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Hilton Moorea Lagoon: Brand Strength in French Polynesia

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There’s a certain comforting familiarity that comes with hospitality brand names.

I was recently traveling in French Polynesia, a destination I’m pretty familiar with, and the day had turned into a bit of a schlep. Even when travelers are well informed about the geography of their travels, there’s always that thin underlying pulse of anxiety, primarily because of the remaining unknowns—will there be traffic? Will my reservation for a car space on the ferry be honored? (It wasn’t.) Will my room be ready?

With Hilton, many of the unknowns are known. Bedding and linens will be brand standard, as will bath amenities. There will be in-room coffee, and it will be drip coffee or an espresso pod (similar to Europe, many hotels in French Polynesia provide instant coffee in response prevailing guest preference).

From the aerial photos, it looks as though the Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa is one of those sprawling megaresorts taking up residence over a vast acreage, but it turned out instead to be a pleasantly intimate affair. Reception, a pair of retail shops, restaurant, bar and spa are all clustered in the main buildings next to the pool, while the rest of the acreage is given over to bungalow-style accommodations nestled into mature plumeria trees abundant with blooms.

Guests have a choice of garden, beach or overwater bungalows. Garden bungalows have private outdoor plunge pools and expansive outdoor sitting areas. Inside the Hilton-standard comforts abound. Refreshments ranging from soft drinks and candy to local Hinano Beer in the minibar are included in the rate and replenished daily upon request.

Breakfasts are served buffet-style in Arii Vahine Restaurant, with views of the turquoise lagoon dotted with overwater bungalows. There’s an overwhelming assortment of pastries, hot egg entrees, fruit, cold cuts and an omelet station. For dinner, guests can dine in the restaurant or on the terrace, where the menu is international and on the affordable side for fine dining on Moorea. Highlights included a fresh exotic fruit salad with passion fruit vinaigrette and apple tart with a marvelously mealy crust.

Beachside lunches can be had at Rotui Grill and Bar with an international menu ranging from traditional entrees like Poisson cru to pizzas, pasta, sandwiches, salads and burgers. For a lighter option at dinner, Toatea Creperie and Bar is out on the overwater pontoon among the bungalows. In-room materials noted reservations were required but the place seemed to accommodate walk-ins easily. Sweet or savory crepes are generously portioned and range from classic to inventively contemporary.

The resort is located on the head of butterfly-shaped Moorea, between Cook’s Bay and ‘Opunohu Bay, convenient to the Le Belvedere lookout and some of the island’s best coastal vistas. It’s also next door to one of the island’s only public beach parks (which are uncommon in French Polynesia), where tall palms tower over manicured lawns.

When not shopping for pearls at Robert Wan, which has a wider selection of higher grade pearls than many other pearl shops on the island, or browsing through the minute sundry shop, guests can take a dip in the pool, relax on a shaded beach chair, or check out snorkel equipment to explore the reefs just steps into the lagoon. Guests interested in cultural demonstrations need to go no further than the pool area on weekday mornings, where they’re presented compliments of the resort.

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Guests wishing to venture outside the resort can visit the activity desk in the reception area where a wide variety of options are available for half and whole day, including private and shared catamaran excursions, PADI diving, sea life watching excursions, island tours, car rentals for as little as a few hours and more.

The guest profile is international; Americans appeared to make up the majority during our late November visit. There was a not surprising number of traveling families as the resort facilities and staff seemed well-equipped to accommodate travelers with children of all ages.

The Takeaway

Well-located with friendly staff and large, comfortable guest rooms, this charming resort effortlessly combines Hilton’s brand standards with the personable hospitality of Polynesia and 360-degree views of Moorea as an enviable showpiece.

The Math

I’ve seen low season rates from around $370 per night plus tax; rates can double during the high season.

Instagrammable Moment

Shots of the overwater bungalows with early morning light from breakfast at Arii Vahine will get engagement.

Loyalty

Hilton Honors

Good To Know

Guests who plan to stay on-property for most of their time can book transfers from the ferry terminal or airport via the hotel activity desk.

Guests who prefer to rent cars on Tahiti and arrive via ferry, or rent on Moorea at the ferry terminal or airport will find plenty of free parking.

On theme nights, Arii Vahine dispenses with the a la carte menu in favor of a set price buffet and show.

Eimeo Bar has a 2-for-1 happy hour each evening; drinks needn’t be ordered together to get the discount.

The hotel has planned renovations during the 1st Quarter of 2020; contact the property directly for details.

Accommodations were furnished by Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa in preparation for this story.

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Rangiroa’s Hotel Kia Ora: Luxury on the Reef

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After a couple of years traveling to French Polynesia, I began to notice that the territory’s resort hotels are generally populated by two types of visitors: those that are pleased to be there, and those that are pleased with themselves to be there. Both types can be found on virtually any island; it’s the proportion that changes from island to island.

On Rangiroa, there seemed to be more of the “pleased to be there” types, and it was clear many of them had been before by the way in which they pattered amongst themselves in the air-conditioned van lumbering down the island’s single concrete slab road between the airport and the Hotel Kia Ora.

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Rangiroa is one of the largest atolls in the world. It’s so big that the island of Tahiti can fit entirely inside its lagoon, and land isn’t visible from the lagoon’s center. An atoll, by the way, is essentially the bones of a taller island that once existed. Volcanic islands crept up out of the oceans eons ago, and over time became encircled with coral reefs. Over millions of years, the islands sank back into the ocean under their own weight, eventually submerging and leaving lagoons surrounded by the coral.

