R3 ~ Cruising in TAHITI
First in a series of
South Seas adventures
by Linda Coffman
"I don't want to go to heaven when I die. I want to go to Tahiti" ~ Mel Coffman, circa 1983
Renaissance Cruises R3 ~
The Raiatea Nui Dancers
I'll never forget when Mel uttered those words.
We were enjoying a luau in Honolulu when he saw a performance of
Tahitian dance for the very first time. He was enchanted.
WARNING: This is NOT your mother's hula! When Renaissance Cruises
began offering ten-day cruises through Tahiti, how could we resist his dream
trip? Exploring a variety of Tahiti's islands is
As we discovered last summer in the Greek Isles,
Renaissance excels at moving passengers. Our chartered Hawaiian Air
plane lifted off from Los Angeles and we were on our way to being greeted at Papeete's Faaa Airport with song and the traditional tiare flower
greeting. Tuck the blossom behind your left ear if you're taken, the
right ear to indicate you're looking, and anywhere in between if you're taken but still
available. Then set your watch to "island time." Unbelievably
we were whisked off the plane, through the passport check point, onto buses,
completed the R3 check-in procedure, and were greeted at the gangway with
smiles and leis in 22 minutes flat. This astonishing feat was followed
by luggage in less than an hour.
Renaissance R3 and R4 passengers arrive (and
depart) over a period of two days. We shared the R3 dockside in Papeete
for a day with half the previous cruise's passengers. They left the next
day after assuring us we were in for the
treat of a lifetime. Those soon-to-depart passengers looked tanned and
rested. We were ready to begin.
Io ora na
Tahiti has a well deserved reputation for being
expensive. Hotels, particularly those featuring over water bungalows, can run
eight hundred dollars a night and up without meals. Fortunately for tourists,
the Tahitian government is making a concerted effort to change all that.
The country's tourism
infrastructure is expanding and future passengers will benefit with an improved variety of
tours and port facilities.
Io ora na (pronounced yo-rana with hard 'o' and
soft 'a') is Tahitian for "hello"
and our tentative efforts at using it and Mauruuru roa for "thank
you" were rewarded with smiles and nods of approval. French is the
official language and Spanish and English are taught in schools.
Although not learned in school, Tahitian is widely spoken. Many islanders
shyly sharpened their English skills on us and coached us on local terms for
flowers, food, and fish.
Although attempts by overly zealous missionaries in the late-1790's obliterated many sacred maraes (temples), their efforts
didn't diminish the joyous Tahitian spirit and culture. Traditional
customs live on to the delight of visitors and locals alike.
Land, Sea & Air
Our objectives were to see Tahiti on land, in the
sea, and (for Mel) from the air. We chose excursions carefully and were
rewarded with amazing sights and experiences which I'll cover in more detail
as this series of articles unfolds.
Before exploring our destination, take a
look at the cruising experience on Renaissance.
R3 at anchor in Cook's Bay ~ Moorea
Like her elegant predecessors, R3 features all the comforts of a fine European hotel. Built in
France by the famed Chantiers de l'Atlantique, she was christened on August
30, 1999 by the First Lady of Tahiti, Mrs. Tonita Flosse. Exquisite as
the stunning necklace of Tahitian black pearls she wears, Mrs. Flosse's portrait graces the reception lobby and greets guests
with a serene smile and twinkling eyes.
While waiting for luggage, we made our selections
from the shore excursion list and fortified ourselves with a late dinner from
the Panorama Buffet. The sparkling lights of Papeete beckoned us to
finish and we dropped off our completed excursion form on our way back to
shore and window-shopping in the city. Boutiques exhibiting the latest
French fashions are interspersed with banks and
jewelry stores featuring black pearls. Sidewalk cafes dot the side streets and a rolling food
court with an international flavor sets up dockside each evening. The
atmosphere is relaxed and festive. Even merchants in the marketplace don't
hassle visitors to purchase their wares. This is a far cry from the usual tropical cruise
Back on board we strolled through familiar public
rooms and noted subtle differences from R1 to R3. There is no patisserie
on R3 (which seemed out of place on Deck 5 of the R1) and the tromp l'oeil painting
on the library's domed ceiling is more tropical in flavor. Otherwise we
felt completely at home and comfortable in the exclusive
country club atmosphere. Tropical flower arrangements in wall
niches and adorning tables were gorgeous. It's obvious that no expense was
spared in designing the ship's interiors and appointments.
