When the words “Bora-Bora” and “Tahiti” come up in conversation, they’re usually followed by that often-used adjective, “bucket list.” And the adjective is well deserved: with their lush landscapes, turquoise lagoons, and overwater bungalows, French Polynesia’s Society Islands — an archipelago formed by Bora-Bora, Moorea, Huahine, and Tahiti, the main isle, among others — are legendary for a reason.
But put those overwater bungalows aside for one second. Another memorable way to experience French Polynesia and the South Pacific is on the water, where you can sail from one picturesque spot to the next and truly get a feel for life on the high seas. Clearly, our readers agree: for the second year in a row, Paul Gauguin Cruises — a single-vessel line that sails to the Society Islands, the Marquesas, Fiji, and the Cook Islands — won for the World’s Best Midsize-Ship Ocean Cruise Line. As one fan described, “The Paul Gauguin perfectly complements the breathtaking views and calm waters of these island paradises. The intimate feeling, unrivaled crew-to-passenger ratio and outstanding service make you feel like the entire cruise was put together for YOU alone!”
Every year for our World’s Best Awards survey, T+L asks readers to weigh in on travel experiences around the globe — to share their opinions on the top hotels, resorts, cities, islands, cruise ships, spas, airlines, and more. Readers rated individual cruise ships on their cabins and facilities, food, service, itineraries and destinations, excursions and activities, and value. Those assessments were combined to generate results for the cruise lines in five categories; midsize-ship ocean cruise lines have vessels that can carry 250 to 599 passengers.
The other winners in this category all have three things in common: great service, luxurious amenities, and exotic, destination-intensive itineraries. For example, Seabourn, which placed second, partners with UNESCO on select shore excursions to promote the mission of the World Heritage sites. One of their vessels, the ice-strengthened, 458-passenger Seabourn Quest, also makes regular voyages to Antarctica. “It was spectacular,” said one reader who took this very trip. “The expedition team was amazing and Seabourn didn’t miss a trick when it came to our safety and pleasure.”
Regent Seven Seas Cruises, which ranked fourth, also places guest comfort at a premium. The brand recently transformed their 490-passenger Seven Seas Navigator, with suites and public spaces now displaying a more contemporary look. But unlike many other lines, Regent builds shore excursions into the price of their cruise fare — something that clearly is a hit with their customers. “Our trip on the Navigator last year to the Med was our first cruise with Regent. The all-inclusive excursions were as good or better than many we have paid hundreds for. We are converts.”
Why does this intimate cruise line — which has just a single ship, the 332-passenger Paul Gauguin, which travels to French Polynesia, Fiji, and the Cook Islands — resonate so deeply with our readers? For some, it’s the all-inclusive nature of the experience (“no nickel and diming”); for others, it’s the “incredible service” and “tremendous food,” which ranges from Polynesian specialties such as poisson cru to lobster with vanilla sauce and perfectly cooked steaks. Having a private island to call upon in French Polynesia, the Motu Mahana, where guests are treated to a barbecue beach day, doesn’t hurt either. As one reader succinctly put it: “Luxury done right!”