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theNJR

Trip of a lifetime - Review of my first ever cruise w/ pictures and video!

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As is the unspoken tradition here, I’m excited to give back to the CC community and provide my perspective on the 7 nights Society Island cruise, starting June 8th 2019. 

 

This board was invaluable in helping us plan, and hopefully some things I learned will be helpful to the next lucky person who gets to sail on the PG. 


Let's start off with a 2 minute video that should give you a decent feel for our trip. I don't think we can embed videos, so click here: https://player.vimeo.com/video/344002199

If you've sailed on the PG you may recognize that song!

 

Travel background

 

To give context around my very subjective review, it may be helpful to know my starting point. This was my first ever cruise, which was part family vacation (Me, my wife and her parents and sister) plus we celebrated my 35th birthday and our 2 year wedding anniversary. My wife and her family have gone on 8+ cruises, but never to Tahiti or on the PG. I had long been anti-cruise. Being stuck on a ship with thousands of people is closer to torture than vacation for me. When I stumbled upon the PG I sent it around and everyone instantly wanted to go. I was putting it in my bucket list but the timing ended up being perfect to do it this year. Why wait! 

 

I’ve done some off the beaten path trips to places like Bosnia with my dad, and my wife travels a lot for work to Europe and Asia.  Together, we’ve vacationed a lot in Mexico and Hawaii (Tulum, Isla Holbox, Maui, Kaui and Ohahu) since it’s so close to us in Los Angeles. 

 

The closest thing to a cruise I’ve done is Excellence Playa Mujeres, an adults only all inclusive about 30 minutes outside Cancun. It’s consistently ranked as a top 5 all inclusive in the area. I thought going into the PG that it would be similar to the Excellence, which is known for their amazing staff and food (You can see my review of it HERE, the takeaway being it’s a fun indulgence but completely manufactured... If there’s a guy with a guitar on a horse on the beach, it’s because the hotel paid him to be there. I like serendipity and authenticity.) I was right directionally but off by a factor of at least 2. 

 

Getting to Tahiti 

 

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My wife is 1k on United and we wanted to fly with her family who live in the Bay Area. That meant we flew LA to SFO and then on to PPT. On the outbound we used 175k miles each to fly in business. On the return, we bought W fare tickets and applied Global Premier Upgrades which instantly upgraded our economy tickets to business (1k members get 8 of these every year). 

 

We went to both the LAX and SFO Polaris lounges which were excellent. Between the sparkling wine and indulgent foods, we started our vacation the second we got through security at LAX! 

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I had read Reviews that the SFO-PPT United crew weren’t great, but that seems to have changed because the crew were amazing. Everyone was in such a great mood, pre flight beverages were ready right as we boarded the plane. I got talking to the captain and they let me into the cockpit for a picture. It was my first time on the Dreamliner so I was geeking out a bit. They were so excited to have a visitor up front, the captain said how people don’t come up anymore. 

 

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It’s too bad the flight comes in after the sunsets as it would be stunning to come in for sunset. Depending on which runway you land on, you may circle around Moorea. Despite that, I suggest sitting on the right side of the plane as there is a sunset view from the sky, but we couldn’t really see it from the left (On the 787 windows have electric dimming not sliding shades, and most people have the windows fully dimmed during this part of the flight).

 

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After a few drinks, some salmon and the famous sundae cart, I put my bed down and got over 2 hours of sleep. One movie later and were were on final approach to PPT! 

 

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The 787 from SFO-PPT hasn't had the Polaris hard product upgrade yet, so they are slightly older lay flat seats, without direct isle access. Most people on this flight are couples so that isn't a huge deal, but something to consider.

 

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Arriving in PPT

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The wait for customs was the worst part of that trip. It took about 40 minutes (the flight crew rightfully get to skip to the front) and the line was really stuffy. This was the only time we ever waited during this trip, a small price to pay for Tahiti! 

 

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Our bags came a few minutes later and we cleared customs. I grabbed our Tahiti WiFi routers (exit customs, take a right and you’ll see it near the car rental section).  The ATM is right near there as well with no issues using it, and then got into a cab. Note there are tons of cabs when you land, and we had no trouble finding a 5 person van to fit all 5 of us and 7 bags. 

Less than 10 minutes and 2,000XPF later and we were at the InterContinental Tahiti.

 

The Intercontinental  Tahiti 

 

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I had exchanged many emails with their management prior since I wanted a room for the day we returned from the PG. We didn’t use the PG flight/day room package because of the flight logistics (and it’s a LOT cheaper to do both the day room and flights yourself!! Same with excursions!) but wanted a day room for the final Saturday. This turned into a somewhat complicated request, but mostly overcomplicated by my desire to know for sure we had a room all day Saturday. The conclusion was I upgraded to be an IHG Ambassador prior to arrival for $200. This guaranteed a 4pm check out, room upgrade, free water and Wi-Fi. Both of our rooms got upgraded from garden to lagoon view.

 

I mentioned that it was both my birthday and our two year anniversary and our room got upgraded to an overwater bungalow for the second night! 

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We spent all day Friday at the Lotus pool which is a sand bottom infiniti pool with swim up bar.

 

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I think the IC gets a bit of a bad reputation because its the place you go before your vacation starts. I found the grounds, food and staff to be all top notch. After our first full day at the IC, I commented to my wife that if this had been our entire vacation I would have been pleased! Of course the best was yet to come 🙂

 

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A few final notes on the IC

 

The gym is small but good practice for the even smaller gym on the PG. Instead of doing cardio inside, if you do it correctly, a lap around the entire grounds is just about one mile. 

