Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Review: Regent Seven Seas Paul Gauguin (August 2007)

Having just provided a rather lengthy review of my Goldring Travel 2008 Food & Wine Cruise on the Seabourn Spirit and my Goldring Travel 2007 Food & Wine Cruise, I thought posting my last year's review of the Regent Seven Seas Paul Gauguin might be of interest. I have pieced it together from a few posts on Cruise Critic.

I preface this review by stating that overall it was one of the best cruise vacations I have ever taken. (With a full moon over Bora Bora which turned into a full lunar eclipse, the heavens were most certainly aligned properly!) It was, however, a testament to the adage “The whole is greater than sum of its parts.” Put another way, it was not perfect (nothing is), but the staff and crew more than made up for any issues.


After flying from New Jersey to Hawaii and overnighting at the Kahala on Oahu in a Dolphin Lagoon Room and the kids partaking in the Dolphin Quest swimming with the dolphins programs, it was off to the Intercontinental in Tahiti in an over the water bungalow for four nights.

Because my reserved OWB was being repaired the first night was spent in one of the OWB nearer to shore, but was moved the next day to the one furthest out on the pier. While the OWBs were identical, the experience in the deeper water one, from snorkeling to privacy/noise to unobstructed views was far superior. In fact some of the best snorkeling of our trip was right from our private platform! The Intercontinental’s staff was very accommodating and the facilities are top notch including a wonderful artificial sand beach which runs into a sand-bottomed infinity-edged swimming pool with a swim-up bar and a fantastic view of Moorea as well as a second huge infinity-edged pool with waterfall and large restaurant and bar overlooking it…and the Lagoonarium (which is a great way to ease the novice into snorkeling with the fish). Food prices (as everywhere in Tahiti) are very expensive and the quality was lacking a bit. Overall though I would stay there again without question. (Notes: Thank you Wendy for the Ambassador Program tip as we wound up with one free night and some added benefits as a result…a great bargain for $150. Also, because we stayed there pre-cruise we were able to spend the day there post cruise for the day, utilizing all the facilities and transit rooms gratis.)

Before the details, I want to again preface them by stating that the ship just plain felt good. From the Captain to the brand new cruise director (Dionne- who was perfect) to Travel Desk (more on them later) to most of the restaurant staff and the stewardesses you were greeted with a smile and a “What can we do for you” attitude.

We boarded the Paul Gauguin with the unique ability to use it from two perspectives: Veranda cabin on Deck 7 and a Porthole cabin on Deck 3. While the cabins were pretty similar the experiences were markedly different. The biggest difference really hit home in Bora Bora when I left the Porthole cabin and walked into the Veranda and it just had a breathtaking view vs. a view of water. (To me that was huge.) The Veranda had a flat screen TV with built in DVD and the Porthole had an older TV with a VCR. Veranda regularly had good quality towels that matched while the Porthole had a variety of towels some of which were threadbare. The Veranda was quiet while the Porthole cabin (302) had lots of noise from the anchor and whatnot as well as the crew bar (especially on crew Karaoke Night…which didn’t bother me as the crew was so wonderful!). Both cabins were compact, but very livable with the veranda making one far more enjoyable…and it was utilized.

What stood out the most for me was the Ambassadors of the Environment Program (AOTE) for kids 8 to about 15 years of age. This Jean-Michel Cousteau program is simply and unequivocally the best children’s program at sea. It consists of various adventures, tours, projects, dinners and lectures which the parents are encouraged to participate in. If the tour involved only Regent/AOTE staff there was no additional charge (above the $199 per child fee for the program), but if there is an outside vendor then the adult is charged an average of $75 per tour. The two instructors (Laura and Estelle) were incredible not only with their knowledge, but their ability to interact with each child on an individual (not one way for all) basis, so the way they dealt with my 8 year old was different (though equally effective) for my 11 year old. They also dealt with big kids (like me) with aplomb. They also utilized a guest lecturer, Mark Eddowes, who is the Natural Geographic anthropologist for French Polynesia and he not only was a wealth of knowledge, but great fun. We all had a great time and learned far more and had better experiences than if we took the “adult” tours of a somewhat similar kind.

