Here is some general information about French Polynesia, her islands, and various other tidbits about travel to the islands. You can find a detailed review of my travels in my reviews throughout my website, but most of the information is unbiased and gathered through hours of research and training. This is just a quickie research lesson for those wanting to know more before making the big honeymoon or vacation decision!
The two most important things to figure out before you set out to do research on the French Polynesian islands are a) what is my budget? And b) when do I want to travel? Once you have these two things figured out, you can contact your travel agent and begin doing some of your own research to decide on an itinerary. It’s very important to narrow down the island choices, because there are so many to choose from! The best place to begin your research is the Tahiti Tourism website. This website gives a run down on each island, what those islands have to offer, what resorts are located on those islands, and some packages that include various island and resort combinations that give an idea of pricing. When doing my own research, for example, I found that Moorea did not really appeal to me for a first trip, but Taha’a did, so that helped me narrow it down some. For my second trip, I wanted more seclusion, more relaxation, and the opportunity for some world class diving/snorkeling, so I chose Tikehau and Rangiroa. The third time, I decided on Moorea because I only had 5 nights and it’s the closest to Papeete. By the fourth, fifth and sixth times, I had a really easy time deciding!
It’s suggested by many that you stick to 1 or 2 islands for a stay of up to 10 days, and no less than 3 nights per island. Of course, if you have the budget and the time for a vacation of 2 weeks, 3 islands would work perfectly in an itinerary. If you are truly serious about going, I also suggest picking up the Tahiti and French Polynesia Guide by Jan Prince. It’s one of the best travel guides for French Polynesia out there and she releases new editions regularly. It’s available on Amazon and is a great supplement to the information your Tahiti Specialist travel agent will provide you.
Once you have the length of your stay, what islands, and what resorts appeal to you, It’s time to contact a Tahiti Specialist! My advice when choosing an agent is to contact 2-3 agents, see which agents are the most responsive, mesh well with your personality, and have your needs at heart. Once you have found your “agent match,” stick with that one agent as it’s always wise to deal with one person/company while planning. Too many quotes and too many concurrent discussions gets really confusing, really fast.
Now, on to the fun stuff!
Bora Bora is the quintessential Polynesian paradise. It’s where everyone wants to travel and it’s the island you see in all of the pictures. It’s gorgeous and a must-see at least once, but keep in mind that it is the priciest island in French Polynesia and the most touristy. Each resort in Bora Bora (or on any island!) is unique in it’s own special way, so be sure to have your travel agent assist you in picking one that best suits your wants and needs. Here is a brief rundown what I personally thought of the resorts in Bora Bora:
-St. Regis Bora Bora: Open since 2007, it’s considered by many to be one of the most exclusive resorts in French Polynesia. The St. Regis boasts some of the most well-appointed bungalows, personal butlers, and top of line cuisine and spa treatments. Rooms are either beach or overwater bungalows, which run along a beach peninsula rather than a traditional pontoon. the resort grounds are expansive. The St. Regis has also been featured in the movie ‘Couples Retreat’ (though it is not all inclusive and does not have a separate singles island!) and the property also boasts a $15,000 a night Royal Bungalow!
-Hilton Bora Bora Nui: One of the most popular resorts in French Polynesia with top-notch amenities and expansive grounds. In my opinion, it currently offers the best value in Bora Bora in terms of luxury and price. It does, however, lack a view of the main island from most of their bungalows and it is also one of the largest and most Americanized of the resorts. After being taken over by the Hilton group, they added two spectacular two story Presidential bungalows, which are the bungalows seen on “Keeping Up with the Kardashians”! Hilton has also begun construction on new overwater bungalows with plunge pools and is in the process of a total renovation to classify the resort as a Conrad property, elevating it in status. The spa is also gorgeous, with dramatic cliff views looking out over the lagoons, as seen on Ali’s season of “The Bachelorette.”
-Le Meridien: On the “honeymoon row” side of Bora Bora, it has the most incredible view of Mt. Otemanu and one of the largest white sand beaches of any resort in Bora Bora. While there is no snorkeling around the OWBs, the resort has a turtle lagoon near the beach bungalows. The beach bungalows are the largest and most open bungalows at the resort and are favored over the OWBs, especially since they recently expanded them into beach villas with giant lap pools. It is worth noting that if you book them as a “beach bungalow” and not a “beach villa” that privacy may be an issue. The beach villas are ideal for families and couples traveling together. This resort is also located on the opposite side of the main island from the main village, Vaitape .
