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PHILLIP STIRTON

Age: 59

Occupation:retired management consultant

Number of Cruises: 14+

Cruise Line: Princess

Ship: Tahitian Princess

Sailing Date: November 29th, 2003

Itinerary: French Polynesia/Marquesas Islands


As part of a group of six people I undertook the 10 night, 29 November 2003 French Polynesia cruise on the Tahitian Princess. The ship departed from Papeete, Tahiti and visited Moorea, Nuku Hiva, Hiva Oa, Rangiroa, Raiatea/Taha’a and Bora Bora.

THE SHIP

Tahitian Princess is some 30,000 tonnes and only three years old and therefore in very good condition both inside and out. The interior decoration is probably best described as French Provincial with heavily patterned fabrics and carpets throughout – quite impressive ! The crowd by the way with an average age of around 45-50 was very mixed consisting of Americans, Australians, Canadians, British, South Americans, New Zealanders etc. which made for some very interesting conversations. At most ports the ships uses its tenders to take you ashore – very well organized.

Cabin

As I managed to get a very good deal through my agent in LA I opted to upgrade to a minisuite which included a full size bath, about one third more floor space than the normal balcony cabin and a refrigerator – very comfortable and made even more so by the ever helpful and attentive room attendant from the Philippines. The balcony cabins which the other members of the group had booked were also more than comfortable.

Ship’s Facilities

The ship has the usual range of bars, library, casino, swimming pool, spa facilities, gym – all of a very good standard and plenty of deck space/chairs for a smaller ship. The swimming pool could have been a little larger particularly given the hot climate the ship is traversing however there was never a time when you couldn’t get in it !!

Restaurants/Food

The restaurants consisted of the normal dining room and two alternative venues, the Italian Restaurant and the Steakhouse. The Italian incurred a surcharge of US$20 and quite frankly was more than a little disappointing food wise although the service was brilliant. On the other hand the Steakhouse (surcharge US$8) was very good in all respects and was certainly way ahead of the Italian. Frankly you can’t go past the main dining room which consistently had a good to excellent range of choices for dinner. There is also a pizzeria and a hamburger stand for snack type food.

Our group opted to have breakfast and lunch at the buffet which again provided a good range of food coupled with desserts which did wonders for the waistline. There was never an occasion when we could not locate a table or had to queue for any length of time at the buffet counters.

Ship’s Staff

One aspect of this ship which sets it apart is the standard of service which could only be described as excellent. The dining room/ buffet staff are primarily East European with a good command of English, a good sense of humor and an aim to please attitude. The same applies to the cabin attendant who was from the Philippines and to whom nothing was a problem.

PORTS/EXCURSIONS

We opted to do our own thing in each of the ports visited although Princess had a good range of short trips available at most ports for those who did not want to tie up their whole day.

On the island of Tahiti (which we had visited some four times previously) two of us decided to take an overland trip across the island which we had not seen previously. We organized a day trip with Natura Expeditions for CFP7500 about $US70 which included lunch and lasted about six hours. It was a great experience but I would not recommend it for more elderly folk or people with bad backs etc., as the track gets pretty rough in parts however for those of you who still seek to see something beyond the town it is well worth the time and cost. Our guide (Arnaud) apart from being a brilliant 4WD driver also had a comprehensive knowledge of the island’s history and flora. The trip was undertaken in a Landrover which had two bench type seats in the back with a canopy. As it turns out it was probably more comfortable in the back because you picked up the breeze – it is very hot and humid this time of the year !!! We actually drove down a couple of the rivers which really tested out the Landrover but it came through with flying colors !

The whole group also went on a 4WD tour across the island of Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas Islands. This is surely one of the prettiest parts of French Polynesia with some impressive volcanic formations, lush forests and waterfalls. It is also home of the largest pre European settlement in Polynesia which is considerably larger and more developed than those on the other islands. This tour was also arranged over the internet with Jocelyne Mamatui. Her details can be found at www.marquisesvoyages.com.pf and I would thoroughly recommend the excursion (about six hours long). Again she really knew how to handle the eight seater Landrover and had a great knowledge of plants, sites etc. as well as a great personality. We had lunch at Hatiheu Bay with the surf nearly coming up to the door of the restaurant – a great experience.

In Raiatea we opted to go to a “motu” or small island about half an hour by speedboat out of the town and which we arranged at the pier. It was idyllic with this brilliant green/blue water, tropical fish everywhere and the whole island covered in coconut palms. It was about $US25 and we stayed for about four hours.

The other ports we hopped on “le truck” – their local bus service – not very fancy but a great and cheap way to get around. We unfortunately couldn’t get off the ship in Hiva Oa due to a large swell so we continued on to Rangiroa, a truly breathtaking sight ! Bora Bora remains the jewel in the crown with incredible volcanic shaped mountains and the most stunning coloured water you have ever seen. On previous trips on both Moorea and Bora Bora we have rented a small car and driven around both islands – quite easy and costs about $US80 per day all inclusive.

GETTING TO TAHITI

We flew from Australia to Papeete, Tahiti with overnight in Auckland, New Zealand. The leg to Auckland was by Qantas and then the Auckland/Papeete/Auckland legs were with Air Tahiti Nui. We were fortunate to get a business class upgrade with ATN and we could thoroughly recommend them. Their staff cannot do enough for you and the food is tremendous and plentiful – just as you thought you had finished along would come another trolley.

You have the choice of any number of items on the trolley rather than the food prepacked – a nice touch ! And could they teach some Western airlines about service with their graceful unassuming manner ! A number of passengers on the ship who came down from LA said that they had flown Omni Air and were less than charitable in their comments regarding the cramped conditions, the age and fabric of the aircraft and the service. Those who had flown down with Air Tahiti Nui were more than complimentary both in respect of business and economy class so I would recommend that you make sure you are on Air Tahiti Nui and not Omni Air.

HOTEL ACCOMMODATION IN PAPEETE

Finally we had two days prior to and two days after the cruise in Papeete itself. We stayed at the Sofitel Maeva Beach as two of us had done on three previous occasions.
Whilst the room was clean and comfortable, they have a great swimming pool looking straight towards Moorea (magnificent at sunset) and the food in the restaurant is quite good, the air conditioning is still not working after having first visited the hotel in 1975. In Tahiti’s climate air conditioning is a must unless you are from a hot, humid climate and are adjusted. On each of the three previous occasions we have filled out the hotel’s comments sheet with our positives and the problem with the air conditioning. One only hopes that it will be rectified in a planned renovation for January 2004………………. The only other drawback was the arrogance displayed by the restaurant staff towards anyone who spoke English - I suspect hotel management needs to be a little more vigilant if they want to attract English speaking clients. My recommendation would be to stay at the Beachcomber or the Sheraton which only costs $30/$40 more a night as their attitude really did put a dampener on the trip.

OVERALL

Tahiti is one of the few places on this earth that you could call really stunning. The lush rainforests, beaches and the colors of the water are breathtaking. You are quickly brought down to earth with the high cost of everything mainly because the bulk of it is brought from mainland France. That’s why if you have the urge to see this spectacular location you should opt for a cruise where you get to see a number of islands and it is pretty well all inclusive other than your drinks and ship’s gratuities. The ship automatically charges $US10 per day per person to cover tips which means you don’t have to worry about it and you can get on with your vacation. If you have problems with any of the service you can see the purser’s office and adjust the amount. Just remember to factor this in when you are costing your holiday.

Finally I would thoroughly recommend the Tahitian Princess in respect of the ship itself, the ports it visits and the service you get on board – brilliant experience. The other attraction is the very reasonable cost of the cruise itself.

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