Another year and another fabulous trip! Visiting French Polynesia never gets old, and each time I go, I discover something new and wonderful. During this visit, my discoveries were quite bountiful, as I visited 11 properties on 3 islands, and even the 2 properties I had visited on prior trips had some exciting new updates! I have never been as busy on vacation as I was on this trip, but the effort turned out to be extremely worthwhile, even if I did have to endure remnants of Tropical Cyclone Sarah for the first 3 days.
Since I visited so many properties on this trip, I’m not going to ramble on as I usually do in my reviews. So, for those of you who actually like my rambling, I apologize in advance. I felt that the easiest way to communicate all of the details of the properties is to use more of a list format. Of course, if you want me to go into more detail about a specific property, you are always more than welcome to contact me!
Typically, I mention the flights in my reviews, so I’ll give a quick shout out. US Airways, though typically the bane of my existence, actually came through for me. They got me to and from Phoenix on time for once. Air Tahiti Nui came through for me as well. Air Moorea was a few hours delayed, though who could blame them for not flying a 19 seat plane through a cyclone? Air Tahiti was also on time, and in fact, early to depart and arrive on each of our flights.
First stop – Moorea!
Moorea Pearl Beach Resort (now Manava Beach Resort): This is where my colleague, Caroline, and I chose to stay for our 3 nights in Moorea. The resort falls into the 4 star category, but it really makes itself stand out because of the staff, the location, and the intimate authenticity the resort offers to its guests. The Pearl is an excellent value, especially for those who just want to be in Tahiti and can live without the marble encrusted trappings of a luxury resort. The accommodations are nice, yet simple and understated. They could perhaps use a little bit of a face lift, but they are comfortable and clean. The garden and family duplex rooms are in a building closest to the road, and for those who don’t mind a run of the mill hotel room and have a tight budget, these rooms represent a great value. The garden bungalows are the next row in from the standard rooms and can satisfy the need for the more famed bungalow accommodations, not to mention a plunge pool! The plunge pools aren’t as private as I would have liked to have seen, but it’s nice to have them since the garden bungalows aren’t right at the lagoon’s edge (they are maybe a minute’s walk to the lagoon, if that.) The beach bungalows at the Pearl are divided into two categories – standard and premium. All of the beach bungalows have the same interior as the garden bungalows, but they do not have the plunge pools. The only difference between the standard and premium beach bungalows is the location on the property. The premium beach bungalows have a slightly better view, although it’s worth noting that the views from both categories are slightly obstructed by the overwater bungalows. Speaking of the overwater bungalows, there are two pontoons that contain both standard and premium overwater bungalows. There are two main differences between the two categories: location on the pontoon and view. The standard bungalows are closest to the beach and are located in shallow water with a partial lagoon view. The premium overwater bungalows are located farthest out on the pontoons, have a direct view of the reef, and stand in water that is approximately 30 feet deep.
The resort also has two restaurants, a bar, a spa, and a pool. During the low season (November-April), the gourmet restaurant is closed, but the main restaurant offers a fairly extensive menu to suit every taste. The spa offers many treatment options and is priced on par with a resort spa in the United States. The pool has stunning views in either direction of the lagoon and the mountains. The pool could use a refurbishment, but who needs a pool when you have that gorgeous lagoon? In pictures, the lagoon surrounding the Pearl does not appear to be as blue as the area surrounding the Hilton or the Sofitel. While that is a true observation, the water is clean and the snorkeling is good just beyond the premium overwater bungalows (NOTE- the pictures depict dark, murky water, which was caused by the storm passing through. Once the storm ended, the water cleared up within a day.) Also worth noting, as I mentioned above, is the location of the resort. It is conveniently located next to the village of Maharepa, which has shops, restaurants, a bank, and a market. We took a stroll to the market on our first day there to pick up snacks, and had it not been pouring rain, it would have been a very nice, leisurely, 5 minute stroll. Since the market is so close to the resort, the resort chooses not to stock the mini-bars, unless requested, so that you can utilize the refrigerator for your own goods.
