Experts of Tahiti: Carol Parsons Reveals Her French Polynesia Favorites


Experts of Tahiti: Carol Parsons Reveals Her French Polynesia Favorites

March 26, 2019

Being in French Polynesia, sailing through the painter’s palette of blues and greens capped off by resplendent sunset skies, adventuring in a new corner of paradise every day. As a cruise educator in the travel industry, I’m frequently asked to share my favorite cruise experiences. I recently sailed on the m/s Paul Gauguin on a voyage to Tahiti and the Society Islands, and I’d like to share some thoughts about what I liked best about the voyage.

Carol Parsons paddleboarding in a lagoon at sunset with views of Bora Bora.


For me, great food is the crowning glory of a magnificent vacation. It’s an opportunity to try new things and be inspired by local ingredients and the talents of those who know how to use them. That’s what dining is like on The Gauguin. As you sail along from one amazing port to the next, you get to savor the talents of executive chefs who bring the best from the French culinary arts combined with the intriguing ingredients of the islands to your table in the most delightful ways. And, in fact, they don’t stop with the immediate locale. Throughout the days on board, many cultures and cuisines are expertly represented on menus that read like happy short stories.

L’Etoile is the main dining room on the m/s Paul Gauguin and is open each evening.

Evening menu dish served at L’Etoile.

On The Gauguin, the food experience is every bit as extraordinary as the surroundings. Every meal offers a choice of dining venues. A couple of dining tips–because I never want to miss a culinary thing! Always order the “Intermezzo” course when dining at L’Etoile. It’s a palate-cleansing treat—a little dessert right in the middle of your meal! The house-made sorbets have flavors like green tea, raspberry mint, and mango peach. I would never suggest you skip dessert, but if you do–not to worry–your table will be presented with a delightful assortment of “petit fours”—bite-sized sweets like tiny eclairs, hazelnut truffles, and other impossibly delicious morsels!

Outdoor tables on the ship at the La Veranda so guests can dine al fresco.

Dessert dish and coffee served at La Veranda.

Onboard Heiva (a.k.a. Polynesian Night)

Polynesian culture is colorful and exuberant, and it is celebrated on board The Gauguin in so many ways. My favorite, though, is when the local folks from Moorea come on board and bring their party with them! Heiva in Tahiti is all about coming together to celebrate song and dance and the very sensibilities of being Polynesian.

A Tahitian women with tropical flowers in her hair on Polynesian Night aboard the m/s Paul Gauguin.

The evening that we are in Moorea, it’s the intoxicating scent of flowers outside L’Etoile, the ship’s main restaurant, that first gets your attention. That’s the local “mamas” weaving heis (wreaths of flowers for your head) and leis (for around your neck) out of the luscious tropical flowers they’ve brought on board by the basketful. Don’t be shy (the Polynesians tend to be)—sit right down with them, and they’ll show you how it’s done! By the time we all filter in to dinner, we are all sporting the results of our efforts, and we look (and smell) great! After an amazing Polynesian-themed meal, the entertainment ratchets up in energy with local performers and their powerful traditional dances. It’s not long before we’re all a part of the celebration!

Carol Parsons making a tropical flower lei to go with her tropical flower hei on Polynesian Night aboard the m/s Paul Gauguin.


Really want to feel the mana (spirit) of the islands? Grab a yoga mat from the Fitness Center (Deck 6) and head up to Deck 9—it’s almost always quiet up there, and the view from your Warrior 1 pose is AMAZING!


That feeling as you glide back to your stateroom after a spa treatment is indeed priceless! Even better are the specials offered by the Deep Nature Spa by Algotherm throughout the cruise. No need to choose between the Monoï Oil Massage and the Bora Bora Deep Blue Massage—have both of these signature treatments!

Cruise guests at the Deep Nature Spa by Alogtherm aboard the m/s Paul Gauguin.

Shipboard Activities

Not to be missed! There is SO much to see and do on board The Gauguin, and your first days may seem full just taking it all in! Here’s my personal list of things to make sure you work in to your agenda:

  • “Tableau Gauguin.” This event is a very special “living art” performance that happens on the evening of the Captain’s Welcome Party. In a stunning homage to French post-impressionist painter (and the ship’s namesake) Paul Gauguin, his iconic artwork of the islands is simultaneously projected in the background and portrayed live on stage by Les Gauguines. It’s the perfect way to evoke the spirit of the islands we’re about to visit!

Les Gauguines performing in the Grand Salon aboard the m/s Paul Gauguin a homage to artist Paul Gauguin.

  • The Children of Huahine. We get to be there and be a part of the passing along of these traditions from one generation to the next—and that’s a privilege and a pleasure! When the children of the Garden Island come aboard to welcome us as Polynesians do—through song and dance–it’s more than entertainment. It’s such a very special way to experience the culture of the islands.

A local Tahitian performer from the Children of Huahine performance aboard the m/s Paul Gauguin.

  • A Cooking Demonstration. If you want to see some of the techniques behind the magic that appears on your plate each evening on board, don’t miss it when the Executive Chef invites us all to Le Grand Salon to show us a couple of his favorite recipes. We watched on the overhead camera as he whipped up a classic Poisson Cru (raw fish, the quintessential Polynesian dish) and then switched gears to make the Truffle and Mushroom Risotto with Parmesan Crisp we still dream about. Of course, we got to taste his creations there—as well as when we ordered them later in the sailing!

Just like the rest of your time here in paradise, it’s all yours to savor, and The Gauguin offers the perfect way to experience the islands and authentic Polynesian culture in this beautiful area of the world.

To learn about The Gauguin’s dining venues, click here.

For more information about the Deep Nature Spa by Algotherm, click here.

For more information about entertainment aboard The Gauguin, click here.