lthough I have sailed on more than 100
ships to all seven continents, I had never before sailed on a
vessel like the Aranui III.
A combination cargo/passenger ship, it transports tons of
freight in its foreward section, while providing creature comforts
and amenities for up to 200 passengers in the seven-deck passenger
area in the stern.
I flew from Los Angeles to Papeete, Tahiti, the Aranui III's
year-round port, to board the 386-foot "freighter to paradise" for
a cruise to some of the most remote and romantic islands on
From Papeete, the vessel sails on a series of 16-day roundtrip
itineraries enriched by 12 days in the Marquesas, a group of lush
volcanic islands 800 miles from Tahiti and, to my mind, the most
spectacular of French Polynesia's five archipelagos.
Besides visiting 13 ports of call on six different islands in
the Marquesas, the ship calls at two islands in the Tuamotus and
spends two days at sea.
Having debuted this March, the Aranui III lays claim to being
one of the world's most technically advanced passenger freighters.
It is far more spacious and comfortable than its predecessor, the
90-passenger Aranui II, which had sailed a similar itinerary since
The ship is manned by a friendly, experienced crew, many of them
Marquesans sporting the earrings and multiple tattoos favored by
There are four categories of accommodations. The 63 standard
cabins (all outside) measure 126 square feet and contain twin lower
beds, showers and ample storage space.
Clients requiring more space may want to reserve one of the 12
deluxe cabins (188 square feet) or one of 10 suites (237 square
feet). Deluxe cabins and suites come with queen-size beds,
refrigerators and a bathtub. (Note that suites are the only units
For those who don't mind rooming with strangers, there are two
dormitory-style accommodations with 12 berths each.
Among the onboard facilities is an expansive lounge/bar with a
connecting library; an outside bar overlooking a swimming pool and
sundeck; and a small gym and boutique.
All cruises feature lectures and slide presentations by experts
on various aspects of Marquesan history, culture and the arts.
The main entertainment consists of performances under the stars
by the crew band, which plays native tunes on handcarved
Key selling points of this South Pacific cruise are the shore
excursions (all included in the cruise price), which take
passengers into the heart of these rugged, unspoiled islands.
Since the mid-1800s, the mystique of the Marquesas has lured to
its shores the likes of artists Paul Gauguin and Henri Matisse, and
writers Jack London, Herman Melville and Robert Louis Stevenson.
Following is a snapshot of some of the Marquesan isles and their
• Hiva Oa. Gauguin, who in his quest to escape civilization
sailed here from Tahiti a little more than a century ago, spent his
final two years in the village of Atuona, where he died on May 8,
1903. We came ashore here in May during a commemoration of the
centennial of Gauguin's death.
The day was marked by a graveside ceremony, an open-air feast
and an arts and crafts fair. A new Gauguin museum and cultural
center was dedicated during our stay.
• Nuku Hiva. We wound our way by Jeep up a steep dirt road to
Taipaivi Valley, where Melville hid out after having deserted his
whaling ship in 1842. The author's experiences here formed the
basis for his first novel, "Typee."
• Fatu Hiva. The artistic side of Marquesan life exhibits itself
in the village of Omoa in the homes of local woodcarvers. The homes
are open to the public.
Life on board
Informal attire is "in" at all times (shorts, T-shirts and
sandals), but many of the women don the native "pareo" (a
sarong-like wraparound skirt).
Meals are served at single open seatings in the
Polynesian-themed dining room. American-style breakfasts are
available; lunch and dinner feature French and Polynesian cuisine
plus complimentary wine.
Passengers also get the opportunity to sample buffet-style meals
at restaurants on the Marquesas, where they can try out various
island favorites such as barbecued rock lobster, curried goat, taro
and sweet red bananas along with poisson cru (raw fish marinated in
lime juice and soaked in coconut milk).
Bookings on the rise
Occupancies have been running 50% to 60% throughout 2003, with
average passenger loads from 90 to 110 per cruise, a situation
marketing director Jules Wong blames on a number of factors while
touting a "substantial" rise in 2004 bookings.
The new Aranui, in operation since March, had been delivered
several months behind schedule, making it difficult to promote it;
then there was SARS and the Iraq war.
"Americans tend to book our cruises six to eight months in
advance, and the combination of SARS and the war in Iraq were key
factors that kept U.S. travelers close to home in the first half of
2003," Wong said.
While the number of U.S. passengers has fluctuated between 10%
to 20% of passengers per cruise this year, he said he expects an
increase to 30% in 2004.
Agents have long been the Aranui's bread and butter, and Wong
emphasizes the robust commissions that come from selling this
"The travel trade in the U.S. has been our loyal business
partner over the years, and we are conscious of our obligation to
them," he said. "As a result, we devoted time and energy designing
the new Aranui for the growing market of clients that enjoy exotic
Suites have been selling especially well and are often the first
accommodations to sell out at $5,000 per person.
"Our standard 'A' cabins are also a good sell at $3,500 per
person, especially when you add on air fare and one or two nights'
stay pre and/or post cruise at a hotel in Tahiti," Wong said.
For current rates and reservations and a schedule of cruises,
contact Compagnie Polynesienne de Transporte Maritime at (800)
972-7268 or (650) 574-2575; e-mail: [email protected]; or
To contact the reporter who wrote this story, send e-mail to
[email protected] .
For more details on this article, see Ship on horizon bodes good will.