Cruise: South Pacific – Cook Islands Cruise Dates: May 26th – June 5 Cabin: Category AA – mini-suite About us: We’re young early 50’s who enjoy traveling. We’ve been on 13 cruises. This was our 6th with Princess. Other cruise lines we’ve sailed with are: NCL, Holland America, Carnival & Celebrity. We’ve slowly gotten spoiled by booking better and better categories of staterooms. This was our first time in a mini-suite and we’re HOOKED! We were celebrating our 25th anniversary on this cruise.
Flight We left on May 25th on the 1:00 pm Air Tahiti Nui flight from LAX. We live about 30 miles from LAX so it was a short trip to the airport. Tip - Give yourself plenty of time at LAX. We arrived at 10:40 am for our 1:00 pm flight. Check in was horrible. First you check in at the Air Tahiti Nui desk, they weigh your baggage and give you your boarding passes and return your bags to you. Then you have to take the bags you are checking in and stand in a line to have your bags scanned. You don’t even need to wait while they scan them, you just have to stand in line to turn them over. We stood in this line for about 1 ½ hours. Tip – only one person needs to stand in this line – the rest of you can use the restrooms, get something to eat etc – take turns waiting in line After turning your bags over for scanning you still need to go through the security check where they check all your carry-ons etc. By the time we got through all of this they were already calling our row for boarding. Tip – do not cut transfer time too short if you are on a connecting flight and the airlines can’t check your baggage all the way through The flight wasn’t too bad. They start serving beverages right away – they come by 2-3 times right after you board. This was particularly welcome for me because I was so stressed out over the check-in process. They offer several movies, games, TV and feed you twice on the flight. The coach seats are tight especially when the person in front of you has their seat back in your face. Be kind – if you get up to stretch your legs or use the restroom put your seat-back up so the person behind you gets a little break. Tip – avoid rows 27-29, they are right by the restrooms, which usually had a line, and I’m sure those people spent the flight listening to the toilets flush
Arrival in Papeete When we arrived in Papeete we got in a line where they checked passports. There were 4 booths open. It took about 20 minutes to get through this part, then we were on to pick up our bags, which were waiting by this time. They have free luggage carts available. The airport has some little stores, which were open when we arrived. We exchanged $100 at the airport for xpf. The exchange rate was 83.4 to the dollar + $4.12 commission. There were plenty of taxis available. We paid 2000 xpf to take us to the Hotel Tiare Tahiti which is directly across from the port. Hotel Tiare Tahiti Good location. We paid 15285 xpf for a standard room. The room wasn’t much better than a Motel 6, but was clean and comfortable. The hotel has a little café for breakfast. An omelet was 950 xpf. We spent time on the morning of 26th shopping around Le Marche and the other stores\booths in the area.
Check-in We took a taxi across the road to the ship at around 11:00 am. The taxi cost us $10 US. It was worth it since we had so much luggage. They started check-in at around 11:30 am. There were only 5 or 6 parties waiting to check in. It went very quickly
May 26 – Papeete There was an announcement that rooms wouldn’t be ready until 1:00 pm. We hit the buffet and checked out the ship. It is lovely. At 1:00 pm sharp they made an announcement that we could get into our rooms. The room was really nice. We had heard that the furnishings are showing their age, but everything was clean and in good condition. Our room steward, Ramon, came by to introduce himself. He provided excellent service throughout the cruise. The balcony had a small table, 2 chairs that reclined and 2 straight backed chairs. I had heard that the balconies aren’t private, but they are. We spent the first few hours booking Sterling Steakhouse, Spa appointments, tours, and Ultimate Balcony dining. We had a last minute set back with an independent tour we had booked with Bruno on Raiatea. He had to cancel because of a death in the family. We didn’t find out about this until the day before we left so we had to do some last minute tour booking onboard. The tour office was open from 4:00 pm – 8:00 pm that day, but we used the drop box and they took our request before serving people who waited for the tour desk to open. Tip – don’t wait until