Back from My Epic/Insane Trip: Overall Thoughts

As many of you know, during the last year or so I’ve been carefully planning obsessing over a trip to Tahiti, New Zealand and Australia (see my post on costs breakdown). In reality, the idea was hatched in my brain decades ago. It just took  awhile to finally pull it off. Yay to miles and points  gods for smiling upon me and opening award availability on all the routes!

So, was it worth it? Yes, without a doubt. If I had three words to describe the trip, they would be fancy/exhilarating/insane. We squeezed in a ton of sightseeing and basically felt like collapsing from exhaustion by the end of it.

My husband never wants to fly again. I don’t blame him. Me? I’m already planning our next trip. That’s not to say that everything went smoothly. Far from it. Still, it definitely was an adventure of a lifetime.

I plan to review all the stops separately, but today I wanted to provide few insights  for those of you contemplating doing something similar. Keep in mind, I’m only stating my personal opinions. Here we go.

Bora Bora vs. Moorea vs. Hawaii

Bora Bora was our first destination after leaving Los Angeles and it was the highlight of the trip, hands down. If you are flying all the way to Tahiti, do whatever it takes to get to that island.

Skip going to Disney World one year, cancel your trip to Europe, eat ramen noodles for few months if that’s what it takes. Yes, it stinks to add that extra $450/per person in airfare when you can take a ferry to Moorea for a mere $30. But! In my opinion, Bora Bora is worth it.

There are many beautiful tropical islands, but only one has a lagoon to die for. Bora Bora is not called the “Pearl of the Pacific” for nothing.

And if you are going all the way to Bora Bora, you really should stay on a motu (island) to truly appreciate it. And of course, only an overwater bungalow will do! 🙂 Now we are talking some serious bucks, people. We ended up spending $2k out-of-pocket over the two-week period, and almost half of it went to Bora Bora portion. That should tell you something.

Ok, here is a little bit of good news. If you are fortunate and/or tenacious, you may be able to redeem points like I did. Getting an overwater bungalow in Intercontinental Bora Bora Resort and Spa for only 54k IHG points per night (factoring in 10% rebate) was my “magnum opus” redemption. I don’t think I’ll ever top that one.

That’s me enjoying infinity pool at my Bora Bora resort, not another soul in sight. Trust me, it looks even better in person.

Don’t get me wrong, Moorea is also a spectacular island. It reminded me of Kauai, but more rural and French. If you can break up a trip to New Zealand or Australia and take a ferry to Moorea for a night or two, go for it. You won’t regret it.

It’s a quintessential South Pacific island with lush interior and laid-back atmosphere.

Snorkeling isn’t too shabby either.

But it’s the type of landscape you can see in Hawaii. In fact to me,  Kauai is actually more impressive than Moorea. Many will disagree, and that’s fine. Still, I urge you not to skip Bora Bora if at all possible.

A word of warning. If stellar hotel service is important to you, French Polynesia may disappoint. I’m not a fussy guest, but was taken aback by some of the attitudes. Many workers we’ve encountered were genuinely friendly, but some were downright rude. Few hated my guts and weren’t afraid to show it. I’ll have more on it later on, but suffice to say, I craved “customer first” US approach by the time we left.

This isn’t a deal breaker to me, and I hope to be back to French Polynesia someday. In fact, I’m debating on whether to take the kids to Hawaii or Tahiti in a few years. Between higher rate of award redemptions, plus all the other costs, the latter will cost us about double. Yet I’m still tempted to give it a go. And yes, we are including Bora Bora. Of course!

New Zealand

Both my husband and I really enjoyed New Zealand. We only had two nights in Auckland, so I decided to book an all-day tour. It was one exhausting day, but totally worth it. Some of you may remember that I wasn’t too sure on whether to add Hobbition. I’m so glad that I did. It was a fun (if a bit cheesy) tour, set against a background of beautiful green rolling hills. 

