First, about us. We're a gay male couple, both 50. We took this cruise with a friend staying singly in a nearby cabin. We've cruised on Oceania (and the Regatta) once before, in 2008 (Barcelona to Rome), and once on MSC (Eastern Caribbean), in 2011.
I walk with forearm crutches and bring a wheelchair for trips with a lot of walking. We opted to not get an accessible cabin because Regatta only offers those as interior cabins. We originally worked with an Oceania agent when the cruise first went on sail to get one of the rear, larger-balconied Veranda cabins (6093). We were offered an opportunity to inexpensively upgrade to a PH2 cabin and took advantage of it, having been curious about the extra level of comfort and service.
I hate to begin on a negative note, but our experience with Air Tahiti Nui was less than stellar. We opted to use miles for the air portion (pulling about $1000 off the cruise fare) and saved up enough miles to go round-trip first class. We found that although TN (Air Tahiti Nui) claims to offer free first-class seats, they only offer business. OK. We booked round-trip business seats between Papeete and Chicago.
Several weeks later we got a phone message instructing us to call TN. They had cancelled our return flight and rebooked us two nights later. We didn't have enough vacation time to accommodate this change, so we tried to work with them and American Airlines (our airline which was offering the Air Tahiti Nui deal) to no avail. Adding insult to injury, they had added the flight back, and an additional one later that night, but wouldn't/couldn't put us on. So we ended up traveling coach on the way out and kept these new business seats on the return. It was quite a reworking of our plans and a major inconvenience; we were nearly ready to cancel the trip, but our friend convinced us to persevere. (We're glad he did.)
So we flew coach to PPT, leaving Chicago Friday around 630PM and arriving around 530AM. PPT has no jetways, so we needed to stay on the plane until they brought a lift to the plane. PPT employees then whisked up through customs. We'd booked accommodations at the Hotel Tahiti Nui in downtown Papeete; they arranged for a transfer from the airport. We found them and arrived at the hotel before 8AM.
I'd had the foresight to book a room for the night before as well so that it would be waiting for us. We settled in an rested for a bit before starting our brief visit of the city. I've reviewed the hotel separately on TripAdvisor, but will briefly mention here that it was a good fit for us.
Be aware that the city of Papeete is a dirty urban mess. There is nearly no accessibility. Sidewalks have no cut-outs, are often several inches about street level, and suddenly end without warning. We ended up walking/wheeling on the street with traffic -- very intimidating. We ended up using side streets to get around.
The Market was interesting (and accessible). The hotel was within a couple of blocks of the cruise dock. We didn't need any additional transport once we arrived at the hotel.
We arrived at the port just after 11AM and waited briefly to be checked in. We were escorted to the Terrace Cafe for lunch. We had the foresight to wear knee-length swim shorts so that after lunch we simply headed out for the pool and dove in while awaiting the announcement that our cabins would be ready. Other folks looked at us enviously; I strongly suggest others follow this policy (or wear swimwear underneath street clothes).
The ship is not completely accessible. There is no elevator access to deck 11 where one finds their putting and driving ranges, shuffleboard courts, and private cabanas. It is difficult to get over the air/water seal bombs separating different sections of the deck. And although there are ramps to get through the doors to/from the outside decks, it requires at least two people to use them -- one to hold the door open while another lifts the front wheels to get onto the ramp. Oceania staff was always eager to help, particularly in getting in and out of our cabin. And when dining, I was always offered a choice of remaining in the chair or transferring to a regular chair at the table.
Oceania specializes in smaller ports, so this means they far more commonly offer tender service ashore. This means once you clear ship security, you must go down a short flight of stairs (8 steps?) to a lowered platform. From here you transfer to a smaller ship which then takes you to the dock. I was able to get up and down the stairs on my own, and the crew always helped getting the chair on the tender boat and on to the dock once ashore. I'm a smaller guy (145 lbs), and I got the impression that they would have helped me transfer while remaining in a chair if needed -- but don't quote me on that.
We were surprised to find a few "friends of Dorothy" (Gay/Lesbian/Bi/Trans) meetings scheduled. Through these meetings (and through others hearing us talk in the restaurants), we became a group of 11 who met each evening to compare our days, meet as a team for Regatta's Team Trivia contests (we had a blast), and dining and/or enjoying the show together afterwards. I don't recall this back in 2008 -- this was a good call on Oceania's part.