-Sofitel Bora Bora Beach Resort: Formally known as the Sofitel Marara, this resort is located on the main island and is another exceptional value. While not as luxurious as the Hilton Nui, it is clean, well maintained, well run, and has nicely appointed bungalows in the garden, beach and overwater categories. It’s also a smaller property than the Hilton Nui, so if you are on a budget and want something a bit more intimate, this is the way to go. As with all Sofitels, it does have more of a European chic vibe. The property has a decent view, though some of the OWBs have partially obstructed views from other OWBs.
-Sofitel Bora Bora Private Island Resort: Formally known as the Sofitel Motu, or the island that is part of the Sofitel Bora Bora Beach Resort, this resort is the smallest and most intimate private island experience in Bora Bora. After the property separated from the Bora Bora Beach Resort into a separately run resort, the level of service and exclusivity has improved dramatically. One of their unique offerings is a “Romantic Soiree”, which includes champagne and canapes at sunset followed by dinner on the beach with traditional Polynesian dancers. You even receive a special present at the end of the evening! Private Island also has a decent view, especially from their special hilltop common area, and excellent snorkeling opportunities.
-Le Moana Beach Resort: Formerly known as the InterContinental Beachcomber, Le Moana is a 4.5 star resort that has good prices and even better specials! The beach there is second to Le Meridien and the view is good, depending on the accommodations you choose. The Moana is also on the main island, so it has easy access to Matira Point, one of the best beaches in the world! It doesn’t give the super private feel of a motu, but it’s still quiet and doesn’t have the hassle of boat transfers. Le Moana’s main selling point is that it has an on-demand, complimentary shuttle to the Thalasso and it has exchange privileges with the the hotel, so you can dine at the Thalasso or use their spa throughout your stay, but not pay the hefty Thalasso room rates. Also, Le Moana is very intimate and is essentially staffed by two Polynesian families, so it really makes you feel like you are intertwined with the local culture.
-InterContinental Thalasso Resort and Spa: This resort opened in 2006 and is built around the premise of the water. It is located just next to Le Meridien. While this resort may be ecologically friendly, it most certainly is not budget friendly. The resort only has OWBs and prices range from a good value for the emerald OWB to quite pricey for the Diamond End-of-Pontoon OWBs. As this property only has OWBs, it tends to not attract as many families as the St. Regis or Four Seasons. So, it’s an excellent choice for couples who want chic, modern, high end accommodations. However, the resort is beginning renovations to add four 2-bedroom OWBs with plunge pools in September 2016. So, the dynamic of the property may change with the addition of this new bungalow category. The spa is also worth mentioning, as it is very high-tech and offers many hydrotherapy treatments. As I mentioned above, you are able to take a complimentary shuttle over to Le Moana to dine at the hotel or to have access to the main island, which makes you feel a bit more connected to activities.
-Pearl Beach: The Pearl Beach is hands down the resort you want to choose if you are looking for the most authentic Polynesian experience. The OWBs are nice, yet not extremely luxurious, but are still well-appointed. The Pearl is a smaller resort than most and is somewhat removed from the rest of the resorts and Vaitape, but it has a view similar to Le Meridien. The Pearl does lack decent snorkeling opportunities, though. The Mandara Spa is perhaps a hidden gem there, as it only offers Polynesian treatments in a very sensual setting.
-Le MaiTai Polynesia: The best 3 star resort on the island, Le MaiTai is a wonderful choice for those seeking to do Bora Bora on a tighter budget. It is on the main island and the bungalows aren’t as well-appointed, but they are clean and well taken care of and the staff is friendly according to those who have been. The beach bungalows and the overwater bungalows are the absolute best value on the property and perhaps in Bora Bora. Le MaiTai occasionally offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as select beverages, in its packages, so that is a big draw to those who are not only a tight budget, but those who just do not want to fuss with anything while they are on vacation.
- Four Seasons Bora Bora: Open since Fall 2008, the Four Seasons is a direct competitor to the St. Regis, but has seemingly stole the title for being the most luxurious and exclusive. Located near the St. Regis, it has a great view of the main island and a gorgeous highly rated spa. Expect some of the best service at this hotel, along with a highly rated kid’s club, but it comes at a steep price. The Four Seasons also allows few lucky people to have fractional ownership at the resort!
