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French Polynesia Princess Cruise Report and Guide

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My GF and I recently returned from a couple of weeks in French Polynesia (hereafter referred to FP). The bulk of our time there was a Christmas 10-day Princess Cruise with one day in Tahiti pre-cruise, followed by a few days post-cruise.

 

This report captures much of what we learned and did in hopes that others planning a French Polynesian cruise might benefit in some way.

 

If you’re interested in my review of the Pacific Princess, I’ve posted that in the Princess forum here...

http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?p=45146702#post45146702

 

Special Thanks: During my research, I came across the Yellow Fish cruises blog written by a nice lady who’s been travelling on the Pacific Princess in FP with her husband since mid-October. They spend their entire winters cruising and I had the pleasure to meet them during our cruise and chatted on numerous occasions with “G”. Both the blog and my conversations with “G” were very enlightening and helpful, so I highly recommend anyone who’s considering a trip to FP to peruse their blog starting from Oct. 2014… it offers a wealth of information on the ship, islands, and excursions you can undertake.

 

My Map

 

My Google Map shows the location of every place mentioned in this report and a number of others.

 

View the map here.

 

Notes on French Polynesia in General

 

Currency

 

The currency in FP is the French Pacific Franc (CFP which stands for Compagnie Française du Pacifique) which at the time we were there was trading at about 93 to $1 such that 1000 Francs was about $9.30 USD. When evaluating the price of something in Francs, its easiest to just ignore the two least significant digits when converting to dollars... Thus something that costs 2300 Francs is roughly about $23 (close enough).

 

Many places will take USD as a courtesy, but don't count on it, and don't expect the best conversion rate. You're much better off to carry Francs. There are obviously a few ways to equip yourself with some local currency...

- Buy some Francs before you leave home... Just beware of the rate you're getting

- Convert USD to Francs through select ATMs in FP (more below)

- Use your credit card or bank card at ATMs to withdraw cash

 

Major credit cards are widely accepted by all resorts and restaurants but you will need cash for taxis and many smaller vendors.

 

You can change USD to Francs via an ATM at the airport and at least one similar machine at the Bank of Tahiti in downtown Papeete (marked on my map). You get a good rate, but the commission fee is 400 Francs (about $4) per transaction so convert as much as you can in a single transaction. You can feed it as many US bills as you like and then "cash out" in Francs.

 

Things tend to be expensive in FP... Here's a few examples...

- 1L of water: 200-500

- Hanano Beer: 550-750

- Can of Coke: 300-350

- Taxi between Airport to Papeete 1800-2200

- Apetizer at a restaurant: 1500-2000

- Main dish at a restaurant: 2000-3500

- Meal from a food truck: 1300-1500

- Cocktail at a cafe or resort: 1500-2000

 

I used credit cards wherever possible and still went through about $300 USD worth of Francs (30,000) for Taxis, souvenirs, small meals or snacks, drinks, etc, during our 10-day cruise with a few days pre/post cruise.

 

Language

 

French is obviously the official language of the islands and is spoken fluently by everyone. Many people also speak English but there were a few people we ran into that knew little or no English. If you encounter such a person you need to communicate with, there is probably someone nearby that can translate.

 

Internet WiFi

 

There's pretty much no such thing as free WiFi in FP. Well, that’s not entirely true but basically it’s extremely rare and if you do find free WiFi, be prepared for the old adage of you get what you pay for - performance can be horrible. Hotspots that cost around 500F (~$5) per hour are the norm. You can get a ManaSPOT or HOTSPOT-WDG card from some restaurants, bars, hotels, and other places as these hotspots are all over FP and then you can use the login details on the scratch card to login anywhere until your minutes are used up. After 5 min of inactivity, it will automatically log you out.

 

Days of the week

 

It's easy (and ideal) to loose track of the days of the week while on a cruise vacation, but I add this entry here to remind folks that the islands pretty much shutdown on Sunday. The only thing you're likely to find open on a Sunday, is the local church(s) and the more popular restaurants/cafes. Almost all businesses are closed and many services are curtailed. For example, I was told public busses are not running and I personally noted that ferries are operating on a much reduced schedule. Of course, tour operators may be in full force when a ship is port, regardless of whether it's Sunday or not, but I would double-check to be sure.

 

Just keep this Sunday shutdown in mind, particularly when planning pre or post-cruise days.

 

Weather, Water Temperature, Day Light

 

After booking, I was very concerned to learn that December and January are the middle of the rainy season in the South Pacific. I had assumed the weather would be like the Carribean (generally beautiful with the odd short shower) but apparently not. It is possible to have several cloudy days in a row with showers and torrential rain at times. Papeete seems to get the worst of it which is not surprising as it’s larger, higher mountains create their own low pressure system. At any rate, I would suggest that if you don't want to risk any bad weather in FP that you consider booking your trip between April and October.

 

Our weather turned out to be very good overall although the foreboding forecasts and reports perhaps made us appreciate it a bit more than it deserved. We had a few cloudy days and torrential rain with heavy winds (particularly during the first few days of the cruise) as we sailed to and from Rangiroa but we actually saw sun on every other island with some really nice days on Huahine, Raitae, Bora Bora, and Morrea. I noticed the weather was often better in the morning than the afternoon.

 

The temperatures ranged from 27-30 degrees C and it was fairly humid. It can be very sweaty at times although there is often a nice breeze which can help tremendously.

 

Ocean water was such that it felt very refreshing yet comfortable to swim or snorkel for extended periods. Pool water on the ship or at resorts was almost always way too warm for my liking, offering little or no relief from the warm air temperature.

 

The sun is scorching... Make sure you cover up or wear good sunscreen or you'll be paying for it. You'll likely find out on your first day in the sun where you missed applying sunscreen thanks to the patches of bright red skin. A surf rasher or some other shirt is essential for extended snorkelling or swimming.

 

Because of its proximity to the equator, the days are pretty close to the same length year-round. For us (in December) the days were longest with sunrise around 6AM (I think - as I wasn't up to witness it first hand) and sunset was around 6:30PM with darkness settling in between 7-7:30PM.

