Bora Bora: Christmas on a Catamaran

Feb 2nd, 2019, 01:36 PM
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Bora Bora: Christmas on a Catamaran

We are a family of 5 people ... kids are now ages 18, 17, and 14 years. We've been fortunate to have lots of fun trips, but rarely over Winter break. With a college kid, we are limited to when the family can go away together, but this was such an amazing opportunity, we decided to go for it.

We would be spending a week on a catamaran - rented through Dream Yacht Charter. It was a Helia 44 - 4 bedrooms (4 baths). We hired a captain and hostess, who did all the cooking (they had one bedroom). We started in Raiatea and finished in Bora Bora, spent a night in an overwater bungalow, and then flew home.

Flights were a bit crazy. We are coming from the Philadelphia area, so everything is through either Los Angeles or San Francisco. Knowing that it was snow season and crowded flights, we wanted to minimize flight risk. A new airline, French Bee, now flies the route from SFO - PPT. Unfortunately, we couldn't book our flights on one itinerary, so we took the connection risk. We decided to spend extra time in SFO to minimize that risk.

One benefit of French Bee was that we got premium seats for the price of economy seats on Air Tahiti, American, or United. The fares were actually refundable (with a small penalty), so if something changed, I knew we could make a change. I would fly them again - our flights were slightly delayed, but the premium class was comfortable and allowed us to stretch out and sleep.

Day 1 – PHL – SFO - PPT (Philadelphia - San Francisco - Papeete)

After an early morning wake up call, we were at the airport (and thankful for TSA precheck) with plenty of time. Our flight boarded 7:20 and we departed on time. Flight was 6 hours - a bit bumpy, but uneventful and we landed about 30 minutes early.

We dropped our bags at an airport storage location and took BART (train) into San Francisco. Walked to the Ferry Building and had lunch and then met our tour about 2pm. It was a small van private tour and we stopped at a few locations for photo ops. Mostly, we saw the big things - Fisherman’s Wharf, Lombard Street, the Presidio.... the fog cleared and the sun was gorgeous on the Golden Gate Bridge - and it was fun to watch the big wave surfers! We saw the Painted Ladies, and went to the top of Twin Peaks for an amazing view of the city. We were dropped off in Union Square, where we saw the Christmas Tree and then took BART back to the airport.

We had dinner in the food court, checked into our flight, and spent a lot of time waiting. ... to check in, go through security, and then at the gate. We boarded about 10pm - and departed about 30 minutes later from our schedule of 10:45. I slept through dinner/snack service, so I can’t even tell you what they had.

We are now over the Pacific - about 2 hours out from destination. We will have another 2 hour layover in Papeete before we get our air Tahiti Nui flight to Raiatea. Luckily, we are able to board our boat early - they offered that option to us - so we don’t have to kill time in Raiatea.

Long day - started at 5am. But looking forward to the destination.

French bee, the 1st long-haul, low-cost airline | French bee

Last edited by surfmom; Feb 2nd, 2019 at 01:37 PM. Reason: add trip report
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Feb 2nd, 2019, 01:50 PM
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Day 2 – PPT – RFP

After an uneventful flight - we all slept some - varying degrees of how much, we landed in Papeete (I’ve since learned it is pronounced pa-pee-tay) about 45 minutes late. Overall, we were happy with French Bee - a newer airline and not many flights, but the plane was new, and things went pretty smoothly. We had premium seats - which gave us more leg room, which was appreciated.

When we landed we were greeted by a man singing with a ukulele, and a woman dancing in traditional dress. After clearing customs, we sat down for a snack and got local currency. We also picked up our wifi router. Since we didn’t want to pay for international data, but knew the kids would want to be online a little bit, we rented a router. It gave us a specific amount of data during the trip. We did not leave it plugged in, but would turn it on in the afternoon for an hour or so. It worked out well – it was convenient, we were able to pick up the router in the airport, and it worked (generally) when we were on the boat.

We checked into our next flight and had a few hours to kill - we were all dragging a bit. It was open seating on the next flight - we stopped at Huahine and dropped off/picked up people and then continued on to Raiatea.

At Raiatea, we were met by the boat people - it was a 10 minute drive to the marina. We finished our paperwork and were able to board the boat about 10:30 (early). It was great not to have to kill more time!

After our safety briefing, we departed the marina and motored to a nearby cove. We all jumped in for a quick swim - which felt great! Lunch was roasted chicken and potatoes and fresh pineapple for dessert. We have learned that the pineapple in Tahiti is the sweetest... and we all agree! We have been greeted a few times by pineapple juice and enjoyed it.

After lunch, there were pop up rainstorms, so we waited (we thought) until it was gone to head into land and see a vanilla farm. We were wrong and got wet on the way in... luckily we were still in bathing suits! We learned how vanilla is grown and harvested, dried, and processed, and then headed back. We then snorkeled over coral - the fish were especially fun to watch. 'A tropical fish tank while snorkeling' is how the kids described it.

From the boat, we have seen eagle rays, sting rays, a black tip shark, dolphins. The kids got in to swim with the shark, but he swam away.

Dinner was lasagna and green salad with ice cream for dessert. After a few rounds of cards, we called it a night. We were wiped out, so in bed by 8pm!
surfmom is offline  
Feb 3rd, 2019, 10:42 AM
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Day 3 – Taha’a - Raiatea

We woke up to a wonderful breakfast of scrambled eggs, cereal, toast, yogurt, fruit, and tea. After breakfast, we jumped in for a quick swim. We sailed and motored to another mooring. We then took the dinghy into a small motu. At this point, we are staying off T’ahaa - which is an island next to Raiatea.

A motu is land that is like a breakwater surrounding each island. Sometimes they are smaller - a spit of land, sometimes they are larger - big enough for hotels or houses. We could see some overwater bungalows on this motu and there was an opening next to it which led to open water.

We took the dinghy into the edge of the opening and then walked along land to the other side of the channel - we then put our flippers on and carried our shoes with us. The current is so strong, it carries you through the channel. The coral and fish below were amazing! There were a few times we had to weave through the coral since it came close to the surface. And it was really fun swimming through a school of fish. Unfortunately, D18 and dad had a mishap and a scraped chest (dad) and hip (D18) from the coral resulted.

We liked it so much, we decided to do it again... so we walked back up and went back through the coral. At the end, the current had taken us back to the dinghy, so we returned to the catamaran. Lemon juice was squeezed in the cuts as a disinfectant - which is good for cleaning, but also stings. Lunch was pasta salad and chicken - we all enjoyed it!

After lunch, we motored and sailed back to Raiatea. After anchoring, we took the dinghy into the island where we visited a pearl farm. It was very interesting to learn how black pearls are made. They take shells from the Mississippi River and create little balls and then implant the exact same size into the oysters with a little bit of the black membrane. This membrane then grows around the implanted ball and creates layers and layers of pearl material. After 18 months, they take it out and can implant another ball (always replace it with the same size you have taken out) and create another large pearl. Some oysters will create up to 5 pearls this way.

We returned to the boat and after a swim, there was a heavy rainstorm, so we all chilled for a bit. We tried to go into a beach bar, but it was closed, so we returned to the boat for dinner of deep dish pizza. Dessert was fresh pineapple, a little fresh mint and vanilla.

We tried to play a game, but didn’t last long, so we went to bed about 8:30-9.

surfmom is offline  
Feb 4th, 2019, 12:55 AM
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What a lovely trip.
Diamantina is offline  
Jun 29th, 2019, 06:18 AM
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Diamantina thanks! I forgot I started this, so I will keep going...

Day 4: Raiaetea

After a breakfast of cereal, fruit, crepes, eggs, yogurt, and tea, D18 and Mr. Surf got in and swam and played ball. The skipper had dropped part of the glass coffee pot into the water when cleaning it, so he and Mr. Surf spent a few minutes searching for it. They were lucky and found it after 10 or so minutes!

We departed that location (Mili Mili) and went to Uturoa (the main town of Raiatea). We went for a quick walk - the kids got ice cream, Mr. Surf got a bathing suit, the girls got cute dresses, S14 got a keychain, and we got a portable speaker. The boat has speakers, but they aren’t great and hard to hear if you are up top on the sun deck or in the front. While the generator was on, we quickly made a bowl of popcorn that was a yummy snack. (We brought microwave popcorn with us).

We departed to head to a motu, but it started pouring, so we did a u-turn and went to plan B. The weather is inconsistent - one minute it is sunshine and then a quick rainstorm will blow through. We’ve seen rain in the distance that hasn’t made it to us and we’ve seen pop up storms that appear out of nowhere. And then bright sunshine in the blink of an eye. We have become very quick at getting the drying towels hanging on the rails if the rain starts.

We stopped at a sandy area - and saw black tipped sharks. The water was about 2-3 meters deep and they seemed to be around, so we all jumped in and swam with them. They weren’t interested in us at all, so it was fun to watch them swim under us. We think there were 4 different ones. When we climbed out, lunch was ready, so we enjoyed the fajita lunch. Dessert was fresh pineapple.

We motored/sailed to another motu on the south side of Raiatea near a nice reef. We snorkeled and kayaked and paddleboarded. The skipper even used the dinghy to pull us on the paddle board. There is a little sandy beach about 100 feet away that we can walk on, although other than the beach, it is private property and we stayed off. There are two other boats moored in this little cove - we met another man kayaking from Switzerland. We could see thunder and lightning in the distance but nothing really threatened close.

Happy hour was a selection of puffed pastry and ham on a stick, olives, pepperoni, guacamole, and some other treats. Dinner was potatoes, green beans, and roast pork rolled with ham and mozzarella (almost like cordon bleu). Dessert was strawberry tiramisu - more strawberry and cream than coffee tiramisu, and very yummy! We played a game and headed to bed about 9.

surfmom is offline  
Jun 29th, 2019, 06:21 AM
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Day 5 - Merry Christmas!

We woke up to cloudy weather - it sprinkled during the evening, but not much rain. Breakfast was French toast, cereal, eggs, fruit, and tea. After breakfast, Mr. Surf and the kids jumped in the water for about an hour - kayaked and played with the ball.

I forgot to mention something about yesterday - as we were moving (via motor) from one place to another, a kayaker/outrigger (?) came up behind us and drafted off our wake - he paddled hard and kept up with us for at least 30 minutes. It was fun to watch! When he departed, our captain told us he found a boat going the other way and drafted off and caught their wake. It was fun to watch him keep up behind us.

We left our motu about 9ish. The weather started as overcast with storms in the distance, but comfortable temperature. As we were moving to our next location, we saw a pod of dolphins. We circled around and watched them for about 45 minutes. They came right under the boat and were jumping and breeching. We had a lot of fun watching them.

We opened a few Christmas presents (books, a football for the boy, etc) and continued on.

We arrived at our next destination - a marae, but unfortunately, the rain had started. We waited until it slowed down and then took the dinghy into land to see the marae. It is a series of stones - it was used as homes and workshop areas for Polynesian tribes in the 800’s and they have dedicated about 5 acres for tourists to come see. The one we saw was recently designated as a UNESCO site. Some of the stones were upright - like tombstones, with writing on them - they were the sacred ones.

We took the dinghy back to the boat and had a lunch of chicken wings, carrot beignets, and potatoes (cooked like hash browns). Dessert was vanilla cupcakes (half had chocolate chips) and ice cream. We then departed looking for sunshine. After about 2 hours, we arrived at an area where the skies were clearing and anchored for the night. We all jumped in and swam ... snorkeled above the coral, played with the ball, and took go pro photos. While snorkeling, we saw two eels sticking their heads out. They were a bit scary looking, so we didn’t go closer than watching from the surface.

Dinner was beef and scalloped potatoes and dessert was banana rum flambé. After dinner, we oohed and aahed over the sunset and then opened our remaining gifts. They were Christmas crackers filled with mini toys (top, dice, etc) and jokes and tongue twisters. After a few games, we headed to bed about 9:30.
surfmom is offline  
Jun 29th, 2019, 06:24 AM
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surfmom is offline  
Jun 29th, 2019, 06:27 AM
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Day 6 - Raiatea - Bora Bora

We woke up to blue skies and sunshine this morning - and had fruit, cereal, eggs, and pancakes for breakfast.

We quickly departed about 8:15 - we are sailing to Bora Bora this morning and it takes about 5ish hours, so the skipper wanted to get on with it.

The skipper and his wife are French. They are very nice and accommodating to our requests and needs. The boat is a Helia 44. It has four cabins with a bath in each. We have all decided it isn’t worth using the shower, so at the end of the day, we just use the fresh water hose off the back and shampoo and condition our hair there. Inside, there is a kitchen and table - we just leave our stuff in there. We eat all our meals outside - a large table. There is also a sundeck (with cushions) up top that is nice.

Once we got out of the motu around Raiatea, we put up the sails to go to Bora Bora. It is nice not to have the motor running. Was a nice wind for part of the way - and then the wind died and when it came back, had shifted, so the captain took down the jib and we sailed with the mainsail and the motor.

We arrived in Vaitape (the main town in Bora Bora) about 1pm. We had a quick lunch of chicken and rice salad (rice, corn, tomatoes, and hard boiled egg) while docked. Crew went to the market for a few more provisions while we walked to the Pharmacie for bandaids. We were back in the boat and departing town by 1:45.

After a short ride, we arrived at a reef area for swimming. The skipper, however, decided to move after we had all come out to a less windy area. We ended up anchoring near a diving area - we could see three or four boats with divers down. We took the dinghy over to that area and snorkeled around - including being surprised by a spear fisherman in the same area. After snorkeling, we returned to the boat and swam and played/read. Dinner was spaghetti bolognese with fresh watermelon for dessert.

After chilling, we headed to bed about 8:30/9.

surfmom is offline  
Jun 29th, 2019, 02:19 PM
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Thanks for posting more. What a great way to tour the islands, surfmom. What website did you use to hire the boat and crew? I don't think my husband and I will be returning to French Polynesia (as we've been there twice), but I think others would be interested. This seems like an especially great idea for a family trip. Would you do it again?

It seems like you didn't have any problem with mosquitoes as you were on the water most of the time. Was this the case?

Many years ago, we rented a boat (a gulet) and crew to tour Turkey's Turquoise Coast for a few days. It was lovely.

I love your photo of frolicking dolphins.

Last edited by Diamantina; Jun 29th, 2019 at 02:21 PM.
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Jun 30th, 2019, 05:12 AM
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@Diamantina We loved it. We would do it again in a heartbeat. The website we used was: They contract locally with the charter, but it was nice having a US contact when questions arose. They were great.

We did not have any problems with mosquitoes or other biting bugs. One comment that I will add is that when we did something similar in the BVI's, I had a problem with the feeling of being on a boat (mal de debarquement) for about 2 weeks afterwards. Made me hesitate (slightlly) when booking this, but I was overruled. I had no issues at all after French Polynesia. I wondered if the motus provided enough of a surf break that the lagoons inside were calmer and less of an issue with a swell? I would go back to Bora Bora before the BVI's... if not for the flight length.
surfmom is offline  
Jun 30th, 2019, 05:15 AM
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Day 8 - Bora Bora

The day is a little windier, but temps are also higher, so the wind is appreciated. After a breakfast of the usual - and French toast, we were underway. We are heading to the south side of Bora Bora.

We passed by a series of hotels on the motus - it was neat to see the overwater bungalows. Along the way, we stopped to get more gasoline for the dinghy - the engine has been sputtering and our captain thinks there is water in the gas. After a quick detour, we continued on our way. We stopped in a little cove and while we originally had planned to get lunch at a beach bar, with the dinghy problems, we just had lunch on board. Burgers and fries were very yummy. Dessert was apple pie!

After lunch, everyone (except me) snorkeled to a coral area near the boat. There were other excursion boats that came there, but none were there immediately after lunch, so our family had the place to themselves.

We moved to another cove where we went into shore. The dinghy problems seem to be solved so we took it into shore and walked along the beach. The beach is a combination of sand and broken coral, so we all wore water shoes or flip flops. We swam back to the boat and played and threw the ball for a while. After relaxing on the boat, dinner was spaghetti carbonara and dessert was baked apples with cinnamon and vanilla ice cream.

After game time, we headed to bed about 8:45/9.
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Jun 30th, 2019, 05:17 AM
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Day 9 - Bora Bora, off the boat, St. Regis arrival

It rained during the evening a few times, and in the morning, showered on and off. We had our normal breakfast. Afterwards, our captain had seen eagle rays, so we took the dinghy over to them and jumped in and followed them. There were 5 total. When we climbed back into the dinghy, it had started to pour again. We got back to the boat, packed up our gear, and slowly motored to our hotel.

We arrived at the hotel about 11:15, and after a 20 minute tour, we were able to check into our room early. We have a 2 bedroom overwater villa with a pool. The grounds and the villa is amazing and we spent the day swimming in the pool, the ocean, reading, and napping. We walked to the Beach Bar for a lunch of pizza margherita, mahi mahi, a burger, and fries. After lunch, we returned back to the villa for more of the same. It is nice to have a real bathroom and everyone is looking forward to taking a real shower.

After a spectacular sunset, we ordered a few things and had them delivered to the villa since we weren’t really hungry. We stayed up until 9:30/10!

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Jun 30th, 2019, 05:20 AM
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Jun 30th, 2019, 05:21 AM
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Jun 30th, 2019, 05:25 AM
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Day 10 - Bora Bora

We slept late this am - 7:30 for the kids! We walked to breakfast - it was a huge buffet with many choices of breads, fruit, meats, omelet station, waffles, crepes.... After breakfast, we spent 90 minutes on a jet ski tour. We stopped in the middle for fresh grapefruit and coconut at a shallow beach area. We had a lot of fun on jet skis! After jet skis, we had about an hour to finish packing and check out of our room. We gave our bags to the bellhop and went to the lagoonarium - a created reef stocked with fish. It was fun to see some of the same fish we had seen already.

We headed to the pool and had a lunch of pizza margherita and fries. They arranged a shower room for us before our boat transport back to the airport. For the shower room, we expected an unused villa - or maybe even using the spa. Instead, our butler took us to the Royal Estate - which is used for vip guests. It was comprised of at least four separate bedrooms, a swimming pool and separate jacuzzi, a kitchen and dining area, a home office, another living room facing the ocean, and some other seating areas. All the room opened into a central courtyard where the pool was. There was also a private beach with extensive seating, lounge chairs, and hammocks. We were all amazed at the “shower room”!

At 3pm, we got on the boat to take us to the airport. The Bora Bora airport was small - two gates going in and out. It was open seating - you walk across the tarmac and then choose your seat when aboard. The flight was about 45 minutes to Papeete, Tahiti. Once we arrived, we took a cab to our hotel - the Intercontinental Tahiti. We had two overwater villas for the evening. We watched the sunset over the horizon and then went to the hotel restaurant for dinner. D18 and I shared a club sandwich, S14 had a burger, D17 had fries and popcorn, and Mr. Surf had pizza.

We retired to bed to pack and get ready for our flight home.


thus ends the trip. The rest is boring... we took a cab to the airport, we spend many hours on an airplane, we connected at SFO, we arrived home - smelly, tan, and sad to leave.
surfmom is offline  
Jul 1st, 2019, 08:50 AM
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Great trip report!
I'm going to save it to read in detail later, but the photos are simply amazing. I don't know if I will ever get to Bora Bora, what an amazing way to see it!
starrs is offline  
Jul 1st, 2019, 09:36 AM
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It sounds like a wonderful trip. I would love to stay in one of those over the water bungalows. Your photos are great....I especially love the one with the dolphins.
BuffaloGirl is offline  
Jul 1st, 2019, 03:01 PM
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Surfmom, thanks for the additional info. What a lovely trip!

Did you see any signs of coral bleaching off Raiatea and finished in Bora Bora? Recent severe coral bleaching off Tahiti and Moorea made headlines.
Diamantina is offline  
Jul 1st, 2019, 05:30 PM
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starrs BuffaloGirl Diamantina Thanks for the feedback! I just grabbed a few quick photos - it was hard to take a bad one : )

The dolphins were amazing. We watched them for about 45 minutes to an hour. They just kept jumping and flipping. It made a really neat Christmas morning.

didn't see any signs of coral bleaching. so sad. heading to Australia next and wondering if we will see anything there?
surfmom is offline  
Jul 2nd, 2019, 12:35 AM
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Thanks, surfmom. I'm glad to hear you didn't see any coral bleaching in Raiatea and Bora Bora. I agree, coral bleaching is certainly sad. Many years ago, I went snorkeling off the East Coast of mainland Malaysia and the guide took us to see the "white coral".

On a liveaboard dive trip to the GBR also many years ago, we observed stunning coral, colorful fish and giant clams, but the reef was plagued by Crown of Thorns jellyfish. That problem seems tame now compared to warming and more acidic seas.

We may be returning to the GBR soon. I assume boats take snorkelers and divers to still-healthy reefs. I'll let you know how it goes.

Western Australia also offers wonderful snorkeling. Off Exmouth and Coral Bay, we snorkeled with manta rays and whale sharks--it was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. The beaches are wonderful in Western Australia. You have check the weather and the seasons for different regions. For instance, the best time to go to Far North Queensland is May though October. November through April is cyclone season for FNQ, but it's a nicer time to travel down south to places such as Tasmania or Victoria. I believe you visited FP during cyclone season, so you know cyclones don't necessarily occur but are more likely to occur at this time of year than at other times of the year.

I think in Australia many people charter yachts in the Whitsundays.

In my opinion, dolphins on Christmas morning are better than Santa Claus!

Thanks again for sharing your fantastic trip.

Last edited by Diamantina; Jul 2nd, 2019 at 01:11 AM.
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