For a ten-day cruise, one of the most-appreciated
improvements was the self-service laundry with three washers, three dryers, and
two ironing stations. Huge commercial size Maytag machines held
the equivalent of two loads compared to my Maytag at home. Tokens were
available at the reception desk--$3 to wash and $3 to dry--rather pricey, but
considering that the detergent was included (self-dispensed at the touch of a
button) and the machines so large, it's a cost efficient alternative to
sending shorts, tee shirts, and incidentals to the ship's
laundry. Many guests took advantage of this convenience but there was no
long wait for machines as was the case on R1. Renaissance wisely listened to earlier guests' comments in this regard.
When our luggage arrived, we unpacked in
short order, finding the closet and drawer space more than adequate for a ten-day wardrobe.
Shop 'til you drop
Interestingly, the onboard logo shop was open
while we were in port and was well stocked with sundries that guests might
have forgotten, as well as high quality shirts, caps, and other clothing
items. Shop early as sizes were limited later on in the cruise!
Also available were "water shoes" (a necessity for protecting your
feet from coral) for the reasonable price of $14.99. Snorkel masks could
be rented or purchased for under $20 at the Shore Excursion Desk.
World famous Tahiti Black Pearls were on display and available for
purchase. Additionally, there were the usual sales of gold-by-the-inch, watches, and
In Papeete and Huahine, local Tahitian mamas and
papas displayed handicrafts, tiares, pareos, and leis for purchase on the Pool
Deck, often at prices more competitive than those ashore.
In no time at all, beautiful hand-painted pareos
and crowns of flowers were de rigueur for female passengers.
Mel & Bora Bora Mainui
"Country Club Casual" is the order of
the day--and evening--for dining on Renaissance ships. As on the R1, we
discovered that the term covers a broad spectrum of attire. While jeans
are discouraged, people wearing them weren't turned away from the dining room.
Tuxedoes and gowns were donned
by a number of guests for the
Captain's reception and other festive nights, particularly after the ship was festooned in Christmas
finery. Few passengers could resist "dressing" a bit for
photos on the Grand Staircase.
For those not inclined to dress up for
dinner in one of the other three restaurants, the Panorama Buffet offered a casual alternative where one could dine inside or al
fresco in nice shorts.
We thoroughly enjoyed our meals on the R3,
particularly those in the Club Restaurant. The food was uniformly well
prepared and the salads and fresh fruits were wonderful. Menus each
evening offered a variety of choices from fish, pasta, and steaks to
vegetarian entrees that were pronounced excellent. It was no problem to order
both entrees when
lobster and prime rib were offered the same night. Mel and I
shared prime rib along with our perfectly prepared lobsters.
Sommeliers were ever present to assist with wine choices and service was
Late night snacks were served in the Sports Bar
and Casino Bar and were some of the tastiest I've had on any cruise
ship. Caviar was abundant. A word about pizza: delicious! To
demonstrate how pedestrian my taste is, Renaissance ships serve the BEST
French fries and I ordered a plateful for lunch from the Barbeque on Pool
Obviously, I'm not a "foodie," but I
have a sweet tooth and the mocha/chocolate mousse was to die for.
Last, but not least, the rolls and particularly the breadsticks were wonderful
and cakes were always moist. Room service is pretty much limited to
salads and sandwiches. However, many guests are inclined to share sunset
dinners on their balconies and Renaissance is considering expanding room
service choices for that purpose.
R3 promised "Great Times & Great
Entertainment" and they really delivered. The Cabaret Lounge is a
jewel with comfortable seating and innovative entertainment programs developed
by Paramount Show Services International. Three revues by the extremely
talented singers and dancers of the Paramount Performers troupe were scaled to
the cabaret size of the room but lacked nothing in terms of quality and high
energy. Roberta Roberts, Associate Producer for Paramount Parks, shared some information about the
entertainers with me. Video and audio audition tapes are accepted and hiring is done in a variety of locations, such as
Los Angeles, New York, Toronto, Orlando, Miami, and London. The show costumes
and elegant gowns are created by a number of designers, including Paramount's
own, and special orders are
placed for the cast's formal wear.
Also on the entertainment roster were Paul
Pappas, an extraordinary pianist; the Fabulous Valentis, husband and wife
performers of magic, illusion and comedy; and Jonathan Kent on the keyboards in
the Sports Bar. The Casino Bar is R3's piano bar and it filled nightly
with listeners as word spread about pianist Sheila Taylor.
