This was a 10 day cruise to and from Papeete, Tahiti, March 27 to April 6.
We booked air via Princess. We flew on Tuesday, the 27th from Dulles Airport near Washington, DC to LAX. From flight was on United at 10:30 AM. It was a good flight with a about a hour. The plane wasn't full and Lynn and I had an extra seat to share.
There was to be about a 3 hour layover at LAX. Our transfer between terminals was smooth. Air Tahiti Nui was an hour and a half late taking off due to an airport problem out of the control of the airline. That put us into Papeete and hour and a half late. The plane was full. The standard seating configuration on that type of Airbus allows scant leg room in cabin class. That lack of leg room affects anyone over five feet tall. There were decent movies to watch on our personal TV screens and plenty to drink, alcoholic and non-alcoholic. The service was very good. The flight was smooth. The food in cabin class was not good, but not likely to cause illness, either.
Clearing passport control and customs in Papeete was easy. Picking up our luggage and exiting the airport was also very easy. We went directly on a Princess provided bus and left within minutes for the ship.
Embarkation took only a couple of minutes. It was just about midnight when we boarded, but Princess had the buffet operating, so we had a snack before going to bed. At that point, we just had our carry on, but had tooth brushes and some other essentials. I woke up about 3:30 AM and pulled in our three bags.
The Room: We have only been in balcony rooms on our last 7 cruises. I had second thoughts after booking a window room, but was unable to switch by the time I actually tried. As it turned out, we were happy with the room. It was right near the reception desk, midship on the fourth floor. It was wasted on us to an extent, given that neither of us get sea sick. The room was quiet, neat as a pin. Plenty of storage, plenty of hangers. A good setup in relative terms for both 220 and 110 voltage, although curling irons have to be plugged in in the room, not the bathroom. The big window provided good views, although, of course, not equal to those provided by balcony glass doors. The bed was comfortable. The cabin steward, Alberto, provided good service with a smile. Outside of the shower was a small gutter and drain that prevents flooding the bathroom floor if the shower curtain isn't place correctly. I wish every ship had that design.
Dining Room: First seating 6 PM. We sat at the back with a great window view by our table to watch sunsets and moon rises, etc. It was a table for eight. Our tablemates were great. Most of us took excursions together during the cruise. Pete and Wanda had suite 7119. The second Wednesday evening, they us and some other friends in for about and hour and a half for cocktails, champagne and a nice spread of fruits and snacks. Their suite had a marble powder room, big living room, spacious bedroom with a long wall of closets and other storage. I'd have hated to lug enough luggage to fill a third of what it could have held. The big bathroom was also marble and had a round, whirlpool tub. The huge balcony wrapped around on the back and side of the ship. We all had such a great time that we hated to break up the party and we were late going down to dinner.
The dining room was beautiful. As reported by others, this small ship for under 700 passengers is tasteful and marked by an understated elegance in contrast to Carnival pizzazz, but I do love Vegas and I can easily go either way. Lynn loved this size ship and would like to sail on it or a similar ship again in the near future. Our table service was top notch. I have no complaints about service on this ship. None at all. At every meal, there were very good selections available. Not everything was better than fair to good, but a lot of the food was. Princess is not noted for its desserts, but there were a little better than what I'd had on the Coral Princess or the Golden Princess. They do need to steam more of there veggies.
The fitness center is in the starboard front of deck nine with the spa on the port side. The cybex equipment and other facilities was more than adequate, although size limited what could be provided and there are often waits for elipticals and treadmills.
The walking/jogging track: I used this every morning. It was great. Everybody went counterclockwise. There were no signs about what direction to go in. On the Golden Princess, the track has directional signs to go clockwise. The signs are not big. About 60% of the people go counterclockwise. That doesn't work well at all when there are a lot of people suing the track.
The Panarama Buffet: It was good with limited but adequate variety for the cruise. In the late afternoon, there was sandwich service and in the evening pizza and salad/dessert bar, but not a full buffet. The pizza was good. The sandwiches were ok, but not up to the Deli set-up on Carnival. Just outside, there was a place for omelets in the morning and hamburgers and hotdogs during the day. We could always find somewhere nice to sit. We enjoyed sitting on the back deck of the buffet area, looking out at the sea views. One morning, we saw the most fabulous double rainbow form. It looked more like a double complete circle that disappeared down into the sea. On each of the tables in the buffet, they had a sign that said on one side that you were coming back and to please leave the food already there. The other side said to go ahead and clear.
Entertainment: I thought the bands and the singers by the pool and in the bars and the Ship's band for the Cabaret Lounge were very good. However, the Cabaret Lounge, as a main venue, could not measure up to most theatres on larger ships. The singers and dancers in most of the theatrical performances - three guys, three ladies, and a male and a female singer were good and went through enough costume changes to give the impression of extravaganzas in a small venue. They worked their tail off and had to fill in as game hosts and in other hosting functions during the day. The ladies were fanatics when working out in the fitness center. But, it IS a small ship, and one doesn't come to the Tahitian Princess for A+ entertainment.
Bar Service was very good. On deck 10 forward was the Tahitian Lounge with panoramic views and good music. During the day, it was underused. Therefore, it was an extremely pleasant and relaxing place to be.
