Like so many others I learned so many wonderful tips from this site to help plan and prepare for our trip I felt compelled to give back by sharing about our experience. It has been one week since we returned from our Hawaii vacation which included 3 nights in Oahu pre-cruise (Sept 26 - Oct 6 2012). I sent lengthy emails home to family everyday which they seemed to enjoy and helped me document our trip.
My husband and I are in our mid 40s and this trip was to celebrate 25 years of marriage. (We married very young). Our travel experience includes two previous cruises (Eastern Caribbean and Disney), three all-inclusive vacations to Mexico (Riviera Maya and Los Cabos). My husband has taken a few hunting/fishing trips to Colorado and Canada and I have taken a few girls trips to Cancun, NYC and Paris. Get the picture? Some experience, but not annual big trip travelers. We are generally budget conscious and practical and while cost was still a factor with this trip we definitely loosened our belt a little to plan a memorable trip. This may be the only time we ever make it to Hawaii because there are so many other places we have yet to see and we don't want to be repeat offenders. Oh and we are from central Missouri.
We had booked through a tour company (Globus Tours). Our package included three nights at Sheraton Princess Kaiulani (PK) in Waikiki. It was across the street from the beach front properties so we had an obstructed view of the ocean from our lanai. The hotel courtyard was just below our room and in the evenings we could sit on the lanai and enjoy the live Hawaiian music playing below sometime accompanied by a hula dancer. The hotel was not overly fancy, but since we are not fancy people, we had no complaints and it suited us well. Our package included three breakfasts and one dinner at the hotel buffet. Food was fine. I didn't write home about it, but we certainly did not starve. They really cater to Japanese guests and my husband tried some new foods geared toward these guests.
On our first full day in Hawaii we met with our Hawaiian tour host and the rest of the group who booked through Globus. There were probably about 25 or 30 people in the group and we were definitely the youngest. Hmm....
Our package included a scheduled trip to Pearl Harbor and a city tour. Our tour guide was raised in Ha-waii and provided a lot of information on the drive pointing out different buildings and even trees, but today confirmed what DH and I suspected, that we are not really tour people and would rather do things on our own. We did not get to see the Battleship Missouri or the Bowfin submarine at Pearl Harbor be-cause there was not time. I would have liked to have had the time to do a few other things there and could have skipped the city part of the tour. But our guide did keep it interesting and I learned more about Hawaii than I would have without her sharing her experiences.
Pearl Harbor is such an important part of our history. I really learned a lot and it was definitely an emo-tional and humbling experience. I cannot imagine a trip to Hawaii without a visit to Pearl Harbor. It was on my list of things to do.
That evening we had a show scheduled with our tour group. It was not what I would expect to see in Hawaii, but was entertaining. It was the Society of Seven - impersonations of some of the most popular music artists/acts. The music was good, the impressions were good and it was funny.
Friday was a free day and we had decided to rent mopeds and ride to Diamond Head Crater and then Hanauma Bay for snorkeling.
We rented mopeds from Hawaiian Style Rental and Tours. Super, super nice guys there. I ended up not really liking the mopeds on the drive to Hanauma Bay (I was too nervous about the traffic and could not enjoy). After snorkeling we called and had them come pick us and the mopeds up and bring us back. Again, they were so nice about this. I will be giving them a 5 star review on Trip Advisor.
Diamond Head Crater - The hike is definitely challenging. Of course it's uphill on a rocky and uneven path. There are 99 steps at the top. I knew within the first 10 minutes on the trail I would have blisters on the backs of my ankles and I was not wrong. (Wear good walking shoes.) But the view from the top was definitely worth it!! And don't think you can't do this. On the way down we saw a 90 year old women who was also making her way down with her family. She was moving very carefully, but remarkably well given her age and the conditions. Hubby stopped to tell her how impressed he was as the rest of were whining about the difficulty of the hike. She was super sweet.
Hanuama Bay - It was beautiful! We brought our own snorkel gear, but rented fins. The water seemed chilly when we first walked in, but was not a problem snorkeling. We saw several colorful fish, big and small. But we really had to work at it. The waves beat us pretty hard. It was interesting seeing the fish knocked around with the waves as well. We spent a couple hours there. Note: the have small lockers for rent for valuables. We rented one for keys, wallet and phone which I had all in one small separate bag. We left our backpack with non-valuables on the beach while we snorkeled and no one disturbed it.
