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Travel Diary: Papeete, Tahiti

Updated: Apr 17, 2022

Friday February 15, 2019


We spent the day with the head sommelier who is from Bulgaria. He is a very high ranking person on the ship and reports only to Roberto, head of food and beverage and also someone with whom we have become friends. Lugo has 12 sommeliers on ship. I learned a lot about how things work on board. He does not accept tips because (a) he feels he is compensated extremely well; and (b) he does not want the people who work for him to see him accepting tips.

Not only is Lugo very knowledgeable about wines, he is a very intelligent, erudite man fluent in multiple languages including English, Russian, German, French, Spanish, Dutch, and, of course, Bulgarian. His family owns a vineyard which someday he will run so he knows the wine business literally from the roots up. (I did not ask him if he spoke Italian, but, at the very least, anyone fluent in Spanish can get along in Italian).

Our guide for the day was obtained from Bobby Baer who had been in Papeete less than two weeks before. He is on a different around the world cruise. I figured anyone good enough for him was good enough for us. William our guide, was really very knowledgeable and his English impeccable as he had been to college in Los Angeles. He is a guide by day and a taxi driver by night. The rates for taxis goes up considerably after 6 p.m.

Our van had wireless which was a first on this trip. No private guide or bus we have been on had had wireless. The only negative thing I can say about William is that he could not remember the Baers. After knowing Bobby since 1957, that has to be a first. I told William he had to be in a coma if, after spending a fully day with Bobby, he could not remember anything about him. William’s contact information for those who intending to visit Papeete is a follows: Telephone 89 77 20 03. Email (and he replies very promptly) is

All of French Polynesia is gorgeous and made to order for people who like snorkeling and other water related activities. Since I am barely water safe and both of us prefer things other than just beautiful scenery, the ports we are visiting in this area of the world do not hold same attraction for us as they do for many others. I definitely see, however, why many newlyweds pick French Polynesia for their honeymoons. There is not much to do outside of one room. Reminds me of response from bride when asked by her friend about her honeymoon –it was up and down, in and out, up and down, in and out—don’t ever get a room near an elevator.

Papeete is pretty but not a pretty as we thought it would be. It is much more commercial than the other islands. Four major hotels will be built in Papeete in the very near future so one sees derricks and other evidence of constructions, a major difference. As I am writing this, our ship is docking in Bora Bora and is just gorgeous.

Our quest for the day was to find bargains in wine. Lugo had told us that when he was here many years ago, there were great prices on wine. However, that is no longer the case. The place he knew about no longer existed. We visited many wine stores, one of which was one of the nicest I have ever seen. They had virtually every great wine in the world, but the prices were beyond outrageous. A bottle of champagne that we can buy retail for $40 costs almost $150. Even if they discounted their prices by 70%, the prices were too high.

When I asked our guide who could pay $700 for a bottle of wine that should cost maybe $100 or $125 at most, he said “government officials”. When I said, “is there that must graft?” and his response was “that is why we have just built our second prison”. Keep in mind, there are 26,000 people on the island, many of whom are Chinese.

There is no income tax in Tahiti, but there is a substantial VAT tax. The island is growing rapidly. There is already considerable traffic and 8000 new cars arrive each month.

We took our guide’s recommendation for lunch after telling him we did not want to eat with a bunch of other tourists. He took us to a very nice restaurant Terre-Mer (land and sea). We had fresh tuna tartare, fresh grilled mahi mahi, and fresh shrimp all caught almost outside the restaurant. We sat outside so we had a very scenic water view.

We started the day at 10 and at intended to stay off the ship until about 5 when Lugo had to be back to get ready for dinner. We would have walked around the downtown but it started to rain so we went back to the ship. We were actually open to get off again to find the place where the head of food and beverage had just bought some Figeac at a very good price. However, there were some legal complications so our quest for some kind of wine bargain was not successful.

HOT TIP: Find the best way, probably a taxi, to see as much of the Island as you can and forget shopping for anything.

We give our experience at this port a B.

Nico Smit, Photographer (Unsplash)

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