Gauguin ~ Tahiti
Regent Seven Seas
July 21-28, 2001
by Luke Davis
A Celebration on
m/s Paul Gauguin
Paul Gauguin, unpretentious luxury
at anchor in Tahiti
EVERY description of French
Polynesia includes the word “paradise,” and rightly so. This was
a magical week. “Paradise” is also an apt term for the m/s Paul
Gauguin – kind of like a Four Seasons Resort afloat. Unparalleled
service amidst indescribable and spectacular surroundings. My latest
phrase for the ship is “unpretentious luxury” – efficient,
polite, and personal. Remember, gratuities are included, so the
staff is providing excellent service without expectation of
remuneration – THAT is impressive!
Introduction – This was a
“vacation”... NOT a “trip”
We have been very fortunate to travel to wonderful places
... most of those excursions were “trips” – we have an
insatiable desire to see, experience, and learn. This was our 4th
cruise (first in 17 years). In celebrating our 25th anniversary, we
looked for an experience with the following characteristics: (1)
peaceful and unhurried, (2) new to us, (3) hassle-free, (4) a bit of
a splurge, and (5) a place we would not readily take our teenage
children. This ship and the destination not only met these criteria,
our expectations were far exceeded.
For the sake of shorthand, we told people that we were going to
“Tahiti.” That was easier than saying that our destination was
the “Society Islands within French Polynesia.” Tahiti is a
wonderful island, but it is NOT the highlight of this trip. Rather,
it is the island of convenience for the airport and port.
Nevertheless, I will likely adopt the shorthand in this review.
DFW to Los Angeles
Regent’s travel program included an overnight stay at
the Airport Hilton in Los Angeles. A Regent representative met us at
the gate and ushered us through baggage claim and onto the Hilton
shuttle – a very warm reception. Planning for a 5:00 arrival in
LA, we had reservations to see “The Lion King” on stage in
Hollywood (a GREAT production). We figured that we might as well
push hard stateside to enjoy the rest of the cruise even more!
The Hilton is a clean, efficient airport hotel. The hotel and
breakfast buffet were included in the Regent package. We highly
recommend a layover in LA.
Flight to Papeete, Tahiti
Air Tahiti Nui (“ATN”) has business class and economy
class on an Airbus 300. We booked economy seats, but were told by
our travel agent that ATN would sell stand-by upgrades to business
class for $600 each. ATN said that there airport counter would open
at 10:00, so we were there by 9:30. Although we were not first in
line, the upgrade was available. An unexpected benefit of this
upgrade was complimentary use of the Qantas Airways business class
departure lounge (a welcome treat for the wait before our 1:00
The flight is a little over 8 hours. We decided to upgrade because
(1) it added to the celebration, (2) the upgrade amount is
reasonable (compare it with Europe!), (3) we would be awake during
the flight and could enjoy the benefits of business class, and (4)
we thought it would help us be better rested for the cruise. Service
was efficient, amenities (e.g., foot rests, wide seats, individual
viewing screens) were pleasant, and the food service very good. All
in all, money well spent.
There is “fatigue” with any 8-hour flight, but there is no real
“jet lag” -- there is only 3 hours time difference between LA
We returned from Papeete in economy class, and I know that we made
the right decision to upgrade on the outbound segment – the return
leaves at 10:45 p.m. and we had no problem sleeping, even in coach.
Yes, it’s cramped like every coach section, but try counting
islands and you’ll go to sleep immediately.
Arrival and embarkation
We arrived about 6:30 p.m.–July
is during Tahiti’s winter season and sunset was at about 5:45.
Customs control and baggage claim were easy, but they were not a
“breeze.” In fact, it was rather sultry on arrival. But heck,
who cared–-we were in Tahiti!
Regent reps met us with a flower lei and escorted us to a waiting
air-conditioned bus. We were taken directly to the ship where we
were serenaded ship side by Les Gauguines, a group of Polynesian
women who provided local music and hospitality throughout the
cruise. After the obligatory embarkation photo, we were directed to
the Grand Salon for check-in.
