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Copyright © 1995-2001 
Linda Coffman


Renaissance R3
French Polynesia
September 30, 1999

by Pam and Jim Murphy

We flew to LA on Wednesday, September 29th, arriving at 2 pm from Newark.  We stayed at the Airport Marriott.  There is a shuttle to the hotel from the airport which runs frequently and is very easy to access.  Believe we paid $150 for one night at the Marriott.

On the morning of September 30 (Thursday) we ordered room service breakfast which was excellent and then left for the airport, taking the Marriott shuttle service.  We arrived at the airport at about 7:30 am and the Renaissance Representatives were at the Hawaiian check in gate and everything was well organized.  We arrived at the airport as early as we did, due to the fact that there was no preassigned seating and we felt it was worth arriving early to assure our getting seats together.  The seats you are assigned going will be the same seats you have on your return flight. We were able to obtain an aisle and window seat next to each other. I did notice that some couples were split up. The plane configuration was 2-5-2.  Most of the center seats of the 5 were empty.

Waiting for the flight at the airport was very comfortable and there is a duty free shop and nice gift shop to browse in, near to the gate.  The flight took off on time and Renaissance had everything extremely well organized, which made traveling a breeze. Hawaiian Air was fine, however, the flight attendants were not the best and were not quite on top of things.  There were a few problems with the movies.  However, except for these few minor problems the flight was smooth and on time and comfortable. Someone asked me about meals and as far as I can remember there was a hot meal and then a sandwich snack before landing.  We flew coach but were able to see business class since it was not a separate area.  The seats were larger and definitely looked more comfortable and it appeared that the wine was flowing. 

We were in the second group to arrive for our cruise in Papeete.  We arrived close to on time and were met by the Renaissance Reps.  There was a Polynesian band playing for us at the airport and  you are greeted with a Tiare flower to put behind your ear.  (Right ear available, left ear taken and behind both ears taken but still looking.)  We then received a floral lei which smelled absolutely delightful.  Customs was a breeze and the Ren buses were waiting for us.  We boarded the bus for a short drive to the ship.  The Ren rep. couldn't have been nicer or more helpful.  They had shore excursion forms to fill out on the bus for the next day in Papeete, which were handed in as you boarded ship.  Check in was quick and easy. There was a tent set up at the dock and you checked in by the first letter of your last name.  The staff was there to carry your carry-on bags for you and the ship's photographer was there to take your photo (photos $7 and up.) Your checked luggage was transported directly to the ship and you met it in your stateroom.  It took about an hour for it to arrive so it is a good idea to pack something to change into for dinner in your carry on bag.

We had a B category cabin, which was lovely.  Plenty of room and very comfortable.  On our R2 cruise we were in a D cabin and the basic difference is the width of the room.  The length of D and B is the same but the width of the room and balcony in B is much wider.  There is also a tub in B and a mini bar.  If money is not a consideration then I would say to book a B or even better the Owners Suite.  However, if the cost is a consideration, then I would say that the D category is very comfortable and not at all cramped.  The only problem we had in D was that we had to take turns passing at the foot of the bed since only one at a time could pass.  It even seemed that the storage in the B and D was the same. Having a balcony definitely makes for a delightful cruise and if at all possible I would recommend splurging for one.

The air conditioning on the ship is nice and cool and becomes a very welcome relief from the heat of the islands.  For anyone who feels the cold, a sweater or light wrap might be a good item to pack.

You will be tendered from all ports except Papeete and Raiatea.  The odd numbered rooms face away from the dock, which avoids seeing the construction at the docks at Papeete and Raiatea.  These islands are still a bit unspoiled from the tourism. You can see that they are gearing up for the tourists and soon will be tourist meccas.  It is nice to have the opportunity to see some of the unspoiled beauty, which is still present at this time.

The good news was that there was no life boat drill the night we arrived so we were free to unpack, have dinner and check out the ship.  The ship is an exact replica of the R2 and is just as beautiful.  We noticed that many of the staff was moved from the R1 and R2 to the R3 and it was nice to see some familiar faces.  The staff told us that there were many repeat passengers on our sailing which says a lot for the caliber of the Ren cruises.  We had a delicious dinner.  For the most part the food is gourmet and on the rich side.  However there is always a light meal offered.  I ordered a squash tomato bisque, lamb, and a peach amaretto brulee for dessert, all delicious.

