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2/9/10 - 11 Night Tuamotu & Society Islands Review
Six days prior to the February 9th, 2010 sailing of the Paul Gauguin my husband surprised me by saying he had found the perfect vacation for us. As he described the 11-night itinerary visiting the Cook and Society Islands I sat there dreaming of the brilliant, turquoise waters and warm, soft air. When he said, “Why don’t we go?” I laughed and asked him, "When are we leaving?" 6 days to prepare to leave the kids, two 4-month-old puppies, throw a Super Bowl party for 40 and also pack? Was he crazy? Yep... but we did it! Within 48 hours we had scheduled my mother to watch the kids and puppies, a village of wonderful girlfriends to take over my kid driving schedule for 12 days, and a tentative itinerary for travel. A few phone calls had the trip booked, hosting the Super Bowl party went off without a hitch (even though our Chargers weren’t there), and before I knew it we were standing at the Air Tahiti Nui counter in LAX along with a dozen other excited PG guests heading to Papeete, Tahiti!!
ATN was surprisingly nice (except for the darn hard seat!). After my last few flights on domestic airlines I was pleased to actually have a meal (my last offering on Continental was a Pig in a Blanket sort of yucky thing), and even more pleased that my shrimp entree was tasty! The movies inflight were decent, a number of offerings on a video screen that is in the seatback in front of you. I felt my middle age just a bit when the lady in front of me pushed her seat back (I could nearly rest my chin on her head) and the screen felt just a bit too close! The flight was chilly, but all seats had blankets and pillows. A couple of hours before landing they offered another light meal and refreshments.
We landed on time in Papeete and took approximately 50 minutes to deplane, pass immigration and collect luggage. As we had not booked our air through PG we did not have the included transfers that the other guests used. The airport had plenty of cabs though and they readily accepted U$D. I believe the fare was about $36 from the airport to the port (7 miles).
Next thing we knew the taxi stopped at the foot of the gangplank and we were greeted by Jaques Le Tallec, the ship’s hotel director, as our luggage was unloaded form the taxi and whisked away. Someone offered us a cool towel and a sandwich as we filled out the health questionnaire and within 5 minutes we were in the Grand Salon receiving our cabin keys and sipping champagne! A lovely young lady escorted us to our stateroom where sandwiches, fruit and refreshments were waiting. As she was leaving our luggage arrived!! Brian and I looked at each other in disbelief, then pinched ourselves as we realized we had found a new way to cruise.
As we were emptying the last of our suitcases into the more than ample storage spaces (two closets with lots of hangers and shelves, 4 decent sized drawers and underbed storage for luggage) we felt the ship pull away from the pier. We decided to take a quick look around even though it was late (12:45 or so). We wandered up to the pool deck and found a few other passengers with the same idea. The bar at La Palette was still open and the bar tender happily topped off our champagne glasses. With our glasses full and a bit of fatigue beginning to set in we headed out to the pool deck to watch the lights of Papeete fade off into the distance.
Even though we had only slept a few hours we woke early. With a peek around the corner of the balcony showing land we quickly threw on some clothes and headed up on deck, cameras in hand. A few other guest had the same idea and we all enjoyed the brilliant blue waters contrasting with the gorgeous green of the island. Thanks to another Cruise Critic Member, Brian and I knew that we could go all the way forward on deck 8 to a small viewing “balcony” on the front of the ship (go through even though the door says “Emergency Exit”). We enjoyed the view all by ourselves as the ship entered the bay. This is one entry that is worth setting your alarm for. Actually, we felt that the entries to every island were fantastic and not to be missed.
Thanks for your review and photos. Maybe you can clarify my confusion with the embarkation issue. This cruise was planned to depart at 10:00 pm, and after we boarded the ship, we got to know it would depart at 11:30 pm which we did not know why and did not bother to ask, as we were too tired and fell asleep, so we did not know exactly when it left Papeete. My question is did you check with PG before you booked your in bound flight, as obviously your flight, though on time, would not bring you to the ship before its scheduled departure time.
