Showing posts with label French Polynesia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label French Polynesia. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Wonderful Review Shows Why You Need A Good Travel Agent and To Not Rely on Hype

I just finished reading a review by a well-spoken individual who was on the December 27, 2008 11 night cruise on the Regent Paul Gauguin (The PG was not so fabulous ). She was, for good reason, not happy.

As I read it I kept saying, if I had expected a luxury experience I would have written pretty close to the same review.

However, as you may know, I made the mistake of perceiving Regent (as opposed to its former self, Radisson) as luxury, so I downgraded my expectations when booking my cruise on Paul Gauguin. I also swallowed the price because of the lack of viable alternatives. In the end I found the cruise a real success, as the whole far exceeded it parts. (And, by the way, I would strongly suggest you consider the Paul Gauguin as a wonderful way to see French Polynesia...though probably not the Marquesas or Cook Islands, but that is another discussion).

I would suggest that before you read the above review you read mine, from August 2007 (Goldring Travel - Review of Paul Gauguin) . If that guest had a travel agent who had my experience...and candor...he would have said, "I have been there. I have been on the ship. I have been to the islands. If you are expecting luxury it is not going to happen. If you are expecting the marketed Regent experience, you need to change your expectations."

By using a knowledgeable travel agent and calling it as it is, that guest would have been able to make an educated decision on value before stepping on the ship, so that she was not feeling violated every step thereafter. She would have known about the food, less than polished service, lack of entertainment, etc. But, I bet dollars to donuts, that guest would still have gone on the cruise and would have had a far better time and felt comfortable with her decision.

What I am saying is, there is no benefit to "blowing sunshine". The travel agent and the cruise line gained a problem while possibly losing a guest who, if treated fairly from the start (rather than hyped) might have become a great supporter of Regent and/or her travel agent.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Paul Gauguin Cruises - Open for 2010 Sailings in French Polynesia and Beyond

I received word today that Paul Gauguin Cruises has officially opened its books for 2010.  It has a number of offers ranging from "free airfare" to "2 for 1 + free airfare" and a more diverse choice of itineraries than has been available while the ship has operated under the Regent Seven Seas Cruises moniker.

Some of the highlights are:

- Sixteen 7-night departures featuring Tahiti and Society Islands;
- Six 10-night and two 9-night voyages of Tuamotus and Society Islands;
- Five 11-night Cook Islands adventures;
- Four 14-night sailings featuring the Marquesas Islands;
- 13- and 15-night discoveries of Fiji, Tonga and the Cook and Society Islands;
- Two 14-night cruises featuring New Zealand, Tonga and the Cook and Society Islands

2010 Special Departures include:

- January 10, 2010 - President's Cruise - where guests can sail with Paul Gauguin Cruises President David A. Giersdorf (which I guess is sort of an inaugural cruise);

- May 22, 2010 - Jean-Michel Cousteau Cruise, featuring environmental advocate and son of the legendary Jacques Cousteau. 

- June, July, August and December 18 and 27, 2010 - Jean-Michel Cousteau's Ocean Futures Society Ambassadors of the Environment Youth Program.  (I have experienced this personally and it is, by far and away, the best family program at sea...for the kids and the parents.  It is a great way to learn some marine biology and local cultures with true experts while have a great time...and in a small group.)

- December 18 and 27 - Holiday Cruises where guests will savor a different kind of "White Christmas" on the white sand beaches of the Society Islands and Tuamotu Atolls.

For more information, email me at , call (877) 2GO- LUXURY or visit the new website at

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Paul Gauguin - The Future

Today I had a very interesting discussion with Roy Grimsland, Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Paul Gauguin Shipping Limited, the owner and soon to be exclusive operator of the Paul Gauguin cruise ship now being chartered, in effect, by Regent Seven Seas Cruise Line through 2009.

As is set forth in various press releases, while the ship is owned by Grand Circle Travel (and, to be honest, there have been some consumer-related issues associated with it), Paul Gauguin Shipping Limited is being set up as a wholly owned subsidiary. This will probably allow some independence and - unique to GCT - opens up the ability to work with travel agents directly (something GCT does not do). While the goal is to have this in place by January 2009, it may take a bit longer. In the present state of affairs, the greater the marketing abilities the better.

Also, while not explicitly discussed, the concept of the Paul Gauguin leaving French Polynesia as GCT had previously announced it was contemplating seems to be a thing of the past; allowing everyone to still have a year-round option for cruising French Polynesia in style. UPDATE: It has been announced that for 2010 the Paul Gauguin will operate the same seven night cruises to the Society Islands (Papeete, Raiatea, Taha’a, Bora Bora and Moorea) as well as longer cruises of 9 to 17 days including the islands of Fiji, Tonga, New Caledonia, Australia, Cook Islands, Marquesas, Tuamotus, Australs and the Society Islands.

