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Good cruise with awesome itinerary!
We had an amazing time aboard the PoA cruising the Hawaiian islands! Below is our detailed trip plan and experience.
Our background: We are an newly married couple, no kids, vegetarian, and like being active, but not too adventurous. Once we decided on Hawaii for our winter vacation, we did a bit of online research and thought the cruise would be a good idea for first time Hawaii visitors.
Booking: We booked the cruise using Avoya travel. Our agent was very helpful, and gave us discounts on rooms. We got the family balcony cabin for the price of an indoor, and we loved the balcony! She gave us all the information we needed, along with recommendations and tips to enjoy our trip. Would definitely recommend the travel agency! She even suggested we book the flight ourselves since she would not be able to offer any extra discount, which is what we did.
Trip itinerary: We landed in Honolulu, Oahu on Dec 14 (a day before the cruise). It offered a little More
padding in case of flight delays and cancellations. The cruise was supposed to start 7pm on Dec 15, so we spent the morning going around Honolulu and boarded the ship after lunch at around 3pm. [TIP: It is probably best to board your ship between 1pm to 3pm so that you avoid the lunch crowds but give enough time to find the ship.]
Embarkation: The ship is on Pier 2. Getting on the ship was a breeze. Everything seemed pretty self-explanatory to me although since it was DH's first time cruising he seemed a bit on edge to make sure luggage was checked-in and we were in the right line. It helps to do the online check-in prior to boarding the ship. After checking in luggage into security scanner (nobody told us where they go after that until we asked if it would come to our room and they said yes), you stand in line to give your credit card and information and finally we were on our way into the ship. There was already a list of activities we could do on the ship starting at 2pm, so no reason to get board.
Cabin: Our cabin was small, even though it was supposed to be the family balcony. But it had everything we needed and was very comfortable. The balcony was spacious and we enjoyed it every day. There were charging ports for our phones, and a coffee maker and fridge, which we used to keep food for the next day. There was breakfast order forms that we used to order complimentary room service that saved us a ton of time.
Ship: The ship was a standard for any cruise - it had different dining choices, fitness center, entertainment arenas, game room, etc. The entertainment was pretty good. You never had to feel bored, there was always something going on.
Food: The food was decent. The food at the sit-down restuarants were way better than the buffet but the buffet had more choice. The sit-down restuarants had one vegetarian entree every day. So, we would walk by, read the menu and decided if we wanted to eat that item, which we only did for one day. We also took the tip from CC to pack lunch for the next day. We made ourselves veggie sandwiches for the following day and kept it in the fridge. We had taken a collapsible cooler that we took the sandwiches, fruits, baked goods, and yogurt in for snacking on through our day of touring...it saved us a lot of time and money. Most places we visited did not even have food to buy.
Car rentals: We booked cars in all islands using discounthawaiirental.com atleast two months before the trip. The prices were much cheaper than Thrifty and the service was very reliable. They just book you with Avis or Alamo, and at every location we got a very reasonable car (we even got a convertible for the price of an economy since they ran out of cars!). We heard from people there that rental car prices were three times what we paid, if you hadn't booked early! [TIP: If you are using rental cars and planning on parking them overnight near the ship, use your phone's GPS to bookmark where the pier and overnight parking is. It is very hard to find your way back to the ship at night!]
Things to pack:
Ziploc bags of various sizes (very useful for packing baked goods, snacks, sandwiches, etc. for your day on the road). Food is hard to find in most places and you will save a lot of time if you don't have to go hunting for lunch.
Raincoat/windbreaker: If you plan on going up Haleakela mountain, or even Waimea canyon/Iao valley, take a light jacket with you. It rains a lot in these places, and gets windy and chilly too.
Smart phone for use of maps
Tour book (from your local library) is very useful because it outlines the important sights to see and saves you time Less
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Port and Shore Excursions
The main activity to do here is to visit Volcanoes national park.
We had booked our car rental through discounthawaiirental.com, and were asked to go to Alamo. We left the ship at 9am after breakfast, got on the Alamo shuttle and went to the airport counter. There was a huge line here (looked like everyone was renting a car in Hilo), and when it was finally our turn, they told us that they were out of Economy cars but told us to go the Budget counter and get any car we wanted and they would reimburse us the price difference. So, we went to the Budget counter, and they only had a convertible and a mini-van. Ofcourse, we chose the convertible with the promise that we would be reimbursed (by Alamo) the difference in price (we have mailed their reimbursement forms and will update when we receive the money).