 

Tahitian Pearls

 

Dark beautifully coloured pearls are one of the few items actually produced in FP (that don't grow on trees) and as a result, you will see pearl stores everywhere. They are very expensive IMHO. Top quality pearls can sell for thousands of dollars each. Average ones for hundreds each. You almost need to be among the rich and shameless to buy a Tahitian Pearl necklace (which can approach $100,000).

 

However, understanding how Pearls are farmed/made will give you a much better appreciation for them while providing some great insights into one of the key industries of the islands. Even if you have no intention of buying any pearls, I highly suggest taking a tour of a Pearl Farm or listening to a guide or shop owner explain the process as early in the trip as possible... It's extremely interesting and at least then you'll know why there's a pearl shop on every corner, and why they cost so darn much. (See my notes on Rangiroa for one of the better Pearl Farm visits)

 

 

Pre and Post Cruise Notes

 

Arrival/Departure at Faaa Airport in Papeete

 

The arrival in Pappeete can be a long slow process, as the infrastructure is minimal and clearing a couple of wide body jets full of people through immigration can take awhile. Strangely, flights from Air France and Auckland can arrive within minutes of each other creating long lines. It can also be warm and sweaty so don't get off the plane dressed for freezing temperatures if you can help it. Budget a good hour to get through immigration and claim your bags as the FP agents are extremely thorough when inspecting passports. You need to fill out two or three forms for immigration as well, which you should get on the plane.

 

Once outside the airport there are plenty of taxis, a few shops, and the aforementioned ATM to convert USD to Francs.

 

As mentioned above, a taxi to downtown should cost around 1800-2000F plus 100F per bag. You'll pay a similar amount to go the other direction. We paid 2000F with our 4 bags to go to the Manava Resort from the airport. Like many other places, taxi fares are based on distance, luggage, and extras. There are no meters though so just be prepared to discuss it with the driver before you depart so you're not surprised and check with a local 3rd party before you hail a taxi to get an idea of what to expect. Taxi drivers there seemed very honest to me and didn't try to rip us off.

 

A taxi between Papeete and the airport only takes 10min. early in the morning. Since most flights arrive/depart either very early or very late, traffic and taxi travel times are unlikely to be a major factor in your planning.

 

Departure was more seamless. We arrived two hours prior to departure having checked-in the day prior using the Air France mobile app so all we had to do was visit the bag drop counter, collect print-outs of our boarding passes and head to immigration. The line for immigration and security was very short with only a few people in front of us which was surprising given that two 777s (ours bound for LA and another for Auckland) were both departing at the same time. At any rate, the whole departure process was smooth and the airport waiting lounge is open-air with ceiling fans and lots of comfortable seating with a cafe, gift shop and expensive duty free shop. (Is it me, or are duty free shops the same price or worse than duty added shops?!?!)

 

Cruise Ship Pier in Papeete

 

Cruise ships tie up in the small inner harbour across the street from downtown Papeete and adjacent to the Moorea ferry terminal. The location is marked on my Google Map along with many of the other locations mentioned in this report.

 

Embarkation and debarkation is done under a couple of tents on the pier. There is no large terminal so I wouldn't show up super early for embarkation as there's not much area in which to wait.

 

The good news is that the relatively small cruise ships that ply the South Pacific don't carry a lot of people so the whole embarkation process is extremely quick and painless.

 

Pre-cruise stay in Papeete

 

Most cruisers I know always plan to arrive a day early in order to mitigate the risks of delayed flights and missed connections. Depending on your flights and embarkation dates, you can of course, try to make the most of your long journey to FP by planning for a few days pre (or post) cruise if you have the time and budget.

 

Papeete and the surrounding area has a number of options for a pre-cruise/post-cruise stay that range from a basic hotel in town, to luxurious resorts with over-water bungalows. Moorea is another option if you have a bit of time to take the short 30min ferry ride (see our post-cruise notes below for more on options in Moorea).

 

Here's a list of hotels and resorts in or around Papeete...

Resorts:

- InterContinental Tahiti: close to the airport with over water bungalows but expensive

- Manava Suite Resort: past the Intercontinental on the west side - where we stayed (details below)

- Radisson Plaza Resort: East of Papeete

Hotels in Papeete

- Hotel Tiare Tahiti: great location, affordable, where we stayed our last night before our early flight (details below)

- Hotel Tahiti Nui: also a good location but I don’t know much more about it

 

I wanted my GF to get a nice introduction to Tahiti so we opted to stay the night before embarkation at the Manava Resort a short drive south of the Papeete airport. This resort was appealing for a few reasons... It was fairly close to the airport and Papeete to minimize taxi fares, it offered good value, it had a great pool, and was walking distance to the Pink Coconut Restaurant which was well reviewed and on our list to try.

 

The resort was fabulous. It exceeded expectations with helpful staff, great location and views, huge infinity pool with swim up bar, free wifi, and nice spacious rooms (with kitchens). It was the perfect place to spend unwinding from our hectic lives and getting into vacation mode. We did nothing but lie around, swim, and take some photos.

 

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We booked a lagoon view room which offered a beautiful view of the lagoon side of the property and the open water to Moorea. However, our initial room’s AC wasn’t up to my standards (having just stepped off a plane from Canada) so when the technician couldn’t get it working any better, they moved us to an even better room (larger with a view of the infinity pool). The resort restaurant was great if not a bit pricey, but they were competitive with any other decent restaurant we visited.

 

If you're staying at a resort and haven't recently won the lottery, you'll need to bring your own wine, beer, or spirits rather than drink their $15-20 cocktails. Fortunately, if you stay at the Manava Resort, there is a small supermarket about a mile down the road (back towards Papeete) near the marina which offers a great selection of wine, beer, spirits, and snacks, as well as everything you might have missed packing. I found a decent bottle of Brut for 800 F.

 

Pink Coconut Restaurant - this restaurant is on the west side of Tahiti at the marina. It’s marked on my map. It offers an extensive menu at typical Tahiti prices (similar to resort restaurants). The food is good and the patio is very nice right near the water where a lot of the luxury yachts tie up. http://www.tahitipinkcoconut.com It’s a long walk or a short taxi ride from the Manava or Intercontinental Resorts.

