Ia Orana

The ship

Photos by Ethan Chung

Paul Gauguin Cruises runs several trips throughout the year in locations such as Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and Europe, but perhaps most popular is its run through French Polynesia. Cruises on the luxury ship in the area are between seven and 14 nights, depending on the package.

Travelers on the MS Paul Gauguin generally fly out of Los Angeles International Airport via Air Tahiti Nui and land in Papeete, Tahiti. You can choose a cruise package that includes your airfare on Air Tahiti Nui, or not, but most experts say that this is a much easier way of keeping track of documents and itinerary. The flight is about eight hours long, but many of Paul Gauguin’s packages include use of a day room at one of Papeete’s gorgeous hotels.

During my trip, I had the pleasure of staying at Le Meridien Tahiti for the day until I had catch my shuttle to be onboard the ship at 5pm. The resort boasts gorgeous grounds, a pool, beach access with incredible snorkeling, friendly service and excellent food. I highly recommend including the day stay with your cruise package. After an eight-hour flight, navigating the “island time” service at the airport (friendly, but definitely pack your patience and don’t forget the common language here is French) and a three-hour time difference, a hot shower, comfy bed for a nap and an early afternoon poolside with an adult beverage will do nicely.

tahiti_ship2The MS Paul Gauguin is a small luxury ship that carries 332 guests. Captained by Ante-Toni Mirkovic, the ship is specifically designed to navigate through shallower waters found in French Polynesia and Southeast Asia, allowing for stops at smaller ports. Guests are greeted with song and dance by Les Gauguines, the ship’s entertainment troupe made up of Tahitian performers. Throughout the cruise, the troupe performs nightly entertainment and offers cultural activities to guests. Along with cruise director Michael Shapiro, Les Gauguines (and Les Gauguins, their male counterparts) were my hosts and served as “the faces” of the cruise. “We have expertise here that no one else has. We have a true understanding of French Polynesia. Our job is to get you to remove your American or European glasses, and experience the tour through a local’s eyes. We want you to have a remarkable experience, and have you leaving us saying ‘That was the best vacation of my life,’” Shapiro said.

Aside from outstanding service and fun entertainment, and of course, all that the islands have to offer, the cruise itself is chock full of amenities. Paul Gauguin Cruises are all-inclusive, and yes that means meals and alcohol. The ship has three different restaurants — L’Etoile, Le Grill and La Veranda. La Veranda is an elegant dining experience, serving modern French cuisine for dinner by reservation only, but also serves breakfast and lunch. Le Grill serves an Asian- and Polynesian-inspired menu, and, as with La Veranda, dinner reservations are required here, but not for breakfast or lunch. Both these restaurants serve the same set menu throughout the duration of the cruise so everyone has an opportunity to try the menus. L’Etoile is only open for dinner, but no reservations are needed, and the menu changes nightly. I grew up in Hawaii and I know my way around fish, but all compliments go to Executive Chef Paul Ellis, who served some of the freshest and best-tasting fish I’ve ever had the pleasure of enjoying in L’Etoile. Tip to the hungry — don’t be shy. This is an all-inclusive cruise. You’ve paid a pretty penny to get there, so it’s OK to try one of everything on the menu. I did, and while my waistline may have regretted it, my taste buds did not.

Other amenities on board include 24-hour room service (remember, all-inclusive), a casino featuring slot machines, blackjack and roulette with the occasional evening tournament, a pool and deck, fitness center, boutique and multiple bars and lounges and a world-class salon and spa. The MS Paul Gauguin also offers diving services and excursions for novice and experienced divers. Guests also are provided their own snorkeling equipment for the duration of the cruise.


Amy Kilbreath, a local travel professional with Woodside Travel, is experienced at getting you to where you want to go, and has plenty of expertise with cruises, specifically Paul Gauguin Cruises. Here are her five tips to help you plan your cruise.

  1. Be sure to use a travel advisor. There is a cruise line to fit every personality and travel preference, but avoid a vacation nightmare by making sure that you choose a cruise line that fits you best. A travel advisor is key to ensure a perfect cruise match, saving you time and ensuring a wise use of your vacation budget.
  2. The biggest travel misconception I hear is someone assuming that “they’re not a cruise person.” While they may not find larger cruise ships appealing, I can almost guarantee that there is a river cruise or small ship that they would love. Some destinations are even best seen via cruising.
  3. Get VIP treatment. Look for a Virtuoso-affiliated travel advisor. Virtuoso is a network of the world’s best travel advisors who are not only extremely knowledgeable, but they can also provide access to exclusive travel offers and VIP treatment that you can’t get on your own (i.e. upgrades, private excursions, access to best the cabins, etc.) due to their relationships with the cruise lines.
  4. Compare apples to apples in evaluating price. Not every cruise fare is the same! It’s important to know what is — and isn’t — included in the cruise fare. Often, an all-inclusive cruise line will have a more expensive price initially, but will end up saving you money in the end by not having to pay for all of the extras — from soft drinks and alcohol, to tips and airfare.
  5. And the most basic cruise rule to live by: Always fly in the day before your cruise leaves! This ensures you — and your bags — won’t miss your cruise due to an airline delay. You will also start your cruise refreshed and relaxed!
    For more information, contact Amy Kilbreath at travelbyamy.com.


Pricing varies by season, and Paul Gauguin Cruises does plenty of promotions. For a seven-night, all-inclusive cruise, including airfare from Los Angeles via Tahiti Nui Air, prices start at around $4,000 per person. Visit pgcruises.com for more information. Visit 425magazinecruise.com to learn more about a special reader offer for a trip to French Polynesia via Paul Gauguin Cruises.

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Exploring TahitiCaptain ToniChef Paul Ellistahiti_bonus

is a contributor to 425 magazine.
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