Day 1, Friday, 4/18 Flight to Papeete from LAX via Air Tahiti Nui
Because we live in the LA area, we did not have to first travel to LAX, and boy am I glad. 8 ½ - 9 hours from LAX to PPT is a LONG flight. However, ATN's planes are newer and the service is pleasant -- two full meals (one hot, one cold), as well as all beverages complimentary. There is an in-flight entertainment unit in the seat in front of you with movies, games, etc., to keep you somewhat occupied. We thought the seats were a little narrow, but I'm 6'1" and found the leg room to be ample.
We were originally booked on the later flight (leaving LAX at 4 p.m.). So, we paid extra to be able to choose our flight and re-booked on the 1:00 flight (which departed on time). We thought the money was worth it b/c we got into PPT at 6:30 rather than 9:30. The 3 hour time difference may seem insignificant, but by the time we got to the ship we were ready for a quick dinner and bedtime. I cannot imagine if you were flying from the east coast and were an additional 3 hours lagged behind that! If you have to fly into LAX from any distance, I would highly recommend an overnight in LA to get refreshed, even if it is only at an airport hotel.
We have had hit and miss (more miss) experiences with Princess Transfers, so after consulting folks here on Cruise Critic we opted for a cab instead of the transfer. After getting through immigration in PPT, which took about 45 minutes, we grabbed our luggage, went to the curb and there were more than enough cabs to whisk us to the ship. The ship is probably 15 minutes from the airport. It was $50 USD for 3 of us, which was a little more than I had expected. I had read here to expect between 2000-2500 CFP ($28-$35 USD, but more than likely that was for 2 passengers, not 3). FYI--The current exchange rate is about 100 CFP to about 70 cents USD.
We got to embarkation (a little disorganized b/c it is outside and in the dark) and we were on board in about 15 minutes. As we are now Platinum, we did not have to wait in line, which was not long to begin with … except that there were 2 buses full of passengers on our heels (again, another reason the cab was a great idea).
We have sailed the former R Ships (from Renaissance) so we knew what to expect. If you are expecting a Grand Class ship with huge multi-story atrium, you will be disappointed. However, if you are expecting an intimate, well-appointed vessel with easy access to all decks (there are only 10 decks with most areas on decks 4-9), then you will be pleased. We actually prefer these smaller vessels over the Grand class ships. If you forget something in your cabin, you are about 2 minutes away from the furthest reaches of the ship.
The ship (built in 1999) is in pretty good shape. There are signs of wear and tear from her R days, and from what we saw, Princess has done little to modify the previous lines décor. We noticed a few bumps and bruises that need to be addressed. And, a good coat of varnish on the teak trims would be a good start. Again, the ship looks good, but could look great. It's time for Princess to freshen this ship up a bit - the furniture still has the R-ship fabrics and not only look worn, but dated. However, these are still beautiful ships, IMO.
Back to comparisons to bigger ships, there is no MUTS, there is only one pool, there is no Scoops, there is no Patisserie, there is no Skywalkers, there is no Anytime Dining (though there are alternatives). But there are only approx. 650 passengers, and you get to know your fellow passengers rather quickly and see familiar faces often.
The crew to passenger ratio seems smaller than other ships, and the crew has been fantastically attentive. The service is far above the Golden and Caribbean Princess in our opinion. More like we experienced on the Coral and the Island (still our favorites). (As you can tell, I am not particularly a fan of the large ships). We have run into crew members we met on the Regal, which has been fun.
We have a mini-suite on deck 8. The mini's on these ships are the same square footage as the other Princess ships, but they are laid out differently, without out as much built in furniture. These mini's are square, rather than rectangular and feel more like a regular hotel room rather than a ship cabin. Huge 3 panel sliding door open to a wide balcony make the room seem even bigger. Our traveling companion, Beverly, has an aft cabin on deck 6 and now I see why CC members enjoy them - huge deep balcony. Again, the layout on these ships in the regular cabins is different providing for a bathroom of approximately the same size as the other ships, BUT WITH A FULL-SIZED SHOWER, rather than an up-right tube. FYI--Our luggage did not arrive until late in the evening. You may want to consider packing some sleep-wear in your carry-on.
