TAHITI & THE SOCIETY ISLANDS
As Paul Gauguin won’t come to us, we must go to Paul Gauguin – and that means a trip to Tahiti! We were flying with Air Tahiti Nui from Paris to Tahiti so we flew to Paris on 16 November and stayed overnight at an airport hotel so as to be there in plenty of time the next morning for our flight the next day!
I’d never flown with ATN before and was pleasantly surprised. We were greeted with a flower and once airborne, the crew change into full Polynesian dress which is lovely. The economy seats weren’t too cramped (although I am fairly short) but everyone seemed fairly comfortable over the 22 hours or so! All seats had individual screens with a good selection of music, films and games. It even had the menu for the flight which was a nice touch. The food was ok, but they also offered a snack bar at the back of the plane if you were peckish between meals – sandwiches & ice-cream went down well! The flights from Paris to Tahiti do make a 2 hour stop in LA. You are required to leave the aircraft, go through immigration and back through security before you re-board therefore guests do need to apply for an ESTA before travelling. This may seem, and is slightly irritating, but it does allow you to stretch your legs and do a spot of shopping if desired!
After 22 hours, we finally made it to Tahiti and once cleared through immigration and customs, we were greeted with Lei’s by our Transfer Company and taken straight to the Radisson for a much needed sleep!
The Radisson is a lovely hotel, situated about 25 minutes from the airport in a secluded cove – perfect for a spot of rest & relaxation after the long flight. We were all given duplex’s or suites which was a lovely touch. The rooms are stunning and all have an ocean view. We had a tour of the hotel and saw the lead in rooms and these were a good size and really had everything you need.
Despite being part of a hotel chain this really does feel more like an independent hotel. It’s not huge but has everything you would need for a couple of nights and the staff are very friendly and welcoming. They offer a complimentary shuttle service into Papeete if you want to explore and also transfers to local restaurants. We were there for their weekly Polynesian themed evening. You can see the effort behind it in bringing the local culture to the guests but it was a little intense at times and the BBQ food was limited. Breakfast was fine, if a little expensive, but adequate for a couple of nights stay.
They also offer complimentary WiFi – currently just in reception and the bar but the plan is to extend this to every room in the next couple of months (you can access the internet in rooms at the moment but it’s via cable). The signal is good though if you’re near the hub! Where possible they offer a late check-out if you’re joining the ship, or have a late flight which is useful, but you can also use the spa facilities at no charge to freshen up if you do need to vacate your room. Other facilities include a childrens club, infinity pool and business centre. The hotel also has a nice gift shop and local market which is handy for last minute pressies!
Day 3 – Papeete (Embarkation)
After a morning spent at the Radisson, we were picked up at 2.30pm to be transferred to the ship. The transfer time was around 15mins and in no time at all we were at the port.
As soon as we got off the minibus our luggage was tagged and taken straight to the stateroom. After completing the obligatory medical form and posing for a quick photo we were welcomed onboard by the Cruise Director and taken straight into Le Grand Salon for check-in. Embarkation really was effortless and seamless. There were crew members at every point from where you entered the ship to the Salon. You were then seated with a glass of bubbly to wait your turn – no standing in a queue which was lovely. The wait was a quick one and in no time at all I was being escorted to my stateroom. First impressions were good – my C Grade Balcony Stateroom was a good size with a fair amount of storage in oddly shaped cupboards. I think you may struggle with hangers and hanging space with 2 people though. The bathroom was also of a good size with storage and complimentary L’Occitane products. There’s a stocked mini bar with soft drinks & beer which is replenished daily and I also had flowers, champagne and chocolates to welcome me which was lovely.
