Wednesday, March 07, 2007

As Promised...

How I Spent My Mid-Winter Vacation

I decided that I’ll have to break up the Hawaii report into a couple of entries. It was just too amazing to handle in one posting.

(Disclaimer: I'm not being compensated by Wehrli World Travel, Norwegian Cruise Lines, Marriott Hotels, Polynesian Travel or the State of Hawaii. I'm just telling you what we did)

I had one wonderful trip to Aloha-Land. I went to The Parents’ house for a couple of days before the trip, and we flew directly from Chicago to Honolulu. We left this (those aren't clouds-- it's snow, y'all):

And arrived to this:

Having a Great Travel Agent- Priceless
Our wonderful travel agent, Sue, did a great job of setting everything up. While I really enjoy doing it all myself, it was great to not have to worry about the little things like schlepping our luggage, worrying about how to get to hotel and ship etc. The Parents are in their 80’s, and I’m no spring chicken, so having the transfers, hotel etc packaged with the cruise et al made life much easier.

Sue is in the Chicagoland area. If you’re in the market for travel planning, I can highly recommend her. I don’t know if she does long-distance services, but with telephones and email, you might drop her an email or give her a call. The Parents have used her services for years, and have never been disappointed.)

Why a Cruise in Hawaii?

There are a bunch of islands, and if you want to see several of them, you have a couple of options. You can fly from island to island, or you can visit on a cruise ship. On the one hand, pack, fly, check into hotel, unpack, pack, check out of hotel, fly, check into hotel, unpack— rinse and repeat as needed. You get the picture.

On the other hand, board ship, unpack, pack, travel around, leave ship and fly home. Meals are included, and it ends up being a lot less stressful.

Advantage= cruise.

About the CruiseLine

Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL America division) is the only cruiseline that has US flagged ships (Pride of America, Pride of Hawaii and Pride of Aloha). These three ships can stay in the Hawaiian islands without having to go to a foreign port. If you are planning to cruise in Hawaii, and you want to go to another island in the Pacific, there are other NCL and ships from other lines that do that, and it adds a couple of days (and a few dollars) to your trip. But if you want maximum time in Hawaii, and fewer at-sea days, then the NCL America ships are the way to go.

Thursday: It’s an 8 hour flight from Chicago to Honolulu. We flew on United. When I printed our boarding passes, it showed a full flight. Apparently they blocked a bunch of the seats, because we weren’t more than 2/3 full. It was great to be able to stretch out for that long flight. We were met at the airport and transported to the Marriott Waikiki Beach. Norwegian Cruise Line has an office in the hotel, and we were pre-boarded for the cruise as soon as we arrived. This is huge. Norwegian also has pre-briefings on land excursions if you get to Honolulu a day or so early. We were pretty tired, so after dinner we hit the sack. Here's the view from the balcony of our room:

Friday: A bus picked us up to take us to breakfast and a briefing about shore excursions. I had my doubts about the value of this, figuring they wanted to sell us something—which they did, but it was really valuable; time well spent in planning our time in Hawaii. We took an afternoon bus to the Polynesian Cultural Center. It’s quite an interesting place.

It’s run by Brigham Young Hawaii Campus, and students from all the islands demonstrate aspects of their culture including traditions, crafts, dances and music (and food). It’s sort of work/study, and the admission fees cover tuition.

A word about Shore Excursions

In Hawaii, the ports are not where the action (or the beautiful scenery) is. Unless you want to stay on the ship (not a bad option if you want to relax and enjoy the ship-- something to be said for that) or visit the numerous tourist shops that seem to crop up near the ports, you’ll want to get out into the island. You can certainly do a lot of these on your own. Rental cars are available, and it will cost less. The disadvantages are that you don’t get the information you’d get from the tourguides—who with one exception were terrific. You also have to focus on driving, and will miss some of the always spectacular landscape. The other possible disadvantage is that the ships sail on schedule—although they’ll wait for late returners IF you’re on one of their tours.

The disadvantage to shore excursions is that they are a bit pricey (although I consider it money well spent), you may visit more macadamia nut and coffee farms than you care to, and some of the knee space is not great.

Saturday: We were up at the crack of dawn. We left our luggage in the room (it was picked up and magically appeared at our stateroom) and boarded a bus for the Arizona Memorial.

As a Navy veteran, it was very moving to me. This is the stack of the Arizona. You can still see drops of fuel oil that come up to the surface. It's hard to talk without choking up when I think of it.

After the Arizona, we had a little tour around the Honolulu area, including a trip to Peli—VERY WINDY up there.

Then to the ship:

We boarded the ship, and our statroom was amazing. The Parents had a room with a king-sized bed (two singles put together).

I had a sitting room with a window, and a seat that folded out to a bed.
When the bed was opened, it took up the entire room, which was just fine with me. There was a living room area with another couch that folded out.
And then there was our balcony. We were on the port side completely aft, and our balcony curved around our room. (Pictures of that maybe tomorrow). We were underway at 8 pm.

Sunday: Hilo. An early rising, and then on a bus to Volcano National Park.

It was like looking at a moonscape—rocks, lava, and then there were the steam vents and sulfur pools. These are still active—having erupted in 1984.

And then to Rainbow Falls.

We got underway that evening, and sailed past Kiluea where lava continues to flow into the ocean.

That orange stuff is lava.


Shanti said...

Now I'm feeling homesick for a place I haven't lived since 1998. Go figure. I love the Polynesian Cultural Center...they sponsor some great music events. The first time I went we were way early and went in a bit before the place actually opened. The Tongan group was having a farewell for some of their people and insisted we join them. We had a wonderful time.

Ann said...

You are not helping my winter doldrums! seriously - gorgeous pics. I love the one of the church against the orange sky.

Steph said...

Your pictures look beautiful! I'm glad you had such a great time. You're making me miss Hawaii so much! I'm glad you got to go to the Big Island. It's one of my favorite places in the world.