(4:13 p.m. EDT) – French Polynesia is slowly opening up to tourism in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The island collective in the South Pacific has revealed it will begin accepting tourists on July 15, and two of the region's most well-known year-round cruise operators are already drawing up plans to resume voyages in the region.
Paul Gauguin Cruises, which has been operating year-round in Tahiti and the South Pacific since 1997, will return the 332-passenger Paul Gauguin to service on August 1. Previously, the line had stopped providing updates on further cancellations, making the August 1 return to service all the more likely.
Paul Gauguin operates seven to 14-night cruises throughout French Polynesia, with voyages from Papeete to the Society Islands, Tahiti Iti, Tuamotus, Cook Islands, Marquesas, and more.
While Paul Gauguin is aimed squarely at the luxury market, another operator provides a very different overview of the region.
Aranui Adventure Cruises runs cruise-freighter voyages in the South Pacific aboard the new Aranui 5. The working ship draws a mixture of French and German passengers, but also taps into folks from the United States, Canada and the UK looking to experience a different sort of voyage around some of French Polynesia's smallest locales.
Aranui has indicated it will restart its operations in French Polynesia on July 18, just three days after the local government lifts the restrictions on international tourists. Aranui 5 will set sail on two special "Local's Cruises" -- one-off itineraries departing July 18 and August 8 that are open to locals, along with international visitors who are eligible to travel to the region at that time.
Windstar Cruises also deploys its 148-passenger hybrid sailing-cruise ship on voyages in French Polynesia. The line has indicated it will restart service with Wind Spirit on September 3, 2020, sailing the vessel's previously-published itineraries.
Travelers wanting to book a cruise to Tahiti this summer can't just pack up their luggage and head for the airport, however. As with Alaska's recent announcement, all visitors to French Polynesia will have to demonstrate proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken no earlier than 72 hours prior to departure. This information will be verified before travelers are allowed to board flights to the South Pacific.
Travel medical insurance will also be mandatory for all international visitors, and proof will once again likely have to be shown at the departure gate. Credit card medical insurance seems to be acceptable, though not every credit card offers this feature.
In addition, visitors will be required by local authorities to complete an information form outlining their travel plans and sign a statement that hold the traveler responsible for adhering to local health and safety protocols, like mask wearing and social distancing when applicable.
Authorities say that mask wearing will be encouraged on the islands, and masks and social distancing will likely be a part of air and ocean travel requirements.
Getting to Papeete's Faa'a International Airport is relatively easy, however, border restrictions in some countries like Canada could make transiting the United States -- where most North American flights to Papeete originate -- challenging.
Australians are also cut out of the loop due to Australian government regulations introduced on March 25 that prohibit any international travel abroad for citizens. The South Pacific is typically an enormously-popular region with Australian travelers.
Air France, Air New Zealand, Air Tahiti Nui, Hawaiian and United all typically offer direct nonstop service from select U.S. cities to Papeete, though some of these air operations may not be in service at this point in time due to the effects of COVID-19 on the demand for air travel. United is, however, expected to restart service from San Francisco to Papeete on July 6.
Between now and July 15, additional health and safety protocols are likely to be announced, both at a government and individual tour operator level. Those booking passage on the first voyages out should do so while understanding that a good deal of flexibility may be required as the world grapples with protocols and procedures surrounding the COVID-19 coronavirus.