‘Dreams of Tahiti’ on Windstar’s Star Breeze

Star Breeze in the Society Islands
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By Gerry Barker
Photos/Video by Gerry Barker

“La Orana!”

That’s Tahitian for “hello.” It comes in handy when you’re in Tahiti, which many who have been there — us included — regard as the closest thing to paradise on earth.

Windstar’s Star Breeze anchored off Moorea

Pam and I made our first visit to French Polynesia to experience Windstar’s newly-deployed Star Breeze, the sister yacht to Star Legend, which we cruised on in 2022 (read about it here). Windstar, which has had a presence in Tahiti for almost 40 years, brought in Star Breeze to replace its sailing yacht, Wind Spirit. With Tahiti cruises in high demand, Star Breeze doubles what Wind Spirit could accommodate.

In Windstar’s press release, ​company President Christopher Prelog noted: “This strategic shift in ships not only doubles capacity but also brings new experiences given the Breeze’s multiple dining options, enlarged spa and fitness center, and spacious accommodations. travelers aboard Star Breeze still navigate Tahiti’s out-of-the-way harbors, hidden lagoons, and pristine beaches in Windstar’s signature, small ship style.”

Our one-way, 7,200-mile journey started with a flight from Miami to San Francisco, where we took French bee’s direct flight to Papeete (pa-pe-e-te), Tahiti’s capital city. There we boarded Star Breeze for its seven-night “Dreams of Tahiti” cruise, bound for Moorea, Raiatea, Huahine and the legendary Bora Bora, among other stops.

This was our first visit to the Society Islands, an archipelago of 118 islands and an overseas territory of France, situated halfway between Sydney and Los Angeles. Home to almost 300,000 people, tourism is the dominant industry. Everyone we encountered was warm and welcoming, and we found English is widely spoken.

Having sailed on Star Legend, we were already familiar with Star Breeze’s layout. With a guest capacity of 312 (there were 254 on our cruise), it really does feel more like yachting than cruising. The vibe is relaxed and informal — even the bridge is open for viewing most of the time. The captain and officers freely circulate among the guests, and the crew is ready to help whenever needed.

Featuring all suites, our balcony stateroom was located on deck 6. It featured an upgraded bath, seating area and French balcony doors, as well as a walk-in closet. While the ships themselves are older, they are well-maintained and refreshed every two years.

Besides Amphora, the main dining room, there are two specialty, reservation restaurants, Cuadro 44, featuring Spanish fare, and Candles, which is the Veranda, serving breakfast and lunch by day, on deck 7. Room service is also available 24-7. Menus feature James Beard selections, reflecting the line’s partnership with the James Beard Foundation.

There are plenty of places to mix, mingle and relax, where you’ll no doubt make new friends exchanging travel stories and sharing a drink with your fellow guests. There’s the Yacht Club, with its panoramic windows, viewing deck and snack/coffee bar (deck 8), the Star Grill and bar (deck 8), Compass Rose, the entertainment venue and bar (deck 6) and the general purpose Lounge (deck 5). There’s also a movie theater, pool and hot tubs.

If you want to be pampered, head for the World Spa (deck 7) — where I got a relaxing shave and facial treatment — and for anyone who craves water sports, Star Breeze features a water sports platform aft where guests can launch a kayak, swim, paddleboard or relax on a floating platform, conditions permitting.

The week before our cruise, conditions were definitely not permitting, as storms passed through the islands (November-April is Tahiti’s rainy season). But fortunately for us, the weather was sunny for our entire stay. For that, we say “maururu” — “thank you” in Tahitian.

While Star Breeze delivers everything you might want in creature comforts, the real star of the show are the islands themselves. For lack of a better adjective, they are simply indescribably beautiful: Verdant green volcanic peaks rising from aquamarine waters, each one with its own personality and charm.
Windstar offers a wide selection of shore excursions, along with an emphasis on highlighting the Tahitian culture and experience. On our cruise, the latter included:

— Pearl, a French Polynesian cultural ambassador, who both entertained and educated guests about her country. She freely mixed and mingled throughout the voyage, and one occasion joined our table for dinner.

— Tahitians are known for their elaborate and distinctive tattoos, and one day we heard about their long tradition and history from a local Tahitian speaker, Tihoti.

— Entertainment by the Mammas & the Pappas Folkloric group, which included lessons on learning how to wear and tie a pareo (sometimes called pāreu), a wraparound skirt worn by both men and women in the islands. They come in all manner of striking colors and designs. At the same time, Tahitian women demonstrated making a wrist corsage from tropical flowers, and presented them to all the ladies in the audience.

— Most evenings, we came back to our stateroom to find a sample of a local Tahitian product on our bed, such as perfume made from the Tipanier flower, found throughout Polynesia, allowing us to “indulge in the enchantment of your French Polynesian experience when you return home.”

Aside from personal excursions, there were two special events Windstar arranged:

— A Beach BBQ on Motu Mahaea, an island that’s part of Taha’a — the “Vanilla Island,” which accounts for 80 percent of vanilla production in Polynesia. We were ferried over on Zodiacs, where food, drink and lounge chairs under palm trees were waiting.

— A Destination Discovery Event during Star Breeze’s overnight in Bora Bora, staged on a privately-owned island. Staffers greeted us at the pier with a flower lei, then we were off to have a dinner buffet feast while enjoying a striking Polynesian sunset. After dark, we were entertained by Tahitian dancers, including traditional fire dancers.

Of course, no trip to Tahiti is complete without shopping for their trademark black pearls. Pearl farms are abundant across the islands, and it’s fascinating to learn how this prized jewelry is cultivated and harvested, a process that literally takes years. You can also find them in the Star Breeze gift shop.

One of Polynesia’s most precious resources are the coral reefs. In 2022, Windstar announced a partnership with Coral Gardeners, a collective of scientists and engineers committed to preserving and restoring coral reefs. Guests have the option of donating $35 to “adopt a coral,” with a goal of opening “a dedicated nursery supporting 5,000 corals in 2025.”

Also of note:

— Don’t expect a daily program guide in your stateroom, unless you request a hardcopy. Windstar has opted to Go Green and post daily activities via your stateroom TV or the mobile app.

— If you want to stay longer after your cruise, Windstar offers a three-night stay at Moorea’s Hotel Manava Beach Resort and Spa, which several people on our cruise opted to do.

— The local currency is the Polynesian franc, but American money is widely accepted across the islands. Uber was not in evidence, but taxis are readily available.

— Definitely sample the local food. Their specialty is tuna (we had a wonderful tuna ceviche on Huahine) and fish in general. Try and not leave Moorea without ordering the parrotfish at Rudy’s. And by all means, if you find a street vendor selling coconut bread, buy several loaves. It was the most delicious bread we’ve ever tasted.

From the black sand beaches and waterfalls on Tahiti, the pristine beaches of Moorea, the lush vistas on Raiatea to swimming with black fin sharks and manta rays, you’ll come away with enough indelible memories to fill several photo albums.

I know we’ll be dreaming about our Windstar Dreams of Tahiti cruise for quite some time. But for now, “nana,” — which is Tahitian for “goodbye.”

“Nana, Tahiti — until next time.”

(Our thanks to Windstar Cruises for hosting us. Learn more about Windstar Cruises here.)


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