I had been to the Marquesas Islands on a sailboat in 2002 and wanted to share this unique part of the world with my wife. This cruise was an amazing two week trip and cultural immersion of French Polynesia and especially the Marquesas ... Read More
I had been to the Marquesas Islands on a sailboat in 2002 and wanted to share this unique part of the world with my wife. This cruise was an amazing two week trip and cultural immersion of French Polynesia and especially the Marquesas Islands. Having been here before, my wife and I really enjoy this part of the world, and especially the nice people.
We have heard all of the complaints - it is too far - it is too expensive - they speak French and the French are snooty - blah , blah , blah. Nonsense all........................................
Yes - they do speak French, but the people are exceptionally nice there. It may not be paradise, but PF (Polynese Frances) is about as close to the garden of Eden as you can get. Get this - lots of fish that are easy to catch, delightful climate (too warm for a lot of folks), many varieties of fruit falling off the trees, cheap French wine, and really nice people. Not too bad.
This was our fourth trip to PF as a couple and my fifth. This time, we took the very unique "adventure cruise” on the Arenui5. This is a very unique cruise indeed as the Arenui5 is 1/2 cruise ship and 1/2 freighter. It is a very small ship (as we found out) - only 7500 tons of displacement. Compare this to the current supply of cruise ships. The smallest ship that we have been on before was the Pacific Princess that was about 30,000 tons. Most cruise ships these days weigh in at over 100,000 tons. I have been looking at the “Aranui" cruises since way back in 2002 when I sailed the Marquesas and Tuomotu islands with my buddy on his 42 foot sailboat. A bonus was that on our 11/7/17 sailing, Maurice Bligh was the guest lecturer on the ship. He is the great great grandson of the famous Captain Bligh of the famous HMAV Bounty.
We had read extensively about the famous mutiny on the Bounty in 1789. We landed two days early in Tahiti for the cruise. To get in the swing of things, we took a side trip to Point Venus and Matavai Bay where the great explorers (Wallis, Bouganville, Cook, and Bligh) anchored their ships upon arrival in PF. This is a must see for history buff cruisers.
The next morning (Tuesday 11/7) , we got to the ship early (7:00) as it was “all aboard” for sailing at 9:00AM (actual departure was 10:00). The ship loads cargo for 3-5 days at the commercial side of the harbor. Then it comes around to the “cruise pier” at the waterfront in Papeete for boarding the passengers. The Aranui5 is a new ship (2015) but different from most modern cruise ships. Except for the deluxe suites, dining room and lounge, the ship has linoleum floors and is far more austere than most cruise ships. It is owned by a Chinese family named Wong and to our surprise Mrs. Wong, the owner was a passenger on this cruise. (It is good to be the King) The ship was built for its exact purposes in China and it appears well built and safe - it was also subsidized by the French government to carry out it’s mission of supplying cargo to the Marquesas as well as to support the tourist trade.
While the passenger composition changes from voyage to voyage, our cruise was typical. About 50% of the passengers were French or Tahitian. 35% were Americans, Brits, Aussies and Kiwis - and 15% were Germans. Everyone was friendly and accommodating. We had fun even with the French folks who spoke little or no English. The ship has a crew of about 100 persons who are mostly of Marquesian heritage and who (except for some of the cargo and ship operations people) are always friendly and have good attitude. Even the operations crew people are not trying to be unfriendly, but have their heads into their sometimes very difficult and physically taxing jobs.
Meals are all inclusive and included. Breakfast (American style) starts at 6:00 on some days or more commonly 6:30 and runs till about 9:00. But you cannot rest on your laurels, as your language group may leave for your day trip as early as 7:30. Miss the shore boat and you will miss your entire day's excursion.
Lunch is very French style and starts at noon and includes 3 courses and wine that is not bad at all. The deserts are "over the top" French pastries, and all of the entres have a sauce some kind. Like I said very French.
Dinner is a similar French style affair with three courses (no choices unless you pre-order like vegetarian food). There are two "seatings" for dinner 7:30 and 8:00. Advice to all of the Americans.... Get on the ship early on the first day and sign up for early seating at the reception desk.
