When most people think Tahiti, they think “honeymoons”. Actually there’s a lot to see and do for kids as well, especially on Tahiti Nui (the main island) and Moorea. On the less touristy/popular islands, it’s mostly going to be about playing in the pool, on the beach, snorkeling, paddling, etc. and there will be fewer guided tours and activities.
For the most part, you can get by with just English, although I’d recommend learning “hello” (“Ia Orana”) and “thank you” (“Mauruuru”) – you’ll get a nice positive response from the locals for trying (no matter how badly you butcher the language!). If you speak French, you’ll find everyone is fluent in French on all of the islands.
If you’re coming from the USA, you’ll probably be taking an overnight flight from LAX (Los Angeles). You’ll keep the kids up a little late getting to the airport, then they’ll be tired and sleep on the plane (hopefully you will too), and you’ll all wake up in Tahiti about 8 hours later.
But the main island of Tahiti Nui, where international flights all land, is unlikely to be your final destination. The vast majority of travelers will end up on one of the other islands, like Moorea or Bora Bora. Moorea is cheap to get to via an inexpensive and short ferry ride – the other islands require an additional plane flight.
What Makes it Great for Kids?
If your kids are pretty young, they’ll probably be happy just hanging out and doing activities with you, or splashing around in the pool or at the beach. If you have teenagers, you already know how easily they get bored, and how much they’d rather be hanging out with other teenagers.
Many resorts will have babysitting available, so that’s an option if your kids are very young. The larger the resort, the more likely it is that there will be other kids the same age as yours, which makes it more fun for them.
If your children are old enough to be unsupervised, then any of the islands will offer them fun, safe things to do: hiking, snorkeling, playing on the beach or in the pool, bicycle riding (mostly just on Moorea), boat and jet ski tours, and Polynesian shows (like a Hawaiian luau).
If you want some “us” time, and your kids needs supervision, it’s worth looking at resorts that have a “kids club” with supervised activities, so the two of you can go scuba diving, take a romantic boat ride, or just have quiet time. Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora has their “Kids For All Seasons” program, with a supervised kids club; the St. Regis Bora Bora Resort has a Kids Creativity Club.
Before we dive into the different islands, I’ve got an important piece of advice for you: use a Tahiti specialist travel agent. They’ll be booking through a big Tahiti wholesaler like Classic Vacations or Tahiti Legends—if and when something goes wrong, you’ve got big leverage on your side to get it fixed and FAST. If something is overbooked, or a transfer is reserved for the wrong day, or whatever, the vendor is going to “bump” the travelers whom they’re never going to hear from again. If they have to make some client unhappy, they’re going to choose the one who booked online, because it’s not going to affect their business in the future. They’re going to make sure first that the clients from the wholesaler who brings them 30% of their business are taken care of; and the wholesaler is going to make sure they take care of the clients of the agent who books a lot of Tahiti trips through them.
The best news is that, in general, the big wholesalers have deals as good as or better than the online travel agencies, so it’s not going to cost you any more to have that agent on your side. Some agents will charge a planning fee, but it’s typically minimal, and mostly they’re making their money as a commission from the wholesaler and the hotel.
True story: on my last trip to Tahiti, we got off the plane with our 3 kids and went to get our transfers for the ferry. The local inbound operator didn’t have our reservations. We showed them our printed itinerary from Classic Vacations, and they immediately gave us transfers and told us they’d figure it all out later. Going through their most important wholesaler meant that although there was a problem, it wasn’t going to be OUR problem.
OK, let’s talk islands now!
You’re going to land there anyways, so might as well get to experience a little more of the non-resort Tahiti culture. Papeete is the main city there, and the airport in Papeete is called Faa’a. Accommodations are relatively inexpensive, but you’re not going to get that Polynesian experience like on the outer islands. Still, there are a few things to see and do that make it worthwhile taking a day and a night on the main island before you scoot off to another island for your overwater bungalow fix.
- Les Roulottes – these are Papeete’s food carts, and they were popular here before the rest of the world caught on to what an awesome idea they are; night time only, opens at 6PM.
- Marche de Papeete – That’s just French for “Papeete market”; local fresh fruits, flowers, vanilla, crafts, and pearls.
- Arahoho Blowhole -it’s about a half hour east of Papeete, and one of the most visited natural wonders
- Paofai Gardens – maybe a good walk to stretch your legs before getting on a ferry to Moorea, it’s right near downtown, and there’s a playground for young kids.
- Paul Gaugin museum – this is one of those things that probably SOUNDS like a great idea, but it’s likely over most kids’ heads, and it’s about an hour’s drive from Papeete.
Moorea is super easy to get to by ferry (30 to 45 minutes, about $15 USD). For a family of 4, that’s $60, vs. about $1600 to fly all of you to Bora Bora and back. You can also fly to Moorea from Faa’a, but why? The ferry is fun and scenic and after 8 hours from LAX, you’ll be ready for some fresh air and a little more legroom.
Moorea has a really good variety of accommodations, including garden bungalows, beach bungalows, and overwater bungalows. The overwater bungalows get all the attention, but don’t discount the beach and garden bungalows – they’re generally pretty spectacular and roomy, some with outdoor showers, some with private plunge pools.
At the Hilton, you have the option of adjoining bungalows, so the parents can have some privacy in one, with the kids next door; and the Sofitel Moorea has a luxurious 2-bedroom villa. The Manava Beach Resort and Spa has the Family Garden Duplexes, with a king bed upstairs and 2 single beds downstairs; the Garden View Duplex has a king and a double sofa bed. Les Tipaniers has the Vanilla Api bungalow, with 2 bedrooms and capacity for 6 people.
