Number of Cruises: 12
Cruise Line: Princess
Ship: Tahitian Princess
Sailing Date: July 2nd, 2003
Itinerary: French Polynesia and the Cook Islands
This was our twelfth cruise and our seventh on Princess. We were going to have a 6-hour time change and a full day of travel, so we elected to go early and took Princess’ pre-cruise package at the Sheraton Tahiti and we also used their air program. Overall, despite a few minor glitches, we had a great time.
Transportation: Because we were going early, we were on Air Tahiti Nui from LA to Papeete. They only have four planes, but they are large Airbuses and they did a great job of serving us. Even coach was relatively comfortable and spacious. We were lucky and were on Air Tahiti Nui on the way home also. Most of the passengers were on an Omni Air Charter and the overflow goes on Air Tahiti. The reviews on the charter from other passengers varied from mediocre to poor, mostly due to the seat size and spacing. Since the charter only goes on embarkation day, going early and staying late guarantees you a flight on Air Tahiti Nui.
Arrival and Departure: Entering Tahiti is time consuming, because the customs officials must type in your passport number; they can’t just swipe your passport through a scanner. On the other hand, you fill out a departure card before you arrive and if you don’t lose it, departing through customs is quick. There was no one to meet us outside of customs waving a “Princess Cruises” sign. This probably isn’t true on embarkation day. We found our bus to the Sheraton by accident. The trick we found out later was to locate “Marama Tours”; they are Princess’ representatives in Papeete. For departure, Princess transported our bags to the airport separately and had people watching them. They also pointed out which line to get in for our flight. Getting the bags screened and checking in was a bit of an ordeal, but that is the age we live in.
Sheraton Hotel Tahiti: A 4-star hotel with beautiful teak woodwork everywhere. The view from the room balconies towards Moorea is very nice. One pleasant surprise was that Continental Breakfast was included. It included the hot foods and made to order omelets. If it weren’t included, the price would have been nearly $20 a person. Dinner at the hotel was good and reasonably priced if you stuck to fish; meat was expensive. Central Papeete is an easy 20 minute walk from the hotel or you can take “Le Truck” for 300 CPF or roughly $3.00. The exchange rate at the hotel and the ship was not bad, don’t use the automatic exchange machines in town, the rate is terrible. For some reason my ATM card was not accepted. One caveat, like all beaches in Tahiti topless sunbathing is allowed and practiced at the hotel pool.
Weather: In a word “beautiful”. I can think of three days on which there were brief showers. This is winter in French Polynesia, thus the weather is dry, the sun not quite so hot, and there is always at least a breeze and sometimes a good wind. The downside of this is that the flowers are not as plentiful at this time of year.
Tahitian Princess In General – This is a nice little ship with beautiful woodwork. The décor is a little darker than usual for Princess, which I understand is a hold over from Renaissance. The library in particular is stunning. There were only a few children and people over 75 on board. There were a lot of honeymooners. The largest group was in the 50 to 60 year age range. The one criticism of the ship is a big one. The ship pitches a lot even in moderate seas. The stabilizers adequately prevent rolling, but the up and down motion is pronounced. We were not affected by it, but a lot of people were. If you are a believer in the patch, bring it with you. It is outlawed in England and thus not available on the ship. Dramamine is sold in the shop.
Staterooms: The rooms are spacious and have lots of both closet and drawer space. The safe is easy to use and the room steward keeps the ice bucket full. There is no refrigerator. The only negative is that the beds are extremely hard. We heard that Princess is aware of this and is planning to change the mattresses.
Food: The food was in general very good and the desserts and pastas were excellent. The service was efficient and friendly. The dining room staff is now pretty international and I have to admit I miss the gregariousness of the Portuguese and Italian waiters. It seems now that the language barriers are higher than they were previously.
Entertainment: The stage area is pretty small and limits how many people can perform at once. They had four production shows, which were good considering the limitations, but if you are looking for extravagant entertainment, it’s not available. The solo singers were not exceptional. The comedian Tom Fletcher and the instrumentalist Michael “Banjo” Young were excellent. The comedian/magician Hal Marquart had his moments, but he wasn’t as good as the others. A children dance group was brought on the ship in Raiatea for an early show and later in the evening an adult group performed. On the last night, the “O Tahiti” troop was on board.
Departure Day: A lot of the criticism of this cruise on the Internet has been about this day. We found the food and service to be as good as the rest of the cruise. There was a singer on deck in the afternoon, movies were shown in the lounges, shore excursions were offered, and you could eat all day if wanted to. You did have to put out your luggage the night before and be out of your room by 11 AM, but it was better than sitting at the airport all day. You could shower and change in the spa before departure.
Excursions: Because of the ease of use, we booked all of our excursions with Princess except in Papeete. I recommend you pre-book your excursions, a lot of the popular ones were sold out before the cruise. Also, except for Raiatea and Tahiti, the ship is at anchor when in port. Thus you will be using the ship’s tenders. They are pretty efficient but this still takes time. Several times we had hurried lunches in our room, because we wanted to wash off the salt water from our morning activity, before going on an afternoon excursion. Facilities ashore in most of these places are pretty limited.
Papeete – I downloaded a walking tour from Frommer’s web site. It listed 10 stops. We did the whole thing in about 2 hours. The central market is interesting and the Parc Bougainville is pretty, but the rest of the stops aren’t much. There is more litter in Papeete than I expected and many of the sidewalks need to be repaired. If you are there before the cruise do eat at “Les Roulotte’s” on the dock. There is a carnival atmosphere and you never know whom you might eat with.
Tahiti – We did a half-day jeep tour through Marama Tours that went into the interior. The ride is rough, but the scenery is beautiful. There are no scenic overlooks down to the ocean. We did the circle island tour through Princess. The scenery is beautiful, but in general Hawaii outdoes it. The Gauguin Museum has a lot of reproductions, but only one original. The food at the museum restaurant was good and the garbage disposal system might have been the high point of the tour.
Huahine – You have to see the sacred eels get fed. The beach picnic with the tables in the water was also nice.
Rarotonga – We were there on a Sunday, so it was really quiet. We did the glass bottom boat trip and picnic. The fish fry was excellent and Captain Tama is a character.
Raiatea – The pearl farm on Tahaa was interesting, but the wind was strong and we got soaked getting there. Swimming afterwards was nice, but there were a lot of sharp shells near the surf line. The cultural tour was a bit disappointing. We heard a lot about how the Polynesians got here, but not a lot about their culture. The guide drove really slow, apparently just to use up the time allotted. In the evening, we went to a beach cookout, but the food was merely OK. There were both children and adult dancers for our entertainment. This was when the Princess brought the children on board to dance and was also Italian night, so we should have skipped this tour.
Bora Bora – You’re here for a day and a half. The catamaran sail and swim in the lagoon was very nice. The next morning we went snorkeling with stingrays and then to a coral garden. The colors and shapes of the coral are spectacular. This was probably the best single excursion of the trip. We also went on a jeep safari to a number of scenic overlooks. This time they do overlook the ocean. The ride goes up a number of bumpy rutted tracks and is rightfully not recommended for those with back problems. Even though the seats are padded, our behinds were sore. Oh, there are no seatbelts, so hold on tight to the roll bars.
Moorea – The lagoon cruise was very relaxing and the stingrays came right up into your lap in the swimming area, but the coral in the snorkeling area was not as spectacular as in Bora Bora.
Overall on a scale of 1 to 10 this cruise was a solid 9.