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French Polynesia Uncovered (Part 6 of 6): Travel Tips

Whew!  It’s been a couple of weeks since I kicked off my French Polynesia series and it’s been fun re-living our trip!  It was such a trip of a lifetime, but I am really hoping Mr. T and I find time (err, more like money) in the future to go again.  If any of my friends read this and want to go together, let’s do it!

I wanted to close out the series with some tips if you’re planning your own French Polynesia escape.

When to go:

We went in October and loved that it didn’t feel overly crowded!  We also liked that was during the tail end of the busy season (July-September). July and August are the busiest times of the year since those in the U.S. and Europe are on holiday so avoid those months if you can.

Weather:

You’ll enjoy a tropical climate year round.  That said, the dry season is from May through October, and the wet season is from November though April.  If you go in the wet season, expect high humidity and the need for A/C relief.

To be honest, I’d avoid going when there’s a high chance of rain.  Although we went in the dry season, it rained for half the time we were there.  And it wasn’t a 15-20 minute shower the way it is in other tropical destinations – it rained for hours!  Since practically all of the activities are outside ones (sunbathing, snorkeling, kayaking, island tours, etc.) it really sucked when the weather wasn’t cooperative.  We didn’t spend that much money to sit in our bungalow all day!

Accommodations:

Speaking of bungalows, it’s no surprise that the most coveted accommodation on the islands is the overwater bungalow.

Consider yourself forewarned, though: Not all overwater bungalows are the same!  For instance, our overwater bungalow in Tahiti was a treat considering we just came off of an 8 hour flight, but when it rained, it sounded more like we were in a tin house!  Add to that the wind outside, and I was convinced we were in a hurricane.  It was so loud!  We actually ended up switching to a suite instead which was so much more pleasant (and quiet).  This experience contrasted with the overwater bungalow in Bora Bora, which was much more weather-sealed and proofed.  If I could move into St. Regis’ villa 106 permanently, I would.

If you wanted to go all out, I’d recommend you do what we did:  save the overwater bungalow experience for the last island you visit (assuming the last island is Bora Bora or even Moorea).  Until then, work your way up by staying in a garden bungalow first then a beach and then the overwater one. It’s friendlier on the wallet, plus you’ll save yourself the disappointment of having a nice room only to feel “downgraded” at the next resort.

A last note on accommodations is that the resort you pick really can make or break your trip here so you definitely want to do your research beforehand.  If you’re someone that needs A/C and is looking for 4-5 star resorts, stick to Moorea and Bora Bora.  The luxe resorts haven’t made their way to the other islands yet (including Huahine, even though Te Tiare Beach Resort claims to be 4 stars – I would give it 3).

Packing:

Bring all the typical things you’d pack for a tropical vacation plus sunscreen, a hat, and an underwater camera.  We so regret that we didn’t fork out the money to buy a proper underwater case or camera because we saw the most uh-mazing assortment of sea life ever.  Don’t make the same mistake as us and invest in the underwater camera!

Also, all the resorts we stayed at had free snorkeling equipment so unless you’re tied to the ones you own, you can leave those at home.

Things to know beforehand:

  • French Polynesia is a favorite honeymoon destination so expect to see tons of newlyweds.  Likewise, don’t expect special newlywed treatment since you’re just like every other guest there!  Besides newlyweds, the other frequent visitors are likely those who have retired (though I saw way more newlyweds than retirees) – I guess that’s why they say that everyone who visits is either “newly wed” or “nearly dead”.
  • If you plan on venturing outside of the resorts, a little brushing up on your Français may help.  They don’t call it French Polynesia because the national language is English, after all!
  • This is an expensive place to visit!  Accommodations, tours, and dining are among the most expensive I’ve ever seen.  Expect to pay around $100 USD per person for a basic tour and upwards of several hundred for others.  Dining is just as expensive.  Even something as simple as burgers, fries, and a drink for two will run you $50+.  Our dinners ranged from $100+ to $300+ depending on the restaurant.   In an attempt to save some money, we went to a grocery store when possible to pick up essentials like water, beer (for Mr. T.), and chips which saved us from having to order snacks when lounging by the pool.
  • Of the islands we went to, Tahiti was the least expensive and Bora Bora was the most expensive.  If you’re planning on buying the famed black pearl, do it in Tahiti.
  • If the reality of the exorbitant prices has cast a dark cloud over your head, consider the silver lining the fact that there are no tipping expectations on the islands.  That’s right – no need to tip at restaurants, in the hotels, in the cabs – nada!  The resort staff would probably accept if you offered, but it’s nice there was no expectation what-so-ever.
  • If you really want to make your trip special, Mr. T. was quite impressed with The Art of Travel.  He found Kleon and his staff very informative, super nice, and quick to respond to emails.   Also, if you’re thinking that using a travel specialist will cost an arm and a leg (on top of an already super expensive trip), it really doesn’t – being a travel crazed girl who loves getting the most bang for her buck, I actually priced things out separately and compared it to the quote Kleon gave me.  Kleon’s service charge is a percentage of your overall trip costs but since his base costs are often lower than what you’d get if you booked things yourself, it actually worked out to about the same!  So not only will your costs be about the same, you’ll get the advantage of his expertise when planning what to do and where to stay – a win-win!

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