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Linda Coffman

R3 ~ Cruising in TAHITI

First in a series of South Seas adventures

by Linda Coffman

"I don't want to go to heaven when I die.  I want to go to Tahiti" ~ Mel Coffman, circa 1983

~ Renaissance Cruises R3 ~
The Raiatea Nui Dancers

I'll never forget when Mel uttered those words.  We were enjoying a luau in Honolulu when he saw a performance of Tahitian dance for the very first time.  He was enchanted. 

WARNING:  This is NOT your mother's hula!  When Renaissance Cruises began offering ten-day cruises through Tahiti, how could we resist his dream trip?  Exploring a variety of Tahiti's islands is finally affordable.   

As we discovered last summer in the Greek Isles, Renaissance excels at moving passengers.  Our chartered Hawaiian Air plane lifted off from Los Angeles and we were on our way to being greeted at Papeete's Faaa Airport with song and the traditional tiare flower greeting.  Tuck the blossom behind your left ear if you're taken, the right ear to indicate you're looking, and anywhere in between if you're taken but still available.  Then set your watch to "island time."  Unbelievably we were whisked off the plane, through the passport check point, onto buses, completed the R3 check-in procedure, and were greeted at the gangway with smiles and leis in 22 minutes flat.  This astonishing feat was followed by luggage in less than an hour.  

Renaissance R3 and R4 passengers arrive (and depart) over a period of two days.  We shared the R3 dockside in  Papeete for a day with half the previous cruise's passengers.  They left the next day after  assuring us we were in for the treat of a lifetime.  Those soon-to-depart passengers looked tanned and rested.  We were ready to begin.

Io ora na

Tahiti has a well deserved reputation for being expensive.  Hotels, particularly those featuring over water bungalows, can run eight hundred dollars a night and up without meals.  Fortunately for tourists, the Tahitian government is making a concerted effort to change all that.  The country's tourism infrastructure is expanding and future passengers will benefit with an improved variety of tours and port facilities.   

Io ora na (pronounced yo-rana with hard 'o' and soft 'a') is Tahitian for "hello" and our tentative efforts at using it and Mauruuru roa for "thank you" were rewarded with smiles and nods of approval.  French is the official language and Spanish and English are taught in schools.  Although not learned in school, Tahitian is widely spoken.  Many islanders shyly sharpened their English skills on us and coached us on local terms for flowers, food, and fish.

Although attempts by overly zealous missionaries in the late-1790's obliterated many sacred maraes (temples), their efforts didn't diminish the joyous Tahitian spirit and culture.  Traditional customs live on to the delight of visitors and locals alike.

Land, Sea & Air

Our objectives were to see Tahiti on land, in the sea, and (for Mel) from the air.  We chose excursions carefully and were rewarded with amazing sights and experiences which I'll cover in more detail as this series of articles unfolds.

Before exploring our destination, take a look at the cruising experience on Renaissance.

R3 at anchor in Cook's Bay ~ Moorea

The R3 

Like her elegant predecessors, R3 features all the comforts of a fine European hotel.  Built in France by the famed Chantiers de l'Atlantique, she was christened on August 30, 1999 by the First Lady of Tahiti, Mrs. Tonita Flosse.  Exquisite as the  stunning necklace of Tahitian black pearls she wears, Mrs. Flosse's portrait graces the reception lobby and greets guests with a serene smile and twinkling eyes.

While waiting for luggage, we made our selections from the shore excursion list and fortified ourselves with a late dinner from the Panorama Buffet.  The sparkling lights of Papeete beckoned us to finish and we dropped off our completed excursion form on our way back to shore and window-shopping in the city.  Boutiques exhibiting the latest French fashions are interspersed with banks and jewelry stores featuring black pearls.  Sidewalk cafes dot the side streets and a rolling food court with an international flavor sets up dockside each evening.  The atmosphere is relaxed and festive.  Even merchants in the marketplace don't hassle visitors to purchase their wares.  This is a far cry from the usual tropical cruise experience.

Back on board we strolled through familiar public rooms and  noted subtle differences from R1 to R3.  There is no patisserie on R3 (which seemed out of place on Deck 5 of the R1) and the tromp l'oeil painting on the library's domed ceiling is more tropical in flavor.  Otherwise we felt completely at home and comfortable in the exclusive country club atmosphere.  Tropical flower arrangements in wall niches and adorning tables were gorgeous.  It's obvious that no expense was spared in designing the ship's interiors and appointments.  