 

Post-cruise stay in Moorea

 

Post-cruise, you can do more of the same above, or opt to go a bit further afield... Some people stay on the main island of Tahiti, some (like us) take a ferry over to Moorea and stay at a resort there, while others will take a short inter-island flight to Bora Bora or one of the other islands to stay a few days there.

 

Having stayed pre-cruise at the Manava Resort on Tahiti, we opted to book their sister resort, The Morrea Pearl Resort, on Moorea for a 2-night post-cruise stay. We considered the over-water bungalows but opted instead for the more affordable and more (interesting to us) beach side bungalows. I chose the Pearl because it offered the best value of all the major resorts.

 

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The Intercontinental, Hilton, and Sofitel were all considerably more expensive than the Pearl and each offers something unique, so be sure to investigate the amenities and cost of all four before you decide. I'm certain of one thing though... You can't go wrong with any of them.

 

The Moorea Pearl Resort and Spa exceeded all our expectations with its lovely grounds, awesome restaurant and bar, friendly helpful staff, great beach and pool, outstanding snorkelling, and walking distance from a variety of shops and restaurants (more on those below) all on the north side of Moorea.

 

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Restaurants near the Pearl Resort (in Maharepa)

- The restaurant at the Pearl Resort is very good and no more expensive than either of the following two options

- The Mahogany has a nice menu and apparently the food is good (as told by some Tahitian folks we met on the cruise), but it’s across the main road from the water and so has no water view and didn’t appeal to us as much

- The Moorea Beach Cafe is one of the more popular restaurants on the island for tourists and offers an incredible setting right on the water with a good menu. Drinks and food are typical resort expensive.

- The Blue Pineapple down on Cooks Bay at the Club Bali Hai is also right on the water and offers a nice view of the bay. However it’s a bit more rustic and run-down. It’s not as fancy or romantic as the Moorea Beach cafe. I had a beer there but didn’t try the food.

 

Moorea Ferry and Getting Around Moorea

 

Getting to/from the resort on Moorea was also easy... With a small catch...

 

We disembarked on Sunday so there were only a few ferries from Papeete to Moorea in operation. While there are two independent ferry companies (info below), they strangely operate on a very similar schedule which doesn't provide much choice in departure times. On the Sunday we wanted to ferry to Moorea there were options at 8:30AM (which we had missed by an hour), one at 3PM (a very long wait) and one again at 5:30PM. If you plan to go to Moorea, check the schedules and plan accordingly.

 

The two main ferry companies offering service include:

- Aremiti: Offers a slow service (45min) on their large car "Ferry 2" and faster (30min) service on the smaller "Aremiti 5". The cost for non residents is 1500F. Website: http://www.aremiti.net

- Terevau: Offers only a fast (30min) service on their smaller catamarans and the cost for adults is slightly less at 1160F. They don’t have a website but do have a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/TerevauTahiti

Schedules for both (use the tabs at the top to browse the schedules)

 

Don’t worry about having lots of baggage… both companies offer large wheeled carts down at the street level departure area for you to put large suitcases into that will be hauled aboard before departure and then off again at the other end for you so you only have to carry on smaller cases when boarding the ferry via the foot bridge.

 

Getting from the ferry terminal to your resort

 

Public busses are the cheapest way to get around the island. Although we never rode one, apparently they cost 300F and coincide their schedules to/from the Moorea ferry terminal with the ferry schedules. They apparently do not run on Sunday. I don't think they are that frequent at the best of times either. My advice for anyone travelling for a short stay, is to ignore the public bus option...time is too precious (and it's too hot) to spend it waiting for a bus.

 

Other options include taxis... Ours cost a somewhat reasonable 2000F to go the 10KM to the Moorea Pearl Resort. You may also be able to arrange transport with your resort (although it likely won't be free). Albert Tours and another yellow-bus Moorea tour company also have shuttle busses at the ferry terminal you can make arrangements with when you arrive for slightly less than taxi fares.

 

For the trip back, our resort arranged group transport with Albert Tours that cost 900F pp billed to our room.

 

Renting a car in Moorea

 

This is something I highly suggest, but since we did this as part of our cruise stop in Moorea, I'll cover that in more detail in my Moorea Port of Call report below. However, for the sake of completeness, those looking to rent a car from the Moorea ferry terminal can certainly do that although I can't offer any first hand insights into that. Avis and Albert Tours are the two companies I witnessed on Moorea (we used Albert).

 

Last Night at Budget Accommodations in Papeete

 

Since our flight home left Faaa airport in Papeete at 8:40AM on a Wed. we couldn’t have stayed Tues. night in Moorea and made our flight so we spent our last night in Tahiti at the Hotel Tiare Tahiti which is right across the street from where the ship docks and just a short walk (a few blocks) from the Moorea Ferry Terminal.

 

The Hotel Tiare Tahiti offers a basic hotel experience… it’s nothing fancy and priced accordingly. It’s a great place if you’re looking for affordable conveniently located accommodations in Papeete. You can easily walk anywhere in downtown Papeete in minutes from the Hotel. The rooms are basic but very clean although the AC was a bit weak for my liking and there was no free WiFi (as usual). However, the lady at the front desk was super helpful, fluent in English, and when we asked her to book us a taxi for 6AM the next morning, it was there right on time which was fantastic.

 

They offer breakfast for 1000F (at least that was the rate for our room booking) but we never tried it as we were up and gone to the airport by 6AM.

 

For dinner we enjoyed the food trucks at the water front square (Place Vai’ete)… called Roulottes. See below under Papeete for more info on dining options.

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Ports of Call

 

The islands are beautiful with Moorea and Bora Bora getting top honours in my books due to their more exotic geography. All of them offer amazing beaches, water sports, circle tours or 4x4 tours. However, if you're like us, and travelling on a budget, you're unlikely to be able to afford to do everything (and limited time in port won't allow it anyway). So hopefully this will provide some insights for you when planning your days ashore enabling you to determine what might be best for each port of call given your own budget and priorities.