Our flight arrived on time in the morning. There was nobody from PG to meet us for the transfer, although our flight was arranged by them and such service was stated in the cruise document. Our flight was less than half full, could not understand why they put passengers on a later flight which would not catch the scheduled departure time.
We took a taxi to the pier, and wanted to leave our luggage with the staff, but they had some stupid guys there who did not know what to do.
Then came a man in his mechanics uniform and asked if we were mechanics as well. We said we are guests and showed the cruise ticket, so came the guest relation manager who let us leave the luggage aside. Obviously we were not the first passengers who left luggage that morning at the pier.
I think most passengers were tired at the start of the cruise ( except for those who had pre-cruise stay ). The flight before ours was delayed for 6 hours or so, and only arrived slightly earlier than ours, so the night stay in Tahiti was also ruined.
Scandun, I agree that most people were tired when the trip started. I know we were!
When we were in the booking process we called PG to see what flight from Los Angeles they were using for their booking. I had assumed that they would bring everyone in the day before the cruise and then do a day room sort of thing, but they scheduled with this same flight that we were on. The ship was scheduled to hold until this flight arrived. Thank goodness there were no mechanical issues on this one! Seems like they should have posted that somewhere. You were not the only one confused by the change, our cabin neighbors didn't know why the ship seemed to leave late as well.
I'm working the the rest of the Huahine pics and will post more today!!
Normally we are big planners, so this spontaneous trip was a bit out of character for us (Thanks Sue!). It was very unlike us not to have each day fully planned, so we were a bit concerned that all of the ship's excursions would be full. Imagine our surprise when we arrived at the Travel Desk and not only was there no line, but there was availability on many of the excursions! For this day we chose the afternoon Safari Excursion and were in luck that there just happened to be two seats available.
The lack of queues anywhere on the ship was wonderful! I think the most we ever waited in any line at either the Travel or Reception desk was 3 to 4 minutes with just one person in front of us. The restaurants were never over crowded and there were always deck chairs available. Only once was I looking for shade and could not find it. Once again we were thrilled with this new way to cruise!
This morning we made our first of 9 visits to Le Grill for breakfast and found table 33 to be just right. This one is on the side of the restaurant with a lovely view and also a bit of a breeze. I found the breakfasts to be very enjoyable. Just about anything you could wish for was available - cooked to order omelets, pancakes, eggs, sausages, fresh fruit (loved the papaya and little bananas), oatmeal, cereals, pastries, bagels, toast, cheese, meats, shrimp, juices, other beverages, etc. all in a buffet style. Joey took care of us each morning, having our coffee and ice water on the table before we had filled our plates. We grew to look forward to his welcoming smile each day and he quickly learned our preferences.
Most days after breakfast we would take our coffee to the back of the ship and enjoy a peaceful morning with gorgeous views. Usually we were there alone or with just another couple or two. This came to be one of our favorite times of the day!
Coffee - Aft deck 8
Outside La Palette - Aft deck 8
Brian enjoying his morning coffee!
We caught lunch back in Le Grill and again were pleased with the selections. The Grill had different selections each day including salads, hot dishes, soups, pasta, breads, cheeses, and of course desserts. Every day was a different theme, one day was German, another Asian, another American, etc. We did not have a chance to try them all, but enjoyed what we had (I'm not much of a sushi fan, but heard great sushi reviews!). There were always vegetarian and light choices available as well.
You were not the only one confused by the change, our cabin neighbors didn't know why the ship seemed to leave late as well.
Sounds like this is biz as usual then! Back in 2006 the PG didn't leave til 1 am or so for the same reason, waiting for that flight.
