Posted on Monday, March 11, 2013 by Peter Knego
Peter Knego joins Paul Gauguin Cruises’ intimate MV PAUL GAUGUIN in Papeete for a seven night journey through French Polynesia.
All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2013 unless otherwise noted.
Saturday, March 2, 2013
If heading to Tahiti for a French Polynesia cruise aboard Paul Gauguin Cruises’ gorgeous little PAUL GAUGUIN, brandish your best smile for the TSA, buckle up, and rest assured that genuine paradise will be waiting at the other end of a tiring flight.
Upon arrival, Paul Gauguin Cruises provides a day room at the sumptuous Intercontinental Tahiti Resort, where weary travelers can unwind in an infinity pool, snorkel in an enclosed reef with exotic fish (the Lagoonarium), get a spa treatment, work out or just relax before their 3:00 PM transfer to the ship.
Although the 1997-built PAUL GAUGUIN is small by today’s standards, at 19,200 gross tons, she was by far the largest vessel in Papeete harbor.
When we arrived at the open air cruise terminal, we were greeted with live Polynesian music courtesy of the ship’s Les Gauguins and Les Gauguines cultural hosts and dance teams.
We were directed to the showroom, where we were welcomed with a glass of champagne. After an effortless check-in, our room keys were issued. A smiling cabin attendant then led me up one deck to category D Balcony Stateroom 601.
My 202-square-foot haven was as well-designed as it was beautiful. It featured two full-length closets, a pair of nightstands, a very comfortable queen-sized bed, a cocktail table, settee, mini-bar (stocked throughout the cruise with complimentary beer, soft drinks and bottled water), loads of shelf storage, a flatscreen television and DVD player, a nook with a writing desk and a fabulous vitrine with a dramatically lit Polynesian tiki man.
The bathroom was also cleverly designed with extra cabinet space for toiletries, marble flooring and a full tub with shower.
And it’s always nice to see those L’Occitane toiletries (shower gel, moisturizer, shampoo and conditioner), which were replenished throughout the cruise.
37-square-foot balconies were added to the forward Deck 6 cabins in 2009 and mine was more than ample with two chairs and a small cocktail table.
Paul Gauguin Cruises provides some splendid bon voyage amenities for a small fee, including a gorgeous flower arrangement, a bottle of champagne and Godiva chocolates.
And, for good measure, suite category guests receive a selection of canapés each afternoon.
Immediately, I began my documentation of the ship, which has undergone two major transformations since my last and only visit when she stopped in Los Angeles in January 1998 on her way from her builders in France (Chantiers de l’Atlantique) to Tahiti.
I’ll save the full tour for the Decked! report but suffice it to say, even though I thought the little PAUL GAUGUIN was one of the best newbuilds when she came out, I am delighted with her recent changes. In the $6 million 2009 refit, when the balconies were added, her aft decks and dining venues were reconfigured and in the $7 million late 2011 refit, the ship was spruced up with all new soft fittings and furnishing. PAUL GAUGUIN’s restrained “beigy” ambiance has been significantly punctuated with a chic new Polynesian look that gives her a warmer and more appealing sense of style.
With a capacity limited to 332 guests, PAUL GAUGUIN enjoys the benefit of wide passageways like the Fare Tahiti on aft Deck 6, which boasts displays of original Polynesian artifacts and artwork.
Included in the Fare Tahiti gallery are works by Gauguin, himself, who at one point paid his bills by designing menu art for local Tahitian cafes.
Several cabins were awaiting the arrival of guests on a late night flight, including a spacious Category A Veranda Suite (296-square-feet plus a 58-square-foot veranda).
Category B Veranda Staterooms measure 249-square-feet and have 56-square-foot verandas.
Window Staterooms are basically the same as Balcony Staterooms but with a picture window or two portholes in lieu of the balcony.
I was tempted by afternoon tea and snacks in Le Grill, the poolside eatery, but wanted to get some photos of the ship between bursts of rain before the sun set.
Surrounded by super yachts and a large tuna vessel, PAUL GAUGUIN was by far the most fetching ship in Papeete.
Papeete’s downtown shopping district was steps away but on a Saturday afternoon, it resembled a western ghost town. The boutiques all shutter by noon and everyone heads off to family gatherings or one of the two large beaches on the island.
Back on board, I learned a bit about our first two ports of call, Raiatea and Taha’a, before unpacking and heading off to La Veranda for dinner.
PAUL GAUGUIN has two specialty dining options, both of which are free-of-charge but require reservations. While open for breakfast and lunch, at night, the 134-seat La Veranda offers a fixed French menu limited to 75 guests in scheduled increments between 7:00 and 9:00 PM. The left side is a “Degustation” with everything from foie gras to sashimi, escargot, grilled shrimps, lamb and fresh fruits per two star Michelin chef Jean-Pierre Vigato from the Apricus Restaurant in Paris.
On the right side of the menu, there were a number of Entrées (starters), including salmon cake, green asparagus salad and my choice, a delicious red onion pie with melted Parmesan cheese, a balsamic reduction and extra virgin olive oil.
Specialties (or main courses) included my choice, a grilled wahoo on roasted garlic mashed potatoes and onion compote or a tenderloin of beef.
And for dessert, a Tahitian vanilla creme brulée or a crispy chocolate tart…
And if that was not enough to extinguish any remaining yens of indulgence, outrageous caramel and chocolate petits fours surely did the trick.
After dinner, I headed back ashore for some nocturnal shots of our handsome ship.
Behind me in Vaiete Square, Papeete had come back to life from its afternoon slumber with brightly lit roulottes, the famed Tahitian food trucks offering all sorts of affordable cuisine, from Peking duck to Belgian waffles.
From there, it was back to the PAUL GAUGUIN for a walk around her rain-soaked upper decks before calling it a night. She would depart in the wee hours, course set for Raiatea, some 115 nautical miles to the west-by-northwest.
End of PAUL GAUGUIN In Paradise, Part One
Special thanks to: Vanessa Bloy, Martin Cox, Captain Ante-Toni Mirkovic, Nelson Trinidade
Much More to Come