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Karen Webster

Age: 54

Occupation:Business Owner

Number of Cruises: 10

Cruise Line: Regent Seven Seas

Ship: Paul Gauguin (transferred)

Sailing Date: n/a

Itinerary: Tahiti

My husband and I sailed on the February 9, 2002, 7 night cruise on the Paul Gauguin, visiting the French Polynesian Islands. Wanting a special trip to celebrate our 35 years of marriage, we agreed that we could not have chosen anything better. We are frequent cruisers, this being number 10. However, we have never sailed on a luxury line or such a small ship prior to this cruise. We had dreamed of one day taking this cruise, and we had a good reason to go for it.

The cruise ship and the itinerary were truly paradise. I’m afraid we have been spoiled and at the risk of sounding like a snob, I’m not sure we will ever view the mass market cruise lines in the same way as before this experience. The crew’s goal is to bring their guests unprecedented luxury and service, while introducing them to the fascinating culture and stunning beauty of Tahiti and her neighboring islands. The maximum capacity of 320 guests had a ratio of 1 crew member to 1.5 guests.

Before we left, I read everything I could find about this cruise, however reviews were very limited. So I vowed to write a comprehensive review when I returned to provide information to those looking for it.

Getting there —Radisson had a special promotion, free airfare from designated cities. I believe it was because of the time of year we went. February is summertime in Tahiti, and is during the hottest and wettest months. All air travel arrangements were booked by Radisson. We chose to travel one day in advance of the cruise, and would highly recommend that you do so. Otherwise, you will be boarding around 9:00pm for a 10:00pm departure. A full day is lost, not to mention the fatigue of a long flight. We left Seattle at 7:20am and flew to Los Angeles on United Airlines, arriving at 10:00am. We connected to Air Tahiti Nui in Los Angeles for the flight to Papeete, departing at 1:00pm. A Radisson representative was on hand to greet us in Los Angeles and to answer any questions we might have. When we checked in for the flight with Air Tahiti Nui, we were told that there were seats available in business class and that we could upgrade for $600 per person one way. We had heard that you could do this and were hoping for available seats. Their counter opened at 10:00 am, three hours prior to departure. We arrived at the counter about 10:30 am and were in luck. Business class was really first class, as it was a two class Airbus 300.

The service on Air Tahiti Nui was very impressive, even those in economy class said they were well taken care of. Business class was a real treat. Seat configurations was 2x2x2, so everyone had an aisle. The seats adjusted automatically, had footrests, and had personal video screens to watch your choice of 6 different movies. Two meals were served during the 8 ½ hour flight.

Pre-cruise stay ---We were met at the airport upon arrival by Radisson representatives who shuttled us to the Tahiti Beachcomber Inter-Continental. Our rooms were very nice and the resort was beautiful, however this resort is second to Le Meridien, something I wasn’t aware of until too late. The next day we did some shopping at a nearby mall and also visited the open market. At 2:30pm we were transported to the beautiful Paul Gauguin.

Arrival onboard ---We boarded the ship with ease and were handed a glass of champagne upon arrival. No “complimentary” welcome aboard drinks to purchase, as with other lines. We found our stateroom on deck 7, and were very impressed. All cabins are outside and we chose to have a balcony. The cabin was very impressive with mirrors covering the walls, beautiful shiny teakwood, full tub and shower in the bathroom, and oodles of storage space. We have never before had so many unused drawers. We found fresh flowers and a fruit bowl waiting for us. Fruit was automatically replenished during the week. We also were given a list of liquor and were to order two bottles of our choice. Quite a contrast to having our carry-ons searched and our liquor confiscated by other cruise lines. We ordered rum and gin, both top brands and were astonished by the size of the bottles, a quart of rum and two pint bottles of gin were delivered. (We left more than half of it in the cabin when we left) Mixers were stocked in the refrigerator and every time we used one, it was replaced, no charge.

We immediately went to the alternative dining room to book our reservations for the entire week. We could go to book between 3pm and 6pm, one reason fly in a day early, as many were still on the plane from Los Angeles and would arrive onboard at 9:00pm We then went and checked out our complimentary snorkel equipment to use for the week. We also went to the shore excursion desk when it opened at 9:00pm and made reservations for all of our selected tours for the week.

Ports of Call --- Second day was at the island of Raiatea. The shore excursions didn’t look too inviting, and since it was Sunday and shops were all closed, we chose to stay on the ship and we used the ships marina deck with a water sports platform to take out a complimentary two person kayak. It was great fun and the kayak was very stable. In addition, complimentary water skiing was also offered. Unfortunately, as we watched those who participated, we realized that the boat was quite underpowered and those attempted to get up on one ski had problems. Those on two skis were more successful.

Third day was Taha’a, beach barbeque day at a beautiful motu, with snorkeling, kayaking and a wonderful barbeque lunch and drinks a’plenty. Plenty of lounge chairs had been set up on the beautiful white sand beach.

Fourth and fifth days were at the beautiful island of Bora Bora. It was so wonderful to be there for two days. We signed up for two excursions on day one, the helicopter flightseeing in the morning, good but only 15 minutes long, and the waverunner guided tour in the afternoon. What a kick, everyone that went on this really enjoyed it. On day two we went on the land and sea safari, going to the top of the mountain for wonderful sightseeing by way of land rovers. It was quite a rough ride but lots of fun. Then we were taken by boat to snorkel, and saw lots of beautiful fish.

