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JIMinNC

Our June 8 Paul Gauguin Cruise

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Posted (edited)

We recently returned from the June 8-15 Tahiti and Society Islands sailing on the Paul Gauguin, and I want to thank everyone on this board for all the helpful advice on a variety of topics over the last few months. Everything went off without a hitch and it was one of the most wonderful – if not the most wonderful – vacations we’ve ever been on. After cruising for the first time in over 11 years last fall on Azamara, I thought the bar had been set pretty high, but PG may have raised the bar even further!

 

Here are a few of my thoughts and observations, in hopes that others can learn from us. Sorry for the length, but it was a great trip:

 

Travel to Tahiti

 

We opted to book the cruise directly with PG rather than using a travel agent, and also decided fairly early on that we wanted the 2-3-2 seating in Premium Economy on the 787. Since PG did not offer travel packages at that time for Premium Economy, we booked our air fare in PE directly with Air Tahiti Nui. 

 

We opted to use American Airlines AAdvantage miles to get from Charlotte to LAX, since we surprisingly found that the nonstop flights from CLT to LAX were actually available for the lower 25,000-mile MileageSAAver award level, which yielded a very attractive redemption value for our points. Since we would be traveling on two separate tickets (CLT-LAX and LAX-PPT), I opted to book an overnight at the LAX Marriott using an annual free-night certificate we had from Marriott BonVoy. I didn’t want to risk an inbound AA flight delay causing us to miss our LAX-PPT flight. We also had Marriott Suite upgrades available, and two days before our June 5 departure we received notification that our upgrade to a suite had been granted. As a result, our flight to/from LAX and the overnight in a two-room suite with VIP lounge access for complimentary breakfast would all be basically free (except for a few taxes on the free tickets and dinner at the hotel).

 

On June 6, our ATN flight was not until 4:40pm, but as BonVoy Titanium, we were eligible for a late checkout. We were able to stay in our room until we needed to head to the International Terminal for check-in at about 1pm. Everything went smoothly, and we were onboard before 4pm.

 

I think the ATN Premium Economy product is a nice compromise between regular Economy and Business Class. The seats have footrests and offer greater recline, as well as being slightly larger with more leg-room. All-in-all, for an 8-hour flight, I think it is worth the extra $600 or so we paid per ticket for roundtrip in PE. We also found out a couple of days before departure that ATN had switched our return flight from the 787 back to the older A340 which doesn’t offer PE, so we would be upgraded to Business Class for the return for free. More on that later.

 

Pre-Cruise Stay

 

While we booked our air ourselves, we did opt to buy a two-night pre-cruise land package at the Intercontinental Tahiti from Paul Gauguin, so we had bus transport from the airport to the IC, and then on June 8, on to the ship. The tour operator did a great job with both transfers.

 

Overall, the IC Tahiti was an OK place to stay for a couple of nights, but compared to the Marriotts, Westins, and Hiltons we normally stay at, the IC was a notch or two below that. Having said that, for a short pre-cruise stay to help adjust to the six-hour time difference, the IC fit the bill perfectly. On June 7, after breakfast, we mainly just hung out by the Lotus pool/pool bar but did take a quick taxi into Papeete to go to Le Marche for a short shopping trip.

 

My only real issue with the IC was the dinner cost at their Lotus restaurant. Our cost for dinner for two and a bottle of wine was about $265 (US), versus a comparable dinner post-cruise at the Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort (a much nicer property) that was only about $170. I also thought the Hilton’s breakfast buffet (included) was superior to the included IC breakfast buffet.

 

The Ship and Our Cabin

 

After cruising for a week in a Deck 8 Category B Veranda cabin, I can’t imagine ever booking anything else should we sail on the PG again. There was some debate a few months ago on this board about whether the deck 8 cabins really had king beds or not, and I can confirm that we had a full king in our cabin 805. I was really impressed with how efficiently the cabin was designed. With the nice seating area and the balcony, we never felt cramped or claustrophobic. After experiencing a 600+ square foot suite on Azamara last fall, I was concerned the PG cabin would feel small by comparison, but it was great. We also enjoyed a drink or a snack on our balcony almost every day. I also liked the easy access on Deck 8 to the pool deck and Le Grill for breakfast. We did hear several complaints from other cruisers about noise (mainly Deck 7 guests complaining about chairs being moved on the pool deck), but our cabin was exceedingly quiet.

