We booked the 11-day Windstar Tahiti Cruise and sailed with about 130 other guests around 8 islands in French Polynesia on this very large motorized sailing yacht. We were very glad that we had decided to travel around these beautiful South Seas islands by cruise ship. We cannot say enough about how exciting it was to wake up every morning, or arrive in the evening, at a new port in French Polynesia. Before every evening port departure, the grand sailaway was an event in itself with the huge sails billowing open to the majestic music track “1492: Conquest of Paradise" by Vangelis booming from the deck speakers. Cruise guests enjoyed this moment out on deck with their cocktails to celebrate the experience while watching the sun sink below the horizon painting a pastel of colors across the sky.
Day 1 TAHITI and EMBARKATION
The package deal with Windstar Cruises flew us on Air Tahiti Nui, along with many of our fellow cruise mates, on an 8-hour flight from Los Angeles to Tahiti where we would spend our first night of the trip in a gorgeous Ocean View Room at Le Meridien Tahiti Hotel before embarking on the cruise the next day. Even though we arrived late at night, we could see enough to feel the excitement of being in Tahiti as the hotel was luxuriously appointed with exotic Polynesian décor. Our hotel room was modern, spacious and very comfortable with Tahitian details and it overlooked a small lagoon and the expansive pool that was surrounded by palm trees and tropical plants. By morning, we could see that the hotel was well-situated on the island with amazing views of the ocean. All rooms had a view of the huge swimming pool and overwater bungalows.
This was embarkation day and we were pretty excited to travel to the port to board our ship. Everything was very orderly and processing was fairly quick once we arrived at the ship. Before we knew it we had our cabin keys and settled into our comfortable little cabin. First things first, we unloaded our suitcases and found more than enough room for our belongings. The cabins have PLENTY of storage with many nooks, drawers, closets, shelves and cubbies for your things. For the excessive amount of items we brought on this trip, we still had empty storage space. Our large suitcases fit easily under the bed to be stowed away for the rest of the trip.
Day 2 AT SEA
Our first full day at sea provided plenty of time to relax and recover from our flights, become familiar with the ship and enjoy the tropical breezes as we sailed to the two outlying islands on the itinerary - Fakarava and Rangiroa in the Tuamotu Atolls. We highly recommend taking something for seasickness if you’re not used to sailing on high seas. The Wind Spirit does tend to rock and roll a bit so make sure you have something to manage the potential queasiness. The reception host recommended a room service order of ginger ale, crackers and green apples, apparently a time-tested cure for queasiness.
While at sea, you can be entertained with a tour of the bridge, enjoy a spa treatment, lounge around the pool deck, or take a tour of the galley. There’s usually a full schedule of activities provided every day of the cruise to keep you entertained.
Day 3 FAKARAVA
We arrived bright and early in the morning and anchored just off the coast of this stunning coral atoll that is a protected sanctuary and has a very diverse ecosystem that has become a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. It's considered a diver's paradise for its many species of marine life, including schools of colorful fish, grey sharks, and unusual coral. There are also rare species of birds, plants and crustaceans. It is also known as the “Island of Dreams", and we can see why with its beautiful natural tropical landscape making it an island lover’s dream. It was so quiet and serene here, like a heavenly paradise, a tropical beach-lover's dream.
Day 4 RANGIROA
This immense lagoon is considered one of the world's largest natural aquariums and a diver's dream for its beautiful coral, tropical fish, rays, and dolphins. Scuba diving and drift snorkeling are top on the list of things to do here to experience the vivid sea life. This island is also known as “The Endless Lagoon” with its 400+ motus, islets and sandbars surrounded by bright clear turquoise waters.
Again, we missed the opportunity to book the ship’s drift snorkeling excursion in the Tiputa Pass, but with a little research and insight from other travelers on Cruise Critic, we booked a diving excursion with The 6 Passengers Dive Center. They offered snorkeling expeditions as well, but as the currents in Tiputa Pass were not favorable that day for drift snorkeling, we requested a tune-up dive followed by a regular dive in the afternoon. So they took us to what is known as The Aquarium for an easy dive in this calm protected area where sea life abounds. It was literally like diving in an aquarium, every type of fish imaginable crowded the water here. It was well worth the trip. The owners of The 6 Passengers, originally from Paris, were extremely helpful, friendly, personable and patient. They were very accommodating and willing to do whatever we wanted. We highly recommend booking an excursion with them.
