Say Aloha! Cruising to Hawaii!
Hawaii is a place that many people dream of visiting, and I was one of them. My husband had been to Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island of Hawaii about forty years ago with his late wife and remembered fondly the days of snorkeling along secluded beaches and exploring sugar and pineapple fields. To be clear, the first sugar plantation was started on Kauai in 1835. Much has changed since the late 1970s when Marcus visited, when the Hawaii State Constitutional Convention made Hawaiian the official language of the state, making it the only state in the U.S. with an official language other than English.
We had been looking for the easiest and most economical way to experience a few of the most interesting Hawaiian islands, and then maybe return someday for a longer stay. After consulting with fellow travelers and friends, we found that a cruise would be the way to start. Besides, it would grant us ample time to relax while crossing the Pacific instead of flying. We had experienced Holland America as a classy line serving discerning foodies and travelers like us. We found the perfect scenario: a back-to-back cruise departing from San Diego featuring the Hawaiian islands and the Mexican Baja California peninsula, allowing us to visit with friends in San Diego before our departure. Nicole, the daughter of our dear friends Phyllis and John, John is my long-time editor, lives in San Diego with her family and we finally would get to meet their three grandchildren personally. Cuteness overload!
We’d booked a couple of nights at Wyndham San Diego Bayside, which presented us with a stunning sunrise the next morning. To our surprise, we woke up in time to witness ms Volendam slowly entering the bay harbor at approximately 6am the morning after. Holland America Line’s ms Volendam docked, though across the street, practically right under our balcony. We were excited! Built by Fincantieri in Italy in 1999, ms Volendam is presently HAL’s oldest and smallest ship, and can carry up to 1,432 passengers. She’s a classic, with clean lines, beautiful shape, and features the perfect balance of comfort and luxury. In May 2022, as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the City of Rotterdam chartered ms Volendam to be used as a refugee shelter for Ukrainian refugees, with Holland America Line staff providing meals and services. Later during an ‘Ask the Captain’ hour on World Stage the Captain shared with us a little more information about the unusual ‘charter’.
The six-day journey across the Pacific to Hawaii went by quickly due to the abundance of activities on these cruise ships. We loved the Broadway-style shows at night as well as the fun cooking demos given by Executive Chef Javier Carpio, co-hosted by Daniel, the Cruise Director. The Hawaii experience was brought to life by the Hawaiian belly dancers and ukulele lessons, and not to forget the daily afternoon tea hour (on sea days) where creative Petit Fours were served. By the way, the food, and service on the ship (thanks to Mr. Johnny, the Restaurant Manager), were excellent. Also worth mentioning is Miss Joice Lopez. As the Executive Assistant to the Hotel General Manager, she was instrumental in making sure that every aspect of our onboard experience was exceptional.
Hawaii’s climate is consistently warm throughout the year. Typically December to February are the cooler months, but since the flowers are always in bloom in Hawaii, the end of November seemed perfect to us. Our itinerary for our port visit was to visit five islands in six days: Kauai, Honolulu, Oahu overnight, Maui, Kona, and Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Our initial port was Nawiliwili, Kauai, Hawaii! Though rain was predicted, we were excited to be there! Kauai ranks among the wettest places in the world, and the rainy season happens to be when most tourists come to the island. Our excursion began by exploring the North Shore of this beautiful ‘Garden Island’, including its famous Opaeka’a Falls and Poliahu Heiau, one of Kauai’s most sacred and historic locations. Following that, we took a leisurely boat ride up the Wailua River, the only navigable river in Hawaii, and strolled up to the Fern Grotto. The famously romantic Fern Grotto offers a natural amphitheater of lava rock and tropical vegetation. At Anini Beach, our guide served us a picnic lunch under a palm tree and serenaded us with his ukulele while it was raining.
