It should be noted that other than continental breakfast for Royal and Presidential Suite guests, there is no room service, and aside from the limited snack bar and sweets, chips and frozen treats that can be purchased in the boutique, there are no alternate dining options.
Main Deck (3) has more cabins, the reception area and boutique. Lower Deck (2) has more cabins, the spa (with two treatment rooms) and the gym (which has a separate weight room and cardio room with recumbent bikes).
In addition to a 285-square-foot dormitory with two bathrooms and a sitting area that can accommodate up to eight guests and 135- square-foot dormitories with a single bath accommodating four guests, there are seven grades of cabins aboard the Aranui 5. Standard Staterooms with portholes range from 100-square-foot singles to 120-square- foot doubles and quadruples measuring 180 square feet. All staterooms are equipped with a hair dryer, phone and flat-screen television, as well as a private bathroom with shower.
Deluxe and Superior Deluxe Staterooms contain between 140 and 160 square feet of interior space and 45-square-foot balconies; in addition to the standard features, they are equipped with small fridges. One of the three Junior Suites (160 to 200 square feet) has a balcony, the other two a small seating area underneath a pair of picture windows.
Premium Suites offer 200 square feet of interior space with a sitting area that is separated from the bedroom via a decorative screen, along with a generous number of drawers, plenty of storage space and 45- square-foot balcony. Royal Suites are located in the forward comers of Boat, Sun, Pool and Veranda decks and feature sitting rooms overlooking the bow via a pair of picture windows. With up to 240 square feet of interior space, they have a bedroom area and walk-in closet, plus a 100-square- foot, wrap-around balcony large enough to accommodate two loungers and sheltered by a forward windscreen. Light sleepers should note that the Royal Suites, due to their proximity to the anchor gear and cargo holds, can be a bit noisy during maneuvers and loading and off-loading.
At the very top of the accommodation tier, the lavish Presidential Suite contains 440 square-feet of interior space with a separate bedroom, a built-in bar and dining room, and a sitting area that can accommodate two extra berths. In addition to a 130-square-foot balcony, it has a large bathroom and even a separate powder room for guests.
A handful of staterooms has handicap-access modifications, but the overall nature of the voyage is not conducive to those with mobility issues. An especially nice touch is that three times per cruise, guests are treated to a free laundry service (with the exception of socks and underwear). Further, dress on board is casual, so there is no need to pack fancy clothes; that allows more space for bug spray, sun block, and maybe even some protein bars and trail mix for those long gaps between meals.
Fellow guests tend to be well-traveled, fairly affluent and adventure-seeking. With a median age between 55 and 65, they generally hail from France, German}’, Australia, New Zealand, the U.K., Canada and the U.S. As most guests head ashore when the ship is in port, few daytime activities are scheduled, but sea days feature Tahitian language courses, cooking classes and enrichment lectures covering a wide range of topics, from the symbolism of the tiki to the art of the Marquesan tattoo. As a matter of fact, the Aranui 5 is probably the only ship afloat that offers a tattoo service, rendered by highly skilled members of the wait staff for a very reasonable price and billed to the guest’s stateroom account.
On port days, an hour or so before dinner, a detailed talk about the next day’s activities is usually held After dinner, there tend to be few, if any, scheduled activities other than an occasional deck barbecue and live music from the ship’s crew, who take genuine delight in interacting with Aranui 5 guests. Many of the ship’s staff have been with the company for decades, some going as far back as the Aranui 1.
Usually after a trying overnight flight to Papeete, guests are greeted at check-in on sailing day with a lei and then serenaded at the gangway by members of the ship’s crew. Shortly after we embarked, a welcoming Polynesian dance ceremony was held on the Pool Deck and then, at noon, the official voyage began as the Aranui 5 cast her lines and embarked on a northeasterly course. For the rest of the day, there was plenty of time to get familiar with the ship, unpack, enjoy lunch and dinner, attend a shore talk about the upcoming port visits and catch up on rest.
The following morning, the Aranui 5 began her approach to Fakarava, which is located on a narrow strip of a coral-fringed Tuamotu atoll called Rotoava. Even before her anchors rumbled free, the ship’s cranes began offloading two large open- air barges for ferrying passengers and cargoes ashore. As fellow guests shopped for handicrafts and explored the stucco-fronted village, I took advantage of Fakarava’s flat terrain for an invigorating jog but had to shelve plans for a refreshing dip in the crystalline turquoise waters, thanks to a sudden and torrential squall. In the first lull, I took the tender back to the ship, where I did manage that swim, albeit in the safe but saline confines of the pool, marveling at the curtains of rain enveloping us.
A full day at sea followed, giving our guides ample opportunity to enlighten us about the geology and culture of the Marquesas and how the islands were colonized by European explorers. Also, they were very explicit about practical things like the equatorial heat, mosquitoes and “nonos” (tiny, bloodthirsty’ midge flies), helping us avert any unpleasant surprises ahead. That evening, as a dazzling sunset hovered over the fantail, the ship’s officers and staff hosted a welcome reception by the pool.