We had my birthday dinner at Lotus. I’d say the reviews are accurate; the food is good but the service gets really slow as more guests arrive.

 

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Like all the meals here, they aren’t cheap; Lunch buffet is $40 for the ‘cold’ buffet with a glass of wine. The cold buffet was actually delicious, with the best deserts of our trip! Also cocktails at the Lotus bar were $25. I put a bottle of rum in our checked bag so that came in handy.

 

The Overwater Bungalow was stunning. They must have been recently remodeled because the floor, fixtures, everything were just beautiful (and much higher quality than our first room). The whole family spent a few hours hanging out on the deck. What a treat that was. 

 

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The fish lagoon was good for what it is. If you have new equipment you need to test, this would be a great place to do it. 

 

The best sunset of our trip was also here.

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As I mentioned, we got late check out for being IHG Ambassadors, so on Saturday we spent half a day at the pool, had lunch and arranged to have our bags brought down at 3. Throughout our stay here the staff were beyond kind and always on time and very helpful. We said our goodbyes and then headed to the dock. 

 

15 minutes and 2500XPF later and there it is - The Paul Gauguin!!! 

 

First Impressions

 

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Parked next to the PG was the Windstar, which was out of commission for a few days after hitting another ship(!).  Everyone got refunded with a voucher for their next cruise for either 50% off or the entire trip for free (I heard both). What a disappointment it must have been. Luckily the PG was going to depart with 30 empty rooms, so 60 people from the Windstar joined us. By the time we were in Moorea the Windstar was back in service, such a beautiful ship to see with its sails at full mast.

 

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Embarkation was simple. I figured if we arrived around 3:30 the first wave of people would be on and there’d be little to no line. That’s exactly what happened. You come on board, get your picture taken and then go to your room. They use the theater room as a holding area but by the time we sat and drank some sparkling wine, it was our turn to handle those logistics. Quick and painless. 

 

The room

 

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My wife and I had room 620, and her parents and sister were next door in 618. My sister in law said sleeping on the smaller bed wasn’t an issue at all, so three to room is more than doable (and they had a lot of luggage!).

 

Having never been on a cruise, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve done 4 nights on a train before so I’m used to lots of fun space saving ideas and clever doors for storage. The PG has a lot of that. I’d say the room felt like a nice Holiday Inn. It’s a bit dated but well maintained. There’s a lot more storage than I thought, and plenty of room under the bed to stow bags. The lighting system took a bit to figure out, the way the toilets flush is weird (the paper almost never went down on first try) but overall very comfortable.

 

I know this is a controversial topic, but I LOVED having a balcony. I wake up 30-60 minutes before my wife so I’d hang out there and watch the day start and take pictures of the jaw-dropping scene in front of me. I’d also spend 30 minutes out there at night while she was getting ready. If you are more social you may want to go up to the deck at all times, but I need alone time to recharge so after a day of excursions and being at the pool, I loved it. 

 

Carla was our house keeper and was absolutely wonderful. As we would experience over and over, It’s impressive how quickly staff get to know your name and your preferences. I had more sparkling water in the fridge than I knew what to do with after telling her we didn’t drink tonic water. I experienced the pretend version of this at the Mexican all inclusive. Whatever they do on the PG is a whole new level of caring service. 

 

Once unpacked we went to get our fins (we brought snorkels and masks from home). I lied when I said customs was the only line we waited on the trip. Waiting for fins was the only other line and, like customs, it was in a small stuffy room. We got there a bit before 4:30 and had to wait 20 minutes. I bet everyone in line read the advice to get fins early. I don’t think that’s actually needed. I cant imagine they run out of most sizes. Next time I’d get these the next morning. 

 

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Next up we made dinner reservations. Being first timers and Americans, I made both reservations for 6:30. That was a mistake, and I would suggest others make them for 7 or 7:30. A 6:30 dinners forces an early end to the day or makes it hard to do a pre-dinner activity like trivia. 

 

My First Time Cruising

 

First, it was choppy. Each night, as we steamed toward a new island, it was somewhat hard for my wife and I to sleep because you can really feel the chop. That was surprising since the waters weren’t the rough, but because its such a small ship you really feel every wave. This wasn’t that bad, just slightly unexpected. 

 

I was pleasantly surprised at how short each flight of stairs was. It was seconds to go from Floor 6 to the deck, for instance. Everything is close, no matter where you are on the ship. 

 

Go to the rear of the ship for sunset and sail aways! I can’t believe it took us nearly the entire trip to do this but it was the most magical place on the boat! My fondest memory is my wife and I, at the back of deck 6, watching Moorea grow smaller in the distance. 

 

Food 

 

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I won’t go into detail of each meal, and instead will just cover it here. 

 

I loved sitting outside for breakfast, enjoying some coffee and maybe a mimosa. Angelo came up to us the first day with tons of enthusiasm, figured out what we like and made sure we had that every breakfast thereafter. I will say when eating at La Verenda, getting alcohol drinks takes a long time. They have to go upstairs for anything except table wine and that tends to take 10 minutes, even for something simple like sparkling wine. 

 

Breakfast was the same every day, and eventually those buffet eggs got boring. Breakfast is designed around efficiency since most people are generally going off to do something in the morning. It's nice to grab some bacon and eggs and then get to it. You can also get food to order, but that takes 20 minutes so you’d have to plan accordingly. Their omelets were good though! 

 

Lunch has a different theme each day. Medetertain, American, Tahitian, etc. A lot of it is good for genetic ethnic food. Some specific dishes weren’t good, but there were tons of options and always something tasty to try. 

