Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Cruising French Polynesia

A reader of this blog wants to know what is happening with luxury cruising in French Polynesia in the next few years. The answer is: Something...and it probably will be very good.

Regent Seven Seas has announced, after rumors that 2009 would be its last year chartering the Paul Gauguin, that it is again negotiating to extend the charter. To me this seems almost identical to what occurred a few years ago when Regent had everyone believing the present charter was not going to happen. I do not know if it is a negotiating or marketing ploy, but I find the "this could be it" approach unfair to the clients. Regardless, the 350 passenger Paul Gauguin provides an overall exceptional experience at a premium (not true luxury) level. It does have a good number of balcony cabins and a very limited number of suites (though they are not furnished at a level one would normally expect.) I truly enjoyed this ship and highly recommend it, but know that it is an great way to experience French Polynesia in a very comfortable and cared for manner, but not at the level of the other Regent ships.

Silversea is close to finalizing an agreement with the Tahitian government to place its new discovery vessel, Prince Albert II for the period of April through October 2009. A letter of intent was signed in December 2007 and a meeting was held last month. Its itineraries have been set in anticipation. The Prince Albert II, with only 132 passengers, has been extensively refit and now has quite a number of suites, though only the top suites have true balconies (and a limited number of French balconies). I understand that the level of service is intended to be as close as possible to the luxury levels of Silversea.

Seabourn is going to be visiting French Polynesia during the Seabourn Odyssey's 2010 World Cruise, but not before. While I know Seabourn is planning on having a strong presence in Asia in 2010, I do not have any information on its expanding its presence in French Polynesia for now. When it does make its brief stay in French Polynesia, it iwll raise the standard of luxury to its highest levels to date.

There are, of course, some other alternatives:

Star Flyer, a 170 passengers sailing ship, with modest accomodations is now based in French Polynesia, but it provides a markedly different experience with the majority accommodations being very compact cabins with twin bunks or beds and portholes. While the other two regulars, Paul Gauguin and Prince Albert II, fares include gratuities and drinks, they are not included on the Star Flyer.

If you act quickly, Princess's Tahitian Princess cruises French Polynesia through December 2008. This former R-Ship provides a more "cruise ship-like" experience than the others mentioned with a good variety of accommodations and a fairly standard Princess experience.

Also, with more cruise lines traveling to and from Australia, there are some one-off cruises which spend some time in French Polynesia including such lines as Celebrity. While they may not be the most ideal way to visit this little slice of paradise, it may provide an option on either side of some extensive sea days.



It is hoped that Regent is able to renew its charter with the Paul Gauguin. If it does not I am confident some other entity will continue to operate the Paul Gauguin there. It is a purpose built ship with a very loyal following. Losing that option would leave the area with only two real choices with no compromise in between and extremely limited capacity.