French Polynesian Islands
A Windstar Cruise
Nov - Dec, 2017
This trip came about because of two “unfortunate events”. First, Susan had a bad ankle injury from a bike accident that severely limited her mobility through November. Next, two hurricanes ripped through the Caribbean islands where we had planned to cruise and go to a Club Med resort. So we cancelled these two trips and a trip to Utah parks we had planned and started setting up a replacement trip. We initially tried to combine a cruise in French Polynesia with a trip to New Zealand but since many flights only operated 2 or 3 days a week, it turned out to be impractical so we settled on just the 11 day cruise plus a couple of days in Tahiti. We did a Windstar cruise in the Caribbean earlier in the year and enjoyed it so we thought another one was in order. The 11 day cruise made the long “commute” to Tahiti a bit more reasonable than a 7 day cruise. As with our earlier cruises, I made arrangements through Vacations To Go and our counselor, James Bingley, was very helpful and prompt in response to my multiple requests. .
About to leave on ATL - LAX leg of trip.
We can get to many destinations non-stop from Atlanta, but not to Tahiti. This required a stop and Los Angeles seemed to be the best way to go. I settled on a Delta flight from ATL to LAX, arriving at LAX about 9:30 PM to connect to a 11:30 PM departure on Air France (with a Delta code share, so a Delta flight number) to Tahiti as an overnight flight, scheduled to arrive about 6:30 AM.
On the return trip we took the Air France/Delta flight from Tahiti to Los Angeles (all day flight, arriving about 6:00: PM) and stayed in the LA area a couple of days, finally taking a Delta flight from LAX to ATL on Monday morning that took most of the day, arriving about 3:30. Both Delta flights and the return Air France flight were on time and comfortable, but the LAX – PPT flight had some problems.
Because Susan had mostly recovered from her ankle injury, we were celebrating and “splurging” on this trip with first class air and nice hotel rooms. Perhaps unfortunately, we may have gotten a little too accustomed to “the good life”.
Day 1: Thursday, Nov. 30: Atlanta – Los Angeles - Tahiti
The Delta flight from Atlanta to Los Angeles was on time and comfortable with good service.
Susan relaxing in comfortable seat.
Although the LAX airport is very spread out and confusing, we found our way to the international terminal via a shuttle bus fairly quickly. Unfortunately, things got a little complicated from there on.
One day prior to the trip, I got an email from Air France saying that the LAX – PPT flight would be operated by another airline, “HiFly”. As such arrangements are common, I didn’t think anything of this. It turned out that the normal Tahitian flight crew was on some kind of strike, so Air France had to contract HiFly to operate the flight on short notice. Unfortunately, the HiFly crew and aircraft were not up to Air France standards: There was confusion about what gate it was departing from (and the very limited information system within the airport did not help this any), then confusion around the gate and getting the aircraft prepared, finally resulting in an hour late departure. The aircraft was “well worn” and not as comfortable as the Air France aircraft and I did not think the service level was proper for the Business Class we were in. It had been a very long day by the time we took off, so both Susan and I were able to sleep some on the flight.
Day 2: Friday, Dec. 1: Tahiti
The flight arrived in Tahiti (Papeete, the capitol of Tahiti), about an hour late but that was not really a problem for us, as we had plenty of time to spare. Customs and baggage claim went smoothly and picking up our Hertz rental car was a bit time consuming, but straightforward. Our hotel for two nights was the Tahiti InterContinental and was less than two miles from the airport, so we arrived there about 8:30 AM. We checked in and the staff said they would put a “priority” on getting our room cleaned and ready so, in the meantime, we made use of their changing room to put on more comfortable clothes.
Some of the InterContinental Resort grounds with Moorea in background.
About the time we were returning the key to the changing room to the front desk, our room became available and the staff used one of their little trucks to take us and our luggage to our room. (By the way, I think any ladies visiting the InterContinental will appreciate the “bag boys” and their attire.) We found the service at the Intercontinental to be excellent, with staff going out of their way to assist on several occasions. As part of our “splurging”, I had reserved an overwater bungalow and ours was at the end of the walkway, furthest out into the water.
Resort waterfront and our bungalow is the last one to the right.
It was a very nice and comfortable room, with a mostly private deck facing the water with the island of Moorea in the distance. The hotel is located on a point of land and is between a small harbor and a public beach, and there seemed to be quite a bit of boat traffic between them. The preferred type of boat in French Polynesia (“FP” in the future) is the outrigger canoe and they come in 1, 3, and 6 person styles. The 1 person outriggers would come past almost silently but the last person in the 6 person outriggers would call a “cadence” for everyone to follow and then signal when the other paddlers should switch sides, so you would usually hear them coming.
After we got settled in the room, we went to the breakfast buffet at the main hotel restaurant. As we found out through our stay, the hotel really emphasized the “French” in “French Polynesia”, including the types and seasonings of the food. After coming back from breakfast we found that the hotel offered a special (weekly) Polynesian buffet dinner and show that evening, so we signed up for that. We relaxed at the room for a while, unwinding a bit and enjoying the nice view.
Moorea, as seen from our bungalow
We decided we should head to a nearby store and pick up some wine and perhaps some cheese and crackers to snack on at the hotel. We got in the car and headed down the main, limited access highway, about a mile to a shopping mall with a food and general merchandise store. Inside the mall we found a group of local musicians “jamming” and probably 20 people sitting around listening. They sounded pretty good and I think they might have been the band that we saw play at the dinner show that night.
Musicians jamming at the mall
I expected the wine, especially the French wine, to be fairly inexpensive, but it was not. In general I’d say the wine and most other items we looked at were about double the price we see here at home. I’ll stop a moment to talk about the local currency, the CFP, which somehow translates to the “French Polynesian Franc”. The exchange rate to the US Dollar was almost exactly 100 CFP to one USD, so if you considered the CFP to be one penny, you would be very close to correct. Take the CFP price, move the decimal point two places to the left, and that would be the price in dollars: easy! Anyway, we picked up a couple of bottles of wine, some cheese and crackers and were set. We had a bit of an adventure when getting back to the hotel however. The roadway was limited access and did not seem to have an onramp from the shopping mall heading back toward the hotel. We headed the other direction and ended up going about 5 miles before we could find and navigate a turn back in the desired direction. We had a nice ride anyway and that was the most miles we put on the rental car.
