Monday, September 30, 2002

Ia Orana from Paradise....
Sadly, our Paul Gauguin Cruise has ended and we disembarked at 8am on 28Sept. We met some really nice people and I even learned how to say thank you very much in Ilicano (a Filipino dialect)... Malaming Salamat. The Filipino staff were awesome on the ship. Friendly, attentive and really sweet. As Susan and I embark on the land portion of our "program"... we cannot help but compare food, service and a variety of other details with the resorts we are staying at.
We were driven to the Papeete airport where we struggled with the ATM machine. Susan's debit card did not work and I had forgotten my PIN. Ah.... do not forget your PIN. You can tell that I do not use my ATM card too much. I usually save it for international vacations so I can get the local currency, instead of standing in line at the bank. I'm really not sure at this moment if the rate of exchange is better or worse if you use your ATM (mine is attached to my credit card) or exchange US $$. What I have found in the past is that US currency is better than travelers checks (for exchange purposes). We all know the benefits of travelers checks in case of $ being lost or stolen. Always make sure that you keep your travelers checks # list separate from your travelers checks. While I am at it (here is the travel agent in me) ... make sure that you make copies of your airline tickets and passport - keep one in a separate place in your luggage (from the real thing) and keep one at home with someone who you could contact if you needed copies NOW.Tip #2.... for your ship experiences and resort experiences .... pack an inflatable floatation device and water shoes/tivas. This goes for the South Pacific or.... anywhere you might find yourself enjoying warm weather, beaches, reefs, etc.
Okay off we go flying to Magical Bora Bora. Our plane made a U turn over glistening turquoise waters to make a perfect landing on the tiny airstrip on a "motu". A "motu" is a small sand island. Boats are lined up at the airport's dock to take the passengers to either their hotel or to the main dock in Vaitape, Bora Bora's main town. Our first hotel is the Bora Bora Lagoon Resort. We arrived at the resort to a warm welcome, fresh juice and a cool towelette. The grounds of the hotel are beautifully landscaped and the common areas were huge areas made of mostly natural woods, bamboo and reed. We were in our overwater bungalow by 10am. We unpacked and made it down the ladder to take a swim in the inviting water below. We were in a shallow overwater bungalow. Our bungalow had a bathtub and glass shower, 2 sinks and an enclosed toilet closet. Our large king bed was kindly made into twins, we had a glass top table you could slide back and feed the fish, a lounging couch, TV (not sure what you can get on it), telephone (calls to the US were about $3 a minute), coffee/tea making facilities, a safe (which I actually used), a writing desk and two lounges on our overwater deck. (NOTE: At the end of our ON LOCATION Reviews, I will give some insight about the fact that.... all overwater bungalows are not created equal. Also a little dissertation on Meal Plan versus no Meal Plan.) Susan and I ordered room service.... champagne and a cheese platter. We got hooked on cheese while on the Paul Gauguin (we were also hooked on cheese during our trip to France 2 years ago), so we wanted to continue the tradition. The champagne, Landon, was not bad at all. It was the least expensive (and things ARE expensive in Tahiti and we were having sticker shock after getting off the ship and NOW having to pay for everything.. even water). Our room service waiter was very friendly. There was a little communication problem (but this happened often in our travels here) and the staff's friendliness paled in comparison to the Paul Gauguin. The music in the lounge was french karioke.... a gentleman playing pre-recorded background music and playing sax or singing to it. The Bora Bora Lagoon Resort has 80 bungalows total including 36 Overwater, 14 Pontoon Overwater (premium). Many of the beachfront bungalows should be reclassified as Garden as they sit back too far from the ocean. Especially those on the left of the pier when you arrive. There is one pool suite that is beachfront that is really sweet and I would recommend.
The next day Susan and I rented a put put car (similar to Disneyland's Utopia cars) and circumnavigated the island (about 40 minutes total drive time) and site inspected several hotels. This IS supposed to be a vacation!!! Susan loves to site inspect hotels with me - it's fun and informative and she tells her clients about everything she learns (she is a skin care specialist). Our first exploration is the Haumana Cruise, which just happens to be at dock. I am not sure if my office has ever sold the Haumana but it has always made me curious. I am now committed to enjoying her 7 day itinerary before another 6 months are up. With 19 cabins this luxury power catamaran offers unique options daily between Bora Bora, Tahaa and Huahine. Most of the cabins are outside (but not all) and have big picture windows. The common area is laid out very nicely with big couches. This IS the best way to get to know this area and the tahitian culture. It is an intimate way to get to know this area of Tahiti and her people. The menu looked fantastic too. They are bringing in 2 other luxury small ships that will go into service in April.
