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Trip Report Tahiti - April 2013

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TAHITI 2013

In April, 2013, we traveled to Tahiti where we stayed on the islands of Moorea and Tahiti prior to boarding an Oceania cruise that sailed through French Polynesia and the Society Islands.

We left Phoenix via Delta Airlines to Los Angeles (LAX). We were lucky as Delta checked our bags all the way through to Papeete after showing the agent our boarding pass on Air France and even though we were on separate ticket for Air France. The layover at LAX was spent in the Business Class Lounge of Air France. Though we weren’t flying business class, we were flying premium economy on Air France to Papeete so we were able to buy a day pass at the lounge. It was a long layover – 6 hours before our midnight flight left LAX. The lounge was a great place to spend the layover. It had comfortable chairs, was much quieter than the regular seating areas and had a variety of snacks from soup and mini-sandwiches to crackers and cheese. We were very comfortable. Before we boarded our flight, we bought liquor at the duty free shop since we had read that the liquor in Tahiti was very expensive. Heck I think the liquor in the duty free shop was very expensive!

We boarded our Air France flight with no problems. It was the first time we had ever used this airline and we would book the premium economy with them again. Our seats were very spacious and as good as some business class seats we had used on other airlines. The PE section was only 3 rows of a 2 – 4 – 2 seat configuration located between business class and economy. The seats had leg and foot rests which I really appreciated being so short. The food was decent and they served a snack as well as a full meal. The down side was that we were an hour and a half late leaving LAX for who knows what reason. No one ever really said why. The flight was uneventful which is always a good thing.

The line for immigration in Papeete was long and the process was very slow. The humidity hit us right away. Coming from a dry climate we could really feel it. Once we got through immigration and customs, our friends were waiting for us and we grabbed a cab to the ferry that goes to Moorea. We timed it just right in getting the ferry. I beat feet to the ticket window and bought tickets and we were the last to board before the ferry pulled away from the dock! Now we could take a breather.

The ferry was very nice. We sat in the air conditioned section which had comfortable seats and looked out the windows at the beautiful water.

Moorea
Pulling up to the dock the first thing you noticed was how beautiful the island looked – so green and lush. The deckhands unloaded the bags and we rolled across to get our rental car at Avis. The car was compact and certainly not big enough to transport all four of us and all the bags in one trip. We decided that Hank and I would go ahead with all of the bags and then he would come back and get our friends.

Off we went with the car piled with bags. The Hilton Resort was located about 25 minutes from the port where the ferry was located. Hank dropped me off and went to pick up our friends.

Friends were able to check in right away and go to their room which was ready. They were staying at the Hilton on points which was a great value because the rooms are very expensive. Hank and I had booked an over-the-water bungalow which is very popular and so we had to wait for an available room to be cleaned. The four of us decided to head out to get something to eat so we drove back the way we had come to a small restaurant called Allo Pizza. This was our first sticker shock at the prices for meals! A relatively small pizza was over $10. Luckily the food was good – or maybe we were just hungry!
After lunch we headed back to the hotel. We were finally able to check into our room about 3:00 p.m. The room was very nice with a glass see through coffee table that looked down into the lagoon and our own private deck with a ladder than lead down to the lagoon. The water was a beautiful, clear turquoise blue where you could see lots of fish swimming and coral.

That night we were picked up and went to the Tiki Theatre Village for the tour, dinner and show. The village wasn’t what we expected. It was very small. We were lead around to the few huts and the guide talked about the lifestyle of the people and the hardships they faced. We expected to see more I think in the way of cultural sights, but a lot of what we saw were photographs and a couple of souvenir stands; we ended up killing some time before dinner. The food wasn’t bad but it was a typical buffet. Interesting breadfruit that was deep fried that you first thought was a potato but was in fact a type of fruit that had been breaded and fried. After dinner they put on a show. The show was Polynesian dancing which included dances from their history. It was entertaining but way too long. A lot of it reminded me of dancing we had seen in Hawaii. So while it was entertaining I can’t say it was as wonderful as some of hype we read about said it was going to be. We were very tired by the time we got back to the hotel.