Day 2—Papeete, 4/19
We took the early ½ day tour of Papeete through the ship - Highlights of Paradise. The sun was quite intense, and our guide (Michael from the U.S.) said we were wise to do so, as the afternoon tour can be unbearable. The tour is mainly by bus, with several stops and is a nice introduction to the island, especially when you're still a little groggy from the previous day's flight. The last stop to a water-fall in the rainforest was absolutely awe-inspiring. We got back to the ship and had ample time for shopping at the le marche' (the market). And, b/c of advice from folks here, we stopped at the flower mart right across the street from the ship and purchased flower arrangements for our room. We got a HUGE arrangement of tropical flowers for $25, which sits on our table just in front of our window to the sea. Beverly purchased a smaller arrangement for her cabin for $20. We were also able to purchase some black pearls to wear aboard during the week. There are many shops in Papeete, so take some time to compare styles and prices.
Sail-a-way - We enjoyed the sail-a-way from our balcony (our steward delivered glasses of champagne to our cabin), but we could hear a traditional sail-a-way party taking place above us on the pool deck. As others have said, you feel the movement more on these smaller ships and this is the Pacific ocean, not the Caribbean or the oft glass-like Mediterranean. So, if you're prone to sea sickness, you will have to make sure to take your ginger or Bonine with you on these ships.
Day 3- 4/20 - Huahine!
Through these boards, we found Marc's Motu Picnic online, and Marc did not disappoint. The price is extremely reasonable ($130/pp) for the entire day. Marc meets you right at the tender pier, where you step right back on to outrigger canoe-style boats that seat approximately 10 people each. It was raining when we started out, but it quickly cleared by the time we got to our first snorkel spot. This snorkel was more like walking (water shoes a must!) and putting your face mask in the water. The water was clear as can be, and the coral and fish were great. Before leaving LA, I bought an underwater camera case specifically made for my Canon Sure Shot (found on Canon's website) and it has been the best investment I could have made. The pictures are so much better than disposable underwater cameras I have used in the past.
After a while, we got back into the boat and traveled to a pearl farm. It was very interesting and the setting is unreal, set in the middle of a lagoon in a hut. Glenn and Beverly found another place to shop, even in the middle of the water! But the description of the pearl making process is informative, and you can just sit and enjoy the fish all around. I even got to see a pretty good-sized octopus!
After the pearl farm, our boat guide then took us to another part of the island, just inside of the coral reef for a "drift snorkel." If you have never done this, they drop you off at one point in the bay and the current (probably around 10 knots) whisks you down current. All you have to do is float and look down with your snorkel mask, and you basically are treated to a live underwater movie as it passes by about 10-20 feet below you. The boat travels nearby and at the end of the current, you get back into the boat and head for shore for your motu picnic.
The motu is a small beach head, where there was a small shack and picnic tables in the surf. Marc was there cooking fresh fish. Musicians played music, our boat guide broke open coconuts, and made fresh tuna salad with lime juice and raw coconut. We had lunch, drank (too much) rum punch, the local beer (Hinano), waded in the surf, and just had a fantastic day. There was dancing, a demonstration of tying pareau's, and other great fun. I cannot recommend this excursion enough.
Too soon, the conch shell was blown and it was time to return to our outriggers for our last trek across the bay to the Tahitian Princess. Needless to say, we were exhausted upon our return. A nap in our cabin, followed by pizza in the Pizzeria (very good) and back to bed. Some may seek night life on the ship, but after our day of swimming, sunning, snorkeling, eating, drinking, etc., we were ready to turn in early. Next up, Day at Sea and Raratonga ---
Day 4 - Day At Sea to Cook Islands, 4/21
As said before, these ships are small by today's super-sized standards. Sea days are still as relaxing, and there are activities around the pool (Deck 9) throughout the day, as well as quieter sunning on Deck 10 overlooking the pool and the ocean. Indoor activities are pretty much all of the same activities you see on the other ships, but smaller in scale. FYI--You cannot bring too much sun-screen on this trip. We have already had to replenish our supply at somewhat overpriced prices. The ship travels at quite a clip to get from the Society Islands to the Cook Islands for our day in Raratonga. So, again, you definitely feel the motion of the ocean. Most people on board seem to have their sea legs, though, and I have heard few complaints.
We have noticed that the sales pitches on this ship (for the wine tasting, or the photographs, or the spa treatments, etc., etc., etc.) are almost non-existent, which is refreshing and a welcome change from the big ships (there I go again).
