Tom O’Neil is a best-selling author and awarding-winning speaker. He has helped a wide range of people from students to CEOs achieve their personal and professional goals through his best-selling books, motivational speeches, and one-on-one coaching. In his most recent book, “The 1% Principle,” O’Neil reveals how making a 1% change in your behavior each day can dramatically improve your life and unleash your potential. He lectured this past July on a Cook Islands & Society Islands voyage aboard the m/s Paul Gauguin. He shares highlights and tips from his voyage in our latest blog.
Whenever I think of “paradise,” all I have to do is look back on my recent Cook Islands & Society Islands cruise on the beautiful m/s Paul Gauguin. As a seasoned traveler of the South Pacific, I have had the honor of cruising throughout Fiji, Vanuatu, Tonga, New Caledonia, the Cook Islands, and Tahiti. After experiencing much of what this part of the world has to offer, my absolute favorite has to be Tahiti, with the mix of whiter than white sand beaches, bluer than blue sea, and genuine French culture at every turn, making me want to return to this part of the world again and again.
My wife Sarah and I were traveling over our 15th wedding anniversary, and when we walked into our stateroom after embarking, we found Champagne quietly chilling in front of the window, providing a truly “Instagrammable” moment, with the harbor of Papeete framing the bottle perfectly in the background.
From there, our cruise only got better…
Relaxing the next day in the incredible natural harbor of Huahine in the Society Islands, Sarah and I chose to take the fun Le Truck trip to the local town to do a bit of early gift shopping, as well as have a mandatory drink at the sand-floored local yacht club.
A couple of days later, we arrived at Aitutaki in the Cook Islands. This is the only place in the world that could truly rival Tahiti as the “Jewel of the Pacific.” Taking a day cruise on the large atoll, we landed on a deserted island at the far end, allowing us time to just wander the beach and discuss how to resign from work and relocate here permanently. Finishing with a barbecue lunch of fish, salad, and local wine and beer, we returned to the boat, with a whole new appreciation of the term “paradise.”
After a couple of sea days, we returned to French Polynesia and set foot on Paul Gauguin Cruises’ private island of Motu Mahana off the coast of Taha'a. Known as the “Party Island,” Motu Mahana is reserved for the sole use of guests of The Gauguin and comes replete with a floating bar, incredible snorkeling, and a wedding ceremony venue (should you desire it).
Making some good friends on the trip allowed us the ability to relax in the palm-fringed water and while away the afternoon sipping cocktails and solving the world’s problems.
Bora Bora was our next stop, and it was everything I had dreamed of. Shades of blue in the sea like I had never seen anywhere in the world, the intimidating peak of the main island, and our own private beach all combined to make this port the most breathtaking I have ever been to.
One funny thing happened on the private beach in Bora Bora, which Paul Gauguin Cruises offers guests, that I have to share. While relaxing on the shore, other people from a large multimillion-dollar private super yacht tried to land on our beach. After some friendly but clear communication on behalf of Paul Gauguin Cruises, they had to move off and find their own beach to relax in. I mention this anecdote, as very rarely in my life have I ever gotten better treatment than guests on a super yacht!
Overnighting in Bora Bora is great, as it gives you the freedom to explore the island in more depth, enjoying both the beauty of the scenery in the day, as well as the vibrant and fun nightlife the island has to offer. One must-do is dinner at the world-famous Bloody Mary’s. Selecting your own piece of fresh fish, pork, chicken, or beef right off the ice before it is cooked is a real treat. With an actual Bloody Mary cocktail complementing the meal and my bare feet on the sand dining floor, I thought I was in culinary heaven. Surprisingly, the whole dining event was relatively cheap, especially when you understand that this is probably the most famous restaurant in the South Pacific.
The last port was visited prior to our return to Papeete: the incomparable Moorea. Just when I thought I couldn’t take in any more natural beauty, I woke to find us settled in a cerulean bay with gigantic peaks towering over us in true French Polynesian style. Choosing the “Ray and Shark” tour, we then joined a fun group and cruised over to a truly stunning lagoon for the day. I had never seen rays before in the wild, and viewing them in abundance in their natural habitat was incredible. Circling them were the (relatively) small blacktip reef shark, so deciding to dive in and join all the marine fun did take a little bit of courage.
Returning to the capital of French Polynesia, Papeete, I reflected on some of the main tips I could share with others cruising this beautiful part of the world with Paul Gauguin Cruises.
Dress is nice and easy. Unlike some other cruise lines, playing “dress-up” is not required, with casual dress during the day and “country-club casual” ruling the night. No need to pack a full dress suit or cowboy hat, which was a relief.
Embrace the French Culture. Relying only on my schoolboy French, I managed to have a number of fun conversations with many locals, ordering meals off the ship and buying a pair of new shoes in French. (Chaussures is French for shoes if you want to have a go yourself.) English is somewhat universal across the islands on the whole, but learning a few key French phrases and words makes the cruise a fun cultural event.
Try new things. Eating snails is not something I would normally do, so taking the opportunity to tuck into these as an evening treat in one of the ship’s dining venues was a truly memorable meal. Also, a huge selection of French and international wines truly expanded my somewhat limited knowledge in this area.
Try the degustation menu. Even though it is a small ship, The Gauguin has three diverse restaurants, all offering incredibly high-level food choices. French celebrity chef Jean-Pierre Vigato’s degustation menu, developed for the La Veranda restaurant, is a genuine culinary event, so make sure you take plenty of time to savor each bite (and sip of wine) that is offered to you.
Imbibing. You actually have to stop some waiters from topping up the wine in your glass, and only on The Gauguin have I ever seen a waiter “fast-walk” to my table to ensure my glass does not run dry. On a very positive note, it does make it feel like you have only had one glass of wine all night, which enlivens conversation.
Service. In my experience, nothing is too much to ask for on The Gauguin! The staff are attentive, friendly, and genuinely want to help, so sing out if you have any issues you need resolved, and they will come to your rescue.
Favorite spot. La Palette Lounge on the top stern (rear) deck. During the day, this is a laidback sun trap, where you can while away the day, watching islands drift off into the distance. In the evening, it turns into a fun bar / nightclub, replete with Santa Rosa (the superb in-house band), karaoke, and the latest tunes via the in-house DJ.
To say our trip on The Gauguin was amazing is a complete understatement. Like flying First Class, the problem is after tasting the delights of the service, islands, food, wine, and activities of Paul Gauguin Cruises, you’ll find it difficult to compare it to any other travel or cruise options internationally.
My wife and I are cruising on The Gauguin again soon, with our next date already booked and locked in. If you ever find me relaxing in the Piano Bar, with a cocktail in hand, or staring longingly at the beautiful South Pacific sea, come and say “hi,” as I would love to share my next journey around Tahiti with you.
Tom O’Neil will be lecturing on the July 10, 2019, Society Islands & Tuamotus voyage. For more information on this sailing, click here.