Tahitian Princess June 22-July 2, 2006
We had been on 2 previous cruises, both on Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the Seas to the islands of the Caribbean. Voyager is Royal Caribbean's largest class, so we were a little nervous about the Tahitian Princess being a smaller ship especially since I get motion sick. We were pleasantly surprised. We really got to know a lot of people and I only felt sick once. I recommend if you get motion sick to ask for a room in the middle of the ship. I would feel sick occasionally when we were at the front or aft, but our cabin was in the middle and I was fine when we were there.
June and July are considered winter in French Polynesia, but luckily it wasn't their rainy season. The temperatures averaged in the mid-80s during the day and it rarely ever rained. The islands were much different from the Caribbean; no one was there soliciting you and none of the islands were very developed. We only saw one McDonalds the whole time! I always thought all tropical islands were the same, but these islands were truly breathtaking and like a paradise. It was a 6-hour time difference for us, but it didn't really take us that long to adjust because we slept on the plane.
The Ship There was one pool. It was nice, but a little small. There were also 2 hot tubs. The best and least crowded time to go in them is about 5:30 or 6pm. The gym was very small compared to the Voyagers. There were 5 treadmills and 2 Ellipticals, but unfortunately for me, one of these was out of order. They advertised aerobics classes in the Patter, but whenever I went to the gym for them, no one was there. We only used the spa once for the saunas, but they were very nice. The spa has a sun deck with a hot tub, but it costs $15 for a chair for the day. We didn't know anyone who did that. Our tablemates bought stone massages and said they were amazing. They have waiters providing antibacterial hand gel when you walk into the dining room and throughout the buffet. They are very concerned about keeping any viruses from spreading. We heard that one man developed diarrhea and was quarantined to his room until it stopped. Apparently, they refunded him the money for the days he missed out on.
Dining We had the second dinner seating and the first night they sat us at a table for 2 in the corner of the dining room by a really odd painting. After dinner, we spoke to the maitre'd who was pretty rude and he told us we had requested a table for 2 and he couldn't change it. Originally when we signed up for the cruise, we did sign up for a table of 2, but then maybe 6 months before the cruise we requested a change to a table of 6. Miraculously, the next night we had a note on our door saying we had been moved to another table. We ended up sitting with a nice couple that had cruised a lot and were about our age from Arizona. We all got along very well and dinners were very enjoyable. There was also another honeymooning couple at our table, but they only came about 3 times. It turned out that we had all requested table changes. Oddly enough, one of the couples that we did a few excursions with had requested a table for 2 the first night and ended up at our old table.
We were pretty disappointed in the food compared to the Voyager. The Voyager's food was excellent and this was just mediocre. The first day we did breakfast in the dining room. It was very nice and quick. For the rest of the trip, we went to the buffet. It was good; they pretty much had the same thing every morning. Plus you could have an omelet made. My husband and I were very excited because they had egg whites. Beware, they ran out of pineapple about day #7. Lunch was usually horrible in the buffet, but the grill's chicken sandwiches (avoid the veggie burgers; they are very mushy) and French Fries were very good. They also never had fat free or light salad dressing. They offer snacks around 3:30pm at the buffet. We discovered this 3 days into the cruise. They offer ice cream at this time, which my husband loved since there was no soft serve machines like on the Voyager. Beware though, if you don't get there early, they run out of ice cream. They also have panini's you can make. My advice would be to skip lunch and go to the snack service if you have the late dinner seating.
My husband's favorite dinner meal was the lobster. I'm not sure I had a favorite. Although if you can't find anything on the menu you like, get the fettuccine alfredo that they offer every night. Stay away from the chicken, it's very dry. Most of the desserts weren't worth the calories. The only dessert that was worth it was our honeymoon cake. Our waiters were great, better than waiters we had had on previous ships. Whenever they were working on the deck, they would always come up and talk to us. We never tried any of the specialty restaurants although the people who went said they were very good with many different options.
P.S. Try the mint martini and the cosmopolitini that Jake makes at the wine bar in the dining room!
Service The service was much better than the larger ships. They couldn't have been more helpful or friendly. On previous cruises, my husband always got mad because they never said welcome aboard when we first got on the ship, but on this cruise we heard it multiple times.
