Pre-cruise: We arrived in French Polynesia on October 5th in the late morning. Although we'd booked through a travel agent and thought we'd be at the Intercontinental, we landed at the Sheraton Tahiti. The room was a "Deluxe Oceanview room". Well, we did have a view, if you could ignore the septic field which stretched out below us! The room was large with lovely wood floors, a nice bathroom, and a comfortable bed. We were on the fifth floor. When you hear that the Sheraton finally has a beach, don't be misled. Yes, they've got sand. It's about 2 feet from the ocean and a foot or so higher. Access to the ocean is tough over algae covered rocks. I guess that tides would move a regular beach away. Snorkeling was poor here, as there were a lot of ocean swells.
The food at the bar was HORRIBLE. The restaurant is much nicer, but very expensive. This was our first exposure to the high costs of FP. Service was terrible at the front desk and at the bar, although the people were friendly, if you could reach them. Ice machines on all floors were "temporarily out of order" with slightly yellowed signs proclaiming this. Both the pool and the spa are quite nice. Also, although I'd thought that it was a short walk into town for groceries, it was hot and humid and nearly made my husband and I fight. We took a taxi after that first walk! We stayed here from Thursday night through Saturday morning when we discovered that "late checkout" doesn't seem to be an option in French Polynesia. We went to Papeete in a cab with 2 other cruising couples just to burn off some time, and had some fun at the local market. Did a little pearl shopping, and headed back to the Sheraton to wait for our transfer to the ship.
The Ship: The Paul Gauguin was made for this trip (really, this ship was built specifically for this area of the world.) There are 9 decks. When you first arrive, they ask that you verify your luggage. Quick and easy with only about 5 couples at our time. Then, they walk you up the gangplank and to a table (no lines!) to present your passport and credit card (for ship purchases, etc). Then, you're led away to the first glass of champagne in a long line of free drinks. Next, you're escorted to your suite.
We had a "C" level suite, #714 (which is right next to the forward bank of elevators). That means it's a room with a balcony but without a butler. Just what we wanted! The room is smallish, but pretty usable. The storage could be improved, with a lot near the bar/TV area, but less in the dressing area. There's a set of 4 drawers under the Tiki god who was positioned between the room and the bathroom. Otherwise, both my husband and I had a closet with some shelving and some rod space. The bathroom included a full tub (great for rinsing and storing our snorkel equipment). Plenty of storage space in the bathroom. Do not bring an "over the door storage unit", as we never got close to filling up all of the storage in this cabin. Also, the under bed space is taller than most cruise ships, so we were able to put extras besides the suitcases under the bed. The balcony comes with a small table and 2 resin chairs. For us, it was plenty of space to have morning coffee or to sit and read. If you want to "sun", I'd suggest going up to deck 8 or 9. There is complete balcony privacy from above and both sides, but watch out for tenders, other boats, etc. if you're thinking of being outside unclothed!
Our luggage was delivered within 15 minutes of our arrival to our room. Also, there was a delivery of a small anniversary cake, some appetizers and a bottle of champagne, so we ate and drank while unpacking and stowing our luggage.
We did find the small observation area on Deck 8. Go forward past the cabins until you reach a door which says "emergency exit". Through these doors, you'll find yourself between 2 balconies with a view off the bow of the ship. Nice and quiet, until folks above on deck 9 see you.
The Food: We ate most of our dinners in L'Etoile. We very much enjoyed both the food and the service. We ate twice at La Veranda and were not as impressed, although the presentation was nice. The service was much slower and we simply liked the food better in the "main" dining room. We'd have skipped the second time, but it was by invitation of the Hotel Director and we wanted the honor of dining with him.
We never ate at Le Grill for dinner.
Breakfasts are available at 3 locations. The first, La Palette begins service at 6:30AM with coffee/tea, fruit, juice, and breads. A more extensive buffet is available at 7AM at Le Grill. At 7:30AM, one can have their choice of a full buffet and/or cooked to order at La Veranda. Lunches are served (most days) at both La Veranda and Le Grill. Both are comparable, although La Veranda has air conditioning. Le Grill offers "light snacks" from 2:30-5PM. This includes pizza, burgers, etc. Afternoon tea is in La Palette from 4-5PM. We never went.
