Occupation:Travel Agent - Cruise Specialist
Number of Cruises: 43
Cruise Line: Paul Gauguin Cruises
Ship: Paul Gauguin
Sailing Date: 2012-09-1
Tahiti Trip Review Paul Gauguin Cruise & Private Island Stay
June 7 through June 21, 2012
Tahiti. Even the name conjures up visions of a romantic, beautiful, mysterious, and magical place full of expectations and wonderment. It is truly a special place one that is above all others when it comes to natural beauty. Love, life, excitement, and spirit are renewed as people indulge in its many splendors. James Michener once said of all the places he’s visited around the world, Bora Bora is the most beautiful island on earth.
Because of that, a trip to Tahiti has been number one on our Bucket List for about 15 years. It is the one place we have always wanted to go above all others, so when the opportunity presented itself to us, we could not afford to miss it. It is definitely not a cheap place, since the nearest major port is Auckland, New Zealand at around 2,500 miles away and everything has to be flown in or shipped in, which adds to the costs as it’s not on any major shipping routes. Many people have seen the beautiful pictures of bungalows perched on pillars above the incredibly clear waters. But these come at a cost and are usually around $800 to $1000 a night. And this does not take into account the high cost of food â€“ a resort will charge as much as $75 for a buffet breakfast for two. It’s not unusual for a couple to spend upwards of $10,000 for a weeklong stay at a tropical resort on Bora Bora or Moorea. Add the cost of airfare, which is about $1,600 per person round-trip from LA to Papeete (pronounced pa-pee-et-tay), plus another $450 per person for round-trip inter-island airfare, and one begins to understand why this type of trip is usually reserved for very special occasions, like honeymoons. Such was the case for Nancy and I as we chose this trip to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary. There are specials occasionally offered for around $7000 per couple from LA, but these is for standard rooms and not overwater bungalows and may include breakfasts but no other meals.
During my review, I’ll try to remember to put a comment after a Tahitian word to show how the correct pronunciation. Each vowel is pronounced in the word, so for example, the name of the airport in Papeete is Faa’a. The way to pronounce this is fah-ah-ah. Everyone tends to mispronounce Tahitian words, so it was interesting and educational to learn how to pronounce them properly. Another example is Moorea. Almost everyone pronounces it moe-ray-ah. But the correct way to pronounce it is moe-oh-ray-ah.
Tahiti was proclaimed a colony of France in 1880, although it was not until 1946 that the indigenous Tahitians were legally authorized to be French citizens. French is the only official language, although the Tahitian language is widely spoken. So if you speak or have a working knowledge of French, you will be fine anywhere in French Polynesia. While everyone also speaks English, as with most foreign countries around the world, it’s always appropriate to speak some of the native language whenever possible. And because the islands are a French territory, you’ll meet many people from France who love to visit the islands. We met a lot of French, but also people from Australia, New Zealand, England, Switzerland, Spain, and other countries around the world.
Thursday, June 7th
Our son works for United Airlines, so we’re lucky enough to be able to fly from Dulles to LAX for free, but we have to fly standby. Because of this, we often have to fly sooner than we want in order to insure we make it to our destination on time. This trip was no exception. If we wanted to fly into LA the same day we were scheduled to fly out of LA to Tahiti, there were only two flights available to us. We chose the earliest one so just in case we didn’t make it we had another opportunity to fly non-stop from Dulles. The flight left at 6:50am, so we had to get up at 4:00am to make sure we finished packing and got to the airport by 5:30am. We arrived in LA at around 9:00am local time (roughly a 5-1/2 hour flight), which meant we had a 7-1/2 hour wait until our 4:30pm flight to Papeete. Because United does not have an interline agreement with Air Tahiti Nui, we also had to gather our luggage and keep it with us until the check-in counter opened. This is a very important item to consider when flying into LA and continuing on to Tahiti as you have to make sure you have plenty of time between flights. After we got our luggage, we grabbed a shuttle and went from the domestic terminal to the international terminal. Since the ticket counter didn’t open until 1:00pm, this meant dragging our suitcases around for 4 hours.
And speaking of luggage, while the weight limit from Dulles to LA and from LA to Papeete was 50 pounds, the weight limit on the inter-island airline, Air Tahiti, from Papeete to Raiatea is 40 pounds per person and this includes carry-on bags. So if our backpacks weighed around 10 pounds, this meant our suitcases could only weigh around 30 pounds. Needless to say, packing a suitcase for two weeks, including a one-week cruise on a luxury cruise ship, was not an easy task. Believe it or not, between two suitcases and two backpacks, we actually had a total of 80 pounds for the two of us and we were both thoroughly impressed with our amazing achievement.
In the international terminal at LAX there are a few choices for food, but it is quite expensive compared to a lot of the other airports we’ve been in around the world. We chose a Mexican food place for lunch and with two entrees and splitting one beer between us, the bill still came to $32. Unfortunately, the food was only one step above Taco Bell and there wasn’t a lot of it, so it turned out not to be a good choice.
