When we reached the dock in Papeete to board the Aranui, we realized right away that this would not be a typical cruise. Other passengers had looks of apprehension, too, not being quite sure what kind of 12-day voyage they were embarking on even though they had read the brochures. Anyone used to traditional cruises will be surprised by their first glance at the Aranui, a strange hybrid of cruise ship and freighter. Looking only at the front, you see the familiar balconies and shape of a passenger liner while the back half is a freighter with its cranes and containers prominently displayed. We and our fellow passengers were reassured right away when we boarded. The very friendly crew greeted each person with warmth and a beautiful tropical flower lei. Even the male passengers smiled appreciatively upon receiving the flowers.
Our first introduction to the authenticity of the cruise was learning that the dancers who performed during the boarding festivities were actually from the Marquesas and danced as a way to introduce people to their culture - they weren't waiting to be discovered for a Broadway show. The 130 passengers we sailed with were about a third French speakers, a third English speakers (mostly Australians and New Zealanders), a fifth Germans, with the remaining passengers from random other countries. All announcements are made in the three languages and the daily meetings in the lounge to go over the following day's activities are also split between the languages. The crew's first language is French as the islands are a former French territory that are now linked to France as overseas "collectivities."
Our cabin was very comfortable and in line with our staterooms on traditional cruise ships. There are several levels of cabins and ours was in the medium range.
The first day was filled with meeting our fellow passengers, a well-run life boat drill and our introduction to the wonderful French meals that were to follow. Lunch the first day featured raw fish which we don't usually eat at home. We quickly came to love the fish since it had just been caught in pristine South Pacific waters and was very delicate and delicious. Lunch and dinner were both accompanied with complimentary bottles of French wine and an abundance of tropical fruits. One of the early cooking demonstrations was about preparing raw fish and several passengers wrote down the recipe to try at home.
Our first stop was set for the island of Takapoto the next day. We were shown photos during our evening briefing in the lounge and couldn't wait for the adventure to begin. We really had embarked on travel off the beaten path comfortably.