We purchased our cruise and air arrangements directly from Princess Cruises about three weeks prior to the cruise. We had a guarantee reservation for a balcony cabin on deck 7. We were too late to make reservations for any land tours on the various islands that we were to visit but felt that we might find available tours in each port. As it turns out, we were wrong about that. Unfortunately, I did not read any of the other reviews about this particular cruise before leaving home. Had I done so, I would have picked up some very useful information that would have helped us locate car rental places on some of the islands.
We left San Francisco at noon on Dec 10, 2007 and flew to Los Angeles with American Airlines. There we boarded an Air Tahiti Nui airbus for the flight to Papeete, Tahiti. We were about an hour late departing so arrived in Papeete about one hour past the scheduled arrival time. We then waited in the customs line for at least half an hour. By the time we got our luggage and were bussed to the ship, it was about 2 am local time. When we arrived at the ship, we were told that we had been upgraded from the reserved balcony cabin to a suite. It was an outstanding cabin compared to those we have had on other ships. We had a 13-foot wide balcony separated from the room by a wall of windows. Our baggage had to be delivered to our cabin, so I was unable to sleep until it arrived around 4 am.
By 5:30 am, I was awake and out on the jogging track looking at the island of Moorea in the distance. This and Bora Bora are the prettiest islands on the cruise to view from the sea. They both have outstanding mountain formations. We were unable to schedule an organized tour of the island, so we took the tender to the island and started to walk along the road toward where we thought there might be a town. As it turned out, the town was several miles away, so we just spent some time near the dock and returned to the ship. The weather was very hot and humid and we were not in the mood to walk several miles. We spent an enjoyable day on the ship and took an afternoon nap to catch up on lost sleep.
The next two days were spent at sea. The ship had a variety of activities available, but we enjoyed time on our balcony each day and kept an eye out for flying fish.
On day five, we arrived at Hiva Oa in the Marquesas Islands. The town where the ship was to anchor did not have a protected harbor and the sea was quite rough with waves up to a height of 8 feet or so. The captain came on the PA system and said that we he would not allow the tenders to load passengers in such rough seas. He was going to check the weather report to see whether we might stay at the location and go ashore at a later time of the day. A short time later, he indicated that the weather was expected to remain the same or get worse later in the day. He decided to raise the anchor and cruise around the island for the remainder of the day, then make for the next stop on the cruise.
On December 15, we arrived at Nuku Hiva where there was a protected cove in which to anchor the ship. We tendered in and took a free shuttle to a museum and hotel on the other side of the cove from where the tender dock was located. We enjoyed a tour of the hotel's garden and had a couple of $5.00 cokes in their restaurant. Some of the guests from the ship used the swimming pool at the hotel, but it was a very small pool and used just for cooling off. After that, we toured the museum. The lady that ran the museum had also built the hotel with her husband, but apparently no longer owned it. Now she ekes out a living by selling items at the museum and taking donations for tours of the small facility. On the way back to the ship, we got off the bus for a short time at a very pretty church along the harbor road. At the tender dock, there were a couple of buildings where the locals sold art objects and other creations made locally.
December 16 was another day at sea. The ship had a demonstration of vegetable carving followed by a tour of the galley. We enjoyed more time on our balcony.
On December 17, we arrived at Rangiroa. This is an atoll so there are no high mountains. The ship's newsletter had said the locals provided a bus, which charged $15.00 for a round trip into the local village. We went to the pier and waited for the bus. I few minutes later, a guy showed up with a Mercedes van and asked us if we wanted to go to the village. Assuming that this was the local bus, about 12 of us piled into the van and started down the road. The driver was a maniac and had no concerns about people walking the road or how fast he was traveling. He just wanted dump us off in town as fast as possible so he could go back for another load. As we were approaching the village, we passed the real bus going in the other direction. When we arrived at the village, we all wondered whether he would ever return to take us back to the ship or if he would just disappear. Fortunately, he showed up about an hour later. It was at least 10 miles to the village and would have been a long, hot walk back to the ship. The village consisted of a store and church surrounded by houses. It was not worth the ride. We all gave thanks when we arrived back at the pier safely. We could not get back to the ship fast enough.
