Paradise, Perfected: Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort and Spa in French Polynesia
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To The Point
Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort and Spa is everything you’ve ever dreamed of in an overwater bungalow destination, giving pricier resorts in Bora Bora a serious run for their money. Pros: elegant, eye-poppingly beautiful, heartwarming and kind staff. Cons: impractical to book a room here in perpetuity.
If you’re agonizing over which overwater bungalow to pick, be it on Moorea or on Bora Bora in French Polynesia or in the Maldives, the good news is that you’re apt to have a great time regardless. But the relative ease of access and the remarkable diversity of Moorea itself makes the Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort and Spa easy to recommend. I wouldn’t even blame you if you never leave the bungalow.
While it’s technically possible to book any room type at this property with points (even the panoramic overwater bungalow), the starting point of 198,000 Honors points made the cash price a lot more alluring. TPG values a single Honors point at 0.6 cents, meaning that 198,000 of ‘em are worth $1,188. For the baseline lagoon-view suite, the refundable cash rate of 64,100 French Pacific francs (roughly $600) is the more sensible of the two. Technically, rooms here start at 80,000 Honors points, but you’re as likely to find one at that rate as you are a unicorn traipsing across its lagoon.
For this review, I booked one night in a king overwater bungalow with panoramic view and a second in a king deluxe bungalow with private pool. The former rang up at $1,251.61, and the latter at $920.88. Rates for my stay were higher than usual because it was a French holiday weekend.
Bookings made through Hotels.com are not eligible to earn Honors points, as it appears to Hilton as if the property were booked through Expedia, a third-party vendor. Hilton has become quite strict on bookings that it awards Honors points on; you essentially have to book directly through Hilton.com or your employer’s corporate portal.
I emailed to add my Diamond membership number to my reservations and got a free American breakfast for two because of my top-tier status. This property does not impose a resort fee for things like Wi-Fi, towels and air to breathe. (Hilton, if you’re reading this, please keep it that way. And remove it from your other properties while you’re at it.)
The hotel was almost exactly at the center of Moorea’s northern coast, nestled neatly between the two bays that create the island’s heart shape. Moorea itself is around 15 miles away from French Polynesia’s most populous island, Tahiti, which is home to Fa’a’ā International Airport (PPT).
The big draw for Moorea is its short distance from the airport that essentially everyone flies into when first arriving in French Polynesia, one of the most coveted honeymoon destinations on Earth. While the likes of Bora Bora, Huahine, Raiatea, Taha’a and Tetiaroa all require an outrageously expensive intra-island flights on Air Tahiti to reach, Moorea doesn’t.
Though there is a Moorea Airport (MOZ), this is one of the few occasions that we’d recommend not flying and using the ferry instead, saving yourself the trouble of landing at PPT, collecting your baggage, checking your baggage in once again, then doing yet another security dance for a domestic flight.
The proximity of Moorea to Tahiti has borne a thriving ferry business. I’ve detailed the entire process of getting to Moorea from Tahiti via boat in a separate guide, but the long and short of it is that, with a 20-minute jaunt in a taxi (about $22), a 45-minute ferry ride with views to die for (about $26) and a 30-minute shuttle from the ferry dock to the hotel (about $30), it’s a more economical and stress-free way to enter paradise.
The resort itself was perched on one of the most pristine strips of sand on the entire island, with a range of towering green peaks as the backdrop. With only 106 rooms spread across 10 acres, it never felt crowded.
I arrived on Moorea’s ferry pier with my wife at around 11:15am. I’d arranged said shuttle (about $30) by emailing the concierge in advance. Given that French Polynesia isn’t a supported locale for AT&T’s International Day Pass, I knew I’d be in airplane mode from PPT until I arrived at the property. Thus it was important to have that transport arranged in advance.
My arrival at the property coincided with that of many others, and it was also peak checkout time. I’d later learn that the lobby was a place you wanted to avoid between 11am and 1pm; outside of those hours, it was serene.
Despite us arriving with three other couples looking to check in (and being last off the shared shuttle), the staff called me up within five minutes. They warmly told me we wouldn’t need to bother moving from our overwater bungalow into a garden suite for night two. Instead, we could spend both nights perched atop one of the most spectacular slices of ocean anywhere.
The staff pointed out the tennis court, fitness center, on-site bars and eateries and our room. In appreciation of my Diamond status, we were bestowed a drink voucher good for two rum cocktails. (Given that these wound up being $15 to $20, said voucher was significant.) Besides the two room keys, we got a pair of beach-towel tokens and a pair of snorkel-equipment tokens. To boot, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards were available at no charge to guests.
Finally, a golf cart took us to our room nearly to the end of one of the bungalow trees extending out from the mainland.
There’s a look people have when they see something extraordinary. They open their eyes a bit wider, recoil slightly and introduce a hitch in their breathing pattern. The staff member checking us in did all of those things when realizing that we were assigned Room 83. She then pointed at it on a map of the property, sliding her finger right as if to visualize the unobstructed view of the ocean and mountainside that we’d have from its back porch.
There were 54 overwater bungalows, and Hilton divided them up into three selling categories: king overwater bungalow (those closest to the shore), king panoramic overwater bungalow (further out; this is where we stayed) and king premium panoramic overwater bungalow (the handful of huts at the very end of the forks with no other suites in view).
There are only a handful of overwater bungalows in the universe that actually deliver on the promise of an overwater bungalow.
Evidently, Hilton knows that, and each of its overwater bungalows deliver the eye-popping, you’ll-never-believe-this type of adrenaline rush that can somehow ease the sting of dropping nearly a grand per night for a bed.
At nearly 670 square feet, there was a lot of room inside, full of hardwood floors, exposed beams, a clawfoot tub as well as a rainfall shower, two sinks, in-room coffee and tea, a three-person couch, a desk, a king bed, plenty of lighting and power outlets and a glass section of the floor that allowed you to watch sea life below. Yes, really.
Then there was the giant sliding-glass door that unveiled the back porch. Or, should I say, the top level of the back porch. Down a flight of stairs was yet another porch that extended even further out. The crystal-clear water below was roughly four feet deep, plenty to cannonball into. We essentially had our own dedicated ocean playground. (Cue Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy.”)
The bed was quintessentially Hilton, i.e., exceedingly comfortable. There was an air conditioner in the room, but during the day, there was a steady-enough breeze that we simply opened every door, and window and basked in the greatness of Moorea’s breezes.
Hilton also made the consumer-friendly move of including an accessible refrigerator. No more minibar! It came with a giant bottle of still water, two Cokes, two Diet Cokes and two cans of Hinano Tahiti beer, all free and restocked daily.
The TV had a DVD player. We were told that you can check out an assortment of DVDs, but “Finding Nemo” had a tough time competing with reality.
There was a lot invested in the tiny touches: The air conditioning’s external attachment was unnoticeably tucked behind a wooden divider; the rungs of the sea ladder were wood, not plastic; and there was US-friendly power port in the bathroom.
Even the loungers on the rear deck seemed fairly new, and the room was impeccably clean every day we stayed.
Food and Beverage
The handful of restaurants all offered envy-inducing views. Arii Vahine was the grand poobah, home to the resort’s comically large breakfast spread as well as dinner. There was a beach-level bar and grill, Rotui, that served lunch, as well as another upstairs bar, Eimeo, with views over the ocean and overwater bungalows. Room service was an option too.
At the center of the overwater bungalow pontoons was Toatea Creperie & Bar, only open for dinner. I had a phenomenal veggie crepe for around $20. I only saw a single shark swim by during this visit in late 2018, but back in February of 2012, there were dozens of them.
I have a history with restaurants with epic views. My philosophy is that restaurants with views to die for know that they’ll get a pass on service, cleanliness and food quality. So I was a bit hesitant ordering a scallops appetizer and a traditional Polynesian chicken during dinner service at Arii Vahine. But lo and behold, I found a restaurant that managed to have both a killer view and deliver great flavor.
