Custom-built in 1998 to sail the waters of Tahiti, French Polynesia and the South Pacific, from the beginning the elegant 332-passenger Paul Gauguin has been the longest continually operating year-round luxury cruise ship in the region. Formerly a part of the Regent Seven Seas fleet, today the ship is operated under the name Paul Gauguin Cruises and is owned by Pacific Beachcomber S.C., a company that also operates luxury hotels in French Polynesia. Most recently, in January, 2012, the ship was refreshed with a multi-million-dollar facelift which included new carpeting, furniture, window treatments, wall panels, lighting and other touches.
As a year-round mainstay in French Polynesia and the South Pacific, the Paul Gauguin is in the unique position to bathe its guests in all aspects of the gorgeous islands, atolls and lagoons and their stunning sea life. The crew is intimately knowledgeable about the region and a local group of Tahitians, affectionately called the Gauguines, serves as cruise staff, entertainers and storytellers.
Programs custom-designed to get passengers up close and personal with French Polynesia include expert lecturers who speak on topics from the history of the South Pacific to conservation, dolphins, coral reefs, and more. Learn from and mingle with the likes of marine biologists, anthropologists, naturalists, Nobel Peace Prize winners, professors, artists and experts on Paul Gauguin himself. Several times a year, oceanographer and environmentalist Jean-Michel Cousteau, the son of the legendary Jacques Cousteau, sails on board to meet guests, give lectures and lead dives.
During the summer months and holidays when more families are aboard, kids 9 to 17 can sign up for the Ambassadors of the Environment Youth Program. The children get all sorts of cool hands-on experiences, from exploring coral reefs to hiking rainforest trails, visiting marae (ancient Polynesian temples) and learning how to paddle an outrigger canoe.
The ship’s small footprint means the Paul Gauguin offers an intimate experience that feels more like a private yacht than a cruise ship. The passengers are well-traveled mostly American adventurers in their 50s plus, though there are also a fair number of younger honeymooners on board as well, who are attracted to the region’s excellent diving and snorkeling, but appreciate the posh surroundings and amenities of the ship. In keeping with the “pamper me” ethos, Paul Gauguin’s pricing is all-inclusive, with fine wines, spirits, soft drinks, bottled waters and coffees complimentary throughout the ship. Gratuities are included as well.
It’s no surprise that watersports are a big focus of a Paul Gauguin cruise, with the ship easily navigating lagoons that are inaccessible to larger ships. The Gauguin’s retractable watersports marina unfolds at the ship’s stern right at sea level, providing easy access to windsurfers, kayaks and Zodiac boats used for optional diving excursions. PAID SCUBA certification is offered onboard for novice divers as well as experienced ones, with classes at all levels, from snorkeling to advanced scuba diving techniques, supervised by the ship’s in-house staff of PADI dive masters.