We hopped in our car and continued to the Moana Beachcomber Hotel at Matira Bay. This is a huge lagoon area with the Hotel Bora Bora on the other side of the point. We were very pleasantly suprised. The property has a total of 64 Bungalows. All Bungalows have A/C. All Overwater Bungalows were actually Junior Suites - recently renovated to a very high standard. In the bathroom you will enjoy live vanilla vines draped overhead. It is a nice touch and adds a sense of the outdoors. There are 2 TV's in the bedroom and sitting room. 2 Suites hold a maximum of 8 people. The hotel offers 3 shows a week, Tues, Thurs and Sat with buffets or special menus. The water is perfectly turquoise and all non-motorized ocean sports are free. They even have water lounge mats to use (a great feature we have discovered). The hotel offers a once a day complimentary shuttle to the main town area - which is about 10-15 minutes away. In 2003 they are putting a Spa and Gym that will be open 24 hours a day. They are also installing DVD/CDs in all Bungalows in 2003. It seemed like a great property with a fantastic location and lots to do.
Sofitel Marara - common area site inspection only (no rooms available to see). Susan and I were not particularly impressed too much with the Sofitel Marara. The overwater were all very close to shore and close to the road behind it. The road on Bora Bora is fairly busy in French Polynesia terms. Especially with scooters and put put cars that sound like lawn mowers. We did not see the interiors - although the brochures make them look lovely. The outdoor dining looks very nice. The beach was not powder white sand (which is not as uncommon here as you might think). This property has a total of 64 Bungalows, 21 overwater, 11 beach bungalows, 32 garden bungalows. All bungalows have air conditioning. Bungalow #62 looked like it was the deepest and had it's own little covered overwater gazebo. None of the overwater bungalows looked inviting to get into the water from your overwater deck. This is an observation since we were not able to go into any of the bungalows. If you stay at the Sofitel Marara you can go over and use the facilities, snorkeling and beach on the Motu.
Sofitel Motu - Common area site inspection only as no rooms were available. You get to Sofitel Motu by coming through the lobby from the Sofitel Marara. It is a short 7 minute ride to the Motu. As we approached, it looked very inviting. We climbed the stairs up to reception area to be very warmly greeted by Hostess. The reception and dining area was a warmly decorated round building with a great view. The patio at the entrance had a small waterfall and water area with water lillies. There are about 3 little beaches on the Motu. The sand was white and the lagoon blue as far as the eye could see. The overwater had a sunning deck just off of the main outdoor deck (which I thought was brilliant). There are 20 overwater bungalows which all look inviting to me. It appeared to us, without going inside, that Bungalows 128, 129 and 130 had the most privacy and view of Bora Bora. #129 looked the absolute best. There are also 10 Deluxe Bungalows on the hillside (I had heard that they were treehouses but they are not.... but have stunning views through the trees). It actually looks like only 7 are completed. #101-103 have sunset views (facing west) and #104-#107 face the sunrise. All bungalows have air conditioning. There is no pool on the Motu but you can use the one at the Sofitel Marara.
Le Meridien Bora Bora... The boat ride to the resort takes about 20 minutes from the Bora Bora airport. It is a stunning location with powder white sand. There are 85 overwater bungalows .. several of which are Premium overwater - at the end of the walkway and most private. The 15 Beach bungalows are situated around a perfect lagoon. There is no air conditioning in the overwater bungalows (it is coming in 2003). The Beach bungalows DO have air conditioning. When you walk into the overwater bungalows you walk onto a glass floor about 8ft x 6ft. This is really taking the glass top table to the next degree. The interior design was warm woods with many native touches. The bathroom had elevated sinks (european style) and 2 suspended mirrors framed with drift wood. The deep bathtub was right next to the large louvered window, looking out over the bay. The outdoor deck offered stunning views of turquoise and aqua lagoons with inviting waters beckoning you to climb down the stairs and immerse yourself in the picture perfect water. Yes.... I would like to come back and stay here. The resort has a turtle rescue program. In the Resort's lagoon, you can snorkel with the turtles. They offer some excellent marine education and appear to have the most comprehensive eco-sensitive resort in Bora Bora. The view from the resort is stunning. It is the largest resort in Bora Bora but not by much. They have more room than any other resort we visited so spreading out is easy. You do not feel cramped (as we experienced at other properties).
FUTURE: Word has it the the Beachcomber is going to build a resort next to the Le Meridien. It is supposed to be completed in 2005.
Hotel Bora Bora - On Matira Lagoon and the most famous and elegant of the Bora Bora resorts (do I sound like a commercial), we were fortunate enough to enjoy lunch at this fine property and site inspect a Beach Villa. Right off the bat we were impressed with the Boutique. It has gotten to be one of our first stops at all resorts in search of the perfect pareo or other items we cannot live without. Most of the boutiques have not captured our attention but this high quality store almost sent us out of the resort with reduced assets. Lunch was delicious and well presented in their tropical elegant open air dining area. Below our dining venue there existed what would have been one of our hang outs if we were staying here... the beach bar. It is a picture perfect setting and, at the moment, THE sunset beach resort. With only 54 Bungalows, it is not only elegant but private. There are only 15 overwater bungalows, 5 of these are deep water with 2 tier sundecks leading directly into the lagoon. Overwater bungalows have 4 poster king beds. All rooms feature old fashioned type ball-and-claw bathtubs. There are 8 villas, Beach and Garden, that come with private swimming pools.