Do you have dreams of Tahiti?
It’s a far-off paradise with warm waters, gentle breezes, year-round sunshine, and beautiful and welcoming people. So of course you do!
Well, when you finally decide to make those dreams come true and plan a trip to this magical region of the world, you want to make sure to do it right.
I was invited to sail with Windstar Cruises on its small motor yacht Star Breeze. We spent a week in Tahiti visiting islands for adventures at stunning beaches and in blue waters. Along the way, we learned about the culture and history of this fascinating place.
This cruise line is celebrating 35 years of offering immersive travel in French Polynesia on its small ships, and I found a number of great things to love about a cruise to Tahiti with Windstar.
It all starts with the incredible islands you visit.
After sailing away during the night from Papeete, the capital city and home port for cruise ships in Tahiti, we woke up in what appeared to be a Gauguin painting.
Moorea — with its craggy volcanic mountains and soft inviting beaches — was our first destination, and Star Breeze anchored in gorgeous Cook’s Bay for the day, with Mount Rotui majestically overlooking the ship.
Windstar’s shore excursion program in Tahiti is packed with adventures and unique cultural experiences. At each island throughout the week, cruisers were faced with an abundance of choices, like snorkel safaris, 4×4 Jeep off-road tours, exploring the waters on wave runners, stingray or dolphin encounters, and beach cookouts.
We opted for a whale-watching outing in Moorea. This was an afternoon excursion, so we had a morning to enjoy Star Breeze and play at the ship’s marina. We jumped in for a swim, then tried out kayaking, paddle boarding, jumping on the trampoline, and lazing on floating mats.
We set out for our whale safari after lunch at the ship’s Veranda buffet restaurant. Dr. Michael Poole, who has been living on Moorea and studying whale activity for more than three decades, was our guide, and he brought us right out to a spot where we watched a mother humpback and calf swimming and jumping for about an hour. Whales breed in this part of the world, then migrate to feed in Antarctica.
We learned so much during our 3-hour trip out toward the coral reef at the edge of the lagoon and had such a wow-worthy time watching these great animals up close.
2. Bora Bora
Star Breeze spent two days in Bora Bora, again anchored in a stunning lagoon.
We found ourselves waking up each morning, looking at the surroundings, and stating, “Oh, just another day in paradise.”
That’s how it goes in Tahiti, where every spot, while special in its own way, is indescribably beautiful.
At Bora Bora, which is located northwest of Tahiti and known for its sandy little islets filled with coconut trees (called lotuses), we went off the ship to the city of Vaitape for an “Aqua Safari.” This was a fun helmet dive that sent us 12 feet below the surface, right next to a coral reef, to walk on the sandy bottom and interact with colorful reef fish and a curious sting ray.
For a helmet dive, guides place an 80-pound helmet over your head to rest on your shoulders and provide all the oxygen needed to breathe and relax while you stroll under the sea.
Windstar also offers excursions like glass-bottom boat tours, jet tours, snorkeling with stingrays, cultural, discovery tours, and scuba diving introductions in Bora Bora.
On our second day, we enjoyed a deluxe lagoon tour that was a nice small-group ride out to the edge of the reef on a speed boat. We had a snorkel stop and swim break in clear blue waters, with fresh fruit and rum punches served up while we splashed about. We also were lucky to see a pod of about three dozen dolphins frolicking by the boat on our way back to shore.
During the evening, we were ferried to a motu (a reef islet) for Windstar’s signature Destination Discovery Event, which was a festive dinner on our own private island. More on this later.
3. Raiatea And Taha’a
Windstar visits these sister islands for two days of adventures.
While at Uturoa, Raiatea, we took the chance to go on an outrigger canoe voyage up the Faaroa River, the lone navigable river in the Society Islands. Meeting our guide, Tihoti, at the cruise pier, our group set off to the small marina to hop in an outrigger for a thrilling ride out to sea, cruising past pearl farms and luxury homes in a secluded bay before we arrived at the mouth of the river.
Tihoti is an icon in Tahiti. He’s a noted historian, tour guide, and tattoo artist, with his own body filled with art pieces that tell the tales of his ancestry and his island nation. During our tour up the serene river, we were able to stop off to buy bananas, coconut water, and vanilla beans from farmers who set up little shops on the banks of the waterway. Tihoti told us about how much he loves the natural beauty of the islands — “We don’t have snow!” — and did a chant and played a nose flute to show us how he connects with his surroundings and pays homage to all that nature provides.
The next day, at Taha’a, we went out for a drift snorkeling adventure, with a boat taking us out to the edge of the reef. We walked out into the waters, slipped on our masks and flippers, and glided with the current over a beautiful coral garden. Then, the boat dropped us off at a motu to join our fellow cruisers for a day at the beach and a big barbecue lunch. Colleen and I enjoyed a bit of kayaking around the postcard-perfect little island.
