French Polynesia and the Marquesas on the Tahitian Princess
2/21/05 to 3/3/05
Ports of Call: Tahiti, Polynesia; Moorea, Polynesia; Nuku Hiva, Marquesas Islands; Hiva Oa, Marquesas Islands; Rangiroa, Tuamato Islands; Raiatea, Polynesia; Bora Bora, Polynesia
Carol and I booked this cruise eleven months before sailing. We knew very little about this tropical paradise and had a lot of research to do to get ready for what would turn out to be an absolutely wonderful cruise experience. We had met fellow cruisers on the Cruise Critic bulletin boards, and were able to share our pre-cruise excitement with them. When we booked this cruise, we knew that it was the hot summer months and near the end of the rainy season; but it was the only time that Princess Cruise Lines does the Marquesas Islands itinerary. We had selected this date, since it was the last Marquesas cruise of the season; and it was closer to the end of the rainy season. We hoped that we would have reasonably nice weather to really be able to experience this Paradise.
Since this trip would involve about fourteen hours of flying, we decided to spend one night in LA before the eight hour fifteen minute flight to Papeete. Our flight from LAX on Air Tahiti Nui was great. The plane had adequate room, a friendly staff, good food and good movies to watch to pass the time.
On the flight I finally got to try the Hinano Beer that I had read so much about, the first of many on this trip. I really like this beer. Since I normally don’t drink too many alcoholic beverages, other than when on vacation, it is probably good that it is not sold here in South Florida.
The only negative to the trip over was the 45 minute wait to get through immigration in Papeete. I recommend changing into shorts on the plane before you land, since it is quite warm and humid in the airport. There is no where to sit down, so you literally are standing in line. There are some overhead fans along the line, which do help a little, but not enough. The main problem was that there were only two agents doing the checks and lots of anxious passengers ready to start their much needed vacations.
We have found that we like to spend a few days in the embarkation port before the cruise to adjust to the time change and recover from the long trip. We booked a garden view room at the Papeete Intercontinental Beachcomber (Beachcomber Link) for three nights before the cruise. Since we arrived at the hotel around 9:00 PM, we really only had two full days to tour the area before we got on the Tahitian Princess. We chose to stay in Tahiti; since the pre-cruise time was the only time that we would be able to visit this island.
The Beachcomber is a very nice hotel with lovely grounds. Many people say it is the best hotel on the island. I don’t know if it is, but we sure did enjoy it.
The only minor complaint we had was that the air conditioning wasn’t cold enough for us. I think the problem is more that the AC doesn’t take out enough of the humidity, so the room feels warmer than it actually is. Since electricity in French Polynesia is so expensive, the Beachcomber uses your room key to turn on the AC. When you enter the room, there is a slot just to the left of the door. You must insert your room key before you turn the AC on. The thermostat is separate and located by the bed.
The food prices at the hotel were, as expected quite high. The prices for the buffets were very expensive, with breakfast being 2950 CFP or about $33 US. If you ask to order from the menu rather than eating at the buffet, you can get an omelet with hash browns and bacon for about $10 US. The dinner buffets were $35-$55 US; but you could get a hamburger and fries for around $15 US; and surprisingly they had a chicken dinner for about $15 US.
Online we had booked a 4X4 safari trip for Saturday. It was enjoyable and even included a swim in a mountain pond. On Sunday we took the ferry over to Moorea for the Moana Lagoon and Motu Picnic excursion with Albert’s Tours. It included swimming with the sharks and playing with stingrays. We also booked dinner on Saturday night at Le Belvedere restaurant, which was on top of a mountain overlooking Papeete. I will discuss these trips in more detail in the Port Section of this review.
As we have done on our previous three cruises, we got to know our fellow cruisers through the bulletin board at www.cruisecritic.com. Eight couples had been communicating for many months prior to the cruise. What a great group! We had folks from Great Britain, Arkansas, California, Illinois, Michigan and Washington state. We normally cruise by ourselves, so it’s always special to get to meet and travel with people that we have been communicating with online. It is also nice to be able to go on excursions with them; as well as visiting with them when you run into each other several times a day onboard.
photo by Toni
Since most of the CC folks were staying at the Beachcomber, we set up a meeting for Sunday night in the Tiki Bar to meet and greet those folks who were arriving later that night. Wade, Trina, Brett, Toni, David, Julia, Carol and I were already staying at the hotel, so we set up our meeting at the bar for only an hour after Ron, Sheryl, Karen and Allan’s flights were scheduled to arrive. After our experience at FAAA, I thought that we would probably have to wait awhile for them to get to the hotel. To our surprise Ron and Sheryl were right on time, and Karen and Allan weren’t far behind. Both couples were exhausted after the long trip, but everyone wanted to get to know each other, so we all visited for a while.
We arrived at the ship about 10:45 AM on Monday. The Princess embarkation crew was just setting up the stations under the tented area where you register before boarding the ship. There was some confusion as to whether you should stand in the roped off section or wait at one of the stations. People were told to do both; and since it wasn’t marked, it did cause a problem as more people started arriving to check in. In all fairness to Princess, we were early; but a few directional signs would certainly help. Once they started checking people in at around 11:15 AM, it went very quickly.
The registration tent
It was quite strange to have the disembarking passengers still on the ship when we got on board. Normally everyone has been kicked off before the new cruisers arrive; but since most of the flights don’t leave Papeete until late at night, Princess lets the disembarking passengers stay on the ship all day. Thank goodness they do.
After we checked out our mini-suite, cabin number 8021, we headed to the Panorama Buffet. We ran into some of our new CC friends and shared the first of many meals together. Since we hadn’t had much time during the pre-cruise to shop, we got off of the ship and went into the shopping district which is located right next to the ship. At Herman Perles Jewelers, Carol found an absolutely gorgeous blue-black pearl that we couldn’t live without, so I gave it to her for "my" birthday!
We also went over to the Marche and got some of the local shampoo products that we had read about. Carol went back to the ship since the heat and humidity were starting to get to her. We live in South Florida, but the humidity coupled with a very hot sun was quite draining. I found Papeete to be the most uncomfortable area we encountered during the trip, probably due to all the buildings, concrete and structures obstructing the cool breeze. The final thing I did before getting on the Tahitian Princess for the next 10 days was to buy one of the large flower arrangements in the Marche for the cabin. What a great way to brighten up the cabin and enjoy the foliage of French Polynesia for the whole cruise.
