I picked a perfect “snow day” to catch up with Laura Bruce over coffee.
She and her husband, John, just returned from a bucket-list adventure to Tahiti.
“This was our 25th anniversary,” said Laura. “John had romantic getaway-in-an-over-water-bungalow on his list for some time. We decided that this was the time.”
Laura started working on this trip more than a year ago. In her “real job,” Laura leads a team of financial advisors that help people map out their retirement. So it wasn’t a big surprise when she leaned across the table and told me plainly, “I’m a planner.”
There are quite a few options when it comes to over-water bungalows. They’ve become popular at resort destinations around the world including the Seychelle Islands and the Maldives, both in the Indian Ocean.
But Tahiti floated to the top of the list, particularly since Alaska Airlines linked up with Air Tahiti Nui for frequent flyer miles. Air Tahiti Nui flies nonstop from Seattle to Tahiti (Papeete) twice a week. The airline offers five weekly nonstops from Los Angeles. The Bruces ultimately chose AirFrance, which also offers 4-5 nonstop flights per week between L.A. and Papeete.
There are lots of options when booking a bungalow. Several islands in Tahiti offer these accommodations, each with different features.
“Bora Bora is for lovers,” said Laura. “Otherwise, you’ll be bored. And Moorea is for hiking and other activities.”
To plan the details of the trip, Laura checked with several providers before settling on Costco Travel.
When it comes to Costco, folks may think first about paper towels and pet food before a package to Papeete. But, according to Chris Hendrix at Costco Travel, “We sell more over-water bungalows in Tahiti than any other wholesaler.”
“We got the whole package through Costco,” said Laura.
Costco Travel offers a variety of Tahiti packages at several islands on their website.
The Bruces settled on a three-island package to Bora Bora, Moorea and one night before departure in Papeete. In addition to the accommodations, the package included transfers to and from airports, as well as a meal plan for breakfast and dinner.
After stepping off the plane at the international airport in Papeete, the Bruces caught a 50-minute flight to Bora Bora, where they settled in at the Conrad Bora Bora Nui Resort.
“My favorite part of the resort was the room,” said Laura. “You could jump into the ocean right from our bungalow and go snorkeling.”
Costco’s dining plan was helpful in Bora Bora. “You’re locked in at the resort for dining,” said Laura. “With Costco’s package we paid about one-third of the menu price.”
Laura had another money-saving tip: “Stop at the Duty Free shop and bring your own liquor,” she said. “You’ll save about $28 per cocktail.”
Although all of the bungalows are over the water, the spa is set back uphill from the beach. “The spa had the best views — and we had a great massage,” said Laura. “My husband wanted no stress — and bungalows over the water. We got it!”
A stand-out excursion in Bora Bora was a trip to a stingray cleaning station. There, the rays are cleaned by small wrasse fishes. There are several types of rays, but the giant 10-foot manta rays were most memorable.
After four nights in Bora Bora, the Bruces caught a boat to the airport, to catch a flight to Moorea. The couple chose the Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort for the over-water bungalows.
Even though both the Conrad in Bora Bora and the Moorea resort are Hilton hotels, Laura was unable to get “HHonors” loyalty points. “I tried, but because we booked through Costco, we didn’t get any points,” she said.
Each bungalow at the Hilton Moorea has a section of the floor that’s clear, with a light you can switch on to see what’s underwater. “The resort has a cool coral restoration project going on,” said Laura. “I thought it was the best part of the hotel.”
Through the clear part of the floor, you can see the coral head that’s been planted, along with the local fish swimming around.
Laura recommends travelers go on a Moorean food tour on the first day. “There are three influences,” she said. “Chinese, French and Tahitian. Our guide explained the culture, pointed out where to go back for good food — and where not to go.”
A visit to the island’s only rum distillery is included. “We saw so many things,” said Laura. “I’d do it again.”
For the last part of their trip, the Bruces caught the ferry for a short ride from Moorea to Papeete. “If Bora Bora is for lovers, and Moorea is for activities, the Intercontinental Tahiti Resort is for families,” said Laura.
For the last night of their Tahiti adventure, the Bruces just got a regular room built on solid ground. There are multiple pools at the resort, including a giant kid’s pool with its own beach. “They made the whole thing two feet deep, which is just perfect for kids,” said Laura.
“Papeete is a big city,” said Laura. “So be prepared for that.”
The day before heading to the airport, Laura went to the Tahiti Pearl Market, where she could get loose pearls. Then, she found a nearby jeweler to get just the right look. “I went to the market near the cruise docks. It shuts down about 1 p.m.,” she said.
Now that John checked off “over-water bungalow” off his bucket list, Laura is looking to return to Europe. Although she studied in Spain, she’s never been to Italy. “I’ve got my eye on the Amalfi Coast,” she said.