We got in line at the Air Tahiti Nui ticket counter at 12:30pm hoping to be able to pay for an upgrade to first class. We had been given a travel agent discount on the coach airfare, so we weren’t sure if this would happen or not and were not too surprised to hear all the first class seats were sold. The counter opened at 1:00pm, we checked our bags, and then found a place to sit for the next 2-1/2 hours before heading to security. As we sat there, it was interesting watching all the people as the various airlines were sending their planes to destinations around the world. In the morning, the place was full of Orientals as planes headed towards Shanghai, Taipei, Hong Kong, and Tokyo. Then as the day wore on, Europeans filled the lines as planes were heading to Frankfurt, Paris, and London. And later, Middle Easterners filled the lines as planes headed to places like India, Pakistan, and Dubai.
When it was finally our time to get in line, it did not take long for us to navigate through security and head towards our gate. We found an Airbus 340 awaiting our embarkation. Nancy and I were assigned seats 35 F & G â€“ about 2/3’s of the way back. In that part of the plane, there are two seats next to the windows and 4 seats in the middle, which is where ours were. We immediately struck up a conversation with the couple behind us because, like me, he was wearing his Vietnam Veteran’s hat. They were from Long Island and they were also travel agents, so we shared a lot of interest.
We sat down and realized immediately Air Tahiti Nui had done like so many other airlines and try to cram as many seats in as little space as possible. At 6’1” and 220 pounds, it’s not easy for me to fit in one of these child-size seats, especially for 8-1/2 hours, which is why I hate to fly anymore. My knees were right up against the seatback in front of me and shortly after takeoff, the guy sitting in front decided to try and put his seat all the way back. This isn’t happening! I pushed his seat forward and let him know this was unacceptable. He kept trying to put it back and I kept pushing it forward. Turns out, he was from France and like many Frenchmen, they are very obstinate and uncaring about others. I complained to the flight attendants telling them I had had two knee surgeries over the last couple of years and I simply could not allow this encroachment, as I would be in extreme pain the entire flight. Unfortunately, they did not have two seats side-by-side available anywhere on the plane for us to move, so I was forced to move to a front row seat while Nancy stayed where she was. I was not a happy camper; especially given the TV at my seat did not work. I also sat between two people that did not speak English, which made the flight even longer as I had nothing to keep me occupied. Nancy was also not happy because when the gal in front of her put her seat all the way back, Nancy could not move and there was no way for her to put the tray table down in order to eat.
Needless to say, the flight itself was not what I had been expecting from such a highly rated airline and neither of us enjoyed it at all. But then again, there aren’t too many airlines out there anymore that do provide a good product they’re just too interested in making money than in providing good quality.
The only good thing about the flight was that alcohol was complimentary with dinner, so after 3 double shots of whiskey, it wasn’t long before I was out like a light.
Problem with a trip like this is that we had to get up at 4:00am and by the time we got to Papeete, it was 10:00pm their time, but it was 4:00am our body time. Being up for 24 hours with only an occasional catnap can really take its toll on those of us in the over-60 crowd. We were definitely looking forward to our hotel in hopes the hot tub or pool would still be open so we could work out some of the kinks and get a good night sleep.
Getting through customs and finding our luggage was fairly quick and painless, given it was so late in the evening. They did have a trio dressed in local costumes with a young lady dressed in a typical hula outfit dancing while the two guys played their ukuleles.
Turns out, the couple we met on the plane behind us were also going to the Intercontinental Tahiti, so we decided to share a taxi, which was $25 for the 10 minute 3 mile ride to the hotel. Check-in was very quick and we were delighted to find we had been upgraded 3 categories. Since we were only going to be there for 2 nights and about 1-1/2 days, we figured we would just get the least expensive room and save our money for other things. Still, it was really nice we were treated to an upgrade. They put us and our luggage in a little truck and off we went to the edge of the property. We were on the ground floor overlooking a beautiful pool area. We did not know it at the time as we couldn’t see it hidden among the trees and shrubbery, but there was a nice hot tub just steps away from our patio. Had we known this, it would have been the first thing we did. However, we were a little bit hungry and definitely in need of a drink, so we ordered room service and got a sandwich and a couple of beers to enjoy before going to bed. We had now been up for 26 hours. We had purchased a bottle of tequila at the duty free shop in LAX, so after a couple of shots, our beers, a quick snack, and a hot shower, it was not long before we were dead to the world.
Friday, June 8th
The day before had been a very long day, so we slept soundly in the very comfortable bed. We woke to find a lovely sunny day and all of the colors of the rainbow reflecting on the beautiful water. Our room was decorated nicely and was very pretty with a magnificent view. I walked around taking all the obligatory pictures of the room and the surrounding scenery, before we got dressed to meet the shuttle into town. We had decided not to eat breakfast at the hotel because at $75 for the two of us, we figured we’d just go into town and do a large lunch instead. The shuttle charges 400cfp (French Polynesian Francs) per person each way. This comes out to be roughly $4.25 and while it only makes the trip a couple of times a day it was far cheaper than the normal taxi fare.
When we got to town, we asked the driver for a recommendation on a restaurant and she pointed out one right on the main strip. It was just an average restaurant, but the food was very good and not too expensive, given where we were. Nancy got a Mahi Mahi burger that she said was excellent and I got my usual cheeseburger and French fries, which was also very good. (Price for my burger was about $25 and typical of the area.) All-inclusive, lunch came to about $75, but definitely was a lot cheaper than what the hotel charged. Following lunch, we started our search for the Tahitian Pearl Market, which is a store that had come highly recommended by several people as the place to go for the best deal on black pearls. After all, this was our 40th anniversary and the only thing I absolutely had to do while we were in Tahiti was to buy Nancy a lovely pair of black pearl earrings as my gift to her on this special occasion. It took a while, but we finally found it and spent an hour sitting down, learning about black pearls, and going over all the options until we found the perfect pair. Nancy was ecstatic about my gift and now wears them every chance she gets as she loves showing them off to everyone.