For a ten-day cruise, one of the most-appreciated improvements was the self-service laundry with three washers, three dryers, and two ironing stations.  Huge commercial size Maytag machines held the equivalent of two loads compared to my Maytag at home.  Tokens were available at the reception desk--$3 to wash and $3 to dry--rather pricey, but considering that the detergent was included (self-dispensed at the touch of a button) and the machines so large, it's a cost efficient alternative to sending shorts, tee shirts, and incidentals to the ship's laundry.  Many guests took advantage of this convenience but there was no long wait for machines as was the case on R1.  Renaissance wisely listened to earlier guests' comments in this regard. 

When our luggage arrived, we unpacked in short order, finding the closet and drawer space more than adequate for a ten-day wardrobe.

Shop 'til you drop

Interestingly, the onboard logo shop was open while we were in port and was well stocked with sundries that guests might have forgotten, as well as high quality shirts, caps, and other clothing items.  Shop early as sizes were limited later on in the cruise!  Also available were "water shoes" (a necessity for protecting your feet from coral) for the reasonable price of $14.99.  Snorkel masks could be rented or purchased for  under $20 at the Shore Excursion Desk.  World famous Tahiti Black Pearls were on display and available for purchase.  Additionally, there were the usual sales of gold-by-the-inch, watches,  and rings.

In Papeete and Huahine, local Tahitian mamas and papas displayed handicrafts, tiares, pareos, and leis for purchase on the Pool Deck, often at prices more competitive than those ashore.

In no time at all, beautiful hand-painted pareos and crowns of flowers were de rigueur for female passengers.


Mel & Bora Bora Mainui Dancers

"Country Club Casual" is the order of the day--and evening--for dining on Renaissance ships.  As on the R1, we discovered that the term covers a broad spectrum of attire.  While jeans are discouraged, people wearing them weren't turned away from the dining room.  Tuxedoes and gowns were donned by a number of guests for the Captain's reception and other festive nights, particularly after the ship was festooned in Christmas finery.  Few passengers could resist "dressing" a bit for photos on the Grand Staircase.  

For those not inclined to dress up for dinner in one of the other three restaurants, the Panorama Buffet offered a casual alternative where one could dine inside or al fresco in nice shorts.  

We thoroughly enjoyed our meals on the R3, particularly those in the Club Restaurant.  The food was uniformly well prepared and the salads and fresh fruits were wonderful.  Menus each evening offered a variety of choices from fish, pasta, and steaks to vegetarian entrees that were pronounced excellent.  It was no problem to order both entrees when lobster and prime rib were offered the same night.  Mel and I shared prime rib along with our perfectly prepared lobsters.  Sommeliers were ever present to assist with wine choices and service was prompt.

Late night snacks were served in the Sports Bar and Casino Bar and were some of the tastiest I've had on any cruise ship.  Caviar was abundant.  A word about pizza: delicious!  To demonstrate how pedestrian my taste is, Renaissance ships serve the BEST French fries and I ordered a plateful for lunch from the Barbeque on Pool Deck.

Obviously, I'm not a "foodie," but I have  a sweet tooth and the mocha/chocolate mousse was to die for.  Last, but not least, the rolls and particularly the breadsticks were wonderful and cakes were always moist.  Room service is pretty much limited to salads and sandwiches.  However, many guests are inclined to share sunset dinners on their balconies and Renaissance is considering expanding room service choices for that purpose. 

That's entertainment

R3 promised "Great Times & Great Entertainment" and they really delivered.  The Cabaret Lounge is a jewel with comfortable seating and innovative entertainment programs developed by Paramount Show Services International.  Three revues by the extremely talented singers and dancers of the Paramount Performers troupe were scaled to the cabaret size of the room but lacked nothing in terms of quality and high energy.  Roberta Roberts, Associate Producer for Paramount Parks, shared some information about the entertainers with me.  Video and audio audition tapes are accepted and hiring is done in a variety of locations, such as Los Angeles, New York, Toronto, Orlando, Miami, and London.  The show costumes and elegant gowns are created by a number of designers, including Paramount's own, and special orders are placed for the cast's formal wear.

Also on the entertainment roster were Paul Pappas, an extraordinary pianist; the Fabulous Valentis, husband and wife performers of magic, illusion and comedy; and Jonathan Kent on the keyboards in the Sports Bar.  The Casino Bar is R3's piano bar and it filled nightly with listeners as word spread about pianist Sheila Taylor.

