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Copyright © 1995-2004 
Linda Coffman


Tahitian Princess
October 14-24, 2004
Cook Islands 

by Sue Adam

Flights: Booked through Princess on Air Tahiti Nui with a two night pre-cruise stay at the Sheraton, Tahiti. Tahitian Princess Cabin #8050 AC Mini Suite.

Before I begin this review I think it only fair to warn you of one thing I am sure you already know, you can’t predict Mother Nature, and even when she deals you a bad hand, you have to make the best of it. I am trying very hard to be fair to this Princess Ship and ports of calls in this review. Even though the weather was terrible for most of the cruise. Hopefully I can do that in an impartial way and you will take the hint that IF you only plan to visit Tahiti once in your lifetime, plan to visit during a safer time of year and not during the beginning or during the rainy season. The prices are better at those times, but considering the time involved and the investment you will have, it just isn’t worth taking the chance on having weather like we encountered. Saving a few hundred dollars on a once in a lifetime cruise is not worth it, go during a month that is not even close to the rainy season. Since this is the tropics, it does rain often, but this was very unusual weather for October in French Polynesia where we had rains that lasted, at times, throughout most of the day.

This would be our 5th cruise to or from Tahiti so except for the ship, we have seen most of the islands before. Only difference in this cruise is that we would be sailing from and return to Papeete, something we have never done before.

Now off we go!

We arranged for a pre-night stay at the Hilton in LAX after the long flight from Kansas City. A quick bid on PriceLine gave us a room for $50 and well worth every penny we paid. A free shuttle to and from the airport was an added bonus. What a great way to begin an international flight, showered and rested and ready to fly on Air Tahiti Nui, which would be totally different for us then other flights. The Hilton LAX is a very nice hotel and the rooms were roomy and clean. Each room on our floor had patio doors that opened to a huge shared patio area with lots of flowers and comfortable chairs.

Checking into LAX for an International flight was nothing short of a nightmare. One line after another and waiting for what seemed hours to have our luggage screened and then taken back to the ticket counter for check in. We talked to one of the ticket agents and he said that the system worked very well for the year or so after 9/11 when there weren’t so many people flying. But that now that the masses are back in the air, it was totally disorganized from start to finish. Not enough security people to handle the baggage screening and lines that seemed to form in every direction without a true destination. We were moved from one security line to another and then on to another until we finally were told that this is where they wanted us to stay. There are no words to describe the crowds and pushing that was taking place with many International flights on several different airlines all trying to check in at the same time. Finally we were checked in and found that the only place to grab lunch was before we entered the secure area. So we stopped for a quick lunch and on to the next security check in and to our gate.

Air Tahiti Nui was fantastic. Seats were about the same size in economy as other airlines but they offered foot rests under each seat and video screens in the seat back in front of you. (only thing I can compare it to is a flight we took some years back on Singapore airlines, very nice). Personal headsets, Movies, video games and even trivia could be played during the flight to help pass away the long hours. Although my seat would not recline, my foot rest was broken and the video screen wasn’t working properly. But believe it or not it was a good flight, I just shared a movie with my dear husband on his video screen and it all worked out well. The plane was quite full and although I could have moved to another seat, there were not two available and I wanted to stay next to him (Nothing like a shoulder to sleep on when you have a long flight ahead).

As soon as we were settled in, dinner was served. It was pretty good but also quite spicy and we all know what that can do to people, without actually going into graphic detail. Needless to say that by the time the second meal was served, the plane was a bit on the stinky side, and that is putting it mildly. LOL I wish airlines would realize that a blander menu might assist in this problem. All in all, the food wasn’t bad by airlines standards and it did help to kill time during the flight and take the edge off the hungry pains.

We arrived in Papeete to a rather unorganized customs check that took sometime to get through. But we found out later that it could have been even worse. But now I am jumping to the end of the cruise and will have to relate that info later on in this review as it will be told in our checking in for our flights home.