We then walked over to the central market where we purchased a couple of beautiful dresses for Nancy and one for our daughter. They had a wonderful assortment of hand-made jewelry, clothes, flowers, and many other items from which to choose.
After shopping and walking around for a few hours, we made our way to the spot where we were to catch the shuttle back to the hotel. After the pre-determined time had come and gone, we began to worry that we’d have to pay for an expensive taxi. About that time, a gentleman came up to us and asked if we were going to the Intercontinental and informed us there had been an accident, traffic was a disaster, and the shuttle would be about 45 minutes late. Since there is only one main road and it was rush hour, the problem was even more compounded, so everything was at a standstill. Here we were in paradise with a huge traffic jam!
When we got back to the hotel, we enquired about dinner and found there was a big show going on that night and we could do the seafood buffet and the show for around $125 per person or we could just do our own thing and order ala carte without the show. We chose the latter. Those who paid for the seafood buffet got to sit up close to the show. But as it turned out, the show was not too far from the regular dining area and everyone got to watch the show no matter where they ate. It was a very good choice on our part as we only spent about $80 for dinner instead of $250. The food was very good and the show was even better with local dancers performing the customary cultural dances of the area.
Saturday, June 9th
We could not board the ship until 3:00pm and the last shuttle left the hotel at 1:30pm, so we requested a late checkout, which was not a problem.
Note: For those coming in the day of the cruise, the Intercontinental also offers day rooms for anyone wanting to visit the resort and take advantage of all the amenities prior to boarding the ship.
We went to the breakfast buffet and found it adequate, but nothing special and nothing fancy. For around $40 per person, we definitely would have expected a lot more.
Afterwards, we walked around the resort taking pictures and enjoying the scenery. The people we had met on the plane were staying in an overwater bungalow and offered to show it to us. While it was very nice and afforded wonderful views and nice swimming, it did not give any privacy at all, so there are no thoughts of skinning dipping or sunbathing nude at this resort. For the short time we were there and for the price difference, we were very happy with our accommodations and could not see spending considerably more for those bungalows.
The Intercontinental Tahiti is a very nice resort and we thoroughly enjoyed our stay there. However, because Papeete is mainly a big city and the area is not as nice as other islands, knowing what we know now, we would definitely prefer to stay on Moorea or Bora Bora. This is especially true if we wanted to spend more than a couple of days in French Polynesia.
We packed and met the shuttle at 1:30pm, then headed towards the ship. As I mentioned, since boarding was not until 3:00pm and it was now about 1:50pm, they took our luggage but would not allow us to board. We walked towards the central market in search of some lovely local Jasmine flowers to adorn our cabin and provide a wonderful fragrance. By the time we bought them, spent some time shopping, and walked back to the ship, boarding had begun. We got in the short line where we were offered cold towels to wipe off the sweat, and then as we boarded the ship, they showed us the way to the main lounge, where we were provided a nice glass of champagne. We sat down until it was our turn to register, which did not take long at all, and found out we had once again been treated to a nice upgrade. Instead of the oceanview cabin on Deck 4 that we had purchased, we were now in a balcony cabin on Deck 6 (#617), which was a wonderful surprise and very much appreciated. I had purchased the Anniversary Package, so perhaps this may have had something to do with it, but the package consisted of an outstanding bottle of French champagne (Louis Roederer), an anniversary cake that was amazing, a box of delicious Leonidas Belgium chocolates, a free 8x10 photo, and a special anniversary ceremony, which was wonderful. With the flowers, the amenities, and the balcony cabin, it was all a very nice and very romantic way to celebrate our anniversary.
The cabin was wonderfully appointed with plenty of storage space, plenty of mirrors, a very comfortable bed, and a nice size bathroom with a tub. The cabin itself is not much bigger than an average-size balcony cabin, but overall afforded us a lot of comfort. The balcony was slightly smaller than average, but we definitely were not complaining about it â€“ after all, we did have a balcony. This particular cabin was one of many on Deck 6 that use to be an oceanview cabin, but 4 years ago during a major renovation they added balconies to them, making the ship now approximately 70% balcony cabins.
We only had some minor complaints. First, the nightstands were very small. I’m talking less than 12â€ wide! In fact, mine had the phone attached to the top of it, so there was no space left to put anything except a small bottle of water. Also, the two things missing in the cabin were a make-up mirror and a nightlight. It would have been nice to have these in our cabin. The alarm clock was very small, battery operated, and not illuminated. Other than that, there was nothing we required throughout the cruise.
There were all the usual amenities; hair dryer, 110v and 220v outlets, L’Occitane products in the bathroom, safe, etc. We did have a refrigerator in the cabin with beer, sodas, and water provided free of charge. In fact, the one thing we really appreciated is that all the alcohol onboard was included in the price. We never once had to pay for beer, wine, or tequila making for a much nicer cruise.
