Forget Broadway-style productions, ice skating rinks and clinking casinos; entertainment on Aranui 5 harkens back to a simpler era when a lounge singer and a good novel was diversion enough. During the day, when they're not out on excursion, passengers amuse themselves by watching the view from the Sky Bar, snoozing in chaises on the Pool Deck, playing cards in the game room within the Veranda lounge or reading from the French, English and German collections in the library. Other daytime activities are of a similarly gentle variety, such as Polynesian dance and stretching classes by the pool, lei- (flower garland) and hei- (flower crown) making tutorials and palm leaf-weaving workshops.
Most evenings there's live music from a staff singer or duo in the Veranda Bar or poolside. Polynesian Night, the poolside "plancha" dinner and the final night are the most festive of the cruise, with alfresco buffets accompanied by traditional Polynesian dancers and drummers. Otherwise, karaoke, poolside pareo-tying demonstrations and the staff-and-guest fashion show are as good as it gets.
The typical Aranui passenger is far more interested in exploring French Polynesia and the Marquesas Islands than they are in the ship itself or the onboard experience, and excursions reflect that with an emphasis on activities that reveal the region's colorful history and culture. When the ship pulls in, almost everyone goes ashore.
One complimentary guided shore excursion is offered at every port (note that the ship sometimes stops at two ports on the same island and that depending on the specific voyage, you may call at the same port on the outbound and inbound legs of the journey).
Typically the included excursion is an island highlights tour with stops at archaeological sites, plus live traditional dancing and music demonstrations, souvenir shopping at handicraft markets and strolls through the tiny beachfront villages that rely on Aranui 5 for everything from toilet paper to appliances and pickup trucks. Guides take passengers ashore in groups divided by language, which minimizes the strain on these small communities, many of which barely have sufficient vehicles to accommodate a shipload of tourists. (Aranui and other lines such as Paul Gauguin and Windstar Cruises, which also cruise the region year-round, coordinate their schedules so only one ship is ever in port at a Marquesas Island at the same time.) Consequently, private tours or taxis are unusual in the Marquesas, but Reception staff can help coordinate requests for private or customized activities in the Society Islands and Tuamotu archipelagos.
Passengers need to be relatively agile to negotiate getting in the barges during high seas and disembarking after wet landings on the beach (the ship only docks twice out of 11 port calls). (Note that barges are rudimentary open-air aluminum vessels with wooden bench seating and a front end that flips down so you can step onto the shore.) You'll also need to be in fine fettle for the optional walks and the up to 10-mile complimentary hikes that are offered at some stops. It is common to have to walk from the ship to the nearest village, usually in tropical heat and humidity, so comfortable shoes, sunscreen and insect repellant are essential.
Most excursions last two to five hours, and some include lunch ashore. At some stops passengers can choose activities such as deep-sea fishing, horseback riding and tours by helicopter or glass-bottom boat for an additional cost. (And since these run simultaneously, choosing an optional tour typically means missing out on the complimentary excursion.)
On Ua Huka, you'll see the island's wild horses grazing on the mountainside, and experienced riders can sign up for optional horseback treks along the coast. In Bora Bora, there are optional excursions to swim with Manta rays and blacktip and lemon sharks. Throughout your journey, keep your eyes peeled for dolphins and flying fish, and from September through November you may also see migrating Humpback whales. Birdwatchers should be on the lookout for the Upe, a large indigenous pigeon-like bird that roosts in the ylang-ylang trees on the Marquesas island of Nuku Hiva.
Daytime and Evening Entertainment
Almost everyone leaves the ship on excursion, so daytime activities are limited to the late afternoon and gentle options such as handicraft classes, enrichment lectures, movies (usually in French) in The Salon and stretching sessions by the pool deck. Nightlife in general is low-key, and wraps up by midnight so that cruisers can rise refreshed for the next day's activities. There's happy hour with half-price drinks every evening in the Veranda Bar, karaoke on a couple of nights and about three times per cruise the Aranui Band, comprising about a dozen on-staff musicians and singers, performs traditional Polynesian songs after dinner.
The Polynesian staff is fiercely and rightfully proud of their culture and heritage and eager to share it with passengers. To that end, complimentary activities that are both educational and entertaining, such as Tahitian dance and language classes, palm leaf weaving and cooking demonstrations, are part of each day's agenda. At least four times per cruise guest lecturers deliver talks on local history and related subjects such as tattooing, which originated in the region. In the evenings, detailed briefings on the next day's schedule include not only excursion options but also describe the history and culture of the destination and its inhabitants.
With four bars serving 254 passengers, there are sufficient spots onboard to crack open a cold Hinano beer or sip some Tahitian rum. But most cruisers gravitate to the Veranda Bar and its outdoor deck for sunset cocktails and aperitifs, and day drinking (apart from during the two sea days) is uncommon.
The Salon (Deck 5): As with most of Aranui 5's public spaces, this lounge (the closest you'll find to a theater or showroom on a traditional cruise ship) is quiet during the day, when most passengers are ashore on excursion. The few who aren't may gather here in the cluster of armchairs or booths along the room's perimeter to read, check email or to visit the complimentary self-service tea and coffee stations set up in the rear. In the evenings, guest lectures and excursion and daily schedule briefings are held here.
