Marquesas Islands Cruise on the Aranui3
Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia
Marquesas Islands Cruise on the Aranui3 Reviews
Marquesas Islands Cruise on the Aranui Jan 21, 2012
We have just returned from one of the most amazing holidays we have ever experienced. Here is our review:
We must admit, that we had never heard of the Aranui3 prior to travelling to Borneo. It was there (in Borneo) that we met a lovely Australian couple (in their 80's) who were hardy, seasoned travellers and had travelled extensively around the world many times. We formed a bond with this lovely couple (from Mackay) and asked them what was one of the best holidays they had ever experienced ... their answer was the Aranui3. We had good reason to trust their judgement and we are SO glad we did! We had an absolutely fantastic time on the Aranui3 and will outline our wonderful experiences for your information.
If anyone is thinking of doing this cruise, we suggest they (initially) look at the following link:
My husband and I have been on dozens of different cruises ranging from large ships of 3,000+ (like the Carnivale Triumph in the Caribbean) to smaller cruise ships and everything inbetween. However, I must say that the Aranui3 cruise to the Marquesas Islands is absolutely unique for the reasons outlined below. The experience has encouraged us to review our ideas about cruising and, from now on, take a serious look at Freight Ship Cruising in future as a very interesting, unusual and enjoyable option.
* The passenger demography.
Aranui3 has the capacity to accommodate up to around 200 passengers but (fortunately) on the cruise we sailed on, they were "under booked" and, as a result, there was only 120 passengers. This number was, in our opinion, the absolutely PERFECT number and just the right mix to get to know one another. The demography was truly international. The large majority of passengers are French speaking (which is to be expected in French Polynesia) from France, French-speaking Canadians (from Quebec) and Swiss-French. There were also quite a few antipodeans represented mostly by Australians and some New Zealanders. Also, fellow passengers hailed from America, the Netherlands, some really lovely Swiss Germans and a girl from the UK.
Despite not being able to speak French, we had no problems with the language barrier as most of the people on board spoke sufficient English in which to be able to converse. This is one of the joys of travelling, of course: being able to meet as many different people from various places as one can!
We all got along very well and everyone agreed that the cruise on the Aranui3 was a very wonderful, unique and memorable experience.
It is important to note that if you enjoy travelling with only 120-180 people, I suggest you book the Aranui3 FAST. We were informed that they are in the process of now building the Aranui5 (there is no Aranui4 as 4 is considered an unlucky number). The new Aranui5 will hold in excess of 300+ passengers which, in my opinion, will "swamp" the smaller islands of the Marquesas and change them forever! This was sad news to many of us who would like to see these wonderful little islands remain unspoilt - but such is the unhappy side of progress! The Aranui5 will be completed in only 2 years so I suggest you advise your clients (interested in this cruise) to book the current Aranui3 as soon as possible.
* The on-board accommodation.
We paid extra to have one of the balcony suites and had one (of only four) suites that had a full balcony that was larger than the one we had on the Sun Princess! It was well worth the additional expense as the scenery was absolutely stunning and many times we really did enjoy lounging on our own private balcony to take it all in. As the Aranui3 doubles up as a freighter, we were not really expecting the suites to be so comfortable. We had a fully airconditioned cabin with a large ensuite with a bath, a refrigerator, large comfortable beds and a wide screen TV (that, unfortunately, did not show a lot in the way of English language movies or television, outside CNN, but this did not bother us too much as we are not big TV watchers anyway).
The "common" rooms were all airconditioned and comfortable. There was a large lounge room (offering free coffee, tea and biscuits all day); one large dining room that accommodated all its passengers at one seating. We were very pleased that there was no formal, structured seating at meal times as this means that passengers can move around and sit with different people which is a great way of meeting people on board. There was also a small reading room adjacent to the bar. The bar was a great meeting place for passengers for "Sundowners" (each evening there is a "Happy Hour" for cocktails) and a large deck area off the bar to sit and drink and watch the sun go down. There is also a large swimming pool and deck area (below the bar area). It was interesting to see that on the odd day when we were weathering some pretty big seas, the only thing more dangerous than falling overboard would have been swimming in the pool! You could almost surf the waves in the pool during rough sea crossings!
