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Tahiti Vacation Cost: Should You Cruise French Polynesia or Pick a Hotel?
S P& Tahiti

Tahiti Vacation Cost: Should You Cruise French Polynesia or Pick a Hotel?

Tahiti Vacation Cost: Should You Cruise French Polynesia or Pick a Hotel?
S P& Tahiti
Colleen McDaniel
Editor-In-Chief
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Whether you take a Tahiti cruise or visit Tahiti by land on your own, this destination is the stuff of dreams. Beautiful beaches, swaying palm trees and flower leis at every turn. You know you want to go, but should you take a Tahiti cruise? Book an overwater bungalow in Tahiti? Or look for a cheap Tahiti hotel?

As you'd expect, there are positives and negatives to French Polynesia cruises and land vacations, ranging from inclusivity to cost and convenience.

Let us help you decide the best way to visit this gem of a region, which comprises some 130 islands, including popular destinations like Tahiti, Bora Bora and Moorea. We've dug in and done the research to make choosing your French Polynesia vacation a snap.

Note: Prices listed were accurate at the time this article was written but can and will change.

Tahiti Cruises Usually Come with Airfare Costs -- So Do Tahiti Hotel Stays

Flying to your cruise port (Photo: PK.Phuket studio/Shutterstock.com)

Regardless of how you're planning to visit French Polynesia, you're probably going to have to pay for a flight.

Flight to Tahiti Cost: If you're taking a Tahiti cruise, it probably departs and returns from Papeete, Tahiti. Papeete's Fa'a'a International Airport welcomes multiple flights daily, from cities including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Paris, Auckland, Seattle, Tokyo and Honolulu.

If you don't live near one of these cities, you'll have to book a flight there as well. A basic economy ticket from the airports in New York (Newark, LaGuardia and JFK) runs roughly $1,000 per person during the low season (December through March). Premium tickets in the same period start at about $2,000, while business class tickets start at around $5,000.

If you want to travel during the U.S. summer, expect those prices to jump; basic economy starts at around $1,600, premium at $2,700 and business at $7,000.

Flights to Other Islands in French Polynesia: If you're planning a land vacation, you might stay in Tahiti or venture off to one of French Polynesia's other islands. From Papeete, you can hop on a short commuter flight to more than 30 other destinations in French Polynesia via Air Tahiti. (Note: Air Tahiti connects the islands; Air Tahiti Nui offers international flights.)

You can get to bigger islands, like Bora Bora, Raiatea and Moorea, for about $150 per person during the low season. But flights to smaller spots, such as Puka-Puka or Rurutu, will be at least $250. If you fly during the U.S. summer, those prices jump by about $50 per person.

It's also worth noting that virtually all flights into Papeete arrive in the late evening, while the short flights to other islands leave in the morning. Fa'a'a is a small airport, and services are closed while flights aren't operating. That being said, you'll likely want to book a hotel in Papeete overnight.

If you plan on island hopping, you can save some money by purchasing an Air Tahiti Pass. A Discovery Pass will get you access to Moorea, Huahine and Raiatea, while a Bora Bora Pass will get you those three, plus Maupiti.

Additional passes are available that get you to the other or more of French Polynesia's beautiful islands. The Discovery Pass is the least expensive, at around $400 for adults in the low season and $430 in the high season.

The most expensive is the Marquesas Pass, which runs as much as $1,080 per adult in the high season. You'll pay more if you're traveling with heavy bags; kids get a slight discount.

French Polynesia Cruises that Don't Require International Flights: If you live in the United States and are hoping to skip flying internationally, Holland America Line offers roundtrip cruises from San Diego that visit French Polynesia.

Itineraries for these cruises to Tahiti and other islands of the South Pacific range from 35 days to 56 days. These cruises are immersive; you'll visit a half-dozen islands in French Polynesia, as well as Hawaii and Fiji, among other ports.

Itineraries start at $3,700. HAL also offers French Polynesia on its world cruises, roundtrip from Fort Lauderdale, and grand voyages from San Diego.

Viking also offers 32-night roundtrip sailings from Los Angeles that include Hawaii and French Polynesia. Prices start at $11,000 per person.

Regent Seven Seas includes French Polynesia on its 150-night world cruise, departing Miami and returning to San Francisco, starting at $91,000 per person.

While these cruises still might require airfare, depending on where you live, it's a domestic ticket, which could save you some money.