Saturday we had the whole morning on our own before our transfer to the ship at noon. After a light breakfast we decided to go for a walk. I had read about Leonard's Bakery online, our tour guide pointed it out Thursday on the way to Pearl Harbor and the Hawaiian Style Rentals guy pointed it out on ride back Friday. It has been featured on the Food Network and is famous for its malasadas - a fried donut type pastry with cream fillings. We decided it was worth checking out. It was about 1.5 miles one way. By the time we got there I had worn a blister on the side of my foot from my flip flops. More blisters! It took us right at 90 minutes to walk to Leanord's and back to the hotel. My daughter-in-law told me should could not believe we walked a mile and one-half for donuts, but it was on my list of things to do! LOL
We walked the beach in Waikiki to kill some time before the bus left. On the bus several people inquired about our moped adventure. I felt like we were the young rebels. One guy even told me I looked like a biker chick. LOL
We got to the pier about 12:20 pm and getting through check in to the boat was a breeze. By 1 pm we were on the boat and ready for lunch. We were invited to eat lunch with one of the other couples in our tour group. Very nice retired couple from Michigan. It was a nice lunch and a good way to start our cruise.
By the time we were finished with lunch our room was ready. Our room was nice size for a cruise ship cabin. King bed (hubby said it was two twins pushed together, but I never felt the crack) a small couch which could pull out to a twin bed, a desk area, plenty of storage. The bathroom was tiny, but managea-ble. I could sit on the toilet and lean my head on the sink. The shower was a small corner unit and diffi-cult to shave my legs in. And we had a nice balcony with 2 chairs and a table. Loved that spot!
While I was unpacking DH was checking out the activity schedule and decided we should do the Pub Hop. For $25 per person you got 5 drinks at 5 different bars. Pretty good deal considering the price of drinks on the ship. Although I told DH I couldn't drink 5 drinks. We had no idea what we were getting our-selves into. I hate to give away too much information about the Pub Hop as I think if you decide to try it out there should be some mystery. Suffice to say participants should have a sense of humor and adventure and not be easily offended. If that fits you, you will have a good time. My member name on this site was my nickname on our Pub Hop...
The entertainment the first night was comedian, Bud Anderson. Glad we made the show. He was funny without bring crude. Most of the remaining nights were music shows. So if you are not big on musical things (like my DH), then make sure to catch this show and the last one.
Day 1 - Maui
We were driving the road to Hana today and wanted to get an early start. We had rented a car (Jeep Wrangler) through Thrifty I thought we made good time off the boat (by 8:10), but not sure if we missed the first shuttle. Ours was the last company to arrive.
It was about 9 am by the time we picked up the rental car and headed out towards Hana. I had purchase a Maui guide app and a tour for the Road to Hana. It worked pretty nice. The guide gave us recommendations on where to stop and not to stop and we pretty much followed her recommendations. It also gave us some history on the area as we drove through.
We saw amazing scenery - lush vegetation, waterfalls, beautiful beaches and shorelines. We ate lunch at Wai'anapanapa State Wayside park with a black sand beach. It was beautiful! Note: We packed a small tote size cooler with food from the morning Aloha Buffet and water. Worked great!
I had read a lot about the trip to Hana and it seems most people drive to Hana or a few miles past it to Ohe'o Gulch (seven sacred pools) and then turn around and go back the same way. But there is an option to continue on and make a full loop around the island. Lots of people discouraged the full loop as the roads are bad (some not paved and some even worse than that) and treacherous - one lane and limited site distance. We talked to one of the park rangers at Ohe'o Gulch and he said the roads were passable with the Jeep and it would be less time than turning back.
So glad we decided to continue on through. Those that turn around miss a totally different experience. The scenery was completely different, but almost equally amazing. While the landscape on the way up to Hana was dense with colorful plant life and lots of water features, on the way down it was dry, open and barren. But the mountain views and the coastal views were amazing.
An added perk to taking the full loop was the opportunity to stop at Maui's only winery for tasting of pineapple wine!
