OK, BUT WHAT ABOUT THE PORTS????????????? Thought you would never ask...
GENERAL SUGGESTIONS FOR ADVENTURES ASHORE IN FRENCH POLYNESIA–(As I said at the beginning, this was our first trip to French Polynesia, so we are by no means experts there, but the following seem to be some general rules that you can count on.)
1) TAKE WATER WITH YOU, WHEREVER YOU GO.
2). See number 1. Don’t ever assume that a tour operator will provide water and even if they do, you do not necessarily know the source of that water. In Raitea, we saw a tour operator refilling allegedly bottled water from a tap....
3). Bring from home a gym bag, or some other type of bag to take with you on excursions, to pack WATER, a hat, sunglasses, SUNTAN LOTION, towels, and insect repellent, if you’re going into the interior. (Some of the mosquitoes in Fr Polynesia carry some very NASTY diseases. Frankly, we didn’t see that many bugs, but you really don’t want to be bitten even once here.
4). DO RESEARCH ABOUT THE PORTS ON YOUR CRUISE BEFORE YOU LEAVE HOME, either on the internet, or by buying a book like Jan Prince’s book I listed above, as the Princess folks really don’t provide a lot of useful information, especially about being able to do any tours, etc., on your own.
5). In the Caribbean, we know not to ever book Princess (or any other ship’s) tours, as they are more expensive and offer less bang for the buck than you can get on your own. Why should French Polynesia be any different??? It’s NOT. Thus, book your own excursions on the dock or in advance over the internet. It will be cheaper and much better! Don’t worry that you won’t get anything good to do, if you wait till you get there, as you should be happy with most anything you do!! If you just sit and look at the scenery, how could you be disappointed??? Everywhere is fantastically beautiful.
6). Don’t sweat it and don’t try to do everything. I recognize that for most people, they probably will not be able to get back again. However, don’t run so hard that you will need a vacation from your vacation when you get home. Leave some time to just enjoy the beauty of some of the most beautiful places on earth.
7). Wear a t-shirt and good sunscreen while snorkeling. You don’t want to get so burned that it ruins your vacation, either while snorkeling or just hanging about the ship.
8). Plan on providing your own snorkeling gear, even if you go on an excursion through Princess, as the tour operators in French Polynesia very rarely provide snorkeling gear, even for excursions billed SOLELY as snorkeling tours.
9). DO GO TO THE PORT LECTURES, or watch the replays on TV. Mostly they just push their tours, but you do get some good local info, including..
10) THERE IS GENERALLY EITHER A FREE OR LOW COST LOCAL BUS TO A BEACH IN MOST ALL OF THE PORTS. However, it isn’t very well publicized. Go to the port lecture to find out about it, or stop by the shore ex desk when they are open, to get info.
11). We do not speak a word of French and never changed any money to Tahitian dollars and we did just fine. DO, however, make sure you have some small bills, cause even if they take US money, they don’t have a lot of change.
TENDERING– EXCEPT for Papeete and Raitea, ALL ports are tender ports. In general, this is really not a big deal. This is just not that big of a ship, and the ONLY time that we were not able to get on the tender that we wanted was in Bora Bora where we came downstairs and they were in the process of taking a whole huge group of shore excursions ashore and they filled up the tender with those folks. Otherwise, it’s go down the stairs, wait for the next tender, and BOOM, you’re on!! ...and while I’m at it...
ELEVATORS!!!!!!!! Wow, I tell you, I don’t think that I have ever been on a ship where, virtually EVERY time I hit the button for the elevator, I waited less than 30 seconds, and BOOM!!! it was there!!! We came back from ashore, any time, waited for maybe the second elevator, and we were able to get on, whisked up to the 8th floor to our cabin, wonderful!!! Big ships are different, I guess, but I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to be able to get an elevator any time you wanted it.
All right, all right!! I told you I was going to talk about the ports!!!!
PAPEETE– I put Papeete in here as a port because I didn’t arrange this as a daily chronology, so was not sure what else to do with this. We didn’t arrive on the ship the first night until maybe around 9, so we did nothing that evening in Papeete. The next morning after breakfast, we got up and headed over to the Marche for some shopping. If your ship is docked at the container port, which it is almost 3/4 of the time, just take the continuous free Princess shuttle bus over to the other pier. It’s maybe a 10 minute ride, going slow. The bus drops you off right in front of whatever the other ship is that’s in, maybe the Wind Star or the Paul Gaugin or whatever. Directly in front of you will be the Tahiti tourist office, which has a nice lady there to give you info and all kinds of printed material. We did not ask her to try to do book anything for us, but we saw her making a call for someone else. There are also bathrooms in that building. In this area and down the dock a bit, I guess, is where the rulottes set up in the evening, however we never made it over there when they were set up.
Almost straight across the street from the Tahiti tourist board there is a bank with an ATM which I saw Tahitians using quite extensively, but I didn’t see any Americans trying to use it. We had heard before we left that many of the ATM’s don’t work with American cards, and we never tried to use ours. We also never changed any money for Tahitian money, as the exchange rate just didn’t seem worth the trouble.
