Originally, we planned to take Dennis’ entire family of 14 on a cruise around Tahiti to celebrate his 80th birthday and graduation for some of his grandkids. However, the pandemic had other plans. We tried to reschedule twice to no avail. Finally, it looked like the trip would actually happen two years later than we expected. But, because of vaccination requirements and life changes, his grandkids were not able to accompany us on the trip. The group changed to include only his son, Brian, and Brian’s girlfriend, Cindy, and his sister, Renee and her friend, Lola. So now instead of Dennis paying for 14 people, there were only six guests. We were determined to make the best of the situation and have a wonderful vacation.
The five islands we visited from July 16 to 27 in 2022 are called the Society Islands and include Tahiti (Papeete), Huahine, Taha’a (Motu Mahana), Bora Bora, and Moorea. They are a spectacular collection of volcanic atolls strewn across the tranquil Pacific Ocean, about a five-hour plane ride south of Hawaii. The island of Tahiti is known as the “Queen of the Pacific.”
Our ship, the Paul Gauguin, holds only 330 passengers and 220 staff. However, there were only 181 guests on our cruise so the staff to passenger ratio was incredible. Every single staff member went out of their way to graciously meet our every need with humor and a joyful spirit. As cruise ships go, the Paul Gauguin is fairly small—allowing it to enter areas that larger ships cannot get to.
Dennis’ sister, Renee, and her friend, Lola, arrived in Santa Barbara on Wednesday, July 13, so they could spend some time with us and visit the Santa Barbara area. We toured them around our beautiful corner of the world, and they loved it—the Santa Ynez valley, the Funk Zone, concerts in the park with lots of dancing, a fun bar on State street where David Segall entertained everyone with his stellar guitar music and song, and shopping downtown.
We all left for our Tahiti adventure on Saturday morning after stopping by the clinic to get our official COVID test. Thankfully, we all tested negative. After a quick breakfast of cereal and yogurt, our ever-faithful driver, Hakim, picked us up in his beautiful limo and took our guests to the Airbus pickup location so they could fly out of LAX and then he took us to the Santa Barbara airport where we flew to San Francisco.
Once we arrived at the airport after a smooth flight under sunny, not foggy, skies, we headed to the exclusive Polaris lounge where we relaxed and had a bite to eat. Since we recently received an Amex card, we were curious about their lounge, so we checked it out. It didn’t take long for us to realize it was crowded and not up to the standards of the Polaris. But now it was time to go to our gate. So off we went.
I will be forever grateful that Dennis likes flying first/business class because it is so much more enjoyable. We boarded the plane quickly but, thankfully, I happened to glance at Dennis as we began walking down the jet bridge and realized he didn’t have his suitcase! So, I hollered, “Dude” and several of the waiting passengers chuckled. He scurried back to where we had been sitting, retrieved his luggage and returned to the jet bridge looking a little sheepish. We leisurely walked the rest of the ramp and boarded the plane, settling into our very comfy individual, reclining seats.
The flight to Tahiti was smooth and uneventful, with plenty of time for delicious meals, reading, napping, and watching movies. The entire flight was 8 1/2 hours, and we arrived in Tahiti at 10:30 in the evening our time, 7:30 their time.
The shuttle driver took us to our stunning Paul Gauguin cruise ship and we eagerly boarded after producing our passport and vaccine paperwork. One of the very attentive stewards escorted us to our suite—801. We were thrilled to see what was most likely the best suite on the entire ship. A comfy sitting area, large well-appointed bed, a shiny mahogany bar, and a huge outdoor deck overlooking the ocean and the entire back of the ship. We were thrilled!
The next morning, after a refreshing sleep and a delicious breakfast at one of their restaurants overlooking the ocean, the shuttle took us to our first island—Huahine. As soon as we arrived on this very rural island, a big rickety bus took us to the other side of the island where we, along with our four guests, enjoyed a delicious lunch of the local favorite—fish marinated in coconut milk.
That night was the Captain’s welcome party in the Grand Salon, following a mandatory lifeboat drill demonstration outside on the deck.
That entire day, Sunday 7/17, was a tough day for me. I was thinking of my son, Rick, all day while trying to act as though I was present and engaged with the others. But this was the 10th anniversary of Rick’s death. Thankfully, I had printed out the journal entries I made during his dying process and brought them with me. So, I was able to read through them and process this impending day on the flight to Tahiti. Still, this was the day, 10 years ago, that I gathered our friends and family members around Rick’s bed; the day that I held my cell phone to Rick’s ear so he could hear his brother, Mike, tell him goodbye (I had learned from Hospice that hearing is the last sense to go, so when Mike said he was delayed and I knew Rick would pass before he arrived, I decided to try the phone idea—it worked!); this was the day that I looked into Rick’s eyes for the last time and saw they were brilliant green; the day that I stood with my granddaughter, Stephanie, and cried as they loaded Rick’s body into the hearse and I craned my neck to watch a piece of his little beard sticking up from the sheet until it was gone; this was the day that love went riding in a hearse.
