My eleven-day, and additional seven-day, journey on Windstar’s Star Breeze in French Polynesia was an interesting (at least for me) internal discussion and – well – journey about what the difference is between a “tourist” and a “traveler”. I am not talking about how one views a historical object or selects a place to dine. No, I’m talking about what happens to one’s mindset when things go sideways. In other words, when imperfections happen, do they create a dilemma or, in a curious way, a delight?
This is a long article that will take you through the second half of my Windstar French Polynesian journey and a bit of my internal discussion. If you want to jump to the end: Taken as a whole this Windstar Star Breeze French Polynesia cruise was one of the Nicest, Easiest, Friendliest, Relaxing, Most Beautiful, Travel Experiences I have had in a very long time.
Sideways No. 1 (Isolation in Paradise)
As I previously wrote about, I was placed in isolation for five of my eleven-day cruise due to being in close contact with someone who had Covid. Granted, if this was my trip of a lifetime that I had saved for years to take, it would have had a greater impact on me emotionally, but it wasn’t. It was a return trip to French Polynesia and, to be honest, when I was in isolation I did think back to my first visit and my ex’s negative impact on it and how much more peaceful it now was.
I truly enjoyed the views, warm island breezes from my French balcony, outstanding cuisine (which I would be commenting on anyway), and whisky, wine, and whatever I wanted to drink whenever I wanted it. I also thought about the excitement in unexpectedly seeing and visiting with the person – a friend of probably 20 years – who was later found to have Covid. (At least it wasn’t some random person.)
Sideways No. 2 x 2 (Kids: Ya Gotta Luv ‘Em)
Let’s throw into the mix that while I was on this cruise my son accidentally sent a knife deep into his leg resulting in a midnight call that he was in the Emergency Room. That “High on the Stupid List” has to be documented…and will not be forgotten anytime soon. And then there was my daughter being rear-ended in a hit-and-run car accident. At least that text was at a reasonable hour. Yes, both kids are fine and my son’s leg (if not ego) and my daughter’s car will have little long-term damage.
Sideways No. 3 (A Big Change in Plans!)
As my eleven-day cruise on the Windstar Star Breeze was coming to an end, its president, and longtime friend, Chris Prelog, as well as the sales team encouraged me to stay on for the next seven-day cruise. This was not only to make up for the five days of Covid-related isolation but because it was the Windstar Club 180 Top Producers Cruise.
My flights were already booked and paid for, my dog is waiting for me, I have work to do when I get home. It’s not like I’m retired and with no obligations. But then, being that I would practically have to isolate myself when I got home since I live in a town now filled with tourists – and thus Covid – and I have to protect myself since I will be flying to Argentina on February 15th for my Scenic Eclipse cruise, I thought, “Well, I have my phone and internet, so I can do most all of my work from the ship.
All I have to do is make sure my dog, Southside, is taken care of.” With my dog sitters’ response being that she wants to adopt him (and a couple of very cute photos) and there being no change fee on my flights, I extended my time on the Star Breeze.
It all started out so perfect.
Back to the Cruise
So, according to plan, I used the turnaround day in Papeete to catch up on some work, start writing two different articles, and just chill out (like that has been something lacking!). And, of course, the joke was that I wasn’t going to go anywhere near the new Windstar executives that were coming onboard because I didn’t want to go back into isolation! That was, however, very short-lived, and it was great seeing Chris Prelog, Windstar’s president and a very longtime friend, as well as the Windstar sales team and some other industry folks that I already knew.
With the different itinerary, I found myself back in Moorea the next day. I wanted to get my body moving a bit, so I took the Snorkel Safari tour. I was glad to be back in, rather than just on, the ocean. After a combined stingray/blacktip reef shark experience, it was off to the ‘er um, coral gardens. I was, again, upset by the lack of healthy corals and the limited amount of fish, but it was better than my previous experiences on this cruise as there was a deeper water area. We did, however, get a glimpse of some spinner dolphins and sea turtles.
Beautiful views, fantastic shades of blue waters, stingrays, blacktip reef sharks, glimpses of dolphins and turtles, and hours in the water with the fish equals a “Better than nothing,” said this jaded traveler.
Sideways No. 4 (Kayaking Can Be Such a Pain In The…)
Raiatea is an island I was not able to visit the last time, so I thought I’d give the Kayak the Faaroa River tour another attempt. I really enjoy kayaking and loved my many experiences in Antarctica and Alaska, so “going tropical” in French Polynesia really attracted me, and the opportunity was much appreciated.
