To Paradise And Back – Part 3

Tokyo – Tahiti in Air Tahiti Nui Business Class

This was a flight I was looking forward to, because I was finally on my way to one of the most beautiful places on the planet; Bora Bora.

Another trip on the Narita Express saw us rolling up to Narita Terminal 2, where Air Tahiti Nui fly from. We eventually found the check in desks right at the far end of the airport, and I set about working my magic to see if we could get an upgrade into First Class. It didn’t take long to realise this was futile as First Class only has 6 seats and they were all full!

Check in took no time, and we made our way through security to the Annex lounge used by Air Tahiti Nui. The lounge was fairly spacious, with plenty of drinks and snacks available, and a good selection of computers for checking a few last minute emails.

It was about noon, so time for a beer, and this was where the lounge came into its own. They had an automatic draft beer machine! You take a frosty glass from the fridge and place it in the machine. The machine then tilts the glass at 45 degrees, and as it pours the beer, it slowly rotates the glass back to upright. Then, just at the end when you think you’re going to be done out of a nice frothy head on your pint, it adds one of those too! Will we ever find a better use for technology? I’d like to think not.

Being a much smaller airport than Heathrow, it was no surprise that our flight was called on time for boarding. It was a little way to the gate and we had to take a quick shuttle to a remote terminal (2S). There was a reasonable queue for boarding, but fortunately priority boarding for First and Business was in operation, and it wasn’t long before we were making our way down the jetty.

Now, unlike Heathrow, this was a proper jetty which split half way down so that First and Business class could take the left hand fork to board at the very front, and Economy could take the right hand fork, boarding a little further down the plane. This is an improvement I’m looking forward to at the new Heathrow Terminal 5.

As we boarded we were welcomed and given small Tahitian gardenia flowers, which is the French Polynesian custom. These are flowers that you generally wear behind the ear. You can wear the flower in different ways depending on the sort of holiday you’re looking for:

– Worn behind your right ear: it means you are single, available.
– Worn behind your left ear: you are married, engaged or otherwise taken.
– Worn behind both ears: you are married but still available.
– Worn backward behind your ear: you are available immediately.

On the Airbus A340, the First and Business cabins were quite small – just 6 seats in First and 24 seats in Business. This gave a nice feeling of exclusivity that you lose when you have large premium cabins. We were in seats 3A and 3B, which I’d chosen months back by phoning Air Tahiti Nui in the United States to reserve them.

The first thing I noticed about the seats was they appeared to be identical to those we encountered on the Lufthansa flights to Cairo, but in the Air Tahiti Nui colours.

We departed on time, and the service began straight away with wet towels, drinks, snacks and menus for dinner and breakfast (which looked extremely professional, unlike any I’d seen before). Due to crossing the International Date Line, although we’d taken off at lunch time on a Monday, we’d be landing in Tahiti at about 4am the same day… which was good for our holiday as it meant we didn’t lose a day flying.

Rather than the crew taking our orders for the meals, they would bring them round on a trolley for us to choose. Again, this was very similar to what we experienced with Lufthansa. They served from the front to the back, so being in the second row of the cabin meant there was never a shortage of our first choices. There was also no shortage of food – it never seemed to stop coming! I won’t bore you with what I had, but it was all excellent.

The In Flight Entertainment (IFE) was looping video tapes, and being a Japan-French Polynesian route, there was little in English. In fact there was only 1 film with English sound (Wild Hogs) and 2 films with English subtitles (which looked so shockingly bad, I’d rather try to spend the flight asleep).

In order to try to get some sleep when my body clock was screaming no, I changed into the Pyjamas saved from my BA flight over from London. Once changed, I asked a stewardess if there was somewhere I could hang my clothes. This was met with an exaggerated huff, some French that roughly translated to “Oh for God’s sake” and her snatching them from me. I was still stunned by this long after she’d walked the 2 metres to the cupboard, hung them, and returned to her seat and magazine. I’d just like to say here and now that every single other member of the crew that we encountered was extremely polite, happy, and made us feel welcomed on board. I don’t think this member of crew could find a job less suited to her attitude.

The Business seats did not turn into beds, but just reclined to 150 degrees forming a Z-style seat (where the seat base stays horizontal, but the seat back and leg rest lay at 150 degrees). I’d never tried to sleep on one of these style seats before (I’ve been spoilt by the fully flat beds in BA’s Club World and FIRST cabins), and I have to say I won’t be trying it again. With the bed fully reclined, to sleep on my side I had to put my backside in one corner of the seat, and my knees in diagonally opposite corner. This worked for about 30 minutes until my legs ached and I had to do the same thing in the opposite direction.

In the end I gave up. I might have got about 30 to 45 minutes of sleep in total, but definitely not my full 8 hours! I decided instead to read for the rest of the flight.

When arranging the flights, I had a very tight connection between landing in Tahiti and taking the connecting flight to Bora Bora. We only had about 30 minutes from landing to go through immigration, wait for our bags to come through, check in for our connecting flight, and be on board before the gate closed 10 minutes before departure. The alternative to booking this tight connection would be waiting around for nearly 4 hours in the airport.

Fortunately however, our flight landed 30 minutes ahead of schedule, which left us plenty of time if all went smoothly. As we stepped off the plane, I was somewhat disheartened to see that it was raining… that wet sloppy rain that’s all very nice, but not what you’re expecting on for a luxury sun-sea-sand holiday! I just had to hope that it was localised to Tahiti! None of the aeroplane stands had jetties, but it was a very quick walk to the terminal.

Since we were changing to a domestic flight we’d need to clear immigration, which was much simpler than I’d imagined. Because French Polynesia is a Pays d’outre-mer (Overseas French country) we had no need for Visas or Visitors’ Cards, we just showed our EU passports and were through.

Bags started to come through 5 minutes after we arrived at the baggage reclaim area, and by a stroke of luck (because I don’t believe it was because of the priority luggage tagging) our bags came off first. We loaded up a trolley and made our way through to the arrivals area.

Tahiti – Bora Bora in Air Tahiti Economy

Air Tahiti (a completely different airline to Air Tahiti Nui) is the only airline to fly between the French Polynesian islands. It is possible to get to a boat from Tahiti to Bora Bora, but it would take 24 hours.

Because it was a small propeller plane (an ATR-72) we had to check in the cabin baggage that we’d flown from Tokyo with. We knew this in advance, so we’d taken anything breakable (like the cameras) out in advance and carried them on as hand luggage.

Check-in was a breeze. I simply showed our e-ticket receipt and passport, checked in our bags, and then had a good 20 minutes to mosey around the airport. Fortunately this gave me some time to get some South Pacific Francs (XPF – the local currency of French Polynesia).

No currency exchangers seemed to sell the currency in the UK – they all said “it says in my book that dollars are the alternative currency”, but their book lies. Francs are the only widely accepted currency there, and if you bring any other currency to exchange (if you can find somewhere to exchange it) then you’ll be significantly out of pocket from the commission.

The best thing to do is use a cash point as soon as you arrive at the airport in Tahiti. They’re few and far between, but fortunately there’s one in the airport near the Air Tahiti Check in desks. Considering this was going to be about my only chance to get any money easily, I decided to get out £200.

10 minutes before departure we boarded our flight to Bora Bora. There was no allocated seating, so if you want a good seat you have to be near the front of the queue. When flying from Tahiti to Bora Bora, the best seats are the window seats on the left, as these offer by far the best view of the stunning islands below. That said, it was 4:40am and the sun wasn’t going to be rising for hours, so it made no difference for this flight.

Boarding was from the rear, and the small plane offered around 70 seats in an AB‚ÄîCD formation. The 50 minute flight was about half full, while the flight an hour after us was completely full (I knew this because I’d tried to book seats on it about 2 months beforehand – I was glad I’d been unsuccessful).

After takeoff we were offered a glass of water, juice or Mai Tai (a local speciality with plenty of Rum). After my drink I used the remaining flight time to doze, given the view from the window wasn’t particularly enthralling. Looking round at the other seats, everyone else was doing the same.