As is the case everywhere in French Polynesia, food wasn’t cheap. Anything more elaborate than a ham-and-cheese baguette set us back over $20 each. Toss in a beverage and dessert, and it was pretty easy to drop $40 per person per meal. You could order a pizza for delivery, but after the delivery charge and tip, you really wouldn’t save all that much.
I’ve left breakfast for last on purpose. My Diamond status entitled me and a guest to free breakfast during my stay, and not just the cold stuff, either. Everything. The breakfast spread in Arii Vahine is more like a theme park than a buffet. I found myself thinking, “Did I pass those 17 cheese options on Aisle 3 or Aisle 6?”
Not only was there an omelet station, but there was a juice station, bread station, waffle/French toast/pancake station, salad station, fruit station and sushi station.
This property had one of the most elaborate, delicious and varied breakfast spreads I’ve ever seen, and the outdoor seating was the cherry on top. At roughly $40 per person, it was anything but affordable, but it was well worth the zero dollars I paid as a Diamond.
Oh, and there’s one other reason it pays to be Diamond here. During turndown service on our first night, we returned to our bungalow to find a bottle of Champagne on ice, a box of cookies and a letter thanking me for my loyalty to the Hilton brand.
Though there was so much to see, do and explore on Moorea, this was one of very few properties that I genuinely could stay put at and not feel short-changed. Snorkeling in the lagoon was a real treat. Lower your gaze pretty much anywhere, and you were guaranteed to see fish, lots and lots of fish.
Kayaks were a solid bet for exercising when stiff winds added a little chop to the water, while the SUPs were great for calmer days. There was a massive tennis court as well, with racquets and balls available from the front desk at no charge.
Hilton kept the beach nicely stocked with chairs and umbrellas, and while there are 106 rooms on the property, I never found it difficult to find a chair when I needed one. There was also a pool for those who’d had enough saltwater for the day, and while it still looked fresh enough to these eyes, Hilton will be giving it a revamp in early 2019.
The unbridled warmth shown to me at check-in was repeated throughout my stay. Every single staffer I encountered, from cooks to janitors, seemed genuinely eager to help. During breakfast one morning, a staffer noticed my wife eyeing a table on the outdoor terrace that had just been vacated by another couple. Without even having to ask, she was approached and cheerfully asked if we wanted to move to the outdoor table. In a few seconds flat, we were seated at a table with a spectacular view of the lagoon.
There was a shaded walkway from the lobby to the hotel’s flagship restaurant lined with printed portraits of the staff. It was a subtle nod to the hearts and minds who made the Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort and Spa so spectacular, and it reflected well on the mentality of the property’s leadership. As the adage goes: Take care of your employees, and they will take care of the business.
If you’re curious about the internet situation, here’s the skinny: It was a struggle. In fact, I think things have actually degraded since my last visit. Granted, speeds felt a bit faster while sitting in the lobby, but not tremendously so. Premium Wi-Fi is priced at around $10 per day for non-Diamond guests, though I wouldn’t recommend springing for it.
The on-site activity desk did an outstanding job of nailing down the perfect excursion for my personality without pressuring me into buying anything. I even used the desk to book a taxi to a competing hotel on the island, and they were kind enough to bill it to my room so I’d earn Hilton Honors points on the ride.
While I’d wager that this property is geared towards couples, I saw quite a few families here. One group reserved two adjacent overwater bungalows, and the kids took turns jumping off of their platforms to see who could leap out the farthest. There was no dedicated playground for the kiddos, but kayaks and paddleboards are fun for everyone. If you’re a family wondering if your kids will enjoy this resort, I feel confident that they would. If you’re a vacationing couple wondering if your romantic getaway will be impacted by rowdy kids, I can say for certain that it will not.
My wife summed it up: “Everything is just effortless here.”
Given that this is my third stay at this resort over the past six years, I’m familiar enough with the property to know that the outstanding service is not a fluke. You don’t actually see them doing it, but there are staffers who quietly walk the grounds picking up fallen leaves. You won’t find a single bird dropping on any of the customer walkways. If a muffin tumbles off of a rack at breakfast, any resulting crumbs are swept up immediately. What’s most impressive to me, though, is the nonchalant manner in which its employees accomplish it. They make it look easy.