We headed down the forbidden road about 3:15 and arrived back at the pier right at 6 pm. It was a long day, but definitely an unforgettable experience.
Note: Most of those older couples from our tour thought we were crazy to drive Hana Highway on our own. It really depends on your comfort level. My husband is a very confident and experienced driver. He has some motion sickness issues and does way better if he is driving. We felt like we saw more this way than if we would have been on a crowded bus. Also, we saw tour buses on the back road if that tells you something. We would definitely not recommend a small, low-riding car for this back road, but if you have a Jeep or similar vehicle do not be afraid to make the full loop. It was far safer than the road we travelled the next day....
By the time we ate dinner we missed the early show and DH passed out waiting for the late show so we skipped it. Must have been all that driving!
Day 2 - Maui Part 2
This was our only unplanned day and thought it would be more relaxing, but we were still off the boat by 8 am. Maui is divided into two sections. The harbor where POA stops is right in between the two. Yesterday with the drive to Hana and on around the back road we pretty much circled the coast of the larger eastern section of the island. So today we thought we would check out the west side.
We took our snorkeling gear along and headed towards the historic town of Lahaina. Just past Lahaina we stopped at Kahekili beach. It was between several large hotels, but very nicely maintained with good facilities. We talked to a few people on the beach and they said it was a great place to snorkel. You can walk right in and the reef runs quite a distance along the shoreline.
It was probably only 9:30 am and there were only a few people on the beach. We unloaded our gear and decided to try it out. So glad we stopped. It was wonderful. The water was calm, and very clear. The coral was beautiful. We saw lots of fish and my favorite part - a sea turtle! I actually swam above the sea turtle. It was awesome! We spent about 2 hours there.
We drove back to Lahaina for lunch. We found a nice little local restaurant/bar near the downtown area.
It was about 1:30 and we still had some time before we returned the rental car. We talked about just driv-ing the coast line all the way around the west side (circling it like we had the east side the day before). DH had looked at the map and thought the north coast looked about as curvy as the road to Hana. I had not read anything about driving around the west side of the island (aka no warnings against it). We were concerned about the amount of time if would take, but DH turned that direction. When I tried to map the route back to the port any app I tried kept directing us back the way we had come through Lahaina even though continuing on to circle the coast was definitely shorter distance wise. We got to a point where DH felt we were committed and finally my Maps app gave me the option of a second route. It was 19 miles and estimated time was 1 1/2 hours. That equates to about 13 mph!
This drive was much scarier than yesterday on the road to or the road past Hana. At least 15 of those 19 miles we only had one lane and I swear sometimes that lane was barely wide enough for a single vehicle. There was not much in the way of shoulders. We were driving along the sides of the mountains and there was no guard rail either and lots of hair pin curves. Several times we had to honk before taking a curve to warn any potential oncoming vehicles. Yes, the scenery was beautiful if you dared to look. DH while driving enjoyed the scenery much more than I did. As he was looking down below the road I was looking ahead afraid to take my eyes off the road! At one point around a particularly steep drop off I thought I might hyper ventilate. DH says I was laughing. If so it was hysteria! Thankfully we did not encounter many vehicles and we had enough gas. (That was a bit of a concern.)
When we returned the Jeep to Thrifty we had put on about 200 miles and used a full tank of gas. A cou-ple of other people from our ship commented on how dirty our vehicle was. What can I say . We went seek adventure and we found it! LOL
Tonight's show featured show tunes. Not really our style and we cut out early.
Day 3 - Hilo
Our plan was to drive south through the volcano area to Volcano National Park. We learned that morning we would not see the red flowing lava. The only way to see that now is by helicopter and we did not schedule a helicopter tour on this island.
The earthquake in Japan over a year ago disrupted the volcanic activity in Hawaii and since the earth-quake the volcano has been erupting on the inside - no lava flowing from the top into the ocean. A little disappointed as I had read about viewing the glowing red lava flow into the ocean on the evening sail away.
We were off the boat about 8 am again to catch the shuttle to the Thrifty car rental. First stop was Volca-no National Park. We made good time and arrived before 10 am. We stopped at the visitors center to find out where to go and what to see. We talked to one of the very nice park rangers. She suggested a route to get ahead of the tour buses because there was a cruise ship in town today and would lots of people. LOL
We started with the Thurston Lava tube. It's a 200 foot cave carved by the hot lava flow over 500 years ago. It's tall enough and wide enough that there are no issues walking thought it. It's amazing when you think about how it was formed.