 

Dinners were all of very high quality, I’d compare them to a good $20 entree at a 3.5 star LA restaurant. Like everywhere else on the boat, the waiters would remember your names and preferences, and always went out of their way. 

 

But this is not - nor is it trying to be - an authentic Tahitian dining experience. You aren’t getting (many) local flavors. The wait staff are mostly (or all) Filipino men. So, at times, you may be eating Indian food served by a Filipino staff drinking Chilean wine in the middle of Tahiti. There are worse things in life 🙂

Speaking of wine, I’ve spent enough time in Napa to know what I like but am miles away from any sort of wine snob. I found the wines mostly passable and some even good. Decent, but not great, grocery store finds. 

 

The Grill and French Restaurant were a full tier of quality up and memorable dining experiences. The fish throughout the trip (except once) was outstanding, and the best were these two meals. The executive chef did a moon fish demonstration on the deck one day where we brought out 100lb fish and showed how they fillet it. More interestingly, he explained all the fish is local and line caught. You can really tell. This is better fish than I am used to. The beef was from New Zeland and you could tell the quality difference at the two reservation restaurants vs La Veranda, but again very good. 

 

Ship Life

 

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Most days after returning from our excursions we’d spend a few hours by the pool. Because the ship is anchored at the front, it moves every so slightly back and forth which means the stunning view in front of you slowly changes. I stared out into the distance for hours and could do it for days on end. It’s one thing to sit on a beach and look out. It’s something else entirely to sit on a boat and look to shore. And the shores of Tahiti are second to none! 

 

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Pool service was excellence. Jade quickly knew our routine and provided me with a seemingly never-ending supply of Pina Coladas. 

 

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Compared to the all inclusive in Mexico the food and drink are all multiple tiers better. The sparkling wine in Mexico, for example, is truly undrinkable even in mimosa form. And their rum has always tasted off to me. On the PG both were great. 

 

The only bad dining experience was the last dinner. My tuna was inedible and the servers Were in a huge rush due to there being more people eating at La Veranda than normal. One is never without food on the PG, so this wasn’t that big of an issue. 

 

Floor 6 was incredibly convenient. Close to everything, but also very quiet. Highly recommend this floor. 

 

The gym was hilariously small, and one of the machines was broken. We went twice and I mostly did cardio. There's sort of a nice view out the windows but they are blocked by the tenders early in the morning. I saw a lot of people power walking on the top deck, but it's something like 20 laps for a mile and you can't run. Decent place to get some steps in though. 

 

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Internet through Tahiti Wifi was excellent. We heard a ton of complaints about the onboard wifi. Ours worked almost everywhere, and only had to reset the router once. It had a 12 hour battery so I brought it on excursions and up on the deck when I wanted it. We rented two, one for each room.

 

Tenders

 

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The tenders were run like European trains. You can set your watch to them. Except for Motu day, they were never full, even on early ones with many people going to shore for excursions. You can tell they have really refined their systems and processes here. Two guys to help people/on off, a welcome committee at shore with music, cool towels and drinks, etc. It’s all very refined. We saw the tender from another ship (this interesting half cargo half cruise ship boat) that looked like a barge, so that provided good contrast! 

 

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I would have enjoyed some water landings, but most people should have no trouble with these. 

 

Excursions

 

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We went to shore in Hunanine, and Le Truck into town, for less than two hours. While there was some interesting people watching in the main town, there wasn’t much else to do.

 

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My sister in law did a snorkeling excursion that she said was excellent. But my wife and I had to take the dive class which was smack in the middle of the day, so we tendered back to the ship for a quick lunch then headed to the pool.

 

If you book the more expensive PG excursions it is very easy to shuffle things around (switch days  and times for example) and you get priority on the morning tenders (but that never actually mattered). The flip side to that, is you remain in the PG bubble. For some that is a good thing, so keep to it! For me, I was happy to leave that bubble and encounter different people. 

 

The entire family had booked the Polynesian Feast on day 2 of Bora Bora so we all had a full day activity together. Due to some sort of mix up, my in-laws got booked for the first day instead of the second. The excursion team couldn’t move them because the second day was full. That means we got split up which was really too bad. Then, because I had to do a Bora Bora dive, my wife and I just canceled our Polynesian feast. Overall, I’d say the excursion staff were the least friendly. Not to say they were UNfriendly, but compared to everyone else they were a step below. I also think they are completely powerless to do anything. 

 

To keep the snafu going, The Bora Bora dive ended up getting canceled due to weather. In the end it was all sorts of back and forth and I only got to dive once in Moorea. 

 

Motu

 

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The Motu day was our worse weather, yet it never actually rained. Just lots of cloud cover. 

 

It’s incredible how they setup the island for the day, bringing over all the food and drinks. I wish I would have taken a picture of how they broke down the island and brought everything back to the ship; 10 or so PG workers each grab a large container and daisy chain their way to the ship. I've never seen anything like it! 

 

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The BBQ was outstanding with tons of options. Drinks never stopped flowing. Music always playing. We took the kayaks around for a bit and did some snorkeling, although that wasn’t very impressive. I forgot to take note of the suggestion I read here as to where to walk for better snorkeling. I wish I would have done that. 

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The sand on the Motu is very corse, so keep that in mind. Had it just been my wife and I, we would have setup camp on the opposite side of the Motu, away from where everyone goes. I walked over there and it was really peaceful and I found it far more pretty. But we were with the entire family and they don’t like venturing off.  

