Ocean Princess Cruise Review by Spikesgirl: Mauruuru Roa, Tahiti!
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Mauruuru Roa, Tahiti!
This afternoon, we headed for San Francisco. Because we have an earlier morning flight, we decided to use BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) into the city from Pleasanton. It takes about an hour and change to go from there to the airport, then it's simply a matter of grabbing a courtesy hotel van over to one of a dozen hotels just off the airport. We decide to try the Embassy Suites this time, since it was actually cheaper to stay there than at our usual, Red Roof Inn.
The Embassy Suites is a very nice, tropical style hotel. All the rooms open out onto a beautiful atrium with huge trees and an abundance of greenery. The down side is that if you have to lug your suitcases, then carpet is a bear to pull them over. This would have been one of those times where a bellman would have been a better choice. The room was broken into two smaller room joined by a hallway. The bedroom could be closed off from the rest of the room and they offered a More wide variety of amenities, coffee included.
Plus it's only a few minutes was from Kincaid's -one of our favorite restaurant. It was a brisk walk to the restaurant, but actually rather warm for SF. It was nice to see the place busy, since many down Stockton way struggling to find customers. For dinner, we have king crab appetizers, and Chris had skirt steak special and I had the Ahi. We skipped dessert, knowing that there will be plenty of food tomorrow on the plane. Then it was back to the hotel for an early night, as we needed to be up at 5:30.
What did surprise me was that I slept straight through the night, waking up at 5:27. At least there was time for a cup of coffee before checking out. The Embassy Suites does offer breakfast, but on the weekends it doesn't start until 7:30 - we had to catch the 6:30 shuttle, so we were doomed to airport food. We met a great couple in the lobby, also waiting for the shuttle. They were headed back home to Kauai. The shuttle was very full when it arrived and our luggage (four hard-sided Samsonite suitcases) was a bit prone to wander off the seat they were put upon. This is stuff you don't think about when choosing luggage.
We decided to do e-ticket this time and what a breeze it turned out to be. We had to check in with our bags at a special line, because we were actually checking them through to LA, but it was much shorter than usual check in line. It took about 25 minutes to get checked in, make it through security (I got frisked because I was wearing a mu'u mu'u). Breakfast took the form of Lori's Diner (one of our breakfast spots in the City). They have several branches and the airport branch provided food just as good as our regular spot. We both had omelets (there are about six to choose from) to order (with hash browns and two pieces of toast, it was $6.25 and another $1.50 for coffee). Not a bad price for airport food and it was very yummy.
The plane boarded on time and because of strong tail winds, our hour and 25 minute flight took only 45 minutes. We got in with time to spare - great, because United would not check our luggage through to Tahiti. This meant walking from Terminal 6 to Terminal 7 for baggage claim. What was a surprise was there was a Princess rep there. She wasn't there for us, of course, but was meeting folks for the Diamond. She did make a couple of suggestions as to how to get to the Tom Bradley Terminal (No. 4) a little faster. Already Princess was there for us! No matter how you cut it though, it was a long walk down to Terminal 4 and the Air Tahiti Nui check in. I did find out much later that there was a shuttle and wonder if that not have been a better choice, but it did give us some exercise on a day we were facing an eight-hour plane ride. Because we were flying business class, there wasn't much of a wait for us to check in; however, you are not allowed to check in your luggage at the counter. You have to take it around the corner (literally a few steps from the ATN desk) and then they take it from you and put it through security. This was a 'Huh?' moment for me as it wouldn't have taken any more time to have passed it through directly to security, but I digress.
To the immediate right of the security check in, there is an escalator leading to the second floor. There are a good variety of restaurants up there, so do yourself and favor and don't stop immediately at Mickey D's. All the way at the end is a nice sit down restaurant, but do be sure you have at least an hour before your flight board as the service wasn't really fast, but it was very nice.
A moment here to talk about Air Tahiti Nui. There isn't much real choice for us (U.S. citizens) when flying to Tahiti as only ATN and Air France provide regular service to the islands. The flight from LA to Tahiti is eight hours long and, yes, we upgrade to business. Some folks will argue that it's an unnecessary expense and perhaps they are right. However, we enjoy the extra leg room, the very good food and the exceptional service. We had friends who flew coach and they assured us that none of that existed back there, although the attendants did try to make them as comfortable as possible. If you do fly coach, go for those emergency exit or the first rows for that extra leg room. And for the best views from the plane, providing you are arriving during daylight - sit on the left side. You will get to see Rangiroa and Tahiti Iti.
The ATN gate was mostly just a front for shuttle buses. We were loaded onto them and taken out to the actual planes. Hopefully, the construction will one day be finished at Tom Bradley and there will be gates for these planes. We were greeted with a glass of champagne, orange juice or rum punch, an overnight kit and a packet that contained a pearl anklet/bracelet. Every five minutes (or so it seemed) someone was passing through the aisles handing out cool wash clothes. The food for business class was great (sorry, Barb!). It was very over the top, at least on the LA to Tahiti leg. We started with these little cold cheese roll up crepes (Fauchon, they were called), that was followed with either a sliced seared lamb with pesto sauce and zucchini or a smoke salmon timbale. The main course was with a fish casserole, breast of chicken with a ratatouille or braised short ribs (we had the latter), followed by a cheese course, followed by dessert - a passion fruit tart, Marquise cake, banana cheese cake tart, fresh fruits or fruit sorbet and petit fours. It was five hours later followed by a 'light meal' of five-spice duck or crab timbale, cheese, a chocolate dome cake and fresh fruit. We waddled off the flight - no looking for any dinner tonight! - which arrived on time and were met by Marama Tours, which handles tours for both Princess and Pleasant Holiday Travel. We, and three other couples, were swept off to our hotels.
We picked the Sheraton as we had had a very comfortable stay there during our last visit and we were, again, not disappointed. Because we were returning guests, they not only upgraded us, but also agreed to hold our luggage, free of charge, while we were in Rangiroa. Talk about great service! Our room had been recently renovated and featured hard wood floors of warm wild hibiscus, comfy furniture and a very comfy bed! Linens were upgraded, there was a large tub/shower combo and a coffee maker (again, I say yea!).
Even though we were jet lagged, tired and a little grumpy, we still had to repack for our early morning flight to Rangiroa, so we quickly went through and pulled out what we had previously agreed upon as 'necessities' for two nights at the Kia Ora and three night of roughing it at the Sauvage. It didn't take long thanks to a packing list to get everything taken care of and fall into our bed. We didn't even bother to turn the TV on during our stay here, but it had CNN and several French speaking stations.