You definitely can get your fill of all kinds of activity on a Windstar cruise in Tahiti.
Pro Tip: Take an afternoon nap. We had a nice lay down every afternoon and felt refreshed for the evenings. The days of sunshine and excursions can wear you out.
4. Destination Discovery Event
Tahiti is one of two destinations in the world where Windstar features a signature Destination Discovery Event. This is a big off-the-ship bash — a cultural immersion with a dinner and a show at an epic locale. (The other place Windstar holds this is at Ephesus in Turkey.)
Our party took place on a remote motu while we were visiting Bora Bora. Passengers arrive on a special ferry boat and are greeted with leis and Tahitian music as they stroll ashore on their own private island. We enjoyed some swimming and gazing at the sunset while wandering the sands and listening to the live music performed by a local group playing drums, a ukulele, and guitars.
After a sumptuous dinner buffet featuring lobster, fish cooked in banana leaves, ceviche with coconut milk, and desserts such as poe, sweet potato cake, and rice pudding, the festivities really gained energy.
Our group of about 150 (plus Star Breeze crew) was transfixed by a show that included hula dancing, fire dancing, feats of strength (men stripping a coconut with their teeth and bare hands), and fire eating to close out a fantastic celebration of the Tahitian and Polynesian culture.
5. Spa Time
Star Breeze is a small ship with big spa energy. Windstar has dedicated a large space to its impressive World Spa facility. The ship features several rooms where you can receive a range of massages, as well as a salon for hair and nail treatments and a big thermal suite area with a sauna, ceramic loungers, relaxation room, and experience shower. There is also a nice locker area with a changing room and shower.
Cruisers can even book a couple’s “Massage Under the Stars” on an outer deck during the evening. Colleen and I indulged and treated ourselves to a Swedish massage out on the bow of the ship in a serene setting that was pure romantic bliss, complete with a glass of Champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries afterward.
6. The Star Breeze
A Ship That Fits The Destination
Star Breeze carries just 312 people max — and on our cruise, the ship only had 150 cruisers. It’s a motor yacht that blends in nicely with the surroundings. Residents we spoke with mentioned that they liked that it’s not one of those huge cruise ships that overwhelm many destinations with thousands of people streaming ashore.
With the marina at the back of the ship, it is also perfectly equipped to jump right into the waters and marvel at the scenery as you swim or paddle around idyllic bays and lagoons.
Star Breeze features a lot of outdoor space with natural teak decking. It really is a yachting lifestyle onboard, with a duo of singers performing while cruisers gather at the Star Bar for sunset cocktails. Others like to use the pool and hot tubs or bliss out on the loungers and comfy couches available all over the top of the ship.
We also loved the chance to dine al fresco for almost every meal at the ship’s Star Grill or Veranda eateries.
The program also brings on residents from the islands to give talks and share stories about life in French Polynesia. We had an especially fun time one afternoon learning how to make leis and dancing with the Mamas and Papas group, who played Tahitian music in the ship’s Compass Rose lounge.
Pro Tip: Bring plenty of sunscreen, a good hat and sunglasses, and comfortable beachwear so you can be well protected from the plentiful sunshine.
7. Delicious Cuisine
Speaking of the ship’s dining, Star Breeze offered an overall outstanding culinary experience, with items offered throughout the day to suit any taste. The main dining room is Amphora, which serves dinner in a pretty space with a more formal dress code. The menu offers gourmet creations using regional ingredients, such as marinated octopus with grapefruit and fennel or pan-roasted Pacific cod. You can also get classics like salmon, chicken, and steak dishes.
Veranda is the ship’s buffet eatery, open for breakfast and lunch with a wide variety of delicious entrees, salads, and desserts. Made-to-order eggs are cooked perfectly at breakfast, and the chefs work at carving stations or serve up pasta or stir-fry creations as you watch.
At night, the space becomes Candles, a wonderful steak restaurant where passengers eat outside in the balmy breezes under moonlit skies.
Windstar has partnerships with renowned chefs for two more restaurants on Star Breeze.
Star Grill by Steven Raichlen is the al fresco eatery at the top of the ship offering lunches and dinners from a menu that features rotisserie and smoked meats and vegetables. During our Tahiti cruise, we enjoyed bourbon-brined smoked turkey breast, chicken wings, beef brochette, and a variety of fish dishes. You can also get a nice juicy burger or hot dog here.
The ship also offers Cuadro 44 by Michelin-star chef Anthony Sasso, who has created a Spanish tapas restaurant with a New York flair on Star Breeze. The menu features delights such as grilled octopus and chorizo, paella croquettes, sea bream filets, pork belly, and lamb chops, as well as the most delicious churros with chocolate dipping sauce.
Star Breeze covers every base, with food, entertainment, cultural enrichment, and shore excursions so you can really choose how to enjoy your time in paradise.