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Motu day is the only day we were ever on full tenders, both on the way there and the way back. It’s the only time that you shouldn’t walk down moments before the tender is scheduled to leave as you may end up having to wait for the next tender.  

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Pure Snorkeling Bora Bora

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One of my favorite people from the trip was our guide at Pure. He was a multi-generational Bora Bora native who loved his island down to his bones. You could feel it in everything he did; from waving at pacing boats, to helping other tours anchor, to not feeding bread to the fish (which is really bad for them). 

 

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It was also fun to meet people off the PG and hear about what they were doing. This is a highly recommended trip here, and with good reason. It really does live up to the hype! At the end of the tour our guide shared homemade coconut bread and fruit from his garden. Outstanding. I only brought my GoPro for this part, so watch the video to see a huge manta ray!

 

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This was also the night of our wedding anniversary dinner. I had inquired about the special dinner on the marina dock but even two months out they were booked. I think there’s only the opportunity for two couples to do this per sailing. Looking back, I’m glad it was booked. 

 

Prior to that inquiry I had reserved us a table at La Villa Mahana, which is an 8 person restaurant  in Bora Bora. They pick you up at the pier and drop you off as part of the reservation. I booked this for the first night In Bora Bora, knowing that the tenders would be running late. But I wasn’t sure exactly how late. I set our reservation for 6:30, with a pier pickup at 6:00, just to be sure we’d have plenty of time as I wasn’t sure of the exact time the last tender left. Missing that wouldn’t be good! Ultimately I could have done a 7pm reservation which I would have preferred. Note the pickup was in a random van, and arrived around 6:15. Don't worry, they will find you just wait near the taxis. 

 

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Regardless, dinner was magical. This was one of two times we ate off the ship, and we really enjoyed eating local food served and made by a local team. The chef is French, and the tasting menu is a wonderful blend of Polynesian and French cuisine; starting with the French bread and coconut bread. 

 

Portions were huge - neither of us could finish our entrees - and everything was wonderful. Two tasting menus, two glasses of champagne and one bottle of wine was around $350. Certainly not cheap, but pretty similar to what a special dinner in Los Angeles costs. And we got to meet the chef which was fun!

 

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For our second Bora Bora day I was scheduling around my afternoon dive. We  took a taxi to the public beach. Note that they have all sorts of strange taxi pricing; we shared a taxi with two other people, for a total of five, and original the driver wanted to charge us 4,000xpf, which the same price that two taxi’s would cost. Eventually she agreed to 2500xpf to the beach. She suggested an area slightly before the main public beach because it would have better snorkeling. 

 

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We setup our area there using the big beach blanket, which was perfect for this situation. We didnt end up snorkeling, but just enjoyed relaxing on the beach.

 

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After a few hours we packed up so I could grab lunch before the dive. The taxi driver said a public bus comes by every 20 or so minutes and we could catch that home. That bus never came. A local was getting into his car to go somewhere and I asked if he would mind dropping us off at the pier for 1,000xpf. He was happy to do it, and we had a really nice ride back learning about the area from him. 

 

We got back to the PG and I ran into someone from dive class who informed me the dive was canceled due to weather. Sure enough, on the door to our room there was a note saying the same. I suppose we could have tendered back to the beach, but my wife and I got a great table outside for lunch, brought a deck of cards and asked to keep the sauvignon blanc flowing 🙂

 

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Moorea Dive

 

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My first and only dive was in Moorea. We left the PG by zodiac for a quick 10 minute ride out of the lagoon. Myself and two other inexperienced divers had Clement, and then three other experienced divers went down with Antonio. That group was on their second dive of the day, and had dived nearly every day! 

 

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We slowly went down to about 40 feet. While I took diving quickly in the pool, it was another thing being in the ocean! The first few minutes were a bit freaky as I got used to everything. I also had a head cold for a few days prior which had just cleared up. I was happy in a sense that the Bora Bora dive got canceled to give me more time to recover (I still can’t believe i got a head cold. I never get sick during the summer, really strange). I also did a terrible job equalizing as we descended and had some pretty intense waves of pressure headaches.

 

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Regardless, it was incredible to be underwater. I’ve done tons of snorkeling but this is just something else entirely. When snorkeling, fish zip away from you. When SCUBA diving, you swim with the fish. That is a profound difference. It was just so much fun swimming around with the fish and sharks which you can see in the video. 

 

A few times I swam after the sharks and used my air a bit too quickly, so we were under for about 40 minutes. The more experienced group were under about 10 minutes longer. 

I got a barotrauma from diving and ended up needing to go to the doctor upon returning to LA who prescribed some ear drops. It took over a week to clear up which was a bit of a pain, and for the rest of the trip I had various levels of ear discomfort. 

 

A few notes on diving

 

This was my fist time diving and wish the process was better explained. You have to do a Bora Bora dive after the pool class to ‘qualify’ for the Moorea dive. We planned on two Moorea dives and scheduled excursions around that. Once on board we were told this, and that the two Moorea dives were essentially the same thing. That resulted in a lot of reshuffling which ended up being for naught.

 

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Clement, the dive master, gets my MVP award for the trip. My wife wasn’t able to figure out how to breath with SCUBA gear and he spent a lot of time with her, making her comfortable and explaining things. She ended up not diving and he refunded her dives without us needing to do another thing. More importantly he was a rare balance of friendly/funny and highly competent. Exactly what you’d hope for in a person you essentially are going to trust your life with! 

 

For first time divers,  either you ‘get it’ right away in the pool, or your going to need some more hands on instruction. I took to diving quickly, and ended up doing that by myself.

