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  • Writer's pictureRay Cheselka

10 DAYS IN THE FRENCH POLYNESIAN ISLANDS

Updated: Jul 16, 2023



Looking to disconnect? Try Tahiti and the French Polynesian Islands. We came back from this trip feeling different. Truly relaxed and more inspired than ever.

We owe a big thank you to Variety Cruises for this. They safely guided us through the seas and set up amazing excursions, along with onboard experiences.

This trip has 2 travel days, 3 days in Tahiti, and 8 days 7 nights on the seas island hopping.

ABBREVIATED ITINERARY

  • Day 1: Travel day. Overnight flight.

  • Day 2: Land in Tahiti around 6 am, drive around the island, check-in and relax at the Hilton

  • Day 3: Relax at the pool all-day

  • Day 4: Morning at the pool, head to the port to embark on our cruise. Sail to Moorea

  • Day 5: Day in Moorea, sail to Huahine

  • Day 6: Huahine for the day, sail to Bora Bora

  • Day 7: Bora Bora all day, excursions, sail to Taha'a

  • Day 8: Day in Taha'a with excursions, Fresh Yellowfin lunch and swimming at sea, short sail to Rai'atea

  • Day 9: Raitea, UNESCO Site Excursion with a chief, Toured engine room and bridge. Captain's dinner

  • Day 10: Raitea morning, long sail back to Papeete

  • Day 11: Breakfast, disembark, check back into the Hilton, pool all-day

  • Day 12: Travel day to get back home

THE TRIP

DAY 1-TRAVEL DAY DEN-LAX-PPT

We worked on a Monday and Tuesday, then after work headed to the airport.


We took a quick flight from Denver to LA, then an overnight from LA to Tahiti. It's an 8-hour flight from LAX, and a great one to sleep on. Air France makes sure you're comfortable! Solid food and drinks, lots of good movie options.


DAY 2-LAND IN TAHITI, DRIVE AROUND THE ISLAND, CHECK-IN/POOL DAY

Waking up and getting off the plane with the sun rising was a perfect 'welcome to vacation' from the island of Tahiti.


We rented a car from Hertz to drive around the island (can do it in like 3 hours making a few stops-or take your time and explore more!) They have a location at the airport, and a location downtown just a short walk from the Hilton. It is easy driving, and you can stop at a variety of little beaches and viewpoints. We passed local towns, schools, small beaches, viewpoints, a golf cours, fields of palm trees, and waterfalls.



We later found out some resorts let you buy a "day pass" if you need somewhere to hang out until check-in. Try the Intercontinental.


We wanted to check out the downtown area, especially the market, but it was really busy. Not the start of vacation vibe we were looking for. So we ended up opting to relax and get settled in.


After returning the car, we went to the Hilton and checked in. Everything is open-air, there is an incredible view of Moorea from the lobby and pool. Our grand balcony room had a top-tier view of the ocean for sunset. Big room with a comfy king bed. AC got the room pretty chilly. We were thrilled.



We went to the pool, had pina coladas, and began indulging in the local seafood. Perfect weather, no work for 2 weeks, about to sail through the French Polynesian islands. This is going to be an epic trip.



After that, we ate dinner at one of the restaurants on the property, Taitea Brasserie. We had wine, seafood, and steak. It was good. A heads up-they give you big portions!


Finally-a much-needed sleep. We crashed hard for like 10 hours. No alarms set, all we had planned was go to the gym if we wanted to and hang out at the pool all day.


DAY 3-RELAXING POOL DAY


We woke up and decided to go to the gym for a good workout. Coming down from altitude in Denver is always nice. Tons of endurance, and you can get a good sweat in, especially in a humid place like Tahiti.


The pool is just all around perfect here. Free sunbum sunblock, staff walks around and will wait on you-serving drinks and food. There is a swim-up bar. At one point, a scuba certification instructor was doing intro lessons and offering certifications. All of the seating is really padded and comfortable. You can move umbrellas to shade as you'd like. The water is chilly but perfect to get out of the heat. Very easy to unwind and truly relax.


