The newly minted owners of the Paul Gauguin have big plans for their new ship - but sailing in Tahiti isn't one of them.

Tour operators Grand Circle Corporation and Vantage Group Deluxe World Travel, which recently bought the Radisson Seven Seas Cruises-operated (RSSC) ship from Zurich Insurance Group subsidiary Centre Group Holdings, will reposition the ship in 2006 to sail virtually all over the world. "We're not going to sail in Tahiti past 2005," said Mark Frevert, executive vice president and chief architect for Grand Circle.

He noted, however, that it will operate through next year on scheduled RSSC departures, which will also be marketed by the two new owners. "We'll be selling travelers into those departures," said Frevert. Vantage and Grand Circle, he said, are direct marketers that serve primarily an older demographic. The average age of Grand Circle's customers is about 70. The joint acquisition of the 320-passenger Paul Gauguin by the two companies marks their maiden foray into oceangoing vessels.  

"We've been looking at oceangoing vessels for five years now," Frevert said. "We hadn't found the right ship at the right price until now... we like it because it's relatively small, and it's never been our intention to dump 2,000 people off in San Juan (for example)."

While Frevert declined to say how much the two companies paid for the ship, he did note that the price tag was less than the $140 million to $150 million it took to build the ship back in 1997. Officials at Centre Group Holdings did not return calls by press time.

As for RSSC, a big decision looms. Andrew Poulton, director of strategic marketing, said it's too early to say whether the cruise line will sail one of its own ships in Tahiti once the Paul Gauguin leaves.

"It's an option we're looking at," Poulton said.

"The big question for us is whether or not we continue to have a Tahiti product. Will it work from a financial standpoint?" Poulton said RSSC has built a franchise in Tahiti over the last eight years and is well­ established there, but it's too soon to tell whether it will continue its presence there after 2005.

Poulton said RSSC owns all of its ships except the Radisson Diamond (and the Gauguin), which is on a long-term charter.