Dream Trip by Brandon Evans


Dream Trip by Brandon Evans

September 12, 2017

Brandon Evans, who is 25 years old and hails from Ohio, sailed aboard the m/s Paul Gauguin on the July 15, 2017, Cook Islands & Society Islands voyage with his parents. Brandon started planning his dream vacation four years ago after a stay at the Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Studios. His fascination with the Pacific led to a trip to Hawaii one year after his college graduation in 2015. In 2016, he began teaching mathematics full-time while working banquets on nights and weekends to make this trip possible. Brandon chronicles his day-by-day journey and shares his tips in the following blog.

July 14, 2017—Papeete, Tahiti

Our flight arrived in Tahiti at 6:30 a.m. Getting through the airport was quick and painless. We were at the InterContinental Tahiti Resort & Spa by 7:30 a.m. We got to our room by 8:00 a.m. and explored the grounds. The resort is very nice and definitely delivers the wow factor for a first impression of the islands. There are two pool areas, the Lobby Bar, Tiki Bar, Te Tiare Restaurant, and Le Lotus Restaurant (fine dining). The day before ship embarkation, this resort was filled with cruisers, and it was essentially a party day. Several of us spent the day by the pool and walking laps around the grounds. I really enjoyed getting introduced to several cruisers there by fellow guest Mike, whom we had met on Cruise Critic, an online cruise line site. We enjoyed a drink at sunset and met some other Cruise Critic friends, who took us to the food trucks in downtown Papeete that evening. After about four U-turns, we arrived and had Chow Mein for dinner. We saw the m/s Paul Gauguin arrive in Papeete at 7:00 p.m. By 9:00 p.m. we were back at the InterContinental and watched the Polynesian show, which reminded me of a luau performance.

July 15, 2017—Papeete, Tahiti

From this point on, 6:00 a.m. would be my official wake-up time. We took advantage of the free coffee station set up by the Te Tiare restaurant and then continued to walk the grounds. This again was a party day with all the cruisers there at the resort. We had late check-out, which was at noon. Lunch was at Te Tiare, which was very good, and then we met up with other cruisers in the lobby. At 2:30 p.m., our taxi was ready, and we were off to the ship. We were on board the ship at 3:00 p.m. We walked into the Grand Salon, took a photo, got our key, and were off to the stateroom within five minutes. I never thought that it would take longer to finish a glass of Champagne than stand in line here. We made our dining reservations and then went to the lifeboat drill, which is mandatory for all guests. The evening’s entertainment included piano music by Alex and a performance by Santa Rosa, the onboard band, and Les Gauguines. Also, the Tahiti sail-away at midnight was a nice treat for me, as I like to stay up late.

Tip: Try to make your dining reservations by day two. I recommend La Veranda on sea days, Le Grill on overnights.

Tip: Check out complimentary snorkel gear to use throughout the voyage immediately following the lifeboat drill. 

Tip: I suggest having a camera ready to record Santa Rosa’s welcome song promptly at 9:45 p.m.

July 16, 2017—Huahine, Society Islands
In Huahine, we had a Motu Picnic Tour booked. Our tour began at 9:45 a.m. This tour included a snorkel stop and two passes under the island’s famous bridge, with the picnic held at a local’s property. Lunch was buffet style with picnic tables in the water. We walked to the reef side, and I had the chance to walk through a local home. The return to the ship and all portions of the tour on the boat included local song and dance. We loved this tour for the “live like a local” experience. I would say the takeaway from Huahine is the memories with the locals, and we loved this island for it. We were back with enough time to go immediately to the “Children of Huahine show” that took place in the Grand Salon at 3:30 p.m. Children of Huahine is not to be missed. At 4:30 p.m., there was a Moonfish presentation, where the executive chef provides information about this fresh, local fish and how it will be prepared for dinner. Sail away was at 5:00 p.m. The arrival and sail away from Huahine is jaw dropping. We had dinner in L’Etoile. The food was fantastic throughout the cruise. The only problem was that food kept “disappearing” on my plate.

Each evening for me consisted of going to the piano bar before dinner and enjoying the music of Santa Rosa following dinner. The live music sets are 6:30 p.m., 8:30 p.m., and 10:30 p.m. 

Tip: These times probably suggest that 7:00 p.m. is the ideal dinner time so that you don’t miss anything. I recommend booking it across the board—but I call dibs on that time when I get to cruise again.

The show “Ia Orana Tahiti” was performed at 9:30 p.m. and was an enjoyable dance performance.