 

The crew is fantastic, and several of the waiters/bar staff called us by name by the second full day on the ship. Our butler on Deck 8 did a nice job as well, but I would say the butler service was maybe just a notch below what we experienced last fall on Azamara. We had to call and ask for a couple things that the Azamara butler refreshed without being asked. But when asked, our butler was very prompt and efficient. No real complaints at all. Our butler would have brought us breakfast every morning (as our Azamara butler did during the fall Azamara cruise), but the PG Category B cabins don’t have the dining table & chairs we had on Azamara, so it was just easier to walk a few steps over to Le Grill at our leisure.

 

We thought the food was all excellent overall. We at four meals in the main dining room, L’Etoile, and felt it was superior to the main dining room on the Azamara Quest. We were seated with other cruisers the first two nights, and it was great to meet other folks. We also ate dinner at La Veranda twice (love the quieter atmosphere there) and we dined under the stars of the Southern Cross at Le Grill on Bora Bora. We loved both specialty restaurants but did feel the two specialty restaurants on the Azamara Quest – Aquafina and Prime C – maybe offered a bit more of the “fine dining” experience than the PG counterparts – but to some extent, I’m splitting hairs here. The restaurants were all great.

 

We much preferred the “all inclusive” spirits and wine on Paul Gauguin to the “somewhat all-inclusive” spirits and wine on Azamara. Azamara includes all drinks and wine as well, but if you want something other the few liquor brands and wines on their “included” list, you have to pay an upcharge or purchase an upgraded beverage package for the whole cruise. It’s sort of clunky and requires the waiters to scan your guest cards to get an upgraded wine or spirit. Paul Gauguin’s approach is SO much better.

 

We went to the show in the Grand Salon every night and thought the entertainment was excellent. We also enjoyed Alex in the Piano Bar and the Santa Rosa Band’s wide-ranging play-list of tunes.

 

The Islands and Shore Excursions

 

All I can say is “WOW!” We have loved Hawaii and have been going there often for almost 30 years, but for sheer natural beauty, French Polynesia is the most beautiful place we have ever visited. The green mountains set against the water in every shade of blue imaginable, is all so spectacular. We booked all of our shore excursions through Paul Gauguin and had everything set up prior to leaving home. We did make one change on the ship.

 

On Huahine, we did a combo land/snorkel excursion, the Huahine Exploration by Boat and Jeep. We saw the blue-eyed eels, visited a former cannibalism sacrificial site, a pearl farm, and several other interesting and scenic stops. We then went by boat to a nice snorkel site. Overall, Huahine was probably the least impressive of the islands we visited, but that is only because the other three were so incredible. After returning to the ship, we enjoyed the Children of Huahine show and the Moonfish carving demo.

 

On Taha’a, we spent the entire day at Motu Mahana. I think we were probably on the second or third tender over in the AM and stayed until mid-afternoon. The weather was off and on sunny/cloudy, but it was a great day with a great lunch. Our day at Motu Mahana made us feel like we were on Gilligan’s Island, just with a full bar and a buffet! Motu Mahana was a much more enjoyable way to spend a day of relaxation than the typical “Sea Day” you get on most other cruises.

