Wind Song stays on your mind

Cruise editor Rebecca Tobin spent a week aboard Windstar Cruises' Wind Song, which returned to Tahiti this year. Her report follows:

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 ship.

The destinations are the real stars of Windstar Cruises' show -- most are so dramatic they refuse to be overshadowed by the shipboard experience.

On its seven-day sailing, the Wind Song visits five islands: Raiatea, Huahine, Bora Bora, Moorea and Tahiti, where the ship homeports.

The schedule allows for significant exploration time on each island, with extended two-day stays in both Bora Bora and Moorea.

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.

The Wind Song transports guests around the Tahitian islands with Windstar's own brand of 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 Rica.

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 guests).

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 cabin closet.

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 islands.

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 night.

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

Windstar Cruises
(800) 258-7245

Air Tahiti Nui
(877) 824-4846
E-mail:[email protected]

Tahiti Tourisme

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