One of the biggest differences between the Aranui 5 cruising experience and one on a traditional cruise ship is the number and variety of dining options. Whereas today's ships offer a dizzying array of restaurants, snack counters and bars, and food is available somewhere onboard around the clock, on this ship all three meals are served in one restaurant and, apart from the breakfast buffet, there's only one three-course menu available. Plus if you miss a mealtime, you'll either have to wait until the next one or pick up something to tide you over in the boutique or from the limited and uninspiring snack bar. The upside: This may be the one cruise where it's easy to avoid overindulgence, and if you join the hikes and walks onshore, you might even lose weight.
That said, the quality of the food in the restaurant is good, and while the classic menus aren't particularly adventurous, they do incorporate local fruit and vegetables (the Marquesas are famous for having the most flavorful fruit and vegetables in Polynesia) and will certainly please most palates.
A note about meal times: Several times on our voyage The Restaurant and poolside buffet opened after the scheduled time. No big deal, perhaps, since it was usually within 10 minutes. But worth noting if you're expecting the punctuality of big cruise lines. Don't.
The Restaurant (Deck 4): The main dining room serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, with two seatings each for lunch and dinner, separated by 30 minutes (you pick your dining time at check-in). It's a comfortable if nondescript room at the ship's aft that has interior seating only at non-assigned tables of two to 10. Passengers tend to cluster at tables according to the language they speak, and wait staff serves the entire room rather than being dedicated to specific tables.
Breakfast is a buffet, with cold cuts, fresh fruit, plain yogurt and baked-onboard pastries, as well as chafing dishes of scrambled eggs, plain omelets and bacon and/or sausage. Tea, coffee and juice are offered self-serve from stations on either side of the room.
Lunch and dinner are both set three-course menus (appetizer, main and dessert). For lunch, expect appetizers such as a mixed salad, an entree of roast lamb Provencale with mushrooms or Cornish hen with tarragon sauce and french fries, and lemon tart or fresh fruit salad for dessert. Starters at dinner include local veggie soups or salads, with main courses such as pasta carbonara, roast duck and pan-fried local fish, followed by desserts of tiramisu, chocolate cake or mango tart.
Lunch and dinner onboard are served individually plated with sides of a starch and a vegetable, while lunch ashore is usually a local buffet, featuring items such as poisson cru (Polynesian-style ceviche), breadfruit and cooked bananas, and chicken or goat cooked in coconut milk. Passengers who remain onboard during shore excursions must notify restaurant staff so lunch can be prepared for them. At least twice during the cruise, dinner is a poolside buffet and diners sit outside on decks 7 and 8.
If the line is notified in advance, passengers following vegetarian, gluten-free and pescatarian diets can be accommodated, but the ship does not keep a kosher or halal kitchen, and there's no official kid's menu.
Bottles of French red and white house wines (2015 Chateau Toutigeac Bordeaux blanc, 2015 Chevalier Alexis Lichine cabernet sauvignon and 2014 Chateau de Hartes Bordeaux, for example) are complimentary with lunch and dinner, and staff is happy to oblige if diners require more than one glass per meal. Other wines, Champagne and all other alcohol, as well as beer (Hinano is the Tahitian brew), soft drinks and coffee or tea may be ordered at an additional cost. Free filtered water is available from dispensers on decks 4, 5 and 6, and you can purchase bottled water from the bars and gift shop.
The Snack Bar (Deck 5): Open in roughly two-hour blocks spread throughout the day and night, the snack bar is tucked into one corner of The Salon. It offers a small menu of sandwiches, drinks and specialty coffees from a counter, and appeared to be patronized most by local passengers who rely on the ship for inter-island transport. Its seemingly random opening hours (which depended on the particular port and whether or not it was a sea day) are incentive to fill up at The Restaurant during regular meal times. From dawn through late night there are also complimentary self-service tea and coffee stations set up in the rear of the lounge.
Room Service: Continental breakfast only is offered exclusively for guests in the Presidential and Royal Suites.