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Cruise Of French Polynesia On A Freighter Is Vacation Of A Lifetime

Reader comment: In your Travel Q&A; column of Oct. 17, 1993, you recommended a cruise in French Polynesia aboard the inter-island freighter, Aranui.

My wife and I took your advice and recently returned from a most enjoyable cruise from Tahiti through the Tuamotus to the Marquesas and return.

We thought you might be interested in our experiences.

The itinerary was exactly as you described. We boarded in Papeete, stopped at Takapopo in the Marquesas to visit a black pearl farm, went on to about 12 villages in the Marquesas where we unloaded cargo and loaded copra and returned to Papeete with a short stop at Rangiroa in the Tuamotus.

Passengers came and went in the islands, but there were usually about 60 of us aboard. Roughly one-third were English speaking, one third German and one-third French.

Our two tri-lingual hostesses were the only Europeans in the crew; even the captain and other officers were Polynesian.

We went ashore at every stop, accompanied by the hostesses. There were special events scheduled for us in many of the villages. We saw a professional-quality dance performance by the seniors of high school dance class, and at another site a group of adults performed ancient dances. We saw a demonstration of the making of tapa, and elsewhere watched village women bake and prepare breadfruit which they let us sample.

We visited museums, the graves of Gauguin and Jacques Brel, and took a long jeep safari to the top of a mountain and down into the valley that Melville wrote about in “Typee.”

At several places, we swam, snorkeled and had meals on the beach including a pit-roasted pig. We dined at several restaurants featuring local Polynesian fruits, meat and seafood. Many of us rode horses between valleys and all of us had many opportunities to buy tapa and handicrafts made of coconut shells, oyster shells, stone or wood.

The atmosphere aboard was definitely low key and informal, but the service personnel were efficient, the food varied and abundant, and there were special events many nights with music and dancing and a gala Polynesian Night costume party.

The cost of the cruise alone was $7,400 for two - considerably above your estimate in the column, but very much worth the price.

We made our reservation in March of last year and several fellow passengers told us they tried to reserve space at about the same time for earlier cruises but found ours was the first one with space available. The hostesses confirmed that cabin space is usually sold out well in advance, although the so-called “deck space” can expand to accommodate those who don’t require comfort or privacy.

Our cabin included a shower and toilet, twin bunks (one of which converted to a settee) and a porthole.

We elected to fly from Los Angeles to Papeete ($3,300) in business class, which added to the air fare, and bought cancellation insurance for the cruise ($300). Roundtrip air fare from Spokane to Los Angeles was also $300; our two night stay in Papeete including meals, ($500) and a night’s lodging in Los Angeles ($100) added up to $11,900 total - almost double what you estimated.

We do have a word of caution about the cruise. Of the dozen villages we visited, only two had facilities suitable for Aranui to dock. Even in those cases, it was necessary to walk as much as a mile in tropical heat and humidity to the village center and the events there.

At all other villages, the ship anchored out and we went ashore in whaleboats that accommodated about 20 passengers. The boats were boarded from the bottom of a gangway down the ship’s side and - with the usual swell in open harbors - the operation required a fairly high level of agility.

Ashore, we landed either through the surf where it was necessary to wade ashore through shallow water or at what the hostesses called, “slippery little docks.” These were usually little concrete structures on rocky shores, slippery indeed and with steps about a foot high that were difficult for some passengers to surmount without help - which was usually but not always available.

It would be absolutely impossible for wheelchair-bound passengers or anyone on crutches to go ashore at these villages. In fact, some of the older passengers and those who had mild disabilities were intimidated by these obstacles and elected to stay aboard.

There are no specific warnings in the cruise literature about the ability requirements and we feel potential passengers should be made aware of them.

We thank you for bringing this cruise to our attention. It was a memorable adventure and we will always savor the memory of the beautiful islands and the gracious, friendly people. - R.B., Spokane.

Thanks for the report, R.B.

Other readers who may be interested in the same cruise, can contact: Compagnie Polynesienne de Transport Maritime (CPTM), 595 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94105 (call (415) 541 0677).


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