Tahiti Cruises that Include Airfare

Tahiti (Photo: Maridav/Shutterstock.com)

If you're cruising with a luxury brand, like Regent Seven Seas or Silversea, there's a good chance airfare will be included in the cost of your cruise. These all-inclusive cruise lines might even include transfers to and from your home airport so you can avoid parking costs.

Small-ship cruise lines like Viking, Windstar and Oceania often run deals that include airfare.

Other Options for Moving Between French Polynesian Islands

Aerial View of Bora Bora (Photo: Christian Wilkinson/Shutterstock)

If you're staying at a hotel or resort in French Polynesia and hope to move from Tahiti to Morea and back cheaply, your best bet is a passenger ferry.

Aremiti ferries depart daily, running between Papeete and Moorea. Prices start at about $15 per adult, though family packages are offered. Terevau offers daily fast ferries between Papeete and Morea as well, starting at around $10 per adult.

Buses are available to get you to the ports so you can board the ferries.

Staying in Tahiti: Overwater Bungalows and Cheap Hotels

Bora Bora (Photo: TWEITH/Shutterstock)

Overwater bungalows in Tahiti and other islands in French Polynesia are exactly what you'd expect. They're thatched-roof private spaces that sit over the water, allowing guests to jump into the sea right from their own deck.

They're gorgeous and found throughout French Polynesia, though they're ubiquitous in Bora Bora, Tahiti and Moorea.

French Polynesia also offers more traditional accommodations, from beachfront luxury resorts to cheap Tahiti hotels. Your decision will depend on your budget and tastes.

Staying at an Overwater Bungalow in Tahiti: If you've always dreamed of going to Tahiti and French Polynesia and staying at an overwater bungalow, do it. Just know that it probably will cost you.

Expect to pay rates that start at around $800 per night for most of these properties, and they can skyrocket from there. Prices generally are inclusive of lodging, Wi-Fi and some nonmotorized watersports toys, but not of meals or drinks.

You can save a little on your average nightly rate by staying longer, and if you book well in advance, you can also add a little savings. Some hotels offer as much as 20% off for booking a year or more in advance.

The names of these properties are probably familiar to fans of luxury hotels: St. Regis, Four Season, Sofitel, InterContinental and Le Meridien, among many others.

It's worth noting that some cruises offer an extension, either at the beginning or end of your cruise, that includes an overwater bungalow stay. Windstar, for example, offers a 10-day cruise package that includes a two-night stay at an overwater bungalow in Moorea, for about $6,000.

Cheap Tahiti Hotels: If your plan is to stay in Tahiti, the most-populous island in French Polynesia, you can find hotels for just about any budget.

Yes, you can find real bargains -- less than $100 a night. But buyer beware: Most cheap Tahiti hotels in this range are roundly slammed. A zip around Tripadvisor shows ratings of three bubbles or fewer for properties in this range.

Your options -- and comfort -- are likely to be a bit better if you're willing to pay around $150 a night. Starting in this range, you'll get more amenities, and you might end up in a better location.

When looking for a cheap hotel in Tahiti or anywhere in French Polynesia, make sure you know where it's located in relation to the hub of the island's activity.

You should also consider questions like, is it OK that the beach is a public beach vs. a private one? Can I walk to everything I need, like restaurants and shopping, or will I need to take a bus or rent a car? Making these decisions will help you determine whether price is the ultimate decider or if overall value is more important.

Tahiti Cruising Ranges from Somewhat Inclusive to Fully Inclusive

The Star Breeze sun deck at sunset. (Photo: Colleen McDaniel)

All cruises to French Polynesia include meals onboard, some beverages, entertainment and transportation from island to island. The high-end luxury lines are fully inclusive of things like tips for crew, all drinks, shore excursions and tours.

On less-inclusive ships, you'll pay extra for those items. Read our feature on Tips For Picking a Tahiti Cruise to help decide which cruise line is right for you.

Dining Out in French Polynesia

Fine Dining (Photo: Bevisphoto/Shutterstock)

Restaurant Dining on Land in French Polynesia: Known for fresh yet humble ingredients like fish, breadfruit and coconut, French Polynesia is home to world-class dining. If you want to splash out for a great dinner, you can.

Top-rated restaurants on Tripadvisor include Bora Bora's La Villa Mahana and Papeete's L'O a la Bouche, both of which offer French specialties. For an experience like this, expect to pay about $100 per person.