Wouldn’t life be wonderful if every time you entered a hotel or
restaurant you were greeted with smiles and champagne? THIS is
service! Our photos were taken for the ship’s records, all
questions answered, and we were soon escorted (not merely
“taken”) to our stateroom.
609 - Category "D"
Yes, this was a “stateroom,”
NOT a “cabin.” We booked a category “F" guarantee and
were upgraded several decks to category “D.” The size of the
rooms were identical, but we had a window in lieu of portholes and
fewer stairs for most activities. I am sure that we would have
enjoyed the balcony, but we opted to spend our money elsewhere.
The rooms are immaculately
appointed with woods and fabrics. Fresh flowers were waiting on our
coffee table and robes and chocolates were placed on our turned-down
bed. We went to dinner in L’Etoile and our baggage was waiting for
us upon our return to the room.
While on the topic of the stateroom, let me give the quick
inventory-–we all want/need to know what is there and what is
TV/VCR (several free movie channels and videos available for
check-out); safe; hair dryer; refrigerator stocked with canned sodas
(one each of Coke, Diet Coke, and Seven-Up), bottled water, mixers
(club soda and tonic water), beer (one Heineken and one Bud Light
– the beer was NOT replenished), and a small ice bucket (that was
always replenished). There was also a form for your choice of a
(regular size) bottle of liquor or wine (gin, vodka, scotch, white
wine, or red wine).
The bathroom included a bathtub and had plenty or room. There were
always plenty of towels, as well as two blue beach towels that were
regularly replaced. The usual soaps and lotions were available, as
well as q-tips and cotton balls. There was also a note that
toiletries were available if you had forgotten yours.
Closet and drawer space was adequate (I am sure that we could have
asked for more wooden hangers if we needed them). Plenty of room
under the bed for the suitcases and carry-ons. Hat rack was just
inside the stateroom door. Loveseat and a small chair were around
the coffee table. I used the outlets without an adapter to recharge
batteries for my digital camera and camcorder. Paula did not use an
adapter for her curlers.
This space was efficiently designed. Somehow this was a “roomy”
200 square feet.
As our family is fond of saying in certain settings...
“this is not ‘eating,’ this is ‘dining.’”
To quote my wife, “the food was divine.” What more could you ask
for? The selections were varied and exquisitely prepared. Wine and
beer are gratis at lunch and dinner. There were different white and
red wines at every meal... I cannot imagine asking to see a wine
list (although it was available for those so inclined). Beers
included the local “Hinano” as well as Heineken, Corona, and
Three restaurants on board--open seating at every meal.
L’Etoile is the main dining room. Lunch was served buffet style
and each evening there was a new menu. No problem in getting a table
for 2 at any time.
“The Grill” on the pool deck was like most pool-side grills –
friendly and casual. Nice standard fare for breakfast and lunch. We
did not eat there for dinner (reservations required) and I did not
hear any comments about it.
“La Veranda” was our favorite place for breakfast and lunch. We
were ALWAYS able to be seated at a table on the deck outside the
restaurant, usually alone on the deck – we considered this area
the best kept secret on the ship! I guess some folks thought it was
only open for dinner. There are two alternating “set” menus for
dinner at La Veranda. The menus are created by a renowned Parisian
chef and are VERY continental. We loved the menus, but there were a
number (most?) who preferred to have a variety of items from which
to choose. E-mail me if you want a sample menu.
The cruise price is inclusive of beer and wine at meals,
as well as all sodas, juices, and bottled water. There were iced
bottles of water available at each bar or and restaurant. There was
a special large ice chest with bottled water in the Grand Salon from
which you could get unlimited water to take on excursions.
Free “Rum drinks” were available pool side or at an evening
reception at least once each day. With these free drinks and the
wine/beer at meals, the bars did minimal business in the interim.
ALL beverages were free during the “motu” days at Tahaa and Bora
Regent boasts a “no coat and tie” policy that is
welcomed by all. Their suggested “country club casual” was
translated into “no shorts.” I would characterize the passengers
evening clothes as “tropical casual.” Some folks got “dressed
up” at night, but most were dressed nicely but nothing like
There were 302 passengers with us during our week on the
m/s Paul Gauguin (capacity=320). Although most were from the U.S.