Roosters...how did I forget about the stupid roosters? Tahiti has lots of them and we had a vocal pair next door to us. Thankfully, we shut them down by both being up at 4:30, long before the 6 a.m. dawn. It took a while, but I convinced Chris that he had to wait until it was at least light out to swim in the pool, so he wandered about the hotel grounds and gave everything a good looking over until 7, when he reappeared and announced that we were going swimming. The pool was a great as I remembered, but it was showing signs of serious wear, especially under the water fall. I did about ten laps (ten very lazy laps and then joined Chris in the hot tub for a bit before heading back to the room for a shower and clean up. Our pick up for the airport wasn't until 9:30, so there was still plenty of time for breakfast brunch and relaxing before we left.
Air Tahiti, for a smaller airline, is very efficiently run. Security was pretty much non existent and you just walked through to the gate area. Family and friends happily mingled with you as you waited and three monitors showed various shorts about the islands they visited. Our flight was about an hour long and of little consequence. They do serve a fruit juice just before landing. We touched down at Rangi's only airport and were met by a representative of the hotel (Kia Ora). It was then a short ride (stopping to pick up locals along the way) to the hotel. Check is was "Oh, you look tired, sit down, have a cool wash cloth and some juice and we'll fill out the paperwork for you." Literally, it was that casual of a check in. Our bags were in our garden bungalow (59 - Maire) when we arrived and we happily set about checking out the new digs. There is only one option for dining at the hotel and most of the local places aren't open for lunch. The food was good, but very expensive.
A note about Kia Ora This is one of those exclusive - you stay here and don't stray - sort of hotels. They provide a wide range of services, but they are not cheap. There are bikes and small golf-style carts to rent, as well as various sea-faring equipment, such as kayaks, masks and snorkels. This is also a cashless hotel. You give them a credit card and everything is billed to it, from meals to drinks to rentals to purchases. This is both nice and not so nice. It cost us for six days at the KO and OKS what it cost us on board for the entire cruise. While I am not unhappy that we spent the money, it wasn't an inexpensive start to a holiday. The pool is a horizon pool and is a little larger than the Sheraton's. You can look over the edge and watch fish swim by. The hotel provides bread to feed them, so quite a few keep close to the shore. There is a beach, a mixture of coral and sand, so wear reef booties. There is an activity desk in the lobby that handles most of the island's various excursions, including Rene Fels (more about him later) "Shooting the Gap excursion. There is a small sundries shop and a pearl shop, as well as an evening room (the cabins don't have TVs, so that is the only chance to see one on the property). The bungalows did come with electricity, a phone, coffee/tea set up and a very spacious shower.
We swam in the pool for a bit and then took a walk along the only road on the island. It takes about seven minutes to walk across the whole island and we could always hear the pounding surf, even in our lagoon-facing room. We stopped in the lobby, bought a couple of shirts (Te Mana) and then headed back to the room to change for dinner. The restaurant has posted hours (breakfast (a buffet) - 7 a.m., lunch -12 and dinner at 6:30), but they seem to be on island time and open when they are ready, not at the actual posted times. We decided to get a drink (they make very good Bloody Mary's there - they mix the tomato and vodka and bring you all the accompaniments so that you can make it to taste. Bar snacks were olives (but of course), nuts and coconut dusted with chili powder. We met a couple from Kauai (different couple from the Embassy Suites) and had fun chatting with them Meredith had been on over 17 cruises, many with Princess, so it was fun to chat with her about cruising and, of course, Cruise Critic.
Dinner was a BBQ buffet that night and it was okay, as far as buffets go, although the poki and the yellow fin tuna sashimi were very good. There were lots of fancy looking desserts, but basically all the same - cream puffs with whipped cream or fruit tarts. There was a little dance show with locals. They tried hard and the five year old did her best. It was pretty low keyed compared to some of the shows we've seen, but it was a nice diversion. When we returned to our room, there was a paper telling us what to expect for the transfer the next morning. Got to bed about 9 p.m. and slept very well.
We had been told that we had to be ready to have our suitcases picked up by 8:30 and at the dock by 9 for our transfer over to the Kia Ora Sauvage. Sure enough, our luggage was swept away a few minutes after it went out onto our porch at 8:15. We wandered down to the dock at about 8:30 and were surprised at how many people were there. At first we thought they were all going to the Sauvage, but then discovered that all the various tours meet on the dock. We were the only people to head out across the lagoon this particular morning. The ride to the motu was about an hour long and first we skirted up the coast (lagoon side) until we hit a pearl farm and then headed out into the lagoon itself. It's 66 miles long and 33 miles wide and deep enough for the Tahitian Princess to sail into. It was the result when the island sunk, but the reef remained behind and continued growing, forming the atoll of Rangi and it's various motus. It is the second largest archipelago in the world.
After what seemed a lifetime, we finally saw what we had been talking about for years - the Kia Ora Sauvage.
A word here about the Kia Ora Sauvage - The only way you can stay here is to book through the Kia Ora. All your meals (but not soft drinks or alcohol) are included in the price quoted to you. There are just five bungalows, each with hot water, an adequate (but not fabulous) shower, a hard futon-like queen size bed, complete with mosquito netting - yes you will need it- a second twin size bed that doubles as a sofa, a chair, a couple small end tables and that's it - no TV, no phone and no electricity. The windows are open to the outside, so there's lots of ventilation, whether you want it or not! The bathroom consists of a toilet, with a branch to hold the TP, a shell sink and adequate surface shaving kits, a large shower, more branches for towel holders, a coral floor (rough on the feet, so we placed down towels to stand upon) and two open-air windows. These take a bit of getting used to as anyone can look in while you're on the john, even with the curtains closed. There is pretty much an unspoken rule that you never pass behind the cabins if you can avoid it. for At night, lanterns are brought to your cabin for you to use at night. While they are not really bright enough to read by, they do make moving about the cabin much easier; we kept one in the bathroom and one on the porch. There is a large structure that acts as the dining room, lobby, bar and general gathering spot. There is a small bar and lots of couches for lounging. Your host will take you out into the lagoon in the afternoon for a snorkel and visit to a nearby motu and the morning is yours to do with as you please. There are kayaks and an outrigger that are for the guests' use. The motu can be walked around in about 15 minutes, five if you cut across the interior. If your idea of getting away from it all includes a chocolate on your pillow and a spa, then the KOS isn't for you. If you want peace, quiet and a chance to reconnect with yourself and a loved one, then this is your spot.