Sofitel Moorea Ia Ora Beach Resort: We did not get a full tour of the property due to a high occupancy rate and poor weather conditions, but we were able to walk the property. The Sofitel is one of the larger resorts on Moorea, with perhaps only the InterContinental being more expansive. The property has a very modern European feel, with eclectic furnishings and bright colors and patterns. Sofitel markets itself on being luxury with a European flair, so this resort definitely lives up to that. The resort has a few different room categories, with the amenities and type of furnishings being the same in all categories, but differing in size and location. The “luxury” category of rooms (garden, beach and overwater) is the largest, with the luxury overwaters being the largest rooms of the luxury group. The “superior” category (beach and overwater) are the smallest, with the superior overwater being half the size of the luxury overwater and slightly smaller than the luxury garden and beach bungalows. The depth of the water appears to be the same all along the pontoon, but the superior overwater bungalows are closer to, and face more toward, the beach, while the luxury overwaters have a direct view of the lagoon and the main island of Tahiti. So, if space is not of importance, but staying over the water is, I would recommend the superior overwater bungalow to save money. The beach bungalows vary in size, as I mentioned above, but it’s also worth mentioning that the luxury beach bungalows do have a better location on the beach, with mostly unobstructed views of the lagoon. If budget is of concern, a luxury beach bungalow is a good choice as the beach at the Sofitel is expansive and among the nicest in Moorea. The luxury garden bungalows are the same size as the luxury beach bungalows, but sit back from the beach surrounding a pond.
Hilton Moorea Resort: You can read my review of the Hilton Moorea from 2008, and it still sums up the property nicely, although a few changes have been made. Some of the garden bungalows now have plunge pools. While this is a nice addition, the pools are not very private, as people walking by can peer into the bungalow “yard”. The plunge pools at the Pearl are actually more private, even though the wall separating the “yards” is shared, because a person of normal height cannot see the pool when walking by. Another change made to all of the bungalows on the property is the bathroom upgrade. Each shower now has a rain shower head, dual sinks set into a marble countertop, and all new slate flooring. While this upgrade definitely adds a luxurious element to the rooms, it does take away from the authenticity of the original room décor. It’s a trade off because when I stayed at the property in 2008, it was a 4.5-5 star resort, but with the renovations, it has pushed it more toward the high 5 star range, which is important to those who seek a more luxurious setting.
Now on to Bora Bora!
Bora Bora Pearl Resort: When I booked this resort, I went into it knowing my clients have mixed feelings about staying here, mostly because it’s not super luxurious or brand new. However, I am glad to report that this resort exceeded my expectations. While it could use a little bit of a face lift, and the bungalows are small compared to other resorts on the island, the overall ambience of the resort, the incredible staff, and the absolutely breathtaking view makes up for any shortcomings. Since the Pearl is smaller than many of the newer resorts (Nui, Thalasso, St. Regis, etc) it has this incredible exotic intimacy, that when matched with the killer view of Mt. Otemanu, creates a very romantic setting that is also very pleasing to the senses. The landscaping is gorgeous, especially around the pool area, and the grounds are very well maintained. The resort is on a motu, facing the main island, and surrounded by crystal blue waters. It just seems like an unspoiled paradise, and I guess in a way, it is! The Manea Spa is also a hidden gem within Bora Bora. It’s very intimate, only offers treatments rooted in Polynesian tradition, and is run by Kamala Nayeli, who previously ran some of the best spas in the world. She is fabulous and also happens to be from Arizona! As for the restaurants, we found the Miki Miki Restaurant by the pool to have the best menu selection with tons of excellent sandwiches and entrees to choose from. I also have to mention that the Pearl has yummy desserts! The dinner menu at Tevairoa was not quite as extensive, which was slightly disappointing. The highlight on the menu is the chocolate cake- delicious! Tevairoa is also the restaurant that houses the breakfast buffet, which offers everything from pastries to fruits, to omelets, and pancakes, all in a buffet format. The omelets, pancakes and French toast are all made fresh to order at the griddle. It’s also not very difficult to eat outside of the resort at some of the local restaurants on the main island. The Pearl runs regular boat shuttles to the main island free of charge. You can arrange reservations with the concierge to have a restaurant shuttle pick you up or you can also arrange to have a taxi, although they are a bit expensive.
