A Vacation in Bora Bora with Kids!
Sometimes when we choose a destination or have a vacation idea, we go in knowing it will be kid-friendly – e.g. a Disney Cruise. And sometimes we book our tickets, do our homework and hope for the best. Bora Bora fell into the latter category. We wanted to go because of the iconic photos of overwater bungalows perched over turquoise lagoons, and we wanted to take the kids. It wasn’t that anything about it seemed like it wouldn’t be kid-friendly. It’s just that people don’t seem to take kids there.
It’s fairly easy to get to Bora Bora from LA. We left a birthday party in Ventura at 8pm and were in our overwater bungalow by 9:30am Bora Bora time (11:30 CA time) the next day, with most of that time spent sleeping on the plane. The single negative for younger kids is the departure time of the flights, with the only non-stops leaving around 11:30pm. Our 4-year-old fell asleep in the car on the way to the airport and didn’t wake up until we were on the plane. That meant that we (mainly my wife) had to carry 37 pounds from the car to the airport shuttle to the ticket counter through security and to the plane. Our other two kids did great, staying up until we took off (late) at midnight when we could put their seats back and let them sleep.
Kid friendly hotels in Bora Bora? We found one!
We chose the Four Seasons in Bora Bora primarily because we had stayed at a Four Seasons previously and the kids loved their Kid’s Club and organized activities. Plus the resorts always seem to welcome kids in their marketing – including on the website of the Bora Bora property. The hotel confirmed their family-friendliness during the reservations process, allowing us to have five people in one bungalow even though their normal limit is four. Their promised configuration of two queen beds and a sofa queen pullout seemed to easily accommodate five.
We flew to Tahiti and then connected to a very short flight to Bora Bora. The Papeete airport couldn’t have been easier. It didn’t take more than 20 minutes for us to walk off the international flight, go through customs, get our luggage and check in for the domestic flight. When we arrived in Bora Bora, the hotel staff met us with leis and then grabbed our luggage while we got on a small boat for the 15-minute ride to the hotel. Definitely the most fun we’ve had getting into an airport anywhere. And then once we got to the resort, we jumped into a golf cart for a quick tour and a ride to our bungalow.
Bungalow Arrival – The Good
Waiting for us in the bungalow were plates of cookies and snacks with the kids’ names spelled out in chocolate, stuffed stingrays, backpacks and kid-sized robes. There was also a birthday cake for my daughter who turned four the day before. The kids of course loved all of it. And the first view of the lagoon from the back deck is an amazing moment, where you pinch yourself because instead of looking at the pictures on the internet, you’re actually there.
Bungalow Arrival – The Bad
I mentioned our expected room layout above – the two queen beds and a pullout sofa, perfect for two parents and three small kids. Well, that was what I requested. And that’s what I thought I booked. But when we got to our bungalow, it had a king bed and a queen pullout sofa. We seemed to be missing a bed. The hotel staff sprang into action, but there were no queen layouts available. They offered to move us to a beach villa, which would have had a lot more room, but we weren’t interested – the lure of the Four Seasons centered around the overwater bungalows. So we stayed put. It was a good decision overall since we loved being over the water, but we slept poorly all week, no matter how we rotated kids.
The other odd thing about the check-in was that I was asked to sign a disclaimer that stated that the hotel had strongly advised against any kids under 10 staying in the overwater bungalows, but since I had disregarded that warning and booked anyway, I was fully responsible if they drowned, etc… I understand the hotel wanting to limit their liability, but it was the tone of the letter that struck me, plus the fact that we had never received any warnings about staying in bungalows. If you go to the website, the resort seems to be really family friendly, with no disclaimers about kids in the bungalows. And during the reservations process (via email) there was no warning. We of course still would have gone, but the Four Seasons’ marketing department and attorneys need to confer on that one.
Those were just small hiccups though. The rest of the week was great, with several outstanding elements:
The Kid’s Club
We had the only kids at the resort that week. So the Kid’s Club wasn’t automatically open all day for us, but they made it clear that they would open it, or plan activities, anytime that we wanted to take advantage of it. The first full day there Beatrice, the kid’s club manager, found us and planned a few activities. She took the kids fishing and showed them around the resort. She also did crafts with them. She even included our four-year-old, who ordinarily would have been too young, but since we were the only people there she didn’t mind at all being flexible. The third day she planned a scavenger hunt around the resort. The next day she arranged for a large bounce house to be set up. We didn’t utilize her or the kid’s club nearly as much as we could have, since our kids opted for other things most days, but it was great to know that we could have dropped them off anytime with short notice.
We spent a lot of time in the bungalow. The view of Mount Otemanu was spectacular. The kids loved hanging out outside and reading and playing games, and we were often jumping into the lagoon from the back deck and swimming with fish and rays. An unexpected advantage of the bungalow is that there was no one below or above us, and no other bungalows within 20+ feet. Although we made sure the kids weren’t too loud, since we didn’t want to disturb the honeymooners and other couples on romantic vacations, we let them run around and play and stomp a lot more than we usually would at a hotel. My son brought his ukulele and he played often both inside and outside the bungalow and we never got the feeling that the sound traveled too far or that we were bothering anyone. And we only got positive comments from other guests, so that made us feel like we were blending in pretty nicely.
