We arrived in Tahiti late Friday night and transferred to the truly spectacular Intercontinental Hotel at Papeete. With spacious, beautifully appointed bedrooms, private lagoon and two swimming pools (including swim-up bar, regionID = ), it made us feel that Paul Gauguin would have to be a very special ship to match up to this standard.
However, on arrival at the Paul Gauguin on Saturday afternoon, we were incredibly impressed by the stylish luxury of this superb ship. For this size of ship, most cruise lines would have crammed in around 900 passengers, but Paul Gauguin has a maximum capacity of just 332 guests, ensuring that public areas are never crowded and there is no queuing either on board ship, or to disembark. With 217 crew, service is attentive and personal but never intrusive.
Our cabin was a Category B stateroom with veranda, spacious and well-furnished with a very comfortable bed, seating area and balcony so we could watch the passing scenery in fabulous style. There is an excellent entertainment programme on board, with lectures on the local area, cookery demonstrations, not forgetting Les Guaguines - the Tahitian hostesses on board who entertain with singing and dancing from the local area, as well as show guests how to make shell necklaces, learn some key Tahitian phrases and give a valuable insight into the local area.
Dining is exceptional on Paul Gauguin, with the main restaurant L'Etoile serving an exceptional range of choices encompassing everything from traditional cuisine to options for the health-conscious. La Veranda offers a sophisticated French-accented menu, complete with sommelier's wine choices and superb service. Le Grill is a casual dining experience with an Asian-Pacific and Polynesian flavour. Reservations are required for La Veranda and Le Grill, but there is no cover charge as all dining on board is included in the all-inclusive cruise fare. L'Etoile is open dining, once again with no queuing or waiting for tables - a very relaxing experience.
The first port of call is Raiatea, the second largest Society Island, and there are a great range of shore excursions to help you make the most of your day here, from visiting a Black Pearl Station, to kayaking the Faaroa River and exploring the stunning coral gardens on a snorkelling expedition.
The next day was a real treat - a whole day on the private islet of Motu Mahana, where we were amazed by the clear water, superb snorkelling and stunning white sand beach. Lunch was a BBQ on the beach when a wide range of traditional barbeque food and local delicacies was served.
The next two days were spent at the Pearl of the Pacific - the beautiful island of Bora Bora. Instantly recognisable by its heart-shaped mountain, Otemanu, Bora Bora is a paradise island surrounded by a spectacular turquoise lagoon. We took a guided tour of the island, with an informative and interesting guide, and learnt more about the island's history, visiting a local producer of the ‘pareo' (Tahitian sarong). The second day was spent on the private beach at the Bora Bora Motu - another strip of perfect white sand and clear seas - excellent for relaxing in the sun, swimming and snorkelling. There are more excursions available on Bora Bora, including Waverunner island circumnavigations, off-road adventures, shark and sting ray watching, or even a helicopter flight, portID =
Moving onto Moorea, we spent the last two days of our cruise on the most beautiful island of all. Where Bora Bora is famous for its stunning lagoon, Moorea's attractions are the lush landscape, jagged peaks and deep blue ocean. Dolphin-watching is a firm favourite, with a pod of over 150 dolphins resident around the island, whilst enormous sting-rays and reef sharks can be spotted on some of the many exciting shore excursions.
Arriving back in Papeete on the final day, everyone was very sorry to be leaving French Polynesia - it truly is paradise on earth. Paul Gauguin is the perfect way of exploring this paradise, as the local knowledge and Polynesian flavour on board make you feel that you are a part of these stunning South Pacific islands, even whilst on board.
It may be a long way to go - but it really is worth it!