As experts in luxury, small-ship cruising in Tahiti, French Polynesia, and the South Seas, team members of Paul Gauguin Cruises are showcasing their favorite experiences, tips, activities, and memories in this beautiful destination as part of our “Experts of Tahiti” series.
A cruise specialist for Paul Gauguin Cruises, Patti O’Hara has sailed four times in the past six years on the m/s Paul Gauguin on a variety of itineraries—the 7-night Tahiti & the Society Islands in 2010 and 2012; the 10-night Society Islands & Tuamotus in 2011; and the 11-night Fiji & Australia in 2014. This summer, she’ll cruise again on the popular 7-night Tahiti & the Society Islands itinerary. On the different voyages, she has had the opportunity to sail with her daughter, her sister, sister-in-law, niece, and friend.
You’ve traveled with your sister, daughter, niece, and friend. French Polynesia is known as a romantic destination. What is it like visiting this destination with friends and family instead of as part of a couple?
I want to let people know French Polynesia and the South Seas are not just for romance and couples. This is a dream destination and a place in the world that continues to be authentic and interesting. There is always something new to experience above and below the water. The people of the South Pacific are lovely, and the destination is incredibly beautiful. We always make new friends aboard who aren’t traveling with a partner and create the best memories while sailing on the most amazing ship in the world.
You’ve sailed on various itineraries aboard The Gauguin. What was the most exotic?
The Fiji & Australia voyage was the most exotic one that I have sailed with Paul Gauguin Cruises. In the port of Keita, Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, The Gauguin was the first cruise ship to drop anchor. We were greeted by an amazing group of locals who had never met anyone outside of their village. So there I was expecting to be fascinated with the people of this nation, only to find them just as fascinated with me. Never before had a local asked me to pose for a photo until that day.
What were some of your favorite ports on the Fiji & Australia itinerary?
Samarai Island in Papua New Guinea offers one of the most unbelievable snorkeling experiences. We used the ship’s complimentary snorkel gear and saw one of the world’s most pristine coral beds imaginable.
What was a highlight of the cruise?
To have the amazing opportunity to visit such a remote part of the world with my daughter was the highlight. This was educational beyond compare. I would also say all the SCUBA dive excursions. Each one was so peaceful— just you, your buddies, dive masters, and the underwater world. Each time I returned to the ship, I always felt exhilarated and proud of my accomplishment in diving.
Which destination was your favorite?
We loved Fiji because we experienced an amazing SCUBA experience in a beautiful part of the world. The Fijian people are also quick to greet you with a smile and a song. The weather was ideal and, honestly, the flight to Fiji was over before we knew it.
Did you try SCUBA diving before sailing on The Gauguin?
Since I am from New England with its cold, dark waters, SCUBA diving was never on my radar before I began working for Paul Gauguin Cruises. While on my first cruise, the divers looked like they were having so much fun, I vowed to return and give SCUBA diving a try. Avid divers consistently sail with Paul Gauguin Cruises, and I was anxious to see what all the fuss was about! Also, the ship’s captain, Captain Zupan, encouraged me and told me I did have the courage to try it. He was right!
Can you describe The Gauguin’s Discover SCUBA program?
I signed up for the program in Huahine, on day two of the cruise. I was placed in a group of people who had never dived before and spent a few hours poolside learning the basics from The Gauguin’s dive team and using the equipment in the water. Once this two-hour process is complete, and you feel comfortable with the equipment and what you have learned, The Gauguin’s dive team assists you in signing up for your first beginner dive. It was such an incredible experience with the dive staff, and I was hooked. One year later, I completed my SCUBA certification course back home.
Do you have a favorite dive excursion? How did it feel to dive vs. snorkel?
My favorite dive was Shark Gallery in Moorea. I was encouraged to book this particular dive for ease and the excitement level. What a spectacular experience it was! You simply suit up in the ship’s marina and depart by Zodiac to your dive site. There is an abundance of coral and sea life 40 feet underwater that you cannot experience with snorkel gear. I adore The Gauguin’s dive team for encouraging me (and our guests) to go beyond our comfort zone. Their knowledge, patience, and dedication to the diving experience are beyond compare. And they work effortlessly to ensure all beginner divers and expert divers enjoy a safe and spectacular experience. I encourage everyone on board to stop by and meet this talented group of dive professionals. They have many unique underwater stories to share.
Do you have any advice for guests who are interested in open-water certification?
Complete the classroom exercises before your cruise. Use your time on the sailing to complete your open-water certification. What could be better than learning to dive in the South Pacific!
Did your daughter participate in Ambassadors of the Environment Family Program?
My daughter has participated two times in the program and will again this summer. The first time, I went along with her because she was only 11 years of age. The second time, she was 13, and I watched from the sidelines. This will be her third time, and at 17 years old, she is thrilled to still qualify. She can’t wait for June but will miss part of the program because, now that she is a certified SCUBA diver, she will be participating in The Gauguin’s SCUBA diving excursions with me.
What were your daughter’s favorite excursions or activities in the Ambassadors Program?
She loved the Stingray Ballet & Snorkel Safari in Bora Bora and Trails of Ancients Trek in Moorea. She adores, and I mean adores, the Ambassadors Program naturalists. They teach you all about marine life science in a fun and hands-on setting. She enjoyed every lecture and took away so much knowledge from the star gazing session at night. Kids from around the world partake in the program, and she loved meeting and getting to know them. She still keeps in contact with many of them through social media. It takes kids normally days to meet each other, but with the Ambassadors Program you become instant friends (and family!), beginning day one of the cruise.
Does it feel special that your daughter will have these lifelong memories of traveling with you?
These memories are etched in her soul and have had a major influence on school courses she selects and interests she holds. Through the Ambassadors Program, she became much more aware of the environment. Instead of planet Earth, she now calls it planet Ocean! It is a really special program, and we relive it through the hundreds of pictures on CD documenting the voyage that Ambassadors staff send home with you. Many of these photos can be found all over the homes of our family and friends in the U.S. Besides, it’s often thought that travel is the best education.
What was your favorite moment aboard The Gauguin?
The first time I stepped onboard the m/s Paul Gauguin, I knew I was home.
What was your favorite dining venue aboard the ship?
On the outside deck of La Veranda for breakfast and lunch. This intimate spot has the feel of a private yacht and affords views beyond compare.
Name a “must-do” activity/shore excursion.
Make time to visit our private beach in Bora Bora and private islet of Motu Mahana. And, if you are interested in SCUBA diving, our dive team is top-notch and takes you to some of the most fascinating dive spots in the world.
Any tips or packing suggestions?
Don’t forget to pack a Rash Guard swim shirt, sunscreen, and flip flops.
What three words describe the Paul Gauguin Cruises experience?
It is hard to pick just three, but these three words sum it up best—spectacular, life changing, and unforgettable.
What is the best part about your job?
Every day, I enjoy sharing the exceptional voyages we offer with travelers from all over the world. I am very lucky!
To learn more about our SCUBA diving program, click here. For more information about the Ambassadors of the Environment Family Program, which is available on summer and holiday sailings, please click here to view information and sample schedules.