People The people, both guests and staff, were friendlier on the Tahitian Princess than on the larger ships. I don't know if this is because there were less people or because most of the people on the ship were from the West Coast (we are from Philadelphia). They automatically charge you $10 per person per day for tips. We liked this a lot better than on Royal Caribbean where they gave us envelopes to determine on our own how much to give each person.
Entertainment We read Frommer's Guide to the South Pacific before and during the trip. Be forewarned, it is wrong on numerous accounts. Also, with all of the tours it talks about, it doesn't tell you which ones that Princess uses and charters through so don't count on doing these tours because they usually only take the people who signed up through Princess. The shows on the ship were horrendous. The stage is very tiny. The only shows that were worth it were the night in Raietea where the Polynesian dancers come aboard and perform. The comedians weren't very good either. They showed a couple of movies, but we opted to lay out by the pool. You could also paint your own pottery, but it was very expensive. They had an internet cafe with 4 or 5 computers, but we never used it.
Thursday, June 22, 2006 We left Philadelphia International Airport for our honeymoon to Tahiti. We had reserved our flights through Princess. Initially we were a little upset because they didn't get us to Papeete until late at night on the 22nd and we would have liked to spend this whole day in Tahiti so we tried to arrange our own flight, but found that it was much cheaper to go through Princess.
We were so excited! We flew to Salt Lake City with a 2-hour layover and then to LAX. We actually had to check in at the International Terminal here and with Air Tahiti. The check in clerks had on leis and there was no line whatsoever which was good because we only had about 1 hour between flights. We then had to go through security. Our plane was out on the runway when we got to the gate, but it took about 2 hours for it to move over to the gate and for them to prepare it. So we ended up getting to Papeete about 1 hour late. The plane luckily wasn't full and the 2 seats in front of us were empty. The plane unfortunately does not have much space between the seats. However, they did provide every passenger with a pillow, blanket, hand wipes, earplugs, headphones, and socks. They had little TV screens in the back of every seat where you could watch movies, play games, or listen to music.
They provided us with a dinner of either chicken and rice or beef, however by the time the flight attendants got back to us, they only had chicken left which was fine with us. They also gave us a roll and yogurt. They provided free alcoholic beverages. They had champagne, wine, gin, rum, vodka, and the Tahitian beer, Hinano. We were disappointed in the drink service. After dinner, we each asked for another drink, but they told us they had put all of the hard alcohol away. We talked to other people later on the earlier flight who told us they had been able to drink the whole flight. The flight attendants were very nice. They also provided a snack, which was a pizza pocket, roll, and yogurt. The flight was very smooth.
When we landed in Tahiti, people handed us very fragrant flowers. My husband and I made it through customs, grabbed our check-in luggage and got a cab all within 10 minutes. We had heard horror stories about it taking a long time to get through customs so I'm not sure if we were just lucky. We did not take the Princess transfers - these would have cost us $120 each way for 2 of us, however we got a cab and beat all of the Princess passengers to the dock for only $30 for both of us. Check-in at the dock was also easy. There were no other passengers there. Be forewarned, they keep your passports and give you a receipt for them. They told us that if they took our luggage, it would take about an hour for it to get up to our room, so since it was so late, we decided to carry it ourselves. When we arrived at the ship, they had Just Married Balloons on our cabin door. Our room was a balcony on the 7th deck. It had a great view of Papeete. We weren't in our room more than 5 minutes when our room steward knocked on the door and showed us where everything was in the room; this was sort of surprising as it was about midnight when we got there. We had requested bathrobes on line prior to arriving, however they weren't in our rooms when we arrived, but we just asked Steve and he provided them within about 10minutes. We bought a soda card that night ($45) for unlimited soda throughout the cruise (Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite, Club Soda).
Friday, June 23, 2006 - Papeete, Tahiti We had reserved a 4WD safari tour with Patrick via email before the cruise. There were 3 other couples on this tour. Two of which we did other tours with during the cruise. This was one of the best tours we did. He took us into the Papenoo Valley and stopped many places along the way to show us all the flowers of Tahiti. He showed us what he called a no-touch plant which drooped when you touched it once and then collapsed if you touched it again. He showed us many waterfalls and also some ferns whose spores could create tattoos. He wouldn't have even had to show us anything because the valley itself was the most breathtaking thing I've even seen in my entire life. He stopped any time we wanted for pictures. We drove through rivers and stopped to swim at a watering hole with a waterfall. We jumped off a large rock into the water. The water was pretty cold, but it was a ton of fun. It rained once briefly during the day. This was a half-day tour for $47 pp or 4500 CFP and he doesn't require a deposit. We wished it could have been longer. He has a full day tour, but it was booked. I would highly recommend doing the full day. You can email him at email@example.com.