We arranged for a two night pre-cruise stay at the Sheraton in Papeete. Knowing we would need time to re-set our internal clocks. A word of warning: unless you plan on just using the room to sleep, this is not the hotel you should pick. Pay a bit more and book the Beachcomber, it is a great property with fabulous pool, snorkeling pool with its own coral reef and lots of things to do. Needless to say, we got a bit bored at the Sheraton as it had little to offer that we were interested in. The room was acceptable for the most part with a double sliding door that led out to the lanai and a view of the bay and our ship when it arrived. Nothing special, but acceptable. For someone on their very first trip to Tahiti it probably would be alright, but since we had been there so many times before, we were ready to have some fun and there was none to be had at the Sheraton. They do have a fairly nice pool and one hot tub but no type of beach in site. Princess also drops off early flight arrival passengers the day of the cruise at the Sheraton so it does get a bit overcrowded that final morning with people sleeping on all of the furniture and pool chairs.

The prices in Tahiti are outrageous for what they offer, especially in the food category and with the lower exchange rate right now, it is almost ridiculous. It is not uncommon to pay $25 U.S. for a hamburger and French fries and even more for a nice breakfast or lunch, so budget accordingly. With our dollar value dropping the exchange rate was running about 91 cents on our dollar which is terrible with the prices for things. About the only place we found that gave you a one to one exchange was at the Marche. There are very few options around the hotels for dining and you are usually pretty much stuck with the hotels restaurant. Across from the Sheraton there is a small pizza restaurant which isn’t bad. The cost was $35 for a small pizza and two drinks, which will give you more of an idea of the high prices of food.

We were able to sleep well for the two nights pre-cruise and were fully rested by the time our ship pulled into port. We checked out of our hotel and had Princess Transfers to the ship, everyone had told us a cab was easier but it was included in the hotel price so we took advantage of it. There was somewhat of a snag with the customs agent at the pier before we were allowed to check into the ship, he just didn’t seem to know what he was doing so our BUS DRIVER had to assist him. How funny is that? The customs agent was trying to match up names on passports to the boarding list and it seemed to be a difficult process for him.

Check in only took a few minutes once we got past the customs agent and we were onboard and heading for lunch as our rooms could not be occupied until 1:30. The lunch buffet is quite small but adequate.

We finally got to our stateroom shortly after 1:30 and found the mini suite to be unlike any other we have seen. Very spacious with dark woods and iron accent lamps. Breathtaking compared to the other Princess mini suites we have been in. The room design is more of a square shape with lots of extra footage to roam; the design lets in more sunlight compared to the long and narrow minis on Princess Grand Class ships. A sofa, round table with two chairs for in cabin dining and beds with nightstands along with a long dark wood counter that extended from the dressing table added to the elegance of this design. Lots of closet and drawer space throughout. The bathroom was great with a large tub and two great mirrored cabinets for storage, along with more storage underneath the sink area. Lots of closet space and a secure safe that was very easy to code in the number of your choice. The balcony was very roomy with two chairs and two foot rests or tables depending on what you would like to use them for. No lounge chairs but I am sure if we had requested one, it would have been given to us. 

We would be in Tahiti until the following evening when we were to sail around 5:00. We headed to the Marche for flowers and found ourselves going back again several times until there were flower arrangements on every available space in the stateroom. The smells of Tahiti are to me part of the fun of being there. Flowers are the one item in Tahiti that is very inexpensive and arrangements of tropical colors can be purchased for $10-$20 depending on the size and type of arrangement… definitely one of the great bargains of French Polynesia so we always take advantage of it. 

So far the weather had been wonderful with sunshine and warm temperatures. Then we set sail..OOPS! By now you have probably guessed what I am about to type in the rest of this review but we will get into that later in this semi-long novel. 

At the sail-a-way we met with an internet group at the pool bar and it was quite a large turnout. We all got to meet for the first time as none had set eyes on each other before. We found out later that these were some of the nicest people we had ever met on a cruise ship and had a great time with them all. We ended up on most tours with at least a few from the group and it was like traveling with friends we had known beforehand.

The first day, while still in port we acquainted ourselves with the ship and what it had to offer. A small ship by today’s standards and it doesn’t take long before you have visited all areas and can find your way around easily. The design and décor are all extremely elegant; no other word can describe the beautiful furnishings and attention to every detail from the lighting to the carpets.

