PRE CRUISE -- We always fly at least one day prior to embarkation to keep from having the heartaches and disappointment many have expressed from late flights and missed connections. We arranged our air travel, pre cruise stay, post cruise stay and all transfers through Princess. We do not normally do this, but found that for this particular cruise we were able to get much cheaper air fare using Princess than we could book on our own. As long as we were using Princess for our air we just decided to make our life easier and use Princess for all arrangements. We were not disappointed.
We left from Seattle on Monday morning on United. Our flight was a 6:00 AM flight to San Francisco with only a one hour layover prior to our flight to Honolulu. We were initially concerned that there was only one hour, but everything worked out fine as our flight left on time and got in a few minutes early. When we checked in for our flight, we had the option of upgrading to Economy Plus for $54 each. Those familiar with United are aware that these seats give five more inches of leg room. The $54 covered the 2 hour flight to San Francisco and the five hour flight to Honolulu. It was well worth it. When we landed in Honolulu a Princess representative was waiting for us in the baggage pick up area. Once we identified our luggage, a porter was waiting to take it to the shuttle bus.
Our pre cruise hotel was the Royal Hawaiian. Checking in was very easy. At check in we were provided with the hours and locations where Princess representatives would be available in the event we had any questions. Our room was very nice with a view of the pool and Waikiki Beach. This is a classic old hotel with an excellent location. The Mai Tai bar is a very nice place to have a drink and a meal and to just look at the beach and ocean. Everything in Hawaii is very expensive and the food and beverage at this hotel was no exception. However, it is easy to walk to other restaurants since the hotel is so centrally located. We used the hotel's concierge service to book a trip through town and to the Arizona Memorial. After two nights it was finally time to head to the Tahitian Princess. Our luggage was picked up in our room at 10:00 AM and we sat around at the Mai Tai bar until 1:00 PM when an air-conditioned bus picked us up for the 20 minute ride to the pier.
EMBARKATION -- Embarkation was speedy and orderly. We were initially concerned that with several busses arriving at once this would not be the case. However, we were probably through embarkation and on the ship within 15 minutes after getting off the bus. THE CABIN - We booked an AB category mini suite. All mini suites are located on deck 8. We booked this cabin in June 2006 so we had our choice of cabins. This cabin is the last cabin in the AB category. The cabin next to ours was an AA category cabin. Our cabin was beautiful and spacious. I have read many complaints on Cruise Critic concerning the mattresses on Princess ships, but have never experienced this problem myself. Our mattress on the TP was very soft and I could not even begin to understand what an egg crate mattress cover would accomplish. The only complaint we had about our cabin was the lack of electrical outlets. There is one in the bathroom located on the hair dryer. There are two at the desk area. However, they are so close to the desk that our battery charger for the camera could not be plugged in at the desk which left only the bathroom. Our balcony was very private and quiet. I was a little concerned about the quiet factor prior to boarding the ship since we are just below the panorama buffet and pool deck. However, this was never a problem.
We have previously had mini suites on the Grand Class ships, which provide extra room by being longer than the standard balcony cabins. On the TP, the minis are the same length, but are wider than the standard balcony cabin. Looking at the cabins on decks 6 & 7 from the balcony of our cabin, the difference became more obvious. Two minis on deck 8 took the same floor space as three balcony cabins. This allows the bathroom to be longer, which provides for a nice sized tub. However, please be warned that there are no grab bars on the tub, which is surprising considering how many days this ship spends at sea and the fact that the ship is not near as stable as the larger Princess ships.THE SHIP -- After a quick check of our room we were off to the Panorama Buffet for lunch and a self-guided tour of the ship. This is one of the smallest ships we have ever sailed upon and it only took us a little time to locate all the public areas and get a feel for the ship. The Tahitian Princess had been in wet dock for the six days prior to our cruise. I must say that the ship was in very nice condition. It has an understated elegance about it that is different from what is seen on so many other cruise ships. The Panorama Buffet, pool, spa and gym are all located on deck 9. The Panorama Buffet was directly above us and since our cabin was very near the rear staircase, it was easy to get to. Decks 6, 7 & 8 are cabin decks exclusively. Deck 5 is home to the restaurant in the rear of the ship and the show lounge in the front of the ship. In between are the casino, a couple of ship stores and the grand staircase to deck 4. Deck 4 is the main entrance to the ship and the purser's desk. Deck 10 has several important public areas in the rear of the ship including Sabatini's, the Steak House and the library. We fell in love with the library. If all ships had libraries this nicely stocked, I would never need to bring another book from home to read.
