When it came time to pick a honeymoon location it was a relatively easy decision. We knew we wanted to go somewhere far and tropical, a once in a lifetime trip; a place we knew we might never return to, especially if we had kids. We ended up choosing one of the most remote, luxurious places on the planet- French Polynesia, and specifically the islands of Moorea and Bora Bora.
We ended up using a travel agent and it was a terrific decision. The logistical complexities of such an excursion were not something either of us wanted to deal with after planning the wedding. The piece of mind of not having to worry about things like transportation, especially considering this included multiple boats and ‘puddle jumper’ planes, is well worth it.
Getting to French Polynesia is still quite a challenge as there is only one airline, Air Tahiti, with flights in and out. We boarded a four-hour flight from Chicago to Los Angeles around 5pm, had a three-hour layover in the very confusing International Terminal of LAX before taking off for Tahiti around 11pm. Eight hours later we landed in Popeete where after a quick stop at the duty-free shop, and light breakfast it was aboard a ferry to Moorea. Once in Moorea it was a packed, though relatively short bus ride to the Hilton (the shuttle stopped at all of the resorts).
Moorea is a lush green tropical island, with a good mixture of land and sea activities, and a local population of about 11,000. It’s small and mountainous with one main perimeter road, two “downtown” areas, and a smattering of resorts along the coast, within the lagoon.
We stayed in an over-the-water bungalow at the Hilton Moorea. The water was stunning; protected by the far-off reef, the water was warm, calm, and crystal-clear. Each room came equipped with snorkels and fins, perfect for snorkeling off your private dock, though be warned, the rocks on the seafloor can be quite sharp, as I found out the hard way the first day; fins or water-shoes are recommended.
The Hilton was quite accommodating with a fair-sized, well appointed bungalow, private-beach, pool, and multiple bars and restaurants on-site. Our package included a daily, buffet-style breakfast, with both Western, as well as Polynesian options. The hotel also offered a small gym and tennis courts.
Unlike Bora Bora, Moorea had a variety of restaurants off the hotel property to eat at and each of them had complimentary transportation which would take you to and from the hotel.
Known for their seafood and steak specializing in French cuisine with island influences. Upon arrival, we were greeted by the owner, Rudy, who recommended their crab stuffed parrot fish, which was delicious! And of course, we had to start with an order of escargot.
An interesting menu consisting of French, Polynesian, and Chinese options. A pleasant atmosphere with garden dining.
Delivery pizza! If you visit Moorea, be sure to take one night to order pizza to your bungalow. We sat on the deck overlooking the lagoon, eating pizza, drinking wine, and ‘Tahiti Drink’ sold in the gift shop, and watching for sharks under the moonlit Polynesian sky- very romantic!
I was a bit skeptical about this, but it was a recommendation from one of Allie’s Instagram friends who had honeymooned in Moorea a few months earlier. It was a blast! The excursion started at the hotel and we followed the main road until we got to a trail which lead us through a pineapple plantation which is located in the crater of a volcano. From there, we continued up to Belvedere lookout, stopping at the local high school to enjoy some fruit and ice cream. Belvedere lookout is one of the higher points on the island and worth visiting, the view is spectacular. From the lookout, there are various hiking trails for those more into outdoor activities. You can also rent a car and drive to the top if you don’t want to ride an ATV, though we learned a lot and enjoyed the commentary provided by the local guide.
Shark and Stingray Tour
Unfortunately the day we had scheduled this tour it was raining and cold, should the weather have cooperated, I think we would have had a much better time. The guides picked us up at the dock at the hotel and took us to two of the bays around the island, giving us some history and facts about Moorea. From there, we went to a shallow area where there were stingrays and a handful of reef sharks. The stingrays here were fed by the guides, and as such, basically behave like begging dogs. They are not at all bothered by humans so there’s plenty of opportunity to touch them- in fact, at times there were so many it was a bit overwhelming, as they’re pretty big. We were told the sharks wouldn’t bother us, but not to try and touch them. Advice we had no problem heeding.
After swimming with the rays, our guides took our group to a local, uninhabited island where they prepared a traditional Polynesian cookout. It was terrific- we were introduced to breadfruit, and poisson cru, an absolutely delicious Polynesian dish consisting of raw fish prepared in citrus juice and coconut milk.
Next Stop… Bora Bora
From Moorea, we traveled to Bora Bora by plane. We arrived at the airport in Moorea just one hour before our flight was scheduled to depart, which concerned Allie – If you are used to airports in the US, you know you need to arrive at least 2 hours in advance to get through long security lines. Upon our arrival, we were surprised to find that there was no security, one terminal, and the only food available was from a food truck located outside.
There were no seat assignments or boarding classes, it was essentially a bus with wings. The flight attendants spoke mostly in French- it was a bit confusing. We landed on an island and were instructed to remain seated as passengers left the aircraft and new passengers boarded, then we were off again to Bora Bora.
Moorea is beautiful; one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever been; an absolute paradise. Bora Bora though is something entirely different, it’s a fantasy inside of a dream- you’ll wonder if your eyes deceive you even as you lie on the beach in the warm sun, looking out across the perfect water at the main island. The flight in is breathtaking and gives travellers an opportunity to see almost all of the resorts with their private motus and rows of bungalows sprawling out over the water like giant tree branches, with the rooms as the leaves. As you start your descent, the runway appears seemingly out of nowhere and you’ve arrived. Once inside the tiny airport, you’re greeted by representatives from each hotel who will collect your luggage and take you to an awaiting boat, ready to take you to your resort.
