A model on a Paul Gauguin Cruises photo shoot, Elke enjoyed her shipboard experience so much, she returned as a guest—twice. She shares some of the moments that made the voyages so special for her now 11-year-old son.
What comes to mind for you when you think of French Polynesia? Visions of stilted bungalows nestled over the crystal-clear waters of Bora Bora and Moorea? Honeymooners holding hands and strolling under swaying palm trees? For me, it’s the image of my son frolicking in sun-warmed waters, giggling, with a huge smile on his face. As a seasoned traveler, I’m always surprised when people tell me, “We always leave our kids at home when we take a vacation.” I get that couple time is important. To me, though, the amazing life lessons kids learn from travel and the enrichment they receive from local culture stay with them for a lifetime and shape who they become as adults. So, for me, the question is: why wouldn’t you take your kids?
My husband, son, and I have taken the 7-night Tahiti & the Society Islands voyage aboard the m/s Paul Gauguin twice, and to me, The Gauguin is truly the best way to experience French Polynesia as a family. So many choices filled each day! The only question is: where to begin? I think the easiest way to way to explain how wonderful French Polynesia and The Gauguin are for families is to describe our experiences and adventures in each port.
My son loves history, and Huahine is a great first stop to take in the history of French Polynesia! Starting from the port town of Maroe, we took a tour around the island. From the dock, we stopped at Fare, a sleepy fishing village, where you can see the mountain whose ridge gave the island its name (literally, pregnant woman). At Maeva, there is Fare Pote’e, a replica of an open, traditional house that is a museum with historical and cultural information. Fare was the seat of local power for the island, so there are a host of marae (religious sites built from stone) scattered along the shoreline. This stop was very interesting to my son and transported us back in time to how life was lived here so many moons ago.
If you are interested in how pearls or vanilla are produced, you can easily visit farms for each here and be amazed by their elaborate production processes. My son was fascinated by both! The small boat ride out to the pearl farm was also a lot of fun.
Another stop that fascinated him was our visit to Faie, where you can see and even feed sardines to Huahine’s famous and sacred blue-eyed eels. My son was mesmerized by these friendly and curious creatures swimming around his feet.
French Polynesia is a water playground for all ages because of its calm waters, beautiful sandy beaches, and gently sloping shores. Motu Mahana, The Gauguin’s private islet, is just the place to dip in and enjoy some great snorkeling, kayaking, and swimming. Or you can just lounge on the sandbar or build a sand castle. My son gladly participated in all the motu has to offer! Throughout the day, The Gauguin’s troupe of Tahitian ambassadors, Les Gauguines and Les Gauguin, provided entertainment, demonstrations, and storytelling. The fascinating legend of how the coconut tree came to be was one that children and adults could enjoy equally. And everyone gets a fresh coconut to drink from while lounging under the dappled shade of coconut trees. What could be better or tastier than that?
When we were on Bora Bora, my son the history buff appreciated the stories of World War II and how Bora Bora played a strategic role in the conflict.
And here’s something else he appreciated about Bora Bora: the beautiful coral reefs that make the island an ideal place to snorkel and dive. The Gauguin offers an onboard Discover SCUBA Diving class that can count toward PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) certification. My son took the class on both voyages so that we could all dive together as a family. The ship’s dive team is very knowledgeable, nice, and thorough, and they put my son right at ease.
Bora Bora and Moorea both have wonderful shallow dive sites for beginners (under 30 feet) where beautiful coral and fish are abundant. The clarity is wonderful to the point that you forget you are underwater! I think I have hundreds of pictures of my son giving me underwater OK and hang-ten hand signals, he enjoyed it so much. He especially loved the blacktip sharks, giant turtles, slews of colorful fish, dynamic coral, little underwater Christmas trees, and blue-lipped clams that closed up as if by magic when he waved his hand over them.
The Gauguin also has a private beach on Bora Bora—a restful spot to lounge in shallow waters with Mount Otemanu in the background. My son played a little trick on me with a coconut that looked like an eel coming out of the water. I guess he WAS paying attention when Les Gauguines told the Polynesian legend of a prince becoming the first coconut tree. If you look at a coconut shell, it really does look like an eel’s face. Uncanny!
Moorea was our favorite island! In fact, we loved it so much, we spent another week there both times after our cruises. We loved visiting the little idyllic motus and snorkeling until our fingers and toes turned into little prunes, which was forever since the water is so warm. My son spent so much time underwater petting the gentle and graceful rays. And what little boy wouldn’t be over the moon to be face to face with blacktip sharks? He definitely had some interesting and adventurous stories to tell his buddies back home!
On our last trip to Moorea, we kayaked out to a little motu and gathered little hermit crabs along the beach and had hermit crab races, ending in a rainbow over the water. Great memories!
By land, make sure you make it up to the Belvedere lookout point, where there are lush and gorgeous vistas of Opunohu and Cook’s Bays and Mt. Rotui. Just before you get there, you can stop at Marae Titiroa to wander among the many preserved marae platforms linked by a walking track. My son loved this trek through the cool dense forest of chestnut trees that shelters these pieces of history. There are lots of signs marking and explaining everything, and the trail is easy for families to follow. The archery platform was his favorite.
Shopping. Shopping. Shopping. Need I say more? My son, the little shopper, loved le Marche de Pape’ete to buy friends, family, and himself beautiful black pearl and shell jewelry, monoi (coconut oils) and fragrant tiare soaps, and colorful island-y trinkets.
Of course, you don’t have to be visiting an island to have a great time! Life aboard ship fleshed out the experience for our family. On each voyage, we were blown away by the kindness of the ship’s crew and how especially sweet they were to my son—always joking with him and genuinely looking after him. I don’t think there was a staff member who didn’t know my son’s name and what he liked to eat and drink.
Their attention to detail is simply incredible. My son has a severe peanut allergy, which can be very stressful when you’re eating out, especially when you’re abroad. Hernie from the dining staff went way beyond the call of duty to make sure my son was safe AND enjoyed the amazing culinary creations on board. My son has broadened his palate, developing a taste for pâté and brie with baguettes, and he ate desserts with abandon. We definitely all tipped the scales a little heavier when we departed the ship!
There’s a lot more to life aboard than just the gourmet-quality local and French foods. We enjoyed interesting lectures about the history, culture, and the environment of the region by very knowledgeable speakers. My son loves the ocean and was very interested in hearing about coral reef restoration by one of the lecturers. We also learned local stories and legends and listened to beautiful songs sung by Les Gauguines and Les Gauguins along the way.
My son and I also had so much fun immersing ourselves in creating crafts with local materials, making several different types of bracelets (shell bracelets, local bean bracelets, and textile bracelets), hand-painted bookmarks and postcards on tapas (paper made from hibiscus bark), and leis (fragrant floral necklaces) with the local mamas of Moorea.
You can also go on land/sea excursions—or simply relax and take in the natural beauty of the lush green islands surrounding you, as you listen to Les Gauguines and Les Gauguins strumming ukuleles as you sit on the pool deck or paddle around the pool.
My son made a friend on board, and we found that our voyage gave us a good mix of family and new-friend time.
It was with heavy hearts that we departed the ship. My son loved The Gauguin, the ports, the activities, and the crew so very much! The amazing people and places we visited linger in our hearts and minds with the melody of the islands, and we are all forever changed as a family by our experiences there. So, yes … definitely take your kids on a trip of a lifetime!
Post c/o the Paul Gauguin Cruises Blog April 12 2019
Original content can be found here