On the way to the tube the path was through very lush green tropical rainforest plants. Again just so con-tradictory to have such beautiful green forest so close to a dry barren volcano. That seems to be what we are learning about the Hawaiian landscape it is so varied in such a small perimeter.
Next we checked out the steam vents. Another phenomenon. Steam from the volcanic activity below ac-tually escapes through cracks in the ground. It feels like a sauna.
The only view of the volcanic activity from the top was at the Jagger museum. All we could see was the steam rolling out the top of the crater. But still pretty cool especially when you think about the fact that you are looking at an active volcano.
We had originally planned to drive past Volcano National Park to a popular black sand beach, but since we had seen a black sand beach in Maui that was no longer a must see. We decided instead to drive back towards Hilo and head north of the port to see some waterfalls.
We arrived at Akaka Falls state park about 12:40 and ate the sandwiches we had packed for lunch at a picnic table with a pretty view of the waterfall in the distance. Then we hiked the short trail to view the falls closer up.
It was another pretty hike through tropical foliage. We took close up pictures of some of the more colorful flowers. We saw two waterfalls. Kahuna Falls, 400 ft, but pretty overgrown and we did not have a great view. Akaka Falls is 442 ft and was an excellent view. We could see the top to the bottom and got nice pictures.
We were doing really well on time so looking at the map decided to stop by the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Orchard and Farm before dropping off the car and heading back to the ship. This was back though Hilo and few miles, but in the same direction as the volcano so backtracking.
We made it back to the boat about 3:15. DH seemed more tired from the driving today. We talked about it and he actually did less driving and definitely not as difficult of driving as what he had done the past two days, but today was different. In Maui, the driving was generally on the coast and very scenic. So the drive was half the adventure and attraction. Today was mostly inland driving and not much to look at along the way. So it seemed like a lot of driving for a little bit of sightseeing.
To relax DH bought a bucket of beer and we sat out on our balcony. After dinner we played a little ping pong. I am very uncoordinated so we had no rules and it was pretty much just hitting the ball around. Then we tried a little shuffle board and since we don't know how to play we made up our own rules. The show tonight was Oh What a Night a tribute to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. It was pretty good.
Day 4 - Kona
The water at the pier in Kona is too shallow and the cruise ships cannot dock at the pier. They anchor off shore and take passengers on smaller boats (tenders) to the pier. We booked a snorkel excursion for this morning with Captain Zodiac. Our excursion meeting time was 8 am at the pier. We did not book through the cruise line so were on our own to make it off the boat and to the pier on time.
The first tender was scheduled to depart at 7 am. I was kind of nervous about making sure we got on the first one. I knew that if you booked tours through the ship you got priority and they made sure you got off in time for the tour. I asked one of the staff how to make sure we got on the first tender and was told they would start passing out tender tickets at 7 am and suggested we be there by 6:45..
We headed to Pink's Champagne Bar at 6:30 to stake out a spot in line for tickets. There was one other couple waiting. They had also booked their own snorkel tour and had the same anxiety about making it on time.
We got ticket numbers 3 and 4. The tenders hold 90 passengers. When we got down to the gangway to board the tender they told us to fill the back first with 4 people in each bench. We were squeezed in like sardines and there only ended up being 18 of us on the first tender. Lol
We were at the pier by 7:15 and our check in time was not until 8 am. All that worry for nothing.
We rode zodiac rafts and there were 16 passengers per raft plus our captain, Andy, and first mate Katie. We didn't wear life jackets, but they had them on board. We sat on the sides of the raft and there was a rope that ran the length of the ship that was our foot belt. You were suppose to keep the upper part of at least one foot under the rope. It was quite a bumpy ride, but not near as scary as I thought it might be.
The excursion lasted about 3 hours with one hour of snorkeling and an hour ride each way. We stopped several times for Captain Andy to show us different points of interest and share information with us so it was probably only 30 minutes riding each way.