ON TO THE MARCHE!! Come out of the tourist bureau, head to the right one block, go up one block and you are there! There’s not a whole lot to buy anywhere in Fr. Polynesia, but here is the most of what there is. There are many, many, pareo’s (mostly upstairs), plus your monoi oil and soaps, grass skirts, etc., various lovely shell necklaces and most importantly, FLOWER ARRANGEMENTS!! They have small bouquets available for $5 (but you have to try to scrounge a vase somewhere) or you can get exquisite arrangements, complete with holders with floral foam in the bottom, for $10 and $20. The $10 bouquets are quite stunning, but if you want to go all out, get one of the $20 ones, which would cost easily $150 in the States. They are HUGE! We got a necklace or two, some soaps and a huge arrangement and were waiting for the Princess shuttle from the ship, holding the arrangement as folks filed past, getting off the bus. As the ladies oohed and aahed over the flowers, I stated “Only $20 three blocks over in the Marche!!!” I think I made several sales for them!! SODAS-- We had also wanted to pick up some sodas for the room, which we were able to do in a shop which was just beside one of the exits for the Marche. They had Coke (no Pepsi that I saw) and Sprite, by the 16 oz. bottle for $1.50. Cans were, I believe, $1.30, but we felt it was worth extra for the bottles. Eric also wanted mixers for his gin, but couldn’t really find any, so he bought a couple of bottles of Sprite. I might not bother to do that again, as we found out afterwards that you can get cans of soda from room service– 6 sodas for the price of 5–$7.50 for 6 sodas, which ends up being $1.25 per can (unless of course you tip the room service guy, which we did, but it is better than hauling cans in that heat...) You can get a combination of whatever you want, so Eric got mostly tonic for his gin. Be aware of course, that they only stock cans, so that if you prefer the convenience of bottles, of being able to drink only part of it, you probably should get them ashore. The ship also has a soda card, for around $25, which entitles you to unlimited sodas in the lounges or DR, but it is fountain soda, plus not available to us in the cabin, which is what we wanted it for anyway.
WINE– About three blocks down the street from the Marche, away from the tourist bureau, was a wine store, which had some VERY expensive wines and some OK priced wines. We bought a few bottles, triple-checking the exchange rate, as sometimes you get a little confused, with all those zeroes! I think the French lady running the cash register was somewhat new, as she had a heck of a time running our credit card through and had to have the other fellow help her. Some of the wine was good, some of it was rotgut, that I wouldn’t use to cook with. We bought two bottles of red, one white and one blush. The white and blush were very disagreeable and the two reds were very nice. You pays your money and you takes your chances, I guess. Very disagreeably, the credit card bill for the wine came in on our credit card bill 3 days after we got home. BTW, if you like Australian wines and your cruise goes to Rarotonga, buy a bottle or two in PPT if you like, but wait till Raro to buy wine, where you can get some great Australian wines, for very nice prices! I generally love Australian wines, but we already had bought several bottles in PPT and didn't want to have to haul any home, so didn't buy any in Raro.
Be prepared, it is very HOT in Papeete, seemingly more so than anywhere else. So, when you go about in town and elsewhere, take some water with you, and a hat and wear cool clothes!!
We really did not get around much in Papeete, on purpose, really. We wanted to make sure that we enjoyed our cruise and that we didn’t run ourselves ragged, with there being 5 hours time difference from the east coast, etc., so we deliberately did not plan much that first day in Papeete. Guess we’ll have to get back there and do more exploring next time!! There are a couple of 4 X 4 tours available in Papeete. Supposedly the best one is an 8 hour trip, but we just couldn’t imagine doing that our first day in Tahiti. I’m glad now we didn’t. There was supposedly a 4 hour trip available also, but don’t know much about that.
MOOREA– Moorea is physically extremely beautiful. I thought it much more beautiful than Bora Bora, later on. Moorea has huge towering green mountains, with great huge valleys, just stunning. I just wish that we had been able to see more of the interior of the island...
DR MICHAEL POOLE’S DOLPHIN EXCURSION-- Before we left home, we had decided that we wanted to book Dr. Michael Poole’s dolphin excursion in Moorea. Contact info for Dr. Poole is email@example.com (By the way, Dr. Poole seems to check his email about once a week, so if you don’t get a REAL quick answer from him, remember, “he lives in Paradise. He’s got better things to do than stay on the computer all day!!!!”. We read about him in Jan Prince’s book. Be aware that this is an ECO-excursion, not one of those canned, “swim with the pinned up captive dolphins” deals. Thus there is no GUARANTEE that you will even see ANY dolphins, although Dr. Poole says that he has something like a 95% success rate in seeing dolphins. Dr. Poole is an American marine biologist who lives in Moorea and has devoted his life to research on the spinner dolphins and whales. Whales are only present in Fr. Polynesia from July to October, so we knew they would not be present for our trip, but we wanted to see the dolphins. Unfortunately, as of now, Dr. Poole does NOT have a contract for shore excursions with Princess, and thus it is somewhat hard to book with him, as he only goes out Sundays and Thursdays, and if your ship is not in port that particular day, I guess you are out of luck, UNLESS you can pre-arrange with a group of ship-mates to guarantee him at least 10 folks on another day, as that is the minimum for his trip. We contacted him by email and found out he was going out on the day that our ship was going to be in Moorea, which was cool, so planned to meet up with him that day. He met us on the dock where the TP tenders into. He told us to be on the first tender to meet him, which was not a problem, except for the fact that the ship was a little late getting into port. Getting the first tender on the TP is generally not a problem, and the TP was supposed to be arriving in Moorea around 8 AM, but they actually didn’t start letting people on the tender until 8:30. Thus we were late getting started on the excursion and that caused us to run a little late throughout the day.