As I mentioned above, the rooms at the Bora Bora Pearl are on the smaller side, and could use some minor refurbishment, but they are comfortable, have a very authentic style, and are an excellent value at any category level. The garden bungalows are set toward the back of the property, along a very well landscaped path. They are set up quite different than the other room categories, with a large outdoor living space that includes a plunge pool. The pools here are much more private than those in Moorea, and for those who have been to Le Taha’a, the space is very similarly laid out, although smaller. The garden bungalows are really perfect for those on a budget, although they do not have a direct view of the lagoon. The beach bungalows line the edge of the beach and come equipped with a Jacuzzi and a covered patio area. These bungalows are laid out somewhat oddly, though the reasoning behind it makes sense. When you walk through the door, you walk into an outdoor space that includes the Jacuzzi and an outdoor bathroom. You then walk through sliding glass doors to the bedroom, which then leads into the covered patio, which can be closed off from the bedroom to keep in the air conditioning. The patio opens up right onto the beach. So, in reality, the Jacuzzi does not have a view of the lagoon, but they arranged it that way to ensure maximum privacy. The beach bungalows do have a view of the lagoon and Mt. Otemanu, but it is slightly obstructed by the overwater bungalow pontoons. The overwater bungalows come in two categories- standard and premium. The only differences between the two are the views and the location on the pontoons. The water depth is the same no matter which category you book. The premium overwater bungalows have a view that looks right out into the lagoon and at the main island, plus they are further out on the pontoons. The standard overwater bungalows are closer to, and face more toward, the beach. I will note that when you walk out onto the pontoons to get to the overwater bungalows, you have that amazing view, so don’t worry about not being able to ever see it if you are staying in a standard overwater bungalow.
Hilton Bora Bora Nui (now Conrad Bora Bora Nui): Although the property was part of the Starwood brand when I visited in 2004, not much has changed since my last visit. It’s still a fantastic property, albeit large, has some killer views, and is still one of my favorite resorts in Bora Bora. There are two notable mentions that are new, though. The Hilton just built two new presidential villas that are two stories and have two bedrooms, an outdoor bar, a sauna, and a Jacuzzi. They are quite impressive, but at $4500USD per night, I imagine most of my clients will pass on this. Also of note is the spa. The spa is now run by Anthony Nayeli, whose wife runs the spa at the Pearl Resort! Tony is very personable and has a fantastic vision for the spa, so I’m looking forward to seeing what he has in store for future guests of the Nui. They already added an outdoor massage area that overlooks the lagoon from high on a hill, which creates a very dramatic view of the lagoons below.
Sofitel Bora Bora Beach Resort: The Sofitel Bora Bora Beach Resort is actually two resorts in one- the Sofitel Marara Beach on the main island and the Sofitel Private Island, which is located on a motu just offshore from the Marara. Both Sofitels aren’t very large, but the Private Island is truly exclusive in that they offer less than 40 bungalows and the island can be rented out in its entirety, either for one very lucky couple or for a group. A shuttle runs on demand in between the two the resorts, which is very beneficial because the Private Island currently only offers breakfast and does not have a pool. The furnishings are similar to what is offered in Moorea –stylish and simple – but also more colorful. The Marara has a red theme throughout their rooms, while the Private Island has a blue theme. The Private Island accommodations are also more spacious and luxurious than the Marara. The resort common areas at the Marara, such as the bar and the reception are also very similar to Moorea with bold colors and chic design. The Private Island common areas have more of a rustic, authentic feel with more natural materials used for the design. The Marara has the better beach area, but the Private Island has better views and better snorkeling. If you are on a budget, the Sofitel Marara is an excellent option because you can pay the lower price and have the restaurants and pool, but easily take the shuttle to the Private Island for a snorkeling trip or a climb up the hillside for an amazing view.
InterContinental Bora Bora Thalasso Resort: I was very excited to finally tour this property since it has always been one of my best sellers. For those wanting a more intimate or authentic setting, this is not the place for you. However, if you want a resort that has modern décor, sprawling and well maintained grounds, and an innovative spa, then the Thalasso is the right place! The Thalasso ties in a concept of the deep sea with chic design all throughout the property, especially in the spa. The main element of the spa is the use of the deep sea water, pumped in from the ocean. The spa offers many hydrotherapy treatments, which are all very cutting edge. The rooms at the Thalasso are gorgeous, with top of the line furnishings and expansive windows. They are also quite spacious! The Thalasso only offers overwater bungalows and all of the bungalows have the exact same interior. The biggest difference among the categories is the view. The Emerald category mostly faces toward the resort and the beach. The Sapphire category faces out toward the lagoon, but without a direct view of the main island. The two Diamond categories have a direct view of Mt. Otemanu, but the Diamond Otemanu bungalows have a direct view of the mountain from the bedroom window. The “standard” Diamond overwater bungalows are farthest out on the pontoon, so they also offer a direct view, but not at the best angle from the bedroom. One thing of note for when foreign weddings become more popular, the Thalasso has an amazing chapel with an incredible view of Mt. Otemanu. It makes for a very romantic and dramatic setting for a destination wedding.
InterContinental Le Moana: Le Moana is pretty much the exact opposite of the Thalasso, which actually works out quite well if you prefer something intimate, authentic, on the main island, and more in tune with the local culture. Le Moana is also less expensive, yet you can always catch a shuttle to the Thalasso to spend a day enjoying the spa! Le Moana offers beach and overwater bungalows, which are set onto a strip of gorgeous beach along Matira Point. The bungalows are simple and well constructed with local materials and offer a touch of luxury without taking away the charm. Le Moana looks out toward the Sofitel Private Island and some of the overwater bungalows have a view of Mt. Otemanu, although most of the horizon overwater bungalows face out toward the colorful lagoon and the reef.
Le Meridien Bora Bora Resort: Our final site inspection on Bora Bora, Le Meridien is known most for their soft, white sand and their amazing turtle lagoon. The turtles are really adorable and once they grow to a certain size, they are released into the wild. It’s an excellent program to help preserve the population. What’s also cool about Le Meridien is the immense glass floor in the overwater bungalows. The floor does not open, which is slightly disappointing, but it’s twice as large as what any other resort offers. The bungalow exteriors aren’t as inviting as the interiors and the interiors are on par with what the Sofitel chain offers. After all, both Sofitel and Le Meridien are European brands. Le Meridien also just completed construction on their new beach villas. The beach villas are actually a beach bungalow attached to what they call a beach suite, which is a bungalow with a large sitting area and plunge pool. This concept is actually a little confusing, but based on the way they are configured, I’d opt to rent out the entire villa to maximize privacy. If you book just the beach bungalow, the beach suite can be rented out to another guest. If you book the beach suite, the beach bungalow can be rented out as well. They do provide you with a privacy screen if the other side is rented out, but I’m not entire sure how well they work. Also of note is that you can also choose to dine buffet style every day. It’s quite expensive to do this, but if you are someone who likes a large variety and can eat almost non-stop, the buffet option may be of benefit to you.
And our last stop – Tahiti
So sad! My trip is over once again. We chose to stay at the new Manava Suites, which is run by the same group as the Pearl Resorts. Manava is very modern and offers accommodations that include a kitchenette, which is great for families or extended stays. The studio suites do not offer the kitchenettes, though. The décor is minimalist with a modern Polynesian flair. Manava is only 10 minutes from the airport and depending on traffic, only 15-20 minutes from downtown Papeete. It has one restaurant, one bar, and a pool bar. The pool is gigantic and offers a generous view overlooking the lagoon and Moorea. I also have to give a shout out to Phil and Sarah, a lovely Aussie couple we met at the bar!
Finally…It’s time to plan another trip back! Where to next??? I think Taha’a is calling my name again!!
Additional photos of French Polynesia can be seen on the Tahiti Information tab.
***As a travel agent, I received special considerations on this trip..***