After getting settled in, we went for a quick bite at Le Grill, which is on Deck 8 by the pool. We stopped by the bar to get a couple of beers and shots of tequila and met our new best friend, Elmo. He was one of the bartenders and has been with Paul Gauguin for 12 years. He was fantastic to us throughout the entire cruise and we fell in love with his wonderful personality and the attention he showed all the guests and us. He always seem to anticipate our needs and we never had to look for him â€“ he managed to find us before we knew we needed him.
While I’m on the subject, let me say that overall the crew on this cruise was absolutely amazing! In every area of the ship, they were the best crew we have ever encountered in all of our 43 cruises to date. Gratuities are included in the price, which made it very nice. The crew is compensated appropriately for their service and they really appreciate the benefits offered by the cruise line. Paul Gauguin Cruises prides themselves on their service, as well they should. They have every right to be very proud of their crew as they are what make this a special experience. Their female group, Le Gauguines, is wonderfully talented, extremely helpful, and always available for assistance and pictures, not to mention the fact they are all very pretty, especially in their much different beautiful tropical attire.
Also, the food throughout the entire cruise was outstanding. Everything was beautifully prepared and delicious. There are three main dining areas; Le Grill is by the pool and offers open seating for breakfast and lunch, but dinner is by reservation only. L’Etoile is only available for open seating at dinner, and The Verandah is open seating for breakfast and lunch, and reservations only for dinner. Unlike other cruises, there are no surcharges for any of the restaurants or any of the food, even when you order filet mignon or lobster.
Breakfast is buffet-style in either Le Grill or The Verandah. While breakfast is usually nothing special on a cruise ship, they do offer a wide variety of fresh fruits and fresh made breads and pastries, which are wonderful. This is one really great thing about this ship; with the exception of the hamburger buns and hot dog rolls, all of their rolls, breads, and pastries are made fresh onboard, so they are amazing, especially the fresh banana bread and donuts.
We ate in The Verandah a couple of times and did the surf & turf with filet mignon and shrimp the first time, then filet mignon and lobster the second time. In a word; outstanding! I just don’t know how else to describe it except to say dinner was always an epicurean delight to the palette. Truly, the best food we have ever had on any cruise anywhere in the world!
The ship normally holds 332 people, but during our cruise it was only about 80% full and had approximately 250 people onboard. We were never crowded at any time and never had to wait for anything. Everywhere we went on the ship, on the private motu, or getting on a tender, it was never a problem, and there were always plenty of seats available. Such a really nice experience compared to the huge mega ships we’ve been on. In fact, after this cruise, we may never want to go on a large ship again as small-ship cruising definitely spoils us.
The shows every night were very good, often staged by local groups with wonderful dancers in traditional costumes and a small band playing ukuleles and tribal drums. Very fascinating and entertaining.
Sunday, June 10th
Today we were in Raiatea (pronounced rah-ee-ah-tay-ah). This is the only problem we had with their itinerary as it was a Sunday and all the little shops in town are closed for the day. So if you want to do any shopping¸ you’re out of luck. They go to their private motu on Monday, which is only about 10 miles away, so it would present no problems whatsoever to visit the private island on Sunday and Raiatea on Monday and we wish they would change the order. Anyway, since there was nothing to do and no nice public beaches close by, we chose to do an excursion through the cruise line. We opted for the Faaroa River and Island 4X4 Exploration for $95 per person. We boarded a 40’ outrigger canoe right near the main dock and proceeded on a nice boat ride along the coastline until we got to the Faaroa River (pronounced fah-ah-row-ah) where we headed inland until we could go no further. We then turned around, headed back out of the river, and continued up the coast until we got to a beautiful beach where we met our 4x4 vehicles. We were treated to a very interesting history lesson of the island and ancient burial grounds before boarding the vehicles and making our way towards the middle of the island and the volcano caldera. It was like a scene out of Jurassic Park as we went down roads that were nothing more than two small tracks for the tires. It was all quite interesting, amazing, and beautiful. The entire excursion took about 4 hours and we returned to the ship with a newfound appreciation for this lovely island.
Monday, June 11th
Today we arrived at the cruise line’s private motu (pronounced moe-tu, which is what they call a small island). They refer to this as Motu Monday. The ship anchors about Â½ mile from the motu and tenders are provided constantly until everyone is off the ship, then they run every Â½ hour. Unlike a lot of cruise lines’ private islands, this one had plenty of chairs for everyone with more than adequate shade. Since all beverages are included in the cruise, they provide ample alcohol at the open bar and as soon as you step foot on the island, they offer you a drink in a coconut. We chose Long Island Ice Teas, so our day started off with a bang. They also had a bartender with a floating bar walking around in the water. The island is not very big â€“ you can slowly walk around it in about 20 minutes and while the water is beautiful, clear, and warm, snorkeling is not really all that great.
For those who need it, Paul Gaugin will provide everyone with a complimentary snorkeling package that consists of a mask, snorkel, and fins in a mesh bag for use during the entire cruise. We only needed fins as we took our masks and snorkels with us. They do offer free use of the sea kayaks that can be used from the sports platform on the back of the ship or at the private motu. Plus, they offer water skiing and windsurfing from the back of the ship.