you board to book your tours. Many were sold out by the time we boarded. Luggage arrived around 3:00 pm. We felt sorry for the people that were leaving that day. It looked like it was a long day for them. Tip – book something for the last day. Princess offers 2 tours, plus there are things you can book in town. We went across the road back to Le March (walking distance) to purchase flowers. We chose one small arrangement ($10 US) and one medium arrangement ($15 US). We should have shopped for our wine on this day – little did we know the wine store would be closed on Sunday. Dinner was open seating in the dining room. We were given a 6:00 pm dining time even though during the rest of the cruise we had late seating. I think they assign dining times on the first night based on when you board the ship. There was a Tahitian dance show on deck at 10:15. There were 5 musicians, 5 women dancers and 4 men dancers. We really enjoyed the show, and it got us in the mood for the fabulous days to come. Tip – after the TP band gets done playing and before the Tahitian dance show starts they will invite you to gather around for the show. Take your chair and sit right in front of the pool - you will have front row seats (and maybe get invited to dance like my husband did)
May 27 – Papeete We did Patrick’s Adventure ½ day 4x4 tour, which we booked independently. It was pretty good. Lots of geology and botany discussion. We got to swim in a waterfall!! Tip – in his e-mail to us he said to bring our swimsuit. You need to wear it. There was nowhere to change Also – bring your water shoes if you plan on going in the water. And… there were no restroom stops. Muster drill was at 4:30 pm. Champagne was served after that. Sailaway was at 5:00 pm. We had our Cruise Critic get together up on the pool deck by the bar. Normal dining times started today.
May 28 – Huahine We arrived at 7:00 am. It took 45 minutes – 1 hour before tenders started operating. Tender ride took about 10 minutes. It didn’t look like there were any tours to pick up at the pier. We had pre-booked Marc’s drift snorkel/motu picnic, and one lucky couple got the last two seats that hadn’t been pre-booked. Tip – book Marc’s tour. The whole thing was excellent! It started with a lovely boat ride through beautiful water, we did some so-so snorkeling, visited a pearl farm (pearls are pricey – everywhere), then did the drift snorkel. The drift snorkel was easy, but you go pretty fast so it’s tricky to pause if you want to see something in more detail. Fins came in very handy to maneuver. We forgot to put our gloves on, but didn’t end up needing them. When you get to the motu you join up with the people who did the 4x4 tour. This part was great. There are tables in the water, and under shade trees. Lots of free Hinano beer, mai tais, water, and punch (included). There was a coconut show, a pareo tying demonstration that people got to participate in, musicians, and a good BBQ with plenty of food. After we ate, people went back in the water, drank some more, visited and cracked jokes. What a wonderful day. Do not miss it. We tipped the musicians and “coconut / pareo” guy, but I don’t think it’s expected. Tip – bring some cash, they sell pareos that have “Marc’s Motu Picnic” written on them and you may want to buy something at the pearl farm. The tour got us back to the ship around 3:00 pm.
May 29 – Sea Day on the way to Rarotonga We ordered the Balcony Champagne Breakfast this day. It was cool. They come with 4 trays loaded with food. Crab quiche, and crab leg meat, steamed potato, some green vegetable pureed (peas?), fruit with cream topping (cantaloupe and berries), pastries, smoked salmon, bagels, cream cheese, onions, capers – the works, coffee, hot water for tea, Orange Juice and a ½ bottle of Moet & Chandon Champagne. Total cost: $28 (plus we tipped) – what a deal!. The day was slightly overcast and I thought the seas were rough, but when I said so to other passengers, they said “that was nothing”. There was lots to do on sea day. This was the day of the Captains Welcome Party (with “real drinks” – free) and Formal Night. I would say 25% of the men were in Tux’s, around 70% in dark suits or sport coats and the rest in slacks. 70% of the women wore cocktail/evening dresses, the rest were semi-formal. They had 3 places set up to do formal pictures. 8x10 pictures were $19.99 – unframed. We ate at Sabatini’s this night. Way too much food, but excellent! About half the people in Sabatini’s that night weren’t in formal wear (maybe 10 tables?). I suspect they booked Sabatini’s so they wouldn’t need to go formal.
