Windstar, the small-ship yacht collection, has had a close relationship with French Polynesia since the company was established 35 years ago. With much of Asia still then in Covid-closure, four months ago the decision was made to divert Windstar’s Star Breeze fleet away from planned itineraries. French Polynesia and some of its 118 islands then came into sharp focus and Windstar’s marketing genius Betsy O’Rourke and her team had a ridiculously short time to fill cabins. Which of course, knowing BO’R, they did.
To the uninitiated, by the way, cruising is unlike most other sectors of travel and tourism with, perhaps, space travel being the exception. Regular cruise travellers often book, and pay hefty deposits, at least two years ahead. Some world cruises for 2024 have long since been sold out. It is really incredible that Windstar has been so successful in almost filling the 156-cabin Star Breeze. Keys to getting people to sign up include the lure of the destination, word-of-mouth, social media – led by Instagram – and the fact that the 9th October week-long sailing would be an anniversary special. The President of Windstar Cruises, affable Austrian Chris Prelog (above), would be aboard with his Austrian wife (they met when he nearly ran her over more than 20 years ago) and their two charming teenage daughters. The vessel would be graced for nearly the whole cruise by the presence of the President of French Polynesia, HE Edouard Fritch and his tourism leader, Lionel Lao, their wives and a few inner-cabinet colleagues.
The invitation was compelling. A majority of US travellers, many from California, are joined by a sprinkling of Canadians and possibly a couple of other globalists from UK. Interestingly, despite the number of mostly-French expats on Tahiti who seem to enjoy spending their overseas cash on staycations at, say, InterContinental Bora Bora Resort and Thalasso Spa, they do not seem to realise how much they could learn about their adopted country by cruising around some of the islands. Windstar has one of its ships, the sail-only Spirit yacht, based in French Polynesia year-round.
We boarded Star Breeze, a motor vessel which Windstar acquired from Seabourn, and there was the statutory lifeboat drill, where everyone, mostly discreetly, checks the other passengers. Of a total manifest of just under 200, about half were onboard last week too, on a different itinerary. These returnees know that a Windstar sailaway is very special, more emotional than the industry norm, with a Windstar flag hoisted at snail’s pace up from the pool deck to the promenade above, to a lament that is quite tear-jerking. They know their way around the ship, we take a bit of time to work out, for instance, that to get to the seventh-deck all-purpose Veranda restaurant you must take one, not the other, of a double-spiral staircase.
Veranda will be my base for on-deck buffet breakfasts for the next week, and for scrumptious lunches, too. At night it completely metamorphoses to Candles and that’s where we dine that first night. Hairstyles quickly evaporated and the wind blew papers all over but the New York strip was magnificent, so much flavour. One second weeker says, loudly, that the food is a main reason she stayed on (a minor reason could be free laundry).
And then to my cabin. 628 shares an outer foyer with 630, so great for families. As the video below shows, there’s a small balcony, and the Frette-linen king size bed – which proves to be marvellously firm – has ample space around it. There is enough storage for a round-the-world cruise, and Europe and US sockets are complemented by inset USB ports, including bedside. The bathroom – twin sinks, Grohe double-shower – has L’Occitane toiletries. Sound-proofing is fortunately excellent because, with French Polynesia currently 11 hours behind UK, I am WhatsApping day and, literally, night. So ends the first day at sea, with Windstar in French Polynesia.
See my cabin, below: