Oceania Marina - Tahitian Breeze Cruise Report Jan 2013 Summary - Great Ship, Great Food, wrong month to go to Tahiti!
This has been the wettest "wet season" in 20 years according to locals, so bad luck for the 1240 Marina passengers on this cruise. We had heavy cloud cover and rain everyday. We never saw a blue sky or even stars at night. It rained everyday, sometimes heavy, usually it was light rain, so we still did most of the shore excursions. The scenery was diminished significantly by the lack of sunshine.
The ship Marina is amazing as is the service provided by the crew. The food is the best of the ten cruises we have been on. Every dish was great and the food at the 4 Specialty Restaurants are world class.
We would have been much better off taking a Tahiti cruise in April/May or October/November, but Oceania only offers this cruise in January/Feb.
Do not buy Oceania's transfers - they are absurdly over priced. You can save a huge amount of money and time by simply taking a cab to and from the airport for about ($25 each way).
Do not buy the "Day Room" option for either end of the trip. The day room is just a large conference room at a hotel where you and dozens of fellow passengers sit around in conference chairs waiting for the bus to take you to the ship or to the airport. Again, you can save a huge amount of money making your own arrangements. Take a tour of the Island, rent a car for the day, take the Ferry to Moorea, rent an actual hotel room for the day where you actually have a bed. The amazing Intercontinental Hotel is a 5 minute cab ride from the Airport, you can just go hang out there, have dinner there and watch the sunset.
Do not sign up for Marina's Shore Excursions. They are 3 to 4 times the price that you can find on your own.
Be very careful about the Air Sea package as you could get theAtlas Air Charter, see below.
Set up your own pre and post hotel arrangements. You can do much better on your own. You do not want to travel to and from Tahiti on the same day as everyone else, as the Tahiti airport is just not equipped for all 1200+ passengers arriving or leaving their little airport at the same time. The smart passengers arrived in Tahiti two days ahead of the cruise so they could see Tahiti and get acclimated to the islands and left Tahiti 1 or 2 days after the cruise. You avoid the mob scene at the airport and you have time to see Tahiti that way.
Marina is a wonderful ship with great food and great service. Just be wary of the "extras" that they offer.
Getting to Tahiti - Oceania's Air Sea Package (Not Good if you get a charter with Atlas Air!)
The extra cost for airfare, when buying the cruise/air package from Oceania, was about $750 p/p from Los Angeles, which sounded like the thing to do, as the Air Tahiti Nui round trip was about $1250, We didn't know until about 6 weeks before the cruise how Oceania was going to get us to Papeete. Their solution was to charter a plane from LAX to Papeete, which sounded well and good, the flight was to leave at 2pm from LAX and arrive in PPT at 8:30 pm, with direct transfers to the ship in time for a late dinner before the ship departed Papeete at 11pm or so. Sounds good so far. This charter allowed people from all over the country to take an early am flight to LAX in time to catch the 2pm flight.
The problem was that Oceania contracted an air cargo company that owns one older passenger Boeing 747 to get us there. This plane is mostly used for military transport and other large charters like football teams. Seats are configured 3/4/3. The plane holds 450 people, it's big! Atlas is not equipped for such a mission with a high end group of passengers who are paying $5 to $10k for their cruise.
We got to LAX at 11am, as recommended, and the line to check in the flight was huge. We moved thru the line in two hours and finally got checked in with a hand written boarding pass! Atlas Airlines did not have the check-in staff or the technology to handle a group of this size. Everything was paper lists, which took forever. After more standing in another long line to catch a bus to take us a plane parked way out in the airport, we finally took off two hours late. We stood in one line or another for almost 5 hours. The plane was old (20 to 30 years guessing) and had many passenger creature comfort problems. The seats were really narrow. We couldn't fit the carryon bag beneath the seat in front like we do on all other commercial flights. The window seats were really uncomfortable as the bulkhead slanted in making the leg space very constricted. The plane flew well, but most of the 404 passengers were very unhappy with the plane and the check-in process and the delays.
