If something a little more exotic is on your radar for your next family vacation, Tahiti should be at the top of your list! With low-cost, direct flights on French Bee available from SFO, it’s an easy getaway to another world. You won’t have the crowds of other island destinations and the kids will love learning some Tahitian and French phrases while you are on your tropical family vacation. Read on for the full scoop!
Have the Pool to Yourself
The island of Tahiti receives about as many visitors in a year as the Hawaiian islands receive in one weekend. So you can expect far fewer crowds and in general, a much less developed or touristy experience when you visit. This is especially evident when you head to the pool at your Tahitian hotel to find that you don't have to stake out a lounge chair before breakfast or jockey for a table at lunch.
One of our favorite Tahitian pool experiences is at the Manava Suite Resort Hotel. Just 15 minutes from the Papeete Airport, this hotel is a great option for families. Its massive pool has waterfalls, an infinity edge, a swim-up bar and gorgeous sunset views of the neighboring island of Moorea. In addition, you can swim and snorkel in the hotel's private lagoon as well as rent kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, jet skis and other water toys to venture out farther.
The hotel's suites are perfectly suited for families and we especially liked the two-bedroom duplex suite. It had two bedrooms and two bathrooms upstairs and a pull-out couch and kitchen downstairs. The ability to purchase your own groceries will help you significantly cut down on food expenses during your visit. Bonus: it's right next door to an awesome food truck location (read more below).
Taste the Local Flavors from a Food Truck
Have you ever noticed that you can get the best tips from your cab driver on your drive from the airport? Ask about where to find the local food trucks and you'll be in for a feast of tastes, sights and smells. You can find these in downtown Papeete and also near the Manava Suite Resort Hotel (turn left out of the hotel and walk a short distance along the road to find the gathering on the side of the street along the water).
Expect to find trucks selling poisson cru (fresh fish served with coconut milk and vegetables, very similar to poke), steak fries, pizza, chow mein and other local specialties in massive portions. A bowl of chow mein that's enough to serve four adults will run you around $12, a drastic savings from resort restaurant prices. For kids, find a truck selling crepes and they'll be in heaven. From classic combos like ham and cheese to sweet options like Nutella and banana, the options are endless.
Stay at a Private Island Resort
Tahiti is the largest island in French Polynesia and where you will fly into when you head there from the U.S. Other popular islands like Moorea and Bora Bora can be reached by ferry or flights on Air Tahiti.
For the ultimate private island experience, head to Le Taha'a Resort and Spa. To get there, fly from Tahiti to the island of Raiatea (around $300/adult, less for kids 12 and under) where the resort will pick you up in a boat to take you to your island paradise. In addition to traditional overwater suites (which can sleep a couple plus one child), Le Taha'a offers massive beach villas to accommodate families. These villas are right on the beach and have a private plunge pool, air conditioning, outdoor shower and tub, free WiFi and a huge bathroom. The Royal Beach Villa has even more space with a second separate bedroom and bathroom that would be great for grandparents.
Resort features include the best breakfast buffet you'll ever have (no joking), a swimming pool, tennis court and spa. Kids 12 and under eat free when ordering off the kids menu at all the on-site restaurants. Just down the beach from the pool you can access the coral garden where you can snorkel using equipment provided by the resort. Because the resort like most of French Polynesia is surrounded by coral reefs, you'll have very minimal waves and shallow water that's perfect for kids to wade in. Insider tip: Ask the concierge to set up a treasure hunt for the kids!
Vanilla and Pearls and Views
The island of Taha'a is the place to go if you'd like to learn about Tahiti's history selling pearls and vanilla beans. Terainui Tours can give you the full experience as you tour the island's pearl farms to see for yourself how the most beautiful pearls are encouraged to grow in the waters just off shore. Then head to a nearby vanilla farm to learn how it takes hand pollination and a number of years of care to get the delicious vanilla beans that are then dried in the sun.
If you're lucky, your tour guide will take you to a local home up in the hills with gorgeous views of the valley below. On a recent tour, we had the pleasure of tasting local delicacies like poisson cru, breadfruit and coconut water. Experiences like this where you get to meet local people will give you a great feel for the warm culture of Tahiti.
Black Sand Is Magic
For a beach of a different sort, head to the Tahiti Pearl Beach Resort on the island of Tahiti to enjoy the black sand of Matavai Bay. Located just a 15-minute drive from downtown Papeete, you'll love the relaxed tranquility that this hotel offers. Rooms include outdoor lanai balconies with water views and there are suites for families who need more room.
The hotel's massive pool is just steps from the black sand beach—look closely when the sun shines just right to see the golden sparkles in the sand. Dine in the outdoor courtyard or order a pizza to have delivered to your lounge chair while you watch the kids swim.
