The Islands of Tahiti Total 118. Why Stop at Just One?
Rarely does a name conjure so vivid a vision as The Islands of Tahiti. In fact, you're probably already picturing yourself in a stilted bungalow mid-lagoon -- thatched roof overhead, glass floor underfoot and a Mai Tai within arm's reach. A worthy mind trip indeed.
But consider this: There are so many seductive isles and atolls -- 118, to be exact -- in this nearly 2-million-square-mile territory, that visiting only one puts your inner explorer at risk for serious FOMO.
So while you may still want to book a night or two at those lagoon lodgings (especially this year, as the islands celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first overwater bungalow), you'd do well to dedicate most of your trip to a cruise. Beyond simply seeing a lot more, you'll get a richer experience. The best lines operating locally -- Paul Gauguin Cruises, Windstar Cruises, Oceania Cruises and Aranui -- take you well beyond the surface, gorgeous though it may be.
Here are seven more reasons to swap your resort-wear for boat shoes:
1. You're waking up somewhere new and amazing every day, but unpacking only once.
The next day it's this ...
2. You're already on the water -- which is where you want to be.
Search #LoveTahiti or #TheIslandsofTahiti on Instagram, and people at play in the local liquid turquoise will quickly dominate your screen.
If the water is where the fun is, why not start and end the day there? Water activities are often included in the cruise, as is direct access to them: You can get right in from the ship, whether you’re snorkeling, kayaking to a motu (small island) or stand-up paddleboarding in a calm lagoon.
3. You can take the resort with you.
Many resorts in The Islands of Tahiti are the very picture of seclusion, and getting from the resort to ... well, anything else isn't always easy. The opposite holds true on a ship. So think of yours as a traveling overwater bungalow, with the same amenities you'd find on (or at least attached to) terra firma, whether the watersports platform on Windstar Cruises, the Canyon Ranch SpaClub on Oceania Cruises, the Michelin-rated chefs' picks on Paul Gauguin Cruises or the Polynesian cultural events on Aranui.
4. One price, less sticker shock.
Though this one applies to cruises almost anywhere, the point is worth underscoring when you’re talking about a part of the world where resort costs can add up particularly fast (remote islands=imported everything). Meals on board, by contrast, cost nothing extra. Same often goes for certain shore excursions, cultural events and non-premium wines and liquors.
5. You have a huge variety of islands to choose from.
Whatever your local interest -- indigenous culture, rainforest ecology, snorkeling, kayaking, beach bumming or any combination thereof -- there's an itinerary that fits the bill. Three of the likeliest components:
THE SOCIETY ISLANDS
Among others, this island group includes Tahiti, the international air hub and French Polynesia's economic and political center with great markets, museums and restaurants; Moorea, where lush peaks soar above turquoise waters that humpbacks often call home; and Bora Bora, whose palm-fringed, sugary white beaches rival its thickly forested peak for most-photographed feature.
Most cruise itineraries will focus heavily on the trio above, and some will get to the sister Society Islands: Taha’a, home to fragrant fields that give this island its alias (Vanilla Island); Huahine, onetime enclave of Tahitian nobility, and still home to a wealth of temple ruins; and Raiatea, Polynesia’s spiritual birthplace, and sole province of the iconic and intoxicating taire flower.
THE TUAMOTU ATOLLS
Some of the most picturesque atolls -- closely grouped coral reefs that ring an inner lagoon -- are found here. Among the highlights are Rangiroa, which lures snorkelers and divers to its sandbars and lagoons and Fakarava, a UNESCO-designated Biosphere Reserve, with such dive sites as the hammerhead-happy shark's hole.
Almost 1,000 miles from Tahiti, these islands will be part of longer cruises, and are worth the voyage for their cloud-scraping mountains, remote beaches, dense forests, hidden waterfalls, mega-tikis and ancient sacred sites.
6. The array of local cruise lines is almost as dazzling.
Four cruise lines specialize in itineraries throughout The Islands of Tahiti. Paul Gauguin Cruises, considered a Travel + Leisure "World's Best," features its own private island, a magical motu off the coast of vanilla-scented Taha'a, and private white sand beach in Bora Bora.
Beloved for its Canyon Ranch spa and Jacques Pépin-masterminded cuisine, Oceania Cruises blends the best of the Society, Tuamotu and Marquesas islands into ultra-dreamy itineraries.
The intimate, four-masted yachts of Windstar Cruises make you feel as if you're on a private ship -- and you basically are -- with fewer than 150 fellow cruise-mates onboard.
With Polynesian staff and far-off island hopping, the Aranui cruise offers up an immersive Polynesian culture experience to travelers who'd happily trade luxury for adventure.
7. You can still celebrate the overwater bungalow's 50th birthday.
Even when you book a cruise to The Islands of Tahiti, there's no need to forfeit that age-old fantasy of staying in an overwater bungalow. With most itineraries starting and ending in Papeete, you'll have overwater bungalows close at hand that you may not realize are there, such as the ones at Le Meridien Tahiti and The Intercontinental Tahiti Resort and Spa. Book a night on either side of your cruise to have your gâteau and eat it, too.