Gazing up at the starry night sky of the South Pacific, listening to the waves and feeling the warm caress of the tropical breeze, we felt like we were in each others’ dream. Yet our dream was real – and very, very pleasant… We were enjoying an after dinner coffee on our private balcony onboard the Tahitian Princess; and cruising our way across the South Pacific on our way to Raiatea. This was the next port of call in our magical tour of the Polynesian islands of Tahiti, Huahine, Bora Bora, and Moorea. The itinerary also included a fascinating side trip to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. Let’s take you back to the beginning of this cruise, which can easily be described as “the trip of a lifetime”.

The Tahitian Princess is an intimate ship by today’s standards, with approximately 670 passengers and 350 crew members. It’s large enough to have all the features and amenities of a larger ship, but small enough so that it’s easy to get around and to recognize fellow guests and crew.

Originally built in 1999 for Renaissance Cruises, the ship was ahead of its time in terms of luxurious appointments and décor. Oak panelling, marble fireplaces, Persian carpets in the lounges, dining room and elegant casino are more reminiscent of a comfortable English mansion than a modern cruise ship. The panelling in the well-stocked library gives way to a rich mahogany, and the room is dominated by a spectacular domed ceiling decorated with a fresco of multicoloured tropical birds and foliage.

The cruise begins in Papeete, the capital city of Tahiti. The ship is docked for two days and one night, allowing time for people to arrive at this remote location in the middle of the South Pacific – only 22 degrees south of the Equator. (Yes – it’s far – but very much worth the trip!). Just before boarding the bus from the airport, we all received a floral Lei, setting the tone for a relaxing and carefree holiday.

Upon arrival at the pier, we were introduced to our first advantage of small-ship cruising – few line-ups and check-in time was measured in just minutes. We were soon exploring our well-appointed stateroom.

Our home-away-from-home was tastefully decorated in soft blues offset with warm mahogany cabinetry. There is ample closet and drawer space, and each room is equipped with a safe. Single beds can be put together to make comfortable queen-sized beds in most cabins. There are over 200 cabins equipped with private balconies, and if it’s within your budget, we highly recommend it.

The balcony really can become an extension of your living space and a private and relaxing observation deck of tropical islands and lagoons.

The Club Restaurant (main dining room) is set up to accommodate guests in a traditionally elegant and comfortable setting with crisp white linen, fine silver and an attentive and courteous staff. Each evening has a theme, and the menu offers something for every taste. Whether its roast beef, lobster, or fish – the presentation and flavour are 5 star quality.

Traditional steak or chicken dishes are always available. Breads are baked fresh 20 minutes before each seating, and this illustrates the attention to detail and preparation for each meal served. Maitre D’Hotel Lorenzo Tarini (with Princess since 1963) and his staff create an atmosphere of celebration each evening that complements the outstanding culinary efforts of Executive Chef Claude Palloure, a Master Chef since 1978. Food & Beverage Director Salvatore has sailed with Princess since 1959. It speaks well for the company that there are so many employees with long service. There’s a saying in the cruise business that; “happy staff means happy guests”. There were lots of smiling guests on board the Tahitian Princess.

The Tahitian Princess has two alternative signature restaurants; The Sterling Steakhouse and Sabatini’s Restaurant. Open on alternating evenings, the exceptional staff of these intimate restaurants serve their specialities with pride, enthusiasm and panache. The steakhouse is beef lovers dream come true. The Italian cuisine in Sabatini’s surpassed all expectations, and everyone in our group agreed that we this was indeed a true culinary extravaganza.

While the Club Restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch as well, we enjoyed the casual dining of the Panorama Buffet for most of these meals. Once again, with a small complement of passengers, there are never line-ups or crowds, and the outdoor deck with its panoramic views of the ship’s anchorage provides a lovely setting for breakfast or lunch.

Balcony Dining: Princess Cruises has two unique dining experiences that add a special touch – taking room service into a whole new dimension. The first is a champagne breakfast set up on your balcony, and includes fresh berries on a pineapple “plate”, followed by crab cakes, and topped off with smoked salmon, cream cheese and bagels. Along the way you’ll also have an omelette. It’s a five course breakfast, complete with a split of champagne – just enough to get your blood circulating.