Because the instructions are so brief, if you have never dived before like me, I HIGHLY suggest you spend some time on YouTube learning about diving. You should go into the pool class with the fundamentals in mind. Understand how to properly equalize. This would have saved me a lot of annoyance.

 

Moorea Day 2

 

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I was happy to have canceled the second Moorea dive for a bunch of reasons; primarily my ears were messed up from the first dive (Doing a second dive would have been a VERY bad idea! I didn’t know that at the time) and exploring Moorea was my favorite part of the trip. 

 

I emailed Ebike Moorea 9:30 the night before asking if they had two bikes available. They wrote back within minutes and we arranged to meet them at the pier the following morning. 

 

We took one of the first tenders over, and they were there waiting. My wife and I have ebikes back home in LA, so a few minutes later we were on our way. $50 each for half a day. 

While the roads in Bora Bora were very narrow and I’d consider unsafe to bike on, Moorea has a wide shoulder with plenty of room to safely bike. There isn’t a ton of traffic, and most of the traffic comes from the tour trucks and ATVs. Yes, the ATVs ride on the main public road, there isn’t really a way around that for them. 

 

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We first biked up the Belvedere lookout. We only saw one other group of bikers doing this, they too were on ebikes, and if you do this ride too you’ll see why. It’s steep! If you’re a conditioned rider you can do it without the assist, but I was glad to have it. Once you turn off the main road to go up, it get really beautiful. 

 

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We hoofed it up to the top and took in the view.

 

My in-laws were on one of the tour trucks and had left about an hour before us. Just as my wife and I caught our breath, up came their truck! So we had a nice reunion up top. 

After that we had a fun ride to the bottom, and continued on down the main road and decided to head to the fruit farm. One thing is that the tourist map you get either at the PG or from the bike operator is terrible. Nothing is to scale, and lots of important navigational landmarks are missing. I thought we should have been at the fruit farm long before we actually made it there. Just keep on pedaling. 

 

The farm itself was a bit disappointing. There’s a gift shop area that does tastings of their liquors. We bought their fruit juice rum to take back to the boat as it was tasty, but I wanted a real tour, not just a tasting.

 

From there we kept going into town and stopped by Moorea Beach Cafe for lunch. What a funny place! Every square inch was covered in Veuve branding; from the umbrellas to the placemats and wine holders, and even a step and repeat outside the entrance. The service was flat, the view was amazing, and the pizza was great. The highlight for me was the coconut sorbet. I LOVE coconut and they really delivered. I wanted to get a t-shirt but they were $50(!!!!). I literally laughed out loud upon seeing that price.

 

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At this point we were due to return the bikes in 45 minutes. That would have been an aggressive pedal back to the pier as we were about 10 miles away. I had brought my Tahiti Wi-Fi router with me, so I was able to email the Ebike company asking for an extra 45 minutes. 10 minutes later they replied saying no problem, so that let us have a more leisurely ride home. In retrospect I should have done the full day rental instead of half day. I wanted to stop at a bunch of places for photos on our way back but didnt have time. 

 

I loved going off on our own and exploring Moorea. Everything about this day was just great. It was also our last full day, so after a few hours by the pool my wife and I discovered the area at the back of the boat and enjoyed a really special sunset together before heading off to dinner (and had the previously mentioned only bad dinner). 

 

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The PG Bubble

 

You and 50 or so other people are going to have the same routine on the boat. You’ll be at the gym at the same time, eat breakfast at the same time, go on the same excursions and then go to the pool deck. You can lean into that as much as you want. My sister in law is very social so she got to know everyone. My wife and I are more introverted but still got to know some great people. 

 

The staff are also part of this bubble. The dive team also manage the water sports and will be the ones helping you with the kayaks on the Motu day. Some of your waiters will be performers at night. This all makes sense, and it’s not a bad thing, but you get these funny moments like you are living in an old cartoon where the background repeats.

 

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Weather

 

Overall it was a consistent 80 degrees with scattered clouds and a slight breeze. It was very comfortable. I prefer a deeper heat, but the only time we got that was our last day at the IC Tahiti. This is a very personal preference thing, and most people really liked the weather we had. If you prefer heat like I do, I'd suggest going in July.  

 

Entertainment 

 

Living in Los Angeles, my wife and I are very spoiled when it comes to entertainment. We get to see world class acts at beautiful venues like the Hollywood Bowl. That was not our expectation going in. Again, my point of reference was the Mexican all inclusive. There, you'll see locals doing Michael Jackson shows that aren't bad, but kind of silly when you really think about it. I'd say the entertainment on the PG was at that level. If you watch the video, you can see a glimpse of the Polynesian show (I'm on stage in the back!). It's fun, it's worth going to, just don't go in with high expectations.

 

We ended up at the piano bars most nights. Alex is a great piano player, but he's not the best signer in the world. This should be an easy win, and he was a lot of fun, but finding someone to do this role should be easy (Who wouldn't want to spend a few months sailing around on the PG signing at night!). I often saw Alex out and about during the day, so I think he has a pretty nice schedule. 

 

The Gauguin's, on the other hand, were great. I really enjoyed when they sang. In fact, in the video linked at the beginning, the background music is from them signing in the piano bar. Everyone stopped what they were doing to listen. 

