Paul Gauguin Radisson Paul Gauguin Ship Review 2003 Radisson Paul Gauguin Review

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2003 Date: 1/1/2003

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Email: greg@cruisingreview.com

TEL: 608-238-6001

If you were to close your eyes, and dream of a tropical paradise, you'd wake up in French Polynesia. From the azure seas, to the cloud encrusted volcanic mountains, the Society Islands make the path for the Radisson Seven Seas cruise ship, the Paul Gauguin. For seven days, you are a part of a dream which compels you to stand back, and just admire what the best that nature has to offer. For the full review, please download the .pdf text file below. It does not contain photos. The description of the review here is only highlights of the review.

If one were to imagine a more idyllic magical place, Moorea would come into mind. This is my favorite of the islands on the itinerary of the ship: Raiatea, Motu Tahaa, Bora Bora and Moorea. Every morning you wake up to your dream, just by looking outside your balcony. Cruising for me is the best way to take a vacation, since you are part of the environment you are moving through, you naturally see and do more than you would on any land-based vacation. Every morning and every evening is different, for the sea rarely treats you to the same mood twice but always surprises you at the end of the day with an incredible sunset.

The Paul Gauguin was built specifically with this voyage in mind, and does so to an almost full ship each week of the year. Winter is typically hot (very hot) and with short periods of rain, while the summer brings some needed relief in the form of cooler temperatures (and no rain).

The rain never lasted more than a few minutes (except on the island of Tahiti) and helped to help cool things off and while umbrellas are provided, I found them not necessary in most cases because of the short duration.

The people of French Polynesia are very warm, kind and gentle. While they say that it is not Polynesian culture to tip, I think it will become more of the norm as tourists keep innocuously shedding a bit of culture as they travel amongst the Society Islands. For now though, it's refreshing not to have to tip, and believe that somebody is serving you because they truly want to.

The Air Tahiti Nui flight from LAX to Papeete, Tahiti lasted a very long eight and a half hours. I got to the airport early, and requested a business-class upgrade for $600 one-way, and was glad I did. For the hours before the flight, I was treated to the Quantas VIP Lounge where you were treated to a variety of light snack foods, and an open bar of a fine selection of wines and various liquors.

My cabin (707 on Deck 7) was a well appointed, compact, but very comfortable stateroom. The balcony was great, and provided a nice vantage point for some relaxing moments while the islands passed slowly by. The mini-fridge is fully stocked, and you get your choice of one premium or two stock bottles of liquor or wine. I also had a bottle of champagne chilling for me upon my arrival. Bottled water and soft drinks were replenished daily, but I never even touched the bottles of liquor since there was complementary wine at dinner, not to mention the fantastic drinks at the shipboard lounges.

Over the course of the coming week, our daily routine would be to cruise a short distance to a new island (usually from sunrise to midmorning) and then after dropping anchor in some beautiful bay, the tenders would be lowered for shore access. Also during this time, the rear marina platform would be lowered to provide passengers with sea kayaking, water skiing, or even windsurfing. I did try the sea kayaking in Bora Bora, and then windsurfing in Cooks Bay, Moorea. When evening came, the tenders would be hoisted onto the ship, and guests would choose between the many pre-dinner venues and then select from any of the three main dining areas for a scrumptious meal.

Of the regular ships staff, Michael Shapiro (Cruise Director), Lorene and Claudia (Social Hosts), and Giovanni (Head Bartender) all greeted me the entire week by name, and really made the effort to make sure all was well. While it may seem a bit trivial, the hallmark of a outstanding staff is their ability to call you by name. It's not easy to do with an ever changing passenger roster, but it makes an unmistakable impression on a person (as was the case here and on my Diamond cruise.)

As far as the food goes, the specialty of the ship was undoubtedly French. In La Verandah (reservations required), they would regularly offer a multi-course French dinner. Since I'm not a fan of truly French food, I'll reserve comment. Others I spoke with were quite satisfied, comparing the quality to land-based restaurants. At any of the restaurants, complimentary wine (red and white) was served, of a very good quality.

My favorite time of the day aboard a cruise ship is magic hour. It's at the end of the day, when the slowly melts into the distant horizon, and paints a beautiful sky, marking the end of another wonderful day cruising. For me, this means finding a perch at the highest point of the ship, while sipping on a cool martini and waiting for just that right moment to take a digital photo to capture it all, for you to see.

On the Paul Gauguin, the bar, La Paletta is located on the the highest deck eight, and is probably my most favorite place to hangout on the ship. This multifaceted room is at once a martini bar, Canapes pre-dinner bar, a piano bar, a disco and even has room for a small band. Its indoor-outdoor pavilion can keep you cool from the heat, while allowing you to enjoy the tropical Moon outside just a few steps away.