I played the 5 cent slots in the Casino for a bit and did quite well … until I gave it all back. I have read other complaints about the size of the casino. It is small, but I have yet to see it crowded such that you cannot play at a machine or a table if you want. Sometimes, I think people just want bigger for bigger's sake, regardless of whether they actually use it. The casino is set within the Casino lounge, which is like a study or a country club, making it a nice place to sit and enjoy a cocktail and watch the action going on around you.
We finished off the afternoon with a mai-tai in the Tahitian lounge (Deck 10 forward). The Tahitian lounge is a very nice, large public room with an almost panoramic view from the bow of the ship, of which we were virtually the only occupants. There are places aboard these ships where you can feel as if it's your personal yacht and you are the only passengers.
We have been blessed with four absolutely charming table mates from Wales (two married couples) and a solo traveler from Switzerland. Our evenings are filled with rambunctious discussions of politics from our respective countries, as well as the more mundane cultural anomalies such as television. It is so enjoyable to meet people from other places. I'll never understand those that come aboard and only want a table for 2 for the duration of the cruise, just so they do not have to meet people. When the waiters came to our table to present us with an anniversary cake (10 years!), at first some - including our waiter -- were confused, but then all around sang along to congratulate us. By the way, if you can request a table with Toma (our waiter) and Attila (assistant waiter), you will have want for nothing. Two of the best we have ever had on Princess.
FYI—Formal night on the Tahitian is just as formal on other ships, if not more so IMO. These folks are not afraid to put on their finest. As always there were a few who opted not to bring their formal wear (or even make an attempt at their Sunday best), but still feel compelled to dine in the main restaurant, as opposed to the Panorama buffet. Perhaps it was a bit of a protest, but the young gent in torn blue jeans (whose beautiful young lady-friend/wife opted for a simple, but very pretty black cocktail dress) looked more ridiculous than made a fashion statement. For or against the dress code notwithstanding, it is the dress code.
Day 5 - Raratonga, 4/22
As we came up upon Raratonga in the early morning, one could not tell that the sea around this atoll is tough to tame. The swells and the currents are treacherous. As we dined on breakfast in the Panorama Buffet, the captain came on board to announce that the currents prevented him from keeping the ship in a relatively fixed position and that we may not be able to go to shore. Most people took it in stride, and simply hoped for the best. You could most definitely see and feel the ship being turned about in the waves as the island would appear in a window and then quickly move to the back of the ship, and vice versa. However, within the hour, the captain pronounced it safe enough to commence tendering. He did apologize that the process would be slow. That being said, we returned to our cabin to gather our shore-side provisions and proceeded to the cabaret lounge. We obtained a ticket and within a few minutes we were boarding a tender to shore. This captain obviously does not know what "slow" means, or has never been on a 2,600 passenger ship (I know, I know … let it go).
We had prearranged 3 motor-scooters for our day. But when we got to the rental agency (5 minute walk from the pier), we opted for a small cabriolet motorcar. This allowed us to secure our belonging in a small trunk, and the roads looked a little dangerous for novice scooter riders. We stopped at the market near-by and loaded up on some diet Coke and a local beer from New Zealand. Raratonga appears to be the playground for the New Zealanders. The island is full of resorts. There are basically two main roads, the outside road and an inside road. They both circle the island. Glenn quickly got used to driving on the so-called "right" (i.e., correct or left) side of the road. We circled the island quickly, which is almost completely circled by a coral reef. We found a snorkeling spot on the southwest side of the island. The water was a bit murky, but still enjoyable. Stronger swimmers could probably see more by swimming out to the edge of the reef. We spoke with someone from the ship who actually took a snorkeling tour, and they said the snorkeling from a boat on the fringes of the reef was spectacular.
We did some more shopping. There is a difference between Tahitian pearls and Cook Island pearls … but I could not tell you the difference. We found a great restaurant on the Muri lagoon called Sails. It was tough to find, as there is very little signage, but the setting is indescribably beautiful and the food was good. The scenery on the island is a beautiful mixture of beaches and mountains.
Our quiet day in Raratonga was capped off by a wine and cheese party on Beverly's balcony. Once again, we were too relaxed for a formal dinner in the dining room. I retired to our cabin, and Glenn and Beverly stopped by the Panorama buffet.