Our group of 13 was picked up in two vans and after a short drive, we came to a non-descript lot with some kayaks stacked by the water’s edge. Being that I was on for a second cruise and also was paired up with one of Windstar’s Sales Directors, we agreed to be the last kayak. That’s when they were one kayak short. Yup. We were given one of those kinda-sorta kayaks that you see on the beach with no back support but are great for a two-minute paddle followed by a rum punch. Alas, that was not our tour, but it was our kayak.
And there I was: Too big to actually fit in the kayak and with no back support. After trying a few different positions I was literally sitting on the back of the kayak feeling like I was engaging in a two-hour Yin Yoga class. (Yin Yoga involves stretching in a fixed position for a few minutes where you have mild to moderate pain.) Let’s just say the only part of my lower body that eventually didn’t hurt was my feet – because I could no longer feel them!
We only went about 1.5 miles each way, the views were OK and I was more wishing the ordeal was over as my thoughts of gracefully gliding down a tropical river disappeared; distracted by the pain in my legs. The most memorable part was when it was finally over as I rose out of the kayak the guide grabbed me and with great concern asked me if I could stand on my own.
I could have been really upset by pretty much every aspect of the tour being a fail, but somehow I felt like it was all too funny to be upset about and, of course, I was in French Polynesia. (And, yes, I did pay for my tour both financially and this one, well and truly, physically.)
Back to the Cruise
The next day was Motu Mahaea in Taha’a. It is a private island where Windstar puts on a great BBQ with lots of cocktails in a beautiful setting. Embracing this also previously missed island, I had arranged for a 75-minute massage early in the morning. It was picture perfect: White linen tent, sounds of the water lapping on the shoreline, a nice breeze, and warm sunshine. What a great start to the day!
The day only got better with some wonderful rum punches, some tasty snacks, more sunshine, crystal clear water, and beautiful views.
Sideways No. 5 (The BIG One. Yes, it gets better!)
Eventually, I found myself sitting with some friends at the water’s edge, chatting about nothing in particular. I thought I’d take a wander and see some other folks who were in the water. So I left my phone on the chair next to my friends and off I went for some more relaxing conversation standing in the water nearby. Later I returned to my chair to find it and my phone GONE. Windstar sent people to sweep the beach. An announcement was even placed in the daily program. But it was “Bye Bye iPhone”.
Fortunately, I had almost everything in the infamous Cloud and my computer and I did bring my old iPad so I was able to receive “some” of my text messages. So, I wasn’t freaking out, but everyone around me was. Nobody could believe that my supposed lifeline to the world was just cut off and I was calm about it. I shut the phone line down, changed some important passwords just in case, and then everyone kept asking me, “Did you find your phone?” I mean it was enough to drive you crazy.
And, of course, it quickly became a joke around the ship with staff, executives, and fellow travel industry folks rather than a sensitive issue:
And so it went for the rest of the cruise and even at the airport lounge as I was heading to the gate.
And, NO, I don’t have any photos of Motu Mahaea. (I stole the one above.) LOL
Back to the Cruise
It was then two days in Bora Bora. There were a number of activities planned so I planned on doing some desk work and writing on the first day. With the internet on the ship being very slow, my plan was to again use my phone (you know the one I didn’t find) as a hotspot and take advantage of T-Mobile’s high-speed internet option. Clearly, that wasn’t going to happen, but even with the ship’s slow internet, I could still get some work done.
Sideways No. 6 (I’ve Got a Shirt and Shoes, But NO!!!)
And then…the internet became all but disabled. The prior week on the Star Breeze I was able to use the internet without my hotspot to get some work done, but this time there were three other cruise ships in the area (Oceania Insignia, Paul Gauguin, and The World). In addition, our ship had a bunch of cruise line executives and travel agents all trying to do business at the same time. It overwhelmed the ship’s systems and the satellite used to provide internet. Microsoft Outlook couldn’t function and kept crashing with emails pending to be sent for days and receiving emails pretty much non-existent.
For me, rather than continually beating myself up over this, I went pretty much Full Island State of Mind. Heck, why not seize the “forced” opportunity to just chill out?
Back to the Cruise
I enjoyed some hot tub time with attendant cocktails in the morning. The afternoon was a President’s Event for the trade at Bloody Mary’s. Now, as you know I avoid the tourist traps like the plague (OK, maybe not Covid), but this was a mandatory visit.
It was actually a really nice event with President Chris Prelog and Vice President of Sales, Steven Simao talking about Windstar, its desire to be The Go To in French Polynesia as well as its other plans. What was – again – refreshing was their request for honest criticisms of the Windstar product. It is a great product, but still is developing and tweaks are being sought out. Such a healthy approach!