The travel desk was incredible. Not only did they make my job so much easier (as did Guest Relations) they went above and beyond time and time again. For example, my DW was scheduled to go horseback riding in Huahine, but it was cancelled for lack of interest. They tried at every port to get her riding and eventually did the last day without so much as a surcharge…and, by the way, she loved it.

Dionne is a wonderful young woman who was on her first cruise as Cruise Director. What a great job she did, allowing the events and performers to be the stars, rather than playing herself up. I know a number of more “experienced” CDs that could learn a thing or two from her!!

The MaĆ®tre‘d, Franco, and Noel (headwaiter in Le Grill) were outstanding, always greeting us by name and a smile and taking great care to assure all was well throughout our meals. It is a shame that the food did not live up to the same high standards. Lunches in Le Grill were always of solid quality, if not memorable, but the food in the main restaurant, L’Etoile really had much to be desired. The food was never hot, usually not terribly flavorful...but it did look good. Menu choices were somewhat odd at times and limited. La Veranda just wasn’t to my liking at all. The lunch buffet was good, but dinner just wasn’t anything special and the room had no ambience other than spot lighting an otherwise dark room. We preferred (as others have noted) L’Etoile overall. One nice thing was the new (first time) Polynesian Night with a semi-fixed menu.

The enrichment lecturers (Laura Brands, Estelle Davis, Mark Eddowes and Michael Poole) were excellent and added a tremendous amount to the cruise as they not only were eloquent and entertaining, but their topics truly integrated with the cruise. One lecturer –which I will not name – just came across as a “snake oil salesman” and I was very disappointed in that.

Also, for only the first time in my career, I must compliment a ship’s band. Siglo (pronounced Sea Glow) was excellent. They were, hands down, the best entertainment on the ship.

Motu Mahana was great. There has been more than enough description of this private motu (islet) event by others. It was, well and truly, a lovely day and the hard work of the staff and crew to make that happen so seamlessly is greatly appreciated. (Note: Book a 25 minute massage for that day. It is in a wonderful private cotton tent perched over the water in a quiet area. My DW loved it.)

I did find that there was a serious lacking in bar staff. While those that were there were very good, there were many times when they were overwhelmed or a waiter was totally absent and the bartender was left to do it all. More than once we had to go to the bar to get our own drink orders placed. Not good, especially on a luxury line.

One thing that really bothered me: Les Gauguines. After hearing how wonderful they were and how integral they were in making the cruise special, I found most of them to be fairly pretty, fairly talented, young ladies that really had no enthusiasm and when they weren’t performing they just couldn’t be bothered with the vast majority of the passengers. I also heard them speaking rudely to some of the other staff, which really put me off. (They do have some nice shows, to be fair.)

I did notice a number of little things that bothered me: use of old Radisson drink coasters, some sugar packets with the old Radisson logo (how old were they…even though the sugar was till good), turnaround of room servicing was slow because there were no assistant stewardesses, the occasional threadbare towel, a somewhat unpolished dinner service by most wait staff, disappointing food quality (noting supplying a ship in French Polynesia is no easy task), etc.

I figure I should also add the comment that many regular readers of my post will wonder, “Was it as good as Seabourn?” Keeping in mind that Seabourn doesn’t cruise this area and there are limitations due to the remoteness of it all, I felt while the upper echelon was pretty fantastic, much of the service was “reactive” rather than “proactive” when dealing with day-to-day matters (drinks, extra towels, room maintenance, dinner/bar service, etc.). The food was not even close. But as I said, on this cruise, in this area of the world, the Paul Gauguin is unquestionably the way to go.

So I close this review by wondering, “When can I do it again…and if I do could it could it ever be as good as this cruise was?”

