Part 2 of 2: Getting to the Marquesas Islands is half the fun of the trip
KEVIN KALLEY & DAVID H. CURRIER | Contributing Writers
Last month, we wrote all about the wonders of gay-friendly Marquesas. But when you go to a remote part of the world, it’s often just as much about the journey as it is the destination. Here is our follow-up to the island paradise.
You are visiting a remote part of the world where western civilization was not known until a few centuries ago. Expect to see fine elements of a culture proudly preserved by the contemporary citizens. Their Parthenons and Davids are much simpler than you find in the grand cities of Europe.
At sea and ashore, dress is always casual — T-shirts or a loose Hawaiian-style shirt with shorts and flip-flops or sandals are standard. You will need a pair of good walking sneakers for shore visits and lightweight hiking boots if you partake of the numerous hiking adventures offered. A disposable rain poncho may be useful. Casual cowboy drag would be cool, but leave your hot, tight jeans in Dallas.
Don’t expect black-tie dinners with the captain. Instead, you’ll enjoy the company and service of Jacob and Tare and “Jacob’s girls” dressed in colorful pareos (yes, Tare, too) while enjoying meals with a Polynesian or continental theme. Multi-course lunches and dinners include complimentary wine. If your table is thirsty, feel free to order more.
The Aranui is not the latest luxury “Gargantuan of the Seas” type ship with rock climbing walls, pools big enough to surf in, a food court and a shopping mall. It’s a freighter ,and its primary purpose is moving freight. In addition to delivering supplies to, and transporting locally grown and manufactured products from the Marquesas, they offer passengers a unique opportunity to visit areas where few other cruises ever disembark.
However, a new ship, Aranui 5, is scheduled to launch towards the end of 2015 or in early 2016. (The number “4” is considered bad luck in the Marquesas.) About 30 percent larger than the Aranui 3, with more modern cabins and suites, the current efficient, delightful, multi-lingual, and in the men’s case, yes, beefy crew will be onboard the “5” to ensure that your soft adventure is fun, safe and memorable.
During your cruise, you will see lands and sights that only the tiniest fraction of tourists ever see (the Hawaiian Islands get more visitors in one day than the Marquesan Islands get in a year). The entire population of all the inhabited islands in this archipelago is less than what some of the new mega-cruise ships carry in passengers and crew.
Your schedule might even change based on the time it takes to off- and on-load freight. Oh, the Aranui 3 and its fabulous crew will certainly take care of all your dining and entertainment needs, and there is a small exercise room, a pool, and a boutique onboard, but if you can’t go two weeks without a spa treatment, this may be roughin’ it.
The Aranui band provides entertainment. But there are no big-name rock bands or standup comedians every night. There is the occasional karaoke opportunity, and you may participate in presentations by noted educators about aspects of the Marquesas Islands (given in French, German and English). You’ll find a well-stocked library, a large salon for lounging (and where lectures and next-day activities are presented), a small theater and other activity rooms.
If you are a heavy user of cell phone or Wi-Fi, get ready for lots of down time. While cruising the Marquesas, in only a few locations will you have cell phone service. Wi-Fi is not much more accessible either. You can legitimately tell the boss that you are off-grid.
Some of the sailings of the Aranui feature special events on their calendar. This December’s cruise occurs during the Marquesas Festival celebrating the culture, language and music of the people on the different islands.
As you prepare for your adventure, get cash. The currency of Tahiti and the Marquesas is the French Pacific Franc (XPF) which trades at about 100 to the U.S. dollar; U.S. dollars, however, are not accepted anywhere, and there are few currency exchanges in your ports of call.
Tahiti is very expensive. A lunch for two is easily $70. Most banks in Papeete will exchange currency; some even have ATMs that will accept U.S. paper money and give you XPF. If not using a machine, you will need your passport. (Note: The vendors on the islands take cash only.)
The primary language is French, however you will hear many locals speaking Tahitian or Marquesan or even dialects of the local languages. But most people do speak some English.
When making your cruise and airline reservations, we recommend using a travel agent who is familiar with international fare construction, particularly if you want to have en-route stopovers. In all instances, ask the airline agent or your travel agent about published fares between DFW and Tahiti. There may be rates which are significantly lower than point-to-point prices that you can construct yourself using any of the travel websites. Special fares may permit a stopover in California, Hawaii and/or New Zealand. (See sidebar.)
If your trip includes a few days in Papeete, we recommend that you spend at least a day in Moorea. Use the Aremiti ferry between the two. Take your Papeete car rental with you on the ferry unless you get an exceptional deal in Moorea. Don’t waste the time picking up a new car. The ferry rate for your car is about $90 U.S. round-trip. Passengers pay about $20 round-trip. (On cruise departure day, drop your luggage early at the Aranui, then return your rental car to the Faa’a Airport. The car rental company will bring you back to the ship.)
As you explore either Tahiti or Moorea by car, you will discover that bars and restaurants outside the city are quite hidden. There are no blaring signs announcing much of anything. They could use a good PR firm … or better yet, just keep this between us. Paradise is best enjoyed quietly.
Getting to paradise
There are three ways to get to the Marquesas from DFW:
1. American Airlines with codeshare partner Air Tahiti Nui from Los Angeles to Papeete.
2. Get yourself to Hawaii on United, Delta, or American, take Hawaiian Airlines to Papeete and cruise on to the Marquesas. (Hawaiian Airlines has a weekly flight only on Saturdays which means you need to go to Tahiti a week in advance for the cruise.)
3. Delta Airlines connecting with Air France at Los Angeles.
If you’re not ready yet, check out the Aranui website (Aaranui.com/aranui-3) for exciting videos and more detailed information.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 28, 2015.