We landed into Bora Bora at 5:40am, and where unfortunately it was also pretty drizzly. We walked into the terminal and straight through to the arrivals area to find the InterContinental desk. The airport at Bora Bora is on an island, of its own, and while most people will take the complimentary boat shuttle to the mainland, those staying in the top hotels will collect their customers from the airport directly.

InterContinental Bora Bora Thalasso Spa

We found the InterContinental desk in Bora Bora airport where we were greeted with a necklace of flowers. We were then asked to come and identify our bags, which were then tagged with InterContinental Thalasso Spa tags, and taken to a boat.

Because the InterContinental Thalasso Spa is on a separate motu (a small island away from the mainland) the only way to get there is by the hotel-provided boat, for which they charge about £12 for the return journey.

It was still dark when we boarded the boat, but the sun hinted at rising in the not too distant future. Despite the lack of light, you could still see the colour of the water was a beautiful blue.

The transfer took around 15 minutes, as we travelled clockwise around the main island. As we neared our hotel, we passed a few others which have a similar over-water bungalow layout, including the Four Seasons, the Meridian and the St. Regis. We pulled up at our hotel’s pontoon, and when we stepped off there was a golf buggy waiting to take us to reception.

It was still raining as we were given a quick tour of the hotel grounds. We were driven passed the swimming pool, bars and restaurants, and then taken to reception to check in. We were invited to take a seat while they checked us in and brought us each a local cocktail. Following check in we were taken just outside for a photograph – after about 15 hours of travelling we weren’t looking at our best, and we asked what the photographs were for; we were told “a surprise”. I think the biggest surprise was the fact that we never saw the photograph again – I expect they were used so they could identify us and refer to us by name when they saw us, but then why say “it’s a surprise”?

As a Royal Ambassador I am able to check in at InterContinental hotels from 8am rather than the normal 2pm. Our room wasn’t quite ready, so we were given the option of a different room that didn’t have quite as good view, or we could wait 30 minutes for the one we had been allocated which “had the best view of them all”. We decided to wait, and were given keys to a “day room” – a private with a sofa and shower where we could freshen up after our travels.

All of the over-water bungalows at the hotel are the same inside, but you there are three levels (Emerald, Sapphire and Diamond) which determine how good your view is. As I had booked the hotel using my Priority Club Points, the only option available to me was the cheapest; the Emerald bungalow. However, I had previously emailed the Front Office manager of the hotel to let him know my arrival time, and he had upgraded us to a Diamond level bungalow on account of my status.

The Diamond level bungalows are towards the end of each of the four prongs, and offer the best views of the lagoon and mountain in the centre of the main island. We soon received a call to say our room was ready, and we were again collected by a golf buggy and taken to our bungalow. As we approached the end of the prong, it soon became clear we really had been given the best bungalow, right on the end of the prong, number 111.

The Lobby Manager who had driven us to our bungalow took us in and showed us around. As we walked in, we were very impressed by the size and style of the bungalow. To the left of the entrance area was the lounge, which had a coffee table made of clear glass that looked through a hole in the floor where you could see the amazing blue water.

The lounge had large sliding French windows which looked lead out onto a decked terrace area with sun loungers, a dinner table and chairs, and also had steps down to our own private pontoon. To the right of the entrance was our bedroom; a large bed filled the room, and as the Lobby Manager raised the blinds at the foot of the bed, he revealed the most fabulous view of the lagoon, saying “I hope you like blue”. There was a toilet and walk in wardrobe behind the bedroom, and on the far side was a bathroom with separate shower. The bath also had a large window which looked directly out into the blue lagoon.

As mentioned previously, I used Priority Club Points to pay for this hotel – 180,000 to be precise. This could just have easily been used to for 7 nights in a Holiday Inn in London! What would this bungalow have cost had I booked it with money? About £4,500 ($9,000). A good use of points I think!

Once the tour was complete, we asked the Lobby Manager if breakfast was included. He asked if we booked with the hotel through the website, which we had, and told us that it was included. We were ravenous, so this would be our first stop. Our bags arrived shortly after, so we got changed and headed out to the restaurant for breakfast.

