After seeing the musical South Pacific, who hasn’t dreamed of the ecstasy of traveling to an exotic South Pacific paradise?
In our case, the ecstasy part of the idyll had to wait until MG and I endured the agony part, namely United Flight 310 to LA. United Airlines boasts the following amenities. It charges you for both checked luggage and carry-ons. Its seats have no leg room of which to speak unless you’re four feet six inches tall or shorter. Its seats are scarce on width unless you have buns the size of an anorexic runway model’s. Don’t board hungry and thirsty. UA will only provide you with a tiny package of mini pretzels (unless you’re willing to purchase an overpriced snack), and a non-alcoholic beverage in a tiny cup. So far, I wasn’t thrilled with the trip decision. Thank you, friendly skies. Not really.
After arriving at LAX, our traveling companions, MG, and I traipsed through the airport in search of a quick breakfast before our connecting flight to Tahiti. Only in LA will you find a champagne and caviar bar in an airport concourse, but you will have trouble finding an inexpensive breakfast.
We then followed an endless array of signs directing us to our departure gate. Naturally, our departure gate was at the far reaches of the airport— in another building. We had to board a shuttle bus to reach it, a fifteen minute ride.
At last, we reached the gate and boarded our eight and a half hour Air Tahiti Nui flight. It was as if we entered a portal into a fantasy world. The flight attendants wore colorful native dress and they appeared genuinely happy to see us. The jet’s interior was colorful and welcoming as well. MG and I were permitted to sit together without paying an up charge. We each received a pillow, a blanket, and a goody bag containing ear plugs, a sleep mask, socks, and audio ear buds. The movies, TV shows, video games, magazines, and music on our individual monitors were free of charge!
As soon as we reached cruising altitude, we were served beverages and a hot lunch—a delicious hot lunch for which we were not required to pay. Wine was served free of charge as well. Snacks and beverages during the flight were available any time we wanted them. An hour before landing a complementary breakfast was served.
What fresh hell was this? Perhaps it was an elaborate prank. Surely none of it was real because our tickets were clearly marked economy class.
At the airport in Papeete, Tahiti, the flight attendants guided us to the arrivals entrance. While in line to go through security, we were entertained by a native band. Welcome to French Polynesia!
Following transfer from the airport to our cruise ship, Holland America Line’s MS Maasdam, we boarded just in time for dinner, the first of many sumptuous meals on board. We stayed overnight in Papeete on Sunday.
At 2:00 pm on Monday, we were marshaled for the Mandatory Passenger Emergency Muster Drill—roughly twelve hundred perspiring bodies crammed together in the heat and humidity on the Lower Promenade Deck. Guests who refused to participate would not be permitted to sail with the vessel. Oh joy.
Finally, we sailed for our first port of call, scheduled to arrive on Tuesday. While at sea on Monday, we were treated to the first of many informative Port Talks on the islands we were to visit. We learned that most ports did not have docking facilities for large ships. Passengers would necessarily be shuttled to shore and back via the Maasdam’s tenders. Of course, this process could be subject to change depending on local conditions. Lovely.
Hiva Oa, our first port of call, fell under the category of adverse local conditions. Large ocean swells made it impossible to board the tenders safely. Instead we had another day at sea with an alternative shipboard activity schedule. Not an auspicious beginning. ::sigh::
Fortunately, we were able to use the tenders safely enough at our next island port, Nuku Hiva in The Marquesas. When we debarked from the tender, we were greeted by three women in traditional island garb singing a welcome accompanied by a group of men on drums. I shot a bit of video of them with my iPhone8Plus. This was more like it. Things were looking up. Yay!
We spent another day at sea that also turned out to be our first gala dinner night. In other words, we had to wear our fancy duds instead of our smart casual rags. We survived it.
Rangiroa, an atoll, was up next. We took a tour of a black pearl farm there. We learned the process of producing those exotic and coveted Polynesian ($$$$$) cultured pearls. We observed a technician remove pearls from harvested oysters and then reseed those that produced pearls of good grade. Those that did not were consigned to the death row crate to become someone’s appetizer course.
That ended the first week of our French Polynesian Idyll. Soon we would visit the fabled South Pacific island paradise of Bora Bora!