The first night was open seating in the dining room so we decided to skip it and just head to the buffet. Again, very small with minimal choices, but adequate. The seas became slightly rougher as we ventured towards our first port of call, Huahine.

We made our way to the dining room to find our table on the second night. We had known that there was a couple onboard that we had never met but that were looking for us as we will be sailing to the British Isles with the gentleman’s sister come next August. Never in our wildest dreams did we know that they would become our tablemates for the cruise. Imagine how funny it was to begin talking to your tablemates when they bring up the internet and how the man’s sister told him to look up someone on the ship named ‘Toto’ but he had no idea where to begin to look for her. The look on his face when he found that Toto was sitting across from him was priceless. What a riot, and something I will not soon forget.

We had arranged on the Internet to join a group on Marc’s tour with snorkeling, a visit to a pearl farm and a picnic lunch on a small Motu. There were clouds in the sky with slight rain but at that time still not bad temperature wise. I have to say, of all of the tours I had looked forward to this was number one on the list. But we were very disappointed in it. Even if the weather had been nicer, it just was not what we had imagined after reading other reviews that just raved about it. Everything was a quick stop here and a quick stop there with little time to snorkel or enjoy. The picnic was on a Motu but the food was not very good and the ones in charge seemed not too thrilled about what they were doing in our minds. Marc did not join this group but he was there to greet us at the pier upon boarding the boats. There was live music provided by a small group of islanders but the food itself seemed to be shipped in so we missed the smells of a BBQ lunch and watching it being prepared. If memory serves me correctly, they did cook the fish on a BBQ but it just didn’t seem to be the lively tour we had so expected. So I give Marc’s tour a small thumbs down. Maybe it was the weather and maybe something else, but it just did not meet our expectations of a Tahiti Motu picnic and snorkeling tour. But this was only the first day and there was a lot more to look forward to.

We returned to the ship, shivering from the cold as it had rained and we were soaking wet. Even after a hot shower we just could not bring ourselves to go to the dining room but just wanted something to eat and to climb in bed with the blankets up to our chins. So it was off to the buffet again only to find out that all that was offered for alternate dining was pizza. But we did make do and had our fill. Princess offers 24 hour dining on this cruise but doesn’t narrow it down to what type of dining they offer, most nights the buffet is not one of the choices.

The next day was at sea and by now the seas were really beginning to rock and roll. Very high swells and with a ship of this size, it definitely bounced you around a lot. There were many people seasick throughout this cruise; especially the first week and the doctor’s office had a line each day outside his door. This small ship is definitely NOT for those that are prone to seasickness; I know there were many sailing with us that will attest to that fact.

Next stop Rarotonga. We were looking very forward to this port as it is under New Zealand rule and the exchange is in New Zealand Dollars. Shopping was the first thing on our agenda. Much better for us then the 91 cents on the dollar we were being given in the other islands of French Polynesia. We jumped on one of the first tenders and were ashore, a very wild ride I might add because of the rough seas. We had a snorkeling tour booked for the afternoon so it was supposed to be just a quick shopping trip, and then back to the tender to get our snorkel gear and head for our tour. Hmmm... are you guessing what lays ahead? 

We did our quick shopping and found the exact pearls I had been searching for at a very reasonable price, but upon returning to the pier found that the tenders were just tied up and not running. Soon we found that the sea conditions had just become too unstable for the tenders and we were stuck waiting until things became better. We understood it was for the safety of the passengers and realized that our snorkeling tour would be cancelled for the afternoon almost immediately. Things like this occasionally happen and you just have to make the best of it. Half the ship had come ashore and the others were not allowed to as all tender service was stopped, so other passengers were stuck on the ship. Heck, I had my black pearls so at least we had accomplished what we had come for. We found out after about an hour and being told NOT to leave the pier area that they were waiting for at least 90 passengers to return before the tender would return us to the ship. So we could not or were not supposed to go anywhere. We made friends with one of the local security guards and he spent the latter part of the morning into the afternoon trying to teach us his language, which I might add that I totally flunked his class. But it was fun and we had a nice visit.