There are two restaurants at the hotel, Sands and Reef. A buffet breakfast was served every day at Reef, offering a vast selection of fruits, breads and pastries, cereals, pancakes, omlets made to order, and much more. We’d just started tucking in when the Lobby Manager appeared at our table baring bad news. Unfortunately he’d made a mistake earlier and the breakfast was not included for a points redemption. He apologised and then left, and I was a bit miffed that he hadn’t added “we will of course pay for this one”. Therefore we decided to turn breakfast into brunch and scoff as much as we possibly could to get our money’s worth. When the bill came it was a whopping £40, so I felt obliged to grab another round before we left.

French Polynesia does use GSM for its phone service, but it doesn’t have GPRS. Therefore our phones worked a treat, but I couldn’t use my Blackberry for mail or t’internet access. On the way back from the restaurant I stopped by the business centre (right next to reception) to see what was on offer. Internet access was charged just over £4 per 15 minutes. Shortly after I entered, the Lobby Manager re-appeared and said that because of his mistake earlier, if I wanted to use the internet for a few 15 minute sessions during my stay, he would not charge me. While this didn’t come close to the cost of the breakfast, it was at least something.

The weather throughout the first day rained off and on, which was quite worrying considering we’d travelled 12,000 miles for a bit of sunshine! Fortunately every other day had fabulous weather without even a hint of rain.

As we were in one of the best hotels on the island, if not the world, we spent quite a bit of time in our bungalow. The view was fabulous, and even by the end of the holiday we still marvelled the almost artificial blue of the water. There was a blind on the left hand side of our terrace so we didn’t feel overlooked by our only neighbour, and as we were on the end of a prong, we had no one to obscure our view to the right.

I’d been advised before my holiday that the Thalasso Spa did not honour the complimentary mini bar for Royal Ambassadors when redeeming points for stays. This is quite a bone of contention for me, because I believe if I spend enough money at InterContinental hotels to attain my status and enough points to stay in hotels, they should offer the same service as if I was paying in cash. As a result we had a few beers from the mini bar, but made sure that when we visited the town we brought back plenty of supplies of reasonably priced beer.

And now for a top tip on a subject very close to my heart; champagne. On the day of our anniversary, we were going to have the half bottle of champagne from our mini bar (at a staggering £55). However, a quick phone call revealed that for about £20 we could have the same bottle delivered by room service including the service charge! One-nil to Mr Schofs.

You can borrow snorkels and masks from the hotel for free, which we used both at the beach and also back at our bungalow. There weren’t many fish that swam around the bungalow, but we could usually rely on seeing a few each day. To really see fish though, we just had to walk back to the hotel where there were a number of bridges swarming with them. Over each bridge there was a basket in which the hotel placed bread so that guests could feed them, and this often caused quite a feeding frenzy.

The motu on which the hotel is situated is very long and thin. So thin in fact that you can walk from one side to the other in about a minute. On one side is the beautiful lagoon, with white sandy beaches, palm trees with hammocks, and incredibly calm waters. On the other side is the South Pacific Ocean, with white waves crashing a little way out on the reef that surrounds Bora Bora. The two sides couldn’t be more different.

Although you’d think the hotel beaches were a beautiful white sand, you soon realise they’re not when you don’t burn your feet on them during the heat of the day. In fact, they stay quite cool. This is because they aren’t sand at all, they’re a yellowy-white coral, which is a brilliant substitute. Around the beach are deck chairs which are spaced far enough apart to feel isolated. There are also a few double beds under the palm trees – a very relaxing way to get a tan!

Few hotels on Bora Bora have swimming pools – they’re somewhat superfluous as the water in the lagoon is always crystal clear, and temperature-wise is like a warm bath. Our hotel did have a very nice infinity pool – the sort that doesn’t seem to have edges, and looks like it meets the lagoon. I’m surprised at the number of people that used it in preference to sitting on the beach – maybe they needed to be that little bit closer to the bar!

