Number of Cruises: 2
Cruise Line: Princess
Ship: Tahitian Princess
Sailing Date: September 11th, 2005
Itinerary: 10 day French Polynesia/Cook Island
To celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary, we chose to spend 3 weeks in French Polynesia, 10 days of which would be the 10 day cruise on the Tahitian Princess. Prior to the cruise to spent time on Tahiti and a fabulous week on Moorea at the Pearl Resort (which we recommend highly) for those cruisers planning pre or post cruise stays. Our ferry from Moorea got us back into Papeete by 8:30 a.m. and boarding would not commence until around noon. However, Princess had tents set up and people around and they were very accommodating of checking in our luggage this early so that we knew it was safely away and we could spend the a.m. snooping around Papeete downtown. The check in process later that a.m. was efficient and welcoming and no small undertaking for the staff as they were dealing with both embarking and disembarking passengers. They separate into 2 teams to facilitate this and handle a virtual double boat load of guests very efficiently. Our balcony cabin on deck 7 was scrupulously clean, but Princess can certainly not bother with the tacky little bowl of fruit - apples, bruised pears and oranges - remember we are in the tropics and delicious fresh fruit abounds. My husband had pre-ordered dress shoes for formal night & these arrived promptly and were correct and shortly afterward the luggage quietly was delivered. We found that so much of the busy work of the staff was conducted with calm, quiet efficiency that you were barely aware of them. It was so interesting observing the passengers who were obviously reluctantly leaving the ship, compared to us rookies exploring every nook and cranny - were we going to look so tanned and rested (and equally wanting to tear up our return air tickets?)
Our first evening we chose to by-pass the dining room and went ashore to sample the food from Les Roulottes on the beautiful waterfront park. What an amazing experience! Sights and sounds and smells and the quantity of food coming out of these small food vans was amazing. Flames leaped from gas fired woks and hibachis sizzled with huge steaks served with pommes frites. We ate at "Hong Kong" recommended from our Internet readings and enjoyed "gaufrettes" (waffles) for dessert. Don't miss out on this experience.
The following day we departed for Huahine where we did a bus tour of the island which was very interesting and entertaining. The historical religious significance of this island is fascinating. The highlight was certainly the eels of Faia eating mackerel from the hands of the guides. We got a nice lesson on the process of vanilla cultivation. Our departure was right on time and we headed for a day at sea over to the Cook Islands. The weather was beautiful but somewhat windy, making the seas quite rough. Fortunately we had Scopolamine patches behind our ears and were not troubled by the motion of the ship - although many others were. A doctor colleague who had previous experience as a ship doctor highly recommended these and we were thankful - because we were able to enjoy every single meal aboard. The buffet meals were delicious and as usual, excessive and there was always a nice variety to appeal to all tastes. There were always nutritional choices as well as the "baddies". The little pizza window by the buffet has very limited hours, but the pizza's are delicious. Also, pay attention to when the homemade ice cream is served daily, again, a limited time availability because the ice creams are heavenly. The focus on hand hygiene was reassuring. However, it was the dining room experience that truly made our trip special. We had lovely dinner companions and very much enjoyed getting to know each other. Our waiter was Erik (or Luis Miguel) with assistant Coco, both from Mexico. These guys had such a wicked sense of humour and quickly realized that our table was not the least bit stuffy and we were often in riotous laughter at their antics. The meals were varied and for the most part delicious and attractive, with enough of a variety of selections to meet with everyone's satisfaction. The dining experience was a highlight of the trip, thanks to Erik & Coco. On boarding we had made reservations at the Sterling Steakhouse for the night of our 25th anniversary, but we cancelled these, opting instead to enjoy dinner with our new friends and everyone made this occasion special for us.
The main purpose of our vacation was utter rest and relaxation so we did not keep the frenetic pace that we observed in some of our fellow passengers (and then listened to them complain about how tired they were!) We chose to enjoy our balcony solitude, with a liqueur and coffee many evenings, forgoing the entertainment - not our cup of tea. We did go to "Century Sings" and marvelled at the talent of the small troupe, especially the dancers as the ship rocked and rolled on the Pacific. Whenever local entertainers were aboard such as the Children and Adult performers of Uturoa on Raiatea, and the Mamas of Huahine, we were sure to be there. The tahitian dancing is often frenetic and erotic and highly entertaining. We were fortunate to spend the day on Tahaa with a family who previously lived in Canada in our home town and had the opportunity to see the island from the perspective of a resident rather than what the tourists are shown. It was here I was able to purchase my black pearls at a small shop near the harbour on Raiatea for a very reasonable price compared to much of what we saw in Tahiti and on board. We appreciated the instructional offering about Black Pearls done on board so we could be informed consumers. Pearls are everywhere and it was so helpful to know what to avoid and what to look for.
We did opt for the Helmet Dive on Bora Bora and for the two of us who had never even snorkelled prior to this trip, this was the experience of a lifetime. It was professionally conducted and we felt safe. And it was spectacular - the water is crystal clear, the fish too numerous to imagine and even a manta ray drifted by. Great excursion and popular so book ahead.
All too soon 10 days had passed and we were utterly in love with French Polynesia. The cruise exceeded all our expectations. Our only complaint about the room was the 2 twin beds pushed together - a bit lumpy in the middle and haven't they heard of fitted sheets yet? A couple of suggestions for future cruisers - check out this and other review sites as I gleaned tons of helpful hints from others that helped the trip go smoothly and to know what are the "not to be missed" sights and what to avoid. Plan ahead to have options for money as it is hit and miss with debit cards, credit cards (not accepted for sales less than approx $20.00 on most islands). The ship offers absolutely the best exchange rate of anywhere. They will also buy back any CFP's you have left over at the end of your cruise. Take the time to learn some French and Tahitian phrases and this will enhance your island experience. And finally, Princess Cruises, please serve the local Hinano beer - sorry American beer is horrible and wouldn't it be nice to be supporting the local economy just a bit more than you do. We loved the banana stems hanging in the sunroom off the pool to help yourself to but a bit more local fruit available on board would be nice. My final comment is saved for dining at Sabatini's - GO HUNGRY - don't fuss too much when they present the menu - they're going to bring you one of everything anyways.
Loved the trip from start to finish, the small ship experience was just what we were looking for. It offered as much or as little in the way of activities depending on what your wishes were. The staff was polite and efficient in all areas of the ship. My only criticism is the photographers in your face a little too often and the price they charge is a bit excessive.
Don't hesitate to take this trip - we overheard many well travelled people commenting that this was the most beautiful one they'd been on anywhere. Thank you Princess Cruises. We'll be back.