A little background first. Bora Bora is the island I’ve dreamed about visiting ever since I was a teenager growing up in Soviet Union. My family was poor, and back then it seemed as likely as going to the moon. It took me a few decades, but my dream eventually came true. It also so happened that this year my husband and I were celebrating a big milestone wedding anniversary.
All of this is to say, our Bora Bora detour was one big stinkin’ splurge. We are a middle-class family, and staying in an overwater bungalow isn’t normally what we do for vacations. But in this particular case, the stars aligned, points availability opened up, and voila, we were flying to Bora Bora at last.
Arrival and boat transfer
After catching our 8:30 AM Air Tahiti flight from Papeete, we landed in a tiny Bora Bora airport fifty minutes later. I made sure that we sat on the left side of the plane, so we could enjoy these glorious views.
Once we entered the tiny airport building, there were several signs telling travelers to make sure their luggage has arrived. So, when I saw our Intercontinental representative, I cheerfully said “Hello! Did our luggage make it yet?”
This was a huge mistake because she became visibly angry and sarcastically yelled “No! Your luggage isn’t here yet” and rolled her eyes at me. She was rude, obnoxious and not welcoming at all. She continued in this manner until I decided to apologize in order to diffuse the situation.
I believe she thought I was being bossy, which I wasn’t. I’m sure I inadvertently broke Tahitian greeting protocol or something. Regardless, she became much nicer after my apology. I couldn’t wait to board our transfer boat to get the heck away from this lady. I hate to say this, but we’ve encountered that type of attitude several times during our brief stay in Tahiti.
Don’t get me wrong, most locals are genuinely nice, but some appear to be resentful and unwelcoming toward visitors. For all intents and purposes, Tahiti is still a French colony. It may not be called that, but many locals (based on my conversations with them) feel marginalized by French mainlanders and tend to lump all visitors in the same category. It’s a complex dynamic and a reminder that Tahiti isn’t just a tropical paradise, but a living, breathing community with its own unique set of issues.
During our 20-minute boat ride, we passed by several resorts, including the ultra fancy St. Regis Bora Bora In my opinion, the view at INTERCONTINENTAL BORA BORA RESORT THALASSO SPA (where we stayed) is unrivaled, but I’m probably biased.
No filter, this is just one of our photos
Check-in process and review of the bungalow
She looked as if she has stepped out of Paul Gaugin painting, 100% pure Polynesian face. Most of the resort workers I’ve talked to were born and raised on Bora Bora, with their parents being born and raised on Bora Bora… you get the idea.
Just a standard work attire in Bora Bora 🙂
We were given a nice spot to sit and relax while she prepared all the paperwork. She mentioned that we would not be able to get into our bungalow till 2 PM, but they would give us a transit room where we could leave our bags and take a shower.
I used 120k IHG points to book two nights in their entry-level “Emerald” overwater bungalow (see related post) Finding award availability at this resort is extremely tough, but booking a “BOGO” rate on a weekend by paying for IHG Ambassador status is always an option. It won’t be dirt cheap, bu it’s the best away to stay here aside from using points. This is what I originally planned on doing, but was fortunate to be able to eventually find award availability for my dates.
Emerald units face the beach/pool area, and have the least amount of privacy. I asked the lady about any possible upgrades. She told me that they could put us in a “Sapphire” bungalow at no charge due to my IHG Platinum status. I asked her if we could pay for an upgrade to a unit with a mountain view and she said she would check.
Ten minutes later she came back and told me I could pay $140 per night to upgrade to unit 111, for a total of $280. Here is the map with an arrow pointing to the bungalow:
Keep in mind that this is an old map that doesn’t show their new “Brando” suites at the end of the pontoon.
I really liked the idea of not facing the pool, plus we only had two nights in Bora Bora. From reading Flyertalk threads, I knew that upgrading to this unit usually incurs a $300 per night upcharge. So, I decided to accept the offer. No regrets!
After taking a shower and relaxing in a pool for few hours, we finally entered our overwater bungalow. Wow, just wow. I’ve seen reviews of this resort before, but words can’t convey just how beautiful it really is.
Complimentary fruit plate and a bottle of wine due to Platinum status.
Bedroom area and the walk-in closet
Huge bathroom with a shower and a soaking tub (toilet is located in the closet for some reason)
Needless to say, upgrading to unit 111 was the smart choice. We basically got two gorgeous views for the price of one. We could see the main island from our bedroom:
Not too shabby of a view if I say so myself.
