It had been seven years since my first trip to French Polynesia — a land-based trip to Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora along with other writers. Ever since, I had longed to return with my husband to share the unparalleled beauty of the South Pacific with him, and what better way to do that than on a Windstar cruise?
In 2016, we sailed with Windstar from Athens, Greece, on Star Pride for a 7-day Treasures of the Greek Isles cruise. That unforgettable trip left us with a desire to repeat the Windstar experience on another ship in a different part of the world. While we first considered the 7-day Dreams of Tahiti cruise, the longer 10-night Tahiti and Tuamotus cruise became our final choice for several reasons:
Scuba Diving in the Tuamotus
The 10-day cruise includes stops at two atolls within the Tuamotus archipelago, a chain of nearly 80 islands and atolls — the largest string of closely spaced small coral islands in the world.
As a certified SCUBA diver, I had read about the fantastic diving opportunities in Rangiroa, the largest atoll in the Tuamotus and one of the largest in the world.
I was less familiar with Fakarava, but was excited to read it has been designated a UNESCO biosphere reserve due to its untouched environment and underwater life. And it delivered… several manta rays (largest of the ray family) joined us on our first dive — the first I’d seen in all my years of diving.
Two Days at Sea
The second deciding factor for choosing the longer cruise was having two days at sea! The first day of our journey, from Tahiti to Fakarava, would give us a chance to settle in to the ship and really relax.
Our flight from LAX (Los Angeles International airport) landed in Papeete in the late evening, so being able to check in to Le Meridien Resort for an overnight stay before boarding ship the following afternoon was a welcomed respite from a very long travel day. But having that extra time at sea was a lovely way to slow down and recover from jet lag. Being able to enjoy a relaxing Swedish-style massage in the Windspa helped dissipate any vestiges of tense jet-lagged muscles.
We had another day at sea after leaving the Tuamotus on the way back to the Society Islands, the group of islands made up of Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora, Huahine and Raiatea.
What Both 7-day and 10-day Itineraries Include
Whether you choose the 7-day or 10-day itinerary, you’ll have the chance to be a part of three special events:
• A Deck BBQ under the stars — Grilled lobster is the star of this much-anticipated evening on Wind Spirit’s top deck, followed by line dancing and a deck party by the pool.
• Motu Mahaea Island Experience – The daytime special event includes a barbeque lunch and drinks on this tiny private island near Taha’a (known as the Vanilla Island). Passengers can choose to spend all or part of the day there, where they can swim, snorkel or try out a variety of water sports.
We booked a morning excursion, “Tahaa: Scenic Exploration of Tahaa,” which included visits to both a vanilla plantation and a pearl farm. After briefly returning to the ship, we boarded a launch to Motu Mahaea to have lunch, snorkel and relax. The snorkeling off the beach in this secluded location is not to be missed.
• Destination Discovery Event on Bora Bora – The evening event includes a Tahitian feast on the tiny islet of Motu Tapu, followed by a Polynesian fire dancing show.
Both the 7-day and 10-day itineraries build in an overnight stay at Bora Bora, my personal favorite among all the tropical destinations I’ve visited around the world. Along with some other guests aboard the Wind Spirit, I chose to forgo attending the special evening event on a private motu (I hated to miss it!) to spend the night in an overwater bungalow with my husband. My solo stay in one of Bora Bora’s signature thatched huts on stilts above the blue lagoon seven years ago had left me longing to luxuriate in one along with my husband. Bucket list…check mark in the box!
Check out the Overnight Romance Package in an Overwater Bungalow, if you’re interested in booking an overnight stay on Bora Bora through Windstar.
On Board Wind Spirit
While the surroundings of the South Pacific could easily be reason enough to sail with Windstar, here are a few of my favorite things about sailing with Windstar:
• Comfortable cabins with plentiful storage — Even after putting everything away, there were nooks and crannies waiting to be filled.
• Above and beyond service — The passenger/crew ratio is very high (Wind Spirit’s capacity is 148; we had 131 passengers on our sailing with 101 crew) and everyone we encountered went above and beyond to fulfill our requests, including our affable Cabin Steward, Taoflik, from Indonesia.