Next relevant post:

Last summer's cruise on the [August 2006 on the Regent Seven Seas] Navigator was one of my worst cruises ever. The small things were exacerbated by the crew and staff issues and failings. On the PG they were relegated to "This ain't gonna ruin an otherwise great day in Paradise with such wonderful people around me."


Estelle and Laura (AOTE) made my day and my kid's day...every day. Dionne's introductions were fresh and genuine. Franco and Noel's greetings were perfect. My wife's thrill after her horseback ride and her massages were wonderful.The Gauguines' sourness and a threadbare towel were just not that important to me (though I let y'all know about them, for sure.)

At Motu Mahana the food was OK. The BBQ was chicken, fish kebabs or minute steak. Not really impressive. Nor was the hokey floating bar, but for whatever reason it all worked...and I was happy with my rum punch filled coconut with a nice beach chair and a bit of snorkeling. In fact, it seemed everyone was happy. So what is to be gained or potentially improved upon with an unrealistic expectations of better food? A better day probably could not have been had.

To be sure, as I have suggested in other posts, I lowered my expectations so I was not as disappointed as I was on the Navigator. Call it "improper but expected" and the disappointment dissipates. I have gotten over Regent's marketing blitz and fabricated "6 star" rating. I just no longer expect what Regent says it will provide, but rely upon experience - and this board among others - to accurately tell me what I realistically will get for my money. (For example, Regent has never impressed me with its food. Celebrity exceeds Regent in my opinion and Seabourn just blows Regent away...but I knew that going in and did not expect anything different, and that was not why I took this cruise. It would have been an issue if I expected more, but...)

...Net: I received an excellent, if imperfect, experience that as long as others keep the misses in perspective they too will have a wonderful time.
Next relevant post:

BTW, that was another example of a memorable event: I asked the lecturer, Mark Eddowes, during one AOTE outing where the best place to purchase one was. He said on the street by the bank across from the pharmacy there would be a man sitting on a concrete planter with authentic ones (not the ones in Le Marche made in the Philippines) lined up against the building. And there was this rough looking, but friendly, man who showed us how one is really played...with a big smile. It made the last day special.


Nest relevant post:

...About provisioning in French Polynesia. I spoke with the chef about that and the costs are very high. (Example: Regent just started to fly watermelons in from the US because they cost 1/4 the amount in Tahiti.) Also the ship doesn't order most of the provisions, as it is done by management. That leaves very little "wiggle room". However a good chef crew can make hot and tasty food with a little bit of creativity regardless of the obstacles. (BTW, the food wasn't bad, just not consistently hot and never memorable.)


I also agree that the lower and mid priced cabins on the PG are very good value. I think the Grand Suite, for example, was way overpriced and very unimpressive. My friends however enjoyed it (save the rocking and rolling) and had no real complaints; noting they did enjoy the butler.

A number of the excursions were similar to the AOTE ones, just without the Cousteau people and were larger groups. I never heard anyone complain...not once...about a tour. I also heard positive things from the divers onboard. The tour/travel desk really did a great job.

The "other" lecturer was "discussing" the use of metal artificial reef structures charged with electricity as a way to quickly cause reefs to form especially near the hotels where there are no reefs. Without getting into all the details, and not donning my marine biology hat too much, he had many conflicting statements about a system that is unproven, has no university or research support and chose to softly seek investors through "free" tours to see and participate in a local project (not through RSSC). Example: He states correctly that if there is a reef the fish will find it and remain, but then he has a "program" to catch developing reef fish (taking them out of their and the established reef's ecology), raising them and then having tourists release them into these barren areas as if these fish will somehow stick around (they won't...because there is no reef!)...while the supposedly growing corals need sea urchins in order to remain vital and there is no program to introduce these less tourist friendly animals. I will now step off my soapbox!

I hope you find this review interesting. Honestly, reading over it just now, I am missing that experience. So, if you need to get away (and right now, who doesn't!) remember: There is a Paradise!