Room service is very fast and responsive. I've heard that you can order off of the regular dining room menus, but we didn't.
Drinking: We were provided 2 LARGE bottles of liquor in our room. (We never opened one of them). We discovered that it was a short hop up stairs to reach the pool bar where we could get glasses of juice or fruit punch to bring back to our room for afternoon drinks on the balcony. Also, we only paid for one drink the entire cruise. If asked, beer or wine would be provided at lunch. A waiter quickly discovered my husbands' love of Hinano (the local beer) and my taste for anything tropical with rum and both were given freely throughout the cruise. We only met one person who seemed to enjoy his liquor a little too much on the whole ship.
Entertainment: This is the place where Regent is "different" than the lines I've previously sailed on. Les Gauguines are great, but the shows aren't anything like what you'd find on a mass-market cruise. No production shows. However, if you're interested in learning things, they've got some great lectures. A sampling of evening activities from one day (5:30PM-11:00PM) gives us a tourism & Environment lecture in the Grand Salon, Arts and Champagne by a Gallery owner, Casino, music at the piano bar, stargazing, Music by the Orion Band, "Tahitian Showtime starring Les Gauguines", Dancing, and Disco. The band: I'd read a lot about this cruise prior to going. It seems that there used to be a "great band" Siglo, onboard. Now, there's the Orion Band. Folks who have some talent, but we were not impressed by the lead singer, Olga. My husband compared her to an "ABBA wannabe without the spirit". She just didn't seem to want to be there. One evening, she sat down while the group played and rolled her eyes while playing her maracas.
The Ports: We embarked in Papeete, Tahiti. This is a city. This is a city which was on strike by our disembarkation time. The local market is a nice place to visit, but on the whole, I'd rather avoid large cities on vacation. We didn't do any excursions in Tahiti.
Raiatea: My husband was feeling ill this day. We wondered if it had anything to do with the food at the Sheraton, as he's got an iron stomach. Once onboard, we saw more excursions added to the original list, so we'd booked the Coral Garden Drift Snorkel. However, we were allowed to cancel this just a few hours before it was to occur. Friends whom we'd met earlier were in line and quickly booked themselves into our spot. I spent part of the day poolside (in the shade of the canopy). I met some new and wonderful people that day.
Taha'a: Our rainiest day. I'd bet that this is the highlight of the trip, but due to constant rain, it wasn't as good as it could have been. Yes, there was an open bar and a barbeque. Yes, there was snorkeling and kayaking (we saw the first of MANY rays while kayaking here). However, a lot of the craft sessions were moved or cancelled due to the rain. I wish they had had a make-up class on Pareo Painting, as we asked and were told it had moved to the ship and we'd missed it. Still, it was a lovely island. The crossing this night was as rough as it got. Some folks had to skip dinner.
Bora Bora: This was my sick day. Luckily, although we'd booked the "Waverunner Adventure", the sea was choppy and they allowed anyone who wanted to cancel the ability to, without penalty. We cancelled. Instead, we did some shopping in town and then did some classes. Les Gauguines offered multiple classes throughout the cruise, ranging from language, folklore, crafts, and cooking. These remarkable women sang, danced, acted as translators (as needed), taught classes, and made everyone smile.
Tonight was the honeymoon/anniversary celebration. We received an invitation to this event a day or two before.
Bora Bora Day 2: I was feeling great this day and had feedback from friends about the "Island Circumnavigation by Jet Boat" excursion, so we tried it. WOW! We got to snorkel in 2 different places and then had a fast ride to shallow water to play. We had time with sharks and rays, at our first stop.
Mo'orea: We prebooked the "Lagoon Discovery with Snorkeling" tour here. Again, we swam with rays and then went to a coral garden. Saw a very large Barracuda. Nice, but a bit redundant, after the Jet boat. In the late afternoon, we attended an enrichment lecture by Dr Michael Poole. We were interested enough after the lecture to book his Dolphin and Whale watching tour for the following day. There was space available.
