Some words to the wise

TAHITI -- Clients who have never been to Tahiti should welcome these Polynesian pointers:

• Windstar's air fare from all U.S. gateways to Tahiti is free through Dec. 13, but business class upgrades on Air Tahiti Nui, which services Windstar guests on the eight-hour Los Angeles-Papeete, Tahiti, leg, are $1,000 per person, each way.

Not only do guests arrive more relaxed and pampered, but it's commissionable at 5% through Windstar.

• Shoppers in Tahiti should be prepared to bring cash and spend. You'll find souvenirs, paraeos and the famous Tahitian black pearls, but they won't be at a discount.

I got my pearls at Ron Hall's Island Fashions in Moorea (a 10-minute walk from the Cook's Bay tender point). Hall, a friendly, personal U.S. expatriate, teaches a "Pearl University" class to interested customers. The course takes 10 minutes, and instructs "students" on the size, color, density and quality of pearls.

• Bora Bora has a reputation as an international "hot spot," and although it's still low-key by most standards (it's no Cancun), it's a good bet for a night out. The ship's host will take reservations for Bora Bora's celebrity eatery, Bloody Mary's.

It's certainly an interesting way to spend an evening off the ship, but clients should go to dig their heels in the sand at the bar -- not for a life-changing meal.

• Explore Papeete on your last day. As with all cruise ships, guests must disembark the Wind Song early on the last day, but the flight home isn't until 11 p.m. -- leaving guests with some down time.

Guests have the option of reserving a dayroom at the nearby Sheraton. From there, it's a quick cab ride back to Papeete, which doesn't have the pure, unspoiled charm of the relatively undeserted islands but is a vibrant city, with plenty of shops and restaurants. -- R.T.

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