We used our phone GPS and Frommer's guidebook to find the route to Volcanoes national park. It was 10:30am by the time we were on the road. The drive to park took us about an hour.
First stop at the park was the visitor center. We spoke to the ranger on possible routes to take and stops to make given our time constraint (we wanted to leave the park by 3pm, to have time to return the car and make it back to the ship). He suggested routes to take. These are the stops we made along the only road in the park
Steam vents: This is the first stop on the loop around the park. It is what it is...
There are several lookouts that take you to the fumes coming off of the Kilaeua crater...all of them are pretty good, including the one at the Jagger museum.
Devastation trail: This was a 1 mile trail through an area that was ruined by lava flow. It was just OK...pretty barren. Some people took another trail that takes you down to the volcanic ash. We spent around 3 hours in the park and went back to return our car and back to the ship.
The ship docks in Kauai for two days. While the island itself is very pretty, I only gave a 4 because there isn't much to do other than drive around. I guess you can go to the beach and do the same things everywhere.
The day the ship docked, we rented a car using discounthawaiirentals.com. We took the rental shuttle from the pier, picked up our car, and were on the road by 10am. We decided to make this a jam-packed day because you only have a half a day the second day in Kauai (the ship leaves at 2pm).
We drove down the south side of the island and to Waimea canyon. There are couple of lookouts along the park. We drove all the way into Kokee state park, which is past Waimea canyon state park. Waimea canyon was nice, but lots of tourist. Going all the way into Kokee was worth it...fewer tourists, and very very very green! We stook on the wettest spot there. Kalalau lookout in Kokee state park is just amazing! Definitely stop there!
We then drove back to Lihue (where the ship is). There is only way to go from Waimea canyon (which is on the south-west of the island) to the north - through Lihue. We wanted to kayak on the Wailua river, since that is also a recommended activity. We drove to Wailua marina past Lihue. There is a Wailua river visitor center where we enquired about kayak rentals. We did not do any organized tours anywhere. We rented a kayak for one hour and kayaked along the river for a bit. Apparently, people usually do this for a half-day activity and kayak all the way to a waterfall, hike, and kayak back - a 5 hour activity. We were not enthusiastic about kayaking for that long, and besides DH is not a swimmer so kayaking with no lifegaurd was not his ideal activity. The river was pretty though.
Around 3pm, we continued past Wailua river to the north side of the island. We stopped at Kilauea lighthouse point on the north of the island. Unfortunately, the park closes at 4pm and we could not get in, but there is a lookout outside the park and you can see the coast and the lighthouse. We continued driving to the western-most point of Kauai, stopping at Hanalei valley lookout, and got to Ke'e beach. The beach was nice, surrounded by mountains. We stayed there until sunset and drove back to Lihue, which took 2 hours.
The next day, we wanted to stay around Lihue so that we are not delayed by traffic. [TIP: There is only one major road that goes around the island, and it is usually only one lane, so plan ahead for traffic]. We first went to Wailua falls inside Wailua river state park. The falls were impressive but took 40 mins to get to (no hiking involved). Then, we went to Opekaa falls. This was not as impressive, and pretty far away. The view past the falls of the Wailua river snaking by was good though. We then went to a hindu monastary past Opekaa falls. This is a must do! The grounds were really serene, they had some walking paths, and you feel very peaceful. They have a fully functioning temple in the monastary.
That was all the time we had in Kauai. We returned the car, and got back to the ship. The ship goes past the NaPali coast which is stunning.
We had a lot of fun at Kona! We did not book a car here because it seemed that there was lots to do at the port itself. We also chose this as our beach day. We left the ship in the morning, took the tender boat to the shore, and walked around. We enquired at the info center (green tent) on where to snorkel. They pointed us to the beach activities counter at the other side of the street. Eventually, we realized you could do beginner-level snorkeling right where you get off from the tender boat. There is a small shack that rents out the gear and lifevests. DH does not know swimming and this was our first time snorkeling, so this was just perfect. The water in that small bag is protected, so no waves. And, the depth is just below 5 feet. We saw many fish and had an awesome time. Snorkel rental was $6 per person.
Before snorkeling, we booked a parasailing excursion near the beach activities desk. Cross the street from the tender boat pier, and walk right. You will see a sign for the beach activities desk. There is a parasailing excursion booth there too, where you can book tours and they give you a time slot. Best to book this first thing when you get off the boat. We went to the booth at 10am and they only had a couple of slots left for the rest of the day. We took the 2:30p one since you have to be back at the pier by 5. Parasailing was also fun, very safe, no experience or swimming required. It costs $80 a person.