The Veranda Bar (Deck 6): Open morning through late evening, this aft watering hole features indoor seating at a horseshoe-shaped bar and at chairs clustered around low tables, but most passengers gravitate toward the outdoor tables for refreshment with a wake view. In the daytime, specialty coffees (at additional cost) are available, and from lunchtime onward the bar serves tropical fruit cocktails, French and Tahitian wines, liquor and fresh-squeezed juices. (Try the Marquesan grapefruit juice, which is pricy at $9 a glass, but delicious and sweet.) Most evenings a keyboard-and-drummer duo play Polynesian, French and English songs on the Veranda Bar's deck, setting the mood for another convivial night.
The Pool Bar (Deck 7): Open only during daytime poolside activities, for happy hour and when dinner is served poolside, this small bar offers the usual wines and spirits as well as soft and blended drinks. It is busiest on the two or three nights per cruise when dinner is served poolside, and offers a quieter alternative to the Veranda Bar for sunset cocktails.
The Sky Bar (Deck 9): On the uppermost interior passenger deck, this observation lounge is the prime spot for watching the ship's complex maneuvering into port and the flurry of unloading and loading of cargo that follows. Light-filled but with a cramped feel from too many table and chairs, the small space should be lively during its evening open hours, but on our voyage all the nighttime action was at The Veranda Bar, where local and international passengers converged. The bar also opens for a couple of hours in the early morning for specialty coffees and juice.
The Sun Deck, aft on Deck 7, has a small pool surrounded by a teak ledge wide enough for seating. Deck chairs, chaises and tables surround the open space, which has two outdoor showers tucked into one side and a pool bar in the opposite corner. There's no real promenade on this ship but you can walk in (very small) circles on Deck 10, where the bridge is open for visits except for when leaving or entering port.
The Reception Desk on Deck 3 is open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Here you can sign up for first or second seating in the restaurant, book optional excursions, buy tokens for the washing machines and borrow complimentary snorkel equipment. Currency exchange is available at the desk for a couple of hours in the evening, with a commission of 500 French Pacific Francs charged for every transaction.
While there's no designated internet cafe, satellite-based Wi-Fi is available onboard ($25 for 150MB; $50 for 500MB). Note that it is slow and spotty and won't permit live streaming or image-heavy downloads from social platforms such as Instagram. Wi-Fi is only available in the lobby, The Restaurant and The Salon, and not in any of the passenger cabins (although we understand that this convenience may be added during the ship's next dry dock).
There's a small conference room on Deck 5, and a card room and library with French, English and German books within The Salon on Deck 6. The boutique on Deck 3 sells sundries and snacks, cigarettes, men's, women's and kids resort wear, and souvenirs including Aranui logo items, Tahitian pearls and products made with monoi oil.
Aranui 5 has a doctor and nurse onboard, and the infirmary opens for two hours each morning and evening. (Note that either the ship's doctor or nurse accompanies every excursion, toting a backpack of medical supplies, including a defibrillator.)
To supplement the thrice-cruise complimentary wash-and-fold laundry service (which excludes underwear and socks), there's a self-serve laundry on Deck 2, with coin-operated washing machines (600 XPF per token; one token per load). Use of the dryers, iron and ironing board is complimentary, and you can buy detergent in the boutique.
Undoubtedly the ship's most unusual service is that of an onboard tattooist. Moana Kohumoetini is a server in the dining room and also a professional tattooist practiced in the art of traditional-styled Marquesan tatouage (tattooing originated in French Polynesia). Guests can get inked onboard and charge the private in-cabin sessions (which begin at about U.S. $80 for a small simple design) to their ship accounts. On our voyage seven passengers went under the ink gun and were thrilled with the results. However, caveat emptor.
The tiny spa on Deck 2 comprises a small reception area plus two cabins converted into treatment rooms. It is staffed by a single therapist, and can only accommodate one person at a time. Opening hours are a two- to three-hour block in the morning and evening, but services are also available outside those times by appointment. The small menu of massages and facials features local products made with monoi oil, culled from coconuts infused with macerated petals of the gardenia-like national flower, tiare. Since passengers are fully occupied in port most days, sea days are busiest for the spa, with cruisers taking advantage of onboard prices that are roughly half those charged at resorts in Tahiti.
If you're a gym rat, staying active onboard requires real commitment, as Aranui 5's fitness facilities are limited. There are two small, windowless fitness rooms on Deck 2, one with a pair of recumbent bikes, a few strength-training machines and a single set of weights. The other room has, curiously, two of the same strength training machines. Runners are out of luck since there's no treadmill (apparently the ceilings aren't high enough) and no designated outdoor running track. You could try jogging around Deck 10 but you'd need to run approximately 10 circuits to log a single mile.
There's a small pool on Deck 7, beside which a complimentary gentle stretch/low-impact aerobics class is offered. There are no group exercise classes.
While there's no official minimum age to sail and children as young as 1 have cruised, this is not a particularly kid-friendly sailing, and the line discourages bringing young ones aboard. With good reason: there's no kids' club, children's programming or babysitting facilities and most of the onboard and shore activities are so culturally focused that only older, historically inclined children would find them entertaining. That being said, there were three (well-behaved) toddlers onboard during our cruise and the crew happily accommodated their needs in the dining room. You might encounter as many as 20 children during the summer holidays (when staffers may pitch in to coordinate kids' activities) but the heavily cultural nature of the cruise really makes it better suited to families with older children and teens.