The Tahitian Princess is the smallest cruise ship we have been on. It was built in 1999, is only 30,000 tons and holds 680 passengers. It was the Renaissance R3 prior to Princess buying it; and is beautifully appointed in dark woods. Many of the public rooms make you feel like you are on someone’s large personal yacht. It is very easy to get around the ship. Since it is only 594 ft. long, it doesn’t take much time to walk from one end to the other. Additionally, since the main public areas are on decks 5 and 9, you can quickly get to them on the stairs or with the always available elevators. An interesting thing we quickly realized was that since both of the elevators open toward the front of the ship, you always turn the same way to get to your hallway, rather than having to stop and think about it. You still need to know if you are in the front or back elevator to know which way to turn once you got in the hallway, but there’s a diagram right there to help you.
The major public rooms are:
Club Restaurant – This is the main dining room at the rear end of deck 5. It is very well organized to create space for the wait staff to maneuver. It is also attractive for a single level dining room.
The Club Dining Room
Panorama Buffet – Even though there aren’t that many people on the ship, the buffet felt crowded, probably because there isn’t that much room between the two major serving areas. Additionally, there really weren’t a lot of tables inside, so it was challenging at times finding a table in the air conditioning. Since the buffet is on the back of deck 9, the area between the buffet and aft of the ship was a pleasant place to eat when at sea. There was a nice breeze and great view. The grill is located outside in this area and serves hamburgers, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, bratwurst, and knockwurst for lunch and omelets for breakfast.
Tahitian Lounge – This is a lovely well appointed room that is on deck 10 right at the front of the ship. It has a great panoramic view and is very comfortable. Unfortunately, since this is the venue for the art auctions, it was frequently cluttered with artwork.
Tahitian Lounge Art Auction
Sabatini’s Italian Restaurant & Sterling Steak House – These specialty restaurants are right next to each other at the back of deck 10. They are long rooms that hold a lot of tables. They aren’t as fancy as specialty restaurants we have been to on other ships, but the food is very good and the presentation is excellent.
Sabatini's Italian Trattoria Sterling Steak House
Library – This beautiful room is just in front of Sabatini’s. It is a very lovely room with dark wood cabinets holding a large collection of books. However, the focal point of the library is the illuminated, stained glass, recessed ceiling which features jungle scenes. It is a very peaceful, quiet room that is a pleasure to relax in.
Shops – There are only two small shops in the middle of deck 5. The jewelry store has a good selection of expensive Tahitian and South Sea pearls. The logo shop has the usual stuff and the prices seemed to always be the same even though they had sale advertisements in the Patter. If you want a souvenir T-shirt, this is the cheapest place in French Polynesia. They sell many of them for $11.99. On the islands they ran from $22 to $35 for just a normal T-shirt.
Casino – Although the casino, also in the middle on deck 5, is quite small the Casino Bar was nice with plenty of seating. If I were a gambler, I would have been disappointed in the limited gambling options.
Casino Casino Bar
Cabaret Lounge – This is the showroom and located at the front of deck 5. It is an adequate size room for the number of cruisers on this ship. However, there are only two levels, and the chairs are free standing. This arrangement makes it difficult to see the entertainers, since they are on the same level as most of the chairs on the lower level. There just aren’t a lot of good seats to see the show if you aren’t in the first two rows or around the counter where the second level starts. As a result, people have to get to the shows early if they want a decent seat.
Cabaret Show Lounge
Self-service Laundry – It is located on deck 7, just across the hall from cabin # 7076. Read the signs on the walls for directions rather than the instructions on the inside of the washer lid. Bring your own quarters or get change at the Purser’s desk. It cost 4 quarters per load to wash and takes 30 minutes. You do not need to bring soap. After you put the quarters in, you push a button on a dispenser above the machine and it adds detergent automatically. The dryer takes 4 more quarters and takes 45 minutes to complete. They do not provide softener sheets, so bring Bounce if you wish.
The Princess Patter, which is the newspaper for the day’s activities on the Tahitian Princess, is poorly laid out. The content is fine, but there are too many ads and announcements included between the activities schedule, making it difficult to find what is going on. We heard this complaint from so many people.
We were pleasantly surprised that the Tahitian Princess had an excellent Cruise Director, Frank Castiglione.
We had been concerned, since we had read other reviews of folks that were displeased with previous Cruise Directors. Frank is very friendly to the cruisers. You can tell that his staff enjoys working with him. He is always upbeat and a good communicator.
Our Mini-Suite, Cabin 8021, was on the starboard side of the ship a few cabins forward of mid-ship. This was our first mini and what a pleasure it was. I couldn’t believe how big this cabin was. The main room was 12.5’ wide and 14.5’ deep. The bathroom had a full bathtub and plenty of room to move around in, really unusual in a ship cabin. Another benefit of the mini is that unlike the standard balcony cabins, it had a refrigerator; and robes were provided without asking. We did ask the steward to bring us a lounge chair for the balcony since there was plenty of room for one. He happily obliged, and I got to spend a lot of quality time looking at the ocean and the beautiful islands of French Polynesia while relaxing in the lounger.
For those who plan to cruise on the Tahitian Princess, know that the beds are like boards. To solve this problem, send a FAX to Princess Customer Assistance at 661-284-4745 a few weeks before your cruise. Request an egg crate mattress cover for the bed, and it will be there when you arrive. I don’t know why they don’t just go ahead and put them on all of the beds.
Mini-suite # 8021
We had a very friendly and helpful cabin steward named Marcial from the Philippines. He took great care of us and quickly responded to our every request. Like the rest of the staff on the Tahitian Princess, he really believed in providing a high level of service and seemed to be happy in his job.
We ate most of our meals in the main dining room when we could. We had outstanding tablemates at the main dinner seating. We had been very lucky on past cruises in finding good tablemates, but on this cruise we hit the jackpot. They were all such a pleasure, and we just hated having to say goodbye when the cruise ended.
