. Overlooking the Pacific, it was a nice prelude to a cruise which would begin the next day.

The next morning I ate the complimentary buffet breakfast at the Hilton, then proceeded to the the airport via the hotel shuttle.

The Air Tahiti Nui flight from LAX to Papeete, Tahiti lasted a very long eight and a half hours. I got to the airport early, and requested a business-class upgrade for $600 one-way, and was glad I did. For the hours before the flight, I was treated to the Quantas VIP Lounge where you were treated to a variety of light snack foods, and an open bar of a fine selection of wines and various liquors.

The Airbus was fully loaded, and those in the back were quite cramped. On the way back, I wasn't as lucky to get the upgrade and sat in back, but was pleasantly surprised since we were on a new Airbus (only had flown that route three times prior) and had more comfortable seats. On the first jet, they only offered Business Class (three rows of two seats across). The newer Airbus offered a First Class (three seats), then Business Class, then Economy, which was 2-4-2 seats across. Service in the Business Class was excellent, and we were all given more than enough to drink and offered about a 10 course meal over the period of eight hours. At the beginning of the flight, you're given a Pua (small flower), which is predominant in the Tahitian archipelago. It's a classy touch.

Arriving at Papeete around 8:30pm, I cleared customs, was on the bus, and on the ship within about a half hour. The embarkation process is smooth and efficient. After a digital photo is taken for security purposes, the staff collects your passport and then you are whisked away to your cabin (while being offered a "welcome aboard" glass of champagne). I barely made the 9:30pm closing of the main restaurant in L'Etoile and imagine that some of the late embarking passengers probably had to order room service. The first night I was lucky to pick La Palette lounge as my destination, and ended up having a night cap with my new British friends (living in Houston), Sean and Rose.

My cabin (707 on Deck 7) was a well appointed, compact, but very comfortable stateroom. The balcony was great, and provided a nice vantage point for some relaxing moments while the islands passed slowly by. The mini- fridge is fully stocked, and you get your choice of one premium or two stock bottles of liquor or wine. I also had a bottle of champagne chilling for me upon my arrival. Bottled water and soft drinks were replenished daily, but I never even touched the bottles of liquor since there was complementary wine at dinner, not to mention the fantastic drinks at the shipboard lounges.

The strategic use of mirrors and beautifully crafted wood veneer walls and cabinetry makes the cabin seem huge, when in reality it's very compact. I never felt crowded, and the lighting was perfect. The bathroom was also compact, but had a lavish white marble floor, sink and countertop, again, with plenty of mirrors. I always had hot water, and fresh towels always seemed to appear from nowhere. I used room service three times, and it was prompt, courteous and efficient. Even at 1:30am, I had food in my cabin within 20 minutes.

This will be the first cruise in which I brought several digital cameras and my iBook (notebook computer). There are both 115V and 220 V outlets for all your digital gear (recharging). The in-suite TV even had a external video feed so that you could watch the results of your digital or video camera.

Over the course of the coming week, our daily routine would be to cruise a short distance to a new island (usually from sunrise to midmorning) and then after dropping anchor in some beautiful bay, the tenders would be lowered for shore access. Also during this time, the rear marina platform would be lowered to provide passengers with sea kayaking, water skiing, or even windsurfing. I did try the sea kayaking in Bora Bora, and then windsurfing in Cooks Bay, Moorea. When evening came, the tenders would be hoisted onto the ship, and guests would choose between the many pre-dinner venues and then select from any of the three main dining areas for a scrumptious meal.

Since I was spoiled last year aboard the Radisson Diamond (we only had 140 passengers on a ship which typically had about 320), I wasn't sure what to expect on this cruise. My favorites on this cruise were the reception staff, who knew me by name.

Of the regular ships staff, Michael Shapiro (Cruise Director), Lorene and Claudia (Social Hosts), and Giovanni (Head Bartender) all greeted me the entire week by name, and really made the effort to make sure all was well. While it may seem a bit trivial, the hallmark of a outstanding staff is their ability to call you by name. It's not easy to do with an ever changing passenger roster, but it makes an unmistakable impression on a person (as was the case here and on my Diamond cruise.)

The cabin stewardess and steward did a fine job, as did the restaurant staff. I was impressed after I requested an off-the-menu item (sushi/sashimi) that they knew exactly who I was every night. But I wasn't impressed when I had to give them a 24-hour notice when I wanted it. I mean really, how do I know what I'll want 24- hours in advance ? My solution-- just make it every night ! It worked. I had wonderful sushi or sashimi every night. On the Radisson Diamond, the restaurant staff knew me by name, and would always have a chilled coke at my table even before I knew I wanted it. I realize it's difficult to achieve the outstanding level of service, but that is what I'm expecting from Radisson. It's a class act, and I'll hold them to it.

As far as the food goes, the specialty of the ship was undoubtedly French. In La Verandah (reservations required), they would regularly offer a multi-course French dinner. Since I'm not a fan of truly French food, I'll reserve comment. Others I spoke with were quite satisfied, comparing the quality to land-based restaurants. At any of the restaurants, complimentary wine (red and white) was served, of a very good quality.

As for me, I ate mostly in the main dining room L'Etoile, which offered a more continental cuisine, usually opting for the filet mignon or fish entree's. There was another (more casual) open-air dining up at Le Grill on the top deck. But I never ate there because it was always still too hot outside (even in the evening just after sunset) to dine.

For breakfast and lunch, you may eat in one of the inside dining rooms, or opt to eat outside on deck at Le Grill. Aboard the Radisson Diamond, for lunch every day they'd set up a charcoal grill and prepare a-la minute your favorite hamburger, steak or fish. On the Paul Gauguin, the cooking at Le Grill was done inside, and most likely with gas or electric. While the food was good, nothing compares to the taste of freshly charcoal grilled burgers or fish. Again, it's setting that standard of excellence that I'm looking for. However trivial a charcoal grill may be, it sets the tone of outstanding quality. Personally, I'd like to see wood fired ovens or grills aboard every ship. You can't surpass the amazing taste of wood or charcoal grilled food.

For the "piece d' resistance", I'd like to see the following items; carved ice sculptures as a dining room feature at dinner, carved melons at least once during the week, and a shaved ice machine for afternoon delights, and some fun after-dinner drinks (such as shaved ice martini's.) While I may have missed the ice sculpture and melons... it was one feature on the Radisson Diamond that made an unmistakable impression on me. It's classy and fun.

