Ia Orana! It took me a week to learn how to pronounce that in Tahitian. As requested, I wanted to be sure to write about our amazing trip to Bora Bora!
We drove Thursday, March 31st after work to drop the girls with grandma and grandpa (thank you guys!) and meet with my family to celebrate my mom’s birthday which was the following day, April 1st. We did dinner and drinks with my brother and his family and my way too cute niece.
When flying out of Chicago O’Hare pretty early in the day, we’ve opted to staying at the Wyndham in Des Planes, Illinois. For $140, we can sleep and park for the duration of our trip…plus, there’s a shuttle to/from O’Hare that’s generally timely enough. It’s a great deal. Sure, the hotel isn’t AMAZING, but it’s clean and just what we’re looking for in a stay and fly situation.
People asked why Bora Bora, and a few notes on the location:
- Mark chose it. 🙂 This trip was my Christmas present and a total surprise.
- Our last BIG trip was 3 years ago when we went to Maui and we said Maui would be so hard to one-up and that an overwater bungalow may be the only thing to do it!
- Mark’s Global Services status on United (thanks to many years of international travel) is going away here real quick. COVID changed his work travel extensively and so getting upgraded to first class on these long flights was a HUGE factor in booking this trip.
- Our kids are getting closer to wanting to travel with us so we wanted to check the box – the Pinterest-worthy trip to the French Polynesian!
- While we stayed in Tahiti for the night and Tahiti is stunning, we had made it this far, so the 45 minute flight and boat ride into the resort seemed inconsequential by that point.
So, from Chicago O’Hare, we had a 4 1/2 hour flight to San Fransisco, a brief layover (in the Polaris Lounge – what luxury!), and a 8 1/2 hour flight to Tahiti. A few notes on the Tahiti airport — you will be greeted with the cutest little French Polynesian musicians on ukuleles and drums as you are hit with intense humidity and the slowest moving customs lines. BOLT off the plane to get near the front. We waited 20-30 minutes and were probably in the first 15 people in line. Our plane was a Dreamliner 787 so it was BIG. Other travelers have waited HOURS for a single plane to get through customs.
At the Tahiti airport, we stopped at an ATM to withdraw local currency, Pacific Franc – xpf, and were able to quickly grab a taxi. Intercontinental Tahiti was 2 miles from the airport and a super quick ride. The check-in process was a bit slow, the elevator situation is confusing AF (we stayed in building 2), so we were lugging 50-pound bags up and down stairs, pouring sweat, coming off 15 hours of travel…which is just no way to start vacation! Then, our keys weren’t working so it was a bit of a circus to get them figured out, but it was only 7pm local time (1 am EST 😉 ) so it got fixed quickly. The room was great with sufficient air conditioning (important for us, we’re hot people!) and the shower was GLORIOUS! We made it up til about 8:30pm and slept until about 3am local, 9am EST. We lounged around in bed until closer to 5am local because I had no interest in exploring the resort in darkness. We got up to watch the sun rise and walked the resort, stopping for an “American Continental” breakfast — a hot buffet similar to one you might find at a standard all-inclusive resort, for just under $100 USD. Woof. The Intercontinental Tahiti seems to be a popular one-night stop either going to or from Bora Bora and where the flight crew stayed, as well (usually a good sign, right?). The resort was LOVELY and other than that morning walk, we have no other experience to share. Just let the kind gentleman help you to your room because the rooms/buildings can be a bit of a maze. 🙂
In researching Bora Bora, Mark felt the 2 resorts we’d want to consider were St. Regis and the Four Seasons. Both have amazing reviews and truly, there doesn’t seem to be a con to either based on what I’ve read. That said, Mark chose St. Regis — he reported that both have incredible, 4.8/5.0 star ratings on travel sites and St. Regis was a lower cost. Based on research, St. Regis has larger rooms and a more sprawling 40 acres of resort, but the pool scene at Four Seasons is preferrable. Being that we’re in a bungalow, the pool was less of a priority.
Now, on to Bora Bora!
The Tahiti airport is HOT AS HADES without any air circulation. Hangout in the bathroom for a bit (the wifi is quite good!) — it’s the only place with air conditioning. Just…dress light and airy and take with you as little as possible. The 23 kilogram checked bag is pretty strict, but I will say, both of our bags were over by just under a kilo and she passed us right on through. Others didn’t have such luck. You CAN carry on your 2 liters/3 bottles of alcohol, so there were people with their arms full of booze. We opted to check it all, but that did create the need for bubble wrap as well as the need to scale back on other things – like shoes 🙂 The flight over was fine – everything leaving for other islands are prop planes so it will be loud and small planes serving mango juice. On your way from Tahiti to Bora Bora, do everything in your power to sit on the left side of the plane and a window seat. The views and photos opps coming into Bora Bora are beyond Pinterest-worthy. Mark and I weren’t sitting together (open seating and some of the last few on the full flight), but he asked the girl sitting next to him to text a few photos she took. She never did 🙁 The fact that he asked her to do that (ahem, my little introvert!) speaks volumes of the beauty we’re talking about.