Dr. Poole or one of his associates will take you out to places where they historically know that dolphins hang out and you get to observe them in the wild, as well as he gives information regarding dolphins in general, keeping dolphins in captivity, etc. We saw three different pods of dolphins on our excursion, although we could tell that Dr. Poole was somewhat disappointed in their behavior, as the spinner dolphins weren’t doing a lot of “spinning”, which is what they are known for. The trip was $125 for TWO people and we felt it was very definitely worth it. We didn’t get to see as much acrobatics out of the dolphins as we had hoped for, but Dr. Poole is an extremely interesting speaker and one could tell that he was very intense about the subject and very knowledgeable and we enjoyed the time and the views of Moorea from the water that were absolutely fantastic.
BTW, after our excursion, we talked to the shore excursion manager on the TP about Dr. Poole and why his excursion wasn’t offered through Princess. We plan on contacting Princess corporate in California and Dr. Poole again by email, to attempt to help them get something set up, as for a certain type of eco-passenger, his excursion is positively fascinating..
I think primarily because we didn’t see anything really spectacular in terms of the dolphins jumping and flipping, Dr. Poole kept us out longer than what he normally does and we thus didn’t get back to the ship from the excursion until around 1:30. We figured by the time that we got some lunch and got back on the dock, that we would not be able to actually do anything else and get back before the last tender, which was due at 4:30. And unfortunately, the next part of the itinerary was not some close by Tahitian Island, it was Rarotonga. Thus, if we missed the ship, it would have been an extremely big deal, as we would have had to try to fly to Rarotonga or miss 3 whole days of the cruise and we weren’t prepared to do that. Therefore, we ate some leisurely lunch and took a tender back over to do some shopping on the dock and take some pictures. That was really our only big disappointment of the trip–not being able to see more in Moorea. Guess that means that we will have to go back again, to remedy that problem!!! But, thinking back on it now, if I knew that I would have to make that choice specifically, I would make it voluntarily, as I thought the trip was fascinating.
MONDAY AT SEA– Monday was a day at sea, and time for some relaxation. The seas were very calm, but the ship still moved about somewhat, more than we’re used to with very slight seas, due to the small size of the ship. We had room service breakfast, then went to the shore excursion talk. We took some pictures around the ship, by which time it was almost lunch time. Even though it was after noon, we were able to go out to the pool deck and get two chairs in the shade. I guess the chair hogs didn’t inhabit our cruise to any great extent.... Lunch was at the buffet and dinner was French night, described in the dining room section.
RAROTONGA– Rarotonga is in the Cook Islands, as opposed to French Polynesia. As such, the official currency is the New Zealand Dollar. The prices for EVERYTHING in Rarotonga were lower than anywhere in French Polynesia. I’m sorry that several of the early cruises did not get to stop in Rarotonga, as our stop there was extremely enjoyable. The seas were dead calm as we arrived and we had no problem whatsoever tendering.
Our first adventure in Rarotonga was our one and only Princess booked shore excursion. We had heard that several times the ship had not been able to stop in Rarotonga, thus we were concerned about trying to book anything on our own on the internet, in case it was too rough for the ship to tender. We weren’t sure what was available on your own, on the dock, so we booked Princess’ Muri Lagoon Cruise and Lunch. This excursion was $45 per person, which is a good part of the reason why I booked it. How bad can it be, at $45 per person, for snorkeling and lunch included??? Well, the answer is, that for a ship shore excursion, it was 1) cheap 2) GREAT and 3) WORTH EVERY PENNY!!!! (Of course, I would point out that some other Cruise Critic folks on our cruise pre booked the SAME excursion themselves over the internet for $30 PP. Contact info is Email: firstname.lastname@example.org (BTW, as we were sitting waiting for the excursion to leave, a young couple came back from being married on the beach of the motu. She was dressed in a lovely long white skirt, a coconut bra and a flower headpiece, he in some long flowing white pants. She and her new husband were absolutely glowing and lovely. Folks waiting on the dock gave them a round of applause as they arrived...) Be advised that, if you want to do that excursion through the ship, SIGN UP EARLY FROM HOME, or you won’t get it. On our trip, I think they took something like 40 or so, and there were SIXTY people on the wait list.
