Number of Cruises: 11
Cruise Line: Princess
Ship: Tahitian Princess
Sailing Date: September 20th, 2003
Itinerary: Tahiti and the South Pacific
I expect this to be a long
review, so if you are interested in this itinerary, sit back, relax and
dream along with us! I plan to cover the ship, food/service, and tours. I
expect that others on this trip will also write reviews, as there were a
total of 10 CruiseCritic members on this sailing. Since we all had
different cabins, dining stewards, and did different tours, I believe you
will have a variety of views to read.
Le Meridien Hotel
We asked our travel agent, Kim (Kim's Krui...)for an air deviation ($75), and flew into Papeete two days early and stayed at Le Meridien Hotel, which is about 30 minutes via taxi from downtown Papeete. We really enjoyed the hotel. We spent the first two nights in a regular hotel room, which was very roomy, had tile floors and a large balcony. As we got in at 11pm, we couldn’t see anything outside the first night. When we woke up and looked out, we saw the large sand bottomed swimming pool, and the lushly landscaped grounds. Looking out at the ocean, you have a great view of Moorea.
From reading earlier reviews, we found just next the hotel a small strip mall. There was a large supermarket, camera store, and a great casual restaurant Le Cigalon. It had an outdoor terrace (no view), and one side had the kitchen with sandwiches, drinks, etc, and the other side had a real pizza oven. We had lunch there twice and it was, for Tahiti, inexpensive. Le Meridien also has a shuttle/”Le Truck” of it’s own that goes downtown twice a day at 9:30 am and 2 pm. And returns at noon and 5 pm. This is free, so you don’t really feel like you are isolated from the city center if that would bother you. Because the hotel is further out than the Sheraton, or Beachcomber, it has more of a resort feel, kind of like the resorts on the other islands.
That night we had dinner in their large restaurant. If anyone has ever been to Maui and the Hyatt Regency’s “Swan Court” restaurant, the hotel restaurant is an imitation of that. The hotel is in kind of a wide “U” shape, with the restaurant in the center. It looks out on a lagoon with water lilies, and just beyond is a stage for the Tahitian dance show. It was $60 per person for the huge buffet and show (only open Friday and Saturday). There were mounds of fresh cold shrimp and lobster, as well as all kinds of other appetizers. There was also a long buffet with the hot foods including at the end beef tenderloin, which was great. Finally, there was a large dessert buffet too, with all kinds of pastries and cakes. The hotel also gave us a 50% coupon for a bottle of Champagne, which we did use.
We made a reservation for 7pm when they opened for dinner, and the show started at 8:30pm. We were given a front row table right by the lagoon, and I got some great pictures of the Tahitian dancers. This was actually one of the best Tahitian dance shows we saw. We later saw two others aboard ship. One was in Papeete on board ship the first night before we left the next day. That one was good, but a little slicker than the one at the hotel. Finally, we saw the kids dance show on the overnight at Raitea, and they were very good too.
There’s been quite a lot written in other reviews about Tahitian Princess, but here’s our take. We sailed on the Renaissance R-3 (now Pacific Princess) in 1999 in Tahiti, so we knew what the ship looked like. Princess made only two changes: took out the sports bar TV’s in the now named “Nightclub” at the top front of the ship, thus making it into a “horizon” 180 degree lounge. The other change was to divide up the card room to make room for an Internet room. As Princess “Platinum” members, we used the Internet a lot to send messages to friends and relatives.
The ship's décor is similar to a Ritz Carleton hotel. This means lots of paneling with crown molding, swag drapes on the windows, and English oil paintings on the walls. Very classy. The main staircase is a rip off of the Titanic one. There are three dining rooms: the Club restaurant which does traditional early and second seating dinner; the Steakhouse restaurant on the top back of the ship which was open the first half of the cruise; and Sabatini’s Italian restaurant, which was open the second half of the cruise.
We were impressed that Princess was able to bring the full Princess experience to the dining room being 8,000 miles away from home. The menu’s are the same as any other Princess ship—French Dinner, Italian Dinner, Captain’s Farewell Dinner with lobster and Beef Wellington (the ultimate “surf” and “turf”!) Steaks and prime rib were brought just as ordered every time – medium rare for Maureen and I and “blue” i.e. really rare (moo!) for our Canadian tablemates! We also ate at both the steakhouse and Sabatinis. We liked both. The steakhouse has thicker, larger steaks than the main dining room (including a large porterhouse which I had that was never on the dining room menu). It was a lot of food, because they brought you ALL of the “sides” i.e. baked potato, broiled tomato, vegetable, and some other items I don’t remember. We couldn’t order dessert (unusual for me!) It was $8 per person and well worth it.