(primarily California), there were 40 were from France. Being summer
(and a Regent discount week), there were about 5 families with
school-age children, and another 5 or so families with college-age
kids. There was nothing ship-sponsored for the kids, but they seemed
to have a good time. There were 7 honeymoon couples and a number of
anniversary celebrations like us. I did not meet any first-time
cruisers. These folks were well-traveled and gave glowing remarks to
Weather – SUN
Temperatures ranged from lows of 75 to highs of 85 each
day. We had brief showers a couple of days. It was humid, but never
hot. However, the sun was intense at this latitude and we were
careful to wear sunscreen. There is minimal shaded area around the
Get a good book, strike up a conversation, or work on the
jigsaw puzzle outside the boutique on deck 6. That’s about the
extent of what’s offered. Not even shuffleboard or bingo. The
emphasis is on the islands and serenity. If you’re looking for
“stuff” on the ship to keep you occupied, you are out of luck.
No one complained; in fact, many of the passengers remarked how this
was the type of cruise they had dreamed of.
The ship has a water sports platform from which you can kayak or
windsurf. This is also where you can pick up complimentary
There was “some” singing and dancing, but no Broadway
shows here. Two very good local dance groups came on board--a
children’s group performed while the ship was anchored at Raiatea
and a professional group performed the final evening. They were both
entertaining. The pianist/songstress in the La Palette lounge was
wonderful and the cruise director had an evening cabaret show.
However, this is NOT a late-night ship.
There were rarely more than 10 people in the casino. The
local government does not allow Regent to operate the slot machines.
There was only one shop on board and it had the requisite
personal sundries as well as cruise-wear and Tahitian jewelry. The
best shopping we found outside of Papeete was on Moorea (t-shirts,
We cannot tell you about the following areas because we
never made use of them:
Spa – Operated by Carita Spa from Paris; folks were pleased with
the salon services and massages.
Fitness center – Small and busy early in the day. We wanted to use
it, but we were too busy at breakfast. We substituted the ship’s
stairs for stairmaster.
Connoisseur Club – Cigar bar.
The Regent materials gave full descriptions and pricing
of excursions in advance of the cruise. I also reviewed message
boards and websites for suggestions of activities and tour
providers. We decided to book all of our excursions via Regent on
the first night of the cruise. The prices were a bit more expensive
than the local operators, but the convenience of one-stop shopping
and certainty of schedule won us over. We were VERY impressed with
the professionalism, courtesy, and efficiency of the tour operators
affiliated with Regent.
On to the islands .....
We confess that we stayed on board the ship this day. We
were “too relaxed” to move, and we knew that there were
“active” excursions awaiting us in Bora Bora. A children’s
dance troupe performed poolside and some locals sold their
handicrafts on board. The “best” excursion reported by other
passengers was a combo tour with a 4x4 ride and outrigger canoe
tour. We were pleased with our decision to lounge by the pool and
Paradise -- Tahaa Beach BBQ
THIS was paradise. The tender took
us to Regent’s private island where we were greeted with a
floating bar, lounge chairs, beach umbrellas, open bar, and full
BBQ. When did you last have a Pina Colada or Mai Tai made IN a fresh
coconut? For those so inclined there was superb snorkeling and
2-person kayaks. The area was small enough to be convenient to the
amenities, yet spacious enough to find a secluded spot. We took the
first tender over and the last tender back. Life gets NO better than
Haven’t you always imagined the remoteness and
ruggedness of Bora Bora? Well, the island will NOT disappoint you.
Day 1 was our busiest day of the cruise. We spent the morning on a
4x4 tour with Carl, the BEST guide we have ever had. Our Land Rover
held 8 guests and we climbed roads that no other vehicle could
handle. Highlights included stops at the American WWII gun
placements, a pineapple plantation, several lookouts (with fresh
pineapple and coconut), and a drink at Bloody Mary’s. We scurried
back to the ship for lunch and a change into swimsuits for our trek
on waverunners. This excursion is summarized in one word –
“FUN!” We traveled 3/4 way around the island and then stopped on
a motu to rest the machines and have a snack. It was great to see
the places we had seen during the 4x4 tour, and the views of the
resorts, ships, reefs, and lagoons was spectacular.
