Can you swim with sharks and still feel completely relaxed on the same vacation?
“No way!” I would have said before traveling to French Polynesia.
But having just returned from cruising aboard the Paul Gauguin, I can confidently say it’s not only possible, it can happen the same day.
My 7-night “Tahiti and the Society Islands” cruise departed from Papeete, Tahiti. It made stops at the surrounding islands of Huahine, Taha’a, Bora Bora and Moorea amidst spectacular scenery.
The unbelievable blues of the ocean beckoned, but the m/s Paul Gauguin itself vied for my attention.
The 9-deck ship carries only 332 guests. It features three restaurants, a retractable water sports marina, a small pool and four bars. And with a crew to guest ratio of just 1 to 1.5, all my worries easily floated away.
The crew, in fact, was a highlight of my cruise. Most come from the Philippines, and they were consummate professionals.
They quickly learned and remembered our names, drink orders and other preferences. Their service always came with a smile.
In addition to the pampering staff, the all-inclusive policy aboard ship made life worry-free. The most difficult decision each day for me and my partner, Shawn, was where to dine. Luckily, all the ship’s restaurants were good choices.
La Veranda offered indoor and alfresco seating, serving French-inspired dishes in an elegant dinner atmosphere. Le Grill was poolside, serving a more relaxed and intimate dinner with local specialties in an open-air setting.
L’Etoile was the elegant main dining room, open for dinner only, with a diverse menu offering a range of international cuisines. When dining in L’Etoile, Shawn and I chose from a range of starters, soups, salads, pastas, entrees and dessert. The poisson cru, a Polynesian specialty similar to seviche, was particularly tasty.
Breakfast and lunch were buffet-style, served in La Veranda and Le Grill. The buffets were varied and choices were plentiful. Themes of the lunch buffets changed daily – Greek, Italian, French, Pacific and International.
For those very picky eaters, there were “always available” menus, with familiar choices like a Rueben or pizza for lunch and steak or chicken breast for dinner. In addition, complimentary room service was available 24 hours a day.
In short, no one went hungry on this ship. Or thirsty for that matter.
Alcohol was included in the cruise price (save for select top shelf liquors and reserve wine list), so the bars were always lively. The daily itinerary included an alcoholic and nonalcoholic “cocktail of the day,” often featuring tropical juices, which was always worth a try.
The ship’s cabins were just as inviting. They ranged from 200-square-foot staterooms (some with two portholes, some with picture window) to the 588-square-foot owner’s suite.
All cabins had an ocean view, and nearly 70% had balconies. All included a minibar stocked with soft drinks, beer and water and were replenished daily.
And the storage! I was shocked at the amount of cabinets, shelves, drawers and cubbyholes for all our things – even in the bathroom. We easily unpacked everything and tucked our suitcases under the bed for the duration of the cruise.
The atmosphere on board was informal. During the day, many of the excursions featured swimming, hiking or watersports, so casual, comfortable dress was standard.
After 6 p.m., the restaurant dress code was “country club casual” (skirt or slacks with a blouse or sweater for women; slacks and collared shirts for men).
The hot spot for before-dinner drinks was the pool deck, with entertainment by the house band Santa Rosa or the on-board Tahitian ambassadors, called Les Gauguines & Gauguins.
After dinner, guests retreated to the piano bar for music by Marius or blackjack with Sean (one of the most personable croupiers I’ve ever met) in the small on-board casino.
Others headed to La Palette, on the top deck, where drinks were served by another of my favorite staff, Rey, who was not only extremely personable but also entirely professional. And he made great drinks!
Live music, karaoke and DJ tunes alternated in La Palette, which opened to the back deck and offered indoor and outdoor seating. This was also the spot for the special Tahitian blessing ceremony, which took place our first night in Bora Bora.
Those celebrating honeymoons and anniversaries gathered as cruise director Michael Shapiro read a Tahitian poem and blessed their marriages, followed by a Polynesian tradition of wrapping the couple in a quilt to symbolize their union.
It was a beautiful — and popular — ceremony.
For more information on this or any of the Paul Gauguin cruises, or to book, please contact The Society of International Railway Travelers®: (502) 897-1725 or (800) 478-4881; or email firstname.lastname@example.org.