The welcome and check-in process at St. Regis was amazing – I was greeted by NAME at the airport with a floral necklace and everything was easy breezy. Us and one other couple took the St. Regis boat to the resort, about a 15 minute ride. Only appropriate for someone who despises rain with every fiber in my being, it started to rain, and quite hard, as soon as we were pulling into the no wake zone of the resort. Our butler, Taimanu, gave us a guided tour of the massive, stunning resort and eventually back to the concierge for check-in. At 1:30pm our room wasn’t quite ready (3pm check-in) so we grabbed a tasty taco hold-over and a few beers at Aparima Restaurant before Taimanu came to grab us in the golf cart to take us to our room – #225 on the Mount Otemanu side.
We chose the half board option which includes breakfast and a 3-course dinner at the restaurant dining options. LOVELY that it includes even the specialty nights like the Polynesian night, Indian night, etc. Some people at breakfast wished for the little perks with the half board plan – little things like a 3 course starter at breakfast of a shot of vegetable/fruit juice, a fresh fruit salad, and a shooter of museli, as well as a bread basket with delicious croissants and other items.
The bikes were assigned by room number on each basket is such a nice little feature (not available at the Four Seasons) and they are used abundantly. There’s even a “bike doctor” with a rather active shake of repairs going on near the main lobby/restaurant hub. For reference, we were one of the furthest rooms from the main hub (not complaining!) and it was just under half a mile from the main hub and closer to two-thirds of a mile from tennis, gym, and lagoonarium. Just giving reference to the size of the resort. End to end is probably closer to a mile.
We didn’t take advantage of the unpacking – we were too anxious to get a suit on and into the stunning, perfect water. The outside of the bungalows are as pictured online, but the inside of the bungalows are better than anticipated. Absolutely stunning! I blew up my own floatie (impatient!), but Mark’s was blown up for him (he left it out and poof, it got done). I’m SO glad we brought them and the rope to keep us tethered to our bungalow without a care in the world.
Champagne and a half coconut of fresh fruit and macaroons were delivered to our room while we were out swimming, and what a fun treat to enjoy champagne while getting ready for dinner or in a bath after dinner (did that, too!). We went to Moana night and it was good, but we weren’t BLOWN away – it was probably my least favorite meal of the week. If you love raw seafood, be sure to check it out, though. We stuck with the prefixed menu and the swordfish sharable was probably my favorite part.
We got up early because #EST and opened the blinds, waiting for the sun to come up. I then took my first bike ride to the gym (only one there) while Mark ran around the resort. The equipment is all in good shape but the use of kilometers always throws me off and the treadmill I used probably needed to be calibrated because there’s no way I was running at 14 km/hr without issue. 🙂 I wish. But it was a nice little sweat session despite the ample air conditioning at the gym. I biked back to our bungalow where we took a little plunge and outdoor rinse off while waiting for our French press coffee to enjoy before heading to breakfast. We also asked for a 3rd pillow for me because #highmaintenance We also had 2 items each pressed for the day which were returned in no time with a note letting us know they were hanging in our closet. Mark continued to use the press service several additional days, always returned within the hour. A nice little perk, no doubt!
Breakfast was delicious – the fresh pineapple juice was out of this world and the salmon eggs benedict was divine! We pocketed a breakfast roll like the classy people we are to take back for the fish. 😉 Day 2 they offered a bag to take our leftover pastries which was nice! The table next to us inquired as to why we got a basket of pastries and they were informed it was because we have the half board package. I believe the shot of cucumber-fruit juice, muesli, and fruit salad are also included in the package, but I could be wrong. Just nice touches, for sure!
We purchased a few drinks from the store on site and were pleasantly surprised to see that the mixers were $4-5/bottle which seems “cheap” as compared to other things.
We returned to a PRISTINE room with all of our crap laid out to dry and even the dirty stuff folded. My toiletries and jewelry were all organized, cords wound…it was more than cleaning alone.
The highlight of day 2 was drinks at 727 Bar which is the outdoor deck at Lagoon restaurant. There were light aperitifs with the bar menu. Be sure to arrive before sunset for some stunning photos. The staff are accustomed to getting the money shots, so don’t be bashful in asking. We were moved inside for dinner with the same stunning views (no meal service outdoors) and enjoyed our meals immensely. The beet root puree with tuna tartar and caviar might have been the highlight for me, but all courses were incredible. My shrimp were fabulous, but I would say Mark’s paru took gold.