The ship sailed at 10:00 after a nice short Tahitian dance show on the aft deck. We settled into our very tight starboard cabin on Deck two. We had only a porthole in our cabin and it sits slightly above the waterline, but just barely when the ship goes out heavy with cargo as it did on our voyage. Our cabin was a blessing and a curse on this small ship.
Just out of port, water began to fill our widow (outside obviously) as if we were inside of a washing machine and it was fairly noisy. This proved to be an annoyance till the cargo was unloaded half way into the trip. The blessing was that, being low in the ship, there was less movement as the ship does not have stabilizer wings and rolls quite a bit.
This ship is like no other. As we left the port of Papeete, many of the pasengers went up on the bridge and watch as the ship eased out of the harbor. As a passenger, you are free to go up on the bridge at ANY time and interact with the crew. They are happy to explain the ship operations and only want to be left to their own devices when docking or leaving port. We spent quite a bit of time up there and you can just talk with the Captain and crew up there with no sense that you are invading their space.
This is truly a comprehensive “cruise” - it includes all shore excursions, all three meals (wine at lunch and dinner), and tour guides. They even include free laundry three times during the cruise. But they do not wash underwear or socks. We spent only $300 during the cruise on happy hour cocktails (1/2 price), one premium boat excursion, bike rentals, and souveneers in the excellent gift shop on board. Every day there is a briefing in your specific language at 5:00 or 6:00 to explain the next day’s activities. You are given a one page handout with very detailed info and maps on the next day’s activities. The "guides" are absolutely first class and answer all of your questions with class and a lot of great humor. They are all very intelligent and have a lot of experience. I cannot speak highly enough of the guides who are also watching out for your safety at every shore stop.
Our first port of call was Fakarava in the Touomotus archipelago. We arrived at 7:00AM and went through the narrow pass (channel) into the calm waters of the atoll.
All the passengers were on the bridge for this event, and an amazing experience it is to sail into an atoll and watch the arrival from the bridge. We all went ashore on the launch.
As there was no tour of this tiny town, you were free to spend the AM on a walk around the town, a swim, or as we did, rent bikes and go for a short 5-6 mile ride and swim.
Fakarava is a popular scuba diving destination and a UNESCO site. It is the third largest atoll in the world. It has less than 1000 inhabitants and the arrival of the Aranui5 every three weeks is a big deal.
We reborded the ship at noon. We then sailed out of the pass to our next destination of Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas Islands - approximately 600 miles NW of Fakarava.
The next day was a fairly calm full day at sea with the regular long French style meals with wine, bird watching, lectures and the 5:00 briefing on our next stop of Nuku Hiva.
At every stop there were well arranged excursions, transportation, lectures, cultural experiences, dancing and music concerts, and meals on shore or on the ship. This is an absolutely first class operation from the passenger perspective. But you must remember that freight transport is 1/2 of this ship's business, so on many if not most piers, you are dodging around pallets of freight or waiting for the freight lighter to be unloaded so that you can land on the small dock. Despite this, safety is a priority, and the ship personnel do an excellent job of caring for your safety. They get five stars in this area.
If you want to enjoy a lot of cocktails in a sleepy tropical environment - forget this cruise.
The cocktails while great are not the core of the experience. The cultural experience is absolutely fantastic and the ship is not bad either. If you are prone to sea sickness, get a scopollomine patch or meclazine before you sail. The ship is tender and rolls more than most modern cruise ships.
One of the coolest things was that on our last day on Bora Bora, we had a special excursion. I do not want to even tell you what we did, but the day was absolutely magical.It was a fantastic end to the voyage and a unique treat.
Finally when you land back in Papeete on the final day at 7:00AM, they do not give you the bums rush to exit the ship like they do on the big cruise ships. They land you in the commercial pier area where they will load cargo for the next 3-4 days. You have a nice breakfast and say your goodbyes. You exit the ship at your convenience. All very civilized and pleasant. Read Less