About the Panorama buffet - This room has a limited amount of space, and can get rather hectic (esp. in the mornings) but if you wait for a bit the crowd will thin out and they will either settle out by the pool or on the aft deck that offers dining out of doors. We have often shared tables for breakfast, offering the opportunity to meet more people on the ship. The buffet has traditional food stations. During the morning the Pizzeria window offers custom-made omelets. Throughout the day, pizza is offered there by the slice. During the evening, the Panorama is set with table clothes sort of café style, with the buffet offering the same food that's in the dining room, and the Pizzeria serves full pizzas for dinner. It is a great alternative to the main dining room and makes it workable for those who would prefer Anytime Dining. There is also a grill serving hot dogs, hamburgers and fries. The Panorama does not offer 24-hour service, as does the Horizon Courts on the other ships. It does remain open but only with fruits, cookies and some desserts. But there is the Princess room service menu for those in need of a snack in the night.
Day 6 - Day at Sea
Today was a reverse of Day 4. We're headed back to the Society Islands from the Cook Islands. We were really hitting some waves during the day, and it was fun to watch the splash around the bow of the ship from Deck 5, though I'm not sure the folks in those front cabins enjoyed the ride as the spray came up to Deck 5! We found a great place to pull up a lounge chair and be sheltered from the wind for reading and just gazing at the sea. On either side of Deck 5 is a quasi-promenade. It does not circle the ship, but offers ample space on either side of the ship and the loungers out there are nicer than by the pool. Later we spent time by the pool talking with new friends about tomorrow's excursions in Raiatea.
Day 7 - Raiatea, 4/24/08
It's all going too fast.
I awoke early as we approached Raiatea. The ship docks here, so it was interesting to see it pull up to the pier. Through a Cruise Critic referral, we found Bruno's l'excursion bleu online ($140/pp for the day). Bruno picks you up in his 12 person outrigger right near the ship at the Texaco station. We opted for the Tahaa Pearl Farm excursion, which also included snorkeling and a picnic. It was pretty rainy today, and we realized that some rip-stop fabric wind/rain breakers would have been a good idea for this trip; something that folds up on itself and zips into a pouch would have been perfect. (We have since found Princess logo wear that fits the bill perfectly).
Our first stop was Monique's pearl farm. This was yet another opportunity to see the pearl business up close. However, it was at a family pearl farm that looks somewhat like a southern plantation. Monique invited us into the beautiful enclosed porch attached to her home. We all sat around a large round table and she explained the grades of pearls, how they are classified, etc. Then she proceeded to bring out boxes and boxes and boxes of Tahitian pearls. It was a bit overwhelming, but they sure were beautiful. It was like looking into a treasure chest at times. Monique also makes the jewelry she sells, and it is also beautiful. A few people purchased some nice pieces, including a young honeymoon couple from Cruise Critic. She got a great deal, and she picked out a great piece consisting of three pearls in white gold. It was fun to share that event with them, though Hubby may now have to wait a while longer for his motorbike.
Luckily while we were viewing the goods, it poured outside. About the time it stopped, we moved on to our next stop, the vanilla plantation. We got a tour that went into the jungle a bit, with refreshments of fresh juice, green grapefruit, fresh coconut and mango.
Our next stop was a motu for a bit of snorkeling and a picnic. Be sure to check out the "Tahiti Drink" in the easy pour cartons. The snorkeling was a bit disappointing b/c much of the coral seems to be dead. However, they did have some pens in the ocean with various fish we had never seen alive, including a puffer fish. Bruno was able to coax him into puffing up, extending his large quills. There was also a pen with 3 black-tipped sharks, each about 4-5feet long. We were able to get in the pen with them and got some great close up pictures of the sharks. At this point, this was the highlight of the day for me at least, until our next and final stop.
Bruno took us to another part of the island for a drift snorkel. It is at a coral garden just shy of the reef overlooking Bora Bora. And, it was almost as if Bruno hit a switch to cue the sun breaking the overcast day. If the theme music to Bali Hai had started up, I would not have been surprised. The setting was incredible, and the snorkeling was exactly what you're expecting to see here. It was like putting your head into an aquarium. Unfortunately, the walk along the beach (near a private resort) to get to the start of the drift snorkel was disconcerting, as there was litter all over the place. Plastic bottles, beer cans, etc. Perhaps it's the locals, perhaps it is the tourists, but it was a sad sight indeed. In addition, no one in Tahiti has instructed us to avoid touching the coral, which we learned in Hawaii can kill it. But once in the water, the show started with all of the brilliant colors coming to life. Bruno fed the fish bananas to gather them around. We spent quite a bit of time there, and Bruno never rushed us to leave. On the way home, Bruno served us mai-tai's that he mixed while driving the boat. Aside from a few scrapes and cuts from the coral, it was a splendid day, and we highly recommend Bruno. You have to be prepared to be rained on here every now and again, but the sun is usually not too far behind.
