going > virgin atlantic premium economy on the dreamliner

How excited was I to finally take a ride on the Dreamliner? SO EXCITED. I had heard so many good things so when I found out that a Dreamliner route made sense for a recent business trip, I was all over it.

First up, Virgin Atlantic’s premium economy is actually premium (regardless of airplane type). Plenty of extra space (not just legroom, mind you, but wider seats due to a different configuration), real plates and cutlery (no plastic cups to be seen), and a bigger entertainment system. On the Dreamliner – some of the newest of VA’s fleet – the experience is amaaaaaaazing.

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Look how big those screens are! The controls can pop out and both the big and little screens are touchscreens. There is plenty of room in the seat pockets and you also get a nice amenity pack (socks, pen, toothbrush/paste, eye mask, etc) in a felted wool bag.

I couldn’t get a good shot of it but there is also a very sturdy adjustable footrest – you can kinda see it near the bottom of the shot above. This + laying the seat back all the way was a very comfy combination.

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Real plates! Real glasses!

They ran out of the chicken that I wanted – the flight attendant apologized profusely, said he’d tell customer service so I could get a voucher, AND offered me the chicken meal in economy as extra – but the veggie ricotta (while not particularly beautiful) was plenty tasty.

I ate absolutely everything in front of me – the warmed bread, the green salad, the chocolate cake.

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I almost jacked the salt and pepper shakers but didn’t know where to stash them so they didn’t salt and pepper all of my stuff. How cute are these?

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Breakfast was pretty standard for plane fare but just a wee bit nicer than usual economy – blueberry muffin, roasted tomato and mushroom, potatoes, and scrambled egg. Apologies for the purple tint courtesy of Virgin’s mood lighting.

I really think this is the best of both worlds – civilized travel that doesn’t completely break the bank. If you can find one of the new planes in the fleet the experience is really lovely.

Someone told me they ‘felt better’ after flying in a Dreamliner. I can vouch for this now. On my return flight home I took an Airbus on the LHR to SFO leg. After 10 hours I was totally swollen from the knees down. My brother said my feet looked like ‘zoomed in baby feet’. I had none of this on the Dreamliner LAX to LHR leg. Through some magic the cabin air quality is a little less stress on the body and the effect is noticeable.

Dear every airline that flies from SFO, Please fly more Dreamliners.

Dear Virgin Atlantic, I love your premium economy SO MUCH.

going > santiago, chile

I’ve been telling friends that this trip has one of my favorite itineraries because you get a little bit of everything – relaxing fancy beach time, cultural adventure time, and city exploring time. Here’s how we wrapped up the itinerary of the year.

#1: Where we stayed: Hotel Ismael 312

Ugh, I forgot to take pics of our hotel but this is a very cute boutique hotel in the very hipstery Lastarria neighborhood. I say hipstery as a good thing, btw. Sara and I are from the land of hipsters so we were quite comforted to be back in sorta familiar surroundings.

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#2: What we ate: Restaurante Nolita (Trip Advisor reviews)

We were craving Italian food and this came recommended by the front desk at the hotel. It was grrrrreat. Enormous fresh salads, soft gnochhi in a hearty bolognese, and creamy seafood risotto. I also ate the crusty bread with no regard for Sara’s gluten intolerance. Sorry, Sara.

We also had meals at Tambo (TA reviews) which had very hearty Peruvian food (I had a shrimp stew/soup which was great on a chilly night), Casa Lastarria (finally! the famous Chilean dish pastel de choco), and Cafe del Opera (great for a quick bite).

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#3: Museums are closed on Mondays! We only visited one: Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino

Spent some time roaming the exhibits here – really interesting stuff and would recommend it to anyone visiting.

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#4: Where your feet take you: Plaza de Armas

This was a bit of a walk from our hotel but easy enough if you’re taking in the sights. It’s bustling with people, street performers, and the ubiquitous Chilean street dogs (really the nicest strays I’ve ever come across).

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#5: On our last morning: Castilo de Hidalgo

This is atop the Cerro Sta Lucia with little gardens and other nooks and crannies plus a view of Santiago.

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#6 Santiago streets

Couldn’t help but take some shots of the street art. It’s really appealing to me for some reason.

Other friends who had visited Santiago weren’t huge fans but I think it had its own charms. I think it highly depends on the area your hotel is in. While Lastarria and Bellas Artes were very walkable we did get a glimpse of the rougher parts of the city on our way out of Santiago on our wine tour.

