It has been one of our lifelong travel dreams to take a trip to Tahiti and visit the islands of Moorea, Bora Bora, and more. This trip has literally been decades in the making and for a trip that has been built up so much in our minds, I’m happy to report that it didn’t disappoint, either.
We built this article around the experience of being in French Polynesia with a yacht cruise, what it’s like, and what you can expect to experience if you book a cruise with Windstar Cruises.
Our entire Tahiti trip was just over 3 weeks and we combined both land touring and cruising. We saw a lot, but are ready to go back again already!
A Trip to Tahiti with Windstar Cruises is Insane Value
Before I get into the particulars of our experience cruising in French Polynesia with Windstar Cruises, I need to point some things out for you. Especially if you landed on this article and are on the fence about whether this kind of trip makes sense to visit Tahiti.
The islands of Tahiti are often associated with luxury travel and high price tags. While this can certainly ring true if you’re looking at a week at the Four Seasons in Bora Bora, but it doesn’t have to be.
Choosing the yacht life with Windstar Cruises in Tahiti is an absolute bargain when compared to the alternatives and this is not an exaggeration. Let’s run some numbers quick.
Cost of an Independent Trip to Tahiti
Staying in overwater bungalows across French Polynesia will run you, a minimum of $1,500 per night. Let’s be honest, most of the higher-end properties will far exceed that number. A one-week stay will put you at around $10,500 – at the lowest priced option for overwater bungalows.
Then there’s transportation and flights. Unless you’re staying in Tahiti, you’ll have to book a flight or ferry to any of the other islands. Air Tahiti has a monopoly in the market, so the prices are expensive and have intense bag restrictions.
From our research, the average price for a round trip ticket for one person to most of the islands averaged $1,000-$1,200. This is for one island.
So, if you want to visit more than one island, you’ll likely have to reroute to Tahiti and then to the other, costing the same for the next ticket. It’s not cheap, but Air Tahiti does offer an island pass, so that can slightly reduce the cost if you’re planning some island hopping.
Then there is, of course, paying for meals during your stay and any excursions that you do like snorkel trips, boat trips, scuba diving, land tours, etc. The options are endless, and this can add up.
Cost of a Cruise in Tahiti
If you book the 7 night Society Islands Windstar Cruise, you’ll visit 6 different islands and pay one price that includes your accommodation, meals, entertainment, and transport to all of them. Their all-in package also includes laundry (so you can pack light), and unlimited bar service.
They also offer an 11 day Society & Tuamotu Islands itinerary that includes 8 islands. This is the itinerary that we did.
Windstar Cruises prices the 7 night itinerary around $3,200 per person on average and just under $4,000 per person including the all-in package. For the 11 day itinerary, the prices average around $5,000 per person and just under $6,000 including the all-in package.
You simply cannot beat the value in either itinerary!
You will, in all transparency, pay for any shore excursions that you book on top of your initial booking amount. But this is so you can customize the trip that you want to do. We found their island discovery tours to be good value and even the pricier options offer value that makes them worth the spend.
Now that I have that off my chest – I do feel passionate that this is one of the best ways to visit French Polynesia – let me tell you about our amazing experience with Windstar Cruises in the South Pacific.
Arriving in Tahiti & Pre-Cruise
Tahiti is an island within the Society Islands group of French Polynesia. While most people refer to the entire country as ‘Tahiti’, it is actually made up of 121 islands.
These islands are separated into 5 island groups that are spread across an area roughly the size of Europe. There is more water in French Polynesia than actual land space.
However, all travel to French Polynesia starts with arrival at the Faa’a International Airport in French Polynesia’s largest city of Papeete, Tahiti.
This could be considered the ‘main’ island but don’t let that put you off. It holds some incredible beauty, history, and culture to discover.
As our cruise departed from here, we flew in a couple of days early so we could recover from the jet lag and explore a bit. Windstar Cruises put us up at the beautiful and secluded Le Tahiti by Pearl Resorts, located on the historic Matavai Bay, where Tahiti was first discovered by Europeans.
Our flight from the USA arrived in Papeete at night, so having transport pre-arranged to our hotel was a blessing. We arrived, showered, and crashed for some much-needed rest.
