Posts Tagged ‘Air Tahiti Nui’


Wednesday, March 9th, 2022
French Polynesia ~ After receiving numerous inquiries from former avid travelers who are now finding it difficult to dive back in, my fearless and indefatigable ESCAPESEEKER team decided that we would be the “test pilots” and for the next six months devote 10 days of each month traveling to the most sought-after destinations in the world.  Our goal is to provide the answers to:  What is required based on the respective country’s rules to enter; what we need to plan on to stay at great length; and the new rules to depart and re-enter the USA. What did we discover?  Well, here is our first report.  We keep it real, we keep it honest.
Right off the bat, know that French Polynesia requires all visitors to show proof of vaccination, plus, yes, your booster shot too! No exceptions.
Leaving LAX:  If you can navigate all the new construction going on at LAX, and the new designated shuttle stops, that’s half the challenge already conquered.  Once we reached the Tom Bradley International Terminal, we scheduled our pre-flight covid test.  About 30 minutes later, we were relieved to receive an e-mail with our test resutls:  NEGATIVE! Sigh of Relief. We are now permitted to check-in for our Air Tahiti Nui flight–something I’ve always looked forward to because the minute you board, you feel as though your vacation has begun.  It must be the sweet scent of Tahiti’s national flower, the Tiare which they give to each passenger. And, of course, it did not take long for my Producer, Jamie Barney (also a seasoned traveler) and I to go into our deep slumber for our pleasant 8-hour flight to Tahiti’s capital of Papeete.
Upon arrival, our first taste of the “new normal”–the line to clear customs was unusually slow and long; the reason–as an extra precaution, they were administering another covid-test–and the results would be e-mailed, just like before our flight. Our flight had landed at 9:15 pm as scheduled, but we did not reach our hotel in Papeete until midnight.  Our super nice driver, Patrick had waited patiently for us, as he held the sign, “ESCAPESEEKER” at the exit.  Right off the bat, for the next 10 days, the Tahitians we met–all where super kind, ultra grateful to welcome us into their country.  
After over-nighting at Le Tahiti by Pearl Resorts, we rose early the next morning and headed back to FAA airport to catch our Air Tahiti flight (the domestic airline) to Tikehau, a coral  atoll in the Tuamotus Archipelago of French Polynesia to do some serious diving.  Word of caution–if you bring your own diving gear, the extra weight will costs you–about $100 each time.
Often called, the “diving mecca” Jamie, a seasoned diver could not get into the water soon enough. We chose a local diving operation, CocodiveTikehau. And, we would do it all over again in an instant.  The Divemaster, Xavier is one of the most caring, patient, thorough divemaster we have ever met. Our Captain, I really got to know because I was the first one back in the boat while the pros chose to dive deeper and longer. If there is one clear benefit to having the islands on lock down for the last two years–the sealife has been undisturbed, and its population has increased to a healthier state. Another extra benefit when you sign up for these fun activities, you meet other adventurous travelers from around the world–some may even be from your on hometown that you would not otherwise meet.  Jamie and I gained so many new friends on this assignment, proving my theory, “The world is full of friends just waiting to be met.”
We can’t wait to return to Le Tikehau [] where we were met with stunning rainbows each morning, and the staff treated us like Polynesian Royalty! Can you imagine?  After we reached the tiny Tikehau airport for our departure flight, our waiter at Le TIkehau arrived on his bicycle, carrying a beautiful shell crown, “Mel, my grandmere made this for you!” Another gentleman from Le TIkehau gave Jamie a literal hand-ful of loose black pearls. That is what you’ll find on this tiny coral atoll of Tikehau–the genuinely generous, kind, peaceful Tuamotuan. They live up to their name, TIkehau which means means Peaceful Landing in Tuamotuan.  
Next stop, Bora Bora, the “Pearl of French Polynesia.”
The Bora Bora island is one of the most popular islands in The Islands of Tahiti. One of nine islands within the Society Islands, Bora Bora was formed over seven million years ago by a volcano. Like most of the islands of French Polynesia, Bora Bora is surrounded by a ring of coral reef, also known as an atoll. This south pacific island could easily be defined as the center of the romantic universe, where luxurious beach resorts, and spas dot the island with overwater bungalows, thatched-roof villas, create its legendary ambiance. Here’s the good news–you don’t have to be a couple to savor all that Bora Bora has to offer.  The island is a photographer’s dream, a waterlover’s playground, for both young and old, and definitely if sailing floats your boat, Bora Bora is ready-made to provide endless days and nights of bliss.
Our home away from home is Le Bora Bora by Pearl Resorts–a Relais Chateaux resort which instantly means, there’s an incomparable level of luxury and service you can expect to receive.  Le Bora Bora did not disappoint. Our over-the-water bungalow had an uninterrupted view of Mount Otemanu, the iconic Bora Bora landmark. If there was one thing we had not fully planned on, however, Bora Bora’s culinary offerings are delicious, but  pricey.  I was told everything has to be imported, thus the higher costs of food.  Make sure you plan on spending $150 per person for dinner with drinks. The highest we experienced was the $450. per couple at La Villa Mahana. But being joined by our new friends whom we originally met at Le TIkehau made the dinner even more extraordinary. We all agreed it was worth every delectable morsel! We were served the best lobster risotto I’ve ever had–and I’ve dined with 3-star Michelin chefs–so that speaks volumes.  If you must save up for it–do it!  There are only six tables each night, so book early, and plan on an exquisite culinary journey that will last through the evening!
After spending a chunk of mulah on dinner, we decided to book an all-day sailing experience that also included diving, and lunch. We booked with Bora Bora Cruise and Dive, and had the Catamaran all to ourselves.  What a stunning day. We were in and out of the boat as much as our hearts desire. Taking a nap on the bow with the soft breezes caressing our sun-kissed faces as our Captain serenaded us with his ukulele and sweet tenor voice–that’s about as good as a Bora Bora cruise gets! If you prefer smaller rides, I highly recommend jetski tour with Matira.
We will remember our Bora Bora adventures, and the lifelong friends we have made all along the way.  Yes, it’s more complicated to travel during these unprecedented times, and there’s always that anxious feeling not knowing if your final covid test pre-flight back to the USA will read, “Negatif”–but at the end of the day, it is a reassuring feeling knowing all the passengers on your flight are all “Negatif” as you drift back into a nice dreamy, midnight slumber on board the Air Tahiti Nui flight to LAX.  The toughest part is waking up to the Captain announcing, “Welcome to Los Angeles.”
Stay tuned as we begin uploading all of the stunning images from our Tikehau and Bora Bora adventures. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.
I shall let the images tell our story in my next post.
Be Brave…Plan…and Just go!