We also went to La Marchette and bought the flower arrangements that everyone talks about. They were only $15 and lasted until about the 2nd to last day of the cruise. They were full of tropical flowers and probably would have cost about $75 in the US. They also had pretty cheap ($15) pareos.
Saturday, June 24, 2006 - Huahine We were tendered in Huahine. We took the first tender in because we wanted to do Marc's tour. He was full when we emailed him prior to the cruise and said to meet him on the dock to check for availability. We met a very nice couple here from Arizona who helped us get into the tour. Marc had both a 4WD and a canoe tour with 2 canoes that held about 8 people each. Marc ended up fitting us into one of the canoes although we had heard the 4WD was better. This tour cost 19500CFP per person.
Our guides were very funny. They were dressed in pareos and had flower leis and headpieces. We first went around the island to a deserted hotel where we snorkeled off the beach. It started pouring the minute we got there, but our guide kept telling us it would pass. I didn't believe him because the clouds were pretty ominous, but he was right. The storm ended in about 20minutes. The snorkeling here was ok - some colorful fish and coral, but the current was a little bit strong the further we went out. After about 45 minutes, I was pretty tired from trying to fight it.
After snorkeling, we stopped at a pearl farm where they showed us how they grafted the pearls. They had a little store where you were able to purchase pearls. We then went to another spot for drift snorkeling. I was a little nervous about this and also cold from the last snorkel and the rain, but I did it and I'm glad I did. Our guide followed us in the boat as we drifted along. It was actually much easier than the 1st snorkel because the current just pushed us along. The coral here was amazing colors and the fish were much brighter than the previous site.
We then stopped off a motu (little island) for a picnic where there were tables and chairs set up about knee high in the water. Our guides and Marc served us Hinano beer and rum punch. We ate barbecue chicken and some type of fish and they showed us how to make poisson cru. They also played music on the eikele and on spoons while they sang. My husband and I really grew to like the Polynesian music. The guide then did a pareo tying demonstration. He picked on the two of us who were on our honeymoons. He ended up dressing me up in a palm tree pareo and coconuts. I thought we would be able to keep them, but unfortunately we had to give them back. Finally around 4:30 they took us back to the dock to get our tenders. Email Marc at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At night, the ship had a honeymooners get together in the Tahitian lounge with free drinks.
Sunday, June 25 - At Sea We spent this day lounging around the pool, but unfortunately, the bridge came on the loud speaker about 3 times during the day signaling that we would be going through showers so it was cloudy most of the day. This was our first formal night and The Captains Welcome Cocktail Party in the Tahitian Lounge. Do not go see the show this night; they had dancing skunks. Needless to say we left promptly!
Monday, June 26 - Rarotonga, Cook Islands My husband really wanted to go on a deep sea fishing excursion so he set one up here over email. This seemed to be the cheapest island as the US dollar was relatively strong compared to the New Zealand dollar. We needed two other people to go out and we just happened to run into another honeymooning couple on the tender over who also wanted to go. We went over to the dock and the captain told us we were waiting for one other person who was vacationing on the island. So we went over to the local grocery store and bought some water, beer, and wine. The captain set up about 6 or 7 lines and we went trolling, unfortunately the swells were pretty high on one side of the island and I spent most of the 4 hour ride with my head hanging over the side of the boat. Needless to say, we never drank the wine. After about 2 hours, we still hadn't caught anything. We ended up catching one yellow fin tuna that was about 15lbs. My husband got up in the chair at one point and started to reel in another yellow fin, but unfortunately it got off the line before he reeled it all the way in. We went to the other side of the island which had less swells, but unfortunately, we didn't catch anything else. All in all, not a really great day. The captain told us that they usually catch more. If you want to set this up, just email email@example.com at Seafari Fishing Charters. The website is www.seafari.co.ck. The price is 130NZD pp that includes 4.5 hours of fishing, gear, bait, ice, and tuna fish sandwiches made by the captain's wife. They tell you it includes drinks, but they didn't provide them to us. We wished we had gone to see the interior of the island; from what other people said it was beautiful.
