After visiting for the first time I'm delighted to say it lived up to all those expectations, with the added bonus of wonderfully friendly and warm-hearted people.
I arrived in Papeete rather weary, having flown via Paris and LA, but I was welcomed by singers and smiling, friendly people and whisked to the Intercontinental Resort Tahiti for a pre-cruise stay, all of which helped me get over the journey.
I was feeling relaxed and refreshed by the time I took the 20-minute transfer from the hotel to meet the ship, and as soon as we boarded we were individually greeted and shown to our spacious balcony cabin. A beautiful display of tropical flowers, champagne and chocolates awaited us, along with a personal letter from the Hotel Director and from the Chairman of Paul Gauguin Cruises. This personal service from the friendly and welcoming crew got the voyage off to a great start.
After some time to explore the ship I gathered with my fellow travellers for cocktails in the Piano Bar followed by dinner in L'Etoile, the main dining room, which served an excellent variety of superb dishes from a daily changing menu.
On our second day we arrived in Vairao, and after an al fresco breakfast from La Grille - what an amazing choice of food! - I joined a tender across to the pier to be greeted by the dance troop Teva I Tai, and looked around the small market with local crafts. Paul Gauguin is the only cruise ship to visit this part of the island due to her flat-bottomed hull, able to travel past the surf, and in the afternoon, after a delicious lunch in La Veranda, we headed out on an excursion to Iti Lagoon and Teahupoo Surf Point with our local guide Julian, who also ran the diving school in Papeete.
The scenery was amazing, and we stopped for those who wanted to snorkel and see the fish in the clear waters. We were also lucky enough so spot whales in the distance, their tails crashing in the water. Heading back to the ship, we stopped at the local market and met the local children who go to school by boat between the islands. This evening was Captain's Night, so we had a chance to dress up a little and be introduced to the crew, who put on an entertaining show for us after dinner.
In Huahine I spent the day relaxing and learning a little about life of the artist Paul Gauguin, while a few of the more energetic guests came back raving about their excursion on a 4 x 4 open air safari truck.
The next day was a call to Taha'a where we went across to Motu Mahana, MS Paul Gauguin's private island, complete with floating bar. There was also a main bar, delicious barbecue and plenty of activities including beach volleyball, badminton, snorkelling and kayaks - I went kayaking for the first time,under the watchful eyes of the watersports and diving team. Our return to the ship saw us prepare for the daily sailaway party.
We spent the next couple of days on Bora Bora, a fabulous place for diving, but for those who prefer land-based activities (myself included!), there are plenty of other excursions on offer. I went off exploring the island by "Le Truck", a two-and-a-half-hour scenic orientation tour with a couple of stops along the way to appreciate the stunning views.
Throughout the cruise there were various talks, and here I joined a lecture on Polynesian tattoos and their meanings, though I skipped the chance to have a temporary one! The Polynesian theme for the second evening of our stay was very enjoyable, with a traditional menu showcasing the fantastic local seafood in L'Etoile and La Veranda and the open-air Le Grill serving its normal Pacific Rim-inspired dishes.
The final day saw us arrive at the island of Moorea - my personal favourite - with its stunning lush, green vegetation, mountainous scenery and scenic beaches. I opted for the scenic drive around the island, although I spoke to others who took the opportunity to squeeze in one last scuba-dive and even hired a car (arranged by the Shore Excursions Desk on board) and discovered the island independently.
My final evening was spent at the Captain's Farewell Party before dining in Le Grill, and watching the 'O Tahiti E' professional Polynesian folkloric dance troupe afterwards. Disembarkation day in Papeete saw us say farewell to our new friends and the amazing ship that had welcomed us so warmly, and had felt like home for the past week.
This was a truly unforgettable trip, with new-found friendships, and the lasting memories of the kindness shown by all the people of the islands and the crew onboard will remain with me forever. As the Tahitian saying goes, mauruuru - thank you!