Monday, August 5th, 2013

The ESCAPESEEKER Big Birthday Escape…

With Select Images by Ariane Bañon





7nt_TahitiSocietyIsl_high_0French Polynesia – Upon learning of a sudden opening in my schedule due to a change in our ESCAPESEEKER Global Odyssey assignment just three days after my 60th birthday, I knew there was one place on earth guaranteed to restore my youth,  rejuvenate my body, recharge my spirit, and enrich my soul all at once – FRENCH POLYNESIA!  Sometimes, only we can determine the best birthday gift to give ourselves.  And, after covering four continents and thousands and thousands of miles in two short months, I absolutely deserved a “birthday escape” so I booked a 7-night passage on board the luxurious m/s Paul Gauguin—often described as the “The ship with a soul.”  After all, a big birthday deserves a big celebration of life, of health, and for this grateful globetrotting ESCAPESEEKER, a voyage to a place  novelist, poets, and artists, describe as “the most dramatically beautiful place on earth.”  In other words, Tahitian Paradise. Truth be known, I must confess my friends are right. My love for Tahiti is nearing addiction status as they remind me, “Mel, you were just there at the beginning of 2013!” If you take a close look at the photograph below captured of me with my new friends I met on the Paul Gauguin’s January 2013 sailing– Lucy Miller and Sylvia Cheek jet-skiing at Bora Bora’s crystal clear, turquoise lagoon –it’s easier to understand why I’m so enraptured with the beauty of these Tahitian Islands and desire to return as often as I can! It’s even more reason why I’m qualified to guide you as you prepare your own VOYAGE TO PARADISE.


