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Travel Trending with Kathy Witt: Windstar’s Tahiti is closer and more remote than you think

Kathy Witt, Tribune News Service on

Published in Senior Living Features

I’m standing waist-deep in the clear blue waters of the caldera off the shoreline of Bora Bora, munching passion fruit, sipping a rum punch and watching our guide, Sebastian, hack a coconut in two. Watching manatees floating beneath the surface and luxuriating in the lagoon’s gentle swish-swish, I realize that this is what a vacation should look like. And it’s all due to Windstar Cruises and its “180 degrees from ordinary” philosophy for connecting us with Sebastian, the captain of the Loveboat 5, and this perfect moment and memory.

The Star Breeze, Windstar Cruises’ newly renovated (to the tune of millions of dollars) and lengthened all-suite yacht brings laid-back but refined year-round cruising to its homeport of Papeete, French Polynesia, not to mention an increase to five dining venues, a new spa and fitness area and infinity pool.

Because it carries just 312 passengers, the yacht can snuggle into places bigger ships can’t, like the Tuamotu Islands and their crystal-clear lagoons. Life onboard feels relaxed, never regimented, but personal—like traveling with a large group of friends, because passengers generally become friends within days of boarding, bonding over shared experiences like braiding headpieces and joining in a “Patiafa” demonstration (javelin throwing) on excursions that sometimes have as few as six or eight people. It’s one of the many perks of cruising with Windstar.

Here are highlights from my experience aboard Windstar’s Star Breeze to Papeete:

A SUITE LIFE

Star Breeze suites are gorgeous, spacious and thoughtfully organized, with separate seating and bedroom areas that can be closed off from each other with curtains. Fresh fruit and tropical flowers grace tabletops and a glass-shelved cabinet filled with assorted glassware (very daring, I thought, for a yacht plying the waters of the South Pacific) adds an upscale flourish to the room. Our suite’s balcony had just enough room for sitting and catching the sunrise.

My favorite part of the suite was the walk-in closet. Not a cubby-closet, but a full closet with plenty of space for two people to hang their island wardrobe plus shelves and hooks for robes and outerwear. The closet is roomy enough that you could get dressed in it you chose to. The tiled bathroom is also a decent size, with full shower with glass doors, a mirror over the double sinks that doesn’t fog up, and more than enough shelf space for toiletries and cosmetics for two passengers. It was heavenly.

CLASS IS IN SESSION

A French Polynesian cultural ambassador sails with Star Breeze to organize experiences throughout the cruise. Our ambassador was Pearl, who originated the program, which includes French and Tahitian language lessons, Polynesian dancing and arts and crafts sessions like making floral headbands and bracelets and ukelele classes.

I own a ukelele and have struggled to competently move beyond learning three chords, and transitioning smoothly between them, and joined Pearl for the first lesson. Let’s just say, during the next lesson, I was happily floating in the gorgeous aqua waters off the ship’s Watersports Platform and chose to be in the audience rather than a performer during the special guest presentation at the end of the cruise.

THAT WATERSPORTS PLATFORM AND OTHER FUN

Four words: Foam flotation magic carpet. When the watersports platform opens for the day (pending safe weather and operating conditions), the magic carpet unfurls. What a treat to suit up and jump off the stern of the ship into warm blue waters, splash around, lounge on the float and drink in shoreline views. We spent many pleasant hours bobbing on the magic carpet and getting to know other passengers.

Other onboard activities included nightly trivia, and fast friends were made as strangers team up for the cruise director’s very challenging questions, lectures about ports on the itinerary, sunrise yoga, deck parties, live music, a galley tour, cooking demonstration and wine tasting.

Ashore on Motu Mahaea, during a private beach day exclusively for Star Breeze passengers, everyone on the ship spent a thoroughly relaxing day reclining in shaded lounges, sipping rum punches, photographing the views, splashing in the water and enjoying live music courtesy of Pearl. The culinary headliner was Star Breeze’s signature beach barbecue; burgers, grilled chicken and fish, salads, salsas, fresh veggies and fruits, cookies and other sweet treats lined the tables. What a scrapbook-worthy memory.