“I write, I fly, I mom, I travel, I love life.” ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
RCI: Radiance (7-day Alaska) 8/04
Princess: Golden (10-day Great Britain) 6/05
Regent: Paul Gauguin (10-day Society Islands, Tuamotus) 6/06
RCI: Monarch (2-day Mexico) 12/06
RCI: Jewel (12 day Russia/Scandinavia) 6/07
Paul Gauguin (7-day Society Islands) 03/10
Cunard: Queen Mary 2 (7-day Transatlantic) 5/14
Location: Toronto, Ottawa Valley ON, and Dunedin FL
Not sure why they split the flights, but it's most likely to ensure that east coast N.A. passengers will make it easily without necessitating a "forced overnight" in L.A. In fact I wouldn't be surprised if ATN has adjusted its schedule for this reason.
BTW, they never did bring people in the day before the cruise, that always involved a deviation. Presumably they still have a deviation fee that you can pay so that you can spend the night at a hotel.
That being said, last time over we were on the later flight (coming from Toronto), with a 2-night pre-cruise at the Radisson. We made it to our hotel room at 3 a.m., so if it had been a one-night stay, it would have been a real bummer. The hotel handled it very well, however, and we had a great stay there.
I always advise people to get there at least a day ahead of time, if not more.
Paul Gauguin, Sept. 2014!
Oceania Riviera, Nov. 2013
Seven Seas Navigator, Dec. 2006, Alaska May 2012
RSSC Paul Gauguin 2000, 2003, 2005, 2008
Radisson Diamond June, 2004
Regent Voyager, June '06, Dec. '07, Dec. '09, Dec. 2010
Last edited by Wendy The Wanderer; February 28th, 2010 at 11:37 AM.
It would have been better if PG had told us which last flight could be used. And if there is a next time, we will opt for a pre-cruise stay, but possibly not in Radisson. We had the post cruise day room there, and though the room was spacious enough, the air condition failed to work after 10 minutes, just like someone complained on tripadvisor that I read. It was an unpleasant stay the whole afternoon till evening.
As Brian and I are fairly new to cruising (only 1 other cruise - Royal Caribbean's Adventure of the Seas last summer with the kids) we had no experience with tendering. On other ships I have heard about obtaining your tender tickets and/or times the evening before and then waiting in line to get on the tender. As such, we didn't really know what to expect when we made our way to deck 3 to catch the tender to head to our Safari Excursion. We arrived on deck 3 and did indeed have to wait in line... for a total of about 45 seconds while the person in front of us went through! We handed over our cards and a minute later we were sitting on the top deck of the tender; it was only about half full. So easy. Once again, we are loving this "small ship" way to cruise!
Our tour guide Joelle (sp?) met us with the lovely Heia as we exited the tender. There were a total of 8 people on the tour, a fun group and a fun day. Joelle really knows the island. He is American and has spent many years living in the islands and raising his family. He is an expert on the local flora (and its various medicinal uses) and entertained us with local legends and lore throughout the trip. We circled the larger part of the island and saw waterfalls, beautiful vistas, the Belvedere, blue-eyed eels, villages, a local vanilla "farm" (more later on this), maraes (ancient ceremonial temples) and beaches. Throughout, Joelle talked about what is was like to live in Huahine as a local. Cyclone damage was visible in many areas along the tour, not much structure damage, but quite a lot of vegetation damage. Joelle explained that the spray from the sea water caused many of the plants to turn brown, but that they would flourish again soon. There were numerous downed trees (mostly banana) and a bit of a landslide. It was at about this point that he mentioned something about Cyclone Pat and that she was headed for the same place we were (Cook Islands.) He asked if we had heard about an itinerary deviation, at which point we all looked at him and had no idea what he was talking about! He just smiled and said, "Wait and see."
Joelle pointing out papayas growing on the side of the road!
View of the ship from the Belvedere
Feeding the blue eye eels (in a stream off the side of the road!)
Our Safari truck. Went off road along the beach and a few other spots.Not really wild, but a bit bumpy.
One of the ancient maraes
(I am limited to 5 pictures per post. Will continue on next post!)
