Aranui – the great highway
In the nineteen-fifties the Chinese-Tahitian Wong family started a shipping company operating the Aranui, a freighter sailing to the islands of French Polynesia. Later the Aranui 1 was the first to carry passengers, just 25, while the Aranui 2 had 85 and the Aranui 3 170.
The new, custom-built Aranui 5 began operating in 2016 and carries up to 254 passengers in 103 cabins.
But Aranui 5 is still a working boat. It has many of the comforts of a cruise liner but it carries vital supplies to the remote Marquesas islands.
Passengers enjoy a 14 day all-inclusive cruise from Tahiti to the Marquesas, with additional calls to Fakarava and Rangiroa (in the Tuamotus) and Bora Bora in the Society islands.
Our arrival on the Aranui 5
We joined the Aranui 5 for Voyage 18 in November-December 2017.
The ship was berthed at the ferry terminal although that was just for picking up passengers. Its usual berth is at Motu Uta in the commercial port area of Papeete.
As we climbed the gangway we were serenaded with songs and ukuleles then ushered to the VIP reception area. where we received electronic key cards. These doubled as cash cards that were used for all purchases on board. The staff wore colourful pareu dresses or shirts and the atmosphere was already preparing everyone for a real Polynesian experience.
We were then escorted to our premium suite on the seventh deck – the Pool Deck.
The Aranui Premium Suite
We loved this cabin. The double bed was large and comfortable with space underneath to store suitcases leaving us plenty of room to move around. The day room area had a sofa, coffee table and two chairs, while sliding glass doors led onto a balcony with table-and-chair outdoor furniture.
Our cabin was on the starboard side of the Aranui and when we were docked or anchored we could look down and watch early leaving passengers disembarking or scrambling onto the tenders.
Wardrobe, drawers and cupboards meant we had plenty of space for clothes and the very long desk-top cum make-up-table was soon covered with laptop, tablets, Kindles and a power-strip with chargers for all of these plus the batteries for four cameras. We bought a power adaptor in the Aranui’s boutique.
A flat screen TV opposite the bed had channels including CNN, several French language options, ship information videos in English, French and German, and best of all, a live feed from the ship’s radar mast and a map showing our position, route and estimated time of arrival at the next island. We took a photo of each of these to remind us in future where the following pictures were taken.
The bathroom has all the usual amenities, and a handle in the shower is useful when the ship is moving.
Life jackets are stored in the wardrobe where we also found a snorkel and flipper set.
The under-counter fridge is stocked with soft drinks and water. It can been refilled for an extra cost.
We re-used the water bottles whenever we went ashore – ice and water machines are available on every deck.
Aranui’s public spaces
Eight classes of accommodation (excluding the Presidential and Owner suites) are spread over eight decks.
A large lounge on deck 5 has low armchairs and circular booths with tables. Tea and coffee are available here 24/7.
A minor quibble – there were no lids for the paper cups and that made carrying them back to our cabin a sometimes messy process. Covering the tops of the cups with paper serviettes made things a bit easier. The lounge has a small bar and sometimes cakes and biscuits appeared around mid afternoon but it wasn’t a regular thing which is just as well considering the size of the meals (see below).
The lounge is where cultural and historical lectures take place and also where other presentations happen in wet weather.
The large, indoor Sky Bar, at the forward end of deck 9 – the Sky Deck of course – has sweeping panoramic views.
The Veranda Bar on deck 6 is also inside and is the spot where the Aranui Band plays on some nights There is a small library on this deck.
The Pool Bar is a small outside bar by the swimming pool on deck 7. Plenty of sun-loungers and comfortable chairs surround the pool and this is also the deck where most of the organised activities take place.
On different days and times you can learn how to make poisson cru (raw fish marinated in lime juice), how to tie a pareu, dance the tamure, stretch or take a zumba class, weave palm leaves, make shell jewellery or take part in a fashion show.
Special feast nights, such as Plancha Night and Polynesian Night, take place here.
The Aranui has a fitness centre and spa, and somewhere in the bowels of the ship is a laundry which we often made use of.
The boutique sells hats, clothes, toiletries, jewellery and all manner of souvenirs and snacks. This is also the place to buy wi-fi access, tokens and washing powder for the laundry.
Regarding laundry, the Aranui does it three times during the cruise – different days for different decks – but no underwear or socks. That’s why the boutique sells Tide and tokens.
Wi-fi access is expensive and variable. It is only available in public places but that includes corridors. In port it’s reasonable but at sea it’s very slow. We only ever used it for email.
Casual dining in the Aranui Restaurant
The restaurant on deck 4 is where all the meals on-board are served in a casual setting.
Breakfast is buffet-style with plenty of tropical fresh fruit, cereals, fruit juice, yoghurt, bread and toast, Danish pastries, croissants and a small selection of hot dishes such as bacon, hash browns, omelette and scrambled eggs. It has an egg station where you can get pancakes and, on some days, fresh fried eggs. I suspect that the scrambled eggs and omelettes are made with egg powder and the fresh eggs are only available when we’ve recently docked at an island.
Lunch and dinner have two sittings, half an hour apart. You select your sitting the day after joining the Aranui. Don’t worry! Early diners don’t have to eat fast and depart after half an hour. The timings are just to stagger arrivals so that the restaurant staff don’t have to attend to 200 people at once. There are no set tables but we found people tended to drift to the same part of the restaurant so you meet new faces as well as rejoining old friends.
Bottles of wine are placed on each table – one bottle between four diners sometimes red, sometimes white but all reasonable quality.
Both lunch and dinner are three-course, usually beginning with a salad, followed by a meat or fish dish
and finishing with a calorific but delicious dessert.
Everything was beautifully presented – good to look at as well as eat. Special diets are catered for as long as you’ve let Aranui know beforehand.
The waiters and waitresses are incredible. They work really hard but always seem to be cheerful and I loved the way they colour-coordinated their dress. There are no uniforms as such but one day everyone might wear green be it a dress, pareu, shirt or t-shirt. Another day it could be red and on one occasion everyone wore a hat. Great fun.
Travelling on the Aranui 5
Travelling on the Aranui 5 is a wonderful way to visit the Marquesas, some of the world’s most remote islands.
Our Premium Suite was so comfortable that we spent a lot of sea time relaxing in it, but for passengers in smaller cabins or the 4 or 8 berth dormitories, the lounges, bars, pool and deck areas provided plenty of space to hang out.
And of course the exotic islands you visit and the shore excursions you have are quite out of the ordinary.
But that’s the subject of another post.