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SPECIAL CRUISE ISSUE | CRUISE VIEWS

More Ships, Lower Prices in Society Islands Sailings

February 04, 2001|SHIRLEY SLATER and HARRY BASCH

Perhaps it's the competition among three deluxe new ships, the Paul Gauguin from Radisson Seven Seas carrying 320 passengers and the R3 and R4 from Renaissance carrying 684 each, but cruise fares in the pricey Society Islands are becoming more affordable.

The luxurious Paul Gauguin is offering lower-than-usual winter and spring prices from Papeete, Tahiti, now through its April 28 departure. With a seven-night cruise priced from $2,595 per person, double occupancy, you also get a choice of free round-trip economy air fare from 82 North American gateways or a three-night pre-cruise stay at the new Sheraton Lagoon Resort and Spa in Moorea.

It sweetens the offer even more to note that the bottom price is for an outside cabin with portholes, that gratuities, an in-cabin bar and wine with lunch and dinner are included, and that your accommodation at the hotel is an over-water bungalow, not an ordinary room. (If you choose the hotel stay, your air fare add-on from the West Coast is $599.)

Half the cabins on this ship have private balconies, and all are furnished with queen-size beds (a few can convert to twins), personal safe, bathroom with tub and shower, cotton bathrobes and hair dryer. The smallest are 200 square feet with picture windows or portholes, and the largest are from 300 to 457 square feet plus private veranda.

The ship's retractable water sports platform gives access to free water skiing, windsurfing and kayaking, and a full scuba program is available.

Dress aboard is termed "country club casual," which means no tie is required for men and a jacket is suggested only on captain's party evenings.

We thought the food was excellent aboard the Paul Gauguin, especially the dinners in La Veranda restaurant created by two-star Guide Michelin chef Jean-Pierre Vigato. A deck grill also is open in the evenings, and the open-seating Art Deco-style L'Etoile restaurant serves three meals daily.

The spa is operated by Carita of Paris.

The casino, because of local regulations, requires a one-time $10 membership fee to play.

For romantics, the Society Islands--including Tahiti, Bora-Bora and Moorea--are ideal honeymoon territory, and newlyweds aboard the Gauguin get a complimentary bottle of champagne, a souvenir photograph, a special pillow gift and a Polynesian wedding blessing ceremony from the ship's hosts.

If you need more time to plan for a Society Islands cruise, the Renaissance twins R3 and R4 have fares as low as $799 per person, double occupancy, including port charges, for an inside cabin if you book and pay in full 90 days before sailing. But if you have an urge to leave now, you'll still pay as little $1,299 per person, double occupancy, for seven days or $1,499 for 10.

The eight R-class ships from Renaissance are attractive, especially for this price range, and all are virtually identical except for a slightly different cabin configuration on the second four. Dress is casual, and dining is open seating with passengers arriving when they please and sitting where and with whom they please. Besides the Club restaurant and bar, passengers may dine in the Grill Steakhouse, the Italian restaurant and the Panorama Buffet.

The cabins average 173 square feet but range from 146 to 598 square feet (the latter for suites). Each is furnished with twin beds that can be put together to make a queen-size bed, along with sofa, vanity-desk with chair, TV, personal safe and bath with shower.

The Renaissance ships spend one night in Papeete on the seven-day cruises, offered in June and early July, and three nights in Papeete and one each in Moorea, Raiatea and Bora-Bora on the 10-day cruises, which sail year-round.

Shore excursions also are similar, with a visit to the Gauguin Museum (don't expect any Gauguin originals) on an around-the-island drive from Papeete, catamaran cruises with snorkeling and swimming stops, outrigger excursions to see sharks, rays and dolphins, and cultural tours.

For free color brochures, contact a travel agent or call Radisson Seven Seas, (800) 285-1835, Internet http://www.rssc.com, or Renaissance at (800) 590-3405, http://www.renaissancecruises.com.

*

Shirley Slater and Harry Basch travel as guests of the cruise lines. Cruise Views appears the first and third week of every month.

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