The lunch consisted of very tasty fish, chicken, burgers, hot dogs, and shiskabob - all cooked on an open fire grill. They also had a wide assortment of fruits, vegetables, and of course, their homemade desserts. It was a beautiful day on a lovely beach and no one wanted to leave. Nancy and I were literally in the last group of four people off the island.
Note: We were not aware of it at the time, but the private island we would be staying on next week was only about 5 miles away from Paul Gauguin’s private island, so today was just a sampling of what was to come for us.
Tuesday, June 12th
Today was our first of two days in Bora Bora. The ship anchored and we had two choices for tenders. One goes every 30 minutes to the town of Vaitepe (pronounced vah-ee-tep-pay), while the other one goes to Paul Gauguin’s private beach every 60 minutes. We chose to go into town before it got too hot. So off we went to discover yet another beautiful island. The town is rather small and there are only about a dozen stores, so it does not take long to walk around. There was a big open-air pavilion near the pier and we noticed a large group of people gathered and decided to check it out. Turns out, it was a special ceremony for the last day of school before the summer break. All of elementary school children were dressed in traditional Polynesian costumes. Class by class would come up to the center of the structure, which had a sand floor, and perform a dance for everyone. It was wonderful watching all these young children dancing, smiling, and laughing quite a treat for us.
After walking around shopping for about an hour and not finding anything we had to have, we took the tender back to the ship, where we enjoyed lunch, before taking another tender out to their private beach. This place is relatively small and unlike their private motu, it has rope at both ends indicating the end of their beach and the beginning of other private areas where we were not allowed. But the beach is absolutely gorgeous! There are no chairs or restrooms, but they do have a small bar set up. The sand is bright white, the water is amazingly clear, and the snorkeling is pretty good. We actually liked this beach better than their private motu, except it would have really been nice to have chairs to sit on. Other than that, it was everything we thought Bora Bora would be and this time, I was the last person to leave!
Wednesday, June 13th
Today we had pre-arranged an excursion through a local company, Moana Tours. It began with a 4x4 trip around the island, which was amazing. There were a total of 4 couples on this part of our tour as we went up to the top of several areas so we could see the magnificent colors Bora Bora had to offer. After the 2-hour tour, we were dropped off at the legendary Bloody Mary’s for lunch. This is the one place in Bora Bora everyone has to try and has been visited by some of the most well known celebrities and important people from around the world. They have a list outside showing all the famous people who have been there over the years and it is quite extensive. Not only is the food very good, but also the ambiance is wonderful, with sand floors and great pineapple wood chairs and tables. One of the highlights was a visit to the men’s room. I won’t go into a lot of detail, except to say the item you had to pull to flush the urinal was a large hand-carved wooden phallic symbol. Even all the ladies had to check out the men’s room, as it was quite a conversation piece. (I’ve got pictures if you want to see it!)
After lunch we were met by the owner of Moana Tours and taken to their boat for the second part of our excursion, which was a snorkeling trip around the island. We had a great guide and there was only one other couple from England going along with us. The first stop was a coral reef that was full of colorful fish making for a very nice 45-minute swim where I got some great pictures. We got back on the boat and headed to our next destination, which is where the stingrays were. The water was relatively shallow, about 4’ deep, so we did not need our fins. There were about 10 stingrays present and as with other areas like this around the world, are quite tame and use to people. We have some wonderful pictures and video from this experience. After about 45 minutes, we loaded up and headed towards the last stop, which was outside of the barrier reef where the sharks are located. As soon as we got there, we could see the black-tip reef sharks and were anxious to get in the water. Both Nancy and the other young lady chose not to join us, so the guide, the guy from England, and I got our gear on and immediately jumped in the water. It was awesome! There were about a dozen sharks, averaging about 5’ to 6’ in length, along with thousands of fish. The depth here was about 25’, yet the water was very clear so it was easy to see the bottom. I got some fantastic pictures and amazing video of this up close encounter with the sharks. Just as we were finishing our 45 minute swim, our guide pointed out a new visitor; a rather large 8’ lemon shark. He dove down, grabbed ahold of the shark’s dorsal fin, and went for a ride. I quickly grabbed my camera and took some video it was awesome.
Reluctantly, we boarded the boat and headed back to Vaitepe just in time to meet the next tender back to the ship. All in all, it was a wonderful all-day excursion and provided us a great way to see and experience this beautiful island on land and on the water. At $300 for the two of us, we felt it was well worth the money.
Thursday, June 14th
Today we arrived in Moorea (pronounced moe-oh-ray-ah) for the first of two days. Many people have told us they prefer Moorea over Bora Bora and until we got there, we found this hard to believe. But after our visit there, we could see why people would say this. It is a very lovely island, bigger than Bora Bora, with more things to see and more shopping. While I still think the lagoon around Bora Bora is prettier, this would have to rank next on the list. Plus, there is a ferry that runs from Papeete to Moorea on a regular basis. It’s only about 12 miles away and at around $15 per person each way, is much cheaper to get to from Papeete than purchasing a round-trip airline ticket to Bora Bora, which runs about $450 per person. And as with Bora Bora, there are some wonderful resorts on the island to meet anyone’s needs.