By the time we returned to our cabin from lunch and our quick tour, our luggage was waiting for us.
FOOD SERVICE - There is no anytime dining available on this ship. We had second seating, which we had enjoyed in the past, but I must say we are getting too old to eat that late. That is why we like anytime dining. The early seating is often too early when we have been on a long excursion, but 8:15 is too late if we need to be up early the next morning for an excursion. We had a table for six and really enjoyed our table mates. The food was very good. Our waiter made recommendations every night and whenever I followed his recommendation I was not disappointed.
We never used the restaurant for breakfast or lunch. We ate every breakfast and lunch in the Panorama Buffet. I would rate this food as very good also. I enjoyed the fresh eggs and omelets at the outdoor grill for breakfast and also had a hamburger at the grill a couple of times at lunch. The buffet closes at 5:30 pm at which time table cloths are placed on the table turning it into a pizza bistro beginning at 6:00 pm. My wife and I decided a couple of months ago that we were not going to partake in formal nights on this cruise and were prepared to eat pizza on the two formal nights. We were pleasantly surprised to find that, unlike what we were led to believe, the Panorama Buffet does open for dinner from 6:00 to 9:00 pm. This may be something new, but it was nice to be able to eat Beef Wellington in the buffet at the same time those who were dressed formally ate it in the restaurant. If you chose to eat pizza rather than the buffet, you order from a menu at the table and wait for your pizza to be delivered.
ENTERTAINMENT -- Cruise Director JJ was very friendly, but it did not seem that he or his staff was well organized. There were many times that the times listed in the Princess Patter for certain events were different than when the events actually occurred. We had a comedian onboard who performed twice and was quite funny. Most of the shows were performed by the ship's own dancers. These shows were average at best. I'm assuming that it may be hard to get good entertainment on a 12 night cruise that has five days between Hawaii and Tahiti. However, I would not recommend this cruise to those who really enjoy good entertainment and consider such entertainment to be an important factor in the cruise experience. CASINO -- The casino is small, but on this particular cruise it did not matter. You could go to the casino any day of the cruise (the casino is not open at all while the ship is in Hawaii) and at any time and find hardly a person at the tables and only a few at the slot machines. The cruise staff even stated that they did not understand where everyone was. On the first day out of Hawaii, the weather was not that good with a lot of rain in the afternoon. You would expect that since this was the first day the casino was open and since the weather kept the sunbathers inside that the casino would be crowded. This was not the case. I think there were two or three people at the tables. For the blackjack fans, I must say this casino will be a disappointment. There were two blackjack tables to start the cruise, but only one at the end of the cruise. The other was converted to a 5-card poker table. The disappointment will be the fact that the blackjack tables use a continuous shuffling shoe. After a couple of hands are played, the discarded cards are put in the back of this shuffler, which shuffles them in with the rest of the six decks.
The other tables on board consist of a roulette table, a 3-card poker table and a "fun 21" table. This last table is a version of blackjack that removes the queens, pays immediately and all 21's and some other variations of the original game. The best part of this version of blackjack is that they actually hand shuffle the cards prior to placing them in the shoe.
PORTS OF CALL - This cruise left Honolulu on day 1 at 11:00 pm. Our first Port of Call was Kauai. My wife and I took an all day tour booked through Princess of Waimea Canyon & Wailua River, which included the fern grotto. It was an enjoyable excursion and the bus driver was very friendly and knowledgeable. Our second stop was Lahaina on Maui. We did not book a tour. This port of call requires a tender to shore. We spent the day walking around the beautiful town of Lahaina and enjoyed a couple of drinks at The Bubba Gump Shrimp Company.The next day found us on Hilo. Again we used Princess to book an all day tour to the Volcano National Park. This was a fascinating excursion especially the short hike through a lava tube in the rain forest. Days 4 and 5 were sea days as were days 7 and 8. Day 6 found us on Christmas Island so named because Captain Cook discovered it on Christmas Eve. The best thing to say about this stop is that it gives you a chance to get off the ship for a few hours. There is not a lot to do, but some of the hand made crafts are quite nice and buying a couple of pieces helps this very poor island to survive. This island also requires the use of tenders and the water is so shallow, the tenders can only take 40 people at a time.
