We had booked a pre-cruise hotel stay in Los Angeles through Princess in order to get over the long flight out from the U.K. prior to going on another long flight to Papeete. All transfers from the airport to the hotel and then back to the airport again were supposedly included but nobody from either Princess or their appointed agents were at LA to meet us or 3 other passengers. As an aside the Immigration staff were fine and the fingerprinting and photographing did not delay us at all. On calling the agents we were all told to get cabs and then they would reimburse us later; did this but getting repaid was not that simple despite various voicemail messages to the hotel promising when!
A stretch limo duly arrived to take us all to LAX 3 days later; good idea as a PR exercise but they forgot about trying to fit the suitcases for 5 inside one of these tanks. We've been in them before and, quite frankly, they leave a lot to be desired in the comfort stakes. We had been booked on an Air Tahiti Nui flight departing around 4.30p.m which is all very well but meant that we arrived in Tahiti at about 10.00 p.m. local time on what was meant to be day of a cruise; we subsequently found out that there was an earlier flight but Princess had not booked us on this one which meant us hanging around in LA/LAX kicking our heels when we could and should have been on our way. As would become the norm there was nobody from Princess at LAX to assist.
Immigration at Papeete airport was no problem since we are UK passport holders and seem to be treated almost as if we were entering an EU country, which Tahiti patently is not, but to avoid the queue, which formed for US passport holders, was a result. Our suitcases came through quite quickly and off we went on the first coach to the ship. Embarkation was a breeze and we were in our stateroom by about 11.15 being informed en-route that the Panorama buffet was open until 11.30 if we were hungry which we were but not enough to rush off. We had booked a mini-suite on deck 8 and were most impressed with it; our only criticisms would be in regard to the lack of water pressure for the shower and the tacky white plastic table and (non) reclining chairs on the balcony: not what should be expected for a mini-suite.
Papeete is basically another colonial French town complete with whistle-blowing gendarmes trying to control interminable traffic jams; as such probably best avoided and certainly not worth spending day 2 of the cruise and later day 11 in the same place; that being said day 11 was a Sunday and Papeete was shut so even less worthwhile but more of that later. I always go up on deck for the Sailaway (no real reason I just do) and tried in vain to get a beer with which to celebrate; the only bar open was the one near the pool which a) is not large and b) had customers standing 3 deep trying to get a drink along with the ubiquitous waiters queuing to get cocktails. Ordinarily this would not be a problem since you just go off and find an alternative bar but when they are all closed, which they were, it becomes extremely annoying. I subsequently discovered, in the course of various discussions with various staff, that the ship is understaffed with no more cabin space for additional! QM2 all over again!
As a cruise destination French Polynesia, plus Raratonga which is a New Zealand protectorate, is as yet unspoilt and is certainly different from Hawaii with which I have sometimes seen it compared. We were a little unfortunate with the weather, since the rains came a few weeks early, but this did not really dampen our spirits. Contrary to various reports we did not find the prices excessive but then we did not go into any of the large hotels which seem to be springing up all over the islands ( $1500 for 1 night in an overwater bungalow is big bucks - certainly to me!) If I personally had to name a highlight then the underwater safari on Bora Bora is not to be missed unless of course you are a scuba diver! All who tried it said the same: AWESOME. More than a little nervous before donning the helmet and being forced underwater by 88 lbs of weight but then.. The trip to and from Raratonga revealed a weakness in the ship design; there was a long ocean swell which caused the ship to corkscrew through the water to the extent that seasickness left the dinner sitting with many empty tables. One crewmember remarked that this was unusual behaviour - the ship normally tried to bash its way through the waves! For sure the sea conditions were bad enough to leave tendering to shore at Raratonga suspended after about half the passengers had disembarked: the remainder never did make it ashore meaning the long trip to and from was somewhat of a waste.