Gary, Carol, Mike, Bruce
Ken, Skip, Gerry, Margaret
We found the dining room food to be much better than the buffet. It was presented nicely and they had an excellent variety. The meat dishes were very good, and those who ate the fish raved about it. We always enjoy the cold soups; and on the Tahitian Princess they were outstanding with one exception. The Chilled Cream of Zucchini and Pear Soup was horrible! Desserts, especially the soufflés and ice creams were very good. Too good! One just wasn’t enough.
Head Waiter Waiter Jose & Asst. Waiter Florin
The buffet didn’t have the variety that larger ships have; and the few times we ate there, it was just OK. They had special lunches that were supposed to be good including Oriental, Polynesian, International/Sushi, Italian and Sweet Temptations. Since we preferred to have lunch in the main dining room, we didn’t try the special lunches. At the breakfast buffet I wasn’t able to get eggs that were fixed properly or tasted right, so when we had to use the buffet before an early excursion, we settled for the fruits, breads and hot/cold cereals.
We went to the Sterling Steak House one night, and the food and service were very good. It was certainly worth the $15 per person to be able to have a nice, romantic dinner with my lovely wife. I would have liked to try Sabatini’s Italian Restaurant, but we didn’t want to miss a dinner opportunity with our great tablemates.
We have never tried the afternoon teas on a cruise; but on the rainy sea day, it seemed like the thing to do. It was very nice, but we had to pass on most of the very tasty looking food since we had early seating for dinner. It would have been very nice if we had had late seating.
We had two formal nights and the rest were smart casual nights. We had read that people were very formal on the Tahitian Princess. At the early seating, there weren’t that many people wearing tuxedos or serious formals on either formal night. In addition to suits and sport coats, a lot of folks just wore their normal smart casual attire. Although Carol enjoys formal nights, I really think formals are a bit much for a cruise in oh so casual French Polynesia.
Surprisingly, the evening entertainment was very good. We only missed one night’s entertainment, but it was the same singer we had seen earlier on the cruise. They had four production shows for the ten night cruise, two of them on consecutive nights. I think this qualifies in some countries as “dancer abuse”. They really worked hard. They were an excellent group and this was their first time together on the ship. This cruise only had two singers in the production cast. The rest of the voices were pre-recorded. This is one of the things I didn’t like about the one Carnival cruise we went on.
The male singer, Cameron Mannix was very good. I think the female singer must have been having some medical problems because she did have difficulty hitting the notes in the first three shows. I think she might have been lip synching in the last show, but I don’t know that for a fact. Due to the small stage on the Tahitian Princess, they were limited in the shows they could do; but for the most part, they were quite enjoyable.
We were very lucky to have an outstanding comedian named Elliot Maxx. He kept the house laughing most of the night. Fortunately he did shows on two different nights. It was such a pleasure to have a comedian with an original style, rather than some of the has-beens that tell the same old jokes. I also liked the fact that he didn’t resort to today’s common practice of negativism and cutting others down. If you see his name in a future Patter, don’t miss him.
comedian Elliot Maxx singer Vinny Talarico
The other standout was a comedic magician named Hal Marquardt. He only did one regular show and then did a short “close up” magic performance before the headline show. I love magic shows, and Hal was very good. His comedic monologue kept you laughing while the magic kept you fascinated and confused. What a combination! I was lucky enough to be chosen to sit up on the stage with Hal while he did the “close-up” magic. He performed unbelievable card tricks and made things disappear right in front of your eyes or change form in your hands. I am still flabbergasted at how he did what he did. Don’t miss him either.
magician Hal Marquardt
The singer was Vincent Talarico, who was classified as a “Multi Talented, International Singing Sensation”. He was a good singer and I did enjoy some of his songs. However, his style isn’t the type that I enjoy that much; although most of the audience seemed to love him.
On the first night, we had a very good Polynesian dance show from what was dubbed as Tahiti’s Top Folkloric Group. They were the best Polynesian dance show we saw during the whole trip. For some reason entertainers always pick me from the audience to get on stage with them. One of the dancers asked me to dance with her, which was the first of three times I was called to the stage during the cruise. Thank goodness I am not easily embarrassed.
The other Polynesian shows that were onboard were held when we were docked at Raiatea. The first show was at 5:15 PM with the Children of Raiatea. They were just precious. The youngest, who was just starting to dance, was 2 years old and still in diapers. The 3 year old was already pretty good at swinging her hips. The 6 year olds were very good, as were the older kids. It was such a pleasure to watch these youngsters.
Unfortunately for me, I was picked to model a pareo. They coaxed me into taking off my shirt, and then they put the pareo on me. I was embarrassed, but I was also touched by how sweet the dancers and their families were to me, and how they comforted me while I was sitting on the stage in front of everyone. The children recruited audience members to come up and dance with them. Winona, one of the 6 year olds, asked me to dance, so I had to get out there half naked. All of the embarrassment was worthwhile, when after the show was over, Winona found me in the audience and put her lei on me. It was a special moment to me.
The Island Night Polynesian Folkloric Show, featuring the adult dancers, was on deck 9 at 10:15 PM with the Champagne Waterfall to follow at 11:00 PM. Since we had started our packing before the show, we didn’t get there until right before it started. The decks were packed. We watched some of the show and then, since we had early morning excursions coming up on Bora Bora, we headed back to our cabin before the waterfall started.
From my experience, normally the movies on the cruise ships aren’t the most current. I was amazed when I saw the movies Being Julia, Sideways, and Ray playing at different times. I hadn’t seen them yet and would have attended, but they were showing when we were in port. There is no way that I am going to miss a port visit for a movie. I wish they had shown them on one of the three sea days.
Everywhere we went on this cruise the people were so friendly and nice to the tourists. They were helpful and courteous. I had read that the French Polynesian people were a pleasure to be with, and I was happy to find that everything I had heard was true. One thing that was nice is that drivers are required to stop when you approach any of the cross walks. In most places around the world, drivers would try to get through the cross walk before you walked into it. In French Polynesia, they stop if they think you are going to cross the street.
