You Get What You Pay For: Intercontinental Bora Bora Le Moana
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I've always wondered what sets Bora Bora's two InterContinental resorts apart. Le Moana, consistently the cheaper of the two, can be booked for under $500 on some dates. The Thalasso, on the other hand, commands rates of $850 and up. Both are clearly in prime locations on Bora Bora, so what gives? I set off on a two-night journey to find out.
While paid rates can easily exceed $600 per night, before taxes and fees, we were able to book the first night using a certificate from the IHG Rewards Premier Credit Card — (as of May 1, 2019, free-night certificates are capped at a redemption value of 40,000 points, so they're no longer valid at this resort.)
With only one certificate to burn, we redeemed 70,000 points for the second night, worth $420, according to TPG's most recent valuations.
The free-night certificate represented an even greater value, but it's hard to beat being able to book a roomy bungalow in Bora Bora for just $420 worth of points.
Though Thalasso is on a somewhat remote narrow island, Le Moana was on the main island of Bora Bora, about five miles south of Viatape.
The area's typically very quiet, but my stay just happened to coincide with Hawaiki Nui Va'a, an annual canoe competition that wraps up just feet from the resort on the popular, public Matira Beach.
Otherwise, there was not much nearby: a few houses and apparently a bunch of dogs, based on the barking I could hear quite clearly from my beach bungalow at night.
Many tourists begin their journey at the airport, where you can catch a boat transfer directly to the hotel for about $68 per person each way. It's far more expensive than taking Air Tahiti's free boat to Vaitape and catching a $20 cab, but you'll definitely save time and effort by arranging a transfer through the hotel.
Interestingly, my ride wasn't nonstop — 20 minutes after leaving the airport, we pulled up to the InterContinental Thalasso, where an employee walked out to the boat to greet the two guests leaving my shuttle. We then rode on for another 10 minutes before reaching Le Moana.
I was expecting a similar greeting, but there wasn't anyone on the dock at all. The skipper walked over to a phone for a chat with reception, then instructed me to walk myself to the bar area. In the rain. Without an umbrella.
It was hardly the picturesque welcome I'd expected.
After making my own way from the dock, I came upon a large room filled with Western tourists. Since it was raining outside, some were lounging around, with others playing pool, checking out the bar or eating a leisurely lunch. It appeared to be one of the resort's only covered hangouts, and more closely resembled a common area at a Southeast Asian hostel than the main dining area of a popular Bora Bora resort.
I was directed to a table and promptly offered a nonalcoholic welcome drink. Things began to look up.
After a lengthy check-in process, I decided to familiarize myself with the resort.
The vast majority of guests stayed in overwater bungalows, which started around $550 per night — $100 or more above the price of a beach bungalow.
Award nights booked into the beach bungalows, though, so that's what I got.
The beach bungalow design and layout seemed to be quite similar to its overwater counterpart — both measured about 560 square feet and offered separate bedrooms and living rooms.
Though the bungalow felt spacious, it was also quite dated. A reasonable investment could go a long way to approving the aesthetic — the two flat-screen TVs were absolutely ancient, for example.
There was a convertible sofa bed in the living room and a king bed in the bedroom area. You could separate the two with a sliding door.
The bathroom was spacious and featured a standalone tub, an open shower and side-by-side sinks.
There weren't many bathroom amenities to speak of. Shower gel, shampoo and conditioner were mounted (and locked) in the shower, which, while environmentally friendly, felt exceptionally cheap.
There were also cheap disposable slippers, along with two rain ponchos. You'd probably get some use out of those, given that this part of the island seemed to be especially susceptible to rain.
Overall, I was happier with a beach bungalow than I feel like I would have been over water. The water around the resort was especially rough during most of my stay, ruling out snorkeling and other sports. And part of the fun of a Bora Bora vacation is having a great view of the overwater bungalows, which you certainly got from the beach.
I also felt like the beach bungalows were a bit more private — lounge chairs aside.
Now this is one area where Le Moana fell far short. The amenities were incredibly limited — the "resort" didn't even have a gym!
There was a beach, of course, along with a hammock. I didn't get to use either, since it was too rainy and windy during my stay.
There was also a small pool overlooking the beach and water bungalows, but I didn't see anyone using it.
Basic Wi-Fi was free, though speeds were quite sluggish, as seems to be the norm in French Polynesia. You could upgrade to a speedier plan for $20.
The highlight of any stay at Le Moana is actually leaving the property to visit InterContinental's sister property, Thalasso.
Shuttle boats were available throughout the day and cost about $25 round-trip for Le Moana guests. Guests staying at Thalasso could go back and forth for free during the day, though, with a fee only applying in the evening.
I was able to visit Thalasso for free by asking to use the gym — since Le Moana didn't have a fitness center of its own, the hotel provided transportation to its sister resort. Technically, you were required to take the very next shuttle back, but that didn't seem to be enforced, so I ended up making a day of my free trip across the lagoon.