PRE-ORDERED SHORE EXCURSIONS-- If you pre-order shore excursions, the tickets are in your cabin when you embark, which is kind of nice. BTW, the tickets for our Rarotonga excursion had stamped on them by Princess “This is NOT a snorkeling excursion”. Since the official description of the tour said there was snorkeling, I was somewhat confused and we went down to the shore ex desk to ask whether to take our gear or not. Well, the lady said that it meant that snorkeling equipment was not provided. OK, well, that’s not what you said. So, we took along our snorkel gear and were EXTREMELY happy we did. (AND, BTW, this particular excursion, they DID have snorkel gear available for folks that didn’t have it, thus proving that the Princess excursion people often don’t know what the heck they are talking about. More reason to just book stuff on your own.)
So what did we do in Rarotonga??? The boat first dropped us off for some snorkeling in deep water. Nice snorkeling. Then the boat took us over to a motu (which is a Polynesian word for “small island”...) The side of the motu where they drop you off is all sandy beach and very shallow water. If you walk 2 minutes across the motu to the other side, you can walk off the beach and out to some fairly decent snorkeling. It’s not particularly deep at all, maybe 5 to 10 feet, and there are a decent number of fish there. We had another 30 to 45 minutes of snorkeling there before it was time to head back over for lunch. Lunch consisted of BBQ tuna, fried bananas, fried onions, papaya, coconut, potato salad, slaw, and juice (NO alcohol). Afterwards, there was a palm tree climbing demonstration and a pareo tying demonstration. The leader of the excursion was kind of a character but fun and pretty interesting. We enjoyed the whole thing immensely.
After lunch and the mini-show, it was time to head back. The canoes dropped us back off right at the beach where they tender Princess pax to. This was a lovely white sand beach, with lots of shade. From the ship, transfers to that beach were $6 per person R/T US (or $9 NZD). They got us back to the beach around 1 PM and we weren’t ready to go back to the ship yet, so we asked the guy if we could buy one way transfers back to the ship. Sure, no problem!!! So, we stayed on and had a few drinks at the restaurant there and took in the view. This bar really reminded me of a Caribbean bar, as it was right on the sand, with a board patio, with tables and chairs, looking out over some glorious waters. We had three beers and two mixed drinks for a TOTAL of $17 US. This was certainly a great deal, as compared to French Polynesia. AND, if you wanted to just hang out at the beach all day, they had several lunch entres for $15 to $18 NZD, which, with the 1.6 exchange rate, seemed a good deal!!
After hanging out for a couple of hours, we wanted to do a little shopping, although if I had realized how GREAT the prices there, I would have done a lot MORE shopping!!! We paid our $3 each for bus transfers back to the ship, and had them drop us off in town for some shopping. Everybody and their brother buys black pearls in French Polynesia. I am slightly different than the average bear, I suppose, as black pearls don’t really excite me. However, in Rarotonga, we did happen to wander in to Island Craft Ltd., and I found what I considered to be a great deal on some pearls. I got a string of black pearls–extremely rough–in that most of them were slightly oblong, NOT round–in various shades of green and grey–for $90 NZD. I also got a print from a Hawaiian artist called Michael Stark. The print was extremely colorful and beautiful. Frankly, I probably should have read the back, to see that he was a Hawaiian artist, as opposed to an artist from French Polynesia, but the print, which is signed, is quite beautiful, an island girl with a fantastically colored fish. The print was $75 NZD. I also bought a pair of mother of pearl earrings. Total NZD price–$205. When I got my credit card bill the other day, the total US Dollars was $117!!!!!! Man am I mad that we didn’t buy more!!!
We hoofed it the rest of the way back to the ship, took a shower to cool off and thereafter enjoyed one of our best evenings onboard! We sat out on our balcony, clad in our Princess bathrobes, drank a really good red wine that we had bought in Papeete, watched the sunset go down in a fiery ball of greatness, and listened to Jimmy Buffet on the CD player we had brought along for just this purpose. Tears came to my eyes... Life just doesn’t get much better than this..........................
As I said elsewhere, we had dinner that evening in the Steakhouse, enjoyed a great steak and each other’s company, did some gambling, and headed off to bed.... Wow, such a perfect day...
DAY AT SEA– Wednesday was another lazy day at sea. I read a book by the pool in the shade, after we attended the shore excursion talk in the morning. We had breakfast and lunch at the buffet. President Bush declared war that afternoon while we were at sea. It seemed so far away and irrelevant to the paradise that we existed in.
That afternoon in the buffet, we saw them making various made to order sandwiches later on in the afternoon (after 2:30, when the regular buffet lunch was over), including cheese-steak sandwiches, something called a Mexican sandwich, a tuna sandwich, a roast beef sandwich, served with chips or french fries and a salad. We didn’t see it served up there other afternoons, although it probably was.
RAITEA– We didn’t do it, but YOU REALLY SHOULD ORDER ROOM SERVICE TO HAVE ON YOUR BALCONY THIS MORNING. The ship does a slow pass past Raitea and Tahaa, fairly close, and the scenery is absolutely spectacular!! Order room service for sometime between 7:30 and 8:00 AM. You will not regret it!! Strangely enough, we were awake anyway and got a knock on the door, from room service trying to deliver us breakfast. I told the fellow that we hadn’t ordered breakfast (although I realized afterward that was a BIG mistake!!!!!!) Anyway, apparently our next door neighbors had ordered breakfast and their handwriting wasn’t very good. Don’t make our mistake, order room service breakfast that morning!!
