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Exploring French Polynesia for the price (in)sensitive!


French Polynesia trip report

Nothing says romance better than warm sun on your face, crystal clear blue waters, and the

lush mountain sides of French Polynesia. For our “anniversary/birthday/pick me up” getaway

we planned a last minute 8-day trip to the islands. Unlike many posts on the web this is not a

“how to travel on the cheap” or “travel like the rich for less” type post. This is a post outlining

our trip and recommendations of what worked for a luxury travel experience. We are firm

believers that life is meant to be” experienced not survived”. What made this entire trip even

more amazing was that my wife planned it entirely on her own and the itinerary was a surprise

to me up to the hour we were boarding the second leg to our destination!


Day 1:

It began with an early morning Uber ride to the airport. The key here is to travel light but still

have all you need for 8 days along with long airplane rides and airport layovers. We both were

allotted a Tumi Short Trip Packing Case, a roller bag (Horizon Soft Duffle) for carry on, and a

catch-all bag. My catch all was a newly purchased belt bag while my wife had a larger Chanel

tote. For far too long I’ve been jamming my pockets with a wallet, cash, sunglasses, phone, air

pods, and every other thing my kids hand me while in the airport. Which to my dismay has

resulted in numerous lost items. I decided to give a belt bag a try on this trip (since I wasn’t

traveling with a normal business backpack) and it did not disappoint. I was able to house all my

stuff along with passports, gum and charging cables without any issues. The ability to quickly

unbuckle and buckle it made going through TSA screening a breeze.


Once at the airport, we checked into our flight and checked our bags. Considering this was a

surprise trip for me I had to make a concerted effort to avoid the United App as well as the

numerous text messages leading up to travel day. Our first flight was to SFO in United Polaris.

We are both TSA Pre and Clear, so the airport experience was flawless. We arrived about 1

hour and 45 minutes before our scheduled departure, so we had ample time. Quick coffee and

chill in the Polaris lounge and we were boarding our flight.


The type of aircraft you select is almost as important as the class of the ticket. I know, I know, times often dictate the ticket you buy and thus the aircraft you select based on convenience but for luxury travel it can make a WORLD of difference if you have the flexibility to explore aircrafts and their features. Our flight to SFO was on a Boeing 787-8 which for Polaris has lie flat seats and individual pods in a 1-2-1 configuration. This is as good as it gets for domestic and makes for a great overall experience.




United Polaris Business Class



The flight was an uneventful 4 hours in which the pilot must have found clean air as we arrived

almost a full hour ahead of schedule. I chose to watch a few movies and the time flew

(Oppenheimer and a Harry Potter). Meals on the flight were ok (nothing quite beats Emirates

Business or First Class, so I always compared to them when rating inflight service. I’m sure

there are probably better than Emirates as well, but I haven’t personally experienced it ….


Once we arrived in SFO we jetted (see what I did there) to the Polaris lounge which is

AWESOME! They have a sit-down restaurant inside with limited food choices, but all included.

They have ample seating, clean restrooms, and a full-service bar. Well done United and SFO!

Having gone to San Francisco for years this might be my best SF experience (I’m not a fan).


The moment had finally arrived… we were 1 hour from our next departure, and it was time for the

big reveal! She told me the departure time and I looked at the board. My words were to quote “Where the FUCK is Papeete?”. Some laughter ensued and my excitement grew as we were headed to Tahiti and the French Polynesia. This was our first time, and I literally could not wait. We boarded the plane which was another Boeing 787-8 with the same Polaris configuration.


This time we were in the “2” of the 1-2-1 so we got to lower the partition, talk, and hold hands (aww). Quick bite to eat along with a movie then time to don the eye masks, recline, and take a siesta. Got a full 4.5 hours of sleep on the 8-hour flight which was quite refreshing. Awoke to meal service which was a little weird as they were serving another heavy dinner, so I nibbled as my body wanted breakfast.


We landed, cleared customs (which was quick) and grabbed our bags. The whole process was probably less than an hour from wheels down to meeting our driver. The airport is small(ish) and you board and deboard the plane from the tarmac rather than a jetway. Warm air hits my face and you couldn’t wipe the smile from it. We met our driver and off to the Intercontinental Tahiti!


