Stern's Guide to the Greatest Resorts of the World, Stern's Guide to the Cruise Vacation, Stern's Guide to European Riverboats and Hotel Barges, and The Indispensable Guide to Foreign Words and Phrases--by Steven B. Stern (Sponsored by Stern's Travel Guides, Ltd.)
French Polynesia is an overseas territory of France consisting of 118 islands divided into five scattered archipelagos, the most well known being the Society Islands which include the islands of Tahiti, Huahine, Bora Bora and Moorea. Located in the Pacific, these archipelagos are approximately 4,200 miles southwest of San Francisco, 2,600 miles South of Hawaii, and about midway between South America and Australia.
Whether you are traveling from North America, Europe, Australia or the Far East, you are faced with long and expensive air flights. Therefore, if you choose to explore this idyllic paradise, why not pull out all the stops and explore it in style? For me, “exploring French Polynesia in style” involved a 11 night cruise on Paul Gauguin, the only cruise ship dedicated to travel in this area, plus sojourns to several of the unbelievable island resorts located in Moorea and in the lagoon of Bora Bora.
Our trip which commenced from Florida, involved a flight to Los Angeles followed by a flight on Air Tahiti Nui from Los Angeles to Papeete, Tahiti. Having left home the same day our ship, Paul Gauguin, was departing, we had no time to explore the island of Tahiti, but headed out directly to the ship so as not to be left behind. Frankly, I have visited Tahiti several times in the past and found little of interest in its capital city, Papeete...
The 330-passenger, 19,200-ton, Paul Gauguin, small and yacht-like by today’s standards, is a ship that was designed and decorated especially for cruising in this area of the world. Its Polynesian theme and emphasis on water sports and excursions, taking advantage of the natural beauty and attributes of the various islands, was what attracted us to the cruise. Part of the social staff is composed of a troupe of talented Polynesian girls known as “Les Gauguines”. During each cruise, among their other duties, they entertain, give talks and demonstrations on local lore, crafts, Pareo tying and assist on shore excursions, all of which embellishes the feeling that we are traveling in French Polynesia rather than just on another cruise ship that stops at Polynesian ports.
Paul Gauguin debuted in 1998 as part of the Regent Seven Seas fleet (at that time the company was known as Radisson Seven Seas). In 2010, she was purchased by the Pacific Beachcomber Company after having recently undergone a six million dollar renovation. A more extensive renovation has been scheduled for January 2012. Pacific Beachcomber also owns a number of upscale resorts in the Society Islands including the three Intercontinental resorts we planned to visit on this trip. I had traveled previously on the ship when it was owned by Regent Seven Seas and was anxious to update my coverage and ratings for the 2012 edition of my cruise guide.
Upon boarding ship, we went directly to our 250-square-foot category-B veranda stateroom to unpack and watch the ship sail away from our generous 56-square-foot balcony. When we booked the cruise, there were 8 categories of accommodations to choose from, varying in size from 200 square feet for the lower categories up to 531 square feet for the most expensive suite. 70% of the accommodations have balconies and all the suites and the staterooms on deck eight come with butler service. Of course as one goes up in category, so does the price.
Our stateroom was attractively decorated with dark woods chrome cabinetry and floor-to-ceiling mirrored walls. We had a comfortable king-size bed, a sitting area overlooking our balcony, a desk/entertainment center with a TV, DVD player and cabinetry, a private safe, direct-dial telephone, ample closet and drawer space, a bathroom with a full-size bathtub/shower combination, two cotton robes and slippers, a hairdryer, as well as, a refrigerator replenished daily with beer, soft drinks and bottled water. Since the dress code throughout the ship was country-club casual, it was not necessary for us to bring along formal ware, jackets, or dressy outfits.
Having missed dinner due to our late arrival, we ordered from the 24-hour room service menu. Being jet-lagged to the max, we called it an early night and let the gentle motion of the ship lull us to slumber-land.