 

It might be helpful to understand our motives, bias, and patterns to put my recommendations in perspective. We cruise on a modest budget and therefore do as much as we can on our own... Do It Yourself (DIY) is our motto wherever possible. We'd rather rent a car than join a bus tour, and generally avoid ship tours and even third-party tours as much as possible. Having said that, we know life is short so we are open to doing some excursions that offer great value that can't be easily duplicated on our own, and we like to do as much as possible... We never stay on board during a port of call and are usually off early and back late. Neither of us are adrenaline junkies, but we are in our 40's, reasonably fit, and have been known to cover a few miles on foot when ashore. In addition, I like photography so will often go out of my way for a good vantage point or a classic shot. With that in mind, here's the key points of interest on each stop and what we did...

 

Tahiti (Papeete)

 

On the main island of Tahiti where your cruise starts and ends, you have a few options including exploring the shops and points of interest in the town of Papeete, driving or touring around the island to take in some of the natural beauty, or taking a day trip over to the neighbouring island of Moorea. I'll leave the island of Moorea for its own section below as it most certainly will be one of the islands you visit during the cruise and focus this section on Papeete and the island of Tahiti.

 

If your cruise is like ours then you will have an overnight in Papeete with a couple of days to kill. If you want to make the most out of it, you'll likely want to explore the town one day, and tour the island the other day. In our case, we actually arrived in Papeete a day early, giving us nearly three full days in Papeete. We spent the first day at a resort (see our pre-cruise notes above) then embarked the next afternoon just long enough to drop off our stuff and then we got back off the ship and explored the town of Papeete later that day before re-boarding to have dinner and spend the night. The next day we got up and got off again to pick up our arranged car rental with Avis and toured the island, ensuring we were back on board before sail away. I'll cover both our in-town and island circle tour activities here.

 

Exploring the town of Papeete:

 

The cruise pier in the inner harbour of Papeete makes it the ideal base for exploring the town. In fact, the main Tahiti Tourist Info Center is located right in front of the Princess ship between her berth and the main waterfront street of downtown Papeete.

 

It's probably best if you have low expectations for Papeete. Unfortunately, it has more in common with the rougher towns of the Carribean than the nicer ones. It's certainly no Lahaina or St Thomas... More like Castries or Nassau. And it really looks nothing like any French town or village I've visited. Its way more run down and grubby than I expected. There's no designer shops but there are a surprising number of hole in the wall clothing boutiques selling expensive (e.g. $1200) evening gowns and dresses which begs the question... Who's buying these and where are the wearing them?!

 

The Notre Dame de Papeete...

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I've marked a few points of interest on my map (see link at top), including:

- Cruise Pier (right in the heart of town)

- Tourist Info Center (with the best air conditioning off the ship)

- Food Trucks (offering a variety of dishes, drinks, deserts at reasonable prices with outdoor picnic table seating from dinner time til late night)

- Main Market (be sure to visit both floors for your typical souvenirs)

- Hand-made flower lei and crowns (these are very reasonably priced but only last a couple days)

- Shopping Center (with a wine store)

- Bank (with currency conversion ATM)

- Supermarket (didn't visit)

- Ferry terminal (to Moorea)

- Hotel Tiare Tahiti (affordable, basic accommodations - we stayed here our last night)

- Avis Pacific Car rental (book online via Avis.com)

- Notre Dame church (worth a visit)

- Papeete Town Hall (a nice large colonial period building)

 

You can cover all of these in a couple of hours - and of course longer if you're easily waylaid by shopping.

 

In addition to my Google Map there are a couple of other map resources you might like...

- Another walking tour map

- Frommers map you can easily save to your phone

 

 

Restaurants and Dining in Papeete

 

There are a few great restaurants with patio seating right on the main street facing the harbour across from where the cruise ship pier is located. We tried drinks and or food at both Les Brasseurs and Le Retrot both of which are great. I’m sure the other locations we didn’t get to are equally good. Note that at least a couple of places offer happy hour specials around 5PM that last an hour or two. Le Retrot has cocktails for half-price from 5PM-6PM making the price a more reasonable 800F rather than 1600F for a decent cocktail (and their Mojitos are excellent).

 

In the evening there’s also the food trucks (Les Roulottes) in the water front square of Place Vai’ete right at the cruise pier. There are probably 10 or more different trucks all serving a huge variety of dishes ranging from asian, to french to american bbq style cuisine. Unlike normal food trucks in many cities, however, they all offer picnic table seating with many tables and stools so you don’t need to stand or walk around while eating. The prices are better than eating at resorts, but are still not cheap. A meal will set you back around 1200-2000F depending on what you get. And keep in mind that no alcohol is available here. Just be aware that during rainy season, the skies can open up at any time and pour rain on your dinner. This happened to us and there was a mad-scramble for the few tables covered by tarps or awnings. Fortunately, the food truck we had chosen was not incredibly busy so we could easily find a covered table. Others at busier trucks were forced to flee across the street to escape the downpour while others with umbrellas innovated some shelter.

 

Exploring the island of Tahiti:

 

Renting a car in Tahiti is easy. The local Avis affiliate (Pacific car) in Papeete is downtown, a few blocks from the cruise pier and you can reserve through the Avis website. A small car cost me about 8000F for the day and about 1700F in fuel. Someone warned me they can be picky about damage to the car, so be very thorough when you do the walk around inspection with the agent and make sure every nick and scratch is noted... My inspection sheet was almost solid ink by the time we were done (my car had some wear and tear) and I had no issues at all upon return.

 

These Frommer's guides offer a thorough description of the points of interest around the island of Tahiti...

- North and East Coast

- South Coast

- West Coast

 

Mile markers along the highway (starting at zero from the Notre Dame Church in Papeete) make locating points of interest easy and GPS is unnecessary as there really is only one road that goes around the island and navigating through town isn't all that difficult either.

 

The key points of interest in my opinion include (all are marked on my map):

- The Faarumai Waterfalls and the adjacent black sand beach and blow hole on the north side of Tahiti. They are easy to find as they are next to the only tunnel on the island. The turn off for the falls is just east of the tunnel on the inland side and is a short paved road with a parking area at the end. A foot path and bridge lead to the falls (ignore the chain across the bridge entrance). The black sand beach and blow hole is right next to the tunnel on the side of the road with a parking area and bathrooms.