• A variety of on board activities — No, there aren’t elaborate shows or multiple entertainment venues (remember, this is small ship cruising!), but events and activities held throughout the week are more than enough to keep passengers occupied when not exploring the ports, eating, napping and otherwise luxuriating in the drop-dead-gorgeous surroundings of French Polynesia. A Daily Program of the next day’s events is delivered to your cabin.
We gathered in the Lounge every evening before dinner to catch up with fellow passengers, sample hors d’oevres and sip a drink while learning more about the next day’s destination during port talks given by the Destination Manager. After dinner, we often checked out the evening’s musical entertainment and stayed for several of the special events, including the crew talent show and a music trivia night. A small Casino adjoins the Lounge, in case you’d like to play a game of Blackjack.
While I was in the Spa, my husband attended a Pearl Seminar, given by the shop manager and certified pearl expert, which helped him appreciate our visit to a pearl farm on Taha’a. (Highly recommended to anyone planning to purchase Polynesian black pearls!)
Taking a Galley Tour with the Executive Chef gave us a greater appreciation of the efforts taken to plan and prepare our meals throughout the week. Besides the multi-course meals served in the main dining room, AmphorA, we dined one night by candlelight under the stars, when the outdoor deck is transformed into Candles, Wind Spirit’s specialty restaurant. It’s suggested you make your reservation soon after boarding.
Want to learn how to transform a watermelon into edible art? I attended a Fruit and Vegetable Carving demonstration (they make it look easy!), and also sat in on a cooking class with the Chef on how to make poisson cru, the national dish of Tahiti, made with raw tuna, coconut milk, lime juice, cucumber and tomato. Cocktail demos, napkin folding, and making towel animals are among the plethora of on-board activities available to guests throughout the cruise.
Pre- and Post-Cruise Nights in Tahiti
The package we booked through Windstar included both pre- and post-cruise stays at Le Méridien Resort in Tahiti.
(Passengers on the 7-day Dreams of Tahiti itinerary overnight at the resort pre-cruise but due to the way the flights back to LAX are scheduled, a day room is provided post-cruise.)
Since our flight back to LAX wasn’t until late Monday night (11:59 p.m.), after disembarking from the ship on Sunday morning we had time to really enjoy the resort, as well as explore the island of Tahiti — largest of the Society Islands.
We arranged a tour of the island, which left from the resort shortly after we settled into our ocean view room overlooking an expansive elevated water lily garden. The resort not only boasts the largest sandy bottom pool in the Pacific, but offers snorkeling from the beach surrounding the overwater bungalows (which are closed for renovation until August 31, 2018). Later that evening, we dined on fresh tuna at the resort’s gourmet French restaurant, Le Carré.
The next day, we shared a taxi with several new friends we’d made on the cruise to do some shopping at Le Marché, Papeete’s multi-story public market, the best place to find local Tahitian products, from pareos and scented monoi oils to inexpensive shell and black pearl jewelry.
I could’ve easily been persuaded to reboard the Wind Spirit and do the same itinerary all over again (which is actually a possibility with the new Star Collector: Twice the Tahiti 18-day cruise that gives passengers the opportunity to visit all the ports twice!). Whichever itinerary you end up choosing, I can assure you, you will return with lasting memories as well as a desire to return to these islands of unparalleled beauty in the South Pacific.
About The Author
Debbra Dunning Brouillette is a Tropical Travel Girl, and you’ll discover she has always been a tropical girl. Like a fish out of water, she was born and raised in the Midwest, but from the age of seven, Florida vacations opened up her world to sun, sand and turquoise water. Since then, she has visited more than 50 islands in the Caribbean, South Pacific and other tropical destinations around the world. On her first Caribbean trip in 1990, a snorkeling excursion introduced her to the incredible world that exists below the surface of the sea. The fish out of water was hooked. A scuba diver and avid photographer, she enjoys exploring the reefs and natural wonders, savoring the food, meeting the locals, and finding what makes each island unique.