They have both EU & US plug sockets in the rooms at the dressing area which is handy, and another good thing to know is that reception has a whole range of adapters that you can borrow whilst onboard (good if like me, you forgot yours!). After a quick bite in La Veranda we did a quick tour of the ship to orientate ourselves! I also booked the alternative restaurants for a little later in the week. Something to note – you’re really only supposed to make one reservation for each speciality restaurant whilst you’re onboard. If someone insists they want to eat in either one again they can but that’s the general rule. Also, if it gets to the last couple of days and you haven’t booked, the Maitre‘d will call you to ask if you want to dine in them which is a nice touch. It was then back to the staterooms to unpack and get ready for dinner. We met for a pre-dinner drink in the Piano bar. This is a nice little bar on deck 5, just along from the main restaurant and the lounge and definitely could become a favourite – great décor, cosy and the bar staff were really friendly. Dinner tonight was in L’Etoile, the main restaurant. Dining is open in here, between 6.30pm and 9pm. The food was good, and there was a varied selection but I wasn’t sold on the restaurant itself. It didn’t really have any atmosphere but that could just be that it was the first night. I had sashimi to start, the shrimp main & pineapple cake to finish. After dinner there was a show up on the pool deck which was nice. It’s not often they have somewhere to relax on deck in the evening on cruise ships. We left Papeete at around 11.30pm so it was nice to be up on deck as we sailed out. It was a bit rocky tonight as we cruised but it lulled us to sleep!
Day 4 – Raitea:
With the jetlag we were up early and on deck as we cruised into Raitea – the only port of call where we were docked. The lagoons were stunning as you cruise in and it really hit home that we were in the South Pacific – I felt very lucky indeed!
We had breakfast in La Veranda which became the norm! They had a great selection of breakfast options, both hot and cold, and the option of sitting indoors or out on deck which was nice. The morning was spent making Lai’s with Les Gauguines (the onboard entertainment staff) – I was really impressed with the range of activities offered onboard which gave you something to take away, all with Polynesian influences (painting postcards, weaving bookmarks etc). We also watched a dance show put on by the local children which was lovely and really got us into the Polynesian spirit.In the afternoon I’d booked onto the ‘Faraway River & Island Expoloration’ shore excursion which was $95. It was a brilliant excursion and I would highly recommend it. You spent the first 1.5-2 hours in a motorised canoe travelling along the island coast and up the river. Amazing scenery, I think enhanced by the rain as much as anything – it felt like Jurassic Park! Our guide was lovely (if a little crazy!) and supplied fresh fruit for us to have whilst in the canoe. After the canoe we visited an ancient temple and the surrounding land crab burrows (!) and then jumped into our 4×4 for a trip up the mountain in the rain – it honestly was so much fun! Back onboard, cookies & canapés had been delivered to my stateroom which was a welcome sight as a little peckish!
Dinner tonight was in Le Grill, one of the alternative restaurants. The weather wasn’t great for an indoor/outdoor dining experience but the food was nice. I had sashimi (again) and the duck. I was a little disappointed with Le Grill in that the food wasn’t that different to the main restaurant fare. Going by the name, I was expecting steaks, fish etc on the grill, but nice all the same. The menu doesn’t change in here, just to note. Tonight’s entertainment was a dance show by Les Gauguines which was really good and a great overview of the regional dances. Early to bed after the show – jetlag is always with us – but sleeping really well – the beds are so comfortable.
Day 5 – Taha’a/Motu Mahana:
Awake again early but that could have been excitement – it was our day on PG’s private Motu today and we’d been advised to be on the first tender to really make the most of the day. So after a quick breakfast of pancakes in La Veranda we grabbed our snorkelling kit and made our way to the tender. Note; PG lend every guest snorkelling gear for the entire cruise, for you to use as and when you want to. You just pick it up from the Marina on the first day and return it on the last – simple! So the weather was a little overcast but we didn’t let that deter us and were on the first tender! And it was SO worth it – this is what Paradise looks like! You arrive on the island, the back of the tender drops down and you walk straight out onto the sand. It was more ‘permanent’ than I expected – that’s to say there was a large bar, BBQ buffet area, picnic tables, toilet block and lots of lovely sunloungers right on beach. There were also stalls selling local souvenirs which were a nice addition. I’d never been snorkelling before but thought this would be the perfect place to start, so I spent much of the morning getting to grips with that in the stunning lagoon. We also had a stint in one of the Canoes they bought over from the ship! If you’re not into water activities, there are plenty of other things to keep you busy. We learnt how to make Polynesian woven baskets from Palm leaves (which was great fun!) and they also had a session on Parao tying too. The BBQ lunch was delicious and available for a good couple of hours, and the bar kept us in cocktails for the day! By 3pm we were ready to come back to the ship after the most amazing day – we really did feel special spending the day on a private island!
Tonight we were at sea so the ship was a little rocky but we all made it out for the evening! We had drinks in the Captains Lounge tonight, although no appearance from the man himself!
Dinner tonight was in L’Etoile and the food once again was good, although the atmosphere for me still isn’t great. I had a beef noodle salad and the beef & Yorkshire pudding (an odd choice for sailing in Polynesia, but it was delicious!) No show tonight so it was straight to bed so we could be up early to enjoy Bora Bora!
Day 6 – Bora Bora:
It’s become a firm favourite for breakfast – La Veranda it was again for pancakes & fruit!
I’d booked ‘Le Truck’ shore excursion this morning for $49 and it was really good value for money. It’s sold as a 2.5 hour trip but it was more like 3.5 hours by the time you got back – there was so much to see! You are taken on a tour of the island in ‘Le Truck’ (which is a little bumpy but cushions are supplied), with stops at a Parao shop where they demonstrated how they are made, a good number of view points and a final one at Bloody Mary’s! We had a quick look round the local shops (of which there are quite a few) and then got back onboard for lunch.
At Le Grill, lunch was an Asian themed buffet which was really nice and probably my favourite lunch onboard.
In the afternoon we decided to jump on the second tender that takes you to a private Motu and work on my snorkelling skills! This is completely different to the Motu in Taha’a. That was an island – this is literally a (small) stretch of beach with just a small bar but no toilets (just to note). Snorkelling wasn’t as good here, less to see but the water was like a bath and we spent most of our time there sitting in the sea! As there’s not much to occupy you at the Bora Bora motu, if you’re not into sunbathing, we were back onboard in just over an hour and I spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in my room and catching up on emails. The internet connection is good and relatively fast. It’s also great value compared to other ships. The sofa in the room is a decent size and comfortable to relax on – and what a view – Bora Bora has to be the prettiest island (well, so far!) A pre-dinner drink in the Piano Bar was followed by dinner in L’Etoile – baked brie and a chicken massaman curry tonight. It was the Cruise Director’s show tonight and not really to my taste – I don’t think it fitted the feel of the ship or the type of guest onboard unfortunately.
Day 7 – Bora Bora:
Amazing once again to wake up in Bora Bora – it feels like a dream, it really does.
Today is more relaxed as I’d done the island tour yesterday. After breakfast in La Veranda (again), I took the tender into town and explored the shops again and picked up a few things I’d seen the day before. The rest of the group were on an excursion this morning so I got back onboard and spent a lovely morning relaxing on deck with my book! Obviously due to the size of the ship it’s not huge pool area but it didn’t feel too busy and you do also have a small deck area & bar up on deck 9 too which gives plenty of space for everyone to find somewhere to relax.
After lunch in Le Grill (a burger) it was time for more relaxing on deck and a wander around the ship. A lot of people were ashore or at the Motu so the ship was fairly quiet, but it never seemed busy really. The boutique is a nice little shop with good postcards and souvenirs as well as the clothes & jewellery you expect. We left Bora Bora at about 5pm so we had a sailaway party up on deck with music from Santa Rosa, the resident band. They’re really good and a great asset to the ship. Tonight we dined in La Veranda which is certainly my favourite so far in terms of atmosphere – it’s completely different than dining in here in the day – very intimate. The food was delicious too – salmon fishcake, risotto and crème brulee! It was rather choppy again tonight – out in open sea again – so we popped up to deck 8 and had a drink in La Pallette which is a really nice bar at the back of the ship – it has seating both inside and outside. It was fairly quiet though so I’m not sure people know it’s there as it’s well hidden!Our entertainment tonight was the crew show and it was brilliant!
Day 8 – Moorea:
We had an excursion booked for this afternoon so decided to get the tender into the town this morning to explore a little bit. There really wasn’t much to see though where you come in. There are a couple of shops and a small number of craft stalls but really not much. For shopping you would need to go a little further into the island.
