We just went to one of the most incredible destinations and stayed in some of the most wonderful lodging of our lives! French Polynesia is made up of a series of islands, including the famous islands of Tahiti and Bora Bora. We spent the week on a quieter island called Moorea. Here are all of the details on how we did it, tips if you go, what to pack and ways to save money.
Why this trip is worth it
Tahiti had always been a place that conjured up images of romantic glimmering water, private hut oases and sparkling sun on beautiful tanned bodies (hopefully mine). Despite a little rain and long travel days (24 hours), staying in Moorea for a week with our 11 month old was one of the most magical trips ever. The accommodations were perfection and Juliette’s two naps a day meant some wonderful sun, pool and snorkeling time for us right outside her room. French Polynesia is also only a two hour time zone difference from the West coast so it’s quite easy for kids to acclimate. If you’re up for an adventure and you want the iconic Polynesian experience, get yourself over there.
How to get there
This is where you can make it easy or tricky for yourself. We chose the latter. Overall, and especially when flying with a baby, nonstop flights are always easiest. So of course, we didn’t do that. We flew from SFO to LAX and then on to Papeete, Tahiti. The flight from LAX-PPT is actually only 8 hours and usually they are redeye flights (which makes it easier for babies).
From LAX we flew Air Tahiti Nui, one of the most colorful aircrafts I’ve ever seen! They gave us a little baby gift bag with a big bottle of water and a small pack of diapers. It became a fun toy for Juliette.
We called ahead to reserve a bassinet seat, which is a total must. Although Juliette is now too squirmy to stay in the bassinet (we tried but as soon as she woke up she started to crawl out), the extra leg room of the bulkhead is so nice for a crawling baby. Without the sleeping baby, the bassinet turns into a storage shelf for your bottles, toys and trays of food that you have to tag team to eat anyway.
Lots of folks stay on the main island of Tahiti which has a ton of hotel options. If you do that, then you’re done with your travel — that was easy! Not for us. We chose to spend the week on the quieter island of Moorea which is a 40 minute ferry ride from Tahiti. If you want to go to Bora Bora, you catch a short plane ride after you land in Papeete. Both options definitely add time and difficulty to travel day — it took about 24 hours of travel from home to the hotel in Moorea– but the quieter destination was so worth it for us.
Where to stay
For us to have made the trip all the way to there, we wanted to stay somewhere magical — and of course find a way to get it with a deal since we couldn’t justify the price tags on the expensive bungalows and the uber poshy resorts. So we found a cheaper way while still experiencing the Polynesian magic by staying at the Intercontinental in Moorea. We split our time between a room with a private pool and an iconic Polynesian overwater bungalow. They were both incredible and I’m so glad we had both experiences.
The rooms were so spacious and both the pool suite and bungalow had a living room area and deck which was great for having a separate space for us to hang out while Juliette slept. It meant that we could relax (or swim!) without being stuck in a single room with her while Juliette was napping.
How we got the deal
Justin signed up for the Ambassador status with the Intercontinental Hotel Group (IHG) which got us a ton of discounts. It cost $200 and included several perks that were well worth it:
- Guaranteed room upgrades. This meant that we could pay for a garden room and get the free upgrade to the pool room — with breakfast and dinner included. We got our upgrades confirmed before we arrived so we knew it was locked in.
- Complimentary weekend night. This is a free night (valid on the second night of a paid weekend stay). Call up first and check for availability. Then book early to secure it. We used the free night on our overwater bungalow which was normally more expensive. We opted out of having meals included so the room then was cheaper than the first.
- 4pm late check out. This may seem minor, but it meant that we had what felt like a whole extra day beyond the normal 11am check out. We got to stay longer, swim and snorkel a few more times, give Juliette an extra nap and take our time getting packed up before leaving.
- $20 hotel credit. This doesn’t go too far in Moorea, but was nice to have to apply to food.
- TIP: Research rooms to get the best one for the money. For example, there are several rooms with private pools, but only two that have direct view out to the ocean. Justin looked up the room map and then called to request one of those rooms. We did the same with our bungalow. They have 36 Premium Overwater Bungalows but only 4 are actually fully over the water (and two were under repair). It didn’t cost any more, just an early room request. These aren’t guaranteed but you don’t get if you don’t ask!
- Save money on food. We asked that our airport pickup stopped at the grocery store on the way to the hotel so we could get water and snacks for us and Juliette. We then rented a car for a day to explore the island and made sure to stock up again during that trip which saved us from several expensive meals at the hotel.
What do to in Moorea
We went in December during rainy season so it rained a few of the days we were there. On one hand, it was a bummer to be in beach paradise when it was rainy. On the other…we were still in paradise. Despite the rain, we got to take advantage of some highlights on the gorgeous island and even just driving around (on the one and only road which stretches around the circumference) and looking at the breathtaking, lush mountains is worth it. And bonus when it is raining, there are tons of waterfalls everywhere!
