Romance alert: A new upscale cruise ship soon will be operating in French Polynesia
There's some big news today for travelers looking for a romantic getaway in French Polynesia: Small-ship specialist Windstar Cruises soon will deploy one of its premier vessels to the region on a permanent basis.
Windstar President Chris Prelog late Tuesday told TPG that the company would base its recently revamped 312-passenger Star Breeze in Papeete, Tahiti, year-round starting in February 2024. It will be used for romantic sailings to iconic French Polynesian islands such as Bora Bora, Moorea and Huahine.
The deployment will more than double Windstar's capacity in the region as compared to recent years when it based its much smaller 148-passenger Wind Spirit in Tahiti.
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"There's definitely demand increasing for French Polynesia," Prelog told TPG during a one-on-one interview at Seatrade Cruise Global, the cruise industry's annual meetup in Miami. "It's a hot bucket-list item."
Windstar deployed Star Breeze to French Polynesia on a temporary basis this past winter in a test of sorts that Prelog said proved it would be a hit in the region.
Prelog said new upscale touches added to the ship in a top-to-bottom overhaul in 2020 were popular with customers. The unusual overhaul, which involved cutting the ship in half and adding a new section that lengthened the vessel, brought 50 new suites as well as new restaurants, pool decks, retail spaces and an expansive spa and fitness area.
Additionally, as part of the project, many of the existing areas of the ship were gutted down to the studs and rebuilt, resulting in a vessel that, in many respects, is almost new.
The overhaul of Star Breeze also made the vessel faster, which will allow the line to offer new itineraries in French Polynesia that include islands that traditionally haven't been part of the line's routings in the region.
"It allows us to do a little bit more there," Prelog said, while adding that the line wasn't yet ready to announce the new itineraries.
Related: The complete guide to cruising in French Polynesia
Windstar has been a longtime leader in French Polynesia cruises, operating in the region for 35 years. It's one of two traditional cruise lines that dominate the market for French Polynesia cruises — the other being one-ship line Paul Gauguin Cruises.
Tourists also can cruise around French Polynesia on Aranui 5, an unusual hybrid vessel that is part cargo ship, part passenger vessel.
With the arrival of Star Breeze in French Polynesia, Windstar will remove Wind Spirit, a sailing ship, from the market. The latter vessel will reposition for at least part of the year to the Mediterranean, where it will operate side by side with a sister sailing ship, the 148-passenger Wind Star.
The move will leave Windstar with two sailing ships operating in the Greek islands, which is a premier destination for sailing ship operations, Prelog noted.
Related: Bora Bora for the day — what to do during a cruise visit
"We know that our sailing ships are very good in Greece and the Mediterranean," he said.
Prelog said Windstar is able to increase capacity in French Polynesia in part because the number of flights to the destination is growing. As TPG has reported, French Polynesia air carrier Air Tahiti Nui is increasing flights from the U.S. to Tahiti later this year with new twice-a-week departures from Seattle. The airline also is flying to Tahiti more frequently from Los Angeles.
Prelog noted that United now has five flights per week to Tahiti from San Francisco, too.
"There's a lot of air capacity coming into Tahiti, so that's a great opportunity for us to increase our capacity," Prelog said.
Prelog praised the tourism board of French Polynesia and the country's leadership for "doing a great job promoting French Polynesia" of late, which is creating a "huge interest" in the destination.
Traveling to the islands of French Polynesia by cruise ship is the best way to see them, Prelog said, as it allows for visiting multiple islands on a single trip and is more affordable than a visit that involves a land resort.
Related: The ultimate guide to Windstar's Yacht Club loyalty program
Seven-night Windstar sailings around French Polynesia currently start at $2,299 per person, based on double occupancy. Some overwater bungalows in French Polynesia cost that much per night, though on a per-room basis, and don't include all the extras like meals that are included on Windstar sailings.
"There is no other way you can see [French Polynesia] as well as on a Windstar ship," Prelog said. "If you stay in a resort, it doesn't move. When you go on our ship, every day you open that curtain on your suite and you look out [at a new island] and say 'Oh my God, this is even more beautiful than the last.'"
In addition to adding a new ship in French Polynesia, Windstar is developing plans to offer pre- and post-cruise resort stays to its cruising customers. The trip extensions would allow cruisers to spend a night or two in an overwater bungalow — one of French Polynesia's iconic experiences — in addition to visiting multiple islands by ship.
"It's the perfect combination," Prelog noted. "You get the overwater bungalow experience that's the bucket-list item everyone wants ... and then go on a [ship] to see the islands [around] Tahiti."
Windstar also is developing plans to offer onboard vow renewals during French Polynesia sailings.
The new French Polynesia sailings on Star Breeze have yet to be officially announced but should be soon. The trips likely will be available for booking in three or four weeks, Prelog said.
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