- The Vaipahi Garrdens which is on the south side of the island with abundant flowers and lily ponds (and a few Mosquitos). It also has a smaller waterfall.

- The Maraa Grotto caves on the west side - there are at least two and they have pools for floors so you can peer in but you'll need to get wet or swim to explore them further.

- The public beach on the west side - which has a view of Moorea

- The Pink Coconut Restaurant on the west side - see below.

 

The Faarumai Falls...

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It took us about 4 hours to circumnavigate the main Tahiti island and pay visits to the waterfalls, gardens, caves and beach on the west side. We didn't stop at the Pink Coconut restaurant as we had been there a couple of nights earlier, but I would recommend a stop there for lunch or refreshments. It's got a great patio and is nestled in the Marina away from the highway so you can enjoy the peaceful lovely ocean view unless some behemoth yacht is blocking it. If you want to stop at the restaurant, I recommend you either go around the island clockwise in the morning so you get to the restaurant in the afternoon, or start later at the restaurant and go counter-clockwise assuming you don't have to get back to Papeete until the early evening.

 

 

 

Huahine

 

I suspect I'm not the only one that had doubts about the correct pronounciation of the island's name until it was mentioned during some announcement over the ship's PA system. From what I can tell, the correct pronunciation is to ignore the first "H" so it sounds like Wha-hee-nee.

 

The ship anchors in Maroe bay and tenders people ashore. The day we visited there was absolutely nothing to do or see near the tender pier (not even someone trying to sell you something!). On this island your choices are to take one of the few ship tours, arrange an independent tour or rental car ahead of time, or take the shuttle bus into town. If you want to explore the island on your own, you need to make prior arrangements to rent a vehicle from one of the agencies in Fare, or pay to take the shuttle into town and make arrangements there. I saw one vehicle rental place in town, but searching Google seems to reveal there are at least a few.

 

From what I could gather, a popular option is to do Marc’s Motu Picnic. There was a sign on the tender pier for people to meet, but when we arrived I think the tour had already left (as it was past 9AM) so I don’t have much first hand information. You can find info elsewhere here on this forum or via their website.

 

If you’re looking to have a great day on a budget, in my opinion, the most affordable way to experience a lot of what the island offers is to plan for a beach day on the public beach which is very beautiful and combine that with exploring the small village of Fare, and having lunch or drinks at the restaurant in town or the nearby Maitai Lapita Village Resort (which can be a bit pricey but the setting is wonderful).

 

The shuttle to/from Fare costs $8pp each way and is billed to your shipboard account if you choose to use it (by signing a form in exchange for tickets at the tender pier). It's several miles up and down hills so don't even consider walking. It runs back and forth continuously throughout the day.

 

The village is a bit charming but tiny. There's a few boutique shops, a large supermarket, a restaurant/bar right on the beach, and a pharmacy a short walk away.

 

The public beach near Fare...

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The public beach is just beyond the restaurant bar - you just pass around and in front of that restaurant and continue along the ocean front for a hundred yards or so to reach long dock and the nice sandy beach. The beach is shared with the Maitai Lapita resort which has a nice restaurant/bar of its own overlooking it's small pool area and the public beach. The resort offers day passess for 6000F (~$60) pp which is actually a pretty good deal as it includes lunch (2 plates + 1 soft drink each), access to the pool and their kayaks, towels and snorkelling gear. We opted to just bring our own towels and use the public beach during the morning hours and then ordered lunch and drinks a la carte in their beautiful dining area (total was about $90 for two) in the afternoon. We sat there for a couple of hours enjoying the beautiful views and then walked back to town, bought a small gift and returned to the ship.

 

Other points of interest that can only be seen on a tour or with a rental (marked on my map):

- The blue eyed eels that lurk in the river near Faie

- A lookout on the road between Maroe Bay and Faie

- The archilogical remnants near the airport

 

We did not visit these so I can't comment on them.

 

Rangiroa

 

Rangiroa is an atoll which essentially means the island in the middle has long since sank or eroded leaving only the barrier reef which has become a long strip of sand surrounding a huge lagoon separated by a variety of channels. If you’re interested in an animation of how these form, you can watch it here. http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/kits/corals/media/supp_coral04a.html

 

Rangiroa is so large, you can't see the other side across the lagoon.

 

The ship anchors in the lagoon near Tiputa pass and enters either through that channel or the major one to the west. It's worth getting up early to watch the ship enter the channel as it seems that several Dolphins consistently greet the ship as it nears the channel in order to surf the bow wave. If you're lucky, you may get to see them approach alongside. I viewed them from the side of deck 11 forward by peering over the side railing, but deck 5 might also provide a good vantage point.

 

The ship tenders to the dock at the tip of the atoll by Tiputa pass where there is a couple of shops and craft tables setup.

 

The public beach in Rangiroa...

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In my research, the most popular things to do on Rangiroa include the following:

- Visit the famous Blue Lagoon or Pink Sand Beach. The key issues with these are the considerable distance and cost. I understand it's about a 90min boat trip to either across what can be very choppy water making for a punishing ride. They also both require pre-arrangement as far as I know (they were not offered by the ship). Maybe outside of the rainy season these are good options but I wouldn't consider booking either when the weather is unpredictable.

- Snorkel or Scuba “The Aquarium". There is a Motu inside the lagoon at Tiputa Pass very close to the tender dock that offers fantastic snorkelling and diving. The currents of the channel ensures this area always has lots of nutrients and thus plentiful fish and even on a stormy day like we had, the water is very clear. I did a morning snorkel tour offered by Princess and it was well worth it. They provide the boat, gear and a guide in the water with a large flotation cushion you can hang onto if you get tired. The water depth varies from shallow near the Motu to deeper but I would guess is was around 8-12' deep in most places. Fish were plentiful and I saw morrey eels and black tip sharks. After snorkelling the boat went into the channel briefly to see if we could spot some Dolphins and sure enough a couple lept clear of the water for us to see. I highly recommend this excursion if you're into snorkelling.