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Various other tips:
- Vaccinations are not required to enter French Polynesia. I’m sure you could get them, but you will not need them. The only thing required for entry is your valid passport. Be sure to check out the latest information on entry on the travel.state.gov website.
-Pack lightly. Check out the packing list I put together for guidance.
-Food can be expensive, so visit a market on the island if you can to grab some baguettes and snacks. Also, considering bringing granola bars or other easily transported food along with you in your checked baggage. With the American dollar being so weak, any extra help in saving money goes a long way.
-Taking the non-red eye flight out of LAX isn’t so bad. Yes, it adds a night to your itinerary in Tahiti, but you wake up feeling refreshed and renewed in the morning. The best choice for a hotel is the InterContinental, Pearl Beach or Manava.
-Tipping in French Polynesia is not required, but it is becoming more popular, especially on the bigger islands as the American resorts move in. Some places will even leave a sign out on the table reminding you to tip!
-If all else fails when planning a trip due to budget, don’t count out a cruise. While still expensive, Paul Gauguin cruises offer a decent all-inclusive package and you get to see A LOT of the islands, including part of the Cook Islands, the Marquesas Islands, and even Fiji and Tonga! So, you get much more for your money.
-Learning a few of the Tahitian or French phrases is appreciated, but not required to get by. The locals like it when you try, and those phrases may come in handy in the Tuamotus since they are more remote.
-When planning your itinerary, and it includes Moorea, try to visit Moorea first. It is just a short ferry ride from Papeete (about 30 minutes), so it’s a fast and easy way to start off your vacation.
-To help with budget, and to get an overall experience of the islands, try mixing up your accommodations on each island. So, try an overwater bungalow in Bora Bora and maybe a garden or beach bungalow in Moorea. The overwater bungalows are unique, but some of the beach bungalows are amazing and worth giving a shot.
-If you get a chance, stop at the duty free store at the airport and pick up a bottle or two of alcohol. It will help you save some money if you order a Coke and then pour your own rum into it. Travelers are allowed to bring in 2 liters of spirits through customs without declaration.
-Island hopping is a great way to see French Polynesia and there are interisland flights that can take you from island to island on a small, 30 seater plane. The only island that has ferry transportation is Moorea, which goes round trip between the island and Papeete. There is also a helicopter transfer available through Le Taha’a from Taha’a to Bora Bora.
-Resorts on motus offer shuttles to the main islands for guest transportation. Each resort offers a different schedule, and some require a fee, so be sure to check with your resort to make sure you make your scheduled excursions or restaurant reservations. All excursions and reservations can be made through the hotel’s activities desk, so they will tell you the appropriate shuttle time when you make those reservations
-Booking excursions ahead of time is not always recommended because it forces you to stick with a particular day and time. However, if you don’t mind the stricter schedule, consider including activities to know what you are spending upfront. Booking spa treatments at some of the more intimate, exclusive resorts and the Dolphin Experience at the Moorea Dolphin Center ahead of time is recommended for the high season.
-French Polynesia is a tropical destination, so therefore, rain can occur at any time. I would not be afraid to travel to French Polynesia because of the threat of bad weather, though. Sunshine is abundant year-round and most rain showers are brief and isolated. It may be raining on one side of the island, but not the other!
-Since French Polynesia is tropical and there is plenty of gorgeous flora, bugs do exist. They are hardly a concern, however. Mosquitos are present, but in most cases, are not noticeable. In the case that you are a little concerned about the bugs, bring bug spray and an itch stick and keep it with you at all times. While there aren’t swarms of bugs flying around, a bite or two can happen and you wan’t be be prepared. If you are still unsure, try steering away from a garden bungalow since they are usually surrounded by tropical plants. Again- bugs aren’t usually an issue, but staying away from lush areas will help reduce the chance of getting bit.
