In a festive celebration tinged with just a hint of sentimentality, Captain Belinda Bennett, who has served at the helm of Wind Spirit throughout its most recent year-round series of seasons in French Polynesia (the ship has served the region for ten years), handed over the ceremonial French Polynesian flag to Star Breeze Captain Terry Simon on Sunday. (Captain Belinda, l-r, is pictured above with French Polynesian President Moetai Brotherson, Windstar Cruises President Chris Prelog, and Star Breeze Captain Simon Terry).
“We are also handing over the cell phone of the bridge,” Captain Belinda said with a smile. “You’ll need it.”
This shift in ships is significant, both for the region and for Windstar. Having marked its 35th anniversary of cruising in French Polynesia last year, “this strategic shift in ships not only doubles capacity but also brings new experiences given the Breeze’s multiple dining options, enlarged spa and fitness center, and spacious accommodations,” Windstar Cruises President Chris Prelog tells us in his remarks. “Travelers aboard Star Breeze still navigate Tahiti’s out-of-the-way harbors, hidden lagoons, and pristine beaches in Windstar’s signature, small ship style.”
In honor of the occasion, a festive welcome for Star Breeze accompanied the equally festive goodbye for Wind Spirit with a cultural fair, held on the dock between the two vessels. Guests from both ships mingled with Tahitians, including President Moetai Brotherson, port officials, and Tahiti Tourism partners.
Celebration Commemorates Windstar’s Embrace of Polynesian Culture
To be sure, today’s festival-of-culture, a vibrant send off to both ships – Wind Spirit heads to Costa Rica while Star Breeze begins an 11-night French Polynesian odyssey – was a splashier sail-away than most. There was local cuisine and fruity drinks, dancing and singing, and instrumental music performed by local groups.
A mother/daughter team taught us to weave baskets and platters out of hearty palm fronds while nearby, their grandson/son Chef Temauri, oversaw the hors d’oeuvres. In a forward-fashion moment, glamorous young women walked down a red carpet to showcase not only their dresses but also to show how pearl necklaces, created by jewelry designer Robert Wan, could be used to dramatically accentuate their gowns. In fact, a crowd favorite was the lone gentleman who wore a pearl necktie – against his bare chest.
Another popular activity: Comptoir des Manoi, a Tahitian skincare company that produces oils and perfumes from local flora and fauna, was on-hand to create custom oil blends created out of 30 different scents. Choices included ylang ylang, mira (Tahitian basil), mango, honey, rea Tahiti (Tahitian ginger) and many more.
It is somewhat fortuitous,” Star Breeze Captain Simon Terry tells us, that Star Breeze is taking over “from a ship called Spirit. This culturally significant region is all about energy, art and dancing.”
Future looks bright for Windstar in French Polynesia
Indeed, changes are afoot in the experience of French Polynesia aboard Star Breeze. The festival reflected Windstar’s new effort (more to come!) to bring French Polynesian culture onboard, as well as its existing program of onshore events and activities.
And perhaps the sweet sentiment that Captain Belinda alluded to about leaving French Polynesia with Wind Spirit may be alleviated by a comment made by Windstar’s Prelog at the end of his remarks. “I have this dream,” he told assembled guests, “that someday we’re going to have two ships in Tahiti, so I’m not going to say goodbye. I’m going to say — until we meet again. I know with the support of all our local friends, and our guests, I think we can make that dream a reality.”