My favorite time of the day aboard a cruise ship is magic hour. It's at the end of the day, when the slowly melts into the distant horizon, and paints a beautiful sky, marking the end of another wonderful day cruising. For me, this means finding a perch at the highest point of the ship, while sipping on a cool martini and waiting for just that right moment to take a digital photo to capture it all, for you to see.

On the Paul Gauguin, the bar, La Paletta is located on the the highest deck eight, and is probably my most favorite place to hangout on the ship. This multifaceted room is at once a martini bar, Canapes pre-dinner bar, a piano bar, a disco and even has room for a small band. Its indoor- outdoor pavilion can keep you cool from the heat, while allowing you to enjoy the tropical Moon outside just a few steps away.

Not only was La Paletta my favorite sunset and before dinner haunt, but it turned out to be the best after dinner (after show) bar as well.

I wasn't expecting much for entertainment aboard the ship, but was pleasantly surprised by several visits by local (traditional) Polynesian dancers, a magic act, and even a brilliant one-man Broadway Review from our own talented Cruise Director, Michael Shapiro. In La Paletta, it was the piano bar featuring the sharp whited Hal Fraser who sang excellent renditions of all your favorite songs. In both the stage area (Le Grand Salon) and at times near the pool or La Paletta, the small band, El Siglo entertained passengers with singing and playing both retro and contemporary songs.

My favorite talent of the cruise was Michael Shapiro-- not only was he an outstanding Cruise Director, but he has enough talent singing and composing that it won't be long before a producer-type will snatch him away from Radisson. Michael is a great people person, and not that over-smiley type Cruise Director you can get on most cruises. His down-to- earth humor and sincerity make him a great asset to Radisson. His effort shows daily, and he was able to call most of the passengers on a first- name basis by the end of the week.

The other equally favorite talent on the ship was Hal Fraser, who played nightly requests at the piano bar in La Paletta. Hal had a steady following every night of the week at La Paletta, and it just shows how Radisson really seeks out the best of creative talent. It's not easy playing to a small crowd with such varied musical tastes.

As far as evening wear goes, there was a great variety aboard the ship. While the standard is "resort casual" which I would term comtempory tropical casual, sported Hawaiian print shirts seeming to be the norm with slacks for the gents, and a variety of tropical dresses or pants suits for the ladies.

I actually prefer to dress up when I go to dinner on ships, and would regularly wear a basic suit coat, shirt and tie. Most men wore a short sleeved shirt and slacks. This is one cruise where you could actually get by with one carry-on piece of luggage for the entire week. On other cruises, there is a formal night, which requires a bit more upscale clothes such as a tuxedo or suit, (or formal gown for women) none of which are needed during this week afloat.

The staff and passengers aboard the cruise were outstanding. The reception desk crew were always cheerful, and always willing to answer any question. They were addressing me by name every day. The passengers on this cruise were also a diverse and fun mix of people. Don't wait until the last night to say hello to fellow passengers. Making friends is always one of the best parts of cruising. Some of them will undoubtedly become friends for a lifetime.

Our cruise had 260 passengers, so we were well under the capacity of 320. There were never lines and the only small wait you had was between the 30 minute tender schedule from ship to shore. The ship always anchored out, except at the port in Papeete, Tahiti. If you wanted to water-ski, you needed to visit the reservations desk to schedule a time. And while they always seemed full, I never heard of anyone not getting a time slot, albeit they might have to be a bit more flexible in time selections.

As for the itinerary, I think the draw for most people to the South Pacific will be the tropical islands of Bora Bora and Moorea. The Paul Gauguin has an excellent choice of islands for this cruise which included the favorites.

Of the entire voyage, a few land based restaurants are worth seeking out.

Have dinner at Bloody Mary's on Bora Bora. This is one of the most charming and exotic restaurants in the world. Skip lunch, and just go there for dinner. You select from a buffet of fresh fish, shellfish and meats for your dinner, then they will cook them over a grill to perfection. You may also have a portion of each if you want to try more than one entree. The quality of the food was outstanding, of course you have to love anything that's cooked on a grill, to order. The sand floors, thatched roof, with the towering peaks of Bora Bora silhouetting the waterfront pier make for the most magical of dining experiences. The night I was there with a family and another couple, we were graced by some short periods of rain, followed by a beautiful Moon which peeked out amongst the clouds and volcanic peaks.

The other place I loved was lunch at Bali-Hi Hotel at Cooks Bay in Moorea. The waterfront restaurant has some of the prettiest views in the world. You can look to your right and she the Paul Gauguin at anchor, and just to the left you can see the tropical green covered peaks which surround the bay. Occasionally, you'll see a local with an outrigger canoe slowly paddling by. The food is cooked outside, and you have a small selection of fish or meat, which is prepared in Polynesian style, with local herbs and fruit. Combined with the local brew, you are assured a lunch to remember. Moorea is where some segments of "An Affair to Remember" was filmed, and you can see why they picked this French Polynesian backdrop for the on-location portion of paradise.

When roaming around the islands, it is wise to carry some of the local currency. In French Polynesia it is the CFP (Cour de Franc Pacifique) or French Pacific Franc. In January 2003 the exchange rate was about 116 CFP to one U.S. Dollar. Onboard ship, expect about a 100 CFP for each dollar. At first I wasn't going to get any, but decided to get around $100 USD worth for lunch, taxis, and the Internet cafe. I always pay with my American Express when possible, so I don't have to carry around cash.

French Polynesia is on the cellular GSM network, so unless you have a European compatible cell, don't expect service here. You can buy phone cards on any of the islands. Expect to pay $15 a minute for the ship phone which utilizes a satellite connection. If you need to check or send an email, the ship does offer a service, but I'd recommend a less expensive and more timely access by using one of the Internet cafe's on Bora Bora (near the docks), Moorea, or Papeete. Expect to pay 40 Francs per minute for island Internet access. The ship email service charges on a per kilobyte basis, and emails are sent out in batch format at the end of the day.

While I did not buy any black pearls, the pearl farmers are everywhere and shops that sell them are easy to find. I heard that Moorea is the best place to buy them, with many people buying just the pearls, and having them mounted back home through their local jeweler.

Radisson has teamed up with some of the local tour outfits to provide a wide variety of island tours, ranging from diving, fishing, to sightseeing.

On Raiatea I took the Faaroa River Tour which provided an excellent introduction to the island and the Polynesian way of life. Half of the tour was on a motorized outrigger canoe, followed by a drive up into the foothills in a off- road vehicle. Along the way we stopped to admire the amazing variety of tropical foliage, and to see the many waterfalls which shed the showers of rain that fall on the green covered escarpment.

