One of my editors once commented that I mention several bars and nightclubs in Papeete, French Polynesia's busy capital city, but not on Bora Bora, Moorea, and elsewhere. "Isn't there nightlife on the other islands?" she queried.

"No," I answered. "It's like this in French Polynesia: You get up in the morning, you look at an unbelievably beautiful island over breakfast, you play in the blue lagoon all day, you come back to your thatched-roof bungalow for a shower, and you have a fine French meal followed by a hip-swinging Tahitian dance show. It's all over by 9pm. If you don't know how to occupy yourselves between 9pm and midnight on your honeymoon, you need more than travel advice."

My reply may have been in jest, but many people do choose to honeymoon on these gorgeous islands, and for good reason. Married or not, these perpetually warm, languid specks of land on a vast ocean are the perfect places for passion -- as I can vouch from personal experience!

Romance is inspired not only by the beauty of the islands but by the prevailing attitude here. You are likely to encounter women with bare breasts on the beaches, for these islands are French as well as Polynesian. Unlike other South Pacific island countries, where the preaching of puritanical 19th-century missionaries took deeper root, here you will discover a marvelous combination of French laissez faire and Tahitian joie de vivre born of a hedonistic Polynesian past.

Understanding that storied past, the culture and language of the marvelous people, and the fascinating flora and fauna will add an immeasurable richness to your visit. That's especially true of Tahiti, the first South Pacific island to be examined in detail by Europeans and historically the most significant island in the region.

The material in this guide will give you an in-depth look at the islands. I strongly recommend you read it before beginning your own exploration of these most intriguing islands.

"Tahiti Time"

There's an old story about a 19th-century planter who promised a South Pacific islander a weekly wage and a pension if he would come to work on his copra plantation. Copra is dried coconut meat, from which oil is pressed for use in soaps, cosmetics, and other products. Hours of backbreaking labor are required to chop open the coconuts and extract the meat by hand.

The islander was sitting by the lagoon, eating the fruit he had picked from nearby trees while hauling in one fish after another. "Let me make sure I understand correctly," said the islander. "You want me to break my back working for you for 30 years. Then you'll pay me a pension so I can come back here and spend the rest of my life sitting by the lagoon, eating the fruit from my trees and the fish I catch? I may not be sophisticated, but I am not stupid."

The islander's response reflects an attitude still prevalent in Tahiti and French Polynesia, where many people don't have to work in the Western sense. Here life moves at a slow pace. The locals call it "Tahiti time."

Consequently, do not count on the same level of service in hotels and restaurants as you might expect back home. The slowness is not slothful inattention; it's just the way things are done here. Your drink will come in due course. If you must have it immediately, order it at the bar. Otherwise, relax with your friendly hosts and enjoy their charming company.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.