We booked flights on United (ugh) back to the good ol’ USofA. It took us through Houston (10 hours), onward to LA (4 hours), and then home to SF (1 hour). We were on business for the 10 hour leg which we paid for in United miles. Note that the business class from SCL to IAH was just meh. The LAN Chile business leg from PPT to IPC was much nicer.

going > casablanca valley wine tour

Getting to Santiago was bittersweet. On the one hand, it was sad to leave the moai not knowing when you’d be able to visit them again. On the other hand, there’s something comforting about being reconnected to the rest of the world and not feeling so remote.

After a day of roaming our very cute neighborhood in Santiago we were picked up early on our second day to head off on our Casablanca Valley wine tour.

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chilly May morning in Casablanca

The wine tour runs USD195 and is run by Uncorked Wine Tours. Casablanca Valley is about an hour outside of Santiago and you’ll hit 3 wineries and get a four course lunch (with wine pairings, naturally) plus pick up at your hotel for the fee. We had originally booked a Colchagua Valley Tour but the tour operators recommended we switch. It was a holiday weekend in Santiago and they expected some very bad traffic getting back from Colchagua (in the realm of 4 hours which post-drinking all day sounded like a bad idea).

Our first stop ended up being my favorite, Bodegas RE.

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it’s the end of the season so the leaves are pretty colors and grapes on the vine are few and far between

Bodegas RE was founded by the man who first started growing wine grapes in this valley. The tour takes you to rooms that show their balsamico experiments, fruit liquor fermentation, and, of course, wine production.

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wall o’ fruit liquor

Bodegas RE has some larger production wines but also makes really small batches in these old school clay pots.

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check out the straw covered wall of their sustainably built cellar

The second winery was Kingston Family Vineyards were we tasted a few award winning reds and were given the chance to taste the wine in its very early fermentation stage. Fun fact about Kingston: it’s owned (founded?) by a California couple.

After Kingston we headed to House – Casa del Vino which is a wine shop/restaurant/vineyard. This is where we enjoyed our four course meal outside on their patio. They are very accommodating so let them know if you have food allergies.

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sorry it took so long to get a picture of some wine up in here…

I was pacing myself pretty aggressively. I had that awful cold brewing and can’t hold my wine anyway so was asking for small pours after our first stop.

This tour is pricey but very nice. You’ll get introduced to plenty of wines (all but Kingston had a shop so you can bring goodies home too), the tour is small (our group had only 5 people), the tour bus was nice and clean, and you get a really lovely meal too.

Uncorked Wine Tours: Semi Private Tour to Casablanca Valley

going > rapa nui part 3: misc

#1 Where we stayed

Lodging in Rapa Nui is varied but generally runs pretty pricey. We booked Pikera Uri (fun fact: that means black crab in Rapa Nui). It was cute, clean, and well located. Booking comes with airport pickup (just email to set it up) and a simple breakfast. The only place I found to book online was Booking.com.

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#2 The museum

Pikera Uri is right across the street from the P. Sebastian Englert Anthropological Museum. Worth a visit! While we were there the island was having some internal conflicts with the locals protesting the influx of migrants from mainland Chile. This resulted in us paying no entry fees – ever, to anything.

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#3 Beer

This island of 7000 has a brewery. I only got to taste the porter which was very nice. There’s also a lighter ale which I regret not being able to try.

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#4 Eats

My favorite of the few places we tried was Te Moana which is right next to the playground/park on the side of town near Tahai. A bit pricey but everything was delicious.

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#5 When to visit

We went in late May which is after the high season. The weather is chilly and wet with bursts of sun so pack appropriately! The plus side: less people = not crowded at all. The most popular time to go is February during the annual festival.

Final Thoughts: You’ll never forget this place. Totally worth the trek to get out here.

going > rapa nui part 2: the birdman

Marcus’ Birdman Tour starts with a few more moai.

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ahu akivi

There’s a legend that might explain why these face out to sea (they’re the only moai that do). I will not even attempt to retell the legend. You’ll need to book Marcus’ tour or do some Wikipedia-ing for the real story.

After a short drive and quick walk we’re in an open plain (which I failed to photograph) dotted with a few trees and the occasional crumbling stones. It started pouring again so we were running/hopping on lava rocks in this open field aiming to seek refuge at our next stop: the lava tubes.