We were met by a smaller boat, piloted by Bernard, our host. Michael, the other host, and Bernard trade off every other month. He collected provisions, us and our luggage and took us to shore, where we enjoyed a glass of ice cold mango juice and a short walk as Bernard said good bye to the guests that were leaving. The boat with incoming passengers arrives at 10 and departing guest must be out of the cabin by 9, so that they can be cleaned and made ready for the next set of visitors. The outgoing guests then leave at 11 to head back for one more night at KO before flying out.
At lunch, (served at noon and you are summoned to all meals by a blow on the conch shell, we met a British couple, Anita and Bill, and a Mexican couple, Timo and Titanya, both honeymooners, although Anita and Bill had been together many years prior. Lunch was served family style and while the digs might be a bit rustic, the food certainly didn't reflect that. It was fabulous. It included: tuna capparchio, poki, a potato/leek frittata, deep fried tuna, lamb, green salad and fruit for dessert. The meals tend to lean towards just fish if that suits you; otherwise meat dishes, such as beef, pork or lamb will be served (we never saw chicken being served). Bernard's wife does all the cooking and handled each meal with flair and imagination. Anything left over, along with scraps from the kitchen are fed to the sharks afterwards. These are black-tipped reef sharks and Bernard assured us that they wouldn't attack anything larger than themselves.
After a bit of a lie down (still fighting a bit of jet lag), Bill, Anita, Chris and I climbed into the boat and headed out for some snorkeling. Never saw Timo or Titanya get wet during their stay, but they seemed perfectly content to lie in the hammock and watch the world go by - one of the great things about KOS. The current was pretty strong and we did get the anchor stuck in some coral, but the snorkeling was fabulous. We even saw sharks.
Back to the cabin for a clean up, only to discover our hot water line had broken. It would have been better to have discovered this either before the shower or after, but not during. I ended up having to rinse off in the employees (cold water only) shower instead as the glue set up on the repair to our line. There was plenty of hot water though.
We lounged around the cabin until 7, when dinner was served - it was a little late, but there is always fruit available in the dining room for snacking. This meal was plated and was a pleasure. It started with a cheese and ham frittata, followed by breaded mahi, and vegetables (carrots, turnips and onions). Dessert was caramelized pineapple. While the others stayed up to chat, we headed back to the cabin, climbed under the mosquito netting and fell asleep.
Note to self, spray inside the mosquito netting before retiring tonight. Even without doing that and not carefully tucking in the netting, I ended up with only one bite - on my finger of all places- You will need bug spray if you are mosquito fodder. Deep woods Deet worked very well for me. We both woke up at about 6 this morning, which was better than 4, especially since coffee would not be served until 7:30 (we found out that you could show up at 7 and there would be coffee ready...sigh).
Again, breakfast was served family still and consisted of toast, pancakes, dry cereal (Corn Pops, Froot Loops, Apple Jacks, that sort of thing), fruit and juice. This was the standard breakfast and never varied during our stay.
After breakfast, Bill, Chris and I swam with the sharks - they didn't bother us, but it was still a little unnerving to have them come swimming up to you and check you out and then had to say good bye to Anita and Bill. They were departing for the main hotel this morning and the place was quiet without them. . The new guests: a couple from Japan, who didn't speak any English, a French couple who refused to speak any English and a New York couple, who also spoke French and had 'bonded with the French couple on the boat, were sad replacements for Bill and Anita. We did our best to communicate with the Japanese couple, but the other two couples ignored us as if we had the plague or something worse. That was fine, we got to know Timo and Titanya better and that was fun, except when snorkeling.
Lunch was again, good, raw tuna, baked tuna, beef, potato puffs (much like 'tater tots, but made with mashed potatoes instead) and fruit for dessert. And after a bit of a lay down and a 20-minute rain shower, we met at 3 p.m. by Bernard's little boat to go snorkeling. This time we headed west to a small inlet by a motu. He spent time hunting for coconut crabs (his wife makes a cosmetic oil out of them) and we paddled around in the area. Snorkeling paled by comparison today and we both got burnt (head and back) in spite of 70 SPF sunscreen. Repair to the hot water line held and there was no dashing off to the employee's shower for Charlie today. The water is very soft, due to desalination and you never quite feel 'squeaky clean' there. Of course, you are constantly putting on lotion, so it gets to become normal feeling, but if this sort of thing bothers you, you might want to consider taking along body wipes.
Dinner was again yummy. The starter was quiche, a fish curry this time and fresh chocolate coconut ice cream. This time we sprayed inside the netting before leaving for dinner, so there was no smell and, most importantly, no mosquitoes awaiting our return. Tonight, we both again dropped off immediately and pretty much slept straight through. Getting up to use the rest room in the middle of the night with the netting was a pain. We kept one lantern in the bathroom. There was rain during the night and that was great to listen to.
Great night again and no bites (yea). It was another early start, but at least there was coffee a bit earlier than before. Both of us wandered the motu, just looking and checking things out. Breakfast was the same and we dined alone for the most part. The Japanese couple came in as we were leaving.
Today we snorkeled out to the motu to our east. Actually the water was so shallow that you could pretty much walk to it, but we did swim most of the way. The New York couple kayaked out and it took them longer because they had to paddle way out into the lagoon to avoid bottoming out on the coral. The wind had kicked up today and coconuts were dropping like crazy from the trees. Nearly got beamed by one on my way to the lobby and made sure I gave them a wide berth after that. We said good bye to Timo and Titanya today, but hello to our Kauai friends, Meredith and Jeff. They really shook the place up, including opening the bar at 5 for drinks, but more about that later. At least it gave us someone else to visit with at the table for lunch and dinner!
Lunch was again, mostly fish, both raw and deep fried, salad and fruit and then we all headed back to our respective huts to while away the afternoon until 3. I got all my applique finished for the quilt I was working on before laving the motu. Because of the wind, the snorkeling wasn't that great, but we motored to a motu close by and paddled around for awhile, then Chris and I walked the island and gathered up some shells before heading back. Then there was yet another shower and reading as we awaited our lanterns. Because we were leaving in the morning, we washed out our snorkel gear and hung out shirts up to dry in the wind. We talked about how much we had enjoyed our time here, but felt that three nights was just about long enough. Chris had spent many hour stringing together tiny shells on a thread as a necklace for me. He was so relaxed, his DNA was threatening to unwind.
