Mark Silver reflects on his luxurious and romantic cruise in idyllic French Polynesia
What on earth was Tom Hanks thinking? Do you remember how he spent ages plotting how to get off that desert island in Cast Away? Well, I’ve just returned from similar surroundings and can’t stop plotting how to get back.
Okay, I only experienced 12 nights there as opposed to the four years by Hanks’ character, Chuck. But what could I do… I only get five weeks’ holiday!
It was paradise in every sense and I could have coped with just a volleyball for company as Chuck did with Wilson. As it happens I had splendid company with the passengers and crew of the wonderful Paul Gauguin cruise ship.
The French Polynesian region is simply stunning, even more beautiful than the likes of the Maldives where I was fortunate to spend my honeymoon a couple of years ago. Both places boast that magnificent turquoise water, gorgeous atolls and countless palm trees (plus a few volleyballs here and there should you get get lonely).
But what gives the former the edge is the lush backdrop boasting wonderful mountains and volcanoes. Indeed, some of the islands were created from volcanoes millions of years ago.
There was no chance of my wife and I being shipwrecked as we sailed around a small selection of the 118 islands and atolls, including Tahiti and Bora Bora. Paul Gauguin is as safe as, err, cabins and offers five-star luxury. Had it not been for the constant pampering, we might have hidden behind a palm tree as the ship sailed away!
I have experienced numerous cruises and islands over the past 30 years but none better than this company and no destination more exotic than this South Seas gem – a location appropriately well known for black pearls. It’s a long way to travel – we boarded the hassle-free, superb Eurostar to Paris before 20 hours of flying via Los Angeles – but it is all worth it such is the scenery that awaits. The weather is also hot all year round, although between March and October may be your best bet as it avoids the rainy season (not that the downpours last long).
Our ship was designed specifically to sail the shallow seas of this area, visiting small ports that larger ships cannot reach. The captain even changed things slightly so that, although our choice of islands remained unaltered, our itinerary switched to ensure we were the only ones at each stop. It meant no overcrowding onshore, with Paul Gauguin accommodating up to 332 passengers.
Service on board is first class – helped by the fact there are so many staff – and it goes well beyond the call of duty. The Filipino waiters even learned some basic Russian so they could say “good morning” to my Belarusian wife, Liudmila. By the end of the voyage they knew as many words as me, which put me in the doghouse after 10 years as a couple! And if you had the temerity to carry your own food to your table during breakfast or lunch, you’d suddenly find three waiters trying to grab the plate from you as they escorted you. But service was never stuffy – totally professional and with a smile and a joke.
With only nine Brits on this particular sailing (the cruise is dominated by well-travelled Americans and Canadians), we felt extra special. On the first day one of the waiters addressed me as Hugh Grant after hearing my accent. Mrs Silver did not notice the resemblance in voice, nor looks! There are three fine restaurants on board, with L’Etoile the main evening venue where locally-caught fish, steaks and lamb are among the delicious fare. The other restaurants, La Veranda and Le Grill, require booking and the former’s menu has been created by a two-star Michelin chef. You will not go wrong wherever you dine.
Apart from a top-quality feel throughout, one of the differences on board such an elite ship is that the staff soon know your name (my real name as well as “Hugh”). And they soon discover your favourite tipple, although with all the drink (except vintage) included in the price, that can get a little dangerous. We loved a cocktail before dinner, enjoying the lovely singing of Spanish pianist Luis, and made new friends wherever we ventured. Beatles fan Luis ensured he played our favourite tunes, which forced me on to the dancefloor. How he kept his concentration as I boogied is beyond me.
Talking of talented folk, onboard entertainers the Gauguines are local people who play traditional music as you sail away, teach Tahitian dance and other skills, and are there to make guests feel at home as you arrive at different places. It is unique to cruising to have this merry band on board and we loved their friendliness. They comprised five beautiful ladies and one man, Mihimana Teutuaiterai. He was covered in tattoos – unsurprising as this part of the world is where the artwork first started. His bodywork told a story of his life, family and the sort of person he is. Tattoos can sometimes be intimidating, but I remembered the old adage of never judging a book by its cover, and never was it more true. He was just wonderful.
Mihimana played the ukulele well, sang nicely and had an impressive physique, but I thought I would show him my sporting prowess when they brought out the table tennis table. Turns out he was Tahitian champion two years running and he left me running everywhere to retrieve his smashes. Probably didn’t do my back any good but the marvellous staff at the spa came to my rescue with two of the best massages I had ever experienced.
Our favourite island on a memorable voyage was the famous Bora Bora, where the scenery is as sparkling as the crystal clear sea. We also loved Motu Mahana, the ship’s own private island where you are treated to a tasty barbecue amid amazing surroundings. While there are numerous excursions from which to choose, I’d advise having a rest day here to enjoy this special feast.
Back on board, there are lectures from experts in their fields and, after dinner, the shows may include a magician or local singers and dancers joining the vessel for a delightful performance.
There are no extravagant shows like you get on the larger ships, nor does this one have the glitz of these liners, but I know which I prefer. The trick they pull off so masterfully is the way they manage to transport the magic of French Polynesia on to the ship. After the show we would go on to the top deck, drink in hand, and just look up at the stars – which were as clear in the sky as those waters below. It was a case of out of this world… just like our voyage.
For more details, visit http://pgcruises.com/
For more information on The Islands of Tahiti, tour operator package deals and special offers visit www.tahiti-tourisme.co.uk
Le Méridien Tahiti Rooms start at 150 GBP per room, exclusive of taxes, based on two sharing a room, and dependent on season and availability.
To book call +689 40 47 07 29 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For further information visit www.lemeridientahiti.com
Air Tahiti Nui – www.airtahitinui.co.uk – Air Tahiti Nui is the national carrier to French Polynesia with departures from Paris, Los Angeles, Tokyo and Auckland to Tahiti with connecting flights available from London with Virgin Atlantic.
An economy class return fare with Air Tahiti Nui from London to Papeete, Tahiti via LAX starts from £1,450 including taxes.
For further information and reservations contact+44(0) 844 482 1675 email email@example.com or visit www.airtahitinui.co.uk