Yes, as the TV Travel Series Journalist of ESCAPESEEKER and logging in countless miles each month,  French Polynesia is where I go when I find myself needing a life’s transfusion. Thank goodness, I was able to book the last available seat on Air Tahiti Nui from Los Angeles to Papeete.  Tahiti’s gateway to her heavenly islands is a mere 8-hour nap from LAX! And, I’m happy to discover that many have taken my ESCAPESEEKER advice to fly Air Tahiti Nui so they can be guaranteed that their vacation can begin the minute they board their Tahiti flight and begin their  journey to paradise.

Jetting to Paradise...

After a delicious dinner, I closed my eyes to begin dreaming about my return to paradise, and before I knew it, we were already landing, 30 minutes earlier than scheduled, which meant we would be able to witness our first sunrise in Papeete!

 Papeete awakens…the sea is like glass…I could not wait for the first sign of dawn breaking…it’s like poetry in motion.

My personal formula for eliminating any signs of jet lag before it even begins to set in—walk it out!

After collecting my luggage I am whisked away by my favorite native driver, Greg who immediately delivers me to the InterContinental Tahiti located in Pepeete, a mere five-minute drive from the airport.  I always arrange a half-day hotel stay to give me and my body time to acclimate before I embark on the Paul Gauguin later in the afternoon.  This guarantees I’ll be refreshed and ready for the 7-night voyage to the Society Islands:  Raiatea, Taha’a Bora Bora, Moorea and back to Tahiti’s capital of Papeete. What’s my secret for combating jet lag and fatigue?  I walk the beautiful tropical grounds of the resort; I swim in its beautiful sand-bottom pool; and, sometimes, I top it off with a Spa treatment which definitely erases any last remaining symptoms of jet lag!

The ms/ Paul Gauguin’s retractable, on board water sports marina brings guests down to sea level, where they can hop aboard a windsurfer, enjoy SUP—Stand Up Paddle Board, launch a kayak, or embark on a Zodiac® for optional diving adventures.

Why choose the m/s Paul Gauguin? Ships are not created equal…

These days there are many cruise companies to choose from, and they all offer a buffet of itineraries to some of the most beautiful places on earth.  So, one has to ask, why choose the m/s Paul Gauguin?

  The m/s Paul Gauguin

For this seasoned cruiser and  ESCAPESEEKER,
“A Room with a View” is a major incentive to choose the m/s Paul Gauguin…


The m/s Paul Gauguin was designed specifically to sail the shallow seas of French Polynesia, visiting smaller ports that larger mega ships can’t reach.  The spacious suites and staterooms all offer ocean views, of which 70% have private balconies.  After all, with endless awe-inspiring vistas throughout its voyage, it would be a shame not to wake up to Tahiti’s glorious sunrise, or miss its mesmerizing sunsets because of a windowless “inside cabin.”  Rather, the m/s Paul Gauguin guarantees each guest, no matter what category of accommodation they book, access to borrowed landscape, in other words, “A room with a view.”


This MAGNIFICENT SUNRISE was captured while standing on my Stateroom balcony as we made our way towards the island of Raiatea!

For sea explorers, it just doesn’t get any easier…nor any more mesmerizing!

Personally, as an active water sports’ enthusiasts, I love that the m/s Paul Gauguin has an onboard watersports marina—yes, the ship’s team of expert dive masters departs right from the marina. I can go from my cabin straight to the waiting zodiac fully equipped for underwater exploration!  For scuba divers, it just doesn’t get any easier or more convenient.

Here are a few main reasons we love diving with the m/s Paul Gauguin Cruises' Diving Team on Moorea: 1) We know we're in great hands 2) The water temperature is well, perfect. 3) We get to say hello to our underwater friends. and 4) Because we can!

