In April 2008, I decided to head back to French Polynesia to an island that I had not yet seen. I only had 6 nights, so I choose Moorea. Since Moorea is the second most popular island with my clients and also one of the easiest to get to from Papeete, I felt this was the best choice. I ended up having an amazing time!
Getting to Moorea should have been easy, or at least easier than getting to one of the other islands. I arrived at LAX in plenty of time to check into my Air Tahiti Nui flight, only to find that a strike in Papeete had caused my flight to be canceled. I had booked 1 business class ticket and 1 first class ticket using my frequent flier miles. My travel partner, who was the lucky first class passenger, got bumped to another flight on Air Tahiti Nui later that day. However, I was not so lucky. I did get bumped to another flight, but I got bumped to an Air France flight in economy class. I was lucky to have gotten the seat- a bulkhead seat that had extra leg room- but it wasn’t what my miles were supposed to cover. However, my travel partner got the crappiest deal. Air Tahiti Nui told him that his ticket was not worthy of a first class seat on the new flight because he did not actually pay for it, so they bumped him down to business class. Business class is still nice and very comfortable, but again, it wasn’t what my miles were supposed to cover. I still fly Air Tahiti Nui for convenience, but I have to say that using frequent flier miles on that airline was neither an easy or pleasant experience (American Airlines did end up refunding me the mileage difference between first class and business class for my partner’s ticket. He was bumped down for the return flight too!). I do think that using miles for an economy class ticket would still be a pretty good deal since they do tend to run upwards of $1000/ticket. Air France was very nice and more comfortable than I had expected, so I do recommend using them if your schedule allows it. They do not run flights as frequently as Air Tahiti Nui, so I tend to not book them very often. I should also note that our return flights were a little crazy. We were asked to take an earlier flight home, which appealed to us since it gave is the opportunity to catch an earlier connecting flight back to Phoenix. Of course, that didn’t turn out as planned. They ended up placing our baggage on the later flight, and we ended up getting it a few days later. Sometimes the travel gods are not with you, and they didn’t seem to be on this trip. I never let that deter me, and I’m heading back to the islands in March 2009.
We arrived in Tahiti later than planned, but were able to head directly to the Sheraton in Papeete (side note- the Sheraton was rebranded as a Hilton in January 2009 and is now closed permanently). There was a little confusion when we checked in, which concerned me since I booked directly with Sheraton earlier that day after our flight was canceled. However, they were able to find my reservation after a few minutes and a phone call, and we were placed in a lagoon view room. The room was fairly well appointed for a standard room, with what seemed to be a nice view of the lagoon behind the hotel. We only stayed here for a few hours to rest our heads, but it was a nice choice for what we needed. While I need to revisit the property since being rebranded, I would say that I prefer the InterContinental in Papeete, but this property is (or was!) less expensive.
Due to our incoming flights being canceled, we had to cross our fingers that we could catch an inter-island flight the next day. Luckily, we were able to get over to Moorea right away, on a short ten minute flight. Once we arrived in Moorea, Albert Transport, who arranges transfers and tours on the island of Moorea, had been expecting us and took us directly to the hotel. (Side note- Albert Transport also does 4×4 island tours and rental cars. We used them for both and were very happy with their prices and service!). We stayed at the Sheraton Moorea Lagoon Resort (also rebranded as the Hilton Moorea Resort) for 5 nights using Starwood points. Upon check-in, we were upgraded from a garden bungalow to a spa bungalow, which is partially overwater. We requested an additional upgrade to an overwater bungalow, which we received for an additional $200/night. It was well worth the $200/night, because we stayed in Room 108- a premium horizon overwater bungalow at the end of the pontoon! The room was nice- very well appointed, but not as luxurious as what you would find at some of the more premium resorts in Bora Bora. Our deck faced East, but we were still able to see the sunset because we could look back toward the West and did not have another bungalow obstructing the view. I would have preferred Room 109 directly across from us for the better sunset and slightly more privacy, but the snorkeling was out of this world, so it made up for it! (Also, consider rooms 86, 87, and 107 for sunset views and more privacy).
The hotel itself was very well maintained, the staff was friendly, and the restaurants were above average, but not top notch. We mostly laid by the pool and snorkeled off of our deck, but we did take an afternoon to enjoy the spa. The spa was expensive, as most resort spas are (approximately $250USD for a couples massage), and it was very relaxing. I wish we could have spent more time there. One con for some is that the hotel is far from the nearest market and village. We attempted to walk to the market our first day there and it was not the smartest thing to do. Thankfully, a kind local took pity on us on our walk back and gave us a ride back to the hotel. However, we did like that it was a little removed from the other resorts because it was very quiet and you could not see any other resorts in the distance, which can be a problem in Bora Bora.
Outside of the hotel, we did the 4×4 jeep tour, which took us to Belvedere Point for some gorgeous views. through a local pineapple field, and to the juice factory for some free samples of local alcohols. We also chose to rent a car for the day to explore the island, do some shopping, and try some local restaurants. The entire island can be seen in 3-4 hours, even with stops.
Throughout our stay, we ate a lot of our own food bought at the local market (side note- the rooms do not have kitchens, so we ate food that did not need to be prepared), but also tried Alfredo’s, Allo’s Pizza, and Iguana Rock Café. Alfredo’s serves Italian food and both the food and the service were among some of the best we had on our trip. Alfredo’s will provide free transportation to and from the hotel, but please be advised that the driver will expect a tip! Allo’s Pizza was a great meal! We went there the night we had the car and ate right at the counter. It was inexpensive and they offer so many different types of pizza that all looked delicious. We wish we had eaten there more often. We really wanted to eat lunch at Royal Chicken, a roadside rotisserie, while we were there, but it was closed. So, we went to the nearby Iguana Rock Café. It was average food, but they had a very extensive menu and some very tasty desserts!
I also got the chance to check out a few of the other hotels while I was there. I did not tour the rooms, but I did see the grounds. I personally thought I had chosen the right resort for my needs by staying at the Sheraton. The snorkeling was the best resort snorkeling on the island and I prefer to stay in resorts that are bit more secluded. However, upon my return, I would not mind staying at any of the other 4-5 stars resorts, such as the InterContinental, the Sofitel, or the Pearl. The InterContinental is very secluded from the other resorts, but I would not choose that resort for an overwater bungalow, as they are only partially over the water. The Sofitel is on an amazing stretch of the lagoon that looks toward Tahiti and has a beautiful beach. The Pearl is located adjacent to a local village, so it would provide easy access to shopping. I love to go to the local market to grab snacks! The Pearl is the perfect resort for someone who tries to intermix with the locals, and also happens to be one of the better values on the island.
Hopefully I will return to Moorea again one day. While my heart still lies in Taha’a, Moorea is the perfect destination for someone who wants a mix of good value, activities, and relaxation. The scenery is just breathtaking and I never ran out of things to explore.
Additional photos of French Polynesia can be seen on the Tahiti tab.