On the morning of December 18 we gingerly traveled through a break in the coral reef surrounding the islands of Raiatea and Tahaa, then spent about two hours traveling within the lagoon to reach the town where the ship docked. This was the only island that had a dock other than Papeete. Two groups of porpoises greeted us along the way. After docking, we went ashore and visited several shops near the dock. Most of the merchandise carried by the stores was very cheap and junky stuff imported from China or some other Asian country. The only items of any value were the jewelry items and pearls produced by local artisans.
While we were walking toward the town from the ship, we saw a tornado over the water several miles away. We were so startled to see it, that we forgot to take a picture before it disappeared. I thought it might hit the island a little later in the day since the clouds were traveling toward us, but it never did. If anyone reading this review was on the cruise and took a picture of the tornado, I would like to have a copy of the picture.
In the late afternoon, a group of children came on board and put on a dancing show. The ages of the children ran from 4 years old up to teenagers and they all did a really fine job. I was amazed at how the little ones could move their hips almost as well as the older kids. Towards evening, a group of adult entertainers came aboard to provide a show scheduled for 10 PM that night, but we went to bed early. We heard the beginning of the show on the deck that was right above our cabin, but fell asleep anyway. As much noise as they made with their drums, we heard nothing.
Bora Bora was the next stop on the cruise. We arrived there at 8 am on the 19th and took a tour that went all the way around the island. Bora Bora is supposed to be one of the most beautiful islands in the world. I thought Raiatea was prettier, but Bora Bora did have some very beautiful water.
On the last day of the cruise, we arrived back in Papeete. We were asked to leave our cabin by 9 AM, but we were allowed to stay on the ship until our bus left for the airport at 7 PM. We also purchased a tour of the island and were on that from 1:30 until about 5 PM. This allowed us to eat all our meals on the ship before departing. We were able to check our carry-on bags on the ship until 6 pm.
Papeete has a much larger population than any of the other islands we visited and it is evident from the number of large buildings at the harbor and the very heavy traffic that is constantly passing through this area. The tour took us to the home of the author of Mutiny on the Bounty and several other books. We also visited a waterfall and the cove where one of the Bounty films was made. We had an American guide who had lived in Tahiti for many years and he did an excellent job of describing the sites and culture on the island.
Later in the day we took a bus to the airport and arrived there at about 7:30 PM. We had to wait on the bus until the people from the previous bus picked out their luggage, then we had to do the same. After that we got in line and waited almost 2 hours to get up to the check in desk. Luckily, they still had two seats together on the center isle. The flight home was good, but we ran into bumpy air several times.
When we arrived at Los Angeles, we had to wait almost an hour for our luggage to arrive on the turnstile. After picking up the luggage, we had to go through customs. Then we had to take a bus to the last terminal at the airport where we were to check in at United Airlines. Arriving at United, we saw hundreds of people lined up at the check in area and asked an employee if we could be moved up in the line, because we were short on time. They refused to help us. When we got to the check-in area, we were told that we were too late to board the plane and would have to go to another line and wait again for new tickets on a later flight. We did this and again waited for about half an hour. Then we had to wait about 20 minutes for the agent to create new tickets. After that, we were told to go upstairs and go through security. We did this and found a line going out the door and onto a walkway going to the parking lot. It took almost another hour to go through this line, and then we had to walk almost half a mile to the gate. When we arrived at the gate I noticed that we did not have boarding passes and asked the agent why not. She said we were on standby. The other agent did not tell us that. Luckily, we made the flight and arrived home about 4 hours behind schedule. Considering that we were flying during the holidays, I guess the trip home could have been worse.
SUMMARY The ship was nice, although it is showing some wear and needs repairs in several areas. The food was about the same quality as on most Princess cruises. As usual for Princess, the desserts were excellent. Restaurant and cabin service was very good. Breakfast and lunch in the main dining room had very attentive waiters and assistants. The shows were about average for Princess. There was one comedian/juggler that was excellent. We did not attend the production shows, so have no opinion about them.
I recommend that you try to reserve land tours on-line before leaving home. There are very few alternatives available when you reach port. Some passengers rented scooters, but the cruise line does not recommend that you do that. They can be very dangerous. If land tours are not available, perhaps car rentals can be arranged on-line.