Paul Gauguin’s best kept secret…

Paul Gauguin's Best Kept Secret

After an active day of play and island exploration, those of us who have sailed with the Paul Gauguin before, quickly learn that its on board SPA maybe its best kept secret.  May I suggest you book early before everyone else on board discovers its team of “velvet healing hands” therapists, salon hairstylist and colorist are all better or equal to those 5-star Spas you frequent on land!

Exquisite dining combined with Polynesian hospitality…

Exquisite DiningLess I forget, there’s a choice of three open-seating dining venues with an expert culinary team ready to meet the expectations of even the most discerning palate. After all, you have to remember, you’re cruising the FRENCH Polynesian Islands.  Thus, you can expect a meñu offering of the highest caliber.

As a writer, my inspirations like my hunger may be triggered at all hours of the day and night.  But no worries.  The Paul Gauguin provides 24-hour room service.

There’s also always someone on duty to assist at all times, especially appreciated on those occasions when you run out of your stateroom without your key!

And, should you find yourself in need of one more swimsuit, or need to spruce up and accessorize that beautiful basic black dress for the evening, the Paul Gauguin’s own Boutique Stylists are skilled and ready to add glamour to your day or evening event.

Incomparable POLYNESIAN Hospitality…

The atmosphere aboard the entire ship exudes warmth, informality, and Polynesian hospitality for which the m/s Paul Gauguin has become world-renowned.  And with its beloved troupe of Gauguines—local Tahitians who serve as cruise staff, entertainers, and storytellers eager to share their native culture—add the special Polynesian incomparable spirit of Tahiti to every sailing. Other cruise vessels try to replicate what the Paul Gauguin has learned to do so well–establish a floating, caring community, thus earning its reputation of “The ship with a soul.”  It’s difficult to explain in words…but you’ll feel it the minute you step aboard.  With one crew member for every 1.5 guests, you’re assured the highest level of personal attention. I’ve never met a staff more dedicated to my comfort and well-being as gracefully expressed in countless thoughtful acts throughout the cruise. The way the maitre d’, Ivan Bolalin remembers  my name or how much I love their mushroom risotto! And, in the kind attention extended by Edward on the top deck where I like to enjoy my breakfast. This is his first cruise, but already he made special note that I only drink water with ice for breakfast, and has a full glass already waiting at my favorite breezy table, where I am able to take in the beautiful vistas as I dine, as well as apply Mother Nature’s technique of air drying my freshly shampooed hair!  You may be surprised to know that this extremely hard-working staff, who continually exude a joyful smile expects no gratuities!  Gratuities are included in the cruise fare, leaving you worry-free to just accept all the special tailor-made treatment a VIP like you deserves.

Gauguines love to share their culture...

Don’t just take my word for it.  Please permit me to share some of the heartfelt sentiments shared by several of the first time guests I met on my “birthday sailing.”  One thing you’ll discover about the Paul Gauguin—it’s so easy to find yourselves, like I did, making new friends with people from around the world, whom like you may also be celebrating monumental events in their lives, and have dreamt of one day setting foot on these heavenly islands! The world is full of friends just waiting to be met.  Perhaps I should rephrase that—there’s a ship full of new fun-loving, engaging friends just waiting to meet you!  Like and you and me, they’re all eager to celebrate what life has to offer!

CELEBRATE Life-long best friends, Kim Friedman and Tara Turner celebrate their premiere visit to French Polynesia with Cruise Director, Michael Shapiro.

In their own words…

“The service on board the m/s Paul Gauguin is out of this world.  It’s not easy getting up early in the morning and delivering the same superb service at noon and at dinner too.  They really get it!” ~ John and Kristen Kennedy, Brisbane, Australia

“The real thing is so much better than I ever envisioned.  On Bora Bora, the turquoise lagoon is more turquoise than any picture I’ve seen prior.  This reality needs no air-brushing!” ~ Carol Horner, Virginia Beach, USA

“The Aqua Safari excursion blew me away! The Paul Gauguin experience exceeded my expectations and left me in awe!”  ~ Kim Friedman,  Manhattan Beach, California.

