Aranui’s crew performs local dances for passengers. // © 2017 Peter Knego
Feature image (above): Aranui 5 serves as a supply ship as well as a passenger cruise vessel. // © 2017 Peter Knego
Located some 800 miles northeast of Tahiti, the ruggedly beautiful Marquesas Islands are regularly served by Aranui Cruises’ new Aranui 5, a unique passenger/cargo liner that sails 14-night roundtrip voyages from Papeete, Tahiti. The hybrid ship, which sports four cargo holds and two massive cranes, not only carries up to 295 guests in a range of comfortable, fully air-conditioned accommodations, but also brings essential commodities and supplies to the islands.
The vessel is the latest, largest and most sophisticated in a succession of Aranui ships that first began this service in 1960. It has an observation lounge, four bars, two aft-situated lounges, a library, a card room, a dining room, a meeting room, a gym, a well-stocked boutique and even a small spa. There are two elevators on the ship, as well.
The ship’s nine categories of staterooms include eight-person dormitories; standard oceanview rooms with a porthole; deluxe staterooms with a balcony; and several grades of suites — the most lavish of which is a 440-square-foot Presidential Suite with a built-in bar, a separate bedroom, a living room and a balcony. Rates, which are per person and based on double occupancy, range from $3,168 for dormitory accommodations to $9,863 for the Presidential Suite.
The Marquesans have nicknamed Aranui 5 the “Seventh Island” since it calls at all six of the chain’s inhabited islands, including Nuku Hiva, the administrative capital; Ua Pou, with its otherworldly mountain spires; Hiva Oa, where artist Paul Gauguin and musician Jacques Brel spent their final years; isolated Tahuata, for a remote beach call; lush Fatu Hiva, which boasts towering cliffs and waterfalls; and relatively arid Ua Huka, which is often compared to Easter Island.
Shore excursions are included in the fare. In some places, guests are transported to archaeological sites, picnics and cultural shows in 4x4 vehicles driven by locals, adding to the uniqueness of the adventure. The voyage also includes stops in the Tuamotu Islands (Fakarava outbound and Rangiroa homebound) and romantic Bora Bora.
Life onboard is casual and largely unstructured, except for meals, deck parties and daily shore talks, which are held in English, French and German. Fellow guests tend to be in the 50-plus age range, curious and well-traveled, hailing from France, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and the U.S. While Aranui 5 lacks the multiple dining options of most cruise ships, meals are well-prepared with fresh, locally sourced ingredients and seafood. The breakfast buffet is open seating, and there are full-service, fixed, three-course lunches and dinners offered in early or late seatings that include white and red wine. Complimentary, self-service 24-hour coffee and tea are also available.
Although onboard services are fairly limited on Aranui 5, the ship’s Polynesian staff works tirelessly to make life on the ship a warm, gracious affair. There’s a free laundry service available three times per voyage in addition to a self-service laundromat (tokens and detergent can be purchased from the boutique). Wi-fi access is available, but it’s costly and slow at $50 for 300 megabytes.
However, most passengers are not sailing on Aranui for the amenities. For clients interested in a truly local experience in an exotic and beautiful part of the world, this ship offers adventure in comfort.