Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Return to Paradise Part 1: Moorea

Since it had been several years since our last visit to the islands of Moorea and Bora Bora my colleague Janelle and I decided to take a trip to the islands to visit some of the resorts which we'd not yet seen/stayed at or which had undergone renovations since our last visit to these islands.

We flew out of LAX on Air Tahiti Nui on the March 3rd red eye. The flight left on time and was not terribly full--though not so empty as to afford us our own rows, unfortunately! About 8 hours later, we touched down in a rainy Papeete at 6:30AM local time (Thursday, March 4).

After clearing customs and collecting our luggage, we made our way over to the Air Moorea "terminal" (really, more of a large open-air room with a small bar). Our flight over to Moorea was due to take off at 9AM, but thanks to the rain, it was delayed by a couple of hours. Because the flights between Papeete and Moorea are flown "by sight", the small planes will not take off in bad weather. Luckily, there was the aforementioned bar, and I was able to enjoy my first Hinano of the trip!

Finally, there was a bit of clearing, and we were able to board the plane for the 10-minute flight over to Moorea at about 11AM. Almost immediately upon landing in Moorea, the skies opened up again, pummeling the island with incredibly heavy rain and strong winds. Not the best way to start a vacation! But this is the tropics after all (and the tail end of rainy season), so we were expecting a bit of rain. It would clear up in a little while, right?

Yeah, not so much!
By the time the rain stopped for more than a few brief minutes, two days had gone by - almost our whole stay in Moorea. On the plus side, we kind of lucked out, as apparently this weather had been going on (though had not been as severe) for almost a week before we arrived! This was a very unusual situation - even during rainy season, the islands generally don't see rain and wind anywhere close to what we experienced. However, cyclones in Samoa and Tonga were sending wave after wave of bad weather towards French Polynesia that week.

Moorea Pearl Resort & Spa
I loved my stay at the Pearl, and would absolutely recommend it as an excellent option on the island in terms of beauty, atmosphere, and value! Check-in was quick and seamless, with just a bit of paperwork to fill out as we sipped fresh lemonade.

We were placed into Premium Overwater Bungalow #410, which looks straight out to sea.

The bungalows here are not as modern/recently updated as you'll find at the Sofitel and Hilton resorts, but are comparably sized and very comfortable with a lovely authentic feel. The resort also offers "standard" overwater bungalows, which are exactly the same as the Premium OWBs but face the beach/main resort area rather than out to sea.

If you can fit it into your budget, I do recommend the Premium OWBs for the gorgeous horizon views. We were on the left pontoon, and especially enjoyed the amazing sunset view our second night!

We were also able to tour some of the resort's other accommodation categories while there:
Family rooms aka Garden View Duplexes - these are in a 2 story building along with the garden rooms, and are a great value option for those traveling with older children/teenagers. I would not necessarily recommend them for those traveling with very young children, due to the steep stairs up to the loft area.

Garden rooms - no photos, but these are a similar layout to the family rooms, except do not have the loft area, but do have a sofa. These are generally the least expensive resort accommodations in Moorea, and are a great option for those who are traveling on a budget but still want to experience a 4 star property!

Garden Pool Bungalows - these are a really wonderful choice for honeymooners and other couples looking for a private and romantic experience! They do not have a view, but do offer a small "backyard" with plunge pool. The bedroom layout is very similar to that of the OWBs, though the bathroom is slightly different, with just a shower rather than a tub/shower combo.

Beach and Premium Beach Bungalows - these have basically the same size and layout as the OWBs, and are a wonderful choice for those who want to be able to see the water but also enjoy being right on the sand! The difference between the standard and Premium categories is location - the 2 standards are located on the left side of the property (photo), while the 8 Premiums stretch off along the right-hand of the resort beach (on the opposite side of the pool).


The Pearl is the smallest of the 4 "main" resorts on Moorea (information on others below) in terms of both number of rooms and overall acreage. This gives it a lovely, intimate feel that I really enjoyed. The grounds are lush and well-kept, with a profusion of colorful tropical flowers curling around the bungalows and walkways...

and huge tiki statues serenely guarding over the property...

