From Tahiti, French Polynesia, with Love

by Gavin MacLeod, Princess Cruises Ambassador (and “Captain Merrill Stubing” on “The Love Boat”)

A sunset in Tahiti
A sunset in Tahiti

The deep blue waters of Tahiti are a long way from the world I knew as a child.  I had a modest upbringing in upstate New York, but even  then, cruises were a luxury I couldn’t even dream of.   It wasn’t until years later that I set foot on my very first cruise ship – and amusingly, I was instantly the captain!  I’m pretty sure I’m the only “captain” who can say that.

I was lucky.  I spent 10 memorable years playing “Captain Stubing” on “The Love Boat” – what a dream job!   Every week I got to act in stories about love and romance … and I had the chance to meet some incredible guest stars.  

I couldn’t believe I was actually working alongside these amazing actors I had admired since my childhood – like Lana Turner and Ginger Rogers.  Some were interesting folks, like Andy Warhol, and others were up and comers just starting out, such as Tom Hanks.  It was an unforgettable experience.

We didn’t just shoot “The Love Boat” in our Los Angeles soundstage.  Several times a year we actually boarded a Princess cruise ship and shot scenes on an actual cruise.  We set sail on cruises to Mexico, the Caribbean, Europe, Asia and Alaska.  But one place we never went on the show was Tahiti.

Tahiti!  Doesn’t it sound magical?  I envision Mitzi Gaynor “washing that man right out of her hair” in “South Pacific;”  the wonderful tales of James Michener, who I had the great fortune to sail with aboard a Princess cruise years later;and the colorful art of Paul Gauguin.

But most of all, when I think of Tahiti I think of romance.   Maybe it’s all those years on a show that focused on love and happy endings.   However, when I did finally get to Tahiti, I was very glad my wonderful wife, Patti, was by my side.

We flew out a few days ahead of our cruise aboard Tahitian Princess, along with my manager and good friend, Lee.  Appropriately, Patti and I would be performing the two-person play “Love Letters” on the ship, so it was something of a working vacation.  But really what this trip became was discovering one of the world’s most romantic places.

Our first glimpse of Tahiti from the air was one of vast expanses of turquoise water, punctuated with the occasional island.  We were all seasoned travelers, but the excitement of descending closer and closer to this lush paradise felt like a new experience.  The colors popped out even from the air – bright greens and blues as far as the eye could see.

Tahiti is famous for its beaches, and that was where we spent the bulk of our time before the cruise.  Years before, I had travelled to Hawaii to shoot an episode of Hawaii 5-0, and thought the waters around those islands were amazingly beautiful, however, I now discovered that they had serious competition with Tahiti’s sparkling blue seas.

That, to me, is Tahiti.  Sparkling white or black sands.  Water as clear and placid as a sheet of glass.  And nothing and no one else for as far as the eye could see.  Those picturesque overwater bungalows.  No commotion or craziness.  No worries except maybe when to go to dinner or which beach to try next.  Just this tremendously lush landscape and the feeling of total relaxation and time to focus on your loved one.

There’s something about the mystique of Tahiti that brings out the romantic in all of us.  Surrounded by this tranquil atmosphere with nothing to disturb us but the lapping of the waves and the scent of tropical flowers in the air, Patti and I were able to relax, talk and really connect.

We did leave our reverie to visit some of the island’s sights.  We saw historic Matavai Bay, where many early European navigators anchored, including the HMS Bounty – of “Mutiny on the Bounty” fame – and Captain Cook.   We met warm, wonderful people speaking French, Tahitian and, thankfully, some English.  We saw the open air Le Truck buses that run around the island and the Les Roulottes mobile restaurants serving movable feasts along the waterfront.  But mostly we enjoyed time together marveling at the stunning vistas everywhere.

This peaceful feeling continued once we set sail on Tahitian Princess to tour the other islands of French Polynesia.   We were in awe of the towering pinnacles and spectacular waterfalls of Moorea, we learned about the fascinating Polynesian culture in Raiatea, and we felt we had surely found the mythical “Bali Hai” when we first glimpsed the shimmering lagoon and lush greenery of Bora Bora.  Every island seemed as if it was painted by an artist using the brightest palette of colors.

One day onboard, I joined my wife who was standing on our stateroom balcony, looking out at the sun setting just beyond jagged peaks of the islands.  It was a picture postcard moment if ever you saw one.  As I approached she mused, “Do you think heaven’s as beautiful as this?”

Well, I don’t know if heaven could be any lovelier than these stunning islands, but I do know I was lucky to share this little bit of heaven on earth with someone I love so dearly.   It was our own personal “Love Boat.”