Waking up early, both from excitement and jet lag, we prepared for a full day of touring on Tahiti. This would entail an exploration of the Papenoo Valley, including a great hike to Matovo Waterfall as a full-day tour that was booked separately from the cruise.
On the second day, we enjoyed a morning on the black sand beaches of Matavai Bay before heading to Papeete to check-in and board the Star Breeze.
Day 1 – Windstar Tahiti Cruise Day At Sea
While some people detest booking cruise itineraries that include sea days, we love them. Especially on longer routes and the 11 day Tuamotu and Society Island itinerary was no exception.
We spent our day getting to know the ship, the staff, and enjoying all the onboard amenities that we wouldn’t have time to enjoy without a day at sea.
This included hitting the gym, soaking in the whirlpools, enjoying the deck loungers, sampling the artistic drinks, and touring the spa.
Day 2 – Fakarava in the Tuamotu Islands
Have you ever heard of Fakarava? It’s ok if you haven’t. It’s not the kind of place that people think of when you mention the islands of Tahiti. While visions of towering tropical mountains dance in people’s heads, French Polynesia also has some pretty amazing atoll islands, too!
Atoll islands are formed by a buildup of dead coral over many, many years. The islands are usually flat with mostly sand and little vegetation. To give you more context, the Maldives is made up of atolls.
Fakarava is part of the Tuamotu Islands in French Polynesia, the only group that is primarily atolls. Because of this, it has some of the most famous and spectacular diving spots in the whole nation.
The entire lagoon is also a designated UNESCO Biosphere Reserve! How cool is that?
So for us, justifying the longer 11-day itinerary with Windstar Cruises that include the Tuamotu Islands was a no-brainer!
After a full day and night of sailing, we awoke just off the coast of the stunning Fakarava. The itinerary includes an anchor here for a nice long day, so we’d highly recommend that you take advantage of it and book multiple excursions, as we did.
The island itself is small, yet long. You could go off on your own, rent bikes, and explore, but you’ll get the best of this island if you do excursions because the best snorkeling is offshore.
Beach Escape – Shore Excursion
Wanting to experience the famed white-sand beaches, we booked the morning Beach Escape shore excursion, which offers 3.5 hours of beach time on a private beach.
The location is around 20 minutes from the pier, and once you arrive you have access to bathrooms, a shaded area, a few picnic tables, and a fresh coconut.
The beach is gorgeous with several nice coral outcroppings that you can access from the beach if you want to snorkel and the family that owns the property is very friendly.
We had a stormy day in Fakarava with on and off rain, but it really didn’t detract from the beauty and we thought the beach escape option was worth the time and money.
Snorkeling at Pufuna – Shore Excursion
In the afternoon, we wanted to get in the water. We are both PADI Advanced Open Water divers, however, it has been some time since our last dive, so we didn’t have the option to dive here. Instead, we booked a snorkel trip to one of the most famous spots in French Polynesia.
Pufuna is a classic pinnacle dive site that offers a massive coral garden to explore. It’s hard to put into words just how amazing this snorkel is, considering you will see thousands of brightly colored reef fish, sharks, and healthy coral.
Alternatively, you could do the Tiputa Pass drift snorkel. The difference between them is that Tiputa Pass is a deep-water snorkel on a wall drop.
Here you have a greater chance to see big pelagics, like sharks and rays, but not a lot of reef fish. It’s also fast-moving, so if you just want to swim around overtop a lush coral garden, Pufuna is better.
Day 3 – Rangiroa in the Tuamotu Islands
Our second cruise stop would introduce us to the largest atoll island in the Tuamotu Islands and one of the largest atolls in the world.
Made up of 415 motus, islets, and sandbars, Rangiroa offers the quintessential definition of paradise found. And find, we did.
One of the things we love about small ship cruising is it gets us into places for just enough time to decide if we love it enough to come back and stay longer. Suffice to say, Rangiroa is strongly on our return to list.
Discover the Green Lagoon – Shore Excursion
First up on the agenda was a trip to the Green Lagoon, a bay of the most pristine, beautiful clear turquoise water we have EVER seen! The lagoon features white sand, palm-fringed beaches, and shallow water with coral outcrops to explore.