Finally one of the morning tours returned and the tender was loaded. We sat waiting and waited and waited for almost an hour before they let the tender return. What a wild ride that was. As the tender was hog tied to the ship dipping and weaving up and down at least 6 feet in the air from the transfer platform. We were all told to back off from the window areas as they were afraid that they might be broken from the force of the tender slamming into the ship. When it came time to get off, it was ONE passenger at a time. Two crew members held on to you on the tender and sort of tossed you to two crew members on the ship and they caught you as you landed. OH MY, was that an experience that I don’t really want to relive anytime soon. Even though the ship had announced earlier in the morning that only those that had no problems walking should venture out today because of the sea conditions some took small children and babies ashore. I was shocked that they would have the courage to do this and getting those little ones back on the ship that afternoon was a bit on the nerve racking side. Since this ship has absolutely no facilities to cater to the younger children we were surprised to see so many bring them on this cruise. It is not a children’s cruise in any way. Children in swim diapers were even in the hot tubs, which caused us to leave them immediately. Sorry, but from our point of view, we don’t believe that swim diapers belong in any of the adult swimming pools or hot tubs. But then I am getting off the subject of the tenders here and will try to get back on topic.

So, we were in the half that got to go ashore and the half that was stranded on the ship had to miss all the great bargains we found on the island. I wish we would have had cell phone service and I could have called the ship for orders to bring back for them. Many had waited for this port for those expensive purchases with the better exchange rate that was offered and were quite disappointed.

Next day was again a sea day.
We had been invited to the special Captain’s luncheon at noon. We had received the invitation shortly after boarding and decided to attend. This is for the top 20 passengers cruising on the ship with the most days traveled on Princess Cruises. What a great luncheon it was. Two hours of the best food and service that we had the entire cruise. There were 20 passengers in attendance and we found we were in the top 6 of the most traveled passengers on this sailing. We were assigned to sit at the staff Captain’s table who was a delight, and simply gorgeous. Vanchensio from Italy, his name definitely describes him completely. The food was beautifully served and the dessert well lets just say I ate an entire days calories in that one dessert. Champagne whipped cream with fresh berries and paper thin cookies in between each layer. Oh my, was that a treat.

Next stop, Raiatea. We had booked a tour with Bruno for this port and it was an all day snorkeling tour with Pearl Farm, Vanilla Plantation, Lagoonarium and picnic again on a Motu. Even though the weather came and went with rain occasionally and clouds, it was a wonderful day. The best excursion of the entire cruise. We sailed over to Tahaa which is a beautiful island next to Raiatea.

We purchased vanilla beans that are now in their own private bottle of rum to preserve them for future use. We also had a fantastic visit to a knowledgeable pearl farm that showed us thousands upon thousands of black pearls and the difference in the quality of each. At the Lagoonairium we could get into the pools with the rays and other sea life and were shown a rock fish and puffer fish and how a puffer fish can snap a piece of coral with its jaws. Sure hope we don’t run into any of these sea creatures anytime soon. A great learning experience in all of the places visited.

The Motu picnic was wonderful. The rains came down hard, but mainly during lunch where we ate under a straw roof at a long table family style with our small group. Poison Curu deep fried to perfection and all the traditional Tahitian dishes. Wine was served with lunch and afterward the best cup of coffee I have ever had. Tahitian Coffee that had been flavored with a fresh vanilla bean and then added to it was fresh coconut milk and natural sugar. One of the best cups of coffee I have had in my entire life, and as many of you know, I am a coffee lover.

Bruno’s tour ended with a difficult drift snorkel through a coral garden. The waters were shallow and the current very strong so those that were not great swimmers had to be saved many times, YES that was me being drug off the rocks and coral and I have the scrapes to prove it. One way through this difficult pass and if you varied at all, you were lost in the rocks with thousands of sea urchins. Thankfully they were on the bottom and I was on the top. No thanks to a leaking snorkel I posses that will be replaced before the next cruise. Its snorkeling days are definitely over and I will give it a proper burial. Bruno has a very strong French accent so some of his instruction is hard to follow but it was a wonderful tour I give a strong thumbs up no matter what the weather was like. If I could only take one tour in French Polynesia, this tour would be the one at the top of my list.