 

Our favorite island was Bora Bora, primarily because of the lagoon. It is the most beautiful place I have ever seen, and it was more beautiful than I ever imagined it would be. The water is so incredibly blue. We did the Maohi Nui five-hour Lagoon Excursion & Polynesian Feast on Day 1. I snorkeled with sharks in a deep-water spot, stingrays and sharks at stop two in shallow water, and hundreds (thousands?) of reef fish at stop three. My wife is not a snorkeler and gets nervous in water deeper than about three feet, so she only tried stop two in water about a meter or so deep. But when she saw a shark, she was done, and I had to help her back to the boat! The feast on the tour operator’s motu was delicious with lobster, pork, chicken, and fish cooked on grills and in an earth oven. Day two on Bora Bora we did the Island Tour by “Le Truck.” While nothing could ever compare to the lagoon tour on day 1, this was a nice orientation to the island and a nice break from the water-based activities for my wife. When we returned to the Vaitape village after the tour, she was able to buy a nice pearl bracelet and single-pearl necklace at once of the shops a few blocks from the pier. After returning to the ship around mid-day, we put on our swim suits and spent a few hours at the Paul Gauguin Bora Bora Motu. With no bar or food, this time we felt like we were actually on Gilligan’s Island. The view of Bora Bora from the motu was incredible.

 

On Moorea, we anchored in Opunohu Bay and took the tender to Papetoai. For day one we had chosen an afternoon Island Drive and Belvedere, so we slept in a bit and relaxed on the ship before time to meet for the tour. Unfortunately, this was the only day of our cruise with spotty weather, and it showered off and on during the mid-late morning and was very cloudy a foggy up at Belvedere. The weather improved later in the day and we got a good overview of the island with multiple stops. For Moorea day two, since my wife isn’t a snorkeler, we had originally booked the Dolphin Watching Expedition, but after the great snorkeling on Huahine and Bora Bora, and since we had done many dolphin/whale watches in Hawaii, we decided to switch to the Lagoon Discovery with Snorkeling. That way, I could snorkel again, and she still could enjoy the boat ride. The two stops were shallow water with stingrays and sharks and a second coral garden spot. The rays here were particularly friendly, and several approached me unprompted almost like a dog wanting me to pet them. It was an incredible wildlife interaction. My wife added a set of relatively inexpensive pearl earrings to her collection from one of the small vendors near the dock.

 

Post-Cruise
 

We had booked three nights post-cruise in a Panoramic Overwater Bungalow room at the Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort, so after departing the ship at 10am on the last day, we just walked with our luggage a block or so from the ship over to the ferry terminal and took the 11:40am Terevau ferry back over to Moorea. We picked up a taxi at the Moorea ferry terminal and were at the Hilton by about 12:45pm or so. After check-in, we hung out at the pool for about 30 minutes or so until our room was ready, and by 1:30 we were in our bungalow, sitting on our deck looking at the beautiful lagoon. 

 

The Hilton overwater bungalows are very nice, with a huge bathroom with walk-in shower/rain head/wand, a large main room with king bed, couch, and a glass floor area in front of the couch where we could see fish (and a shark) swimming below us. A mini-fridge has complimentary water, soft drinks, and beer that is refreshed daily. Outside is a large deck with a table/two chairs and two loungers. There are steps down to a lower platform where you can enter the water for swimming/snorkeling. The water around the bungalows is about four feet or so deep, maybe a little more in spots. The snorkeling at the Hilton is pretty good, although I will now compare every snorkeling spot against Bora Bora, and nothing really compares! Hilton provides complimentary snorkel, mask, and fins.

 

On our first night we attended the Hilton’s buffet and Polynesian show. It was a very good show with decent food, and excellent fire dancers. We ate all meals on site and found the food to be good and reasonably priced for a nice hotel in French Polynesia. Breakfast was included since we are Gold/Diamond status in Hilton HHonors. 

 

At the Hilton, we primarily enjoyed the overwater bungalow experience. I snorkeled and we spent many hours sitting on our deck enjoying the great sunny weather and the amazing view. The only time we left the resort was on our second day, when we hired a taxi to take us back up to Belvedere lookout so we could see the view on a sunny day rather than the cloudy day we had on the cruise.