On Bora Bora, I elected to take the Off Road Adventure where we got to drive up some pretty rough roads to some of the many gun emplacements from World War II. The views from these heights are incredible. The tour eventually will take you around the entire island, with a stop at Bloody Mary's for a cool drink. Along the way the drivers would stop and serve up some fresh island fruit, such as pineapple, coconut, grapefruit, cantaloupe and others. I have to say that the fresh pineapple was some of the best I have ever tasted.

On Moorea, I took the 25 minute Helicopter Tour of the island which provided spectacular views of both the ocean, reefs and mountains.

There were a lot of other tours offered, all of which got high marks from passengers, but probably the most talked about were the WaveRunner Tours, offered in Bora Bora and some of the other islands. In this tour, you get to actually circumnavigate the entire island.

American Express offered some complimentary tours and socials if you purchased your cruise with the AMEX card. While the first tour on Bora Bora was full, the next one at Moorea only had a few people.

To get the most out of this cruise, I recommend the following--

- try not to do too much. Too many tours do not allow you time to relax. While you may want to see all there is to see, take time to step back and become part of the environment.

- take time to adventure on your own. Some of the best adventures are ones you create. While French is the main language, almost everyone understands English so getting around is not a problem. The unique friendly nature of Polynesians will have you greeting constantly with smiles and a "may I help you" attitude.

- wear plenty of sunscreen and a hat. The tropical near- Equator Sun is strong. Don't kid yourself, a bad sunburn can really ruin your vacation.

Almost everything aboard this ship was done right, or at least the result of many years of an evolutionary process of trying to get it perfect. Radisson excels in this area. The only competition for Radisson is Silverseas and Seabourn, with most passengers I spoke with, more were leaning towards Radisson or Silverseas since there are a few more people on the ships.

When selecting a cruise, I'm looking for at least one of the following criteria which will really make the cruise a special event; the ship, itinerary and people aboard. On this cruise, the itinerary and people were fantastic. While the ship layout was efficient and easy to get around, I though it just had a lack of character.

The Paul Gauguin has an austere ship interior design was purposely not meant to detract from the beautiful islands and sights outside. However, most people take cruises to be on a ship, so the ship for me is always part of the destination.

While the ship itself has stabilizers, the shallow draft contributes to its roll at sea. While I find this rhythm very relaxing, a few others were well on their way to getting slightly seasick on the first night. Luckily, after the first nights passage, the ship rarely moves. The waters within the reefs near the islands are almost perfectly flat. You'll barely feel the ship move while at anchor. Since reefs protect all of these islands, you are assured a quiet anchor.

Quiet that is, except for the numerous fish jumping at night. It seems as though there is a nightly show that nature puts on, right outside your balcony. The lights of the ship attract some insects on the water, which in turn, attract smaller fish, and finally, bigger fish. Late at night, the fish are jumping all over the place. It's great entertainment to watch, and some big Barracuda can be seen darting around the waters below. It's just one more part of the magic show which slowly unveils itself throughout the voyage. I hope that on the next ship Radisson builds for this area, that they have some underwater lights that they put on a few hours each night, to enhance the viewing of the fish feeding.

The only comments which were made known to me by the passengers were, "I wish there were more shade." The top deck (during the winter months) gets so hot that you have to be careful not to burn your feet, and the staff regularly will give the hot deck a dousing of water to cool it off. Nature helps during the rainy season by providing some short, but relieving showers during the early afternoon. It never rained more than a few minutes during the cruise, but Tahiti (Papeete) seemed to get more than the rest of the islands. In Australia, they use a huge triangular fabric shade in the outback, and something like that would work well on this ship.

Another passenger observed that the bed mattresses were uncomfortable at times, and I would agree. Although it may seem minor, it won't take much to make the Paul Gauguin an outstanding ship in every conceivable manner.

As far as ships go, my general rule of thumb for a heavily used ship is to have it replaced every five years. While the upkeep on this ship is excellent, the age of the ship is starting to show, and I'd like to see either a large catamaran or proa (outrigger ship) replace it. The new ship would have a number of solar electric, hot water, and desalination panels on it, along with some solar ovens and a hydroponic greenhouse which would lend more harmony to the local environment for which it is a part of.

On every ship I've been on, there always seems to be a "dead zone" on top of the ship which is never used. On the Paul Gauguin, there is a small bar area on the Sun deck (which is on deck 9) which was never used. Even with a full ship, most people prefer to relax near the pool, or under some shade near the grill, or at the back of the ship a level down.

For these areas of the ship that are never used, why not utilize the space for a small greenhouse, to grow fresh hydroponic herbs, vegetables and flowers ? There are a number a tropical varieties of plants which would be perfect for shipboard life, and give the ship a wonderful "living" ambiance which would more readily incorporate the ship into its environs.

While it is a small detail, I'm surprised why the photography concession on the ship has yet to go digital. A good portion of the photographs are thrown away, not to mention the harsh chemicals which are required to develop the film and prints. In such an environmentally fragile environment, I would take more interest in trying to find ways to get the same product, but without endangering the very waters that generate the revenue for the ship. Digital cameras are to such a level of sophistication now, that you can barely tell the difference between them and the legacy film cameras. In addition, an entire trips worth of photos could be transferred to a CD or DVD for the passenger to take home with them. They could then email, or post their photos on a website for all their friends to view.

Overall, Radisson has successfully integrated a voyage of adventure through the islands in French Polynesia. From the lush tropical mountains to the myriad of colors which surround the atolls, this is a cruising itinerary which takes you to the best the Society Islands has to offer. The service, staff, and passengers of the ship will grant you a most wonderful vacation experience.

This is a cruise of a lifetime, and for those who partake, the magic of the French Polynesian island will bring back memories of the beautiful people and sights which will last forever.

Good travels, may the wind always be at your back, and Godspeed.

Note: Greg "Pepe" Giese is a freelance travel writer who publishes ship reviews for the Cruising Review website. There is an extensive photo journal of this cruise which can be found at: http://www.cruisingreview.com

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French Polynesia
Publication Date: July 21, 2001

EVERY description of French Polynesia includes the word "paradise," and rightly so. This was a magical week. "Paradise" is also an apt term for the m/s Paul Gauguin kind of like a Four Seasons Resort afloat. Unparalleled service amidst undescribable and spectacular surroundings. My latest phrase for the ship is "unpretentious luxury" efficient, polite, and personal. Remember, gratuities are included, so the staff is providing excellent service without expectation of remuneration THAT is impressive!