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spelunking time!

Rapa Nui is basically volcano on top of volcano next to volcano next to another volcano (times, like, 10). Some of the ancient lava flows made these caves.

My face when he says we’re going inside. O_O

Sara’s face: 🙂

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bed o’ rocks

To the left is supposedly a bed. Of rocks. Surely the ancient peoples who used these caves as refuge could find something better than jagged lava rocks to sleep on, right?

Anyhow, we use some flashlights to make it though the largest of the caves. We spend a few minutes (or seconds bc I was scaredy cat status) taking in the darkness and silence in one of the parts. We emerge from the lava tubes in one piece and mosey on back to the car for our next stop.

We head to Puna Pau which is where most of the moai’s topknots are from (topknot picture at the end of this post). I love a good topknot as much as the next girl but what I really like about Puna Pau is the view. (Click on the image below to get the full sized panorama.)

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sara and marcus are chatting and i’m taking a million pictures #businessasusual

Now it’s time to really take your breath away because after a few other stops we end up at Rano Kau and Orongo, the center of the Birdman cult.

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my favorite from day #2

Alright time to explain the Birdman.

Sometime after the height of the moai-making and after the first visit from the Europeans began the Birdman cult. Each of the island’s chiefs would nominate a man to compete. That participant would have to make his way down the rim of Rano Kau, cross the crater, and make his way out the little lip and into the ocean.

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the thought of swimming to that island… O_O

From there he would swim to the bigger of the two islands pictured here and find an egg from a specific bird. Once he found the egg he’d yell to the spectators watching from Orongo. The chief he represented immediately shaved his head and became the Birdman, something of a spiritual leader for the island.

There’s some evidence that says this cult went on until the 1860s. To put it in perspective that was during the American Civil War. Weird to think these two things happened around the same time.

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looks a bit hobbit-y

These are the shelters that housed the spectators. There’s a direct, unobstructed view of the little islands from here. The crater is a ways behind the shelters.

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a topknot!

We ended our day at Tahai and after Marcus gave us the details of stuff we had not noticed in the 3 previous days we had walked by this place he dropped us off in town so we could do some souvenir shopping.

Like I said in my previous post, we can’t recommend Marcus enough. If you’re visiting Rapa Nui he has many, many tour types (after our 2 days with him he was prepping for a 3 day camping/horseback tour) and you won’t find a nicer or more knowledgeable guy on the island. Book him here.

going > rapa nui part 1: the moai

Back on the travel train.

After a fall from fancy that resulted in 3 hours wasted at the Tahiti airport, a flight delayed for 18 hours, and a meh hotel outside of Papeete courtesy of LAN Chile we were finally on our way to Easter Island aka Isla de Pascua aka Rapa Nui. From here on out we’re calling this place Rapa Nui because that’s what the locals call it. It’s actually the name of the place, the people, and the language – nice, right?

a print of the island hanging in our room

a print of the island hanging in our room

There is ONE flight a week from Tahiti to Rapa Nui. As of the writing of this post it’s a super early Tuesday morning flight just after midnight that takes roughly 5 hours. To catch this flight you’ll need to leave Bora Bora on Monday early evening.

We signed up for a private tour with Easter Island Traveling prior to heading on our trip. We picked the Megalith tour which runs USD160 per person for a full day. Easter Island Traveling is run by Marcus, a Swede who fell in love with a local, learned Rapa Nui, and has made a home for himself on the island.

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not what you expected, eh?

The tour starts bright and early at 9:30am (sidebar: this legit feels super early because the sun rises really late here) and our first stop is at a site where the moai have not been restored. They’re still face down in the ground and look unrecognizable to the untrained tourist eye.

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the occassional downpour was a nice touch

We did some hopping around the coastline which looks more like the surface of Mars than anything else due to the lava rocks.

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look at the profile!

Every time I show this picture to people it takes awhile for them to see the face. And then BAM you realize you’re right up next to a moai. This one is also not restored and is on its back. I like the shot with the jeep in the background – looks like a car ad.

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so awesome.

The peak of the tour is the quarry, Rano Raraku. Here is where many moai were either in the process of being made/transported or were abandoned. It’s really an amazing sight to see. I took probably a million #moaiselfies here because I have no shame.

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can you see the faint double rainbow?

We also got some rainbow action.