 

The Trip Home

 

On check-out day, June 18, our HHonors status also got us a 2pm check-out. We dropped our luggage at the front desk at 2pm, had lunch, and our taxi to the ferry terminal arrived at 3:30. We took the 4:40pm Terevau ferry back over to Papeete, and then after a short wait, shared a cab with another couple back to Papeete airport. We arrived at the airport about 10 minutes before Air Tahiti Nui opened their check-in counter at 6pm. 

 

Since we got the lucky Business Class upgrade for the return flight, it came with a pass to the Air Tahiti Nui VIP lounge. We hung out there and chatted with another couple who had also been on the PG, until our flight boarded at 8:40pm. The time passed quickly.

 

The free upgrade to Business Class was great on the overnight flight leaving at 9:30pm. The seats in the A340 Business Class felt very similar to sit in as did the Premium Economy seats on the 787, but the A340 Business Class seats had much more extensive recline - 160 degrees - which means they are not quite lay-flat, but close. The meals and service were obviously better in Business Class than Premium Economy, and the amenity kit was nicer. If money was no object, Business Class is the way to go, but I've always been reluctant to pay that much for an airline ticket that still gets your there at the same time as everyone else! The free upgrade was a pleasant, unexpected bonus, and the better seat for the 7.5-hour flight from Papeete to LAX actually made that flight seem shorter than our five-hour flight home to Charlotte from LAX in American Airlines coach. We elected not to do an overnight in LAX on the way home but did schedule about a five-hour layover at LAX to allow some cushion for delays. As it turned out, everything operated on time, so we had a long wait at LAX. 

 

Overall Impressions

 

This was a great trip, and we would both love to do another Paul Gauguin cruise in the years ahead before we get too old to really enjoy the activities. I just can’t stop talking about Bora Bora and that lagoon, so maybe an alternative would be staying at one of the Bora Bora resorts. But now that we’ve done the overwater bungalow thing and checked that off the bucket list (it was amazing), I’m thinking the variety and activities we could enjoy on another PG cruise might be the way to go. Maybe a longer cruise that includes the Tuamotus or the Marquesas.

 

I would also love to perhaps combine a week in Hawaii with a future trip to French Polynesia. I heard from a family from Hawaii that was on the PG with us that Hawaiian Airlines is now flying twice weekly (rather than just once) from Honolulu to Papeete, so that may make coordinating the two destinations easier.

 

In comparing Hawaii and French Polynesia, I think Hawaii wins for the variety of activities, for our many favorite Hawaiian restaurants, golf, and the great resorts we love. But French Polynesia wins for sheer natural beauty, the lagoons, and the snorkeling/water activities. I thought Hawaii was the most beautiful place on earth until I set foot on Bora Bora and Moorea, but French Polynesia tops it easily. 

 

Thanks again for the advice and answers. I’ll try to stay engaged in the board so I can help others as they try to sort their way through their next cruise. I also took over 3000 photos and haven't even begun to sort through, edit, and delete the rejects. But when I do, I may post a few of the best. I've attached one simple iPhone photo here, just because everyone needs something beautiful to look at.

 

I now truly understand what you all mean when you talk about the “Polynesian Flu.”

IMG_7347 copy 2.jpg

Edited by JIMinNC

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Thank you for your detailed review, so glad to hear you had such a wonderful trip.

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Great report, thank you.  I've been reading a thread over on the Oceania board recently about cruising in Polynesia, and there are several vociferous anti-PG people over there, so nice to hear such a glowing report.  I agree those deck 8 cabins are wonderful, although we have almost always contented ourselves with window cabins on deck 4, which are only marginally smaller, and just as well organized.  But the deck 8 location can't be beat.

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16 hours ago, Wendy The Wanderer said:

 ... there are several vociferous anti-PG people over there [on the Oceania board]

For reasons unknown, the Oceania board is easily the most toxic of any of the small number that I look in at from time to time.  Any criticism of Oceania is met with vicious personal attacks. That includes mentioning any non-Oceania line in any way that is not completely negative.  From my limited experience with Oceania, I don't think this reflects on the actual passengers on their ships, but how a few Oceania ultra-cheerleaders have set the tone for the CC board.