The next morning, our ship was not scheduled to arrive at its first port, Huahine, until noon. This gave us the entire morning to enjoy a leisurely breakfast and explore the ship. We chose La Veranda, for our first breakfast. This charming restaurant with windows overlooking the sea is located on Deck 6 at the stern of the ship and features buffet-style breakfasts and lunches with both indoor and al fresco seating. Several additional made-to-order items could be ordered from the menu. Unlike buffet-style restaurants on many other ships, on Paul Gauguin, there were waiters easily accessible to bring specialty coffees, water, items ordered from the menu, as well as, items from the buffet. In the evening the venue converts to a reservation-only specialty restaurant with French provincial cuisine and menus designed by Chef Jean-Pierre Vigato (who’s restaurant Apicus in Paris boasts two Michelin stars).
After breakfast we perused the public areas of the ship from top to bottom. Deck 9, the top-most deck was open to the sun with numerous lounges for the sun-worshipers. Deck 8 was the location of the swimming pool, Le Grill Restaurant, lounge chairs and La Palette, an observation lounge where during the day continental breakfasts and high tea are served. In the evening, the room converts to a disco. Heading down to Deck 6 we found the the Deep Nature Spa and fitness center which we intended to frequent as soon as our excursion around the ship was over. Also on this deck were La Veranda, and the boutique. The main dining room L’Etoile, the Grand Salon and a piano bar were located on Deck 5 and the shore excursion office and reception were on Deck 4.
I had last cruised on the Paul Gauguin in 1998 soon after its inaugural. Now, 13 years later, I noticed that the carpeting and upholstery throughout the staterooms and common areas was reflecting their age, as was the design of some of the public areas. However, I was advised by the helpful and friendly hotel manager, Jacques, that in January of 2012 the ship would be totally renovated during a three-week dry-dock. The renovations would include replacing all carpeting and upholstery, the bedding throughout the ships, enlarging and redesigning some of the public rooms.
We quickly changed to our workout duds and headed for the fitness center which adjoins the spa. Although the equipment was state-of-the-art, at times there were not enough machines to service the health conscious guests, and we often had to wait to get on a treadmill or exercise bike.
At noon, as advertised, we pulled into Huahine where its population of 5,400 is spread along two separate islands connected by a small bridge and surrounded by a deep crystal-clear lagoon. The islands rugged landscape, white sand beaches and blue bays provided a colorful setting for the myriad of archeological and historical sites. As I had done on previous visits, we took a motor launch out to Te TiaraBeach Resort. This lovely, totally secluded property with its small white-sand beach, swimming pool, restaurant and 41 garden, beach and over water bungalows was the perfect place to spend the day. Although our time was limited we were able to sun on the resort’s white sand beach, go for a refreshing swim in the clear, aqua waters and enjoy a pina colada at its rustic Polynesian bar. Unfortunately this left no time to take in some of the other tourist attractions.
Prior to dinner, we treated ourselves to the complimentary cocktails and canapés in the lounge where an excellent piano player provided background music.
That evening, we dined at L’Etoile. The décor was reminiscent of a grand Parisian restaurant. The multi-course menu features four appetizers, two soups, two salads, two pasta dishes, a palate cleanser, six entrees, five vegetarian selections, a salt-free menu, a cheese trolley and nine dessert choices. Wines, beer, soft drinks and specialty coffees were gratis, as they were everywhere on the ship. We had never seen so many choices in a ship dining room during our extensive travels.
After dinner, I tried my luck at the tiny casino where I could choose among one black jack table, one poker table and numerous slot machines. Within ten minutes, I got wiped out at the black jack table (If I lose $30, I get depressed). We then headed for the Grand Salon for the evenings entertainment. Each evening on the ship, there was some form of entertainment which generally featured the cruise director (who was also a professional singer) orchestrating various formats. Other than one virtuoso piano concert, numerous appearances by the Gauguines, and local Polynesian dance groups, we found the nightly performances somewhat lacking. However, the Filipino band was outstanding and we especially enjoyed their performances in the observations lounge prior to the room turning into a disco. .