While Mr. Grimsland is still "getting his feet wet", one of the interesting - and promising - focuses of my discussion was the desire for consistency of product from staffing to cabins to food to service. Rather than discussing the "hits" we spent more time discussing the "misses"...something I was pleased about. Patting oneself on the back is not a way to improve a product...even a good one.

While the essence of cruising French Polynesia is for most, well French Polynesia, some of misses I saw during my August 2007 cruise will be addressed if they have not already been. Making sure service is consistent was one topic he raised; discussing the problems heard about another luxury line...and not from me! He asserts that "hit or miss" is not acceptable. All dining room service, for example, must be solid. To be fair, he did not state it must be of luxury quality, but alas most don't really look for that in FP. We look for consistent, solid, quality.

We also talked about some of the little things, like lower category cabins having old TVs and VCRs while upper cabins have flat screen TVs and DVD players; inconsistent toiletries; occasional threadbare towels, etc. Mr. Grimsland commented that if they still exist it is disappointing (he is so new that inspecting the ship hasn't yet happened...but give him a a bit of time!) and are easy fixes...noting that there is about to be a $6,000,000 refurbishment with new balconies added and updated soft goods. It is nice to hear that such things are not seen as acceptable or obstacles.

We did not have time to discuss how transitioning is going to happen as to crew, staff or operations. Considering there is a year to sort those things out, that is not to be unexpected. While I am sure the staff and crew are going to be anxious, and rumors are things that crew live on, I hope that it is addressed sooner rather than later.

UPDATE: I have a bit of further - albeit tenative - information. While things are very fluid and are subject to change, the plan seems to be to keep everything that works and to keep the staff as well. So, the liquor inclusive policy, Ambassadors of the Environment, scuba program, etc. are all anticipated to remain in place. Similarly, the idea appears to be to keep the present staff on the ship.

Why am I not being more definitive? Because there is a long way to go from "We want to do this" to "We have this finalized and in place". To be fair it will take some time to sort it all out. But what I can say is that Paul Gauguin Shipping's responsiveness has be exceptionally good so far. Fingers Crossed!

For a bit of context I have posted below a compilation of my comments on my 2007 cruise on the Paul Gauguin.

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!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Report: Regent Seven Seas to Cease Operating Paul Gauguin in 2009 - UPDATED- Renovations Announced

A reliable travel industry source is reporting this morning that Regent Seven Seas will be announcing that it is ceasing operating the Paul Gauguin at the end of 2009.

While I have heard this sort of news previously - believing it to be more of a negotiating tactic than anything else - the fact is that Grand Circle Travel owns the ship and with the departure of Princess Cruise Lines from French Polynesia it really has the market cornered. (True, Star Flyer is there and Silversea is offering its Prince Albert II for a limited period of time, but they put little dent in the year round market that Regent had tapped.) Therefore, it is not surprising that GCT may want the ship for itself.

When one considers the high cost of chartering, the high cost of airfares, the high cost of operations, etc. in French Polynesia, Prestige Cruise Holdings may have decided that in this economy it had better consolidate and focus on its core product.

UPDATE: In an apparent consistent twist, today (October 16, 2008) Paul Gauguin Shipping Limited, not Regent Seven Seas Cruises, announced a $6,000,000 renovation of the ship. It will include the conversion of 26 Category D oceanview staterooms into balcony staterooms (done on the exterior, so the staterooms remain the same size), modifying Le Grill (the poolside dining area) and Le Veranda's (the alternative restaurant) al fresco dining area, recarpeting and upgrading the public areas/internet cafe and "refreshing" the staterooms (whatever that means). The work is to be completed during the late January - early February 2009 drydock in Brisbane, Australia.

Also, on October 10,2008 PGSL announced it has a new Executive VP of Sales, Roy Grimsland. "He will be responsible for driving product sales of the five-plus star, 332-passenger Paul Gauguin." Interestingly, Mr. Grimsland worked for Radisson Seven Seas "where he launched and drove sales of Paul Gauguin for seven years" according to Cruise Industry News.

I will update this as information becomes available.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Cruise Vacation Sales Are Strong...For Some

I am being asked more and more if my sales are up or down compared to last year.  This is asked by cruise lines, other travel agents, clients and potential clients.  Frankly, everyone who asks shocked by the answer:  My sales have more than doubled and on the luxury and premium lines my 2009 sales have already surpassed my 2008 sales...more than a quarter of the year left.