We ate at Sabatini’s on a night when we were in port (Bora Bora), and that was nice as you could see the lights from the hotels and resorts on shore. As usual with Sabatini’s, there was an overwhelming amount of food, as you get all of the appetizers (first a “cold” set, and then a “hot” set). You also get all three or four pastas (including to die for stuffed gnocchi ). I had lobster tail for the main course and Maureen had the broiled shrimp on a skewer. Again, we couldn’t eat any dessert. (We made up for that omission on all of the other nights, especially with the hot soufflé’s!)
We like wine (we are after all from California!). There were two wine tastings aboard on sea days. The first was the usual $7.50 per person intro tasting which we’ve seen on every Princess Cruise. The advantage to these, is besides getting to taste some good wine, you get $5 off a bottle when you order at the tasting for future use at dinner. The second tasting was on the second sea day. Maureen went to this, while I was at Computer Class (see further below for info on that). This was a $25 tasting, including Veuve Clicquot Champagne, Brunello di Montalcino, Kenwood Jack London Cabernet, Cuvaison Chardonnay, AND Opus One! Opus One sells for $136 per bottle, so we’ve never tasted that one! She had a great time, and you got a discount for ordering Opus 1, which we didn’t do. But we splurged and ordered the Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet. This one also comes with two tall cabernet crystal wine goblets engraved with the Princess logo. These were Norm’s “souvenir” of the cruise! Since the ship charges exactly the same price as the wine stores in the States do for the Mondavi (with no Princess markup whatsoever), that made the two goblets free.
Three weeks before the cruise, our travel agent e-mailed us stating that Princess would like to upgrade us from a mini-suite to an Owner’s Suite! (and was this OK with us?????). It was truly a once in a lifetime experience. The layout of suites on Renaissance/Princess ships is different than the Sun/Grand Class ships. The cabin is essentially triple cabin width, not double. That allows the living room to also have a dining area with table and four chairs. There’s a separate bedroom with a swag drape above the queen size bed. In addition, there’s a marble bath with combo Jacuzzi tub/shower. (No separate tub and shower as in Grand Class. ) Finally, there’s a separate marble lined powder room right at the entrance. There’s a full width balcony with a teak table and four teak chairs, and two teak chaise lounges to complete the picture.
Our suite was at the very front of the ship, right under the Bridge. So we saw exactly the same view as the Princess webcam! We told our family they could see exactly where we were each day. The balconies on the front suites are slightly narrower than the ones in the back, but there was more than enough room for us (and our 10 CruiseCritic friends for our Bon Voyage party). We heard comments about noise and too much wind on the front suites, but we didn’t find that to be the case. Even when the ship was moving, it was just fine (and our Bon Voyage party which we expected to last for an hour or so, lasted three hours out on the balcony after we sailed from Papeete).
There is noise in the morning as you dock or anchor, as the anchor’s and lines have to be set when you arrive. However, since we usually had 8am tours, having noise at 7:30 or so didn’t bother us, and we usually had breakfast out on the balcony as we watched the ship come in to port. While the back suites won’t have the anchor and line noise, they get the ships engine vibration, especially when the back thrusters are used to dock and tender. Thinking about a cabin in the middle? Then you get the noise of the tender’s being dropped and launched—so there’s no magic quiet spot! The only negative about our wonderful suite was that the sliding door leaked during the storm we had on the sea days going to and from Raratonga. The cabin stewardess was great about getting them to use a wet vacuum to sop it up, but we had to have a fan for a couple of days run while we were out to dry it fully out.
The CruiseCritic Bon Voyage Party
There were 10 of us CruiseCritic board members on this cruise. We had corresponded on the board for three or four months before the cruise. We had people from Pennsylvania, Arizona, New York, and Wisconsin. We went shopping for some bottles of wine in downtown Papeete and found a great wine store (Pavillion) in a building next to the Vaima shopping center. It was located in a central mall passageway. It had mostly French wine, which we don’t know as well as the California wine we drink all the time. But they also had some wine from Chile. The wine shop owner was correct that their Chardonnay would be more like California (more oak and buttery) than the more austere French versions, so we bought some of that for the party and later for our happy hours in the room. Everyone brought some wine or liqueur, and we actually wound up with more wine that we could possibly drink all cruise! We ordered a tray of guacamole and chips, as well as cheese and crackers. Both were very large, and we had lots left over for later happy hours. At sailing time on Sunday at 5pm, we all gathered in our suite and out on the balcony and watched sail away from Papeete and a great sunset to boot! Don even had a CruiseCritic cap and polo shirt on, so we were “official”!