We also got to see geysers in Rotorua and marveled at glowworms in Waitomo caves before finally wrapping up the day in Auckland.

Speaking of Auckland, I feel it’s a highly underrated city. It has a neat waterfront area with boats, ferries (and occasional cruise ships) coming and going all day long. Thanks to an upgrade at Hilton Auckland, we got to enjoy the front row seat to all the action. 

Australia

Australia reminded me of US. It is a diverse country with many climates and landscapes.  We spent three nights in Melbourne and two in Sydney, so it wasn’t a lot of time to truly appreciate it.

Everything we did in Melbourne area involved a ton of driving, which left us exhausted by the end of the day. Still, if you have time, definitely add the city to your itinerary.

Two things that are “must do” are Great Ocean Road drive  and watching the penguin parade on Phillip island. If you can only pick one, I would do the penguins. It’s a unique spectacle unlike anything I’ve seen in my life.

Witnessing those tiny penguins coming out of the ocean and forming a line will put a smile on the face of the most surliest/jaded of individuals. You’ll forget all about Chase 5/24 rule and latest negative hobby developments, I guarantee it.

While driving to  Phillip island to see the penguins, we spotted a kangaroo hopping on a side of the road. Everyone in the van screamed in delight. We are not in Kansas anymore!

After Melbourne it was time to pack up our bags (again) and head to Sydney. I was very excited to check out Park Hyatt Sydney, the super-duper fancy hotel that goes for $1k per night. I’ll have a detailed review on it later, but here is a short summary. The hotel is a fun treat, but it’s overrated, overengineered and overpriced.

I would never burn 30k UR points to stay here, not even for one night. If you get a suite and free breakfast due to Hyatt Globalist status, then maybe. But even then it would be a tough sell if we are talking multiple nights. But yes, the view is nice, though you can enjoy it by simply strolling the waterfront area in front of the hotel (for free).

The best laid plans of mice and men…

I wish I could say that the trip went without a hitch, but it would be a lie. Unfortunately, the day we left New Zealand, my husband got sick with upper respiratory infection. As a result, he missed the penguin parade and the kangaroo sighting.

Soon, I got sick too, but refused to skip the drive along the Great Ocean road. Did I mention that it was freezing cold in Melbourne, with winds blowing from Antarctica? So most of our time in Sydney was spent recuperating in the room, while enjoying a partial view of the Opera House. In fact, we were both still sick during our 13-hour flight to San Francisco.

We also had a major hiccup with a home rental near Melbourne. Apparently, my sister-in-law booked it seven months ago and prepaid in full. She contacted the host the day of the arrival only to find out that the house is damaged. Oops!

The guy never contacted her and even had the nerve to claim that she didn’t actually send him any money. Since the rental was reserved through Booking.com, they intervened and pressured him to issue a refund. In the meantime, we were all heading to the airport with no place to stay on the other end. I quickly did some research and was ready to redeem points on Hyatt Place near Melbourne airport should  the need arise.

Fortunately, Booking.com agent was able to find us a place at the last minute. The whole thing was yet another reminder on dangers of dealing with the individual owners. In majority of cases everything will be just fine. But when it goes wrong, it goes really wrong.

It was also heart-wrenching to say goodbye to the kids at LAX airport. We talked to them ahead of time and knew it would be hard. Still, it tugged at my heart when my 7-year old son started crying and saying that he decided to come with us instead of my in-laws. He was clinging to my husband and wouldn’t let go. I cried all the way to Tahiti.

On the other hand, he seemed totally fine when we said goodbye in Melbourne, probably because my in-laws were heading to koala sanctuary after dropping us off at the airport. Overall, the kids had been having the time of their lives.

Petting kangaroos, doing snuba (that’s a cross between scuba and snorkeling) in the Great Barrier reef… I hope they remember everything.

It was very nice to spend time alone with my husband. We were reminded of our BC (before children) days, which was fun.