As previously mentioned, the hotel has 2 restaurants; Reef and Sands. I believe Sands is meant to be a bit more up market than Reef, but both were pretty posh. On Monday and Friday evenings Reef put on a buffet (a bit over £40 per person) with a local display of drums and dancing. This wasn’t our thing, but on the other days it offered an al-a-carte menu. Once day we’d come back to the hotel late from the mainland and we were really hungry. We decided to give Reef a go, and were so glad we did. I had New Zealand beef, cooked to perfection with a fabulous red wine sauce. Emma had sea bream in a zesty lime sauce. To say both meals were great would be a gross understatement – they put just about every other restaurant meal we could think of to shame.

Based on this amazing meal, we also booked a table at the Sands restaurant for a few nights later. When we booked, one of the very helpful staff recommended a table right on the beach – it was a table for 4, but she assured us it would be fine to have as a table for 2. When we arrived at the restaurant, although they had our reservation, they had no record that we’d booked that specific table. However nobody else had reserved it so the waiter showed us over to it. Just as we were sitting down, I noticed his manager coming over waiving his arms. He asked if we would mind moving along to one of the tables for 2 people, as he had 30 bookings that night and this was his only table of 4 in that area. I slowly looked around the deserted restaurant, spotting at least 3 other 4 person tables nearby, but it made little difference to us, so we moved.

Following the success of the beef fillet at Reef, I decided to go for the T-bone steak, while Emma went for… something else but I’ve got no idea what it was – I was just more excited about how great mine was going to taste. So excited in fact, that I didn’t notice that the waitress that took my order hadn’t asked me how I’d like it cooked. When I did remember, I went up to tell her, but a minute later our food arrived. My steak arrived medium-well done, which is far too cooked for my liking. I prefer blue or rare steak, so I was gutted. It tasted nice, and you could tell it was good meat, but when I had such high hopes, “nice” just didn’t cut it.

As we left the restaurant, I noticed that there was one other couple eating there. I wanted to go over to the guy from earlier and apologise for the table confusion, and say that I hoped it hadn’t caused the 29 other bookings to all cancel, but somehow found the strength to let it go.

There’s very funky looking bar called Bubbles near the pool. Happy hour’s between 5 and 6 in the evening, where it’s buy 1 get 1 free. The bar was almost always deserted, which is a shame as otherwise it was a great bar, lacking only in atmosphere.

The hotel has an amazing looking Deep Ocean Spa for when the sun, sea and sand just isn’t enough to relax you. There’s a TV channel dedicated to it, but while it looks stunning, it’s certainly not cheap. The treatments vary in price up to about £700… I suggested to Emma that the holiday was relaxation enough, and the only thing that was making me any less-so was the price list!

There is a second InterContinental hotel on Bora Bora – the InterContinental Moana is on the mainland at the southern tip, about 15 minutes by boat from Thalasso Spa. The InterContinental run a regular shuttle boat each way about 8 times a day, and it’s pretty much your only way of getting to and from the rest of civilisation on Bora Bora. Read the timetable, and read it well. Not all of the timetables are the same. Confusingly there are two different timetables doing the rounds – each with the same times, but laid out with the “From” and “To” columns reversed… While at the Moana hotel, I once foolishly made the mistake looking reading the timetable I’d just picked up in the same way as I had that morning… and as a result missed a ferry we could have easily taken, and had to wait 2 hours for the next one.

Given it’s not a difficult mistake to make, there must be some other way to get to our hotel? Emma went to chat with the Moana concierge, who was nothing short of rubbish. The shuttle service isn’t run by InterContinental at all; they pay an outside company about £180 a time apparently to shuttle the staff, and there was nothing they could do to arrange any other transport.

Out & About in Bora Bora
The InterContinental Moana
As this was our gateway to the rest of Bora Bora, we were here quite frequently. It’s much smaller than Thalasso Spa, and has been around a lot longer. It also offers over-water bungalows, although they’re smaller than the Thalasso ones.