When we returned to the hotel we checked with the tour desk and the lady recommended an island tour via van for the next day. That sounded relatively easy and a good way to see the island, so we signed up.
Sunset from our bungalow in Tahiti
We relaxed on our deck and enjoyed some of the wine and cheese until time to get ready for dinner and show. The dinner was very good. Again, the emphasis seemed to be on the “French” part, but there was a good selection, including several types of raw or marinated fish. We enjoyed the dinner and then sat back to watch the show.
Click on Dance routine at Polynesian show to see the video.
I’m sure the dancing was rather commercialized and cleaned up from what true native Polynesian dancing would be, but it was entertaining. The live band sounded suspiciously like the group we saw in the mall earlier. After 5 or 6 dance routines we decided we had seen enough and left as a “Fire Dancer” was doing his routine. It looked pretty good, but we would see some much more impressive in a few days. Another glass of wine on the deck ended a very pleasant day.
View of the resort from our bungalow at night with a full moon rising.
Day 3: Saturday, Dec. 2: Tahiti
After eating several big meals the day before, we just wanted a light breakfast and went for their “Continental Breakfast” of a basket of Danish and coffee. Perfect! Just what we were looking for. A little after 8:00 the van and tour driver appeared and there were only three “passengers” on the tour: Susan and I and another lady taking the tour prior to getting on the Paul Gauguin cruise ship later that day.
The three of us on the island tour
We first drove through the city of Papeete and were a little surprised at how developed and commercial it was, although it made sense as it was essentially the commercial and business center of all the FP islands. Even in the city though, we saw numerous roadside stands of two types: either fresh fruit and vegetables (mangos were in season) or fresh fish, with fish of many kinds and sizes just hanging or laid out in the open air. Once past the city and harbor area, the buildings and businesses thinned out and the lush vegetation really took over.
Our driver and tour guide provided a lot of information about the history of FP and also about the local government and their current political relationship with France: all very interesting and somewhat surprising.
A slightly unusual lighthouse in the historical park
We stopped at several sites, including one with multiple memorials and information markers describing the history of FP through the discoveries by multiple explorers and then the arrival of Christian missionaries. We stopped at a “blowhole” that was rather wet, but not especially impressive as blowholes go. A stop at a botanical garden gave us an opportunity to stretch our legs for a while and see some of the native species of plants.
Flowers in botanical garden
We continued on around the island and found that there is some agriculture on the south-western part of the island where there was some fairly flat land. Most of the island is very hilly and mountainous so it is difficult to grow many crops, although “volunteer” fruit trees (mango, papaya, guava, breadfruit, grapefruit, etc.) were fairly common everywhere and seemed to be harvested by the local residents.
We got back to the InterContinental a little after noon and decided to just have our cheese and crackers and wine on our deck, watching the outriggers and other boats going by. Since this was Saturday, the public beach was busy and there was a lot of boat traffic. One feature we noticed were a couple of “floating bars” just a little off the public beach. They were playing music and appeared to be doing a good business. About 5 PM they weighted anchor and slowly made their way past our bungalow and back toward the little harbor.
Floating bar on way back to harbor.
That evening we went to the resort restaurant but did not want their evening buffet and, instead, ordered their version of a pizza. It was a little different but quite good. We relaxed the rest of the evening, making sure to finish off our wine: would not want any to go to waste.
Day 4: Sunday, Dec. 3: Tahiti & board the WindSpirit.
Once again, we only wanted a light breakfast, but the main restaurant only offered a big breakfast buffet, so we found our way to one of the bars that was open early and discovered they had a fresh fruit plate and bagels. That sounded good so we ordered one of each along with coffee and that made a very pleasant breakfast.
We explored some more of the resort, including their “Lagoonarium” where there were numerous fish and coral they had obviously transplanted. We relaxed and repacked our bags so that about 10:30 we took them and checked out of the hotel, getting in our rental car and taking it back to the airport rental car office. When I returned the car, they volunteered to give us a ride to the dock where the Wind Spirit would be waiting, saving us a taxi ride and payment. We took them up on the offer and, in return, gave the young man a good tip for the ride so we all came out ahead.
Wind Spirit at the dock in Papeete
By the time we got to the dock entrance, it was only about 11:30 and the guards said we could not board until 1:00 PM, so we left our luggage with them in a secure area and walked next door to the ferry building. There are several ferries, mostly serving the Tahiti – Moorea market, and they had a nice big building with a snack bar and waiting area. We got ourselves a couple of cokes and claimed a nice table overlooking the harbor. There were no ferries that time on Sunday morning, so we had a quiet but pleasant wait.
A little before 1:00 we wandered back over to the Wind Spirit dock and waited for the boarding process to start. Right on schedule they started letting people board with a little paperwork to be done and ID photographs taken after boarding. We got that taken care of and dropped off our carry-on bags in our cabin and then headed to have lunch at the Veranda restaurant up on deck 4. We felt right at home already because the Wind Spirit is a sister ship to and identical to the Wind Star which we sailed on earlier in the year.
Breakfast and lunch were served in the Veranda.
The rest of the afternoon was mainly relaxing and getting to know some of the passengers and crew. Most passengers on a Windstar cruise tend to be very friendly and there were at least three crew members who had been on our March cruise on the Wind Star. We had a glass of wine on the rear deck, then, when it was time, went through the required “safety drill”. Following that was the ceremonial “sail-away”: leaving the dock and raising the sails to the tune of “1492: Conquest of Paradise”. I have not been able to capture a decent video of this, but here is a link to a video on Youtube to give you an idea.
The sun was about to set as we pulled away from the dock.
Then we had a introduction of the key members of the crew, such as Captain David Adrian and General Manager David Hasenwinkel, both from Germany. Another key crew member was Martina, in charge of excursions and destination information, who would give daily briefings on what would be happening the following day.
Finally, we headed for dinner in the AmphorA (yes, that is how they spell it) restaurant. I will not try to remember what we had at each meal, but I do not remember having a single bad meal; we enjoyed them all and service was always very good. We usually entered the restaurant by ourselves but told the Maitre’d we would be glad to sit with others and we usually got seated with two or four others and enjoyed interesting conversations. Dinner was followed by wine in the lounge listening to Gilberto and Renata and then a night of sleeping to the gentle rocking of the ship.