We enjoyed the space of the suite. Using a wheelchair in a regular veranda cabin is simply impossible; there's just not enough room. Although the suites aren't accessible, I used them as if they were. I was able to get the chair to the threshold of the raised-floor bathroom and simply rise up from the chair to stand and maneuver to the tub or toilet. (In a regular cabin, I used my crutches and fell once, injuring myself. This was far easier.) It was also wonderful having two reclining seats and ottomans on the balcony where there was room for us both to stretch and relax.
In terms of service, however, we weren't sold on the upgrade features. Our butler was very professional and helpful. We enjoyed having a hot breakfast brought up to our room, but more often found it easier to just head to the Cafe. Having the offered canapes meant losing our appetite for dinner. We were disappointed to find that when you order a course-by-course meal, the entire meal must be from the same restaurant, even though restaurants share kitchens. (Our butler did work around this once because their French Onion Soup -- which is spectacular -- is ONLY offered on the room service menu, not in any restaurant.) We did take advantage of free pressing for two garments apiece, but did not ask him to pack or unpack our cases as we wanted to know where everything was. And although it was nice having two reservations in each of their prime restaurants, it wasn't anything we would have otherwise paid for.
Happily, Oceania's larger ships do offer a couple of accessible veranda cabins. We think we will go that route on our next Oceania cruise.
Oceania's cuisine is one of their best selling points and we were very pleased. There were some misses (particularly the Kobe Burger, which is mysteriously a Chef's Selection in the Polo Grill), but by and large we were very pleased with every meal. Favorites included:
Polo Grill: lobster bisque, Maine lobster shelled tableside, filet mignon,
Toscana: Aragosta Fra Diavolo con Tagliolini Freschi (lobster & pasta), yellow-fin tuna, lasagna.
Grand Dining Room: coconut layer cake, caviar, grouper, duck a l'orange
Terrace Cafe: Freshly carved prime rib, spring rolls
"Interesting" became our buzzword when describing food -- the blend of flavors was often unexpected, but nearly always entertaining.
Oceania's service was outstanding. Once we stated a beverage preference, it was known from then onward. These folks were savvy enough to know that I preferred San Peligrino earlier in the day and Perrier for dinner and later. (Honest -- the taste is different.) Opened bottles of wine were saved for following evenings, of course. And the sommeliers were always helpful. At the Cafe, all either of us had to do was raise our head and someone was there immediately to help in whatever way they could. I often had folks at the buffet eager to carry my plate as I wheeled myself around the buffet and back to our table.
The entertainment was ok; this is not Oceania's strong suit. They had an 8-piece band and a string quartet who were both excellent. There was also the 4-piece "Regatta Cast" who were better each night. (Their last night show was ovation-worthy.) Other entertainment included Dale Kristien, who sang Phantom of the Opera in LA for many years. She did a lot of name-dropping and appeared to be her own best fan. Their magician was good, but not amazing. Our cruise director, Nolan, also sang and entertained a couple of nights. Good voice, very witty entertainment.
Finally, the Regatta crew. We were overwhelmed by the friendliness and eagerness to help. Everyone seemed to be invested in our having a good time. The crew is from 42 different countries and we found employees on board from places as disparate as Jamaica, Macedonia, Greece, Nepal, Namibia, and Peru as well as the more common Indonesia and Philippines. Everyone went out of their way to greet us and ask if we were enjoying ourselves.
It's also worth noting that although the cruise was sold out, the ship NEVER felt crowded. There were almost always plenty of chairs available poolside, even on at-sea days. Do note that they take the "do not reserve a chair" policy seriously. Some fellow travelers were incensed when Oceania staffed removed their belongings when they left their chairs for lunch inside. (Their belongings were returned to them with no problem.)
After the cruise, we spent a couple of days at the Manava Suite Resort in Punaauia. Reviewed in detail at TripAdvisor. Short version: it was a wonderful close to our vacation.
We flew back on Air Tahiti Nui, business class (non-flat seats, only moderately more comfy than coach), leaving PPT at 1150PM Saturday night and arriving home in Chicago 9PM on Sunday night.
The port itself was impressive. Nice tiki music show. The rest of the island was dull and very hard to ride in a wheelchair. I would have been happier just watching the show and getting back on the ship.
It's worth noting that the French Polynesian islands are mostly ringed with coral reefs; once the ship was inside the reef breakwater, the waters were all remarkably calm. Once in the French Marquesas (this island and Nuku Ova above), this was no longer the case.
Waters here were too choppy for the tendering process, so we took a last minute diversion to Tahuata. This was not even remotely accessible for a wheelchair; the "road" was dirt and rocks. I stayed on board as the others went on a hike of the main road and up to a Christian shrine about 1/4 way up the cliff. They had a very good time. The island folk did a great job of creating a welcoming port with practically no notice.