Still, we are never doing this type of a trip again. We go together as a family.

Adjusting to normal life at home

Well, it’s not totally normal yet because the kids won’t be back till Saturday. I’m counting the days, I miss those rascals terribly. The transition for me has been a difficult one, but it’s good to be home.

Did I mention that there were six kittens waiting for me? We got a cat last December (a stray in the park I couldn’t say no to), and she ended up giving  birth the day before we got home from the trip. One of the kittens died in front of me, though I’m not telling the kids untill they get back.

So here I am, going from an Instagram-worthy, “fancy pants” traveler to a cat lady in a blink of an eye. Boom.

 

Author: Leana

Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.

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36 thoughts on “Back from My Epic/Insane Trip: Overall Thoughts

  1. Wow! Looking forward to more details! So your kids went on part of the trip, that is really neat.

    Bora Bora sounds amazing.

    Yuck about the cold, and yuuuuck about the damages house. Glad it all got sorted out.

    • @Kacie Yeah, the kids were with us for part of the time. To be honest, I wish we had them in Tahiti. I kept thinking how much they would enjoy that darn overwater bungalow in Bora Bora. I think that’s why I want to go back, so we can experience it as a family. Whether we can pull it off financially is another story.

  2. I’ve been thinking of you while you were gone. Looking forward to more trip reports.
    Those kittens are ADORABLE!

    • @HML Thank you! The kittens are cute, I just need to find a home for all of them. Well, all except one, since my son wants to keep the black kitten. My SIL was taking care of the cat while we were gone, and it was neat to get updates.

  3. All the feels. My first time away from the kids on a just-the-two-of-us cruise, I loved it… but it made me feel sick the other part of the time! Some people can do it. I think a lot has to do with your personal experiences and how connected to the kids and how sensitive they are (do I want to deal with the fallout when I get back??). Thanks for being honest about it all!

    • @Carole It is hard. Right now my worries are doubled because they are on another continent. Somehow it didn’t seem so bad before because I knew we were only a short flight away in case something happened. I just can’t relax and have a hard time sleeping due to jet lag and worrying. I’m a person who is riddled with anxiety anyway. I may seem brave letting my kids go off like this, but I had to reason through it and make my peace with the whole thing. It was a complex situation where the in-laws really wanted my kids with them. I would have happily taken them to Tahiti otherwise.

  4. I’ve been waiting for this post–thanks for already giving us a breakdown as a prelude to the individual stops, woohoo! I just LOVE epic, bucketlist trips, and always pack the itinerary as well (not quite as much you though I think). We had our own recently, a “babymoon” (yep, soon our days as a twosome will be done for good 😉 a couple months ago–three days in Paris followed by eight days in Seychelles. It was epic! I’m lucky enough to have visited Paris a number of times and even lived there for eight months an exchange student, but my husband had never been, and it was so fun seeing all the gorgeous sights with him. And I can only say wonderful things about Seychelles–gloriously beautiful and unspoiled, very friendly locals and service… only downside is it is also an expensive destination (though not French Polynesia level!), but we did it as affordably as possible while allowing for a certain level of comfort and a couple splurges with no regrets! Anyway, I didn’t mean to start bragging about my trip, I just can’t wait to read more about yours. And I think it’s great that you did a relatively long couples only trip, even if you never do one again at least you’ve tried it once. And who knows, it might make sense again when they’re older. I wish you a smooth readjustment to reality and a happy homecoming for your inlaws, and of course your kiddies, in a few days. In the meantime, enjoy those kitties… so sweet!