Dinner started early tonight with cocktails in the dining room with Meredith and Jeff. We learned about the history of KOS (18 years) from Bernard and some of the motu's history. The other couples came as summoned, but not a moment earlier. I felt sort of bad leaving Meredith with the French couple, but figured she could hold her own with anyone. Dinner was especially good tonight. It started with a tuna poki, followed by fish lasagne and finished with a coconut cake. Bernard and his wife sang some songs for us after dinner as a thank you for sharing time with them and I headed back to the room a bit early (restroom break). The wind had come up and Bernard had to close up the shutters in the dining room to keep the wind out. When Chris headed back to the room, about 15 minutes later, if that, it was pouring out and continued to do so throughout the night. It was a great night for sleeping.
Back to reality, such as it is. Because of the way flights are arranged on and off Rangi, you are forced to spend a night before and after at the main hotel (clever marketing that). One more mosquito bite (on the side of my hand this time). This morning, Bernard anticipated us and had breakfast ready for us early. Because no one was coming over that day, we got to stay in our cabin until we left at 11. This was sort of nice as the day was very blustery and cool. It surprised me that the motu was much cooler than Rangi itself. It was a very comfortable temperature and is still shorts and tank top weather; it's just not blisteringly hot.
The boat ride back to the main hotel was wild-crazy. We had to wear rain gear and hold on for dear life to keep from getting tossed around too much. The Japanese and New York couples left with us. By the time we arrived, I was feeling tenderized from all the jostling around. Prior to leaving for KOS, we had decided to upgrade our bungalow to an ocean front one. These were larger and came with a hot tub on the porch. The New York couple was beside us. Without the French couple, we were fair game to chat with and they spoke to us frequently. The nice part about the bungalow was that it had an area that I could close off, so that Chris could sleep in in the morning without me disturbing him.
While waiting for lunch to arrive in the dining room, I headed back to the lobby to make a reservation for Rene's 'Shooting the Gap' excursion during our return trip on the TP. Chris had another hamburger for lunch and I had a veggie pizza and then, of course, nap time! Are we starting to see a pattern here? Afterwards, I headed for the pool to swim some laps (had it all to myself due to spitting rain) and then joined Chris on our deck in the hot tub (which was the same temperature as the pool).
After shower and a trip to the lobby to purchase more stuff in the gift shop, we rented bikes and rode first into Tiputa and retraced our path back to the hotel and pedaled out to the airport. This was totally shut down as the flights only arrive a couple of times a day and never after 5. Chris got accosted by a dog and had to give him a kick to make him back off, but that was the only incident. The nice thing about the motu is that it is pretty much flat, except for the speed bumps. Even with that, I was beat after an hour of pedaling.
We headed back to the room and read for a bit before changing and heading over to the bar for a farewell toast to Kia Ora. The bar has a glass floor, so you can watch fish as you drink, should you choose to sit inside and not out on the ample deck. We chatted about how much we had enjoyed our stay and that we did hope to make it back one day. I was too tired to go looking for dinner, so we dined again at the hotel. The New York couple said that a local restaurant was sending a car for them, but we noticed they were eating on their balcony later that evening, so something must have changed along the way.
Dinner I had a salad with goat cheese croutons and Chris had a very good pumpkin soup. He had steak and I had duck glazed with Rangi honey. Both dishes were accompanied by potatoes and leeks with bacon. Dessert was coconut ice cream and mango sorbet. The food was very good and we made sure to let the restaurant manager know how much we had enjoyed dining at the restaurant. Then it was back to the room to get ready to return to Papeete for the cruise! There was a paper in our room telling us that our flight was confirmed and our luggage would be picked up at 10:20 for the 11:30 flight.
We leave Rangi today and head back to start the cruise. I am ready to not live out of a duffel bag any longer. It worked great, but it'll be nice to have regular clothes (and more choices) again. The decision to do Kia Ora and the motu was a good one and, in spite of a few bug bites and minor sunburns, we came through the ordeal unscathed and rested. The food was good, the service great and the rooms were comfortable. The snorkel was very nice and we enjoyed the more laid back attitude of the island. It would have been nice to have spoken a little more French, but that's my problem. I swear I'm learning French before our next trip here.
We were picked up and delivered to the airport in good stead. Again, check in was a breeze and we struck up a nice conversation with another couple (Bob and Nancy) who would be sailing a couple of days after us on the Regent. We compared notes and we told them about Cafe Mango and a few other spots we'd tried. It took awhile to get onto the plane, due to some difficulty with a wheelchair and we arrived nearly an hour late in Papeete, much to the dismay of the Mamara driver. He was already late to pick up the people on the flight behind us (which was, of course, on time). He was further distressed to hear that we had to stop at the Sheraton to pick up our suitcases. Of course, the traffic was crazy, the baggage guy was nowhere to be found and when he did appear, he couldn't find his keys. Finally, we had luggage in hand and headed for the docks. Throughout all of this, we were fine, but our driver was a bundle of nerves. We got to the dock only to find that the entrance he picked was blocked off. Rather than making him to go to the other end of the dock and even later, we piled out and hauled our luggage down the dock. We got about half way down before the porters saw us and rescued us. Because we were checking in at an odd time, there was no one there and it took all of three minutes to get checked in. You will be asked to fill out a health form and sign it. We then went aboard and got to our cabin (OS 7114) in another five minutes - boy, it's great to be back on a small ship (and familiar one to boot).
We met our steward, Marius, a nice enough fellow and he tried very hard to anticipate all our needs. He had been on board since 2005, so he was very familiar with both the ship and the itinerary. Only ding in the room was that he left partial used shampoo/conditioner in the shower and the shower soap dish wasn't clean (wow, is that nitpicking or what?). There was also some mold in one corner of the shower, but I got more at home, so it didn't trouble me. And we did find a very ripe kiwi under our dining table in the living room of the cabin. Don't know how long it had been there, but it got tossed quickly. In the cabins, Princess provides fruit. Since we were in a suite, I can only report on ours, but we had a nice assortment of grapes, bananas, kiwi, oranges, pears and apples. This was changed out every two days.