Day 5 AT SEA
Another day at sea to enjoy the various onboard entertainment and activities. This day included a cooking class by the executive chef who demonstrated several tasty creations with his favorite food - popcorn. He prepared a surprising array of interesting dishes and desserts with popcorn. A demonstration of artistic fruit and vegetable carvings by the galley staff, games, cocktails and other fun activities were also available as we returned to the Society Islands for the rest of the journey. A daily event schedule is provided each day with everything happening on board the ship to keep you busy and entertained.
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Day 6 TAHA'A
First day back in the Society Islands and we anchor off the Vanilla Island of Taha’a. We started our day with one of the ship’s excursions – Coral Garden Drift Snorkeling, and what a blast that was. First of all, the boat ride to the drift snorkeling location revealed the most beautiful aqua and teal-toned lagoon waters, as well as a view of an overwater bungalow resort that one should put on their luxury resort list – Le Taha’a Island Resort & Spa. It looked absolutely stunning from the water.
The drift snorkeling was a fun adventure as we walked along a motu (small island or islet) to an area in the shallow clear waters where we entered the water and just let the current take us across the most beautiful and colorful coral surrounded by fish of all colors while our guide led the way weaving and turning. Be very careful to float horizontally so you don't touch the coral. At times we would be within inches of the coral but maintained our best floating position to glide over it. If you’re not a comfortable or strong swimmer, this may be a little challenging and several people on our tour got a few minor scratches along the way. Make sure you look around on land between the three rounds of drift snorkeling because above water you are treated to views of a tropical paradise in every direction. Take a look at our 3-minute Tahaa Drift Snorkeling video so you can get a taste of the experience.
Today was also the ship’s lunch BBQ event on a private island, Motu Mahaea, where everyone on the ship was transported to this island to enjoy a huge buffet with endless choices of salads, hot dishes, barbecued burgers, grilled chicken and fish, hot dogs, and more, plus desserts galore. There were volleyball nets and beach toys available, and enough beach chairs for everyone on the ship to relax along the water’s edge and snorkel and swim in the crystal clear lagoon. It was a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon in an idyllic tropical island setting.
For us, it was our anniversary, so in the evening we celebrated by enjoying dinner in their Candles restaurant on the ship's deck where you can dine under the stars sampling their delicious steaks and skewers prepared by their grill master. You have to make reservations to dine here as the tables are limited, but the experience is exceptional. The stars in the sky when out at sea are incredible and make it all the more special. They surprised us with a very tasty cake for our dessert with well wishes from the crew.
Reminder: Don't forget to get some vanilla while on Tahaa, since it's the Vanilla Island. There are vanilla plantation excursions and other opportunities to purchase vanilla while here. With the busy day that we had, we missed doing this.
Day 7 HUAHINE
Known as the Garden Island and also nicknamed the 'Garden of Eden', this island has a lush tropical forest and jungle landscape full of bright flowers, vanilla orchids, coconut plantations, banana groves, watermelon fields and quaint villages. There is an archeological site of some 150 temples that can be explored here.
We decided to do the Motu Picnic excursion offered by the ship. With about 20+ other shipmates, we set off with our boisterous and amusing female Polynesian tour guide on an outrigger canoe to explore areas around Huahine, also known as the island of women as the silhouette of the island looks like the profile of a pregnant woman.
Our journey for the day first took us to an area where we could jump off the canoe to paddle around and snorkel in the clear shallow water and gaze at the abundant fish and coral. After that, we were off to a small motu where our guide, with the help of one of our shipmates, prepared poisson cru, the famous Tahitian dish of raw fish marinated in lime or citrus juice and coconut milk. Beef stew, chicken in a mushroom cream sauce, rice and other delicious fare were offered in a buffet style to be enjoyed at tables and chairs set up in the water just deep enough to keep you cool up to your waist. The fun part was watching the many tiny fish circling about our legs looking for tidbits. Fortunately, no bigger fish of the toothy variety joined in.
More snorkeling and a brief lesson in Polynesian dancing for the ladies and gents, with comical results, wrapped up the afternoon before heading back to the ship for the day’s sailaway to the next island.