We recently stayed at the Intercontinental Moorea, in two adjacent bungalows—parents in one, and the kids (9, 11, and 11) right next door. This resort is currently closed due to COVID however.
On Moorea, you’ll find tons of activities and adventures. Just a couple of years ago, a zipline adventure opened up. The staff, safety equipment, and setup were all first-rate, and we had no qualms about taking our kids on it. They had so much fun the first time, we did it twice….and the torrential downpour just made it a better adventure.
You can snorkel (safely) with sharks and stingrays – roughly 500 to 1000 yards off the shore near the Intercontinental. There are a number of tour boats that will take you on an outing that includes a stop here. The water is about 5’ deep, the reef sharks are about 5’ long, and the rays come up and eat out of your hand.
There are tons of safe, shallow reefs around the entire island, and lots of other snorkel and boat tours. There’s also a terrific ATV tour up into the mountains, to the famous Belvedere Lookout (spectacular views!), and a pineapple farm along the way. There’s also jet ski rentals, golf (the only golf courses are on Moorea and on Tahiti Nui), terrific hikes with fantastic views, sea scooter tours, parasailing, intro to scuba classes, and license-free boat rentals. You might think that’s brave (stupid?) of the rental company, but really the waters are super calm and you can’t really get lost.
There’s also a lot of very “local” restaurants, feet-in-the-sand, etc., as well as dine-in the resort.
Bora Bora is more expensive to get to (figure on about $400 per person for airfare from Papeete), but with dramatic views of Mount Otemanu that will astound you. You’ll find this island caters much more to luxury honeymooners than Moorea, although there’s still family-style accommodations and activities available. This is also the only island where resorts have a Kids Club (Four Seasons and St. Regis).
There’s great (and easy and safe) snorkeling within the surrounding reef – Bora Bora is basically a big volcanic mountain (Otemanu) of an island, surrounded by motus (a little ring of atolls) that creates a protected donut-shaped lagoon around the central island.
Fantastic snorkeling is available via short boat trips from any resort at the Lagoonarium (on the east side motu, between Le Meridien and St. Regis), but there’s also a lesser-known but amazing coral garden at the southeastern end of Bora Bora. It’s an easy swim from your bungalow or the beach if you’re at the Intercontinental Le Moana, or the Sofitel Bora Bora Private Island resort, or Hotel Maitai; if you’re at the Sofitel Marara Beach resort, it’s more like a 1/2 mile away.
If you’re at the Conrad, you’ve got great snorkeling there too, as you’re on a little island off the west side of the main island, but still within the protective outer reef. At the Bora Bora Pearl, at the northwest end of Bora Bora, there’s snorkeling just south down the beach about 300 yards from the main walkway that goes out to the overwater bungalows.
Most of the resorts are on the motus, which means that most of the non-aquatic activities require a short boat shuttle ride to Vaitape, the little town on the main island. You can do 4wd safaris, ATV tours, hikes, and there’s also the Turtle Center at the Le Meridien resort, which is always a kid-pleaser.
Not as well known as Bora Bora and Moorea, Huahine is pretty laid-back and has modestly priced accommodations by comparison. Like Bora Bora, it’s going to require an air transfer to get there, and it’s nearly as far as Bora Bora and Le Taha’a. Hotel Le Mahana Huahine has Lagoon front bungalows with 1 king bed and 2 single beds; Royal Huahine has overwater bungalows, and their overwater, garden, and beach bungalows are all capable of serving parents plus 2 children.
Near Huahine and Bora Bora, Le Taha’a is home to the ultra-luxurious Le Taha’a Island Resort (where I’m told Bill Gates likes to go, and play tennis with the gardener). But it’s also home to another real gem: Vahine Private Island resort.
Le Taha’a Island Resort’s rooms mostly are only suitable for parents and one young child, but they do have the Royal Pool Beach Villas which have capacity for up to 5 people.
Vahine’s Beach Suite has capacity for parents plus 1 child on a sleeper sofa, plus the amazing Villa Royale – a large house that sleeps up to 20.
The furthest-out islands in French Polynesia, the Tuamotu Atolls are famous for spectacular scuba diving. If you’re a serious scuba diver, the Tuamotu Atolls are already on your bucket list. They’re known for hammerhead sharks, barracuda, bottlenose dolphins, eagle rays, manta rays, and the massive Napoleon wrasse.
Expect to pay $400-$500 per person for the air transfer from Papeete.
This is not your typical “family” destination, but if your kids are older, certified divers, this would be quite an adventure for them. If your kids are younger, make sure the resort is currently able to offer supervision/babysitting.
At Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort, most of the rooms are suitable for parents plus 1 young child, but they do also have the Pool Beach Villa, which can sleep 2 adults plus 3 children. At Maitai Rangiroa, the Vini and Lagoon bungalows can accommodate parents plus 1 child on a sofa bed.
Hotel Kia Ora Resort & Spa has a range of options suitable for families, including the family suites with private pool and the Beach Duplex bungalow (link: https://www.hotelkiaora.com/room/bungalow-beach-duplex-rangiroa/).
Ninamu Resort is a boutique resort with a total of only 8 bungalows, three of which that sleep up to 4, and the Tamanu bungalow which sleeps up to 6.
BIO: Michael is an avid traveler, photographer, and scuba diver. He’s the founder of Visual Itineraries, a travel planning website, and Bright Yonder, a travel agent tools website. He’s been to Tahiti multiple times, and has taken his son there, as well as to Mexico, Canada, Key West, Jamaica, England, and France.