Next stop Bora Bora. We had nothing booked in Bora Bora for the daytime and we had arrived at noon the first day. We joined a couple of new friends and were taken to Top Dive by taxi to book a snorkeling excursion for the following day. Afterward we had them drop us off at the beach for a bit of fun in the sun. YES, we finally had some sun and it was wonderful. Afterwards the four of us headed down the road to the famous Bloody Marys. We had never been there before on any of our previous Tahiti Cruises and it was a must see. A traditional Bloody Mary and a few T-Shirt purchases to prove we finally made it and we were off to the ship to get ready for our Catamaran Sun Set Sail booked with friends onboard with a private Catamaran arranged weeks before we arrived. Getting back to the ship turned into a bit more then we bargained for and we were late arriving, but these great people waited for us. The Cat was fantastic and we felt like we should be on the old show ‘Lifestyles of the Rick and Famous’ as we set sail to watch the one and only sunset we found visible on this cruise. With only 12 of us onboard this huge Catamaran, it was time to stretch out and relax. The wine flowed and admittedly I had just a TAD too much as I didn’t make it to dinner that evening either.

Day Two Bora Bora. We were met by Top Dive representatives and taken to another pier for our next snorkeling expedition with many of our great friends. The weather again was not cooperating and we had intermittent rain throughout the day, but it never stopped us. Coral Gardens and swimming with the sharks and rays was wonderful. And a great lunch prepared in a large straw hut and served on traditional Tahitian Plates weaved of palm leaves. Traditional dancing was taught to both the men and women of our group and was hilarious. Great lunch with great company no matter what the weather was like.

Next port Moorea.
The one and only excursion to a Motu booked with Princess. It ranked right up there with Marc’s tour (only worse) and we had wished we would have just cancelled it. The weather was so bad that we were very cold by the time we returned to the ship. The Motu offered by Princess was not the best as the current was so very strong and it was quite rocky so the beach was not inviting in the least. They did coax the sting rays into shore so the squeals and yells from the first time visitors did give us a good laugh. There was also a lunch served but it was nothing special. Definitely a tour I would not consider booking again.

We have always found that booking independently is a much nicer experience, especially for water related tours as the cruise line tends to cram in as many bodies as they can on tours and that is just not to our liking. I think we have learned our lesson and that will not happen again soon. When anyway possible, book privately, especially in Tahiti.

It was back to the ship and although I had already begun the packing process, I had to finish and get everything else done as the suitcases had to go out this evening. I pack in large 2-21/2 gallon ziplock type bags and throughout the cruise I replace items we will no longer use and seal them. It makes the last day of packing so much easier as all that has to be done is to place the individual bags into the luggage. While others are still trying to pack, we are out enjoying the last few hours on the ship.

We decided to join a small group we met onboard (all internet friends) for a last nights dinner at the Sterling Steakhouse. I think they saw us coming (or was it our laughing and carrying on they saw and heard?) as they sat us way in the back around the corner. Admittedly we were really laughing it up and it was best we were away from the quiet diners that evening. Most of the diners were officers with very few of the passengers having dinner on the last evening in Sterlings. As usual, the dinner was great and I couldn’t have eaten another bite afterwards. Service was fantastic and we were waited on hand and foot.

The final day had arrived and we needed to vacate our cabin by 10:00 AM. We were up for breakfast and out of the cabin in plenty of time. Our cabin steward had been eagerly awaiting his gift of the small coffee maker we were leaving behind for him along with all of the extra coffee that we still had. I always take a coffee maker on every cruise as cruise ship coffee is something we just can not handle at any meal. We joined some friends and went to the beachcomber for the afternoon which helped to pass the time. What a lovely hotel with all of the amenities anyone could ask for. We will definitely stay there if we ever return to Tahiti.