I will point out one thing here so that I can use the “proper” Windstar terminology. The crew of any Windstar ship does not refer to the ship as a “ship” but as “the yacht”. They want to give you the impression of sailing on your own personal yacht and they try to provide the personalized service to accomplish that, and that includes referring to the Wind Spirit as a “yacht” rather than a ship. I will frequently use this terminology also, as it does seem appropriate.
This is a good point at which to introduce the chart of just where we will be going.
Our planned itinerary
We start in Tahiti, sail northeast to Fakarava, then to Rangiroa, back southwest to Motu Mahaea, Huahine, Raiatea, Bora Bora, Moorea and then back to Tahiti.
Day 5: Monday Dec 4: At sea
Our first stop, the island/atoll of Fakarava in the Tuamotu Islands, was about 150 miles from Tahiti so we had a day at sea while getting there. The crew had several “keep the guests busy” activities along the way. Since this day was our anniversary, we had signed up to have dinner at “Candles”, a “restaurant:” that is created by putting tables and serving equipment on the rear deck of the ship. Other than this reservation, our day was pretty open. We did sign up for a number of excursions for the days we would be at various islands, mostly snorkeling. We had not signed up for excursions prior to the cruise as we were not sure if Susan’s ankle would be ready for much activity, but, by this time, she thought we would be OK with most reasonable activities.
One of the planned activities was a “galley tour” with the head chef as our guide. He took us through their facilities, pointing out how they organized the limited space around the various kind of food they needed to prepare: salads, baked goods, entrees, etc. One interesting item he mentioned was their disposal of leftover food. Any food returned on plates was scraped into a large holding tank. When the yacht was beyond 12 miles from any land, they would grind up the food and pump it overboard, providing a major feast for any sea life in the area. At one point the chef mentioned that they would be preparing Beef Wellington for dinner that night. I am very fond of Beef Wellington so I asked if they would be serving it at Candles also, but he said no, it was not on the Candles menu and I mentioned that I was disappointed because we would be dining at Candles.
The galley got rather crowded during our tour.
The rest of the day was spent relaxing, drinking a little wine, and getting to know some of the other guests. The average age of the guests was probably around 70, a bit older than our previous Windstar cruise. By far the youngest guests were a couple from El Salvador on their honeymoon. Everyone was friendly and got along well. The yacht was rolling somewhat in the light seas, and we noticed a number of people with motion sickness patches behind an ear, although we never had any problem during the entire cruise.
The sails are up but not doing much.
Time out for a brief lesson on the design and shape of sailing ships: All true sailboats (talking about mono-hull boats, not catamarans) have some kind of deep dagger board or keel so that the wind will not push the ship sideways. A proper keel will also stabilize a sailing ship so that it does not roll as much as you might expect. I suspect the Windstar ships may have been initially designed as small, motor powered ships and the sails were added later, as the ships have very flat bottoms. The flat bottom, instead of a keel, means that there is little resistance to the rolling motion and any wind blowing from the sides will just push the ship sideways instead of forward. The sails on these ships are mainly for “show” and not for “go”. On several occasions the crew did try to sail by wind power only, but it was not very successful. If the wind was mainly from behind the yacht (what is known as a “broad reach”) it did move the ship forward, but it also seemed to magnify the rolling motion. If the wind was from the side (a “beam reach”), it pushed the yacht sideways more than forward. Despite the poor results, the attempts to actually “sail” the yacht were appreciated. On the other hand, a flat bottom does allow the yacht to venture into areas with water more shallow than a full keel would allow.
During the day there were also other activities to keep us busy, such as a “towel folding” demonstration and also a demonstration of carving fruits and vegetables which we did not attend (but did during another “at sea” day).
The result of the towel folding demonstration
As mentioned earlier, we had made reservations at Candles for our anniversary and I guess we mentioned our anniversary when we made the reservation. We ordered what we wanted off the menu, but when they brought my entrée, there was a nice slice of Beef Wellington. Someone had made a note of my comment during the galley tour. When we ordered our dessert, instead of bringing the dessert we ordered, they brought out a nice small cake with “Happy Anniversary” on it. Obviously the crew was listening to what we had said and this is a good example of how the crew did everything. They really did provide personalized service.
Day 6: Tuesday Dec 5: Fakarava, Tuamotu Islands
Fakarava (the crew said to be careful how you say it) is a large atoll with the water area inside the atoll larger than the entire land area of Tahiti. I never realized atolls could be so big. The Wind Spirit had entered the atoll via a pass in the southeastern part of the ring and, when we got to the deck that morning, we were in the middle of the atoll, headed for a small village and dock at the northwestern part of the atoll. We were in the center of the atoll, up on a ship, and could just barely see the land making up the atoll on both sides of us. The ship anchored a couple of hundred yards from the dock and the tenders (also the lifeboats) were used to shuttle people between the yacht and the dock.
The launch was kept busy going back and forth.
We had a snorkel excursion scheduled for the early afternoon, so we had the morning free. We took the shuttle (tender) to the island and walked around some. It only took about 5 minutes to walk from one side of the island to the other and everyone we saw waved or said hello. On the other side was a beach that looked pretty from a distance, but really consisted of rock and broken coral and would not be pleasant to walk across barefoot in order to swim in the ocean. We found a monument of some kind but never could read enough of the plaque on it to figure out just what it was commemorating.
Susan is trying (unsuccessfully) to read the inscription.
There was a small souvenir shop which we used to escape a brief rain shower and we walked around the area a little. While walking along the seawall one time I saw a shark slowly swimming along; a bit of a preview of what was to come.
We took the tender back to the yacht and, since we had plenty of time before lunch, we went back to the watersports platform at the stern and sailed their little sailboat ( a “Pico Laser”) a little while. The area we could sail within was rather limited with no real “challenge”, so we only sailed about 20 or 30 minutes and said “enough”. It was soon time for lunch and shortly after lunch we met for our snorkel excursion.
The excursion boat picked us up from the Wind Spirit and took about 12 of us probably two miles away to a shallow area in the middle of the atoll where there were some coral formations and quite a few fish. We saw the usual variety of fish, including the small tropical reef fish, a nice sized leopard ray, and a couple of sharks. I was not (yet) accustomed to swimming around sharks, so tended to keep a close eye on them.
The sharks seemed curious about us, but didn't get close.