Day 8 RAIATEA
This island, also known as the sacred island, has a rich cultural and historical background where it is believed that this island is the birthplace of Polynesia. Our adventure today was exploring some of the interior of the island by kayaking on the Faaroa River. In kayaks for two, our local French guides led us down the river, stopping at points along the way to explain the flora and fauna of the island as well as admire the lush mountainous peaks all around. This island does not have any beaches so the primary activities are visiting the archaeological sites around the island or taking the river tour.
Day 9 and 10 BORA BORA
This is the most well-known of the islands and the location of many honeymoons for its iconic and luxurious overwater bungalows that offer the perfect romantic setting. The water is many shades of turquoise blue surrounded by spectacular mountain peaks that make it an unforgettable experience.
The cruise provides a beach barbecue event with a traditional Polynesian music and dance show in the evening, and from what we heard from our shipmates, it was an impressive event with tons of food and a spectacular Polynesian dancing and fire show.
But we signed up for the Overwater Bungalow Romance package early on as we did not want to miss an opportunity to stay in an overwater bungalow in Bora Bora while we were in French Polynesia. This was the pinnacle of our trip, a fantastic experience, the absolute highlight of our trip. We were not sure exactly what we were going to get when we signed up for this excursion, considering the cost, but it exceeded our expectations.
We were given the first-class upscale treatment from the moment we boarded our transfer boat from the dock to Le Meridien Bora Bora. Apparently we were the only ones from our ship to sign up for this experience. We had already noted earlier in our wild and bumpy 4x4 tour of the island that Le Meridien, located along the reef with the other luxury overwater bungalow resorts, was the most attractive looking resort among them. As we approached the resort, our jaws dropped at the many vibrant shades of greens and blues of the water. I had to take off my rose-colored Maui Jim sunglasses to see if it was real - it was.
Then the resort with its thatched roof bungalows, huge reception building, restaurants and perfectly manicured beach and grounds left us in absolute awe. When we stepped off the boat onto their shaded dock, we were immediately welcomed by their graceful model-like French hostess who invited us to have a seat on her golf cart while she whisked us off to reception where we were offered a cooling fruity refreshment while we checked in and our itinerary of luxury was explained to us.
Our hostess then gave us the tour of the resort and its many luxurious amenities. I was hoping my jaw was off the floor and my eyes were not too wide as she showed us around. I tried to play it cool like we do this all the time, but I’m not sure I was too convincing.
As she drove us to our bungalow. I was feeling pretty encouraged as she kept driving almost as far out as you can go on the bungalow boardwalk. We arrived at our premium overwater bungalow directly facing Bora Bora's iconic mountain, Mt. Otemanu. She showed us around the bungalow, which was beyond amazing, with its huge glass-bottom floor, also known as "Tahitian TV", that initially gave me pause before stepping onto it, the luxurious king-size bed, comfort in every little detail, spacious deck with lounge chairs, and Italian shower - a shower without a curtain or door.
We had less than 24 hours to make the most of this experience so we didn’t waste time. As soon as she left, I quickly donned my bathing suit, snorkel, and mask and down the little spiral staircase from our deck and into the lagoon I went only to find little to no coral and fewer and much bigger fish than I’d seen elsewhere. When I saw the shark wiggling along the bottom, I decided I’d swim back to the bungalow and wait for my husband to join me.
After maxing out the swimming around the lagoon bungalow area, it was time to prepare for our dinner on the beach. Strolling like we own the place down the long boardwalk path to the restaurant area, we were then shown to our beautifully set table for two on the beach, complete with little candles in small vases in a semi-circle around the table that was sprinkled with bright pink and red flower petals, laid out with fine china, numerous silverware pieces, several crystal glasses, all indicating a multi-course dinner was ahead, and of course a half-bottle of champagne as an aperitif chilling in a bucket next to the table. A premium bottle of wine was also included.
Our dinner was an impressive seven-course meal of an assortment of rolls served in a large conch shell, a bruschetta sampling, a couple of seafood appetizers of prawns and scallops, and filet mignon with a side dish of fava beans and mushrooms, all of it prepared to perfection. It tasted fabulous! And the dessert? A molten chocolate cake baked to perfection with the best tasting dark chocolate I've ever tasted oozing out of the warm center, with a side of almond flavored ice cream. It was so delicious that my husband asked the chef what chocolate he used.
Upon returning to our bungalow, we sat outside on the deck gazing at the incredible number of stars in the sky. I fell asleep under the stars, with the weight of the rich dinner settling in my stomach, while my husband took an infinite number of photos of the starry sky.
