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The Best of French Polenesia's Islands on Wind Spirit with visits to Four Seasons Bora Bora and InterContinental Tahiti and Moorea
BY STEVEN STERN WEDNESDAY APRIL 18, 2018 2:03:10 PM  
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THE BEST OF FRENCH POLYNESIA'S ISLANDS

ON

WIND SPIRIT

 

TOGETHER WITH VISITS TO FOUR SEASONS RESORT IN BORA BORA, INTERCONTINENTAL MOOREA  RESORT AND INTERCONTINENTAL TAHITI RESORT

 


Wind Spirit Under Sail

Dining on Deck 


Cabin

        Searching for a different kind of cruise for a honeymoon, special anniversary or romantic adventure-- something intimate, laid back, non-regimented with exotic itineraries? Windstar Cruises 148-passenger Wind Spirit

has filled this niche in the cruise market since 2015 offering seven-, ten- and eleven night cruises throughout French Polynesia.

        French Polynesia is an overseas territory of France consisting of 118 islands, divided into five scattered archipelagos, the most well known being the Society Islands which include Tahiti, Huahine, Bora Bora and Moorea, four of the eight islands visited on the Wind Spirit.

Located in the Pacific, these archipelagos are approximately 4,200 miles southwest of San Francisco,2,600 miles south of Hawaii, and about midway between South America and Australia.

        Whether you are traveling from North America, Europe, Australia or the Far East, you are faced with long and expensive air flights. Therefore, if you choose to explore this idyllic paradise, why not pull out all the stops and explore it in style! For us this involved an eleven night cruise on Wind Spirit, one of the two ships dedicated to travel in this area (the other being the Paul Gauguin), plus sojourns to three unbelievably beautiful island resorts-- Four Seasons in Bora Bora, InterContinental in Moorea and InterContinental in Tahiti.

        Our Air Tahiti flight originating in Los Angeles arrived in Papeete, on the island of Tahiti at 9:45 in the evening. We checked in to the Tahiti InterContinental Resort and Spa for two nights prior to the departure of our cruise. In a lavish 25 acre garden setting with a lovely turquoise lagoon, with volcanic peaks rising in the distance, the Tahiti InterContinental was a perfect launch point for our vacation. (Being only two miles from the airport, it also was the most convenient first class property on the island).

        This 4-star resort and spa boasts two superb infinity pools set amid colorful indigenous plants and towering palms. The 258 guest units include 16 over water motu bungalows and 14 over water lagoon junior suite bungalows. The resort's bar and two restaurants offer French, international and Polynesian cuisines with theme evenings and Polynesian dinner dance shows.

        Breakfast feature a lavish buffet for $40 a person. However dinners were disappointing, as well as very expensive.

Facilities include a diving center, various water sports, a Lagoonarium,  a large spa and tennis courts.

        Recalling from prior visits that  there was not much of interest in the town, we did not go into  Papeete until the morning before we boarded ship.

        Check-in to the ship was quick, pleasant and easy. After boarding, we were directed to the main lounge, provided various forms to fill out while being treated to finger sandwiches and rum punch. After completing this procedure, we were escorted to our cabins. No waiting in ugly terminals and no long lines, one of the perks of a smaller vessel.

        We were now ready to enjoy a relaxing eleven days aboard ship sailing the beautiful islands of French Polynesia.  

        Our cabin, one of the 74 identical, 188 square-foot, outside cabins was designed in a modern interpretation of the nautical tradition, with mixed woods and rich fabrics. Although we found storage and closet space a bit sparse, the cabin did include a remote color TV with C/D and DVD player, a private lock box, a desk/make-up bureau, two chairs, a fully stocked refrigerator/mini-bar, a telephone, an ice bucket, two twin beds that had been converted to a queen, and an attractive bathroom with a vanity, separate toilet compartment and a shower. The cabin design and features, though somewhat unique, reflect the style of ships built  in the 1980s and lack some of the innovations of those of more recent vintage. All cabins have port holes and none have balconies.

        As a departure from more formal cruises, casual dress is de rigueur at all times, jackets never being required for men. This simplifies packing and sets the general relaxed tone.

        In the early evening many guests migrated to the main lounge for cocktails and hors d'oeuvres before partaking in the multi-course dinner served open-seating between 7:30 and 9:30. We felt that the elegant, wood-paneled main dining room was one of the most tastefully decorated restaurants afloat. Each evening, we were given the choice of dining alone or with other passengers since tables accommodate from two to ten persons.

