Regatta Cruise Review by Tucsonan: French Polynesia, April-May 20012
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French Polynesia, April-May 20012
French Polynesia offers no great castles, cathedrals, or museums, and no especially impressive ruins left by ancient civilizations. In fact, there is little to see of the works of man. The attractions are the natural world, the anthropological significance (Hawaii and New Zealand were settled by voyagers from here), and the sheer remoteness.
The islands are very beautiful, but not more beautiful than those of Hawaii or the Caribbean, and their infrastructure supports little tourism. On most of them, the shore excursions are few--the islands are small, with not a lot to see or do. In fact, perhaps half the excursions never set foot on land, but instead offer snorkeling or similar water activities.
That said, French Polynesia is certainly unique and well worth visiting. There are perhaps 140 islands, most of them unpopulated--different sources give different numbers. Oceania's "Tahitian Jewels" itinerary--also marketed as "Tahitian Breeze"--selects eight More islands to visit that are among the most interesting, beautiful, and varied. For instance, it was fascinating, after visiting high islands of volcanic origin, to come to Rangiroa, which is nothing but a vast necklace of coral reef.
The descriptions of the excursions are replete with warnings, making many of them sound more difficult than they turn out to be. Two of my favorites were the "rays and sharks" excursion on Moorea (bring your camera; the big, gentle rays actually seem to want to swim up your body) and the Aqua Safari on Bora Bora, in which non-divers get a sense of what it's like to walk on the bottom with diving helmets connected to an on-board air supply.
French Polynesia comprises several chains of islands and covers a vast area. Though most of the cruises between islands were overnight, there were also a couple of sea days, when we traveled from the Society Islands to the Marquesas and then from the Marquesas to the Tuamotus. I found these sea days strangely moving. The Pacific was calm and empty--no land in sight all day, and no other ships. The Regatta proceeded across this vast emptiness at a stately, patient pace, hardly seeming to move at all--it was more as though the sea were easing past beneath us. A quite amazing experience of solitude.
This is a luxury ship and our on-board experience was delightful. We chose a "penthouse suite" (category PH1) and found it very comfortable and commodious indeed. The restaurants are excellent, in particular Toscana. The viewing lounge at the front of the ship and the library at the rear are very comfortable places to settle down with a book or your Kindle. We didn't use the exercise room but liked the open-air track: 13 circuits to the nautical mile. Sleepy septuagenarians, we didn't sample the night life.
We traveled at a time of year when the wet season was just ending and the dry, slightly cooler season beginning. The weather would have been even nicer--less sticky--later in the year. Still, there is not much to do that's particularly exerting, and we were comfortable enough.
The most taxing days, as is often true, were those of arrival and departure. Our flight reached Papeete early in the morning and we couldn't board until late afternoon, so Oceania, as part of the airport-to-pier transfer that we'd purchased, put us up for the day on the grounds of a resort. A bit of a tedious wait, especially because we were tired from the red-eye flight.
On the return, same problem: early disembarkation, evening flight. But this time we were smarter and declined the transfer-with-resort option. Instead we spent the day at the colorful Papeete public market and nearby shops, all quite close to the pier. And a few blocks inland, we found a charming, albeit expensive, place for lunch, La Petite Auberge. Limited menu and they don't speak English, but the food and ambience were wonderful. Afterward we returned to the pier and caught a taxi to the airport. Cost: about $20 for four people, far less than Oceania's transfer. Less
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