May 30 – Rarotonga The tender ride was about 15 minutes. We took the Cultural Village tour through the ship. It was OK. You go straight from the tender onto a bus, take a 15 minute bus ride to the village and visit about 8 huts where they explain crafts and traditions of old. There is a little dance show at the end and a snack of fruit and juice. There were about 6 booths at the pier selling stuff. Apparently there is a town about 1 km from the pier, but we didn’t visit it. They offer shuttle service to the beach for $8. We had to be back for massages, so we didn’t do anything but the tour. Massages were nice. They only book the “special” massages (i.e. expensive) on sea days so if you want a plain old massage you need to book it on a port day. The spa facilities are nice – steam room, showers, etc.
May 31 – Sea Day Seas were rough. They moved the outside line dancing inside. You have to do an immigration thing this morning. They return your passports to you. Tip – don’t lose the white card they put in your passport (like I did), you need this to leave the country. Comment on music entertainment – the band by the pool was OK, but the band in the Tahitian lounge belonged in an old folks home – it was especially bad on 70’s night (sorry Neil). They closed outside access in the evening because the winds were so strong.
June 1 – Raiatea The captain was unable to dock so we anchored. You needed to get a number to board the tender before 9:00 am unless you were booked on an early Princess tour, after that it was open first-come-first-served. Tender took about 20-25 minutes. This was the day we should have been on Bruno’s tour. We booked a last minute 2 hr snorkeling tour through the ship (the ships’ drift snorkel tour was fully booked by the time we boarded the ship, so we couldn't sign up for that). The tour was pretty good. There were 12-14 of us. They took us to a “training ground” first and then later to deeper water. Beautiful fish and coral. There appeared to be several tour operators on the pier that you could pick up a tour from. They also had ladies selling flower headpieces and leis on the pier ($5 US each). Finally, there were some places to shop! This was the night of the children of Raiatea show. Tip – get there early if you want a good seat, or any seat, for that matter. There is some pre-show stuff beginning at 4:00, then the children dance at 5:00. The “mamas” sell flower headpieces and leis for $5 US, and after the show they sell the pareos used in the pareo tying demonstration. I bought my pareo this night. It’s beautiful. Tip – the pareos in Papeete costs less. Weather was inclement so they moved the festivities inside. This was “tropical attire” night. My suggestion would be to wear normal clothes in a tropical motif to the dining room for dinner and then dress in your pareo and flowers for the party. We had the Ultimate Balcony Dining this night. It was the perfect night to do it since we were in port, so there wasn’t much wind. My husband and I dressed up in our flowers and pareos and truly enjoyed ourselves. They came in and put our inside chairs on the balcony, set the table with a white table cloth and silver and a “candle” (phony candle, with a flickering bulb – they have to be fire safe). Dinner consisted of 1 cocktail each; appetizers; salad; 2 lobster tails, or 1 lobster tail and steak, or steak; dessert; and a half bottle of Moet & Chandon champagne. A waiter comes in and serves each course. During dinner a photographer comes in and takes photos (1 8x10 is included with the dinner). Food was good, but the experience was the best. Cost is $100 per couple. There was another dance show later that night.