The next day was a relaxing day at sea as the Paul Gauguin headed out to the Cook Islands. Various enrichment lectures, cooking demonstrations, craft lessons, and non-organized and non-attended card and board games were offered. This is the type of day where we abused our bodies with too much sun, food and drink.
The first of the Cook Islands we visited was Aitutaki, which island consists of three volcanic and 12 coral motus. (small islets in the lagoon overlooking the mainland) We explored the tiny market in the main village of Aratanza which held little of interest. Next we took a $15 round trip bus ride to two so-so beaches. The ship’s excursion desk offered a $139 per person lagoon cruise to One-FootIsland where there was a picnic area, a bar and a souvenir shop. We felt that the price was outrageous, and after a bit of investigation on the island learned that local motor boats offered transportation for a lot less.
That evening we had reservations at La Veranda and looked forward to sampling the cuisine of Chef Vigato. This was the best of the dining experiences, although the others were also excellent. The French provincial cuisine included a tasting menu and a diverse a la carte menu. Selections were imaginatively prepared and the wine offerings were a notch above the wine served elsewhere on the ship.
Our next Island in the Cook group was Rarotunga. The center of the island is the eroded remains of a once mighty volcanic pyramid whose crags now form saw-tooth peaks and razorback ridges covered with tropical jungle. These are separated by streams running down steep valleys. The twenty mile circumference of the island is surrounded by a lagoon which extends several hundred miles out to a reef which then slopes steeply to deep water. We hopped aboard the round-the-island bus in order to get a quick orientation of the island. Many of the locals use this service, while we saw many of the others on motor scooters and bikes.
We disembarked the bus at the island’s most beautiful spot, MuriBeach, a long white strand with crystal clear waters. Since the waters do not get very deep, we could walk to several nearby motus. Two small hotel restaurants on the beach, Pacific Resort and MuriBeach Club, provided nice spots to have a drink or snack.
After a rather exhausting day, we returned to our floating hotel for a nap before heading out for the evening. As had become customary, we first frequented the piano bar where we not only could enjoy the free drinks, but had our best chance to mingle and get to know some of the other passengers. We had decided to try The Grill for dinner. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the Asian and South Pacific cuisine was outstanding. The Jumbo Prawns in a delectable curry sauce were to die for.
After another relaxing day at sea, we reached the highlight of our cruise, the small, exotic, dream island of Bora Bora with its haunting mountains and exquisite palm tree-lined snow-white beaches. The waters surrounding the main island (which is only 17 miles in circumference) are protected by a coral reef that creates miles of a beautiful aqua-colored lagoon containing tiny pristine motus (islets) where you can sun on virgin beaches and swim in crystal-clear waters. While anchored in this stunning lagoon, the ship offered a complementary excursion to its private beach on a motu where guests could swim, snorkel and sunbathe.
Our itinerary for our hedonistic adventure in Polynesia included overnight sojourns at five luxury resorts, four of which being located in Bora Bora. Although we had plans to return to Bora Bora following the cruise, we arranged a one-night, two day visit at one of them while our ship remained overnight at this port of call.
We took the ship’s tender into the main town of Vaiatape where we were picked up by the motor launch for the Bora Bora Pearl Beach Resort located on a private islet, Motu Tevairoa. This fairy tale Polynesian community included a main reception area, a large free-form swimming pool, several restaurants, a bar, tennis courts, miniature golf, a bocce court, and a water-sport facility offering a myriad of possibilities including kayaks, canoes, windsurfs, snorkel equipment and a PADI and CMAS diving center, and catamarans for cruises in the lagoon.
Best of all was the Polynesian-designed Manea Spa. Surrounded by the most lovely tropical gardens and lily ponds, the spa offered a plethora of massage, body and beauty treatments in an unimaginably exotic environment. We indulged ourselves with a Tahitian hot rocks massage followed by a facial delivered in a couples’ suite.
