Wind Spirit Cruise in Tahiti - week of June 20th
We are a snorkeling couple in our early sixties, with 35 cruises under our belts (or because of overindulging on cruise food, maybe I should say over our belts), including seven on Windstar, all but one of those being on Wind Spirit in the Caribbean.
We took a late night flight from Minneapolis to Los Angeles on Wednesday night. We stayed at a nearby airport hotel, which promptly picked us up with their shuttle that night, and took us back to LAX the next morning. The car traffic trying to get to the departing flights level was unreal. Later a woman we were talking to told us our hotel was in a dangerous neighborhood (which explained the modest room rate) but since we only slept there, we were oblivious to all that. When we got to the airport, there was an awful ruckus of noise coming from a hundred or so airport workers who were on strike. They continually blew ear-piercing whistles along with their chanting. We got to the Air Tahiti Nui counter four hours before our flight and there was already a line of people waiting. Air Tahiti Nui opened their counter an hour later. We got our boarding passes and started the trek to the assigned gate. It turned out our gate was only a gate to get on a bus, which took us to another gate where the plane was actually located.
The eight hour flight to Papeete was long but uneventful, and the plane looked to be only half full. It was a wide-body Airbus, so every few hours we got up and walked around a bit. Two meals were served, neither very memorable. After we landed late on Thursday night, picked up our luggage, and went through customs, Windstar staff met us. They took us in a bus to the Meridien Hotel, where we got our room assignment. When we got to our room it took us several minutes to figure out how to turn on the lights. We finally realized you had to put the room key in a slot behind the front door light switch. We thought they could have told us that when we checked in.
The next morning (Friday) we had a nice breakfast and saw how beautiful the hotel and its location were. Then we got back on the bus to get to the ship. After checking aboard in the lounge and getting our room keys/boarding passes, we got to our cabin, and headed upstairs to have some lunch.
The lobby and dining room on the Wind Spirit have been redone and are beautiful. They have not refurbished the cabins yet, but I believe that will be done soon. There's still a small library on board as well as a signature gift shop. The library has a couple of Internet terminals. I would not advise anyone to purchase the Internet package, because the speeds at sea are so slow. (If you must get on the Internet, most of the islands have at least one cafe that has Internet access.) The library also has a collection of movies on DVD which you can watch on TV in your cabin. The only one we borrowed was "Hitchcock," which was pretty good. There a several channels on the cabin TV, one of which kept showing the different movie versions of "Mutiny on the Bounty."
Every evening on the yacht (which is how Windstar wants us to refer to their ships) a duo named Souljorn performed in the lounge, followed by a short talk by Steve, the destination manager, on the port and activities coming up the next day, which was then followed by dinner. Steve said the weather during our week's cruise was the best since they started sailing this itinerary in Tahiti in May.
Dinner is open seating. Some nights we got to join other people, but most nights we were seated at a table for two. Every meal on the ship was excellent, as were the waitstaff, especially Kris and Jati. My only complaint was that at lunch and dinner, sometimes there was quite a wait to get your water glass refilled. Breakfast and lunch are buffets, but you can also order a few dishes from a menu on the table.
The first port was Moorea, a beautiful island. We did the stingray and snorkel safari. For those people in our group who had never experienced a stingray encounter before (like the well-known one off Grand Cayman), there was quite a bit of trepidation and some screaming from a few of the ladies. Because the tour guides feed the stingrays, the rays are quite accommodating to being held, stroked, and picked up. There were also some black tip reef sharks swimming around, which were also fed, and thus quite safe. After this, we went to an area nearby for some nice snorkeling.
It was pointed out to us that the latest remake of "Mutiny on the Bounty" - the one starring Mel Gibson," was largely filmed on Moorea. When we were departing, we sailed past a very picturesque view of its mountains, and then when we returned to our cabin to get ready for dinner, I turned on the TV, and that very minute, the same view of Moorea came on during the movie.
That evening we were one of three couples invited to have dinner at the captain's table. One of the women at the table said she had been on 27 Windstar cruises! Captain Griffiths was very good company, very down to earth, and witty. We had a great time.
Second port was Tahaa. We did the drift snorkel, but because the water levels were low, they was no drifting involved. You had to propel yourself with your fins. The coral gardens were beautiful, as were the fish. We snorkeled through the coral gardens twice. The tour guides, especially Vai, were very friendly, and also took us to a spot where we got our first look at the distant peaks of Bora Bora. She had earlier showed us how to squeeze together leaves from a local bush to produce a soapy liquid that was a perfect defogger for our snorkel masks.
Later that afternoon, Wind Star had set up lunch and water sports on a nearby motu. Motus are the many islets that are part of the barrier reefs encircling many of the Tahitian islands. After we left port, we had a nice sail up the coast, and witnessed a beautiful sunset (but no green flash).
Third stop was Raiatea. This was the only island where our yacht actually docked. On the other islands we took tender boats to the shore. We did the pearl farm excursion. They take you by van to an area of the lagoon where one of the pearl farms is located, and then by boat to the small workshop and boutique on stilts in the middle of the lagoon. The lady who explained the whole black pearl making process was named Summer, and was very nice. One of her technicians showed us the surgical process of implanting the genetic material and seed into the oysters. It takes two years for the pearl to grow, and they can sometimes use the same oyster up to four times, producing a bigger pearl each time, although fourth generation very large pearls are unusual. We bought a nice pearl necklace there and then did a little snorkeling in the lagoon. The water had gotten somewhat choppy, but we got a cool look at the strings of cultured oysters hanging down underwater in the lagoon.