After that, we were going to jump on a bus around the island, but I was still feeling too queasy. So we just walked into town. The shops were much nicer than I expected them to be.
PS We heard from other cruisers that this was the cheapest place to get black pearls mainly because of the strength of the dollar vs. NZD.
Tuesday, June 27th - At Sea This day was much sunnier and we spent almost all of it sunning on the deck. I would highly recommend getting a deck chair before about 10am because the good ones are usually taken by about 10:30AM. They had the French Polynesian officials on board for immigration inspection which everyone had to attend and they gave us back our passports. We saw part of the show this night. It was better than the dancing skunks, but still not very impressive and we left about 10minutes into it again.
Wednesday, June 28th - Raiatea/Tahaa We had read mixed reviews of Brunos le excursion bleue snorkeling excursion here, but the couple from Arizona that we met on Marks tour were doing it and another couple from Patrick's tour. We had tried to sign up for it ahead of time, but he said he was full. At first, when we went to the dock, he wasn't very friendly and told us that all 12 spots were booked. When all 12 people showed up, we started walking away to find another tour, but Bruno stopped us and said that everyone was tiny enough that we could all fit. So we left in his canoe to head over to Tahaa and there was plenty of room. We first stopped at a pearl farm similar to the one on Marc's excursion, but here they were actually grafting the pearls instead of just demonstrating it. Then we walked along the dock into the pearl farm owner's house where they showed us all of the different grades and shapes of the pearls and then of course, tried to sell us their jewelry designs. I don't really like black pearls, but she had a lot of nice pieces and a very large selection. It was pretty neat to see their houses. There were quite a few people who lived there and they had mosquito nets around their beds as well as numerous dogs. (Dogs and chickens run wild around all of the French Polynesian islands. The chickens are not afraid of you!) After some people bought some jewelry, we headed off to a vanilla farm. Here they provided us with fresh pineapple, mango juice, and pancakes. They showed us how the vanilla was grown and dried. You could buy some of course. Bruno also pointed out many other different types of flora.
Bruno then took us to a motu with a lagoonarium. They had sharks, large fish, rays, and 2 turtles that Bruno picked up and showed us. They also had a few poisonous fish that Bruno braved the water for to show us such as a stone fish, conch, blow fish, and a really pretty yellow fish, but I don't remember it's name. We then were able to snorkel off of the dock. It wasn't very deep, but if you swam out to a certain point, it just dropped off into oblivion - kind of frightening! There were lots of beautiful fish here. We then had lunch on the motu (not as exciting as in the water). We had wine, coconut fried fish, pineapple, coconut bread, & sweet potatoes. We then left for one more snorkel. Bruno took us to the coral gardens. He anchored the boat, and then we walked onto the beach and to the other side of the island. The drift would take us back to the boat. You had to where shoes for this, no fins. Bruno told us we could push off the coral carefully, but told us to avoid the black sea urchins because they would sting our skin. This was the most amazing snorkeling we had ever seen! You had to be really careful to avoid running into the coral. It was very shallow, and I could stand almost the whole time. We saw an octopus and touched a sea anemone also. A few people ended up with cuts, but Bruno had antiseptic to put on them. We then left to go back to the dock. Bruno drove us around Tahaa and a flying fish almost landed in our boat. He made us rum punch drinks on the way back. Visit www.tahaa.net for reservations.
We made it back just in time to see the children of Tamarii Raiatea perform their dances. This is the only entertainment that I would recommend on the ship. This was also tropical night. They had another dancing group perform that night on the deck and they were also amazing. This was their champagne waterfall night with late night buffet. There were some ice carvings and many food carvings. It was really nice. They played music and you could dance on the deck.