One suggestion I would make concerning dining is that if you want a cocktail before dinner, it is best to sit in the lounge and take your time. Once you enter the dining room, it appears that the waiters are under orders to move you along.  Some waiters are able to handle this with a lot more grace than others.  Most of the waiters were wonderful but there were a few that could have used a few lessons in the social graces.

Our cabin stewardess was wonderful and always managed to have our room cleaned as soon as we left it.  The ship is extremely clean.

The show the first night was with the Paramount Performers, six young people who are extremely talented and put their heart and soul into entertaining you.  It was a short revue with the cruise directors acquainting you with the ship.

October 1, Friday, Papeete
This morning we had breakfast at the buffet.  The eggs were lukewarm. The Club might be the better place to get a hot breakfast. The food is basically the same at the buffet but for some reason tastes much better at the Club Restaurant.  It may be in the presentation!  We did not eat at the Italian or Grille Restaurants on this cruise.  At 9:30 am we had the lifeboat drill which is just one of those necessary evils you need to go through.  After the drill we headed for the market in Papeete.  

The ship is docked right in the center of the downtown area and in about 20 minutes of walking you can cover the town.  The market is definitely an experience. Outside the market are sidewalk vendors selling mostly pareus. On the first floor of the market is the fish section, floral section, and woven baskets and hats.  We picked up the most beautiful floral arrangement for $20 (at home we would probably pay $75-$100 for an arrangement of this size.  It was all tropical flowers, bird of paradise, anthurium, orchids, tiare etc.  It lasted the entire cruise in our cabin.  When we walked in the room the flowers smelled just beautiful and looked so pretty. They sell coconut filled drinks at the entrance to the market, which is something I have never tasted and it was a nice treat.  There is a restaurant in the market with a Polynesian band playing.  Things are very expensive in French Polynesia and most is touristy junk.  I picked up some Monoi oil, monoi oil soap, and tiare cologne as gifts.  Also they had some pretty Gauguin coasters for $3 each that I picked up for  gifts.   For the teen  girl on my list I bought an invisible fish line necklace with black pearls.  This ran $20 so they were not good pearls but cute for a young girl.  A gift idea for teen males is a strand of puka beads which can be purchased here.  When you get to the dock in Moorea there is a vendor that sells shark teeth and will put the tooth on the puka  pearls for you.  One of the young guys had this done and it really turned out nicely.  The black pearls and flowers are probably the best purchases on the islands.  The black pearls are expensive and my suggestion is to only purchase them at a recommended distributor, unless you know what you are doing.  Tahiti Perles has a shop on deck 5 of the ship and their prices seemed in line with the rest of the islands.  They had a nice selection.  The pendants on a chain ran about $450 and up (purchased one of these for my son's girlfriend).  Strands of pearls can run over $100,000.  There were two specials for the cruise.  One was a small pair of black pearl and diamond earrings with matching pendant in 18 karat white gold, for about $1050 (I purchased these for my 22 year old daughter).  The other set did not have the diamond but the pearl was a bit larger and it was a bit higher in price.  

Papeete is nothing special, at least around the dock area.

An easy way to convert the currency is to remove two zeros from the Polynesian franc to get US dollars.

From 2-5pm they had the Tahitian Mamas on the ship doing handcrafts which were available for purchase. The Polynesians are a very laid back friendly people and a joy to be around.

We went to the Club for lunch and I ordered the most delicious Pineapple boat filled with fresh fruit and a rum sauce.

That evening we went to the Grand Ballet de Tahiti shore excursion.   This was at 5:30 and you just walk across the street from the ship.  The café where they hold the show is not air conditioned and is crowded.  There is one watered down alcoholic punch included in the cost of the show.  Do not make the mistake of ordering a second drink as they are $10 per drink! The show was wonderful and the best example of Polynesian dancing on the islands. The colors of the costumes are just beautiful, the dancers were excellent.  We felt that this was well worth doing.  This is a great photo opportunity because the dancers give you time to have your photo taken with them.  Also some of the audience is brought on stage to learn the dances.