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Thank you for such a detailed report.  It will help me plan our December trip.

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13 hours ago, DavidTheWonderer said:

For reasons unknown, the Oceania board is easily the most toxic of any of the small number that I look in at from time to time.  Any criticism of Oceania is met with vicious personal attacks. That includes mentioning any non-Oceania line in any way that is not completely negative.  From my limited experience with Oceania, I don't think this reflects on the actual passengers on their ships, but how a few Oceania ultra-cheerleaders have set the tone for the CC board.

We have never cruised on Oceania, nor have I ever looked at their website or asked for a price on one of their cruises. But we do receive 2 brochures from them every week. I looked at a few, and found them to not meet our cruising needs since they have many extra charges, even after paying for the "O Life" price. I hate extra charges. Now I just toss their brochures in the trash without looking at them.

Paul Gauguin is the only way I will ever cruise French Polynesia.

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On 6/23/2019 at 3:25 AM, DavidTheWonderer said:

For reasons unknown, the Oceania board is easily the most toxic of any of the small number that I look in at from time to time.  Any criticism of Oceania is met with vicious personal attacks. That includes mentioning any non-Oceania line in any way that is not completely negative.  From my limited experience with Oceania, I don't think this reflects on the actual passengers on their ships, but how a few Oceania ultra-cheerleaders have set the tone for the CC board.

 

LOL, boy, that's the truth about the Oceania board. 

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Great review! We were on this cruise too, and must have been sitting next to each other at the Lotus pool at some point. Just about done my review and agree with everything you said! 

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Finally had time to go through almost 3000 photos from our June 8 Paul Gauguin cruise,  so I thought I would supplement my earlier review with some visuals. After deleting and editing, I wound up with about 600 keepers. Here are just a few of those.

 

Our transport for our trip to PPT was Air Tahiti Nui's 787 Dreamliner "Fakarava":

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While in Papeete pre-cruise, we spent an hour or two at Le Marche:

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Our first Tahitian sunset:

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In Maroe Bay, Huahine:

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Our guides for the Huahine by Boat and Jeep tour:

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Executive Chef Paul Ellis demonstrates how to carve a Moonfish:

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Bora Bora as seen early in the morning from Taha'a:

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One of our favorite days was Motu Mahana. We were welcomed by Les Gauguines & Gauguins:

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The floating bar was unique, but a strong current that day kept it ashore most of the time:

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Motu Mahana is an island paradise:

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Throughout the cruise we enjoyed great music from Santa Rosa Band:

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That's it for Papeete, Huahine, and Taha'a. Back in a bit with Bora Bora and Moorea.

 

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Posted (edited)

Our favorite island was Bora Bora, mainly because of that amazing lagoon. The shades of blue in the lagoon are incredible:

 

20190611_Tahiti_4916.thumb.jpg.d74b570c47f63dcf2e791fe70831bafb.jpg

 

We did the ship's Lagoon Excursion with Polynesian Feast. At our first snorkel stop, I snorkeled with

black tip reef sharks and lemon sharks:

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At stop number two, there were stingrays, more sharks, and colorful fish:

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Then there were more fish at stop number three:

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After snorkeling, it was time to head over to Maohi Nui's motu for lunch:20190611_Tahiti_5126.thumb.jpg.8bc957151240af3d462174952c9f6c3b.jpg

 

On the way, a young jet skier used our wake to show off:

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After arrival at the motu dock, it was time for pork, fish, chicken, and lobster:

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On Bora Bora Day 2, we took a morning island tour via Le Truck:

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We spent a relaxing afternoon at Paul Gauguin's Bora Bora motu

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Leaving the lagoon as the sun set, we were treated to a Bora Bora moon:

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Our final stop was the beautiful island of Moorea. We anchored in Opunohu Bay::

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Our land tour on Moorea Day 1 had some great scenery:

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Our Lagoon Discovery with Snorkeling excursion on Day 2 featured more sharks, rays, and fish:

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After disembarkation, we hopped the ferry right back to Moorea and checked into our overwater bungalow at the Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa:

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It had been misty and cloudy when we went to the Belvedere lookout on the ship's tour, so we hired a taxi to go back on a sunny day during our stay at the Hilton:

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The Polynesian Buffet and Show at the Hilton had some very talented fire dancers:

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The snorkeling off of our deck at the Hilton was not bad:

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As Crosby, Stills, and Nash said:

When you see the Southern Cross for the first time 

You understand now why you came this way

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It was a fantastic trip. I hope you have enjoyed the photos and they help you remember your last cruise - or  look forward to your next - on the m/s Paul Gauguin.