It should be pointed out that as the Aranui3 is a FREIGHTER and not a designated cruise ship. As such, it does not have "specialised" ballast like a normal cruise ship but does, instead, use its LOAD as ballast. When the ship is unloaded, it takes on sea water to provide stability. Nevertheless, when the ship is crossing the Pacific Ocean from Tahiti to the more sheltered areas of the Marquesas, there is a strong possibility of a more rough crossing than one would experience on the larger cruising ships. There were a few people stricken with seasickness on the first night but everyone soon gets used to it and rough seas only seem to have an affect outside the Marquesas archipelago (crossing from and returning to the island if Tahiti). We advise that prospective passengers take a pack of "Quells" with them if they are prone to seasickness. There is a doctor on board but the cost to visit the doctor is quite expensive. It is advisable to all prospective passengers on the Aranui to bring along all medications (especially prescription drugs) with them.
* The food
The food on the Aranui3 was absolutely delicious. For the most part, the ship's chef provided mouth watering local Polynesian delicacies, such as raw fish marinated in lime and coconut milk but cater to everyone's taste (including vegetarians). An adequate breakfast (providing eggs, bacon - if requested) and, of course, lots of cereal and delicious French pastries is provided plus lunches and a three-course meal every night. What made this cruise rather unique is that the Aranui3 also provide a "free" bottle of wine (for every 2 passengers) each night with dinner. Most of the wine is French (reds and whites). When the Aranui3 is "in port" visiting the exquisite islands, the staff of the Aranui3 organise large beach-side picnics and BBQs (shared with the locals) which are extremely enjoyable;
* The friendliness of the staff on the Aranui3 and the entertainment
The staff employed on the Aranui3 hailed from all over the world. The large majority of the staff were from Polynesia who spoke English fluently. The kitchen, cleaning and bar staff (especially my mate, Yoyo) were always smiling and friendly and went out of their way to make the cruise more enjoyable for everyone. We were fortunate to have Joel (the head of the restaurant staff) as our table waiter - he was an absolute gem! The Polynesians have a deep love of music and dance and just about every night we were entertained by the local Aranui3 Band which consisted of some of the crewmen (loading and unloading the ship) who doubled up as talented musicians and singers! The beautiful Polynesian waitresses also doubled up as fantastic and graceful Polynesian dancers - the staff are amazing! Local dancers (from the islands) were also brought on board to entertain the passengers. The Aranui3 also hosted "speciality" nights, eg the Polynesian night where everyone had to get dressed up in Polynesian attire - advise your clients to bring some fancy Polynesian-style dress with them as it is expensive to purchase from the shop on board. The Polynesian night was great - terrific buffet and passengers were asked to sing a song representing their "homeland". Us Australians (all eight of us) were the ONLY ones that got up to sing a song in the "cultural exchange" category. We chose "On the Road to Gundagai" - Mmmm, I don't think the French had a clue what we were singing about but we organised one of the French Canadians to translate a general "meaning" of the song before our performance and everyone seemed to enjoy our rendition (despite my dubious talents as a singer!).
* The knowledge and competency of the Guides employed by the Aranui3
The Aranui3 also employed lecturers from France, Germany and elsewhere who were anthropologists, historians and specialists in the field of Polynesian culture. Most of them provided the passengers with multi-lingual lectures (in French, English and German) about all the different islands and about the history and cultures of its peoples. Some of the lecturers doubled up as extremely competent and knowledgeable "guides" and once we landed, passengers were grouped in accordance with their respective language, and shown around the important Polynesian sites (on each island) where the guides gave very informative information about the cultural significance of each site.
* The unusual experience of travelling on a Freighter is very rewarding!
