Tahitian FlagSouth Pacific Cruise
Tahitian Princess
May-June , 2003

By Jack Welsch

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This was our 35th anniversary trip. The original plan was for Hawaii but we wanted to visit a number of islands and the pricing was getting pretty scary. At about the time we were considering alternatives, we got an intriguing mailing from Princess. They had bought two ships from the defunct Renaissance Cruise line and had put them in service in the South Pacific. Looking at dates and itineraries, we chose a cruise on the Tahitian Princess primarily within French Polynesia but with one stop in the Cook Islands. The cruise left from Papeete, Tahiti and we decided to go a few days early to get out internal clocks adjusted and to see a bit of Tahiti before venturing out. We stayed for three nights in the Sheraton Tahiti.

This was the best trip to date. While sometimes vacations fall short of expectations, this one exceeded them in almost every way. One definite drawback is distance! Getting to Tahiti from Pennsylvania absolutely SUCKS! There's no getting around the fact that this is a huge price to pay but it was definitely worth the pain and suffering.

Princess uses two airlines from the US to Tahiti, both departing from LAX. One is Air Tahiti Nui, a scheduled airline. They use an Airbus 340-300. The other Airline is a charter outfit named Omni Air. They use an old DC-10. Princess booked us on Air Tahiti Nui. I've heard both good and bad about Omni. Some said it was fine while others found it horrible, with packed conditions and bad service. On departure day from Tahiti, those on Omni had to leave the ship and go to the airport to check in with their bags, then return to the ship. While that seemed to all of us a lousy way to spend the morning, Russ said it only took 20 minutes from the time he claimed his luggage to the time he was back on the bus. We didn't go to the airport until the evening but it took us 2 hours to check in! In talking to many people on both airlines, we could not determine how Princess decided who went where.

Normally Princess is great on logistics but there was little apparent organization when we arrived in Tahiti. It may be because they are new in Tahiti or because they contract out services. Getting from the plane to hotel was an ordeal and check in took forever. If I had it to do over, I'd have taken a cab, avoiding the mess at the airport and beating the crowd to the hotel.

The last day is always the worst on any cruise and I often swear I'll never cruise again by the time it's over. On many ships, we've had the feeling that the staff were thinking, "OK, you've had your fun, now get the hell out of here so we can look after these important new passengers." We didn't have that feeling at all this time. Due to the limited flights, there is a huge overlap of passengers, many of the old sharing public areas with the new for an entire afternoon and early evening. Of course, those departing have to vacate their rooms but that's necessary and understandable. One minor irritation is that departing passengers can no longer use their ship credit cards even though the same cards continue to grant access to the ship. Seems to me a little programming would make things a little more tolerable.

All in all, the fact that Tahiti is so damned far away makes getting there and back an ordeal but it's definitely worth it.

Hotel PoolWe stayed here for 3 nights. The property, located between the airport at Faa'a and the main city of Papeete, is very nice. It is modern and well maintained. I had been looking forward to a few days sitting on the beach so I was disappointed to find that they didn't have one! That appears to be standard for hotels in Tahiti, though, and I'd read on the 'net before leaving home that the proximity of the hotel to the harbor meant that the water quality wasn't good. However, it had a great pool and a breathtaking view of Moorea.

Hotel Dining RoomThe dining room is in a series of buildings on stilts over the water. At night, the water is lit and at all times there are lots of pretty fish swimming by. The rooms are not over the water but, at least as far as I could see, every room faced either the ocean or the bay. Of course, those on the lowest level had their view somewhat obstructed.

The hotel is very close to the airport but there are few big planes to disturb the tranquility. Taxis are expensive but it's easy to get into town via "Le Truck". This is a truck with wooden bench seats. It's the transportation the locals use so it's also a way of getting closer to the people. For the equivalent of about US$1.35, you can get to Papeete and there's a stop in front of the hotel. It's a kick!

Overview of the ship

Tahitian PrincessTo our way of thinking, the Tahitian Princess is almost perfect. It is definitely NOT one of the glitzy mega-ships. The fact is, however, that we don't really like the bigger ships. Getting on and off them in ports where they cannot dock is a major project. More importantly, we've found that it's harder to make friends on them than it is on the smaller ships. In the first place, the crowded conditions seem to cause people to avoid eye contact and keep to themselves. For another, on larger ships, when you do meet someone, you may never even see them again. These things may not be universally true but that's been our experience. The Tahitian Princess is very small as today's cruise ships go. At 595 feet in length and carrying only 680 passengers, it's by far the smallest and least-populated ship we've been on. True to our expectations, we found the Tahitian Princess to be a a friendly place, more a community than a collection of people traveling in the same direction. We met a lot of great people and made some very good friends. Below is a comparison of the Tahitian Princess with some of the other ships we've traveled on. Missing are the Olympic and the original Dawn Princess, both of which have probably been melted down to make anchors so no data is available. Take a look at the comparison of size and then at that of people. This ship was definitely NOT crowded!

Graph of ship lengths
Graph of number of passengers

StaircaseWhile it lacks the glitz of the new ships with all their glass and chrome, the Tahitian Princess is absolutely gorgeous! The style is much more classic and there is a lot of mahogany. In place of the huge atriums is a staircase between decks 4 and 5 which is somewhat evocative of the old luxury ships. The overall feeling is one of warmth and luxury. I've even heard it compared to the Titanic but one hopes the comparison goes only so far! The bottom line is that I liked this ship better than any of the others we've been on.

Our Cabin

Our CabinWe splurged and upgraded to a mini-suite on deck 8. What a great decision that was! In comparison to the tiny cabins we've had on other ships, this one was huge. In addition to the ubiquitous twin-beds-made-into-a-queen and a desk, we had two bedside tables, a sofa, a desk chair, two other chairs and a table. Plus, there was lots of room between the furniture. On the large balcony were two chairs, a small table and lots of extra space. Rather than the typical shower, we had a bathtub. That wasn't important to us but gives an indication of the room size. There was also lots of storage room. OK, it wasn't a suite at the Plaza but as large as many hotel rooms and, for a ship, that's pretty big! The TV had a number of satellite channels plus the bridge-cam. There were a number of power outlets for both US and European appliances so most people won't need adapters.