We were not far from the pier when someone spotted dolphins and we stopped to watch. There was a whole group (school, pod, not sure what you call a group of dolphins) of spinner dolphins. Captain Andy estimated about 50. Right before we left one of the dolphins started jumping out of the water and spin-ning. It was very cool.
We saw more dolphins on the trip back. We were near another raft and the two rafts drove next to each other and the dolphins surfed in the wake made by the boats.
The snorkeling was very good. It is supposed to be the number 7 snorkeling spot in the world. We saw lots of fish including a trumpet fish. We probably stayed in the water about 40 minutes. They had snacks and drinks for us on the raft to enjoy before our trip back.
On the way back we stayed close to the shoreline which was tall rocks formed from lava flow, stopping along the way for Captain Andy to explain compression caves where the force of waves sends a spray back out into the ocean and blow holes where the waves crash through an opening in the rock. Awesome nature!
When we returned to the pier we stopped in a little restaurant/bar to have drinks while we had a great view of the ocean. Then we wandered through the shops for awhile and had shaved ice before heading back to the ship.
After dinner we watched the perfect couple game where three selected couples had to compete for the award. It was funny! Then we caught the late show which was You Are Never Too Old to Rock N Roll. It was good, but I probably enjoyed the Frankie Valli show the night before better.
It was another great day in Hawaii as we sailed on to Kauai.
Day 5 - Kauai
We were up before sunrise this morning, but the sun rose on the opposite side of the ship. However we had a beautiful view of the island in the clouds from our balcony on the sail in.
We were off the boat just before 8 am and within 10 minutes we were on Thrifty shuttle.
Kauai is known as the garden island and has beautiful greenery. The mountains are gorgeous covered in green foliage. So much different from the mountains we are used to seeing. The wettest spot on earth is in the middle of the island with an average 451" rainfall per year.
We are zip lining today and had about an hour drive north from the harbor to Princeville Ranch. It is a working cattle ranch. They offer horseback riding, and hikes as well as zip lining.
We had 9 different zips ranging from about 300 ft to 1200 feet including one suspension bridge. There were 13 people in our group with two guides - one to hook you up and send you on your way and one to catch you on the other side.
The first zip was so short and just enough to give you a taste of the experience so you could decide whether you were up to moving on. The longer zips gave you more time to actually look around.
The zip lining was thrilling. We zipped over valleys and the views were just gorgeous. All the while we had the beautiful mountains in the background. I highly recommend!
After zipping we were starving. We'd brought lunch meat and fruit from the boat. We drove a little further north to the little town of Hanalei and bought some Maui style chips at a grocery store. (They are kettle cooked and really good.) We drove to the Hanalei Bay and ate our lunch at the beach/park. Again gor-geous views to enjoy while we ate.
We got back to the boat about 3:45 just in time to shower and change and head back out for our luau.
The ship offered a luau excursion on the same night, but we booked a different luau - Smith Family Luau. They have a beautiful property which you can explore before the festivities start. When they take the pig out of the ground they make a ceremony out of it with 2 little shirtless Hawaiian boys blowing conch shells to get things started.
The food was very good and the Mai tais were yummy as well. After dinner they have a show. It was real-ly good with hula girls, drums, fire and a volcano eruption. I was amazed at how the hula girls can shake their hips.
We were really tired after the luau, but when we got back to the ship we stayed up to watch the show which was a rock a hula show. I was not really impressed.
Day 6 - Kauai Part 2
The daily cruise ship news letter provides the time for sunrise and sunset. I loved to watch the sunrise or set from our balcony. It's like a little private show by Mother Nature. It is amazing to me how quickly it comes up - it's not there, then it's a sliver and within two minutes its out. Glorious!
Today was our helicopter tour with Safari Helicopter. I almost forgot to be nervous and DH almost forgot his bonine. LOL We were scheduled for the 9:30 am tour. It was a beautiful day, sunny and clear with light winds. A perfect day for a helicopter ride.
They take groups of 6 and they assigned us each a number. I was 5 and DH was 6. They took two groups up to the heliport. The other group loaded first and I could tell from the way they boarded that DH and I had front row seats. Me next to the pilot and DH by the door. He was thrilled, me a little hesitant.