Immigration in Papeete wasn't bad, maybe 30 minutes. Then another cue-up to catch the bus to the ship. We didn't buy the expensive Oceania transfers and took a cab for 1/3 the price and got there much quicker. It helped to have Tahitian Money for the cab. We bought local currency at LAX. If your going to do your own shore excursions, you'll need a bunch of Tahitian francs.
Virtually everyone on the charter was bemoaning the decision to buy the Air-Sea package due to Oceania's decision to charter with a cargo airliner. Given the chance to revisit that decision, virtually all passengers would have bought our own air fare and taken Air Tahiti Nui, a very good airline. This long day really messed up the start of the cruise for most people.
Check-in at the ship was very fast and the luggage got there between midnight and 1pm. Oceania had a late dinner ready for us.
Oceania did receive many complaints about Atlas and wound up giving each account a $100 in ship board credit for having to endure a poorly run charter flight. They also said they were meeting with Atlas to make sure they got their act together for the return flight (We'll see). They might be able find more ticket agents and maybe even get computerized quickly. The only way to fix the plane deficiencies would be to find a different aircraft and since only has one passenger plane, that may not happen.
We did talk to other passengers who bought the Oceania Cruise/Air package, who wound up with flights that used Air Tahiti Nui from LAX, and they had a good experience, so not everyone would say bad things about the Cruise/Air package, just the 404 people that got the bad luck to draw the Atlas card.
The return flight on Atlas was much better, it took only an hour to check-in and the flight left 1 hour late, but arrived only 15 minutes late. It was still the same old plane.
The Ship - Marina is a beautiful ship, it's mid size, so it's easy to get around and find things. Marina still feels new. The art work is first class. There is lots of fine wood work. The lobby and public areas are beautiful, Oceania's interior designers did a great job. If you are in a suite, your key opens the Executive Lounge, which has goodies, coffees, cappuccinos, sodas and computers, magazines. The ships library on the 14th deck is really classy.
Food - First class! Oceania is known for its food and its really true. They also have a healthy food menu and several vegetarian entrees to pick from at dinner. The buffet food on the 12th floor is excellent, plus you can sit outside. The specialty restaurants are awesome, they have their own kitchens and menus. You should reserve before you board the ship to get the times you want. There is no extra charge. The Asian specialty restaurant, Red Ginger, was wonderful, great food and superb service. The Polo Grill served me Filet Mignon as good as Morton's. My wife's New York strip wasn't as great, but still good. The Italian Restaurant was amazing!
Dinner in the Main Dining Room (MDR), is "Open Seating". You show up when you want for dinner between 6:30 and 9:00. If you arrive between 7:30 and 8:15 or so there can be a line. No reservations are taken for the MDR. You can sit by yourselves or with a "Group", where they will seat you with others who have just sat down. You get to know fellow passengers this way.
Fellow Passengers We had a full ship with 1240 passengers, who were mostly from the US & Canada. Most passengers were in their 60's & 70's with a few dozen younger ones. The Cruise Director mentioned that the average age of the passengers was 64. I saw only a few children. Judging by the conversations, the passengers were a well educated and well travelled group.
Stuff to Bring
At dinner, the dress code is Country Club Casual, meaning to me a nice collared camp or Hawaiian shirt, a pair of pants (not jeans) and some nice loafers (no sandals or tennis shoes). This was fine, but many guys wore long sleeve dress shirts and/or sports coats.
Bring water shoes, mask, snorkel & fins. If the tour operator provides equipment, it is low grade. You could get by without fins if you are a strong swimmer at many locations, but you want something to protect your feet. Bring a snorkeling shirt called a "rash guard", it will help on those snorkeling trips where you tear around on a power boat between snorkeling sites. These islands are not like Hawaii where you can buy anything that you need. Other than tourist t-shirts and jewelry, there is very little quality stuff to buy.
Bring meds in case you get a cold or cough. The ship had a small choice of meds for a cold. They carried no cough drops and you couldn't find a drug store in these small ports we were visiting, although there were some grocery stores, maybe they carried them. Its easy to pick up some bug on a cruise.
