We took Air France to Tahiti as it leaves LAX late in the morning and arrives first thing in the morning in Tahiti. This is a pleasant schedule. We flew in 3 days early to enjoy some off before joining the cruise. As usual, one of our bags did not arrive and we made our claim with Air France. The next flight was not until Sunday, the day before the cruise. We are used to this routine and that is why we fly early…And, fortunately, on Sunday, our last bag arrived at the hotel and we had our dive gear for the cruise.
We spent the three days at Le Meridien which is a distance away from the main downtown area. It was a 3500 franc cab ride and it was quite nice being in a local, quiet atmosphere. Taxis in general are pricey since fuel is close to $10 per gallon. The hotel restaurant prices were VERY high, but you can mitigate this with eating at some of the local places just outside of the hotel property and only 5 minutes walk away. You can get many snacks and food at the nearby grocery as well. You can always use your credit card as long as you spent at least 2000 francs (approximately $20).
Things are very expensive on the islands because the taxes are very high, there is very little employment and most government revenue is from import duties. That is what generates the high prices and in general, there is no bartering or negotiation with retailers no matter how hard you try. On the positive side, you do not need to tip anyone in restaurants, bars, etc. It is not the custom nor is it expected.
We headed to the ship after breakfast and packing and we boarded around 11:30 on Monday, December 9th. There was a small line, but it took no more than 15 minutes to get checked in. They have a tent to keep you in the shade and it all moved pretty quickly. Some people fear the fact that there is a lot of the previous cruise passengers still onboard the ship. It is true, but it really was not a problem. Many do stay the entire day until the evening, so the Panorama Buffet is a little crowded, but nothing horrible. Many people hang out in the gym, library, common areas, etc. As soon as you are onboard, your room is ready. As soon as you have lunch, your bags are outside your room and ready to be unpacked. We had a mini-suite (8002) and it had a ton of room. Very comfortable. Very little noise or any complaints. The bed, pillows and linens were very comfortable. The TV is quite small though…Our room steward was Dennis and he was awesome. He was always meeting our every need and special requests.
Our ship was 2/3 full with 429 passengers, about 50% American, quite a few Canadians, UK and Australian. Never felt crowded or encountered any lines. Getting on and off the ship took only minutes.
The first night has open seating because of present and past cruise passengers onboard the ship. And some people are still coming onboard for different reasons. Good reason to try out the Sterling Steakhouse (The Grill). The steakhouse was not crowded, the service excellent and the steaks were a real delight. Worth the $20 extra charge.
The first night was the local Tahitian dance show. The shows are kind of late: this one was at 10:00. Good show and lots of energy. Worth watching and they let you take as many photos or videos as you like. The next day is open for tours and anything the guests would like to do. Essentially, there are no lines and you and get on and off the ship into the downtown are within 5 minutes. It was a little weird not having the life boat drill the first evening. For some reason, we really did not feel like we were on a cruise until we went through all the normal routine…
There is one laundry on the ship for everyone – quite adequate. But warning, don’t plan on using in Bora-Bora as local regulations forbid the grey water from being discharged.
It was a little bit of a mixed story here. There is only one (main) show per night starting at 9:30 or 9:45 PM. It is never full and one of the challenges is the audience is very diverse. The singers, etc. are very talented without a doubt, but their chosen programs or planned song choices just did not connect very well with people. It was very awkward for everyone. David the cruise director also did not seem to connect well with the audience. He played the role, but did not seem to adapt to the mood and demographics of the present company to create an environment needed to invigorate the passengers. Jenn – the assistant cruise director from Toronto was a little more lively and a little more dynamic to connect with passengers and create a lively atmosphere. The “martini shakeup” was truly fun and generated lots of laughter and fun.
In addition, I will admit the smaller lounge singers and entertainment were excellent and tried very hard to connect with attending passengers. The piano player, Brad Stevens, always evaluated the room audience and adapted well to liven up the room. He is very agile and flexible to meet all requests.
But, with no surprise, every 10:00 PM, 50% of the passengers are retired to their cabins and there is no evening nightlife. The magician was decent and generated a few laughs, but again, the audience was very muted and quiet. I must admit that waiting until 9:45 every night for a show was hard for many and when the talent performed well, everyone was sleepy and too tired to clap sometimes.
Like most cruises, only 10% of the passengers wear tuxedos and long dresses and only 50-60% wear suits and ties. Many just go to the Panorama buffet since they do not want to dress up. Overall, the ones that do dress up have more fun and we joined in.
In general, the quality of the dining room and service was quite good. Is it 5 star and unforgettable? No, but it was also nothing to ever complain about. The staff worked very hard to meet all your needs, but I cannot say that anything was above and beyond. The fish dishes were generally the best, but I must admit the soups were often a little bland. The Italian night was the best night overall in the dining room. Most people take the early dining option.
The Panorama buffet is always good for breakfast and lunch. Decent selection and variety. Only two pieces of constructive criticism: One is there is a very limited salad bar option. There are numerous vegetarian dishes, but limited individual vegetable options offered. The second complaint is the very low plastic barriers that makes it very difficult to reach under and select/spoon on your food. Very awkward.
We attended the Chef’s Table dinner on the 7th night. There is only one seating and it is only 10 people. You have to call immediately as soon as you onboard and it fills up fast. It is one of our favorite opportunities and it is definitely worth the $95 per person surcharge. It does include champagne and wine which is quite nice.
Q: Can you truly bring flowers onboard the ship when you visit the farmers market? Yes, they cost about 1500 francs and they are gorgeous. 5 minute walk and you are back on the ship with them.
Q: Is there a wine store in the shopping mall in Papeete? Yes, there is a nice selection of (French) wines available and similar to when we boarded, we brought aboard a few bottles and they did not stop or ask any questions.
Q: Is there a good gym or fitness center on the ship? Yes, there is lots of equipment and space for everyone. Not crowded and they do have some free weights. On our cruise, the fitness instructor became ill and unfortunately had to depart the islands.
Q: Is there a good library? Yes, it is excellent with a very good diverse collection and a very good passenger book exchange.
Hints and tips:
• Turn off your lights in the room. They heat the room up a lot and you don’t want them to compete with the air conditioning.
• The Internet is faster on the ship than on the island itself! Definitely worth the money for those of you who like to stay connected.
• There are very rare taxis to use and contract with for external tours or drives. They are limited to 2-3 separate customers, so be aware that it is not that easy to get your own custom tour on an island by just walking off the ship. You will need to connect with someone in advance before the cruise in my opinion.
• Not many people know this, but if you are a veteran with military service, you can get a $100 onboard credit if you provide proof of your service ïŠ
Ports and Tours
Most ports are very similar in many ways. I am not sure one is better than another, but I will say that Bora Bora is not heads and shoulders above the others. They are all great and they all have their unique advantages and disadvantages. Some you can get lucky with a low cost taxi or tours…others you cannot. It is always a gamble when not using the ship’s higher cost, but guaranteed tours. We published our photos and activities on our travel blog at: http://mrandmrsxblog.wordpress.com