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Copyright © 1995-2001 
Linda Coffman


R3 ~ Cruising in TAHITI

Fourth in a series of South Seas adventures

by Linda Coffman

Bora Bora & Beyond

~ Bora Bora Lagoon Sharks ~

Fish Food

"You want to do WHAT?  Feed SHARKS?"  

Let's back up a moment here... I recoiled in horror just as much as the next person watching the movie "Jaws."  However, "Sea Hunt" was my favorite television show as a child and there was no way I'd pass up the opportunity to have my own real life marine adventure in Tahiti.  Black tipped lagoon sharks aren't tame and there is a certain amount of risk involved, but I wanted to see them up close and in the water.  

Outrigger canoes left the Bora Bora dock and motored across the lagoon to the reef where, once anchored, guides began stretching a line under water.  Our instructions were to take a place and grab hold, staying behind the line.  Oh yes... keep our legs UP and don't splash around.  Once in place, the guides began chumming and sharks quickly encircled them.  What a thrill to have them swim right up TO us and then turn away for tastier morsels of bite-size food.  

Leaving the sharks sated, we proceeded to an area with friendlier creatures--stingrays.  Like their cousins in Moorea, the rays here were affectionate and playful.  Yet another stop yielded the best underwater sights of our trip.  The abundant coral was teeming with hundreds of colorful fish.  

Afternoon participants in the Snorkel Safari Ray & Shark Feed reported disappointment.  Like earlier in the week, there were more hungry sharks, rays, and fish in the morning than afternoon.  What you see in the lagoon relies on the whim (and appetite) of the marine life.  For a tamer excursion, and one where you're assured of making finny friends in a fenced-in area, the Lagoonarium is reached by outrigger canoe.  A less satisfying (but drier) tour on a Glass Bottom Boat allows guests a peek at the underwater world without the fuss of getting wet.

A beach shuttle transported guests via Le Truck and bolder passengers signed up for parasailing, either solo or two-by-two, and helicopter tours.

Circle the Island

Viewing Bora Bora from the vantage of the lagoon was fascinating... so many pristine motu* beaches and craggy mountains.  Circling the island on a personal water craft (waverunner) was exhilarating!  Our guide instructed each operator on the controls, we donned life jackets, and were off for a two-hour ride all the way around Bora Bora.  Following our leader, we marveled at the ever-changing color of the water from gin clear to deepest green and blue.  During a swimming break, we scooped up the finest silky sand, pure white and dazzling.  Stopping again on a motu, our guide shared the traditional island refreshment--the sweetest coconut juice and meat I've ever tasted.

*motu - a small islet either in the lagoon or connected to the barrier reef surrounding the larger islands, or atolls

This experience was one of the highlights of our cruise through Tahiti.  I'm not much of a dare devil and was initially tentative about the ride.  Once underway I discovered it was smooth riding on the two-person waverunners and the sights were spectacular.  One-hour tours are also available for those guests who want a taste of the action but don't necessarily wish to circle the island on the longer ride.

The "menu" at Bloody Mary's

Bloody Mary's

Since 1979, Bloody Mary's has been the place to spot celebrities vacationing on Bora Bora.  We just missed Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn (so we were told).  The island's most famous restaurant features the freshest seafood and lobster served in a kick back casual atmosphere.  Under the thatched roof, diners  wiggle their toes in the sand while seated on lacquered tree stumps.  Directeur Général Rick Guenette assisted us in making our selections from the seafood bar and we enjoyed our meal accompanied by--what else?--a signature Bloody Mary.  The atmosphere is outstanding and fun and lucky R3 passengers can tender ashore for an early dinner.  Don't miss a peek at the bathrooms--the ladies' retreat has a charming "waterfall" sink and the gentlemen's has something else.  Don't ask!  The last scheduled tender returns to the ship at 10:30pm.

Circle Island by Le Truck

The traditional Tahitian form of public transportation is Le Truck, a brightly painted open air cabin mounted on the back of a flatbed truck.  For our tour, Le Truck was festooned with palm fronds and deep red hibiscus flowers.  We circumvented Bora Bora on the 19.2 mile road built in 1943 by the United States Seabees.  Until 1946, 5600 GIs were stationed on the island and remnants of their "friendly occupation" remain in the form of 7" cannons and an ammo bunker, still used by locals as a refuge during storms.  

From island history and lore to explanations about culture and daily life, the narrative by our guide Jeff (an American expatriate) was interesting and thorough.  His knowledge and ability to answer questions was impressive.  Our varied stops included beaches, churches, temple sites, and a refreshment break at Bloody Mary's.  One stop in particular was riveting--Jeff pointed out holes in the ground and encouraged us to toss hibiscus flowers from the windows.  When we did, land crabs scurried out of their underground homes and snatched the flowers for lunch.  Islanders often trap the crabs (known as roadside clean up crews for their foraging habits) and raise them in a cage--fattening them up for a special treat.