I think Raitea has better docking facilities than Papeete, which has the only other dock in French Polynesia. The dock itself is BEAUTIFUL, with various pools with water lilies in them, a couple of buildings for the tour operators to congregate in, nice bathrooms, a couple of nice bar/restaurants right there on the pier, and several small regular shops, plus some pareo, etc., shops.
We went right inside the building and booked an excursion through the lady there. The excursion was $35 per person and included a visit to a pearl farm, then a trip up the Faaroa River to the botanical gardens, and then snorkeling at a motu which was configured for cruise ship pax. Beware, the boat here did NOT have a top on it, which was the only negative of the trip. Thus it was VERY hot. We did not see ANY boats that had tops on them for this type of excursion. Be aware that on the trip up the Faaroa River, the trees hung down very low, so I don’t really know how you could get a boat with a top up that river anyway. We stopped first at a pearl farm, which was somewhat boring for me. The only thing of interest for me was our guide’s admonition to NOT TOUCH any animals, such as cats or dogs, here in French Polynesia, as according to him, they were carriers of some nasty diseases. Don’t have any idea if he was correct or not, but (huge dog lover that I am) I left the domestic animals totally alone.
IF YOU GO ON THE TRIP UP THE FAAROA RIVER, BRING INSECT REPELLENT!!! There are mosquitoes carrying some very NASTY diseases here in this part of the world. Therefore, if possible, you REALLY don’t want to get bit by one of them!! Bring insect repellent and make sure that you spray yourself liberally prior to going up the river. Frankly, we didn’t really see that many bugs, but you don’t want to get bit by any of these characters, so protect yourself!! Once we went up the river, we stopped off the gardens put together by one lady. We took pictures and enjoyed close up views of many beautiful and exotic flowers which grow almost wild in this area of the world.
After the trip up the river, they dropped us off at what, for us, was the best snorkeling of the trip, by far. There in Raitea, they have two separate motus that are apparently owned by the government and the government has fixed them up for the benefit of cruise passengers. One of the Princess shore excursions dropped folks off at the other motu (around 100 people!!!!!!!!!), and thankfully, we were dropped off at another motu, with maybe about 30 folks altogether. Our particular motu had shade huts, picnic tables, natural shade, freshwater showers, and TOILETS... Nirvana... AND, walking just offshore, some of the best snorkeling that one could hope to enjoy.... We just walked offshore, in 5 to 10 feet of water, and enjoyed really wonderful snorkeling, millions of fish, a really wonderful experience. After an hour or so of snorkeling, we got some nice fresh fruit, several folks washed off in the showers, and we headed in the boat back to the dock.
That morning, we had checked out a 4 X 4 tour, as we had wanted to do a 4 x 4 over on Tahaa, which was offered at $50 per person, in the building right by the pier. In the morning, we weren’t able to get another couple to go along as they wanted 4 people, so they told us to come back at 1:30 P.M., and hopefully by that time, there would be somebody else that wanted to go. So, we headed back on board and had a quick lunch at the buffet and were back at 1:30, to no avail, as they had no other takers.
There were no other tour operators still hanging around at that point, but the car rental guy was still there. So, we asked him about renting a car for 4 hours. Sure, no problem! The fellow from the agency came and picked us up at the pavillion and we went 5 minutes down the street to sign the paperwork. The car was a model unknown to me, but most importantly, it had air conditioning that worked (very well!!!) and even power windows and locks. We signed up for 4 hours for $82.00, recognizing that we actually couldn’t keep it a whole 4 hours, as they closed at 6. Cie le vie... We had a great time bopping around the island. We stopped at one place that we have no idea what it was. They had a nice gardens there, and I stepped out to take some pictures and got run off by a guy on a riding lawn mower! G!!!!!!!!! We laughed and got back in the car and kept driving. We did come upon some really nice vistas, and most of the road was really in great shape, so it was a lovely, air conditioned time!!
We had seen a grocery store in town as we drove through, so we stopped and picked up a supply of limes to take back to the ship. The ship had been out of limes from about the first day, as they had missed the cargo container with supplies by one day in Papeete. Eric and I both like limes in our drinks, so this was somewhat of a problem. We brought out limes back to the ship and presented them our friend and favorite bartender Sandra, at the casino bar, who thereafter kept our own private stash of limes for us at her bar.
THE WAR– The war with Iraq started while we were onboard, but generally made very little difference in our cruise experience. It was on CNN, but I deliberately paid no attention to it, as we live in Washington DC–as political a city as there is on the earth–and we go on vacation to escape such things. Our guide in Raitea was an American, former U.S. soldier, maybe 65 years old, and he commented on the war during our excursion, as well as that he could no longer get CNN because the French government had blocked access to it. His only access to news of the war was a short wave radio to listen to Voice off America. That night in Raitea, as we were walking around on the dock, we saw him on the dock and said hello. He said that he had come back down to be close to US–that he wanted to be with Americans that night. It made a lump in my throat.