The ship stayed tied up all night in Raiatea, and if there is any night life ashore, we did not look for it, as this was also Island Night aboard the ship. If you've never sailed with Princess, usually there is an Island Night and everyone is encouraged to wear island wear that they either brought with them, or purchased in the islands. The majority of folk participated, and many had purchased leis and head dresses while on Raiatea to supplement their garb. After dinner, we were treated to a troupe of local dancers out on deck below an almost full moon, followed by the traditional Princess champagne waterfall (smaller and on deck this time, as there is no atrium).
This ship offers the closest thing I have seen on Princess to an old-fashioned midnight buffet. During the show, the galley staff was setting up a dessert buffet on deck, complete with ice sculptures and carved vegetables and fruit. A plethora of desserts was set out, including bananas Foster. Again, another attribute of a small ship, in my opinion. Princess could never do this with 2,500-3,000 passengers. But for a few hundred, anything is possible. Well done.
Day 8 - At Sea, Bora Bora, 4/25/08
This morning we scheduled our Ultimate Balcony Breakfast ("UBB"), a surprise gift to us from our shore-side friends, Ana and Tracy. We combined ours with the same gift to Beverly for a feast on our balcony. The wait staff arrived promptly at 9:00 a.m. and set out a HUGE assortment of crab, smoked salmon, pastries, and of course, champagne. We had so much food they had to put some trays on the bed! We decided on this morning as we sailed from Raiatea at 6:30 a.m., and to not arrive into Bora Bora until noon. Now, mind you, Bora Bora is clearly visible, so all we're really doing is a "scenic sail" (as stated in the Patter) around the waters off of Raiatea, Tahaa and Bora Bora. Thus, the perfect day for the UBB. Even if someone is not kind enough to surprise you with a UBB, at $28/pp, it is worth it. We thoroughly enjoyed it. And b/c you have to order the UBB in pairs (the only down-side if you're traveling alone or with 3), we offered our fourth extra breakfast to our room stewardess, which she thoroughly appreciated. While we have never done the Ultimate Balcony Dinner, we have seen them being set up every now and again, and it also looks fine!
Today we are scheduled for a 4-wheel drive excursion (through Princess) on Bora Bora. Tonight, we're planning on meeting several shipmates (and crew members) at Bloody Mary's. Of course, it would not be a trip to Bora Bora (believed to be the inspiration for Bali Hai) without a trip to Bloody Mary's. We'll see if Mary truly eats beetle nuts. Tomorrow, we have scheduled an independent jet-ski tour of the island.
Continuing on in Bora Bora -
On Day 1, we took the Tupuna Mountain Safari through Princess. A+++ Highly recommend. However, it is not for the faint of heart, those who get motion sickness or those with back injuries. If you have ever been on the Indiana Jones Ride at Disneyland, it's a lot like that, just without seat belts and it lasts 3 hours! You travel in covered Land Rovers, and the roads - be them as they may - are pretty much non-existent; more paths than anything else. But you get to see the most magnificent 360 degree views from basically the top of the island. Our guide, Karen, was very knowledgeable about the plants we encountered in the jungle and she was a real pleasure. We saw her today taking her next "victims" up the mountain. After a dash back to the ship for a shower and change of clothes, we tendered back to shore for our evening at Bloody Mary's. The restaurant is very cute with its thatched roof and sand floor. Sort of like Trader Vics, but actually on an island. So, it's a bit kitschy, but fun none the less. We did not have reservations, but as we were on the ship, they made accommodations for us. The owner explains the "menu" at the front of the restaurant. The "menu" is basically all the fresh fish laid out for your choosing, as well as appetizers. The food was good, not great. It was a much quieter atmosphere than what we were expecting. But it was a fun experience, and you should go even if just to have a beer or cocktail.
Day 9 (Day 2 in Bora Bora), 4/26: Today was our wave runner tour completely around Bora Bora. We booked it through Matira Jet Tours online. It is by far the priciest thing we scheduled at almost $250/pp, but it was fantastic. Nothing like being on the crystal clear ocean that is changing colors by the mile at around 50 mph. We each got a separate wave runner (you could double up and cut the price in half, but riding in back was a challenge for the couple that did it). Our guide took us pretty much full throttle completely around the island. We stopped at his family's motu (note to self, scratch plans for condo in Palm Springs and get family motu, oh and wave runners) for more fresh coconut and fruit. It was a great day. Again, highly recommend this tour. Bora Bora is as magical as they say.