Onshore, friendly faces introduced us to traditional Polynesian music, palm weaving, fresh coconuts, and dancing.
The excursion lasts for 4 hours, including transport to and from the dock via private boat. The location is a pristine paradise, do not miss this shore excursion.
Aquarium Coral Garden Snorkel – Shore Excursion
Since sailing with Windstar Cruises in Tahiti also means you have access to some of the best dive spots in French Polynesia, we spent our afternoon in the water.
Rangiroa’s ‘aquarium’ dive location was unreal. I don’t think we’ve ever seen such a density of fish during a snorkel trip. The dive site offers a beautiful coral garden that gradually descends to a drop into deep water. This means you can see dense coral life but also large species (like sharks!) if you head to the drop point.
If you enjoy underwater photography – whether you have pro gear or just a GoPro – this spot is fantastic for it. We even got amazing footage with our phones using an underwater dive case.
Day 4 – Day At Sea
Sailing away from Rangiroa, it would take another night, day, and night to reposition back to the Society Islands. This meant another day at sea and a chance for us to enjoy the spa.
We each booked in a 75-minute hot stone massage, something that was much needed after the long journey and busy days in the Tuamotu Islands. Following the massage, we enjoyed the steam room and sauna before spending the afternoon soaking up the sun on the deck.
Knowing that the next seven days in the Society Islands were going to be busy, the day at sea is the perfect way to recharge and truly relax.
Day 5 – Taha’a & Motu Mahaea in the Society Islands
Taha’a is known as ‘The Vanilla Island’ and produces 70-80% of all French Polynesia’s vanilla, all of which is very high quality. The moment we stepped off the ship we could smell the luscious fragrance of vanilla and hibiscus.
Fascinatingly, Taha’a and its sister island Raiatea, are believed to be the first islands that were settled in French Polynesia, most likely by people from Samoa.
This is not an island that sees a lot of tourists, making it the perfect place to kick back, relax and just enjoy the island life. The day our small yacht was in port, we were the only tourists on the island.
Encircled by a very large lagoon, that also stretches around Raiatea, there is plenty of motus offering idyllic tropical places for retreat. That said, Taha’a itself offers a verdant and lush interior that has beautiful vistas, pearl farms, and vanilla plantations to visit.
Scenic Exploration of Taha’a – Shore Excursion
After leaving the beauty of the Tuamotu atoll islands, we decided it was time to spend some time on land getting acquainted with the history, culture, and economy behind both black pearls and vanilla in French Polynesia.
Our tour took us into the lush interior of the island to see how vanilla is planted, grown, and harvested. We were given an in-depth demonstration of the process, including opportunities to smell and taste the vanilla at the various stages.
The current production of vanilla in French Polynesia is around 25 tons annually. Worth noting is that only one century ago it was as much as 200 tons annually.
As we made our way up into the lush interior, we stopped at a viewpoint and were treated to some fresh fruit and a session of Polynesian dance by our local guides.
Lastly, our tour ended at one of the top pearl farms in French Polynesia, where we ran our hands through huge buckets of beautiful black pearls. We were also able to learn about the process of pearl harvesting – which is done ethically in the islands – and meet the technicians that extract the pearls without killing the oysters.
Did you know that only one specific kind of oyster can produce a black pearl? The Tahitian Black Lipped Pinctada Margaritifera (say that a few times fast).
Motu Mahaea – Windstar Private Motu & Beach BBQ
One of the highlights of our Windstar Cruises Tahiti itinerary was the afternoon we spent on their private island! Yes, you get a taste of the high life when you cruise with Windstar.
Motu Mahaea is one of the most beautiful uninhabited islands we have ever set foot on, and Windstar Cruises reserves this island for the exclusive use of their guests and for their signature BBQ beach lunch.
Offering white sand beaches, close access to coral gardens, towering palm trees, and turquoise water, the island is the perfect setting for an afternoon of BBQ and relaxation.
Since we opted to tour on Taha’a in the morning, we took the tender over to the motu immediately after returning to enjoy the BBQ lunch.