June 2 – Bora Bora Day 1 It’s worth it to be up for departure from Raiatea (around 7:30 am). Sailing through the tiny channel into the ocean is quite a feat. Waves are breaking right off the side of the ship as the captain maneuvers out from Tahaa. Both sides provide a good view. We were on the left. Arrived at Bora Bora at 11:30 am. It’s a beautiful sail in. Tip – be on an upper deck during sail in – you pass some of the over the water bungalows and the colors of the water are incredible. The tenders only take about 5 minutes – they ran until 11:00 pm this night. We booked the Highlights of Bora Bora tour through the ship. It was a non-air-conditioned “le truck”. Took us around the island and showed us the points of interest, including a stop to show us how pareos are dyed (they are for sale at this stop), and a really quick stop at Bloody Mary’s. The best part was when we stopped to feed the land crabs flowers. Pretty cool!. Tip – if you do this tour sit on the left side of the bus for the best view, sit by one of the door openings for the best breeze. Had to be back for our second massage, but had some time to fit some shopping in here. Probably the most shops of all the ports aside from Papeete.
June 3 – Bora Bora Day 2 We didn’t plan well for this day. We booked the 2:30 Aqua Safari, and by the time we got ashore there was nothing for us to pick up that worked out with our 2:30 pm tour. There were lots of tours available at the pier (for about $50 - $60), but we were too late for the morning tours, and the afternoon tours clashed with our Aqua Safari appointment. Since we had shopped the day before, and Bloody Mary’s seemed like a tourist trap we just went back to the ship and laid around the pool until it was time for our Aqua Safari. The Aqua Safari was the best thing we did on the trip (and that’s saying a lot, because Marc’s was spectacular). There was a fun boat ride out to where the Aqua Safari boat was anchored – we got wet - protect your towel, you'll want it dry after you get done with the Aqua Safari. There were about 12 people on our tour. They took down half the people at a time. You get into the water up to your shoulders and they use a winch to lower the helmet onto you. Then you walk down a ladder to the bottom of the sea (about 10 – 12 feet down). They pump air into the helmet which provides your air and keeps the water from coming into the helmet. There is a slight pressure on your ears, which they tell you how to clear. There is a diver down there with you the entire time. They put a bag on the bottom front of the helmet with bread in it. The fish came right up to us – they will eat out of your hand if you hold the bread. We saw lots of fish, coral, some manta rays (or were they sting rays?), a sea cucumber and a king barracuda. While one group was down, the other could snorkel. Tip – do this tour – it is GREAT! This was the second formal night and just as many people were dressed formal as the first formal night.
June 4 – Moorea Moorea was one of the prettiest islands. Since we didn’t get to do Bruno’s we booked the motu BBQ through the ship. It was fun. They took about 50 people out to a motu. One guy let’s you “hold” a stingray (manta ray?) while he feeds it. There is snorkeling, musicians, and a nice lunch. Tip – bring cash (they took US dollars), they have beer and other beverages for sale, and there was a little table set up selling some pearl stuff. We bought my husband a pearl choker (imperfect pearl) for $40 US. They had tables in the shade, and a “real” bathroom on the motu. The lunch was good. They provided “noodles” to float on if you wanted. After lunch some people set the plastic chairs in the water and relaxed, others stood in the water about shoulder deep and chatted, visited, shared stories, etc. The people running the tour were really good - and funny too. I would recommend this tour. When we got back to the pier we had a chance to shop a little. There were about 18 booths set up selling stuff. One guy has t-shirts that he designed himself – very intricate and professionally made – since we hadn’t planned on needing money on the motu we had barely enough cash on us to get my husband one of these shirts. We departed Moorea around 5:00 pm. We were back in Papeete by 8:00 pm. We ate at Sterling’s steakhouse this night. It was pretty good, but if I had to choose only one of the specialty restaurants I would choose Sabatini’s. You need to have your bags in the hall between 8:00 pm and 10:00 pm. Keep a small bag in your room for the stuff you will need the next day.