Day 2 was also spent at both the beach and pool. Based on a review I had read online, I got the coconut rum drink in the fresh coconut. After I was done with it, our waiter offered to split it so that I could eat the coconut meat. Such a nice touch! It was returned to me poolside on a wooden tray with utensils and a linen napkin with the meat scooped out and laying inside the coconut. So lovely!
On day 3, we were up and at’em bright and early, around 5am local time. By 8am, we had played 3 sets of tennis on the “grass” (turf). The court was in good condition…the racquets and balls a bit less, so but it was as expected. A fun little way to start the day!
We took the complimentary boat and shuttle into Bora Bora, leaving around 11am and returning at 2pm. We wanted to see Bora Bora and perhaps do some shopping and grab a bite to eat. The ‘downtown’ (I use that loosely) is mostly jewelry and clothing shops without anything to eat or drink. We ended up taking a taxi to Bloody Marys, the famous restaurant in Bora Bora. Sadly, Bloody Marys was a disappointment, mostly because of the service. After reading some recent reviews, the place is just lacking lure and it’s unfortunate because it has so much potential! The fish tacos were decent at best and I love salt, but the fries were just overly salted. So sadly, I would pass on Bloody Marys and while I’m glad we experienced Bora Bora mainland, I wouldn’t say it heightened the experience of the trip so I guess I say this all to say: don’t feel like you HAVE to leave the resort. Time in paradise is precious!
We returned for some swimming and cocktails before heading to the Indian theme night. We were pleasantly surprised to see a full restaurant for the first time and the food did not disappoint! The set menu had a little bit of everything and our only decision to make was garlic vs regular naan. We returned to our room for a dip in the dark and I must say, Kindle reading in an inner tube with a Yeti full of a pineapple coconut rum concoction is magical. The bungalow has great lighting and the waters are very safe swim conditions (oh, and if you’re wondering – no dangerous sharks!). Our evening dips were a highlight of the trip for me!
Day 4, I slept in until after sunrise and Mark got us to breakfast and to our boat pick-up at the front of the resort…only to find out we had the wrong day. Our snorkel excursion was for the FOLLOWING day. I settled in at the beach with my Kindle and read some in the overwater hammock. I took in a bit too much sun and got a little red, but hey, it wouldn’t feel like vacation without a little burn. Bring ALL the sunscreen – it’s outrageously expensive to buy here and you’ll need it…trust me!
Mark and I both worked out, separately. He did a little jog-to-the-gym + light workout and I did a Peloton body weight workout in the bungalow. We both rinsed off in the outdoor shower and enjoyed the deck with some swimming and reading until heading to a Tahitian wine tasting on the resort. At this point, it rained for about 10 minutes before the perfectly clear skies opened up again. The rain seems often enough but short-lived based on what little assessment I’ve made.
It was the first Tahitian wine event at St. Regis and there were 12 tasters in all with 3 wines to taste, all grown locally in Bora Bora. The wines were okay, not fabulous, but if you know anything about wine making (and you will learn in the tasting!), it’s no small feat to grow grapes in limestone. The climate here is not conducive to grape growing. It was a fun experience and nice to talk to other guests.
Dinner was at the Italian restaurant that was featuring a new menu. WOW! I am generally not one to swoon over Italian because seriously, over-cooked pasta is a serious culinary misstep that’s more common than not. BUT, wow, wow, wow – it was fantastic. Mark loves ordering octopus and the octopus starter was perhaps the most I’ve enjoyed octopus anywhere. The arancini were great, as well. We both ordered pasta – spaghetti with shrimp and a butter-clam sauce for me and linguine with shrimp for Mark. The tiramisu did not disappoint and Mark enjoyed his chocolate dessert. The house Sangiovese by the glass was a “steal” at $17/glass and we both enjoyed the wine. After dinner, we called it a night early.
Wednesday was a full day! We did a morning snorkel with H2O and the owner, David. We were on the boat with just him and as we were hopping in – rain. And I mean RAIN. While that part wasn’t pleasant, we have learned that it does rain in Bora Bora, but not for long during this time of the year. Skies clear and rain doesn’t deter anything around here. We snorkeled at 4 different locations and were able to see manta rays, Eagle rays, an eel that David actually touched (!). There were fish of every color (other than red, maybe). No sharks (fine by me, though they say they’re friendly enough and safe to be by so long as you don’t feed them) or turtles, but honestly, there’s no sea turtles like in Maui, I imagine. The snorkeling was fabulous and definitely for the first time on the trip, I was hangry between breakfasts and dinner and while we’ve stuck with 2 meals/day, I needed a substantial snack and was glad for the beef jerky Mark packed.
In the afternoon, I participated in the floral headpiece making at the resort – a nice little included activity. You do need to sign up in advance and several people either got turned away or didn’t know about it until after it was over. Wednesdays are the themed Polynesian evening, so don’t miss out on that activity! Our butler cued us in and I’m so glad he did! And, the Polynesian evening and entertainment did not disappoint! The food was incredible and plentiful and the performance (started at 7:30pm) was so, so good! The drums and dancers – phenomenal! There was a downpour about 10 minutes into the performance, but they moved it inside without missing a beat (literally). It was probably the highlight of the trip for me, honestly.
