Our journey began with a two hour drive to Chicago, 4.5 hour flight from O'Hare to Los Angeles and a 8.5 hour flight on Air Tahiti Nui to Papeete, Tahiti. Definitely did not enjoy the long flight on ATN. Very close quarters in the main cabin on an older plane and not much rest to be had. No way of getting comfortable.
Arrived in Papeete at 5:00 am. Breezed through customs and found a taxi very easily outside the airport ($20 to Intercontinental Hotel, no tip accepted) We arrived at the hotel in approx. 15 min. A beautifully tattooed man assisted with tagging luggage for our room (not yet ready) as we went to look over the resort. We had swimsuits in our carry-on so we changed and went to the pool and lagoon. The property is amazing- clean, quiet and plenty of space to roam. At 10:00 am our room was ready and it was gorgeous, beautiful view of Moorea from our third floor balcony. Spacious, whirlpool tub, dual sinks, shower stall room and toilet room, very comfortable queen or king bed, comfy white linens.
We went to the Friday evening Tahitian dance show and buffet. The buffet was good and had many choices. The show was good too, but we were so exhausted from all the travel, that we left a bit early. The only concern I had was that the cost of food/drink being so expensive. A tall glass of juice in the am was $16 USD, Breakfast buffet for 2 ($88), and drinks were typically around $20 USD. Lucky we were only staying there one night prior to our cruise.
The next day around noon we asked the concierge to call us a taxi and it arrived within 10 minutes (amazing). The lobby was full of incoming and outgoing guests and the staff manage to keep it organized and get people where they need to go. The service at this hotel was so good in all areas. Our taxi took us to the pier in approx. 20 minutes ($25 USD + tip). Check-in was a breeze and we were on the ship in about 10 minutes.
Our cabin was not ready until 1pm so we went up to the horizon court and had a bite to eat and by then our cabin was ready. The furnishings in our mini suite 8026 were rather outdated, but the room was very clean. The set-up of the room does not seem to be of Princess standards, but I believe they purchased the ship from some other company and renamed it. Our TV was in a terrible location. Had to pull it out of the wall and angle it towards the bed to watch it. Screen was poor quality and if you forgot to push it back in at night you better remember to duck when you get out of bed and go to the bathroom, Ouch!! I like a lot of drawers in a cruise cabin and this cabin had all shelves for storage. (I know, small potatoes).
This was our first time aboard a small ship for a cruise (688pp). It was truly a unique experience. We met a lot of really great people on the ship and everyone was so friendly. You become friendly with more people because you see them again and again (on shore excursions, at dinner, at the Bar!) We even met some folks that were sailing on that particular ship for a couple of months straight. They were so nice to us and they could tell you anything about the ship and crew. One lady even invited us to a cocktail party in her suite at the back of the ship and that was so great to see her room and meet some of the crew and other guests! Thanks Joyce!!
Being a small ship you can get around very easily. They only offered set dining times, we had the early seating, a table for 8. I think we only had a full table the second evening. One of our very nice couples spoke mostly French so they moved to a different table with other people they met (understandably). I felt bad for them the first night and didn't understand why Princess would seat them with us due to the language difference. We did lose a couple of people during dinner due to motion, there is more movement on a small ship than the mega liners. We were very lucky, we had great seas and weather all ten days, only one day of rain and it was so warm it really didn't matter too much.
We dined in the main dining room and the food was good as was the horizon court. A nice variety of foods to try and please everyone. The steakhouse (Grill or Sterling) was very good, the service there was awesome and the steaks were great. We ate there three times! We did not try Sabitini's.
Drinks on the ship were tasty, average cost $6.95-7.95, beer 5 for 4 approx. $20, We purchased a coffee card $33 w/tip, 7 bottle wine package and I got the upscale soda card $68 w/tip (gun soda, hot chocolate, n/a drinks, juice) good values for us. Our travel gave us a coupon for the Champagne breakfast for two on our balcony. It was really good and you got a ton of food, you better be hungry so plan it for mid-morning not 7:00am like we did.