 

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Packing and gear

 

I made a thread before leaving that showed the gear that I packed. I never used my RX100 camera. I took almost every picture and video here on my iPhone XS Max with Sandmarc lenses (Telephoto and wide). Those were great to have. All underwater was shot on my GoPro. Based on the description, I didn't think we were diving below 15 feet so I didn't bring an underwater case for my GoPro. We ended up going down to 40 feet, which meant the buttons didn't work. I turned the GoPro on at the surface and it stayed on the entire dive. Not a huge deal, although at some point it went into time-lapse mode. Oh well. I also brought my DJI Mavic Pro drone. Knowing they aren't allowed on the ship, and there are lots of airports on the islands, there really weren't many places to use it (which is why there are only two drone shots in the video). It was also really windy, again limiting times I could fly. I'd probably leave that home next time. 

 

The beach blanket was a huge hit. First aid kit was used once or twice for minor things. 

 

Overall

 

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The PG is great but you are a tourist of the second order. You aren’t engaging in any true culture. It’s imported onto the ship just like the food. Sure the Gogans are nice and some even talented but it’s not real. It’s there for you explicitly. You aren’t eating any local food. Your waiters are from the Philippines. It’s not an authentic Polynesian experience and so I left wanting more of that. 

 

That said, French Polynesia is culturally intact when compared to Hawaii. Tours aren’t done by some kid from the east coast named Seamus running away to Maui. It’s a person who goes back so many generations as to have lost count. That does mean something, at least to me. But to experience that you have to get off the ship, away from other people on the same packaged tours. Yes that’s hard when the PG has so much to offer, but FP has even more to offer. 

 

The PG has certainly spoiled me when it comes to cruises. I still don’t think I’d like 1,000+ person cruises, but I’d do another cruise like this in a heartbeat! In fact, I wish we would have done the 11 day cruise to the Cook Islands. I think in 3-5 years we’ll come back to do exactly that. I would add three nights in Moorea after the cruise to get my fill of local culture. That would be my perfect 2 week vacation. 

 

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Enjoyed your review though my take after 20 trips to Polynesian with several on the PG is different. The ship was built with a shallow draft intentionally in order to pass through shallow reefs and to islands many of the larger ships can not. This creates a bit more rock and roll but frankly it puts me to sleep. 

 

Entertainment: Small ship so there is double duty by many of the staff, I mean you can't expect LA entertainment and I'll take the scenery of FP and less extravagant entertainment than LA and top professional entertainers.

 

I think people forget your on a small ship in the South Pacific, there are some limitations. California wine is expensive to import into FP so much of the wine is from other parts of the world. As I live on the beautiful Central Coast of California I always bring some bottles of award winning wines from Paso Robles with me. No I don't drink it, I give it away to some of the crew that will enjoy a good bottle of wine though I personally find the assortment on-board acceptable for my own taste.

 

Meals  …. you had a choice. Do I eat cafeteria style for breakfast or do I get there early enough to order off the menu. The eggs benedict on the PG is very good, the hollandaise is from scratch. Would agree La Veranda is a steep above and romantic, not to saythe main dinning room is a disappointment as I've always enjoyed my meals there. 

 

Have no idea what happened on the excursion desk, the two ladies I'm most familiar with are very personal and do a marvelous job to help facilitate changes, maybe someone else helped you.

 

Doesn't bother me that the crew is Filipino  …. they are all wonderful and the PG has one of the highest percentages of crew members that have been on the ship for over 10 years, that speaks volumes ….

 

You did mention many good things about the ship and crew but calling it a 'bubble' is interesting. Cruising on a large ship with 2500+ passengers and the ship is basically the focal point is way different that what the PG experience IMO. Sure there are those who get into the 'grove' but there are plenty of opportunities to experience true Polynesia.

 

I guess my take is your being a bit tough on the ship/experience. Personally I think the PG offers the best of both worlds, a unique Polynesian experience that most cruise lines don't come dose to giving plus the atmosphere of a solid hotel/restaurant. For many it's a perfect balance.

 

Hope you try the 11 night, it's one of my favorite itineraries,  in fact I'll be on the 112 night next March. 

 

Loved the pictures and video 😉

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Thanks for sharing your trip. It's getting me even more excited for ours in July.

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So enjoyed this review!  Thanks for taking the time to post your experiences and all your beautiful photos.  I am curious about this Anniversary Dinner.  We are booked for the 12/7/19 sailing and will be celebrating our 20th anniversary on 12/8.  We have pre-arranged to do a vow renewal, but I am also interested in the anniversary dinner you spoke of.  How do you go about booking this in advance? Is there a way to email the cruise line?

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2 hours ago, Tahitianbigkahuna said:

Enjoyed your review though my take after 20 trips to Polynesian with several on the PG is different.

 

Based on your response, I may have not fully expressed my enthusiasm (I didn’t mean “trip of a lifetime” in jest!) for the PG. With my review, I wanted to provide my subjective thoughts for others who may fit a similar traveler profile so they know what to expect.

 

To address a few of your points -

 

“The ship was built with a shallow draft intentionally in order to pass through shallow reefs and to islands many of the larger ships can not.”

 

Great point and I should have emphasized that I would take the rock and roll over a bigger ship every single time. The benefit of being able to pass through the reef far outweighs the rock! But, it’s still there, and worth knowing.

 

“You can't expect LA entertainment and I'll take the scenery of FP and less extravagant entertainment.”

 

For sure, and I said as much. I heard that the Windstar doesn’t have any entertainment which I wouldn’t like. I had fun at the shows, I’m glad that they are offered. It also makes sense, the cost of entertainment can only be amortized over 300 people vs a larger ship with 3,000. Like the rocking of the boat, it's a price I'm happy to pay. But it's still my reality of the experience.  

 

“I personally find the [wine] assortment on-board acceptable for my own taste.”