By the time we got back to the yacht it was time for a glass of wine and a little rest before time to clean up for the normal evening activities. Martina provided her normal briefing on the next day’s activities and then it was time for dinner in the AmphorA with other interesting guests, ending in the lounge listening to Renata and Gilberto.
Day 7: Wednesday Dec 6: Rangiora, Tuamotu Islands
As we were eating breakfast we could see that we were approaching land ahead of us. After breakfast we went on the front deck to watch as we passed through the rather small channel or pass between two parts of the ring around the atoll. I thought it was a rather small pass for a ship the size of the Wind Spirit, but it was apparently no problem. As we approached the pass we saw a pod of 8 or 10 dolphins in the area, almost like a welcoming committee.
The pass looked rather small as we came up on it.
As we came through the pass into the atoll we saw another ship, the Aranui 5, a combination cruise ship and island freighter. I knew about this ship because some neighbors of ours have wanted to take a cruise on it and had told me about it. The Aranui 5 turned out to be one of only two other ships we saw on our entire cruise, the other being the Paul Gaugin.
The Aranui 5 looks a little strange, but the passenger accommodations are supposed to be very nice.
Once again we had an afternoon snorkel planned so had the morning free to explore. We took the tender in to the dock and walked around some. We could easily walk over to the pass that we had just come through. The item of most interest was the current flowing through the pass because this was supposed to be the site of our afternoon “drift snorkel”. Take a look at this video of the pass and you will understand why this was a concern. Susan and I agreed that we did not think snorkeling in this current was a good idea. The current was going in one direction and the wind driven waves were going in the other, making for a rather turbulent area of water.
Turbulent waters of the Rangiora pass.
A drift snorkel in the middle of this might be exciting, but probably not very safe. This section of the atoll seemed to be a bit more settled, with a number of houses, a couple of small business, and a very nice road paralleling the beach. We headed back to the Wind Spirit to await our afternoon snorkel trip.
After lunch the snorkel boat picked us up at the Wind Spirit, stopped at their dock to sign waivers and get gear, and headed to the pass we had been looking at. The guide said that the pass was too rough for snorkeling, which everyone agreed to, so we were just going to motor out a bit and look for the dolphins that hang out here most of the time. They showed up, right on cue, so after watching them a few minutes we went back through the pass to a very small island and shallow area just on the inside of the pass. Here we found plenty of fish, including some more sharks and couple of large schools of fish.
These fish especially liked to hang out in the shadow of the snorkel boat.
I didn’t see any large ray in this area, but there was a Morey eel who was not being very friendly.
This Morey eel did not want to come out and play!
After exploring some more, we climbed back in the snorkel boat for the short ride back to the Wind Spirit. We noticed that the Aranui 5 had weighed anchor and left while we were snorkeling. We relaxed for an hour or so before the scheduled 5:00 departure. Many of the passengers were on the front deck as everyone wanted to watch as we went back through the pass and also look for the dolphins. As we approached the pass, there were two small boats sitting in the middle of the channel, right where we needed to go. While we were still quite a ways off, our captain gave them a long blast of the ships horn, a standard warning signal.
It looks like a single boat, but there were two together in the middle of the channel.
We got closer and they had not moved, so they got another long warning blast. Still they did not move. As we got close enough to become concerned, the captain gave them 5 short horn blasts, the standard “Danger!” signal. This time they got moving quickly and moved over to the side of the channel. You can see both boats as we pass them in the beginning of this video of going through the pass. The dolphins did put in a brief appearance but I think they were more interested in a school of bait fish off in the distance.
As usual, Martina provided a briefing of the next day’s activities, followed by another nice dinner in AmphorA and a glass of wine in the lounge. We again went to sleep to the gentle rolling of the yacht.
Day 8: Thursday Dec 7: At Sea
We again had a day at sea in order to get to the Society Islands. The thing that struck me during this day was the total lack of seeing any other signs of civilization at all. No land in any direction, no other ships, no boats of any kind, no aircraft flying over and not even any contrails as a sign of aircraft. Other places we have been we were seldom out of sight of land and there were always other boats around and planes in the air, but not here.
Like on our previous “at sea” day, the crew offered the galley tour, towel folding demonstration and fruit carving demonstration. This time we attended the fruit carving session and it was entertaining to see the chefs demonstrate their skills. There were four chefs, each doing a different kind of carving or decoration, and it was surprising how quickly they could do some of it. Of course, they have had a lot of practice.
As usual, the experts can make anything look easy.
It was a quiet day with lots of relaxing, visiting with other guests, and reading. The primary objective was usually to find a shady spot where you could still catch some wind. There was probably more wine and other alcohol consumed on these “at sea” days to help pass the time. We visited the small exercise room and got a couple of miles in on the treadmill and elliptical machines so that we could feel better about eating dinner. The treadmill was a bit strange though….. it faced/ran across the yacht so that you could look out a porthole while exercising on it. As the ship rolled, you were subjected to a constantly changing incline: uphill one moment, changing slowly to downhill the next. I didn’t stay on it very long.
The usual briefing by Martina, followed by dinner in AmphorA and wine and entertainment in the lounge capped off a very restful day.
The AmphorA dining room before the crowd arrives.
Day 9: Friday, Dec 8: Motu Mahaea
This morning we awoke to a view out our portholes of a lush island moving past a short distance away. The land belonged to the island of Raiatea but we would not be visiting Raiatea today.
The island of Raiatea; Motu Mahaea is on other side of ship.
Instead we would visit Motu Mahaea, a small (maybe 5 – 10 acres) island that is one of the islands that surround Raiatea and is a privately owned island. The motu is regularly rented out to groups such as the Wind Spirit and the Paul Gaugin for things like picnics and other activities. The motu did not have a dock sufficient for the tenders, so the Zodiacs were used to shuttle people between the Wind Spirit and the motu.
Unfortunately, the crew deemed the wind too strong to allow sailing the small sailboat and there was not much to see snorkeling around the motu. We explored the island as best we could, then claimed a couple of lounges until time for scheduled activities.
I did not see anyone trying to use this table.
One of the activities was a cocktail mixing demo with accompanying tasting. Of course, the bartenders added a few embellishments to make it more interesting, and afterwards they passed around small tastes of each drink making it interesting and also tasty. We had a snorkel excursion scheduled soon after lunch so, when the crew started serving lunch, we got in line quickly. They put out a very nice spread with multiple salads, fish, burgers and about everything you could want for a very nice picnic. We filled our plates and found a table under a large shelter, just in case some threatening clouds decided to open up. We had eaten most of what was on our plates when I noticed a white and ginger cat walking on the sand toward our table. I spoke to it and she immediately came over to our table and jumped up in an empty chair between Susan and I.
