We booked this cruise on a bit of a whim after hearing that Princess was going to stop basing a ship in French Polynesia at the end of 2008. We didn't want to miss the opportunity to visit this almost mythical place.
We used Princess air arrangements, since the destination is so far from the US. We chose to fly in a day and a half early , spending 2 night at a resort because of the distance involved. We met at the airport at LAX (I live in Florida and my cabinmate in California). We boarded the Air Tahiti Nui flight at 1 PM, and arrived in Papeete at about 7:30 PM their time. Despite it being an 8 1/2 hour flight, it did not seem that long, because of the seatback inflight entertainment equipment and the excellent service from the flight staff. We were served lunch shortly after the flight began, and the food was good. Free beverages were provided, including your choice of alcohol if desired. About 1 1/2 hours before arriving in Papeete, a light meal was served.
Customs and Immigration at the Papeete airport was a rather slow process, but when we finally got through it, we went outside and boarded a small bus that took us to the Papeete Intercontinental Resort, booked through Princess. We had a lovely "panorama room" with a balcony overlooking one of the pools. We could look across the lagoon and the sea at Moorea, which was really a beautiful sight. The hotel room was beautiful, with hardwood flooring and tropical-style furnishings. The bathroom was very nice, with the shower in a separate room, commode in it's own room, a spa tub, and 2 separate vanities with sinks. The towels and bed linens were excellent quality.
When we got up in the morning, we walked through the beautifully landscaped grounds to the main building, where there was a buffet breakfast in a large open-air dining room. The food choices were variedm very good, and the service was excellent. We spent the afternoon at the infinity pool near our room. The area surrounding the pool was a white sand beach, and there were comfortable lounges available, some in the shade and most in the sun.
At dinnertime we returned to the main building via the hotel shuttle for the Bounty Buffet dinner, with a wonderful show of Polynesian dancers. The meals there are quite expensive, but this was one of those lifetime trips, so we happily paid.
The next morning was embarkation day, and Princess provided the transportation to the pier. Check-in had not gotten underway by the time we arrived, but began shortly thereafter. It looked as though it was disorganized, and they were checking people in manually (no computers), but when they saw that our boarding passes indicated that we had priority boarding, because we are both Elite with Princess, we were taken to a special line and were whisked through. Upon boarding, we found our Minisuit on deck 8, and loved what we saw. The accommodations were very comfortable and the cabin seemed roomy. Our bags had not arrived yet, so we went to the buffet, as the dining room was reserved for departing passengers. We sat with a couple who had just completed their cruise and would be leaving in the evening. It was nice, because they filled us in on thing to see and do. In the afternoon, we settled in and wandered around, acquainting ourselves with the layout of the ship. Dinner that night was in the dining room, and we met our tablemates. We had a great group, including a couple on their honeymoon, and throughout the cruise, we enjoyed dining with all of them each night.
The next day the ship was slated to sail at 5 PM, so we went on an enjoyable tour of Papeete in the morning.The ship sailed on time, and we were excited to begin our visit in Paradise.
Huahine - - We did a motu picnic, booked through Princess, and it was very enjoyable. The guide was female, and she was friendly and humorous. The boat operator, who may have been her son, was about 12 years old, but it was easy to see that he knew what he was doing and was experienced. The food was okay, but the highlight was dining at tables and chairs set up in the warm, crystal clear water near shore.
The next day was a sea day, because of the distance to Rangiroa.
Rangiroa - - An amazing place! The lagoon is enormous and the most beautiful shade of blue. We opted for the Glass bottom boat tour, as we didn't scuba or snorkel, and it turned out to be better than we expected. We saw LOTS of fish and a sea turtle. The crew was friendly, and one of the members had a guitar, which he played while he sang for us.
As we left Rangiroa, the Captain elected to do an unscheduled sail-by of a coral "up-island", Makatea. That's in contrast to the flatness of the coral atolls surrounding the Rangiroa. There are only a few of these in the world, this one being the 2nd largest.
The next day was a sea day as we sailed to Raiatea. We were fortunate to be invited to the Captain's Lunch and a Bridge Tour. Lunch was served in Sabatini's and was quite elegant. We each had photos taken with the Captain, and that photo and a menu, signed by the Captain, were our souvenirs of the event. The bridge tour was fun and interesting.
On Raiatea, we toured the Pearl Farm and a Vanilla Plantation. There was a brief downpour when we were at the "plantation", but the tour was still interesting. Now that I know what it takes to grow vanilla, I can understand why it's expensive. Seeing how pearls are "planted and grown" was also interesting, and the range of colors of the pearls was incredible. The "Children of Raiatea" dance show was brought onboard in the evening, and it was very good.
Bora Bora - - We did a "highlights of" tour the first day, and it was rather disappointing. The guide didn't seem to know what kind of information to share with us, and she often repeated herself. So it turned into mostly just a drive around the island. We were bored, and were glad when it was over. On the 2nd day, we did a catamaran sailing, which was lovely. The crew was also the musical entertainment, and they all sang and played instruments as we cruise along. We anchored in a cove where the water was calm, and swimming and snorkeling were offered. I initially just got in the water to swim, but the water was so clear that I wanted to be able to better see the corals and fish. So I tried snorkeling, and loved it!
Moorea - - It was simply beautiful, and we enjoyed our tour so much more than the one on Bora Bora. We did another "highlights" type tour and this one was excellent. We stopped at another pearl farm, and this one was even more interesting than the one on Raiatea. There was a dance show (Can't recall the name of it, but it was something about a Theater) which was good, and I got coaxed to joining the dancers and try to dance with them. Fun, but a little intimidating, with your cruise-mates watching!
Papeete - - Sadly, back in port in Papeete, which meant that out wonderful cruise was ending.
We hung out on the ship all day, till time to go to the airport, about 6 pm. We shared a cab with friends and got to the airport before the Princess transfer buses arrived, so we were near the head of the check-in line (Thank goodness!). After check-in, we spent out waiting time on the 2nd floor of the airport where there was a place to get snacks and cold drinks.
What a wonderful experience this cruise was. The onboard naturalist/historian was outstanding. I'd do this cruise again in a heartbeat, if the opportunity came along. Everything about it met or exceeded expectations (well, with the exception of that one tour LOL!).