There is one shop that offers a complimentary transfer if you want to take that. We headed back onboard to soak up a bit more of what the ship has to offer before lunch in Le Grill. This afternoon we took the ‘Aito Off-Road Adventure’ shore excursion which was around $90 and once again, really good value. It was a long excursion and took in a lot of island by 4×4 but was really interesting. I would note though to take a lot of water with you – it was particularly hot and you really needed it as there wasn’t really anywhere to buy any.
We first stopped at a juice factory where we got to try various juices and liqueurs. We then went to a tropical garden and tried a selection of local jams. Then it was on to Magic Mountain where the views were incredible (comfortable shoes needed for a very short but very steep climb to the top);Belvedere where you can see the 2 bays; through a pineapple plantation and then on into the volcanic crater where the view was just stunning! It was Polnesian night tonight which was so much fun! Women are encouraged to wear their Parao’s or Polynesian dresses & men, their loudest shirts. PG bring on local Mamma’s to make Lei’s, Hei’s and flower corsages for everyone so the ship is just a wash of colour!
Dinner in L’Etoile was really nice and it was the first evening the dining room had a vibrant atmosphere. The food was delicious and I had a sashimi salad, lobster & the pineapple cake!
There was another local dance show tonight which was good but I got pulled out to make lei’s while it was going on so I didn’t get to enjoy it as much as had to concentrate on the Lei’s! The Mamma’s were watching! Last day tomorrow – it’s going so quickly!
Day 9 – Moorea:
After breakfast I decided to Facetime home – you feel a long way from home here!! Internet connection is strong enough for this and Skype though so easy to stay in touch! I then went to the morning craft class which today was Polynesian hair picks (basically a feather pin to put in your hair) It was fun though and I really like that they offer activities like this onboard.
The rest of the morning was spent relaxing on deck again – a lot of people had the same idea today – the last day to relax before the journey home! Talking to fellow guests onboard, a lot of guests were extending their stays on one or more of the islands so had the time to just relax and enjoy the ship as they would explore the islands later in their holiday.
Lunch was an Italian buffet in Le Grill which was really nice – this seemed to be the venue of choice for lunch for most people I noticed through the cruise.
In the afternoon I returned my snorkelling equipment, packed, updated my notes and filled in the feedback questionnaire they ask you to complete before you disembark.
The Captain hosted a farewell party in Le Grand Salon (it was supposed to be on deck but unfortunately the rain had returned!). We also enjoyed one last drink in the Piano Bar and a nice farewell dinner in L’Etoile. I’ll be sad to leave tomorrow.
Day 10 – Papeete (Debarkation):
With our flight not being until 2300, PG are really accommodating and allow you to stay onboard until after lunch which is a really nice touch and one that other cruise lines do not offer. You do have to vacate your staterooms by 9.30am but they store your luggage (including hand luggage) for you so after breakfast we went into Papeete and visited the market for a few last minute souvenirs. After a final lunch in La Veranda our transfer picked us up and took us to the Radisson where we had day-room facilities. This is a great option to go for as you can have a sleep and a shower ready for your flight later on. You also have all the hotel facilities that you can use too. Our flight was delayed by 5 hours and the Radisson couldn’t have been more help. They kindly extended our rooms at no extra costs so we could go to bed before our now 2am pick-up!
The flights home were long (not helped by delays and the Big Storm!) but eventually we made it safely home some 32 hours after leaving Papeete.
This really was a once in a lifetime trip and so worth the long journey. I’d recommend breaking the journey in LA and it would form a great addition to a longer trip as it’s an extremely long journey for a 7 day cruise – but honestly, what a place, and in my opinion PG is the best ship to get the most from your time in Polynesia. Because they are there year round, and have been for a long time, they have the relationships you need to provide the best excursions, the best local entertainment and the best experiences. I would have no hesitation in selling Paul Gauguin and would encourage anyone to go to Polynesia with them – it was an amazing trip – I feel extremely lucky to have had the opportunity.