My wife and I cruised French Polynesia (aka Tahiti) on the Pacific Princess from 9 to 19 October 2009 for our 30th Anniversary. We loved Tahiti but did not enjoy the ship as much as other ships we’d been on (9 total cruises). But due to shallow waters and cost of getting to Tahiti, small ships are all that cruise there.
We flew Air Tahiti Nui from Los Angeles to Papeete, Tahiti, to catch the ship. The ATN counter at LAX international terminal opened 3 hours prior to the flight and everything went smoothly. Food on ATN in coach is somewhat poor, especially the dinner - breakfast was OK. I recommend you eat prior to boarding – note the restaurants at LAX international terminal are before the security lines, there is only a coffee shop once you pass thru security.
We arrived in Tahiti at 4:30 AM – the bank at the airport is open 24/7, it’s the best place to exchange dollars to French pacific francs. I recommend you bring enough cash for what you want to exchange – my ATM card did not work at any banks I tried in Tahiti. Also, the Pacific Princess did not have an ATM machine. Most merchants took credit cards – visa & master card - the street vendors took only cash. Some islands, like Bora Bora and Moorea, took dollars, but don’t always count on it.
We stayed overnight at the Intercontinental Hotel in Papeete in an overwater bungalow – very nice room worth the exorbitant cost. Going to Tahiti is expensive so you might as well enjoy it. I highly recommend planning 1-day stops in LA and Tahiti before getting on ATN and the ship. We ran into several couples on the ship that had to divert to Tokyo or Hawaii to make connections to Tahiti and either missed the ship in Papeete (so flew to Huahine to board) or did not have their luggage. We stayed overnight in LA & Papeete and had no problems.
Boarding on the Pacific Princess at 11:30 AM on 9 October was fast, we never saw much of a line the first day. Passengers arrived up to 5 PM on 10 October when we sailed. Although we felt the ship was small and dated, with not too much to do, we both thought the crew were very friendly and helpful. Having cruised on the RCCL “mega ships” before, the Pacific Princess seemed tiny. It’s OK for Tahiti where you have a lot of stops, but I’d think an overwater cruise would be very boring. Also the ship pitched and rolled a lot, even in gentle seas, so plan ahead if you are prone to sea sickness.
We stayed in a mini-suite, the cabin was roomy. Only complaint was they “upgraded” us to a wheelchair accessible room (#8044) which had a large shower in the bathroom instead of a tub - it took up way too much space plus the water flow was poor. We tried to get back to our reserved mini-suite (#8002) but were told the ship was full and room assignments were made at Princess HQ, not by the ship.
Food onboard was adequate, not that tasty, but plentiful. Dinners had gourmet titles that often tasted strange. Best meal was the lobster on the second of two formal nights. Buffet was open 24/7 so you could usually find something there, like pizza, if still hungry. Best food was the fresh pineapple but they ran out halfway thru the cruise (in Tahiti?) until near the end. Room service menu is very limited, only a few sandwiches. We did the continental breakfast on our balcony, which included some basic egg dishes, a few times to watch the ship sail into ports. We ate at Steakhouse ($15 per) and had great filet mignons, worth the cost as you can’t get good beef in the main restaurant. One tip – we chose late dining at 8:15 – this was too late as dinner was slow so we didn’t finish until after 10 PM. Early dining at 6:15 is better choice although you may miss some island viewing.
The one pool was pitiful, barely a large tub. So we bought passes to the spa deck in front of the gym/spa. Although slightly expensive, it was worth it! Had a large jacuzzi and was limited to 16 people the entire cruise, but you have to buy the passes at spa within first day or 2. We spent most of our deck time there as it’s also the best view out the front.
Gym had old equipment – we were told it was due to be replaced this winter. Exercise classes were great - the instructor, Arlene, was fantastic. But limited in size so sign up the first day. My wife enjoyed some of the spa treatments as well.
Shows in lounge (no theater on Pacific) were OK, singers/dancers not great, but we enjoyed the comedy acts. Not very crowded as most people tended to go to their rooms after dinner, mostly due to the tropical sun & heat of the day.