For most meals, you will pay less, assuming you leave your hotel property. According to LivingCost.org, the average lunch in Papeete costs $15, while an average dinner runs $51. Breakfast varies, but $15 is a good estimate. Fast food will cost about $11. A beer at a local pub goes for about $5.

Cruise Dining in French Polynesia: Meals are included with all cruises. However, some lines, such as Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises, charge extra for dining at specialty restaurants.

This varies widely depending on the cruise line you choose, but a good estimate is around $50 per person. The quality of food on cruise ships, especially in specialty restaurants, is high.

Some cruise lines have partnerships with big-name chefs, as well. Seabourn offers a Thomas Keller restaurant, while Oceania has a long association with Jacques Pepin.

A common practice for cruise lines sailing in French Polynesia is to offer beach and sundeck barbecues, which generally include a range of local dishes, including poisson cru (similar to ceviche) and po'e, a pudding made with taro.

Visit French Polynesia: Tours and Activities

Snorkeling (Photo: Tropical studio/Shutterstock)

There's no shortage of fun activities in French Polynesia. Ashore, there are mountains for hiking or exploring by 4x4, plus waterfalls and gardens galore. And the water is a playground of its own, whether you're seeking a relaxed tour by boat, renting Jet Skis or snorkeling and diving.

French Polynesia Tours from Land: If you're staying in a hotel or overwater bungalow, you might have everything you need on site, from snorkel gear to kayaks, pools and beaches.

If you want to venture off to tour the islands or surrounding waters, you'll probably need to book with a tour operator. Most tours will pick guests up at their hotels or a central meeting point.

Prices for tours vary greatly depending on what you select. At the low end, according to Viator, ($75 and under per person) are exhilarating 4x4 or off-road 4WD tours, along with short snorkeling tours and the like.

For less than $150 per person, you can do virtually anything, from half-day sightseeing tours to up-close whale watching. Higher-priced activities generally include private options of similar tours, as well as longer excursions and scuba diving.

French Polynesia Shore Excursions by Cruise: Most cruises don't include shore excursions, with the exception luxury lines like Silversea and Regent Seven Seas.

Like many of the hotels, small-ship lines, including Windstar and Paul Gauguin, offer water toys that can be used right from the ship. They also provide snorkel gear for you to use anywhere you'd like during your cruise.

You will find that many of the cruise lines offer the same shore excursions you could book on land, though they often are priced higher through the cruise ship.

For example, a 2.5-hour Jet Ski tour with guide booked through the ship on a Windstar cruise cost $499 per Jet Ski in Bora Bora. Meanwhile, a similar tour offered through Viator costs $130 per person for two hours.

You can always elect to book shore excursions from independent operators, rather than the cruise ship. Just be aware there's a convenience to booking through the ship, as you'll have your hand held throughout the process.

Also, if you aren't able to return to the ship before it leaves port, you will be responsible for getting to the ship in the next port of call. If your ship-booked tour is late, the ship will wait.

Traveling French Polynesia Cost Comparisons: Cruise vs. Hotel Stay

Tahiti (Papeete) (Photo:sarayuth3390/Shutterstock)

Still can't decide between a French Polynesia cruise or hotel stay? We'll break it down for you by cost, matching similar experiences on land and by cruise.

Overwater Bungalow vs. Luxury French Polynesia Cruise

For both of these scenarios, let's assume you are a party of two spending 10 nights in French Polynesia during the low season. Rates don't include taxes for either hotel or cruise stays. They also don't take into account getting to/from the airport or to/from excursions and restaurants.

Overwater Bungalow: At $1,000 per night, you'll spend $10,000 for those 10 days. Business airfare from the U.S. will cost $5,000 per person. Total: $20,000

(If you're doing an overwater bungalow anywhere but Papeete, throw in another $200 per person to account for airfare between islands.)

For food, we'll assume that you it's an important part of your vacation, so you spend somewhat more than the average. For simplicity, we'll round to $100 per person on food for eight days.

On two nights, you decided to do high-end meals, which pushes it $175 per person per day. You don't mind paying a little extra each day for great wine or spirits, along with soft drinks and beer. Conservatively, you'll spend $40 per person per day on drinks. Total: $3,100

If you're ambitious, you'll probably try to book activities seven of your 10 days in French Polynesia. You like smaller group activities and don't want to mess with crowds or wait on others, so you're booking slightly more expensive tours at $150 per person. That's an additional $2,100 for a couple.