We got back onboard the ship around 6:30 PM, after talking with our guide from earlier and walking around on the dock, doing a little shopping. We knew that the children’s Polynesian show had already either started, or was a good way of the ways over, so we didn’t even try to get there to watch it. It starts at 5:15, and others reported that it was good, but so absolutely PACKED that it was very difficult to see. Get there early to get a good seat!! However, here is a very important tip, if you do not want to be very disappointed, as I was–they sell lovely flower crowns for the ladies to wear on their heads at the children’s show. THEY DO NOT SELL EITHER THE FLOWER CROWNS FOR THE HEADS OR THE OTHER FLOWER NECKLACES AT THE EVENING SHOW ON DECK, SO YOU HAVE TO GET ONE AT THE CHILDREN’S SHOW, OR BEFORE, IF YOU WANT ONE. They were $5 and absolutely stunning.
That evening on deck was to be the adult Polynesian dancers show and the only evening buffet, at an Island Night party, which would start around 10:00 P.M. After we got back from onshore, neither one of us was interested in hiking to the dining room, so we had a pizza at the pizza restaurant, then took drinks out on deck and sat and enjoyed the evening air, waiting for the entertainment to begin. I was so envious of all the other ladies wearing their lovely flower crowns on their heads, that I wanted to snatch one of them off any unsuspecting lady’s head. Avoid the same disappointment for yourself by getting there early to get one of them in the afternoon.
The evening’s entertainment was led off by Bliss (we will call them The GOOD BAND–as opposed to Panache–the TERRIBLE band....) :), and then the Polynesian dancers took over. It was a wonderful show. Afterward, we enjoyed some of the great buffet, then it was time to toddle off to bed, since the casino was not open this evening.
HUAHINE– Wow. I don’t know I darned thing about Huahine, except that we had by far the best time there of any island, because of Marc from Nautique. Contact info is email@example.com or www.huahine-nautique.com. Phone 68.83.15. This was a tour that we heard about ahead of time on Cruise Critic and our good buddy and fearless leader Carole444 set up for us ahead of time. There were about 12 or 14 CC folks on the excursion. This was not a Princess excursion, god forbid, or it would have been 3 times the price!!! G!! I believe what he charged was $65 per person, although I understand that the price has gone up to around $90 PP, as he is selling out each and every time the Tahitian Princess is in port, and there are many more folks who want to go. We would have paid a lot more, if it had been charged, based on what we know now about the trip.
We started off in two boats, and they dropped us off for some drift snorkeling in deep water. I had never done drift snorkeling before and it really kind of spooked me. After having done it once there, I probably would be more comfortable now, but I did not like it then. Basically, the area involves some type of a current, so you kind of just lay there and are carried along by the current, so the boat just meets up with you, at the end of your drift. If you trust the guy who’s handling the boat, you’re OK, but if the guy in the boat isn’t watching you, I’m guessing that folks could get in trouble. They told us to try to stick together, which we did, sort of! We got to the end of where we thought we were supposed to be, and Eric and I had started swimming toward one of the boats, when it just sped off through the water, toward the motu! EEK! The group at that point consisted of Eric and I and Carole444 and her hubby. I was not really scared, as I was treading water very well, just kind of wondered what the heck was going on! G!! Turns out that was not our boat, and our boat headed over in just a couple of minutes. Only major problem then was getting “Miss Grace” (me!!) up out of the water on the ladder, on to the boat! G!!
OK, for the best single time we had the whole cruise!! Imagine this, we pull up to this beautiful little island, in about one foot of water and a beautiful Tahitian lady escorts us out of the boats. Most of the fellows have their pictures taken with her... There is a small band of three fellows playing Tahitian music. In this same one foot of water, there is a huge white billowy tent set up IN THE WATER, with white plastic PVC tables and chairs IN THE WATER. The band was playing under a tent set up in the water, and the BBQ grill was set up under yet a third tent in the water! The lovely Tahitian lady got us all drinks of Hinano (Tahitian beer) or mai tai’s, soda or water. It seemed that on our trip, very few folks took advantage of the soda or water option, as we ultimately ran them out of alcohol!!! G!!
After a few rounds of drinks, they prepared poisson cru for us, as we stood around and watched. For those that have not traveled to French Polynesia, this is a local delicacy which consists of RAW fish and some vegetables, etc. The fish was ???, which they doused with lime juice (which is supposed to COOK the fish). OK, still looks like sushi to me... Anyway, then there is lots of coconut milk, plus tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, etc. After that is made up, they get the grill all ready to go, and serve us the poisson cru, plus a lovely lunch of CHICKEN (for all us real fish lovers!! G!!), BBQ fish, rice, bread, lettuce and tomato salad, and fruit. There was PLENTY to eat, and lots of leftovers.