Somehow this cat knew what table to approach.
Of course, we started feeding her any fish and chicken we had on our plates, then Susan went back to get more “cat friendly” foods, including cheese and more chicken. After she seemed to get all she wanted to eat (which was quite a bit), she drank quite a bit of water also. Once satisfied, she moved over to my chair and just curled up in my lap. It took some time, but we finally found out that cats are frequently put on islands where the coconuts are harvested in order to keep the rats under control and out of the coconuts. This cat has the added food source of having cruise ships and other groups visit two or three times a week, so she was reasonably well fed and obviously very comfortable around people.
We had to get going to our snorkel excursion so could not entertain the cat very long and headed over to the dock where Martina was getting the excursion organized.
Being a good marketing person, Martina made sure the yacht was in the picture with us.
The snorkeling excursion had about 8 other guests and was led by a French woman, who had been in the Society Islands for 17 years, and her assistant and boat driver. This was to be a drift snorkel but turned out to be somewhat different from what I think of as a normal drift snorkel. It took about 20 minutes to get to the pass between two motus where we were to snorkel.
This is the pass where we snorkeled with Bora Bora in the distance. Quite a view!
To do the drift, we got out of the boat and walked alongside the pass on the motu to the other end of the pass. The only problem for Susan and I was that we had VERY thin soled water shoes (designed for windsurfing) and we had to walk over some very sharp shells and rocks. We walked very gingerly. We finally got to the starting point, took off our shoes, put on our fins, and followed the guide through the pass. Much of the pass was shallower than I expected and you had to be very careful to stay in the deeper sections so you didn’t “run aground”. Here is a video of the pass to give you some idea. There were quite a few fish of all kinds in the pass.
I had never seen clams with bright blue “lips” like the ones we saw in several locations on this trip. The ray above is interesting… I was a little behind our guide when she quickly turned and started pointing, then grabbed my arm and pulled me to one side, still pointing. I finally saw the ray as he calmly cruised past all of us. After that snorkel our guide said that in her 17 years of snorkeling this pass, that was only the third time she has seen a ray in the pass itself.
We walked up the length of the pass and snorkeled/drifted back three times so about the time I was getting comfortable with the snorkeling, we were done. The guide had some very nice fresh fruit ready for us after the 3rd trip through the pass and as we headed back to the Wind Spirit. We got back to the yacht just a short time before time to weigh anchor and head off with the standard “sail-away” ceremony. Another nice dinner in AmphorA with friends we had made on the cruise and topped off by wine and music in the lounge.
Day 10: Saturday Dec 9: Huahine
The next stop was just a short cruise away, the island of Huahine. Like the other Society Islands, it was very hilly with lush foliage all over the island but few, if any, white sand beaches..
The yacht anchored inside a bay close to a small town.
We had an early excursion start time, so we had a quick breakfast and met for the tour about 7:30. We had done enough snorkeling so decided we would get some culture and signed up for the “holy sites and cultural tour”. Our guide was an American professor who had been in the islands for 30 years and he had a lot of interesting information about the religion and culture of the early inhabitants of the islands.
The guide (facing us with cap) was interesting and a bit of a character.
The guide started off by describing how the early people had built many religious sites, called marae. When the Christian missionaries came, most of the marae sites were destroyed, with only the foundations remaining. He then led us up a hill to what was thought to be the most important old site in the Society Islands. It is currently dominated by a very old Banyan tree but there are also many large stones that were arranged as seats for the holy men.
This shows only a small part of the total site. Notice the huge Banyan tree.
Another stop was at a cultural museum built over the water as some of the old religious buildings would have been.
There were samples of household tools, and displays of how they lived before the missionaries arrived.
Part of the cultural museum. The building construction was beautiful in itself.
Another stop on the tour was to see the “blue eyed eels”. The eels live in a fresh water ditch or stream where they could get to the ocean to bear the young. They were big! The larger ones must have had bodies 6” or more in diameter. True to their name, when they got in the direct sunlight you could see the small but bright blue eyes. Really strange! The next stop was to see a “fish trap”. The original inhabitants built channels in the water that would effectively funnel fish into round collection ponds where they could be easily captured.
This fishtrap had been partially reconstructed.
We got back to the yacht in time to have a late lunch and then relax the rest of the day. That evening we had another reservation at Candles for dinner but no anniversary celebration. Dinner was very nice, but they really need to get the tables moved out where there is more ventilation as it got rather warm and stuffy where there was no breeze.
Day 11: Sunday Dec 10: Raiatea
During the night the Wind Spirit had backtracked to Raiatea, where we had visited Motu Mahaea a couple of days before. We had a slightly different agenda here. First, we were docked at a nice pier rather than anchored, for the first and only time during our cruise. We had made a number of friends during the cruise and one couple had been on this same cruise several years previously. On that cruise they had met a tour guide, with his own boat, who provided excursions independent of what Windstar offered. We had agreed to join them and 4 others (total of 8 people) for a full day excursion led by “Bruno”.
Waiting to board Bruno's boat for a day of fun.
Bruno’s boat was docked a short walk from the Wind Spirit so we found it, quickly got everyone organized, loaded up the boat, and headed out. First stop was a pearl farm on the island of Tahaa, a short distance from Raiatea. Tahaa is a major producer of the Black Tahitian Pearls and this pearl farm was doing their share. This pearl farm was run by a true family group, including the founders who had come from France long ago. We got a very nice description of the process of farming the pearls from one of the sons of the founders and whose young son was busy running around the yard much of the time.
Just a small sample of their black pearls
Then the founder/grandmother took us inside and talked about the various grades and sizes of pearls: all very informative. Susan said she wanted to do something to help this family, but judging from the thousands of black pearls they had in their large safe, I’m not at all sure they needed help. Nevertheless, we made a significant “investment” in Tahitian Black Pearls before leaving.
The next stop was to a shallow area between the islands where a bunch of Black Tip sharks hang out so we could swim with them. Black Tips are supposed to be vegetarians and, with 8 or 10 of them swimming all around us, I sure hoped that was right. They seemed a little curious about us but certainly not aggressive.