The crew of the Star Breeze put forward great effort to offer us a beach BBQ featuring fresh seafood, and a full bar onshore. To make us comfortable we had the option of loungers.
If you wanted to hit the water, you had kayaks and SUP boards. Or you could bring your assigned snorkeling gear to check out the surrounding reef.
Suffice to say, we spent the whole afternoon playing in the water and enjoying the best that this small atoll island had to offer us. It turned out to be a highlight in the Society Islands.
Day 6 – Raiatea in the Society Islands
Like its neighbor Taha’a, Raiatea (Rye-ah-TEY-ah) is off the beaten track when it comes to tourism. Mostly because the island itself lacks beaches, however, the island offers dramatic topography made of steep slopes, mountains, lush vegetation, and an incredible lagoon.
The island of Raiatea, which translates to “faraway heaven”, is considered to be sacred and was the spiritual center of Polynesia. As we would soon discover, there is a mystical feeling to the island that is hard to deny once you’ve had the chance to set foot on the island.
Raiatea is also home to one of the rarest flowers in the world. The Tiare Apetahi is found only on the Temehani Plateau, and it is forbidden to pick them.
Faaroa River with Motu Beach Break – Shore Excursion
When we heard that Raiatea has the only navigable river in French Polynesia, we knew we needed to explore it. So, we hopped in a traditional outrigger canoe for a morning of river cruising and motu hopping.
The Faaroa River starts quite wide and eventually narrows as you get further inland. We met a variety of characters that live near the river, harvesting crustaceans and selling coconuts to anyone who passes by.
Our outrigger adventure ended with a short journey off the coast of Raiatea to a nearby motu for a bit of beach time. Here we met a couple of locals that manage the island who then showed us a great spot to see stingrays.
If you’re looking for a more intimate look at the Faaroa River, Windstar also offers a kayaking shore excursion up the river. It doesn’t include any motu time but would give you a much more immersive experience.
Scuba Diving – Shore Excursion
To finish off our visit to Raiatea, we opted to spend the afternoon scuba diving, as many people told us that some of the island’s best wonders are underwater. They were not wrong. French Polynesia has some of the best snorkeling and diving we have ever done. The pure density of aquatic life is unreal.
If you want to visit the islands and do a lot of diving, Windstar Cruises is an excellent option. They are one of not many (maybe no other?) companies that offer the chance to liveaboard – offering both morning and afternoon scuba options on all of the islands. You cannot beat the value when you consider that vs staying on one island for a week.
Day 7 – Bora Bora in the Society Islands
Bora Bora, which derives from the original name of Pora Pora meaning “first born”, is the most famous place in French Polynesia, hands down.
With a towering center island, a string of motu islands, and an insanely gorgeous lagoon, it is the destination of tropical dreams. When people talk about the Tahitian Islands, Bora Bora is what immediately comes to mind.
So, we were thrilled to see that Windstar Cruises offers two full days in Bora Bora on their itineraries! This meant we’d have time to explore both the land and sea of this magical place.
Bora Bora by 4 Wheel Drive – Shore Excursion
This was a true Land Rover off-road, 4×4 excursion to places that are accessible only to these special vehicles. We ascended high into the mountains to Pahonu Hill overlook, where we stared in awe at Matira Beach and the spectacular lagoon that encircles Bora Bora.
Continuing on we checked out old WWII canons, ancient ruins, a local artisan market, and stopped at additional scenic overlooks.
If you’re looking for a way to get intimate with the main island of Bora Bora, this is the excursion you want to book. A lot of people come to the island and never actually visit the main island, as they stay on motus around the lagoon.
Concierge Collection: Helicopter Flight – Shore Excursion
When you have a good weather day in Bora Bora, the most exceptional thing you can treat yourself to is a helicopter flight around the island and surrounding lagoon. It is absolutely spectacular and something you will not regret.
The flight lasts 20 minutes in one of the nicest helicopters we have ever ridden in, featuring large panoramic windows and unobstructed viewing.
This offered an amazing opportunity for photography and allowed all passengers in the helicopter to scan the lagoon below for sharks and manta rays. To say it was money well spent is an understatement.