Breakfast in the morning was delivered by outrigger canoe to our bungalow and the cheerful server beautifully laid out the meal on the coffee table positioned over the glass bottom floor - white table cloth, white china, a basket full of breads, croissants and assorted pastries, eggs, potatoes, fruits, freshly squeezed orange juice, and coffee. A colorful lei of fresh flowers was delicately placed on my head.
Our lunch was also included where we sat in bright pink rocking chairs in their sandy-floored alfresco café and ordered a fresh salad of hearts of palm and a hamburger that was incredibly flavorful. One of the ladies noticed me admiring the lei on one of the servers and she quickly and enthusiastically started making one for me that was even more beautiful than the one I received at breakfast. To keep them fresh for as long as possible, a few sprinkles of water flicked on the petals helped them last most of the day.
Le Meridien Bora Bora is also a sanctuary for hawksbill and green turtles and we attended their brief lecture on how they tend to and nurse rescued turtles back to health. They also give you an opportunity to feed a variety of premium sushi to baby turtles that are flopping around in baby pool-like plastic tubs in an open-air room.
This was an unforgettable excursion, and I only wish we'd had more time there. The 24-hour experience went by faster than we could possibly imagine.
Day 10 and 11 MOOREA
Moorea is the island that inspired the mythical Bali Hai in Michener's Tales of the South Pacific and has one the most dramatic landscapes among the Society Islands with eight towering mountain peaks rising from its sapphire blue lagoon.
This was our last stop on our journey around the islands. As the ship approached the island, you immediately realize why Moorea is called the magical isle. Her jagged and dense deep green peaks rise high into the sky and the blue-green lagoon that surrounds the island makes it seem almost like a South Seas island fantasy. The distinctive Mount Tohivea stands front and center among the rest, and our guide said it is sometimes called shark-tooth mountain, an apt description for a mountain whose shape resembles a shark’s tooth.
We decided to explore the island by hiring one of the many drivers readily available at the dock to take visitors on tours. It was just us and another couple to share the cost, which was reasonable and less than the ship-sponsored tour. We followed much of the same route as the ship’s tour bus but enjoyed the more personal interaction with our very knowledgeable guide.
As our driver weaved along the coast, our eyes were treated to the exquisite sight of the endless turquoise waters that led to the waves crashing against the reef and the deep blue ocean beyond, a gorgeous sight we had grown accustomed to on our island journey. The interior of Moorea is a lush tropical forest with steep roads leading up the mountains.
Our guide drove us into the interior of the island to the famous Belvedere Lookout Point with its fantastic panoramic views of the mountains, Cook’s Bay and Opunohu Bay. From there he took us on a trail into the woods to get a close-up look at the tropical flora and fauna, small waterfalls and to visit several archaeological sites along the path.
That evening we returned to where the trip began on Tahiti, and in the morning we disembarked the ship in phases by groups. For those of us with the Windstar package deal, we were bused back to Le Meridien Tahiti to stay in a day room for a full day to relax and spend some time at the public beach on their resort, enjoy their enormous pool, relax on lounge chairs under the palm trees (coconuts removed), and dine at their open-air restaurant before our night flight back to Los Angeles.
So I've asked myself, where do we go from here? This was the trip of a lifetime, the one I'd dreamed about for years, read about, drooled over pictures of, and now it is over. But the memories, the videos, the thousands of photos we captured will keep it alive forever. Will we go to this far flung area of the world again? Yes, we will. It'll keep us smiling just dreaming that someday we will make this trip happen again. We will definitely visit magnificent French Polynesia again someday.
Can't decide? Cruise or Land? Check out our land-based itinerary 12-Day Dream Trip In Tahiti for an alternative trip where you can luxuriate in gorgeous overwater bungalows at the top resorts in Tahiti, Bora Bora, Moorea and Rangiroa.
Explore our gallery of photos from our trip to French Polynesia.
We have more videos to help you dream about visiting the islands of Tahiti someday:
Recommended Gear to take on this trip. Remember that this is a bucket list trip. Take your phone camera and consider these to capture the memories and enjoy the trip.
Comment from Windstar: Windstar Cruise is the Conde Nast award winning Top Small Ship Cruise Line. Windstar Cruise is proud to service Tahiti year around. Come aboard