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my absolute favorite

My favorite stop was Ahu Tongariki with 15 moai set up at a site you can see from the quarry. They’re all a little bit different but seeing so many of them is a little bit like being starstruck.

We ended our day with a late lunch at Anakena Beach.

the view at lunch

the view at lunch

Can you see another row of moai to the right? Marcus wrapped up the day by sharing another Rapa Nui song right on the beach. Couldn’t have ended the day on a better note!

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Bonus: failed jumping shot of Marcus and I. Oops, where’s my face? He has great jumping form. The cut off face is perfect for the blog though!

Bonus fun fact about Marcus: he and his wife were on House Hunters International!

We had such a great time that we booked Marcus again for the next day and his Birdman Tour. If you’re visiting Rapa Nui, we can’t recommend him enough – super nice, knowledgeable, has great stories (personal favorite: shipwrecked Swedes), loves his family and his adopted island, and so respectful for the place and people. He’s also a big ol’ tech geek which works out a-ok for Silicon Valley types.

going > bora bora part 5: finale

Just a few more shots. 🙂

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After an overcast dinner or two we finally caught the sunset and got the bonus of seeing them set up for dinner on the little island.

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I made it my personal goal to make it out there and dragged Sara along with me (thank goodness since she’s a much better kayaker). Here’s a shot of the resort from the aforementioned little island. Just imagine me under one of those umbrellas enjoying a burger in a bathing suit (which is a weird combo, btw).

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We came at the very end of rainy season but still got a few brief showers. They were actually kind of neat to see. Here’s a big ol’ downpour on Mt Otemanu.

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FYI there’s a nice pool right off the beach. I opted for sticking to the beach but to each their own.

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Lastly, a shot of the sky on the boat that took us back to Bora Bora airport.

The super relaxation part of the trip is officially over! We’ll take a little break for some read/wear posts and then head back to the travel itinerary where the next stop is Easter Island.

going > bora bora part 4: eats

I often travel to eat and spend lots of time before the trip researching what to eat at any given place. Bora Bora was different since we knew the vast majority of time would be spent at the resort and at the mercy of their food choices.

There are 4 restaurants on the property: Arii Moana (fancy), Tere Nui (breakfast + grill), Fare Hoa Beach Bar, and Sunset Restaurant & Bar. We tried all of these except for the first which looked fancier than necessary.

Since we were there right before high season kicked off the restaurants had plenty of space. The resort, however, recommends dinner reservations for every place other than Sunset which is first come first serve. There are lots of reviews online that recommend the value of the room service which we found had slightly bigger side portions.

Enough blabbing. Where’s the food.

Our first meal was breakfast which is served buffet style at Tere Nui. We regularly gorged ourselves here since breakfast was free with our booking. Otherwise, it runs ~USD50 per person.

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smoked salmon scrambled eggs, bacon, hashed brown, sauteed veggies, coconut cake, home fries

This was a typical ‘Round 1’ of my daily breakfast marathon. It was usually followed by something sweet: pancakes, french toast, crepes, or the local donut called firi firi. To be fake-healthy I ate a bowl of fruit (pineapple, rambutan, etc) and washed it all down with some black tea. I also grabbed some pastries a few times to bring back to the room for a snack later in the day.

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burger, fries, and mango pina colada-esque drink without the alcohol

I ate this while lounging at the beach near the pool. The whole shebang will run you nearly USD60 for the burger, fries, and shake.

Here’s the view while I enjoyed this meal.

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We ended up eating at the Sunset Bar for most of our dinners. It was tasty, casual, and had great views.

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tempura shrimp, king crab roll, and sashimi

Sunset serves an Asian menu with sushi, noodles, and rice dishes. Each sushi roll runs between USD20-30. In this particular meal I had the tempura shrimp (piping hot, sweet shrimp with a crunchy cabbage salad) and the king crab roll (well balanced, very fresh with a spicy kick).

I also enjoyed a sizeable bento box with stewed pork (very rich – great with rice), teriyaki salmon (basically perfect), and steamed veggies (more fake-healthy); their chocolate lava cake (standard); and lemongrass creme brulee (could use a bit more of that caramel-y crust but otherwise very fragrant and good).

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Hinano Tahiti amber

The local beer is Hinano which FS has 3 variations of – regular, amber, and gold. My favorite of the 3 is the amber. I’m crap at describing beers (but generally prefer lighter ales and lagers) so won’t attempt it here. Suffice to say that all 3 are tasty in their own right with the Gold being the most unique with its tropical fruit undertones.