Day 8 – Another Day in Bora Bora
Our second day of exploration in Bora Bora would continue to show us why this island is so beloved worldwide. Moving away from land, our day would be spent in the water discovering the wonders of the famed lagoon.
Snorkel Safari & Sting Ray Encounter – Shore Excursion
Setting out from the port, we boarded a large, covered catamaran with a couple of lively guides and were swept away for a day of adventure.
Being serenaded with traditional Polynesian music and dance, we made our way to an area with deep water, where we had the chance to snorkel above a long giant manta ray that was feeding below.
This was unplanned and a bonus as they are not easy to spot. When we left the manta ray, we headed to a shallow sandbank where we were able to swim in shallow water with many stingrays and blacktip sharks.
The stingrays and sharks come to this sandbank because it was once used as a fish cleaning station by local fishermen. Today, it is only visited by tourists.
While the guides allow you to touch the stingrays, we would recommend that you do not. For your own safety and for the animals. Seeing them swim among the group is plenty satisfying!
After leaving the sandbank, we were taken to the barrier reef that marks the end of the lagoon and given the opportunity to snorkel among pristine coral gardens in about 4-5 feet of water.
When you are snorkeling in water that is this shallow, it is very important to be aware of your body. It is not ok to touch or stand on any kind of coral. Keep your wits about you and enjoy the view. If you want to see tropical fish up close, this is the trip for you!
Motu Tapu Windstar Discovery Event
During every sailing in French Polynesia, Windstar Cruises offers their signature Destination Discovery event to get you up close and personal with the amazing South Pacific culture.
This includes traditional music, hula dancing, and fire dancers. Paired with a sunset BBQ on a private motu off the coast of Bora Bora, the event truly is a special experience.
For us, as photographers, we were able to get right up in the action – with spaced outdoor seating and plenty of room to work with the lighting.
I don’t think there was one person that wasn’t smiling before, during, and after this event.
It was not only memorable but an event that helped us to connect with the people and destination. Absolutely priceless.
Day 9 – Huahine in the Society Islands
Archeological evidence reveals that some of the earliest settlements in the Society Islands were on Huahine. Polynesians inhabited this island thousands of years before Europeans arrived in this part of the world.
As such, there is a high density of marae, temples, found around the Matairea Hill area of the island which is believed to of been occupied by the nobility and families of the chiefs. To date, there are 30 maraes uncovered in this area.
Of all the islands, this one felt the most authentic. The most sacred. You know, the place you go and immediately feel privileged to know. It was one of those places. At least for us.
Legendary Sites and Sacred Places – Shore Excursion
Naturally, with an island steeped in such rich Polynesian history, we had to know more and see it for ourselves. This is how we ended up on one of the most entertaining and educational tours of the entire trip.
Boarding a local ‘le truck’ we were guided by Paul Atallah a local archeologist and expert on Polynesian Anthropology through geology, botany, anthropology, archeology, sociology, economy, history, and traditions of the Polynesians and Huahine.
It was an exciting and wild ride that included a hike to a stunning marae that is being overtaken by a giant Banyan tree, a visit to the Fare Pote’e Museum of Polynesian history, a local vanilla plantation, 500-year-old fish traps, a visit to sacred blue-eyed eels, and several scenic viewpoints.
The highlight was our visit to one of the most sacred and beautiful marae temple ruins in all of French Polynesia. Today it is being slowly consumed by the tropical forest around it, but to visit this site was special.
If you believe in energy, this is a place that was oozing it and I couldn’t help but be drawn to that gigantic banyan tree that has sprouted out of the temple stone!
Scenic Huahine by ATV – Shore Excursion
To add some adventure to our trip to Tahiti, we also booked this ATV tour in Huahine. Not only was this tour a lot of fun, but it also showed us areas of the island that we didn’t see on the above tour.
Our route included following the coastline of Motu Maeva and its beautiful white sand beaches before heading to the ancient Polynesia temple of Marae Mananue.
We contemplated this historical site over a refreshing beverage and fresh fruit before heading to the abandoned grounds of the Sofitel Heiva. Here we enjoyed free time to walk the beach and play in the water at the stunning Heiva Beach.