As far as evening wear goes, there was a great variety aboard the ship. While the standard is "resort casual" which I would term contemporary tropical casual, sported Hawaiian print shirts seeming to be the norm with slacks for the gents, and a variety of tropical dresses or pants suits for the ladies.

The staff and passengers aboard the cruise were outstanding. The reception desk crew were always cheerful, and always willing to answer any question. They were addressing me by name every day. The passengers on this cruise were also a diverse and fun mix of people. Don't wait until the last night to say hello to fellow passengers. Making friends is always one of the best parts of cruising. Some of them will undoubtedly become friends for a lifetime.

As for the itinerary, I think the draw for most people to the South Pacific will be the tropical islands of Bora Bora and Moorea. The Paul Gauguin has an excellent choice of islands for this cruise which included the favorites.

Of the entire voyage, a few land based restaurants are worth seeking out. Have dinner at Bloody Mary's on Bora Bora. This is one of the most charming and exotic restaurants in the world. Skip lunch, and just go there for dinner. You select from a buffet of fresh fish, shellfish and meats for your dinner, then they will cook them over a grill to perfection. You may also have a portion of each if you want to try more than one entree. The quality of the food was outstanding, of course you have to love anything that's cooked on a grill, to order. The sand floors, thatched roof, with the towering peaks of Bora Bora silhouetting the waterfront pier make for the most magical of dining experiences. The night I was there with a family and another couple, we were graced by some short periods of rain, followed by a beautiful Moon which peeked out amongst the clouds and volcanic peaks.

The other place I loved was lunch at Bali-Hi Hotel at Cooks Bay in Moorea. The waterfront restaurant has some of the prettiest views in the world. You can look to your right and she the Paul Gauguin at anchor, and just to the left you can see the tropical green covered peaks which surround the bay. Occasionally, you'll see a local with an outrigger canoe slowly paddling by. The food is cooked outside, and you have a small selection of fish or meat, which is prepared in Polynesian style, with local herbs and fruit. Combined with the local brew, you are assured a lunch to remember. Moorea is where some segments of "An Affair to Remember" was filmed, and you can see why they picked this French Polynesian backdrop for the on-location portion of paradise.

When roaming around the islands, it is wise to carry some of the local currency. In French Polynesia it is the CFP (Cour de Franc Pacifique) or French Pacific Franc. In January 2003 the exchange rate was about 116 CFP to one U.S. Dollar. Onboard ship, expect about a 100 CFP for each dollar. At first I wasn't going to get any, but decided to get around $100 USD worth for lunch, taxis, and the Internet cafe. I always pay with my American Express when possible, so I don't have to carry around cash.

While I did not buy any black pearls, the pearl farmers are everywhere and shops that sell them are easy to find. I heard that Moorea is the best place to buy them, with many people buying just the pearls, and having them mounted back home through their local jeweler.

Radisson has teamed up with some of the local tour outfits to provide a wide variety of island tours, ranging from diving, fishing, to sightseeing.

On Raiatea I took the Faaroa River Tour which provided an excellent introduction to the island and the Polynesian way of life. Half of the tour was on a motorized outrigger canoe, followed by a drive up into the foothills in a off-road vehicle. Along the way we stopped to admire the amazing variety of tropical foliage, and to see the many waterfalls which shed the showers of rain that fall on the green covered escarpment.

On Bora Bora, I elected to take the Off Road Adventure where we got to drive up some pretty rough roads to some of the many gun emplacements from World War II. The views from these heights are incredible. The tour eventually will take you around the entire island, with a stop at Bloody Mary's for a cool drink. Along the way the drivers would stop and serve up some fresh island fruit, such as pineapple, coconut, grapefruit, cantaloupe and others. I have to say that the fresh pineapple was some of the best I have ever tasted.

On Moorea, I took the 25 minute Helicopter Tour of the island which provided spectacular views of both the ocean, reefs and mountains.

There were a lot of other tours offered, all of which got high marks from passengers, but probably the most talked about were the WaveRunner Tours, offered in Bora Bora and some of the other islands. In this tour, you get to actually circumnavigate the entire island.

American Express offered some complimentary tours and socials if you purchased your cruise with the AMEX card. While the first tour on Bora Bora was full, the next one at Moorea only had a few people.

To get the most out of this cruise, I recommend the following:
try not to do too much. Too many tours do not allow you time to relax. While you may want to see all there is to see, take time to step back and become part of the environment.
take time to adventure on your own. Some of the best adventures are ones you create. While French is the main language, almost everyone understands English so getting around is not a problem. The unique friendly nature of Polynesians will have you greeting constantly with smiles and a "may I help you" attitude.
wear plenty of sunscreen and a hat. The tropical near-Equator Sun is strong. Don't kid yourself, a bad sunburn can really ruin your vacation.