Day 10, Moorea, 4/27:
We learned that Moorea is pronounced "Moh - O'reya." But today's tour, the Motu Island Beach and Barbecue, did not live up to our prior excursions. We booked it through Princess, as it was difficult to find anything online for the island. From what we saw there is also little dockside (the other ports had many independent excursions) that you might be able to book just stepping off the ship. In retrospect, we probably should have just taken the day off from touring, gone ashore and relaxed. The motu setting was nice enough, but it was much more crowded than our previous excursions and we have become spoiled in this sense (probably 150 people today versus 10-15 on our prior excursions). We had a bit of a weather front hit right at the end of our tour, just as we came back to the dock. The hardest rain we have seen while here, and the seas became quite rough for a while, such that they held the tendered dockside for at least 15 minutes before casting off. We're having quite a vigorous sail back to Papeete, and it is still quite stormy outside. So much for our last sail-a-way party on deck; but last night's leaving Bora Bora was quite fun.
We're also kind of regretting booking the Papenoo Valley and Waterfall by 4WD in Papeete (esp. if the weather keeps up like this). We now wish we had just booked a massage or other spa treatment sometime in the afternoon before leaving the ship. We're taking the early tour, so maybe we'll come back on board and get one anyway! We're pretty tired from a wonderful vacation, and all felt that one more sea day before arriving back in Papeete would have made the trip perfect. But no such luck.
Our last evening was great fun. We exchanged e-mail address with several people, including our delightful table mates and even some of the crew. Again, if you're sailing the Tahitian soon, upon embarkation, I would immediately see the Maitre D' to see if you can change your table so that you will be with Toma and his assistant, Attila. They made every evening's meal extra special, and we made sure to inform their superiors both in person and with "You Made A Difference" cards, as well as an additional tip for each of them.
Day 11, Papeete, 4/28:
As mentioned, we booked the Papenoo Valley tour mainly to be secured with a place in the spa for a pre-flight shower (more about that later). Much of the Valley tour was a repeat of the Highlights of Paradise Tour discussed above, with the latter being better IMO. The Valley is beautiful, but full of mosquitoes and, much like other parts of the islands, blighted by litter. Our guide informed us that on weekends (be forewarned if your day is on a weekend), the Valley is full of locals barbecuing, drinking and generally having a good time. Not that I mind meeting the locals, they are charming people, but from the remnants of the previous weekend (we were there on Monday), it is clear that the locals do have a problem with cleaning up after themselves (not that Americans are any better to their lands). In retrospect, I don't think we would have missed anything by simply making a pass through the market for last minute souvenirs and gifts, and then having a foot reflexology in the spa for about the same price to get that shower.
It's interesting to note that the local guides all commented that without tourism, the islands would be finished (they're already noting the effects of our economy on their tourism). Nonetheless, the locals apparently do not see trash on their island as a liability. (By comparison, Raratonga in the Cook Islands was markedly better in this aspect.) I may have already stated this, but while in the Caribbean, I was particularly impressed by the guides' pulling aside without hesitation to retrieve a plastic grocery bag out of the ocean or to pick up an errant water bottle or can. I may be overly sensitive to this, but it was noticeable on every island (except Raratonga). And the graffiti on Tahiti itself rivals Los Angeles on any day. Oh well, enough of that.
When we returned to the Tahitian Princess we had found that we had been invaded by strangers all to ready to take our places! Who were these strange people?!!! It is a bit crowded in the buffet with the "old" communing with the "new," but we struggled through it. After lunch, we lounged by the pool and watched all the newcomers with their ship maps and shore excursion forms laying out their plans for the next voyage. Mutiny crossed our minds for a bit, but then it was time to prepare for our journey home.