The Renaissance Tahitian Enrichment Series was
outstanding. Lectures, storytelling, Tahitian Tamure dance lessons by Maimiti Kinnander (Miss Tahiti 1983), The
Voices of Children (the popular and charming children of Raiatea), the Raiatea Nui Dancers, and the Bora Bora Mainui
Dancers were just some of the activities available. There was standing room
only attendance at the children's show and they garnered rave reviews from the
One venue that could use some improvement is the
Sports Bar--the designated spot for late night dancing. Mr. Kent was good, but a
dance combo with a lively beat would have drawn a larger audience to this
More On Board
My two favorite words are THE SPA.
Surrounded by comfortable lounge chairs,
the R3's pool and two whirlpools are exceptionally nice... however, nothing compares to the serenity and privacy
of the spa deck and Thalassotherapy Pool. Warm salt water churns from
the pool's powerful jets, easing away care and stress on a foamy liquid
cloud. Pure heaven, especially with the lush green mountains and
spectacular sunsets of Tahiti as a backdrop. Stewards stopped by
regularly to offer refreshments. Padded steamer chairs
beckoned me to nap in the shade, followed by a cleansing quiet period inhaling
aromatic steam in the pale blue tiled Roman style steam room and then a
"fog" shower. This bliss comes with a price tag of $20 per day
or $100 for the duration of the cruise. It's well worth it even if you don't
use any of the other spa services. The only thing the R3 spa lacks is a
For quiet solitude, the R3's well-stocked Library
can't be beat. It's a peaceful retreat if curling up in front of the
fireplace with an interesting book sounds good to you. The card room saw a lot
of competitive bridge playing and board games are available to while away any
free time guests might have between activities.
Games of Chance
I made my usual small contribution to the slot
machines. It was interesting to note that, with the exception of when we
were in Papeete,
the slot machines were open 24 hours a day. The tables opened in the late
afternoon whether we were docked or tendering ashore in the other islands.
Winners seemed to outnumber losers in the
casino--a refreshing change from the usual cruise ship experience.
Service was prompt and courteous in the dining
rooms and lounges and our cabin service was impressive. Our stewardess
confided she was formerly with Princess Cruises and preferred the atmosphere
of the smaller Renaissance ships. Smiling crew and staff members all over the
ship greeted us with
Guests felt so at home that it wasn't unusual to
see a passenger sit down at a piano and begin playing. The ship's decor
was enhanced by holiday decorations that were obviously custom designed to
complement each room. Announcements were kept to a bare minimum and only
made when absolutely necessary. The one time I thought I was missing
something it took a while to realize the blaring PA wasn't coming from our ship at
from the Paul Gauguin docked behind us in Papeete.
Our final "cruise" day wasn't spent
entirely on board. Early in the afternoon we were taken to the Outrigger Hotel
where we had use of the facilities and were served a buffet and refreshments
until time to transfer to the airport for our 9pm flight home. Many
people felt it was a "waiting around" period but I enjoyed the
afternoon. A late afternoon rain put something of a damper on the use of
the beautiful pool and may have also dampened spirits. Who wouldn't be
out of sorts leaving paradise?
The Hawaiian Air charter was about an hour late
leaving Papeete, but we sank easily into slumber until our arrival in Los Angeles the
following morning... approximately seven hours (3559 miles) and a world away.
"Tahiti, where love lives"
Tahiti Tourisme promotes that slogan and from the
lush green mountains to the crystal clear warm lagoon waters, the islands are
truly romantic and appealing. Their rhythmic grace is both joyous
A favorite Tahitian expression is Haere Maru--"take
it easy." It wasn't difficult to adopt that lifestyle.
The rest of the articles in this series detail each of the islands (Tahiti,
Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea, and Bora Bora)
as well as the pleasures of life on board the R3. Join us to
feed sharks, swim with stingrays, trek by 4X4 and canoe, and circle Bora Bora
on a waverunner!
in Series Cruising
in Tahiti - Papeete, Tahiti &
in Series Cruising
- Huahine & Raiatea
in Series Cruising
- Bora Bora & Beyond
And finally... a special note of thanks to Brad
Ball of Renaissance Cruises for making this dream of a lifetime come
true. Mauruuru roa!