July 17, 2017—Sea Day

This was our first sea day. We had our usual coffee in La Palette at 6:30 a.m. and pancakes at Le Grill at 7:00 a.m. Craft activities took place in La Palette. We grabbed three pool seats by the towel cabinet. They were the best seats in the house today because they were blocked from the high winds. A buffet lunch was served in L’Etoile. There was karaoke, which someone who looks very similar to me may have attempted after lunch. Our evening routine continued with visiting the piano bar, then off to dinner at La Veranda, which has a nice atmosphere that I recommend enjoying on a sea day when there is more time. The show tonight was ¿Que Bola? Magic. It was an entire show of quick-change acts. Santa Rosa was great as always…best cruise band ever.

July 18, 2017—Aitutaki, Cook Islands

Today was Aitutaki, and we had a Lagoon Cruise Excursion planned. Our tender was at 9:15 a.m. Then, we boarded a two-story boat that started by sailing toward Honeymoon Island. We made a stop and had a chance to wade in the water and snorkel here for about 20 minutes. The captain made a special stop closer to this island than he does normally. We walked in the water to Honeymoon Island for photos for about 15 minutes. Following that, we sailed to the Heaven sandbar. Wow! This was unreal! We walked from the sandbar to One Foot Island in the water (approximately 1/2 mile). I was in my glory with this… just phenomenal! There was a buffet lunch next to the post office with souvenirs. This island is made for framed pictures.

The return to the tender pier takes two hours from One Foot Island. We were back on board by 4:00 p.m. and the sail away was at 5:00 p.m. There was no show tonight, but Santa Rosa did a 90-minute set of music filled with dancing. We did not even care about the absence of a show with this going on. Maps were being handed out in reception area this evening for driving in Rarotonga.

Tips: Take $50 minimum to One Foot Island for souvenirs. Also, you need two camera batteries for today.

July 19, 2017—Rarotonga, Cook Islands

Today was Rarotonga. It took two attempts to make this port due to weather, and we lost three hours of port time, but we did finally make it ashore. We rented a car and drove around the island. Highlights were Avarua for shopping, Muri Beach Maire Nui Garden and Cafe (amazing and seems to be neglected by all tours … best thing on this whole island), and the abandoned Sheraton. We completed our scenic drive in three hours and were back on board the ship for lunch at 2:00 p.m.

Sail away was at 5:00 p.m. and was very scenic with the mountains and the sunset. The wind chased us all off the deck shortly after. Dinner was at L’Etoile, and the live music was as great as usual.

Tip: Brush up on Polynesian music. The tune “Pahoho,” which you will likely have stuck in your head from this trip, opens with lyrics about the sound of the waves in Avarua. “Fakateretere,” “Tapa’o No Te Here,” “Tahiti Tahiti,” and “E Mauruuru A Vau” are also songs I recommend having prior knowledge of.

July 20, 2017—Sea Day

This was our second sea day. Today was rock-and-roll day, and I am not talking about the music here. Craft and golf activities took place. Our Bora Bora arrival was delayed (it still pains me that this is attached to my precious memory of Bora Bora that took four years to accomplish), and our #1 tour was cancelled … at least, until Mike, a friend of ours, gave up two of his spots on the tour on the second day for us. We were still in limbo at the time for the third ticket for my father, though.

Les Gauguines did a show tonight, and the highlight was the Fakateretere dance. It was a great show. 

July 21, 2017—Bora Bora, Society Islands

Bora Bora and Maupiti became visible around noon. The arrival is the most cinematic thing I have ever seen, with a wall of rain several miles offshore of the island and the island in perfect sun. We went to Vaitape at 2:00 p.m. to get our souvenirs before the Sunset Catamaran Tour, which was hastily canceled due to weather; however, the sunset ended up being gorgeous. We went to Bloody Mary’s for a drink—this is a must see, and the photos from the pier are great. We went back to the ship and had dinner at Le Grill, and this is by far the best night to eat here. There were Heiva festival dances going on after dinner, and these are a major highlight for those cruising here in July. Our third ticket for InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa was waiting for us late tonight. Thank goodness.

Tip: Drinks are half-off at Bloody Mary’s from 5:00-7:00 p.m.

July 22, 2017—Bora Bora, Society Islands

This was magic day! The tour desk arranged for us to ride an early tender to the Bora Bora motu. I wrote “Bora Bora Motu 2017” in the sand, which was photographed throughout the day. Everything is picturesque here, and I loved the greeting from the caregiver’s cat. At 10:40 a.m., we tendered back to the ship, where our tour tender had already arrived … we had to jump from the motu tender to the main tender. I love the adventure of this day! We caught a taxi at 11:00 a.m. in Vaitape to the InterContinental Bora Bora Le Moana Resort and then took a boat to the InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa. We walked the bungalow paths, viewed the lagoon pool, walked to the reef side and saw Taha’a, and then went for surf and turf at the Sands restaurant. I purchased a Bora Bora golf shirt, which is my favorite souvenir. The resort provides complimentary use of the kayaks, and we took one out for a prime view of Mt. Otemanu, and then came back and swam in the pool. There is a neat sacred ground at the resort, too. At 5:00 p.m., our boat took us back, with the sun setting over the mountain. We saw a rainbow at InterContinental Bora Bora Le Moana Resort, and we got back to Vaitape in time for the 6:00 p.m. tender. This tender went to the other side of the ship and stopped so we could view the sunset with the ship. Nicely done!