Naturally, I had to go for a swim right away:
Oh, we did have some interesting neighbors. There was a young French couple staying in a bungalow behind us during the first night. The guy brought out a boombox at 5:00 AM in the morning and starting blasting “I will survive” song. At the end of it, he screamed at the top of his lungs “I will surviiiive!!!”, probably waking up half of the resort, as well as stingrays.
On the one hand, I was admiring his zest for life. On the other hand, I was thinking “you little punk!”
Saving money on food
We aren’t big on eating beef jerky and protein bars on vacation, not that there is anything wrong with that. I did bring some miso soup packets because they hardly weigh anything, and that’s about it. At check-in we were offered “half off” deal on breakfast buffet, as long as we did it both mornings. Normally, it costs $48 per person. I happily accepted the deal and you should too.
Sure, paying $24 for breakfast seems like a huge amount, but it’s a downright bargain in Bora Bora. Buffet was extensive and quite delicious. We made sure to eat to our heart’s content, so we could skip lunch.
During our arrival day, we split a pizza and salad by the pool for lunch, at a cost of $37:
This is about as cheap as it gets, folks.
For dinner we ordered room service, so we could eat on our balcony. It did incur a $10 service charge each time, but we figured the view was worth it. Plus, since we split one dinner and a dessert, it was less embarrassing that way. The room service attendant put a while tablecloth on the patio table and made it super classy for us.
Dining in the privacy of our own bungalow while watching a sunset over Otemanu mountain was definitely the highlight of our stay:
Each dinner cost us around $80 (including service charge and tip), which is a bargain for Bora Bora, I assure you. Quick tip: Asian pork ribs dish is pretty good, avoid pasta. Overall, the food at the resort was OK, but nothing to write home about. We are not foodies, so it didn’t matter.
All in all, we spent a total of $950 on our two-night stay. Well, at least I earned 3 points per dollar by using my Citi Thank You Premier card (see more info on current 60k offer). Yay? Here is the breakdown:
1) $300 for two adult roundtrip boat transfers from the airport. Oh yes, they charge for those.
2) $280 on bungalow upgrade.
3) $310 on food.
4) $60 on tips.
I made a mistake of loading up on water bottles and not Coke in Tahiti airport. Turns out, we got free water due to Platinum status, and had to buy several $6 cans of Coke for my husband. Oh well, it’s a drop in a bucket compared to what we’ve spent on this trip.
Amenities and things to do around the property
Since my husband and I only had two nights in Bora Bora, we decided to stay put. And with a view like this, why would you want to leave? But if you do, there are plenty of activities you can book through resort or independent companies (who will usually pick you up at no charge). See this page on TripAdvisor for inspiration and ideas.
But the resort itself is stunning, so you can easily fill a few days just wondering around. The motu (island) itself never felt crowded to me. In short, the place truly is an exclusive 5-star resort. I guess it better be for this price!
Come early because wild stingrays start circling the area waiting for food way before 2 PM:
I really enjoyed walking on the ocean side that hardly ever gets any resort visitors:
In fact, you can actually hear the ocean waves from your overwater bungalow, which is pretty cool.
Is this a good place for families with young kids?
I definitely think so. There were several French families staying at this resort, and children seemed to really enjoy themselves. According to the website, two kids under 15 can stay in the overwater bungalow for free with their parents. There is a couch and a pull-out trundle to accommodate them:
I didn’t see any sheets, but I’m sure they will bring them if you ask.
The bungalow has quite a bit of space, and there is a curtain separating the living area from the bedroom. Be aware, there are no child-safety locks on the sliding doors, so I don’t recommend the resort to families with toddlers.
Between the pool, the stingray feeding and various excursions you can take, I doubt your kids will be bored.
They can even chase wild chickens if they want to!
That said, a family trip to Bora Bora will cost you dearly, so perhaps doing an anniversary trip with your spouse instead is a more practical choice. Sharing this experience with the love of my life was special beyond words.
I’ll never forget the look on my husband’s face when he walked into our overwater bungalow. All the work I put into planning this trip as well as effort to get here were 100% worth it. I’m a lucky gal in more ways than one.
My children would love this resort, no question about it. But I wonder if putting money towards a stay in Hawaii would make more sense. My husband seems to think so. Between the crazy airfare costs and expensive food on property, will they appreciate Bora Bora for the special place that it is? I don’t really know. I do know that I loved every minute of our stay and dream of going back someday. Maybe taking the kids there is just an excuse?
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.