We headed up to the buffet for a small lunch just before they closed for the afternoon (2:300) to set up for snack time (3 - 5). Chris really liked the garbanzo bean soup and I had a salad with fruit. We headed back down to the cabin to grab our wallet and were ready to leave the cabin when the luggage arrived, so we unpacked instead. It feels good to not have to live out of a suitcase (or duffel bag) for awhile and there's something very exciting about hanging up clothes, putting things away in drawers, like you're there to stay for awhile and this is your spot. Chris immediately emptied out the refrigerator to chill down the champagne.
After unpacking, we walked into town to find Mango's. The ship is docked down town and everything is within easy walking distance. There is a warning to avoid certain parts at night, but to stay in the area is very safe and the security is attentive especially at night. We got turned around during our search (and actually found a rude Tahitian), but finally found it (look for a white steeple church - it's on that street, right hand side about half way back). We noted the hours as best we could (I have got to learn French) and then headed over to Le Marche for some flowers. After walking around a bit to explore, we got a bouquet and an arrangement for the cabin. We wanted to dress up the cabin a little for our sail away party. On the way back to the ship, we had our photo snapped, flowers and all and headed back to the cabin. While Chris called Julie to check on Growltiger, I caught a fast shower and change.
We arrived at Mango's too early for food (it was the bar that opened at 6, not the restaurant), but we watched the band set up, had some drinks and chatted with the owners. They are a couple of fun guys, one Chinese and the other Australia, but now both Tahitian residents. They took pity on us and seated us just as the band was starting up. It was very funny because they were playing Sam Goetz, but sang all the French songs in English (more exotic sounding to them, I suppose). What a great meal we had here. Originally we had heard about the place from Anthony Bordain's "No Reservations". The ambiance was great - cool white with up lighting on the sides. The bar runs along the front wall and the lights change colors constantly. The bad thing, however, is when a certain appliance is used in the kitchen, in combination with the band, it blows the circuit breakers and the restaurant goes dark. W ended up with candles on the table that night.
The menu was pretty darn great - we started with Ahi poke and raviolis filled with shrimp and scallops (huge serving), then we shared a Caesar salad (complete with smoked duck). For dinner I had shrimp curry and Chris had a rack of lamb. The wine was Chateau Timberland Riesling - not bad, a little dry though. By the time we got to dessert, I had burned out. Chris had coconut ice cream and I watched. We chatted with another couple - mid west, honeymooners (but of course). It was a fun evening, but I was exhausted.
It was all of 8 p.m. when we got back to the ship. I left messaged for a couple fellow roll call members and headed for bed to read, but Chris wanted to get a photo of the Chinese 'spy ship' docked next to us. At night, they were lit up orange, blue and green, hiding in plain sight, according to Chris. They did make for a very pretty picture though.
Woke up to a rather blustery day in Papeete - it was cloudy and windy out, but a refreshing change from the heat. We breakfasted up in the buffet with a family of four from Canada (they had a shady table) - and then headed off for Papeete to shop. First stop was the visitor center to load up on French reading material for Rudolph, a co-worker of Chris's and then we walked across the street to find the Te Mana shop. We had purchased shirts from them in Rangi and really liked them. He ended up buy three more and I got one more. Then it was off to Le Marche to do a little souvenir shopping, post cards mostly (didn't realize until later that I'd forgotten the post card list and had to rely upon my memory for addresses). We ran into Bob and Nancy from the airport and chatted with them a bit. Highly recommended Mango's and tried to help them find a hat for Bob. We also went hunting for the book/music store that Chris likes. Found it, but didn't buy anything this time.
One thing that was fun was that I wore my Cruise Critic shirt today and had many folks stop and ask me about it or ask questions about the ship. Both at breakfast and lunch, I was grilled about the line and cruising in general. One guy kept passing me and yelling, "Hey look, it's that cruise critic lady." So, if you don't mind being pestered, do wear your shirt - I was doing it to see if I could connect with any of our roll call members.
Then it was back to the ship to drop stuff off and discuss what we wanted to use for decorations before heading down for lunch in the dining room. We stopped in the bar before hand and Chris taught Jorge how to make a Crocker Ricky. We were seated with a very nice young couple, Charlie and Hope, whom we ran into many more times during the trip (they also ended up being tablemates of the Morrows) and then it was time to prep for the meet and greet party. We scattered leaves around the tables in the front of the cabin and used a pareu as a table cloth for the round table. We ordered up apps (assorted sea food and veggies). That done, he decided it was time to go look for his Grand Marnier liquor. I stayed in the cabin and read. No luck for the liquor, it was as we feared. It wasn't for sale outside of France any longer.
Muster was at 4:15 and it is mandatory. It went off smoothly with the prerequisite number of folks putting their life jackets on early and dragging straps behind them. Just once I'd like to go to a muster and not have someone blow their whistle.
On the way back to the cabin, we ran into John and Barb (2morrow) and got to the cabin just as the apps did. Steven (StevenA) and Mary Lou was just behind them. Following them was StellaB (Pauline and Denis). We had known previous that Sachmo (Judy) and MaiTaiGuy (John) wouldn't be joining us, but had expected Margaret and Jim (they got the times mixed up and arrived later) and Karen and Dean (Maclady - she hurt herself the day before and was resting). Of course, the wind really started to really blow outside and we lost a seat cushion to it. John tried valiantly to save it, but the cushion blew down onto the dock. He did manage to attract someone's attention to it, but it was never returned to our cabin. Then the rain came down in bucket just as we were pulling from the dock. Oh well, we stayed inside and dry with the champagne and apps.
It was reluctantly that we broke up the party to head for dinner where we met our tablemates. They were: Mike and Annette, from New York - newlyweds, Spence and Louise (Arizona - very quiet, but fun) and then Brad and Tammy - the one uppers from Canada. They were a hoot; I have to confess and kept the conversation lively both at the table and away. I did wish we were seated on the other side of the table so that we could have visited with the others, but that's what happens when you come later that first night.
After a nice meal, it was time for an early turn in. Off to Huahine!
