French Polynesia/Marquesas Itinerary:
Most important part of the whole story ... Our cruise was wonderful! I wish we were still in French Polynesia!!!!
Our flights to Tahiti were long, but uneventful. ATN was fine, no complaints there. Upon arrival in Papeete at 0550, we cleared customs without incident, met the Princess Rep and found ourselves on a bus bound for the Sheraton Tahiti. We expected to check our bags with the front desk and have to return hours later for check-in, but were pleasantly surprised to find they had our room ready for us, even at that early hour.
We had 3 days to spend in Tahiti before boarding our cruise. The first day, we walked downtown to explore. I wouldn't especially recommend this walk, as it's not scenic at all walking through this particular area, and we were dodging traffic at each intersection. We took the Le Truck back, and relied on the Le Trucks for all our future transport in Tahiti. For 130 XPF each, we were able to go as far as we wanted within the Faaa district.
Shortly after getting back to our hotel, we realized we were hungry. By this time, we were both tired and only wanted to eat and then get some rest. We knew it was a mistake, but we went ahead and had dinner in the Sheraton restaurant. Everything on the menu is Ala Carte, and just as overpriced as I'd heard. $96 later, we finished our mediocre meal and went to bed. This mistake was not repeated, as on each of the next 2 nights we went downtown by the pier and ate off the roulettes (trucks), where the 3500 XPF bought an excellent meal for the 2 of us.
We took the ferry to Moorea on days 2 and 3. We took the fast ferry (Aremite 4), and then hopped on another Le Truck for 300 XPF to check out the island. By combining 2 Le Trucks we were able to give ourselves our own "circle island tour". We loved the Sheraton's beach in Moorea, beautiful and good snorkeling right off the beach. My wife and I are both water nuts, so most of our activities involved snorkeling and/or swimming. I'd love to be able to dive, but medical conditions preclude that as an option for me. Fortunately snorkeling is something we both enjoy. Additionally, Greta is a certifiable animal lover. Every single port we've ever gone to, she finds the local stray dogs and they have a friend for the day. This cruise was no exception!
Our cruise embarkation day finally came, and we got onto the Tahitian Princess. What's to say, she is a beautiful ship. Now I know why those Renaissance cruisers were so much in love with her when she was the R4. After checking in, we left again to walk to the Marche and get those flowers for Greta, and then returned to start enjoying our ship.
Our first stop was Moorea, and we did the snorkeling again. Beachcomber and Sheraton were both good choices for this activity.
Nuku Hiva was next. Not much going on here. We explored on our own since I didn't want to risk my bad back with one of the 4-wheel-drive tours. In retrospect, I wish I'd taken the chance and done one of the tours, since those folks got to see a lot more than we did.
The following day found us in Hiva Oa. I'd been led to believe that this island was even less commercialized than Nuku Hiva, but you couldn't prove it by me. I definitely thought there was more going on in Hiva Oa. There were no ship's excursions available here, and we didn't see any being offered on shore either. Again we explored on our own, and basically enjoyed a lot of great scenery and the knowledge that it was freezing back home in Connecticut.
Next in the hit parade was Rangiroa. I thought I was clever by finding the local dive shop, and asking to go along with them to snorkel above where the dives were taking place. We agreed on a price of only 2000 XPF for the two of us, and the lady told us to return at 1030 for the boat. Unfortunately, though she "said" 10:30, she was "thinking" 9:30, and it just came out wrong in the translation. So we missed the boat! My own fault, my father always told me I should learn French! Not the end of the world though, at that point I just paid 5000 XPF to the water taxi to take us to an atoll for snorkeling, pick us up to visit the village and have a walk around, and pick us up one last time to return us to the tender pier. At first, the skipper was going to leave his son with us snorkeling, since there weren't any other people in the area. But I assured him it wouldn't be any problem to leave us alone, and we both had our own snorkel vests in case we should run into trouble, so he left us on our own. Snorkeling was excellent here! About every 20 minutes or so, one of the 4 water taxis would swing by and see if we were ready to quit. We just kept waving them off until we'd finally had enough a couple of hours later. The village itself probably only took 30 minutes to explore, since by the time we finally got there things were closing up. Our day in Rangiroa was actually a holiday for them. (Arrival of the first missionaries)
In Raiatea, I wholeheartedly recommend the Princess Advanced Drift Snorkel excursion. I was never able to connect with Bruno as so many others have done, and I booked the Princess excursion online before our cruise. This drift snorkel was hosted by a couple, Tony & Marie, originally from South Africa and living in Raiatea for the last 4 years. Wonderful experience!!!!! Nice couple, and just for excitement, we rescued a stranded kite-boarder on the way back. After our excursion, we once again explored on our own. (I know that sounds boring, but that's what we like to do!)
Bora Bora was the one port we had some rain on. We decided to leave the snorkel gear on the ship, and venture off with umbrellas in hand to explore once again. Of course, this virtually guaranteed that the skies would clear once we stepped off the tender on to dry land, and they did just that. We did see snorkel excursions being offered right off the dock, but I didn't feel like using rental gear, and I was too lazy to go back to the ship to get my own. So on to another Le Truck we go, and start exploring again. Among other places, we enjoyed seeing the famous Bloody Mary's. We had heard it would be closed since it was Sunday, but they had the bar open. Just like in America, this barkeep couldn't resist having a few extra bucks pushed his way over the bar top!
The end of our cruise came all too soon, and we found ourselves back in Papeete and getting off the ship. We had to vacate our cabins by 1100, but were free to use the ship's public areas until leaving to catch our plane at 2200 that night. I opted for a day room back at the Papeete Sheraton, which probably wasn't worth the money, but I wanted my own "space" to operate out of for the day. We took the Le Truck back to the ship around 1730 to grab one last meal and say goodbye to our new friends before heading off to the airport. The long, hot wait in the airport was everything that others have said it was. I have never seen so many bags opened and inspected in my life. It appeared to me that just about every single passenger was having at least one bag inspected. Eventually though, we did make it through the line, and soon found ourselves sitting on the plane and headed home.
That's it folks, I'm done rambling!