June 5 – Disembarkation We needed to be out of our cabin by 10:00 am. There was no room service this day. The bars were open, but payment was in cash since they'd already closed out the ship accounts. You get to stay on board all day. There are movies running and the ship offers 2 tours. Tip - if your plane doesn't leave until late, book something to do this day. It's a long day otherwise. If you kept a small bag for the day, they let you put it in the Steakhouse. You have access to it all day. The shower facilities in the Spa are available for use if you want to clean up before heading home. We were staying this night at the InterContinental hotel. In the morning we walked across the road to Le Marche and picked up souvenirs, vanilla beans, some Hinano glasses and a pareo as a gift for someone back home. After we were done shopping we went back to the ship for lunch. The buffet was crowded. Many of the people for the next cruise had already started boarding. We stayed around the ship until they called for the people who booked the Princess extension at the InterContinental to get their luggage and board the bus. We rushed off the ship, picked up our luggage
and grabbed a taxi. We were worried if we didn't beat the bus to the hotel we would have to stand in a long line behind all the Princess passengers. This proved to not be true - the hotel had a separate line to check those people in.
June 5 & 6 – InterContinental Taxi fare was $30 US from the ship to the hotel. The InterContinental is a beautiful property. We booked a garden room. When we checked in we asked if we could book a day room or pay for late check-out. The lady at the desk wouldn't commit at that time, she asked us to wait until the following morning to make the request. I fretted all night wondering what we were going to do if we couldn't stay in a room until late in the day before our flight the next day. I was at the front desk first thing that morning. Ended up they let us stay in our room "until departure", which in our case was 7:00 pm, for $120 US. Unfortunately they forgot to update the system so we ended up locked out of our room with only 20 minutes to change our clothes for a 1/2 day tour of the island. Now, you would think that 20 minutes would be plenty of time to get this problem rectified, but those people are truly on "island time". Nothing moves quickly there, which is probably nice, but takes some getting used to. When we were able to get into our room it had been stripped of sheets and towels, so that meant another visit to the front desk. Speaking of island time… I asked in the restaurant 3 times over 40 minutes for a glass of water (I needed to take a pill). It never came. Finally I went up to someone cleaning a table and said "may I please have a glass of water"? She told me "it's coming". I said, "I've asked 3 times already and I still don't have it", I was unfortunately really frustrated by this time and admittedly cranky. Well the water finally came 10 minutes later, and I felt horrible for being snippy. My advice, just take a deep breath and let it pass, it's not worth getting upset over – I still feel bad for complaining. We took a half day tour on an air conditioned bus to see the blowhole, Gaugin's museum, black sand beach, etc. It was a good tour - the service and bus were top notch, the itinerary kinda so-so.
June 6 – Departure Our flight on Air Tahiti Nui left at 10:00 pm. We got to the airport at about 7:00 pm. The taxi ride from the InterContinental was $15 US. There was a long line to check in, but the staff were efficient. The airport isn't air conditioned but they have big fans everywhere. There is a bar upstairs. You need to go through the immigration people again. They want the white card that's in your passport, then you go to a waiting area where there are nice couches to relax on while you wait for the plane. Again we were in coach class seats which are tight and it was a long flight home. My husband slept most of the way, but I wasn't so lucky. There were several open seats on the plane, in fact the woman across from us had all 4 center seats to herself and she laid down the whole flight.
May 7 – Arrival at LAX There are separate lines for US citizens and non-US. The lines moved really quickly. You go through the immigration people first and then on to Customs. There were signs everywhere that said "no food, no plants" and I was worried about my vanilla beans. I figured it was best to be honest and have them confiscated if they weren't allowed into the US, but they let them through. This whole process probably only took about 15 minutes. From there it was homeward bound. Other Stuff It's true, the coffee is bad. We took to purchasing regular coffee from the coffee bar and sometimes even that was bad. The food on board was pretty good considering they have to feed 600+ people 24 hrs a day. We particularly enjoyed the veal chop and the rack of lamb. The staff on board was friendly. We only needed our bug spray at the InterContinental. There were mosquitoes and sand fleas there. Bring fins if you're going to be snorkeling, they really help in the currents. Don't forget to bring water shoes. I bought mine through the Land's End catalog. The liners come out which helps them dry faster. We didn't have problems using US dollars anywhere. This was the best vacation we've ever taken and we're already dreaming about going back. I hope yours is as good as ours was!