 

Agreed. As I said, I found some to be good! Expecting a Realm cab on an all inclusive boat would be silly. From other reviews it seems like some people do expect that. It was fun tasting a new wine each night, and when in doubt there was a standby sav that I liked that they’d bring out (and keep pouring!). Speaking of wine, I need to plan a trip to Paso Robles, I can’t believe I’ve never been.

 

“Doesn't bother me that the crew is Filipino  …. they are all wonderful and the PG has one of the highest percentages of crew members that have been on the ship for over 10 years, that speaks volumes”

 

I want to make sure I’m clear on this point. I’ve never met such kind, attentive and amazing service people in any of my travels. Often reviews hype the service and it’s a bit misinformed. That wasn’t the case on the PG. The entire operation is an insanely well-oiled machine. It’s truly something to behold and my wife and I are still talking about some of the crew. They were beyond great.

 

Instead, I was commenting on the disconnect between location and crew. It would have been more immersive for me if the crew were from the islands. We got to know them so well, it would have been additive to learn more about the islands from them. Yes, I know there are structured opportunities to learn about the Islands. I like unstructured serendipitous moments.

 

“Calling it a 'bubble' is interesting”

 

We all live in bubbles of various sizes. If you eat, drink and explore with the same 50 people for a week, that is a bubble. There’s nothing wrong with that! In fact, I presume for many people that is a good thing - constant newness creates a high cognitive load. But it isn’t the only option and I enjoyed moments of new/expanded bubbles.

 

“I guess my take is your being a bit tough on the ship/experience. Personally I think the PG offers the best of both worlds, a unique Polynesian experience that most cruise lines don't come dose to giving plus the atmosphere of a solid hotel/restaurant. For many it's a perfect balance.”

 

My intent wasn’t to be tough, but to relay my experience as both a first time cruiser, and someone who had previously dismissed cruises (there are many like me!). I’ve likely converted a few friends already to trying the PG based on my non-stop raving. Half the reason I’m writing such a long response to you is it’s fun to relive the experience! In the end there isn’t a right or wrong but just personal preference. What is a review but a list of preferences either ignored, met or exceeded?

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34 minutes ago, huladoula1 said:

So enjoyed this review!  Thanks for taking the time to post your experiences and all your beautiful photos.  I am curious about this Anniversary Dinner.  We are booked for the 12/7/19 sailing and will be celebrating our 20th anniversary on 12/8.  We have pre-arranged to do a vow renewal, but I am also interested in the anniversary dinner you spoke of.  How do you go about booking this in advance? Is there a way to email the cruise line?

 

For various reasons we booked this trip through a travel agent so I emailed him asking about it (who just went on to email the PG). I'd call PG, and I'd call now. By the way, you'll never talk to more friendly service agents than the ones on the PG line. It will give you a good taste for what is to come on board. 

 

My wife and I were talking about doing a 10 year renewal on the PG so post pictures of yours when you return! 

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Well written response …. maybe I tend to look at a cup as being half full and not half empty more than some, it's a perspective thing. Anyway thank you for clarifying 😉

 

BTW  …. the Paso bottles I brought last November were a big hit and the crew is good about sharing 😉

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Enjoyed your perspective since we were on the same cruise. I think I recall seeing you and your family at the IC and on the ship. Since we're in our early 60s, we wound up hanging with a slightly older crowd, so our paths didn't cross during our main activities, I guess.

 

It was interesting to read the way you structured your activities without doing the ship's excursions. We did the opposite, as I related in my review, and booked ship's tours on every island except Motu Mahana, where we just spent the day there. I thought all of the tour operators PG used did a great job, especially the Maohi Nui snorkel and Polynesian feast on Bora Bora. I guess we're a little less likely to venture out on our own in a new place, so for us, the organization and quality of the ship tours fit the bill perfectly. The PG "bubble" didn't bother us at all, in fact, we rather enjoyed being in such a nice bubble! I wish they had other ships like the Paul Gauguin in other locations.

 

I'm surprised you had a wait as long as you did to clear customs, especially since you were in the front of the plane in Business Class. We were in Premium Economy on Air Tahiti Nui, so were sort of near the front of our plane but not as far forward as you were on yours. We only waited maybe about five or ten minutes to get through passport control, waited another ten or so for our bags to be delivered, and then we were just allowed to leave the terminal - no second customs clearance. I was surprised at that.

 

I enjoyed your photos. I'm working on going through 3000 photos, so I plan to add a few images to my review when I finish all of my edits. Now, I gotta get back to work on those photos!

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2 hours ago, JIMinNC said:

Enjoyed your perspective since we were on the same cruise. I think I recall seeing you and your family at the IC and on the ship. Since we're in our early 60s, we wound up hanging with a slightly older crowd, so our paths didn't cross during our main activities, I guess.

 

It was interesting to read the way you structured your activities without doing the ship's excursions. We did the opposite, as I related in my review, and booked ship's tours on every island except Motu Mahana, where we just spent the day there. I thought all of the tour operators PG used did a great job, especially the Maohi Nui snorkel and Polynesian feast on Bora Bora. I guess we're a little less likely to venture out on our own in a new place, so for us, the organization and quality of the ship tours fit the bill perfectly. The PG "bubble" didn't bother us at all, in fact, we rather enjoyed being in such a nice bubble! I wish they had other ships like the Paul Gauguin in other locations.

 

I'm surprised you had a wait as long as you did to clear customs, especially since you were in the front of the plane in Business Class. We were in Premium Economy on Air Tahiti Nui, so were sort of near the front of our plane but not as far forward as you were on yours. We only waited maybe about five or ten minutes to get through passport control, waited another ten or so for our bags to be delivered, and then we were just allowed to leave the terminal - no second customs clearance. I was surprised at that.

