Bora Bora: A Primer to Paradise
?There is no shortage of locations for tropical weddings and honeymoons. If you?re interested in tying the knot barefoot on a beach in the middle of the ocean, your biggest problem may be choosing the island. And while a marriage in the Maldives or a Honolulu honeymoon can be beautiful, few places beat Tahiti, and in particular Bora Bora, for pure romance -- and gay friendliness. Often called the Jewel of the Pacific, this tiny French Polynesian island is a favorite among world travelers.
"A lot of people who travel to Hawaii, Fiji, when they come to Bora Bora, they?re very impressed," says Karine Vanhee, wedding planner at the St. Regis Bora Bora. "They love the water, especially. There are seven different types of blue in the lagoon. Pictures just don?t do it justice." Add sugary white sand beaches, delicious French Polynesian fare and reliably balmy weather, and you?ve got all the ingredients of an unforgettable romantic getaway.
Most of the resources you?ll require during your stay will come from your resort, so make sure you find the right fit. Intercontinental Resort & Thalasso Spa, the St. Regis Bora Bora, Four Seasons and Hilton Bora Bora Nui are a few offerings. While there are subtle differences between lodgings -- turtle sanctuary and dugout canoes at Le Meridien, helicopters and submarines at the Intercontinental -- almost every resort shares a tropical design sense (think thatched huts over lagoons) and plenty of room for romance.
But before you live the fantasy, you might have a few questions. How long does it take to fly to the middle of the Pacific Ocean? How will your dollar stand up to a Pacific franc? And how can you possibly plan a wedding from halfway around the world? The St. Regis gives us the skinny on planning the perfect French Polynesian escape.
>Prepare For A Voyage: Part of Bora Bora's charm is its isolation, so don't expect to get there in a hop, skip and jump. If you live in New York, the hop would be a five-hour flight to LA, the skip a seven-hour journey to Tahiti, and then a 45-minute jump to Bora Bora itself. From the Bora Bora airport, guests can expect to spend another 45 minutes traveling to their resort by boat. "It?s a long trip, but it?s worth it," Vanhee assures us. The distance certainly adds to the peaceful vibe: more tourists visit Hawaii in a day than visit Tahiti in an entire year.
>Deluxe Digs: No matter where you stay, be sure to book an overwater bungalow (above). These rooms on stilts provide all the creature comforts, including room service -- just don?t be surprised if your server arrives by speed boat. Some resorts, like the Hilton Bora Bora Nui and the St. Regis, offer rooms with glass floor panels to highlight the sea life below. Best of all? When your room is its own island, there?s no need for a "Do Not Disturb" sign.
>Dollars and Cents (and Francs): A word on conversion: the currency on the island is the French Pacific Franc (often abbreviated as XPF), and about 100 francs equal an American dollar. Bora Bora is a high luxury vacation destination, and the prices there reflect that. With two tickets to Bora Bora costing around $2,000, you?ll likely want to spend plenty of time on the island to make it worth your while. Depending on your resort, an overwater bungalow costs between $5,000 and $7,000 for a week, though keep in mind the availability of special packages for newlyweds and discounts for longer stays. And if you don?t want to spring for the luxury resort, smaller pensions offer smaller price tags -- though nothing is anywhere near the realm of "budget."
>In Good Company: You may run into a few high-profile visitors during your stay on the island. Stars like Sharon Stone and Keanu Reeves have been spotted at Aman Resorts' Hotel Bora Bora, while The St. Regis hosted Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban during their honeymoon, and Carrie Underwood and Eva Longoria have also vacationed there. Christina Applegate, Pierce Brosnan, Kurt Russell and others have been seen on the island as well.
>Stormy Weather: While the temperature doesn't vary much on Bora Bora (between the 70s and 80s all year long), you?ll want to watch out for rain between November and March. It?s no monsoon, though: the precipitation is heavy briefly and clears up quickly. The big nuisance is humidity, particularly in January and February. More weather advice here.
>Bespoke Weddings: While the French government doesn?t recognize same-sex civil unions, most resorts do offer symbolic ceremonies. At the St. Regis, the wedding is called the Joining of Hearts. Vanhee stays in close contact with the engaged couples in the months leading to their big day via phone and email. "We have some suggested packages that couples can look at, but our weddings are tailor-made," Vanhee says. "You can pick whatever you want, whether it?s fireworks or flowers." (See above.)
>Honeymoon Heaven: Almost every resort offers special honeymoon packages to celebrate your union. At Le Meridien, for example, the Passionate Mood package includes dinner for two, Champagne, coconut sweets and a bath full of flowers. The St. Regis offers flower turn-downs, in-room massages and a candelit couple?s dinner on the beach.
>Explore: You may be tempted to spend your entire stay sunning on your private deck, but the island offers a host of entertaining activities, ranging from scuba diving and island safaris to feeding sharks by hand (a popular local pastime). Make sure to visit Bloody Mary's, an island institution where dinner is the catch of the day and recited by memory (in your choice of seven different language), and do some shopping in Vaitape to try some of the freshest fruit and fish you?ve ever had.