Introduction This was a "vacation" ... NOT a "trip"

We have been very fortunate to travel to wonderful places ... most of those excursions were "trips" we have an unsatiable desire to see, experience, and learn. This was our 4th cruise (first in 17 years). In celebrating our 25th anniversary, we looked for an experience with the following characteristics: (1) peaceful and unhurried, (2) new to us, (3) hassle-free, (4) a bit of a splurge, and (5) a place we would not readily take our teenage children. This ship and the destination not only met these criteria, our expectations were far exceeded.

For the sake of shorthand, we told people that we were going to "Tahiti." That was easier than

saying that our destination was the "Society Islands within French Polynesia." Tahiti is a wonderful island, but it is NOT the highlight of this trip. Rather, it is the island of convenience for the airport and port. Nevertheless, I will likely adopt the shorthand in this review.

DFW to Los Angeles

Radisson's travel program included an overnight stay at the Airport Hilton in Los Angeles. A Radisson representative met us at the gate and ushered us through baggage claim and onto the Hilton shuttle a very warm reception. Planning for a 5:00 arrival in LA, we had reservations to see "The Lion King" on stage in Hollywood (a GREAT production). We figured that we might as well push hard stateside to enjoy the rest of the cruise even more!

The Hilton is a clean, efficient airport hotel. The hotel and breakfast buffet were included in the Radisson package. We highly recommend a layover in LA.

Flight to Papeete, Tahiti

Air Tahiti Nui ("ATN") has business class and economy class on an Airbus 300. We booked economy seats, but were told by our travel agent that ATN would sell stand-by upgrades to business class for $600 each. ATN said that there airport counter would open at 10:00, so we were there by 9:30. Although we were not first in line, the upgrade was available. An unexpected benefit of this upgrade was complimentary use of the Qantas Airways business class departure lounge (a welcome treat for the wait before our 1:00 flight).

The flight is a little over 8 hours. We decided to upgrade because (1) it added to the celebration, (2) the upgrade amount is reasonable (compare it with Europe!), (3) we would be awake during the flight and could enjoy the benefits of business class, and (4) we thought it would help us be better rested for the cruise. Service was efficient, amenities (e.g., foot rests, wide seats, individual viewing screens) were pleasant, and the food service very good. All in all, money well spent.

There is "fatigue" with any 8-hour flight, but there is no real "jet lag" -- there is only 3 hours time difference between LA and Tahiti.

We returned from Papeete in economy class, and I know that we made the right decision to upgrade on the outbound segment the return leaves at 10:45 p.m. and we had no problem sleeping, even in coach. Yes, it's cramped like every coach section, but try counting islands and you'll go to sleep immediately.

Arrival and embarkation

We arrived about 6:30 p.m. July is during Tahiti's winter season and sunset was at about 5:45. Customs control and baggage claim were easy, but they were not a "breeze." In fact, it was rather sultry on arrival. But heck, who cared we were in Tahiti!

Radisson reps met us with a flower lei and escorted us to a waiting air- conditioned bus. We were taken directly to the ship where we were ship side by Les Gauguines, a group of Polynesian women who provided local music and hospitality throughout the cruise. After the obligatory embarkation photo, we were directed to the Grand Salon for check-in.

Wouldn't life be wonderful if every time you entered a hotel or restaurant you were greeted with smiles and champagne? THIS is service! Our photos were taken for the ship's records, all questions answered, and we were soon escorted (not merely "taken") to our stateroom.

Stateroom 609

Yes, this was a "stateroom," NOT a "cabin." We had booked a category "F" guarantee, and were upgraded several decks to category "D." The size of the rooms were identical, but we had a window in lieu of portholes and fewer stairs for most activities. I am sure that we would have enjoyed the balcony, but we opted to spend our money elsewhere.

The rooms are immaculately appointed with woods and fabrics. Fresh flowers were waiting on our coffee table and robes and chocolates were placed on our turned- down bed. We went to dinner in L'Etoile and our baggage was waiting for us upon our return to the room.

While on the topic of the stateroom, let me give the quick inventory we all want/need to know what is there and what is missing:

TV/VCR (several free movie channels and videos available for check-out); safe; hair dryer; refrigerator stocked with canned sodas (one each of Coke, Diet Coke, and Seven-Up), bottled water, mixers (club soda and tonic water), beer (one Heineken and one Bud Light the beer was NOT replenished), and a small ice bucket (that was always replenished). There was also a form for your choice of a (regular size) bottle of liquor or wine (gin, vodka, scotch, white wine, or red wine).

The bathroom included a bathtub and had plenty or room. There were always plenty of towels, as well as two blue beach towels that were regularly replaced. The usual soaps and lotions were available, as well as q-tips and cotton balls. There was also a note that toiletries were available if you had forgotten yours.

Closet and drawer space was adequate (I am sure that we could have asked for more wooden hangers if we needed them). Plenty of room under the bed for the suitcases and carry-ons. Hat rack was just inside the stateroom door. Loveseat and a small chair were around the coffee table. I used the outlets without an adapter to recharge batteries for my digital camera and camcorder. Paula did not use an adapter for her curlers.

This space was efficiently designed. Somehow this was a "roomy" 200 sq. ft.

Dining

As our family is fond of saying in certain settings ... "this is not 'eating,' this is 'dining.'"

To quote my wife "the food was divine." What more could you ask for? The selections were varied and exquisitely prepared. Wine and beer are gratis at lunch and dinner. There were different white and red wines at every meal ... I cannot imagine asking to see a wine list (although it was available for those so inclined). Beers included the local "Hinano" as well as Heineken, Corona, and American domestics.

Three restaurants on board open seating at every meal.

L'Etoile is the main dining room. Lunch was served buffet style and each evening there was a new menu. No problem in getting a table for 2 at any time.

"The Grill" on the pool deck was like most pool-side grills friendly and casual. Nice standard fare for breakfast and lunch. We did not eat there for dinner (reservations required) and I did not hear any comments about it.

"La Veranda" was our favorite place for breakfast and lunch. We were ALWAYS able to be seated at a table on the deck outside the restaurant, usually alone on the deck we considered this area the best kept secret on the ship! I guess some folks thought it was only open for dinner. There are two alternating "set" menus for dinner at La Veranda. The menus are created by a renowned Parisian chef and are VERY continental. We loved the menus, but there were a number (most?) who preferred to have a variety of items from which to choose. E-mail me if you want a sample menu.