Day 9 found us on Bora Bora, which was undoubtedly the most beautiful island on the trip. My wife and I did the helmet dive. If you do nothing else on the entire cruise, you must do the helmet dive. They run this excursion several times during the day as only 12 people at once can get on the small boat that takes you to the dive boat. Once on the dive boat, six people at a time go on the dive. You do not need to be an experienced diver to do this excursion. You start down a ladder until your shoulders reach the water level. A helmet with weights is lowered onto your head. This helmet has air pumped into it and the pressure keeps any water from entering. Once the helmet is on, you continue down the steps until you are standing on the ocean floor, which is 10 feet under the surface. It is an amazing experience. You will be give bread to feed the fish. The stingrays will be swimming all around you. All I can say is try it!!
Day 10 and we are on Raiatea. Pretty scenery, but we just walked around the port town and looked at how expensive everything was. We did not do any excursions. Day 11 found us on Moorea. It was a cloudy and rainy day. We rented a car at the pier and drove around the island. It is only 36 km around the island. There were a lot of photo ops, but it was a Sunday and many shops were closed.
DEBARKATION - Day 12 found us in Papeete and the end of our cruise. Princess does not rush passengers out of their stateroom or off the ship. In fact, those passengers flying back to the States are allowed to stay on the ship until around 7:30 pm since the only flight leaves at 10:00 pm. All passengers must leave their staterooms by 10:00 am since the embarking passengers begin arriving at 11:30 am. Debarking passengers are allowed to use all of the ship facilities until they leave the ship. We had a post cruise package arranged through Princess at the Intercontinental Hotel. We were transported from the ship at 1:00 pm to our hotel. Retrieving our luggage was very easy and there was a truck waiting to take the luggage to the hotel.
POST CRUISE - The Intercontinental is stunning. Upon arriving at the hotel, Princess had a desk setup that made check in easy. Once we were given our room keys we went over to the arriving luggage and identified our bags. They were delivered to our room about ½ hour later. We had a panoramic view room on the second floor. This is not a high rise hotel. It is only three stories high, but spread over a large area giving every room a view of the ocean. Our panoramic view room opened right out to the ocean. Be prepared for costs that will shock you unless you have been to Tahiti before. There are no restaurants close to the hotel so unless you have a rental car or take a taxi, your food choices are limited. On our first night, my wife had a bowl of spaghetti; nothing else. Her meal cost 2200 fbp or $26.00. The food was just okay. Our best meal was a hamburger on the last day. It cost 1440 fbp or $17.00 including French fries. The best parts of this hotel are the pools. We spent an entire day at the secondary pool which includes a sand beach, lounge chairs and some umbrellas. The bottom of this pool is also sand and the pool is built as an infinity edge pool overlooking the ocean. It also had a swim up bar. It was a great way to end our vacation. The one negative concerning the post cruise is the long time between checking out of the hotel room and the flight home. Some guests were able to get a late checkout time of 1:30 pm, but most of us had to be out of our rooms by 11:00 am so the rooms could be cleaned for arriving guests. Since the flight was not scheduled to leave until 10:00 pm, we had 8 and ½ hours to kill until the shuttle to the airport arrived. Our shuttle bus arrived timely and our luggage was transported to the airport in a separate truck. The worst part of the entire trip was getting through the check-in line at the Papeete airport. Just about everyone essentially arrives at the same time, 2 to 3 hours prior to the scheduled departure, and Air Tahiti Nui does not seem prepared although they do this every night. We picked up our luggage and got in line. It took more than an hour to reach the front of the line. Of course the flight was two hours late departing, which we understand is very normal so it's not like we were in a rush. (If you have tight connections in L.A. you might want to consider changing your connecting flight.) The flight itself was nice and smooth. They serve two meals, which is a little strange considering the flight left at midnight. The plane is very nice except that there is absolutely no leg room. It was obviously not designed for anyone over 5' 8".
CONCLUSION - We really enjoyed our entire trip. Princess has done an excellent job with the transfers and pre and post cruise packages and we would not hesitate on using the transfer program again when the situation calls for it. The islands were beautiful as was the ship. The crew was friendly and well trained. Those choosing this ship and itinerary should be prepared for lots of movement. The seas around Hawaii were rough as was the first sea day. The ship is not very stable and if you are prone to motion sickness I would advise a different cruise. Even when the seas are calm, this ship moves a lot. It just isn't a very stable platform. My wife and I are not bothered by motion sickness, but many others were.
Even though we really enjoyed our cruise, we will probably not sail on one of these smaller ships again. We enjoy the entertainment, extra pools, smoother ride and anytime dining afforded on the larger ships.