Our last full day in paradise started with some slow flow yoga shortly after sunrise out on our platform deck and then French press coffee and Kindle reading before breakfast and a bit of beach time – we both did paddle boarding. We then returned to our room for a float with our Kindles out on the water. We tried to soak up all the luxury of the resort before heading to The Lagoon for a beer during sunset before heading to our final dinner at Bamboo which did not disappoint! We had the Volcano and Red Dragon Rolls along with Kung Pao Chicken and a local fish dish, followed by dessert. Divine!
We returned to our bungalow before turn-down service and hopped in the water for a quick swim before enjoying a bath and shower before our final snooze. Ack! Is this life!? I miss the girls, but MAN, I want to stay! Glorious!
Taimanu, our fabulous butler, arranged for a late checkout at 3pm so we truly got most of our final day to enjoy all of the beauty on resort and of Bora Bora!
Tips for a St. Regis Bora-Bora Stay:
- Communicate with the concierge ahead of your arrival to book your dinner reservations. The communication over email is excellent and very thorough.
- Research the sunset time and plan your dinner meals accordingly.
- Be sure to plan at least 1 evening of drinks at the Lagoon restaurant deck for sunset.
- Consider the half-board package and aim for a later breakfast and earlier dinner. It seems most are early to bed and early to rise, plus with the time change, earlier is better if you’re coming from the US
- Our personal opinion: the mainland was OK to see, but may be a letdown as compared to the beauty and the service of the resort. I would go only if you’re staying 5+ nights, otherwise the middle of the day and best time to be in the sun is absorbed and it’s HOT walking around
- Enjoy the amenities – paddle boarding, snorkel, lagoonarium, tennis, etc.
- Enjoy the juice of the day at breakfast – so good! Also grab one of those coconut rum drinks in the fresh coconut!
- Bring alcohol with you – 3 bottles of wine or 2 liters of hard alcohol is what’s currently allowed. I brought 2 bottles or rose (with twist off caps) and a plastic bottle of 90 proof Parrott Bay Coconut Rum. Mark brought 2 plastic bottles of Captain Morgan (and purchased soda here) and some airplane bottles of Goldschlager. We didn’t go through it all, but were glad to have it versus paying for all resort prices on alcohol.
- USD or local currency are fine for tipping – we did some of both. Tipping, however is not a standard, but is, of course, much appreciated.
- Dress code is extremely casual and flip flops are fine everywhere
- Perhaps give up on your hair, ladies, and leave the irons and curling wands at home. The humidity is fierce and any efforts I made were for naught! Go with an updo or in my case, a little mousse and off you go!
- Pack lots of sunscreen – you’ll need it and it is around $38 on resort!
- Bring a Yeti or some type of insulated tumbler to make cocktails in your room – you can take them around the resort or enjoy in your room, of course.
- A large Hyroflask or other insulated water bottle is great to fill with ice and then stop at the water jugs or fill with the limited bottled water provided/free. I lugged it with me everywhere and the beach boys were great about refilling it, too.
- Pack PLENTY of swimsuits – there are days I changed 3x just to get into something dry. I packed 5 for our 6 night stay, and I wish I would’ve packed 1-2 more. It’s definitely what I wore all day, even to breakfast.
- Underwater camera – a must for the snorkeling!
- Floaties and rope for your room. There’s nothing like being tied up out there just enjoying away. There is current so you’d be on your way across the lagoon in no time without some rope!
- Snacks for your room – we could’ve definitely packed more. We brought jerky, mixed nuts, and granola bars. Mark also packed Teddy Grahams and Poptarts.
- Power adapters, just in case. Our room came well-supplied, but I think that was from people leaving them behind.
- Portable battery charger with at least 2 USB ports. It was nice to use our phones to play music, etc without ever worrying about a dead battery
- A hat or 2. The sun is fierce – protect your head and eyes! This one held up well and is super cute!
- Sunglasses, duh. 🙂
- Chapstick – didn’t bring it, but MAN, my lips were dry!
- Proctored COVID-19 tests (if that’s still a thing when you travel here). The resort was able to print out our results versus having to go through all the testing at the airport where it’s hot and everyone is cranky!
- Your Netflix login and password. There was 1 time I went to watch something but it was the middle of the night in the US so I couldn’t reach out to my brother for the info (we have it saved at home, of course). Otherwise, your English viewing options include….CNN. Period. 🙂
Can I become a travel blogger?!? 😉 Please feel free to ask questions about our trip and be sure to check out the Bora Bora IG story highlight I posted for lots of video!