The first stop was Huahine, one of our favorite islands for snorkeling. Most of the CruiseCritic group had made reservations with Marc of Huahine Nautique for the snorkeling and motu picnic in the water. This was a wonderful trip for all, and has been reviwed many times on CruiseCritic. It starts at 9am, and ends at 3pm. It’s both longer and cheaper than the one Princess arranges for. We could see the 100 people on the Princess tour from our picnic in the lagoon with our 12 people! The staff and passengers also played a “game” which was toss a spear at a coconut that was sitting atop a tall poll. Two people actually got the spear to stick. At the beginning of lunch they made “Poission Cru” which is similar to the Mexican ceviche. It was raw Marlin, first marinated in lots of lime juice. Then they add shredded carrots, onions and take freshly grated coconut wrapped in a towel and wrung so the fresh coconut milk spills into the fish. I didn’t think I’d like it at all, but it was very tasty, with the lime overpowering most other flavors. During the whole lunch there were three Tahitian musicians playing and singing songs for entertainment. There was a second drift snorkel after lunch, and make sure you do that one, as the coral and fish were better the second time.
By the way, just so you know that not “everyone” enjoys everything like we do—we did have the “Couple from Hell” on our tour (not part of Cruise Critic group). These two didn’t like the long morning covered boat ride to the snorkel stop. They didn’t want to snorkel, but go directly to the picnic stop (this was at 10:30am in the morning). They proceeded to chide one of the tour staff on how to better organize the tour (for them!). They also didn’t want to do the second snorkel after lunch, so a second boat took them back to the ship. One of our CruiseCritic friends later saw them on another snorkel trip, and they weren’t having any more fun, or cooperating than on our trip!
I guess I was a little disappointed with Raratonga. It’s a three day effort: day at sea to get there; day on the island; and day at sea again to get back to French Polynesia. We had a storm on both sea days, which really didn’t bother us—even though our cabin was right at the front. We did have the flood mentioned above, but that didn’t really bother us either.
Raratonga doesn’t have as spectacular scenery as do the islands of French Polynesia. It has only one nice beach—Muri beach, which was lovely, and we did stop there on the Circle Island Tour in the afternoon. Otherwise, the Circle Island Tour showed us backroads where the people actually live, and farm pineapples, guava, and papaya etc. There are no deluxe resorts or hotels, either.
I did a SCUBA dive in the morning with Pacific Divers. They were very good. However, it was only five minutes before we were to dive that they "announced" that the island has had an invasion of sea stars for the last couple of years. Similar to what’s happened to parts of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, these creatures come up out of the deep in the thousands, and suck all of the polyps out of the coral formations. The coral formations then die, and loose all of their color. So everything is a white/brown color. The shape of the coral formations is still there, and there were a surprising number of small fish for the reefs actually being dead. It will take about 15 years for the reefs to recover. The websites of dive shops I looked at for Raratonga didn’t say anything about this, so I thought it a little misleading.
Maureen noticed, walking around the small town near the dock, that there was a market and wine store that had lots of New Zealand wines, and prices like we see back in California. Raratonga is a territory of New Zealand.
Sea Day – Scholarship@Sea
While Maureen went to the fancy wine tasting, Norm took three Adobe Photoshop Elements training classes. (45 minutes each at $25). This was the first time this has been offered onboard Tahitian Princess. The instructor was great, and I learned a lot about digital photo editing. They also offered MS Office classes at other times. This program, which up to know has only been offered on Coral and Island Princess is now being spread to all Princess ships. There was one woman who attended the classes with me, who is flying to Golden Princess after this cruise, to be the instructor there. They said that the President of Princess is highly committed to the program, and it would be done throughout the fleet.
Maureen’s Island & Lagoon snorkel was cancelled do to choppy seas. I went SCUBA diving with the Princess organized tour in the morning. Princess used Hemisphere Sub dive shop, and they were great. We had about 12 people diving, on an open boat. They divided us up into two groups. There was a huge Napoleon Wrasse just waiting for us as we got in the water (he gets fed everyday here). It was great diving with lots of fish and clear water.
In the afternoon, we took a Princess arranged Raiatea Classic Sailing Cruise. We sailed in the lagoon for three hours in the afternoon. It was paradise! The lagoon has lots of variations of color of the water as it gets deeper or shallower. The view of the island too, from the water is very scenic. By the way, Princess is adding a Sunset Lagoon cruise here, which we almost traded into. We were glad we didn’t, as our afternoon sail was perfect—and it rained for sunset! You should also know that if you are interested in the Polynesian show and buffet on the Motu islet, the same dancers appear on the ship on this island. So only go on that if you think you are interested in the feast.
The first afternoon, Maureen and I rented a car and did our own “Circle Island Tour”. We did this because most Princess tours would have had us back too late for our Sunset Catamaran Sail cruise. Since we had been to Bora Bora in 1999, we didn’t feel like we wanted to do the 4X4 again (it is the best most spectacular 4X4 tour of the cruise if you are interested). We had the best sunset of the cruise on the Catamaran. It took us out by the new Sheraton, and the sky exploded in pinks and red. Helped along with a glass of Champagne too! Great pictures.