The lobby area is my favorite of any resort on the island; a large, open pavilion with plenty of cushy seating on which to curl up and read a book, wait for a transfer, or just relax and take in the atmosphere. The infinity-edge swimming pool is lovely, surrounded by cushioned lounge chairs and large umbrellas, it looks out over the beach and to the OWBs.

Due to the location of the resort and the depth of the water, the sea right off the beach and OWBs the Pearl is dark blue and green, rather than the turquoise as you will find at the Sofitel and Hilton properties on the island. However, it is beautiful, very clear, and offers a huge variety of brightly colored coral and fish, along with the occasional sea turtle (the first I'd ever seen in Moorea!).

The water drops off steeply at the edge of the overwater bungalows, allowing guests to jump right in off their deck (or off of ladders placed at the end of the pontoon for guests in other room categories) to take advantage of the great swimming and snorkeling opportunities.

As we were there during low season, the resort's "epicurean" Matiehani restaurant was closed (its open from approximately mid-late April through October). But the Mahana'i restaurant was open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and the Autera'a Bar also serves lunch each day (the menu is the same). As in most French Polynesia resorts, the cuisine is expensive and would likely not delight serious foodies. But it was absolutely on par with other resort restaurants, and I did not have anything I didn't think was at least good! On Friday night there was a Polynesian show, though due to low season, dinner was a la carte from the menu rather than the buffet offered during shoulder/high season. Breakfast is a buffet, and not the most extensive or best I've seen in French Polynesia, but does offer the typical selection of meats, eggs, breads, cereal, yogurt, fruit, cheese, juice, etc.
Service at the restaurants was quicker and more efficient than at many other resorts I've visited on the islands, and was very cordial if not super-warm and friendly (again, very typical of my experiences in French Polynesia). The front desk staff is lovely, as is the housekeeping staff.

The Pearl has the best location on the island for those who would like easy access to a village with shops, restaurants, a bank, and a market--a 5-minute walk will put you in Maharepa. This is very convenient for picking up mixers for that rum you picked up duty-free at LAX (or picking up the rum, if you forgot to at LAX!), along with fresh breads and other food items that can be stored in your mini-fridge to keep meal costs down. I'm particularly fond of a cheese called Samos (discovered on my very first trip to FP), which I have not been able to find anywhere else in the world. It is sold as a box of 8 or so individually wrapped squares, and tastes to me like a cross between cream cheese and heaven, especially on a freshly baked baguette!

Rental Car
On Friday we rented a car at the Pearl's activity desk in order to explore the island and easily get to the other resorts for our site inspections. For a 24 hour rental of a 4-door Hyundai Getz, Avis charged a little over $100USD, only about $15 or so more than an 8-hour rental. Since we did not know how much longer the rain would continue and were starting to get a bit stir-crazy hanging out in our bungalow, we decided to go with the 24 hour rental. (Note: as neither of us drives a stick shift, we had to rent an automatic. Manual transmission rental rates tend to run slightly lower.)

While we had the car, we circumnavigated the island, and marveled over the myriad of waterfalls produced by the storm...

wondered at the color the heavy rain had turned the water in Cook's Bay, which usually sparkles a dozen shades of blue and green...

How Cook's Bay usually looks (photo from previous trip)

We enjoyed tasting and shopping at the fruit juice factory and liqueur distillery (free shots of fruit liqueurs--yum!)...

And even spotted a rogue cow out for a long-awaited stroll in the sunshine...

But we were here to WORK! So here are the details and my impressions of our site inspections:

Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa
Note: all photos from this resort except for those of the garden pool bungalows were taken during a previous stay.
Both Janelle and I had stayed here before, so were only a bit disappointed when we were told that a site visit would be impossible due to the almost 100% occupancy of the resort during our time on Moorea. However, we were able to see one of the new garden pool bungalows, which (along with interior renovations of all the bungalows) is the only major change at the resort since we we last there.

The pools and outdoor areas in the garden bungalows here are smaller and don't have the privacy of those at the Pearl though the bungalow interiors here are more sleek and luxurious than you'll find at the Pearl. The Hilton does not offer any beach bungalows, only standard and deluxe garden pool bungalows (the premiums are stand-alone units while the standards are 2 units connected by a wall (though still with the same layout and basically the same privacy of the premiums), a couple of deluxe garden bungalows without a pool (they just have a deck with a couple of chairs and table) lagoon bungalows (half over the beach and half over the water), and 3 categories of OWBs (standard, horizon, and overwater).