    • @Debra First of all, congratulations!!! Now that’s an epic babymoon, for sure. Time really flies. I remember you mentioning that you just got married. In a blink of an eye, you will be a married couple with young kids, like me and my husband. Seriously, it happens just like that, before you know it. I remember bringing my daughter from the hospital like it was yesterday. I was in my twenties back then and felt OLD. Hah!
      This trip of ours was packed, maybe too packed. I’m not sure I would recommend this type of pace to anyone. That being said, looking back, I wouldn’t want to cut anything. I enjoyed each and every stop, despite few hiccups and sickness. Not everything went smoothly, but oh well. I really don’t think I can convince my husband to go back to Australia and NZ, and I have my doubts on ever returning to Tahiti. I think it’s wishful thinking due to distance and costs, though I would love my kids to see it one day. Then again, Hawaii would be easier and cheaper.

  5. I can’t believe you’re back Leana and already giving us a trip update. That’s super impressive. Bora Bora looks absolutely amazing…not sure if we could ever go without the kids. They love the water too much, and I think hubby and I would feel guilty the entire time. Can’t wait to hear all of the details, and I’m so sorry to hear about you two getting sick.

    I fractured my toe 2 nights before our WDW trip; got it caught on a suitcase in the dark. I’m just glad it was me and not anyone else in the family. That’s what ibuprofen and medical tape are for 🙂

    • @Stephanie I had to get the thoughts out of my head! Plus, it helped me to experience the trip again in a way.
      I totally felt guilty in Bora Bora. Don’t get me wrong, we still enjoyed ourselves. Still, I kept seeing other families, and it made me think of how much my kids would love the whole overwater bungalow experience. I really would have preferred having them with us. Then again, flying to Bora Bora is hard. Tahiti airport is not air-conditioned, and the whole immigration process is super disorganized. I think it will be easier to tackle when the kids are a bit older. Then again, we are talking ridiculous amounts of money for the four of us. I better start saving now, LOL
      So sorry about your toe! What a bummer. Hope it’s better now. Nancy broke her finger before her trip to Florida. Terrible timing, for sure.

      • I heard about Nancy’s finger…I felt for her….I’m just glad it was my toe and not my finger (been there and done that…don’t ask). Can’t wait to see all of your pictures, and I’m sure you’re anxious to see your kids. It’s funny how we always miss them, but when they’re with us, they drive us crazy. The joys of motherhood.

    • @Natasha Thanks! Honestly, I’m probably “overselling” it a bit. 🙂 While there were lots of amazing parts, some things did go wrong. I’m certain that the stress of flying so much had something to do with us getting sick.

  6. Wow your trip sounds AMAZING. I look forward to reading more and also how you were able to use your points to get there!!! Thank you for sharing.

  7. Thank you so much for the link! My daughters really want to visit Bora Bora. Fingers crossed that I’ll be able to coordinate for our family of 5 to get us there!

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  9. Thanks Leana for keeping it real! So many times I have planned what I thought was the perfect trip, only to have life get in the way. Little things and big things can and do go wrong, and I’ve learned to keep my expectations low and my attitude positive.

    When people tell travel stories, they rarely share the mishaps. I appreciate that you put it all out there for your readers. As Jane Austen said “Pictures of perfection make me sick and wicked!” – So much more helpful to have a truthful and pragmatic source for travel information.

    I can’t wait to hear more about your adventures. We’re planning a similar epic trip for a few years out.

    • @Terri Thank you for your kind and wise words! I don’t think I can argue with Jane Austen. 🙂 Honestly, I would love it if one of our trips went perfectly. Wouldn’t that be nice? Unfortunately, we live in a real world. I strive for “good enough” and set my expectations accordingly.

  10. You did it! Congrats!

    I think Auckland is a decent city to visit – it’s just that if one’s time is limited in NZ (like say only 2 weeks) I wouldn’t spend it there. But for a 2-day whirlwind like yours! That’s a different story. I’m glad you enjoyed!

    • @Talchinski Thanks! I’ve heard that Wellington is nicer, and I’m sure that’s true. But yeah, being in NZ for only two nights, Auckland was the logical choice. I do feel bad that we missed the South Island, but it would really complicate things. Plus, I would have to pay cash for tickets to Australia since there was no award availability from Queenstown.

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