Sailing The Society Islands, French Polynesia

Society Islands HoneymoonThe Society Islands…jagged mountains, white sand beaches, over-water bungalows, tropical forests, sounds of ukuleles, and scents of gardenia…it’s a honeymoon dreamland. But too often, couples fly from Tahiti to Bora Bora and miss the incredible islands in between! Keeping with the seafaring tradition of Polynesia, a small ship is hands down the best way to explore this stunning archipelago, so we joined Windstar Cruises for a Society Islands honeymoon adventure! Not your typical boat (there’s only a handful in the world), the Wind Spirit is a four-masted, motorized sailing yacht that rides the breeze to increase speed, reduce fuel, add romance, and honor the art of sailing. Plus, there were less than 100 people on board and just as many staff (including their spa specialists, mixologists, water-sport crew, and James-Beard-Foundation-trained chefs) so we knew we’d be in good hands during our seven-day sailing. See where we went, what we did, and why we fell in love with yacht life in the Society Islands.
 

MSY Wind Spirit

Windstar Wind Spirit Sailing yachtIn Tahiti’s Papeete harbor, we spotted the MSY Wind Spirit with its six sails, wooden railings, and pointed bow, and got giddy for the week ahead. It looked more like a classic tall ship than the cruise variety and just our speed. At the end of the pier and red carpet, Captain Lubo and General Manager D’Souza were waiting to personally welcome us aboard. With our luggage already delivered to our room, we set out to explore the four decks across this 360-foot-long ship. Two restaurants, a lounge, espresso bar, library, fitness center, spa, boutique, watersports platform, pool bar, sundecks, and 73 staterooms, it had everything couples (read: no little kids allowed) could want while keeping a small footprint. We reached our room and our “butler” Yadi was there to give us a tour of our nautical chic space with a queen bed, seating area, ample storage, sound system, mini bar, and spacious bathroom. He left us with a bottle of champagne to toast our stay and let us know he was available for anything we needed.
 

Setting Sail

society island shoneymoonGetting dressed for dinner, we heard the cinematic song “Conquest of Paradise” come on the loudspeaker. This is the sound of Windstar’s signature sail-away when everyone gathers on the top deck to watch the sails unfurl and raise a glass to a great day and those ahead. We went upstairs, waved goodbye to Tahiti basking in the sunset glow, then to dinner at the incredible Amphora restaurant. Windstar is the official cruise line of the James Beard Foundation, which means that each day’s menu features recipes by the foundation’s award-winning chefs and is prepared to their five-star standards. We sat down at a cozy crescent booth under the glow of a Murano glass chandelier, and Chef and 5x cookbook author Darin Epp came to our table. He knew we were vegan without us saying a word, and had a long list of recommendations for a delicious plant-based meal. He prepared a tofu that was the closest thing to sea bass we’ve had since our pescatarian days and a Thai-inspired “Bang-Bang Cauliflower” that brought us back to Bangkok. As we ate the last bite of our artful dessert and swooned, Darin said, “Just wait until Friday…I’m creating an eight-course vegan dinner for you.”
 

Mo’orea: Straight out of Moana

Society island honeymoonWe woke up with the sun and out of our porthole window we saw the lush green and jagged peaks of Mo’orea shooting out of the sea. I quickly got dressed, grabbed a cappuccino and pastry at the espresso bar, and went to the top deck to watch arguably French Polynesia’s most beautiful isle draw closer. All the islands here are volcanic in origin but, being among the youngest in the chain (at 2 million years old) Mo’orea has nothing weathered about it with sheer cliffs, skinny bays, and a striking silhouette. To help guests explore and enjoy each island, we could take the Windstar tender to venture out on our own (rent bikes, shop the local markets, go to museums, etc.) or we could sign up for a myriad of excursions—from scuba diving to photo safaris. For a good cultural and geological overview, we did a fantastic tour to Belvedere Lookout’s sweeping vista, the oldest European church in the South Pacific, the Gump Research Station for sustainability science, and the sacred Polynesian ruins of Marae Ti’i-rua. In the afternoon, we went dolphin and whale watching with one of French Polynesia’s premier marine biologists, Dr. Michael Poole, whose research and advocacy has resulted in much of the country’s legislation protecting these marine mammals. We learned all about the fascinating spinner dolphins and this newly discovered humpback breeding ground, then saw both species in action! When the time came for the Wind Spirit to unfurl its sails and depart Mo’orea, we were already planning our return.
 