Bring gallon & quart zip lock bags to protect camera gear in (when out on the water) and to stash a little food when you go ashore for an day outing that gets you back to the ship late in the day. Bring nail clippers and Emory boards as manicures & pedicures are pricey.
Bring two beach bags to carry two large towels, an extra shirt and your snorkel gear. The ship does give you an Oceania tote bag which could be one of those bags, but of course, everyone on the boat has that bag. Bring a ribbon or something to tie around the handle to distinguish it from the other bags. A water proof bag would be nice for boat trips.
The ship provides large umbrellas, robes and spa slippers. The staterooms have power points in both 110 & 220 volts. I'd bring reusable rain ponchos next time as its often too windy for the umbrellas.
Internet - very expensive and not too fast. Wifi packages can be purchased once on board and can be done from the computer provided in the Internet lounge or from your own wifi device (laptop, iPad, iPhone, etc). There was a laptop in our suite which we put in a drawer. I don't know if all the staterooms came with computers. There is an Internet Services Manager during certain hours to help you get set up. Ala cart use of wifi is $0.99 per minute! Due to the slow speed this option will kill you. It often takes 2 or 3 minutes just to log off, while the meter is running!
Wifi Packages - 1) 200 anytime minutes for $160. Again, with the slow speed, my typical on-line session was about 30 to 45 minutes, so the 200 minutes would go very fast, plus you are worried about the wifi meter the whole time you are on-line. 2) unlimited access is $225 for the whole cruise. This is the best plan by far, no worries about the slow speed. You can only use one computer at a time on this deal, so you and your partner have to take turns or buy two packages.
Laundry Room - most floors had self service laundry machines. You can buy tokens for the machines in the laundry rooms with dollar bills or charge them at Reception. Cost is $2 each for the washer & dryer. Soap is free! There are 2 ironing boards in each laundry room. The ship offers 20 pieces of laundry for $20 (not including ironing) on days 5 & 6 of the trip.
The Weather - The locals say it has been raining almost everyday since December, sometimes very heavy with flooding. I know it's rainy season, but had we know it was going to rain this much, we would not have come here. Air temperatures are nice, in the low 80's, water temp is around 80, so that part is all good. It's been breezy, with winds around 15 mph most of the time, good for sailing. We still did most of the activities that we wanted, they were just not as much fun without the sun. All the days were cloudy and it rained everyday. We never saw stars and all the islands looked somewhat drab due to the overcast.
Entertainment - Marina employed some 2 expert speakers to talk about issues of popular interest. The singers and dancers put on 4 shows and they are very good. The shows last about an hour with no breaks and starts at 9:30pm leaving time for a trip to the casino or night club for some dancing before bed. The comedian Tom Drake was very good.
Fitness Center - Marina has an amazing fitness room with many TV/Music equipped cardio machines. Bring your own earphones. There were many weight machines and free weights. There is also a 0.1 mile walking track on Deck 15 aft.
Deck Games - A putting course, a driving net with a set of clubs (bring your own gloves, 2 shuffleboard layouts, a croquet course. No basketball.
Library - a large library with a coffee bar is on Deck 14 aft.
Computer Lounge - a large computer room is adjacent to the library.
Photography - Marina did not take pictures of you and try to sell them for $20, that was so nice. The ship did produce a DVD of the cruise, but it wasn't narrated, so you didn't know what you were looking at. Leave your long lenses home, there is nothing to zoom in on. Wide angle lenses were best. I never used my tri-pod, there was always a fellow passenger to take pictures of you.
Departure - well organized! You have to be out of your room by noon, then you can hang around the ship till 5 pm, which is nice. Most people had flights that left close to midnight, so you did have some time to kill. Some people paid for day rooms in Papeete, at some huge cost.
Executive Lounges - there are 2 executive lounges for suite holders on Decks 9 & 11. Your room key opens one of them, not both. There you'll find more computers, magazines, snacks, sodas and a coffee machine that makes cappuccino.
Service Club Lunches The Marina had 2 special lunches for service club members, which was dominated by Rotarians. We talked about our clubs and how we raise money. The ship gave us free wine with this lunch in the Main Dining Room and a "make-up" slip.