The Renaissance Tahitian Enrichment Series was outstanding.  Lectures, storytelling, Tahitian Tamure dance lessons by Maimiti Kinnander (Miss Tahiti 1983), The Voices of Children (the popular and charming children of Raiatea), the Raiatea Nui Dancers, and the Bora Bora Mainui Dancers were just some of the activities available.  There was standing room only attendance at the children's show and they garnered rave reviews from the audience.

One venue that could use some improvement is the Sports Bar--the designated spot for late night dancing.  Mr. Kent was good, but a dance combo with a lively beat would have drawn a larger audience to this under-utilized lounge.

More On Board

My two favorite words are THE SPA.  Surrounded by comfortable lounge chairs, the R3's pool and two whirlpools are exceptionally nice... however, nothing compares to the serenity and privacy of the spa deck and Thalassotherapy Pool.  Warm salt water churns from the pool's powerful jets, easing away care and stress on a foamy liquid cloud.  Pure heaven, especially with the lush green mountains and spectacular sunsets of Tahiti as a backdrop.  Stewards stopped by regularly to offer refreshments.  Padded steamer chairs beckoned me to nap in the shade, followed by a cleansing quiet period inhaling aromatic steam in the pale blue tiled Roman style steam room and then a "fog" shower.  This bliss comes with a price tag of $20 per day or $100 for the duration of the cruise.  It's well worth it even if you don't use any of the other spa services.  The only thing the R3 spa lacks is a sauna.

For quiet solitude, the R3's well-stocked Library can't be beat.  It's a peaceful retreat if curling up in front of the fireplace with an interesting book sounds good to you.  The card room saw a lot of competitive bridge playing and board games are available to while away any free time guests might have between activities. 

Games of Chance

I made my usual small contribution to the slot machines.  It was interesting to note that, with the exception of when we were in Papeete, the slot machines were open 24 hours a day.  The tables opened in the late afternoon whether we were docked or tendering ashore in the other islands.

Winners seemed to outnumber losers in the casino--a refreshing change from the usual cruise ship experience.


Service was prompt and courteous in the dining rooms and lounges and our cabin service was impressive.  Our stewardess confided she was formerly with Princess Cruises and preferred the atmosphere of the smaller Renaissance ships.  Smiling crew and staff members all over the ship greeted us with "hellos."

Guests felt so at home that it wasn't unusual to see a passenger sit down at a piano and begin playing.  The ship's decor was enhanced by holiday decorations that were obviously custom designed to complement each room.  Announcements were kept to a bare minimum and only made when absolutely necessary.  The one time I thought I was missing something it took a while to realize the blaring PA wasn't coming from our ship at all but from the Paul Gauguin docked behind us in Papeete. 

Our final "cruise" day wasn't spent entirely on board.  Early in the afternoon we were taken to the Outrigger Hotel where we had use of the facilities and were served a buffet and refreshments until time to transfer to the airport for our 9pm flight home.  Many people felt it was a "waiting around" period but I enjoyed the afternoon.  A late afternoon rain put something of a damper on the use of the beautiful pool and may have also dampened spirits.  Who wouldn't be out of sorts leaving paradise? 

The Hawaiian Air charter was about an hour late leaving Papeete, but we sank easily into slumber until our arrival in Los Angeles the following morning... approximately seven hours (3559 miles) and a world away.

"Tahiti, where love lives"

Tahiti Tourisme promotes that slogan and from the lush green mountains to the crystal clear warm lagoon waters, the islands are truly romantic and appealing.  Their rhythmic grace is  both joyous and tranquil.

A favorite Tahitian expression is Haere Maru--"take it easy."  It wasn't difficult to adopt that lifestyle.

Bon Voyage!  Linda

The rest of the articles in this series detail each of the islands (Tahiti, Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea, and Bora Bora) as well as the pleasures of life on board the R3.  Join us to feed sharks, swim with stingrays, trek by 4X4 and canoe, and circle Bora Bora on a waverunner!  

R3~2nd in Series Cruising in Tahiti Papeete, Tahiti & Moorea
R3~3rd in Series Cruising in Tahiti - Huahine & Raiatea
R3~4th in Series Cruising in Tahiti - Bora Bora & Beyond

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