We stayed at Hotel Tahiti Nui, in downtown Papeete. Taxi from airport to hotel was $40. Lots of taxis available, and there were enough people who spoke English at airport and hotel. Hotel was nice, modern, but dark corridors at night, traffic noise from the street. Next door is a convenience store/gas-station which is a good cheap place to buy snacks. For breakfast we got lovely French pastries and yogurt from there for a (relatively) bargain price. There is a wine shop on Rue Gauguin across from City Hall building. The wine is from France and tends to be expensive. Cheap wine is $25.
You can walk from hotel to pier but the sidewalks do not have drop curbs and some have steps. It was about 15 min walk with luggage. The pier entrance is nothing special, no secure gated area as you approach - just walk toward the ship. There was a white tent area to drop off luggage and get the cabin card, and then you proceed to the secure area. Checkout of hotel was 11 am and we began check in at the pier at 11:30. There were about 30 people ahead of us. By 11:30 however, the line was quite long and people were now waiting in the sun.
Unlike other cruise ports where you have to leave the ship in the morning on disembarkation day, Ocean princess accommodates for the very late flight departures by allowing passengers to hang out in the common areas of the ship. Lots of people were in the library area waiting to disembark for late flights. Their carry on luggage was stored in a dining room area. I have concerns over how secure people felt their luggage was since we walked in there and it was a while before any ship personnel appeared. I would recommend a hotel in Tahiti rather than depart immediately after the cruise to avoid this.In Papeete we did the self guided walking tour. The pearl museum was interesting and informative. At night we wandered around but there was not much going on. The market was interesting. We bought beautiful flower bouquet that we were allowed to bring into our cabin.
In Rangiroa we tendered off this coral atoll. There are a few vendors selling trinkets on the beach and a rustic toilet. There were no tour operators selling their tours aside from one boat operator who would take you snorkeling. There were a few operators who you could prearrange tours with on the internet. We snorkeled off the beach right at the tender. But the water was quite cloudy that day. We walked from the lagoon side to the ocean side. It was only 100 yards across. It was interesting to see the surf crashing and all the shells and coral washed up on the ocean side. The water was quite warm as we walked in depths no higher than our knees on the flat coral ledge.
In Huahine we also tendered. There were only two tables set up from vendors. There were no tours available on your own from here. We did have an arranged tour with Mark from Huahine Nautique on a sea-doo and our friends went with his company on a motu (island) picnic. We all had an amazing day. I loved this island and these excursions. I took some amazing sunrise pictures here of the mist. The snorkeling and beaches were perfect. Princess offers transport to town for $8 on le truck (open air, bench seating).
In Raiatea we were docked. There is a tourist center right there where you can buy many independent tours. We took a boat tour up the river and to the Taputapuatea Marea (ancient ruins) then to a motu. Tour was $65 usd/pp. There are a lot of vendors here.
In Bora Bora, we tendered ashore. We were here for 2 days. We did not have a planned excursion for the first day but found many tour operators willing to take us on tours. We ended up doing an a four wheel drive tour in an open air jeep defender. This tour went up the mountains up some crazy steep and rutted roads. We saw a lovely lady who hand paints pareos, nicer than anything we saw in the tourist shops. We saw the WW2 bunker, and the remaining foundation of a house, high in the hills swept away by a cyclone. We traveled to the public beach, to Bloody Mary's bar (which is empty during the day but check out the washrooms). We made a stop at the Black Pearl farm/store which includes an informative display and lesson on pearl farming. I wish I could remember our tour driver's name. The views from the mountain top to the multi-colored ocean are breathtaking.
The next day in Bora Bora we had a prearranged tour with Patrick lagoon tour. There were 3 boats that headed out from the place you tender ashore. The first stop was on a sand bar where the sting rays are feed. Then the reef tip sharks com around. You are standing in water about waist deep. Patrick crew was very informative and entertaining. Then we made a snorkeling stop that was some of the best snorkeling I have done anywhere, for the variety and quantity of fish we saw. Then it was off to a private motu (island) for lunch in paradise. This island was so beautiful it was surreal. The picnic tables are placed in the water, to keep you cool as your feet are in the calm ocean. Delicious Tahitian lunch was cooked in a open beach pit. We were instructed on how they cook the food. Food was served on "leaves" woven as a plate.
It was also a chance to play in the shallow water and to take a swim. Only the toilets were a little sketchy here. We loved this tour and remember it fondly.
I had not realized before I left how easy it was to use US dollars. All the tour operators took them and so did the tourist vendors and many shops. In fact sometimes the rate was very favorable ($10 or 1000 xpf). But taxi drivers in Papeepte do require xpf.
The Ocean Princess is a small ship which we liked especially for the lack of crowds when we dock/tender. Our cabin was at the back and you do feel vibrations and constant movement. The food was outstanding, some of the best Princess food ever. Many of the staff has been with Princess a long time and it was my understanding that they choose to work on the Ocean Princess. This was the first small ship I have traveled on and I loved it.
We continued our journey to New Zealand for a 10:30 am flight. Disembarkation was effortless as we were one of the first off the ship. We walked off the ship with our carry on and found our luggage under the tent on the pier. There were taxis waiting there. Again, I was glad I was not one of those waiting for a late evening departure to the States.