We did a one night pre cruise stay at the Tahiti Beachcomber. I booked this online thru their website for $170 for a Lagoon View room. I requested an upgrade when we arrived and received a Panorama View room. The Beachcomber is a beautiful hotel on the best landscaped grounds of any hotel we saw. The staff are very friendly and we received very good service. Great snorkeling in their lagoon aquarium and good swimming in their great pool. There is no snorkeling worth doing off the OTW bungalows. The Tiki Bar is a hot spot at night full of locals and good music. All the food was very good. The express breakfast is a good deal at $11 and includes coffee, juice and a large plate of breads and rolls.
If you like shopping be sure to schedule some time to shop in Papeete. There are many black pearl shops. If you are not looking for the $1000+ pearl skip the fancy shops and search out the small shops on the side streets. Make sure you stop at the big market and get flowers for your room. Everything you will see on your trip at other islands is there to see and buy. Remember, if you see something buy it then don't wait until later, you may never see it again.
We did the 4x4 half day offered thru the ship. Was a good trip to the interior to see waterfalls. The roads are not too rough and it is a fun trip. You get to see several waterfalls, great scenery and if you go when it is raining like it was when we went, you will see hundreds of waterfalls.
Marc's Motu picnic is as everyone has said, the highlight of the trip. The scenery from the boat is beautiful. It took about 1 1/2 hrs. to circle part of the island. The drift snorkeling was one of the best of the trip. You don't need fins unless you want to swim to the side to see something. The water is deep enough that the coral heads are usually about 2 feet below the surface. Just relax and let the current take you, The boat will be there to pickup at the end. The food, drink and entertainment on the motu are great! The stop at the pearl farm was very good. If you are looking for a carved black pearl shell, this is the place to buy it. You will not find better quality or prices anywhere else.
Raratonga Cook Islands
We rented a scoot car along with two other couples. The scoot car was very small and difficult to drive. You can get tired after only a few minutes on the road. It is hard to get into and if you are over 5'5" tall you will drive with your knees under your chin. At full speed at about 30 mph it car is loud and vibrates like crazy. The steering is by handlebars and the accelerator is hard to hold at max speed. There is a floor brake that can be used to slow down but is hard to stop quickly. All traffic will be passing you. But it was fun for the first hour but after that it was a pain in the butt to drive. Rent a car or motor scooter unless you want the thrill of a three wheel scooter. If you just want to go to the beach, use the shuttle bus from the tender pier. The beach across from the Raratonga fruit stand is beautiful and the snorkeling is great. Be sure to check out the fish nursery near the shore. The baby Trigger fish are really cute. There is very good shopping in town with many shops. Everyone speaks english and are very happy to have you in their store. No pressure to buy. There are several liquor stores where you can buy beer and some expensive liquor. Money changing is not available on the ship, only on the island. At the tender dock is a money change table which will be there at the end of the day to change your money back before you leave the island. Most shops accept US dollars and charge cards.
Raiatea and Tahaa
These sister islands are very beautiful. Nice to finally have a dock and not have to tender. We booked with Bruno and waited on the dock for him for over an hour and a half. A guy showed up and said Bruno was running late and would not arrive until 10:00. Mata Tours has a desk just inside terminal. Our group decided to go with Mata Tours and not waste anymore of our short day. Stephan of Mata tours gave us a day we would never forget. We saved $60 per person by going with Mata Tours. He said we could stay out as long as we liked and could decide what we wanted to see and do. Great snorkeling near his private motu and fun feeding the stingrays. His version of shark feeding was so much more exciting than the Sharkboy tour in Bora Bora. He took us to his motu right next to the Tahaa Pearl Resort hotel. He gave us fruit for lunch while we enjoyed his incredible view of Bora Bora and explored his island. He even had a small vanilla plantation right on his motu. He also made a stop at the Tahaa Pearl Farm. We got back in time for the childrens dance show, which was great. If you can't make it you can still watch it on TV in your cabin later in the evening. The Tahaa scenic cruising the next morning is on the starboard side of the ship. A good morning to sleep in if you did a Tahaa tour the day before you have already seen this side of the island.