There’s a bar by the beach where you can also order lunch and dinner snacks. The whole feel of the place is that of a smaller, cheaper, more family oriented version of Thalasso Spa, and while at first we thought it had its charms, the more we had to be there the less we wanted to be.

As it’s also an InterContinental hotel, you can add any charges for food and drink etc. to your Thalasso room, so there’s no need to worry about carrying cash or cards unless you’re planning to go further a field.

We were also able to use the snorkels and masks for free here, so we took a kayak out around the coast to see what the sea life was like. There was more to see in the water than back at our hotel, and we spent a good hour exploring.

Vaitape is the main town in Bora Bora, and there’s a minibus service that goes twice a day from the InterContinental Moana for about £5 per person return.

The town’s not that large, but it’s got a selection of pearl shops (see below), a cafv©, and a reasonable supermarket. We visited the supermarket a number of times to bring back supplies of much more sensibly priced beer as well as bread for breakfast.

Black Pearls
Tahiti is famous for its Black Pearls, which are widely available throughout French Polynesia, and Bora Bora is no exception. They are absolutely stunning, and while they’re called “Black Pearls”, they come in a variety of colours from white to dark green.

There are a number of shops that sell the pearls, but we found the best to be Paradise Pearls in Vaitape. Emma wanted dark green pearls for earings and a pendant, and Paradise Pearls had some beautiful ones with an excellent lustre (listen to me and my pearl lingo!)

I also purchased some cufflinks from the Tahiti Pearl Market which is on the way to Vaitape. Although they had vast numbers of loose pearls here, they tended to be more grey in colour and weren’t nearly so appealing. I did however find some very nice cufflinks made with dark green baroque pearls, so not to be outdone by Emma and her ear rings, I took the plunge.

It’s worth noting that when you buy pearls as part of jewellery you are not charged the 16% consumption tax (so long as you take it out of the country). However, loose pearls are taxed, so if you want to buy any, it’s often cheaper to have them made up with a basic clasp or pendant link. Gold is more expensive in Bora Bora than back home, so you’re best off getting any chains for pendants etc. back in the UK (or better still, the middle east).

Most pearl markets will collect you from your hotel and drop you back there afterwards. We took this option with the Tahiti Pearl Market, but one downside is that you do feel obliged to buy something.

The Lagoonarium
Our book on Tahiti and French Polynesia suggested that a good activity to do was the Lagoonarium (, so we gave it a go. We chose to go for the full day including lunch it was about £65 each, although you can do a shorter day without lunch for about £55.

A boat collected us at around 8:30 am from the pontoon at our hotel, and picked up others from various other hotels en route. We then swapped to a larger boat and went out to the edge of the lagoon. As we looked over the edge of the boat we could see sharks circling and stingray gliding through the water… this was the closest I’d ever come to a shark without it being in glass container! That accolade didn’t last long though, as we were about to get closer. Much closer.

The tour guide put all our minds at rest saying “Don’t worry – these sharks are all nice and friendly… not like yesterday’s…”

We all donned our snorkels and masks, and jumped in with them. There were no shark cages here – they’re for wimps. There was only a rope floating in the water between two buoys which we grabbed onto it as though it were an impenetrable wall protecting us from the sharks and potential Steve Erwin killers.

It was breathtaking. It wasn’t just that they were nearby; we were so close we could (and did) touch them. They weren’t small either – they were bigger than me (and after a big breakfast that’s saying something). One of the tour guides was feeding a sting ray – its incredibly flat body was wrapped around him like an apron. It was like nothing we’d ever experienced before, and even though we knew these animals were dangerous, we never felt unsafe.

After about 20 minutes of disbelief, we had to board the boat and move on. We headed towards a motu not far from the InterContinental Moana, where Moray Eels are often found. Again we jumped into the turquoise water to explore.

While we didn’t find any eel, the waters were filled with amazing tropical fish of every shape and colour. There were a number of large rocks where many fish had made their homes. They seemed completely oblivious to us invading their privacy, and instead seemed more intent on daring each other who could swim closest to us.