10/12/08 - Huahine
There's lots of movement this morning and in spite of having taken my Mecclazine, I'm still feeling a little queasy. I took another pill and by the time we made it into the lagoon, my stomach was back to normal. A light breakfast and we headed out for our excursion - the Huahine Snorkeling Safari. It was a much bigger group than I have expected, about 25. We met our next door neighbors and Charlie, although he was with another group, in the lounge . Hope had bailed out citing both sea and morning sickness (11 weeks pregnant). There were a lot of beginners in the group. It was a good dive, but folks were tromping all over the coral (some barefooted). My mask was fogging quite a bit, so that was a bit of a letdown. We got back to the ship at a dead run for a quick shower and change before heading back on shore for our next excursion, scheduled at noon. We discovered that the buffet was closed until 11:30 (when we needed to be on shore) and we were pondering what to do when the Food and Beverage Manager came by and asked what was wrong. Within minutes, he had sandwiches to us. This is where Princess really shines, no matter what other folks say.
We ate quickly and got back on shore only to discover our excursion didn't meet until 12:30 - we had plenty of time. Princess had goofed and put down 11:50 - something that really tweaked our guide. He mentioned it again and again during the excursion. This was the Sacred Sites excursion and it was very interesting and led by a very colorful guide. He was an ex-pat and archaeologist. He also had some very definite ideas of history. Unlike Hawaii, Tahiti and her island had, in his opinion, turned their backs on their local gods as a whole when offered Christianity, not because of religious persecution or the like, but because they felt the new god represented more power because he gave his followers metal. None of the old gods were spared and their various temples fell into disrepair, only to be rescued by a local archaeologist, our guide's mentor. He had been struggling with the local government since the early 70's to try and save some of these sites. As it stands now, only 1% of the sites have been restored. The only museum on the island was closed by the local government, but our guide had a key. Inside was very dusty and dark, but at least we got to see some of the exhibits. It was a rather sad statement to be sure.
. We had juice, punch and fruit, while the guide talked to us about the local flora and helped us identify the various fruit trees growing in abundance. Then we hiked up into the forest to see a restored religious site - this was a hot and sweaty walk, in spite of what our guide said and it wasn't for the less mobile. Some of our group had to stay behind and wait in our Le Truck.
Then it was off to see the blue-eyed eels (I, for one, was unimpressed.) and up onto Le Belvedere to see the ship and back onto the larger section of the island. Our guide talked about how tourism is not the main industry of the island - French welfare is, and the French people are getting tired of supporting the islands. He fears for the future of their lifestyle if something isn't done by the locals to find a way of supporting the islands themselves and to cut the reliance upon France.
We got back to the ship with less than half an hour to spare (we were the next to last tender) and headed out of the lagoon into rough seas. Thankfully, the meds are holding as there is King Crab on the menu tonight. It was fair, but nothing to write home about. The show was "Gotta Dance, Gotta Sing" and it was okay. It started with "Pippin" and ended with something from "Smokey Joe's." There were a couple of lighting holes center stage and stage right, but that's just us.
10/13 At Sea
And to think I used to hate days at sea, now I live for them. We slept in late today - I woke up early to take my meds and went right back to sleep. The sea was pretty calm and the day was sunny and bright. The pool deck was well used, but there always seemed to be plenty of chairs, both in the shade and sun. I think it might be because there are just so many balconies on this ship that most folks hang out there instead of at the very small pool. We had breakfast with John and Barb and they said that they had received an e mail from Rene, saying that our dive had been moved from morning to afternoon. We walked a nautical mile (13 laps around) on the track and then headed to the lobby to check out our e mail. This is when the lap top comes in handy. The speed had very much improved due to WiFi and we dealt with various messages, but Chris couldn't get mail to send. While he fought with the computer, John and I battled it out at the trivia game. We lost, but it was because folks wouldn't listen to me at times sigh guess the blonde hair fools them. It was still fun.
Chris joined me and we walked over to the Future Cruise desk and signed up for our next cruise - the Amazon (Jan 2. 2010) on board the Royal. We even booked our cabin, OS 7119. This will mark a milestone for us as we will have travelled all the small ships and if we get to Egypt this summer, we will have been on all the major continents.
We had lunch at the buffet and decided to have dinner at Sterling's. We let our server and some of our tablemates know that we weren't going to be there and settled down in the cabin for a rest, waiting for the moment when we sailed back into Rangi's lagoon. It's amazing to see the ship sail through the narrow Tiputa gap, but she did and then anchored just off the Kia Ora. It was great to be back to the atoll.
While having drinks with Barb and John, we called and verified the excursion and its price with Rene, so that was all put to bed. From there, it was on to Sterling's for a wonderful evening of food and drink. I had the 8 oz. filet and Chris, the 12 oz. rib eye. Both steaks were cooked perfectly and the service was outstanding. There were only two other tables that seated after us, a far cry from the Sterling's (Painted Desert)on the Grand, which was booked solid every night. We spoke with the manager about Sabatini's, but the TP has the restaurants on an odd open three days, closed three days schedule and we could never get it to fit in with our schedule.
A leisurely stroll back to the cabin (Cinefanstique - a repeat, so we skipped) under a full moon. Lovely day, lovely evening, lovely setting - no wonder so many honeymooners come here.
10/14 - Rangiroa
Another bright sunny day in Paradise. While this is very nice, I would think that it would get a bit monotonous after awhile, but certainly not while we're here. After breakfast today, we climbed onto a tender and went into the dock at Tiputa. Once on shore, we grabbed a taxi and went out to Avatoru, the major town on Rangi's main island. The ride was 500 CFP pp one way. We did make pick up arrangements before he drove away. There wasn't much to see once we got there though, just a couple small grocery stores and a small shop peddling pareus. At one of the grocery stores, I stopped to use the rest room and bought some local honey and island candy as gifts and Chris bought a drumstick (ice cream treat). Instead of being vanilla or chocolate, like here in the U.S., it was blueberry and coconut. It was a different, but yummy taste. We got back to our drop off point a little early and waited in the shade of a deadly coconut tree. Thankfully none fell, although the kids from the school across the street kept staring at us as if we were idiots.
After getting back to the ship, we grabbed our snorkel gear, a hurried lunch and headed back ashore for our excursion with Rene Fels. It seemed to take forever to get to the pier as the returning tender was full and people were very slow about getting onto the ship for some reason. Thankfully, the Morrows convinced Rene that we would be along and they waited. MaiTaiGuy was also supposed to be on the trip, but never showed up (found out later, he didn't feel like it, but never bothered to cancel - that wasn't very nice). Anyhow, there were a total of eight of us 'Shooting the Gap'. We donned wet suits and life jackets as our guide, John Jean, explained exactly what was going to happen and what he wanted us to do. He watched us very carefully all during the run, of which there were three.