Raiatea: The Heart of the Polynesian Triangle

Society Islands HoneymoonThe Islands of Tahiti are the center of the Polynesian Triangle which stretches from Hawaii to Easter Island to New Zealand, and the island of Raiatea is at the spiritual heart of it all. It’s also home to incredible scuba diving and the nation’s only navigable river (Windstar offers both of those excursions), but its true star is the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Taputapuātea. This ancient marae complex is where chiefs, priests, and warriors from across the Pacific would travel via canoe to gather for the most important ceremonies. Our local guide Tara picked us up, and her passion for Polynesian culture was infectious. She regaled us with stories of her childhood spent chasing land crabs and climbing tropical fruit trees. She made stops at a small-family “copra” (aka dried coconut) operations and black pearl farms to help us understand these staples of the nation’s economy. Ultimately, she walked us through Taputapuātea for a tour that gave us a deeper appreciation of Polynesia beyond French borders. To top off our day of cultural immersion, the ship invited a local troupe onboard to teach traditional dances, floral-crown making, palm-frond weaving and set the tone for that night’s Tahitian BBQ under the stars.
 

Taha’a: The Vanilla Island & Motu Mahea

taha'a society islandsSailing from Raiatea to Taha’a, the color of the water seemed to electrify. Moving into the shallower depths, navy blue faded to teal to turquoise over the white sand. We had reached “The Vanilla Island,” where 70% of French Polynesia’s famed beans grow. A local tour boat pulled up to our anchorage with a ukulele musician, setting the good island vibes for our day. We walked down the main street of charming Taha’a and could smell the vanilla in the air, mixed with hibiscus and gardenia from the gardens of the few thousand inhabitants. We arrived at a family-run plantation and got the lowdown straight from the vanilla farmer’s mouth. The bean comes from a hand-pollinated flower, takes nine months to grow, dries in the sun for six weeks, then cures for two months before it’s the vanilla we know and love. After the 101 course, we walked the plantation and sampled all sorts of vanilla products, fresh from one of the finest producers in the world. On the way back to the ship, we made a seemingly innocent snorkel stop only to realize it was teeming with blacktip reef sharks and stingrays! Never had we seen so many sharks, but we took the guide’s word that they were friendly and jumped in. It was an incredible experience and we have all our fingers and toes to show for it! For lunch, rather than go back to the ship, the Windstar team brought a full-on BBQ feast, water sports, and massage tables to the private island of Motu Mahea for an afternoon of fun.
 

Activities Aboard The Wind Spirit

society islands honeymoonWe aren’t the type to sit still very long, so we appreciated that tons of activities could also be found on board. The Wind Spirit’s water sports platform had everything from kayaks, to SUP boards, trampolines, and even wakeboards with a speed boat to zip you around. They also had interesting programs throughout the day, from cocktail-making lessons to Polynesian storytelling, live music (we loved our resident musician, Alex Mel!), and the big staff talent show. And when we did want to sit still, it could be in a hot tub or sun chaise watching the islands go by.
 

Bora Bora Bliss

bora bora society islands honeymoonThe next morning we woke up and saw Mount Otemanu framed perfectly in our porthole…we had reached the legendary Bora Bora. Since everyone wants to know this honeymoon isle a little better, we anchored in its lagoon for two days and got whisked away on an outrigger one day and a dive boat the next. Skimming along the water, we passed palm-fringed islets, over-water bungalows, and so much marine life! We jumped in for multiple snorkeling sessions in the coral gardens bursting with color and tropical fish. For lunch, we stopped on Pitu Island, where our guides had an impressive spread of traditional foods (Poisson cru, taro root, coconut bread, plantains, and poe pumpkin for dessert). No plastic plates here, they hand-wove palm fronds for eco-friendly serving platters. We ate at picnic tables with the water lapping and curious rays swimming at our feet. To top it off, we left the island with new Tahitian skills and souvenirs—from learning to open coconuts with a stick to tie-dying fabrics for pareo (local-style sarongs). Watch our Instagram Reels from our time in Bora Bora or see more pictures in this Facebook gallery.
 