Don't pass up a chance to explore the hotel's rain forest courtyard in the lobby where the kids just might spot some massive snails or a gecko climbing a palm tree!
Learn About a New Culture
Take a break from the beach and spend some time touring Tahiti to learn a little bit about the culture of French Polynesia. You can take a Safari 4x4 to the Papenoo Valley to see waterfalls or a more leisurely Circle Island Tour to see some of the historical hot spots. Stops include landmarks such as Point Venus, Faaruumai Waterfall, Taputapuatea Marae and Maraa Fern Grotto. Kids will especially love visiting the Arahoho Blowhole and feeling the spray of the ocean!
Tahiti VIP Tours is a high-quality operator with vans that are large enough for groups and very informative guides. They are available for private tours and specialty services like helping you source an authentic ukulele to take home with you.
Waterfalls for Days
Don't miss out on visiting one or more of Tahiti's waterfalls while you are there. Book a tour that will take you on a half-day hike to some of the more majestic beauties or visit one that's right off the road for an easier option. We particularly loved the Faarumai Waterfalls as they were a quick five-minute walk from the parking lot and very impressive in height. They flow year round although they are more impressive in the rainy season.
Getting There with Ease—French Bee
An airline that understands what it's like to travel with kids is key to getting off on the right start with your Tahitian adventure. French Bee offers direct flights from SFO that will get you there in around eight hours and the price can't be beat. From $330/person one way to Tahiti, you can spend your vacation money on the vacation itself and not the flight.
Kids will love the free in-flight entertainment where they can play games or watch movies like Home Alone to pass the time in the air. They will also get a kick out of the external cameras where you can see what it's like for the pilots to land the plane. Bulkhead rows with bassinets are available for those travelling with little ones. Meals, baggage and drinks are extra so plan ahead and save yourself some money by packing your own snacks. Families are able to board early and the 3-4-3 seating arrangement means that you can all sit together once on board.
Tips for Tahiti Travel
- Tahiti uses the French Polynesian Franc (CFP). The Papeete airport has ATMs and a currency exchange to get you hooked up when you arrive.
- If your hotel doesn't have WiFi or you will be traveling around the islands, you might want to consider renting a pocket router from Tahiti WiFi. You can pick it up from the Papeete airport and return it when you fly out.
- Bring bug spray and reef-safe sunscreen. Mosquitoes are present in the inner part of Tahiti and on many of the other islands so protect your family with a good bug spray. You'll also want to make sure any sunscreen you bring along will not damage the reefs so look for ones that say "reef safe" or "ocean safe."
- You'll need a power adapter for your electronics. We like this one as it packs up small and doesn't have parts you can lose.
Gear to Get You Through the Long Flight
Anyone who has planned an international trip with kids knows that bringing the right gear with you is key. Below are some of our favorites for long-haul flights to make it smooth flying for everyone.
- Pack it up: When flying internationally you often have limitations on bag weight that you have to abide by. We like the Traveler's Choice suitcase (sold at Costco) as it is the perfect size for carry on but roomy enough to contain your gear for a week. It has an external port so you can charge your electronics from a battery you store inside (sold separately).
- The backpack you need: The Urban21 Backpackfrom Keysmart is teched-out and ultra organized, perfect for your big trip. With a padded laptop pocket and a hardshell compartment for your sunglasses, everything can stay safe. Extra cool: RFID-blocking pockets keep the bad guys away from your information.
- Water bottle that disappears: The Hydaway is our favorite water bottle for on the go because it collapses into itself and takes up almost no space at all in your carry-on. Upgrade to the spout lid for the kids to keep spills to a minimum and pick cool colors for each member of the family.
- Long-lasting Bluetooth headphones: We love these Edifier Over-Ear Headphones because they will literally last your whole vacation without having to be recharged. They have 95 hours of active battery life, are super comfortable for little ears and fold up small for packing ease.
- Snacks that travel: Packing snacks when you are traveling with kids is pretty much a requirement. We love to bring Pro Toasty's along as they are super packable, high protein and the chocolate/almond butter flavor is particularly kid friendly. For little ones, the Snack Catcher is a must for travel. Clip it to them with a pacifier clip and fill with Mom's Best Cereal for on-the-go snacking.
- Power up: When your whole crew brings a phone, iPad or Kindle along with them on your vacation, you'll want to make sure everyone stays charged. We particularly love the HubMax for travel because it has built-in cables and wall prongs for easy re-charging. Charging your Qi-enabled smartphone is easy with the Unplugged 10K (and it also has USB ports to charge multiple devices at the same time).
—photos and story by Kate Loweth
Editor’s note: This trip was paid for by French Bee, Le Taha’a, Tahiti Pearl, Manava Suite and Tahiti Tourisme but all opinions expressed here belong to the author.