After show we returned to the club for dinner.  I ordered a mushroom filled pastry, a salad with walnuts and goat cheese, duck with raspberry sauce and cheesecake for dessert.  Once again all delicious.  This evening's show was a pianist who was said to be very good, however, we missed the show. There was also a magician on board who we did not see but from what we heard he had been an entertainer on the Silversea line and from our experience all of their entertainers were top notch.

We sailed during the night.

October 2, Saturday, Moorea
We arrived in Moorea.  Ordered a continental breakfast in the room, which we ate on the balcony.  We took the Circle Island tour with a stop at the Tiki Village.  We enjoyed this tour.  The island of Moorea is gorgeous.  The Tiki Village is inhabited by craftsmen and dancers who are trying to keep the culture of Polynesia alive.  They show you the different handcrafts such as flower making, pareus dying, musical instruments, tattooing etc. At the end there is a show with the island dancing.  These dancers were not as polished as the Grand Ballet de Tahiti but were still enjoyable.  There is a black pearl farm at the village and they explain the process of cultivating the pearls.  They will take you out to the pearl farm by outrigger canoe, if you like.  We passed on this.

Jim was scheduled to take the snorkel ray feeding tour this afternoon.  We were told that he would have time to return to the ship to get his snorkel gear.  They sell the snorkel gear for $15 on the ship (mask and breathing tube but no flippers).  They also sell fish food on board.  There was no time to return and he missed the tour.  They refunded the money for the excursion but it was a disappointment.  If you book morning and afternoon tours do not plan to return to the ship.  Take what you need with you for both tours in the morning.  People we met took the sting ray tour and absolutely loved it, as a matter of fact they did it again the following day.

For anyone who wishes to swim with the dolphins this is not offered by the ship.  However, we met people who arranged this tour from the states before they left and raved about the experience.  They had some marvelous photos which are taken on this tour.  To arrange this, call The Moorea Park Royal Hotel, a month or two before leaving.  Or call Dolphin Quest, which is listed under the 800 information.

We returned to the ship for lunch then returned to Moorea for the afternoon.  At the dock in Moorea there are shuttles offered by different pearl shops which will take you to the shops.  We took a shuttle to Island Fashion Black Pearls (which was recommended by Frommer's guide).  The owner of this shop, Ron Hall, first gives you an explanation about choosing a black pearl which was very informative.  His prices were good and the quality appeared excellent.  We were looking at rings here and he had a 10 ½ mm. Black pearl with 18 karat gold setting for $683.  We found him very helpful and would recommend this shop.  Then we walked next door to the Van der Heyde Gallery.  The owner of this shop is a very interesting man.  I also read about him in the Frommer guide.  He sells prints of his works which he will sign for you.  There is one of a Tahitian woman which was made into a Tahitian stamp which he sells for $89 and then there is another of the Virgin and child which he sells for $120.  I purchased this one to have framed at home.  He took us into his home to see the original of the print I purchased.  It is all done in mother of pearl, pearls and stones. Absolutely gorgeous. The Virgin and child have real hair which was the hair of a 12 year old child.  He also sells a CD of the Stonecutter (a fairy tale he wrote for his daughter, which is a Disney property).  This was another shop well worth the stop.

There is a question on whether black pearls are duty free when brought into the US.  We were told by Ron Hall that they do not have to be declared if the jewelry is made in Tahiti, because Tahiti has a developing nation status, but Tahiti pearls said that you do have to declare black pearls.  I read in one of my guide books that they do not have to be declared.  This may be something to check out before leaving for the cruise.

Also at the dock in Moorea there are vendors set up. This is where the man who has the sharks teeth is and who will put them on the puka beads for you. I purchased woven coconut fiber necklaces with sharks tooth from him for $30.  I also purchased from him, a sterling silver ring with a keisha (black pearl which has rejected the nucleus) for $50. There is also a woman here whose husband does some beautiful caving on bone (small pieces and pendants) and she also sells a  tapa (cloth made from the inner bark of the breadfruit tree) decorative box for $30.

The gift shop on the ship brings out new merchandise each day.  Today I picked up a tee shirt and a tote bag both with very colorful Tahiti designs on them. Later in the cruise they will have shirts for Bora Bora and also a tee shirt with all the ports on it.