We had read good TripAdvisor reviews about this small island which is a 5 min boat ride from shore. They have an area buoyed off for snorkeling where there is beautiful reef, tons of fish, black tip reef sharks and the largest moray eel we’ve ever seen! They do feedings twice a day and we were there just in time for the second fish feeding. Thank goodness there was a guide in the water otherwise I would have been a bit petrified swimming within an arm’s reach of these 6 foot sharks.
They also have little cottages on the island which were perfect for hanging out, doing some diaper changes and getting some respite from the sun (or rain in our case). They are totally free and we were given one for the day upon our arrival. It was a nice place to chill as we tag-teamed snorkeling.
We timed our visit out to the island pretty perfectly around some major rain that day but got stuck in a bit of drizzle on the way home. Despite that, we were all smiles!
The next day, Justin went out on a stingray and shark tour that he booked through our hotel. It was a short boat ride from the hotel and he got to swim around with giant rays. He said he was closer to more sharks at the Lagoonarium, but the rays were pretty neat!
The water is so clear and warm. We had so much fun taking Juliette in the water, which she clearly loved! We mostly swam right off of our bungalow or in the hotel pool but it is so easy to stop anywhere along the coast and walk right into turquoise perfection.
Tips, tips tips…
As always, we learn so much on every trip we take and this was no different. Here are some of our favorite tips from what we learned this time:
What to pack for French Polynesia
- We now can’t live without these Tribord full-face snorkel masks. We bought them in Thailand while on our honeymoon (crazy story) and although they are a little bulky to travel with, snorkeling with them is a total game changer.
- Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen. French Polynesia is super far south (twice as close to the equator than San Francisco). The sun is so incredibly intense and we got some harsh burns even with very little time outside. Bring lots of sunscreen…and then aloe too.
- Flip flops, sunglasses, a sarong and a smile. Everything is super chill so kick back and enjoy!
Tips for flying with a baby
- Get the bulkhead seats if traveling with a kid. Juliette is now 11 months and too squirmy to stay in a bassinet, but the extra leg room for crawling around and having the bassinet to store things (toys, food trays etc.) was so helpful.
- Planes can be distracting places for babies to sleep. We used to put a sunhat on Juliette when she was in the carrier. This trip, we put her in the carrier and used a nursing cover over her which worked great to help her sleep.
- This was Juliette’s 24th flight and the 23rd time she traveled wearing a Bonds Wondersuit. They make diaper changes so easy with the double zip from the bottom. We also put her in Zutano booties so she can stand on dirty floors and also stay warm when traveling.
- Keep everything you’ll need on the airplane in one bag. Sounds obvious but with all of our stuff, sometimes we had a bib in one bag or a bottle in the other. Keep everything in one place.
- Bring Purell wipes and wipe down everything. Airplanes are so dirty. You won’t be able to clean everything but wipe what you can. Every bit helps.
How to get your baby to sleep well while traveling
- We tried to get Juliette mostly on a schedule once we arrived. Moorea was only 2 hours behind San Francisco so we tried to mostly keep her on California time (so she didn’t want to start the dat at 6:00am).
- Make her room as dark as possible. Similar to home (or even more so in our case), we kept her sleep space very dark. That meant naps in our bedroom with the door closed and bedtime in the living room. As always, we can’t live without our Snooze Shade which minimizes the distractions for this FOMO girl as well as our travel white noise machine (same one we use in her room at home).
Tips for long travel days
We tried something for the first time on this trip which felt like a total luxury — we got a day pass to a hotel midway through our journey home — and it was the best decision ever.
We left our Intercontinental hotel in Moorea mid-day and got a pre-arranged car through Albert Tours back to the ferry. We caught the ferry to Tahiti and then, rather than go and sit at the non-air conditioned airport for 8 hours, we got a day pass to the Intercontinental in Tahiti. Our package included a room which was super clutch because it allowed Juliette to take a really amazing nap and for us to shower before our flight. This offer was only available to us (and was offered at a discount!) since we came directly from another Intercontinental hotel. If you’re gearing up for a long travel day or overnight journey with several stops, look into a getting a hotel room for a partial day.
By the time we went to the airport we were all super well rested, fed and clean. It made the rest of the journey feel easy(er).
So, if the turquoise water, makeup-less faces of happiness and bungalow snaps didn’t convince you…not sure what else will. If you’re intrigued, look into it. It was so magical!
Have you been to French Polynesia? Would you recommend it for a family or more romantic travel? What was your favorite island? Any activities or destinations we missed that you recommend? Comment and follow below.