- Pearl Farm. See my notes earlier in this report about Pearls. Gaugin’s Pearls is one of the main Pearl farms on the island and they offer a free shuttle ride from the tender pier to their facility where you get a nice overview of the Pearl farming process and a chance to browse their store. There is no pressure to buy and the bus ride to/from and education is no charge. The day we were there they seemed to offer several departure times about 2hrs apart. We got the 10:30AM departure right after my snorkelling excursion. We spent about an hour there, and then asked the driver to drop us at the public beach on the way back to the tender pier which saved us some walking.

- Public Beach. The public beach is just past the resort and Top Dive Shop on the island and offers a quiet, peaceful beach. There are a couple of rustic picnic shelters and benches there if you need to escape the sun or rain. It's about a 30min (1.5mile) walk along the road from the Tender pier. As mentioned above, if you take the Pearl farm bus you can ask the driver to drop you at the public beach on the way back. Which is what we did. After a bit of time at the beach, we then walked down the beach past Top Dive to the Kia Ora Resort where we had a drink and enjoyed their great over water bar (with a glass floor).

- Refreshments. As mentioned above, you can get refreshments from the bar at the Kia Ora resort which is a short 20min walk from the Tender pier. Their over water bar is fantastic with great views of the lagoon. Alternatively, you can go to Josephine's bar which is a 5min walk from the Tender Pier and overlooks the Teputa Pass where you may see some Dolphins jumping in the choppy waters of the channel.

- Dolphin watching. There is a great vantage point near the open ocean entrance to the channel where you can probably see some Dolphins playing in the choppy waters there. It's like a public park area with places to sit but no shade. It's just a few minutes past Josephine’s which is also a good spot to watch for Dolphins.

 

Raitea

 

Raitea is the only island other than Tahiti where the ship can tie up at a dock. It does so in Uturoa which is the next largest town in the islands after Papeete. It offers some good shops and an excellent market with lots of hand-crafted jewelry and other stuff on the second floor. Prices are very negotiable and some vendors will take USD. We bought a nice black pearl and oyster shell necklace for a very reasonable price.

 

Your choices for things to do on this island include:

- Shop or get refreshments in town

- Take a boat out to the Motu for a beach day with some snorkelling

- Hike up Mt. Tapioi for some spectacular views

- Walk to the nearby resort

- Take a ship or other 3rd party tour

 

The shopping center adjacent to the ship dock has a tourist info center and a number of tour offerings you can take advantage of. If you want a beach day, snorkelling or some other activities, this seems like your best bet.

 

Despite what some guides and maps might say, there is no public beach within a short walk of town. We looked for a beach to the west of the ship and there was nothing (at least between the pier and the marina). Perhaps there is something further along but we didn't venture that far.

 

We opted to hike up to Mt. Tapioi first thing in the morning before it got too hot. You can see it clearly from the ship, dock and town... It's the one with a radio tower clearly visible at the top. It took us about 90 minutes up, 30 min at the top, and 45min to come back, and of course, your mileage may vary. The road to the top is fairly easy going (steeper in some places) although the heat and humidity is what really makes this a brutally sweaty hike. Bring some water and maybe a wash cloth to mop up the sweat. Depending on recent rainfall, there may be some mud here and there. I would recommend decent walking shoes... I would not attempt this wearing flip-flops. Along the way you will see lots of different jungle plants, exotic fruit trees, and even some horses that graze the hill side. Apparently there are some aggressive Bulls on the trail occasionally which are best avoided although we didn't encounter them. The trail head is marked on my map and is found by making your way along the roadway past the gas station toward the turning circle by the radio tower visible in town... When you get to the turning circle near the radio tower, proceed along the road to the right towards the church, do not take the branch straight ahead that heads directly toward the mountain. After a hundred yards towards the church you'll see a dirt road to the left heading straight for the mountain… that's the one to take... cross the cattle guard at the bottom and head on up the mountain.

 

The view looking north from the top of Mt. Tapioi...

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The La Cubana restaurant in the shopping center right at the pier offers reasonably priced refreshments and the only free internet I could find in all of FP. And as usual, you get what you pay for… after 30min I gave up trying to upload a photo to Facebook.

Edited by VirtualRain

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Bora Bora

 

Bora Bora is a small but beautiful island dominated by a couple of exotic jagged volcanic peaks and surrounded by an amazing barrier reef which are home to some of the most luxurious and expensive resorts in all of FP. It was also the US military’s South Pacific base during WWII and there are still some artillery emplacements on the hillsides you can visit on the 4x4 tours.

 

If your itinerary is like most, it will overnight here, offering two full days to take in what Bora Bora has to offer. There are plenty of options ranging from an affordable low-key beach day to one filled with excursions. We opted to spend one day doing both.

 

The ship anchors just off the coast of the village of Vaitape and tenders people to the public dock/marina there. Although we didn’t spend a lot of time exploring the immediate area around the tender pier, there were several craft tables in a building right next to the pier and a number of shops just across the road.

 

Before I get into what we did, here are a number of things you can do...

- Beach day on Matira Beach (one of the most beautiful beaches in the world in my opinion)

- Snorkelling or diving excursions (of course!)

- Helmet Dive (great for newbies and non-swimmers)

- 4x4 Tour (includes circling the island, WWII artillery, and some great vantage points from higher up)

- Circle Island Tour or Car Rental to DIY (I would suggest the 4x4 tour instead)

- Jet Ski Tour (See the Yellow Fish blog)

 

- Visit and/or stay overnight at one of the resorts

 

The first day, we spent relaxing on the beautiful white sand Matira beach which offers incredibly clear, turquoise water all the way out to the barrier reef. It’s very shallow and calm water and perfectly refreshing. Although there isn’t much in the way of snorkelling, a sting ray passed right by me in about 2ft of water. There are a couple of snack bars, outdoor showers, decent washrooms and a large covered area to seek refuge from the sun or rain as needed. One snack bar has a beautiful long wooden table and bench in the shade that I must have sat at for hours, taking in the view, drinking Hinano and chatting with fellow cruisers. It was one of the best days of our cruise.