Island Stops & Shore Excursions
We chose to pass on the Oceania shore excursions due to the prices. Many 3.5 hour tours were priced in the $140 to $250 p/p range, which is crazy, but many people booked them, and in fact, several were sold out.
Day 1 Arrival Day - Arriving passengers can check-in at noon, you don't get access to your room until 6pm. You can hang out in the public areas and have lunch. There is an overlap with the departing passengers who have to be out of their staterooms at noon and off the ship at 5pm. There are people offering island tours right at the pier. A good plan would be to check in at noon, walk around the ship, have lunch on the ship, then leave the ship and get a half day tour of Tahiti and get back after 6, so you can unpack your clothes and then go to dinner.
Day 2 Moorea. - bad weather! Light to heavy rain all day.
We tendered in around noon and checked out the pier side offerings in their pop-up tents. Jewelry, t-shirts, the usual. No bicycles to rent. A fair offering of tours to take at 1/3 to 1/2 the price the Marina was charging. We didn't take any of them due to the drizzle and potential for heavy rain (which happened). Scooter rentals were available at the tender pier.
We would up taking a taxi to the nearest village (5 miles) for $5 each. The village was a collection of shops and restaurants. The other people in this shared taxi were dropped off at a beach, where they must have been drenched.
Day 3 Huahine -On and off light rain all day, no sun, thick clouds
We prearranged a private 6 hour sailing/snorkeling adventure ($100p/p) on a 50' sloop. We reserved in advance but did not have to pay in advance. You paid on the boat, cash only. We sailed and snorkeled and stopped for a picnic lunch on a beach (bring your own lunch), Claude and Martine supplied water & juice. Their website is http://www.tahitisailingcharter.com/
And their email is mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
Marina offered a 3 hour snorkeling trip for $189p/p, which people seemed to enjoy. The ship provides free shuttle to the little village of Fare, about 15 minutes away on Le Truck. Here we met our sailboat. You can find a place that rents kayaks and bicycles right at the shuttle stop, they open at 9:00 or so. No need to reserve, just show up. Prices were very reasonable. Email is email@example.com. The business is named Adventure-Vous.
Day 4 Raiatea Some drizzle, mostly cloudy, 82 degrees, breezy
This is the only port that you dock at, despite what your cruise documents say, which is heavenly, easy on & off. The ship docks right in the main city of Uturoa, a very small city. They do have concessionaires right at the terminal building that provide the same excursions as the Cruise ship offers. We took the 3 hr bus tour of the island for $35 p/p on the Le Truck. They took US $. The ship offered the same trip for $139p/p. Trips on Le Truck are not for everyone, they have hard wooden benches that face sideways. There is no PA system for the guide. The scenery is beautiful, all coastal road with several interesting stops, a Black Pearl Farm (on the water), a sacred site from the ancients, a Vanilla Bean farm. This was a 9:30 am trip that didn't leave until 10:15, but we still got our 3 hour tour.
You can also rent cars in Utuora for about $72 for 4 hours. There is one main road and very little traffic and the pavement is good. You'll get a map to tell you where to stop. Four hours is more than enough to see the whole island. Bring snorkel gear and you'll find good snorkeling spots with beach access. Avis has a counter in the Terminal building, but they don't have that many cars, so you may want to reserve it or get there early.
Day 5 Bora Bora - on and off light rain, thick clouds, low 80's
Took the tender to Viatape at about 10 am. Plenty of tour operators were offering trips, all dealing in US $. Some were offering a $5 van ride to a beach at Point Matira, other offered a Circle Island Van tour for $25. There were outfits offering 4 hour Circle Island Boat rides with 3 or 4 snorkel/swim stops, all charging $80p/p. The ship was asking 199 p/p for a 3 hour snorkel run at 9am. Our boat had a Captain named Maroney, he was fabulous. We stopped at a private island where he had a picnic shelter and a fenced-in section of lagoon where he had a giant Moray Eel that we got to watch being fed. He supplied masks, but not fins. You needed fins for only 1 of the 4 stops. Two of the other stops required water shoes to protect your feet, so where those for the day. Our first stop was to see sting rays and black tipped sharks, an incredible experience.