-While there are beautiful beaches in French Polynesia, they are very different from what you’ll find in the Caribbean. So, if you are looking for long stretches of white, soft sand, the Caribbean is probably a better bet. The Tuamotu islands offer the best chance to see long stretches of beach, but this is more uncommon in the more popular Society Islands (Bora Bora, Moorea, Taha’a, Huahine). Most resorts, especially in Moorea, do not have much of a beach at all, but resorts like Le Meridien Bora Bora, the Bora Bora Nui, and the Four Seasons Resort do have decent beach areas. The sand is mostly broken up coral, so it isn’t fine grained and soft. Also, Bora Bora features the famed Matira Beach between the Moana Beach Resort and the old Hotel Bora Bora. However, Matira Beach is public and not affiliated with any resort.
-Credit cards are widely accepted on the islands, but you will need some cash for your stay. Use yuor ATM card at the ATMs in the islands to get the best exchange rates. There are several located in Faaa Airport, or in the larger villages in Moorea and Bora Bora. Don’t forget to call your bank before leaving to let them know when and where you will be traveling so they do not flag your card as being stolen.
This is obviously just a broad overview of what to expect when planning a French Polynesia vacation! Of course, I am more than happy to customize a package for you that suits your wants and needs. we look forward to working with you on your dream Tahiti Escape!
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by Janelle Spintig
To get more in depth information about most of the Bora Bora resorts, please visit my reviews or contact me.
The other most popular island destination in French Polynesia is the island of Moorea. Moorea is located closest to Papeete and is accessible via ferry from the main island of Tahiti. None of the resorts are on a motu and the island itself has the most to offer in the way of activities and sight-seeing outside of the resorts. The most expensive resort on the island is the Legends Resort, which consists of 1, 2 and 3 bedroom villas. The villas have full kitchens and the resort focuses on long term stays and on family stays. The most popular resort on the island is the Hilton Resort and is highly recommended for an OWB and the deluxe garden pool bungalows, with each garden bungalow having a private plunge pool. The Spa there is among the best in Moorea (the couples massage I had was VERY expensive, though!), and the views from the horizon OWBs are simply breathtaking. The snorkeling was out of this world and was better than any other island I have visited. For a beach or garden bungalow, the InterContinental Moorea and the Sofitel Ia Ora are the favorites. The InterContinental features the Dolphin Excursion, which is the only place to offer such an experience in the islands. The Sofitel was just recently remodeled and has a very nice view of the main island of Tahiti. The beach there is one of the best on the island and the lagoon in front of the property is protected, so there is minimal boat traffic and very few waves. The snorkeling is also good and the beach bungalows have perfect positioning along that gorgeous one mile stretch of white sand. The InterContinental is making a comeback, with it’s just completed multi-million dollar renovation, adding new pools, plunge pools to their garden bungalows, and new expansive desks on their overwater bungalows. The InterContinental is perfect for those who want a true resort experience, or perhaps want something that will entertain the entire family. The final resort on the island is The Pearl Resort. The Pearl Resort is located very close to a village, so it has easy access to markets and restaurants. While the Pearl is the least expensive of the resorts on Moorea, and also the smallest resort, it is the oldest. However, it offers a nice authentic Polynesian experience for those who want stay at a more simplistic and boutique type of resort.
To learn more about the resorts on Moorea, please visit my reviews or contact me.
Huahine is another island within the Society Islands that is similar to Moorea in topography, but is much less populated and developed. Huahine is considered the most cultural island because it reflects the Polynesian way of life more so than any other island. In Huahine, the Royal Huahine Resort is most often recommended for accommodations. According to those who stayed there, the beach bungalows and the horizon overwater bungalows are the most sought after rooms, but the resort does offer garden bungalows as well. The Royal Huahine has changed ownership a few times and is starting to undergo some major upgrades to make it more on par with a 5 star resort. Hotel MaiTai Lepita Village is the only other resort class accommodation on the island and is similar to Le MaiTai Polynesia in Bora Bora is hotel class and offerings. It does not offer OWBs, but rather has simply decorated bungalows situated around a lake. This setup allows guests to enjoy the majestic peaks of Huahine with the beach just a short walk away.
Another Society Island is Taha’a. While Taha’a is still relatively undeveloped, there are always talks into developing the island further. The main island itself does not offer much to do in the way of activities, but Taha’a is considered the Vanilla Island and there are some vanilla plantations located there, as well as a pearl farm. Le Taha’a Private Island is the main resort in Taha’a and is located on a motu. It has incredible beach villas as well as several categories of overwater bungalows. Each category focuses on the view. So, if you want to have a view of Taha’a or Bora Bora off in the distance, there is a separate category for you! Another resort option in Taha’a is Vahine Island, which is a 4.5 star, extremely small, and extremely intimate resort. They only offer 6 bungalows- 3 over the water and 3 beach bungalows. It isn’t as popular as Le Taha’a, but it is a great option for those seeking a quiet, secluded getaway on a slightly lower budget. Unfortunately, it’s still quite expensive!
Raiatea, Taha’a’s sister island, is where the airport is located for both islands and is approximately 40 minutes by boat to Le Taha’a. Raiatea is not a popular tourist island, but it does offer some smaller hotels and pensions for those wanting to stay there. Raiatea’s main focus is diving and hiking, and not so much luxury or tourist amenities. There are also two main hotels there- Raiatea Lodge Hotel and Opoa Hotel. Opoa has bungalows set along the beach, but does not offer air conditioning. Raiatea Lodge is not set directly on the beach and only offers more standard hotel rooms, but it does have a few additional amenities than Opoa. You may have seen my review of the Hawaiki Nui, but unfortunately, that property is no longer available. Raiatea is also the starting point for many private boat charters, including Moorings and Archipels.
While the Society Islands are lush and mountainous, the Tuamotus- Tikehau, Manihi, Rangiroa, and Fakarava- are flat, more desert-like, and much more secluded. The Tuamotus are the most popular destination for diving in French Polynesia and consist of many atoll islands, which are mostly uninhabited. These islands are a great destination for pure relaxation and just enjoying the beautiful water and surroundings, since each island has only one major resort and there are almost no outside restaurants and activities.
The largest of the Tuamotu resorts is the Hotel Kia Ora in Rangiroa. It is considered by many to be the only 5 star resort in the Tuamotus. The Kia Ora’s recent renovations have really put the property back on the luxury traveler’s map. Be sure to check out their garden villas with pool or their deluxe beach bungalows. The Kia Ora also has a smaller offshoot of the resort, the Kia Ora Sauvage, located on an outlying motu about an hour by boat from the village. The Sauvage is the ultimate in seclusion and privacy with only 5 beach bungalows and no electricity. If you want to stay at the Sauvage, be prepared to be completely disconnected from the world! Rangiroa is also home to Le MaiTai Rangiroa. This property, like its sister properties in Huahine and Bora Bora, focuses on the budget minded traveler, yet are still modern.
Tikehau is another popular Tuamotu destination. Tikehau is said to have the most concentration of fish in its lagoon out of all the French Polynesian islands, so snorkeling and diving are the most popular activities there. The Tikehau Pearl is the most popular resort on the island and has around 30 bungalows and a spa. It’s the only resort in the Tuamotus, other than Kia Ora, to feature overwater bungalows. Ninamu is another resort in Tikehau that is primarily used as a private getaway, meaning the entire island will be booked by one party. This means availability is quite hard to come by. However, if you can snag availability at Ninamu, it’s the perfect resort for those looking for a small, sustainable resort. It also features a meal plan included in the rates, though beverage are not included.
Fakarava, perhaps the least known of the Tuamotus is where you will find a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a diver’s paradise. It’s a little hidden gem and recommended that you visit there when you are fully relaxed, fully unplugged, and ready to completely unwind! Raimiti is also a popular pension, which is a smaller Bed and Breakfast type property.
Several hundred miles north is the Marquesas Islands. The beaches there are black and the water is not as light crystal blue, but the islands are mystical and full of history. You won’t find overwater bungalows here, but perched in the cliffs, you’ll find the 4-4.5 star Hanakee Pearl Lodge in Hiva Oa and the Keikahanui Pearl Lodge in Nuku Hiva. Both are very small properties, but are very in tune to the local culture.
Tahiti’s newest resort is located on the island of Tetiaroa, which is just a short flight from Papeete. The Brando, named after Marlon Brando, who owned the island, is a super luxury all inclusive resort. It’s the only property in Tahiti that features an all-inclusive plan. The resort boasts 35 private beach villas, each with its own pool. It’s the ultimate in romantic destinations, though comes with a very steep price tag, with room rates starting at over $2,000/night.
