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by Linda and Don Overend

We awaken to see morning light painting hundreds of shades of green on the mountains of the island of Moorea. The waters outside our veranda sparkle every color from cobalt to turquoise. The scent of tropical flowers, plumeria and ginger waft into our cabin. A soft knocking on the door tells us that our breakfast is being delivered. We know that we are about to begin "another crappy day in paradise."

We are on board the Radisson Seven Seas Cruise Line's Paul Gauguin, in the midst of a seven-day cruise of French Polynesia. We began in Papeete, Tahiti, at the Beachcomber Resort for a three-day pre-cruise sojourn. This excellent property provided us comfortable accommodations and luxurious grounds while we explored the island and the capital city of Papeete.

On Saturday afternoon, the staff of the Paul Gauguin arrived at the hotel to register our group and to transfer us to the dock in a staggered and very orderly process. We were greeted at the gangway by Polynesian hostesses and escorted to our staterooms to find our luggage already laid out for unpacking and the cabin prepared with flowers, fresh fruit and a complimentary fully-stocked minibar which was regularly replenished.

Our spacious veranda would be the site of meals, cocktails and just observing the beauties of Polynesia. We sailed that evening for our first island, Huahine, departing Papeete during our first dinner.

Dining was all open seating in three separate restaurants on board: L'Etoile, the main dining room; Le Grill, a pool- deck restaurant with a difference where a reservation-only evening meal was served al fresco; and La Veranda, a similar, more intimate indoor restaurant which served alternating French and Italian menus, again by reservation, but at no additional charge.

Above La Veranda, up a flight of spiral stairs, was the Connoisseur Club, for quiet after-dinner cognac and cigars. Cuisine at all dining venues was excellent, nicely presented and attentively served.

The Paul Gauguin is decorated in sophisticated style understated, not glitzy. With only 320 passengers and a crew almost as large, the public rooms never had a crowded feeling, as the spaces are quite large for the guests on board.

There is a small casino, a Carita-sponsored spa, a boutique, a showroom and a number of lounges, as well as card rooms and a small library. There are no formal dress evenings; the dinner dress is suggested as "country-club casual."

The service was uniformly prompt and delivered by smiling staff members. The ship is well-equipped for water sports with an aft retractable sports deck with kayaks, wave-runners and complimentary snorkeling equipment, and an excellent staff of scuba instructors and diving gear is available.

We visited Huahine, Raiatea and Taha'a (which share the same lagoon), Bora Bora and Moorea with two days at each of the latter two islands. We took jeep tours of the islands, rented a car to explore Bora Bora, tried our hand at scuba diving and snorkeling in the crystal waters, and prowled the small villages and the ancient Polynesian temples.

All of the islands were lush with vegetation, pierced by rivers and waterfalls and crowned with pointed volcanic mountains. The mountaintops were often ringed with clouds, but showers were rare and short. French and Tahitian were heard as well as English, and we had no difficulty communicating with the island residents.

We visited pineapple plantations and vanilla plantations. These crops, plus black pearl farming, are the major source of income for the islands, along with the tourist trade. Tahitian black pearls are indeed beautiful and range in color from black, through iridescent peacock colors to gray. Several members of the small group of Springfieldians who shared this adventure took advantage of the availability of these rare gems and purchased them on various islands.

Although all of the islands are similar, our favorite was Moorea, the island made famous as Bali Ha'i in James Michener's "Tales of the South Pacific." Moorea seemed more pristine, more lushly vegetated and less populated, and with a more dramatic mountain profile than the others. But the difference is only slight, and our opinion may have been colored by our magical expectations for Bali Ha'i.

Our cruise ended back at the dock in Papeete, where we enjoyed a final dinner overlooking the lights of the city and overnighted on board to disembark and begin our return flight in the morning hours the following day.

Incidentally, Papeete is the only port where dock facilities are available. The Paul Gauguin anchored at the other islands and we tendered into the shore, with prompt and comfortable tender service always available.

We can only award our highest praise to the Paul Gauguin the ship, the staff, and the ports visited during these days in French Polynesia, days that have been the closest to paradise that we have ever experienced.

Our return to reality was very difficult.

(Linda and Don Overend are co-owners of Ozark World Travel, a full-service travel agency in Springfield.)

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