This resort does tend to attract a good number of families and incentive groups, so sometimes does not have quite as peaceful an atmosphere as you'll find at the Pearl and Sofitel. It also does not have quite as authentic a feel as the Pearl and Intercontinental, in my opinion. But if you're looking for a bit of a splurge with beautifully appointed rooms (especially if you're looking for an OWB on Moorea), a lovely beach and arguably (it's a toss up between here and the Sofitel) the most gorgeous water and best snorkeling on the island, the Hilton is my top recommendation!

Sofitel Moorea Ia Ora Beach Resort
Due to extremely high occupancy in this hotel due to the holiday weekend (March 5 is Missionaries Day in French Polynesia, and many of the country's citizens vacation in the islands that weekend) and the bad weather, we were unable to tour rooms here. But we did have a chance to walk a round and get a feel for this beautiful property, which I would describe as modern European elegance with a Polynesian twist. The resort itself is the 2nd largest on Moorea in terms of total acreage, so even at full occupancy does not feel the least bit crowded!

The Sofitel has the best beach in Moorea, a long stretch of white sand fronting the pool, restaurant/bar, and beach bungalows! The water is a crystal clear aqua blue, and the view of Tahiti in the distance is spectacular.

The snorkeling here is quite good, as fish lazily swim around the extensive coral and sting rays flap by here and there to provide excitement to those watching from the pontoon above and an adrenaline rush to those swimming in the water below (don't worry--they won't come anywhere near you!).

The Sofitel offers several different bungalow categories. Their Luxury Garden Bungalows and Superior Lagoon Bungalows are the lead in category, generally priced identically. The Gardens are about twice the size of the Lagoons, but are set back in the resort gardens or around a pond, so do not have a view of the water.

While a good bit smaller and not as luxurious as the Garden Bungalows, the Lagoon Bungalows are set on a sandy area facing the water. These are a great option for those who do not plan to spend much time in the room and who are budget-conscious but still would like a water view and sand right off their deck!

The same size and layout as the Garden Bungalows, this resort's Luxury Beach Bungalows are some of the the largest and most recently renovated on the island. They're located along the wide swath of beach on the left side of the resort, with an unobstructed view out to the ocean and Tahiti beyond.

The Sofitel offers both Superior and Luxury Overwater Bungalows. The Superior OWBs are a good bit smaller than the Luxury OWBs, and face towards the beach and resort rather than out towards the lagoon and Tahiti. If you can splurge a bit, I'd definitely recommend the Luxury OWB, but if your budget is a bit tighter and you still would like an OWB, the Superior is also a nice option!

I would highly recommend the Sofitel to anyone looking for a luxury resort with an incredible beach, stunning water, and a romantic and peaceful atmosphere!

Intercontinental Moorea Resort & Spa
This resort is currently undergoing renovations, so we were unable to do a site inspection during this trip. I do have a long review from my stay there here if you want some more information (though somewhat outdated at this point!):
I'm very excited to visit this resort and see its face lift on my next trip to Moorea! The Intercontinental does not feature the stunning water colors of some of the other resorts (the water is very clear, just not very blue), but it does (or at least did--will be interesting to see the renovations) have a wonderfully Polynesian flair, lots of room to spread out and explore, and boasts the unique honor of housing the Moorea Dolphin center!

Overall, I don't think you could go wrong with any of the resorts on Moorea--all are wonderful and have unique features that differentiate them from the competition. It really just comes down to which of these features is most important to you!

After 3 nights in Moorea, it was time for us to head on to Bora Bora. Reviews and photos from there and Tahiti (we had incredible weather on both of these islands, in case you were wondering!) coming soon!

1 comment:

Carol {Everyday Delights} said...

Hi Caroline,

Do you have any update on the Intercontinental resort? I am looking at booking my honeymoon there, but don't want to go if the pool isn't open. If you have any updates could you please email me?

Thank you!


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