“As a seasoned cruiser, I set my expectations high right from the start. And, the Paul Gauguin definitely met my expectations.” ~ Tara Turner, Orange County, California.

Personal Service to the max“Mel, I can’t believe the tremendous welcome we received at the St. Regis Bora Bora! Not only did the GM, Mike Schoonewagen greet us at the dock after sending his own personal boat to pick us up, but he also took time from his very full schedule to spend time with us.  I shall never forget our beautiful day at the St. Regis Beach.  It was the highlight of our trip! We’re definitely coming back!” ~ Lance Turner, Orange County, California



Best Beach Day Ever!

Pearly-White Beaches of St. Regis Bora Bora


St. Regis Bora Bora’s Lagoonarium

Follow us to ParadiseIf you wish to follow in our footsteps, simply click below, and before you know it, you’ll be sinking your toes in the pearly white, soft sands of French Polynesia too!   No matter your age, Tahiti appeals to everyone–both the youth and the youthful!

Perhaps you may wish to join our ESCAPESEEKER team on the m/s Paul Gauguin’s November 13th sailing to the Society Islands and the Tuamotus?  Oh yes, the only way I could escape solo was to promise my film crew they would get their turn at experiencing Paradise also.  My love and passion for French Polynesia is undeniably contagious! For more info, please feel free to contact me at:



And, remember, no matter where you travel, BE THE KINDEST PERSON YOU KNOW.

With love,

The ESCAPESEEKER My passion for Tahiti is never-ending!


Creator, Journalist Host, Executive Producer


The natives’ melodic harmony will remain with you…as if you’re still in their midst.  A very special “MAURURU” to all of the wonderful, enthusiastic, beautiful guests who participated in this ESCAPESEEKER story.  May you all be blessed with more unforgettable adventures…Until we meet again…

I wish you all SAFE TRAVELS!





Tuesday, October 18th, 2011


Hollywood, California — A huge thanks to Mel Gee Henderson and  Roy Henderson,  Executive Producers of the extraordinary new television travel show Escapeseeker for the Grand Prize luxury trip we won to the French Polynesian Islands!!! Talk about the trip of a lifetime! Here’s how it all began…



ESCAPESEEKER PREMIERE PARTY VIP's ARRIVE! Little did we know what good fortune the night would bring...

For those who don’t know the story, my wife Katrina and I were guests at the Escapeseeker Fall Season Premiere Launch party held  on August 26, 2011.  This gala event was both fun and, like Escapeseeker, wonderfully exciting, combining a great venue, delicious cuisine, many Hollywood movers and shakers, a fantastic sneak preview of the Escapeseeker series, the amazing recording artist Emii who preformed live for us and a drawing for a grand prize trip to Tahiti!


I should mention that at the time of the party Katrina was already 7 months pregnant with our first baby. This is important because we are sure that it was the rubbing of her pregnant belly for good luck, just prior to the drawing that helped us to win the trip.

ESCAPESEEKER aka Mel Gee Henderson congratulates the night’s GRAND PRIZE WINNER. Yes, #11…ME!!!

The crazy part is the winning number was 11 and guess what the baby’s due date is: 11/11/11!!! To say we were awestruck is an understatement.

With the baby coming soon, we knew we had to act quickly. Two weeks later, we were whisked to the airport by our good friend Rochelle Vallese (an actress who guest stars  in the Escapeseeker Fiji episode), and we were finally en route to Tahiti.  The eight hour direct flight from Los Angeles is a breeze on Air Tahiti Nui.  We arrived in Papeete and had a delightful night at the Radisson Plaza Resort overlooking the most  beautiful black sand beach of Matavai Bay.  After a morning stroll, we departed for the airport and flew via Tahiti’s domestic airline, Air Tahiti, to the island of Raiatea.

Le Taha’a Island Resort’s Private Boat…gives whole new meaning to ‘airport transfers’ doesn’t it?