Unlike most dedicated cruise ships, the Aranui3 has the very interesting dual role as a Freighter. This dual role provided its passengers with a most interesting perspective of its importance in the distant, remote archipelago of the Marquesas! The Aranui3 is the "life blood" of these beautiful islands providing them with much needed provisions every month. To some of these islands (where there is no airport), the Aranui3 is the ONLY link to the outside world (with exception of the odd private yacht sailing in and out). Therefore, the warm, heartfelt welcome the Aranui3 (and its passengers) receive from these islanders is absolutely unique. Where else on earth would you see the population of a whole village rush down to the ship to smile and give a personal welcome of a hand woven lei around each peassenger's neck? On some islands, the locals even provided us with plates of delicious local fruits and entertained us with wonderful Polynesian dancing (performed by men, women and children alike).
The Aranui3 loads and unloads the most AMAZING cargo I have ever seen: everything from live cattle, cars, steam rollers, trucks, tractors (and a wide range of farm equipment), furniture, a huge variety of foods, drinks and fruits - you name it! Just watching the big, burley tatooed Marquesan crewman load and unload this cargo was pure entertainment and we could have happily sat on the wharf and watched the scene for hours ... however, there was just too much to do (read below).
* The uninhibited friendliness and hospitality of the Marquesan people
Meeting the Marquesan people was, in our opinion, one of the highlights of this cruise. They are such beautiful, hospitable people who (justifiably) take great pride in their culture and whose villages and cultural monuments and churches are kept in immaculate condition. The Marquesan people (from all the islands in the archipelago) are some of the friendliest and most unaffected people we have met anywhere in the world and, without a doubt, added enormously to the enjoyment of this cruise;
* Tahiti and Moorea
I first visited Tahiti in 1978 (en route to Easter Island and South America). In those days, Tahiti was a small, idealic little Polynesian island community, however, Papeete was almost unrecognisable to what it was. The capital of Tahiti is now a busy bustling port and the coastal roads of Tahiti are now dotted with lots of villages and towns that were not there before. I loved the Papeete Markets which offered the best prices for Polynesian artifacts and souvenirs. However, elsewhere, Papeete is quite expensive. We stayed at the Radisson which was miles out of Papeete and which, regrettably, did NOT offer transfers to/from Papeete on the day after our arrival (which coincided with the public holiday for the religious festival of the Asuncion). Guests need to find out when these (frequent) religious holidays are in Polynesia as EVERYTHING shuts down (even buses) and this does affect travellers. Fortunately, we picked this day to book a "Circle Island Tour" through the Hotel as we found out that to book the tour was cheaper than hiring a car for the day! The tour was OK but was rather tardy picking us up. However, we enjoyed visiting the late Paul Gaugin's museum - this artist had strong links to the Marquesas which interested us.
In my opinion, I thought the Intercontinental was a superior hotel to the Radisson and in a better position (closer to Papeete). However, most of these large 4+ Star hotels were exorbitantly expensive and the Intercontinental even charged about AUS $8.00 for drinking water (which irked me). However, the facilities were magnificent and we really enjoyed the restaurants and the infinity pool (with the swim-up bar). Our rooms were very comfortable and well appointed.
The highlight of our stay in Tahiti was the "Tahiti Safari" 4x4 tour across the centre and into the lush, magnificent heart of the island. The internal roads are in a horrendous condition. They were built by the French to accommodate the hydro-electric scheme but now it looks like the Tahitians are worried that the French are actually "considering" pulling out of Tahiti altogether (with the subsequent removal of their navy and army posts there). As a result, the roads (once maintained by the French) are now in an awful state of disrepair. The bumpy ride across the centre of the island and into the caldera was quite an adventure! It was well worth the ride, though, as the scenery was verdant and lovely. Once the tour went right across the centre to the other side of Tahiti, but because the French are no longer responsible for the roads, remote farmers are now "blocking" off sections of the one and only interior road across the centre and access has been restricted on the other side of the island. The view from the Morato Hotel which is perched precariously on top of the peak of a high hill (like a Tibetan monestary) is spectacular! This trip with "Tahiti Safari" and its French tour guide, Sidney, are fantastic!