Beverages

The cruise price is inclusive of beer and wine at meals, as well as all sodas, juices, and bottled water. There were iced bottles of water available at each bar or and restaurant. There was a special large ice chest with bottled water in the Grand Salon from which you could get unlimited water to take on excursions.

Free "Rum drinks" were available pool side or at an evening reception at least once each day. With these free drinks and the wine/beer at meals, the bars did minimal business in the interim.

ALL beverages were free during the "motu" days at Tahaa and Bora Bora.

Evening attire

Radisson boasts a "no coat and tie" policy that is welcomed by all. Their suggested "country club casual" was translated into "no shorts." I would characterize the passengers evening clothes as "tropical casual." Some folks got "dressed up" at night, but most were dressed nicely but nothing like "formal."

Passenger mix

There were 302 passengers with us during our week on the m/s Paul Gauguin (capacity = 320). Although most were from the U.S. (primarily California), there were 40 were from France. Being summer (and a Radisson discount week), there were about 5 families with school-age children, and another 5 or so families with college-age kids. There was nothing ship-sponsored for the kids, but they seemed to have a good time. There were 7 honeymoon couples and a number of anniversary celebrations like us. I did not meet any first-time cruisers. These folks were well-traveled and gave glowing remarks to Radisson.

Weather SUN

Temperatures ranged from lows of 75 to highs of 85 each day. We had brief showers a couple of days. It was humid, but never hot. However, the sun was intense at this latitude and we were careful to wear sunscreen. There is minimal shaded area around the swimming pool.

Shipboard activities

Get a good book, strike up a conversation, or work on the jigsaw puzzle outside the boutique on deck 6. That's about the extent of what's offered. Not even shuffleboard or bingo. The emphasis is on the islands and serenity. If you're looking for "stuff" on the ship to keep you occupied, you are out of luck. No one complained; in fact, many of the passengers remarked how this was the type of cruise they had dreamed of.

The ship has a water sports platform from which you can kayak or windsurf. This is also where you can pick up complimentary snorkeling equipment.

Entertainment

There was "some" singing and dancing, but no Broadway shows here. Two very good local dance groups came on board a children's group performed while the ship was anchored at Raiatea and a professional group performed the final evening. They were both entertaining. The pianist/songstress in the La Palette lounge was wonderful and the cruise director had an evening cabaret show. However, this is NOT a late-night ship.

Casino

There were rarely more than 10 people in the casino. The local government does not allow Radisson to operate the slot machines.

Boutique

There was only one shop on board and it had the requisite personal sundries as well as cruise-wear and Tahitian jewelry. The best shopping we found outside of Papeete was on Moorea (t-shirts, pareus, etc.)

Undiscovered areas

We cannot tell you about the following areas because we never made use of them:

Spa Operated by Carita Spa from Paris; folks were pleased with the salon services and massages.

Fitness center Small and busy early in the day. We wanted to use it, but we were too busy at breakfast. We substituted the ship's stairs for stairmaster.

Connoisseur Club Cigar bar.

Excursions

The Radisson materials gave full descriptions and pricing of excursions in advance of the cruise. I also reviewed message boards and websites for suggestions of activities and tour providers. We decided to book all of our excursions via Radisson on the first night of the cruise. The prices were a bit more expensive than the local operators, but the convenience of one-stop shopping and certainty of schedule won us over. We were VERY impressed with the professionalism, courtesy, and efficiency of the tour operators affiliated with Radisson.

On to the islands .....

Raiatea

We confess that we stayed on board the ship this day. We were "too relaxed" to move, and we knew that there were "active" excursions awaiting us in Bora Bora. A children's dance troupe performed poolside and some locals sold their handicrafts on board. The "best" excursion reported by other passengers was a combo tour with a 4x4 ride and outrigger canoe tour. We were pleased with our decision to lounge by the pool and read.

Tahaa

THIS was paradise. The tender took us to Radisson's private island where we were greeted with a floating bar, lounge chairs, beach umbrellas, open bar, and full BBQ. When did you last have a Pina Colada or Mai Tai made IN a fresh coconut? For those so inclined there was superb snorkeling and 2-person kayaks. The area was small enough to be convenient to the amenities, yet spacious enough to find a secluded spot. We took the first tender over and the last tender back. Life gets NO better than this.

Bora Bora

Haven't you always imagined the remoteness and ruggedness of Bora Bora? Well, the island will NOT disappoint you. Day 1 was our busiest day of the cruise. We spent the morning on a 4x4 tour with Carl, the BEST guide we have ever had. Our Land Rover held 8 guests and we climbed roads that no other vehicle could handle. Highlights included stops at the American WWII gun placements, a pineapple plantation, several lookouts (with fresh pineapple and coconut), and a drink at Bloody Mary's. We scurried back to the ship for lunch and a change into swimsuits for our trek on waverunners. This excursion is summarized in one word "FUN!" We traveled 3/4 way around the island and then stopped on a motu to rest the machines and have a snack. It was great to see the places we had seen during the 4x4 tour, and the views of the resorts, ships, reefs, and lagoons was spectacular.

Day 2 began with a tour of shark and sting ray feeding. Our guide fed the sharks (3-4 foot long) BEFORE we entered the water to "mingle" with the rays. The sting rays were like loving "puppies" snuggling up to you for attention. We then snorkeled in the reef/coral garden and saw hundreds of different fish and a "living" reef with clams, etc. Our guide found an octopus and, after capturing him, showed him to our whole group. We passed it around and THEN he put the octopus on my head (guess he looked for the person with the least hair!). Another unique experience.

We finished the day at another private beach. Open bar, but no food. We snorkeled, read, and snoozed.

Moorea

We sailed into Cook's Bay in the morning and took the first tender at 12:30. We opted to drive the island on our own Avis and EuropCar were at the dock and a 4- hour rental was about $60. We circled the island, stopping at lookouts, pearl shops, and a couple of the resorts. The final stop was Belvedere lookout. A beautiful viewpoint overlooking both of Moorea's bays. The weather was cloudy/drizzly, but that added a special magic to the setting.