The air-conditioned accommodations included fifty 658-square-foot over-water bungalows connected by bridges which criss-crossed and extended out into the lagoon, twenty 872-square-foot garden pool suites and ten beach suites with outdoor gardens, heated Jacuzzis and indoor/outdoor bathrooms.
We opted for one of the unique over-water bungalows. Although very native in style and décor, we had a king-size bed, a convertible couch(which could accommodate a third person), an overhead fan, a private safe, a glass coffee table that slid open to permit us to feed bread crumbs to the fish that would swim up for their dinner (a virtual stationery glass-bottom boat), a spacious bathroom with a soaking tub, separate shower and toilet compartments, glass vanities permitting a view down to the lagoon, a hair dryer, robes, coffee/tea maker and best of all, an outdoor two-tier lanai (patio), with both open and sheltered areas with an outdoor shower and a ladder leading down to the lagoon. Thus, we could step out of our room and jump in for a dip at leisure. Some digs for a pristine, Polynesian Island!
For dinner that evening the only choice was a seafood buffet followed by a Polynesian dance performance. The food was very mediocre and the price beyond outrageous. Our breakfast the next morning was equally disappointing.
After breakfast, we took a stroll along the wide white-sand beach (stopping for a dip or two). We then meandered through a tropical forest and visited a coral nursery which created a unique environment for coral and 90 species of fish.
The luxurious bungalows, incredibly beautiful setting and lovely beach and grounds made up for the disappointing dining experience. The highlight of our evenings at this, and at the other resorts we visited, was watching the sun set slowly over the mountains and lagoons followed by the illumination of the sky and sea to a bright orange and purple.
Late that afternoon, we returned to the main island in order to catch the tender back to the ship.
The ship’s next visit was at Tahaa, the smaller sister island to Raiatea, two mountainous islands that share a common coral foundation and a protected lagoon filled with small, white-sand motus. A popular way to explore these islands is by a motorized outrigger canoe along the perimeter and up the jungle FaaroaRiver on Raiatea. The sweet aroma of vanilla pervades throughout the islands. Hidden away under the coconuts and other flower laden trees, a road, 42 miles long, encircles the coastal plain. After dropping anchor, we took advantage of the complimentary excursion to Motu Mahana, a tiny fantasy islet off the mainland that has been made available to Paul Gauguin passengers for a day at the beach. Lounges, an open-air bar, kayaks and snorkel gear were provided and a barbecue lunch was served. One of the bartenders had set up a stand in the lagoon where passengers could wade out for a margarita or other tropical cocktail. On this fantasy island, I felt like shouting out: “the plane, the plane”. This gratis outing was certainly one of the best perks and most enjoyable experiences offered by the cruise line. The forested hills which we passed while sailing were the most picturesque we had yet seen.
The following morning we arrived at Moorea. Here, a wide, shallow lagoon surrounds the island, flanked by peaceful meadows and vertical mountains where threads of waterfalls tumble down fern covered cliffs. Numerous needle mountain spires (including the fabled Bali Hai), small villages and white sand beaches border a protected lagoon. It is possible to take the 37-mile drive around the island by car or motor scooter. As in Bora Bora, the ship was scheduled to stay overnight and not depart until late the following afternoon. Again, we took the opportunity to spend these two days at a luxury resort, Intercontinental and Spa Moorea. The ship tendered us to a dock on PapetoaiBay. From here, we took a ten-minute taxi ride past tiny villages and colorful plantations to the resort which is located on a 27-acre mini-peninsula on the northwest tip of the island. The property boasts the most expansive gardens, lagoons and tropical vegetation of any resort in all of Polynesia.
Again we opted for one of the fifty 452-square-foot, over water bungalows which are connected by bridges that meander over the lagoon. Alternate choices would have been one of the forty-five 409-square-foot beach and garden bungalows with private plunge pools, or one of the 323-square-foot, lanai suites located in a two-story building. All of the accommodations were air conditioned.
Our bungalow pretty much contained the same lavish facilities and amenities as the one we enjoyed at Bora BoraPearlBeach Resort. However, the outside decks were larger and partially covered; and there were no coffee tables that opened to the lagoon.