If you are planning on taking a Princess excursion, you absolutely have to book it in advance online if you want any of the good ones. The day we boarded the ship we checked out the excursion list and about 80% of the excursions were sold out before anyone had even come on board. Those folks that didn’t use the internet or hadn’t booked any tours in advance were not very happy. If they had been reading the Cruise Critic board, they would have known they had to pre-book. Fortunately on most of the islands, other than the Marquesas, there are reasonably priced tour guides at the pier or tender docks to provide tourists with tours.
Papeete, Tahiti, Polynesia-
The island of Tahiti is quite beautiful with many high lush green mountains. The city of Papeete is a fairly congested small city with very few attractive structures.
However, the views of the mountains; the beautiful turquoise blue water; and being able to see lovely Moorea, just 15 miles away; make Papeete a great port. Since it is the only place in French Polynesia with any significant shopping opportunities, that alone makes it unique and worth visiting.
The Marche (the large city market) is an interesting place with the best prices around for souvenirs. Many of the items for sale were of lower quality than you could find on some of the other islands, but since they were a lot cheaper it probably balanced out. I visited a few times for different things, but I couldn’t stay there too long because it was just too hot and humid in the non-air conditioned building. One of the best items was the bouquets of lovely tropical flowers that came in $10, $15 and $20 sizes. You could see lots of folks bringing them back to the ship. Unlike the Caribbean, there was very little bargaining in the stores; but there also was no badgering or begging by the vendors. It made shopping and walking around town much more enjoyable.
We had booked a half day Tahiti Safari Expedition 4X4 tour (http://www.tahiti-safari.com/) for Saturday morning, which would allow us time in the afternoon to check out the Marche and enjoy the Beachcomber. Our driver/guide was Rodrigo. He was a good driver, knew all about the island and was very entertaining. The weather was very sunny, hot and humid; but that is to be expected at this time of year. He showed us scenic overlooks, beautiful valleys, gushing waterfalls and rushing rivers. He even took us to the volcano’s crater.
We had a brief shower during the tour; but it ended quickly; and Rodrigo was able to take off the top cover of the 4X4. This allowed everyone to stand up and enjoy the breeze as we drove over the dirt roads. Of course it also meant that we received a higher dose of sunshine. The 45 sunscreen wasn’t strong enough to protect us completely; but we were just a little pink, not lobster red like other folks on the cruise that didn’t use sunscreen.
We stopped at a natural pond near a waterfall to cool off. Wow, what a relief. It was very refreshing, but this pool was also the first time that we were exposed to the numerous bugs that like the tourists. We had brought way too much insect repellent, since we didn’t need it on most of the islands; but we certainly used a lot of it at this pond. Rodrigo treated us to an exhibition of his diving skills by doing a forward and a backward dive into the pool from the side of the cliff. He obviously does this regularly as he was very good. As we headed back, it started raining a little and we put the top back on and proceeded to everyone’s hotel. I decided to be dropped off in town to take my first walk around Papeete and visit the Marche. Carol was beat, so she went back to the Beachcomber. I took Le Truck back to the hotel after shopping.
At 4:30 we went to the lobby to meet our ride to Le Belvedere restaurant. We were going with three of the Cruise Critic couples we had been communicating with online, and were looking forward to the ride to the restaurant. We had met David and Julia from Great Britain on our flight from LAX on Friday; but we hadn’t met Wade, Trina, Brett and Toni from the Seattle area. The trip on the narrow, very steep road up to the lovely restaurant was exciting and quite pretty. To our surprise, there were people walking and riding bikes up the mountain. We couldn’t believe it because of the very steep incline.
Unfortunately, we got into fog as we came to our final destination 1,800 feet over Papeete. We were quite disappointed, since the view was supposed to be the highlight of the evening. Our waitress optimistically told us that it would clear up. To our pleasant surprise, it did; however, there was no sunset to enjoy. After finishing a very nice dinner while watching the lights of Papeete below, we took the thrilling ride back down the mountain. Our first full day in French Polynesia was a wonderful one.
On Sunday we took the ferry over to Moorea and went on Albert’s Moana Lagoon Tour (www.albert-transport.net/excursion_nautique_us.php?nx=NAU). The ferry took a half hour and was a very comfortable and fast vessel. If you buy a round trip ticket in Papeete, you can avoid the long lines at the ticket counter in Moorea. It is a great way to visit Moorea for the day, but since the last trip back to Tahiti is normally 4:10, you need to keep an eye on your watch if you are on your own. Since almost everything is closed on Sunday, this six hour motu picnic worked out great.
Our guide, Siki, was quite a character. He kept us entertained all day. Our first stop was to feed the sharks. Since I am a scuba diver, swimming with sharks doesn’t concern me too much; but Carol can’t even watch sharks on TV. To my surprise, she got into the water with the black tip reef sharks swimming all around us to get to the fish. She told me later that she had decided that life is too short to miss out on extraordinary adventures just because you are scared. She also said that once is enough!
We were holding onto a rope, but the water was very rough and the sharks were really in a frenzy for the food. I had not expected there to be so many sharks. It was quite invigorating.
Our next stop was in a shallow area where we were able to swim with and feed stingrays. There were lots of them. Unlike the rays in the Caymans that have very rough top sides, these rays were soft on both sides, which was a pleasant surprise. Also, the Polynesian stingrays are not as large as the ones in the Caribbean. The waters in this area were very nice and there were lots of other fish around. A major disappointment of the trip happened when I realized that the new underwater camera I had bought for the trip was leaking water. The lens was fogging up; and as a result, I wouldn’t be able to use it on any of my scuba dives -- a real bummer.
We finally headed to a motu for our lunch. Due to darkening skies, Siki put the lunch together on the boat while most folks got into the water or walked on the motu. After he had almost everything set up, he called everyone to the boat and went through his Poisson Cru preparation. This is made with raw ahi tuna, lime juice, sea salt, coconut milk and some vegetables. He asked for someone to sample the preparation. For the second time on the excursion, my brave wife surprised me by volunteering. This is quite shocking, since she doesn’t like cooked fish and has never eaten raw fish. She popped it in her mouth and actually liked it. Amazing! The Poisson Cru, chicken and grilled fish were fantastic.
