Paradise is closer than you think (and more affordable than ever)

I just got back from ten days in Tahiti, and this trip has really changed how I think about the destination.

As a honeymoon specialist, I’m well aware of the lure of the overwater bungalow. Clients will come to me looking for something exotic, remote, and Instagrammable…with visions of Bora Bora dancing in their heads. They know it’s far away, and that those OWBs can cost upwards of $1000 per night, but they don’t care, because this is a “once in a lifetime” trip. And that’s fabulous. But I’m here to tell you that Tahiti does not need to be a one and done vacation. And it can be done more economically than the typical honeymoon, if need be.  In fact, it can even work for {gasp} families.

over water bungalows at the Hilton Moorea
Hilton Moorea overwater bungalows
over water bungalows conrad resort Bora Bora
Overwater Bungalows at the Conrad Bora Bora Nui

Let me explain.

French Polynesia includes more than 100 islands in the South Pacific.The best known and most-visited are Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora, but there are dozens more, spread across more than 2,000 kilometers of ocean, and there is literally something for everyone. You can stay in a local guest house, a 3-, 4- or 5-star resort, or even an airbnb. You can cruise from island to island on ships from Paul Gauguin or Aranui, or you can charter your own boat (bareboat or crewed). If this is a honeymoon splurge, by all means let’s include some time in a luxurious and romantic overwater bungalow. But if you’re trying to be more budget-friendly, we can get creative and do charming little garden bungalows, or some time in a guest house, to meet the locals.

Beach Bungalow at the Bora Bora Pearl

Ah, but what about how FAR away it is? In reality, it’s two hours further than Hawaii, and most Americans are more than willing to fly there for a week’s vacation. For me, coming from the East Coast, it was a six-hour flight from Boston to Los Angeles, followed by an eight-hour flight from LA to Papeete. One long day of travel, but I arrived before midnight, fell into bed in a nearby hotel, and woke up in paradise.  

view of idyllic beach from window Tahiti
Sunrise, beachfront views

While we’re talking about flights, there’s some good news on that front. Air Tahiti Nui, which used to have a lock on the US-Tahiti routes now has some competition from Air France and United Airlines (which is flying from San Francisco).  A low-cost French carrier (French Bee) has recently joined them as well, with round trip fares starting in the $700 range! 

Okay, so it’s not as far away or as expensive as you thought, but what’s the allure of Tahiti? Well, beyond the gorgeous blue water and white (and black) sand beaches, and the bragging rights (“you’re going where?”) the islands offer so much more than I ever knew.

beach hut and white sand on Tahiti beach
White sand beach at the Sofitel in Moorea

Black sand beach at the Tahiti Pearl

They are uncrowded and unspoiled (Tahiti receives as many visitors in one year as Hawaii receives in one WEEK).  They are very safe and have very little crime (Moorea does not even have a jail). The people are warm and welcoming, and you’ll be greeted by smiles and “Ia Orana” everywhere you go. Getting around is super easy – ferries run between Tahiti and Moorea, and the other islands are connected by quick flights through tiny little open-air airports (no long lines, no security checks). You can easily rent a car and explore on your own on the larger islands like Tahiti and Moorea. And if you are a nature-lover,you’ll be in heaven. There is surfing, sailing, kayaking, hiking, biking, whale-watching,jet skis, snorkeling, diving, and swimming with sharks/rays/dolphins/whales/etc  We toured pineapple and vanilla farms, learned about Tahitian pearls, shopped in local markets, dined on gourmet French cuisine(and at casual food trucks) and watched Polynesian fire dancers. The whole experience was absolutely amazing.

a woman in flower crown holding leaf Moorea
Learning about fruits and flowers on Moorea
Our guide from Moana Adventures, en route to a party at Bloody Mary’s
Pearl farm on Taha’a

On this trip, we visited four different islands (Tahiti, Moorea, BoraBora and Tahaa). I met with dozens of local suppliers (hoteliers, tour operators, cruise lines and more), toured ten resorts,enjoyed three evenings of Polynesian song/dance (all totally different), and ate at least a half a dozen different versions of “poisson cru” (the delicious national dish of French Polynesia). I rode in a four-by-four on steep mountain roads, and sailed silently across the lagoon on a solar-powered catamaran. I stayed in a garden bungalow, a beach bungalow, a lagoon-view hotel room, and two absolutely stunning overwater bungalows. I showered outdoors, took a dip in my private plunge pool, watched fish swim underneath my bed, stargazed on my deck, and snorkeled in a coral garden. And this was a business trip!! Imagine what you could do on vacation 😊

seafood salad bowl Tahiti
Poisson Cru
French Polynesian male dancers
Marquesian dancers

When you’re ready to make your own trip to paradise, let me know. I feel like an “evangelist” spreading the gospel of Tahiti, and I would be more than happy to put my newfound knowledge to good use.

woman standing against painted wings Tahiti

And if you’d like to see photos of the various hotels I toured, here are the links:

Manava Suites Tahiti

Sofitel Moorea Ia Ora

Hilton Moorea

Intercontinental Tahiti

Tahiti Pearl Beach Resort

Bora Bora Pearl Beach Resort and Spa

Conrad Bora Bora Nui

Le Taha’a Island Resort

A heavenly honeymoon in French Polynesia

Lots of honeymooners come to me with visions of overwater bungalows dancing in their heads.  Too often, they end up abandoning those dreams because of time limitations (it’s not really worth flying all the way across the world if you only have a week’s vacation) or budget constraints (those bungalows don’t come cheap!)