The Vanilla farm was indeed interesting, but it was not quite what I expected. The "farm" was basically in someone's front yard and they had a room off the side of the house that served as a storing/sales area. Joelle's information about the growing and drying of vanilla beans was enlightening though. We definitely came away with an understanding of why vanilla beans are as expensive as they are. I didn't know how labor intensive it was to pollinate, grow and dry the beans. The farmer has quite a lot of hands on work - hand pollinating each flower and then daily turning of the beans in the sun is a big job.
I did purchase some beans at this venue, but have not had a chance to try them yet. They had decent prices compared to home and I am excited to toss them in some home made ice cream one day soon!
Fish for dinner??
Coral on the beaches
All in all we enjoyed the Safari tour and are thankful for the opportunity to have seen and experienced much of Huahine. The island is beautiful and not commercialized. The tour ended at the pier where we waited for only 10 minutes or so for the tender to arrive and take us back for the muster drill and dinner.
The mandatory muster drill was held at 5:30. A good amount of standing around waiting for everyone to arrive at their stations, then direction on what to do in case of an emergency. At the end of the drill the captain asked that all guests meet in the Grand Salon for "some information about our cruise". Looks like Joelle knew what he was talking about!
We dressed for dinner and then headed for the Grand Salon. I would say approximately 2/3 of the passengers came to the meeting. At this point the captain explained about the weather, Hurricane Pat and two other tropical depressions that were following in her path. He told us that Pat was headed directly for Aitutaki and that he felt it was in our best interest (safety and passenger comfort) to change course, eliminate the Cook Islands and head to the Tuamotus. For Brian and I this was no big deal. I had absolutely no desire to be sea sick and I was hoping for days of sun and relaxation. Others who had planned this trip because of the Cook Island itinerary were understandably disappointed. The crew put together a new itinerary and tomorrow we would be heading to Raiatea.
As we had no plans for dinner we enjoyed a cocktail in the Piano Bar and then decided to head to the main dining room, L'Etoile. Brian and I have never experienced joining others for dinner on a cruise. On our last cruise we were with our kids and knew they would not enjoy chatting with people they didn't know. On this trip, though, we thought it might be fun to meet others and so we decided to put on our social hat. The waiter directed us to a table where we met Ed & Barbara, one of the nicest couples on the ship! Within minutes were were laughing and felt like we were old friends. Susan and John joined us shortly thereafter and we spent first of 11 evenings laughing the meal away. I fully understand the "joining others" now that I have done it. From the excursions to the restaurants to just chatting by the pool bar we met so many wonderful people from all over the world. By the end of the cruise I think we knew over half of the ship by name. We took home wonderful memories and many new friends.
The after dinner show for this evening was Viva Polynesia featuring Les Gauguines with songs and dances of Ancient Tahiti. Unfortunately the fatigue combined with a couple of glasses of wine sent us to bed early and we missed the show. I have heard though, that it was very enjoyable.
Raiatea... what an absolutely beautiful island that we almost didn't see. Our new itinerary brought us to this lovely island instead of having a sea day and we loved it. As this stop was new to our itinerary we had no plans for the day. We were still a bit pooped after our air travel day and the busy first day of the cruise, so we slept in and arose to find us already docked at the pier. This was the only port that we did not tender to. We headed to La Veranda for breakfast and enjoyed a nice morning meal outside overlooking the town. Breakfast in La Veranda was very similar to Le Grill, but with a bit more of a formal atmosphere. Most people chose to dine indoors, but we fully enjoyed sipping our coffee out on the deck watching the town wake up below.
View of town from La Veranda
After breakfast we checked out the boutique. Lots of pearls (Tahia Collins = lovely), PG souvenirs, small toiletries items ($$$$ for sunscreen - bring it from home!), shirts, beach shoes, etc. We asked the clerk what to do in town as we didn't have an excursion planned and she said she felt this was one of the most beautiful islands on the itinerary and that the best way to see it was to get out of the port area. We made a quick detour to the travel desk and luckily there was room on the coach island tour excursion. I'm not usually one for bus tours, but we really enjoyed this one! Summer (a San Diego transplant) was our wonderful guide, a lovely, peaceful girl who married a Tahitian man and has made her life in Raiatea for the last 10 years. Her knowledge of the island was fascinating and she entertained us with stories of island culture and lore along with descriptions of daily island life. The difference in life on Raiatea when compared to our local San Diego was interesting.