We scheduled a little welcome party in our room before our dinner reservation for our guests: Dennis’ sister, Renee, her friend, Lola, Dennis’ son, Brian, and his girlfriend, Cindy. Our personal butler, Juben, helped us arrange for a beautiful cheese platter, fresh fruit, and two bottles of wine including champagne. Everyone arrived at 5:00 and sat around our dining area chatting and enjoying the delicious repast.
It felt good to sit on the deck drinking my hot coffee and reading my iPad messages. We got our things together for a day of snorkeling, kayaking and relaxing on the island of Taha’a. Once there, we lay on comfy lounge chairs under bright green palm trees, feeling the warm wind caress our skin.
After enjoying an hour or so of snorkeling in the clear blue water, we sipped on a delicious mai tai and then gobbled up an incredible lunch prepared by island locals. After kayaking around in the sparkling waters, we gathered our things and headed back to our tender which whisked us off to our waiting ship.
After a relaxing shower, we dressed for dinner and headed to the piano bar for an aperitif. We greeted various new acquaintances and then, as I walked further into the room, I felt drawn to a couple that we hadn’t met yet.
As soon as I said hello, we all realized this was one of the couples we were looking for. Our friend, Jackie Carrera, in Santa Barbara, told us to try to find two couples who were friends of hers and were coming on this cruise. We had been looking for them earlier and finally gave their names to reception to inquire about their room numbers. We had the paper in hand ready to begin our search again when we realized these were the people we had been looking for. What an amazing coincidence! As we got acquainted and sang Jackie’s praises, several of their friends joined us. A wonderful group of folks.
Next, we were off to dinner with Renee and Lola at a really nice restaurant where we had an elegant and scrumptious dinner. For some reason, neither Dennis nor I were tired even though it was now about 9:00 in the evening.
We went back to our room for a little computer catch up work and then moseyed over to the disco where we danced to the lively tunes—all by ourselves. Finally, we walked back through the warm evening air to our room and then off to dreamland.
The next morning, Tuesday 7/19 (which would have been my son Rick’s 62nd birthday), we enjoyed a delightful breakfast on deck and planned a day of snorkeling, kayaking, stand up paddling on the island of Bora Bora, a sunset cruise, and dinner with family on board our ship.
Wednesday, 7/20, was a full day of water, sunshine, and underwater delights. A very cool island-themed boat took us, along with ten other guests, out to a verdant atoll where we dropped anchor at three spots to swim with colorful fish, majestic mana rays, and stealth sharks through the clear turquoise waters.
An island family greeted us on a private island with a lavish lunch. We feasted on pork roasted for two hours under banana leaves, barbecued mahi-mahi, and various other island treats. We enjoyed it all on our plates made of banana leaves sitting on a picnic table submersed enough in the clear water for our feet to dangle in the waves. During our luxurious sail back, the local island crew entertained us with ukulele music and delightful tunes. What an adventure!
Wednesday evening, we all had a delicious dinner at L’Etoile restaurant. Afterwards we went to an amazing talent show put on by the staff. We ended the evening by dancing at the disco until very late.
There was a big swell, so the ship was really rocking and rolling, making it challenging to keep our balance while dancing. That night, while sleeping, I told Dennis to quit rocking the bed. He said it wasn’t him, it was the boat! Several people reported that they had a hard time sleeping that night because of the turbulence.
Thursday, 7/21, we slept late barely making it to breakfast before it closed at 9:30. We wandered around the ship a bit and then Dennis took a nap and I changed into my bathing suit and walked downstairs to the Marina where I borrowed a kayak.
I paddled over to the island and along the shore. So beautiful! It started to sprinkle as I found myself under a dark cloud, but the air was so warm that the rain felt good on my skin that I just kept paddling. When I returned the kayak about an hour later, the deck hand chastised me in a good-humored way. She said I was probably one of the “bad kids” in school because I broke the rules. She said I had paddled too far and she couldn’t see me and I used my life jacket for a back rest instead of wearing it. She said she recognized that trait in me because she was the bad kid in school too. Very cute.