Diving French Polynesia

society islands honeymoon divingFrench Polynesia is legendary for scuba diving, yet somehow there are very few liveaboard outfitters. Windstar turned out to be the best of both worlds, with all the luxuries of a cruise AND all the dive shop connections around the islands. We dove in Bora Bora and Raiatea and probably should have added Mo’orea, the marinelife was so incredible. Swimming alongside vibrant coral with schools of manta rays, countless blacktip reef sharks, huge Napoleon wrasse, and more tropical fish than we could possibly list, we got something way better than a liveaboard.
 

Renewing Our Vows!

society islands honeymoonWith romance in the air and our 10th-year on honeymoon on the horizon, what better place to renew our vows than a sailing yacht in Bora Bora! The Windstar crew reserved the bow of the ship for our ceremony, decorated it with tropical flowers, and met us in their finest maritime attire. We walked down the aisle to our original wedding song (“Forever” by Ben Harper) to meet our officiant, Captain Lubo. Surrounded by palm-fringed islets, sheer mountains, and water in every shade of blue, we recited our original vows, cut the cake, and toasted to the wild romance of our ten years together. To add to the celebration, that night Windstar threw a private island party, with an elaborate Polynesian feast and cultural spectacular. The Tahitian dance troupe put on an incredible show—from drumming and fire-throwing to hip shakes at unfathomable speeds. We obviously knew this soiree wasn’t just for us, but it was such a special day that it felt that way.

 

Huahine: The Garden Isle

sailing the society islandsSailing to our last stop in the Societies was bittersweet, but Huahine’s twin islands were too pretty to let melancholy get in the way. Huahine Nui is the larger of the two isles with historic fishing villages, artisan markets, sacred marae sites, while Huahine Iti has been left mostly wild. We’re all about nature so we joined the e-bike tour around Iti. In just three hours, we pedaled 18 miles through the mountains, barely breaking a sweat, and still had to time to stop at an impressive marae complex, take photos of the island’s gorgeous bays, and stroll its white sand beaches. Back onboard, surrounded by gorgeous mountains, we noticed that we were the only ship in the bay…and it had been like that all week. The Wind Spirit was nimble enough to navigate the smaller coves and always make us feel like we had each place to ourselves. With bathing suits on and a pair of Hinano beers in hand, we soaked up the sun and the serenity.
 

Society Islands Honeymoon and Beyond

Society Island Windstar CruisesOur last 24 hours aboard, we dined, danced, and laughed with new friends like there was no tomorrow. Everyone was in good spirits because we all felt we made the right move for this once-in-a-lifetime trip. Sure, we could have flown to a few isles and stayed in an over-water bungalow for our Society Islands honeymoon, but this archipelago is absolutely meant to be explored by small ship. Hugging these gorgeous shorelines, snorkeling remote corners of the reef, beachcombing private islands, exploring with local guides, and dining like kings was all done seamlessly and without spending a fortune. These spread-out and pricey islands can be tricky to navigate on your own (trust us, we spent seven weeks in French Polynesia) so it just made sense to wrap up our transportation, lodging, and dining into one pretty package. That could be said of many cruises, but Windstar is different in that it still embraces local culture, fosters adventure, and gives guests a ton of independence, all while having incredible staff at the ready. We want to give huge props to the Wind Spirit crew. They knew guests by name, remembered dietary quirks, turned anything (be it cappuccino foam or bath towels) into art, tracked down lost cellphones an island away, and made us feel at ease, be it under sail or walking down the aisle.

Our only regret is not taking a longer trip on the Wind Spirit. There is a 10-day version of this itinerary that includes the Tuamotu Archipelago, with its 76 atoll islands, legendary diving, and distinct Polynesian culture. That said, we might just go anywhere with their sailing yachts and crew…where to next South America, the Caribbean, Europe? Until next time, Windstar…many thanks and bon voyage!

Want to see more of our photos and videos from our Society Islands adventure? Check out our Instagram Highlight reel.

Note: Windstar Cruises invited us to be their guests on this Society Islands sailing and compensated us for our storytelling. As always, all opinions are our own…we had such an unforgettable trip!