Summer brought us to many lovely vistas and kindly stopped for us photobugs (me!) at extra locations. We visited another marae and Summer provided some interesting information of what life was like in ancient times.
Cyclone damage was abundant on this island. Summer had not been out much since the cyclone and was surprised at the extent of the damage. Homes were missing roofs, some pearl farms were missing (she said she had seen one get wiped out with a large wave; one second it was there, another it was gone), lots of downed trees and many areas of brown vegetation from the sea spray. Summer explained that since much of the food they eat is grown locally that there was a great lack of vegetables on the island and everyone was eagerly awaiting their new gardens to produce.
Even with the damage the island was gorgeous! Raiatea quickly became one of my favorite islands of the itinerary with the colors being what you think of when someone says the South Pacific... turquoise, green, blue, all so vivid that you almost can't believe what you are seeing.
The tour stopped about 3/4 of the way through at a local home where an array of local fruits and drink was provided. We sampled pineapple, papaya, coconut and pomello, along with coconut water (didn't like it...), water and a tropical juice. The home was just off the beach and it is hard to imagine that these lucky people wake up to that incredible view each and every morning! Just like you would dream of, a beautiful sunny day with a light tropical breeze and gorgeous colors. Wow!
Backyard of the refreshment stop
Undamaged pearl farm in a lagoon
On the return trip the bus took an interior route and we traveled through the "mountain" region. We learned about the volcanic history of the island and enjoyed the views from the elevation.
Back at the pier we had about 45 minutes to walk around the town, and that was about 15 more than we needed! The town is small, including a small market, shops, restaurants, the ever present jewelery/pearl stores and a small tourist area. In the morning a market was open with local fruits and wares. Similar to the large market in Papeete.
Market in town... wish I had this to go to every day!
Sure beats Costco!!
The Main Street
My goal was to get back to the ship in time to see the "Children of Raiatea" show at 5:00 PM. Definitely worth the effort. The kids entertained us with a wonderful local traditional show and were very adept at local dance even at their young ages. A 3-year old girl dancing up a storm on the stage brought a smile to everyones face! For those wondering, this was indeed an audience participation show. We had good sports from our audience, lots of smiling faces!
3 year old stealing the show!
After the show we enjoyed another gorgeous Sail Away followed by the Captain's Welcome Party (cocktails and a photo) in the Grand Salon and dinner at L'Etoile with a whole new group of friends. Once again we seemed to be one of the last tables in the restaurant as we laughed and chatted our way through the meal. Ostrich was on the menu that evening and although I was a bit skeptical about trying it, I'm very glad I did. Definitely give it a shot if you have the chance! My husband describes it as a marinated very tender beef.
Just a note: This was one evening where people dressed just a bit finer. Plenty of men still in tropical shirts and slacks, but there were a few with jackets and ties. Ladies had an array of dresses, nothing like a cocktail dress, but a few long simple dresses and some nicer outfits. Just a bit of a step up over most other nights. For anyone interested, there is a photographer every night outside L'Etoile.Ryan did a nice job capturing some memorable shots that we couldn't resist taking home!
Today Bora Bora!! Brian and I had eagerly awaited our arrival to this island often hearing that it is one of the most beautiful places on earth. It is indeed gorgeous. As I am a bit of a photobug, we decided to get a car of our own so we could explore the island at our leisure. In addition, we also had a request from a friend at home to please, please stop at Bloody Mary's and get him a t-shirt (he and his wife had visited 14 years ago on their honeymoon and his original was worn out!).