The price premium was immediately clear: Thalasso was a far superior resort in every way. Even the weather was better, with fewer clouds and less wind throughout the day.
There were abundant places to lounge at the beach, by the pool and throughout the resort, with unbeatable views all around.
Nonmotorized water sports were included, including kayaking along the overwater bungalows.
Thalasso also had a spa, which is where I found the gym, along with showers available for day guests.
The gym was almost entirely empty. Turns out honeymooners don't spend much time working out.
Some of the equipment was in terrible condition, though. The elliptical machine was entirely broken, as was one of the two stationary bikes. The water dispenser was empty as well. Attention to detail doesn't seem to be the spa's strong suit.
I barely needed it, since I wasn't able to get much of a workout, but I had no problem accessing the private showers, located just off the spa at Thalasso.
Next, I decided to check out the hotel's breakfast, which the hostess confirmed was free for Le Moana guests, too. Score!
Though it wasn't the largest buffet spread I've seen at a resort, the selection was fairly diverse and high-quality.
There was also a fun Polynesian area, with a selection of local treats.
My favorite — by far — was the poisson cru, a Polynesian speciality of fresh tuna marinated in coconut milk and served with fresh sliced veggies. Delicious!
I paired my tuna with sliced steak, green beans and fresh-squeezed carrot juice, along with a pot of coffee. Everything was quite tasty.
Later in my stay, I decided to order ice cream by the pool — at roughly $11 per cup, it was a pricey treat, but at least the toppings came free.
I highly recommend checking out the stingray feeding, which took place by the main beach around 2pm each day. The stingrays magically appeared just a few minutes before 2pm — they clearly knew it was almost time for their daily show.
After a quick toot on a conch horn, one of the hotel staffers began the feeding — quite a thrill for the stingrays and Thalasso guests alike.
Food and Beverage
As much as I loved Thalasso, it made sense to spend most of my time at Le Moana, since that's where I was sleeping both nights. I ordered room service on the first rainy night. After tax and a service charge, my poisson cru appetizer ($24) and tuna main course ($34) came to nearly $70. Hardly a bargain for fresh local fish, but not terrible for Bora Bora.
The food was delicious and was delivered promptly, just 20 minutes after I placed an order.
On my final (also rainy) day, I decided to stop by the buffet after confirming that it was included with my room.
Remember that amazing tuna spread from Thalasso? Well here's what the equivalent looked like at Le Moana's buffet.
Just a few cups of poisson cru. While I went back for seconds (and thirds) at Thalasso, I barely managed to eat a few pieces at Le Moana.
The selection also included yogurt, pastries and cold cuts, along with eggs, potatoes and a few other hot items from the buffet.
There were also freshly prepared crepes and waffles on a stick.
Despite my server confirming that the breakfast was included and me signing a check for zero dollars, the hotel attempted to charge me an obscene $45 for the meal upon checkout. Even worse, they refused to remove it from my bill, even after confirming that the server told me it was included.
The food-and-beverage manager was quite nasty throughout the exchange, and only after speaking with the general manager was I able to get the charge reversed. Even she refused to budge at first, stating that "95% of rooms include breakfast" in an attempt to explain the mix-up. Only after I refused to leave the check-in desk until it was corrected did she finally take breakfast off the bill. A wildly different experience than I had at Thalasso, where breakfast was indeed free, exactly as promised.
Le Moana's restaurant really didn't appeal to me, so I decided to eat my second dinner at a local spot just past Vaitape. Many restaurants in Bora Bora will cover round-trip transportation when you come for a meal, an especially appealing deal when you're traveling alone.
I settled on the Bora Bora Yacht Club, which offered spectacular sunset views even on a cloudy day. The food and drinks were a bit pricey ($7 for a local beer, $32 for a mahi mahi filet), but it ended up being a pretty good deal after factoring in the free round-trip taxi ride from my resort.
While I really didn't love the InterContinental Le Moana, it's a reasonable option if you're hoping to visit Bora Bora on points or using a free night from the IHG Rewards Premier Credit Card. The shuttle to Thalasso really made the hotel worth considering, though — it's a decent deal, even if you have to pay $25 round-trip, giving you an opportunity to experience the higher-end side of Bora Bora at a fraction of the price.
Especially disappointing at Le Moana were my interactions with some of the staff, particularly when there was an opportunity for the hotel to part me from my money. The concierge insisted that my only option for transferring to the St. Regis was to pay $150 for a hotel boat, provided by Le Moana, or $40 for a taxi connecting to a $50 boat. The St. Regis revealed to me via email that the $50 boat was actually free, though, and that $40 taxi actually turned out to only cost me $20 (though that depended on who you asked).
Similarly, the hotel made every attempt possible to upsell me to a "free" Thalasso boat. The concierge pushed a pricey massage or dinner at the resort's most expensive restaurant in order to catch a free boat — $25 is a reasonable fee for the transfer, but it's tacky to charge Le Moana guests when those taking the boat in the other direction never have to pay during the day.