After stuffing ourselves and while drinking them totally out of Hinano and mai tai’s, the group proceeded to get a little bit silly. Carole444 somehow started off–involuntarily I guess–had quite a bit of help!!!–with falling backwards off her chair into the ocean, which started a kind of group event of the same. Then Marc brought around the pitcher of mai tai’s out into the water, refilling everyone’s glasses out in the water. (OK, paper cups then, spoil sport!!! G!!!!) While we were out there, I just had this vision of the ad I used to see for Seabourn–the guy in the tuxedo carrying the silver tray with the champagne and crystal champagne flutes, out to the lady lying on her air mattress in the crystal blue water. It was WAY better than that.. The sun is shining, the water is about 12 inches deep and 85 degrees, the mai tai’s are flowing, the band is playing, the water is every shade of blue to green, the green mountains are in the background. YOU JUST CAN’T MAKE THIS UP, FOLKS. That excursion was worth the whole price of admission of the cruise..
MEANWHILE, DOWN AT THE NEXT MOTU....The Princess shore excursion, which was $99 per person, was set up on the next little island over. Not really sure, but it looked like there were easily 50 or 60 people there. I would say there were maybe about 20 people in our group. At the next motu, there were about 4 or 5 tables set up in the water with individual umbrellas over them, that’s it. I presume there were picnic tables elsewhere, but don’t know. Some fellows wandered over from the other motu and were looking for beer, as I guess maybe they didn’t have any with their excursion??? Don’t know. Anyway, they could tell we were having WAY more fun than those other folks! G!! And for a lot less money...
Allright then, it was time to go, so we loaded back up in the boats. They dropped us back off for a little more snorkeling, although I for one wasn’t really that hep to do more snorkeling.. G!! They dropped us off at the dock around 2:30 P.M. We had not seen any of Huahine from the land at that point, so we decided to take the free shuttle bus over to town, as opposed to just going back to the ship. We didn’t lose anything from the trip downtown, as the shuttle was free there, but we really didn’t see anything exciting either. Where they dropped us off, there were just a couple of small country type stores. I don’t know where the beach was from there, but there was no beach where they dropped us off. We kind of walked around a bit and got on the last shuttle back to the ship. Right by the tender pier, there really is absolutely nothing, other than one restaurant, which doesn’t even have a sign that says it’s a restaurant. We just headed back to the ship, as we figured that drinks there would be pretty expensive.
BORA BORA– Bora Bora kind of has the big rep for French Polynesia and is supposed to be the most beautiful island in the world. I don’t know, the lagoon was very pretty, but overall, as far as an island, I thought Moorea was a lot prettier because of the numerous craggy mountains..
Bora Bora brought our first real RAIN, in this, their rainy season. (We had seen reports of earlier trips in which the rain was torrential for days at a time, and we were extremely bless on our trip, as we had virtually no rain....) We had figured before we left home, that we would go on Johnny’s tour in Bora Bora, as other folks had reported how great it was. Johnny’s tour supposedly consists of shark and stingray feeding, manta rays, and snorkeling and is supposed to be a GREAT tour for $50 PP. Johnny’s tour cannot be pre-booked, though, as he doesn’t have internet, not sure whether he has a phone or not. Anyway, to get Johnny’s tour in BB, the conventional wisdom is that you have to get the first tender ashore, tell him how many folks you have, and you are off!! Well, this morning it was pouring, so we won’t in a real big hurry to get off the ship.. We got off the ship, maybe 3rd tender or so, and stood around under an awning, not seeing Johnny around anywhere, watching the pouring rain and trying to decide what to do.
Eventually, we decided to go on an island tour with one of the guys right there by the dock, $20 per person for a 2 hour tour. The vehicle was air conditioned–kind of TOO cold, in fact, but we enjoyed the tour, with just Eric and myself. The driver was interesting, an older gentleman who busted on the young people for being lazy...He took us around the island, including stopping at the Sofitel, where he said that he had been the head of their island dance troupe for several years, before retiring about 10 years before. We found out that the Sofitel has an island show on at 8:30 P.M., on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, for only $20 PP–just the show, no dinner, with one free drink included. This seemed like a good deal, so we wanted to try to make it there that evening. We also stopped off by Bloody Mary’s for a few minutes, and determined that it was a cool looking place and that we possibly wanted to come back for dinner. By the time we got back from that tour, the weather was a little better, as it had stopped raining altogether and while the skies weren’t clear, at least they were a little brighter. We came upon Johnny finally and talked to him about going with him the next day and put our names on a list. I REALLY wanted to do Johnny’s tour, but we REALLY, REALLY wanted to do a 4 X 4 in Bora Bora, since we hadn’t done one yet, and we really wanted to be able to see the lagoon from up high, which would be unable to do otherwise. Thus, we also talked with LEON about going with him that afternoon, which is what we ended up doing, for shark feeding, manta and sting ray expedition, and snorkeling. There is a tourist bureau situation inside that building right by the tender pier, but as we came back after our island tour, there was no one there. We wanted to make reservations for Bloody Mary’s, as we thought we might need them, since the ship was in port, along with anyone who might be staying on land. Well, since the lady wasn’t there at the tourist bureau, I adopted this really sad look and said that I wanted to make reservations for BM’s. The folks standing around tried to direct me to the public phone. I said that I didn’t have any Tahitian money and didn’t know how to use their phones, looking longingly at the cell phones hanging from every other person’s belt!!! So, one fellow took the hint eventually, called them for us and I made a reservation for 7 PM. We thought that hopefully that would give us time to have dinner and still get to the show at the Sofitel. (Looking helpless and hopeless sometimes has it’s benefits....!!!)