Club Dining Room

Dining RoomThis is the main dining room and is located on Deck 5 aft. The decor is warm and inviting. Breakfast and lunch were open seating and dinner was done in the classic way. We had second seating as we normally do. In my opinion, one must approach a cruise with the realization that the food is prepared in great quantities so it is more banquet food than anything else. In that context, the food was actually quite good. Tamas, our waiter was from Hungary and Adrian, our busboy was from Mexico. Tamas was a bit distracted as he was leaving the ship at the end of this cruise to go home to his wife and infant son but, overall, the service was good. While there were alternatives, we chose to eat in the Club Dining Room every night we ate onboard. We did eat off the ship two evenings for a change of pace.

Other Places to Eat

BBQFor dinner, there are two dining alternatives, "The Grill" and "Sabatini's Italian Restaurant", both on deck 10 aft. They are not open at the same time; some nights one was open, some nights the other. While we ate in neither, I heard good reports on both. For other meals, the major alternative is the Panorama Buffet located on deck 9 aft. There is food to be found there at most times. While nothing spectacular, the food was not bad and the veal dished tended to be quite good. I'm told there was pizza available in the afternoon but we never tried it. In addition to the tables inside, there were outside table as well, both at the stern and forward of the buffet, towards the pool. Also near the pool was a BBQ where one could get burgers, brats, etc. grilled to order. They also cooked omelets and eggs to order in the mornings. There was no midnight buffet as there is on many ships. To us, that was no factor at all. For those who get the hungries after hours, the Grill served complete dinners starting at 11:00 PM. Of course, room service was always available and we ordered room service breakfast on those mornings when we had to get on the move early; it serves as a backup alarm clock and saves time. There is something deliciously decadent about eating breakfast in your bathrobe on your balcony overlooking a south sea island! If that doesn't bring a sense of contentment, you're beyond hope.

Bars, Lounges, etc.

NightclubAs always, there are lots of bars. Our favorite by far was simply called the Nightclub, located on deck 10 forward. It was there we could be found most evenings before dinner. It was also the scene of one of the disappointments. There was a duo there, scheduled to play pre-dinner dance music starting at 7:30. The female singer was quite good. The male guitarist made no secret of the fact that he'd much prefer playing heavy metal and was doing this under duress. With only a 45 minute gig to play, they invariably started late and/or took breaks and/or quit early. They should be fired. Nonetheless, we enjoyed hanging out there with friends and occasionally danced when the group actually decided to earn their pay.

The Club Bar is located, appropriately enough, just outside the Club Dining Room and many people naturally gathered there before dinner. Another popular spot was also a piano bar near the casino. There are naturally bars at the pool and in the Panorama Buffet and there is a lounge near the shops.

CasinoThe shows are presented in the Cabaret Lounge. It's a nice venue and the entrances to it are downright impressive. Seating was more than adequate except when they had one show for all passengers. Some of the shows were quite good, if not spectacular.

The Casino was small but nice. There were quite a few slots and a number of tables including one for roulette with a $1 minimum. Given that my motive on the rare occasions when I gamble is to see how long I can play for $20, this actually enticed me to sit down twice.

Other Places to Hang Out

PoolOn every ship, my favorite place to hang out is by the pool. The Tahitian had a nice pool and two hot tubs on deck 9. Reportedly, there's another hot tub on the bow forward of the spa for an additional charge. The pools was nice but, as always, lounge chairs were hard to come by on days at sea unless captured early on. That's not a big worry to me as I usually am at the pool well before 8:00 AM and stay there until late afternoon. Deck 10 has a small running/walking track and on deck 11 forward is a sunning deck plus a golf practice cage. In all, there's plenty of space to enjoy the sun or to get fresh air in the shade.

The "Internet Café" (it's not really a café) is a good place to keep in touch with home or the office. There are 8 terminals but I had trouble with two of them. Internet access is US$0.50 per minute and the bandwidth is pretty good. The only downside was that, understandably, there was no access to a floppy drive so I couldn't e-mail pictures as I'd planned. Because access was via the web and because I didn't want to pay to download junk mail, I had set up a mail account on one of the free web-based services before I left home and gave the address out sparingly. Nonetheless, I checked my e-mail every morning before breakfast. I'd made arrangements for my Assistant to check my voice mail and send me an e-mail if anything needed my attention. As a result of this and her efficiency (as well as that of the rest of my staff) I didn't need to call in once!

LibraryThere's a nice card room that we never used and a magnificent, large library that I used one rainy morning as a place to hang out and read. The ceiling in the library is absolutely stunning.

There were two shops centrally located on deck 5. One was essentially a jewelry store and the other for general merchandise. Prices were as on all ships but, compared to prices on shore, they were a real bargain! There's a spa/styling salon/fitness center on deck 9 forward.


MapThe islands we visited are all absolutely beautiful. Most have a beauty that can be neither described in words nor captured in photos. Unlike those found on some of the Caribbean islands, the people are almost universally warm and friendly. All but one of the islands we visited are part of French Polynesia, an overseas territory of the Republic of France. The two official languages are Polynesian and French. Everyone we met could converse in French and most in English. To the extent possible, I tried to converse in French both for the practice and because I enjoy it. However, no visitor I spoke to, had anything but good things to say about the people of the islands. These are great people! Frankly, as much as I liked the islands, I liked the people more. I now understand why Fletcher Christian didn't want to return home!

Currency in French Polynesia is the French Polynesian Franc (cfp) and during our stay, one US dollar bought about 100 cfp. That made things easy since one only need insert a decimal place two positions to the left to see the price in US$. (e.g. 2300cfp=$23.00). In anyone's currency, French Polynesia is expensive! The Cook Islands were less so, probably because the NZ dollar is really cheap against the US one right now.