The rental car was easy, just across from where the tender lets you off. The options range from 2, 4, or 8 hours. We chose 8 hours at a rate of about $135 for a full day (1/2 day runs about $110.) The ladies at the desk were very friendly and gave us tips on their favorite places to visit and suggestions of where to stop. You could feasibly get around the island in about 1 hour, but with all of our photo stops and our planned Bloody Mary lunch we timed out at about 5 1/2 hours! (Gas was about $12)
Bugster - we thought about this one...
but opted for the fuddy duddy Kia with a locking doors instead!
There are not really any good beaches on the island. Matira Beach was recommended by the dive master on the ship as the best, but we actually passed it without realizing we had gone by. The island has some lovely views and the rock formations are stunning.
Our lunch at Bloody Mary's was just as expected (per the reviews on Trip Advisor.) I had done a bit of reading about this place before our trip and it didn't get the best reviews. The ambiance is very fun (sand on the floor), but food just ok. Brian had a burger and fries and I had a tuna salad sandwich which was more mayo than tuna.
The ship offers a complimentary dinner tender to the restaurant and I did hear it was a far better experience than our "nothing to write home" about lunch. I've heard that there is an array of fresh fish laid out to choose from (dinner only) and that the meal was quite tasty.
Nonetheless, we came home with our Bloody Mary's t-shirts as souvenirs.
Bloody Mary's restaurant
Looking across the street from Bloody Mary's
Our home away from home!
Just before you return to the tender there is a large covered area filled with local artisans selling all kinds of wares.
A nice PG touch was the refreshment area where one waits for the tender to return to the ship. At every stop, PG sets up a tent (very welcome after a long day in the strong South Pacific sun!) with a few chairs and tables with chilled water and fruit punch. A hand sanitizer station was also available. A crew member was always waiting to assist if you needed it.
On the returning tender these guys paddled and rode the wake wave all the way back to the ship!
This evening we attended a "Pool Deck Party" after dinner with Siglo as entertainment. Lots of dancing and a fun evening under the stars!
Siglo definitely lived up to their reputation. A fantastic group of guys who can play just about any sort of music requested. From 40's Big Band Swing to 80's hits to modern day pop they played it all and they played it well. Loved Siglo!
The next morning brought just one more gorgeous, sunny day in Bora Bora. As we had already visited the island we decided to check out our snorkel gear and head over to the motu for some lounging on the beach. After breakfast in Le Grill (now our usual, table 33 with the wonderful Joey as our sever!) we headed to the sports marina for the snorkel check out.
Our morning breakfast view
Before leaving home I had considered bringing my own snorkel mask as I have had experiences with not so nice snorkel equipment provided on other trips. Not the case on the PG! The guys at the marina were great and outfitted us with good quality snorkel gear. They stressed that it had been well cleaned and they were willing to take the time to show us how to use everything. As we are experienced snorkelers we just grabbed the gear and headed to the tender for our trip to the motu.
Once again we had to wait in line... almost 45 seconds this time (did I mention I love this ship!) and then we were on the beacher. This tender, the beacher, has the ability to do a wet landing (and this one was wet!) to land on beaches. The front end drops down and you kind of step off into the water. A few people were not expecting this and were wearing sandals that they needed to remove so as not to get wet. Lots of crew were around to help people up and down and no one seemed to have any problems.
Beacher picking up guests to return to the ship
The day was very windy, but the air temps were still warm and beautiful. The water was perfect. I'm a warm water lover, and this was just what I was looking for, warm and clear. The current at the motu was fairly strong, and the snorkeling was not the best as the water was a bit choppy due to the wind. We were still able to see some fish and a ray or two.
The beach has a shack with some fruit and drinks. Domestic beer, water and soda were available. Just behind the beach was a house with a family in the front yard. We had been asked not to wander around the island and to respect the family and their home.
Refreshment shack on motu
This was a lovely, relaxing day on a beautiful, uncrowded beach with views of Bora Bora and the Paul Gauguin. I'm not sure how life could get any better!