A Norwegian Spirit cruise through the South Pacific is like a tonic for the soul – at once indulgent and eye-opening, steamy and subdued.
It’s 9 am on Norwegian Spirit, and the stern-side alfresco bar overlooking the pool and hot tubs is already doing a roaring trade in mimosas. Breakfast cocktails are not only condoned, but are positively endorsed on sea days, particularly when cruising between postcard-worthy tropical isles in the South Pacific.
I would like to say that I use my time away from shore productively, but instead, I fall into a ‘ship coma’: a blurred state where I wander from morning Bloody Marys to 007 trivia, onward to an origami class, a goofy golf challenge, lunch, guess the weight of the sculpture, ‘pop and jazz with John’, more cocktails, dinner, ‘party time with DJ William’…
It is pointed out to me that I could venture into another, healthier world to stretch at sunrise, work toward fab abs, try yoga, or do laps around the promenade deck and yet more laps in the pool. But there’s something about cruising – and I mean non-expedition, non-river cruising – that turns me into a complete sloth.
I relish it – it’s not something I normally get to do on dry land – and quickly learn that Norwegian Spirit caters well to my type.
French Polynesia on the Norwegian Spirit
The climes here are also conducive to going slow. In my imagination, this pocket of the Pacific has long served as a sort of Edenic foil to our modern, mechanising world.
Departing Papeete, French Polynesia’s steamy capital, Norwegian Spirit makes the very short nighttime voyage to Moorea, one of the country’s 118 jagged volcanic islands and atolls, strung across millions of miles of ocean. Arriving here is a reverie induced by a sea that alchemises from barely there cyan to an incandescent Uranian blue and then deep indigo; trees slung with Martian-green breadfruit; all-but submerged coral atolls; and the perfume of jasmine, vanilla and copra, cracked coconuts caramelising in the tropical sun.
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The ship offers an almost daunting list of tours here and in every port to follow, from swimming with reef sharks and manta rays to exploring vanilla plantations and visiting black pearl farms – boats, buses and bikes await disembarking passengers.
We hire a local taxi and take the main road that hugs Moorea’s perimeter of rocky beaches and palm-lined inlets, ringing a rainforest bursting with candlenut and mape trees.
On the east coast, halfway around, we stop and hire a two-stroke boat. We putter for five minutes to reach a tiny motu (island) with a beach bar – and nothing else. Under a palm leaning dangerously close to the lagoon, we sip piña coladas with pink umbrellas and wedges of pineapple. There are no footprints on the finely crushed coral beach lining the shore; just the loopy tracks of hermit crabs.
As Spirit draws away en route for Bora Bora, eight voluminous mountain peaks rise from Moorea’s translucent lagoon, creating a rugged silhouette that reminds me of a dragon’s backbone.
We wake to yet more lagoon drama, Bora Bora’s watery jewel is famously the colour of an ice mint, with overwater bungalows silhouetted on the horizon.
But we’re headed in the other direction, to the reef, where I pull on a mask and flippers to snorkel through a coral wonderland of pink-lipped giant clams, vivid fans, fluorescent reef fish and enormous brain-like bommies. Lewis Carroll would no doubt find this inspiration to write a sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Norwegian Cruise Lines’ 15-day ‘South Pacific: Fiji, Moorea & Samoa’ cruise travels from Papeete and includes ports in Moorea and Bora Bora (French Polynesia), Pago Pago (American Samoa) or Apia (Samoa), Lautoka and Dravuni (Fiji), Isle of Pines (New Caledonia) and Sydney (Australia).