PapeeteTahiti is the largest and most heavily populated island in French Polynesia. It has a population of 150,000 out of the 220,000 in all of French Polynesia. Tahiti is essentially two islands, Tahiti Nui (Big Tahiti) and Tahiti Iti (Little Tahiti), joined by an isthmus. The main town, Papeete, has a population on the order of 100,000. Papeete is a bustling city and traffic can be a bit of a snarl but I didn't find it as heavy as I expected based on some other commentaries. I've not yet visited Nice but the waterfront in Papeete reminded me of pictures I've seen. I don't know whether the comparison is really valid. Some didn't like Papeete a lot but I did. Even here where people are crowded together, we found them warm and friendly.

BeachOur drive around Tahiti revealed some magnificent vistas but nothing like those on some of the other islands. There were a number of beaches but none appeared drop-dead gorgeous. Most of the sand is black. While it has all the other properties of white sand, I can't get it out of my head that it looks like dirt. Being volcanic, the center of the island is mountainous and almost always (at least when we were there) shrouded in clouds. It's quite stunning.

Tahiti is a beautiful island but I wouldn't recommend it as a vacation destination in and of itself. The other islands are much better for about everything but shopping and restaurants. However, I strongly recommend a few days there.


HuahineI'd never even heard of Huahine before but it's beautiful. Again, it's really two islands, Huahine Nui and Huahine Iti in this case joined by a small bridge. Here, the colors are vibrant with the many shades of blue seen in the brochures. Because we spent time on a motu, (a tiny out-island) we didn't see a lot of Huahine island itself. We were tendered into the "town" (actually a handful of buildings) of Maroe and took Le Truck to the "main" town of Fare. This was a larger but still tiny hamlet. It is quite charming.


Rarotonga Rarotonga is the one island we visited that is not part of French Polynesia and getting there involved a full day at sea. Rarotonga is one of the Cook Islands. The Cook Islands are "self-governing in free association with New Zealand." They control internal affairs and New Zealand controls external. The islands have the right to unilaterally declare independence whenever they want. The main town and the capital of the Cook Islands is Avarua. It's quite nice and there are a lot of nice shops. Currency is the New Zealand dollar and when we were there, it was worth about 65 US cents.

RaratongaCars are readily available for rent but you must get a Cook Islands driver's license! Neither your home license nor an international one is sufficient. However, they'll gladly issue one for NZ10 and a look at your home driver's license.. It takes about 30 minutes to process the picture but you can drive the car while you're waiting! Some friends rented motor scooters and, since they didn't have motorcycle endorsements on their home licenses, they had to take a test. It apparently involved making 4 left turns without falling off the bike! Of course, given the connection to the British Commonwealth, vehicles drive on the left side of the road; always a challenge for the rest of us.

Raiatea and Tahaa

RaiateaThe islands of Raiatea and Tahaa were originally one island and they are contained within the same atoll. Except for the town of Uturoa on Raiatea and a pearl farm on Tahaa, we saw little of the islands. We fell in love with charming Uturoa. It's not especially pretty but it's the poster-child for "quaint". It reminded us very much of what Grande Case, St. Martin was like during our initial visit in 1983. The dock area has been built up to capitalize on the cruise ship trade but, as elsewhere, the people we friendly and definitely not pushy. There are some nice restaurants on the docks and we enjoyed our lunch at La Brasserie Quai des Pêcheurs so much, we returned for dinner!

As I said, we saw little of Tahaa except for the pearl farm and what we could see from the boat. It is rugged, sparsely populated and beautiful! I understand that the lagoon surrounding these islands is the only one where large ships can circumnavigate the islands while within the lagoon.

Bora Bora

Bora Bora Bora Bora is, to many people, the very embodiment of exotic. The profile of the island is absolutely enchanting and I took about a zillion pictures of it, not one of which conveys the magic. The colors of the lagoon are the most beautiful I've ever seen and photos fall far short on conveying that beauty. Bora Bora is considerably smaller than I'd anticipated but it has lots of resorts, most of which have over-water rooms. They really look beautiful and I think Bora Bora would be a great place to hang out for a couple of weeks but it would be an expensive vacation. However, we talked to a young couple who had spent about 4 days on the island and they got bored. I'm sure if you're interested in action, this isn't the place for you! The principal town is Vaitape. It's essentially a single street parallel to the coast. It's pretty small but there are some nice shops here as well.


MooreaMoorea is located only 9 miles from Tahiti. A number of ferries connect the two islands and even large trucks can be accommodated on some of them. The smaller, faster ferries can make the trip in about 30 minutes. The ferry dock in Moorea is located Vaiare but there's not even a restaurant there! If you want to do more than ride over and back, you need to either take ground transportation with you or find some once you arrive. We were in Moorea on two different days but both were overcast so the island was not at it's best. Even at that, however, the water colors were absolutely vibrant so I can only imagine what the sun brings!

Tuesday, May 20 – Philadelphia to Papeete, Tahiti

Living in Northeastern PA, we'd elected to drive to Philadelphia the previous night and stay at a Hampton Inn near the airport. We were up on the first alarm 5:55, caught the 7:05 hotel shuttle to PHL and were in the check-in line by 7:15 but it took us until 8:00 to check in. After breakfast at TGI Friday's, we boarded an Airbus A321 for LAX. The flight was OK except for the length.

At LAX, we had to leave the terminal and elected to walk to the International terminal since we had lots of time and wanted to stretch our legs. The International Terminal is, of course, a zoo; I don't know why that always seems to be the case. Checked in with Air Tahiti-Nui and had some Mexican food for lunch. Security was again no problem.