Words cannot even describe how beautiful the scenery was. I think I had a goofy grin on my face the entire time. It was so awesome!! My camera started signally low battery within the first 10 minutes of the flight. I had to keep turning it off to let the battery recharge. But that was okay as it allowed me more time to focus on soaking in the view.
We started out flying over the wetter/greener side of the island then moved over to the dryer side, the Waimea Canyon referred to as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, then along the beautiful Na Pali coast-line. How often do you get to take pictures from above the clouds? Circling back around the island to the wet side we flew over the wettest spot on earth. And we thought seeing a 450 ft waterfall was cool in Hilo; today we saw a 1500 ft waterfall!
It was about a 50 minute trip and the flying was extremely smooth. We ordered the DVD of our flight. One of the couples told us they had a $10 off coupon on their web site. I didn't have one with me, but we asked about it when we got back to the office and they said no problem.
I would definitely recommend a visit to Kauai, but it would be a shame to visit this island and not see it from the air.
We sailed early today (2 pm). I talked to our 16 year old son this afternoon and he asked me if we were doing any relaxing. I told him very little because DH does not like to relax. But there had been so much to do/see that really we have not wanted to waste any time. The cruise option has been an awesome way to experience each of the islands, but has also driven the more frenzied schedule. So glad we did this.
Day 7 - Debarkation and more Oahu
We had the whole day to kill before our 8:45 pm flight. We thought about booking the Grand Circle Island Tour, but it looked like it would cover some of the same ground we had already seen pre-cruise. I had reserved another Thrifty rental car for the day. We had to call for a shuttle this time, but no big deal. We had planned to carry our own bags off so we called before we were ready to leave our cabin and walk off the ship.
Our destination today was the North Shore of Oahu. It is the less developed side of the island - no high rises and we were anxious to see a different side of this island.
We planned our route through the Koalau Mountains. It was a pretty drive and included a mile long tunnel through the mountains.
We stopped briefly at Kualoa Ranch where several movies have been filmed including parts of Jurassic Park. They offer a movie tour as well as several other excursions, but we were a little excursioned out. We looked around and took some pictures of the impressive mountainside and then made our way on to the Northern point stopping at a few beaches along the way. We did not get in the water. We still had to fly home and had no place to shower. Oahu's north shore is famous for its waves and surfing. We stopped at Sunset Beach home of the Banzai Pipeline - a popular, but dangerous surf spot for experts only.
One of the things I wanted to do on the north shore was eat at a shrimp truck. I had read about them and most recommendations were for Giovanni's shrimp truck. DH spotted it. It's a graffiti covered truck parked by a pavilion. There is also a shaved ice truck, funnel cake and a few other vendors. We had the shrimp scampi plate and it was as wonderful as people had described.
We wandered around the historic town of Haleiwa, the surfing Capitol of the world. DH had another shaved ice.
As we headed towards Honolulu we passed the Dole Plantation and decided to turn around and go back. DH wasn't sure he wanted to visit but agreed it was better than trying to find something to do in Honolulu. We rode the train around the pineapple fields, walked through the gardens and tried out the Dole Whip which is like a pineapple sherbet.
Back on the road we decided to head towards Honolulu and find someplace to eat along the way. Using my Trip Advisor app I found a recommended place which had been featured on Diners Drive-ins and Dives that served authentic Hawaiian food. We decided to give Highway Inn a try. I think we were the only non locals in the place. Our server was very kind and recommended the combo plates which offered a variety of local cuisine - lau lau, a piece of pork or chicken wrapped in luau leaves with butterfish and steamed (DH had pork, I had chicken); rice or poi (we both ordered rice, but she brought out a bowl of poi for us to try; pipikaula, salted, dried and grilled beef strips; Lomi salmon or Mac salad; and haupia, a cross between coconut pudding and gelatin. It was served on a lunch tray like they use in school with the separate compartments and the spot to put your drink and your flatware. The food was good and we were stuffed.
I can't say enough about how great this trip was. You know how sometimes when you start an adventure, eating something, a tour, watching a play or concert or even a fireworks show and the beginning starts off so great and you start snapping pictures because you have no idea how much better it is going to get. That pretty much describes our trip. I think the order we did things in was perfect and it just kept getting better and better. What was an awesome view in the beginning was surpassed later on by something even more amazing.