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French Polynesia, of all places, is about to be at the vanguard of cruising's return

June 17, 2020
6 min read
French Polynesia, of all places, is about to be at the vanguard of cruising's return
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French Polynesia isn't the biggest cruise destination in the world. But it's about to be at the forefront of the cruise industry's move to get ships sailing again.

In the wake of the South Pacific destination's announcement that it would reopen to tourists on July 15, one of the region's best-known cruise operators, Paul Gauguin Cruises, on Tuesday announced plans to restart operations on July 11 -- just 24 days from now.

Owned by international line Ponant, Paul Gauguin Cruises said its one ship, the 332-passenger Paul Gauguin, initially would offer sailings for the local French Polynesian market only. Trips for international travelers will start on July 29.

The announcement comes as another one of French Polynesia's main cruise sellers, Aranui Cruises, prepares to resume voyages for tourists on July 18. Aranui Cruises sells trips to little-visited French Polynesian islands year-round on an unusual vessel that is half-freighter, half-cruise-ship.

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Like Paul Gauguin Cruises, Aranui is marketing its first tourist sailing on its single vessel, Aranui 5, as a "local's cruise," but the company says the trip will be open to any international traveler who is permitted to travel to Tahiti at the time. Like Paul Gauguin, Aranui 5 is based 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 travelers. It has 103 cabins that can hold up to 254 passengers.

Aranui Cruises says the sailing starting July 18 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.

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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)

Paul Gauguin's first sailing for international travelers on July 29 will be a 10-night trip out of Papeete, Tahiti, to the nearby islands of Huahine, Bora Bora, Motu Mahana, and Moorea as well as the atolls of Rangiroa and Fakarava in the Tuamotu Archipelago.

There is one other vessel that offers cruises year-round in French Polynesia: Windstar Cruises' 148-passenger Wind Spirit. It also sails out of Papeete.

Related: The best ways to get to French Polynesia on points and miles

Windstar has said Wind Spirit will resume sailing on Sept. 3. 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. Luckily, credit card travel insurance satisfies this requirement. Use a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card to pay for your airfare to Tahiti, then provide a copy of the card’s Guide to Benefits as proof of coverage.

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

Other cruise lines restarting operations

The mid-July resumption of cruising in French Polynesia comes as several river lines and small-ship operators in Europe begin restarting operations 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 in the coming days.

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.

Additional resources for cruisers during the coronavirus outbreak:

Featured image by Windstar Cruises' 148-passenger Wind Spirit sails in French Polynesia. (Photo courtesy of Windstar Cruises)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

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  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
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  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023