DATE-NIGHT DINING

Dining in Star Breeze’s two reservation-only restaurants feels like a special-occasion outing. Candles is al fresco dining by candlelight and moonlight on Star Deck, the inky black of ocean and sky providing a dramatic backdrop. During the day, this space hosts the hustle-bustle of the Veranda buffet but at night, the white linen tablecloths come out, conversations tend toward inside voices and a romance-is-in-the-air ambience prevails.

 

The steak and seafood specialty menu highlights dishes created by chefs as part of Windstar’s partnership with the James Beard Foundation. Dinner unwinds slowly, as languid as the gentle ocean breezes ruffling the ship’s large white sail that anchors the space. The entire experience is magical, a chef’s kiss.

Cuadro 44 is tucked off the staircase on Deck 6 and features tastes of Spain’s coastal regions on a menu developed by Michelin starred chef Anthony Sasso. Gourmet morsels of edible art like potato tortilla arranged in a swirl of parsley crème fraiche and Moroccan cauliflower and broccoli sprinkled with hazelnuts and mint are served in an intimate setting splashed with primary palette of reds, yellows and blues courtesy of the framed art.

There are no upcharges for either restaurant; reservations are required and should be made the first day of the cruise for desired nights.

TAHITIAN-FLAVORED TURN-DOWN

On three different nights, we returned to our suite to find a small locally sourced gift: all natural Bora Bora Handmade Soap in a mellow sandalwood scent; Monoi Oil, described on the gift card as a “sacred elixir blending fresh Tiare Tahiti flowers with refined coconut oil for a harmonious infusion of sensuality, purity and authenticity;” and (my favorite) a bottle of Brume Parfumee’s Reva de Tahiti, a body mist mirroring the colors as the waters of Tahiti and with the most delightful soft, floral fragrance. Every time I spritz it on, I’m immediately taken back to the islands and my Star Breeze experience.

Like the suite’s welcoming fresh flowers and the fruit bowl restocked as needed, these personal touches set Windstar apart from other cruise lines.

SHORE EXCURSIONS AND EVENTS

In Bora Bora, a special private feast followed by fire dancing is a standout event. Guests are ferried by catamaran to a motu—one of many tiny islets surrounding Bora Bora—just as the sun slips into the lagoon and arrive to a lavish beach barbecue and picnic tables set up on either side of a natural stage.

Following dinner, the drum beat of the music brings out the loin cloth-clad dancers performing their acrobatic feats while spinning flames of fire hot enough to be felt at the tables. One of the entertainers was an 11-year-old boy, already a master in fire dancing, a long-held tradition of Polynesian culture.

On our excursions, we tried launching spears toward a mounted coconut in Fakarava, visited a marketplace for a demo of tying a pareu—a sarong made of beautiful and colorful printed cotton cloth worn by Polynesians—and joined Sebastian on the Loveboat 5 excursion in Bora Bora for history lessons and a refreshing dip in the warm, pristine waters of the lagoon.

Plan your travels

Windstar’s Star Breeze sails year-round in Papeete. Reaching the island is a very accessible seven-hour flight from San Francisco, comparable to flying to European destinations including London and Paris from New York. Due to flight times to and from Papeete, cruisers need to book an overnight preceding their cruise and should consider booking a dayroom following their cruise.

We chose the InterContinental Tahiti Resort and Spa and thoroughly enjoyed it, especially after we disembarked the ship, for a long day of lunching and lounging by the pool the day – and relaxing and showering in our room — before leaving for the airport that evening for our return flights home.

For more information about Windstar Cruises, the Star Breeze and its voyages to Papeete, Tahiti, and other Windstar destinations, visit windstarcruises.com.


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