Day 6 Bora Bora (half day) rain & wind.
There were two bicycle rental places in town and about 6 shops worth walking into. Most people carried their Oceania umbrellas. The smart brought rain panchos from home. the wind was often too strong for umbrellas. We did see a couple rent bikes, but they didn't get far, the rain and wind were too much. The ship left Bora Bora at 3pm for a 46 hour sail to Nuku Hiva.
The stop at Hiva Oa was cancelled, due to the "infrastructure" being inadequate for 1200 visitors. So we wound up with a 29 hour stay in Nuku Hiva instead of the planned 9 hours. Only 1 shore excursion was originally offered in Nuku Hiva for $259 and that is sold out. The ship added a repeat of this excursion on the second day.
Day 7 at Sea mostly cloudy, with a little glare, a few drops of rain
Most people used this day to get some sun, such as it was. The clouds weren't as heavy, you could justify sunglasses finally. The enrichment lectures were good. The first class fitness center was crowded.
Day 8 Arrive Nuku Hiva Arrive at 1pm mostly cloudy, a little sun, best day so far. People who did not take the $259 tour, walked a mile or so to the black sand beach (basically dirt), a few went swimming. We found a private tour operator operating out if the tourist office near the tender dock. They were offering 3 hour land tours in a 4 WD SUV for the next day at 9am & at noon for $56p/p. We signed up for the noon tour as the 9am was sold out.
Not much to do here. The locals put on a native dance performance for the passengers for the main evening show. We have 29 hours here, way too many.
Day 9 Nuku Hiva Day 2. partly cloudy, some sun, warm, a few showers
We got to the tourist office for our noon tour and things were not well organized. We finally got our non English speaking driver and took off. We went all the way around the island including up to some great view points, some archeological sites. The roads were rough, so if you get car sick or have a bad back, I would skip this tour, but then, there is nothing to do.
Day10 Day at Sea - cloudy, wet
Day 11 Rangiroa - cloudy, rain, but awesome snorkeling
Another wet day, from start to finish, mostly light rain with occasional short periods of heavy rain. The ship sold lots of 1 hour snorkeling trips for $149. We found the same trip at the pier for $30, but you had to be patient and wait till some guy in a boat, pulls up to the dock. You check with him to see if he his offering a snorkeling trip. You can find these trips after 11am, but you do have to be patient. There is no ticket counter waiting to sell you a trip. All the snorkeling trips go to the "Aquarium Garden", which is a 10 minute boat ride to a reef that is 20 to 30 feet deep. The Dive trips went here also, as do the Glass Bottom boat rides offered by Marina. There were 2 Dive Companies near the pier. You need to contact them ahead of time, they were booked, at least in the morning.
The Aquarium Garden was just amazing, thousands of fish. Some people saw sharks and Sting Rays, I saw a huge eal. You get a 40 minute snorkel and then the boats go back to the pier.
We got to the pier at 9:15am and couldn't find anything to do. The nearby resort hotel would not allow cruise passengers to enter their property, there was a guard. We found no bike or car rentals. There was 1 or 2 taxis, but they were busy. Some people took the cab to the nearby Village, there was nothing there, so they came right back.
We did find some half way decent snorkeling within walking distance from the pier, either way. It was very shallow and rocky, so forget fins and just walk in with good hard bottom water shoes. There was good variety of fish, but the coral had a lot if sand on it, but it was free and fairly easy to do.
Day 12 Tahiti Embarkation - Even though we didn't purchase the transfers from Marina, they offered to take our luggage to the airport, which we took advantage of. Bags out by 9:30am, out of the room by noon, off the ship by 5:00pm, very generous. The whole process was well organized. The ship is right downtown, there is plenty to see within walking distance. Cabs and tour operators wait for you as you leave the ship.
In Hind Sight - A 7 day trip to the outer islands would have been perfect, 12 days was too many. Also, April/May or October/November would have been more likely to have great weather. Spend a few days in Tahiti before and/or after the cruise. Another bucket list vacation checked off!