CRUISE ON THE TAHITIAN PRINCESS AND SEE EXOTIC FRENCH POLYNESIA!
BY SAVVY TRAVELER LARRY
Let’s begin with the physical appearance of the Tahitian Princess. First of all if you are looking for glitz and glamour then this is not the ship for you. The interior reminds you of an older, stately hotel. It is very clean and subdued in its decor. Even the casino seemed a bit sedate. If you like Vegasesque features you won't like this ship. Bear in mind it is the smallest ship in the Princess line along with its sister ship the Pacific Princess. We learned during the "Meet The Captain" cocktail party that Princess is actually outfitting a new SMALL ship with similar dimensions, i.e. 30K tons and a length of about 600 ft. which seems to buck the trend for all new ships being goliaths This ship will be called the Royal Princess and was acquired from the defunct cruise line Renaissance just like the Tahitian Princess. And several ships in the Oceania line for that matter.
What do you find with small vs. mega-liners? This is what we noticed; First of all you see the same people more often and this means you have more opportunities to meet and greet. It leads to a friendlier atmosphere I think. Secondly, word on a smaller ship travels fast. Unfortunately a woman suffered a cardiac arrest and died during the third or fourth night of our voyage. It seemed in no time that everyone knew about it and everything else for that matter. Third, you do feel the motion more, especially if the seas are rough. For calm seas it’s no problem but if the waves and wind kick up you do notice it more, especially if you are at either end of the ship. Amid ship was much better so I would advise those going on smaller ships to be in the middle as much as possible. I wondered how the Paul Gaughan did in this weather. We saw her as we passed Raiatea she was docked but couldn't get out due to the choppy seas and the narrow inlet. She is only 18K tons and about 100 ft. less than the TP. Fourth it’s much easier to get the "lay of the land" as it were.
Next what about the service? In a word SUPER! Let me tell you a story about that. We had originally been in cabin 7001 which was forward facing. Big mistake. You feel the seas motion terribly all the way up front and my wife became very ill with mal de mer during our second night. In fact we had to see the ships MD it was so bad. Afterwards I requested a new cabin but as the ship was full that seemed to be impossible to do. This was quickly becoming a very bad situation. On our fourth morning my wife was dozing on a couch near the purser’s office as she hadn’t slept well at all thus far. A little while later after we had made our way up for breakfast we heard our names being paged. I could not imagine this being anything but bad news but when we answered the page and reported to the purser’s desk, as asked, the news was anything but bad. A mini-suite amid ship had become available and was offered to us! The fellow I asked about switching cabins had noticed my wife dozing earlier that morning and knew she had not been well so once the cabin became available he acted swiftly to be sure we could get it. Trip saved! We were moved to our new cabin within 15 minutes. Thank you Princess. A few days into the cruise we took a galley tour and met the head chef. I was astounded when he asked my wife if she felt better. How he knew she had been ill I don't know but the fact that he did and asked was very impressive to us. Our cabin attendants were always polite, smiling and most importantly had our room spic and span. And our waiters were amazing! They were always on top of everything and worked tirelessly to be sure our needs were met.
You know it seems that if you are friendly with them they more than return the favor to you. I really can't say enough about the overall excellence of the crew as a whole. Well done!
How about the shows? We actually missed about half of them but from what we saw we thought they were well done and professional. They acted well, danced well and performed capably overall. However as this is a small ship the stage was pretty small too. Personally I prefer a bigger stage for that big production feel. The best performance came while in Raieatea when a local group of performers came on to show us native dances. They ranged from age 4 to about 18 and this was pretty neat to see.
OK what about the food. We were very pleased for the most part. I would avoid the scrambled eggs from the Panorama cafe but aside from that the breakfast selections were quite varied and really very good. I would go up there around opening time for coffee and pastries and bring them to our room. We would relax on the balcony, leisurely eat and then have our full breakfast in the main dining room. The selections were well made but I think their menu could be expanded. The coffee (I am fussy about my coffee. I brought my own, plus a French press to make it with) was surprisingly very good in the Panorama cafe but pretty weak in the main dining room. I was very impressed with the buffet luncheons. It seemed there were 2-3 different salad selections every day without any repeating themselves. The Chinese cabbage/duck salad was especially good. They also have a great variety of main selections including things that you don't usually see such as Indian egg curry which actually even isn't on the menus of most Indian restaurants. Once day they had coconut shrimp which was fantastic and everyday they had a meat carving server dishing out whole roasted pig, scrumptious veal roasts, fresh turkey, roast beef and one day a whole tuna. Cold cuts and Paninis were always available. Do try the Tahitian pineapples. Though some were less soft than others they were always sweet.
We had dinner in the main dining room every night and what can I say except all was very well. There were always appetizers, salads, soups and entree selections followed by dessert of course. Again it seemed that there was very little repetition especially for a 10 day cruise. As an aside my wife requested Indian food on our first night and did get it every night thereafter. It was pretty good really and on day 8 I think the head chef and all his assistants paraded around the dining room to receive a well deserved round of applause. Then we saw there were several Indian assistant cooks. No wonder the Indian food was so good. I must add that on Italian night we were able to try the home-made lemoncello. Momma Mia! I bought a bottle today.
Overall I can see why this particular ship is so highly rated. Actually as the French Polynesian destination is anything but glitz and glamour ala the Caribbean or Mexico this ship’s offerings fit perfectly for this destination. However, I would advise anyone considering this cruise to do so quickly because after Oct. 2008 she will not return to French Polynesia until Dec. 2009. This is truly a beautiful ship and a beautiful destination. The islands of FP are the most beautiful tropical places I have ever seen. We took a 4 x 4 tour into the interior on Raieatea and it looks pristine, like it's being seen for the first time. There are fruits of many types growing in the wild such as mangoes, papayas, avocados, breadfruit, and all types of bananas, pineapples and melons. You will also see many types of colorful flowers including orchids. Tahiti is famous for its vanilla too and make sure you visit a vanilla farm to see and to smell. As there are no bees or stinging insects to pollinate the vanilla plants they have to be hand pollinated which is of course labor intensive and vigilant work. There is a narrow window of time when the plants can be hand pollinated so the vanilla farmers have to be ever on guard to be sure it doesn’t pass them by.
Interestingly, there are no snakes in Tahiti as well. The only insect that will sting you seriously is the centipede. You will also notice that most people have chickens around their homes and that native Tahitians like to sleep on mats on the floor. So what does this all mean? If you sleep on the ground you can be stung by centipedes. And what do chickens like to dine on? You guessed it, centipedes. They are Mother Nature's Black Flag.
All in all, Tahiti, also called French Polynesia or the Society Islands are some of the most beautiful places these eyes have ever seen but paradise has a price. Breakfasts in hotels run $35.00 pp or so, a bottle of suntan lotion in the Sheraton in Papeete was, are you sitting down, $40.00, a 1.75 liter bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey in a local store in Moorea was, and again I hope you are sitting, $140.00. Yes, $140.00. Of course French wine, and 99% of the wine I saw was French was far more reasonable. Hotel rates are very high as well. This is why I think cruising is a great way to see these gorgeous islands but again be sure to cruise the TP before it leaves that route for quite some time. The other ship left there will be Regent’s Paul Gaughan which is easily more that double the price.
Cheers, calm seas and happy cruising ladies and gentlemen.