On the island of Tahiti itself, there are several options to choose from at various price points. My favorite is the InterContinental Tahiti, which is the most authentic Polynesian of the hotels. The most economical option is the Tahiti Airport Motel, which offers basic rooms for short overnight stays in between flights. When traveling with a family, the Manava Suites is a great option, as they offer rooms with kitchenettes. If you want to explore a different part of the island, the Tahiti Pearl Beach Resort is set away from the airport and sits along a black sand beach. Le Meridien also has a property near the airport and is a nice complement to a stay at Le Meridien Bora Bora.
Once you have narrowed down your island choices, searching for the best package is the next best step. Of course, that’s when budget comes into play. French Polynesia is considered to be an extremely expensive venture, but can be done on a smaller budget if luxurious resorts and overwater bungalows aren’t of importance. Most French Polynesia honeymoons average between $8K-$12K for everything for 8-10 days. Of course, you can spend less if you choose islands and properties wisely, but you can definitely spend way more! What resorts you choose and what islands you choose are a big factor in determining price. Bora Bora and Taha’a are considered the most expensive islands, and the islands of Tahiti and Moorea are, for the most part, the most affordable. The Tuamotu atolls tend to be in the middle of the budget scale because the interisland airfare to get there is expensive. Of course, all of this depends on what accommodations you choose at what resorts. For example, a horizon OWB at the Hilton in Moorea is around the same price as the lowest category room at the InterContinental Thalasso Resort. Also, in Bora Bora, you can get an overwater bungalow at the 3 star Le MaiTai Polynesia for around $600/night, but an overwater bungalow at the St. Regis runs over $1200/night. A lot also depends on the current exchange rate, which can be found on XE’s website. Finding the right resort/budget combo can be frustrating, but remember you are in paradise, so do what you can afford and you’ll be guaranteed to get a lot for your money.
Also, keep in mind when pricing international flights, they are expensive and will run at least $1200/person from Los Angeles, unless a rare special pops up. Air Tahiti Nui does offer short stay airfare specials, but you can only be in the islands for a maximum of 5 nights. Adding an upgrade to business class runs around $1900/person roundtrip ($900 per person one way when done at the airport). As one who flies first class often, I found that the upgrade to business class makes for a decent, comfortable flight if you are looking for that extra luxury. To me, it is worth the extra money. The only other airline that flies to Papeete is Air France. I have found Air France to be comparable to Air Tahiti Nui, so either choice is good. Air Tahiti is used for interisland flights and the most popular air pass runs around $500/person round trip. So, if you are looking to reduce air costs, consider visiting only one island or visiting Moorea only and utilize the ferry.
As for food, activities, and souvenirs, expect to pay more than normal since much of their goods are imported. On an average 10 day trip, a conservative amount of spending money would be around $2K. Some resorts, such as the Tuamotus and Le Taha’a, have very few options for food outside of the resorts, and therefore, it’s harder to be more budget minded with meals. We ate three meals a day at Le Taha’a and spent around $30-$50/day on breakfast, $50-$75/day on lunch, and $100-$125/day on dinner, with minimal alcohol. Hamburgers generally run around $18, mixed drinks are usually around $12-$14, and a continental breakfast will run around $30, but offers enough food for two. More recently, resorts started offering complimentary breakfast, so that does help a bit with costs. Meal plans are offered by most travel agents, but not recommended for the more popular and developed islands because there are a lot of local eateries worth trying. Also, meal plans do not include soft drinks or alcoholic beverages. As for activities, a shark and ray feeding on Bora Bora will run around $80/person and a 4×4 jeep safari tour will run around $60/person. Our one hour Jet Ski tour in Taha’a was around $350. Of course, snorkeling is usually free unless you choose to go on a tour.
Last, but certainly not least, finding the right travel agent is key to having a seemless trip. As mentioned above, try choosing the agent who not only gives you a package that suits your needs, but who also provides the best customer service. You might find a killer deal online, but usually with Tahiti, those deals are too good to be true. Paying less is great, but knowing all of the key components are included and having questions answered thoroughly and timely is worth any amount of money when it comes to international and exotic travel. However, if you do happen to find a quote from another agency that is lower, a good agent is always happy to look into the difference in cost to ensure you are getting the best value! That being said, I would love to work with you! Certified Tahiti Specialists, or Tahiti Tiare agents, can offer the best knowledge on the island and I have been one for almost 10 years!