Then back to the ship to change for the flight and have dinner before being herded (and I mean that word literally) to the airport at about 7:30 to check in for our flight. We did run into one little problem onboard the ship when trying to get ready for our flight home. We had been told the Spa would be open for any that needed to shower and change after a long day of sitting outside or swimming. But the Spa seemed to be giving everyone a very hard time about it and only those that actually threatened to take their soap and shampoo to the shower by the pool were allowed the use of the Spa. Kind of silly to have to throw a fit for a shower so we just did our best to clean up and change and skipped the shower before we left.

I did find out why they leave for the airport so early, as after 5 separate lines we waited in for over 3 hours, we made it to the gate shortly before our plane was to board for our 11:15 flight home. What a mess and totally disorganized that was. A very long line half way around the building to claim your luggage, then a line to screen your luggage that took forever. Then you had to check in your luggage and get your seat assignments in another line, then it was another line to check your passports and remove the visitor pass that they had placed inside it when we arrived. THEN ANOTHER line to be screened again (my shoes were off so much I decided to just go barefoot instead of taking them off around every corner) and then they checked some of our carry on baggage in yet another line. One customs agent was going to go through all of ours until he opened the first one and saw several bags of mini fudge stripe cookies. I placed one in his pocket and he waved us through and didn’t check the rest, he said he needed something for his break and giggled. Great security hey?

One way to avoid this problem is to skip the Princess Transfers which are $25 per person and take a Taxi to the airport BEFORE Princess begins the bus transfers. The Taxi will run between $20-$25 dollars U.S. and get you there before the crowds which in turn will give you better seating on the plane. Air Tahiti Nui does not assign many seats for the return until you arrive at the airport so the sooner you get there, the better chance you will have. The transfer process is definitely unorganized through Princess and although you will arrive early by Taxi it is better than standing in lines for three hours. There are a lot of shops to browse through before you go through the last security check and comfortable waiting areas to relax in before your flights.

Finally we arrived at the gate where we were to board. They announced that they would be pre-boarding any passengers that needed assistance or passengers with small children (which I might add there were many more on this cruise than I thought there would be), all of the others on our flight literally rushed to the gate and were 100 deep in line. Even though they were calling rows to board none paid any attention and it was impossible to get on when you were supposed to. What a disaster it was. Then to top it off as you walked down the covered walkway to head outside to your plane and the long climb up the stairs to the aircraft, they were spot checking carry-ons AGAIN Thankfully they didn’t choose us for this one and we were finally able to get onboard for the flight home.

Dinner and an Ambien for each of us and before we knew it we were being told it was time to wake up for breakfast before we landed. Great short flight, or at least the parts we can remember. GRIN

There would be two more flights, both delayed because of storms before we arrived back in Kansas City and our 2 ½ hour drive home. But we managed it without a hitch and arrived home about 2:00 AM. Keep in mind we left Tahiti on Sunday night and arrived home on Tuesday Morning at 2:00 AM. Even with the 5 hour time change, that is a long time.

Now, one word of caution before I end this; if you are looking for a smooth cruise, this is not the ship for those that become sea sick easily. There have been some sailings where it has been as smooth as glass (well almost) but that is never guaranteed on any ship. If that still doesn’t discourage those with a seasickness problem, then take precautions and begin taking those sea sickness meds BEFORE you need them. I witnessed far too many passengers that didn’t do that and some spent days in their cabins very ill. Some missed numerous days of their cruise after flying so far and spending so much for what they thought would be the time of their lives.

Also, remember that the best weather is found in the spring and not the fall, so plan accordingly. Tahiti is just not Tahiti without sunshine as that is the best part.

Spend the extra if you plan to do a pre or post cruise stay and do not choose the Sheraton if you like to do anything but sit on the lanai, The Beachcomber or other hotels in the area have a lot more to offer.

Thankfully we met dozens of great people onboard this ship, without them, the cruise would have been almost a waste of time and money. They made it special for us both and we cherish their friendships and all of the lively conversations we had during this sailing.

The greatest part was that I was able to purchase my black pearls at a great price and that was my main reason for returning to Tahiti. 

Now on to the long countdown for the next Panama Canal Cruise with Australian friends in March and the British Isles in August.

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