Cruising in French Polynesia could resume as early as July

Jun 15, 2020

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Could French Polynesia be one of the first places in the world where cruising resumes?

It’s starting to look more likely now that the South Pacific destination has set July 15 as its official reopening date for tourists.

Aranui Cruises, which sells trips to little-visited French Polynesian islands year-round on an unusual vessel that is half-freighter, half-cruise-ship, says it has gotten approval from the French Polynesian government to resume tourist trips on 18 July.

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The company says the vessel, the Aranui 5, will return to tourist operations that day with what’s being marketed as a “local’s cruise,” though the voyage will be open to any international traveller who is permitted to travel to Tahiti at the time. Aranui 5’s home base is Papeete, Tahiti.

Aranui 5’s main function is to deliver cargo to French Polynesia’s remote Marquesas Islands, which it visits on a 13-day loop. But it also is designed to carry tourists as well as local travellers. It has 103 cabins that can hold up to 254 passengers.

Aranui Cruises says the sailing starting 18 July will include stops at rarely visited Makatea and Apataki (Tuamotu archipelago) instead of the ship’s normal port calls in Fakarava, Rangiroa and Bora Bora. The itinerary still will include calls at the six inhabited Marquesas Islands where Aranui 5 will deliver cargo.

Aranui 5 never stopped delivering cargo to the Marquesas Islands during the coronavirus pandemic. It just stopped taking tourists along. Tourists haven’t been allowed on the ship since early March.

Known as one of the most bizarre-looking vessels designed for accommodating paying passengers in the world, the four-year-old ship has quickly become a bucket list attraction for many hard-core cruise fans.

Half-freighter, half-cruise-ship, the Aranui 5 sails to remote French Polynesian islands out of Papeete, Tahiti. (Photo by James D. Morgan/Getty Images)
Half-freighter, half-cruise-ship, the Aranui 5 sails to remote French Polynesian islands out of Papeete, Tahiti. (Photo by James D. Morgan/Getty Images)

There are two other vessels that offer cruises year-round in French Polynesia: Paul Gauguin Cruises’ 332-passenger Paul Gauguin and Windstar Cruises’ 148-passenger Wind Spirit. Both sail out of Papeete.

Paul Gauguin Cruises hopes to restart sailings on 1 August. The line offers seven to 14-night trips to various parts of French Polynesia including the Society Islands, Tahiti Iti, the Tuamotus and the Marquesas.

Windstar has said Wind Spirit will resume sailing on 3 September. The ship typically sails seven-night loops from Tahiti to nearby Moorea, Raiatea, Motu Mahaea, Bora Bora and Huahine.

Like Aranui 5, Wind Spirit is a bit unusual as ships for cruising go. It’s a hybrid vessel that can sail under both wind power and motors. The sails on its four large masts are operated automatically.

New restrictions for entry into Tahiti

Would-be cruisers will need to meet some new requirements to enter Tahiti for one of the above sailings. For starters, the French Polynesian government says visitors will need to show proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken no earlier than 72 hours before departure.

Visitors also will have to show proof of international travel insurance.

Related: Everything you need to know about French Polynesia’s reopening 

Other cruise lines restarting operations

The possibility of a mid-July resumption of cruising in French Polynesia comes as several river lines and small-ship operators in Europe prepare to restart operations in the coming weeks, with trips aimed at a local market. A small American Cruise Lines vessel that sails on the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest also is planning to restart operations as early as June 20.

But most major cruise lines aren’t expected to resume sailings for many months.

The 148-passenger Wind Spirit uses wind power to sail around the Society Islands of French Polynesia. (Photo courtesy of Windstar Cruises)
The 148-passenger Wind Spirit uses wind power to sail around the Society Islands of French Polynesia. (Photo courtesy of Windstar Cruises)

Every major cruise line in the world suspended departures in mid-March as the coronavirus outbreak grew, and it’s likely many lines will remain completely shut down through the end of summer and even well into the fall.

Feature image courtesy of Windstar Cruises.

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