The pool area was popular with great music<
Tahiti: I was here in 84 with my younger daughter - who loved it so much as a teenager, she said, "Wow, what a great time I could have if you weren't here too!" Lynn and I walked around Papeete our first day, but weren't ambitious. We browsed the shops and flowers, etc, but didn't buy things to take home that day. Lynn wanted to get out of Papeete, but was willing to wait uptil the last day of the trip. So, our last day, we did the highlights tour from the ship. That isn't a circle tour, but we saw some interesting things and walked to a great waterfall and the beach on Point Venus and the blowhole. Tahiti has world class waterfalls, and I was happy we got to see one of them. At the James Norman Hall house, we were hosted by Hall's daughter, Nancy, and her husband. She read us some of the poetry her father had written just for her, and she told us about the filming of the Marlon Brando version of "Mutiny on The Bounty." There is a picture of her in a sarong taken in 1962. She could have been a top model.
Huahine: We did the Marc Tour. It was pricey at $125 each, but we had a great time, a great island tour, saw the museum and historical site run by Dorothy - an American, enjoyed the sacred eels, vanilla production,loved the drift snorkeling and the motu picnic in the water with music and very good food. We were with six other cruise critic board participants on this excursion. At the Cruise Critic get-together on the first Friday, Vette, from Arizona, had given each of the wives a Navajo necklace. These were terrific people to spend time with, and we were with them on both tours we took on Bora Bora.
Raratonga: What can I say? Like so many other sailings, we did not get to land and ended up with three sea days. Close, but no cigar. We watched the people and cars and viewed the beautiful landscape, but, like Moses, could not set foot in the promised land. One crew member had to be off-loaded for medical reasons. The tug that came to get him was being tossed around by the waves something fierce. However, Lynn was exhausted for work and needed this vacation. She professes not to love sea days(I love them}, but she got a lot of needed rest and did a lot of reading. The ship has a very large and beautiful library.
Raiatea: I think this island has tremendous potential. Only at Tahiti and Raiatea could we tie up at a pier instead of tender. We walked around on our own in the morning and did the drift snorkel in the afternoon. That is an %89 dollar each ship tour. They took us to a large motu off the island of Tahaa by Raiatea. It was very shallow in relation to the coral around and below us. I wouldn't have ventured into such a maze of shallow coral on my own. It was very healthy coral. The fish were varied and spectacular. We did a second go-around after the first passage. It wasn't a strong current, so less drift than anticipated, but very, very fine. We also saw lots of spinner dolphins and a couple of large rays from the tour boat.
Bora Bora: We sat on lounge chairs at the front of deck 11 to view the passage out from Raiatea and Tahaa and through the reef opening. We had our coffee and fruit and again watched dozens of spinner dolphins in the water from the port side. Later, we viewed the passage through the reef and web by numerous motus. I think every island was very beautiful, but Bora Bora's reputation for beauty is well deserved. We did a circle island tour in the afternoon. It was informative, but the semi-open bus was hot and the going slow. No real complaints. The last stop at Bloody Mary's was fun, although Lynn and I had forgotten to bring money and didn't get to buy a drink there or anywhere else or tip, etc. You take off your sandals and walk barefoot on the smooth and perfect sand floor of the bar/restaurant. The bathrooms have a waterfall set up for hand washing. You pull a chain to start the waterfall down through lava rock. Outside, all the celebrities who've been there are listed. There is a who's who full of names.
The second day, we did a Stephen Mota tour. He took us to swim with black tip sharks. There were many, but, thank the lord, not over 5 feet long at the very most. Then we went to play with the sting rays - just like on Grand Cayman. Then we went to a coral reef area to snorkel amid the fabulous varieties of fish and coral and other sea life. Then we circled the island by boat and had a fruit picnic on a table set up in the shallow water off a motu. This took about 5 hours and cost $55 each.
Moorea: This island was the favorite of a plurality of people we talked to who expressed an opinion. The mayor, evidently, is a bit of a martinet and makes sure that litter is picked up ala Disney World and everything is neat and in order. It is a very beautiful island. Like Bora Bora, the peaks are great, natural works of art. We rented a car and did our own circle island tour with a switchback excursion up to the Belvedere lookout, and side trips to restored temple/sacrifice sites, with a hike in the rainforest to a river and one short detour on dirt road toward a pineapple plantation and by a horseback riding place.
The ship schedule is complex with our last day overlapping the next cruise's first day. We bought souvenirs at a place near the ship in Papeete that last morning. Most of the town was shut down for Good Friday. We vacated our room before 10 AM and left our carry on in the Steak House. We did not eat in the Steakhouse or the Italian Restaurant, so cannot report on them. We did the highlights tour previously mentioned in the afternoon. We had breakfast and lunch in the dining room. We had a full buffet set up for dinner that evening.
Our flight was scheduled for 10 PM. Princess had us at the airport by 7:45. Getting out is a slow process, as described by many, but we knew what to expect. It isn't illogical or redundant. It just takes time to get through the line. We had plenty of time. However, we were dreading the flight back to L.A. because of the cramped quarters and the redeye nature of the flight. We delayed our boarding when we could get on because our seats were in the next to last row and we didn't want to be sitting there longer than necessary. But, you know, nice things do happen to people from time to time. As we were sitting there watching the line of boarding passengers, our names were called. We walked up to a partition to identify ourselves and were told we've been upgraded to business class. We had the two middle seats in row four. We were greeted with tiare flowers and champagne. We had a great dinner. Our powered plush seats had extendable leg rests and almost fully reclined. We slept close to 5 hours of the trip, waking to a large and delicious breakfast that included the last papay I'll be eating for a while. We were the second couple through passport control in L.A. We got our luggage, cleared customs in the nothing to declare line, redeposited our luggage for the flight to Dulles. We walked over to terminal seven to check in for our United flight home, which was on time.
It was a great trip. I highly recommend it.