After lunch everyone walked on the beach or swam around and then we headed back. By then the weather was deteriorating and the rain started. I was glad that we had brought Ziploc bags along to put the cameras in. The combination of rain and wind made for a very cold ride back. By the time we arrived back at the van, the sun was shining again and the rest of the day was very nice.
We came back to Moorea when the ship stopped there on Tuesday, the first full day of the cruise. When we booked Albert’s Moana Lagoon Tour several months before the cruise, we had also booked their Circle Island tour for our return trip on the ship. It is operated by his son Tino. In addition to the various tours Albert has, he also runs a taxi/limo service and operates several pearl stores and other tourist related businesses. We were very surprised when Albert himself actually gave us and another couple the circle island tour in his 4X4. Apparently the normal buses they use were contracted by Princess for their ship excursions.
In addition to being a very successful businessman, Albert has 13 children and 25 grandchildren. My gosh this guy was a character! As well as being extremely knowledgeable about the history, he had jokes and stories about everything. We learned a lot about Moorea while being thoroughly entertained. He thinks it is very funny that all of the French bread on the island is baked by the Chinese and delivered to the homes. After driving around and showing us some of the churches, schools and government buildings on the island, he drove us up to the Belvedere lookout.
Moorea Catholic Church Mural of Moorea's history
Box for French bread delivery
It was a beautiful drive through a lush tropical area, but we were getting scattered showers. Normally there is a great view of the Opunohu Bay on the left and Cook’s Bay on the right. Today, the misty rain and low clouds partially obstructed the view. It was clear enough to behold the beautiful view in person, but the clouds didn’t allow me to take pictures that do it justice.
As we came back down the mountain, we drove past lovely views of the mountains and ocean. We stopped at scenic overlooks to gaze upon the high mountains of Tahiti, just 15 miles across the ocean.
Beautiful Moorea Tahiti's mountains
We also stopped at a marae (temple) that had a lot of local students visiting. Our last stop on the tour was to visit a juice factory and store combination. They had great juices, but even greater liqueurs made out of tropical ingredients like pineapple, vanilla and coconut. The sampling of these delicious liquids was well worth the stop. We then headed back to the tender dock to briefly look at the local vendor’s stands before going back to the ship.
Juice factory Vendors at the pier
That afternoon we had planned a little celebration for our honeymooners from our Cruise Critic group, Sheri and Dennis. Everyone showed up to toast the newlyweds in Ron and Sheryl’s lovely “Owner’s Suite” cabin.
Nuku Hiva, Marquesas Islands -
Princess only does the Marquesas itinerary eight times a year. With these islands being more primitive and unspoiled, they make for an adventure that very few people will ever experience. Nuku Hiva is the largest island in the Marquesas, and was the site of the fourth season of the reality TV show Survivor. As we sailed into Taiohae Bay, it was obvious that this was an incredibly beautiful untouched island, and that this would be a remarkable day.
We had booked a private tour with our Cruise Critic friends Sheryl and Ron through a guide that I had read about on the Cruise Critic boards, Claude Gerard (firstname.lastname@example.org). He was with Pua Excursions when we booked the tour, but has since moved to Moorea. He is still booking excursions in Nuku Hiva though. We wanted to have as thorough a tour as possible of this island. The Princess tour was only 2.5 to 3 hours; while Claude’s tour was 7 hours and not much more expensive. Thank goodness we had a beautiful sunny day in Nuku Hiva. His tour guide, Marie-Jo, was such a pleasure to spend the day with. There are very few English speaking guides on Nuku Hiva, so we were very lucky to have one. Most of the drivers for the short Princess excursions didn’t speak English.
Marie-Jo started off the tour by giving each of us a lovely hand made wooden bead necklace. Before we headed to the mountains, we stopped at the local market, where artisans and vendors were selling their wares. She said they wouldn’t be there when we got back, so I am glad we did. The wood carvings were beautiful as well as the necklaces made of many different materials. We then took a short drive and stopped by her church to see the beautiful large wood carvings that decorated it.
Marie-Jo was quite fascinated with the expressions we used. She spoke excellent English, but wanted to learn what different slang words meant. It was really fun. She had a great sense of humor, and we were laughing all the time as we drove around this tropical paradise. Every place that Marie-Jo stopped to let us get out and take pictures was prettier and more breathtaking than the last one.
The first stop was up the mountain looking down on the large Taiohae Bay with the Tahitian Princess looking like a little toy boat floating in the middle of it.
We then drove to the lovely Taipivai Valley, which was covered with palm trees. She said that the island had planted 10,000 trees in the valley and they have obviously increased in number.
From this valley we moved over to a view over Hakapaa Bay. This looked down on a lovely beach that was used as one of the tribe’s camps on Survivor, a beautiful setting indeed.
The next stop was the little village of Hooumi, where we stopped at a vendor that let you sample their fruits and of course sold fruits and trinkets. They had two kinds of coconut, the usual kind and one that had the texture of cotton candy, quite different. I liked the original better. Even from ground level, the view was amazing.
We got back in the 4X4 and climbed higher into the mountains. While the mountains, bays and valleys were beautiful beyond description, the dirt roads were unbelievably bad. Thank goodness the 4X4 had very good seats and shocks that cushioned the bumps some; but it was still an unforgettable ride.
At last we got to the top and were able to look down into the Hatiheu Valley. What a beautiful site! We were on the North side of the island looking down into a gorgeous green valley and the turquoise blue water of the Pacific Ocean. We were excited to find out that right next to the church steeple, which we could see in the distance, was Chez Yvonne where we were stopping for lunch.
The restaurant was right on the beach, and was surrounded by beautiful flowering gardens. While we ate, we could look up at the jagged mountains, the lush valleys, or just watch the waves of beautiful blue water.
Yvonne’s was a fairly good sized restaurant, but there weren’t a lot of people there at lunchtime. We were pleased to find our cruise critic friends Wade, Trina, Brett, Toni, Karen, and Allan who had taken a private tour with Jocelyn, the only other English speaking guide we had heard about.
The food was very good. I had a lobster with a wonderful tomato type sauce, and Carol had a curried shrimp dish that was incredible. After lunch we went to the Aakapa Valley which looked out on the ocean and another range of large, beautiful, jagged peaks. We were overdosed on beauty in Nuku Hiva.