The check-in process was again smooth and the only memorable moment was stepping out of our car at 9:30PM to a couple of shirtless, oiled up men in sarongs on grabbing our luggage (Not that it matters just caught me a bit off guard). We checked into our room which was just a regular king bedroom with an ocean view. As I was told by my loving wife “this is just a travel day. The vacation starts tomorrow when we are off to Moorea!”. Shower then bed. The time difference is 5 hours behind eastern standard time so we made a pact to try and stay in between so our thought

process was early to bed early to rise each day. In bed by 10:30PM and up at 5:30AM. Day 1 done and dusted.


Day 2:

Hello jet lag. 3:30am, wide awake but forced myself back to sleep. We finally awoke with the curtains open sun glistening off crystal blue waters of the lagoon. What a way to start the day! Quick basking in the sun and fresh air off our balcony then to the ground floor restaurant Te Tiare Restaurant for breakfast. Amazing views of the ocean with a breakfast buffet. We were pretty much the first ones in the restaurant, so we got great seats and hung out for an hour or so. Afterwards we strolled the grounds of the resort and climbed up a staircase which led to a covered thatched roof open air pergola with breathtaking views of the island.


Enjoying the views of Moorea from Tahiti we were ready to begin the second leg of our adventure and headed back to the room to pack up the little we’d taken out of our luggage and hailed a cab to the water taxi terminal. The staff at the Intercontinental Tahiti were amazing and they made our somewhat limited experience memorable. The ferry from Tahiti to Moorea is simple. Check the schedule online and arrive probably 20-30 minutes before departure. Ours wasn’t crowded so

we got a seat upfront and watch Moorea come into view and arrived at the dock in about 30

minutes.


Here is where we decided to wing it! We didn’t have a reservation but decided to

grab a rental car from Avis and drive the island. Getting a car was simple (although we paid

extra for the automatic as Alicia wasn’t confident in my manual skills) and off we went. They

give you a map of all the instagram’able places around the island. We ended up hitting 2 of

them but just out of happenstance Toatea Lookout and Belvedere point.


Toatea Lookout Moorea

The view was stunning and being able to look out at beautiful green mountainsides and see the

pineapple plantations perfectly blending in with the natural surroundings is breathtaking. The

road is windy and since we didn’t feel like hiking (didn’t travel in hiking gear nor did we want to

quick change in the car since we weren’t checking into the hotel until 2PM) we went for lunch.

The lunch spot was amazing! We ate at Snack Mahana. Fantastic fresh food and overlooking the

water. You feel emersed in the island life as you sit outside overlooking the crystal blue waters.

Plenty of sea life to gaze upon as we ate a delicious meal.


After we soaked up the sun and food/beverages we went for a drive. On our way back to the

hotel we spotted the Rotui Juice Factory & Distillery, so we decided to check it out. Super low-

key with free tours of the factory. Bit warm but was cool to see it and learn how all the fruit

harvested to produce the juice and spirit is local as is the product. They don’t export.



Rotui Juice Factory

They offered a spirit tasting so, YES PLEASE! After a few shots we decided to check into the hotel. We stayed at the Hilton Moorea in a bungalow overlooking the bay and mountains. On the golf cart ride to our bungalow for the next two nights I was in heaven. What a view! We immediately took off our cloths, put on our bathing suits, and tried out our new snorkel gear.


The GoPro was a must as we encounter tons of sea life right off our dock. A complimentary

bottle of champagne later and we were ready to shower for dinner. We kept it low key and had dinner at the hotel restaurant Arii Vahine which was serving a buffet and a show. The buffet was ‘OK’ but the cocktails (Mai Tai’s for me) and the show were great. Another perfect day in paradise. How could it get any better? Well Day 3 didn’t disappoint.


Day 3:

For those who don’t know me, I am a very regimented guy. I have eaten basically the same

exact breakfast every day for years and when I’m on vacation I tend not to vary too much but

I’m a sucker for a breakfast buffet. All I need is sun on my face a fully belly and 4-5 shots of

espresso and I’m ready to take on the world!