We spent most of the day alternating between the beach, the two heated infinity swimming pools and the lagoon below our bungalow. We took out one of the kayaks and I got my racing fix skimming the waters on one of the wave runners. Other options would have included outrigger canoes, catamarans, jet skis, or water-skiing. We had our own snorkeling equipment, and found the best snorkeling to be around the lagoon or off of our terrace where the tropical fish were most plentiful.
At lunch time, we joined Hadley Schroll and her fam-trip guests for a special menu arranged by the resort. Hadley is a beautiful and gracious public relations representative for the cruise line and the Intercontinental resorts in French Polynesia.
Later in the afternoon, we availed ourselves of the two tennis courts in order to get in some serious exercise. Although the Helene Spa was uniquely Polynesian, it was not nearly as appealing as those we found at the other resorts we visited.
The a la carte dinner selections at the Fare Nui Restaurant were quite tantalizing, and we found our dinner far more enjoyable then the one we had experienced at the Bora BoraPearlBeach Resort.
The next morning, we enjoyed an outstanding breakfast buffet at the semi-open-air Fare Hana Restaurant overlooking the pool. The French crepes that were served were habit forming.
After breakfast we ventured out to the resort’s main aquatic attraction, the Dolphin operation where we could join a group and pet, feed and play with trained dolphins in the lagoon.
Afterwords, we felt that we had not seen enough of the island and so the resort assisted in making arrangements for us to rent a 4 x 4 jeep so we could drive around the island. The most fascinating segment of our drive was our visit to Belvedere, the most picturesque spot on Moorea. Here we proceeded up a road through pineapple fields, coconut palms and numerous varieties of tropical vegetation to a lookout point where we were treated to a magnificent view of CooksBay, PapetoaiBay and jagged mountain peaks.
It was getting late, so we took a taxi back to the tender dock and returned to the ship in time for another lovely dinner. This being the last night of the cruise, it was the Captain’s farewell dinner.
Overall we loved our 11 nights aboard the Paul Gauguin. Our accommodations were most comfortable, the dining experiences were most satisfying, service was most attentive, and the predominant Polynesian flavor made the cruise stand out from others we have taken. Certainly, the itinerary was exotic and far different from cruising in other areas of the world. Our only complaints were the lack of information available for independent travelers while the shore excursion desk touted the overpriced tours, and the dearth and quality of evening entertainment.
After disembarking, we took a taxi back to the Papeete airport in order to catch our 10:05 a.m., 50-minute flight back to Bora Bora to experience three additional properties. I should mention that all of the resorts we visited on this trip are included in my coffee-table book, “Stern’s Guide to the Greatest Resorts of the World” and one of our purposes in these visits was to update our coverage and reevaluate our ratings.
Since the local Air Tahiti had strict limitations for luggage, and since we would not need much in the way of frocks for these casual island resorts, we stored our two larger suitcases at the airport. The flight landed on a small islet in the Bora Bora Lagoon. Motor launches from the major Bora Bora resorts (many located on their own private motus) were lined up waiting to transport their arriving guests. We immediately sited the boat from Intercontinental Le Moana Resort Bora Bora. Attendants assisted us with our luggage, offered us bottles of water and cool cloths. The ride enabled us to get an excellent view of this awesome island from the sea before it docked at the resort which is set between two beautiful white-sand beaches at Point Maitira on the main island, a ten-minute drive from the small capital town of Vaiatape.
The resort dates back to 1987 and was renovated between 2000 and 2002; however it still does not offer as many facilities as some of the newer kids on the block.
Upon arrival, our bungalow wasn’t quite ready so we surveyed the property. Fifty spacious, junior-suite, over-water bungalows stretch out on bridges over the clear, aqua waters of the lagoon and 14 beach bungalows abut the white-sand beach. Two of the beach bungalows and two of the over-water bungalows linked by lounges are available as ïÂ¬ĀÂ¬Āfull suites.ïÂ¬Ā€ All of the accommodations are air-conditioned and measure 581-square feet.
