The Smart Way to Get the Most Out of a Trip to The Islands of Tahiti

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Deal Expert, New York
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On a getaway to The Islands of Tahiti, the resort experience is just one part of the vacation. Don’t get us wrong, the daydream of a thatched-roof overwater bungalow with azure water reaching toward a blue sky spotted with cottony clouds is real. Very real.

But despite the small combined land mass of the 118 individual islands and atolls, French Polynesia is actually a big place. Two million square miles big, in fact, across five distinct archipelagos – the Society, Tuamotu, Marquesas, Gambier and Austral islands.

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With a seemingly infinite supply of insta-worthy respites, why just stop at one?

Smart travelers choose to cruise The Islands of Tahiti to get the most out of their trip. A few cruise lines know the ins and outs (literally) of these islands: Paul Gauguin, Windstar, Oceania and Aranui. So, it may be time to trade your sandals in for boat shoes. Here’s why …

1. You wake up somewhere new (and amazing) every day.

New islands. New activities and excursions. New sunrises. New sunsets. One day your view is this …

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The next day it’s this …

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But you’re only unpacking once.


2. You’re already on the water — which is one of the best places to be.

Search #TheIslandsofTahiti on Instagram and you’ll find endless photos with horizons of clear blue water, while vacationers frolic winsomely in the waves.

If the water is where the fun is — why not start and end the day on the water? Most water activities are included in the cruise price, which is pretty cool since you can get right into the experience from the ship whether it’s snorkeling in Tikehau, kayaking to a “motu” (small island) or stand-up paddleboarding in a calm lagoon on an atoll.

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Then return to your balcony cabin for a nightcap and a sunset over the South Pacific.


3. You can take the resort with you.

Many resorts in The Islands of Tahiti are the definition of secluded, and getting from the resort to see the rest of the islands isn’t always easy.

The Islands of Tahiti cover the surface area of Western Europe, so to see more islands, try taking the resort with you. Think of a cruise ship as a traveling overwater bungalow.

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Due to the smaller ports found throughout the islands, the cruise experience is an intimate one — you won’t find mega-ships with roller coasters and thousands of passengers here.

But the cruise ships don’t skimp on the amenities — whether it’s the high-end service on Windstar, the Canyon Ranch SpaClub on Oceania, the menus curated by chefs hand-picked from Michelin-starred restaurants on Paul Gauguin or the Polynesian cultural events on Aranui.


4. One price, less sticker shock.

This may be the universal appeal of taking a cruise: just about everything is taken care of. Meals onboard are always included as well as certain shore excursions and even private cultural events. Most lines also include unlimited wine, beer and cocktails in the rate.

This upfront price can make a cruise a very budget-friendly way to experience The Islands of Tahiti.

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Some cruise lines will bundle flights into the price as well, adding to the savings.


5. More experiences on one trip.

If you want to scout for spinner dolphins in Moorea, try the vanilla in Taha’a, visit the sacred Taipivai Valley on Nuku Hiva — all on one trip, then one of the most cost-effective ways to do that is through a cruise vacation.

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As we said before, part of the appeal is that the ship takes you to new experiences each day and offers curated excursions to make the most of your time in each island.


6. You really get to know the different islands.

Most cruise itineraries will cover the best-known Society Islands in depth. Tahiti, the largest island in French Polynesia, is home to Papeete and is the starting point of all cruises — the 8-hour flight from Los Angeles will land here.

Approximately 15 miles away lies Moorea, where eight mountainous peaks soar above azure lagoon waters and visits from humpback whales are frequent (August-October). The aromatic scent of Taha’a alone will draw guests in, with vanilla fields lining the interior and motus dotting the perimeter.

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Itineraries will often visit Bora Bora, Huahine and Raiatea next as they neighbor each other. Perhaps the most-photographed island, Bora Bora is where visitors can seamlessly transition from a pristine white beach to the forested slopes of iconic Mount Otemanu.

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Huahine is a verdant respite flourishing with fruit — from watermelons to bananas — that also boasts great waves for surfing in Fare. Raiatea, the second-largest island, was considered the center of Polynesian culture and religion more than 1,000 years ago and home to Mount Temehani, considered the Polynesian Mt. Olympus.


7. You can dive in deeper.

Longer cruises will add a couple of the Tuamotu Atolls into the mix.

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Rangiroa, the largest of the atolls, overflows with sandbars and blue lagoons ideal for snorkeling/diving, while also producing French Polynesia’s only wine label at its vineyard situated on a coral motu (small island). Fakarava, appointed as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO, is a protected coral atoll known for its dive sites including Shark’s Hole, teeming with hammerheads.


8. Just about every island is within reach.

While the Society Islands and Tuamotu Atolls are on many itineraries, the Marquesas are a different story. Aranui, a cruise line catering to adventurous travelers that’s half freighter / half passenger ship, specializes in these islands and half of the two-week cruising itinerary is spent in the Marquesas. The Marquesas boast some of the most dramatic scenery in The Islands of Tahiti — cloud-scraping mountains, remote beaches, hidden waterfalls and forests explored by 4×4 safaris.

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Nuku Hiva and Hiva Oa offer cultural treasures such as tiki statues, ancient sacred sites and stone temples.

Aranui offers excursions where locals will come pick guests up in their personal cars and tell them the history and legends of sites as they pass by. Let’s see Uber top that.


9. You might end up on a private island.

A motu, to be precise. Paul Gauguin — a top-ranked liner named after the French post-impressionist painter who resided on the islands — just happens to own Motu Mahana, off the coast of Taha’a.

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Hop in a kayak and paddle your way to this secluded spot. Staff will be on hand to teach you how to open a coconut so you can add to your repertoire of party tricks. Cap off the day with a barbecue and cocktails from a floating bar.


10. You’re doing research for your return trip.

After visiting The Islands of Tahiti via sea, one or two islands will stand out as a favorite. Perhaps it was scuba diving the vibrant coral reefs in Rangiroa. Or harvesting a Tahitian cultured pearl in Raiatea. Or taking in the dramatic 2,400-foot Mount Otemanu in Bora Bora.

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When it’s time for The Islands of Tahiti, part deux — honeymoon, girlfriend getaway or family vacation — you’ll know just where to go. On your return trip, you can opt for the more traditional resort experience in an overwater or beach bungalow, or perhaps even stay in a family-run guesthouse, known as a pension.


11. You won’t miss the boat on a full Tahitian experience.

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Several cruise lines specialize in itineraries for The Islands of Tahiti. The Paul Gauguin cruise line earns a Travel + Leisure “World’s Best” ship nod, and sails to French Polynesia and islands in the South Pacific.

Oceania

Boasting high-end spas and cuisine, Oceania also features itineraries that blend the best of the Society, Tuamotu and Marquesas islands.

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The intimate, four-masted yachts of Windstar make guests feel as if they are on a private ship — and they basically are — with less than 150 cruisers onboard.

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With Polynesian staff and far-off island hopping, the Aranui cruise line immerses guests in Tahitian culture. This is a good pick for travelers wanting an authentic Polynesian experience that’s less luxury and more adventurous.


Click here for special cruise offers in The Islands of Tahiti.

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