Normally, the ship anchors in Cook’s Bay, but they are currently rebuilding the welcome center there and right now it does not present a good place for the tenders to go. So for the time being, the ship is anchoring in Opunohu Bay (pronounced oh-pu-no-hu). There is nothing at the pier, except for some locals who set up tables with hand-made items for sale. There are free shuttle buses provided by local pearl shops, so it’s easy to get to some of the shopping areas. We took one of these and while shopping, found Nancy a couple of beautiful pareos (pronounced pah-ray-ohs). These are large pieces of fabric used by women to tie around their bodies in various configurations. You see them everywhere and it’s very difficult deciding which ones to buy as they are hundreds of designs and they are all very lovely. There are also books and videos to help you learn how to tie them as there are more than 64 different configurations, which is interesting as who would have thought there were that many ways to tie a piece of fabric. We also found a lovely dress for our daughter and she absolutely loved it when we gave it to her about a month later. Since there was not much to do and really no place to go, we just went back to the ship and enjoyed spending the rest of the day relaxing on our balcony.
If you ever get the chance to watch the 1984 version of Mutiny on the Bounty with Mel Gibson, a lot of the movie was filmed where our boat was anchored. When we got back from our trip, we watched the movie and it was great for us seeing the mountains in the background and being able to say, Yeah, been right there!
Friday, June 15th
Since there really wasn’t anything we wanted to do today, we decided at the last minute to go on an excursion through the cruise line; the Island Drive and Belvedere. It was a 3-1/2 tour and at $45 per person we thought it was a good deal as we got to see the whole island.
On the way back to the ship, we had the driver drop us off at the Intercontinental Resort as we had pre-arranged a tour with the management. It’s a lovely resort, relatively small, and very popular.
The ship left Moorea at 6:00pm and arrived back in Papeete around 8:00pm. This is convenient for those wanting to get an early start to their next destination or to do some late night shopping, but we chose to just spend a nice evening on the ship, have a wonderful dinner by ourselves, and enjoy the great entertainment by a local group. A very nice way to spend our last evening on such an awesome cruise.
Saturday, June 16th through Thursday, June 21st
I won’t go into a lot of day-to-day detail for this portion of our trip, as we spent the entire time on a private island at the Hotel la Pirogue. Instead, I’ll just talk about our stay, what is was like, what we did, etc.
We had plane reservations at 10:20am to fly to Raiatea to begin the next part of our journey, so it worked out well we had to be off the ship by 10:00am anyway. We had a nice leisurely breakfast, said goodbye to the wonderful crew, and reluctantly headed down the gangplank. There were a lot taxis available, so it was not long before we were headed to Faa’a Airport. The fare was $20. We arrived at the airport at 9:00am in plenty of time to check in and await our flight. These are very nice dual-prop planes with a capacity of around 80 people and the flight from Papeete to Raiatea is only 35 minutes. When we got to Raiatea, our water taxi was waiting for us at the airport dock, so he loaded our luggage and away we went. It normally takes about 40 minutes to get from the airport to the private island, but he needed to stop in town to get gas, which was fine with us. It gave us the opportunity to visit some of the shops that were closed when we were in this port last Sunday on the Paul Gauguin. We didn’t buy anything in the shops, but did purchase a can of peanuts and two cans of Pringles at the supermarket to enjoy in our bungalow. I only point out this detail because it’s an important part of a story I’ll tell you later.
We got back on the boat and headed towards the Hotel la Pirogue that is on a private island off the east coast of Taha’a, which is an island right next to Raiatea. Turns out, this island is only about 5 miles south of where the Paul Gauguin’s private motu is located, plus we could see Mt. Otemanu on Bora Bora in the distance.
As we were making our way to the island, we were rewarded with amazing views and various bright colors of water ranging from deep blue and light blue, to emerald green and pale green. Absolutely beautiful.
When we arrived at the little dock in front of the hotel, we were immediately greeted by Julian, who placed beautiful flower leis around our necks to welcome us. He is the owner and manager of the property as well as the cook. He is from Switzerland and has lived here for 15 years. He’s also a professionally trained master chef who gave it up to settle in this little bit of paradise. Needless to say, the food here is wonderful.
There are 9 bungalows on the property, of which 4 are waterfront, like the one we reserved. There is also a small bar/reception area and a very nice restaurant. The property is beautiful and very well maintained. We sat in the bar as Julian offered us some cocktails and explained all about the facilities and amenities afforded to us during our stay. As it turned out, he did speak English with a heavy French accent, but he was the only one who did speak English. This really did not present any problems, except when it was meal time as the menus are in French and Italian.
Anyway, Julian then showed us to our bungalow, which was #1 and closest to the central area. This was good and bad; it was good in that it was close to everything and we had good WiFi service. Those further away could not get the WiFi signal in their bungalows, so they had to come to the reception area to use it. The bad thing, it was too close to the main area, so it lacked a little bit of privacy and the lights for the pier caused it to be a bit bright until they turned out the lights late at night. Plus, we could hear the phone ringing a lot during the day. The only other thing was that the water directly in front of our bungalow had a bit more seaweed than what was in front of the other bungalows. Not a big deal, but overall we would much rather have been in bungalow #3 or #4.