We went to watch the Heiva festival later, and they dragged us back on the last tender. Santa Rosa played “E Mauruuru A Vau” as we left Bora Bora in starlight.

July 23, 2017—Motu Mahana, Society Islands

We tendered to Motu Mahana at 10:15 a.m. A conch shell call by Les Gauguines and a coconut drink greeted us. The floating bar is awesome! This motu is small … we walked around it in 20 minutes. Kayaks are available, and this provides many great views. The barbecue buffet lunch was served at noon. We had a quick downpour, and then a volleyball game began once it cleared out. This motu is even better once everyone clears out with the 3:30 p.m. bar closing. I was the very last one back on the tender. Santa Rosa did a sail-away set as the sun set over Bora Bora, and it was magnificent! We sailed by the church, which is an icon, when arriving and leaving. We passed another ship, which was neat. Motu Mahana is a banner day of the cruise!

Tip: Take one of the first tenders, stay all day, and ride the last tender back.

Tip: Charge all your camera batteries when you return from Motu Mahana, so they are ready to use by 5:00 p.m. This sail away eats camera batteries for dinner. I look at photos and videos from this sail way every single day now. It is probably the number one scene of my 25 years so far.

July 24, 2017—Moorea, Society Islands

We rented a car in Moorea and made stops at the InterContinental Moorea Resort & Spa, the Belvedere lookout, Jus de Fruits de Moorea, Maharepa (shopping), Green Pearl (a highlight for golf souvenirs for me), Temae Beach (very beautiful), and the Toatea Lookout. We were back on the ship by 4:00 p.m. for Tahitian Night. There were lots of crafts on deck five, and this is lobster night (my favorite)—there may have been a few that happened to find their way to my plate. I watched the stars outside to the Santa Rosa set to end the night.

Tip: Take one of the first tenders for the best opportunity to see dolphins and maximize your time exploring the island.

July 25, 2017—Moorea, Society Islands

We opted for the Catajet Tour on our second Moorea day, which gave us a chance to swim with the sharks and sting rays. This was an amazing experience. There was a stop at a beautiful motu as well. Driving the boat around in this beautiful scenery was a joy. We did some shopping at the pier before going for lunch at 1:00 p.m. on the ship. At 2:00 p.m., I tried kayaking from the ship’s marina for my one and only time. The views were nice, but the current was very strong. Sail away was at 5:00 p.m. along with the sunset. We arrived back in Papeete at 7:00 p.m., and there was a fantastic local dance troupe performing tonight. We ended our night by listening to the last Santa Rosa set.

Tip: For best sail-away views, start at the aft of the ship, then move to Deck 9 for mountain and sunset views.

July 26, 2017—Papeete, Tahiti

Walk the plank day had arrived. After breakfast and Champagne to ease the pain, we disembarked at 10:00 a.m. (the last time for independent travelers). We visited downtown Papeete before settling back into InterContinental Tahiti Resort & Spa at 3:00 p.m. The afternoon was spent with fellow cruisers by the pool. We had dinner in the Tiki Bar before saying farewell to everyone. The resort was very quiet on my walk around the resort’s grounds this evening.

Tip: The resort’s Le Lotus Pool is the place to be for sunset photos.

July 27, 2017—Papeete, Tahiti
On our final day, we decided to take some kayaks all the way around the resort. The water perspective of the resort was fantastic. The afternoon was spent by the pool. We walked out to the bungalows and back for the sunset and watched the rest of it with piña coladas in the lobby.  We had dinner in Te Tiare while listening to the band, and then walked over to watch the Heiva festival performances, which were again fantastic.

Tip: Heiva is a big deal all over the islands. I would suggest first timers make a point of cruising in July. These festivals offer an amazing experience that really adds a lot to the journey.

July 28, 2017—Papeete, Tahiti

This is “I hate reality day,” with the alarm going off at 4:30 a.m. We caught a taxi to the airport at 5:15 a.m. and were at the gate by 6:00 a.m. At 7:00 a.m., it was time to board the airplane and “E Mauruuru A Vau” or “Thank you, French Polynesia.” This was the best trip ever, and I don’t see that ever changing.