Tonight we went to the Broadway review show by the Paramount Performers, which was extremely entertaining.

Tonight we once again sailed and then redocked back in Moorea in the morning.  Believe this was due to the weather.  If susceptible to seasickness, the waters can be rough so bring Dramamine or some sort of seasickness remedies.

October 3, Sunday, Moorea
Today we once again ordered a continental breakfast in our cabin and sat on the balcony to have our breakfast, while looking at beautiful Moorea. This morning we took the dolphin/ whale watch tour with an associate of Dr. Michael Poole.  Our guide was wonderful and extremely interesting.  This tour takes you beyond the reef into the ocean and it was quite rough. Three people were seasick.  I took Dramamine and wore the sea bands on my wrist and had no problem.  At one point a huge wave came and soaked us all.  We saw a whale, which was a magnificent sight.  We then reentered the lagoon where we saw dolphins.  These are in their natural habitat and I found them disappointing, since you only see their backs.  I think I expected to see them jumping in the air.  This tour was great fun and the information we received on the islands from our guide was fascinating.  On this tour they served limeade, coconut, pineapple etc. Also when passing a motu we passed several bare-breasted Polynesian women, which definitely adds to the local color!  On this tour if you ask you can stop for a swim.  No one on our particular tour opted for this.

After the dolphin tour we remained on Moorea for the Magnificent Moorea Tour. Once again, we had a wonderful guide, believe her name was Celine. The English spoken by the guides was very clear and easy to understand. This tour is in an air conditioned bus and is just about the same as the 4X4 jeep tour.  We were with then the whole way.  This tour takes you to the Belvedere for a wonderful view of both Cook's bay and the Opanohu Bay. You also see a temple where they offered human sacrifice.  This cannibalism was only done once a year on Moorea and it was considered to be a great honor to be chosen as the human sacrifice.  This tour stops at a fruit juice distillery where you taste many of the distilled fruit drinks and liqueurs.  Some of the things here make nice gifts. You will also see a pineapple plantation   This tour was relatively inexpensive (think about $30) and we enjoyed it.

The shops are closed on Sundays.

October 4, Monday, Huahine
Here we were tendered into Huahine. From the dock we were bused to Fare from where the Glass Bottom Boat Shark Feeding tour departed.  This tour stayed within the reef so was not rough sailing.  From this boat you can see the coral formations and colorful fish.  There was a musician on board who played and sang for us.  Fresh juice was served.  Then we anchored and chum was released.  It took about 10 minutes for the sharks to come. At first they are wary and circle but soon work up their courage and eat out of the hand of the shark feeder.  We had about 10 sharks. On this tour you can get into the water with your snorkel gear. Two young guys did this and loved it. The currents were very strong so they needed to have a rope tied around their waists.

After this tour we returned to Fare and looked around the shops.  It is a very small village but fun to walk around. There is a grocery store there where the coke was much less expensive than on the ship and the vanilla was a good price. We then took the bus to pick up the tender to return to the ship.  Jim remained at the dock to wait for the outrigger canoe snorkeling tour.  He enjoyed this, but did get paint on his tee shirt from holding on to the boat.  They saw lots of colorful fish.

When a ship comes into Fare the children get the day off from school since they use the school buses for the tourists.  Needless to say, they loved having us there!

I had lunch at the buffet and on the pool deck there were the Tahitian Mamas and Papas doing handcrafts and also performing.  I picked up a floral wreath for $8 and a greens wreath for Jim for $5. They were also making floral leis and woven palm hats. I also picked up some tapa bracelets for $5 each.

By the time Jim returned to the ship he was not feeling well.  That evening we skipped the show, which was Fascinating Rhythm with the Paramount Performers, and also went to the buffet for dinner rather than the club.

Tonight they took portraits on the Grand Staircase, which is one more thing we missed but the photos we saw on display the next day looked lovely. This might be a nice time to purchase a floral wreath for the photos.

These islands are very hot and it can tend to zap your energy.  My suggestion is to try to limit your tours to one a day.  Two can be tiring unless you are very young and very energetic.

We sailed at about 6:30pm.