 

I enjoyed your photos. I'm working on going through 3000 photos, so I plan to add a few images to my review when I finish all of my edits. Now, I gotta get back to work on those photos!

 

There are a lot of very good reasons to stick with the PG track (highly curated, flexibility, tender priority, overall ease and zero stress trying to find the tour operator) and there’s not a right or wrong way to do it. They operator is also very accountable to provide a great experience since the PG likely drives most of their revenue. It’s a good bubble to be in! And I loved being in it too, I just enjoyed experiencing other ones at times. 

 

We were all talking about how we want to find another cruise like the PG! Our conclusion was the 11 day Cook island cruise. I was just getting into a rhythm and then the trip was over. The worst was when I thought it was Wednesday and found out at lunch it was really Thursday. My heart nearly broke. 

 

I’m sad the Polynesian Feast didn’t work out. One major thing that I completely neglected to mention to new cruisers - Check Your excursion tickets as soon you get them! Had we both done that, we likely could have resolved the mix up. By the time my in-laws noticed the wrong date, it was way too late to fix. 

 

Re customs - Some of my in laws were in row 16, so we waited for them prior to clearing. Their fault for not wanting to fly in business! 

 

Excited to see your photos and relive some of the trip through another perspective!

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Thanks for sharing your experience. I am glad that you had an excellent time. I would definitely recommend the Cooks Island itinerary some time in the future. Aitutaki is amazing!

 

Just as an FYI for if you do plan another trip in a few years- July will most likely not give you that deeper heat that you desire. If anything it will be a little cooler since it is their winter/dry season. You tend to get the warmest temps during FP's wet season (summer).

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Thanks for this review.  With about 60 nights on the PG, you have made me feel very sorry for myself since I don't have another cruise booked on the PG in the foreseeable future; our travel budget has been totally eaten by a World Cruise on Regent.

 

I do have one minor quibble with what you wrote.  The Polynesian people, basically in a triangle from New Zealand to Easter Island to Hawai'i, have been actively working on trying to reclaim their culture, which was largely obliterated by the missionaries. The company behind the PG actively supports these efforts by, for example, sponsoring local teenagers to participate in archaeological digs around the islands. The Gauguines and Gauguins (the guys) view themselves as ambassadors of their culture, and the ship views them the same way. Similarly for the Polynesian shows that they bring on board.

 

Keep in mind when judging them that they are trying to resurrect their traditional culture, which was actively suppressed by the missionaries in the 19th century up until about 1950 or so.

 

So .. what you saw is as close to the "real deal" as it is possible today. Complaining about non-authenticity doesn't account for the actual constraints that exist.

 

If you want to learn more about these amazing people, I highly recommend Christina Thompson's recently published "Sea People". Or Michener's "Return to Paradise" for some insight into post-WW2 Polynesian culture.

 

Thanks again for the review.

Edited by DavidTheWonderer

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2 minutes ago, DavidTheWonderer said:

The company behind the PG actively supports these efforts by, for example, sponsoring local teenagers to participate in archaeological digs around the islands. The Gauguines and Gauguins (the guys) view themselves as ambassadors of their culture, and the ship views them the same way. Similarly for the Polynesian shows that they bring on board.

 

If you want to learn more about these amazing people, I highly recommend Christina Thompson's recently published "Sea People". Or Michener's "Return to Paradise" for some insight into post-WW2 Polynesian culture.

 

 

Wow, thank you for this context. I actually read most of Sea People before boarding the ship (despite wanting to save it for the cruise) and was completely enthralled by it. It's such a mind blowing story. 

 

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Thank you for taking the time to post your detailed review, video and wonderful pictures. Much appreciated !

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Thanks for this great review.  Just a couple of minor points:

 

If you like it hot, July is perhaps not the best month--this is, after all, the Tahitian winter.  I'm not sure which is the hottest month, since I've only been there in October, December, April, May and June, but in my limited experience it's definitely hotter in "our" winter (i.e., northern hemisphere.)

 

Glad you discovered La Palette at the stern of the ship--wonderful place to entertainment and simple gazing at the scenery.

 

I don't think the 'bubble' is as strong as you made it out to be.  We've mostly done PG excursions in the past, and they are operated by the same people who do the private ones.  Yes, sometimes they are better value, but not more authentic.  Even on the islands staying in hotels, you're not getting really "authentic"--the closest we've had is in a smaller hotel on Moorea.

 

I agree Alex isn't the greatest singer, oh well.

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Wonderful review and great photos! I enjoyed your honest take on the whole experience which provides another perspective. It only served to make me all the more anxious for our first cruise on the PG celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary next July.

 

Have not been planning to visit La Villa Mahana since we are already doing a private dinner cruise in Bora Bora, but your review has me rethinking that.

 

THANK YOU!

 

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I enjoyed your report. I've contracted the Polynesian flu again and need another trip! I bumped into a PG piano player on an Alaskan cruise and he advised me that cruising out in the South Pacific is very lonely. While the shows are not big Broadway ones we enjoyed them whether they were the Gaugines performing or an featured entertainer. The crew show is not to be missed. We booked early dining so that we could rewind prior to the show and not have to run down the hallway to catch the show. I hope you went to some of the lecturers like Mark Eddowes. We learned so much about Polynesia and its people.

Edited by Cruisedreamer1
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What a fantastic review.   You make me excited to go on my trip and yet open to try and spend more time with the locals.    thanks again.

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