After a great day at the pool, we were excited to eat at the on-site Sushi restaurant, San Sushi Bar. We ended up getting it at the end of our trip too. Outstanding seafood. We both had the chirashi bowl, miso, and edamame that were spot on, and some wine. So good and strongly recommend this place whether you're staying at the Hilton or somewhere else in Tahiti.


Off to bed for another good night of sleep before we hop on a boat for a week!


For anyone staying at the Hilton-there is a grocery store right across the street where you can pick up sunblock and anything else you might have forgotten. There are also additional restaurants, shops, and a parking garage if you have a rental car. It's free (as of June 2023).


DAY 4-MORNING AT THE POOL, CHECK-OUT, HEAD TO THE PORT TO EMBARK, SAIL TO MOOREA

We didn't have to be at the port until around 2. The Hilton has a team for bags and ordering cabs. We had a cab ready for us around 1:30pm. To get to the airport or downtown was under $1700 CFP, or around $15.


Ahead of that we worked out again, had breakfast at their breakfast/coffee bar, and decided to spend a bit more time at the pool.


Arriving at the port, we were welcomed by the crew and boarded the Panorama II after a short wait as the boat got prepared. We were assigned our rooms, got settled in, and had a welcome drink and intro from the crew. We got to know some of our neighbors for the week and ran through a safety briefing. Folks from the USA, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Costa Rica, French Polynesia, France, and more were on the boat. We met some really interesting people.


We began to set sail for a couple-hour trip to the neighboring island, Moorea. We sailed into the sunset with a drink, and as we arrived at the island, we had our first dinner—a perfect start to our week on the South Pacific Ocean.


It was nice to have dinner and meet our new friends Kay and Shelby.




DAY 5-DAY IN MOOREA, SAL TO HUAHINE

​We woke up anchored at bay. Peaceful water and fresh ocean air. We grabbed some coffee and saw this when we walked out onto the sundeck:

This trip was really starting to hit us. Feeling really thankful to have this opportunity.


Most of the folks on the boat did an excursion that day, so we were free to lounge on the sundeck or use the kayaks, paddleboards, snorkel gear, etc.


We went on a kayak for a little while, then Ray went on his own excursion a bit further into the bay. Afterward, we both relaxed on the sundeck and had a few Hinano Tahiti beers. Ray ended up swimming with a new friend, Eli. Before we knew it, it was time to get cleaned up, watch another sunset, and have dinner.


The sail was going to be a little bit longer tonight, so everyone was taking Dramamine and eating light to be safe. We called it a night somewhat early, and the sail didn't end up being bad. That being said-I wouldn't come on a small cruise like this and expect to sleep great every night.




DAY 6-HUAHINE FOR THE DAY, SAIL TO BORA BORA

Arriving in Huahine, we docked in a port.


When we woke up, our Captain Maximous greeted us with fresh lobsters that we'd be having for dinner that night. The outlook for the day was already great and now it got even better!


We were excursion free again, so after breakfast we grabbed snorkel gear, water shoes at a local supermarket, and we headed to the beach after breakfast.


Water on most of the islands is ultra clear and blue in many areas, because the water is clean and there are reefs surrounding the islands, keeping water calm on the interior. It was really interesting to see waves crashing out so far away from the beach. It just made the French Polynesian islands even more tranquil, and on this beach we could do some decent snorkeling, along with seeing some coral and fish.




After the beach, we spent some time on the sundeck just reading and relaxing. We watched in awe of another stunning sunset, and had dinner and some drinks enjoying great conversation with our new friends Erin, and Kimberly.


There was a buzz building for tomorrow-Bora Bora.


DAY 7-BORA BORA ALL DAY, EXCURSIONS, SAIL TO TAHA'A

Everyone had high expectations for Bora Bora, and it lived up to the hype.