 

Matira Beach...

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The second day, I had booked a couple of Princess excursions as they cover some things you simply cannot do on your own… the Helmet Dive because my GF is a non-swimmer and I wanted her to experience the rich undersea life of these islands, and then the 4x4 tour as I wanted to see the WWII artillery and get some nice photos from higher terrain.

 

I would highly recommend the helmet dive for anyone who can’t swim or who is not comfortable with snorkelling. As an avid snorkeler, I even found it fun and worthwhile. They take you out by boat from the tender pier about 10 minutes away to an area that is about 8-12’ deep with a sandy bottom surrounded by rich coral. There is one scuba guide in the water and a couple of hands on-deck to help you get in/out of the water and monitor the air supply. The helmets are large, heavy metal helmets with an air supply line that sit firmly on your shoulders providing a completely dry breathable air space around your entire neck and head such that no water rises above your neck line even once you’re on the sea floor. And they are heavy enough that you will not float up to the surface once underwater. Glass windows surround the front providing great visibility into the undersea world. It’s very easy to get in/out of the water as they have you climb down a wide ladder until your chest is in the water and then they lower the helmet onto your head and you simply complete the climb down the ladder which reaches almost to the sea floor. As I mentioned, there is a guide underwater with you in scuba gear that is constantly monitoring everyone, pointing things out, and taking photos (which you can later purchase). They provide a chunk of bread in a mesh bag you can use to attract fish, of which there are plenty of all types, colours and sizes. There was even a very large friendly sting ray that liked to play with the group, flying between people legs at times. You’re in the water for 30-40min which is plenty of time to see everything. It truly is a one-of-a-kind experience for someone who doesn’t swim or hasn’t snorkelled.

 

A friendly sting ray on the helmet dive...

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The three and a half hour 4x4 tour is organized by Princess and run by Tupuna Mountain Safari. It is also excellent, but one thing that’s not particularly clear that should be, is that the 4x4 roads are extremely rough… I mean, they are more like dried river beds in places rather than roads. While I found this very enjoyable and fun, some folks really found the jostling very unpleasant. Upon hearing these reports from people the first day, my GF who is prone to motion sickness opted out of this tour we had booked for the 2nd day in Bora Bora and I think it was a wise move for her. Fortunately, the excursion staff were very understanding and refunded her despite the last minute request. I thoroughly enjoyed it, perhaps more so because as a single participant I was offered the passenger front seat of the LandRover rather than having to sit in the back. Regardless, the trip included three off-road forays, one that took us up to one of the 7” artillery gun emplacements from WWII, another with took us to a beautiful lookout over the north section of the island, and the third to a farm nestled at the foot of the mountains with a variety of amazing fruits which we were able to sample. The lime flavour grapefruit plucked from the tree while we were there was one of the most amazing juicy sweet fruits I’ve ever had.

 

The WWII artillery on Bora Bora (ship in the background)...

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The tour circled the entire island where we learned how a lot of locals make a living whether working at the resorts or farming and harvesting various natural resources such as fruits, flowers, coconuts, or pearls to make money. The tour includes a stop at a Pearl Farm and shop on the way back with no pressure to buy but it’s not nearly as informative as the pearl farm in Rangiroa.

 

Moorea

 

Moorea offers similar natural beauty to Bora Bora including lush jungled covered terrain with exotic looking jagged mountain peaks and beautiful beaches although to my mind it comes with a bit more of an upscale feel to it all.

 

Ships can anchor in either Cook’s Bay or Opunoho Bay on the north side of Moorea. We anchored in Cook’s bay so I’ve marked the tender pier for our stop. I’ve also marked what I believe to be the tender pier for Opunohu Bay on the map as well (but feel free to correct me if this is wrong).

 

Moorea offers a wide variety of activities but like Huahine, there’s very little to do at the Tender Pier itself. There are craft tables as well as tour and rental car companies present at the tender pier though in case you want to determine what to do when you arrive.

 

They key things to do in Moorea:

- Snorkel in the Lagoonarium off Motu Ahi

- Visit the Tiki Village

- Visit one of the many resorts (Intercontinental, Hilton, Pearl, or Sofitel)

- Visit one of the public beaches (Temae by Sofitel or Ta’ahiamanu on Opunohu Bay)

- Visit the Belvedere Lookout

- Do a circle island drive by renting a car or taking a tour

- Do someting more exotic like a Jet Ski or ATV Tour

 

We wanted to cover a few of these in one day, so opted to rent a car. I prearranged the car rental via email with Albert Transport. They have the best rates and their service is great. I asked for them to meet us at the tender pier at 9:30AM and they were there right on time to take us back to their office across the street from the Pearl Resort to do the paperwork and pick up the car. They offer 4hr for 6500F or 8hrs for 8000F so we opted for the 8hr as we wanted it for about 6 hours. We shared it with another couple we met onboard and so it worked out to about $20pp. The tank wasn’t full, they just asked us to put in 1200F for gas before returning it which seemed very reasonable for a day of driving. If you end up using Albert, I’ve marked the location of the nearest gas station in Cooks Bay on the map along with many other points of interest.

 

The island is small, you can probably drive around it in about 90min. if you don’t stop. 6 hours was plenty to see what we wanted. Since the sky was fairly clear in the morning, we went immediately to Belvedere lookout which offers spectacular views of the island and north bays.

 

The view of Cooks Bay from Belvedere Lookout...

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Then we stopped at the Intercontinental Resort which is a beautiful resort with dolphins and sea turtles you can watch. Then we continued counter-clockwise around the island to the Tiki Village which offers a glimpse into how the natives lived. They have an amazing beach with a waterfront restaurant/bar and had a live show with music and girls in grass skirts just after lunch. We spent an hour there enjoying the beach, taking a swim to cool down, having some refreshments and fries while enjoying their show.

 

After the Tiki Village show we continued on over towards the Sofitel resort, passing the ferry terminal on the way. As the road climbs the hill above the Sofitel resort, there’s a pull-out where you can get an amazing view of the resort, beach, lagoon, and reef. It’s definitely worth a stop.