The second day on Bora Bora, I dove in both the morning and afternoon. These were “single” dives, not two tank ones as elsewhere in the world. Princess used Bora Diving Center for these. In the morning I got to see a giant Manta Ray, which was wonderful. The water was a little murky, and they divided up our 12 divers into two groups of six. During the middle of the dive, the two groups crossed each other. About three minutes after that, we spotted the Ray which was about 10 feet across. He got away from us quickly, but then wonder of wonders, he turned around and came back right by us for a “Kodak Moment”!
Maureen went on a Snorkel Safari in the morning, and she said the coral was very near the surface, and they saw lots of fish, sting rays, and even a shark.
The afternoon dive was with sharks too. The dive master took a plastic bag with a fish head in it down with him. He had us stand on the bottom about 25 feet away from him, and he put the fish head under a rock. Then the fun began. We had lots of small black tipped sharks and then came the big 12 foot ones! They tore into the fish head quickly, but it was great for pictures. Also got to see a lionfish under a ledge.
I dove in the morning with TopDive, arranged via the Internet. The Princess Tour Director said that they were going to be having future Princess arranged dives on Moorea using Batheys, a 5 star PADI dive shop. TopDive was great (they also have a shop in Bora Bora.) I got some great pictures, because the dive master again brought a fish head in a plastic bag. Unlike Bora Bora, he didn’t leave it alone on the ocean floor, but opened it as he swam along. Hundreds of small fish surrounded him, trying to get at the fish head. Thus the fish clustered abound him for some very colorful pictures. It was however a little “artificial” set up! We also saw a giant moray eel, some black tipped sharks, and lots of other fish. The coral reefs are in great shape here too.
Maureen did the Stingray and Motu Snorkel. The coral and fish at the far end of the motu were much better than in 1999. The motu is across from the defunct ClubMed, and seems to have benefited from the decreased traffic.
In the afternoon, we took a 4X4 tour of Moorea. In 1999, we did 4X4’s on Papeete, Raitea, and Bora Bora. The best of the bunch is still Bora Bora, because of the spectacular island and lagoon setting that you get when you are up in the mountains. Bora Bora and Moorea 4X4’s both are “bumpy” and really use the 4X4 Land Rovers to the max. The Moorea 4X4 trip was a kick. First they went on a back road up to 650 feet above sea level on a one way, very steep dirt road. From that elevation, you could see both of the major bays on Moorea. The ship was docked in Cooks bay. After that, we went to the “Belvedere” lookout, which also is up high, but on a paved road. They stopped at an agricultural school, and we sampled vanilla, and saw how it was grown. Finally, they drove us to a liqueur factory where we could get free samples of all kinds of flavored tropical liqueurs (coconut, vanilla, etc).
We left Moorea at 5pm, and docked back in Papeete about 8pm. The next morning is departure day. This has been covered in detail before, and since we had our own arrangements, our setup was different than most. We knew up front that both the Omni charter and Air Tahiti Nui would be taking almost 300 people each back to Los Angeles that night. In 1999, we experienced what the airport can be like with that many people. So we asked for an air deviation, and stayed another night at Le Meridien. This time we booked via the Internet an over-water bungalow. We couldn’t afford this for the earlier two-night stay. It was heaven. All fitted out in teak wood, with louvered teak shutters. Had a balcony right above the reefs, with crystal clear water. At 5 pm each night, a Tahitian wedding ceremony was performed on the Hotel’s beach.. Was quite colorful.
On the next night, we had room service dinner as the restaurant didn’t open until 7pm, and we had to leave at 7 pm for the airport. In essence, the room service menu was the same price as the restaurant, and the food was quite good. The airport was crowded again, as there was a Hawaiian Air flight to Honolulu leaving at almost the same time. So the line to get through the X-Ray machines was long (and they didn’t open until almost 8pm. I haven't received the developed film yet from our cruise. Tahiti airport is infamous for messing up film via their X-Ray machines. All luggage--even carryons, go through very large machines first. Then to add insult to injury, your hand luggage goes through a small X-Ray machine once you get inside the terminal. I put all of our film in a lead photo bag, but I don't know how effective it is yet.
When we finally got into the terminal, people did spread out, and it was a fairly comfortable hour wait. The greatest thing however, is that the Air Tahiti Nui flight was only about 20% full, unlike the night before. Maureen and I each got a two-seat row on the side for each of us. There were lots of empty seats, especially in the center, but the center armrest between the 4 seats doesn’t rise up, so you can’t lay down flat on all four seats if the plane is empty. We both actually slept on this flight (something I almost never do), so it felt shorter than the 7 hours it takes to return home.
I hope you’ve enjoyed our “virtual visit” and would be happy to answer any questions you have.
Norm and Maureen