We explored a tohua or ceremonial site. This site is huge and is bordered by many ancient statues and low stone walls.
Since we were on the opposite side of the island from the ship and we were anxious about getting back, we were glad when we started the rough ride up the mountain. We were making good progress, when all of a sudden we couldn’t move. The engine was running but the wheels just didn’t seem to be grabbing the road. It seemed like there was a transmission problem. We were all very quiet while Marie-Jo and another driver that had been riding in the back of the truck got out to check on the problem. After a couple of minutes of evaluating the situation and manually pushing the 4X4 back and forth, everyone got back in. Marie-Jo restarted the truck, and to our delight the transmission engaged and off we went. We were able to enjoy the beauty of the ride back again with much less stress. As we tendered back to the Tahitian Princess, I thought about what a perfect day this had been and how fortunate we were to be able to experience this lush mountainous paradise on a beautiful sunny day.
Hiva Oa, Marquesas Islands -
Other than the possibility of having 10 days of solid rain, my biggest concern during the months prior to this cruise was that we would not be able to tender into Hiva Oa. Unpredictable accessibility had caused the previous five cruises to skip this port, so as we sailed into Traitor’s Bay, I was thrilled that the waters seemed to be fairly smooth. When we got down to the ship’s tender embarkation area, there was a long line. Apparently what appeared to be mild seas, was a bit rougher than I first thought. They needed to get clearance that all was well for tendering. At last we were allowed to get onto the tender, but we were warned to be careful about sudden movement.
After the short ride to the dock, we got onto a school bus for the ride into the main town of Atuona. Apparently it is a 60 minute walk up and down hills to get to town; but luckily for us, the town is very generous in providing free transportation. The bus first took us up to a stop right below the Calvary Cemetery, which is perched on the top of a hill. A light rain started, which made the road up to the cemetery like a shallow river in parts. We walked over to artist Paul Gauguin’s grave and then to the grave of Belgian singer Jacques Brel.
Seeing the graves themselves was not particularly special to me; but the cemetery itself was really lovely; and the views down into the valleys and up to the mountains were something to behold. The large white cross was very impressive.
When we walked back to the bus, it was already full, so we decided to walk down the hill to town where there was supposed to be a Polynesian dance show. It turned out to be about a 15 minute walk, but was quite refreshing since the rain had stopped and the sun was shining again. We passed by the Gauguin Museum, but decided not to go in, since we wanted to get into downtown. Apparently, we were in downtown! The town itself is extremely small, with only about a dozen or less buildings.
Downtown area Paul Gauguin Museum
We could hear some drums beating, so we headed toward them. The drums led us to the area where the dancers were going to perform. As we walked into the area to find a seat for the show, we could see how far we had walked down the mountain by looking way up at the white cross at Calvary Cemetery. No wonder we were tired. While we were waiting for the show to start, I walked down to the beach. There was a nice view of the Tahitian Princess from the dark sand beach.
The people of Hiva Oa put on a wonderful Polynesian Show. They really put forth a great effort to make the tourists’ visit to the island an enjoyable experience. The Island chief, who was a real character, posed with anyone that wanted a picture taken with him as did the lovely dancers.
Since the ship had not been able to stop at Hiva Oa for so many times this season, the vendors had to be called to come to the dancing area to sell their wares. I am so glad they did. Hiva Oa is known for craftsmen with exquisite woodworking skills. I had seen lots of carved wood items on the other islands, but Nuku Hiva and particularly Hiva Oa had by far the best quality I had seen. One of my goals for this trip to French Polynesia was to scuba dive with a manta ray; so when I saw a beautifully decorated wooden manta ray, I knew I had found my souvenir of Hiva Oa. I definitely wanted a tangible reminder of the beautiful people of Hiva Oa, who had provided us with entertainment and shown us how much they cared about the tourists that visit their lovely island. It is hard to believe that the ancestors of these friendly people were cannibals, until it was outlawed in the late 1800’s.
Rangiroa, Tuamotu Islands -
After spending Sunday at sea, we arrived at the beautiful atoll of Rangiroa. An atoll is the coral reef that is left after an island sinks into the ocean. Rangiroa is the second largest atoll in the world after one in the Marshall Islands.
To our delight it was a beautiful sunny day, which is exactly what you want when you are diving or doing any of the water activities that are so popular here. Rangiroa is one of the best dive sites in the world, particularly the Tiputa Pass dive; which I had booked for this morning.
Princess uses the Six Passengers Dive Shop for the excursion. They use Zodiac boats rather than the traditional dive boats. I was apprehensive about diving from them because I didn’t know if I could pull my large body into the Zodiac after the dive. I had been reassured on other bulletin boards that it wasn’t a big deal and that folks that were fatter and in worse physical shape than me had no problems with it.
Our dive guide was one of the owners of the shop, Fred. Unfortunately, since the current was going out to sea through the pass, rather than coming in, we would not be able to do the famous drift dive through the pass. Instead, Fred took us just outside the pass to a lovely wall. To my delight, we saw a couple of manta rays and a large Napoleon Wrasse fish on the dive. These were the two big attractions that I had hoped to see and this dive accomplished that goal. We also swam through a crescent shaped arrangement of a large school of barracudas, quite exciting. Popping up to the surface, my adrenalin was surging after this great dive. I then realized the time had arrived to see if I really could get back into the Zodiac. Fred grabbed my arm and I kicked hard as I slid over the side into the Zodiac. It was a piece of cake. All those worries for nothing!
After lunch on the ship, we were supposed to go on the Aquascope semi-sub, which is a partially submerged vehicle with lots of large windows on the odd shaped hull. Unfortunately, the Aquascope had mechanical problems while Ron and Sheryl were on the first excursion of the day; and it was taken out of commission. Since we had the whole afternoon, we thought it might be nice to hang out on this beautiful atoll and possibly take a free tour of a Pearl Farm. We hopped on the Pearl Farm van, which is located close to the pier.
The ride turned out to be a mini tour of the island. Our driver pointed out all the sites on the drive that almost went to the end of the 6 mile road. The farm was most interesting and we were glad we took the time to see how the pearls are cultivated and harvested.