 

View of the Sofitel Resort from the road-side lookout...

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After that we took the turn shortly after the look out that goes to the public beach next door to the Sofitel Resort. We stopped only briefly here as we had enjoyed a swim earlier at the Tiki Village. Continuing our circle tour, we stopped by a roadside food truck selling rotisserie chicken somewhere near the airport and then continued on to the Blue Pineapple restaurant at the Bali Hai on Cooks Bay for further refreshment at their bar which offers a nice view of the bay. (Note: on our post-cruise stay on Moorea we subsequently discovered the nearby Moorea Beach Cafe which I preferred over the Blue Pineapple) I then dropped my companions at the tender pier, added some gas to the car and then doubled-back slightly to Albert’s to return it where one of the staff jumped in the passenger seat and we drove back to the Tender Pier together where I bid her a good day (having paid in advance).

 

Moorea is a great island to rent a car on in my opinion as it's small, easy to get around, offers some great scenery and lookouts, and there's plenty to see with stops that will interest nearly anyone.

Edited by VirtualRain

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Getting to/from Matira Beach on Bora Bora

 

One key piece of information I failed to include in my post above about Bora Bora was the plentiful options to get from the Tender Pier to Matira Beach. There are all kinds of different shuttles... It seems anyone with a bus or truck is at the pier selling a ride to the beach for $5 USD per person (they are all $5). They all seem to run back and forth all day. They drop you at the south end across from the Intercontinental. If you happen to walk up the beach over the course of the day, you don't need to walk back down... Just head out to the road and flag down the next "taxi" bus or truck heading either way and hop on. The ride is about 10-15 min each way.

 

Ps. I curse these forums strange limit on editing posts (or I would have just added this inline in the post above!)

Edited by VirtualRain

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Awesome breakdown of your South Pacific vacation. One of the most informative reviews I have read. Thank you for sharing. Pictures were great too. This itinerary is on my bucket list.

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Wow. Great information with plenty of specifics. Thanks for going through the trouble of making that map.

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Fabulous Review!! Thank you for taking the time to write it. I cannot wait until I go to FP in September!!

 

Jill

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Wonderfully informative review. Thank you! I leave in 3 weeks and really appreciate all the information you provided.

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Thanks so much for the detailed review.

We leave in a month for FP and I sat down with a list of questions to research.

Luckily I started here and you saved me hours! :D

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Ditto to what all the others have said! We're all set with our Fall 2015 Pacific Princess FP cruise with 2 days pre on Tahiti and 4 days post in an OWB on Moorea. We've just started seriously researching excursions/things to do and your specifics, color, photos, and easy read are just what the planning doctor ordered!

 

Thanks a ton!!!

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Thank you for your extensive report. It will be very helpful in planning port days on our upcoming cruise

Diane

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Thanks for all the kind words. If anyone's interested, here's a link to the rest of my photos from the cruise...

Tahiti Highlights...

Under the Sea...

 

Cheers!

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Thank you so much for taking the time to post your wonderful review and photos. We have found it most useful .Can't wait until we are there in April.

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Thank you so much for such a great review!

 

We will be coming in April, our flight will get into Papette at 7:50 pm, so I'm guessing we won't get to the ship until almost 9 pm.

 

I am wondering if there are any stores on any of these islands that we could buy some good but inexpensive bottles of wine. I'm wondering if anything would still be open in Papette as the ship is leaving that evening. If not on Papette do you have any knowledge of any other stores on the other islands?

 

Do you happen to know if any wine would be cheaper than we can buy on the ship even?

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Thank you so much for your wonderfully detailed review. I will be there in April and have added several items to my list. Your maps are great.

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Thanks so much for a brilliant review and your stunning pics! I have gained incredibly useful info for our upcoming trip in April. Thank you!

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Thank you so much for such a great review!

 

We will be coming in April, our flight will get into Papette at 7:50 pm, so I'm guessing we won't get to the ship until almost 9 pm.

 

I am wondering if there are any stores on any of these islands that we could buy some good but inexpensive bottles of wine. I'm wondering if anything would still be open in Papette as the ship is leaving that evening. If not on Papette do you have any knowledge of any other stores on the other islands?

 

Do you happen to know if any wine would be cheaper than we can buy on the ship even?

 

 

Wine is sold in Supermarkets in Tahiti so I would just ask your taxi driver to stop at the supermarket on the way from the airport to the ship. There is a supermarket on the way. I'm not sure what it's hours are but you can just stop by as its right on the main road.

 

You can definitely find cheap wine... I think I mentioned that I found a bottle of sparkling wine for about $8. Having said that, Princess wine prices are fairly reasonable, especially after you factor in the $15 corkage fee for consuming your own wine in the dining room. IMHO, It's generally only worth bringing cheap wine on to consume in your room, or something special (and thus likely expensive) to consume in the MDR. Otherwise, just buy on board.

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Wine is sold in Supermarkets in Tahiti so I would just ask your taxi driver to stop at the supermarket on the way from the airport to the ship. There is a supermarket on the way. I'm not sure what it's hours are but you can just stop by as its right on the main road.

 

You can definitely find cheap wine... I think I mentioned that I found a bottle of sparkling wine for about $8. Having said that, Princess wine prices are fairly reasonable, especially after you factor in the $15 corkage fee for consuming your own wine in the dining room. IMHO, It's generally only worth bringing cheap wine on to consume in your room, or something special (and thus likely expensive) to consume in the MDR. Otherwise, just buy on board.

Thanks!

 

I'm on Oceania and their wine prices are NOT reasonable and if you take a bottle to the table the corkage fee is $25.

 

Here's to hoping I get there before the supermarket closes.

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I've read in other reviews that tours are readily available on the piers of the various FP ports at much better prices than the cruise line tours. Do you know if these tour operators accept credit cards?

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I've read in other reviews that tours are readily available on the piers of the various FP ports at much better prices than the cruise line tours. Do you know if these tour operators accept credit cards?

 

My experience was that most tour operator in FP only accepted cash (USD, Euros, or local CFP).

The only company that allowed us to use our credit card was Rangiroa Plongee.

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