Tag Archives: Luxury Cruise

My Place in the Sun: French Polynesia with Paul Gauguin

6 Nov The Paul Gauguin luxury cruise was a hit, reports IRT's Angela Walker
Swimming peacefully with the lemon sharks in the Lagoonarium. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

Swimming peacefully with the lemon sharks in the Lagoonarium. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

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.

One of the m/s Paul Gauguin's many features: a rear watersports deck. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

One of the m/s Paul Gauguin’s many features: a retractable water sports marina. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

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.

angela shawn

IRT’s Angela Walker and Shawn Bidwell. IRT photo

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.

Angela and Shawn sip drinks

Angela and Shawn sip drinks “island style” – from coconut shells. IRT photo

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.

All cabins on the Paul Gauguin have ocean-facing views. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

All cabins on the Paul Gauguin have ocean-facing views. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

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 wait staff aboard the Paul Gauguin proved to be especially friendly and professional. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

The wait staff aboard the Paul Gauguin proved to be especially friendly and professional. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

Bartender Rey Amor practices his delicate art. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

Bartender Rey Amor practices his delicate art. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

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.

Traditional Tahitian blessing ceremony. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

Traditional Tahitian blessing ceremony. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

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 tourdesk@irtsociety.com.

Click here for Paul Gauguin, part 2: Off the ship fun and excitement.

A Tale of a Sea Cloud Voyage: The Magic Was in the Sailing

19 Sep
The Sea Cloud's distinctive square sails billow against a cloud-filled sky. IRT Photo by R. Fisher

The Sea Cloud’s distinctive square sails billow against a cloud-filled sky. IRT Photo by R. Fisher

When Cathy Jackson entered her Sea Cloud cabin, she burst into tears.

“Don’t you like your room?” implored the steward. “You don’t like the white?”

Quite the contrary, she replied. “I love it! I feel as if I were inside a wedding cake!”

Her husband Clay had surprised her with Cabin No. 1, the lavish personal quarters of none other than Marjorie Merriweather Post.  Cathy said she felt like a princess.

Sea Cloud sailors climb the ratlines. IRT Photo by R. Fisher

Sea Cloud sailors climb the ratlines. IRT Photo by R. Fisher

The Sea Cloud is that kind of ship: a one-of-a-kind fairy tale masterpiece of marine design. Built in 1931 and still going strong, the four-masted bark is the world’s last authentic square-rigged luxury sailing yacht.

Since I am an old sailor, I jumped at the chance to sail the Sea Cloud, and arrange for a lively group of Society of International Railway Travelers guests to join us. It was a huge success.

Our route was a dream: from Dubrovnik, Croatia down the Dalmatian Coast to Athens, Greece.  We sailed the Adriatic, the Ionian and the Aegean seas. But it was the ship itself that lured me away from my familiar railway haunts.

As befitting a multi-millionaire’s yacht, the Sea Cloud is a work of art on water. And the 84-year-old, 360-foot sailing ship is surprisingly comfortable as well.

From the smallest cabin to the 8 original “guest cabins” below decks to the two owners’ suites – the aforementioned white-and-gold Mrs. Post confection and the darker, decidedly masculine quarters of Marjorie’s then husband, E.F. Hutton – most were masterpieces of planning as well as décor.

Our twin-bedded room had ample storage space in a variety of lockers, and bureaus and under the beds as well as a large hanging closet — with 22 hangers.

Detail from Sea Cloud Cabin No. 1 — Marjorie Merriweather Post's personal suite. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Detail from Sea Cloud Cabin No. 1 — Marjorie Merriweather Post’s personal suite. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

The marble bathroom was small but efficient. It had multiple brass towel racks, pegs and hooks, ample storage space under the sink for toiletries, and a powerful shower that rivaled most on land.

The food also was ample and delicious, reflecting the cuisines of the areas through which we passed: Croatia, Montenegro, Albania and Greece.

Fresh-from-the-seas fish, octopus, calamari, shrimp, scampi and more – not to mention the freshest salads and local cheeses and fruits were staples of the cruise.

A smoked ham, for example, came straight from a smokehouse atop Montenegro’s mountains. The Croatian wines — both whites and reds — were fabulous.

No one possibly could have gone hungry. Nor could they complain about the very well-stocked bar on the lido deck.

“Bebot” Roldan, a 33-year Sea Cloud veteran, is a master “mixologist.” And he’d stocked his bar with many a premium spirit, including “Carlos Primero,” a favorite brandy of IRT’s guests Olga & Orlando Herrera and José and Maria Becerra Martin. Their fame for warm hospitality and friendship quickly spread to our entire group (we were 14 in all).

Sea Cloud crew member cleaning up in the galley after lunch. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Sea Cloud crew member cleaning up in the galley after lunch. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

The Orient-Express of the Seas is how I’ve described the Sea Cloud, based on its rich history and stunning décor. But the similarity also can be seen in the professionalism of the personnel.

The Sea Cloud’s captain and crew, coupled with the dedication of the Lindblad team, made for an even more seamless experience.

When the young deck hands weren’t scampering up the rigging to set the sails, they were varnishing, painting and repairing, and doing the thousands of other tasks sailors have done for centuries. And they did it all with smiles and enthusiasm.

Meal and cabin service was equally professional and warm. And it would be hard to find anyone more enthusiastic than Tom O’Brien, the congenial and professional Lindblad expeditions leader, who seemed to live and breathe the romantic life of square-rigged sailing.

The Sea Cloud is a remarkably stable ship. We encountered rough seas one or two times. But her relatively small size – she carries a maximum of just 64 passengers – means she can duck into coves and inlets too shallow for the big cruise ships.

We covered an amazing amount of territory in just 10 days. We visited quaint villages, vibrant harbors and a host of World Heritage Sites from ancient Greek and Roman times. (Click here for our itinerary.)

The Sea Cloud as seen from the ramparts of Dubrovnik's city walls. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

The Sea Cloud as seen from the ramparts of Dubrovnik’s city walls. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Best of all were the voyage’s final two days, which were reserved for “pure sailing.” Captain Sergey Konstantin ordered his men aloft to set our principal square sails. Suddenly, the ship’s auxiliary engines fell silent.

And there we were, much like the square-riggers of old: our bow cutting through the waves, the wake roiling from the stern and the ship’s standards snapping smartly in the stiff breeze.

For the strong-willed few who made it up to catch the sunrise (I did so only once), it was a magical sight to see the dawn come up over the Aegean with the ship under full sail.

The effect was mesmerizing. This was the way it used to be: in Marjorie Merriweather Post’s time – and for much of maritime history.

Reviews from Society of International Railway Travelers guests were raves. They’re not giving up their love of train trips — but they loved this ship.

“What a great trip!” said R. Fisher, of Arlington, Va., in an email earlier this week.

Sea Cloud lines. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Sea Cloud lines. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

“I loved the shore excursions, as always…But the thing I’ll remember is being aboard that ship. And watching the sailors unfurl the sails, and the way the sails billowed and flapped. What a sight. It’s one I never expected to experience. All thanks to IRT.”

Comparing notes with others on board, I learned that most passengers booked the Sea Cloud one to two years before departure. We blocked space on the journey two years ago — and we are doing it again for 2017.

If you want to sample this amazing small-ship venue, please call us right away – for 2017. (Some space exists in 2016 for other itineraries.)

To contact us, call 800-478-4881 or 502-897 1725. Or email us:                tourdesk@irtsociety.com. For more photos, click here.

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