Highlights from our Tahiti cruise on Windstar

Whether your inspiration is "Moana" or "Mutiny on the Bounty," the South Pacific is likely on your cruise bucket list. Perhaps it's because Tahiti, Bora Bora and the other inhabited islands that make up the Society Islands archipelago are still a bit off-the-radar when it comes to cruise tourism. Or maybe you yearn to explore the region's shallow lagoons and deserted motus (tiny islands), or dive into the waves for water-based fun.

We've just returned from a cruise aboard Windstar's Wind Spirit, a striking four-masted sailing vessel that's based out of Tahiti year-round. By our reckoning, the ship is a natural fit for a Tahitian itinerary. Here are three reasons why.

1. Wind Spirit is small and intimate

As with many things, size matters. With its modest profile, 360 feet at the waterline, Wind Spirit doesn't dominate or disrupt the Polynesian scenery. Nor do its 148 passengers overwhelm the small ports its visits. Tendering to shore is painless, with no lines and no waits. Above all, you feel more connected to the sea, sky and lush green islands when you're standing on an open-air deck that's only four -- not 10 or 15 -- decks from the water.

Highlights from our Tahiti cruise on Windstar

2. Special events enhance the Polynesian experience

Wind Spirit's private events are notable not just for their quality -- which rivals that of the higher-end luxury lines -- but also their quantity. During our seven-night cruise in November, the ship hosted not one, but two events on private, secluded motus (tiny islands): one a daytime venue that featured all kinds of water sports and a barbeque lunch under swaying palms, and the other a bountiful evening feast followed by a traditional fire dancing performance.

Overall, Wind Spirit excels at capturing the cultural essence of the Society Islands through both its private island events and onboard offerings like lei making and storytelling from local elders. The ship's permanent presence in the South Pacific has allowed staff to develop business relationships -- with fishermen selling their fresh catch and eco-guides with deep knowledge of Polynesian traditions, as examples -- that heighten the passenger experience.

Highlights from our Tahiti cruise on Windstar

3. Tours and activities focus on the water

The waters of the South Pacific play a central role in any Tahitian vacation, and Windstar offers multiple opportunities for water sports. A marina platform on Wind Spirit's Deck 2 is a launch pad for activities such as kayaking, swimming, wakeboarding, waterskiing and sailing. The ship's excursions feature scuba diving, snorkeling with sharks and stingrays, jet skiing, kayaking and riding in a motorized Polynesian outrigger canoe.

There's also a romantic excursion in Bora Bora, featuring an overnight stay in an overwater bungalow outfitted with glass floors that reveal a turquoise lagoon and marine life. An exclusive dinner is served on the white-sand beach with breakfast the next morning delivered by -- what else? -- an outrigger canoe.

And even if you're not a snorkeler or diver, the very nature of Wind Spirit as a sailing ship gives passengers an intimate connection to the sea. There's something about those white sails, self-furling and computer-operated, that provide a modern-day echo of the islands' storied seafaring past.

--by Ellen Uzelac, Cruise Critic contributor