Gateway to French Polynesia: InterContinental Tahiti Resort and Spa
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French Polynesia has recently become much more accessible to US-based travelers, thanks to new flights from San Francisco on both French Bee and United. We figured now's as good a time as any to see what all the fuss is about, so I joined (and reviewed) the very first United nonstop to Papeete on the island of Tahiti, which got me to the airport a bit after 7pm.
Unfortunately, the latest flights I'd seen to Bora Bora (BOB) departed Papeete (PPT) around 6pm, and even then they didn't operate every day, and I needed to give myself an hour or two to connect from the international gates to a domestic flight. For many travelers headed directly to Polynesia's most famous island, an overnight stay on Tahiti is unavoidable. In my case, I made my way to the InterContinental, about a mile from the airport.
There happened to be award availability on the night I needed, so I booked a base room for 50,000 points per night. TPG values IHG points at 0.6 cents each, effectively making the cost of this one-night stay $300. From time to time, IHG sells points at 0.5 cents apiece, though, so we could recoup those 50k points for $250 during a sale.
I also booked a second night just before my French Bee flight home, given the early departure from PPT. Award nights weren't available, though I found the AAA rate of $266 to be reasonable for French Polynesia. Taxes and fees added another $44 to that, but $310 wasn't a terrible rate, considering how convenient the hotel was for an overnight stay in Tahiti.
I am an IHG Platinum member, thanks to the IHG Rewards Premier Credit Card, so, in total, the one-night stay earned me just over 4,000 points, worth $24, based on TPG's valuations. I also earned 930 points, worth another $18.60, by paying with my Chase Sapphire Reserve card.
While it felt more remote than I expected, given its proximity to the airport, the InterContinental was less than a mile from the start of the runway at Fa'a'ā International Airport, the main gateway to Polynesia.
In fact, since I was out of cash, I even decided to walk, and it took just over 20 minutes, compared to five minutes in a $14 taxi. It was hardly a scenic journey, but there were sidewalks almost the entire way, so I wouldn't hesitate to walk again.
Not surprisingly, the InterContinental serves as a crew hotel for many airlines that are based outside of Tahiti. A group of United flight attendants was checking out just as I arrived around 9pm.
After a 10-minute wait, it was my turn to check in. The agent recognized my IHG Platinum status and offered me a voucher worth 50% off the breakfast buffet, bringing the cost down to about $20, including taxes and fees.
From there, I walked down an open-air corridor and on to my room. (Note: I snapped this picture in daylight the next morning.)
While they weren't nearly as nice as some of the options I saw in Bora Bora, the InterContinental Tahiti did offer a variety of overwater bungalows. There were a handful under construction at the far end of the resort — these appeared to be categorized as an "Overwater Bungalow Lagoon," with rates starting at $687.
There are overwater options available now, though, including the Overwater Bungalow Motu on the main hotel "lagoonarium" and priced starting at $736.
I, however, got exactly the room type I booked, a garden-view superior room.
It was a run-of-the-mill hotel room. With the curtains closed, it definitely didn't feel like I was staying anywhere special.
The room was comfortable and appeared to have been recently renovated, though it was far smaller than the accommodations I had on the rest of the trip, at just over 300 square feet.
The bathroom was actually a bit too small to snap a clear picture, so this shower shot will have to do. Soap, shampoo and conditioner were mounted on the wall — if that doesn't scream "midrange hotel," I don't know what does.
I did receive a nice welcome amenity of macarons, though — an appropriate gift for a hotel in French Polynesia.
There wasn't a minibar to speak of, but there was a miniature refrigerator, plus two complimentary water bottles in the bathroom.
The resort spanned more than 60 acres, though only a portion of that was near the water.
I had a couple of hours to kill before my early-afternoon flight to Bora Bora, which I spent reading at the Lotus Pool, away from the main resort area.
The Lotus Pool and attached restaurant never got too busy. There were two couples relaxing there at one point, but there was plenty of room for everyone to have privacy.
There was also a hot tub, which became a bit more popular as the morning went on.
There was also a main lagoon area, consisting of the Tiare restaurant, where breakfast was served, plus a swimming pool and a fish-filled saltwater lagoon.
I even managed to spot some fish in the lagoon, though they weren't nearly as spectacular as the fish I saw swimming around the resorts in Bora Bora.
I also spent time in the 24-hour gym, next to the Deep Nature spa.
The gym was fairly crowded before breakfast, so get there early if you're hoping to work out.
There was free Wi-Fi, though connectivity was hit or miss throughout the resort, and at times the speeds were infuriatingly slow. Basic access was free, or you could upgrade to a premium plan for $19, which I decided against, given my short stay.
Food and Beverage
Since you'll probably aim to spend most of your time in French Polynesia on another island, you'll likely only be around for breakfast, if any meal at all.
I made it to breakfast at Tiare on the first stay.
I happened to be eating on Halloween, so much of the buffet was dressed up for the occasion.
There were tons of fake spiderwebs and even plastic spiders right next to the food — it was certainly odd to be scooping fruit salad onto my plate with a couple of spiders looking on.
All I really wanted was some poisson cru, the tuna marinated in coconut milk that you'll see all over Polynesia. The InterContinental had a small placard for it, but there wasn't any on the buffet, and the staff didn't bring any out when I asked about it.
While the InterContinental is beautiful for a city hotel located a mile from an international airport, it should under no circumstances be your final destination — it'd be like flying halfway around the world to visit the United States and never leaving Times Square.
That said, it's perhaps your best option for an overnight stay in Tahiti, and might even be worth a two-day stay on longer trips. The staff is friendly, the scenery is fantastic and it's certainly possible to have a leisurely day with a cocktail by the pool. Just please do yourself a favor and venture beyond Papeete, even if that only means a cheap ferry across to Moorea. It's worth the effort to get out and explore this absolutely incredible part of the world.