Fifth and sixth days were at the island of Moorea. This was truly paradise. We had heard that Bora Bora was the most beautiful island in the world, however it was surpassed by Moorea. We signed up for the dolphin watching expedition and it was wonderful. Dr. Michael Poole, an American marine biologist, has been studying the dolphins in the wild on Moorea for fourteen years. We were told that on this tour, they find dolphins 95% of the time. The dolphins come in from the open seas through the breaks in the coral reefs. They do this during the day to escape from their predator, the sharks, so they can play without the threat. We begin searching for them in the most likely areas and keep moving on until, hopefully, they are found. I began to get a little discouraged and concerned that we might be in the 5%, when Dr. Poole announced, “Dolphins at 11:00”. What a wonderful sight to behold. They swam around our boat and gave us quite a show before disappearing to--who knows where. The last day on Moorea we had signed up for “The Hiking Trails of the Ancient”. Our guide missed his flight from Papeete and the tour was cancelled. All turned out well though, as we found another couple to rent a car with for $25.00 per couple. We went to a site of a beautiful well known waterfall, where we had to park and walked to view it, but it was worth it. Then we did a little shopping and had lunch at a wonderful local spot called Pineapple Beach club. We then drove up to a lookout called Belvedere, where we viewed both the Crown Princess and the Paul Gauguin anchored in the two adjacent bays. What a wonderful sight to behold.

Last day —we left the ship at 8:45 am and Radisson put us up in a room at Le Meridien, a wonderful resort that surpassed the Beachcomber, where we spent the day until we went to the airport that evening for an 11:45pm flight back to Los Angeles. For the last day, they use both hotels, sending those in the higher grade cabins to Le Meridien. Tip-we took a cab to the airport that evening, rather than waiting for the transfer. We were one of the first in line to check in, and were able to get emergency exit seating with no seats in front of us for the flight back. It was a lifesaver, as we had tons of leg room and had no one in front of us to recline their seats right into our laps. It really is cramped in coach, so if you can get there early to get a good seat, do so. It is a long flight and this made it much more tolerable and we slept through most of it.

Dining —The food everywhere on the ship was truly gourmet. The main dining room, L’Etoile had open seating for dinner from 7-9:30pm. The alternative dining at LeVeranda and Le Grille were available by reservation, no surcharge, free. At Le Veranda a set menu, six course meal was served and everyone is seated at 7:30pm. It was a very intimate setting and the food was wonderful. Two different menus are served on alternate nights, so we ate there twice and loved both menus. At all restaurants, both beer and wine were complimentary for both lunch and dinner. Before dinner there were always complementary cocktails at La Palette, the ship’s lounge.

Dress ---each evening was listed as country club casual. The second evening was the Captain’s welcome aboard reception, and the dressiest of all evenings. I wore a knee length sleeveless black cocktail dress, and my husband wore dress slacks with a dress shirt, tie, and jacket. We were about average with some men with tie but no jacket and some with no tie.

Service —truly wonderful. The crew was never worked so hard that you felt sorry for them, as we have on other ships. There was never a wait in line for anything, no buffet lines, no wait for the elevator, no saving lounge chairs by the pool. Many times my husband and I asked each other, “where is every body?” The ship was full, but due to the size and the number of crew members, it always seemed empty. All requests were granted, with a smile, and the crew truly seemed to love their jobs. Their no tipping policy was enforced, and you never were made to feel like you should tip.

Entertainment ---not the highlight of the cruise. Although, local talent was brought on several times during the cruise and were absolutely wonderful. The cruise had a very Polynesian flavor, with local dancers entertaining us to our delight. There was a couple, Dez and Sherry King, who performed magic acts and comedy and were entertaining, but no extravaganza, like Las Vegas. The ship’s musical group, Black Ivory was wonderful and played a wide range of music styles. Les Gauguines, a group a beautiful young Tahitian women were part of the social staff and entertained throughout the week. They were so happy and enthusiastic, always pleasant and they created such a wonderful Polynesian atmosphere.

Cruise Director ---one negative on this ship. Michael Shapiro was quite full of himself and many passengers mentioned this to one another and rolled their eyes as a reaction to him He appeared to be concerned with one thing only…himself. One evening the show consisted entirely of him. We chose to avoid it and those that went said it was awful.

Weather ---we felt very fortunate, as I mentioned, this is the hottest, wettest season of the year. We welcomed the cloud cover during the day, as it was very hot. It rained, but always at night with clearing by morning.

Stability —although we never traveled far and often sat anchored in port, the water was rough when we were moving and the ship is not built for stability. We were fine, but there were others that had a brief bout with motion sickness, so be prepared.

Special occasions —we informed the cruise line that we were celebrating our 35th anniversary, so we were not too surprised to return to our cabin one afternoon to find two glasses of freshly poured champagne and a wonderful cake. However, my husband also celebrated his birthday, and we didn’t inform the cruise line and we were surprised by champagne and cake then too. I guess they made the effort of looking at everyone’s personal information sheet that is required prior to the cruise.

Overall ---This cruise was everything we had heard it would be, and more. Expensive, yes, but we never were nickel and dimed to death. We used our cruise card to purchase drinks two times the entire week. And we do like to enjoy drinks when we are cruising, but there were so many complimentary drinks, plus a stocked bar in our stateroom. We were truly pampered by a wonderful crew who made us feel like it was their pleasure to serve us. We hope to someday repeat this wonderful experience and feel that it is the best way to visit these wonderful islands in the South Pacific. We will have these memories for a lifetime and we feel so fortunate to have experienced the ship, the islands, and the wonderful friendly people.

Please don’t hesitate to email me if you have any questions.

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