Honolulu, Oahu, was our second port where we spent two full days. The Oahu’s Scenic Shores excursion started with a journey past world-famous Diamond Head, Hawaii’s most recognized landmark, and Halona Point, a famous blowhole, where a geyser of seawater erupts from a submerged lava tube. But due to rain, the views from there were unfortunately less than perfect. Most of us think of Hawaii as an endless summer paradise with great weather and rainbows, but the islands have a distinct rainy season that usually occurs from November to March. After a nice lunch, a nap and a change of clothes, we went off on our own for a walking tour of historic downtown Honolulu. We were especially impressed with the Iolani Palace, but saddened by the story of the last reigning monarch of the Kingdom of Hawaii, King Kalākaua, who ruled from 1874 until his death in 1891. King Kalākaua emerged as a leader determined to revive native Hawaiian culture and arts. But ongoing political turmoil led to the overthrowing of his sister Queen Liliuokalani, who nominally continued the monarchy until her forced abdication. The Hawaiian kings and queens have become enduring symbols of leadership and identity for native Hawaiians.
On our second day in Honolulu, we had to skip our anticipated visit to Pearl Harbor for an entirely different adventure than we’d originally planned. Instead, we spent the morning visiting a local pharmacy and an urgent care facility to have my husband’s medication re-prescribed, as his original prescription was from out of state. So after a morning of walking all over downtown Honolulu, we took the local bus that stopped close to the cruise terminal to Waikiki. We located the legendary pink Royal Hawaiian Waikiki Beach Resort where Marcus stayed with his late wife about 40 years ago, when Waikiki was still a charming, small beach town. The historic hotel is now surrounded by high-rise hotels. Upon opening in 1927, The Royal Hawaiian was only the second luxury property along Waikiki Beach, with the Moana Surfrider, which is now a Westin resort, being the first to open in 1901. Nonetheless, it is a charming place.
Maui, our third port, took us on ‘The Road to Hana’, a small bus excursion with only six other people joining. The Road to Hana is a 64.4-mile stretch that connects Kahului to the town of Hana in east Maui. There are approximately 620 curves along Route 360 from just east of Kahului to Hana, almost all of which go through lush, tropical rainforest. Our absolute favorite stop was Wai’anapanapa State Park, a coastal masterpiece, featuring a unique black sand beach, sea caves, and lush landscapes. “Surfer Sue” as she called herself, was our incredibly knowledgeable, ever entertaining guide during this 8-hour tour. If you are lucky enough to get “Surfer Sue” as your guide, then you’re lucky enough! She even served us a delicious island-style picnic in Wai’anapanapa State Park, white table cloth and all.
Our fourth Hawaiian port, Kona, must have been our favorite, probably because we finally had great weather, and the first time ever going on a submarine down to 107 feet! An unforgettable 45-minute ride on an Atlantis 48-passenger submarine, which was featured in National Geographic television specials, took us to explore a 25-acre natural coral reef and its marine inhabitants. Besides, once a month, the street by the pier is closed for the “Kokua Kailua Village Stroll“, and we were lucky to be there for the vibe, the Hawaiian dance performances, great music and Kona coffee in a little cafe overlooking it all.
Our final Hawaiian port was Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii, where we got to experience Waiānuenue or “rainbow water”. Wailuku River State Park is home to the 80-foot Waiānuenue (Rainbow Falls) and Pe’epe’e Falls. Rainbow Falls was so named because on sunny mornings around 10 am, rainbows can be seen in the mist thrown up by the waterfall. On the way back to the ship, we stopped for an awesome coffee, cookies and chocolate sampling. Big Island Candies was established in 1977 to manufacture and market fine quality macadamia nut candies and cookies using 100 percent Hawaii-grown macadamia nuts, Kona coffee, island eggs, real butter and high-grade chocolate. After all that sampling, we could have easily skipped dinner!
And before I forget, we would like to wish the young, handsome cadet Roman from the Netherlands, currently in training on Holland America Line’s ms Volendam, the best of luck for his future and safe sailing around the world! We want to give a final shoutout to our cabin stewards Andrie and Eka who took care of us during the first leg of our cruise. Thank you for your care and kindness.
Until next month from The Mexican Riviera.
— Yours in travel, Ingrid
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