Air Tahiti-Nui was using an Airbus 340-300. It was a nice plane but I think the seats were set for charter configuration even though this is a scheduled flight. These seats were TIGHT! We were in 21 A&B and the guy in 20B immediately insisted on putting his seat all the way back so I couldn't even use my table. We saw that 27 A&B were vacant so we moved there and things were much better. We had individual seat-back video monitors and about 5 movie choices. There was no control over start-time but the movies ran more-or-less continuously. There was also music and a lot of video games so there was lots of entertainment. We had some pretty decent Champagne, then good-if-small salmon for dinner. A GPS was one of the video choices. It did not show latitude & longitude but there was a moving map showing the Equator. I watched it closely and it seems to me that we crossed at 6:50 PM Tahiti time. I expected a bit of a celebration for us pollywogs and was surprised they didn't even mention this momentous occasion! We landed at 9:30 PM Tahiti time. Princess was definitely not up to par as there was mass confusion at the airport and again at the Sheraton Tahiti hotel. We finally got to bed about 11:45, only 23 hours and 50 minutes after we got up. What a day!

Wednesday, May 21 – Tahiti

Looking across to MooreaWe were up at 7:30 and I promptly watched the drain go down clockwise! (Being an engineer, the fact that I hadn't done it the moment I walked in the room is an indication of how tired I was!) We had breakfast at the hotel, rented a car from the EuropCar rep in the hotel lobby and headed out. First we went to the airport at Faa’a to see about renting a plane but struck out. Driving back past the hotel, we passed through Papeete and on eastward around Tahiti Nui, the big island. Traffic was bad but not as bad as I’d feared. The vistas were spectacular and I stopped innumerable times to take pictures. Arriving at the isthmus, we took the road along the east side of Tahiti Iti, the small island, until we got to the end, then retraced to the isthmus where we had lunch at Chez Loula & Rémy in Taravao.

Church on Tahiti NuiAfter a lunch of sole for Lin and absolutely fantastic dish of escargots in Roquefort sauce for me, we followed the road down the west side of Tahiti Iti and back, then along the west side of Tahiti Nui. We neared Papeete at rush hour so the traffic was a bit thicker but still tolerable. After we turned in the car, Lin rested in the room as I put on my suit for a swim, then read by the pool until I ran out of daylight.

Before dinner, we had a drink at “Le Quinn’s Bar” in the hotel. The ambiance was reminiscent of Trader Vic’s but this is for real! The pricing in Tahiti is definitely not for the faint of heart; two tropical drinks came to 2300 cfp or about US$23.00. The Moevai Restaurant in the hotel is located over the water and the water is illuminated at night so you can watch the many beautiful fish. Lin had Mahi Mahi and I had a disappointing dish of curried shrimp. The Crème Brulée was huge.

Miss Tahiti ContestIt so happened that this was the night of the semi-finals of the Miss Tahiti contest and it also turned out that our balcony overlooked the stage! While there was security limiting access to the event, we had great box seats. The pageant was still in full swing when we returned to the room so we watched it to the end. Great evening!

Thursday, May 22 – Tahiti

We were up by 6:00 and out of the room by about 7:30 for breakfast in the hotel. We were able to catch “Le Truck” across from the hotel for the short ride into Papeete. I had assumed the ferries ran rather constantly to Moorea and figured we’d go over and spend the day even though it was overcast. As it happened, we missed the one at 9:15 and had to wait until 12:30 for the next one. While we were waiting, we did a bit of exploring and window shopping in Papeete.

Ferry to MooreaThe ferry we chose was the Aremiti 4, a high-speed catamaran. We sat on top for the view and the ride took about 30 minutes. Even with the overcast, the water in the lagoon at Moorea was beautiful! The ferry docked in Vaiare but there’s really nothing there, not even a restaurant. We were hungry but really didn’t want to venture too far and risk missing the last ferry back so we immediately boarded the larger and slower Aremiti ferry for the return trip. We grabbed a sandwich on board and had a very rough ride back.

WinelistReturning from Moorea, we bought some postcards, then bought some jewelry from Katrina at "My Pearls" in Papeete. This is a great place and a fantastic lady! Katrina gave us a ride back to the hotel but declined our invitation for a drink so we put on our suits and sat by the pool.

Based on Katrina’s recommendation, I called and got dinner reservations at Le Rubis in Papeete and we again took Le Truck into town. Le Rubis is a charming French “wine bar” and seemed to be catering to many locals. Dinner for Lin was veal tenderloin and for me was a very rare chateaubriand in Roquefort sauce. We both had bananas flambées in cocoanut milk for desert. Sinful! After dinner, we caught Le Truck back to the hotel. It was a great evening.

Friday, May 23 – Tahiti

We had breakfast, packed the bags and sat by the pool. While there, we ended up talking to Russ & Janet from near Seattle and Jesse & Pat from Atlanta. Minutes before the 11:00 deadline, we grabbed the bags and checked out. We stood for a while with the other 4 waiting for the shuttle bus but at Jesse’s suggestion, we grabbed a cab for the ship. The cost of the cab was 3000 cfp or about US$10 per couple so it was a bargain. Check in at the ship was speedy but we learned the cabins were not yet ready. We were invited to check our hand luggage but elected to take them with us to lunch. We grabbed lunch from the Panorama Buffet and ate by the pool with Russ & Janet.

PapeeteAfter lunch, we explored the ship for a while. A bit later we tried the cabin and found it available so we moved in and dropped our bags. Unfortunately, the Windstar was at the main dock in town and we were docked over on a freight pier so Princess had provided a number of Le Trucks as complimentary shuttles to town. We grabbed one and headed in. We did a bit of shopping, stopped at an Internet café to send an e-mail to home, said “Hi” to Katrina, and had had some Flammküchen at Les 3 Brasseurs. The Flammküchen was good but not nearly as good as in Alsace. By the time we caught the shuttle back to the ship, the checked bags had been delivered. While Lin took a nap in the room, I read by the pool and when I went down at 5:30, she was unpacking.

After we showered and dressed for dinner, I started looking for the CD I’d bought on the plane and realized I’d left my Blue Blazer in room 255 at the Sheraton. We stopped at the purser’s desk and they said they’d check on it.

Dinner was open seating. We sat with Stewart & Olive plus Winston and Natalie from New Zealand and Robert & Maggie from Australia. Nice group. After dinner, we walked around a bit, watched the show and hit the rack. Still no word on the blazer.