The next morning we were off in the rental car for our island tour. Moorea is a heart-shaped island called “the magical island.” It has spiky mountains, a beautiful lagoon and very lush tropical foliage. It was an easy island to drive around with very little traffic. We stopped at Belvedere Lookout, a viewpoint that had breathtaking views of Mount Rotui and Mount Tohivea. We also stopped at the Titiroa Marae which is some ancient ruins. We drove around the island and saw beautiful beaches and beautiful bays. The drive was not very long and in fact we decided to make the drive again going the opposite direction. We saw some areas that were nice, and some that were not so nice. It was very hot and humid.

We ate dinner at Rudy’s Restaurant that had been recommended on several trip forums. Rudy’s will pick you up from your hotel which was nice. Even though we had a rental car, the roads were a little windy and were very dark at night. We had an excellent dinner at Rudy’s, although again very expensive!

Our last night at the Hilton. We decided that we could have stayed one more night and enjoyed it to relax. We didn’t get an opportunity to swim in the lagoon or use our deck much which was unfortunate. We did get a chance to enjoy cocktails on the deck and met a nice couple from Australia that was on their honeymoon. We watched the sunset from the deck.

We thought that other than our room the Hilton was so-so. As we said, prices were very expensive and we had breakfast both mornings and opted for only the continental – in part due to cost. Even that ran us about $50 per breakfast for the two of us. The service was very slow and they just didn’t seem organized whether it was at the restaurant or at the front desk.

The next morning Hank and I headed back to Papeete. We took our time checking out and then stopped for lunch at a small mall that had a café. The food was actually pretty good. I opted for a sandwich which was huge and he had the plat due jour. A post office was right there so I wrote a couple of postcards to people and we mailed them hoping they would get there before we got back! On we went to the ferry terminal. Hank dropped me off with the luggage and went to turn in the rental car. No issues in the turn in of the car which was nice and we got tickets with no problem for the ferry. Luggage was loaded and off we went on the return trip to Papeete.

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    Papeete
    When the ferry landed we collected our luggage and planned on grabbing a taxi to our hotel. We actually were approached by a taxi driver who it turned out was taking another couple to the same hotel. As with food, taxis are very expensive and we were charged about $35 for the one-way trip to the hotel. The ride took about 25 minutes and we then we arrived at the Manava Suites Hotel.
    The Manava Suites was a very modern looking hotel. We had booked a king junior suite but were pleasantly surprised when we got upgraded to a full one bedroom suite. As a result we had a very large room. We didn’t have a view, unless you count a view of the parking lot, but still we thought it was a nice room. Waiting for us on arrival was a message from Larry to confirm dinner. Larry and his wife Linda were also going on the cruise and we had connected through Cruise Critic. I called him back and we agreed on a meet time.
    The four of us had dinner at Casa Bianca, a restaurant that was located not that far from either hotel in the marina. The food was Italian and it wasn’t too bad. We enjoyed the dinner and I’m sure the couple of bottles of wine we had helped the meal along! It was a nice evening and we enjoyed their company. Linda and Larry had been in the cruise industry and worked on cruise ships. He is a retired airline pilot and she is a retired nurse.
    The next morning we were up and ready for our “jungle safari.” We had booked a 4x4 jeep ride that was to go through the inner portion of the island. We were picked up right on time and it turned out we had the vehicle all to ourselves. The trip took us up through the Papenoo Valley. The scenario was all very lush jungle looking with several waterfalls along the way. None of the waterfalls was very close but it was still beautiful to see. We were riding in the back of an open air (had a top) truck so we had a lot of dust. The road up through the valley was not too bad in part, but other parts definitely needed a four wheel drive. We stopped at several scenic sights. For lunch we ate at Relais de la Maroto which was situated on top of a hill back in the valley. It is intended to be a weekend away location for people to travel to from the town but it was a tad rustic for our tastes. The lunch we had was very good though and we enjoyed it. We then travelled back down from the valley and were back at the hotel about 4:00 p.m. It was a full day and we were dusty and tired but we enjoyed the trip. Dinner that night was at the hotel and as with our past meals good, but expensive.
    The next day we checked out and headed to City Hall which is where Oceania was conducting its check-in of passengers. We couldn’t board the ship till 5:00 p.m. which was irritating. Due to the late flights leaving Tahiti, the cruise line was allowing the departing passengers a later disembarkation. There wasn’t much we could do but sit around and kill time. Because it was a Sunday, not much was open in the town. So we people watched and waited.
    Oceania’s Marina
    We boarded the Marina and went right to our cabin. We had a Penthouse Cabin which we thought was a great size. It had a large walk-in closet that had plenty of room for everything; the room itself was nice with a separate sitting area as well as a separate dining area. The bathroom had a separate tub and walk-in shower stall. This ship has about 1200 passengers versus the R-class ships which hold about 600. It offered two additional specialty restaurants: Red Ginger and Jacques. It was a nice ship and it didn’t feel that crowded at all even though there were several more passengers.
    Our first night on board we ate at the Terrace Café a/k/a the cafeteria as I call it. I don’t enjoy this venue as I’m not much of a buffet person and I would rather have someone wait on me and order from a menu. But we were tired and decided it was the best option for the night. The food I had was cold and not a very good meal.
    The first stop for the ship was Moorea. Because we had spent two days there, we didn’t even get off of the ship. We just relaxed and explored a little bit of the ship.
    This evening we ate dinner at La Reserve. La Reserve is a fixed prix menu with matching wine pairing. Seating is limited and there is a cost to dine in this restaurant. We were split into two groups with at our table a gay couple, Barry, Susanna, Hank, me, and a single widower. The widower said the couple had to be Russian mob – they had plenty of money you could tell and one of them was constantly checking his cell phone. The widower was a retired doctor travelling on his own. The food was very good except for the dessert which seemed over done to us; no one really ate it. We enjoyed the evening but we were definitely full from all the courses!

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    Huahine

    We took a shuttle bus into Huahine to Fare which was a small town only about two blocks long. Arriving there it took us a while to locate the rental car agency so we still had a bit of a walk to locate the car. It was very hot and humid. Luckily the rental car office was air conditioned. It was a good thing we had reservations as the number of cars are limited and people coming in after us were turned away. The island was very small. We ended up using the car for only four hours. The island was very lush and is known as the Garden Island. We saw signs for Vanilla factories and Pearl farms and would come to learn we would see those very same signs on all of the islands we visited.

    We drove over on the other side of the island and had lunch at a restaurant right on the beach. It was a nice stop but the service was so slow! All it did was make us tired after being out in the sun. We had a very small car. At one of the hills, everyone but me (the driver) had to get out so that we had enough umph to get up the hill! It really was one of the funniest moments on our trip.

    So with not much to see but to enjoy the flora and fauna, we returned to the ship.

    That night we ate in the Grand Dining Room. It was very nice.

    Raiatea

    Our next port was Raiatea. We rented a car at this port. Raiatea is one of the largest islands in French Polynesia – second only to Tahiti. As a result, we could dock here and didn’t need to tender. The Hertz agent showed up at the dock and we headed off from there. Raiatea is known as “the sacred isle” because it was the center of religion and culture in the olden days of Polynesia.
    We visited the Taputapuatea Marea which is the second most significant archaeological site in all of Polynesia, behind only Easter Island. It was interesting to walk along all of the ruins and think of how the culture used to be all those years ago. The morea was restored in the 1960’s and work continues in the area.

    As with Moorea and Huahine, we drove all over the island and enjoyed the beauty of the scenery. Here too we actually only ended up needing the car for about 4 hours. We turned it in and then walked around the town for a little while.

    Our dinner on the ship that evening was at Red Ginger. Wow were we all disappointed. We expected the meal to have some different flavors to the food and we found it to be pretty bland. It was a disappointment for us.

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    Bora Bora

    At this port we had arranged to privately rent a boat for snorkeling. The day didn’t start promising – rain! It cleared up enough by the afternoon and off we headed. The guide picked us up right on time. The boat was just the right size for 4 people. Any more than that and it would have been crowded. So off we went. It was a fabulous afternoon and my best memory of the entire trip. We swam with lemon and back-tipped sharks and sting rays. They were all so close it was easy to pet the stomach of a sting ray which was very soft. The skies stayed overcast so we didn’t have the beautiful turquoise water, but it was still very pretty and visibility was great. We swam at two different sites – the 2nd being full of beautiful corral, tropical fish, and a huge eel in the rocks. I pulled out my tropical fish food and the fish just loved it. It was so much fun. We spent about 4 hours out on the water. At the end of the trip, we opened champagne and had some finger food. The best day yet.

    Our second day on Bora Bora – more rain! Still we headed off on the 4x4 we had arranged. Our jeep took us all over the island which is very small. We were only gone about 3 hours. We were able to go to the site where the U.S. had left one of its “big guns” from World War II. Interesting to think of sailors being stationed here during the war. I found out from our guide that they call cats “Mimi.”

    We ate dinner at Jacques – it was wonderful! Our favorite restaurant yet. The food was flavorful and the crepe suzette for dessert was to die for – yum!
    Day at Sea

    A quiet day. I spent some time on deck just enjoying the weather and did do some walking on deck. Just a lazy day.

    Tonight we’re having dinner at the Polo Grill.
    Dinner was very good. We enjoyed the meal although it’s still not as good as our favorite steakhouse at home.

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    Nuku Hiva

    We spent an overnight at this island as the cruise line altered the original itinerary and eliminated a port. This morning we walked ashore to take a walk just to see what was there. It was so hot and humid that walking for any length of time was just miserable! We walked up the road to a pretty church and then came back on board.

    Up next morning and headed to shore for our 4x4 safari ride. The day didn’t start too well when my foot slipped as I was getting on the tender and had to be hauled aboard. I scraped my leg horribly! I was lucky it wasn’t worse though as my foot could have gotten caught between the tender and the ship.

    So with this start – off to Nuku Hiva. We met our driver and off we headed to his SUV. Nuku Hiva is the largest of the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia. Author Herman Melville lived here in one of the small villages and the “Survivor” series was filed here one year. The island has a lot of mountains compared to the other islands we were on. We drove a long curvy road to some viewpoints that were breathtaking and very steep. We drove and saw some beautiful bays and went around the island to the other side where we stopped and had lunch at a restaurant on the other side of the island. Food was wonderful. We saw a museum that had artifacts from the earlier days of the island which was very interesting. Over all an enjoyable day.

    Day at Sea
    Uneventful. Enjoyed relaxing and watching people on the deck. A quiet day. This evening we had dinner in Toscana which is our second favorite restaurant over Jacques.

    Rangiroa

    Our last stop. The ship’s tenders came in and that was it. The only place to do anything was right there where you were dropped – over six miles from the town and no taxis, scooters or other means to get to the town. We sat at the beach for a little while and then went back to the ship. This was a very disappointing port.

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    Back to Papeete after disembarking from the ship. We had made reservations at a small pension called Fare Suisse for one night prior to our flight back on Air France. Beni was there to pick us up on time from the port. The pension was very bare bones. Our bedroom was air-conditioned which was great, but the common areas were not. It was so hot and humid. We headed off for lunch and to walk down to the dock area. We had a long lunch and walked around a bit but by then the humidity had worn us down so we were ready to head back. We never saw the owner again until the next morning when he picked us up to go to the airport. Not a place I would stay again.

    Flight back to Phoenix was uneventful. We were tired but as always it felt good to get home.

    We enjoyed the trip overall, but this is not somewhere we would go back to visit.

    Tips:
    Bring tropical fish food if you’re going snorkeling – they love it

    Bring your own liquor – drinks are very expensive

    Don’t forget the sunscreen and a good hat!

    Car rentals are great but reserve early! They book up quick

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