Thursday, June 29th - Bora Bora We set sail this morning for Bora Bora. We first took a sail around Tahaa. My fiancE and I went to the gym that morning to work out and it was the perfect view of the island. We pulled up to Bora Bora around 11:30 and the views were some of the most amazing I have ever seen. The water here was about every shade of blue imaginable. We met up with our friends from the other tours to try and arrange a snorkeling or jet skiing tour. There were many tour group opportunities waiting at the dock. Unfortunately, all of the jet skis were rented for the day. So we decided on a ½ day snorkeling tour through Magic Snorkel Safari reserved at the dock for 6500CFP per person. We met at the dock at 1:30. There were 8 of us from the ship. He first took us to some coral gardens where it was pretty rough. We fed the fish there, but they weren't that colorful. It was probably about 12 feet deep and there were divers below us. The guide then took us to swim with the stingrays. The guide fed them so they were swarming all around us. They are very soft, but we had done this in Grand Cayman so it wasn't as exciting.
He then took us out of the lagoon, stopped the boat, and told us we were going to swim with the sharks here. Another girl and I weren't brave enough to go in the water, but my husband did and said that it was pretty intense. We could see plenty enough from the boat. The guide fed the reef sharks and about a dozen of them came and he also harpooned a red snapper in the water.
Next, he took us on a circle island tour around the lagoon. He pointed out John Travolta's house, the airport, and all the hotels including a $10000 per night 3 bedroom over-water bungalow with its own pool. He then took us to a motu where we ate pineapple at a picnic table in the water. It was the best pineapple we had the whole trip. There were hermit crabs all over the shoreline. The other people on the tour wanted to do some more snorkeling (I had had enough) so the guide took us to another area with coral gardens which apparently would not have been that interesting had it not been for the giant eel they saw.
Friday, June 30th - Bora Bora For our second day in Bora Bora, we were planning on renting a scooter to drive around the island, as according to Frommer's, it is only 19miles, but apparently they don't rent any scooters now because of all of the potholes (Frommer's still says you can rent them). So we rented 2 bikes instead for $35 for both of us for all day. They had baskets on the front to carry our stuff. One road goes around the entire island so you can't get lost. We followed Frommer's advice and went counterclockwise around the island. Unfortunately, we wished we had gone the other way first, because by 10am we were at Bloody Mary's. We went in and looked around real quick, then decided to ride back later for a drink. We then passed the Hotel Bora Bora and Matira Beach. This beach is supposedly rated most romantic in the world, but other than the fact that it is in Bora Bora, it wasn't that special. We rode through the hotel district and through some small towns. There was only one hill that we had to ride up, but it was worth it as the views of Mount Otemanu and the lagoon were amazing. Going down the windy hill was much more fun.
This side of the island was beautiful with amazing foliage and coconut plantations. There were many places to stop for pictures. We made it back to the rental shop in about 3.5 hours, but we decided to go back to Matira Beach. The water here was really clear so we snorkeled a little and then rested on the beach for about an hour. We then went back to Bloody Mary's. It wasn't very crowded. The floor is sand and they have a shoe check. The chairs are made of palm tree trunks and you simply must see the bathroom. We had a bloody Mary ($6.50) and a Catamaran ($8.50) at the bar. The atmosphere was great. So we stayed and got a Mai Tai ($12) and a Hinano ($3.50). Save your money and get the cheaper Catamaran - it tasted better. There was also a white Persian cat lying on the bar that we played with and took pictures with for a while.
This was the 2nd formal night and this was the only night that I felt motion sick on the cruise ship, but this was only in the Lounge which was on the top deck and the dining room. I was fine back in our room. I think this was because we had a room in the middle of the ship and we didn't feel the movement as much. This was the Captains Circle Party for previous Princess cruisers and honeymooners where we took pictures with the captain. This was lobster night and the dessert was Baked Alaska.