Just a couple of the multiple Black Tips we were swimming with.
After we all got out of the water, Bruno gave us some small bananas. (We call them “lady fingers” and he referred to them as “apple bananas”.) After eating the bananas, we were sitting there wondering what to do with the banana skins when Bruno told us to just throw them in the water. Apparently Black Tip sharks consider banana skins a delicacy as they quickly went into a feeding frenzy. ( See video of feeding frenzy. )
Next on the agenda was a relatively gentle drift snorkel between a couple of motus. This was much more gentle than the drift snorkel of a couple days earlier. It was a nice, simple and relaxing snorkel through some corals with quite a few fish.
This kind of fish seemed to always hang around in pairs.
We again loaded back into the boat and headed to our next stop, a vanilla bean producer. We got a very nice talk from the owner/manager of a vanilla bean production facility and could appreciate why the beans are so expensive. While Susan may have gotten some black pearls, I got the good stuff, some vanilla bean pods and some vanilla paste. Bruno showed us how to put a couple of vanilla bean pods in a bottle of rum with a little lemon juice, let that sit for a couple of days, and then use it as a base for a very tasty rum punch.
The next stop was for lunch and we pulled up to a dock at what looked like someone’s back yard. There was one shelter with some tables with what turned out to be food and another shelter with picnic tables for eating. This was the real Polynesian food, without the heavy French influence. Fish, bread fruit, rice, beans, and I can’t remember what all else, but it was good. There was a beautiful view over the water and it was a delightful and informal meal.
Loading up Bruno’s boat again, we headed for our next and last stop, another drift snorkel. As we approached the site of the snorkel, it looked very familiar to Susan and I as it was the same location as we had drift snorkeled two days previously. Again we walked up alongside the pass wearing our water shoes to the entry point, but this time Bruno said to just wear our water shoes during the snorkel rather than use fins. We did it this way although I really missed the power of having fins.
Bruno leading the group through the drift snorkel.
We stopped a couple of times for Bruno to tell us a little about the pass and area. When we completed the first time through the pass a couple of people went back to do it again, but since Susan and I had already done it several times, we and two others headed back to the boat.
Through the day we had been working our way around in the island of Tahaa. We completed the day by completing the circumnavigation of Tahaa and heading back to the Wind Spirit, where we said good-by to Bruno and thanked him for a very interesting day.
But the interesting day was far from over: tonight was the night for the traditional Windstar on-deck Bar-B-Que. The Wind Spirit had set up a very complete and delicious BBQ/picnic on the aft deck, complete with a whole pig, steak, chicken, lobster, lots of salads, and a wide selection of the many carved fruits as had been demonstrated a couple of days previously.
A few of the salads and such for the BBQ.
There is truly something for everyone, and plenty of it: one of the most extravagant lay-outs I have seen. We enjoyed the feast until full and about that time the yacht pulled away from the dock with the traditional “sail-away” ceremony. After we were under way, the music was changed to “line dance music” and the crew led the way, showing the guests how to do the dances. It ended with a long “conga line”, ending a very full day.
Day 12: Monday Dec 11: Bora Bora
For our first of two days on Bora Bora we had chosen a simple island tour that was run in an open-air bus.
Well, sort of a bus anyway...
We toured much of the island in this vehicle with the young lady guide giving information as we traveled. The first interesting stop was at a Pareo “factory”. Here they took the basic fabric in the appropriate size and shape, put it through sort of a “tie-dye” process, and added the designs in various colors. They provided a demonstration of how they colored the fabric and then used various shapes of linoleum to effectively remove the color where desired.
Several pareos in the process of being colored and dried.
They then did a demonstration of ways to tie and wear the pareos, even including one variation for men and, of course, offered many different pareos for sale.
Our next stop was to feed and watch some land crabs. Yes, land crabs. The interior of the “bus” had been decorated with hibiscus blooms and leaves, and it turned out to be for a specific purpose. The bus stopped alongside the road, close to the waterfront where the land crabs had dug holes close to the road. When we pulled up, there was no sign of any crabs, but the guide told us to take the hibiscus and throw them next to the crab holes. She said the crabs seem to love the hibiscus blooms and, sure enough, within a few seconds, the crabs started coming out of their holes and headed for the blooms we had thrown.
A couple of the crabs and the hibiscus they were fighting over.
The crabs would even fight over the hibiscus blooms. We left them to their blooms and continued around Bora Bora.
One of the things Bora Bora is famous for is the many resorts with Overwater Bungalows. Most of these resorts were located along the motus ringing the main island.
Several overwater bungalow resorts can be seen here.
These resorts and bungalows can only be reached by boat, making them especially remote and private (and expensive).
One thing we noticed as we circled the main island was the almost complete lack of white sand beaches. There were some nice beaches along the motus, like where the resorts were, but very few on the main island.
This beach had some white sand, but much of the bottom surface in the water was rocky.
We did stop at one beach that had some white sand and looked very nice. I did notice, however, that the beach below the waterline was mostly rock or other hard surface that would not be comfortable to walk on.
Our last stop on the tour was at a bar and restaurant called “Bloody Mary’s”. (I’m not sure if the drink was named after the bar or vice-versa.) It has apparently attracted many famous people or celebrities over the years and had a couple of large boards at the entrance with the names of people who had visited.
This was one of two or three such name boards.
Bloody Mary’s was closed for their annual maintenance and renovation so we did not get to add our names to the boards.
We wrapped up the tour and headed back to the yacht for a late lunch and relaxing afternoon to rest up for an interesting evening. Starting about 4:30 three large powered catamarans started coming alongside the Wind Spirit and boarding passengers. Once on the large cats, we headed to a motu a couple of miles from the yacht. On reaching the motu, we left the catamaran and went to check out the little island. We had a little while before the dinner was to be served, so we looked around and watched the sunset approach.
Sunset approaching on a Bora Bora motu.
Everyone gathered for dinner along the picnic tables. The only negative part came when they pushed a special evening
cocktail, and when we got it, at a cost of $8 each, it tasted watered down and with little or no alcohol. The dinner was nice and after that the entertainment began with a group of Polynesian dancers. The women were in the expected (but not especially authentic) grass skirts and did the normal dance style. For a couple of routines, the men and women danced together. Then the men put on a series of fire dances. I’ve seen a number of such fire dances and understand how they can do some of the moves without getting seriously burned, but I’m not sure just how these guys avoided some burns.