Saturday, May 24 – Departure from Tahiti

We were up at 8:30 but by the time we got there, the dining room was closed so we grabbed breakfast from the buffet and ate on the after deck. I checked again at the purser’s desk for my blazer but no word. We sat by the pool from 10:00 to about noon but I was getting impatient about the blazer so I dressed, took the shuttle to town and the regular Le Truck to the Sheraton. The desk clerk was nice but said they didn’t have it. I demanded to see the manager and had to wait 30 minutes to do so. Lisa, the manager on duty, took me to housekeeping where they showed me that it wasn’t there or in their notebook and to room 255 where they showed me it wasn’t in the closet. (Update: I got a call few weeks after my return from Lisa. My jacket had been returned (minus the CD) by a guest who had mistakenly packed it. She has returned it to me and it's now in my possession. Nice lady!)

PapeeteFrustrated and angry, I took Le Truck back to town and spent a little time taking pictures before catching the shuttle to the ship where I found Linda in the room. I went to the pool as she went to get a fingernail fixed. The safety drill involved going to the restaurant and getting a lecture and demo, then trying on the life vest. This is much better than sweating on deck by the lifeboats. After that we went to deck 10 for the sailing and Jesse and Pat introduced us to Chris and Christa from San Diego. We watched carefully as the sun set and FINALLY I saw the green flash. What a great sight!!

We changed for dinner and just before we left the room, I went out on the balcony and there was the Southern Cross and Alpha and Beta Centauri! Cool!!! We met Winston & Natalie, Jesse & Pat in the Night Club, then went for dinner in the dining room. We had a table for 8, Bill & Linda and Linda & Becky from California, Tony and Suzanne from Florida and us. (What are the odds of having three Lindas at a table for eight??) Unfortunately, Suzanne was sick and in her room. My strip steak was only ordinary and the profiteroles were really disappointing. Exhausted, we went directly to bed.

Sunday, May 25 – Huahine

Breakfast was delivered to our room at 7:00 and we ate it on the balcony as we approached Huahine. What a beautiful island; the water colors are magnificent as are the greens of the mountains. We’d signed up for a “Lagoon and Motu Picnic” and met our tour group in the Cabaret Lounge, then took the tender to the dock where we boarded a power catamaran to the motu. (A motu, by the way, is a tiny island.) There were a few seats up on the cover over the main deck so I climbed up there and the view was fantastic! This place is really beyond description. There I met and had a nice conversation with Laura from Brazil. Lin had elected to forego the climb and sat on one of the benches below. She said they were well entertained by humorous commentary by Delores.

Motu danceThere was lots of entertainment on the motu and the band was great. First, they embarrassed some people by getting them to attempt the hula; not a pretty sight! I think the Polynesians' bodies are built differently! After they got us settled in tables in the water, they put on a great revue on the beach, then gave us about an hour to swim and relax. The info on the ship had instructed us to bring snorkel gear but that was a mistake. The water and sand were perfect but there was nothing else to see but sand.

Motu PicnicThe lunch buffet table was set up in the water as were our tables and chairs. An interesting experience and the food was quite good though some passed on the “poisson cru” (raw fish). The local Hinano beer was great!

We returned to the room to dump the snorkel gear, then headed back to shore on the tender. Princess had arranged for a Le Truck to be available to take us to the “big” town of Fare. It’s a cute little town with a nice waterfront. Unfortunately, most shops were closed for their Mother’s Day but a few were open and we walked around a bit. We ended up at a little shop called Bijouterie-Parfumerie Plaisir d’Offrir where we met a delightful man and woman who had moved there from France. I spoke to the woman in French, she responded and off we went for about 45 minutes talking about everything from life in the islands to our kids and grandkids. Lin was bored but I had a ball and got some good French practice. I think as a peace offering, the lady gave Linda a beautiful crown of fresh flowers. It was heavy!

Back on the ship, we had a bite from the BBQ and read by the pool until the ship departed at 5:00. We returned to the room and Lin took a nap while I ran up to check e-mail and then wrote my diary. As I’m writing this, I’m out on the balcony with the light on and I can still see the Southern Cross and Alpha and Beta Centauri!

We had a drink in the Club with Pat, Jesse, Natalie & Winston, ate dinner and went straight to bed. This is hard work!

Monday, May 26 – At sea

I dearly love days at sea! We slept until 8:00 and had breakfast in the dining room, then went directly to the pool and sat with Jesse and Pat. Many of our other new friends ended up joining us. We had lunch from the BBQ and I got some sushi from the buffet mid-afternoon. Lin went to take a nap in the room but I stuck it out until almost 5:30. Someone has to do it!

After I checked e-mail, we took our showers and dressed for the first black-tie dinner. We sat with Natalie and Winston at the Captain's Party in the Night Club. Bill and Linda were absent from dinner, having gone to the Grill but they joined us for desert. Suzanne was finally felling well enough to join us as well. The show, “C’est Magnifique” was quite good and the female singer did a great tribute to Edith Piaf. When we went on deck, we found that the stars had disappeared. That’s a bad sign! Finally gave up and went to bed.

Tuesday, May 27 – Rarotonga

RarotongaWe woke at about 8:00 to a cloudy sky, dressed and checked e-mail. I picked up Linda and we ate breakfast in the Panorama Buffet, then headed for town. There was a bit of a wait for the tender. We walked into town from the dock, getting some NZ cash from an ATM, then rented a Suzuki 4x4 from Budget for 73NZ. They had cheaper cars but Lin thought the open-top 4x4 would be a kick.

We had to get a Cook Islands driver’s license for 10NZ but the police station was right next door to the rental agency. Jesse and Chris were there getting licenses for motor scooters and were waiting to take a driver’s test. I had to get a photo taken for the license and then wait 30 minutes for processing but they said I could drive around while we waited so we went back to an artists’ colony near the ship to look around.

We drove clockwise around the island mostly on the outer road, but we did use the inner road just to have a look. After missing the turn several times, we drove up a dirt road to a waterfall. There were some American girls just leaving who warned us of the mosquitoes and gave us a bit of their bug spray. Good thing they did as the mosquitoes were plentiful. When we reached the airport, I tried unsuccessfully once again to rent an airplane. Damn!