IMPORTANT! Take a lot of sun tan lotion, SPF 50 or higher – we went thru 2 bottles. We saw many red bodies in the beginning as the sunshine is brutal near the equator. We had great weather which was a mixed blessing as some days we hoped there would be clouds to keep sun off. Also take bug spray if you go inland as flies and mosquitoes abound away from the shoreline.
Islands were fantastic and got better at each stop. Main island, Tahiti, is very crowded so we just took a ½ day trip sightseeing. We used Carl Emery for our tour, he speaks English and is very knowledgeable about the island – check out his website. Papeete is OK to shop before ship sails but I recommend you just browse and check prices, then look for better deals during the cruise. You are back in Papeete at end of the cruise so you can always make the last purchases there.
First stop, Huahine, is OK. Pretty at first, but paled in comparison to later islands. We took bus to the small town and walked to the beach. I recommend you bring your own mask & snorkel and take them with you onshore wherever you go as there are always places to swim.
Sea day to sail to Rangiroa, which is on east side of Polynesia. Rangiroa has best scuba diving, also good snorkeling & glass bottom boating. We did a drift dive along a gorgeous reef, most colorful fish I’ve seen! Saw one gray shark and many small barracuda.
Sea day to sail back to Raiatea. Raiatea was only place we docked besides Papeete, rest was tenders which were pretty efficient. We did the pearl farm/snorkel and enjoyed it, the pearl farm is interesting and you snorkel right off the overwater farm so you can see their oyster beds plus the reef. Wife bought some Tahitian dark pearls there since they are authentic although pearl prices are pretty consistent throughout Polynesia. We also hiked up the 1,000 ft hill behind the ship to get a great view of Tahaa & Bora Bora – take water if you do as it’s a hot hike. Good Polynesian dance show on ship that evening and a dessert/fruit buffet.
Bora Bora was fantastic. We stayed 2 days and enjoyed both. Scuba dove the first day, reef was good but not as colorful as Rangiroa, but saw several 9 ft lemon sharks and many 4-5 ft black tip sharks. They are fed by local scuba divers so are docile and looking for hand outs (but I kept my hands in). Good shopping in Bora Bora – finally found some T-shirts and other tourist junk. Tahitians don’t go in for tourist junk like they do in Caribbean so you have to hunt to find what you want. Also they are very friendly and not pushy. Second day we went wave runnering (aka jet ski) thru the local tour vendors by the pier. Went totally around Bora Bora in 2 hours, saw all the fancy resorts as well as the mountain from all sides - expensive but worth it. Had lunch at Bloody Mary’s restaurant about 2 miles from the pier – apparently a well-known tourist stop, especially for Americans.
Last island was the best, Moorea. Very beautiful, amazing mountains, not too crowded. We did a catamaran/snorkel trip, it was OK. Heard scuba diving was good also. But best tour was the whale watching as they found a pod of whales and were allowed to snorkel with them… so take your mask & snorkel if you do it. Good shopping there also.
Only 3 hours from there to Papeete, we were docked by 8 PM on 18 October. As most of us had late flights on ATN the next evening, we did not have to leave the ship until 6 PM on 19 October. You have all-day in Papeete to finish shopping and take any last excursions. Princess was very gracious to let us stay on the ship using all facilities as the new passengers were arriving. We had to leave our cabin by 8 AM but gym/spa has good changing room with lockers and showers, so we swam & sunbathed most of the day.
I recommend taking Princess transfer to airport as otherwise they want you off the ship by 3:30 PM. The lines to check-in, immigration, and security for ATN were slow but we got thru in 1 hour total. They provide carts for your luggage. Once inside terminal, the waiting room is great - comfortable couches and a small restaurant. I recommend you keep 2,000 francs (about $25) for last-minute snacks & drinks there.
ATN flight back was OK – poor dinner and better breakfast. Tight seating in coach. I recommend going first or business if you can afford it – we will if we do it again. Once back in LA, it was nice to hear announcements only in English as everything on ATN and ship was repeated in French, Tahitian, sometimes Spanish, and English.
To summarize, Tahiti was fantastic – expensive but a once-in-a-life trip for most. Ship was not great but it was OK. Crew was great and tried hard to please, given the small older ship. I think we’re spoiled by the larger RCCL ships like Voyager & Independence but their destinations are limited.