Day 2 began with a tour of shark and sting ray feeding. Our guide
fed the sharks (3-4 foot long) BEFORE we entered the water to
“mingle” with the rays. The sting rays were like loving
“puppies” snuggling up to you for attention. We then snorkeled
in the reef/coral garden and saw hundreds of different fish and a
“living” reef with clams, etc. Our guide found an octopus and,
after capturing him, showed him to our whole group. We passed it
around and THEN he put the octopus on my head (guess he looked for
the person with the least hair!). Another unique experience.
We sailed into Cook’s Bay in the morning and took the
first tender at 12:30. We opted to drive the island on our own –
Avis and EuropCar were at the dock and a 4-hour rental was about
$60. We circled the island, stopping at lookouts, pearl shops, and a
couple of the resorts. The final stop was Belvedere lookout. A
beautiful viewpoint overlooking both of Moorea’s bays. The weather
was cloudy/drizzly, but that added a special magic to the setting.
That evening we attended a 1-hour lecture by Dr. Michael Poole, a
renowned American researcher who has been studying the “spinner
dolphins” and humpback whales of Moorea for almost 20 years. The
lecture was the perfect backdrop for our Day 2 excursion, a
dolphin-watching outing with Dr. Poole. There are about 160 dolphins
at Moorea, and we saw about 45-50 of them! The 30 of us on the boat
were mesmerized by the beauty and wonder of these creatures. This
was a chance to LEARN about and OBSERVE dolphins in THEIR natural
state. We spent over an hour just watching the dolphins surface,
leap, and spin as Dr. Poole explained the environment and answered
all of our questions. He only "observes" the dolphins and
does not communicate with them or disturb their environment. This
was the BEST excursion on any of our cruises to date ... learning +
fun = appreciation. I highly recommend this excursion.
Paul Gauguin in Papeete
This is a port city... enough said.
After a smooth disembarkation, we opted “out” of the island tour
that stopped at the Gauguin museum. We took the motorcoach directly
to the InterContinental Resort where Regent had a room reserved for
us. We could not check in until 2:00, so we spent the morning in
Papeete shopping for pearls and souvenirs (visit the local
market--VERY colorful. The island “taxi/shuttle” only costs
$1.20 each and the ride to the hotel took only 5-10 minutes. The
hotel served a buffet lunch, which was adequate but not up to ship
standards! We lounged around the hotel pool all afternoon, walked
the grounds, and looked longingly at Moorea (a short 20-minute ferry
ride away). We were on our own for dinner and went back into town
for one last meal in Polynesia.
Our flight was scheduled for 10:45 p.m. and the motorcoach picked us
up at the hotel at 9:30. Another efficient operation by Regent.
Pre- or post-cruise stays in French
Several folks did pre-cruise stays on one of the islands.
That’s a great idea for creating an extended vacation, but it is
not necessary to beat the jet lag (from the U.S.) or even the jet
fatigue. I would not recommend a post-cruise stay on the islands. I
think most of us were sufficiently spoiled by the service, food, and
amenities of the m/s Paul Gauguin. In addition, the resorts (while
idyllic-looking) are VERY expensive.
Suggestions for the ship
Our “comment” card to Regent included only a few
recommendations for improvement: 1) install a few clocks in the
public areas (especially around the pool); 2) provide a clock in the
stateroom; 3) provide music choices in the stateroom (either via the
TV, a cd-player, or stereo channels); 4) a few more in-room movie
channels would be nice (nice video library is available); and 5) a
request for no organized evening receptions/events before 6:30.
These are all trivial items, but there is always room for
Regent has a separate brochure and video for this cruise.
The words and pictures present an accurate depiction of the ship and
itinerary. The Regent website provides excellent details on the ship
There are a number of websites from which I gathered information
(apart from those focused on the cruise-happy folks):
Thanks to everyone who has posted
information on websites and message boards about this cruise. Your
factual details and subjective opinions facilitated our planning and
heightened our enjoyment of this experience. This is my first
attempt at a cruise review, and I tried to have something for
Courtesy of Luke Davis
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