The central hotel complex is composed of a reception lobby, a rambling open air protected restaurant with an adjoining outside terrace, a bar and cocktail lounge, an activity/game room, a picturesque, two-tier swimming pool, a black pearl store and an all-purpose sundry shop and boutique, all of which are surrounded by tropical plants and floral gardens.
Within an hour we were escorted to our over-water bungalow, our luggage having already arrived. Not knowing exactly what to expect, we were delighted to find that our bungalow had a large, partially protected, bi-level terrace with a shower and ladder leading down into the clear turquoise waters of the lagoon, ideal for swimming and snorkeling. Our air-conditioned bungalow had a separate sitting room, a bedroom with a king-size bed, a bathroom/dressing room area with double vanities, a bath tub an open shower, a toilet compartments, generous closet/storage space, a private safe, a refrigerated, stocked mini-bar, a hair dryer, a ceiling fan , a coffee-tea maker, bathrobes, a DVD player, a CD player, a direct dial phone with voice mail, an iron and ironing board and two televisions with CNN and movies in French and English. The glass coffee table in the sitting area of our over-water bungalow had a non-removable glass top with views down to the sea.
Dinner, as well as all meals is served in the semi-open air Noa Noa Restaurant, or on the adjoining terrace. We found the dining experience in the evening quite excellent for Polynesia and this is certainly one of the better hotel restaurants in these islands. The gourmet cuisine included French and Continental fare with Polynesian accents. Several evenings each week the resort features either a barbecue or seafood buffet with Tahitian entertainment. We were just as pleased that this was not one of those evenings, having had our fill of buffets and native dance performances over the prior weeks. After dinner we went to the Vini Vini Terrace and Bar which serves cocktails, refreshments and snacks from 11 a.m. until 11 p.m. with music in the evenings. Here guests could relax and socialize, if they wished to take a respite from their romantic private hideaways.
Since this was the only one of the four resorts we would visit that was located on the mainland, we took the opportunity to rent bicycles for a scenic ride around the island’s perimeter. Prior to this excursion, we doused ourselves with deet spray (to keep away the mosquitoes). On one side of the road were multi-hued lagoons, while on the other, colorful tropical plants. Flowers and soaring verdant, green mountain peaks.
Not being up to traversing the entire 17 miles around the island, we settled for a ride to a small native shopping area, and then changed directions to visit the famous Bloody Mary’s, restaurant and bar. Although considered one of the islands best restaurants for sea-food, snacks and T-shirts, we did not lunch there, nor did we buy signature items, but merely had two of the signature beverages.
The resort has no spa or fitness center; however it does offer complementary boat transfers to its sister resort, the Intercontinental Bora Bora Resort and Thalasso, where these facilities are available. Since we planned to visit this resort in two days, we did not opt to visit it at this time.
In the early afternoon, we took the motor launch directly to the Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora. I have to say from the first moment we landed on Four Season’s private island, the property knocked my socks off.
Set on a motu (a small island) in Bora Bora’s surrounding coral atoll, this 54 acre resort is a vast tropical grove replete with coconut palms, pandanus trees and meandering channels of pure turquoise streams. 100 over-water bungalows, seven beachfront villas, the numerous restaurants, and the full-service spa are all designed with thatched roofs, and decorated with indigenous art work to capture the beauty and culture of the island. Although the structures had Polynesian exteriors, the interiors were up-scale and modern and conformed to Four Seasons’ standards.
