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

Jun 17, 2020

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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.

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:

Feature image courtesy of Windstar Cruises.

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