Chris and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary in July of this year. Last year, in anticipation, we decided a tropical cruise would be a good way to mark the occasion. We had been on a Radisson Seven Seas cruise in Italy in 2004 and really liked it. We looked at their website to see if they had a cruise that fit the bill. The first thing we found was that Radisson had changed its name to Regent Seven Seas Cruises.
The second thing we found was that they have a ship called the Paul Gauguin that cruises the South Pacific, mostly around French Polynesia. One of their cruises would start in Papeete, Tahiti and end in Lautoka, Fiji after 14 days. It sounded perfect, and the price was within our budget.
We had worked with a travel agent named Margie Weidert of the Travel Shoppe in Los Gatos, CA on a previous trip, and we had gotten along very well with her. We called her up to see what she knew of this cruise. It turned out she had actually been on it and highly recommended it.
We had a choice of several departure dates, and we chose the November 3, 2007 date, because it fit well with my expected work schedule. Of course, since we were booking nearly a year in advance, my schedule would change; but we had to start somewhere.
Margie booked the cruise, flights and two nights pre-cruise in a luxury resort. And then we had 11 months to dream and plan.
Four months before our departure we were able to request our shore excursion via Regent’s web site. We studied our possibilities and selected excursions for nearly every stop. We would be at sea four of the days, so we weren’t too worried about making ourselves overly busy.
Our travel documents arrived three weeks before the cruise. Margie came to our house one evening to go over the details with us and give us last-minute advice about our travel. We began setting out clothes and equipment to take with us, and finally packed our large suitcases and carry-on bags on the last two days before we left.
- Bring your contact lenses, even if you don’t normally wear them very much. We assumed there would be snorkel masks with corrective lenses available, but they weren’t. Fortunately the water has enough natural magnification that Chris could see OK in the shallow water.
- Pack in one less suitcase than the airlines allow and pack an empty duffle bag. If your bags are overweight or you buy too much stuff on your trip, you can transfer some of your gear into the duffle.
Thursday, 1 November 2007 – Travel from San Jose to Papeete
To the Airport
I woke up one minute before the alarm went off at 5:00am. When it started buzzing, I already had my feet on the floor. We were finally starting our dream vacation. I roused Chris and we got ourselves ready to leave. We also made sure all the non-essential appliances were unplugged, turned down the thermostats on the furnace and water heater, and put the refrigerator in “vacation mode”, whatever that is.
At 6:00 I called Mini to make sure she was up and would be coming to pick us up. Heath woke up and answered the phone. He said, “Yeah, she’s about ready to leave.” Shortly after 6:30 she was at our door. We loaded our three larger cases and three carry-on bags into her Jeep, and we were off. Traffic was moderate, but moving well. We were at the airport by 7:20am.
SFO wasn’t too busy, especially at the American Airlines international check-in. We were quickly checked in, through security, and at our gate nearly two hours before our departure time.
In the Air
The flight to LAX was on time and mostly uneventful. The one notable bit was when the couple in front of us asked the flight attendant how to get to the international terminal once we landed. She told them and then asked “Where are you going?”
“Tahiti!” they said.
Our ears perked up, and we said “Us too!” It turns out Nancy and Rich Phillips were on the same cruise as us. They were staying at the same pre-cruise resort and everything. On the ship, they would be just down the hallway from our stateroom.
At LAX we had to go outside security to get to the international terminal. There was a long line at the Air Tahiti Nui ticket counter, but the time went fast as we chatted with Rich and Nancy. When we got to the counter, the agent asked to see our luggage claim checks. For a panicked minute, I wasn’t able to find them, and thought I might have accidentally thrown them away. Finally, I found them in the inside pocket of my jacket, which I had folded and stowed in my computer bag. Whew!
We were soon through another security checkpoint and waiting at our gate, again chatting with Nancy and Rich. The hour-long wait passed quickly. As boarding started at 1:30pm our hearts sped once again as we realized we were that much closer to our destination in Tahiti.
From the waiting area, we did not board the plane directly. We were packed into busses and driven to a building far out on the tarmac. There we wound our way up a ramp, then out the jet way to our waiting Airbus 340. On this flight, Rich and Nancy were in the seats behind us. It was difficult to talk between the seats, so we had a nine-hour hiatus in our chat.
The Air Tahiti Nui flight attendants were uniformly beautiful. They all wore flowers behind their ears and had on ankle-length flower-print dresses in bright primary colors. They were extremely courteous and attentive.
The flight was, well, a long flight. Even with pleasant flight attendants, two decent meals, a couple glasses of wine and a large selection of movies to watch on seat-back screens, eight and a half hours is a long time to spend in an economy-class airline seat.
The flight was made slightly less pleasant by the woman across the aisle from us. She persisted in standing in the aisle and chatting to us, even when we tried to make it clear we weren’t interested in her stories. She was long-winded and talked only about herself, her wealthy son, her Jaguar (she mentioned it twice in case we had missed it the first time), and her slob-ish husband. The merest grunt of acknowledgement was sufficient to keep her talking for another five minutes. When she finally had to get out of the aisle for a moment to let someone pass, I immediately picked up my book and started reading and Chris donned her headphones. That was finally enough of a hint for her, and she sat back down in her seat and stopped the constant chatter. The bad news was that she would also be on our cruise.
Arrival in Papeete
We finally landed in Papeete (pronounced PAH-pay-AY-tay) twenty minutes before our scheduled 8:00pm arrival time. French Polynesia is in the same time zone as Hawaii, ten hours earlier than Greenwich Mean Time, and three hours earlier than California during daylight savings time. Our bodies were telling us A) it was nearly 11:00 at night, or B) we had gotten up at 2:00am local time. In any case we were tired.
We were seated near the front of the plane, so we were not too far back in the line for passport control. We were through in half an hour. We claimed our bags and headed to the bus that would take us to the Intercontinental Resort – Tahiti. There was a van parked in front of the bus. We left our luggage to be loaded into it and boarded the bus. We waited for another half hour while the remaining passengers made their way through customs and out to the bus.
As we waited, I wondered if the luggage van wasn’t just some brilliant scam to steal lots of luggage from gullible tourists. I hoped not.
The bus finally got under way and we were soon at the resort. Chris and I were first off the bus thanks to an exit door right next to our seats. We felt pretty clever getting to the front of the check-in line. We continued to feel that way as we waited for the party in front of us to check in. Then we noticed there was an RSSC check-in table across the lobby, where everyone else had gathered. We ended up being next to last checking in. Rich and Nancy were right behind us.
Our bags had made it to the resort. No scam after all. We identified our bags and boarded a small cart that took us to our over-water bungalow. Our bags would arrive shortly after us. The bungalow was like a spacious hotel room inside, but it was in its own little building sitting on stilts over the lagoon. There was an arrangement of flower petals on a mat on the bed, and a plate of fresh fruit on the cocktail table. Outside was a small deck with chairs, lounges, a table, and steps down to a swim platform. It was as perfect as we had imagined.
After we settled in and explored the room we gave into our fatigue and fell into the very comfortable bed.