That evening we attended a 1-hour lecture by Dr. Michael Poole, a renowned American researcher who has been studying the "spinner dolphins" and humpback whales of Moorea for almost 20 years. The lecture was the perfect backdrop for our Day 2 excursion, a dolphin-watching outing with Dr. Poole. There are about 160 dolphins at Moorea, and we saw about 45-50 of them! The 30 of us on the boat were mesmerized by the beauty and wonder of these creatures. This was a chance to LEARN about and OBSERVE dolphins in THEIR natural state. We spent over an hour just watching the dolphins surface, leap, and spin as Dr. Poole explained the environment and answered all of our questions. He only "observes" the dolphins and does not communicate with them or disturb their environment. This was the BEST excursion on any of our cruises to date ... learning + fun = appreciation. I highly recommend this excursion.

Papeete

This is a port city ... enough said. After a smooth disembarkation, we opted "out" of the island tour that stopped at the Gauguin museum. We took the motorcoach directly to the InterContinental Resort where Radisson had a room reserved for us. We could not check in until 2:00, so we spent the morning in Papeete shopping for pearls and souvenirs (visit the local market --VERY colorful. The island "taxi/shuttle" only costs $1.20 each and the ride to the hotel took only 5-10 minutes. The hotel served a buffet lunch, which was adequate but not up to ship standards! We lounged around the hotel pool all afternoon, walked the grounds, and looked longingly at Moorea (a short 20-minute ferry ride away). We were on our own for dinner and went back into town for one last meal in Polynesia.

Our flight was scheduled for 10:45 p.m. and the motorcoach picked us up at the hotel at 9:30. Another efficient operation by Radisson.

Pre- or post-cruise stays in French Polynesia

Several folks did pre-cruise stays on one of the islands. That's a great idea for creating an extended vacation, but it is not necessary to beat the jet lag (from the U.S.) or even the jet fatigue. I would not recommend a post-cruise stay on the islands. I think most of us were sufficiently spoiled by the service, food, and amenities of the m/s Paul Gauguin. In addition, the resorts (while idyllic-looking) are VERY expensive.

Suggestions for the ship

Our "comment" card to Radisson included only a few recommendations for improvement: (1) installing a few clocks in the public areas (especially around the pool), (2) providing a clock in the stateroom, (3) providing music choices in the stateroom (either via the TV, a cd-player, or stereo channels), (3) a few more in-room movie channels would be nice (nice video library is available), and (4) a request for no organized evening receptions/events before 6:30.

These are all trivial items, but there is always room for improvement.

For more information

Radisson has a separate brochure and video for this cruise. The words and pictures present an accurate depiction of the ship and itinerary. The Radisson website provides excellent details on the ship and excursions.

There are a number of websites from which I gathered information (apart from those focused on the cruise-happy folks):

Radisson Seven Seas Cruises http://www.rssc.com Air Tahiti Nui http://www.airtahitinui-usa.com Polynesian Islands http://polynesianislands.com Tahiti Explorer (information and message boards) http://www.tahiti-explorer.com Weather http://www.weather.com/weather/local/FPXX0001 Papeete webcam http://www.borabora.com/webcam/index.htm

Thanks to everyone who has posted information on websites and message boards about this cruise. Your factual details and subjective opinions facilitated our planning and heightened our enjoyment of this experience. This is my first attempt at a cruise review, and I will attempt to have something for everyone interested. If I fail to address your inquiry or curiosity, send me a message and I will try to help.

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French Polynesia
Publication Date: July 21, 2001

EVERY description of French Polynesia includes the word "paradise," and rightly so. This was a magical week. "Paradise" is also an apt term for the m/s Paul Gauguin kind of like a Four Seasons Resort afloat. Unparalleled service amidst undescribable and spectacular surroundings. My latest phrase for the ship is "unpretentious luxury" efficient, polite, and personal. Remember, gratuities are included, so the staff is providing excellent service without expectation of remuneration THAT is impressive!

Introduction This was a "vacation" ... NOT a "trip"

We have been very fortunate to travel to wonderful places ... most of those excursions were "trips" we have an unsatiable desire to see, experience, and learn. This was our 4th cruise (first in 17 years). In celebrating our 25th anniversary, we looked for an experience with the following characteristics: (1) peaceful and unhurried, (2) new to us, (3) hassle-free, (4) a bit of a splurge, and (5) a place we would not readily take our teenage children. This ship and the destination not only met these criteria, our expectations were far exceeded.

For the sake of shorthand, we told people that we were going to "Tahiti." That was easier than

saying that our destination was the "Society Islands within French Polynesia." Tahiti is a wonderful island, but it is NOT the highlight of this trip. Rather, it is the island of convenience for the airport and port. Nevertheless, I will likely adopt the shorthand in this review.

DFW to Los Angeles

Radisson's travel program included an overnight stay at the Airport Hilton in Los Angeles. A Radisson representative met us at the gate and ushered us through baggage claim and onto the Hilton shuttle a very warm reception. Planning for a 5:00 arrival in LA, we had reservations to see "The Lion King" on stage in Hollywood (a GREAT production). We figured that we might as well push hard stateside to enjoy the rest of the cruise even more!

The Hilton is a clean, efficient airport hotel. The hotel and breakfast buffet were included in the Radisson package. We highly recommend a layover in LA.

Flight to Papeete, Tahiti

Air Tahiti Nui ("ATN") has business class and economy class on an Airbus 300. We booked economy seats, but were told by our travel agent that ATN would sell stand-by upgrades to business class for $600 each. ATN said that there airport counter would open at 10:00, so we were there by 9:30. Although we were not first in line, the upgrade was available. An unexpected benefit of this upgrade was complimentary use of the Qantas Airways business class departure lounge (a welcome treat for the wait before our 1:00 flight).

The flight is a little over 8 hours. We decided to upgrade because (1) it added to the celebration, (2) the upgrade amount is reasonable (compare it with Europe!), (3) we would be awake during the flight and could enjoy the benefits of business class, and (4) we thought it would help us be better rested for the cruise. Service was efficient, amenities (e.g., foot rests, wide seats, individual viewing screens) were pleasant, and the food service very good. All in all, money well spent.

There is "fatigue" with any 8-hour flight, but there is no real "jet lag" -- there is only 3 hours time difference between LA and Tahiti.

We returned from Papeete in economy class, and I know that we made the right decision to upgrade on the outbound segment the return leaves at 10:45 p.m. and we had no problem sleeping, even in coach. Yes, it's cramped like every coach section, but try counting islands and you'll go to sleep immediately.

Arrival and embarkation

We arrived about 6:30 p.m. July is during Tahiti's winter season and sunset was at about 5:45. Customs control and baggage claim were easy, but they were not a "breeze." In fact, it was rather sultry on arrival. But heck, who cared we were in Tahiti!