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grilled chicken baguette and french fries

Our last meal at Four Seasons was enjoyed post-spa and pre-airport shuttle at the Beach Bar. I wish I had ordered this earlier in our trip because it was very yummy – crusty baguette, grilled chicken, hearty tomatoes, crisp lettuce, tangy onion, and tomato aoili spread. The only weirdness was the dried coconut flakes which I easily picked out.

Whoa. Super long post! Sorry about that!

going > bora bora part 3: shark and ray snorkel tour

Since Bora Bora was supposed to be relaxing we had a very short list of *goals* for a given day. It looked something like this.

Day 1: Settle in. Rest from traveling.

Day 2: Practice snorkeling and book our snorkel tour.

Day 3: Snorkel tour.

Day 4: Go to Viatape. Kayak to the little island.

Day 5: Spa time then airport.

That’s it.

To give you even more context some of these things – like, kayaking – lasted maybe 45 minutes. The rest of the day had ZERO plans but were usually spent reading, laying out, walking around the resort, napping on the patio, popping into the water, or eating. Basically it was the best thing in the history of best things.

The shark and ray snorkel has got to be one of the most popular activities. It will run you ~USD160 if you book via FS. There are 3 stops: (1) a manta ray stop, (2) the coral garden, and (3) a shark stop. We had 10 people in our tour: perpetually late inconsiderate couple, Team Mexico (2 couples), 2 spinsters (that’d be us), and the nice Kiwis.

And now, courtesy of my location history, you can see the rough route of our tour which took us all around the lagoon. The cluster on the right is the resort. The top where it says Motu Mute is where the airport is.

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Do you see the bit on the left that leaves the lagoon? That’s the shark stop. The water is choppier here and a dark blue. Throw some sharks in there and it’s not for the faint of heart.

You’ll see we passed Viatape. That little drive by resulted in us nixing a visit to town the next day. Just didn’t look like very much to see.

Pro tip #1: Grab a jet ski life jacket from the resort before heading out. The orange life jackets are not comfy and they look funny.

Pro tip #2: Bring your own snorkel. C’mon you don’t know who has used those!

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Look at that glorious blue water!

I had trouble taking pictures underwater (videos worked great though) but here’s a screenshot from the video that gives you a sense of how close you get to the rays.

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And my friend Sara’s photo of the sharks (!!!).

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The takeaway here is to go on that ray and shark tour. It’s pretty amazing.

Are you sick of Bora Bora yet? We have 1 food post, 1 more resort post, and a packing post to go. 🙂

going > bora bora part 2: the bungalow

Sorry for the weird double posting. Where were we?

Ah, yes. I was being fancy.

You saw the living room already. Here’s the bedroom with access to the lounge chair side of the patio. My favorite thing were the terry cloth lounge chair covers – no need for towels!

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And the bathroom with a million (ok, 5 — 7 if you count the ones near the tub) doors.

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Other bungalow details:

  • It’s huge. More than enough for 2 people. I think you can book it for up to 3 but then someone would need to share a bed and that’s not quite in the fancy mode we’re trying to be in.
  • The bathroom consists of: 2 sinks, a separate closet for the toilet, a shower area, a giant soaking tub with huge windows and the aforementioned doors that let you keep the airy feeling of the room when they’re open but also give you privacy if you need it.
  • The living room and the bedroom have their own TVs. The living room also had a DVD player.
  • You get complementary bottled water during turn down service and there’s a healthy stash of coffee and tea in the room too.
  • The minibar is stocked with the standards but they can stock it up special for you (for a fee, of course) or you can ask them to empty it so you can stash your own goods.
  • The deck has 2 sections. One with a table and chairs that is fully shaded and the other with 2 lounge chairs and an end table that gets lots of sun until about 1pm (with some shade for your head area).
  • The deck has a lower part with an outdoor shower and a ladder right into the water.
  • There is a small window cut in the floor of the bathroom so you can peek at the water from there. I meant to take a picture with me underneath the bungalow but never got around to it. Sigh.

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Here’s a view of our pontoon. Our bungalow is the first one on the left. I’m glad we were first because the other folks had a loooong way to walk for everything. For the lazy or not-as-able you can call for a golf cart to swing by and get you anywhere in the resort.

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Up next: Bora Bora activities aka “You didn’t really just sit around for 5 days did you?”