CabaretWe had lunch at a place on the water called Trader Jack’s. Maggie and Robert were already there and we chatted between tables. When they were finished eating, Maggie walked back to the ship and Robert sat with us, then we gave him a lift to the dock. We did some shopping but, while prices were definitely lower than those in the French islands, we didn’t find a lot we liked so we turned in the car, walked back to the dock and took a beating selling back our unused NZ$.

As you might expect by now, I sat by the pool until it got too cool, then dressed for dinner. The show was "Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance” and it was pretty good. After that, we hit the rack.

Wednesday, May 28 – At sea

SunsetI was up and out of bed by 7:00, left a note for Lin, checked e-mail, ate alone on the stern and was on station at the pool by 7:45. I finally left there at 3:00, changed and went with Linda to tea (she likes that stuff!). Because they have a $1.00 roulette table, I played for a while and considered myself a big winner because I walked away after 45 minutes, $1 ahead!

We went on deck to see the sunset (there were too many clouds on the horizon to see the green flash) and talked for a long time with Steve and Nancy from CA. They’re friends of Jesse & Pat’s and Lin had spent hours talking to Steve by the pool earlier in the day. When it got dark, we came down for our normal dinner routine. The first part of the show was the female singer so we went to that but left as soon as she took her bows. We walked on deck a bit and hit the sack at 11:45.

Thursday, May 29 – Raiatea & Tahaa

I woke about 6:00, showered, dressed, checked e-mail and was back in the room when breakfast was delivered at 7:00. About the same time, we tied up at the dock in Raiatea. This is the only port besides Papeete where we don’t have to tender in and that’s so much easier!

Tahaa Pearl FarmWe’d signed up for the “Tahaa Pearl Farm & Motu Mahaea” so 26 of us boarded a boat right near the ship and headed out for a 25 minute ride to a pearl farm in Faaha on nearby Tahaa. (Vowels don’t get combined; every one is pronounced separately so that’s “fah-ah-ha on ta-ha-ah”!) Maurice, our tour guide, lives there. The lecture on cultivating pearls was both entertaining and educational. It’s amazing what the reject rate is at every step of the process. I'm surprised pearls aren't more expensive! Of course, there was a boutique but there was absolutely no pressure to by. Here, like everywhere, the people were warm and friendly.

MotuLeaving the pearl farm, we went a short distance to a motu where we had about 90 minutes to swim and snorkel. Here the snorkeling was pretty good and I was happy I’d brought my gear. The weather had not been stellar and it began to rain heavily. Some people ran for cover under a tarp but many of us just went back in swimming! It was warmer in the water and certainly a lot more fun than huddling under a tarp! Back on the ship shortly after noon, we showered off the sand and salt and headed back to town. We were going to do a bit of shopping but, except for the shops near the dock, most stores were closed for Ascension Day. We bumped into Bill and Linda and enquired as to why they had missed dinner. It turns out that they learned last night that Linda’s mother had just died! They had packed their bags and would be leaving the ship shortly to fly home. What a horrible thing to happen! They seemed like very nice people but because they sat at the other end of the table, we had never even learned their last names or much else about them. Somehow, we'd just not run into them other than at the table.

Little Girl in RaiateaWe had a wonderful lunch at La Brasserie Quai des Pêcheurs right by the ship. I had mussels and Lin had a local fish (we didn’t catch the name) in vanilla sauce. Both were great. For dessert, I had profiteroles and Lin had bananas in a sabayon sauce. It occurred to me sitting there that I could not remember ever feeling so relaxed. When I thought about it, I realized that every muscle in my body was at ease. This is truly heaven. After lunch, we had a great time at the shops talking to the locals and we bought a few local handicrafts.

DancingPrincess had arranged for a 5:15 show in the Cabaret Lounge put on by local musicians and dancers. It was great! One little girl was 4 years old and her little hips could move like a hummingbird's wings! She was cute, too, in that she was very professional when performing and a typical 4-year-old when waiting for others. We made the mistake of sitting in the front row and, probably because of my white hair, I got pulled in twice to make a fool of myself! Other than that, the show was phenomenal.

After the show, we bumped into Jesse and Pat and invited them to return to the Brasserie for dinner but they declined. However, they invited us to join them tomorrow at Bloody Mary’s on Bora Bora.

Merry Christmas!After changing, Lin & I returned once again to Le Brasserie Quai des Pêcheurs, this time for dinner. Dinner was every bit as good as lunch. We both had a veal medallion in a sweet chèvre sauce. For dessert, I had crêpes with vanilla ice cream and Grande Marnier and Lin had a warm coconut tart. I’d noticed during the day that there were still holiday (i.e. Christmas) decorations hung over the street. I was shocked to now see them lit!

After we re-boarded, we headed for the deck party by the pool. There was more local entertainment and then a lot of the typical nonsense. It was a hoot. We got to bed at about 11:30. Weather was cloudy but this was probably the best day so far. If I ever go AWOL, you'll find me on Raiatea!!

Friday, May 30 – Cruising & Bora Bora

We ate breakfast on the stern. I got talking to a guy who introduced himself as Brian and we discovered that we were both pilots as was his wife, Sandy. He flies for UA and owns a Baron. Sandy owns a C-180. When they heard I was from PA, they called over a man from their dinner table who’s also from PA. It turns out Otto is from near Philadelphia but has a cabin near our summer cottage! So here I am in Bora Bora, talking to a guy whose summer place is 12 miles from mine in the boondocks of PA! Try to top THAT "small world" story!

Bora Bora is very close to Raiatea but Princess had scheduled the Tahitian Princess to spend the evening at the dock in Uturoa and spend the morning doing “Tahaa Cruising", then crossing to Bora Bora. I’m sure the vistas would have been breathtaking and I was looking forward to getting some great pictures. Unfortunately, the heavy rain made visibility almost zero. However, we spent the morning relaxing and I got a chance to sit in the library and read while Lin gambled a bit. As you might expect, the Internet café was mobbed.

