You’re going to be hard pressed to come up with a more spectacular tropical incentive split-program than Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa and Hilton Bora Bora Nui Resort & Spa. First, a quick geography lesson: Tahiti is both the name of the country in French Polynesia and the major hub island with the gateway airport. Moorea lies just off of the island of Tahiti, about a 15-minute flight away. Mythical Bora Bora, meanwhile, is another 45 minutes heading west. Both resorts are completely secluded without eyesite of another hotel, and both will make your clients laugh uncontrollably the minute they’re alone in their overwater villas. They are that spectacular.
Flights from LAX aboard Air Tahiti Nui are eight hours. You might be surprised to learn Tahiti is actually farther east than Hawaii. We were.
This is Part 1 of our 2-part Hilton Resorts Tahiti review. For Part 2, visit: Heaven 2.0: Hilton Bora Bora Nui Resort & Spa.
As you walk out onto the tarmac at Tahiti Faa’a International Airport, the craggy volcanic outline of Moorea lies on the horizon portending Polynesian pleasures stirring deep in your heart and soul. Yes, that sounds ridiculously syrupy but that’s what Tahiti does to you. Upon landing, you drive along the one island road circumnavigating the island for 15 minutes to the deeply lush landscape at the 104-bungalow Hilton Moorea.
Couples are mingling in the lobby at the tour desks planning their daily adventure. Someone wraps a thin handmade necklace around your neck. From there, you walk over a wooden bridge above a koi pond surrounded by thick ferns, tall palm and the fragrant local tiara flowers—Tahitian gardenia.
It is then when you come face to face with the overwater bungalows suspended above the transparent sea. It is quiet. People speak in hushed tones close to each other, hypnotized by the scenery. Everyone is touching, and the water is freakishly beautiful.
“It seems like time has stopped,” says GM, Olivier Larcher.”In Moorea, you wake up with the sun and go to bed very early. You’re very in tune with the natural rhythms and connected to the environment.”
Welcome to Eden.
Larcher says about 60% of the clientele is U.S., and corporate incentive groups typically range from 40-50 pax. In 2010, the resort completed a $15 million renovation, and it was ranked the #1 romantic hotel in the world by Tripadvisor readers.
Upon entering my bungalow, I walk around the room and remove every brochure and anything else unattached and put it in a drawer. The sliding doors open up to a large unpainted wood terrace with a second smaller perch just above the water. I can’t take my eyes off the water. The big bathrooms are fun with stone tile floors/walls and open showers with a window looking out into the lagoon. I’m not sure I’ve been anywhere where I’ve felt so connected to the sea.
There’s another window in the wood floor where you can see the fish flitting about, and a small desk with WiFi. Surprisingly, I was able to get a lot of work accomplished here. You feel centered here, focused, because there isn’t any other population, traffic or noise pollution of any kind around the resort.
THINGS TO DO
Activities throughout Tahiti are rare because no one wants to leave the property. You won’t see fleets of sportfishing boats or booze catamaran cruises. Larcher explains that some groups will go out on a private launch to a private islet with full permanent facilities for lunch and stingray feeding. Capacity is 250. Groups up to 20 can do a quad tour, or you can book a private island tour to visit little local shops and restaurants. Tours also visit the incredibly dramatic bay where Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins mixed it up during the 1984 filming of Mutiny on the Bounty.
“It’s very much isolated here,” says Larcher. “There’s not a lot of activities, it’s really a place to kill a book in a couple days and share some undisturbed time with those people important to you.”
There’s a small spa using black pearl ingredients and a meeting room with glass windows right on the beach for 100 pax theater-style. The beach is brilliant. Soft white sand empties into clear water with a sandy bottom, and it’s not uncommon for some people to swim to their bungalow.
There are also a series of bungalows on land, and they’re very pretty, but you want to be on the water.
FINE DINING + FAB BARS
With two restaurants, planners can buyout one of them during the day or evening. The fine dining Arii Vahine restaurant is located in a breezy second floor building with a wraparound terrace overlooking the beach. Of the five resorts and one cruise ship during my week-long tour through the Tahitian Islands, this was the best meal. The appetizer: Seared prawns with a trio of pear, melon and pumpkin compote topped with organic oil. The main event: Pan-seared scallops and shrimp served with porcini mushrooms, garlic and truffle oil.
Arii Vahine seats 150 and it opens up to the relaxed Eimeo Lounge with a big rectangular wood bar and terrace for pre-dinner cocktails for 80 people.
Down on the beach by the pool, the Rotui Bar & Grill serves casual bistro fare, excelling in fresh island fruit and veggies. And this is fun. Located midway down one of the wood piers rimmed with bungalows, the small Toatea Bar has to be one of the world’s greatest places for conversation after the moon comes up and the stars litter the sky.
I was only here one night but you only need to be here one minute to grasp the selling points of coming this far: The absolute perfection of the natural environment and the bungalow’s fragile existence within it. To help encourage coral growth, the BIOROCK project utilizes electro-stimulation to enhance polyp growth and strengthen the organism’s resistance to human impact. Guests are encouraged to pay a nominal, voluntary nightly fee to support the ongoing project.
MOOREA OR BORA BORA?
Ah, the rub. Everyone knows Bora Bora and its iconic status as one of the world’s most dramatic landscapes. A split program is the best of both worlds. According to Larcher, Bora Bora is decidedly more expensive than Moorea. Plus, Moorea has a much more authentic Polynesian flavor for a variety of reasons. It’s closer to the main island; the hotel is located directly on the island where the locals live, versus on an atoll like all of the luxury resorts in Bora Bora; and Moorea is less touristy. If you want to take a cab to the local market, or visit one of the local, friendly and safe bars and restaurants in the main town of Paopao, it’s quick and easy to do so.
I did participate in a scheduled island tour, but I wouldn’t recommend it because it was long and bumpy and some of the stops were not too inspiring. Planners should work with the staff to create a customized tour to see a few of the harbors and pearl shops, but keep it simple.
Of the five properties I visited for one night each, this was the most sublimely relaxing, the quietest, the most well laid out, and it felt the newest. Dinner towered over everywhere else in terms of quality and setting, and the service was deft and friendly. Also, Hilton Moorea caters to the largest percentage of U.S. visitors of the hotels I explored.
In terms of service, it couldn’t be more polished for a resort of this style, without being obsequious. Authentic and gracious, Francine behind the front desk was surprised when I showed up on time for my tour. She insisted I slow down and smell the tiare.