Cruising is one of my favorite ways to travel. There are a lot of options for cruise ships. You can go on an ocean cruise, a river cruise or even a barge cruise (see the July 2022 issue for my favorite barge cruise experience). I love river cruises because you never feel the movement of the boat and you usually dock in the middle of a town, making it easy to get on and off to explore. But ocean cruises hold a certain sense of excitement as you set sail.
If you decide on an ocean cruise, there are many options. I’m going to highlight two very different small-ship ocean cruises that my husband and I recently took.
Windstar Cruise to French Polynesia
Windstar Cruises offers small-ship cruises in French Polynesia. We took a 7-night cruise exploring the islands of Tahiti, Moorea, Raiatea, Bora Bora and Huahine.
About Windstar Cruises
Windstar has two different types of boats: all-suite motor yachts that carry 312 passengers and sleek sailing yachts that carry 148 passengers. We were on the Star Breeze motor yacht (which spends summers in Alaska). Since it’s a smaller boat, I did feel the movement more than on one of the larger cruise ships, but that was an okay trade-off for me to be on a more intimate cruise. Days that we anchored, the boat ran water taxis to shore, and the back swimming platform was open for swimming, snorkeling and standup paddleboarding.
The Windstar staff makes the journey even more memorable. They remembered our names and even what we liked to drink—greeting me each evening with a glass of champagne when we stopped by Compass Rose to listen to the entertainment.
Our First Night in Paradise
The biggest surprise for me was discovering that the flight time to Tahiti was about the same as a trip to Hawaii. We flew to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and then caught a 6-hour overnight flight directly to Papeete, Tahiti.
We made the wise decision to arrive one day before our cruise so we could spend a full day and night in Papeete. I always prefer this on international flights. Since the planes typically land in the early morning, we booked a full-day stay at the hotel along with our overnight, so we were able to check in when we arrived at the hotel at 6 a.m. After a lovely breakfast, we spent the day chilling on the double lounges looking out over the South Pacific. We were completely rested by the time we left for the cruise the next day at noon.
Our Cruise of French Polynesia
Our first port of call was Moorea, which turned out to be my favorite. We hired a driver to show us the sights. My favorite excursion was the photography workshop on Moorea. A local photographer picked us up at the dock and we climbed into an open 4x4 Jeep. We went all over the island to find the best photo spots and even drove to the top of the mountains for spectacular views across the bay.
Bora Bora is a much-anticipated destination because of its beautiful turquoise bay. The boat anchors for two days there, giving passengers a chance to explore. I did some shopping and came home with a beautiful black Tahitian pearl ring while my husband hiked Mount Otemanu.
On our last night in Bora Bora, Windstar transported all the passengers via catamaran to a motu (one of the small islets surrounding Bora Bora) for a private sunset dinner. After a dinner featuring fresh fish, roasted pork and a massive spread of side dishes, we watched Polynesian fire dancers before making our way back to Star Breeze.
Food on Our Windstar Cruise
Star Breeze has multiple dining venues and we liked them all, even the casual eateries. We enjoyed dinner at Amphora for a couple of nights. This is a fine dining restaurant with open seating. We had dinner one night at Candles, which is by reservation only but included in the price of our cruise. Seating is on the aft deck under the stars by candlelight. My favorite meal was Spanish tapas at Cuadro 44 by Anthony Sasso.
Viking Ocean Cruise in the Western Mediterranean
Our other small-ship cruise was with Viking. We love Viking River Cruises, so we decided to check out an ocean cruise. We chose the Iconic Western Mediterranean itinerary from Barcelona to Rome, one of the “Quiet Season Mediterranean Cruises” options. We went in November, so far fewer passengers than in high season, but the weather was still great. The 8-day cruise visits four countries and there are five included excursions.
About Viking Ocean Cruises
Viking is sometimes called the “thinking person’s cruise” because it focuses on cultural enrichment. You receive information before the cruise about movies or books that highlight the destination. While onboard, a resident expert gives presentations and many of the excursions focus on history and culture.
There are nine boats in the Viking ocean fleet and all of them have the same minimalist Scandinavian theme you find on the river cruises. We were on the Viking Sky, which holds 930 guests. The ship is fairly new, having just launched in 2017. It has seven decks, with a fitness center, Nordic spa, pool, multiple restaurants and a sports deck.
Just as we had done with our Tahiti cruise, we flew into Rome a day before the cruise. The port is in Civitavecchia, about an hour north of Rome, so we wanted a little time to relax, get over jet lag and explore before heading to the ship.
We stayed at the beautiful Sofitel Roma Villa Borghese, and it was a perfect start to our trip. The hotel is on a quiet street with easy walking to Piazza di Spagna, Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain. After a day of exploring, we dined at Settimo Roman Cuisine & Terrace, with breathtaking views over the city. I had a fish special that evening that I would fly back to Rome to enjoy again. Breakfast was served in the same restaurant the next morning and the assortment of choices was impressive. For about $100, we booked a car and driver to take us to the dock.
Our Mediterranean Cruise
Our eight days were divine. I loved getting off the ship and exploring the ports. Viking includes a complimentary excursion at each port, with more day trips available for an additional charge. We saw the Leaning Tower in Pisa, watched expensive cars zip through the winding streets of Monte Carlo, wandered through the fishing village of Sète and explored Barcelona.
I make a point of stopping in at local cafés when I travel, and this trip was no exception. One morning, we watched the fishmongers deliver fresh seafood to restaurants in Sète. Another day, we nibbled on Spanish tapas in Barcelona with views of the famous La Sagrada Familia towering overhead.
Life Onboard Viking Sky
When we weren’t out wandering through winding streets, we soaked up our time onboard Viking Sky. We enjoyed dinners in The Restaurant, where the staff was very attentive and brought me unique wines to sample. We spent quiet afternoons reading and watching the sea from the Explorer’s Lounge at the front of the ship. I enjoyed afternoon tea twice in Wintergarden, just off the main pool and spent another afternoon in a wine tasting hosted by the sommelier.
Each evening, we made our way to Torshavn, cheering each other with a nightcap while listening to live music.