Spirit of PacificI kept telling Linda that the afternoon would bring good weather and that by the time we were scheduled for our submarine ride, it would be beautiful. For some reason, she doubted me. She still doesn't believe in the power of positive thinking! We had to be on the dock by 1:50 for our Submarine experience at 2:00. By the time we boarded the tender, it had stopped raining and by the time we met the other four passengers and the man who would take us to the sub, it was starting to clear. There was a small delay as the schedule had been backed up by the morning’s rain but eventually we boarded a rubber dingy for a high-speed ride to the outer side of the reef where the Spirit of Pacific was waiting for us. We had to climb through a circular hatch and down a ladder into the tiny interior of the sub. This part was cylindrical and transparent. There were 6 tiny stools for us but I could see no room for the pilot. Soon the pilot, Alain, descended and the ladder telescoped upward, revealing his seat and joystick control. He took us down 100 feet and along the reef wall.

Spirit of PacificThere were exactly one-point-two zillion fish including a number of black-tipped sharks and one 12 foot lemon shark. The sub was fitted with a feeding device and the fish had, of course, learned to follow closely! Alain said he had to stand up to release the food and that the fish were so accustomed to the feeding ritual that they knew what that meant. Sure enough, he stood up and they went berserk! There was a huge green “Napoleon” fish that he had named Bob. Bob might have been huge but he was both timid and docile. All in all, the 30 minute experience was fantastic! By the time we surfaced, it was a beautiful sunny day. Why this woman doesn’t believe me is still a mystery! We did a bit of shopping in Vaitape, then returned and, as per script, Linda rested in the room while I headed for the pool.

Bloody Mary'sAfter changing for dinner, we caught the tender at 6:30 into Vaitape so we could meet the others on the dock at 7:00 for dinner at Bloody Mary's. There were only two other passengers on the tender with us. Jesse, Pat, Chris and Christa arrived a few minutes after 7:00. They said Richard and Rita would also be joining us but had a late tour and would come along later. We promptly caught Le Truck to Bloody Mary’s, getting there about 7:35. We did some shopping in the gift shop, had a drink and had just ordered dinner when Richard and Rita arrived.

Bloody Mary'sBloody Mary’s is a kick! The floor is sand and there’s a place to check your shoes at the door. The “menu” is a huge table covered with ice and fresh fish. There are also some “landlubber” options. Behind this table is the grill. You choose your appetizer and main course and it goes on the grill! For appetizers, I had Teriyaki Tuna Shish Kabob while Lin had Beef. As main courses, I had Seared Tuna and Lin had Mahi Mahi. The food was excellent and the service was fantastic. They really made us feel like we’d been coming there twice a week for years! We had a blast. Two things shocked me about the check. First is that they happily gave separate checks to each of the 4 couples. The second was the price. Because of the general pricing on the islands and the fact that this is a top notch and very popular place, I expected to have to sell my house to pay the bill. In US dollars, it came to about $130 for Lin and me, including drinks! And, of course, there's no tipping in these islands! I guess I can keep the house!

We’d been told the tenders would run continuously until 8:30 and than one more tender would leave the dock at 11:00. Miss that and it’s the beach until 7:00 AM! We’d made arrangements for Le Truck to pick us up at Bloody Mary’s at 10:30 so we had a few minutes to walk on their dock and enjoy the spectacular stars before leaving for the dock. Headed straight for bed when we reached the ship.

Saturday, May 31 –Bora Bora

That's me at the helm!Woke at 6:00, checked e-mail, had breakfast in the cabin and took the tender to meet the catamaran from O’Hana Cruises on the dock at 8:20. This was a 20 meter fiberglass catamaran sailboat built in La Rochelle, France. It was a beautiful boat and not at all crowded. Cruising with another identical boat, we headed clockwise around the island and anchored off a motu about an hour later. Though we were far from shore, the water was chest-deep. The place was beautiful and we swam for about an hour before heading back. As soon as the captain shut down the engine, I asked for the helm and he graciously gave it to me. He asked whether I was experienced enough to handle the sails as well. When I assured him I was, he left me on my own and he and the two crew members entertained us with music. I was absolutely in heaven and sailed for about an hour, giving up the helm only when he again started the engine. Sailing in Bora Bora? Heaven!!! One of the crew had a great yellow pareo with a black geometric design rather than the flowers that are so typical. Responding to my question, he said he’s bought it in the grocery store in Viatape so we went and bought one for each of us. Afterwards, we ate across the street.

It doesn't get better than this!We wanted to rent a car but I’d left my license on the ship so we hired a cab to give us a tour of the island. The tour was nice and the driver stopped frequently on her own and any time I even looked like I wanted to take a picture. We asked to see a couple of hotels and she accommodated that. We met Winston and Natalie at the Inter-Continental so we gave them a lift back to Vaitape. They did some shopping and we had some great home-made ice cream before heading back to the ship. You know what happened next… Lin slept and I went on deck until we left Bora Bora. About that time, it started to rain again. Great timing!

I took a little nap myself, then dressed for the black-tie dinner. The show was only so-so and we were both falling asleep so we gave up and went to bed immediately thereafter. Great day again!

Sunday, June 1 – Moorea

Yuck! The weather was horrible when we awoke at 8:00; very low ceiling and rain. The ship was anchored in Cook’s Bay, Moorea. Having no plans for the day, we had a leisurely breakfast with Russ & Janet and finally left the ship around 10:45. Consistent with our luck, the rain had slowed down a lot by then and it stopped minutes after we got ashore! We tried to rent a car at the Avis booth on the dock but they had no more available. Here we saw the trip’s only example of visible greed on the part of the locals. There were two people in the parking lot each trying to get passengers to take their “free” shuttle to their pearl shops. They were quite pushy and were almost fighting over the passengers. We’ve seen far worse in places like Jamaica but I’m hoping we weren’t seeing a harbinger of things to come in these islands. That would truly be a shame. Let’s hope we just happened to see two local people who happened to be rude.