A romantic dinner on your private balcony is another popular dining option. There are a variety of menu selections, with lobster being the most popular. The room service crew arrive to set up the table and linens, silver cutlery, flower centre piece – and of course the champagne bucket. Each course is served individually, with sufficient time in between to enjoy the sunset. After dessert and coffee are served, the good folks in room service are wise enough to leave you alone to enjoy the starlit sky, warm tropical breezes, and each other’s company. Another special experience within 10 days of wonderful and memorable occasions.

Entertainment is an important aspect of any cruise, and there are multiple options aboard the Tahitian Princess, including a small but well-equipped and elegant casino. The main shows take place in the Cabaret Lounge, which is decorated in a classical European style. Anchored by an excellent show band of accomplished musicians, the Cruise Director offers a good variety of first rate Broadway-style shows, hilarious comedians and dancing to big band music. The Tahitian Princess also brings aboard local folkloric performers, and they were fantastic. The performers are talented, well-rehearsed, enthusiastic and rightfully proud of being able to share their heritage with an appreciative audience.

The Tahitian Lounge up on Deck Ten is an ideal place for a before dinner cocktail and dance. For most of us, this is a pleasant change from our daily routine, and a special beginning to the evening’s activities of dining, and entertainment.

Remember drive-in movies? How about taking in a film on the pool deck of a cruise ship? Movies Under the Stars has become another popular signature activity of Princess Cruises. Fresh popcorn is supplied.
Topside is where you’ll find the refreshing saltwater pool and poolside bar, an ample supply of deck chairs, and a cushioned walking track. Live entertainment with a tropical flare is provided during the afternoons.

The Islands The islands are much as they have been for thousands of years, each with an outer barrier reef that provides protection for the interior lagoons.

Tourism is important, but the local operators and governments understand that visitors are seeking a different holiday experience. The islands are sparsely populated, and the number of tourists is moderate; and the same is true for cruise ships. The Tahitian Princess is one of only two ships to sail into these crystal clear lagoons on a year round basis.

After taking an island wide tour of Tahiti, including a visit to the Paul Gauguin museum, and some spectacular scenery, we arrived in the nearby island of Huahine. Here we took a 4 x 4 excursion, aboard a safari-type jeep with sheltered seating in the back. It’s open on the sides to provide island-style “air conditioning”. This tour included a boat ride to a pearl farm, located on the pristine waters of an ocean lagoon. Imagine our surprise when the farm operator, noticing my Montreal Jazz Festival t-shirt, remarked enthusiastically that he had visited the festival twice, and that he loved Montreal!

After an informative description and demonstration of how the beautiful black pearls are cultivated (many of which aren’t actually black, but varying shades of a rich grey with undercurrents of green and other colours taken from the shell of the host oyster) you’re welcome to buy. Each pearl is measured, authenticated and a certificate of authenticity is issued. This is an important local industry, and government controls are taken seriously by the merchants. The pearl earrings we purchased for our daughter were a big success – but the memory of that sun-drenched hut and platform in the middle of the turquoise lagoon will last a long time.

The next day we enjoyed a leisurely day at sea and as described by the Captain, “we sailed across the middle of nowhere” before arriving at Roratonga, in the Cook Islands. Again, we opted for a half day 4 x 4 excursion. Our first stop after a considerable climb was a pasture surrounded by jungle vegetation rising up on all sides. “Look around you” advised our guide. “You’re on the floor of a long-extinct volcano that was responsible for the creation of this island millions of years ago. Now we call it ‘home’.” It was absolutely beautiful; the craggy edges of the volcano walls adorned with jungle vegetation and an abundance of orchids, bougainvilleas, and other tropical flowers.

We stopped at pristine beaches, and a dreamlike freshwater jungle pool where several of our party jumped in along with two of the jeep drivers. The tour concluded with a stop at a Maori sacred meeting place, with our guide Apii describing how the island tribes organized their society and governed themselves. His presentation was informative and poignant – especially when he told us that he was the proud descendant of the last great Chief of Roratonga. Another fabulous day that left everyone with a smile.
After another day at sea, we arrived in Raiatea, where the Tahitian Princess was alongside at the pier.