From the beach, we had some overlap with stops at Fare Pote’e Museum and a visit to the sacred blue-eyed eels at Faie but the tour then headed to the Belvedere Viewpoint and gave us time to stroll along the historical bridge that links Huahine Nui with Huahine Iti.
Day 10 – Moorea in the Society Islands
Moorea (Mo-oh-REY-ah) means “yellow lizard” in Tahitian, and it is one of the most spectacular islands in the world and it has a vibrant cultural history. The island itself is about 2 million years old.
People have lived on Moorea for almost 2,000 years, and rich history of traditional knowledge has been passed down through the generations. With two major research centers on the island, it is also likely the most studied island in the world.
From the moment we laid eyes on this island, we were in love. With towering mountains, deep-set bays, and a stunning lagoon, Moorea combines the best of the society islands into one.
We enjoyed this island so much that we went back after our Windstar Cruise to stay a few more days in an overwater bungalow and discover more of the island.
Dolphin Eco Tour – Shore Excursion
Moorea is considered the best island for dolphin and whale watching in French Polynesia, so we didn’t hesitate to book the shore excursion that would have us on a boat with Dr. Michael Poole for the morning. A well-respected marine biologist, Poole has been studying dolphins and the ocean from Moorea for decades.
His tour took us into one of the three main bays on the island to observe a pod of spinner dolphins that were hunting and playing. The tour was interactive, meaning we could rapid-fire any and all questions pertaining to the dolphins or the ocean.
It was a fun way to get acquainted with the waters around Moorea. At the end of the tour, he took our group to a channel that flows into the lagoon to snorkel.
These unique water spaces flush water in and out of the lagoon, creating a lifeline for marine life. This meant we had the chance to snorkel among sea turtles and large schools of rays.
Island Tour & Belvedere Lookout – Shore Excursion
Having spent the morning on the water, we wanted to see more of the island and its interior. The Island Discovery shore excursion offered the perfect introduction to the history and beauty that Moorea offers.
Combining all of the available information from researchers and local elders together, this tour introduced how the island of Moorea started and the evolution of how it has become the island that you can visit today.
We enjoyed in-depth conversation with our guide while we made our way around the island, stopping off at iconic photo stops like Belvedere Lookout, the filming location for Bali Hai, and coastline views.
Additionally, we spent time exploring the UC Berkley research campus and spent generous time at the archeological sites of Belvedere de Opanohu, Marae Ti-i-rua, and Marae Mahine.
Day 11 – Back to Tahiti & Disembarkation
After ten incredible days of exploring French Polynesia by yacht with Windstar Cruises, we had come full circle with our arrival back to Papeete.
But we weren’t quite ready to say goodbye to Windstar yet, so we booked a day trip to explore more of Tahiti.
West Coast Highlights Tour – Shore Excursion
Since we chose to explore a bit of the east side of Tahiti along with the Papenoo Valley before we boarded the yacht, we jumped at the chance to book the West Coast Highlights Tour.
This tour took us to some of the most notable and interesting places on the island of Tahiti. It included the Arahurahu Marae, Maraa Grottoes, and Vaipahi Gardens. It normally includes a stop at the Polynesian museum, too, however it was closed due to repairs when we visited.
The most interesting stop of the day was the impressive Arahurahu Marae. It is the only ancient temple in Polynesia that has been completely restored. The site is maintained like a museum as well.
Some people think it is less impressive than the waterside maraes of Raiatea and Huahine, but we found the vibrant green jungle setting of this temple irresistible.
The End of Our Windstar Cruises Tahiti Cruise
Returning to the port after the tour, we collected our luggage and said our goodbyes to our new friends. While we had to say goodbye to our amazing Windstar yacht, our travels in French Polynesia were far from over.
We made our way to the ferry terminal so we could make the 45-minute journey back to Moorea and check into the Hilton Moorea Beach Resort for a few nights of luxury in a classic Polynesian overwater bungalow.
Our trip to Tahiti was part of a paid partnership with Windstar Cruises. However, all opinions, stories, advice, and insane love for this amazing itinerary are 100% ours, as always.
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