        Five course dinners start with a selection of appetizers, soups and salads. Five entrees offered nightly generally include one meat, one fish or seafood and one fowl dish, plus a pasta and vegetarian offering. Desserts were very special ranging from imaginative mousses, tarts and soufflés to cheeses, fresh fruit, ice creams and sorbets. Espresso and cappuccino were complimentary, whereas on many ships there is an extra charge. The wine list was quite extensive for a cruise ship with a good assortment of international vintages in the $20 to $35 range plus 24 wines offered by the glass.  

        After dinner, a couple entertained in the main lounge each evening, playing music for listening and dancing. There were no variety shows or additional entertainments other than a folkloric performance on Motu Tapua the evening the ship served dinner on that islet. A small casino offered a blackjack and a Caribbean poker table plus several slots.  The library on the ship boasts an extensive C/D and DVD collection.  Many of guests opted to take movies back to their cabins and turn in early to be ready for the following day's tours, many of which commenced at 8:00 a.m.

        Breakfast and lunch were offered buffet style on the Veranda, a glass-walled room located on the top deck of the ship.  Passengers also could elect to dine on deck outside the Veranda under huge umbrellas. The selections were numerous and items could be ordered off the menu and served at your table. In addition, an extensive room service menu was available.

        Candles was the alternative dining experience. Each evening tables were set up around the pool and dinner was served al fresco by candle light. Grilled steaks and chops were featured. Guests could opt to dine here, free of charge twice during the cruise.

        The ship has a fitness room, small but well fitted with two treadmills and two exercise cycles, as well as weight lifting equipment.  A sport platform that extends off the ship's stern offers many sports activities when the ship is at anchor. Equipment and instructions for water skiing, windsurfing, sailing, diving, snorkeling and deep sea fishing were available. The Wind Spirit bridge is always open so guests can chat with the officers on duty. Forward of the bridge is the open observation deck.

        During the day, when not on tour, passengers congregate around the swimming pool which adjoins a bar and shaded area where drinks and light lunches are available.

        The Wind Spirit has seven sails which can be unfurled by hydraulic motors. Depending upon wind conditions and sailing schedules, the ship can be navigated by its motors or by its sails.

        Most excursions were designed to take advantage of the beaches, sea life and natural beauty of the islands. The majority of the passengers were interested in the snorkeling and diving expeditions. Due to the  many steep stairways  throughout the ship and the very steep, open gangway, those with ambulatory problems may have difficulty when taking this cruise.

         Following a relaxing day at sea, we arrived at Fakarava, our first port of call. Excursions were offered for snorkeling, diving or for a beach day and sight seeing.

        Rangiroa was our next stop. Passengers could choose from snorkeling at a coral garden, a two tank certified dive, a glass bottom boat ride and a visit to a pearl farm for a demonstration on how oysters are cultivated to produce  pearls.

        After another sea day we anchored off of  Motu Mahaea, Tahaa Island from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m, at which time we sailed on to Raiatea for a 6:30p.m arrival. In the morning at Tahaa we could choose a Jet Ski adventure, snorkeling in a coral garden, sightseeing around the island with a visit to a black pearl farm, or a visit to a vanilla plantation followed by snorkeling.

        We remained in Raiatea overnight and until 10 p.m. the following day. Numerous excursions were offered including an outrigger canoe tour down the Faaroa River with a beach stop at a small motu (islet), a guided kayak tour on that river, jet skiing and snorkeling, and a heritage tour with a visit to a pearl farm.

        However, the highlight of the visit was the barbeque lunch on a private motu. Surrounded by warm, crystal clear waters, and a white sand beach covered with coconut palms, this little bit of paradise was the setting for a glorious afternoon. The crew had set up numerous comfortable lounges, umbrellas, a full service bar, dining tables and water sport equipment. Access to the motu was by zodiacs.

        The following two days, the ship anchored in Bora Bora, for most the high point of the cruise. This ideal tropical island with its haunting mountains and exquisite palm tree-lined snow-white beaches afforded a plethora of possibilities. The waters surrounding  the main island (which is only 17 miles in circumference) are protected by a coral reef  that creates miles of beautiful aqua-colored lagoon containing tiny pristine motus  where you can sun on virgin beaches and swim in crystal-clear waters.

        The plethora of excursions included sunset cruises on a motor boat or jet boat, a wave runner jet ski adventure, a glass bottom boat ride, a 4-wheel drive excursion around the island, or a similar tour on an open-air truck, a snorkel safari with a stingray encounter, scuba dives, a beach picnic on a private motu, and an overnight stay at one of the island's resorts.

 

Four Seasons Resort


        We opted to take off on our own having booked an overnight at the Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora. One of the resorts private launches met us in the main town of Vaitape and transferred us to the property.