Around 4 p.m., we retrieved our carry on luggage from the checked area at "The Grill," which was a very organized operation. We proceeded to the spa, where our names were checked off an excursion list, and we were shown to the locker rooms for the showers. We had not ventured to the spa at all, but it looked pretty much like all the other ships' Steiner spas. I spent about 15 minutes in the steam room, which was very nice and huge. However, more space should have been devoted to more showers (only 2), perhaps another water closet (only 1) and more locker room area (not Princess's fault, as they did not design the space). We were the first 2 in the locker room at 4:15. By 4:45, the locker room was packed and the heat and steam were pretty much unbearable. (So, if you're planning this, be sure to get their earlier, rather than later.) By this point, I was just about dressed, but for my shoes and socks. So I escaped into air-conditioned reception area, to don the aforementioned. Just as I was about to sit down, I was scolded (yes, scolded) by the Steiner receptionist that I could not wait in this area, as they were making way for the new passengers and that the reception area had too look nice, just as it had when we boarded. I was floored. Mind you, I was completely clothed and dry. The area was more than ample sized. I informed her that I had no intention of waiting there, that I only was sitting down to put on my socks and shoes as there was no space left in the locker room. The instruction was not offensive, as I could have easily been instructed to proceed to adjacent gym and used a bench to sit. It was the manner in which it was delivered. I am not a complainer by nature, but I did make a point of mentioning it to the spa manager, who was on duty. He responded with a shrug of the shoulders. We do intend to send a letter to Princess that if they are going to allow passengers to remain onboard for the afternoon of disembarkation, their vendors (i.e., Steiner) need to be reminded that we are still guests. It left a bad taste in our mouth. Again, I would recommend a spa treatment over the shore excursion, but for the fact that I am done dealing with the attitude of the folks at Steiner (this was not my first experience with the vendor).
With that exception, all of the staff and crew were still ready to please on that last day. And, the ones we had gotten to know made sure to let us know we were appreciated during our stay.
Because of advice here on CC (thanks, Toto), we left the ship about 5:30 p.m. (the first bus was scheduled to leave around 6 p.m.) We claimed our luggage under the tent at the end of the pier, and grabbed a cab for the airport (this time, only $40 for the 3 of us). When we got to the airport, the ATN counter as not open, but the sight of the sea of luggage pre-transported from the ship to be claimed by the folks on the transfer was daunting. We got in line with about 20-30 of other early arrivers and waited for about 50 minutes before the counters opened. As we waited, the transfers started arriving and the line grew and grew and grew. (again, THANKS TOTO for advising us to get off early). The ATN counter opened, and but for a problem with their electronic scales) we were through the line fairly quickly and were able to relax in a small restaurant before the security area to the gates were opened. There is also a fair amount of airport shopping for last minute souvenirs and gifts, etc., with actually some pretty good selections.
After clearing security, we stopped by the tax refund counter (not sure of the actual name) to have the forms stamped by the officials for a refund of tax for certain purchases made in the islands (don't ask me the rules or criteria, I've never read up on them. I just give them the forms as instructed by the shops).
In summary, we thought this was an excellent cruise that exceeded our expectations. Traveling that far can bring glitches and you have to roll with the punches. We were very lucky, however, and really had few. We heard quite a few complaints about the Purser's desk, but we ourselves did not have any. It does appear to be understaffed during peak hours, though. We had an issue with the shore excursion desk that does not bear repeating. But, Michela, the shore excursion person is quite curt and somewhat impersonal.
We cannot really comment much on the onboard entertainment. The band on board who entertained on deck was very good. We think they were on the CB with us. They also played in the evening in the Tahitian lounge, but we never stayed up late enough to see them there. We never saw any of the shows in the cabaret lounge. Again, we were up early on virtually every day and by the end of dinner, we were ready for bed. I did poke my head in on the Ports O' Call show by the onboard entertainers. It was more like a review you'd see at Club Med by the staff, rather than a professional production. I would not say it was bad, but you have to adjust your expectations from the large production shows on the big ships. We did not try "The Grill"; however, our table mates (one of whom is a retired butcher) tried it, and said it was enjoyable and good. We also did not make it to Sabatini's this trip, but I overheard one gentleman raving about it, that it was excellent. Our tablemates also did the Ultimate Balcony Dinner and said it was outstanding, both food and service wise. IMO Princess can always stand improvement on the food in the dining room and buffet, and this trip was no exception. I agreed with our butcher friend, nothing really to complain about; just nothing really "popped."
The Tahitian has one more cruise ahead of it before it begins its repositioning to Alaska. Then, it has one more season in Tahiti before being renamed the Ocean Princess. It is my understanding that the Pacific Princess, a sister ship, will take the Tahitian's place for seasons in French Polynesia. It is good to know that Princess is not completely abandoning this itinerary.
Thanks to all of the CC members who offered pre-cruise advice. It made all the difference in preparing for this cruise.