Edited by JIMinNC

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Fantastic photo's thanks for taking the time to post

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Wonderful photos and review. Thanks so much for sharing!

 

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Thanks for your review and wonderful pics. It took me back to our first trip in 2003 and our awe and joy in being on the PG in FP.

 

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Thank you so much for your time to post this great report.

 

We are considering our first PG cruise in the next couple of years.

 

One of us is a geologist and I am a physical geography fan - so our trips are always first and foremost about the land and water and sky.

 

Your pictures are wonderful.

 

Wish PG would acquire another vessel.

 

Also, I agree with previous posters about the vicious posters on Oceania. They must be affiliated with the company in some way.  We have fired Oceania as they have a bad habit of missing/shortening ports - having experienced this numerous times, they will never, ever get our business again. 

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To the OP, what cabin number were you in.

 

I am very noise sensitive and have difficulty sleeping - so a quiet cabin is critical for me.

 

Thanks

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Getting ready for our third Paul Gauguin cruise, and looking at these pictures reminds us of why we love it. We have previously cruised in cabin 818 and 808, and will be in 808 on September 7th for the Tahiti to Fiji cruise,  and in 818 in April for the Fiji to Bali cruise. Our 2 previous cruises were quiet on deck 8, but we're early risers. If you're not, look at the deck plan and find a cabin that isn't under a deck where they be moving chairs early in the morning.

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13 hours ago, Doubt It said:

To the OP, what cabin number were you in.

 

I am very noise sensitive and have difficulty sleeping - so a quiet cabin is critical for me.

 

Thanks

 

We were in 805. We had no noise issues at all. Very quiet. We're not super early risers, but were up most mornings in time to grab breakfast before 8:30 or 9 am meetups for ship shore excursions.

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JIMinNC:

 

Thank you very much for the cabin number.

 

This gives me comfort to know there is a quiet cabin.

 

Happy sailing to you always.

 

Doubt It

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Thanks for taking the time to share this detailed review/Trip Report.  I had read it earlier as we began to plan our PG cruise but read it with even more interest as we prepare to embark on PG for the Society Islands and Tuamotus on October 2.  VERY helpful.  We will arrive two nights early to get over East Coast jetlag and will stay at the Intercontinental.  Our cruise is 10 days long, we are staying in a C balcony cabin and we are staying four nights afterwards at the Hilton Moorea.  Great minds clearly think alike!

 

I hope you and others won't mind answering a few additional questions:

 

1.  I understand that it is important to make good use of our time when we first board to make dinner reservations for La Veranda and Le Grill (for the Bora Bora overnight I believe) and to get our snorkeling equipment.  Would you agree that we should do both of these things immediately upon boarding?  Anything else we should attend to?  Marina reservations?

 

2.  Given that we have booked almost all of our excursions with PG or with private operators that we will pay with credit cards, did you find that you needed much extra cash?  We will probably eat off property in Moorea more often so I know that will make a difference.

 

3.  We have booked an overwater bungalow at the Hilton.  We are HHonors Gold.  Do you think you got an upgrade to a better location?

 

4.  We were sorry that you got to the airport at 6 p.m. for a much later flight?  Hoping we might be able to go over to Papeete a bit later.  We have Premium Economy seats on the way back.

 

5.  Any advice for getting upgraded to PE for our flight down?  

 

I know that's a lot to ask.  Anything you might be able to offer would be greatly appreciated!

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