We were fortunate enough to be able to book a trip on M/S Paul Gauguin for the Society Islands and Tuamotus (10 days) from October 2 to 16, 2019. I think we booked the last available cabin about three months beforehand so I scrambled to get information here on CC. My thanks to all who have contributed information and answered my questions. Now it's my turn to try to Pay It Forward.
I won't give you a trip report as I'm not great at posting pictures and much has been covered before. I will try to offer thoughts on things that I debated before our trip with the hope of helping others. For background, 'we' are me (60YO) and my hubby (58YO). We've been retired for five years and have done some amazing travel since (and before) then. I am the travel planner in the family and I obsess over details. Often we make our own arrangements (flights, transfers, tours, hotels), especially if we are travelling in an English speaking country. That was the case on this trip.
Booking - I booked through a travel agent that I found using the website I don't think I can name here. You post your desired cruise and travel agents 'compete' for your business. By doing so, I got $300 in additional OBC from the TA (Rob Durkee at seamyworld.com). It worked great and Rod was very responsive and thorough. Would do again.
Pre and Post Cruise - we did not book these arrangements with PGCruises. I am a bit of a control freak when it comes to picking flights and seats (the devil is in the details). I might have saved a bit of money but mostly I had control of our flights as well as our transfer times which I prefer. We spent two nights at IC Tahiti (which we thought was a great resort) and four nights at the Hilton Moorea (which we really enjoyed).
Flights - We booked through American Airlines as we have Platinum status on them. AA from BOS to LAX and then ATN from LAX to PPT. Daytime flights. Couldn't get Premium Economy on ATN due to late booking and the timing with the cruise (flight was quite full). ATN Economy has poor leg room and I thought the movie selection was not great at all. But it was fine. Then returned ATN PPT to LAX and AA from LAX to BOS. This time we were in Premium Economy on ATN for the midnight flight, My seat didn't recline much at all and my husband felt his seat wasn't comfortable. But being in Economy, I'm sure we wouldn't have slept at all! If I didn't have AA loyalty, I think I would have flown through SFO on United as that flight left at a more reasonable hour at night.
M/S Paul Gauguin - our first time on a luxury ship (we usually cruise on Celebrity but only began cruising in 2012) and we enjoyed the experience. Loved the all inclusive feel and the friendliness and professionalism of the staff is as noteworthy as everyone says. I thought that the ship could use a freshening up....the decor is a bit old fashioned. Loved the meals in L'Etoile and really loved the al fresco dining in Le Grill while moored overnight in Bora Bora. A highlight. The staff talent show is not to missed! And the small band (why can't I remember the name?!?) was excellent with a relatively new vocalist who is AMAZING. We followed them around 🙂
Fellow Guests - We met lots of nice people with most from the States and Canada. Many French on the ship as well but the language difference did cause the ship to split up a bit. We found, due to the cost of the cruise, that most people we met were as well-traveled as we if not more so. This wasn't off putting. Just an observation. I would also so that the demographic of the ship was very homogeneous--almost everyone was White and 50 years old or older. But it was an energetic and active group so that made it fun. There were a few 'characters' onboard that kept things interesting, too!
Excursions - we usually stay away from ship excursions and book our own private tours. We had so much OBC on this trip that we did do quite a few ship tours and they were great. We loved that the small size of the ship and the high level of service made tendering a breeze and not the usual 'scrum'. And the excursion staff was incredibly nimble and helpful and even helped us book something with Avis on Bora Bora that was an independent booking. And when we had trouble returning the electric 'car' to Avis (they were on lunch break), the excursion staff sitting at the tender dock helped us figure out what to do (there was a slot to leave the key) and said they would follow up with Avis to make sure all would be fine. That's service!!
Laundry - this is often debated here so I will add my own two cents. We bit the bullet and paid the $189 for the laundry service for 10 days and LOVED it. With two days pre and four days post cruise, we needed to get some laundry done. I was so glad not to have to do hand wash in the sink or shower and live with clothes hanging around the cabin. We made full use of the daily drop offs and found the service of high level. I did take a picture of the order form each time I placed it but never had a problem. And it was great to have fresh clothes for our Moorea extension.
Dress - I like to be appropriately dressed wherever we travel and found the help on this board great for that. For evening, I took some nice dresses and some casual dresses and wore them all (most of them twice to cut down on luggage space). I wore flat sandals and never felt out of place. My husband wore Dockers and short sleeved polo and button down shirts. I was glad someone told me to bring something floral to wear to the Polynesian night. Many ladies wore pareos that night or floral dresses and it was a great evening. I brought a black pashmina in case the dining rooms and venues were cold but think I only wore it once. Didn't need sweaters or jackets as the ship isn't super-chilled. If you are on the fence about what to pack, I'd say casual dresses were more the norm. During the day, people wore shorts, hiking pants, and bathing suits with cover ups. We used our water shoes only once (Moorea) but did make use of our rash guards.
Internet - various boards led me astray on this. I read recommendations to use our Verizon Wireless $10 a day international plan to connect to the internet as the PG internet was notoriously slow. This was a mistake. When you are out in the Tuamotus or at sea, there is no cell signal. We ended up buying some internet days ($29/day) towards the end of the trip just to get connected. And we thought the PG signal wasn't bad. There may be better options but Verizon isn't it.
Transfer days - I debated a bit about all of this in advance so will share our experience. On embarkation day, we wanted to get on the ship at 3 p.m. so that we could get some dinner reservations we really wanted (Le Grill for the al fresco night) and to get the cruise going. With check out at 11 a.m. from the IC and embarkation at 3 p.m. with no place to put luggage in the interim, we decided to check out and leave our bags at the IC. We then took their shuttle into Papeete for a look around and lunch. Then back to the IC and and taxi to the ship. It all worked fine but, honestly, Papeete did nothing for us and I actually think I got food poisoning from our lunch stop. If I do it again, I'd just stay at the IC and enjoy that lovely resort. On disembarkation, we simply walked off the ship around 10 a.m. and then walked 5 minutes to the Aremiti ferry dock for Moorea. Our last day of the trip was a bit of a schlep but our plan worked as well as any other would have. We got a 12 noon check out from the Hilton Moorea (we are HHonors Gold), left our bags with the porters, drove our rental car to Les Tipaniers for lunch, went back to the Hilton for about an hour and read by the pool. Then we got our bags, took the rental car back to Avis and boarded the last ferry to Tahiti. In Papeete, we took a cab to the IC Tahiti (again!), left our bags with the porters and asked them to reserve a 9:15 p.m. taxi to the airport, went to Happy Hour and then Le Lotus for dinner. After a nice dinner, we changed into our plane clothes in the IC rest rooms, got our bags, grab our waiting cab and went to the airport. Much better than hanging out at the airport for hours!
I am happy to answer any questions. I could write a lot more but hope this at least helps. If you'd like excursion info, let me know. I can always be reached at email@example.com if I'm not responding.