The breakfast buffet at the Hilton was good and the omelet station provided what I needed although I must say the coffee was a little lacking on the entire trip to be honest but ever since going to Italy and buying a Jura I’m a bit of a coffee snob. Our ride was waiting for us promptly at 8AM the only hiccup was waiting for the shop to open for me to buy a hat (spoiler alert I should have bought a new rash guard). We got in the taxi and off for a private boat tour/snorkel/lunch/swim with F’ing sharks tour!


I cannot stress this enough when you’re on a once in a lifetime trip DON’T make days like this a “shared experience”. You will want to be on your own island time and not waiting around for people you don’t know and making annoying small talk all day. No one cares that you’re on your

honeymoon and you’re from Pasadena. The highlight here is that our taxi drove us right up to

our boat. And when I say right up to it, I mean it. He drove us to the end of a very small pier. Two

steps and we were in our boat where our guide Wilford took us away. Total time on pier = 1 minute...while the “shared experience” boat was still waiting for the Wilson’s. The look of

disappointment on the faces of the people waiting on the boat when we arrived, only to NOT be

the Wilson’s, was palpable .


And before I go any further Wilford was an awesome guide and if you go to Moorea and do the

boat tour ask for him, it will be worth it. The highlight of the boat outing for me was making lunch Poisson cru (ia ota) a local dish which consisted of coconuts harvested from the ocean, shucked, coconut water consumed, shaved coconut, and milked along with some carrots, onion, cucumber, and tuna.  It was hands down the best meal I had on the whole trip accompanied by ocean salted pineapple.



Moorea Miti Tours!

 

We returned to the bungalow, "rested", showered, and prepared for dinner.  It was then that I realized my failure to apply sunblock to my back and that my swimsuit was NOT SPF protectant!  I was full lobster mode.  Dinner was at Rudy’s and it did not disappoint and was probably the best meal of the trip for Alicia. You don't need a reservation. Just show up and you'll be seated! Can’t recommend it enough.  Day 3 ended with us packing up and getting ready for the flight to Bora Bora which everyone said was paradise.  To this point I didn’t know how it could be that much better than Moorea? 

 

Day 4: 

 

...began with lots of lotion and aloe vera for my back as I am leaving Moorea with incredibly sunburnt.  We got breakfast at the buffet then drove to the car rental and took the shuttle to the airport.  The airport was low security, and we checked our bags and grabbed some espresso while we waited to walk to the tarmac and onto our prop plane.  The highlight of the airport was a local with his plethora of dogs and puppies.  Alicia bonded instantly and we almost had another souvenir from Moorea (besides my sunburn).  Make sure you buy the priority seating so when you board you have pick of the seating (no assigned seats).  You will want to be on the left side of the plane so you get some breath taking views of Bora Bora on the way in. 

 



Air Tahiti Nui to Bora Bora

 

Smooth landing, grabbed bags, then off to our private boat which takes us to the St. Regis Bora Bora.  The people who said Bora Bora was paradise were NOT lying!  From the second we pulled up to the dock and our butler was there waving at us to the moment we left, and our butler was waving us goodbye, were nothing short of luxury.  We spent the morning/afternoon of Day 4 exploring the resort and grabbing lunch at the Aparima Bar.  I’m a sucker for NO PLANNING so the fact that our butler took the initiative to prebook reservations each night for dinner at each of their restaurants was music to my ears.  We checked into our bungalow and were blown away.  It was a step up from our previous rooms.  Once we adapted to the new room, we donned our bathing suits and dove (yes dove) into the clear blue waters off our deck and swam in the warm ocean water. Soaked up some more sun then rode our provided bikes to the lagoonarium for some snorkeling.  This was amazing and not some small floating pond called a lagoon but a full hour+ lagoon for snorkeling end to end.  Our night ended with reservations Bamboo Restaurant with some Asian-inspired cuisine and some cocktails. 

