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There’s something magical about waking up in a destination that you have only seen by night — especially if that place is an island in French Polynesia. But traveling from Tahiti to Taha’a can be prohibitively expensive, especially when you consider the high prices of food and accommodations throughout the islands. This is where the Paul Gauguin comes in — at 19,200 tons with a capacity for 332 guests, it was built to traverse the South Pacific’s narrow lagoons and shallow waters in order to deliver passengers from one remote, beautiful island to the next. The value of enjoying these islands on an all-inclusive luxury vessel has been enough of a selling point in the Gauguin’s 14-year history — no other ship has sailed here longer — and its recent $7 million shipwide renovation has turned the Gauguin into a bucket list destination in its own right.
The elegant new interior design will impress past passengers who may recall the starker red-and-blue room interiors. Designs and fabrics for the refurbished room furniture and carpeting are subtle and modern, in muted shades of brown and gold for Category C and D rooms, and blues for Category B rooms. My Category C balcony stateroom — measuring 202 square feet — benefitted from a large mirror elongating the room, ample storage space and a 37-square-foot balcony that I never wanted to leave.
Though 24-hour room service is available, suites and veranda rooms include butler service and the ship’s restaurants offer excellent cuisine in refurbished venues. La Veranda features a redesigned entrance, refinished indoor and outdoor furniture and solar shades throughout. Guests can dine there for a continental breakfast, a lunch that changes themes each day or a dinner featuring a menu designed by Michelin-starred chef Jean-Pierre Vigato of the Parisian restaurant Apicius. Le Grill has been updated with a new buffet area and new lighting, making it an obvious stop for lunch after lounging in the adjacent pool. Early reservations are suggested for dinner at this venue, which features the ship’s only al fresco dining option. The main dinner venue, L’Etoile, now sports a redesigned entrance and new artwork to complement its sophisticated menu of French and Tahitian dishes.
Other renovations that evoke a lively, light energy include the expanded Le Casino and the redone bar, updated lighting system and new outdoor furniture at La Palette — my favorite place to grab a cocktail and drink up the views before and after dinner.
Efforts to acquaint passengers with the local culture and environment are consistent, yet subtly and seamlessly integrated with the sailing. The onboard naturalist; the ship’s retractable watersports marina where guests can become PADI-certified; shows such as “Children of Raiatea;” and the Gauguines, the ship’s very own onboard representatives from the island, breathe Polynesia into the vessel. Like its namesake, the artist Paul Gauguin, the ship has turned the discovery of French Polynesia into an artform.