Almost everything aboard this ship was done right, or at least the result of many years of an evolutionary process of trying to get it perfect. Radisson excels in this area. The only competition for Radisson is Silverseas and Seabourn, with most passengers I spoke with, more were leaning towards Radisson or Silverseas since there are a few more people on the ships.

When selecting a cruise, I'm looking for at least one of the following criteria which will really make the cruise a special event; the ship, itinerary and people aboard. On this cruise, the itinerary and people were fantastic. While the ship layout was efficient and easy to get around, I though it just had a lack of character.

The Paul Gauguin has an austere ship interior design was purposely not meant to detract from the beautiful islands and sights outside. However, most people take cruises to be on a ship, so the ship for me is always part of the destination.

While the ship itself has stabilizers, the shallow draft contributes to its roll at sea. While I find this rhythm very relaxing, a few others were well on their way to getting slightly seasick on the first night. Luckily, after the first nights passage, the ship rarely moves. The waters within the reefs near the islands are almost perfectly flat. You'll barely feel the ship move while at anchor. Since reefs protect all of these islands, you are assured a quiet anchor.

Quiet that is, except for the numerous fish jumping at night. It seems as though there is a nightly show that nature puts on, right outside your balcony. The lights of the ship attract some insects on the water, which in turn, attract smaller fish, and finally, bigger fish. Late at night, the fish are jumping all over the place. It's great entertainment to watch, and some big Barracuda can be seen darting around the waters below. It's just one more part of the magic show which slowly unveils itself throughout the voyage. I hope that on the next ship Radisson builds for this area, that they have some underwater lights that they put on a few hours each night, to enhance the viewing of the fish feeding.

The only comments which were made known to me by the passengers were, "I wish there were more shade." The top deck (during the winter months) gets so hot that you have to be careful not to burn your feet, and the staff regularly will give the hot deck a dousing of water to cool it off. Nature helps during the rainy season by providing some short, but relieving showers during the early afternoon. It never rained more than a few minutes during the cruise, but Tahiti (Papeete) seemed to get more than the rest of the islands. In Australia, they use a huge triangular fabric shade in the outback, and something like that would work well on this ship.

Another passenger observed that the bed mattresses were uncomfortable at times, and I would agree. Although it may seem minor, it won't take much to make the Paul Gauguin an outstanding ship in every conceivable manner.

As far as ships go, my general rule of thumb for a heavily used ship is to have it replaced every five years. While the upkeep on this ship is excellent, the age of the ship is starting to show, and I'd like to see either a large catamaran or proa (outrigger ship) replace it. The new ship would have a number of solar electric, hot water, and desalination panels on it, along with some solar ovens and a hydroponic greenhouse which would lend more harmony to the local environment for which it is a part of.

On every ship I've been on, there always seems to be a "dead zone" on top of the ship which is never used. On the Paul Gauguin, there is a small bar area on the Sun deck (which is on deck 9) which was never used. Even with a full ship, most people prefer to relax near the pool, or under some shade near the grill, or at the back of the ship a level down.

For these areas of the ship that are never used, why not utilize the space for a small greenhouse, to grow fresh hydroponic herbs, vegetables and flowers ? There are a number a tropical varieties of plants which would be perfect for shipboard life, and give the ship a wonderful "living" ambiance which would more readily incorporate the ship into its environs.

While it is a small detail, I'm surprised why the photography concession on the ship has yet to go digital. A good portion of the photographs are thrown away, not to mention the harsh chemicals which are required to develop the film and prints. In such an environmentally fragile environment, I would take more interest in trying to find ways to get the same product, but without endangering the very waters that generate the revenue for the ship. Digital cameras are to such a level of sophistication now, that you can barely tell the difference between them and the legacy film cameras. In addition, an entire trips worth of photos could be transferred to a CD or DVD for the passenger to take home with them. They could then email, or post their photos on a website for all their friends to view.

Overall, Radisson has successfully integrated a voyage of adventure through the islands in French Polynesia. From the lush tropical mountains to the myriad of colors which surround the atolls, this is a cruising itinerary which takes you to the best the Society Islands has to offer. The service, staff, and passengers of the ship will grant you a most wonderful vacation experience.

This is a cruise of a lifetime, and for those who partake, the magic of the French Polynesian island will bring back memories of the beautiful people and sights which will last forever.

Good travels, may the wind always be at your back, and Godspeed. Note: Greg "Pepe" Giese is a freelance travel writer who publishes ship reviews for the Cruising Review website.

There is an extensive photo journal of this cruise which can be found at: http://www.cruisingreview.com

CONTACT TEL: 608-238-6001 Email: greg@cruisingreview.com