Our trip to French Polynesia was wonderful and unfortunately ended last week. We traveled to Bora Bora, then Moorea and overnighted in Papeete before catching the early flight back to the USA. So many people here were so helpful, made us well-prepared and made the trip relaxing. Hopefully I can add to the knowledge pool and share a different viewpoint as we traveled with our son who is almost two.
This was a trip I thought we'd be taking in our golden years so it was great to be able to go in our early 30's. People kept asking what we were celebrating but the only thing was Carpe Diem. The kick to book this trip was Hilton devaluing their rewards last year. We booked 11 months in advance. Besides TA, I had just read the Million Mile Secret blog's travel log and that helped with planning. After booking, I negotiated with the staff at both Hiltons to get us into OWBs. I gave them a few in BB and my first choice was assigned to us at check-in. It was easier in Moorea as I asked for their Panoramic OWB and there are only two of those.
We were driven to our room in BB by the front office manager and he mentioned that he is the one who assigns rooms. PM me if you'd like his contact information.
Being a Hilton Gold really helps out as your breakfast and internet are free. The welcome amenity in Bora Bora was a big glass bottle of Evian and a box of macaroons. In Moorea it was just the water but they included a certificate for two free Mai Tais at any restaurant (they will let you have any other rum cocktail).
Airfare was a little more complicated as I wanted to cash out our Delta SkyPesos as their mileage program was going downhill as well. We debated on booking two business class tickets or three economy seats as both would've cost 300,000 miles. In the end we took the economy seats as availability was easier and having a 30 lb. squirming boy on your lap for that long is no fun. He has flown quite a bit and is comfortable in his car seat. It all worked out and we booked SJC to LAX on Alaska and then on to PPT with Air France.
This has always been debated but I think it comes down to knowing your children. Not all have the same disposition and traveling thousands of miles isn't for everyone (adults included). My son loves to travel and everything that goes along with it. The only time he got a little fussy was
when he could only ride the escalator more than once at LAX... the kid loves those things.
There were definitely less children in Bora Bora and the ones we saw were about 8 or older. Moorea was completely different with more families and we even had a playmate who was a little older visiting from New Zealand.
The only planned activity we did with a tour provider was on our first full day in the country. I
arranged a 3-hour private tour with Moana on their 17' Boston Whaler. The premium wasn't really much and it was nice being able to go at our own pace and not worry too much about having a little one with us. The guide picked us up at the Hilton dock and we went about a mile or two away to feed the sting rays. This was an awesome experience and my son loved petting them. I held him as we were in waist-deep water. Some smaller sharks swam nearby but kept their distance. The animals are very used to this routine. We went outside the reef and I snorkeled with the larger sharks. We were next to go see some eels but elected to do a circle around the island as our time was getting short and our stomachs were recovering from the waves outside the reef. We had the guide drop us off in Vaitape which saved us the time and boat fare from the Hilton.
Mostly we enjoyed the resort's amenities and we did make a trip to Bloody Mary's one day for a
late lunch. That is one thing I wish we would've skipped. In Moorea we rented a car from Avis which was great. We had it for 3 of the 5 days and if doing it again I would've kept it for the whole time. More on that later.
They're both nice properties. BB is more sprawling as most of the rooms are villas on the hill or OWBs. We tracked the distance from our room to breakfast with my wife's FitBit and the difference was 10 steps.
Moorea's on-land rooms are much more tightly packed and arranged in a grid. We had a Deluxe OWB in BB (#109) and a Panoramic in Moorea (#75) The water depth in Bora Bora was about 30 feet and it was about 7 feet in Moorea. Both are the most common floor plans but the Bora Bora room was much larger. The Bora Bora decks were also infinately better and looked to have been recently refurbished. The outdoor furniture was in good shape while the Moorea furniture looked to have absorbed the suntan lotion of thousands of backsides. The lower deck in Moorea was also listing at about 5 degrees and was pretty rickety for what was the their highest category room. The BB room has sliding partitions between the rooms and bathrooms that let you close off sections. This was great for traveling with our son. Both Hiltons have the same type of daybed that is perfect for a kid to sleep on.
From TA I knew both had one USA-style plug in the bathroom. What I didn't know was that only Moorea has a 3-prong plug. I have a little power strip with two plugs and two USB ports and it couldn't be used in Bora Bora. Not a big deal since we just used the adapters we brought.
The management in Bora Bora was much more engaging than in Moorea. Most days at breakfast we'd see the property manager, Jean, circulating and interacting with guests. They also host a manager's reception every Wednesday which is nice to mix with other people and have your fill of complimentary wine and cocktails. They'll leave an invitation in your room. It was the other way around in Moorea where the staff was more outgoing and we never saw the management.
It was great having a car on Moorea to try all of the good establishments off-property. Time is money on a trip like this and being able to come and go without waiting for shuttles back and forth really made having a car worthwhile. Here are some impressions regarding our experiences.
Allo Cafe - Went here after our water excursion and it was pretty busy because... the cruise ship was in town. It was about $40 for a burger, club sandwich and a water and didn't really stand out. The free internet is a nice touch.
Bloody Mary's - Maybe this is more of a rollicking, night-time place but it was deserted and sad for lunch.
There is a sandwich place next to Chin Lee's that is a nice option and we had that one day when we couldn't find the hot dog/ice roulette.
Allo Pizza - We went to pick up some dinner here one night and took it back to the hotel. They have a huge menu and the prices are about the same as at the resort but the quality is better.
Carmeline (Maharepa) - I hadn't heard this place being discussed but it had a large menu and was a good value. They also let you use credit cards. Fewer restaurants accepted credit cards than I expected.
Snack Mahana - We had our seafood lunch here and it was pretty good. The weather was rainy so we sat inside. Not only did we miss out on the nice setting out back but we all smelled like fish as the kitchen is just over a divider. It was more of a sit-down place than I thought it would be.
Chez Luciano's - This was our best meal on the island. We went here in a torrential rainstorm and the entire police force was there as well. Police can usually find the best places to eat so I took this as a good sign. We knew about the meowing and were pretty indifferent to it. From what people have said I expected a whole lot more but there was only about 5 meows in the hour we were there. Maybe he restrained himself for the police.
We also went to the roulettes on our last night and had a great meal. There is tight competition so only the strong survive. It is more than a food truck gathering and the city has really done well to make it a nice experience.
This is the $20,000 question. The good side of things was that there seemed to be a very small number of people at the resorts and restaurants. Prices were lower and we had excellent service. The downside was that we had two wash-out days and one with showers as well after we arrived in Moorea. We made the best of things by doing our pearl, grocery and souvenir shopping on those days.
One day was so bad that they suspended ferry service. That was one eventuality I didn't plan for and wondered what we would've done if that was the day we were supposed to leave to catch our flight home.
We took the Terevau ferry a few days later and it was still pretty rough. The saving grace is that you are going between two big islands and can fix your eyes on solid ground. The other is that the ride is pretty quick. Someone could make a tidy profit selling Dramamine to tourists at the terminals.
I've gone on long enough so if you have any questions I'll do my best to answer them. I'll also put together a separate post on things I wish I had known or done differently as I found those very helpful.I also did a separate review on the Tiare Tahiti hotel that should pop up soon.