Le Truck was a fun way to get an overview of Bora Bora and Jeff and his wife (she is the guide on the other Le Truck) are exceptional hosts.  Immediately across the street from the pier were unique little two-seater vehicles for rent.  Looking like a cross between a golf cart and VW Beetle, I knew Mel would rent one of the fluorescent colored "cars."  Slightly more comfortable than the rental mopeds, Mel's broke down out island and he caught a ride with a tour operator to the nearest hotel for a replacement.  With guidebook in hand, he had no trouble navigating the island and finding a scenic watering-hole at the Hotel Bora Bora.

For those who missed the Sunset Lagoon Catamaran in Raiatea, the "Va'a Rahi" followed in R3's wake and offered similar sunset excursions around Bora Bora.

Beyond... a wrap up of odds 'n ends...

~ Bora Bora, motu in paradise ~

SCUBA Diving - Renaissance doesn't offer organized dives, but dive shops are numerous throughout Tahiti.  I'm not a diver, but some of the SCUBA enthusiasts on our cruise related that their dives outside the reefs of the various islands were better than most had ever experienced.  Topdive on Bora Bora received high marks from several passengers, especially for the night diving.  Another diver recommended Tahiti Sport in Papeete as an excellent source for last-minute equipment purchases or emergency repairs.

Black Pearls

They're stunning!  

With numerous merchants throughout the islands touting the quality and value of their pearls, purchasing black pearl jewelry can be confusing at best. 

A flyer I picked up in Bora Bora, contains the following advice--

  • There is no official appraisal organization or office entitled to accredit the world pearl market.
  • Don't buy pearls from peddlers who will always tell you the pearl comes from a family farm.  The risk is high!
  • Purchases made in places of high tourist density are not always good value for the money.
  • Some conferences are held for tourists.  Check if their aim is education or if they are intended for concealed business.
  • Pay attention to whether recommendations are disinterested.
  • If you buy unset pearls, you must know that a jeweler in your town can drill and set it onto the jewelry of your choice.

Sounds sensible... so who can you trust to sell you a "good" pearl?  I wouldn't even begin to make a suggestion.  However, it seemed disingenuous to me that so many merchants seemed ready to confide that everyone ELSE selling pearls should be viewed as unscrupulous.

My preference leaned toward "natural" pearls--those created as a result of nature's irritation, without "cultured" intervention.  Similar to what we call "freshwater" pearls, natural pearls are unique.  I was drawn to the unusual shapes and varied colors as well as the idea that the oyster had created it on its own, with no help or instigation from man.  How to buy them or the exquisite cultured pearls?  I was fortunate that fellow passenger Winnie Lee took me in hand, oversaw my selection, and bartered for the best price.  If you're serious about buying pearls, attend the onboard pearl lecture and deal with a reputable jeweler.

Getting There & Back

What can you say about a seven-plus hour flight?  Under the best of circumstances, it's not the most comfortable way to travel and Hawaiian Air charter flights were typical of overseas flights.  In Los Angeles we checked in about two hours before departure time and were assigned seats in the center of the plane.  Whenever possible, only four of the five seats were occupied, leaving the center seat empty.  Some passengers had arrived for check in as early as four hours before departure in order to get the advantage of more legroom in bulkhead and emergency row seats.  I'd highly recommend upgrading to Business Class if you can swing it at all.  I took advantage of the lengthy flights to catch up on sleep.

Fellow Passengers  

Meeting new people is one of the pleasures of a cruise and we were fortunate to share our voyage with a great many congenial people.  Our fellow R3 passengers were generally seasoned travelers and repeat cruisers; however, we ran into a few grouches here and there (and some extremely annoying slow-poke couples who popped up on every tour) .  Sure, we occasionally overheard the usual minor complaint but, by and large, I'd say the majority of guests were delighted with our elegant ship, the beautiful islands, and the friendly reception we received in French Polynesia.

We hope someday to return...

Bon Voyage!  Linda

Back to R3~1st in Series Cruising in Tahiti
              R3~2nd in Series Cruising in Tahiti
              R3~3rd in Series Cruising in Tahiti

And finally... a special note of thanks to Brad Ball of Renaissance Cruises for making this dream of a lifetime come true.  Mauruuru roa!

Illustrations--Renaissance Cruises & Mel Coffman
Copyright © 2000 by Linda Coffman