The first run took us over some very nice coral and we saw dolphins, a turtle and some sharks. The second wasn't as great, it was petty murky because of the tide coming in. Still it was pretty cool. The third dive was with a huge group of manta rays and they were very neat. Some were over five feet across and their movements were ballet-like as they scooped up plankton. Finally, we were off to the coral gardens. This was the only spot that was crowded (glass bottom boat folks). It offered some really great fish and coral, but you had to be very watchful of the current to avoid getting caught in it. Of course, the best coral and fish were in the off limited areas.
We got back to the ship about an hour before sailing and it was just time to shower, change and meet for drinks (Barb and John) before dinner. Our table came back to the cabin to see what an OS looked like (our one-upper tablemates had a forward OS that they said was much larger and had three bathrooms. It wasn't and didn't, but we let them rave on.). It was a full day, no matter how you shake it, so we opted out of seeing the magician. Our lasting memories of Rangi are painted blue, green, and white - the colors of the island.
10/15/08 - At Sea
It was a gray day that never really cleared up, although it never did really rain at all. I did a lap on the track both before and after breakfast today, just because I felt the need to walk a little since we wouldn't be on land.
We used much of the day to work on chores, like getting the laundry done, writing postcards, answering e mails, that sort of thing. At 11:45, we dressed up and went to the Captain's Most Traveled luncheon up at Sabatini's. It was the first time we had made the cut and it was only because there were so few elites on board (seven total, one of whom we sat with at lunch. Our braggart tablemates were also there, but we avoided them for the most part. John, Barb, Charlie and Hope were there as well, so I chatted with them before the doors opened. We were greeted by the captain and the main officers before being shown to our table. We were seated with the Future Cruise Consultant, Carol, and had a grand time chatting with her and Susan (the elite) and her companion, Deb.
That afternoon, we hauled the laptop down to Carol's desk and showed her the shots of Kia Ora Sauvage, per her request. She decided that she needed to stay there a few days during her next vacation.
We got back and hung around the cabin until it was time for Jim and Margaret's 'do' in their OS. They really did it up right with trays and trays of various apps and wines. Wow, it was great and we met a bunch of really neat folks, along with tablemates and other friends they had made during the trip. It was funny how many of us already knew each other. This is one of the great things about the smaller ships.
Dinner was Italian night - no great shakes and the show was "Motortown" - wasn't impressed with it on the Grand and decided to opt out this time around. Many said it was the best of the productions shows, which really wasn't saying much. We've never been really disappointed with the production shows, but these didn't shine on the Tahitian. Perhaps it was because we'd seen them so many times or that the lead male wasn't as strong as he needed to be. It just got to be easier to skip them than it was to go. Many others must have also felt the same way because there was no trouble at all finding seats at any of the shows we attended. What we did miss was a band dance music playing before the shows. I always love watching folks dance.
10/16 - Raiatea
We arrived at Raiatea and it was an early morning for many folks as we did our 'drive by' of Taha'a at 5:30 a.m. Neither John nor Barb were impressed (I'd warned them the night before that it wasn't that great of shakes and to stay in bed). We had breakfast with them and discussed our day. It was then that we discovered we were going to tender and not dock. That made a difference with our Bruno excursion and we hurried grab priority tender passes to get on shore in time. We found Bruno's second boat and then hurried took shelter under a gas station awning as it started to pour. It would be the only rain we saw that day, but many folks really got rained upon in the mountains. The shower only lasted about ten minutes at most.
Okay, this was a great excursion, but do try to get Bruno. Neither of our guides spoke more than a few words of English and we were all English-speaking folks. This made it really hard, especially going through the coral garden on the drift. Chris ended up acting as a guide to get some of the less experienced snorkelers through without getting all bashed up. Even then, one guy stepped on an urchin and a young girl got seriously messed up on the coral. The last time we did this, the drift was more advanced than I could handle. This time it was a piece of cake, but I was glad to have the gloves and hard soled booties on. The snorkeling was probably the best here that we encountered. The garden was beautiful and we saw stuff there that we saw no where else, including lots of anemones, eels and others.
Next it was on to the pearl farm, which was no great shakes, although they did have nice restrooms, good refreshments and an adequate store (bought Wendy a nice necklace for Christmas there).
After that, it was off to the vanilla plantation, which was probably the highlight of the excursion for us. Our hostess was a hoot, joking and always laughing. She was certainly the reason we bought all the vanilla we did from her farm. She patiently explained how to fertilize, harvest and dry the beans. One the long walk back to the boat, Chris found a bent fire hydrant that needed a photo of it. I read in an article that Madagascar vanilla has more flavor while the Tahitian vanilla has more scent - our bags certainly proved that.
By now, it was lunchtime and we headed off to the motu for our buffet luncheon. Here awaited the best gift of all on this excursion. It wasn't finally getting to meet Judy (Sachmo) or Karen and Dean (Maclady) from the roll call. It wasn't the rum punch, which flowed plentifully, or chatting with Bruno. It wasn't the buffet of fish fritters, grilled fish, fruit, poki, etc,. It was a ginger 'Growltiger' kitten named Minew. She was very ready to take our extra fish off our hands (three fillets) and to give us rubs and purrs. This was a salve for cat starved folks like us. We had a grand time with her. Others went in snorkeling, but I was happy to sit in the shade with Minew and watch.
We then had a decision to make as a group. Go to another spot for more snorkeling or head back to the ship. Because the little boat was so much faster, we had finished all that we were supposed to do and it was only two - it was supposed to go to three. It wasn't hard to make the decision to go back to the ship. My back was killing me and I was both tired and sun weary.
After a quick wash up, we went down to the cabaret lounge for the Children of Raiatea show. We arrived at 4:30 and the show as supposed to start at 5. At 5:15 the announcement was made that it wouldn't be starting until 5:30 and it ended up being 5:45 before it started. We were late to dinner, but so were lots of other folks. There were local women selling leis just outside the entrance to the lounge - 500 CFP a piece, so we each got on and I bought two for John and Barb. They showed up just as the show was about to start - their excursion was really late. Barb was stressed about getting cleaned up before dinner, but they made it, no worries.
It was International Dinner tonight and it was pretty good. The lamb was excellent and the strawberry shortcake was great. We took our young table mates back to the cabin so that they could see it - they had been at Sabatini s the night everyone else came over. We visited for awhile and then it was really time for bed. We were both wiped out from our busy day on shore!