We absolutely LOVED our stay at the end of our holiday on Moorea. The over-water bungalow was a DREAM! The Hilton was a really lovely Hotel with fantastic facilities. We loved watching the sunsets from the deck our over-water bungalow. One of the highlights of our whole trip was the ATV QUAD BIKE TOUR through to the magnificent centre of Moorea island (which was as beautiful as some of the Marquesas islands but a lot more commercial). Note the name: ATV TOURS (don't recommend the others). What our friendly ATV TOUR owner (and guide) didn't know about Moorea, was not worth knowing! This was a really fantastic tour that lasted 3-1/2 hours and took a group of us (about 10) into the spectacular heart of the island and onwards to the panoramic viewpoints
* The indescribable beautry of the unspoilt Marquesas Islands
If someone asks me to name one of the most beautiful places on the earth, the Marquesas Islands would be right up there on my "Top 10" list! When you close your eyes and think of an idealic Polynesian paradise, the Marquesas islands are the picture postcard! Can't list everything about every island, but here are three highlights:
** Fakarava is an immense lagoon which is home to several black pearl farms. The pristine island is a long, narrow strip of land in a rectangle shape approximately 37 miles long and only a few meters wide in land depth. The water here is a translucent blue and ideal for snorkeling. There is a quaint little church with an altar made from oyster shells and a font made from huge clam shells. There are not many shops on the atoll and those that existed were shut (because it was Sunday). However, a couple of black pearl shops were open for business and it is said that this is the best place to purchase the prized jewelry. Black pearls are not cheap and "quality" pearls will range from around AUS $150 upwards to thousands of dollars for a stringed necklace.
** Fatu Hiva has to be one of our favourite islands in Polynesia! It has one of the most unbelievably stunning harbours in the world. Fatu Hiva is the most lush and remote of the Marquesas islands and the Bay of Virgins is a wild and incredibly beautiful place with immense craggy mountains, narrow ravines, deep gorges and luxuriant valleys. The Bay is sculptured with the most amazing and unusual rock formations: huge rock pillars in weird shapes - it had such a WOW factor! The sheer volcanic cliffs (thousands of feet high) plunge straight down into a wild, boiling surf. It is here that many passengers could take the option of a 16 kms hike from the little village of Omoa to Hanavare (one way). The going is very steep and, in the hot weather, quite a challenge. Those who do not want to do the hike are welcome to stay on the ship to sail to Hanavave. At Hanavave the locals put out all this food for us (fruits and berries) and we enjoyed a wonderful display of Polynesian dancing by the local men, women and children. The day we spent on Fatu Hiva was one of the most memorable experiences of the cruise.
** Rangiroa is another highlight. What a stunning place it is. Rangiroa is the second largest atoll on earth. It consists of a string of coral islands (some of which are connected by bridges) encircling the most amazing luminous turquoise, jade green lagoon I have ever seen (which is said to be one of the best diving locations on earth) where you can dive (or snorkel) with manta rays, sharks, a multitude of colourful fish and turtles. It looks like a giant pearl necklace with over 240 islets covering 110 miles and completely encircling an infinitely deep lagoon. There is only two villages, Auitoru and Tiputa with one sealed road connecting them. There are sweet little coral churches, craft centres, diving shops and an airport! We spent a blissful day snorkelling here topped off with a magnificent BBQ lunch on the beach shared with some locals.
There were so many wonderful adventures on the cruise, I wouldn't have time to list them all here. All the tours/trips on the islands were INCLUDED in the fare, which is great ... nothing was optional. The tours of the magnificent scenery of each island was on every mode of transport, eg trucks, horses and in the 4 wheel drive cars belonging to local islanders.
If you are seeking a "soft" adventure which is unlike anything else, we highly recommend the Aranui3 cruise to the Marquesas. You will never forget it!
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