Nick and Kristi are among the fortunate few who were able to make the dream a reality. They had two key things in their favor…they live in California (a shorter “commute” than for us East Coasters) and they were travelling during “shoulder season”, in November, when room rates dip a little bit.  The end result, as you can see below, was a honeymoon to remember! Scroll all the way down for their detailed feedback about the islands that they visited.

a honeymoon couple on the beach in Tahiti

Hi Ann-

We are just getting back into the swing of normal life after the wedding and amazing honeymoon.  Here are some notes about our trip! Overall it was incredible and we cannot thank you enough for all of your help.

Moorea was  gorgeous and we had a great time, but we were not necessarily blown away by the accommodations at the Hilton. Our room was nice, but the AC was a bit of an issue…the electricity in the garden villa was controlled by our room key, so when we left our room and didn’t come back for hours, the room got incredibly hot and took a very long time for the AC to kick in and cool off the space.  We ordered room service the first night and it was average, but other than that we ate out around the island, which was fun and had very good food. It was very nice that the restaurants offsite would come pick you up to dine with them…very nice touch.  It was a great first stop on our trip.  We rented a car and drove around the island which was  fun and also participated in Albert’s Snorkel adventure where we swam with sting rays, black fin sharks  and then ended with a traditional Polynesian BBQ feast. While this was a fun adventure, it was very touristy and there were so many people around the sting rays and sharks, it didn’t feel very natural and we felt as if the sharks and sting rays had been a bit domesticated….snorkeling around the Hilton was nice and it was great that the hotel provides the snorkel gear as well.  We met a lot of other honeymoon couples at the Hilton which was fun.

Bora Bora was absolutely gorgeous. There is nothing like getting off the airplane and seeing the gorgeous teal lagoon.  The Four Seasons was so incredibly luxurious…this was by far our favorite place and we honestly never wanted to leave.  The bungalow was amazing and the restaurants on the property were fantastic.  In fact we never left the resort.  We participated in a jet ski tour around the island through the Four Seasons and that was a blast.  We also went on a Pure Snorkel tour and that was incredible…a much more natural snorkeling experience…we had the opportunity to swim with manta rays, sting rays, sharks and saw the gorgeous coral gardens in Bora Bora. We had a very hard time leaving…

LeTahaa was great as well and definitely had a more authentic Polynesian luxury feel.   Our bungalow was very nice and we loved that the patio was on the side of the room, it was like having an outdoor private living room with a breathtaking view.  We spent a lot of time relaxing there.  We indulged in the French dining experience at LeTahaa which was very nice and a great way to end our trip.  The spa was authentic, nice and relaxing.  It does not have the american luxury feel but it does  makes up for it by being remote, intimate and has a unique Polynesian charm .  We did the snorkel tour offered through the hotel here as well and it was unforgettable, we got up close and personal with the sting rays and sharks, our tour guides were authentic and sang to us while on the boat as well as created a Polynesian picnic in the middle of the lagoon for us.  The offered fresh coconut, pineapple, mango, bananas and beer for us to enjoy after a morning of swimming.

Timing was perfect  and we had left just in time as rainy season was coming upon French Polynesia.

Our honeymoon was hands down one of the best and most memorable trips we have ever been on.  The only thing I think that we would have changed (if possible) was to do LeTahaa as the second stop and finished the trip in Bora Bora, other than that we had an incredible time and are so happy that we found you to help us plan our amazing adventure.

Hope this helps, thank you again for everything!

Kristi and Nick

You provided excellent guidance for us. I appreciated that you really had us think about what was most important to us when we were selecting the right cruise – and not to totally focus on what other people had to say. THANK YOU for helping to make this a memorable trip for our family! It really was a trip of a lifetime!

Clare and Mark (family cruise to Alaska)

The level of service we experienced was out of this world (and we did NOT make it easy on Ann). We weren’t quite sure where we wanted to go, when we would be able to go, or what “vibe” we were going for. After asking us some key questions (what we liked, didn’t like, why, etc.) Ann helped us narrow down our trip details and planned the honeymoon of our dreams. She helped book some of our excursions, answered some emergency questions while abroad and was always available/willing to help. I think it’s safe to say we won’t be using anyone else for future travel planning – Ann is a rockstar!

Carli (Italy and Spain)