In the evening, Wind Spirit had an ondeck, outdoor barbeque around the "pool." It included suckling pig, shrimp, lobster tails, lamb, and lots of decadent desserts. The only downer was that after we had sat down at a table, had our water glasses filled, and unfolded our napkins and took out our silverware, while we were standing in line to get our food, some other passengers decided to take our table away. We thought that was pretty low (certainly not what I expected from passengers on a Wind Star cruise) but we eventually found another place to sit. Let me add that everyone else on the cruise was very polite and friendly.
The fourth day was the first of two in Bora Bora. It deserves its reputation as one of the most beautiful islands in the world. The lush green island with two towering volcanic peaks is also surrounded by a barrier reef with many motus, and the different shades of blue and turquoise water in the shallow lagoon are amazing. The first day we chose to do the 4x4 off-road adventure. There were six of us plus Mario, the driver and guide, who was a joy. The vehicle was a modified Land Rover. We sat in the back on benches on both sides. Part of the tour was on the paved road around Bora Bora, but three times Mario took us on extremely bumpy (and sometimes muddy) trails up the mountains. The first stop included a couple of the big guns the USA installed during World War Two. The second stop overlooking the shallow lagoon, with its different shades of blue water, was breathtaking. Just like a scene on a postcard. The third and last trip up the mountain, the vehicle broke down. Mario backed down the trail, told us to wait a few minutes, and then drove up with another vehicle! On the way back to our tender, We also made quick stops at a beautiful beach, and the famous "Bloody Mary's" bar and restaurant.
That afternoon Wind Spirit gave its guests the opportunity to circle around the yacht (in a Zodiac) while its sails were up so we could get pictures of the ship in its glory. We had to wait an extra 30 minutes because so many people wanted to do this, and the boat only held about 12 people at a time. But It was well worth the wait for the unique views of the yacht with the sails up.
Late that evening we noticed three small boats, each containing one man, circling around quite close to our first floor porthole. It was kind of creepy. We came to the conclusion they were local fisherman taking advantage of the ship's lights on the water, which probably were attracting the fish or squid they were fishing for. I know it was French Polynesia, but as far as ship security goes, we were surprised in this day and age that the boats were permitted to come so close to our ship.
The second day in Bora Bora we did their stingray/black tip reef shark encounter, followed snorkeling in the coral gardens. The snorkeling was great, and the corals were beautiful. In the afternoon we went back into town to buy some postcards, and then I finally gave in and visited an Internet cafe after being off the grid for seven days. A short walk from the pier to your left is a little shopping mall that contains Cafe Aloha which gives you Internet access with your purchase of food or drink.
In the evening a catamaran took us to Motu Tapu for the special Windstar ahima'a (like a luau in Hawaii). After they removed the pig from the underground earth oven, there was a buffet of traditional Tahitian foods, which were all good. The food included the roasted pig, poisson cru, taro, grilled tuna, and other dishes. The only complaint was nobody ever came around to pour water in any of our glasses. After dinner a team of young people put on a Tahitian show with traditional dancing and then fire dancing, which was pretty spectacular. Don't miss it!
Last port was Huahine. This was the only day that we had some off and on rain showers. We did the motu picnic excursion and had a blast. First was some snorkeling off the boat, then over to a motu for some more snorkeling on its other side. Then the crew made us a delicious lunch. One of the young ladies split open a coconut, shredded the inside to get all the meat, then squeezed the meat to make coconut milk, which was used on raw pieces of tuna that along with vegetables comprised the main dish. There was also rice, some beef stew, and bread, and coconut-coated bananas for dessert. Our tables were set up with their legs in the water, and we sat on our chairs in the water while we enjoyed a delicious lunch. A young man of the crew serenaded us on his ukulele, and we cleaned off our dishes in the water, to the hundreds of juvenile fish happy to eat the crumbs. On the way back, the young lady guide showed us several ways to fold and wear the traditional Tahitian Pareo.
Finally on Friday we woke up to heavy rain as docked back in Tahiti (about 6:00 a.m.). If it had to rain during our cruise, coming at the very end was OK. Our Air Tahiti flight back to LAX was scheduled for 11:05 p.m., so we had plenty of time to kill. We disembarked the ship, and did their 3-hour Tahiti east side excursion, followed by spending most of the day back at our day room at the Meridien Hotel, before transferring back to the airport in the evening. Our flight to LAX was on time, with two more forgettable meals. Then we had to drag our luggage outside from the international terminal to the Delta terminal. The only hiccup was after using the self-service kiosk to print our boarding passes, there was an incredibly long line to drop off our luggage. It took about 30 minutes. Finally our flight home from LAX took off on time and we made it home.
Even though the Tahiti east side excursion was all in the rain, we found it very interesting. Our guide and driver for the tour was named Cookie, and the first stop was the James Hall home. Hall was the author of "Mutiny on the Bounty," and the home was turned into a museum of his interesting life and his books. Our guide was a very nice lady named Vivian. After educating us about his life and work, we were served pineapple upside down cake and lemonade which were both very good. Then off to Point Venus and the lighthouse for a short stop because of the rain. There was also a handicrafts market at the lighthouse.
All of the ship's crew were friendly and efficient, including the cabin stewards. Ours was named Ceppy. Starting the second night of the cruise, we would get back from dinner to find a new towel animal on the bed next to our two chocolates.
It seemed that most of the passengers were from California or Arizona, a few from Canada, a few from Colorado, one couple we met was from Thailand, and another from Brazil.
Shopping for souvenirs, other than black pearls, was very limited on the islands, and many items were quite expensive.
All in all a great cruise, great food, beautiful islands, and friendly Tahitians.