On July 20th, 1996, I had the pleasure of beginning a cruise on Windstar's WIND SONG through French Polynesia, and this is a review of the trip. The flight on Air France from Los Angeles took about 7 1/2 hours with arrival in Papeete, Tahiti about 4:30am (we started in Columbus, Ohio and spent the night in Los Angeles to break up the trip). Inbound immigration clearance was slow but it all worked out, and we claimed our bags and took the short ride to the Sofitel Maeva Beach Hotel for day rooms. We got into our rooms by 6:00am as the sun was coming up, and we collapsed for a bit. By the way, our short taxi ride to the hotel was about 2500 Tahiti Francs with tip, which is about $30 and a sign of how expensive everything is in Tahiti.
Ship boarding started about 1:00pm but we did not arrive at the pier until about 3:00pm; we were processed quite quickly. For some statistics, the WIND SONG is 440 feet long and weighs 5,350 tons; the four masts carry six triangular sails. The ship has no elevators and has four decks with seventy-four cabins located on Decks 1 and 2. She holds 148 passengers and has a few cabins with third berths. According to the captain, the sails were working 90 per cent of the time with some help from the engines, and about 25 per cent under sails only . . . it's quite nice to hear wind in the sails and watch them roll in and out.
All staterooms are the same size, which is 185 square feet, except the Owners Suite (stateroom #107), which is a little larger. We had stateroom 101 in the rear of the ship and noticed the motion quite a lot. Staterooms have televison with limited channels (no CNN, but the Olympics in French was on the Papeete channel) and the normal news channel; there are up-to-date printouts of breaking news. Good movies are available onboard for rainy days (we had one day of that). Staterooms have an individual safe, a CD player and a VCR. CD's and movies were in the library for free use on the ship. The ship has a small casino with just one blackjack table, one Caribbean Poker table and four or five 25-cent slots.
The ship has an outdoor pool which is small, a hot tub, fitness rooms, a sauna, a watersports platform, a Signature shop . . . along with a beauty salon/barber, masseuse, infirmary, and laundry service (no dry cleaning). What we liked most after several cruises was that all evening dinners were "sporty casual" clothes and we loved it.
We left Papeete about 6:00pm. It was a little rough from Papeete to Huahine and some never made it to dinner. You could arrive in the dining room for dinner anytime from 7:30pm to 9:30pm and be seated in different locations with different guests each night. Dining was outstanding throughout the ship with good choices, and service was very good.
We arrived at Huahine on Sunday morning at 7:30am and did the Land Rover tour of the island. The ship has a full variety of watersports offered and great diving options for scuba divers, and a good offering for snorkelers. Snorkeling equipment was provided free to everyone on ship and the ship has about three zodiacs for divers, and a banana boat and wind surfing boat.
We did the circle tour of island and got back to the ship for the 1:00pm departure to Raiatea. It was a great short sail to Raiatea; the sun was out and the deck was crowded. We had lunch in the main dining room, which featured a nice selection, including a buffet. Lessons and diver check-out took place at the pool that afternoon by theship's diving staff (a husband and wife team: they were good and accomodating).
Arrival in Raitea was at about 4:30am, with departure on Monday scheduled for 1pm. The Captain's Cocktail party was from 6:45pm to 7:30, with a short Folkloric dancing show by children of Raiatea. On Monday, we did the Insight Tour of Raiatea with a local resident born in Hawaii, who is 70 years old and an anthropolgist specializing in Polynesia; he was quite knowledgeable about migration through the triangle from Hawaii to Easter Island to Australia, and back to Hawaii. We did a little looking around in stores in Raiatea but everything is T-shirts or similar.
Monday night continued....
We had dinner at the Captain's Table tonight, which is the only night the captain dines with passengers. Most of those at table where frequent cruisers with Windstar, with one having cruised with them eight times. Again, dinner and service were great.
Tuesday, we took the best tour other than watersports on the trip. We took special 4-wheel drive Land Rovers that cost $50,000 each that take you straight up mountains to see all of the area . . . it was really wild and everyone loved the trip. Those not doing the morning tour went to Motu Atoll, where there was a beach barbecue as well as volleyball and similar fun, and some good snorkelling. We went over there after returning from the tour, and then took the Banana Boat ride -- we loved it and did some snorkeling. Passengers were shuttled to Motu on fast zodiac boats carrying about 15 at a time. The Wind Song was docked overnight at Bora Bora, where it was a little rainy. Dinner was great as always.
In the morning, we took the glass bottom boat tour of the reef, and it was very informative. Some passengers that morning did one of the most popular things on the ship: they took the "Shark Breakfast" tour. I was having some problems with the snorkel gear and a tooth, so I didn't go along, but everyone said it was the best tour of the cruise. Everyone holds hands on the surface and watches a diver feed small sharks and rays.
Our ship departed Bora Bora with smooth sailing to Moorea, with arrival the next morning at 8:30. It was raining some when we arrived in Moorea and anchored in the bay, but it soon stopped. That night's dinner featured everyone dressed in "pareos" (wrap arounds), and there is a Tahitian theme, with entertainment from Moorea before dinner. Dinner was again casual, with very nice menu selections. We went to the beach in Moorea at the Ia Ora Hotel and had a relaxful day on Moorea. It was the best beach we had seen, and most agreed Moorea was, overall, more attractive than the other islands. A bus takes you over at 10:0am and the return is either 12:45pm or 4:00pm. There are a lot of French girls going topless on the beach, which is quite common in Tahiti.
We sailed to Papeete at 6:00pm and arrived at 9:00pm. Again, a nice sail. Some left the ship in Moorea since they were going to spend extra time on Moorea. Some left ship after we arrived in Papeete to take the 2:00am flight on Quantas to Los Angeles. We stayed on board and left ship on Saturday morning around 7:30am on the Air France flight back to Los Angeles.
Overall, our fellow passengers were mostly couples over 40, but at least ten honeymoon couples were onboard and they were having a great time. There was one family of four from Norway, a couple from Germany, and another couple from Barcelona, Spain. There were many folks from the West Coast, in particular the Los Angeles and Arizona areas. We thought the concept was great, and my wife and I loved it. We liked the casual dress after all the cruises we have been on, liked the sailing concept, and dining at different tables (if you want) and with different passengers each night (if you want). We thought the crew was great from beginning to end; the dining room is staffed mostly by Indonesians, and the bar staff is Filipinos, mostly. They had our name down pat after a couple of days (most did). We liked the wide variety of watersports included. The meal menus were great, too.
If you want something different, I would recommend you look into the Windstar product in Tahiti, the Caribbean or the Mediterrean, as it is unique. We did see the Club Med ship which is noticeably larger, but I understand it is about to be sold, as it is too expensive to operate and maintain, and is too big to go into all ports. WIND SONG is just the right size and Club Med is too big.
If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please