10/17/08 - Bora Bora
Another lovely day at sea, or at least a morning at sea. We didn't arrive until almost noon. We've only had a few small showers and the one down pour in Papeete on this trip. No one can complain about the weather. I did another mile before and after breakfast and for some reason that really did me in. I fell asleep on the couch while reading, something I rarely do. I felt a little stiff all day and in a sort of gray mood - not really bad, but not great either. I woke up in time to go play trivia and we won this time. Got travel wallets - no more luggage tags please! We have tons of them.
I got back in time to have lunch with Chris before we both headed on shore to do our own excursions (a first time for us). Chris had a ship's 4x4 excursion and I chose to do a circle island tour (on board a very bumpy Le Truck - even two cushions didn't help!), I had a bit of trouble in the tender line as they announced that unless you were on a tour coming off the ship, you could go on shore without a tender ticket, even though my ticket said we were to meet on shore. So, I went back to the cabin, got a ticket and then found out they would have let me anyway. Oh well, it was only the second time we'd used priority tender tickets, so goodness knows we had enough. The Circle Island tour was, quite frankly, really boring and all the guide talked about were the hotels that had opened, were opened or were going to open in the future. He started nearly every sentence with 'Well' and ended nearly every sentence with 'on this island of Bora Bora' - like we could for a moment forget where we were. Got some shots of flowers, but the bus didn't stop for some of the most picturesque things, like the mountains (he spoke nothing about the geography of the island, except when it related to a hotel). This guy was really pushing a hotel stay here. We did stop at a pareu 'factory' - someone's back yard and found out how they dyed them - think tie dye of the 60's - and then they place shaped pieces of linoleum on top of the wet fabric. It draws out the dye and leaves a white impression behind. This was pretty darn clever if you ask me and the highlight of this tour. There was nothing about the local history or anything in much detail. We did stop at Bloody Mary's for about 15 minutes and then it was back to the ship.
Chris didn't arrive back to the ship until nearly 6 p.m. a far cry from the 3:30 he was supposed to be back. He really liked the tour, but said I had made the right decision as it was very rough and he even ended up feeling a bit tender from it. Many folks had dinner on shore tonight, as was our plan, but I just didn't feel like it and insisted that we stay on the ship. Dinner was very subdued tonight, I'm not sure why. Mike and Annette were on shore at a hotel and even Brad was very quiet (found out later he had a migraine from scuba diving that day). I just didn't feel like making small talk and didn't even really ask Chris about his excursion until the next day.
Chris went back on shore after dinner to just hang out and I went immediately back to bed. I was afraid that I was coming down with something, but nothing else came of it. I didn't even hear Chris come back into the cabin. He watched the locals play bocce ball on shore and chatted with the various crew on shore.
10/18/08 - Bora Bora
I woke feeling perfectly fine today and decided Raiatea excursion must have just really wiped me out. It was a full, but relaxing day ashore. After breakfast, we went over to Vaima and shopped. Although it was a Saturday, everything was opened until 6 or 6:30 here. Bora Bora is probably the most commercial of all the islands when it comes to the tourist dollar. That being said, nearly everything is closed on Sunday. We walked to a local grocery store amid spitting rain and had fun going up and down the aisles checking things out (still no yellow label Grand Marnier). We went back to the ship to drop off our booty and then came back on shore to have lunch at Bloody Mary's.
We grabbed a shuttle from the dock to the bar (500 CFP pp) and surprise of all surprises, was met by a big white fluffy cat - the first long haired cat I'd seen in the islands. He was asleep on a bench across from the souvenir stand until a little one squealed and then off he went. We were pleased to find Charlie and Hope, as well as Mike and Annette inside having lunch. The prices were a little better at lunch time than dinner, a chicken quesadilla and a fish/shrimp and chips, with frosty alcoholic beverages cost $50. At least we can say we had lunch and a drink there. We opted out of a tee shirt.
On the way back, we asked the shuttle driver if he would drop us off at another grocery a bit farther out of town. As there were no other customers waiting for him at the dock, he was glad to comply for the same 500CFP pp. It was pretty much the same as the other store, but at least we looked. The walk back was not much longer than the morning's walk and we got back to the ship at about 2 p.m. When we passed a canal, we saw a bunch of rats going after fish in the creek. Not exactly the sort of thing you want to see on a walk.
We napped, but of course, and then got ready for the last formal night. This was the first time I wore everything that I packed, so that was nice for a change. We had laundry done twice and never ran out of anything. Today was the last day you could put anything into the ship's laundry in order to have it back in time to pack tomorrow (can that be possible?).
Dinner was nice, but again Brad was quiet, another migraine from diving.. The production show was "Ports of Call" and it was marginal at best. The show was much better on board the Grand, if only because of the songs they chose to sing. The Orient section was almost insulting to anyone Asian. It was pretty bad. I was extremely underwhelmed! I'll miss it next time!
10/19/08 - Moorea
I can't believe that this is the last day of the cruise. The time has gone very fast, but at the same time, I don't feel exhausted from trying to keep up the pace, like
we did in
Then we headed for the area just off a motu for more snorkeling, both in shallow and deeper water. This was the same motu you went to for the ship's motu picnic. There was a nice covered structure, facilities and a roped off snorkeling area for the less experienced folks. The deeper part of this channel was definitely the better spot in this case and then it was back to the ship for lunch and a nap before dashing back on shore to pick up some items on the dock. The prices for pearls were very inexpensive - Grade B, obviously, but the casual observer couldn't tell that. Also picked up a tee shirt - only my third this trip - and then we headed back to the ship and the dreaded task of packing. Our clothes came back and it was now time to try and make everything fit. It always does, but there's always that
moment when you're not quite sure. We sorted through stuff and tried to get it all shuffled about in equal amounts into each suitcase, but dinner interrupted us about halfway though. We collected e mail addresses and said our good byes to everyone. It was sad as we'd met lots of great folks this time around. Overall, a very good cruise.
Back to where we started from. Since this is disembarkation day, we had to be out of the cabin by 9, so we took our hand luggage upstairs to
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Cabin review: Ocean Princess Owner's Suite with Balcony Deck Six 7114
Huge cabin with equally huge balcony, beautifully large and appointed bathrooms and very adequate closet and drawer space. Very quiet.