I did, of course, have a Bloody Mary. As they were better on the ship – not a surprise – I opted thereafter for a rum fruit cocktail…and the expected heartburn!
That evening – after popping two Pepcid – we had the Windstar Signature Deck Barbecue. You know the one I got to enjoy in my suite the last cruise. It was really great with my highlight being probably the best suckling pig I have ever had. (A close second was in Sicily. Yes, it was that good!). Wonderful paella, fresh grilled fish, seafood skewers and so much more.
As an added bonus, there was a lightning storm that really put on another show…though it did cut dessert short as the skies opened for about five minutes.
That, however, did not end the evening! The last part of the evening just puts a smile on everyone’s face with the crew and officers getting out on deck for line dancing. It just brings the Nice of the crew to a new level seeing them having such a great time and, of course, some of the guests eventually joined right in.
My second day in Bora Bora started early as Windstar had made arrangements with Air Tahiti Nui to provide some select travel folks with a highly discounted15-minute helicopter ride over the island. I saw some amazing photos and videos of some of the first day’s flights. (Talk about some romantic opportunities: Landing on a heart-shaped motu with flowers and champagne waiting for the couple.)
I was up early for my 7:45 AM flightseeing. Our small group of five entered a highly sanitized van and drove 10 minutes to the modest heliport. Exiting the van I see the brand new and beautiful helicopter. This was going to be a great experience.
Sideways No. 7 (My Daughter Warned Me)
“Was” is the operative word, because the flight was canceled due to a warning light coming on. Clearly, by this point in time, I was determined by all to be snake-bit and everyone let me know it. It was pretty funny. And I apologize!
Back to the Cruise (What, There was Wine?)
The intrepid Windstar Sales Team advised everyone there was a delightful little café, the St. James, with wonderful water views about a ten-minute walk from the tender pier. So three of us disappointed helicopter passengers wandered down and finding that intrepid team again (or still?) there, we enjoyed some wonderful French pastries and an excellent cheese plate. I really wanted wine with my still early morning experience, but was given a breakfast beverage list absent any alcoholic choices. It was still wonderful.
Some folks that went later said they almost didn’t go there because I said there was no wine. Oh, they found plenty of wine there…and let me know about it!
It was then off to the private motu that was available on the second day in Bora Bora. As I previously noted, there are bathrooms but not much other than water and soft drinks available. This time I was prepared and brought proper beverages from my in-suite refrigerator for my post-snorkeling beach wander and rest under a tree (not a coconut palm as they do fall!).
That evening, on the same motu, was the big Tahitian Celebration with a fun dancing and fire dancing show with a tasty buffet. I detailed this in an earlier article.
And then it happened. I could not believe it came so quickly: The Last Day. How did an 18 day cruise come to an end so quickly? But the cruise was not yet over!
My last day was in Huahine, the same island I fell in love with on the first leg with its undeveloped, laid back (even for French Polynesia) attitude, and that wonderful motu with the gorgeous lagoon on one side and crashing ocean on the reef white sand beach on the other I enjoyed the last time. I was told the snorkeling was good here and as I hadn’t had a great experience yet, I thought I’d devote my morning to it. Huahine didn’t disappoint.
The snorkeling was fantastic with large amounts of healthy coral and, thus, a plethora of fish with fantastic diversity. It shows that with less tourist impact along with better water circulation corals, invertebrates and fish are much happier and healthier. (I took a much longer video of my snorkeling experience, if interested.)
While I didn’t need the following beach break (Yes, I now know how to open a coconut with a stick!) it was a great final French Polynesian experience…or was it?
I was excited to get back to the ship because two of my favorites were waiting for me at lunch: Excellent house-made Pastrami and an Indian Buffet. It was a very conflicted culinary experience, but I figured the Indian cuisine – especially the delicious Butter Chicken with enough heat to confirm it was authentic – would overpower the pastrami. So I had both!
And then I had to somehow eat dinner; invited by Windstar to have in Cuadro 44 (rather than al fresco). Even I could hardly muster room, but did enjoy the anchovies and octopus.
Sideways No. 8 (United Airlines Did It Again!)
While I look for consistency in travel, it isn’t this kind! United Airlines again changed the aircraft without telling me, resulting in there being no Premium Economy seating and me being relegated to the back portion Economy Plus…with the seat map locked. Add to that my lack of a phone and there was nothing I could do until I got to the airport. So frustrating…if I let it be!