We took to the water on this day, and our guide took us to a deserted island where we swam, snorkelled, ate delicious fresh fruit and in general went native for the morning. Ahhhhhh…

Bora Bora, the playground of the very rich and famous was our next port. Once again, we stayed with a water tour, joining a group of our fellow passengers on a giant catamaran, and sailed around the island, with a stop in a lagoon for swimming and snorkelling. After weighing anchor, the captain lowered a set of stairs, and we were able to walk off the bottom step into about 12 feet of crystal-clear water. One lady swimming beside me admitted that she had been so taken with the setting that she forgot that she hadn’t been swimming in at least 20 years. However, she felt like a young girl again, and as the saying goes – she seized the moment!

The island of Moorea was our next destination, and perhaps the best tour of a series of superlative excursions. Here we took a pontoon boat ride across the lagoon to a deserted island for a full day of swimming, petting giant rays, a barbeque – all punctuated with a wonderfully informative and entertaining presentation by our guide. On the way, we passed a group of people swimming with dolphins and black-tipped sharks. Even the sharks are laid back in Polynesia! This was a truly magical day, with complete strangers excitedly telling each other about patting the rays and sharing holiday stories.

Like the rest of the trip, the disembarkation procedure is relaxed and civilized. Many flights back to North America don’t leave until the evening, and so guests are allowed to remain on the ship and use all the facilities, including the restaurants, until it is time to leave for the airport. Another suggestion is to arrange for a post-cruise stay for a couple of nights at one of the resorts that Princess offers. We spent an afternoon at the outstanding Intercontinental Hotel. Since you’ve travelled to the other side of the planet, why not make the most it. We met a couple from Niagara-On-The-Lake who had booked back to back cruises and were staying on board The Tahitian Princess for 20 days. There is certainly enough variety of excursions on the islands to keep you entertained without repetition. The Tahitian Princess also makes 12 day sailings to Hawaii periodically during the year, so you could make a very nice extended combination with that itinerary.

This is also an ideal cruise people celebrating a special anniversary, or looking for a quiet holiday and for whom the mega ships have little appeal. The elegance of the Tahitian Princess; along with the natural beauty and gentle people of the Polynesian Islands are sure to provide a positive cruise experience. And for all you veteran cruisers – this truly is an adventure in paradise. Bon Voyage!

If you go: For more information about this and other Princess Cruises sailings, please visit their web site at: You might also visit your travel agent, or visit one of the three local CruiseShipCenters who specialize in Princess Cruises. We recommend that consideration be given to an overnight stay in Los Angeles before continuing on to Tahiti. Princess has special rates available, and it is a pleasant break in the journey. The hotel area nearby the airport is well-developed, and excursions are available to Hollywood, Venice Beach, and the famous shopping areas. We stayed at the LAX Marriott, and we are happy to recommend it. The hotel has recently been renovated, has a lovely enclosed garden courtyard and pool area, and a variety of restaurants, ranging from a sports bar to fine dining – a solid 4 star property.

Be Pampered at Sea

Sometimes the world can be a small place – we met Montrealer Kathryn Smyk, who is the Lotus Spa Manager aboard the Tahitian Princess. Kathryn grew up in LaSalle and now lives in Dollard des Ormeaux. There is a fairytale quality to her life story.
After working as a hairdresser in Montreal, she applied for work as a beautician on board a cruise ship. Two weeks later she was working at sea! Eight years later, Kathryn is the spa and fitness centre manager on the Tahitian Princess – and still excited about her career move…even more so since she met the love of her life, Darren Welch from Britain; who is a Chief of Security with Princess Cruises.

In October 2006, the Captain married his two staff members on the private spa deck. Because the ship stays overnight in Bora Bora, the newlyweds were able to celebrate their honeymoon at the Hotel Bora Bora Nui in a tiki hut (one of those luxurious Polynesian cottages on stilts over the water). Both reported back to work at 11am the next day.

Kathryn tells us that the Lotus Spa is popular with cruise guests, with men counting for nearly 50% of some treatments. The spa offers a wide assortment of beauty treatments and massage therapies; including lime and ginger scrubs, hot stone massage, aromatic facials, or a frangipani Indian head massage. Clients are invited to use the private sun deck which has a thalyasso therapy pool – great for circulation and arthritis.

“It’s the best thing I’ve ever done. I meet all kinds of nationalities – and I’ve made friends from all over the world”, Kathryn happily told us.

By the way, advance arrangements can be made for weddings, receptions and vow renewal ceremonies while on board this beautiful ship. All you need is a partner!

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