On Friday, 7/22, after a delightful breakfast on deck, we got all of our snorkel and kayak gear together and hopped on the tender to go to the shore on Moorea where we took a taxi to the public beach and rented kayaks. The restaurant there made us a delicious grilled tuna sandwich and we were off on our adventure.
We paddled for an hour or so through the turquoise waters and docked on the shore of the island. We found a picnic bench and gobbled our yummy sandwich. After paddling back, we hopped on the taxi and headed back to the tender which whisked us back to the ship.
After another delicious dinner with our group and drinks in the Piano Bar with our new friends, we finished off the evening with late night disco. But we had only six hours of sleep because we got up early the next morning to leave our room by 8:00 and disembark by 10:00. We were both like zombies, craving more sleep.
On Saturday, 7/23, The tender took us to the Papeete shore where we caught a big barge to Moorea—about a half hour ride. A pre-arranged taxi picked us up at the dock and took us to our charming Hilton Hotel. Our room was incredibly beautiful—one of those over-the-water bungalows with a glass floor. Ours is at the very end, so we have no neighbors except ocean, fish, and gentle breezes.
We were hungry and sleepy, so we went to the restaurant by the pool for their specialty—Poisson Cru (Tahitian ceviche). Delicious! Next, we hurried to our room for a much-needed nap. Dennis slept for an hour and a half, but I slept for two hours and a half! After exploring the beautiful property, we dined at a table over the water and enjoyed a scrumptious dinner of seafood crepes and shared a cold bottle of Chardonnay.
On Sunday 7/24, After a good night’s sleep we moseyed over to the breakfast area for lots of yummy treats. And then snorkeled all around our bungalow where we saw lots of beautiful fish. Just as a giant downpour arrived, we headed out to catch our taxi to go to the Moorea Beach Cafe. We were completely soaked but the waterside dinner was really enjoyable.
Monday 7/25 was our last full day in Tahiti as we had to leave to head back the next afternoon at 1:30. After another wonderful breakfast we made arrangements for a snorkel tour with mana rays, sharks, beautiful fish and stunning coral. The boat took us out with about 15 other visitors to the reef where we snorkeled through the crystal-clear waters for two hours. So incredibly beautiful!
Then we showered and went to the sweet waterfront restaurant for a delightful lunch of Tahitian ceviche (Poisson Cru). After that, a little nap and then off to dinner at Rudy’s with Brian and Cindy.
Tuesday, 7/26, was quite eventful. We wanted to make the most of the precious two hours or so we had in the morning, so after breakfast we wanted to use kayaks or stand-up paddle boards. Sadly, they were all being used except one tandem kayak.
So, we took that tandem. But the wind really picked up, the current was strong, and it started to rain a bit. We paddled around under and around the bungalows but then decided to go back to shore. It was still fun even though it was cut short.
After packing up all of our things for the trip back home, we checked out of the hotel and went to sit by the pool, quickly ordering a couple of frosty pina coladas. We chatted briefly with a couple from New York, Nicole and Sean, who had just gotten married the week before.
Next was a third time of ordering the delicious Poisson Cru to share for lunch, along with their signature mai tais. Then it was time for the shuttle to pick us up to take us to the ferry which took us back to Papeete.
A shuttle van met us as we disembarked and whisked us off to the Intercontinental Hotel where we had a day pass to use their facilities until it was time to go to the airport to catch our plane to San Francisco.
The Intercontinental is a beautiful property, the oldest hotel in Tahiti. It was expansive and situated right on the ocean. There was even a saltwater lagoon with lots of beautiful fish and coral where guests could snorkel. We were so impressed that we agreed that we would be happy to return just to stay at this lovely hotel for a few days.
We boarded the shuttle to the airport after a delicious early dinner. We spent some time again in the beautiful Polaris Lounge and then climbed onto the plane to San Francisco where we settled into our wonderful business class nest. We were both pretty tired. Dennis went to sleep as soon as we took off, but I watched the movie, The Terminal starring Tom Hanks, ate some dinner with a glass of cold Chardonnay, and then finally settled in for a four-hour nap. I awoke when we had only one hour left of our eight-hour flight and felt pretty disoriented.
We made our way through customs and security and then headed to the United Club lounge for about two hours until it was time to board our plane back to Santa Barbara.
Thankfully we had pre-arranged for our driver, Hakim, to pick us up and drive us home. We both took a nice long nap when we were settled back into our Heavenly Perch.
We both agree that this was a trip of a lifetime. Tahiti is so beautiful and the Paul Gauguin experience was so special that we feel it was probably the best trip we have ever taken.