I hold large cruise ships in a certain amount of disdain -- floating shopping malls, the all-inclusive resorts of the sea, which seem to me to feature at their heart everything I dislike about vacation activities, the forced gaiety fueled by buckets of alcohol, the faux celebrity of being stalked by cruise photographer and videographer, food more about quantity than quality, casinos. On these pages, I have speculated
that I would likely enjoy myself more on a smaller ship and so I put it to the test a few weeks ago, joining a sailing of the m/s Paul Gauguin
in French Polynesia. I found ever so much more pleasant, so much so that I would even go out of my way to repeat the experience. The ship has a maximum capacity of 332 passengers, and one crew member for every 1.5 guests. I'll refrain from a joke about the half-guests, and instead more usefully say that while I was thoughtfully catered to, I never felt hassled, as is possible when there's a profusion of help available. I also found an amazing amount of solitude on the ship's public areas, which I think is absolutely necessary for proper contemplation of French Polynesia, for example, the mountains of Moorea, which were once worshiped by the ancient Tahitians, and seem to be worth the worship.
I also had the agreeable sense that the ship was miniaturized from a larger cruise vessel -- there were three restaurants aboard, although smaller, there was a bar with a teeny tiny dance floor and even the embarrass yourself -- karaoke night provided the opportunity -- and even a small, easily-avoided casino for people that require that.
I think this ship is aimed at an older demographic although I am at the precise mid-point of my 30s, I do consider myself prematurely old, and so enjoyed the Elderhostel-esque programming, a top-notch anthropologist provided fascinating lectures and also the opportunity for a hike in Moorea, nightly entertainment to be taken or left as you prefer, a small boutique that had all the essentials, including kamani oil
, a local treatment for sunburn which I really needed after a snorkel with the sharks and stingrays excursion that despite the burn ranks among my favorite experiences ever. The only part of the ship that I found dissatisfying was the fitness center, which could use better ventilation -- although I don't really mind getting a good look at the lifeboats while I'm running on the treadmill.
Paul Gauguin was until recently owned by Regent Seven Seas Cruises
and is now owned by Pacific Beachcomber
, the largest luxury hotel and cruise operator in the country, and the same group that owns InterContinentals throughout French Polynesia. In fact, I was on the first sail under the new management.