Now, here’s where the trip really reaches new heights!  At the Raiatea airport, we were greeted by a private boat service that ferried us to Taha’a, a remote and exquisitely beautiful island.  The five star resort, (the only Relais & Châteaux in French Polynesia)  Le Taha’a Island Resort and Spa perfectly combines luxury with the exotic and breezy charm of French Polynesia. 

The stunning architecture of the resort is the perfect compliment to a location that can only be described as paradise.


The sea is a shining gem that changes from shades of turquoise and emerald to a deep lapis as the sun and breezes play overhead.



Ahhh! The best cure for expectant Moms who need some relief from the extra (albeit temporary) weight they’re carrying…a week in Paradise!


After we had settled into the tranquility of our over the water bungalow, we took our first swim off our private porch.  Apparently, floating is good for ‘preggers’ eager to get off their feet, and so that’s exactly what my wife, Katrina, did at least three times a day.  The temperature of Taha’a’s waters are blissful – cool enough to be refreshing and warm enough to be comfortable for long periods of floating and snorkeling.


We were delighted to discover that Taha’a  has one of the most amazing coral reefs, filled with tropical fish that seem eager to swim right up to your goggles and check you out!  You can literally start snorkeling at one end of the island and drift leisurely down stream with a  current for hours as new species of fish, each one more intriguing and colorful than the next introduce themselves.  After our first snorkeling adventure, we decided to make this part of our daily ritual.  What’s not to love about these amazing conditions?


We should mention that Le Taha’a’s  staff are eager to assist their guests in doing as much or as little as they like.  We decided to air on the side of doing very little because we just couldn’t bare to tare ourselves away from the resort.  I did, however, go for a spectacular deep water scuba dive off the coast during which I swam with sharks and heard a nearby humpback whale sing.  Katrina wisely opted out of this adventure and spent the day by the infinity pool drinking refreshing fruit juices, reading and occasionally gazing out at the horizon of the pool which seamlessly blends into the ocean beyond.


Le Taha’a Island Resort and Spa…Yes, it is as BLISSFUL as it looks! Just ask Katrina Parks!!!


Daily HEALTHY Fare to meet even the most exquisite cravings!

The hotel’s three restaurants offer the perfect balance French and Tahitian inspired cuisine that takes the best of both cultures and makes something even better…..  We started each day with the most amazing breakfast buffet we have ever encountered.  Being consummately picky coffee drinkers, we are hardly ever pleased by the coffee we encounter on our travels, but this coffee (made in a stainless French press at our table) was rich and  just caffeinated enough to enable us to take full advantage of the bountiful fruit, cheese, yogurt and pastry selections… not to mention the delicious crepes and waffles we ordered!  Of course, even though we were stuffed after breakfast, we managed – it’s important to keep a pregnant woman’s blood sugar up – to indulge in the most incredible seafood for the rest of the day.  The smoked salmon, the fresh lobster and crab, just melted in your mouth at every meal.

From reading about the food, you may imagine that we were too stuffed to do anything for the rest of the day, but fear not….

Ahhh…now this is the most inviting stroll back to our over-the-water bungalow!

We had to stroll back to our over the water bungalow, where we could gaze through a glass floor panel as Manta Ray’s and fish slowly cruised by,  we had to swim off our private dock and stroll to the infinity pool,  and we most certainly had to  watch the sun as it crossed overhead and went out in a spectacular display of reds and golds as we watched in our white bathrobes while holding hands.

No caption needed…I shall allow this picture to tell our heartfelt story!



This phenomenal routine went on for five extremely relaxing and soul reviving day,  after which, we truly mourned having to leave Le Taha’a.   Once back at Papeete, we decided to make the most of our last day and sojourned to the island of Moorea, which is a brief ferry ride away.  We sadly took our last swim in Tahitian waters and had one more delicious meal, before boarding our plane back to Los Angeles.


Our only consolation is knowing that we can return someday.

We already eagerly await our return to Paradise!



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