While I would like to think that this dramatic increase is based solely upon my providing excellent service and pricing AND extremely loyal clients - for which I am more than grateful, appreciative and, likewise, loyal - I really don't think that is the only reason. 

When I look at what types of cruises are selling, with which lines and with what sort of advanced planning, I see two very distinct trends. 

Those that are purchasing the true luxury cruises (and I define those not only by they type of accommodation, but also the exoticness of the ports and cruise length) are not only continuing to cruise, they are increasing the length and/or frequency of their cruises.  But within that group, I am seeing a bit less of the cruise line loyalty (which previously seemed to be omnipresent) and more of a focus on "value".  What I mean by value is not a cost-per-day figure, but rather "What is the experiential value of the cruise?"; be it visiting new ports, experiencing a new ship or insisting on a certain level of service.

Seabourn is very strong in 2009 as it relates to its new Seabourn Odyssey and its industry topping consistency of service.  There are only two things which seem to limit the Seabourn cruises that I can sell:  Available space and Itineraries.  Both of these factors are being addressed as the three new ships are rolled out and the smaller triplets are able to be sent to more exotic ports.  (Note:  For all of those folks who keep speculating that Seabourn will dump the smaller ships you should remember that:  1.  One thing which has made Seabourn special is that those small ships can and do visit ports that larger ships cannot visit; 2.  There may be demand for an exotic itinerary sufficient to support a 208 passenger ship, but insufficient to support a 450 passenger ship; 3.  There is the attraction for many to the intimacy of a 208 passenger ship and a similar aversion to a 450 passenger ship; and, without limitation, 5.  For most of the year demand outweighs supply and the trend is to an increasing, not decreasing, eliminating 624 berths doesn't make sense if the trends continue.)

Silversea has also seen a much stronger 2008 over what can only be considered a dismal 2007.  While I continue to marvel at claims of passenger increases of 30+%, I also note that the only way Silversea could have such growth is by sailing half-empty ships in 2007 and that the majority of the passengers are, according to Silversea, first time passengers (54% to be specific).  In a world where the mantra is "It takes $1.00 to keep a customer, but $10.00 to get one, so keep the customer happy in order to sustain growth" I have to wonder why the repeater rate on Silversea is so low.  (Over analyzing this point, possibly the 2005-2207 period caused disgruntled passengers to go elsewhere, so it will take time for the repeater levels to exceed 50% as the product hopefully improves.)  That said, I love their Africa, new French Polynesia and Exploration itineraries and expect very strong sales for those products.

Regent is a line that frustrates me.  I won't repeat my rants, but assuming improvements in hotel, cuisine and overall services continue and are accelerated, I remain baffled by the pricing.  As I recently showed, the new Silversea "ultra-luxury" venture in French Polynesia starts at 28% less expensive than the premium Regent product.  The same holds true for even less exotic cruises to Northern Europe, the Caribbean, etc.  This summer Regent was offering travel agent rates to Northern Europe in the peak month of August.  That is a sign of weak demand...and a real need look hard at the cruise fares.  If those prices come back in line with the product provided, I am confident the demand for Regent will increase.  Without bodies on board, the holy grail of "onboard revenue" can be very illusive.  There really isn't that hard a balance between paying a premium not be "nickeled and dimes" and being perceived as ripping people off so as to avoid same. 

I also want to mention Crystal Cruises here.  While I have not cruised with Crystal, I have never met anyone who has uttered anything but satisfaction to unequivocal praise for the cruise experience it provides.  My guess is that what is now considered a large ship with smaller (but not small) cabins, in a more formal setting, truly focused on older guests, needs to change a bit.  I know Crystal is feeling the pressure, but I have not a clue as to how it plans on meeting the challenge of an overall younger luxury cruising market and a growing demand (even by the older passengers) for a less formal experience.  Ironically, Regent's talk (but no action of yet) of larger ships and the premium/mass market lines growing behemoths, may actually assist Crystal in softening its "large ship" positioning.

Now, as to the premium lines, sales are most definitely weaker, but I am finding that the issue is not the lack of sales, but rather the sales are closer into the actual sail date.  What I do not see is any downgrading.  People who regularly purchase suites are still purchasing suites.  Balconies, balconies, etc.  What I am seeing at least the start of happening, are some aggressive last minute deals (actually 90 days out); which have been pretty much absent the past few years.

More on this soon!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Intercontinental Tahiti - A Great Start Upon Arriving in Tahiti

In a bit of irony I just received a notice for the newest video of the Intercontinental Tahiti resort. Having stayed there I am pleased to confirm that it actually looks like it does in the video. So if a cruise is not in your plans, or you are looking for an excellent pre-cruise hotel, consider the Intercontinental Tahiti.

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.