The bungalow itself is nice with a queen-size bed and a mosquito netting around it. The mattress is more of a thick futon-style mattress than that of a regular mattress we’re normally accustomed to. While it wasn’t uncomfortable, it could have definitely been better. There was a small refrigerator, desk with chair, and bathroom with a large shower. There were no dressers for our clothes, so we had to live out of our suitcases. It also had two 3’ sliding doors that created a nice big 6’ opening leading to our covered porch, which was about 6’x20’. Not counting the porch, the bungalow was about 20’x15’, so large enough for the two of us. The porch has two padded reclining wooden lounge chairs and a table. There were 3 steps leading down to the beach and was about 10’ from the water’s edge. When we walked into the bungalow, there were flowers placed everywhere to welcome our arrival, adding a nice touch.
The first thing we did was open the big sliding doors to admire the magnificent view in front of us; the beautiful clear pale green water, blue sky, some small white clouds, and the lush green mountains of Taha’a about 3 miles away. Overall, it was a picture perfect setting. The ocean is on the other side of the island, about 300 yards from us and we could hear the waves crashing at times.
We heard some music not too far from our bungalow and decided to go check it out. It was a wedding! The young couple were from France and the only people in attendance were some of the guests who were standing around taking pictures and watching the ceremony. I got some wonderful pictures and video of the local tribal chief and the performers. The chief was completely covered in traditional tattoos, which were amazing. Overall, it was very romantic and a wonderful way for us to begin our stay on this lovely island.
However, even paradise has some drawbacks. As I mentioned, this is a rustic environment, so it doesn’t have quite all the amenities you’ll find at modern resorts. The water is piped across the lagoon from Taha’a, so it can be spotty at times. Plus, it’s not very good for drinking and we had to purchase bottle water on a regular basis. At 300cfp or about $3.50 a liter this can run up a pretty good bill after a few days. For the price they charge for a bungalow and the fact you can’t drink the tap water, I would think they should provide complimentary bottle water, if for no other reasons, at least for meals. Also, one of the biggest problems we had was with the hot water. Two of the first three nights we did not have hot water. When questioned, the owner said it was due to a lack of water coming from Taha’a. This was definitely not true because we had plenty of cold water. If there is no hot water, it’s because of a problem on the property. This was really the only major complaint we had and addressed the issue with the owner as it was not what was promised. Fortunately, the last two nights we did not have any problems.
The bungalows do not have any air conditioning, although there is a fan hanging from the ceiling. Plus, being so close to the water, there is usually a nice breeze blowing through the bungalow, which is refreshing. The windows and doors do not have any screens, but other than some mosquitos at night, this did not present a problem.
They also have two dogs on the premise and occasionally, like on Wednesday night, they seem to bark a lot. I finally had to get up and throw sand at one of them because at 1:30am he just would not shut up. This was very annoying.
One other concern we had was about the mosquitos. We were told they spray once a week and mosquitos are not a problem. That may very well be true for some, but not for us. Our feet, legs, arms, and bodies were covered with mosquito bites from the first night because we failed to spray mosquito repellant thinking it would not be a problem. We brought some with us and used it liberally after the first night in the evenings to help the situation. Luckily, we also brought a tube of Lanacane because we were itching like crazy and were constantly using it throughout the rest of our stay. Lesson learned, that’s for sure; mosquitos may hate the French, but they sure do love us Americans!
They do have small flat screen TV’s in each bungalow, but no television channels. They have DVD players with each TV and a library of DVD’s available. However, most of them are in French with English subtitles. We did not understand why they no longer invested in providing satellite TV as they had done in the past, according to others. From what we heard, it had a lot to do with the high price of the service.
They have a fairly well-stocked bar, with prices about the same as elsewhere in the area. The local beer, Hinano, is very good and runs 600cfp or about $6.50 a bottle.
They offer ala-carte menu items, but you can also choose a half-board or full board meal plan. We chose half-board for breakfast and dinner, but should have chosen full board as we ended up eating lunch every day anyway. Breakfast was either European-style with fruit, croissants, and cereals, or American-style with eggs, meats, and potatoes. Hamburger/cheeseburger is 1900cfp or about $25, but they also have paninis, fish, salads, and other items on the menu for lunch.
As I mentioned earlier, the menus were in French and Italian, and while I’m not proficient in either language, between the two menus I could usually figure out what they were saying. For dinner, the main courses were filet mignon, NY strip steak, lobster, mahi mahi, shrimp, duck, the latest fish catch of the day, or lamb chops. So we’d decide which of these we wanted and then we’d leave it up to the master chef on how best to have it prepared. Everything was fresh and could be done on the grill or cooked with any one of his fabulous marinades or sauces. We also fell in love with his shrimp salad with his homemade dressing that was out of this world! Their fresh French fries were very good and we could not get enough of those.
This is definitely not the place for everyone. If you want a lot of things to do, this is not it. The closest place to snorkel was a couple of motus to the north (about Â¾ of a mile) and the only way to get there was by sea kayaks, which are free to use. Unfortunately, in front of the property, there is no good snorkeling because there is no reef â€“ it’s all sand. However, there are some small rocks and shells, so it’s a good idea to wear water shoes. There is also some seaweed, but nothing to ruin a good time â€“ just have to walk a little bit to get away from it. They do have an extensive list of excursions you can purchase, which include a tour around Taha’a, a visit to a vanilla plantation or pearl farm, scuba diving, and a whole bunch of other activities, none of which are very cheap. Of course, there is also a local artisan that is available to come and give you one of the customary tribal tattoos. Problem is, you can’t get in the sun or water for 3 days afterwards, so as much as I would have liked to get one, I had to pass on the opportunity.