Many of the other cruisers used today as a beach day. The setting was so lovely with the curved coconut palms and beautiful clear turquoise blue water. What a great port in Paradise.
Raiatea, Polynesia -
The cruise past Tahaa on the way to Raiatea started at 9:00 AM on Tuesday. Lucky again, it was sunny. We were able to see Tahaa on the port side with Bora Bora in the distance on the starboard. Quite impressive. We got very close to Tahaa, making the cruise by it more like a circle island tour.
Cruising through Passe Paipai we saw unbelievably beautiful turquoise lagoons on either side of the ship. This was just a preview of the attractions to come.
A major plus of Raiatea is that it is the only port, other than Papeete, that has a pier, so no tendering is needed. The cruise terminal area on Raiatea is quite nice with a group of buildings containing shops and tourist activities. Apparently Renaissance Cruise Lines built it right before they went out of business.
The one major disadvantage of the Marquesas itinerary is that you arrive in Raiatea at noon and leave at 4:00 AM the next morning, so you only have the afternoon to enjoy this lovely island. A full day would be much better. Since we wanted to get back to the ship by 5:00 PM to see the Children of Raiatea Polynesian show on the ship, we booked the Raiatea Island and Lagoon Excursion through Princess.
This water excursion took us on a complete circle of the island with a stop at Motu Nono to swim and snorkel. The cruise to the motu passed by such beautiful mountains covered with palm trees. We even saw a group of dolphins frolicking in the lagoon. One actually did a complete flip, but was too fast to catch in a snapshot.
The combination of the mountains, beaches and turquoise water was so breathtaking that we were in awe as it all unfolded before us. We passed by pearl farm huts out in the middle of the lagoon and then pristine motus ringed by varying shades of bright turquoise water. My neck was sore from turning to look, and my senses were on overload by the time we got to Motu Nono.
The water at the motu was crystal clear with lots of coral and fish. Since we were just snorkeling, I was able to take some pictures with my leaky underwater camera. Fortunately, even though it did leak slightly, it didn’t fog up the lens. Our guide, Claude, told me that there were Clown Fish (Nemo) out on a section of reef, so I headed that way. I found the anemone; but the fish were small and dark with white patches, not the vivid orange and white I was expecting to see. Apparently, these were baby Clown Fish. However, there were other kinds of colorful fish and coral to hold my attention.
While we were swimming around in the water a couple of “wild” pigs came walking down the beach. They stopped to eat the coconuts on the beach and take a quick bath in the waves. They were enjoying life in Paradise. After we had our fill of the motu activities, we got back on the boat and finished our circle of the island on the way back to the dock.
Since the evening’s events on the ship revolved around the Island Night activities, floral leis and headdresses were being sold before the Children of Raiatea show as you entered the Cabaret lounge. You could buy them for the same $5 on the pier, but the ones sold on board seemed fresher.
Bora Bora, Polynesia -
It was Wednesday morning, the last full day of the cruise. As we approached Bora Bora, the beauty of this relatively small island became quite apparent. The sun lit up the turquoise lagoons all around it displaying the different shades of the water. We had lucked out again with another sunny day.
The ship had to navigate the Teavanui narrows to get into the lovely lagoon. We passed by the Radisson Paul Gauguin that was also in port. Fortunately the Tahitian Princess had an anchorage that was much closer to the tender pier, so it was a relatively short tender in.
This was a day for several excursions. I had booked the Anau Morning Manta Dive and the Tupuna Mountain Safari for the afternoon. Carol had scheduled the morning Aqua Safari excursion and the Glass Bottomed Boat Ride for the afternoon.
I had not realized that the boat trip to the dive site would take us to the other side of the island. It worked out great, since it turned out to be a circle island boat tour of Bora Bora and I had the pleasure of having two of our tablemates, Ken and Gary, on this dive trip with me.
The port lecturer had told us not to expect the service that we were used to receiving in the Caribbean from the dive operators in French Polynesia. Also, Wade had told us that the private dive operation on Moorea that he had used previously didn’t do much to help the divers; but Eric and his assistant were super helpful in getting us into our equipment. I found that the two diving excursions that I booked through Princess were first class operations.
Our dive guide Eric was a real comedian.
Eric told us that the water at the dive site would not be very clear; but that the odds on seeing manta rays were very good since it was a cleaning station for the rays. We did a backward roll into the water. He was right about the water being relatively murky. We were seeing lots of eagle rays, but no mantas. Eric called everyone over to see what he had cupped in his hands. It was a small plastic manta ray. I almost blew the regulator out of my mouth from laughing so hard.
Shortly thereafter, we did see a large manta ray swim gracefully by us. He also pointed out some anemone with adult Clown Fish swimming among the tentacles. Eric also took us by a good sized green moray eel. I really regretted that my underwater camera was broken.
The dive accomplished the goal, but the divers that went outside the lagoon had much clearer water and could see more sea life. After the dive, he headed the high speed dive boat back to the dock, while we took in more of the incredible scenery. It was just so beautiful around Bora Bora. I understand now why so many people want to go there.
Carol’s Aqua Safari turned out to be the highlight of the cruise for her. Karen, Sheri, Dennis, and Bruce were on the same boat with her. Julia went on the tour that was right after Carol’s.
My wife is not a good swimmer, mostly a glorified dog paddler. For this helmet excursion you don’t even have to be able to swim at all. It is a great way for non-divers to see the underwater marine life. Carol took one underwater disposable camera with her but said that she wished she had taken several.
A scuba diver "lifeguard" is with the group during the safari, so everyone felt safe. Attached to the helmet is a mesh bag, and inside is a loaf of French bread. All you have to do is squeeze the bag, and the fish will come. Also attached is a metal clanker that you can use to signal the diver that you need help. No one had to use it.
Many posters on the board have expressed concern that they would feel claustrophobic in the helmet, but that was not the case. The helmet is like being inside of an aquarium, so it actually feels “open”, not confining. Carol was even able to keep her glasses on while within the helmet.