Radisson reps met us with a flower lei and escorted us to a waiting air- conditioned bus. We were taken directly to the ship where we were ship side by Les Gauguines, a group of Polynesian women who provided local music and hospitality throughout the cruise. After the obligatory embarkation photo, we were directed to the Grand Salon for check-in.

Wouldn't life be wonderful if every time you entered a hotel or restaurant you were greeted with smiles and champagne? THIS is service! Our photos were taken for the ship's records, all questions answered, and we were soon escorted (not merely "taken") to our stateroom.

Stateroom 609

Yes, this was a "stateroom," NOT a "cabin." We had booked a category "F" guarantee, and were upgraded several decks to category "D." The size of the rooms were identical, but we had a window in lieu of portholes and fewer stairs for most activities. I am sure that we would have enjoyed the balcony, but we opted to spend our money elsewhere.

The rooms are immaculately appointed with woods and fabrics. Fresh flowers were waiting on our coffee table and robes and chocolates were placed on our turned- down bed. We went to dinner in L'Etoile and our baggage was waiting for us upon our return to the room.

While on the topic of the stateroom, let me give the quick inventory we all want/need to know what is there and what is missing:

TV/VCR (several free movie channels and videos available for check-out); safe; hair dryer; refrigerator stocked with canned sodas (one each of Coke, Diet Coke, and Seven-Up), bottled water, mixers (club soda and tonic water), beer (one Heineken and one Bud Light the beer was NOT replenished), and a small ice bucket (that was always replenished). There was also a form for your choice of a (regular size) bottle of liquor or wine (gin, vodka, scotch, white wine, or red wine).

The bathroom included a bathtub and had plenty or room. There were always plenty of towels, as well as two blue beach towels that were regularly replaced. The usual soaps and lotions were available, as well as q-tips and cotton balls. There was also a note that toiletries were available if you had forgotten yours.

Closet and drawer space was adequate (I am sure that we could have asked for more wooden hangers if we needed them). Plenty of room under the bed for the suitcases and carry-ons. Hat rack was just inside the stateroom door. Loveseat and a small chair were around the coffee table. I used the outlets without an adapter to recharge batteries for my digital camera and camcorder. Paula did not use an adapter for her curlers.

This space was efficiently designed. Somehow this was a "roomy" 200 sq. ft.

Dining

As our family is fond of saying in certain settings ... "this is not 'eating,' this is 'dining.'"

To quote my wife "the food was divine." What more could you ask for? The selections were varied and exquisitely prepared. Wine and beer are gratis at lunch and dinner. There were different white and red wines at every meal ... I cannot imagine asking to see a wine list (although it was available for those so inclined). Beers included the local "Hinano" as well as Heineken, Corona, and American domestics.

Three restaurants on board open seating at every meal.

L'Etoile is the main dining room. Lunch was served buffet style and each evening there was a new menu. No problem in getting a table for 2 at any time.

"The Grill" on the pool deck was like most pool-side grills friendly and casual. Nice standard fare for breakfast and lunch. We did not eat there for dinner (reservations required) and I did not hear any comments about it.

"La Veranda" was our favorite place for breakfast and lunch. We were ALWAYS able to be seated at a table on the deck outside the restaurant, usually alone on the deck we considered this area the best kept secret on the ship! I guess some folks thought it was only open for dinner. There are two alternating "set" menus for dinner at La Veranda. The menus are created by a renowned Parisian chef and are VERY continental. We loved the menus, but there were a number (most?) who preferred to have a variety of items from which to choose. E-mail me if you want a sample menu.

Beverages

The cruise price is inclusive of beer and wine at meals, as well as all sodas, juices, and bottled water. There were iced bottles of water available at each bar or and restaurant. There was a special large ice chest with bottled water in the Grand Salon from which you could get unlimited water to take on excursions.

Free "Rum drinks" were available pool side or at an evening reception at least once each day. With these free drinks and the wine/beer at meals, the bars did minimal business in the interim.

ALL beverages were free during the "motu" days at Tahaa and Bora Bora.

Evening attire

Radisson boasts a "no coat and tie" policy that is welcomed by all. Their suggested "country club casual" was translated into "no shorts." I would characterize the passengers evening clothes as "tropical casual." Some folks got "dressed up" at night, but most were dressed nicely but nothing like "formal."

Passenger mix

There were 302 passengers with us during our week on the m/s Paul Gauguin (capacity = 320). Although most were from the U.S. (primarily California), there were 40 were from France. Being summer (and a Radisson discount week), there were about 5 families with school-age children, and another 5 or so families with college-age kids. There was nothing ship-sponsored for the kids, but they seemed to have a good time. There were 7 honeymoon couples and a number of anniversary celebrations like us. I did not meet any first-time cruisers. These folks were well-traveled and gave glowing remarks to Radisson.

Weather SUN

Temperatures ranged from lows of 75 to highs of 85 each day. We had brief showers a couple of days. It was humid, but never hot. However, the sun was intense at this latitude and we were careful to wear sunscreen. There is minimal shaded area around the swimming pool.

Shipboard activities

Get a good book, strike up a conversation, or work on the jigsaw puzzle outside the boutique on deck 6. That's about the extent of what's offered. Not even shuffleboard or bingo. The emphasis is on the islands and serenity. If you're looking for "stuff" on the ship to keep you occupied, you are out of luck. No one complained; in fact, many of the passengers remarked how this was the type of cruise they had dreamed of.

The ship has a water sports platform from which you can kayak or windsurf. This is also where you can pick up complimentary snorkeling equipment.

Entertainment

There was "some" singing and dancing, but no Broadway shows here. Two very good local dance groups came on board a children's group performed while the ship was anchored at Raiatea and a professional group performed the final evening. They were both entertaining. The pianist/songstress in the La Palette lounge was wonderful and the cruise director had an evening cabaret show. However, this is NOT a late-night ship.

Casino

There were rarely more than 10 people in the casino. The local government does not allow Radisson to operate the slot machines.

Boutique

There was only one shop on board and it had the requisite personal sundries as well as cruise-wear and Tahitian jewelry. The best shopping we found outside of Papeete was on Moorea (t-shirts, pareus, etc.)

Undiscovered areas

We cannot tell you about the following areas because we never made use of them:

Spa Operated by Carita Spa from Paris; folks were pleased with the salon services and massages.

Fitness center Small and busy early in the day. We wanted to use it, but we were too busy at breakfast. We substituted the ship's stairs for stairmaster.

Connoisseur Club Cigar bar.