Saturday, July 1 - Moorea Here we decided to try and find a 4WD excursion to do since everything we read said that Moorea was one of the most beautiful islands in French Polynesia. It certainly was breathtaking. At the dock, we met Edna who offered us a 4WD 2-hour excursion for $30pp if we found 2 other people to go. So we waited on the dock for the next few tenders and ran into the honeymooning couple from the fishing trip and they decided to join us. Edna took us through the valley and showed us her house and some pineapple plantations. We then stopped at an agricultural school to taste jelly & marmalade that was made there - we could have done without this part. We then drove up many windy roads to get to Belvedere Lookout where the views were amazing. We also stopped at a juice factory where unfortunately they don't give tours anymore (another point where Frommer is wrong), but they did let us try about 8 different shots including 80 proof vanilla rum, vanilla cream liquor, pineapple/coconut, grapefruit, banana liquor and a drink called Tahiti Drink (my favorite!). We had all of these in a period of about 3 minutes. I wanted to get some souvenirs and some Tahiti Drink here to take back with us, but my husband had the brilliant idea of getting them back in Papeete where he assured me they would be cheaper. So we left and stopped at a pearl shop where they were watching France play in the World Cup. Then Edna dropped us off at the Sheraton beach and said she would come back and pick us up. We explored the hotel a little and walked out on the piers where the over-water bungalows were. We were really hoping to see into one, but no one came out. We grabbed 2 chairs on the beach and relaxed. There was a water sport place right on the beach and we wished that we had realized sooner you could go parasailing. Edna came back to pick us up and luckily there were other people who needed to go back to the ship also so it was only $20 for the 6 of us. We had to have our luggage outside of our room by 10pm this night.
Sunday, July 2 - Papeete All the shops in Papeete except for maybe 2 right along the dock were closed because it was Sunday as well as the shops on the ship so no luck for souvenirs or Tahiti Drink! We walked around Papeete for about 2 hours looking for any shops that were open, but it was fruitless. We did see some of the locals singing in church. We decided to get back on the ship and hang out at the pool, as we had to be out of the room by 10am. They had a place to check our carry-on bags on deck 10 and as we did not take Princess transfers, our luggage was kept at the dock for us all day. They had all of the normal meals on the ship. Dinner was open seating this night and we arranged to meet up with some of the people we met on our excursions. We had to pick up our carry-on bags by 7 pm so we grabbed them before dinner. We were worried about taking them to dinner with us but almost everyone else did also and the waiters had a place for us to put them. After dinner, we walked around the deck one last time.
We had to be off the ship by 8pm, but they were still calling numbers for the Princess transfers as we got off at 8:30. We got a taxi with one of the couples from our excursions and it only cost $30 between the 4 of us. There was a huge line for the 11:30pm flight when we got there. I highly recommend getting a cart because you have to keep your luggage with you the whole time you are standing in line. They check your passports while you are in line. The whole airport is an open-air building with fans. We couldn't imagine how hot it would be in there if it was a summer afternoon. After 2 hours, we finally made it up to the check-in desk where they gave us our boarding passes and weighed our luggage. We then had to take our luggage with us again over to the security point where they put it through a detector and then we went through security. There are 3 stores at the airport. The cheapest one is the 2nd one you come to after going through security, although the first one had the best selection. They even had Tahiti drink! My husband bought a 6 pack of Hinano to take back even though it cost $19. We started boarding about ½ hour later. They gave us flowers once again as we got on the plane. This flight was much more full. Unfortunately we had 2 extremely rude people in front of us who decided midway through take-off to lean their chairs back as far as they could go and then they kept fidgeting so the chair kept bouncing up and down in my face. It was the most uncomfortable 8 hours I have ever experienced because the guy failed to put up his seat throughout the whole entire trip. Luckily they had different movies this time (not that I could see them very well with the monitor right in my face). The meal on the way back was a snack consisting of pasta, a roll, and some yogurt. Breakfast was an omelet or a crepe, fruit, a roll, and yogurt. When we landed in LAX, we had to wait for our luggage after going through customs. Customs was much less thorough than we expected them to be; they didn't even ask us anything. We then had to take our luggage through customs and drop it off at the transfer center so it would be sent to Philly. When we finally made it to the gate, our flight to Chicago was loading. It left right on time. When we got to Chicago however our flight was delayed an hour so we ended up getting in an hour late after 24 hours of traveling!
All in all, it was the best vacation we have ever done. The islands of French Polynesia were nothing like the islands of the Caribbean. They were more mountainous, the people were friendlier, they were much less developed, and the flora were the most amazing we have ever seen. Our only regret would be not booking a precruise stay, as we will probably never get here again. I would also recommend emailing to set up the excursions in this review much sooner than we did, as a lot of them were full. Unfortunately, we were planning our wedding and didn't have time to think about it until 1 week before we left. Read Less