 

Day 5:

 

Day 5 started with the sun and a hand delivered fresh pot of French press coffee to our door.  For coffee lovers this perk is needed but as a coffee snob it left me wanting a bit.  Today had one big plan then free time.  JET SKI!!  We set off on our bikes to the breakfast buffet at Te Pahu Restaurant. You place your order for your eggs (omelet for me and hard boiled for Alicia) along with the fresh juice of the day.  The buffet is great and not overly complicated like an American buffet with tons of sweets, runny eggs, and dry pancakes instead it had tastefully distributed portions for yogurt, dried fruits, etc.  It had all the necessary foods to make you feel satiated along with the hands down undeniably BEST FRENCH TOAST on the planet!!! 


We enjoyed our breakfast as we were one of the first to arrive given our commitment to rise with the sun each day.  We hung around and were greeted by our butler and asked what other plans we might need help with and to check in on our overall stay.  We originally were going to fly back to Tahiti and do a night at the Hilton on Day 7 but we decided Bora Bora was so amazing we wanted to extend a day here instead.  Our butler took care of everything.  Kept us in the same Bungalow for another night and changed our flights for us.  Top notch when it comes to luxury travel there.  Off to the jet ski! 

 

We got a quick tutorial then we fired them up and took off around the island.  We made a few stops the first of which just to swim and look around and to my amazement two sting rays swam by.  We kicked it back in gear and slalomed around to the other side of the island.  This is where it got even better as we happened upon a pod of dolphins.  Unbothered by us they played, jumped, and pushed each other all within like 5-10’ of us.  We floated there for a while then back at it.  As I tried to take in the sights and beauty of the island I kept getting distracted by the water and trying to stay in formation.  The water is so cool as it transitions from shallow and clear to blue then dark blue when we are over the channels.  Our guide took us out “beyond the reef” (must be said in the voice of Moana’s dad) where we turned off our jet skis and he told us of their traditions and surfing where the waves crash.  As we admired them and talked we soon realized we were floating towards the reef and the crashing waves.  These waves were probably 2-4 meters high so as we throttled up it was a bit bumpy.  A few more pitstops then we were back in sight of the St. Regis and the atoll where we were told by the instructor, we had like 10 minutes to just rip it up, and I did!  Alicia just took to sunbathing on the jet ski boo!

 

This is an absolute MUST if you go to Bora Bora! 

 

After the challenging jet ski ride around the island, we needed to relax and lounge by the pool with some cocktails before lunch.  The Mai Tai was on point and the pool was amazing.  No crowds barely any people.  After lunch at the Aparima Bar we biked back the cabana, swam in the ocean, lounged on the deck, and watched Couples Retreat for the 1000000 time (insider tip: the film was shot at the St Regis Bora Bora and runs 24x7 on a channel).  We showered and headed to dinner at Farniente Ristorante.  It was starting to rain so we got a ride from a covered golf cart to and from.  They are amazing!  Food was good minus the annoying family next to us but if that is all we must complain about I’ll shoulder that cross.

 

 

Day 6:

 

Day 6 started with the sun and a hand delivered fresh pot of French press coffee to our door.  Oh, I love routine!  We set off on our bikes to the breakfast buffet at Te Pahu Restaurant.  I if you remember from Day 2 had a carbon copy of Day 5 which is a slight variation on Day 2.  The rain came while we were having breakfast but held off for us to bike back the bungalow and to our amazement, we even got a few hours of sun before our spa appointment which we enjoyed on our deck.  I’m not going into too much detail but they have signs up everywhere that drones are not allowed which we interpreted as clothing optional and lets just say we might have revived that 2020 trend of Perineum sunning LOL!

 

Our golf cart arrived promptly 45 minutes before our treatments, and we were whisked away to the spa.  It is tranquil and perched in the middle of the lagoon.  The mens locker room was ample and had a hot tub, sauna, and steam room.  I enjoyed the sauna and steam while I got ready for my massage.  The spa requires men to wear either their undergarments or a very very very small disposable netting undergarment.  I, having not prepared for this curveball, used the provided “netting” and felt a bit odd but once I got on the table, I was fine (minus the laugh my wife gave me when I disrobed before getting on the table).  Alicia and I were in the same room but had two different treatments.   Her a full body scrub and me a native massage which was a cross between a deep tissue and Swedish.  90 minutes later and we were relaxing with some champagne and chocolates overlooking the lagoon.  I was told I snored, but I don’t believe her.