You couldn’t help but think of the textbook desert island as we approached our final stop. Palm trees, sandy beaches, the beautiful blue waters, and a hut. Oh, that and sharks, sting ray, turtles, eel, and the kinds of tropical fish you only expect to see on postcards.

This was the lagoonarium. A fenced off area of lagoon had been turned into an aquarium with a difference – you could swim in it. The tour guide (who incidentally *loved* his job) took us into each of the enclosures, showing us feeding frenzies with the tropical fish, bringing us face to face with the Moray Eel, and then leading us into the final huge fenced off area. “In here we have sharks and stingray. You can touch the sting ray on the top, but not their tails or underneath. And the sharks… if you are a good swimmer, you should be fine. If you’re a fast swimmer, even better…” A regular comedian, but good fun.

After being shown around each of the enclosures, we had a fantastic barbeque lunch on the beach with salad and fresh fruit. After lunch we then had a couple of hours to ourselves to swim around the enclosures. This was a once in a lifetime experience. We snorkelled through the blue water of the lagoon with sting ray gliding beneath us. Then out of the corner of my eye, 3 huge sharks approached and gently swam by, their whole bodies shimmying from side to side.

The tour guide had been filming the day with his underwater camera, and they sold DVDs of the recording for about £70, which you could pick up that evening from your hotel reception. We were rather sceptical as this was a) very expensive on top of the £65 we’d already paid for the day, and b) we knew it would be fairly rubbish as Emma had bought one before from a trip to the Great Barrier Reef. Still, it had been a truly amazing experience, and decided to get one in the end. Emma didn’t think the film was that worth it when she watched it, but I think it’s a good effort and a great reminder. OK, there’s a bit too much of people waving in it, but there’s plenty of the sharks and sting ray. I’ll post some clips when I get round to it.

The whole tour really was amazing, and I can absolutely recommend it as my “if you do nothing else on Bora Bora, do this.” It’s also worth noting was that the tour guide spoke many languages fluently; French, English (and the Microsoft variant: English (U.S)), Spanish, Italian, and Japanese. It may have been more, but that catered for everyone on the tour.

Villa Mahana
This restaurant was very highly recommended a number of times on Flyer Talk, so having got hold of the chef’s email address, I made a reservation for the night of our wedding anniversary before we left England.

We were collected from the InterContinental Moana hotel and brought to this beautiful little restaurant set back from the road. It has just 6 tables downstairs, with one further table upstairs. If you’re looking for a really romantic meal, ask for the upstairs table.

We were sat downstairs (I didn’t know about he upstairs table until I went to the loo!) but it was still very private. The food was exceptional – some of the best on the island, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone wanting to eat away from the hotel.

Bloody Mary’s
Bloody Mary’s is a well known restaurant on Bora Bora, and is apparently frequented by many-a-movie star. I’d heard on Flyer Talk that it was a bit of a tourist trap, but as we’d come all this way, we thought we’d decide for ourselves.

We booked through our concierge, and a “VIP Bus” collected us from the Moana InterContinental. The bus collected from a few other places en route, and by the time we reached Bloody Mary’s it was full. We were told to be outside at 8:15pm for the bus back, so that we could catch our 8:30 boat back to the Thalasso Spa.

As people arrive in bus loads, rather than sitting you all down and giving you menus, they do something a little different. You all stand around a table which has each of the dishes on the menu laid out ready to be cooked. Greg (the American restaurant owner) talks you through each of the dishes in about 5 minutes, gives prices, and then takes your order, there and then. While I can see this is a good way for them to deal with lots of people at once, it means you have no time to think about what you’d like over a drink or chat to each other about what you’re planning to have.

Having placed our order, we were shown to our table where we ordered drinks and had time to take in the surroundings. It had a sandy floor with green plants and foliage everywhere. I don’t know why, but everything about it made me think I was in an American restaurant that was trying to pretend it was exotic.

One thing worth noting here is that in Bora Bora the custom is not to tip, and this was true of everywhere we went. Everywhere except Bloody Mary’s, where it makes it obvious that tipping is not only accepted, it’s practically the law! Does this make their prices cheaper? No.