        Set on its own motu in Bora Bora's surrounding coral atoll,  this 54 acre property is a vast tropical grove replete with coconut palms, pandanus trees and meandering channels of pure turquoise streams. One hundred over-water bungalow suites, seven beachfront villa estates, four restaurants, and the full service spa are all designed with thatched roofs and decorated with indigenous art work to capture the beauty and culture of the island. Although the structures had Polynesian exteriors, the interiors were up-scale and modern and conformed to Four Seasons' high standards.

        Each of the 100 air-conditioned, over-water bungalows, located on branching piers extending into the lagoon, measures over 1,100 square feet (twice the size of most of the other resorts in Bora Bora) and features unobstructed sunrise views over the Pacific and sunset vistas over the lagoon and the towering iconic Mount Otemanu. These luxury accommodations include a very large, spacious living room with a flat screen TV and video on demand, a DVD/CD player, a stocked refrigerator, writing desk and large sitting area, a bedroom with a king-size bed, a second flat screen TV, several dressers,  ceiling fans made of coconut palms, a bathroom with a soaking tub overlooking panoramic views of the lagoon, his and her sink vanities, separate shower and toilet compartments, a hairdryer, a walk-in closet/storage area, a large sundeck with chaise lounges, a covered dining area, and  a lower deck with a  ladder extending to the water below with a rinsing shower. Pull-out sofas in the living areas can accommodate families. There also were 2,228 square-foot, 2 bedroom overwater bungalows, some with plunge pools.

         The ultra-luxury beach villas range in size from 2,772 square feet for a one bedroom, 3,228 square feet for a two bedroom to 5,380 square feet for a three bedroom. The beach villas each have a private pool, access to a private beach, and too many amenities to cover here.

        Transportation throughout the property  was available at all time by staff driven carts.

        We had lunch at the  Fare Hoa Beach Bar and Grill by the pool, dinner on the porch of the fine dining Arii Moana Restaurant and a large buffet breakfast at the semi open- air Terre Nui, also the location for the once-a-week Polynesian dinner show. Drinks and an Asian/sushi menu were available at the Sunset Restaurant and Bar. Prices at all of the restaurants were quite, high even by Tahitian standards. Guests could schedule "The Romantic Beachfront Dinner", as well as a special breakfast brought by canoe to the outdoor porch of their bungalow. If you have to ask the price, you can't afford it  

        The next day we started out at the well-equipped fitness center, followed by a visit to the resort's outstanding spa. Our Thai massage took place in one of the seven air-conditioned treatment rooms which featured   an open-air deck. We also took advantage of the water therapy  pool, the steam room, sensory shower and relaxation room, all of which are available to guests free of charge. Yoga and pilates classes were offered daily

        During the afternoon, we sunned ourselves at the resort's 131square-foot infinity swimming pool embedded with a large heated whirlpool. Attendants provided ice water, chilled towels and an Evian spritz. Thatched roof cabanas lined the area. Next to the pool was a sprawling private beach on Bora Bora's inner lagoon where we swam in warm, protected waters.  A wide range of water sports was available such as snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaks, standing paddleboats, Hobie Cats, windsurfing, fishing charters, and guided tours in wave runners and in a motorized canoe for diving, ray and shark feeding.  A professional tennis program was available, as well as beach volleyball and beach badminton.

         We were impressed with the "Kids for all Seasons" supervised program designed for children ages 5-12. This makes the resort a good choice for families.

        Alas, we had to leave this paradise and rejoin our ship before it set sail. We thoroughly enjoyed this idyllic resort and especially were enamored by Four Seasons   pampering and world-renowned comfort, style and service.  Having traveled all my adult life to exotic resorts all over the globe in order to write my book Stern's Guide to the  Greatest Resorts of the World, I feel qualified to express my opinion that  Four Seasons Bora Bora, is  one of the “best resorts in the world".

        We arrived back to Wind Spirit in time to take part in the sunset dinner  and Polynesian show on Motu Tapua prior to her sailing away to Huahine.

        Tuesday morning, the ship docked in Huahine and offered  a variety of tours that included snorkeling and safari expeditions, a cultural walk, and a 4-wheel drive  nature adventure . We chose the motu picnic where we were transported by outrigger canoe to a small beach for lunch, swimming, and snorkeling.

        Our final day was spent at the scenic island of Moorea, one of the most spectacular islands in the world with a vibrant cultural history. The island itself is about two million years old.  People have lived on Moorea for almost 2,000 years, and its rich history of traditional knowledge has been passed down through the generations.. With two major research institutions here, including UC Berkeley's Gump Research Station, it is also now likely the most studied island in the world.