Each of the 100 over-water bungalows, which are located on branching piers extending into the lagoon, measures over 1,100 square feet (twice the size of the bungalows in the resorts we visited previously), features unobstructed sunrise views over the Pacific and sunset vistas over the lagoon and the towering, iconic Mount Otenanu. These luxury accommodations included a very large, spacious living room with a flat-screen TV with video on demand, a DVD/CD player, a stocked refrigerator, writing desk, and large sitting area, a bedroom with a king-size bed and flat-screen TV, ceiling fans made of coconut palms, a bathroom with a soaking tub looking out to panoramic views of the lagoon, his and her sink/vanities separate shower and toilet compartments, a hairdryer, a walk-in closet/storage area with an iron and ironing board, a large sundeck with chaise lounges, a covered dining area, and a ladder extending to the water below with a rinsing shower. Pull-out sofas in the living areas can accommodate families.
Although we were more than enamored with our over-water bungalow, we did visit some of the other accommodations. The outmost bungalows at the very end of the resort’s four piers offer 1,576 square feet of living space and feature unobstructed views of Mout Otemanu, an extended deck area, dining space for four people and an outdoor pavilion, highlighted by an infinity edged plunge pool..
The night we were at the resort, only two dining options were available: the open-air Terre Nui Restaurant serving a grilled fish, meat and salad buffet for $90 per person, and the Sunset Restauant and Bar serving cocktails, sushi and Asian dishes a la carte. We opted for the later (which was easier on our budget). A gourmet restaurant serving French and International cuisine and a restaurant featuring theme dinners with Polynesian entertainment was available on other nights. At approximately $750, guests can schedule “The Romantic Beachfront Dinner”. This experience begins with sunset cocktails and canapés in lounge chairs before moving to a specially decorated table on the sand where guests are served a romantic dinner by candlelight with Champaigne and live entertainment. This can also be arranged on guests’ private sun decks.
We decided that the next day would be a spa day. However, we first sought out the fitness center where we were able to use the treadmills, exercycles and ecliptical machines (each equipped with a flat-screen TV positioned so that we could look out to the ocean). After working off a few calories, we were ready for pampering ourselves. Situated on the high summit of the resort’s motu with its soaring 72-foot ceiling, were seven air-conditioned treatment rooms with open-air decks (several for couples). Upon arrival, we were greeted by attendants with herbal infusion and scented cooling towels. We then were led to a relaxing thalassotherapy pool, followed by time in a steam room and a sensory shower. The menu of therapy treatments and massages we perused, utilizes native fruits, herbs and other ingredients. We had to choose among Balinese and Thai massage, Shiatsu, Watsu, reflexology, cranial-sacral massages and a few others we had never previously heard of. We opted for the Thai massage in a couples’ room. We were not disappointed (and I am not referring to a happy ending). .
During the early afternoon we sunned ourselves at the resort’s 131-square-foot infinity swimming pool. The warm water pool and the embedded, large, heated whirlpool were surrounded by teak chaises lounges with broad umbrellas. Attendants provide ice water, chilled towels and Evian spritz. Attractive thatch-roofed cabanas lined the area; however, we were more interested in maintaining our sun tans.
Next to the pool was a sprawling private beach on Bora Bora’s inner lagoon where we swam in warm, protected, sandy bottom shallows.
Similar to the other resorts we had visited, from the resort’s water-sport pontoon, guests could access a wide range of half-day and full-day water-sport excursions such as snorkeling, parasailing, kite-surfing and scuba diving. Snorkel masks and fins were provided free of charge. In addition, sport fishing charters could be arranged, as well as guided tours in a motorized canoe for diving, ray and shark feeding.
Tennis and volleyball courts were located on the premises; and complementary bicycles were available at the Four Season’s harbor on the mainland. However, we had no time to take part in these activities.
We were impressed with the resort’s “Kids for all Seasons” supervised program designed for children ages 5-12 and includes a facility with a splash pool, a clubhouse for games, movies and other activities, canoe rides, hermit crab hunts, scuba lessons, fishing, team sports and limbo contests. For teenagers there is a clubhouse and private beach at ChillIsland. Several on-site activities are also fashioned exclusively for teens. This makes the resort one of the best choices for families.
A golf course is planned for the future.
Alas, we had to leave this paradise to explore our last Bora Bora Resort before returning home.