Atolls are the remains of those islands, little more than vegetation growing out of the reefs themselves, which barely come more than a few feet above the ocean’s surface. Unlike “high” islands with mountains that can capture clouds and moisture coming off the sea, the atolls essentially have a marine environment, not unlike an oceangoing vessel.

With cloud cover constantly blowing right across the surface of the lagoon and the atoll, it rains every day, but only for a few minutes—just enough to keep the island relatively lush, even though rainfall runs through the crushed coral ground so quickly the island often feels quite dry, in a fascinating paradox considering the ocean is visible from both sides of the narrow strip.

The surf pounds on the white coral sands from the ocean side of the atoll, while on the lagoon side it’s as tranquil as a millpond. The reef acts like a filter for sediment, which makes the lagoon shockingly clear, and when it’s sunny the water reflects a brilliant aquamarine that slowly melds to sapphire blue out into deeper water.

The Hotel Kia Ora sits in a coconut grove on the eastern half of the islet of Avatoru. Like many resorts in French Polynesia it’s a collection of thatched roof pool villas, beach, and overwater bungalows separated by tall windy coconut palms waving in the constant breeze that wafts from the ocean to the lagoon.

Guests are deposited under the shell chandelier on the open-air lobby to welcome drinks and cold towels to complete registration paperwork and chat with the activities coordinator about how to fill their days. Cars, bicycles and electric scooters can be had by the hour or day, or guests can avail themselves of the resort’s dive center. The resort can also arrange excursions to the blue lagoon or pink sand beach for snorkeling and lunch.

The Blue Lagoon excursion is a full day in a small boat, setting out across the atoll’s lagoon to a collection of islets of white sand surrounding a deep blue lagoon of striking contrast to its surroundings. There’s plenty of snorkeling with black tip sharks and other marine life in the lagoon, a demonstration of palm frond weaving, and a beachside barbecue lunch offer in view of black crested seagulls.

Back at the resort, days are spent rising to take breakfast in the Te Rairoa Restaurant where eggs are cooked to order and baguettes are served with fresh fruit and house made coconut preserves. After that, it’s a difficult decision of heading back to a garden bungalow to relax in the private plunge pool, snorkel in the lagoon, lounge by the infinity pool or perhaps take a spa treatment.

Lunches are typically pasta, fresh island fish or the Polynesian specialty poisson cru, a raw fish salad marinated in coconut milk and citrus. Dinners on a la carte evenings feature island seafood, meats from Australia and New Zealand and a host of other international dishes. Also on offer is wine from grapes grown locally on Rangiroa—the only known wine made from grapes grown on coral. Tours of the winery can be arranged at the activity desk.

During the day, light meals and snacks are available in the overwater Miki Miki Bar, which stays open for cocktails late into the evening. After a long day in the sun at the Blue Lagoon, a refreshing shower followed by a decadent ice cream sundae and perhaps a frozen cocktail from the bar is a pleasing antidote.

On Wednesday and Sunday evenings, a lavish Polynesian buffet is on offer along with the resort’s Polynesian show. In a smaller community like Rangiroa, the show is an intimate, organic affair, and many of the performers are young students of Tahitian dance who bring infectious exuberance to their craft.

Accommodations are comfortable and spacious. My garden bungalow had a cold plunge pool, outdoor shower, outdoor bath, plenty of sunny and shady seating, along with a concrete wall for privacy. Unlike private homes on the island, which must collect and store rainwater (atolls have virtually no potable groundwater), the resort has a desalinization plant. As a result, the water from every tap is entirely potable, although the resort does also provide bottled water daily.

In the lobby, there’s also a Tahitian pearl and gift shop that also sells limited sundries and stamps. Otherwise, it’s possible to rent a car or scooter and visit one of the stores on the island to resupply.

Speaking of pearls, the Tuamotus are the main center for pearl production in French Polynesia. On Rangiroa, Gauguin’s Pearl is the largest pearl farm, and they provide daily demonstrations of pearl production with free pickup from the hotel in an air-conditioned van. Other pearl shops dot the island’s single road, many without the benefit of air conditioning.

The Takeaway

Other parts of French Polynesia might be known for glitz and status, where visitors conspicuously consume and compare the square footage of their bungalow or the international luxury brand of their resort. Many stay just long enough to check the box and disappear to the next spot on their bucket lists without ever finding themselves captive to French Polynesia’s languid spell.

On Rangiroa that spell is unavoidable. While the Hotel Kia Ora is certainly a luxury property, it’s luxury with an inherently local sensibility. Here, familiarity is fast, the guests are most likely repeat visitors and everyone is pleased to be there.

Getting There

Rangiroa is roughly an hour from Papeete by air. Air Tahiti operates daily flights.

The Math

Rates start around $420 USD per night plus tax during the low season.

Instagrammable Moment

Anything with water in it is a sure bet, whether it’s the glassy lagoon or the tranquil private plunge pools in the pool villas.

Loyalty

There’s no loyalty program but that doesn’t prevent a high percentage of return guests.

Good to Know

The hotel offers transfers to and from the airport for a nominal fee.

Guest rooms are equipped with WiFi.

The hotel’s rental cars are late model with good air conditioning.

Staff at the hotel and the pearl shops are generally multilingual and speak very good English. Excursion operators often speak transactional English; conversation ability with non-French speakers can be limited, and tour narration is typically more extensive in French.

This post was published by our news partner: TravelPulse.com | Article Source

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