The water there is unlike anything we've ever seen. So clear with just different shades of the clearest, most electric blues.


We started off the day with a good breakfast, because we were going to have excursions. On the boat, breakfast usually was a buffet with options like smoked salmon, hash brown, fried egg, scrambled egg, toast, cheeses, deli meats, cereal, yogurt, etc. We could get coffee, water, and a choice of 3 juices. Really good!


Today, we were going to ride around on a small boat, snorkel with sting rays and sharks, snorkel through a coral garden, snorkel for manta rays, and snorkel to see eagle rays. All in different spots around the island of Bora Bora.


Easily one of the best days we'll ever have in our lives.


We'd ride from place to place just smiling ear to ear, soaking it all in. The water was refreshing, there was sea life everywhere, and they all seemed just as happy as us. We took this day slow and just admired what Earth has to offer. Absolutely beautiful. Perfect weather. Perfect water temperature. Somethin' else.


The coral gardens were expansive, feeling endless. We drove out to the reef of the island to swim with the sting rays and sharks. Driving away from the mainland to get shallow, clear water. Underwater you'd have a shallow area, and you could see it drop like 30 feet, but still see the bottom. Just unbelievable.


After getting back we walked around town. You can rent scooters and small cars if you want to drive around the island. We stopped at Bora Bora Original to get a shirt and a sticker. Afterward relaxing on the sundeck, getting cleaned up, and having dinner. Scallops and salmon, yum.


Dinner and lunch were generally buffets with a few salads, deli meats, cheese, multiple meat/seafood options, veggie options, and bread. Dinners were usually on the nicer site, a bit more elevated. We enjoyed all of our meals with Variety Cruises. Kudos to George and the French Polynesian chefs!


It became a routine for me and a new friend Chris to have a couple of nightcaps after dinner, which was a blast! A major plus with this size cruise is that you get to meet and talk to a variety of great people.






DAY 8-ALL DAY IN TAHA'A, EXCURSIONS, SAIL TO RAIATEA

Sad we had left Bora Bora, we arrived at another beautiful island that had so much culture.


We started off visiting a Pearl Farm, then went to a Rum Distillery, and finished with a Tahitian Vanilla farm. Our awesome local guide also peppered in some snorkeling and fresh fruit for us.


The pearl farm was really interesting, and the biggest pearl farm in French Polynesia. It's quite a process to get a pearl, with a lot of manual intervention involved. You could also shop for pearls here. Maddie got a natural pearl, which is, fortunately, the least expensive!


The rum distillery was quick, just getting a tour of how they make the rum, tasting, and shopping.


Then at the Vanilla Farm, we saw lots of vanilla beans. They had some for sale that we bought, and they had fresh coconuts for us to drink the water and eat inside. It was really cool the setting where these are produced, in such a tranquil area.


Finally, we snorkeled through another coral garden.








The day was already phenomenal, and then we got back to the boat. Most of us jumped into the sea, talking, swimming, jumping off of the boat, enjoying ourselves. Then the captain came back with a fresh yellowfin tuna. The entire fish.


Captain started fileting the fish, and giving us fresh sashimi. Then he gave a large piece to the chef, who proceeded to turn it into actual sashimi with garlic soy sauce, and then poission cru-a local dish like poke. It was incredible.


Two French Polynesian women on the cruise with us started dancing as the chefs continued making food, and the sun started to lower. It was just a really great moment for everyone, the trip had really come together.


The cherry on top was a very short, slow sail to Raiatea, with the mountains near and the sun setting behind us.



DAY 9-RAIATEA, UNESCO SITE, BOAT TOUR, CAPTAIN'S DINNER

In Raitea, we did an excursion with a chief who showed us his peoples UNESCO world heritage site Taputapuātea. We also went down the Faaroa river and stopped at an island to relax and swim.


The chief put emphasis on the fact that his culture relies on the land, the wind, the sun, and everything natural. It was refreshing seeing how much he enjoyed being out in the open air at sea, and looking at his homeland. It was a great cultural experience.




After our excursion we got a tour of the bridge from Captain Maximous, and the engine room from Chief Engineer Stefanos. It was very cool to see and understand how these ships operate.


That night was the captain's dinner, and we were fortunately invited to sit at the captain's table. Before that, some locals came on the boat to show us some local dances and tell us about their culture. They made it interactive and it was pretty funny.


At the dinner we had a great time with the others at the table, who were some of our best friends we'd made on the trip, and the Greek captain, chef, and head of food/wine. We hope to see them again in Greece someday.


It was a delicious meal. Fresh bread and greek olive oil, tuna tartare salad, and filet with potatoes. Dessert was usually served with lunch and dinner, always good. Had a variety of things I'd never tried before.




DAY 10-BREAKFAST, RELAXING, AND A LONG SAIL TO PAPEETE

We woke up, had breakfast and lunch, walked around town for a bit until it started raining, and then we fell asleep in the lounge to the sound of the rain on the water.


When we woke up, it was about time for lunch. We ate and it was time to head out.


It cleared up and we started to sail out of the port for our long trip back to Tahiti. We went to our rooms for like 16 hours. Some people have the stomach to be up and around, but we just wanted to rest. The staff was great and brought food and water to everyone's cabins.


We had nausea wristbands and natural ginger dramamine, and didn't get seasick the whole time.


It was a long day/night, but we managed to get some sleep.


DAY 11-BREAKFAST THEN DISEMBARK. POOL DAY AT THE HILTON


After breakfast and goodbyes, we got off the ship. It was bittersweet. We were really satisfied with the trip, but ready to be back on land with some luxury, and soon back home.


We went to the Hilton, and enjoyed the pool and San Sushi before a good night of sleep ahead of our travel day.


DAY 12-TRAVEL DAY. PPT-LAX-DEN

A long full day of travel. Thanks to Air France and Delta, it wasn't too bad. Since this one started in the morning we watched 4 movies each on the plane. We had some drinks, a couple little meals, and ultimately made it back to LAX, and onto Denver with nothing to do but reset all day Sunday.​ Always feels good to get back to the home bed.


What an epic trip. Can't recommend French Polynesia or Variety Cruises enough.


Anyone trying to get Global Entry-you can do it when you land. Just have your ID with your current address or some utility bills. More here.


PACKING LIST/TO DO'S

List of things to get ahead of the trip:

  • Flights

    • Denver to LAX to Tahiti would be around $900 a ticket if you don't have points to use

    • Look into getting a Delta Gold AMEX to get a big discount on your flight and a ton of points for another trip. Use this link and you'll get 40,000-65,000 bonus miles after an easily attainable spend requirement over 6 months. It saved us over $400 on the Tahiti flights we had to buy and got enough points for a round-trip flight to London later this year

  • Rental Car

  • Hotels/Airbnb’s

    • 3 nights at the Hilton cost us like $1500. Definitely an expensive hotel, but we thought it was worth every penny

    • We were super lucky and Maddie won this cruise on Instagram, but that would have been ~$3000 per person. Lodging/Food included. Booze and excursions are not

  • Other

    • Excursions: $750-$1000

    • Booze: $250-$750 depending on how much you like to drink

  • Save some money. We saved up around $2000 of spending money for souvenirs, the Hilton, Food and Drinks. Probably best to have $2500-$3000

  • The boat took card, so we paid for a lot on a card, but brought around $250 in CFP, and $250 USD to be safe

  • TOTAL ESTIMATED TRIP COST PER PERSON: ~$4000 per person

Some things to pack:​

  • Reef safe sunblock

  • Tennis shoes, watershoes, sandals

  • Reusable water bottle

  • Backpack (we have REI flash 22 pack)

  • Emergen-c (take care of your immune system ahead of and on travel days!)

  • Sunglasses

  • Hat(s)

  • Nausea Wristbands

  • Dramamine

  • Tums

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