          A wide shallow lagoon surrounds the island, flanked by peaceful meadows and vertical mountains where threads of waterfalls tumble down fern covered cliffs.  Numerous needle mountain spires   (including the fabled Bali Hai), small villages and white sand beaches border a protected lagoon.

           We opted for the full island tour where all of the available information generated by researchers and local elders had been  woven  into an educational and exotic  afternoon. We explored beaches, forests, and an ancient village where archaeologists are piecing together the pre-history of the Polynesians. Along the way we learned about the geology, plants and animals, settlement by the Polynesians, European explorations, and modern environmental issues.

          The other possibilities we could have chosen were a dolphin eco tour, a guided bike tour, a snorkel safari, a two tank certified dive, a scuba dive for beginners, and  a sting ray encounter by waive runner jet ski.

          The ship departed Moorea at 6:00 p.m. to arrive back in Papeete early in the evening. Most passengers remained on board overnight and disembarked the next morning for their flight home. Since we were headed for the Intercontinental Resort Moorea the next day, we made the mistake of not disembarking prior to the ship leaving for Papeete, but did enjoy the final evening aboard.

          Passengers agreed that the Wind Spirit's itinerary in French Polynesia was one of the more pleasant, exotic cruises they had experienced. Watching the sun set over the verdant mountain peaks of Bora Bora and Moorea while the ship's sails carried you away over the crystal clear waters of the islands' blue lagoons would have to ignite sparks in any loving couple.  

          For fine dining, concerned service in an intimate, unique, congenial cruise experience "180 degrees from ordinary" as advertised, you cannot find anything more rewarding than a cruise in French Polynesia on the Wind Sprit.

          Upon disembarking, we took a taxi to the Papeete ferry terminal for a 30-minute ride back to Moorea.  Upon arrival at ferry station in Moorea, we took a taxi to the InterContinental Resort Moorea for a two night visit. The resort is located on a 27-acre mini-peninsula on the northwest tip of the island. The property boasts the most expansive gardens, lagoons and topical vegetation of any resort in all of Polynesia.

          Our reservation was for one of the fifty 452 square-foot, over water bungalows which are connected by bridges that meander over the lagoon. Alternate choices would have been one of the forty-five 409 square-foot, beach and garden bungalows with private plunge pools, or one of the 323 square-foot lanai suites located in a two-story building. All of the accommodations were air conditioned. Our bungalow  contained similar facilities and amenities as the one we enjoyed at the Four Seasons Bora Bora, but was half the size, somewhat dated and less deluxe.

          We spent most of the day alternating between the beach, the two heated swimming pools and the lagoon below our bungalow. We were able to snorkel off of the terrace of our bungalow, and If we threw bread crumbs off the terrace, the fish would come right up to greet us.

          Wishing to take advantage of the numerous water sports available, we took out one of the kayaks. Other options would have included outrigger canoes, catamarans, jet skis, or water skiing.  The facilities included two tennis courts and a small fitness center,  and a disappointing Polynesian spa. One of the most popular attractions was the Dolphin operation where guests could join a group and pet, feed and play with trained dolphins in the lagoon.

          Dinner al fresco by candlelight at the Fare Hana Restaurant was quite romantic. For a more gourmet repast, reservations could be booked  at the Shell Restaurant located in a section of the second floor Fare Nui breakfast venue. Like the Tahiti InterContinental, breakfast was served buffet style for $40 per person, however, was not up to the caliber of the Tahiti property..

          We returned late the second afternoon to the ferry dock for our ride back to Papeete  in order to catch our overnight flight on Air Tahitnui back to the states.

          In retrospect, as much as we were enamored with the three resorts we visited, the prices for accommodations and dining were extremely high by U.S. standards. Certainly the most reasonable way to visit French Polynesia was on the Wind Spirit.

          I have visited many lovely places all over the globe that I hope to return to; however, I must say that French Polynesia is one of the most exotic, peaceful and hedonistic locals I have experienced.  I hope those that read this rambling diary of our Polynesian adventure have the opportunity to explore this unbelievably beautiful part of the world.

 

Steven B. Stern

Author of "Stern's Guide to the Cruise Vacation"; "Stern's Guide to European Riverboats and Hotel Barges", "Stern's Guide to the Greatest Resorts of the World" and "The Indispensable Guide to Foreign Words and Phrases".  All can be seen on his web site at www.stevensterntravel.com  or on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

 

 

         

 

 
 
     
 
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