Eighteen months in the planning, this was my ultimate dream! The South Pacific! Tahiti! Bora Bora! Even when we were leaving for the airport I could hardly believe it was really happening!
An eleven hour flight took us to LAX. Have the US Immigration Officials attended Charm School? For the first time ever entering the States we were made to feel welcome! Overnighted at an airport hotel. Felt we should see something of Los Angeles so booked a city tour. It didn't get us back to the hotel till 11p.m. - and you could recognize the Brits - we were the ones who were all asleep!
Up next morning for the onward eight and a half hour flight to Papeete! Transfer to the ship went smoothly and we were quickly on board. I was glad we had upgraded to a mini-suite as it was only about as big as a balcony cabin on P&O ships but it was immaculate, the champagne was chilled and waiting and our cabin steward was friendly and accommodating - although it was a little odd that he only provided bath robes on request! We had booked a 4X4 tour of Tahiti which was great fun in the rain, and the children playing at the ford enjoyed splashing us!
Next morning we woke up as we cruised into Huahine to an amazing rainbow which reflected on the sea and seemed to circle all round the ship. Amazing! I took photos but they didn't really do it justice! I think this was (one of) my favorite islands - absolutely stunning!
Next stop was Raratonga in the Cook Islands - where the lagoon is too deep to anchor so the ship had to cruise up and down while we were on shore. There was some doubt if we would be able to get ashore at all as the sea was quite rough but after a pause the tenders were lowered and we were able to disembark. The beauty of this smaller ship meant that we never had to wait long to go ashore and the islands were not swamped by thousands of invading tourists! Raratonga was lovely - they speak English, use NZ currency and the prices are MUCH lower than French Polynesia!
Next stop was Raitea where we visited a pearl farm and did an amazing Sunset Cruise. Then to Bora Bora (my favorite island?) The crew advised us to go up on deck for the sail in to harbor and we were so glad we did! The views were amazing! One lady, who had been treated to the trip by her daughter, was in tears! We toured the island and went out on a snorkeling trip which included the opportunity to feed the rays. They are BIG - you really feel it when they swim past too close! We then went independently back to Bloody Mary's (which was much quieter after the tour buses had left) for a cocktail and delicious lunch. Final island was Moorea (which might also be my favorite)which was absolutely beautiful. We had booked the Dolphin Experience but it wasn't until we boarded that we learned we were expected to make our own way there! Strange for an organized trip! However the experience of being able to interact with these beautiful creatures made it all worth it. One problem is that Princess tell you that you can use US Dollars anywhere on the islands. You can't! The Dolphin Experience will not accept them to purchase photos (and you can't take your own camera down with you!)and many of the shops and restaurants are (understandably) reluctant to take them and will only give change in their own currencies! On Raratonga we were told by an irritated waiter "You're not in America now you know!" For your own convenience, and as a courtesy to the islands you visit I suggest getting NZ Dollars and Pacific Francs to spend. If you can't get them from your bank the Reception Desk on board will issue them but the exchange rate is not good.
I was also surprised by the lack of formality on Formal Evenings. On P&O Cruises I have found black tie to be de rigor and realizing that the majority of passengers would be American I was expecting a plethora of white tuxedos ( have I been watching too much 'Dallas'?) However, it was noticeable that few people bothered - there were some lounge suits but many men didn't even wear ties! The Brits all seemed to dress up but we were somewhat outnumbered on board - about 38 of us to 390 Americans!! (lots of other nationalities too) That's a shame - it's lovely to have the opportunity to dress up once in a while - and a girl's best accessory is a well dressed man!
We weren't quite ready to go home yet and had reserved an extension to the cruise at the Intercontinental on Tahiti - which is a fabulous hotel with two infinity pools - one with a sandy shore - and beautifully appointed rooms.But here the problems began! I cannot fault the ship - she is lovely and a nice size. The food was delicious, the cabin and public rooms spotless and welcoming and the crew charming and helpful. I will not comment on the entertainment as, after our first experience of a 'comic' so dire that we left after five minutes we didn't bother again. If I want a top notch professional show, I'll go to the West End! However any back up support from Princess after you leave the ship is negligible - even if they have organized it! Like many cruises once they have got your money and their tip at the end (and with Princess your tip is automatically added to your shipboard account - so you don't get the chance to reward those who have really been of personal help) they couldn't care less about you! When we collected our hand luggage (your main cases have to be left out the night before) the lift from the top deck was reserved for "the new passengers who were embarking" so we had to walk to the other end of the ship to find one that was operational before we could disembark. The Hotel said we had arrived too early and our rooms weren't ready (did Princess just want us out of the way perhaps?) There was no information at the hotel about our onward transfer to the airport. We only caught the shuttle because another guest came to find us when it arrived an hour earlier than we had been told to expect it. Other guests who missed it had to make their own way to the airport at their own expense. There was nobody from Princess anywhere to be seen!
On arrival at LAX the Princess Rep told me that the information on my itinerary saying we had a day room at the Marriott was wrong but that we were to go to the Hilton. She didn't bother to find the other members of our group who ended up at the Marriott and had to walk up to the Hilton when informed them that they had no reservation. The problem was that the Hilton didn't have reservations either! They directed us to the Princess Rep who was sitting at her desk. What an unpleasant woman! Despite wearing the Princess uniform she claimed that we were nothing to do with her as her responsibility was only Diamond Princess. When asked her to get the Tahitian Princess Rep she said there wasn't one and couldn't have cared less that we had just come in from an 8+ hour flight and, in about seven hours would have an 11 hour onward flight to the UK. As far as she was concerned we could camp in the lobby! It wasn't till the others arrived and the receptionist got uneasy that she got anything sorted out - despite the fact that we all had documentation offering a day room - so it took two hours before we got rooms - just about time for a shower before moving on! We had been promised a 'welcome letter' with information about our onward journey at the hotel. There was no letter and we certainly weren't made welcome! We had no alternative but to make our own way back to LAX on the Hotel shuttle. At the airport we queued for over an hour at check in and another twenty-five minutes to check our bags as one of the x-ray machines broke down. We were amused that the security official used medical gloves to handle our passports but we had to take off our shoes and walk barefoot on a filthy carpet! Once through security there was extensive building work; the travellators weren't working; there was only one loo for the whole departure area and where were the shops, restaurants and bars we are accustomed to at even the smallest of UK airports? All we found was one tiny, dark, depressing cubbyhole with about four tables offering tired plastic sandwiches, crisps and drinks.Is this an example of a progressive country? I appreciate that the nightmare that is Los Angeles Airport is not the fault of Princess but I have never before travelled with a tour company who did not feel that their job was over until we were safely delivered to the airport and checked in for our onward journey. This attitude spoiled the end of what, up to then, had been a dream that fully lived up to expectation.I have written to Princess 'Customer Services' three times but have had no reply! I would love to revisit the South Pacific Islands- the most beautiful places I have ever seen, and I have been lucky enough to visit some of the World's most amazing sights,but not with Princess and NEVER through LAX!!!!