Island-hop in paradise: Cruises return to French Polynesia

The remote islands of French Polynesia are finally accessible again to cruisers, thanks to Windstar Cruises.

The small-ship cruise specialist on Thursday became the first traditional cruise line to restart French Polynesia sailings since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic with voyages out of Tahiti.

Windstar restarted sailings out of Tahiti with a seven-night trip on its 148-passenger Wind Spirit — a partly sail-powered vessel that has been based year-round in French Polynesia for several years.

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The sailing is bringing calls at the nearby French Polynesian islands of Moorea, Raiatea, Tahaa, Bora Bora and Huahine.

Windstar is one of two traditional cruise lines that normally offer French Polynesia voyages year-round. The other line that does so, Paul Gauguin Cruises, plans to restart sailings in the region on Aug. 28.

Tourists also can cruise around French Polynesia on an unusual hybrid vessel called Aranui 5 that is part cargo ship, part passenger vessel. Designed to deliver goods to remote French Polynesian islands but also built with passenger cabins, Aranui 5 has been welcoming paying passengers on board since August 2020.

All French Polynesia cruises came to a halt in March 2020 after the COVID-19 outbreak was declared a pandemic. Paul Gauguin Cruises restarted sailings in the region soon thereafter but later shut down again after the region closed to tourists amidst surging COVID-19 cases worldwide.

The latest restart of traditional cruising in French Polynesia comes as cruising is resuming in a growing number of places around the world. In just the last few weeks, cruising finally has restarted in the Caribbean after a 15-month hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and on Monday, the first big cruise ship sailed for Alaska in nearly two years. Cruising is ramping up in Europe, too.

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French Polynesia, meanwhile, soon will be home to more cruise vessels offering regular sailings than normal. Windstar traditionally bases just one of its six ships in the region. But starting on Sept. 19, it’ll have a second vessel — the 312-passenger Star Breeze — based in Papeete, Tahiti, too, for an extended period.

Star Breeze will remain in French Polynesia through March 2022.

In a statement on the restart last week, Windstar president Christopher Prelog said there was pent-up demand for trips to the destination from honeymooners and people celebrating anniversaries who had been cut off from cruises in French Polynesia for much of the past year.

Windstar is offering a mix of seven-, 10- and 11-night French Polynesia sailings over the next months and also packaging the cruises with Air Tahiti Nui flights from Los Angeles and pre-cruise nights in a hotel.

For now, Windstar is requiring that all passengers on the sailings be fully vaccinated for COVID-19. The line also is implementing other new health and safety measures, including social distancing and mask-wearing requirements.

Windstar currently has three of its six ships back in operation. The line’s 148-passenger Wind Star restart sailings in Greece on June 19. Star Breeze resumed Caribbean trips on July 10.

The line’s three other vessels — Wind Surf, Star Legend and Star Pride — are scheduled to restart operations on Aug. 8, Sept. 4 and Nov. 3, respectively.

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Featured image of courtesy of Windstar Cruises.

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