We thoroughly enjoyed this idyllic paradise and especially were enamored by the pampering by Four Seasons Resort’s world-renowned comfort, style and service. This is truly a full-facility resort with the dining options, activities, accommodations and amenities one would expect at any Four Seasons property.
We took the Four Seasons motor launch directly to the nearby Intercontinental Bora Bora Resort and Thalasso. We were again whisked away to the resort while admiring the incredible panorama of the island.
Intercontinental Bora Bora Resort and Thalasso, the second Intercontinental property in Bora Bora, is set on a virgin beach on the Motu Piti Aau. 80 air-conditioned over-water bungalows afford panoramic views: some out to the beach and island, some to the lagoon, and others to MountOtemanu. Each spruce wood villa measures over 1,022 square feet including the terrace (similar in size to those at the Four Seasons). Ebony columns, plaited pandanus roofing, local woods in shades of brown and red, plus driftwood, all accentuate the raw, primitive look. In addition there are three family beachside suites.
Far more luxurious than the accommodations we had at the other Intercontinental Resorts, each villa features a large, separate living room with a glass table providing a window onto a tropical aquarium which is illuminated at night, a separate bedroom with a giant window allowing occupants to look out to the lagoon from their beds, a walk-in dressing room, a large bathroom with two sink/vanities, hairdryers, robes, slippers, a separate shower and toilet compartment, a terrace and private solarium with direct access to the lagoon, an outdoor shower, two flat-screen televisions with local and international channels, broadband internet access and room service.
We had dinner a buffet dinner that evening at Le Reef, the main restaurant, which is open for breakfast and dinner from 7 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., and affords a panoramic view over the lagoon and MountOtemanu in a relaxing local décor. We found the food quite good, but incredibly expensive, as were the beverages. A native dance performance accompanied dinner.
Since one of the main features that set this resort apart from the others was its renowned” Deep Water Spa” facilities, we decided to spend our morning again indulging ourselves. The resort claims that this is the very first Thalasso spa in the world to utilize the benefits of deep sea water and minerals extracted from the Pacific Ocean in all of its signature treatments. Instead of staring at a floor during the massage, the glass floor, over-water spa suites allowed us to admire maritime flora and sea life while receiving our treatment. After the massage we received access to six multi-sensory venues: a sun spa, a cold bath, a mixed aroma steam, a meditation garden a relaxation bungalow over the ocean and a herbal tea room. In spite of all the publicity, we thought the spas and settings at Four Seasons and Bora BoraPearl Resorts were more extraordinary and panoramic.
Wishing to get as much in as possible on our last day in Bora Bora and needing a bit more activity, we utilized the fitness room(which was not state-of-the-art)and took a dugout canoe ride. Kayaks, tennis, volley ball, and snorkeling were also available. The resort said that it plans to replace the equipment in the fitness room in the near future.
Getting prepared for our grueling two day, two night flight home, we had a late lunch the following day at Sands Restaurant and Bar which was ideally positioned on the resort’s private sandy beach... After lunch, we had to face up to the unpleasant task of packing up and preparing for our trip home. At 6:00 we motored back to the airport passing the verdant hills, scenic beaches and aqua lagoon as they were illuminated by the sunset, and with a bit of nostalgia, waived goodbye to this Island Paradise that had welcomed and spoiled us for the last few days.
In retrospect, as much as we were thoroughly enamored with the five resorts we visited, the prices for accommodations and dining were extremely high by U.S. standards. Certainly the most reasonable way to visit French Polynesia was on the Paul Gauguin.
I have visited many lovely places on this earth that I hope to return to; however, I must say that French Polynesia is one of the most exotic, peaceful and hedonistic locals I have experienced; and I hope those that read this rambling diary of our Polynesian adventure have the opportunity to explore this unbelievably beautiful part of the world....
*Steven B. Stern is the author of “Stern’s Guide to the Cruise Vacation”, “Stern’s Guide to the Greatest Resorts of the World”, and “The Indispensable Guide to Foreign Words and Phrases. All can be seen on his web site at www.stevensterntravel.com