Cruise editor Rebecca Tobin spent a week aboard Windstar
Cruises' Wind Song, which returned to Tahiti this year. Her report
f it's cliche to say the
Tahitian islands are heaven on earth, so be it. The truth is that
even after seven days on the Wind Song, we never stepped onto the
deck without marveling over the deep blue seas and how some of the
best views of the islands can be caught right off the back of the
The destinations are the real stars of Windstar Cruises' show --
most are so dramatic they refuse to be overshadowed by the
On its seven-day sailing, the Wind Song visits five islands:
Raiatea, Huahine, Bora Bora, Moorea and Tahiti, where the ship
The schedule allows for significant exploration time on each
island, with extended two-day stays in both Bora Bora and
Each island is surrounded by a necklace of coral, which protects
it from the Pacific and creates smooth, crystal-clear lagoons that
provide snorkeling and diving opportunities.
The islands themselves were formed by volcanoes, now long
dormant, which pushed themselves out of the ocean and now are
slowly sinking back into the sea.
The best part about this short history lesson I've just related
is that it was taught to us by local guides, who led our excursions
much like a friend proudly shows off his beautiful home.
Windstar offers about five different tour options on each
island, not counting daily scheduled dives and do-it-yourself water
sports off a platform in the rear of the vessel.
The tours are varied enough that guests can pick a different
experience each day, and they are reasonably priced, averaging
about $50 per tour.
During our snorkeling journey in Raiatea, for example, our
French guide, Gerard, motored us by the temple of Marae
Taputapuatea. He explained that, as Raiatea is the geographic
center of Polynesia, the temple was the focal point of religious
and political pilgrimages for tribes from "neighboring" islands --
neighboring, of course, could mean several thousand miles away.
It has been only a few months since Windstar passengers have
been able to see all this once again.
Although Tahiti was the Wind Song's first sailing
grounds, when the company wasn't able to renew its license to sail
in French Polynesia five years ago, the ship was moved to Costa
But changes were afoot in paradise, not the least of which was
Renaissance Cruises' bankruptcy, which idled that line's two
year-round Tahiti ships. Early this year, the French Polynesian
government invited the Wind Song home.
The ship was not filled to capacity on our cruise, something
Windstar officials attributed to its last-minute itinerary shift as
well as post-Sept. 11 booking patterns.
However, a spokeswoman for the line said the ship was either
full or close-to-full through mid-September.
The Wind Song is not the only ship sailing in Tahiti, nor is it
the newest, largest or most luxurious -- if luxury calls to mind
balcony cabins, butler service and ballgowns.
But Windstar has long championed its own brand of luxury, which
is exemplified in the ship's friendly, attentive onboard service;
better-than-average cuisine and low passenger count (maximum 149
It also has its own brand of "casual," which fits hand-in-glove
with Tahiti's relaxed vibe.
That, in fact, was one of the main selling points I used to
pitch the trip to my traveling companion, a guy who tossed away his
entire expensive-tie collection two years ago.
"You won't have to wear a tux if we go to Tahiti," I coaxed.
Sold. Soon after, he was hanging his button-down shirts in a
The cabins are of the two-porthole variety. But, as they say on
these smaller, yacht-like ships, "The deck is your veranda."
And so it was. Guests whiled away their afternoons topside,
taking in the sun and the expansive 360-degree views of Tahiti's
The bar staff will bring up an ice bucket for a bottle of
champagne; I saw more than one couple, deck chairs pushed together,
enjoying the sunset this way.
And after a few days on board, we also saw larger groups of
newly made friends raising a champagne toast or, more often,
drinking Tahiti's Hinano beer.
Most of the 120-plus guests ranged in age from their early 30s
to early 60s. Several of them said they were third- and fourth-time
Windstar repeaters and had sailed the Wind Song's sister ships in
the Greek Isles.
Dinner was the social event of the evenings; the highlight of
the week was an on-deck barbecue dinner that lasted well into the
The best nighttime entertainment came in the form of two
pre-dinner shows that featured local dance troupes.
The first night, the "Children of Raiatea," a troupe of about 20
young girls ranging in age from 3 to the mid-20s -- all with
flowers, grass skirts and big smiles -- crowded the lounge dance
floor and showed off Tahiti's exuberant, hip-shaking movements.
Later in the cruise, a more polished group of local women
performed similar traditional dances, explaining what the
movements, hand signals and costumes mean.
On our last evening on board, the captain communicated to us
what by then had been made manifest: "We've seen glimpses of
paradise," he told us, and cliches be damned.
Book it: Tahiti by air & sea
Phone: (800) 258-7245
Air Tahiti Nui
Phone: (877) 824-4846