October 5, Tuesday, Raiatea
This morning both Jim and I woke up with fevers and feeling quite ill.  This seemed to just effect us and wasn't a ship-wide illness.  We never got out of bed and cancelled our tour which was the Myths and Legends Catamaran Sail and also cancelled the rest of the tours we had booked  for the remainder of the cruise.  We did not give Renaissance the required 24 hours notice for cancellation of the tour but they very kindly still credited us, which they did not have to do.  At four thirty they brought the local children on board to entertain.  We missed this but heard it was well worth attending.  This evening they brought in the local Tamure dancers for the show, which we also missed.

October 6, Wednesday, Raiatea
Today we got out of bed for a short time but still were not feeling great.  We walked off ship and strolled around the town of Raiatea.  Nothing much there.  There are vendors set up on the dock with lots of the same things that you will have seen everywhere else.  From what people told us, this was the place to be sick and miss the least. This evening there was a sailing party with jazz music as you leave Raiatea.  The ship slowly cruises by Tahaa which is a beautiful sight and you will see the sun set over Bora Bora.  We enjoyed this from our balcony.

October 7, Thursday, Bora Bora
Jim and I took the tender into Bora Bora and we looked around the town and browsed in the shops.  Lots more of the same things.  Here all I picked up were a couple of lighters made out of shell for gifts. There is a shuttle offered to the beach during the day. The tender runs evenings for anyone who wants to book reservations for dinner at Bloody Mary's.

October 8, Friday, Bora Bora
Today Jim took the Circle Island tour by Le Truck, which he said was nothing special.  It stopped at Bloody Mary's and saw some World War II canons.  We had the 4X4 tour originally booked which we heard was a good one to take.  There was an early pool-side show by the Paramount Performers who did some of the oldies from the 30s.  Later there was a Farewell Show.

October 9, Saturday, Papeete
The first group debarked ship today and headed for home.  We remained on board.  We strolled over to the market in Papeete then returned to the ship and packed and just relaxed.  Today we were finally starting to feel much better.  Tonight we had dinner at the Club.  I ordered fruit with Contreaux, a pumpkin dumpling soup, and pork with fruit.  After several days of not eating this really hit the spot.  Bags were put into the hall from 10-10:30 pm for our floor.

October 10, Sunday
Today you remain in your room until 11:30 pm.  At 1:00 pm you are called to debark the ship.  Once again, Renaissance had things extremely well organized.  First you claim your bags and they have staff to take them to the airport for you.  We were then transported for a short bus ride to the brand new Outrigger Hotel.  The hotel was lovely.  There was a locked room for your luggage and several changing rooms, which you were able to sign up to use.  Soft drinks were served throughout the day.  There was a buffet set up during the afternoon.  The pool was available for our use and there were tables with umbrellas set up around the pool.  There were several rooms in the hotel with comfortable seating and a beautiful breeze for those who didn't want to swim.  We heard people complaining about the stop at the hotel.  I felt it was a lovely way to spend your last day and was much better than sitting at the airport for hours.  The buses transported us to the airport starting at 6 pm.  We were presented with shell leis on departure.  The flight left a little late.  We slept the whole flight home so I can't tell you much about the flight.  They showed two movies.  Once again the service was adequate but not great.  On arrival at LA is where the problems began.  Due to fog we were not able to land and circled for a while. We then had to land at Ontario, CA to refuel.  Then flew to LA once the fog lifted.  When we landed in LA we had to wait for a stairway which took quite a while to get for us.  People remained very calm during these inconveniences and seemed to take it in stride.  Customs moved quickly.  We then went to visit our kids in the LA area for four nights and left the morning before the earthquake hit.

All in all we loved the cruise.  Unfortunately, becoming ill, was not the best way to enjoy a cruise.  In spite of being sick, we felt it was still a wonderful relaxing time.  We heard many people complaining that there is not much to do on the islands.  This is true, since it seems that they are just adjusting to the influx of tourists.  After this cruise Jim and I realize that we personally prefer the European cruises with the museums, castles etc.  We are not beach people and prefer cooler weather.  However, we knew this prior to booking this cruise and were well prepared that this type of cruise.

Read the Murphy's R2 review here.

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