Total for the couple's trip to French Polynesia: $25,200

Luxury Cruise: Ten-night cruises on Regent Seven Seas start at about $14,000 per person and include business-class airfare, all meals and drinks and all shore excursions. This trip visits six different islands, vs. only one for the land trip. Total: $28,000

Total for the luxury cruise to French Polynesia: $28,000.

Cheap Tahiti Hotel vs. Big Cruise Ship to Tahiti

For both of these scenarios, we'll go with a party of two spending 7 nights in French Polynesia during the U.S. fall. Rates don't include taxes for either hotel or cruise stays. They also don't include getting to/from the airport or to/from excursions and restaurants.

Cheap Tahiti Hotel: We'll assume you're spending $150 per night, so $1,050 total. Economy airfare from the U.S. will cost $1,000 per person. Total: $3,050

(This assumes you only stay in Tahiti; airfare to get you between islands will run $200 per person.)

For food, we'll go with a conservative estimate: six days of average spend, and a seventh where you went for a gourmet feast. So $81 per person for six days, $131 per person for the seventh. We'll go with drinks at a rate of $10 per person per day. Total: $1,374

Booking a range of activities had you busy five of those days. Four of them cost $75 per person, and the fifth cost $150 per person. Total: $600

Total for the trip: $5,024

Star Breeze sits anchored in French Polynesia. (Photo: Colleen McDaniel)

Big Cruise Ship to Tahiti: You've selected NCL for your cruise to Tahiti. A seven-night cruise starts at $850 per person, so $1,700 total. It visits five islands. Airfare will be the same as it is for the hotel: $1,000 per person for economy. Total: $3,700

For food, it's covered, but you decided to splurge one night at a specialty restaurant, so that's $50 per person. At the low end, you'll have two drinks for $10 per person per day. Total: $240

You've also decided to book a range of activities but are up for only five days (you'll hit the beach for the others). You book three excursions on your own at $75 per person and two through the ship at $150 per person. Total: $825

You'll have to pay staff tips. The current rate outlined by NCL is $16 per person per day. Total: $224

Total for the trip: $4,989

French Polynesia Costs: Mid-Priced Hotel vs. Mid-Priced Cruise Ship

For a comparable look, we'll say a party of two is visiting French Polynesia for seven nights during the low season. Rates don't include taxes for either hotel or cruise stays, nor do they include transportation to or from the airport, excursions or restaurants.

Mid-Priced Hotel in Tahiti: A rate for a mid-priced hotel in Papeete will run about $300. At seven nights, that's $1,750. You'll pay $1,000 per person for economy airfare from the U.S. Total: $4,100

You will only stay in Papeete and won't be visiting any other island.

For five nights, you'll keep it conservative and spend $81 per person on food. But the sixth and seventh nights, you want to live it up a bit, spending about $125 per person each night. Drinks will run you about $20 per person per day. Total: $1,590

You book shore tours for five days. For four of them, you paid $75 per person; the fifth cost $150 per person. Total: $600

Total for the trip: $6,290

Mid-Priced Cruise in Tahiti: Your seven-night Windstar cruise costs $3,600 per person and visits six different islands. Airfare will run you $1,000 per person. Total: $5,600

All food is included in your Windstar cruise, including two beach barbecue parties and all onboard dining, even at specialty restaurants. Soft drinks are included, but you'll spend $10 per person per day on other drinks. Total: $140

Because Windstar includes beach parties, snorkel gear and things to do from the marina of the ship, you only want to book three shore excursions. All three will run $130 per person. Total: $780

You have to pay crew gratuities at a rate of $12 per person per day. Total: $168

Total for the trip: $6,688

The Bottom Line: Cruise French Polynesia or Visit French Polynesia by Land

From a purely cost perspective, a visit by land might be slightly less expensive than a cruise. But when you take into account the full experience, it's tough to beat a cruise. For starters, you'll visit multiple islands in French Polynesia so you can better experience the culture and history of this incredible region. You're also likely to have special events -- beach breaks and barbecues -- that you simply won't get on your own. If you're staying on land and plan to venture off proprty, you'll also need to factor in costs for taxis or buses.

Additionally, cruising takes care of everything for you. You board the ship, unpack once and are treated to a curated experience you'll never forget.

Updated November 01, 2022

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