Half cruise liner, half cargo ship

While on the subject of shipping news (see my first post this morning), I came across a travel blog report on a unique ship:  the Aranui 5, a vessel that’s half luxury cruise liner and half cargo carrier.

She plies the waters of French Polynesia in the Pacific Ocean.  She’s almost literally the lifeline for much inter-island trade:  in many cases, if she doesn’t carry it, it doesn’t get there.

A travel blogger, Barbara Weibel, took a trip aboard Aranui 5 last year.  Instead of just focusing on the touristy stuff, she also studied the ship’s cargo operations, and found out more about what it was like in the old days, before powered cranes and modern vessels.  Here’s her video report.

Cruise ship passengers often pass through their destinations without thinking much about how ordinary people live there.  This cruise ship makes it impossible to ignore that, without her, the islands’ populations would be left almost destitute.  It’s an interesting combination of luxury and bare-bones necessity.

I’ve always said I’ll never take a cruise – particularly not on the monster cruise ships that tend to frequent US harbors.  Why would I pay for the “privilege” of being crammed cheek-by-jowl into an artificial steel island, surrounded by noisy people and exposed to nasty infections?  However, something like the Aranui 5 might be a very different proposition, with far fewer people and a very interesting practical itinerary, not just a tourist trap.  Have any of my readers sailed aboard her?  If so, please let us know what you thought of her in Comments.



  1. Unfortunately, passenger/cargo boats in the third world are flagged in the third world. There's a risk factor there. It's not the Staten Island Ferry that rolls over every year or two while under way. The third world is where old First world school buses and boats go to die. A purpose-built boat like this one, I'd hope would be more reputable. No work on the crew, though.

    I haven't seen my Honduran Master Unlimited on Oceans license in a few years. It's in a junk drawer, I think. I bought it in the 90's when I was an Ordinary Seaman. $80. The Panamanians stopped selling them right around that time. You have to take a test now.

  2. Looks like an update to the old idea of the tramp steamer, with cargo and passenger service in odd corners of the world. Agree with the other commenters, that YMMV and check them out first.

  3. In response to George above, yes, and they can be quite nice. Few other passengers if any. Little crew interaction. Great for those who like to be left alone and have books or a stockpile of videos or other self-entertainment items.

  4. Get the tourists to pay for keeping the cargo cult islands viable?

    In French Polynesia?
    Guaranteed revenue stream, both ways.

    Same sort of thing would work in the Caribbean, and the Greek isles.

    Surprised the mega-cruise lines haven't glommed onto the idea already.

  5. Agreed it would be hard to do today.

    But read Jeff Cooper on the joys of first class travel before WWII or Trampe Royale. In the pre jet days I went New York (actually Jersey side IIRC) to Europe on the Queen Mary – Cunard line and all the offices Royal Navy Reserve (not even wavy navy though history shows some of the wavy navy brought a lot of experience to active duty) and home on the Rotterdam sailing from Holland. A thoroughly pleasant experience each way. And ships that traveled the North Atlantic in the winter had nothing like the wind catching freeboard of today's crowded cruise ships. Even reentering the United States was no hassle at all. Open one bag at random and waved through.

  6. Just two weeks ago I promised my wife that if we ever had the money available we would immediately book that cruise to the Marquesas Islands.
    Worst nightmare: to travel on a swimming monster-casino/spa/-hotel filled to the brim with adipose all-inc-tourists addicted to shopping sprees….

  7. A much smaller version of this travel mode is the mail boat service of the Bahamas – – one can travel between the various islands on the postal delivery boats. It's described as a great way to see the minor, less well-known islands if one doesn't mind the slow travel times and Spartan accommodations.

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