I think the majority of people had their travel arranged by the agent who works with Ring of Fire, but arranging plane fares and hotels is simple for me to do. I prefer flying business class when crossing the Pacific and, by buying my Air Tahiti Nui ticket through Qantas, it was about 25% cheaper. (This is a common thing with code shares and you should always look at all of the airlines offering exactly the same flight.) I left myself a full day in Los Angeles to make the connection, since that is less stressful to do. Then came the part that could be expensive – I decided to spend couple of days on Bora Bora before the cruise. Fortunately, I am the queen of points and miles so moved some Chase Sapphire points to IHG and got two free nights at the Intercontinental La Moana. The best price I saw on-line there was over $600 a night, so I think I did well. And, in fact, I did even better than I expected as you’ll see.
Getting to Los Angeles was routine and drama free. I stayed at the Renaissance, which is convenient and nicer than most of the other airport hotels I’ve tried, making it worth the 10 bucks or so more that it costs. The next day, I took a bus (well, two) to Culver City to revisit an old favorite place – the Museum of Jurassic Technology. I was with a friend who had not been there before, by the way. I found it just as amusing as ever.
I got back to the hotel, retrieved my luggage, and headed to the airport. Air Tahiti Nui was a bit chaotic, with conflicting information about when the desks would open for check-in. The pre-security area of Tom Bradley International Terminal has inadequate seating, nowhere to charge electronics, and a few uninspiring choices of places to eat, so I was a bit grumpy by the time I checked my bag. They also lied to me about there being a special security lane for business class. There was somewhat less chaos post-security, but it may just be that I had lounge access so was appeased with drinks and sushi. I still got grumpy over a boarding delay accompanied by a complete lack of information.
Air Tahiti Nui’s business class is adequate, but nothing to write home about. I ignored the light meal they served shortly after take-off. I also ignored the entertainment system. Since the flight is under 8 hours, sleep was my priority. The seat was angled flat, which is annoying, though I did manage to find a position that worked for me. And I definitely liked the big, thick blanket. However, the United Polaris gel pillows have spoiled me for anything else. I did get up for breakfast (fruit, yogurt, omelet).
We arrived about a half hour late. They use a remote stand, but it’s a short walk to the terminal. Fortunately, it didn’t take long to retrieve my bag and walk over to the domestic part of the terminal to check in for my Air Tahiti flight to Bora Bora. This is all coach and has no assigned seating, but it hardly matters for the 40 minutes or so it takes.
The Bora Bora airport is on a motu (border island) so you take a boat to the main part of the island. Hotels run their own boats, but those are a lot more expensive than the free Air Tahiti shuttle combined with a taxi. It was early in the day so my room wasn’t ready on arrival at the La Moana, but I barely had time to settle into a lounge chair before they came to take me to my room. Actually, not a room – a bungalow. An overwater bungalow. Yes, I had gotten an upgrade! The overwater bungalow is a thing of wonder, with a glass coffee table allowing you to watch fish from within your living room. (It also slides open so you can feed fish.) There was a lovely patio, too, with a ladder down into the (surprisingly shallow) water, though I preferred the short walk to the beach.
As for what I actually did on Bora Bora, the main reason I stayed at La Moana is that it is on the mainland, not a motu, meaning I could rent a bike for a while and explore. The thing I hadn’t figured on there is the poor quality of the available bikes, the poorer quality of the road, and the volume of traffic, which limited me to a couple of hours. There were a couple of stores and restaurants within a short distance of the hotel, which meant I could save money by buying a baguette for breakfast (supplemented with a fruit platter that the hotel gave me). There were nearby restaurants which, while pricy, were not as outrageously pricy as the hotel. Beyond that, I swam, snorkeled a bit (but, frankly, saw as many fish from my bungalow), and napped.
That was fine for a couple of days and then it was time to fly back to Papeete. I stayed close to the center of town for the night before the cruise, which enabled me to explore quite a bit, seeing the Parliament Building, Notre Dame Cathedral, and some parks with trees, one of which is claimed to be Paul Gauguin’s banyan tree. There is also an infinite supply of shopping available, but I don’t wear pearls (which I consider unlucky) and the only thing at all tempting was some fabric, until I reminded myself that I don’t sew either. In short, one day was just about the right amount of time to spend in Papeete.
The cruise was on the Wind Spirit, part of the Windstar line. 140 passengers is a good size cruise for people like me, who have no interest in the fancy floating hotel style cruise ship. My cabin (shared with a cabin mate who the tour company matched me with) was decent-sized and had plenty of storage space. The main downside of this ship is its lack of an elevator, so it would not be suitable for people who could not deal with climbing stairs.
Aside from meals and lectures, there wasn’t a huge amount to do on the ship. We were heading to the path of totality and, due to weather and sea conditions, were not able to call in at Rapa Iti, which was the only real stop on the proposed itinerary. The food was, in general, quite good, albeit not particularly exotic. Some people complained about a lack of things to do, but I had a good supply of puzzles and books (and the ship had a large library of DVDs). Sometimes it is nice to have time for relaxation. And, of course, there is always the option of talking with people. (There was also trivia a couple of nights and Name That Tune a couple of nights. I was on winning times, but we kindly shared the champagne we won.
There was some doubt about whether we’d manage to see the eclipse and the captain did some heroics to get us clear sky. So, yes, we were successful and I am 5 for 5 on seeing total solar eclipses! There are details (including photos by people who are far better than I am) at a results web page. Remember the other ship that was doing an eclipse cruise? It turns out that the only corona they saw was on a beer can.
On the way back, we did have one port call, at Moorea. I took an island tour, which was enjoyable, including several scenic stops. A stop at Bali Hai infected me with an earworm, however. Overall, I think Moorea is the most interesting of the islands I visited and I would have liked another day or so there.
Back in Papeete, I spent two nights at the Intercontinental there, which was less impressive than Bora Bora had been. They do have a nice lagoon area with lots of fish to see, but the hotel was more crowded and a bit isolated. The Gauguin Museum would have been worth going to, but is closed.
There was no drama getting back. Overall, it was an enjoyable but low-key vacation.
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