However, if you want to relax, not be around a lot of people, swim in the warm beautiful turquoise water, enjoy the magnificent colors, read a good book, take a few naps, and just generally get totally laid back while enjoying great food, this is the place. Just keep in mind that paradise does have its cost and if you were to come here and stay at this island, here’s an example of some prices:
Roundtrip Airfare from LAX to Papeete; $3200 for 2 people Roundtrip Airfare from Papeete to Raiatea; $900 for 2 people Roundtrip Water Taxi from Raiatea to Private Island; $75 for 2 people 5 nights lodging, taxes, half-board (breakfast & dinner): $2900
As you can see, this is not a cheap trip and the prices do not include lunches, alcohol, water, or excursions.
There are some really good packages that are occasionally offered from LAX to some of the more upscale resorts, such as Hilton, Intercontinental, Sofitel, etc. If you don’t need to stay in an overwater bungalow, you can find deals to include flights, lodging, and breakfast for around $7000 for two people for a one week stay. Again, this does not include lunches, dinners, or alcohol.
And if you’d like to add the one-week Paul Gaugin cruise to the mix, you can figure in $5000 to $7000 for an oceanview cabin for two people. This is just for the cruise and varies based on the time of year. Plus, this does not take into account the cost of any pre- or post-cruise stay in Papeete or any shore excursions you’d like to do. We figured if you were to do exactly as we did including a balcony cabin on the cruise, 6 days at the private island, all the extras, and the excursions, and had to pay full price for everything, it would have cost approximately $17,000.
The other thing to take into consideration is the travel time involved. From the East coast, you’re talking about a 5-1/2 hour flight to LA and then an 8-1/2 hour flight to Papeete. This does not take into account the waiting time in LAX between flights. Many people choose not to do this in one day and prefer to spend the night in LA both coming and going so they can break up the trip. Of course, this will add to the price and time needed. While Tahiti is a wonderful place to visit and everyone needs to do this at least once in their life, you begin to understand why the all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean are so popular. They are so much less expensive, include all food and beverages, and only take a few hours to get to from the East coast. But then again, while the Caribbean is very nice, it’s not Tahiti!
Okay, now remember I told you earlier we bought a can of Planter’s peanuts and two cans of Pringles? Well, here’s the funny story about those items.
The first night, we went to bed and later heard some strange noises that woke us up. I turned on the light, got up, walked around, and didn't see anything, but noticed the lid to the can of peanuts we bought was lying beside the can on the small coffee table. I didn't think anything of it at the time and figured we simply forget to put the lid on. I sealed the can and went back to bed. A while later, we heard a thump, so I turned the light on, got up, and found the can of nuts lying on the floor. I figured the wind had knocked it off the table, so I put it back on the table, closed the sliding doors a bit, and went back to bed. A little while later, we heard some more noise. I turned the light on, got up, looked around, and saw the lid was again off the top of the can but nothing else in sight. Having no idea what was going on, I thought perhaps we had been visited by the neighborhood monkey. So I took the peanuts, put the lid back on, put it in the refrigerator, and went back to bed. A while later, we heard yet another noise, I turned the light on, got up, looked around, and found the Pringles can, which was sitting on the desk, was turned over. So I put that in the refrigerator and was now thoroughly convinced it was a monkey. The next day we talked to the manager and he said there were no monkeys on the island and that it was a crab! Can you imagine that? A crab smart enough to take the top off a peanut can!! Go figure! We looked at the can and sure enough, there were scrap marks on the side and a little bit of the top had been chewed off. We never would have guessed a crab had that kind of dexterity to remove the top off a peanut can. The funny thing was that each time I got up I looked around and didn’t see anything. When we arrived, there were flowers throughout our bungalow as well as some on the table. I can only guess he was on top of the flowers and in my sleep-deprived state of mind, I never looked that closely at the flowers. And I certainly would never have thought to look for a crab!
As I mentioned in the beginning, Tahiti has been number one on our Bucket List for over 15 years. Because it has always been the one place in the world we have wanted to visit, we obviously had very high hopes it was as beautiful and wonderful as all the pictures we’ve seen. It did not let us down.
The island of Tahiti itself is beautiful once you get outside the large city of Papeete, which is just like any other city in the world; crowded, noisy, dirty, and full of traffic. Once you get to the other islands, you begin to really appreciate the incredible beauty of French Polynesia; the gorgeous flowers, the lovely mountain settings, and the magnificent colors, especially the varying colors of the water. The music is unique with its own style of soul and spirit â€“ definitely something that gets the blood flowing. The people are warm, friendly, and helpful with a deep abiding respect for the land and the water.
The cruise was awesome! I don’t know any other words that can describe it as it could not have been better. The ship, the food, and especially the crew were amazing. It truly was the best cruise we’ve ever had out of the 43 cruises we’ve done to date.
The private island was very nice with great food and beautiful scenery. It was not crowded at all, which is a big plus. Staying at a larger resort would offer many more amenities, provide more options for kids, and would be overall nicer, especially for families. But it would also be more crowded. So a decision to do a private island or a large resort would obviously be a personal choice as they are both very nice in different ways.
Overall, this trip was everything we wanted and more. It was very special and we could not have thought of a better way to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary.