Paul Gauguin Cruise Review by ssclbc
Flights to Tahiti: We left Dallas at 11 am on a brand new 777 with individual video screens in the back of each seat. Made the trip go fast. American checked our bags through to Papeete so all we had to do upon arriving in LA was take the short walk from Terminal 4 to the Tom Bradley international terminal. We checked in with Air Tahiti Nui but passed on the Business class upgrade (just couldn't justify the $600 per person expense). Since American didn't provide lunch on the flight from DFW we checked out the food court at LAX. Ended up getting some very good sushi at "Sushi Boy". We then went through security, a bit of a line but not outrageous, and waited at the gate. Saw the plane arrive, it really has a distinctive and pretty look. We met up with another cruisecritic couple at the gate. Recognized each other from the "Hall of Fame".
The plane was the Mangareva, one of the older (but by no means old) planes. The seats were quite comfortable with footrests and lumbar supports. The flight attendants came through the cabin with Tiare flowers then a flight kit (mask, ear plugs, headphones, socks). Drinks and dinner were served and were actually pretty tasty. I was too excited to sleep so I just watched two movies and the flight tracker on the back of the seat in front of me. The flight wasn't too full and many people were able to stretch out across several seats and sleep. After a few hours we were served another snack. Then we landed at the small airport in Papeete. We were greeted by a group playing ukeleles and given more Tiares. Immigration and customs was quick and easy. The airport was warm, but not unpleasant. After finding all our luggage (yeah!) we found the Tahiti Nui Travel agent who gave us a beautiful lei and directed us to a van. We did change some money at the airport, it seemed the exchange rate was better than at LAX but they do charge a $4 fee for each transaction, so it's better to change a larger than smaller amount.
Pre Cruise stay: Off to the Le Meridien. Couldn't appreciate much of Tahiti at night. We checked into our room promptly. The room was only OK. The bathroom is strange and the shower did not drain. The AC seemed to work well and we were soon off to sleep. The next morning we both woke up fairly early, probably due to the time change but the incessant barking of dogs and crowing of roosters didn't help. The grounds of Le Meridien are pretty. The waves breaking over the reef were huge and made a constant roar. The sand bottom pool is interesting. Breakfast was at the beach restaurant. Quite a nice buffet including some Japanese foods (sushi for breakfast? Why not!). We walked to a grocery nearby (just to the left as you exit the hotel) and bought some snacks, water and beer. Prices varied widely. Bread was cheap (20 cents) water was reasonable, but many things were expensive ($11 for a 6 pack of beer!). Also purchased a phone card ($15 for 40 units which ended up giving us about 15 minutes of talk time to the US).
Now we were out of Francs so we used the ATM at the grocery store. It wouldn't take my ATM card but did take my VISA card. We were the only two to transfer from the hotel to the ferry. I was pleasantly surprised that all of the transfers were prompt and smooth. Dropped our luggage off at the ferry then had a decent sandwich and our first Hinano at a snack bar at the ferry dock. We met up with several other couples who were doing a pre-cruise stay at the Moorea Beachcomber. For some reason we were the only ones who had stayed at the Le Meridien the night before. Many people were waiting for the ferry; school kids, people who had obviously come over to shop, families etc. Many people were wearing flowers behind their ears, something we saw frequently. The ferry trip was only 30 minutes dock to dock. On the lower decks are airplane style seats and a snack bar. French TV shows are shown on overhead screens. We went on the top deck. It was windy and rough but worth it for the sight of sailing into Vaiatape. Looked like something out of a movie. The transfer from the ferry to the hotel was incredibly scenic, going around Cook's and Opunohu Bays. Each new view was more incredible than the next.
Check in at the Beachcomber went smoothly. They have a separate check-in for the Radisson guests. I had e-mailed the resort the week before requesting a certain overwater bungalow (514) and received it. It is one of the few that is completely overwater and has a great view of the reef, the Dolphin area and the sunset. Once we got to the room we changed into swimsuits and hopped into the lagoon for some snorkeling. Many beautiful fish and nice coral. The water was so calm you could easily see the bottom in 10 feet of water and identify different varieties of fish. We then went to the dive shop to arrange our certification dives. I had e-mailed the on-site dive shop earlier (Bathy's Club) and so they were expecting us. We then strolled the grounds and sat at the bar for our complimentary welcome drink. That was the only place I encountered any mosquitoes.
We decided that we were not feeling adventuresome that evening so we made reservations for the beach buffet and show. The buffet was a bit chaotic as there was a large group at the hotel who seemed to feel that if they didn't rush the food line there might not be any left. Once they calmed down, we went through the buffet line and were pleased to see the variety and excellent quality of the food. The show afterwards was good. The best part was this 6 year old girl who was just darling and could really dance! The buffet and show were $62 per person and drinks were extra. Hinano and French wines were the best bargains. Still feeling a bit worn out from traveling, we turned in early. The interior of the bungalow is very nice. Thatched roof, woven walls, a separate sitting area and balcony. The bathroom was quite spacious with a large tub, open shower and separate toilet room. The only minor problem was the water was scorching hot unless you turned it almost all the way to cool. The AC worked well but the remote control was a bit finicky. A firm yet comfortable bed, good pillows and we were off to sleep.
We woke up early the next morning and enjoyed the sunrise from our balcony. Saw room service going by with canoe breakfasts. Watched the trainers interacting with the dolphins. Saw the Windstar move from Cook's to Opunohu Bay. Watched Tahitians going out to fish. Saw two dogs playing in the water for hours on end. We went to breakfast and felt that the buffet was not as good as the one at Le Meridien. Certainly glad it was included in our package as for $27 per person it was awfully expensive for what you got. We decided to try out one of the outrigger canoes. They have an extensive watersports program at the Beachcomber and some things like the canoes are free. They are certainly harder to paddle with two people than it looks. Worked much better when I was the lookout and my husband paddled. The lagoon depth varies dramatically and in some places it is easy to run aground on the coral.
We then decided to take a walk and see what was in the area. Right at the end of the driveway is Miss Pizza (which came in very handy the next day), then about ¼ mile to the right is a small shop which has breads, snacks etc. Farther down is Hotel Tipaniers which has a restaurant which is supposed to be good. It's about 2 miles to Le Petite Village. A bit of a long walk but not too unpleasant as the day was overcast and breezy. There are many pearl shops, souvenir shops, a bank, and Internet cafe, restaurants, a bank and a grocery in Le Petite Village. Stopped for lunch at a roulette (Le sud?) and had a wonderful large ham and cheese sandwich on French bread for only $4. Had to watch out for the chickens trying to get some.
I decided to stop at the Black Pearl Gem Company on the way back to the hotel. A very nice shop. Free water, beer and cokes on ice in the back. Many nice jewelry pieces. The sales staff were helpful and low pressure. I found a setting and pearls (earrings) I liked although the pearls were on a different setting. No problem, they could switch them and deliver them to the hotel later. I felt the price was fair and decided to get them. They refund your VAT up front, just ask that you have the form stamped at the airport as you leave and drop it in the pre-stamped envelope. Even gave us a ride back to the hotel. Once back at the hotel it was time for our first dive. Just the two of us did a lagoon dive with our instructor Lou Lou. Started our in shallow water with a stingray playing around us. Saw our first shark. Did a few skill drills then just swam around and looked at the coral and fish. Saw eagle rays, an eel and an anemone with a resident clown fish. A good first dive.
For dinner we decided to try La Linareva, the floating boat restaurant. Arranged transportation through the hotel for $5 per person (much less expensive than a taxi). We went with about 12 Japanese people. The boat is small and is at the end of a long pier. It moves quite a bit, so if you're prone to motion sickness this would not be for you. The appetizer and entree specials of the day were written on chalkboards. We had the calamari then I had parrotfish in Vanilla sauce (yum!). The Mahi mahi in ginger sauce was rather bland. After dinner the waitresses do a few dances. Then back to the hotel. A much better bargain than the night before ($82 for dinner, drinks and transportation). It was quite windy by the time we got back to the bungalow. I was sure it was going to blow over a few times during the night.
The next morning we had two dives scheduled. The first was a shark feeding, although we didn't participate in the actual feeding. But still, rolling off the boat into a group of sharks is a strange experience. By the end of the dive they seemed like just another fish. The visibility outside the lagoon was amazing. The second dive was around some beautiful coral formations. Everything about the dive shop seemed to run on extra slow island time so by the time we got back to shore, everything was closed for siesta. That's when Miss Pizza really came in handy. Pretty good pizza too. In the afternoon we rented a car from Europcar right on site. Considered renting a scooter, but for only $15 more I was happier with the car (besides they were out of scooters). Rental was $60 for 4 hours plus gas. Small Fiat with a manual transmission and no AC but it was fine.
We drove up to the Belvedere. Really amazing views of both bays and saw the Paul Gauguin for the first time. Stopped at a phone booth to call home. Amazingly simple. Just put your card in the phone, dial 001 and your phone number and you're talking to the US for about $1 a minute. Continued on to the pineapple distillery. Really much more of a shop than anything else. I did try the various liquors and ended up getting some Tahiti Drink and Vanilla liquor (really delicious). We continued around the island and came upon a sobriety checkpoint (at 3:30 in the afternoon?!). Good thing my husband only tried a little of one sample! So, if you go to the pineapple distillery, be forewarned! We then stopped into the largest grocery on the island, just south of the ferry dock. Picked up some food for dinner on our balcony that evening. They do take credit cards and have a decent selection of things. Once again was amazed at the local prices. Continued all the way around the island. Many beautiful views, lots of locals riding bikes, dogs running around with baguettes in their mouths, kids surfing, fishermen hanging their catch by the side of the road. Filled up with gas ($10) and back to the hotel. Spent the evening relaxing on our balcony. Saw part of a Tahitian wedding ceremony on the beach. Quite a spectacle! Watched the Paul Gauguin sail away for Papeete, knowing we would be on board tomorrow! Snorkeled off of our balcony at night. There are lights under the bungalows which light up the water, but not too many fish at night. Oh well, at least we tried it.
One last breakfast, one last dive (this time with 3 different types of sharks, and lots of them) and time to say good-bye to the Beachcomber. Watched a ray swim slowly through the lagoon. I was really glad we had done the pre-cruise stay. Moorea is a beautiful island and it was nice to be able to see more of it, both above and below water, than could be done on the 1 and ½ days the Paul Gauguin is there. I also loved our overwater bungalow and thought the Beachcomber was a lovely resort with decent service. I would certainly recommend a stay in Moorea vs. Tahiti and a pre-cruise vs. post cruise stay. Another easy transfer to the ferry, a pretty rough ride to Papeete (although I thought it was fun, but then again I love roller-coasters) and a quick bus ride over to the Paul Gauguin. Now the fun really begins!
French Polynesia May 2003 Day 1 the Paul Gauguin
The eight of us who had done a pre-cruise stay at the Moorea Beachcomber arrived at the ship around 3:30. A great bunch of people we would spend much time with over the next days. Two couples had contacted each other through the cruisecritic boards (ssclbc and L and M). We also met a couple from Canada who were on their second PG cruise (lucky them!) and a couple who had won the trip (even luckier them!)
Embarkation was quick and smooth. Certainly different than any cruise I've taken but then again, I've never been one of only 8 people embarking at one time. After a glass of champagne and a security photo we were escorted to our cabin. Once again I was happy we had done the pre-cruise stay as we could arrange for shore excursion and spa appointments before the majority of passengers embarked and we had the whole late afternoon and evening to explore the ship. The cabins have been described in great detail before, I won't repeat that here. Only a few comments: While the overall storage space is more than adequate, I felt that closet space was a bit tight. The cupboard where the refrigerator is is a bit awkward to access. While the toiletries in the bathroom were nice, they seemed out of place. English types similar to Crabtree and Evelyn. I would have preferred something more tropically scented, perhaps like monoi based products. OK, that is really picky of me, and if that's the biggest fault I can find with the cabins, well...
Every Saturday night the square at the pier becomes a big party. Music, dancing, lots of little food trucks (even one roasting a whole pig; smelled delicious from our balcony), families just out and about. We had a snack from room service (the spring rolls are delicious!) while watching all the festivities. I'll comment here that I really think it is true that better views are to be had from the starboard side cabins. It seemed to hold true throughout the cruise whether in Papeete, circling Tetiaroa or Moorea. We met up with several from our pre-cruise group in La Palette for drinks and snacks. Then off for the first of many wonderful meals in L'Etoile. Its a beautiful room. The service was excellent, the menu interesting, the portions generous, the wine free-flowing and the quality of food outstanding. The seafood appetizer in a Moorea pineapple is not to be missed. I have never had such delicious pineapples as in French Polynesia and the seafood is incredible as well. During dinner we saw many of the passengers arrive who had come over on the afternoon Air Tahiti Nui flight. Many looked quite tired and I'm not sure they were able to enjoy the first evening as much as we were. I heard some excursions filled up, but I found that surprising since there were only 200 passengers on board. I guess some like the Bora Bora waverunners are very limited capacity. Yet another reason to come at least one day early. There was a large group on board celebrating a 65th Birthday and 15th anniversary. They all came to dinner the first night in matching T-shirts. Very cute.
The sailaway party was fun. The Gaugines are an incredibly talented group of young women. The cruise director was relatively new at his position, and although he was fine, I think he needs to loosen up a bit. Many of the crew were introduced. I was surprised how much of the communication on the ship is done in French (always in English as well). There is even a French social hostess/cruise director. The band Siglo is very good. They do very good covers of a wide variety of songs. As we sailed out of Papeete harbor the Saturday night Air Tahiti Nui flight flew right overhead. A sad thought to know we would be on that plane in only one short week. After some dancing under the stars (never did find the southern cross), the swells picked up a little bit and it was time for bed.
Day 2 Paul Gauguin
A few things I forgot from day 1: Our stewardess met us within minutes after we entered our cabin and pointed out the form for the in-room bar set-up, so the problem with the forms which occurred earlier this year has been resolved. Our luggage also arrived promptly (always a source of anxiety for me, one cruise we didn't get it until 2 days into the trip, but that's another long story).
We had breakfast on our balcony as we sailed by Huahine and into the lagoon shared by Raiatea and Tahaa. Room service is very prompt. If you indicate you'd like breakfast between 7 and 7:30, it arrives at 7 on the dot. One minor complaint, and if I hadn't already sailed on RSSC I wouldn't be this spoiled, but they don't set up your table as they did on Mariner; just leave the tray. Not a big deal. Also they were really stingy with the cream cheese for the salmon and cream cheese. The next time I asked for more and got it, so if you like cream cheese, order extra. My husband's omelet was amazingly hot. I guess on a small ship you're never far from a galley.
The sail into Raiatea is beautiful, so many colors of blue and islands everywhere you look. It seemed every motu I saw I thought "hey, that look's just like Gilligan's Island." Product of too much TV as a child I suppose. Since we had had a fairly busy pre-cruise stay, none of the shore excursions really jumped out at me as a "must do" and I love sea days which this cruise unfortunately lacks, we decided to just stay on the ship and make it a "sea day". After the safety drill (which they are very serious about) we met up with more cruisecritic members in La Palette. If you can arrange it through the message boards, I'd highly suggest you do the same. What a great bunch of people who made our trip even more enjoyable.
Then it was time for the children of Raiatea show. The smallest girl is so incredibly cute and a great dancer to boot. The show is something not to be missed. Yes, it's warm up on deck, but slap on the sunscreen and a hat and do not miss this show. The mamas sell quite beautiful mother of pearl jewelry and other items. I thought it was some of the prettiest costume jewelry I'd seen the entire trip and of course I had to buy some. We had lunch in La Verandah; a pan-Pacific buffet. Absolutely delicious! I really appreciate that the quality of the food is consistently excellent and the chefs are not afraid to use bold flavors in their cooking. Of course if you don't like boldly flavored food or more exotic dishes, there are simpler alternatives always available.
I especially loved the Thai fish curry and the sushi. We sat outside and watched the tender go back and forth, watched many planes take off and land and the airport and enjoyed some of the fine wine which was offered. Towards the end of lunch we heard shrieks and squeals from the water below and found several couples attempting to negotiate the sea kayaks. My husband tried to talk me into going, but after the out-rigger experience I said "maybe later" (which means "yeah right"). We did go down to the marina platform to pick up snorkel gear, which was of very good quality and put in a great mesh backpack which came in handy for many subsequent shore excursions. While we were down at the platform, we met up with L and M and the two husbands decided to try the kayaks. We wives would be the official photographers. Worked out well for everyone.
I went to the shell lei making class with Le Gauguines. I was surprised to find that I was one of only three people who showed up. It made for an interesting time. As I mentioned before, Les Gauguines are an amazing group of women. Beautiful, friendly, interesting to talk with, and incredibly hard workers. They were seemingly everywhere on the ship; giving talks, at the marina, at the tender dock, singing in the lounges, singing and dancing at dinner, putting on several shows, giving dance lessons. Whew!
I then went to the spa for a massage (hey, lei making is hard work!). This was probably my biggest disappointment of the whole trip. The spa staff acted like they didn't really care if you were there. My massage started late (not because I was late but because the masseuse was late) yet finished on time. When I'm paying $95 for a 50 minute massage, I expect a full 50 minutes. The massage itself was only OK. A word of warning for the modest or inexperienced with massages: I didn't feel I was covered as much as usual or as much as I like. The masseuse massaged my abdomen without asking. Felt weird and made it hard to relax. Also, and this is a purely personal opinion, but I thought the massage oil had a weird funky smell. Could never get it out of my clothes either. Oh well, nothing's perfect.
The captain's welcome reception was this evening. A very nice affair. I always enjoy champagne but other drinks were available if you'd like. As I mentioned before, there were only 198 passengers on this sailing so nothing was ever crowded. There was dancing after the reception. I was really surprised how dressed up some people were. But not to fear, many weren't as well. It seemed that less than half of the men wore jackets. So if packing space is tight, you can comfortably skip the jacket. Dinner that night in L'Etoile was amazing. The lobster in vanilla sauce was probably one of the best lobster dishes I've ever had and the portion was huge (two large tails). All in all, a great first full day.
Day 3 Paul Gauguin
Let me preface this day by saying there are absolutely no words which can adequately describe just how fantastic the day at Motu Mahana is. But I'll try to give some impressions.
After my husband returned from fitness center we decided to try breakfast in La Verandah for a change. Yes, he was way more motivated than I and went to the fitness center almost every day. The fitness center is small but adequate. The library is nearby and has a very decent selection of books. The daily faxed "newspapers" are also available nearby and bottled water is available in the center. The breakfast buffet was very good and other items are available al a carte. I opted for the french toast and he for the eggs benedict. Both were very good. The cinnamon raisin bread they make the french toast with is delicious. I also got a fruit plate from the buffet. As I said before, the Moorea pineapples are so good, I think I ate some at just about every opportunity. The sail around Tahaa is quite beautiful with Bora Bora in the background. Tahaa really does look like a very quiet island. We did see the shuttle taking people to the Tahaa Pearl Beach Resort, and the resort looked very nice as we sailed by.
Once anchored near Motu Mahana the suspense builds. I watched the tenders go back and forth taking all the supplies for the day from my balcony. Finally it was time to go! But when we got to the tender it was full and we had to wait an agonizing (for me at least) 10 minutes for the next one. That brings up one other little thing I wish they would change...more frequent tender service. But once you get used to the schedule, it's OK. The trip over to the motu is quick and through beautiful water. We were welcomed on the dock by music, drinks, bottled water and the ship's photographer. I really have to give him credit, he took many photos but was never "in your face". I did think the photos were overpriced though. We opted to sit on the side of the motu facing Tahaa and for most of the day it was just us and one or two other couples. The shallow water extends quite a way towards the ship, making wading easy. But be sure you wear reef shoes! The coral is sharp and there a many sea cucumbers scattered on the sandy bottom. Nasty things...hard to believe something so ugly lives in a place so beautiful.
Most passengers seemed to sit near the dock and on the side of the motu facing the adjacent motu. The best snorkeling was to be had here and this was the location of the infamous floating bar. After some exotic blue concoction from the bar, I checked out the vendors. Found some very nice pareos for $25, bought one for pareo night later that evening. I found a black pearl bracelet I just had to have but found I had not brought enough cash. No problem, the lady accepts credit cards (on the motu)!! She had a nice selection of pearls, both set and loose. Some of the loose ones were as little as $15 per pearl, but these really were pretty unattractive. The bracelet I was coveting had 15 pearls, both baroque and circle ( the ones with the circular ridges) in various colors separated by small gold beads. The luster of the pearls looked very good to my eye. Unfortunately, I had not brought a credit card with me (who knew I could use it?). Well, about that time, my memory card in my camera got full. Didn't bring the other one. So, to kill two birds with one stone I headed back to the ship. Had my own private tender over, ran to the cabin, caught the same tender back and was back on the island in less than ½ hour. Not bad. Purchased my bracelet and even got a 20% discount off of the asking price (don't know why, I didn't ask for one). The pearls turned out to be of good quality when I compared them to the high quality earrings I had purchased on Moorea, they were just not perfectly round (but I kind of like the circled ones in a bracelet actually). So I got 15 set pearls for 22400 XPF, I felt it was a good value.
Now that my shopping was done, it was time for serious relaxation. Got a coconut, got a drink...aaahhh. By the way, the coconuts really do a good job of keeping your drinks cold. A little while later it was lunch time. Yummy poisson cru, a mahi mahi "burger" with papaya salsa, lunch doesn't get much better than this. The facilities on the motu are great. They blend in well but are also very comfortable. Nice chairs, tables and after a few coconut drinks, nice restrooms (very important). I decided to check out floating on my raft (these really are a good idea to bring along) and enjoyed that for quite some time. Then it was snorkeling time. The coral is in really very good shape considering how many people have been around it. Lots of fish, nice coral, sea cucumbers (yuck) and giant clams with gorgeous colored lips. I really enjoyed seeing L and M snorkel for the first time. That first view of the underwater world is so amazing. If you've never done it before, give it a try. Back to the chair for more serious relaxation. Time flies so fast on the motu, seems we had been there for such a short time and bam, it was time to go back to the ship. We were on the last tender over. Sniff, I wanna go back!
Back on board we were treated to the most amazing sunset over Bora Bora. I must have taken 30 pictures of it. Then we watched as the captain and some of his crew circled the ship more times than I kept track of in an outrigger. This was not the first or last time we saw the captain getting his exercise in this fashion. He's in very good shape. He's nice enough, but always seemed very business-like. That's OK, sailing a ship is serious business. After a bunch of stars popped out one by one, we got ready for dinner. Being pareo night I was brave (or crazy) and decided to wear my pareo to dinner. Worked out OK except when my safety pin popped and no one could find me another one. They did manage to come up with a binder clip, not your usual pareo accessory, but put a few flowers on it and it kept me "together". Probably the result of wine with dinner, I actually participated in the pareo contest along with 8 or so other brave (or crazy) individuals. Didn't win (oh well) but got a consolation prize of (drum roll please) a luggage tag!!! A luggage tag?? Yep, a luggage tag. So if you choose to participate in the contest, don't do it for the prize.
Did some dancing afterwards, took off my flip flops in order to not kill myself dancing with them on and they vanished. Never to be seen again. Hmmm, another cruisecritic woman had her flip-flops turn up missing as well. Could there be some strange flip-flop eating god in French Polynesia? That wasn't in any of the Polynesian legends we received in our cabins. After realizing I can not do the macarena or wiggle my hips like a Gauguine, it was time for bed.
Day 4 Paul Gauguin - Bora Bora
Another breakfast on the balcony to start the day. We discovered you can write things in on the room service menu and it comes just as requested. For example, there was not a ham and cheese omelet offered but write it in and voila, it appears the next morning. Got my extra cream cheese that way too. The sail into Bora Bora is beautiful. How is it that every day the scenery gets better? How is that possible?
Today is a busy day. We have both a morning and afternoon shore excursion booked. Morning it is the Waverunner tour around Bora Bora. After a quick tender ride over to the main island we board a Le Truck (watch out for the low ceilings) and take a 15 minute ride to the Beachcomber. There our guide gives us a lifejacket, explains the basic rules and off we go. I let my husband "drive" since he used to ride dirt bikes and still misses it. Besides this way I can just enjoy the scenery. We have to remain a good distance behind the waverunner in front of us and always follow in a straight line. What a thrill this is! The water is smooth so the ride is not very bumpy at all, except for when you go over the wake of another boat, but even then it's not bad at all (we'll get into bumpy later in the day). The seats of the waverunner are very comfortable and there is a decent sized compartment under one seat for your belongings. The water is amazing. Incredibly clear with colors that are every imaginable shade of blue and green and change constantly. We buzz by the ship then go a bit farther until our guide stops us in a shallow sandy area. We all get out and wade around and sit on the shallow sandy bottom. We chat with our guide, who tells us of life on Bora Bora. They have to go to either Raiatea or Tahiti for high school. People come from quite large families and have relatives on most islands. As with all the Tahitians we met, he was friendly, easy going and seemingly happy. We saw a small flounder in the sand and as we were leaving a ray came by. I loved going around the island and seeing how the profile of Mt. Otemanu constantly changes.
Another stop about ½ way around the island at a motu. We all wade ashore and are treated to a coconut opening demonstration (not as easy as it looks) and a snack of bananas picked right from the tree with fresh shredded coconut along with coconut water in the coconut. The rest of the way around the island we get to go fast and too soon it's over. I'd highly recommend this excursion, but book it early if you want a certain time. It fills up fast since there are only so many waverunners. Back on Le Truck, back to the pier. This was one time I really wished the tenders ran more frequently. We just missed one and ended up waiting ½ hour until the next. I wouldn't have minded so much but we had another excursion scheduled for the afternoon and wanted to change clothes, eat and relax a little bit. Oh well, I took advantage of checking the local marketplace. Lots of pareos and shell jewelry along with some wood carvings. I didn't see anything I liked better than what I got on board in Raiatea though.
We cleaned up, changed clothes, re-sunscreened (it was probably the sunniest day of the trip) and went to La Verandah for lunch. It was Italian buffet day. Excellent food and wine once again. Prosciutto, a huge wheel of Parmesano Reggiano, pastas, mussels and tiramisu to die for. Back to the cabin to get hats, sunglasses, water and bug repellent and we're off for the off-road adventure. OK, when they say in the excursion description that it's bumpy and not for those with vertigo, THEY REALLY MEAN IT. Seven of us got into a Landrover with benches on either side of the back and roll bars/ handles overhead. It was bumpy just getting out of the parking lot but then the real fun began. We went up inclines and through mud that I was sure no vehicle could manage. But we did. Definitely wear a tight fitting hat and sunglasses as tree branches will whack at you. Keep your arms in the vehicle too. And hold on tight!! I came off of my seat on numerous occasions. The views are worth it. I guess seeing the American guns was interesting but it's the ride and views that are the real attraction here. Our next stop was at an artists home up in the hills. Heck of a driveway! He handpaints pareos and has a beautiful house and studio. We then stopped at another pareo stand where I found (yet another) one I liked and bought. Up another hill, this one more steep than the last. We were rewarded with beautiful views of the motus at the northern edge of Bora Bora and had a pineapple and grapefruit snack prepared by our guide.
There were many mosquitoes here and I was bitten once even with repellent on. One poor girl wasn't wearing any and got numerous bites until I gave her some of my spray. So wear and bring bug repellent. We continued around the island. It was nice to have circumnavigated Bora Bora twice now, once by sea and once by land. We stopped at a pearl store ( an excessive stop I thought, no one bought anything or was really even interested in looking) then at Bloody Mary's. It's cute and I guess worth seeing. Several people ate there later in the evening and it got mixed reviews. Reports of worms coming out of the sand at dinner and crawling up diners legs made me glad I ate on the ship.
We had an anniversary celebration scheduled for 5:15 and didn't get back to the ship until then so we raced to the cabin, tried to make ourselves look as presentable as possible and went up to the celebration. They really do a nice job with this. All anniversary couples are invited and there are drinks and hors'doveres. Then each couple is called up one by one with the longest married recognized first (33 years on our trip). Flower crowns ( heis) are placed on your head and you are wrapped in a traditional Tahitian wedding quilt (a tifaifai) and the photographer takes your picture with the sunset in the background ( we forgot to buy ours, oops). Then they read a poem in Tahitian, French and English and give you a copy. Not many dry eyes in the place after that. Honeymoon couples have a similar ceremony the following night. Oh, I forgot, the day before they delivered two glasses of champagne, cake and a note from the captain to our cabin recognizing our 10th anniversary. Very nice.
We strolled around the ship a bit then went back to the room to really clean up for dinner. Another wonderful dinner for two in L'Etoile. The ship was rather empty this evening as many passengers were eating at either Bloody Mary's or at the Virtuoso sponsored dinner at the Bora Bora Lagoon hotel. The large anniversary/birthday group was eating at Le Grill, so we had the dining room almost to ourselves. Don't remember exactly what I had but I know I ate quite a bit of excellent fish all week and the only thing I didn't care for were the frog's legs one night. Not because I don't like them, but they were overly salty. One bad dish out of who knows how many, that's not bad. We never did eat at La Verandah (Apicius) or the Pacific Grill. I thought the menu at Apicius was too fussy and while the menu at the Pacific Grill looked good, the grill suffers from being rather muggy and warm. Plus the food in L'Etoile was so good, why go anywhere else? Maybe next time I'll try the alternative restaurants. Just another reason to go back.
Day 5 Paul Gauguin - Bora Bora
Another great breakfast on the balcony this morning as the Paul Gauguin moved from near Vaiare to closer to the motu where the Pearl Beach resort sits. Then off to the marina platform for our first dive from the ship. This is a first class operation. Pretty much all you have to do is show up and know how to breath and everything else is taken care of for you. The equipment is very nice and in excellent condition. They set up your gear for you in the zodiacs, tagged with your name. Then you just hop into the zodiacs for a quick trip to Tapu, just outside the reef pass. Once at the site, they help you into your gear and you just roll off of the side of the zodiac. There was quite a lot to see on this dive. Nice coral, several different types of sharks, many fish, even the submarine which takes people who don't want to get wet down to see the reef. Dominique takes lots of photos which you'll be able to see later. At the end of the dive they help you out of all your gear, help you into the boat and have fresh water available.
A quick trip back to the ship, they take all of your gear and rinse it for you and you're done. As we got back on the ship the clouds began to look a bit ominous. Sure enough, at around 11 am the rain started. I was watching it approach from my balcony and scurried inside just in time. It was as if Bora Bora had vanished. Made for a nice long leisurely lunch in La Verandah. It was a French buffet this day, once again wonderful food and wine. The vanilla creme brulee was out of this world. Just after they announced that the afternoon excursions had been canceled, the rain stopped and the sun came out. I felt really bad for anyone who had missed out on an excursion, but I guess they didn't know when the rain would stop. An unexpected side effect of the rain was the development of several beautiful waterfalls down the side of Mt. Otemanu. We decided to take the tender into town so we could phone home and talk with our 5 year old daughter who was home with Grandma. She sounded like she was having a blast and getting spoiled rotten. Saw L and M getting into one of the smallest cars I've ever seen to tour the island since their excursion had been canceled. After the rain the mosquitoes were out in force, so be aware. We walked around the town for a few minutes, mostly checking out the plants and trees. Lots of mangos, papayas and bananas growing everywhere along with too many flowers to count. Back on the tender to the ship. We considered going over to the motu but opted to just relax on board. So I have no knowledge of how the motu is on Bora Bora. Yet another reason to go back.
At 5 pm Giovanni held a wine tasting. He's a very informative guy. We tasted two chardonnays and two cabernet sauvignons. They were all wines served in the dining room during the week. I wish we had been able to try something different but oh well. Immediately following the wine tasting I attended the first of two enrichment lectures given by Marc Eddowes, an anthropologist and archaeologist who works in Polynesia. He's quite a character and gives a fascinating talk on the history of Polynesian society. But a word of warning: it's pretty graphic and no holds barred. A lady seated in front of me looked simply stunned for parts of it. But it is well worth attending and very educational while being simultaneously entertaining. Another wonderful dinner in L'Etoile and off to dream land as we sail away from Bora Bora.
Day 6 on the Paul Gauguin - Moorea
The ship's newsletter "Ia Orana" informed us that we would be circumnavigating Tetiaroa, Marlon Brando's private island, at 8 am so we opted for breakfast on the balcony. It arrived promptly, as always, just as we began our trip around the island. Prior to arriving at Tetiaroa we could see Moorea and Tahiti in the distance. Looked like it was raining near Moorea but we didn't get any more rain during the trip. Tetiaroa is a quite different island from the other islands we visited as it is an atoll, not a high island. We had fantastic views of the virtually untouched motus in the spectacular lagoon from our starboard side cabin. I don't think the people on the port side could see anything. Many birds were flying around this island and we saw the occasional small boat; I think day trips are offered from Tahiti. After we circled the island I went up on deck to see what I could see. For the first time I went all the way up on deck 8. Boy was it hot and the sun strong up there. Not much shade to be had. There is a small bar up there but I don't recall that it was ever open. It was nice though to get a 360 degree view of the surroundings and look over the bow where the zodiacs are kept.
Then it was time for the second lecture by Marc Eddowes, this time on the real story of the Mutiny on the Bounty. Once again a fascinating lecture. If you can, definitely attend his talks. Up on deck they were serving Bloody Marys and Mai Tais as we sailed into Cook's bay. We deferred as we had a dive scheduled for noon. We grabbed a quick bite at Le Grill and we were off. Our second dive, this time at the Ledges was almost a private trip, just 4 divers and 2 instructors. This dive has some of the best coral along with many moray eels. Big ones too. We were also lucky enough to see a turtle. This was a long dive, 50 to 55 minutes. The views from the zodiac were fantastic too. Opunohu Bay is even more beautiful than Cook's Bay.
Back on board we opted to just relax and take in the sights of Cook's Bay. Dr. Michael Poole gave an interesting talk on the dolphin and whale populations of the South Pacific. It would be so great to be in Moorea when the humpbacks were there. Just another reason to come back. We had our Seven Seas Society reception this evening. We had sailed on the inaugural trip of the Mariner, so we were members. It was held in the Connoisseur Club, the first and only time I was ever in there. Nice enough place but seemed to be underutilized. The reception was very nice, they had some of the largest shrimp I've seen along with lots of caviar. I keep trying it but it still doesn't do anything for me. They served very nice champagne (or other drinks if you preferred). Some of the friends we had made over the week came by and after relaxing for awhile longer we all went to dinner. I absolutely love the open seating format on Radisson. I'm not sure I could ever take a cruise again where they tell you where and when to eat. After dinner we attended the show for the first time. We're usually not ones to stay up too late and not a huge fan of shows either but the entertainment tonight was quite good. Then up to La Palette to listen to and dance to Hal Fraser. He's very entertaining. Up way too late tonight.
Day 7 on the Paul Gauguin - Moorea
I had done some shopping in the ship's boutique yesterday. I found the selection to be pretty poor and the prices very high. The one exception was the Monoi oil. They had 4 ounce bottles with a Tiare flower inside for $3. It was cheaper than I found anywhere else, including grocery stores on the islands. They have it in Vanilla, Tiare (a gardenia scent), Coconut, and Citronella (supposed to repel bugs). They also had some with sunscreen (only spf 3 or 6) and some lotion, but I believe those were more expensive. I absolutely love the Vanilla Monoi. It feels great on your skin after a day in the water and sun and it even makes a pretty good hair conditioner. Plus it smells fantastic. It will harden if the temperature gets below 72 degrees; one night we must have had the AC cranked up in our room because all of the oil hardened. Makes a nice souvenir or gift.
A late breakfast in Le Grill this morning. Up too late, had too many cosmos last night. Le Grill is my least favorite restaurant on board, not because the food is bad but because it always seems humid and is laid out awkwardly. Some of our friends had gone black pearl shopping the day before and their driver was coming back today to take them on an excursion. They generously invited us along. We all met James at the tender dock and were transported in his air-conditioned van to the far northwest corner of Moorea. No matter how many times I make the drive around Cook's and Opunohu Bays, I could never get tired of it or ceased to be amazed by the beauty. He dropped us off on his family's property just across from the two motus and set us up with individual sea kayaks. Looks like I'm going to be paddling one of these after all. The trip over to the motu really wasn't that hard once you get the hang of the kayak and it wasn't too hard to get the hang of.
Before we set out James warned us "Time goes very quickly on the motu." He wasn't kidding! When we first arrived on the motu we were essentially the only ones there. We did some snorkeling, it was great between the two motu. Saw many fish, some incredibly colorful ones, several rays and an eel. Watched some people doing the aquascope where they put a weighted helmet on your head and have you walk along the bottom. Pretty funny to watch. Then we just walked the beach taking in all the beautiful sights. We went all the way out to the reef. We were all alone, it really felt like we were on a deserted island. Really magical. My husband found a big pointy stick and decided to practice his coconut opening skills. Well, if this really were a deserted island and we were relying on his coconut opening skills for survival, I wouldn't be writing this review now. He says the stick was defective. Uh-huh. Luckily for us the island really wasn't deserted, in fact there was a very nice little open air restaurant just off the beach. We stopped in and had an absolutely delicious tuna steak in curry with potatoes, rice and french bread. A couple of icy cold Hinanos and you couldn't ask for a better lunch in a better setting. Sadly, time did fly by all too quickly on the motu and it was time to paddle back to shore. James met up with us as promised. One quick stop at his family's pearl store (no sales pressure however and we were all too tired to even look) then back to the ship. We just missed the tender but I didn't mind because there were many vendors set up on the dock. The prices were very good and I was compelled to buy yet another pareo (this one was for my sister) and a cute little outfit for my daughter. The vendors take US dollars. There was water and restrooms available also so it was a comfortable wait.
We watched Polynesian children play in the water and throw sea cucumbers at each other (nasty things!). As always, there were dogs wandering freely around, the smell of the small fires people burn to get rid of excess vegetation and the ever present crowing of roosters. You can even hear those things from the ship! Back on board after our fantasy island day.
We relaxed and took in the sights of Cook's Bay for the last time then went to the Captain's farewell. As you sail from Moorea to Tahiti they have a show in the theater by a professional Tahitian dance group, O Tahiti E. They are fantastic. They have gorgeous authentic costumes, do by far the most physical dancing I saw in any show and have a good singer to boot. The men with their elaborate tattoos are a sight to behold. Do not miss this show. We then had a SCUBA reception to attend. One of the instructors, Dominique, takes numerous photos during the dives and has them for sale for $10 each. He's a good underwater photographer and a great instructor. He's got a great stamp for your log book too. A final dinner in L'Etoile, I'm about ready to burst. Luggage has to be out in the hallway tonight so it's time to pack. By now we're back in Papeete and the party on the pier is going full swing. I just don't want it to end so I take one last stroll around the ship, watch the festivities on the pier for awhile and finally resign myself to going to sleep.
Last Day and trip home
In a nice contrast to many other cruises, you can have breakfast in several different places the last morning including your cabin and you're not rushed off of the ship. Earlier in the week you provide reception with your after-cruise plans and on Wednesday or Thursday you receive appropriate colored bag tags and detailed instructions about disembarkation. We considered skipping the tour, but not knowing if our room at Le Meridien would be available and feeling like we just wanted to go along for the ride, we decided to take it. All in all, I'm glad we made that choice. We scored the two front seats in the large air-conditioned bus which made for great views out of the front and side windows. While Papeete and the surrounding areas are certainly a shock after being on much less populated and more neatly kept islands, I didn't feel like it was a slum or nasty at all. It certainly is much better than just about any Caribbean town I've seen. It is enjoyable to look up the canyons at the jagged peaks or out over the reef with its pounding surf. Our guide was very informative and entertaining as well.
The first stop at the Tahiti museum was very interesting, in fact I wish we would have stayed here longer. We were lucky in that as it is the 100th anniversary of Gauguin's death, there are some actual original paintings present at the museum. Another ride to the Paul Gauguin museum. Other than the scenery on the way there, I felt this stop could have been skipped. They do have a nice shop in the museum though. Back to Le Meridien, straight to the lunch buffet as the rooms would not be ready until 1:30. The lunch buffet was decent, not as good as on the PG, but that's hard to top. Unfortunately the only time I really felt sick the entire trip was after lunch. Coincidence? I don't know. Fortunately our room was ready at 1:30; some people's weren't. Unfortunately we were given very poor directions to our room and after wandering around for quite awhile (there were no signs and none of the hotel staff seemed able to help us) we found it. No wonder it was so hard to find, it was crammed in against the side of a hill with a view of absolutely nothing. Thankfully our luggage was in our room. The room itself was pretty poor. Dark, musty, ants on the floor and, much to my dismay, on my pillow. Between my stomach not feeling right and the ants, there was no nap happening for me. I tried sitting on the verandah but it was ant covered and lots of little flying bugs kept dive bombing me.
So I took a walk. Maybe it was having spent the past week in exceptionally beautiful places, but the grounds of Le Meridien didn't seem as nice a when we were here 10 days ago. There were numerous kids shrieking and squealing on the beach and in the pool. Nothing seemed all that nice about the place anymore. We took the advice of others and had brought along sodas and water from the mini-bar in our cabin. Good thing too, because the prices at the hotel were nuts. At sunset we took a walk to the beach. Almost no one else was there and we saw probably the best sunset of the trip over Moorea. A nice grand finale.
Since I wanted to sleep on the plane later and we were a little hungry we decided to try the infamous "pizza place" next door - Le Cigalon. We headed over at around 6 pm and if you decide to eat there I suggest you go that early as well. It operates on island time and you need to be back at the hotel lobby to be picked up by 7:30. The pizzas are very good, one fed the two of us although we weren't terribly hungry. One pizza and two Hinanos only set us back $20. Back to the hotel for the transfer to the airport. After a shell lei goodbye we headed to Faaa. Check in was pretty quick and easy. Remember to get your pearl receipt stamped just after you go through x-ray. We wandered around the duty free stores a bit and got a few last minute things. No bargains to be had here though. Even though the airport wasn't air-conditioned it was comfortable and the padded benches we waited on were fine. We took off on time and were lucky to have a partly empty flight with many of the middle seats vacant. This plane did not have the foot rests or the lumbar support that the other one did. Also, the very middle arm rests do not fold up. I still managed to cram myself into two seats and with the help of an Ambien I was off to dream land for 6 hours. Woke up in time for breakfast. Customs and immigration in LA went smoothly. They asked about black pearls and didn't want to let me bring my hei into the country. Oh well, it was getting pretty ratty anyway. Recheck the luggage and off for the short walk to terminal 4 for our final flight to DFW. Good to be home, but I'm longing to return to French Polynesia some day.
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