MooreaAnyway, about that time, a woman drove in to the lot and asked whether we wanted to rent a car. The price was reasonable so she drove us about a kilometer up the road to the office of “Albert’s Rent-a-Car” and we got a nice little Citroen for 6000 cfp for the day. Now, I say “nice” but let me explain that this is relative as every one of the cars we rented were pretty beat up. Lots of dents, scratches, etc. The tour books all say you must have them make a note of every flaw. If you've ever rented a car, you're familiar with the little pictures on the rental contract that they mark with the locations of any damage. Here in the islands we found that the papers were often so marked up that I think you could drive off a cliff and be covered! Invariably, though, the agents were helpful in even pointing out flaws I’d missed. The other thing is that none of the cars we rented had full tanks when we got them. You were simply expected to return them at the same (sometimes very low) level.

MooreaOnce in the car, we headed clockwise around the island (not sure why we always go that way…) and stopped at a great lookout on a hill. There was a bus there and who should get off the bus but Winston & Natalie. They said they were bored to tears having already spent several hours on the bus trip. We invited them to come with us but, since that meant retracing their steps and since they were almost back to the ship, they declined.

The Tiki Village Theater looked interesting so we stopped but found it closed. However, the shop was open and the owner was most gracious. The village has a number of artisans living there and on all but Sunday they are doing their work in the open for visitors to see. He also showed us a floating honeymoon cottage and his floating cottage next to it. He “commutes” to work in a tiny outrigger canoe. They also have shows and you can get married there. Pretty nifty; I wish it had been open.

We stopped for lunch at “L’Aventure Steack House & Grill” (their spelling, not mine). There we had a fondue Bourguignon. It was fantastic but HUGE. We ate until we were stuffed and still fully 50% of the beef went back to the kitchen.

We dropped off the car and returned to the ship by about 3:15. Russ and Janet dropped by for a visit and to drop off a book Russ thought I might like. After they left we packed (sigh), changed and had the bags outside by about 6:00. I played roulette ‘til about 7:15, then we headed for the Night Club. The duo started on time but after only one tune, the guitar man walked off! This guy is bad news. It worked out well, though, because, we went down to deck 5 and ran into a Jesse, Pat, Chris, Christa, Brian, Sandy and, eventually Maggie & Robert. We were especially eager to see these last two as, while the rest of us would spend the next day on the ship, they would be disembarking in the wee hours for Australia. After taking lots of pictures and exchanging cards, we had dinner, attended a Polynesian show and hit the sack.

Monday, June 2 – Tahiti

PapeeteWoke about 6:00 but went back to sleep ‘til about 8:30. Packed the carry-ons, and had breakfast in the Panorama. They had set up a bag-check in the Italian restaurant so we dumped the carry-ons there. The ship was docked at the main pier right in Papeete so we went into town to walked around and buy a few things. We had planned on having lunch in town but were running out of steam so we returned to the ship. That was a mistake as the buffet was really crowded. We were not supposed to use the main dining room as that was for embarking passengers. After lunch we went to sit by the pool as the sun began peeking through. Russ and Janet joined us. Eventually, it started getting too warm so I moved up to deck 10 to get some breeze. I sat there alone for a long time until the others eventually joined me. Together we watched the sunset at 5:30. I thought maybe we’d see the green flash again but we didn’t. Based on the loud cheers and clapping elsewhere on deck, I assume some others caught it.

Mob at the airportWe’d been scheduled to leave the ship after 7:00 but suddenly there was an announcement that, due to a protest march through Papeete by air traffic controllers scheduled for 6:45, we’d be departing early. (I had sudden fears of a problem with a strike at the airport but they were unfounded. The march was apparently a show of support of striking controllers in France. The French really like their strikes and protests.) We quickly grabbed the checked bags and rushed to the buffet to stuff some food down. After bidding farewell to Russ & Janet, we headed for the gangway. Winston and Natalie caught up with us and said a final good bye as well. It sure is hard to say good-bye to all these people who had become such good friends! A bus was waiting for us but the airport was an absolute zoo! The checked luggage was all arranged in rows to be identified and claimed but there was an absolute mob of people in line to check in. Getting there early probably exacerbated the problem because the airline check in was not even open! It took two hours to get through to the departure lounge and that, too, was mobbed. The scheduled Air Tahiti Nui flight (ours) and the chartered Omni flight were scheduled to depart within 15 minutes of each other and the passenger loads from those two jumbos made for pretty intolerable conditions. If the Omni flight is chartered, it seems to me they could offset the departure times a bit more to avoid the mess but I’m probably missing something. With all the mess, we pushed back at 10:13, only 13 minutes behind schedule.

As expected, the plane was jammed and, since we had inside seats, it was a tough trip. I knew this would be the worst part and it was.

Tuesday, June 2 – The flight home

The good news is that we had a tailwind and got into LAX at 9:15 AM, well ahead of schedule. It took quite a while to get the bags but immigration and customs went quickly. There was a bit of a line to get the bags onto the transfer belt, though, because they had to be security screened once again.

We decided to walk over to US Airways and, after checking in there, we sat in the US Airways Club for a while, then grabbed a bite to eat and got the plane for the last leg. We got in to Philadelphia early as well and returned to the Hampton Inn, ate a very late dinner at the Ruby Tuesday’s next door and went to bed. From the time we originally awoke to the time we got into bed, the elapsed time was 34 hours. Ouch!

Wednesday, June 3 – The last leg

We slept until after 10:00 and by the time we got out of the room, the continental breakfast was unavailable. The drive home was uneventful except that it was capped off by picking up our oldest grandson from school. Great homecoming!

La Vie est Belle!This was the best yet! It wasn't cheap but it was worth every dime. I can't remember ever being as relaxed as I was on this trip. There were a few small frustrations but we took them in stride and weren't upset by them. The people of the islands were wonderful and we met some great people on the ship. We made some friends we truly value. While it's always nice to be home, these are definitely two weeks I'd like to re-live. This sign in Bora Bora says it all: "Life is Beautiful!"