After our island tour, we ended up going back to the ship for lunch and were back on the dock at 1:30, as Leon stated, for our shark and manta ray tour, which was $50 per person. As we arrived back on the dock, we knew that we wanted to go to Bloody Mary’s for dinner that evening, Overall, we ended up not being that excited with the tour, but it’s very possible that the poor weather contributed to our malaise with the trip. Our first stop was to be shark feeding. What happens is that the leader goes out a little ways from the boat, and the guests are invited to come into the water and hang onto a rope on a series of buoys. This was necessary, as there is a VERY strong current in that area. Where we were taken, the water was only about 5 feet deep, max, but it was very difficult to keep your feet under you because of the current. They chummed the water and DOZENS of sting rays showed up, but unfortunately, we saw only two sharks. Next, they took us to where the manta rays were alleged to hang out. The problem was that, due to the heavy weather from the morning, the manta rays had supposedly gone really deep and we didn’t see them. (I suspect that could have been part of the reason why there were so few sharks also...) We were then dropped off for some snorkeling in some fairly deep water. The water was kind of cloudy and the snorkeling not the best, although it is very possible it could have been because of the weather. We then made a stop by what Leon called his own private motu, which was not at all attractive, with no real place to sit down or snorkel or swim, etc. He did give us some fruit and water there. I don’t know why he takes people there. Finally, he dropped us off in some very shallow water, in a very sandy area, that actually would have been very nice, if it had been about noon or 1 o’clock, hot and sunny. The purpose there was to kind of hang out and swim and relax. As I said, would have been great at 1 PM. At 5:30, it got a trifle chilly eventually.
We finally headed back to the ship for some showers, a couple of drinks, and were ready to head back ashore. We were down by the tender dock by 6:45, but unfortunately, just missed the previous tender.
BLOODY MARY’S– Bloody Mary’s was a great experience, and one we just had to do. We had gone several thousand miles to Bora Bora. Why not go to THE most famous restaurant in French Polynesia while we were there??? They had a board up front, painted with all the names of all the famous folks who supposedly have dined there. The ship was to be in port all night, so why not?? It took us quite a while to get to BM’s that night, as we missed that first tender, and at that time, there was really no one other than us wanting to go ashore, so they really weren’t sending tenders back and forth too much. After waiting for about 15 minutes, finally they sent for a tender from shore and we had a PRIVATE tender ride, in the dark, over to the shore. Wow, couldn’t have much better than that!!
We got to the shore and were expecting that we were late for our pick up, as they were supposed to send someone to pick us up there at the tender pier at 7 and it was close to 7:20 by the time we got there. Eventually a le truck situation showed up and took us down to BM’s. The floor is ALL sand at BM’s and they had a shoe/sandal check by the door, which was cool. You might as well, as there’s not much use wearing shoes!! They said it would be about a five minute wait at the bar, so we took advantage of the bar! G!! Eric had a BLOODY MARY, of course.. He said it was quite good, in fact. I’m not a fan of tomato juice, so had a Mai Tai, which actually I did not particularly like. BTW, mixed drinks at a bar in French Polynesia are exceedingly expensive. Mine was $10 (!!!) and Eric’s was $8..
In no time they announced our table was ready. First, they take you by the display of meats and appetizers and you order your dinner. Then they take you to your table. Being the carnivore that I am, I ordered steak kabobs and the NY strip. Eric had fish kabob and the mako shark. We shared a bottle of Beaujolais Villages. BTW, the thing to do if you like wine in French Polynesia, is to order a bottle of wine, NOT mixed drinks, as wine is much more reasonable. The bottle of a very decent BV was only around $18. The meal included the entre and vegetables, and bread. We were not in the mood for any dessert. The meal was excellent, the service likewise, and we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly!! The total bill was about $100–not that bad, as compared to some meals in St. Martin.
Well, we had REALLY wanted to get to the Polynesian show at the Sofitel, but since we were so late getting ashore, we just couldn’t finish in time to get down there by 8:30 PM. At that point, we were kind of between a rock and a hard place, as we knew that there was going to be a hole in the tender service after 8:30. They had said that there would be NO tenders between 8:30 and 11:00, which was going to be the last tender for the evening. Thus we knew there was no use trying to get back to the tender pier any time soon. We sat at the bar and had a couple of drinks. There was another group of 9 folks at the restaurant who were also off the ship–3 crew and 6 pax–so the restaurant made sure we had a driver to get us to the pier in plenty of time for the 11 PM tender. The tender arrived around 10:50 and they were able to confirm with the computer cards that we got on and off the ship with, that everyone was accounted for, so we headed back “home” a few minutes before 11, thankful for another really wonderful night in Paradise!!