Back to the Cruise
Windstar doesn’t require your luggage to be outside of your door until 6:00 AM on the day of departure. That is great for some, but for me: I don’t want to see 6:00 AM ever on my cruise, so I put mine out around 11:00 PM. I sadly had the last night in my suite, only anxious to return so I could be with my dog and eventually get a phone – more to end the ridicule than anything thing else!
As we had to disembark by 9:00 AM and our flight wasn’t until 10:40 PM, I arranged a Day Room at the Intercontinental Tahiti. They gave me a King Panoramic Oceanview Room with internet. You can purchase a Day Pass for about $250 that includes transfers, lunch and dinner, access to the facilities – fitness room and pools, and a shower room – but no room, no place get work done and no internet.
Checking in was a breeze and within 30 minutes of disembarking the Star Breeze I was online and working; catching up on all those emails I couldn’t respond to and getting to all those client requests. What a relief! And with things now under control it was time for me to enjoy (inspect?) that wonderful freshwater, sandy-bottomed, pool with a swim-up bar with some of my new Windstar friends. (Have I mention how nice and engaging the Windstar guests are?)
It was then time to get cleaned up, repacked, and then off for a nice dinner before heading to the airport. I met up with one of my clients and our new-found friends for dinner. I was surprised the Day Pass offers the guest access to the entire, expensive, dinner menu. My dinner pre-cruise was so good I was going to order it again. But two of my Tahoe friends told me how much they enjoyed this weird-sounding banana-pineapple fish dish. I had my trepidations but ordered along with that beautiful ceviche. Glad I ordered the ceviche.
Many of the travel agents and guests headed to the new Hilton Hotel Tahiti for something similar. Granted it was open only five weeks, but while they raved about the rooms, check-in took some over two hours, the food wasn’t good and they had a view of the port and ferries heading to Moorea. So while they dealt with that, the Intercontinental was a breeze at check-in, the food was great (don’t get that fish dish, though), the service laid-back wonderful and the view was of sailboats and Moorea. New is not always better!
It was then time to head to the airport and deal with the United Sideways issue. It was a wonderful sendoff from French Polynesia as it was one last kind and easy-going gesture. I walked up to the Premier Desk expecting frustration, but instead received a kind smile. The supervisor said, “They didn’t upgrade you rather then downgrade you on your way here? We should be able to upgrade you. Just check at the boarding gate desk.” And just to be sure, they moved my Economy Plus seat to my preferred bulkhead aisle seat, just in case.
United had also advised that my Lifetime United Club membership would get me into the air-conditioned lounge (the rest of the airport is not). Nope. But the kind woman at the lounge said they do accept Priority Pass. Well, without my phone I could not access my Priority Pass number (only my Amex Platinum card as I hadn’t lost my wallet!). Nope. But I did have my computer and she allowed me to log into the lounge’s Wi-Fi so I could log into my Priority Pass account…and I was in. Whew.
While in the lounge for a needed cool down and drink, I saw the US Sales Manager for Air Tahiti Nui along with some fellow travel folks. After they gave me yet more of a hard time about my phone, I said, “Wasn’t your flight supposed to have left already? No? Oh, you have a three-hour delay. That’s too bad. My United flight is on-time!” Finally, I got a dig in!!!
United then announced the early boarding for our flight (I’m assuming to get everyone not in the lounge into the air conditioning of the plane) so I raced to the boarding gate desk. I politely waited as they announced Boarding Group 1, then 2, then 3. And then, “Mr. Goldring, here is your new boarding pass. Seat 4E.” The Polynesians touched me with kindness right up to the end.
Upon arriving in San Francisco I had a four-hour layover, so I thought I would attempt – again – the American Express Centurion Lounge and – again – it was crowded and noisy. So off to the United Club I went where it was quiet, clean and with ample workspace available. And so it was a bit more work before trying to see how things were back at the Centurion Lounge: Waitlist? Fuggedaboudit!
Of course, upon arrival in Truckee I went right to the T-Mobile store and purchased a new phone and then headed to the office to pick up my packages before the weekend so I wouldn’t have to wait until Monday to get them. And there they were:
Cruise Documents for my February 15, 2022 Scenic Antarctica Expedition!
Yes, some things did go sideways . If I was a tourist and picked things apart it would have been a shame, for if I viewed my “trip” as a checklist of things to be accomplished, I would have missed so much. But as a traveler, I had my journey bless me with humor, kindness, friendliness, and, well, joy that no only rose above the sideways, but made the experience extra-special and memorable.
Taken as a whole this Windstar Star Breeze French Polynesia cruise was one of the Nicest, Easiest, Friendliest, Relaxing, Most Beautiful, Travel Experiences I have had in a very long time.
Next up: Reflections.