The flight on Hawaiian from Honolulu to Papeete is a mere 6 hours, pretty painless. Upon entering the terminal we were greeted by local dancers and musicians. From there it’s a short 10 minute drive to the harbor. We purchased the overpriced transfers from the cruise line but taxis are plentiful, cost is about 40.00-50.00. Upon boarding the Paul Gauguin we were greeted with a glass of champagne before being escorted to our room by our stewardess.
The Paul Gauguin is a small luxury ship, accommodating just 300 passengers. The cabins are a bit on the smaller size especially with a 3rd person. It was nice to have a balcony to give us a bit more space not to mention the awesome views from the privacy of our cabin. There are 3 restaurants, the main dining room and where you can dine at your leisure and 2 specialty restaurants (French and Asian inspired) where reservations are required with no additional fees. In addition to all your meals the cruise fare includes beverages (including alcohol), nonmotorized water sports and gratuities. The crew of the Paul Gauguin was outstanding. The waiter who served us champagne at embarkation, greeted each of us by name at dinner the next evening. We had only chatted with him a few minutes, very impressive! There are plenty of activities on board to keep you busy. Crafts, lectures, a casino, fitness center and spa. The shows were entertaining, my favorite being the crew show by the Filipino staff. They are very talented bunch with singers, dancers and musicians. You could just see how much they enjoyed entertaining the guests.
The Society Islands are what you would imagine old Hawai’i to be. In fact, the island of Raiatea in the past was called Havai’i and it is where the people of Hawai’i originated. We visited 4 ports – Raiatea, Taha’a, Bora Bora and Moorea each one more beautiful than the next. The shore excursions were enjoyable, educational, and thrilling. We experienced the local culture, a pearl and vanilla farm and explored a forest with an archaeolgist. The highlight was on Bora Bora with a sighting of humpbacks, swimming with black tip reef sharks and stingrays and topped off with a Polynesian lunch on a private motu.
Hawaiian’s flight back to Honolulu is a late departure, after midnight. Since you have to disembark by 10:00am there is a whole day to kill in Papeete. The ship will hold your bags if you want to wander over to the market place to do some last minute souvenir shopping. We got a room for the day at the Le Meridien to hang out, take a nap, shower and view one more sunset before heading to the airport. Not cheap but worth it. You should get to the airport 3 hours prior to departure as the check-in lines are long and slow moving. It’s helpful if you are Premier member with Hawaiian, you can use the first class line which is much shorter. Insider’s tip ~ there is one large boarding area for all the departing flights so it gets crowded. There is an upstairs area just outside the airline lounge with plenty of seating.