 

Super relaxing chill day.  It started raining while we were in the spa and rained the rest of our trip but it was light rain and not terrible.  We logged into Netflix on the TV (that isn’t available in Moorea BTW) and watch some shows and lounged in our robes.  We showered and got ready for the fancy dinner night as the Lagoon Restaurant.  This is a French inspired restaurant, and we got the tasting menu and wine paring.  Alicia was in heaven!  Food was fantastic as was the company.  Another great day!

 

 

Day 7:

 

Day 7 started with the sun and a hand delivered fresh pot of French press coffee to our door.  Getting the theme here?  We set off on our bikes to the breakfast buffet at Te Pahu Restaurant then we explored some more and caught a break in the rain long enough to snorkel again.  Our butler caught up with us and made sure our arrangements for our flight had been emailed to us along with asking if we were enjoying our stay along with apologizing for the rain.  She also said that a cyclone was coming towards the island and expected to hit in two days and it would probably be raining for the next 10 days.  Wow we timed this one!!!

 

Not a lot of activity today.  Snorkeling was the highlight along with getting our stuff back into some semblance of being ready to pack up.  Dinner was at the Aparima Bar as they were having burger night!  It was definitely a “take” on an American hamburger but it was good food and cocktails along with a live singer.  Good day!

 

Day 8:

 

Day 8 started with the sun and a hand delivered fresh pot of French press coffee to our door.  For the last time NOOOO!!!  We set off on our bikes to the breakfast buffet at Te Pahu and were greeted by our butler who instructed us of the checkout process.  In French Polynesia you must check out in person at the front desk and sign out.  The process took all of 3 minutes and were again on our private boat back the airport.    The ride back to the airport was uneventful but sad watching that amazing atoll fade into the distance. 

 

Again, the airport was quick no need to long wait times and like before spring for the upgraded tickets and board on the right side of the plane this time. The only excitement on this flight was that we got off at the wrong airport.  I know, I know, WHAT??  Well this was a commuter flight and dropped folks off at another island along the way.  We got off then I immediately realized this wasn’t Tahiti and we then circled back to the boarding line and got back on first.  No harm no foul.  Day 8 was spent in Tahiti exploring the Papeete Market and getting dose of how taxi’s work in Tahiti.  We had over 6 hours to spend so we checked our luggage into a locker at the airport.  Took taxis around to a couple spots then hit the Hilton hotel where we got a room for the 6 hours so we could shower and change into our overnight and back into the cold east coast.  The price for the day room and regular room were close enough we opted to just get a room for the night. 

 

We got the airport about 1.5 hours before our flight and headed to the Polaris Lounge.  The airport is small and mostly outdoors so needless to say we were happy the Polaris Lounge was enclosed and had air conditioning as most of the airport does not and we were in sweats prep’d for east coast weather.   We boarded our flight back to SF in the Boeing 787-8 (remember with the 1-2-2 first class cabin) at around 10:40PM or 3:40AM ET back to SF.  Meals were ok but we chose sleep and were able to get 5+ hours on the flight as tracked by my oura ring

 

Day 9 or 8++:

 

Our flight back to DC was delayed a couple times resulting in about 3 hours longer in the airport than we planned but it wasn’t a big deal hanging in the Polaris Lounge as described in the Day 1 post.  The only complaint I have for the return flight was we were on a Boeing 757 with a 2x2 configuration in the first class cabin and no lie flat.  But other than that it was a great flight back but not near as luxurious or “private” feeling of the Boeing 787-8 or the Boeing 777.  We arrived back in DC and cleared customs quickly since we had Global Entry.


Good Things to Know:

  • The primary languages are French and Polynesian but most people knew English.

  • We went the beginning of February during rainy season and were incredibly lucky. The people coming in after us were not. Your mileage may vary.

  • The currency is CFP and was roughly equivalent to $100CFP per $1USD.

  • The time difference is 5 hours behind EST.

  • This is not a kid-friendly vacation.

  • Get reef-safe sunscreen.

  • Must love dogs because they are everywhere with the exception of Bora Bora.

 

 

 

 

 

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