The experience at the Four Seasons Bora Bora was like nothing we had ever experienced. We got off the boat and were greeted by a staff member who took us by golf cart to our over-the-water bungalow. We checked in from the comfort of our room, complete with complimentary champagne and delicious macaroons. No lines. no standing at the front desk; a few minutes later, our luggage arrived. It was great!
The bungalow itself was lavish. Much larger than what we experienced in Moorea, the bungalow was split into three separate areas, each able to be closed off from the others. The living room, with couch, coffee station, desk and mini fridge on one end; sizable master bedroom on the other, with a bathroom in between, featuring his and her vanities, and a large soaking tub overlooking the water. The patio stretched across the entire length of the structure and featured two lounge chairs and a dining area.
Bora Bora is very different from Moorea. In Moorea you could easily leave the hotel to go to restaurants, in Bora Bora that was not the case. Each resort is located on a small Motu, which means leaving the resort requires a short boat ride for about $25 per person.
La Villa Mahana
By far the best dinner of the honeymoon, and one of the most unique and romantic restaurants we’ve ever been to. The seven-table restaurant is charming and intimate, with a very French-Countryside feel. The menu consists of two prix fixe options- five or seven courses. We each went with the five-course option and were stuffed by the end of the evening. I won’t detail every course but the mahi-mahi filet on a banana puree, was honestly best fish I’ve ever had in my entire life.
Located on the main island, slightly off-the-beaten path, it was well worth the effort and the only dinner away from the Four Seasons.
Our other dinners were all at Four Seasons restaurants on the motu; very enjoyable but nothing truly notable; the breakfast buffet did feature both Western and local options, including more delicious poisson cru. Lunch was always oceanside, on the beautiful beach.
Swimming with Sharks and Rays
Much different than our experience in Moorea, mostly because the weather cooperated, this tour consisted of three distinct snorkeling experiences. First, we were taken to the lagoon of an uninhabited motu where we jumped in and swam above corral with a variety of tropical fish; the water was surprisingly cool.
After a brief swim the guide took us out beyond the safety of the reef and into the Pacific Ocean. As someone who isn’t entirely comfortable with open water, I was a bit nervous. We eventually approached a group of other boats and dropped anchor. Our guide told us the water was approximately 35-40 feet deep; while a much deeper shade of blue still just as crystal clear- we could see all the way to the bottom! It was around this time we realized we were surrounded and when the guide started throwing fish in the water, we were introduced to our next swim partners. In what seemed like an instant, 15-20 black tipped reef sharks were in a feeding frenzy, right off the side of the boat. The group was mesmerized by the speed and ferocity of the sharks, but soon the food ran out and they dispersed- a moment later “ok, time to jump in!” from the guide. We were assured that attacks were rare, and never deadly- not exactly what we wanted to hear but there’s no way we were going to chicken out at this point. Gear on, we descend into the blue (which was surprisingly significantly warmer than in the lagoon)- once underwater we were awestruck by what we saw. There were sharks everywhere, literally there must’ve been 40-50 sharks in the area, everywhere you looked, in front of you, to your sides, beneath you, coming at you- it was the experience of a lifetime- if not a bit intimidating! The sharks are completely indifferent towards humans, but with that said are not afraid to get close- like 5-6 feet close. While they are not predatory towards humans, at 5-6 feet in size, let’s just say they could if they wanted to. Fears aside it was one of the most unique and mind-blowing experiences of our lives.
After the shark experience we retreated to the comfort of the lagoon and got to meet more friendly stingrays. Our guide claimed they would see, and could recognize the different rays and even give them names. This experience was a bit better than the rays in Moorea, because the water was more shallow and easier to stand.
Allie convinced me a couples massage was a good idea and as it was, after all our honeymoon, and we were, after all at one of the most exclusive, luxurious locations on Earth, I decided to go along with it. Our massages took place in a peaceful and private room opening up to the wilderness side of the motu. It was a relaxing moment of detoxification, though I’m sure afterwards we just went to the beach for drinks.
The Four Seasons offers more activities but we wanted to make sure we had plenty of beach time; we did and can say without a doubt we had no regrets. Thoughts of the “real world” quickly fade and eventually all but vanish, and I can think of no better way to spend an entire day than in a beach chair, basking in the sun, lolling around in the water, sipping on cocktails and loving life. You don’t always have to be busy and you don’t always need an itinerary; honestly, the days and hours with no plans, spent doing “nothing” were some of the most fulfilling of our lives.
Things to Keep in Mind
If you plan to go to French Polynesia, go prepared to spend money. Nothing there is cheap (a champagne cocktail cost $22)- prepare yourself both financially and mentally and try not to think of the prices. Tipping is not really standard practice French Polynesian culture which was sometimes hard for us to grasp since we are so used to tipping for everything!
If you plan to go to both Moorea and Bora Bora, I would save your water activities for Bora Bora. Moorea has a large offering of land activities (hiking, ATV, Bike rentals, car rentals) whereas Bora Bora does not have as large of a variety of land actives, and if you do want to do any hiking, you’ll have to pay for the ferry to get into town.
BUY DUTY FREE. When we arrived in Tahiti, we purchased quite a few bottles of wine and a bottle of vodka, which helped keep our hotel bill down! And if you have any leftover, bring it with you to the next island. There is no security, which means no limit on liquids!
You won’t have to worry about a language barrier as pretty much everyone is trilingual, speaking French, English and Tahitian. La Orana (pronounced yo-rah-nah) means hello and is a greeting you’ll hear thousands of times during your trip.
Our final piece of advice? If you ever have the opportunity to visit French Polynesia, by all means, take it! Our memories of Moorea and Bora Bora will be cherished forever- these are truly magical places.
And lastly, a slideshow of our favorite memories from the trip! Click through to see them all…