I don’t think that I have ever seen her as excited and enthusiastic about any excursion as she was about this one when she returned to the ship. In fact, she later said that it was so great that her glass bottomed boat ride that afternoon was like comparing kindergarten to high school!
The tour lecturer had warned us about how rough the 4X4 Tupuna Mountain Safari excursion would be, and he was right. The 4X4 trucks held 8 people on two benches.
We went with a group of two other trucks, which allowed the very entertaining tour guide to provide commentary for the stop at the WW II naval guns.
The ride up to these guns was worse than I had expected. Everyone had to hold on with both hands or they could be thrown all over the back of the truck. I was glad that Carol had passed on this one, since I really didn’t want to visit the Bora Bora hospital emergency room.
Although the road was rough, the views from the mountains were oh so beautiful. Looking down on so many gorgeous shades of blue in the lagoon, coupled with the lush valleys and steep mountains, really made this a great excursion.
I had heard that some of the drivers would try to splash everyone with mud while going through the deep mud puddles, but ours didn’t. One of the other drivers did try to entertain us by tailgating our truck on those narrow bumpy dirt roads. When we slowed down, he would come within inches of hitting us. He was even tailgating us with both of his hands off the wheel. What a character! He had obviously done this on a regular basis and thought he knew what he was doing.
We stopped at several scenic overlooks to see the beautiful views and take pictures. The last one we went to was next to the communication towers, so it was probably one of the higher accessible places on the island. It allowed you to get a really wide view of the multi-shaded blue lagoon. The guide cut up some pineapple and grapefruit for us to enjoy before going down the mountain. It was really sweet and quite refreshing.
The guide was not sure if we would have time to go to Bloody Mary’s, the famous bar and restaurant. Fortunately we did. The setting just off Matira Beach was lovely. You were able to look across the lagoon and see the well known landmark of Bora Bora, the rectangular shaped Mt. Otemanu.
I had assumed that Bloody Mary’s would be a dive, but it was a very nice open air restaurant and bar. It was a modern thatched roof building with sand floors.
It just felt right. I wish we had been able to spend more time in Bora Bora to check out the beach and possibly eat there. Oh well, I guess I have another reason to return.
We got back to the tender dock with about a half hour to spare. Reality started setting in that this wonderful cruise was almost over; but what a great way to end it.
The disembarkation process for the Tahitian Princess is quite different than on other cruises. Since most of the flights out of FAAA airport are late at night, Princess lets the departing passengers stay on the ship till they have to go to the airport. Since you can get on and off the ship; as well as eat all of your meals on board, it made the cruise seem like 11 days instead of just 10.
As with all cruises we have been on, we had to put all of our large baggage out in the hallway to be picked up the night before. We were able to check our carry on bags at the Sterling Steakhouse during the time we were waiting for our flight. This was very convenient, since you weren’t burdened with your luggage while you went shopping, took a tour or just lazed around the pool.
We had decided to take a taxi to the airport rather than use the Princess transfers. I had read that it would be much easier if you weren’t in the crowds from the Princess buses. I now understand what they meant. If you have transfers, your luggage is taken to FAAA in the morning to be picked up when your transfer bus arrives later that night. Reclaiming your bags involved a long line that seemed to be very slow. If you arranged your own transportation, your luggage was kept under the tent next to the ship where you checked in; and you picked it up before you went to the airport. Since most people had either had their luggage taken to a hotel for a post cruise stay or were on Princess transfers, it was very easy to find our luggage and get one of the many cabs that were waiting for fares. One of the pleasant surprises was that most of the cabs were small vans and had plenty of room for luggage. It was also cheaper to take the cab rather than the Princess Transfers, 2000 CFP or about $22 rather than the $25 per person that Princess charges.
I have always read that FAAA airport was a nightmare for the return trip. I found it to be quite organized and very little hassle. I think that since we didn’t have to claim our baggage with the Princess transfers it made it much better. The main complaint was that there were no fans and no chairs outside where you had to wait for the baggage security screening. Thank goodness the flights were at night. It was hot even then, but would be very uncomfortable to be there in the daytime.
They won’t start the screening until 3 hours before the flight, so it doesn’t do any good to go too early. Since we are normally early to most things we do, we had to wait about 45 minutes in the line. The only good thing about that was it put us toward the front of a very long line. Once the line started, it went as fast as any security check I have been through. We then had to wait in a short line to check our luggage in with Air Tahiti Nui. If we hadn’t had to turn in a VAT tax refund form, we would have been done except for the final security screening to enter the gate area. Pretty easy. The complaints I had read about the security people checking everyone out with a fine tooth comb did not happen at all. It was very quick. We went upstairs to wait for the flight, since it was much less crowded and the lower ceilings made the ceiling fans much more effective. It was actually pretty comfortable and I was able to read a few chapters of my book.
The plane was older than the one we came in on, and it didn’t have quite as much leg room. The entertainment selection on your personal LCD screen didn’t include all of the options we had on the first flight either. Since the flight was at 11:15 PM, it really didn’t concern me, as my main goal was sleep. Surprisingly I did sleep most of the way home, but not Carol. She just caught a few cat naps. Perhaps I slept better because I took advantage of the last opportunity I would have for a Hinano beer. We arrived at LAX and were welcomed with cool dry air.
WOW, what a wonderful cruise! So many people have said that cruising in French Polynesia was their favorite cruise. I now understand why people feel this way. The combination of the small lovely Tahitian Princess and their fine staff, coupled with the extreme beauty of French Polynesia and its very warm and friendly people, make for an outstanding and unique cruising experience. You can make this cruise as relaxing or as intense as you wish. We traditionally have tried to fill up as much of our free time as possible with tours so we can see as many historical and famous sites as possible. Since the sites in French Polynesia are primarily the natural beauty of the islands and gorgeous turquoise waters, the excursions are much more relaxing, for the most part. When I first booked this cruise, I assumed it would be a once in a lifetime trip. Having experienced this wonderful tropical paradise, I think we will return one of these days. Once is just not enough.
Below is a link to our Kodak Easy Share album for more pictures of the ports of call on this wonderful cruise. The album also includes pictures of the ship, the party for the newlyweds, and pics of many of our cruise mates. Kodak membership is free and does not require a purchase.
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