Islands and Shore Excursions:
Tahiti, Papeete - we did Papenoo Valley & Waterfall by 4WD (nice scenic tour 8pp on the back of a jeep, we sat in a very cool and refreshing river midway through the tour, had pineapple juice break, lots of scenery, remember to bring mosquito spray!! Thanks Jonathan for helping us out.
Huahine- Pearl Farm, Maeva Marae & Vanilla Plantation (another very scenic tour 8pp in the back of a jeep, especially enjoyed the Pearl Farm-short boat ride and detailed explanation of the black pearls; vanilla plantation was just a house alongside the road with vanilla plants and small store. Short stop at a temple.
Raiatea- Tahaa Coral Gardens Drift Snorkel- Loved this tour, book early it sells out!- beautiful viewing and float down a small channel. I was nervous about going due to the reviews- our lady tour guide took me first in line with her and held my hand/arm and led me through the channel path, thanks to her she made the trip great for me. Some folks did brush up against the coral and got a few scrapes, but not too serious. It is very deceiving when you float over the coral. It looks REALLY close!
Bora Bora- Aqua Safari Helmet Dive- Another awesome tour (DO IT) We took a small boat out to the dive site. They set the helmet on your shoulders and you step down the ladder to the bottom (approx. 12 ft) It is so great down there. They put bread in a net along side your helmet and the fish swim all around you really close, sometimes you can touch them. Beautiful viewing for about 30 minutes (plenty of time down there) Saw a large eel in the rocks, stingray to touch and many, many different fish. One lady on our tour was scared to go down and we kept on cheering her on and she finally went down and was so happy that she did and thanked us later back on the ship:)
Bora Bora (2nd day) Island Drive, Anau Look Out & Bloody Mary's- A very nice scenic island drive. We got to see Pareo's being made (island clothing), fed crabs hibiscus flowers alongside the road, beautiful scenery, and a 20 minute stop at Bloody Mary's. We did have lunch at Bloody Mary's the previous day and while expensive, it was very good. A nice touristy stop.
Rangaroa- We did not do a tour here, but I would suggest that you do, because there is nothing to do here otherwise. The public beach ($1 ride- 10 min, walking 45min) is not the best, not much sand, lots of rocks and coral. Wear good water shoes not flip flops and bring your own snorkel gear. No facilities of any kind here, rather run down. Some trips and tours were offered on the pier.
Moorea- To me this was the most beautiful island of all. The landscape and scenery were amazing. Again did not plan a shore excursion (big mistake) we tried to get one on the pier, but we sat in the back of someone's jeep for 20 min while he waited for more guests. We got tired of waiting and got out. Ron Hall Pearl store van was there and a lady gave us a ride to their store to look at Pearls. A little bit of scenery and I did manage to get a beautiful black pearl necklace. Should have done an island tour would have been a lot cheaper, ha ha.
This was our last day as we were getting off the ship one day early, as soon as it docked back in Papeete. Most passengers were getting off the next day. We docked in Papeete at 8:00pm and we had our luggage ready and we were waiting in the lobby for the ship to clear and we were on the pier by 8:30. We easily found a taxi to take us to the airport ($35+tip) evening rate, I guess. Got to the airport and waited in long, hot line to check-in for our 11:50pm flight. Another long flight back to LA. This plane was new and had TV screens in the back of the seat in front of us. Hard to sleep again, no room to move. Seating is 2-4-2 and we were in the 4 section this time. Got to LA, long walk to get to customs, picked up luggage, then had to go to different terminal (AA) to re-check our luggage for next flight to O'Hare. Had to run after we cleared security to make flight- we made it- luggage did not. Luggage finally showed up at our house 2 days later, but we did get it back, whew!
All in all- this was an amazing trip on Princess' very unique small ship Pacific. I think I would try a small ship again, but I am still in favor of all the glitz, glamour and choices available with the larger cruise ships. But that is just me. We met a lot of great people, staff and guests, that I will remember for a long time to come. Next up is the 10-day Eastern Caribbean Voyager on February 27th of 2015. I can't wait to see their new, big beautiful ship. Enjoy every sailing!