After the entertainment we loaded back onto the large cats and headed back to the Wind Spirit. As it came into view we realized they had raised the sails and turned on all the lights, making it quite an impressive view. (See the small photo on the top right of this report.)
Day 13: Tuesday Dec 12: Bora Bora
For our second day in Bora Bora we had scheduled another “island tour”, but this time via 4-wheel drive vehicles. We saw some of the same sights as the previous day, but from a different angle, usually somewhat higher.
The first stop was to see some WW-II cannons that were installed by the US Navy, although they were never used.
It appears that the cannons might be protecting the Wind Spirit.
Of course, getting to the cannons required negotiating some rather rough and steep trails: what would be the point of the 4 wheel drive vehicles otherwise? After leaving the cannons behind and getting back to normal roads, we soon headed up another rough trail to a dual purpose site: an historical religious site and an artist studio.
The artist studio was next to the Marae and halfway up a mountain.
After the guides explained the significance of the Marae we headed to the artist studio. It turned out that that the artist had decided to focus his artistic abilities on making pareos. His technique was somewhat more involved than what was demonstrated the previous day but still resembled something of a “production line” to me.
Our last stop of the tour was well up a mountain where we crossed a rather narrow pathway with steep drop-offs on both sides. When we stopped there were beautiful views in all directions.
There were views like this in all directions.
We arrived back at the Wind Spirit for a late lunch and an early departure from Bora Bora toward Moorea.
That evening we had a different kind of entertainment: the crew’s talent show. Several members of the crew were surprisingly good singers with the ship’s doctor putting on a very good performance. But I think the favorite of the crowd was an elderly member of the crew who did an amazing version of Louis Armstrong’s :”What a Wonderful World”.
Day 14: Wednsday Dec 13: Moorea
As we headed to breakfast the Wind Spirit was entering Cooks Bay, Moorea. It is truly a beautiful setting with mountains all around the clear blue waters of the bay.
The Wind Spirit anchored in Cook’s Bay, Moorea
Today we had another simple excursion, a “Eco Dolphin Tour” to view and learn more about Dolphins. Since we have been around water a lot, we have seen and been around Dolphins quite a bit, but it never hurts to learn more about such an interesting subject. We took the tender to a dock in Moorea where we met the guide for the tour, a research scientist who had been in these islands for over 20 years.
Our guide took a very scientific approach to dolphin behavior.
He made the definite point that we are not guaranteed to find and see dolphins, but he was in contact with other boats and I’d guess that they seldom strike out. After about 20 minutes of a fast boat ride, we came across a good size group of dolphins.
Some of the dolphins in the pod.
We stayed around these dolphins for about 30 minutes with the guide explaining aspects of dolphin behaviors and their social structure. These were all “Spinner Dolphins”, so named because when they jump out of the water they sometimes spin very rapidly, although scientists have not determined just why they do this. Spinner Dolphins are about half the size of the Atlantic Bottle Nosed Dolphin we are more used to seeing and they did seem small.
There were a lot of dolphins in this group: the guide said he estimated there were three sub-groups with a total population of 25 to 30 animals. To get an idea of how many dolphins were in the group, take a look at this video. We went looking for other dolphins, but all we found was lots of sea birds. After coming back to the original pod to take another look, we headed back to the dock, but not before appreciating the beauty of the island.
Our guide claimed Moorea was more beautiful than Bora Bora. I like both.
We headed back to the Wind Spirit to relax the rest of the day until about 4:00 when we weighted anchor and headed back to Tahiti.
It was only a short two hour cruise to Tahiti and our last night on the Wind Spirit. That night was a special session in the lounge with a “farewell reception” from the crew. The majority of the crew were there to say good-by.
Most of the crew made it to the good-by reception.
We spent that night docked at the Papeete harbor: no rolling us to sleep tonight. We did have to pack our luggage and put our bags outside our cabin before going to bed, keeping just our clothes for the next day and our carry-on bags.
Day 15: Thursday Dec 14: Tahiti
We got up a little early so that we could get our last breakfast in the Veranda restaurant and then get prepared to disembark. We said good-by to all the crew members we had gotten to know during the cruise. The disembarkation process had us leaving the ship about 8:30 so we waited for our group to be called. When our turn came we said our last good-bys, left the yacht, and claimed our luggage.
I’ll make a few more comments about the Wind Spirit and Windstar in general at the end of this report.
At the dock in Papeete the Wind Spirit was docked close to the Aranui 5.
We got a taxi to take us to the Intercontinental Resort and we arrived there about 9:30, again, well before the normal check-in time. Again, the staff came through and got us a room by the time we had used the changing room to get into comfortable clothes. We had not gone for the overwater bungalow but just a normal ocean view room but got upgraded to what they called a “panoramic view” room with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the resort grounds, the ocean, and, in the distance, Moorea. The day’s activities would be a little limited because the local utility was scheduled to turn off the electricity in the vicinity of the resort from about noon to 5:00 PM. We took it easy, relaxed, read, and generally rested up from our “strenuous” cruise.
On our cruise we had been very lucky with the weather: this was the start of the rainy season but we had very good weather the entire cruise. I had to notice that evening, about 6:00, when the Wind Spirit would have been leaving the dock and raising the sails, a rain storm passed over that part of the island.
We had another pizza at the restaurant that evening and called it an early night in preparation for an early departure the next morning.
We had to get up a little early to make the 8:30 flight and it was raining lightly as we had to pull our bags across some uncovered walkways to the reception area to check-out. We were glad that it was raining as we left rather than as we were arriving. The taxi got us to the airport in good time and Air France check-in was reasonably quick but the security lines and process were a mess. It seemed that the staff was completely unprepared for this scheduled flight and did not have enough people. They finally opened a second line and things started moving.
Our flight (a true Air France flight this time) boarded and departed on time. The flight itself was comfortable (as comfortable as an 8 hour flight can be) with good service by the Air France crew. Food and drinks were provided and the entertainment system was very complete.