The Included Elements
One of the things that annoys me at hotels is that you have to commit to rentals, like stand up paddle boards, for an hour or more. That’s not very kid-friendly. The nice thing about the Four Seasons is that they included paddle boarding and kayaking, so if we went out for only 20 minutes, it wasn’t like we were wasting time that we paid for. We went kayaking three times and paddle boarding at least three times and there was always equipment available. They also included all the bottled water we wanted, and they had sunscreen available throughout the property. And the cabanas at the pool were free and always available. The kids enjoyed relaxing there, dining there, and even building pillow forts. A great way to be able to spend time at the pool but be out of the (very strong) sun.
Also included were washers and dryers. Literally 20 steps from our bungalow we were able to do laundry. We would have packed a lot less if we had known about that in advance. A very cool element that helped to offset the high room rates.
The Four Seasons had included “breakfast for two adults” in our room rate. It turns out that that included the kids as well, since every day all three kids were listed as free. Breakfast was the best meal of the day, with excellent buffet options: omelets; bacon; crepes; waffles or pancakes; many kinds of fresh fruit; French-quality pastries and juices. There were even chocolate-chip cookies most days, which of course the kids loved. We dined slowly every morning, making multiple trips to the buffet, relaxing, having coffee and freshly-made juices and enjoying the view. If the kids finished early, they would head over to the hammock or beach, more or less staying within view.
For lunch and dinner, there’s a standard kids menu, with all food seeming to come from the same kitchen no matter where we dined. The food was good with normal kid options (hamburger, grilled chicken, chicken fingers, mahi mahi, with French fries, fruit, salad or sauteed veggies) at decent prices – around $10/meal, which is far less expensive than anything else at the resort. The kids were happy with the food overall.
For adults, or adventurous kids, the other food was good, but very expensive. Over the course of the week we dined twice at the Sunset Bar, twice at Tere Nui with its theme nights, once at Arii Moana, and once at the event pavilion for the Polynesian show. None of the dishes particularly stood out, but the sushi at the Sunset Bar was very good.
The Walk to Dinner
A definite highlight was the walk to dinner every evening. We were in Bungalow 423, which is located far from the beach, pool and restaurants – almost as far away as you can get. Although the view was spectacular, being that far from the center of the resort wasn’t very kid-friendly. A shorter walk would have been nice most of the time. However, in the evenings I was glad the walk was as long as it was. There was something magical about the 15-minute journey (walking slowly) while the sun was setting and the kids were cleaned up from the day and dressed for dinner, all in good moods, running, skipping, backtracking, holding hands, looking at the water, and occasionally dropping room keys in the lagoon. I saw other guests getting rides from their bungalows to dinner in the golf carts. They were missing out.
We took the complementary hotel boat to Vaitape twice. Vaitape is small, so the three-hours in town were perfect. We had lunch each trip at the Aloe Café, which has great shrimp and haricots verts. The town is all about pearl jewelry, and there’s a crafts market with carvings and shell/pearl jewelry.
The highlight of our trip, though, was our five-hour trip around the island on the shark / snorkeling tour arranged through the hotel. The five hours actually went by very quickly. We anchored a few places for snorkeling and then to pet stingrays. The hotel provided all snorkeling equipment and life vests, and the kids had a great time getting into the water with the fish. We saw lemon sharks, mahi mahi, yellow fin tuna, and dozens of other kinds of fish at the coral reefs and the other places we stopped. Unfortunately I didn’t have an underwater camera, but picture being right in the middle of a really amazing aquarium. After we had spent a lot of time in the water and on the boat, we stopped at a portion of the atoll not far from the resort and the boat guys grilled up a great lunch of mahi mahi, chicken and lobster. They completed the experience with some ukulele playing and cutting open coconuts. The kids loved dining on the floating picnic table surrounded by fish.
The Kids’ Favorite Things
The kids all agreed on the highlights of the trip: breakfasts; kayaking and stand up paddle boarding; the boat trip around the island with snorkeling and petting stingrays; jumping in the water and swimming at the bungalow; turning the pool cabanas into pillow forts; spending time at the beach and in the pool; taking golf carts back to the bungalow sometimes; and having hermit crab races.
The Kids’ Least Favorite Things
The kids didn’t have many complaints, but they usually centered around the long walks back to the bungalow and the heat and humidity, and of course the long walks back to the bungalow in the heat and humidity.
Overall it was a great trip – not an annual destination, but a once-in-a-lifetime splurge, or maybe a trip to do every ten years.
Kid Friendly: Very
Level of Difficulty: Easy
Airline/Routing: Air Tahiti Nui – Los Angeles-Papeete-Bora Bora
Total Trip Length: Seven Days
Days of School Missed: Zero (winter break)
Ways We Brought the Cost Down: Bora Bora isn’t cheap, but there are a couple things you can do to reduce costs. First, Air Tahiti Nui has an ongoing special where kids fly free – basically for every adult ticket you buy, you get a child ticket free. Also, a friend went with us so we got two bungalows, with the second one at half-price, and we split the cost. The Four Seasons throws a lot of things in free, like water activities, kids’ breakfasts, sunscreen, laundry and Kid’s Club activities, and the kids meals aren’t expensive. So kids don’t actually add that much to the overall cost of the trip. That’s a huge plus. The kids enjoyed the resort as much as we did, so it really was a very family-friendly trip.