Excursions

The Radisson materials gave full descriptions and pricing of excursions in advance of the cruise. I also reviewed message boards and websites for suggestions of activities and tour providers. We decided to book all of our excursions via Radisson on the first night of the cruise. The prices were a bit more expensive than the local operators, but the convenience of one-stop shopping and certainty of schedule won us over. We were VERY impressed with the professionalism, courtesy, and efficiency of the tour operators affiliated with Radisson.

On to the islands .....

Raiatea

We confess that we stayed on board the ship this day. We were "too relaxed" to move, and we knew that there were "active" excursions awaiting us in Bora Bora. A children's dance troupe performed poolside and some locals sold their handicrafts on board. The "best" excursion reported by other passengers was a combo tour with a 4x4 ride and outrigger canoe tour. We were pleased with our decision to lounge by the pool and read.

Tahaa

THIS was paradise. The tender took us to Radisson's private island where we were greeted with a floating bar, lounge chairs, beach umbrellas, open bar, and full BBQ. When did you last have a Pina Colada or Mai Tai made IN a fresh coconut? For those so inclined there was superb snorkeling and 2-person kayaks. The area was small enough to be convenient to the amenities, yet spacious enough to find a secluded spot. We took the first tender over and the last tender back. Life gets NO better than this.

Bora Bora

Haven't you always imagined the remoteness and ruggedness of Bora Bora? Well, the island will NOT disappoint you. Day 1 was our busiest day of the cruise. We spent the morning on a 4x4 tour with Carl, the BEST guide we have ever had. Our Land Rover held 8 guests and we climbed roads that no other vehicle could handle. Highlights included stops at the American WWII gun placements, a pineapple plantation, several lookouts (with fresh pineapple and coconut), and a drink at Bloody Mary's. We scurried back to the ship for lunch and a change into swimsuits for our trek on waverunners. This excursion is summarized in one word "FUN!" We traveled 3/4 way around the island and then stopped on a motu to rest the machines and have a snack. It was great to see the places we had seen during the 4x4 tour, and the views of the resorts, ships, reefs, and lagoons was spectacular.

Day 2 began with a tour of shark and sting ray feeding. Our guide fed the sharks (3-4 foot long) BEFORE we entered the water to "mingle" with the rays. The sting rays were like loving "puppies" snuggling up to you for attention. We then snorkeled in the reef/coral garden and saw hundreds of different fish and a "living" reef with clams, etc. Our guide found an octopus and, after capturing him, showed him to our whole group. We passed it around and THEN he put the octopus on my head (guess he looked for the person with the least hair!). Another unique experience.

We finished the day at another private beach. Open bar, but no food. We snorkeled, read, and snoozed.

Moorea

We sailed into Cook's Bay in the morning and took the first tender at 12:30. We opted to drive the island on our own Avis and EuropCar were at the dock and a 4- hour rental was about $60. We circled the island, stopping at lookouts, pearl shops, and a couple of the resorts. The final stop was Belvedere lookout. A beautiful viewpoint overlooking both of Moorea's bays. The weather was cloudy/drizzly, but that added a special magic to the setting.

That evening we attended a 1-hour lecture by Dr. Michael Poole, a renowned American researcher who has been studying the "spinner dolphins" and humpback whales of Moorea for almost 20 years. The lecture was the perfect backdrop for our Day 2 excursion, a dolphin-watching outing with Dr. Poole. There are about 160 dolphins at Moorea, and we saw about 45-50 of them! The 30 of us on the boat were mesmerized by the beauty and wonder of these creatures. This was a chance to LEARN about and OBSERVE dolphins in THEIR natural state. We spent over an hour just watching the dolphins surface, leap, and spin as Dr. Poole explained the environment and answered all of our questions. He only "observes" the dolphins and does not communicate with them or disturb their environment. This was the BEST excursion on any of our cruises to date ... learning + fun = appreciation. I highly recommend this excursion.

Papeete

This is a port city ... enough said. After a smooth disembarkation, we opted "out" of the island tour that stopped at the Gauguin museum. We took the motorcoach directly to the InterContinental Resort where Radisson had a room reserved for us. We could not check in until 2:00, so we spent the morning in Papeete shopping for pearls and souvenirs (visit the local market --VERY colorful. The island "taxi/shuttle" only costs $1.20 each and the ride to the hotel took only 5-10 minutes. The hotel served a buffet lunch, which was adequate but not up to ship standards! We lounged around the hotel pool all afternoon, walked the grounds, and looked longingly at Moorea (a short 20-minute ferry ride away). We were on our own for dinner and went back into town for one last meal in Polynesia.

Our flight was scheduled for 10:45 p.m. and the motorcoach picked us up at the hotel at 9:30. Another efficient operation by Radisson.

Pre- or post-cruise stays in French Polynesia

Several folks did pre-cruise stays on one of the islands. That's a great idea for creating an extended vacation, but it is not necessary to beat the jet lag (from the U.S.) or even the jet fatigue. I would not recommend a post-cruise stay on the islands. I think most of us were sufficiently spoiled by the service, food, and amenities of the m/s Paul Gauguin. In addition, the resorts (while idyllic-looking) are VERY expensive.

Suggestions for the ship

Our "comment" card to Radisson included only a few recommendations for improvement: (1) installing a few clocks in the public areas (especially around the pool), (2) providing a clock in the stateroom, (3) providing music choices in the stateroom (either via the TV, a cd-player, or stereo channels), (3) a few more in-room movie channels would be nice (nice video library is available), and (4) a request for no organized evening receptions/events before 6:30.

These are all trivial items, but there is always room for improvement.

For more information

Radisson has a separate brochure and video for this cruise. The words and pictures present an accurate depiction of the ship and itinerary. The Radisson website provides excellent details on the ship and excursions.

There are a number of websites from which I gathered information (apart from those focused on the cruise-happy folks):

Radisson Seven Seas Cruises http://www.rssc.com Air Tahiti Nui http://www.airtahitinui-usa.com Polynesian Islands http://polynesianislands.com Tahiti Explorer (information and message boards) http://www.tahiti-explorer.com Weather http://www.weather.com/weather/local/FPXX0001 Papeete webcam http://www.borabora.com/webcam/index.htm

Thanks to everyone who has posted information on websites and message boards about this cruise. Your factual details and subjective opinions facilitated our planning and heightened our enjoyment of this experience. This is my first attempt at a cruise review, and I will attempt to have something for everyone interested. If I fail to address your inquiry or curiosity, send me a message and I will try to help.

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