Mo'orea Day 2: We went in the morning on the Dolphin and Whale watching tour. Dr. Poole is interesting in his field, but taught at roughly a 9th grade level. However, this trip became the absolute highlight of our cruise when we spotted humpback whales and were allowed to enter the water with them. I doubt that this is a regular occurrence, but it was wonderful being in the sea with 3 adults and 2 calves! I wish I'd gotten more pictures before the whole group entered the water, splashing and making enough noise to drive the whales off. We participated in the Galley tour in the afternoon. For anyone who's done a galley tour on a BIG ship, this is a WAY different experience. My husband said, "see one kitchen, seen them all", but I really liked it.
Alas, we were back in Papeete. On Friday evening, we ate dinner with the Hotel Manager who told us that a strike was happening on Papeete. When we asked how the ship handles this type of event, he went in to great detail about previous strikes and what the line does. Rather than chance missed connections, folks began disembarking on Saturday morning earlier than scheduled and were ferried by tender to the Sheraton hotel so that they could then be transferred to the airport. By the time we needed to disembark, the main road had been cleared of strikers and our transfer to the airport for the quick flight to Mo'orea for our post-cruise stay.
Post Cruise: We stayed for 3 days at the Moorea Pearl. We had a Garden Pool Bungelow and it was wonderful! A very nice sized room (smelled like a kid had a bed-wetting problem, before I finally hauled out a scented candle and burned it) with a private "yard" and pool. The pool was about 6'x7' and about 4.5' deep. Just right for cooling off. The fence surrounding it was over 6' tall, so we were able to have complete privacy in our pool or on one of the two lounge chairs beside it. Food here was expensive and mediocre. We did get picked up one evening to go elsewhere for dinner. The travel concierge at the hotel was great for answering questions and making reservations. Although we were asked to check out by 11AM and our pickup wasn't until 5:30PM, the hotel kept our luggage safe (but accessable), had a shower room, etc.
We did manage to upgrade to business-class for the return flight, by getting to the airport by 6PM for our 10:10PM flight and staking out a place in line. I'd thought that the seats would be more comfortable, but after discovering that coach was less than ˝ full, I'd probably have been better off in coach (I'm really small, so the business seats just wouldn't adjust comfortably for me). The upgrade cost p/p was $600. The lounge at the airport was wonderful, though…air conditioned with snacks and a bar. Quieter than the regular waiting area, as well (if you could block out the TV news).
Other observations: Our cabin stewardess wasn't the best…by any means. She left our anniversary cake in the fridge, but took away the forks. She left us without bottled water every day, she didn't restock the sodas, she never restocked either bar napkins or coasters, she put the "packing cloth" down by 8AM on Friday, she insisted on doing our turn-down service one evening while we were trying to get ready for dinner (made us head out to the balcony, as when I answered the door, she INSISTED that she had to do it THEN). She was the ONLY crew member who wasn't the best I've ever seen.
If I were to do this cruise again, I'd skip the post-stay. Not that it wasn't nice, but after the PG, the service and prices in French Polynesia were very apparent. I'd still do the pre-cruise (but NOT at the Sheraton) so that I went onboard fresh.
Kudos:Sabine, the head waitress on the PG for her terrific attitude and service above the ordinary. One woman whom we met had celiac disease. She'd notified RSSC prior to the cruise. Each dinner, Sabine came to her and discussed the modifications which could be made to meals. Sabine went out of her way to make this cruise the best trip ever! Clifford, a bar waiter, was the friendliest guy we've ever met on a cruise. He greeted us with a smile (and knew our names by the second day) and was generally a great guy. Jerry was the butler for our neighbors. He, too, learned our names and made sure that he took time to speak with us each time he saw us. He didn't have any "duties" to perform on our behalf; He just cared. Michael was a favorite waiter. Simply a great crew member!
I will go on an RSSC cruise again without hesitation. It was the best cruise EVER!