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Cruising with Cargo


This is an update of an article I wrote a few years ago. I’m updating it because the subject of it was changed – unfortunately forever – by the pandemic, but what’s left of it is still worth considering.

Freighter cruises are a unique way to travel the world. They are offered by cargo shipping companies whose ships also carry passengers. The number of passengers can be as few as a dozen people, and they share surprisingly well-appointed facilities with the officers and crew.


Far removed from mass tourism, passengers share the living area and dining room with the crew. The living area usually contains a TV, DVD player, a library and board games. It is a convivial place where you can chat with the officers, relax and watch a film or lose yourself in a book. Wi-Fi is available but connectivity can be patchy.

Cargo ships generally have swimming pools, a fully equipped gym with weight machines, and a table-tennis table. Some ships also have a sauna. However, there are no upmarket shops, casinos or cabarets – unless some of the more outgoing crew members put on an impromptu one.

Three meals are served each day. They are included in the cost of your cruise, prepared by the ship’s chef and taken at set times, in some cases in the officers’ mess. These daily meetings allow passengers and crew to get to know each other in a friendly and convivial setting.

One Australian retiree has been cruising on cargo ships for years, notching up thousands of kilometres at sea and criss-crossing the globe numerous times on different voyages.

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Photo courtesy of CMA CGM.

A number of shipping lines used to offer this service but it was suspended during Covid and, unfortunately, most lines seem to have decided it’s not worth resuming. King among these was giant French container shipping company, CMA CGM, which even had its own cruise division known as Voyages en Cargo, with a team of experts backed by a network of leading travel agencies. Sadly, CMA has announced that it will not be resuming passenger carriage.

There is, however, one company still offering the service, currently utilizing two ships, and that is Maris Freighter Cruise and Travel Club. One of the ships is Aranui 5, a vessel of the Compagnie Polynesienne de Transport Maritime (CPTM) based in Tahiti, French Polynesia.


Aranui 5. Photo: Aranui

5_our cruise ship at Papeete

Built in 2015, Aranui 5 is a mail and supply ship sailing from Papeete (above) to the Marquesas. It differs in a number of ways from the large container ships that used to carry a dozen or so passengers as an adjunct to their cargo operations. Aranui 5 was specifically designed to carry passengers as well as supplies and in greater numbers. Total passenger capacity is 256 and with a length of only 126 metres, the vessel can navigate smaller harbours.


The lush, jagged volcanic islands of the Marquesas are probably the most spectacular island chain in French Polynesia, yet most tourists limit their travels to Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora. The allure of the Marquesas has been described by numerous artists, writers and explorers including Paul Gaugin, Herman Melville, Robert Louis Stevenson and Thor Heyerdahl.

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In addition to some 20 voyages to the Marquesas, the Aranui 5 also sails a few times a year to the Austral Islands – the southernmost group of islands in French Polynesia and part of the Society Islands. They are known for their beautiful beaches, lush tropical forests and diverse flora and fauna. Cruises to other islands are also becoming available.

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Aranui 5 has a restaurant, four bars, a fitness room, lounges and a library, shops and a computer room. It also has two lifts. Interior decor features Marquesan designs, Paul Gauguin prints and original paintings by Erhard Lux, a German artist who lives part-time on Moorea.


Suites and Superior Deluxe cabins all have private balconies. Staterooms are available for single, double or quadruple occupancy. Private bathrooms with showers are included in each guest room.

There are bunk berths for 24 passengers in four Class C dormitory rooms, each with a bathroom and shower. The vessel can also accept up to 45 local residents as deck passengers travelling short distance between the islands.

Maris is currently offering discounts on bookings made by 29 February this year for voyages into 2025. Prices start at about US$4,000 per person in the dormitory and US$6,000 in a stateroom for a 12-day cruise. Prices include three meals a day with limited complimentary wine and guided shore excursions.


The other ship marketed by Maris is the Bella Desgagnés, which plies the Gulf of St Lawrence, delivering mail and supplies and ferrying local residents and visitors to many of Québec’s picturesque villages located along the 900-kilometre coast from Rimouski to Blanc-Sablon.


Images above (4) courtesy of Maris Freighter Cruises.

More information and passenger testimonials are available from Maris Freighter Cruises.


Cruising on a cargo ship is an enriching human experience but also an adventure into the unknown. The itineraries, dates, duration and ports of call are not binding; they can be altered at any time depending on the needs of the shipping company and the cargo owners. Passengers therefore need to adopt a flexible and adventurous approach.


They also need to be aware at all times that they are onboard a working ship and will sometimes be constrained by the discharging and loading of cargo, while the vessel is in port.


Images (18)
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