Our food took a little while to come, but while we waited we were entertained by the restaurant local – a gorgeous white fluffy cat who loved nothing more than to sit on people’s bags (and of course to eat the food we rewarded it with).

The food was reasonable – but when the food at the hotel restaurants and other places we’d tried has been very good, reasonable wasn’t good value for a lot of money. I think it sums it up to say the highlight of the evening was the cat.

We paid and went outside, arriving a few minutes before 8:15, where we waited for the bus with a few other people. And then we waited some more. By 8:20 we were getting concerned that the bus hadn’t come and we’d miss our boat, so we went in to speak to Greg who came out to see just as the bus turned up. We legged it onto the bus and for some reason expected it to go. It didn’t, because this wasn’t our bus driver. This driver rather unhelpfully told us that our bus was already long gone.

He rang the other bus to check, and apparently he had left at 8:17 and nobody was there. Not only that, but he was rude about it. He told us we were wrong, and we obviously weren’t there on time. He also couldn’t care less, all he cared about was telling us we were wrong, and his bus wasn’t going anywhere.

We went back in to speak to Greg, who came out again to try and sort out the problem. Another member of staff spoke to the Moana hotel and told us that they’d hold the boat for us. Great. We went to get on the bus and the rude driver told us the boat had already gone. We got off the bus and went back to Greg who phoned up the InterContinental and spoke to them for a while; end result – they’d put on another boat for us. Great. We went back to the bus, and after Greg had shouted a bit at the bus driver, we were eventually driven back to the InterContinental Moana.

We got to the Moana reception who Greg had spoken to… and the woman on the desk knew nothing about it. She said the next boat was at 10pm and there was nothing anyone could do. We’d had enough. We asked her if there was anyone else there who Greg may have spoken to, and she said “No. If anything had been arranged, I’d know”. That was it. We asked her to phone Greg, which she begrudgingly did. It turned out Greg had been speaking to reception at Thalasso Spa, so we asked the grumpy receptionist to phone Thalasso (because she clearly wasn’t going to do it otherwise).

After a few minutes of chat we were told “OK, a captain is on the way, go to the pontoon”. Finally.

We made our way to the pontoon and waited for the captain to take us back to our hotel. And then we waited some more. By 9pm we’d been waiting 20 minutes, so I rang reception who said “It’s OK that captain’s coming”. 15 minutes later we rang again, and got the same response, so asked to be put through to the Thalasso spa. We spoke to the Lobby Manager who’d been dealing with the situation, and he said “I have just spoken to the captain – he said he went to the pontoon and there was nobody there”.

How is it that everybody kept getting things wrong? Not just one person, but just about everybody in the chain screwed up somehow. The hotel had agreed nearly an hour ago to get a boat sorted… how hard could it be? The Lobby Manager suggested that as there was a staff boat going at 9:30, we should just wait the extra 10 minutes or so for that. We were really fed up by that point – we were flying back to Tahiti the next morning and we’d wanted to pack and relax on our last evening. He did however suggest that when we got back we should go to the bar for a couple of cocktails on the house.

Strangely enough, things seemed to go smoothly after this. The boat left on time and didn’t sink, we got to the bar and it was open, they gave us drinks and didn’t charge us, and when we got back to our bungalow it hadn’t burnt down.

Won’t be going back to Bloody Mary’s though, I can promise you that much. No Bloody Way.

Leaving Bora Bora

When we arrived back in to our bungalow the night before our flight, there was a letter detailing when a boat would take us back to the airport, and a copy of our bill. Other than the mini bar bill being £70 instead of £30 (it’s a manually checked fridge rather than an automatic one), the bill looked fine.

The next morning check out was very easy. Before mentioning the mini bar issues I asked again whether the mini bar was complimentary as I was a Royal Ambassador. The girl on the desk checked with her manager, who confirmed it would be complimentary, and the charges were removed.

We were offered a lift to the pontoon, but we had a fair bit of time so thought we’d make a leisurely stroll of it. It had been a truly amazing sample of paradise, and apart from the obvious downer that was the Bloody Mary Trial, I was missing it already.