The remainder of this review pertains more to the ship and its staff so if you don't want to read about such things skip to the end. Tahitian Princess is advertised as having 24-hour buffet, 2 speciality restaurants and a poolside pizzeria amongst other attractions. There is no 24-hour buffet; in the evenings the buffet turns into a small pizzeria with a salad buffet and it does close. The 2 speciality extra charge restaurants, Sabatini's and Sterling Steakhouse, do not open together; it is a case of either/or. Thus unless you wish to pay extra or have a pizza then your only option for dinner is the main restaurant or your cabin. We tried Sabatini's together with an American honeymoon couple (ship seemed to be full of honeymooners) and none of us were impressed. How can you possibly have a Hungarian waiter, who does not speak Italian and cannot even pronounce the names of the dishes correctly, serving in an upmarket Italian restaurant? Probably this had been organised by the same person who gave our headwaiter the job of standing outside the buffet on disembarkation day for 12 hours trying to sell soda cards! I can assure you she was not a happy person! We met him the following morning clearing away dishes in the breakfast buffet! I enjoy playing Trivia and joined most quizzes with some American friends; no longer do the prizes get given to the winners - they get a voucher for an item such as a luggage strap, to be redeemed in the boutique. On at least three separate occasions the question master failed to bring along any vouchers and then failed to send them to the staterooms as promised. We brought this up with the Cruise Director at one quiz who promptly corrected the situation; just as well we did since the person concerned was a Joint Assistant Cruise Director! Coincidentally the same one who insisted that Tahitian Princess was built in Gibraltar; it says so on the stern! We enjoy an after dinner cocktail at around 10.00 p.m. and adjourned to the Tahitian Lounge most evenings. On one evening there were no waiters and the following evening no bartender or waiters! The response from the purser's desk was "how many other passengers were there?"
The Tahitian Lounge is in our opinion the best room on the ship with panoramic forward views; unfortunately we were unable to use it on several days since they had moved the "Art" for the auction in there - as if sufficient room was not set aside elsewhere on the ship for the bric-a-brac. Overall it was evident that the ship did not live up to Princesses hype, advertising or previous standards and had many disgruntled crew (one even told me the exact date and time she was getting off in February next year and the days could not pass quickly enough) Many of the staff I spoke to had been with Princess for several years on different ships and I could but wonder what they had done wrong to be sent out to go round in circles in the middle of the Pacific Ocean for 6 or more months? There is an expression in the UK about the "inability to organise a party in a brewery", or words along those lines, and it applies to those who purport to run Princess currently.
Unfortunately the worst was yet to come. Day 11 of the cruise was spent in Papeete which was closed being a Sunday. All passengers had to leave their staterooms by 10.00a.m. and most were then booked on two Air Tahiti Nui flights leaving between 11 and 12 p.m. that night. The luggage had been taken by 8.00p.m. the previous evening so all anyone had to wear was what they stood up in or had in their carry-on bags; the only showers were in the spa so basically we just sat around kicking our heels eating, drinking and playing board (or should that read bored?) games. The main relief from the boredom was watching a Chinese ship moored nearby suddenly go full speed ahead into the quayside ripping all its mooring lines - it really happened and I have the pictures to prove it! We finally got off the ship at 9.00 p.m. and then proceeded to wait in a variety of queues at Papeete airport until gone midnight when we finally reached the aircraft. Shambles does not describe it adequately. To make matters worse we had booked 3 additional nights in LA post cruise via our travel agent since Princess does not offer this; because of Princesses inability to let them know who we would be flying with let alone at what time (and who would have ever believed midnight) the first night was spent in the air!
In summary if you want to go cruising in French Polynesia, and it is certainly a stunning unspoilt destination, there are few options available and even fewer at a sensible price! Tahitian Princess is probably the most reasonably priced vessel out there but offers a flawed product in many ways. I lost times of the number of times I was asked by fellow passengers to back them up in discussions with friends to the effect that "other Princess cruise are not like this" which probably says it all! I would be equally wary of sailing on the other ex-Renaissance ships although I do keep reading rave reviews for Oceania Cruises.
As a post script I sent this review to some fellow passengers who "thought it covered everything"