We did the 4x4 tour thru Princess as soon as we arrived at noon. This is a wonderful tour as others have reported on. A word of caution. The roads up to the top of the hills are very very very rough! This is what make the tour so much fun. If you have back trouble and still want to do the tour, ask to sit in the front seat with the driver. There is little back support on the bench seats in back and you will get tossed around quite a bit. Our group did a sunset cruise with Richard Postma on his boat the Taravan. This trip was the second best tour after Marc's Motu picnic of the whole trip. Richard was a great host with wonderful stories about the famous people and movie stars that have sailed with him. The boat is really beautiful and he served endless wine and beer. After the cruise he dropped us at Bloody Mary's for dinner. The fresh fish they serve is great. We had to rush thru dinner so we could make the 8:00 pm tender. If you miss the 8:00 tender, you have to wait until 11:00 pm for the final tender of the night. The staff gave us really quick service and had transportation back to the ferry dock waiting for us as soon as we finished.
The next morning most of our group did the Sharkboy tour. Sharkboy sent two of his staff to take us on the tour, he did not come. The boat was nice but the shark feeding was a little dull compared to the great fun we had on the Mata tour. There was a strong wind that day so the water was too rough for good snorkeling. We went out to a Motu and had fruit and a nice walk on the beach. There are a few good shops near the pier and a large market with many vendors. In the market I found a lady selling vanilla beans. She had bags of large fresh beans for $10 for five beans. She ran out of beans but when I returned in the afternoon she had more.
The early morning arrival is really beautiful. As you sail into the bay you get to see the best scenery of the whole trip. At the tender dock there are many small stands selling mostly jewelry, shells and tee shirts. The prices are good but shop around. Look for the lady selling carved fossilized ivory done by her husband. She has many beautiful pieces and we bought two. The ivory is from Alaska and is legal to bring back into the US. We went on the Aquablue Helmet Dive. The departure is from the Beachcomber and they will provide transportation from and to the tender dock. If you want to spend sometime at the hotel after the dive, transportation back to the dock is easy to get on your own. The helmet dive is really easy. Follow the instructions and they handle the rest. No swimming just walking on the bottom in 12 feet of water. The stingrays are like big cats rubbing against you. Many fish to feed and take an underwater camera for some really great pictures. Last tender back to the ship is 4:30 pm. It is a quick trip back to Tahiti arriving before 8:00 pm. If you are planning on a post stay and would like to have some duty free liquor then head down to the store and you can take your purchase back to your room with you.
Last chance to go ashore and see all the roulottes, food vendors, at the end of the pier on your last night on the ship. If you are taking the ferry to Moorea the next day, it is easy to get to the ferry dock which is a short walk from the end of the pier. It is all paved and it is easy to roll a couple of bags. Keep in mind that even a short walk in the heat can be difficult carrying bags. Making a couple of trips will be easy. Once you get your bags to the luggage container, a ferry porter will load it for you and you can go back for your other bags. We and another couple together had 12 pieces of luggage and the Princess luggage officer let us pay two of his porters to take our luggage to the ferry luggage containers on a large wagon. We gave them $10 each and they were very happy. We took the ferry back to Moorea for two nights at the Sheraton.
At Moorea, I would make transportation arragements before your trip. Local Le Truck is fine if you have little luggage and you are in no hurry and don't mind riding in the heat. We used Alberts tours. Large vans, air conditioned and great drivers. They handled all the luggage for us. They charge $5 per person to all the hotels also few dollars tip if you have luggage is a nice idea. Contact Tino at email@example.com to set up your transfers. The Moorea Sheraton is a beautiful hotel and the OTW bungalows are a great as everyone else has said they are. We were lucky to get 107. I requested 109, 107, 105 or 103 horizon view. Bungalow 107 is out on the far end of the left branch of rooms. It has a direct view of the sunset and is completely private in the room. Out on the deck you can see only 109 and 105. Nothing between you and the view. The snorkeling was wonderful. The water is crystal clear and about 5' deep. When you snorkel, you only see a few fish at each coral head. Throw some bread in the water and watch the fish come! turn on your under the bungalow lights at night and watch all the pencil fish. The food was very good at the hotel with the usual high prices. For lunch each day, we split a sandwich at the pool grill. Big sandwiches with enough fries for two and only about $12. We went to the dance show on Tuesday night at the hotel. The buffet and show were well worth the price. Make reservations early for a show floor table.
The ship is very small compared to the mega ships we are all used to. The daily activities aboard the ship are few. The food was the average Princess fare and the service was very good. The ship decor is nice but seems out of place in the tropics with the dark heavy woods, over stuffed chairs and the fireplaces.
This trip is the best vacation I have ever taken. What made it so great is not only the wonders and beauty of French Polynesia but the great friends we made on Cruise Critic over the five months before the trip. We always had someone to share our fun with on our tours and someone to talk to back on the ship in the evening at dinner and the show. Get involved with the people on the roll calls, do research, book trips for others in your group and when you return "pay it forward" to the other groups following you with a trip report and answers to questions.