We arrived at the Los Angeles airport about 5:30 and, thanks to our Global Entry status, the Customs and immigration process was quick and simple. We hopped the Hertz bus to get to our rental car and we were soon on our way to Temecula, Calif. A neighbor of ours who is very knowledgeable about wine growing areas, suggested Temecula as a good place to spend a day or two within reasonable range of the LAX airport. The only fault in our plans was arriving at about the peak of Friday evening rush hour traffic. The drive to Temecula should have taken about 90 minutes but actually took about an hour longer. By the time we got to our Embassy Suite hotel we were so tired of the traffic that we just grabbed a sandwich at the hotel bar/restaurant that evening. The bar tender was very helpful about providing information about a number of the wineries in the area we could visit. The Embassy Suite was very nice and comfortable but the layout of the light switches in our room had us puzzled the entire stay.
We had planned on just visiting several wineries on our own, as we usually do, so we stopped at the concierge desk to get information about wineries to visit. The lady at the desk recommended that we take a “wine tour” rather than doing it on our own as it would be more relaxing and, as a group, we would get more attention from the winery staff. It would also eliminate any issues of having to drive while tasting wine. This sounded like a good idea so we signed up for a tour that would pick us up at 10:00, which gave us time for a short walk to stretch our legs a bit.
The wine tour bus showed up promptly at 10:00 and there were about 24 people on the full bus for the popular Saturday “Grapeline Tours” tour. Our guide Sam (for Samantha), was friendly and knowledgeable about the area and the day went well.
We visited four wineries, starting with Avensole Winery where a host provided a nice overview of the winery and the wine making process, which was a good way to start a wine tour. During and after the tour, we tasted about 6 different wines.
Our host at Avensol pouring the first of about 6 tastes.
The next stop on the tour was at Peltzer Vineyard and Winery. This one was interesting and different as they provided a taste of different breads to accompany each wine. Of course, the breads were for sale at the winery as well as the wine, but it was a very nice touch.
The third stop was for lunch prior to the tasting. This was at Cougar Winery where the staff had set up picnic benches in their “barrel room”. At the start of the tour we had taken a choice of several different lunches and here we were served the lunches and some water. It was nothing fancy, but tasty and enjoyable.
Susan at the entrance to Cougar Winery.
After lunch we had a 4 wine tasting at Cougar before proceeding to the next winery, Fazelli. As somewhat suggested by the name, the winery is owned by a Middle Eastern man and the general architecture and furnishings followed that theme. Here we were given cards that were to be marked off by the staff as we tasted each of 4 different wines. We got to talking to the guy leading our tasting (Susan and I) about wine, some of our wine trips and numerous other things. Apparently the guy was enjoying the conversation as he only marked our cards for about every second wine we tasted, and he was giving very generous pours. By the time we left we must have tasted 8 different wines with generous pours. It is a good thing that was the end of the wine tour as I’m not sure we would have been able to appreciate any more wine.
Sam at the back of the tour bus in the Temecula Valley wine region.
When we got back to the Embassy Suites hotel we did not feel like going out for a regular meal, so we just enjoyed some snacks (and some more wine) at the nightly reception and planned the next day.
We had reservations at a Embassy Suite hotel close to the LAX airport to make it easy to get to our return flight early Monday morning, so we had to get there by Sunday evening. Our plan was to have lunch at a Temecula winery, visit another winery or two, then head to LA.
We took a walk in the morning, asked the concierge about recommended wineries for lunch, and checked out of the hotel. We headed to the Renzoni winery for a tasting and lunch.
Susan in front of Renzoni before lunch time.
The tasting started at 11:00 so we finished that well before the lunch area opened at 12:30 so we looked around a while. One of the things we found was an olive tree with olives on it. We had seen many olive trees so far, but for some reason, this was the only one that had olives on it. We tried the taste of couple of olives, green and ripe, and can definitely verify that, without further processing, they are terribly bitter.
About the time we did get our lunch, a minor wind storm came up and we had to move to a sheltered location as the staff took down umbrellas and put “wind breaks” in place.
We finished lunch at Renzoni and headed to the next winery, Doffo, which specializes in Italian wines exclusively and had several other unique aspects also. The owner is a vintage motorcycle collector so there were old motorcycles stored and displayed all around the area of the winery. He was not there but I told the tasting leader that he needed to visit the Barber Motorcycle Museum just outside of Birmingham, Alabama. The other unique aspect is that, for several of their wines, they used a large concrete “urn” to ferment and age the wine. After a pleasant tasting we left Doffo and Temecula and headed toward LA.
The traffic was not as bad this time, although we did encounter some kind of memorial procession that caused a significant delay. I had done some research when making this reservation to make it easy to return our rental car and use the hotel airport shuttle in the morning. When we got to the LA airport Embassy Suite we checked in and got everything to our room, then I drove the rental car to the Hertz return location which was about 3 blocks from the hotel. A short walk later and I was back at the hotel in time for the nightly reception (more wine and snacks) which served as a dinner meal for us. We set the alarm for an early morning wake-up.
The only “catch” was that this was the day the Atlanta airport had suffered a major power outage, shutting the entire airport down for several hours. There was a definite possibility that Delta might not be able to fully recover in time for our flight to depart as scheduled.
We got up early to catch the 6:15 airport shuttle and, so far, Delta was showing our flight as on schedule. We grabbed a quick breakfast at the Embassy Suites, jumped on the shuttle, and got to the airport, only to find terribly long lines to check our baggage, probably because of multiple cancelled flights. At the excellent suggestion of a Delta Sky Cap, we went back outside and quickly checked our bags at the outside baggage check. Security was quick (with TSA Pre-Check) The longest line we encountered was at the Starbucks when I went to get us a good cup of coffee before the flight. We were told that our flight to Atlanta was the first to make the make the trip after the fire. Two previous flights had been cancelled.
A view of LA as we leave.
The flight was on time and comfortable, although no “lie-flat” seats this time. The food service was rather light: they said because of the Atlanta power problems, the only thing they could offer for breakfast was cereal, which seemed strange. We got to Atlanta and then home about on time.
Some Comments about the Wind Spirit / Windstar
· The Wind Spirit crew was excellent: they provided personal service and really went out of their way to make sure we enjoyed the trip.
· The average age of the guests was probably around 70 and everyone was friendly and seemed to get along well.
· Although the crew tried to use sail power alone on several occasions, the ship really was not made for that. Without a keel a wind from the side just pushed the ship sideways, rather than forward, although the attempt is appreciated.
· With the flat bottom, there was some rolling motion, even in light seas. We saw a number of people with the patches behind their ears to prevent motion sickness.
· We look forward to our next cruise on a Windstar yacht.