This was by far the best island in terms of sightseeing. There is tons to do here and I can see why someone would spend a whole week here. Given that the ship docked here for only 2 days, we had a lot to do!
The ship docked in Kahului, Maui on Dec 16 at 8am. We had booked a rental car using discounthawaiirental.com and were asked to go to Avis car rental. Our plan for this day was Road to Hana. We got off the ship at 8:30am after breakfast and waited in the line that said Rental car shuttles. After some other company shuttles went by and Avis hadn't arrived, we enquired and found that since all the shuttles go to the airport, you can take any one. So we boarded the Budget shuttle and got to the airport car rental counter. We were given a very comfortable car with leather seats, sun roof, and modern controls for the price of an Economy promptly. Soon we were on the road!
Our phones were working all through the way, so we used the GPS on Google maps the entire time. We also had a Lonely Planet Maui guide with us to decide on where to stop.
The entire Road to Hana is a feast! It really doesn't matter where you stop. We pulled over plenty of stop on the road side that were unmarked just because we saw how beautiful the view was. We went around the entire Road to Hana (including past Hana) back to Kahului. Road seemed fine...there was an unpaved section of ~10 miles, but as long as you go slow, it is not a big deal at all. The entire drive took us 10 hours. We started at the airport at 9am and got back to the ship at 7pm. We had bookmarked on our GPS where the overnight parking was, so it was straightforward for us to go back there.
Here are the stops we made on the Road to Hana
Huelo lookout: A cute fruit stand. We only stopped here because we wanted to drink the fresh coconut. It was pretty good. There is also a lookout if you walk down 5 stairs behind the stand...not as impressive as the ones to come, in my opinion.
Kaene lookout: You have to go on a road towards the Kaene town, which is a left from the main Hana road. Couple of miles in, the road ends at the Kaene lookout. This is worth the stop! Huge waves crashing on black lava rocks...a sight to see.
Kaene peninsula lookout: After coming back from the Kaene turn and back on the Hana highway, you can stop at a lookout where you see the Kaene peninsula with the taro fields.
Three bears falls: Big waterfall split in three...there was even a path that went closer to it, past a stream...nice to explore. Infact, plenty of stops along the highway (some unmarked) have small trails that go in, nice to explore away from the crowds.
Makapu falls: Supposed to be gigantic falls that you stand over and watch as it drops down. But wasn't as impressive.
Wainapanapa state park: This is pretty close to Hana and well worth the stop. We breaked here for lunch and ate the sandwiches we packed. The black sand beach is pretty different. There are also some sea arches and a nice blowhole that you can get very close to. Worth the stop!
Oheo Gulch: A series of waterfalls, very picturesque. The trail was short too (< half a mile). This is the other side of Haelakela national park. After going on the trail, we asked at the visitor center whether people go past this road around the island back to Kahului, and the park ranger said many people do it, that it is very safe, nobody has ever had problems, and since it was only 4pm where we were, we had plenty of sunlight to make it out of the unpaved/unlit sections.
Drive past Haleakela crater: The scenery past Oheo Gulch is just stunning! I was so glad we took this back road instead of driving back the windy Hana highway past the same sights. The view is starkly different from the Hana highway, which was entirely green and lush, while this side is volcanic and dry. It's almost like you are on the moon! The unpaved section was not that bad...as long as we went at a slow-ish pace (which we did anyways so that we could admire the scenery), the road did not seem much worse than a bumpy road in new jersey :) The unpaved stretch is only for about an hour, and then, we were onto newly paved single lane highways. If you're contemplating whether or not to go around...do it!
[TIP: Make it to Oheo Gulch by 4:30pm if you want to drive around the island...it will probably not be best to drive on the back roads when it is dark].
We made it back to the ship around 7pm, parked our car in the second lot that the shuttle driver had pointed out in the morning (and we had bookmarked in our phone GPS).
The next day, our goal was to watch the sunrise from Haleakela mountain. This is where it might have been useful to check up on weather up there (or book a tour). We woke up at 4am, started driving at 5am and were up there at 6:30am expecting a sunrise of 6:48am (according to the ship's news). Unfortunately, as we were driving up, it was raining heavily. The rain did not stop until past 7am. It was really cold up on the mountain, especially with the rain (and ice)...it literally felt like we were on another planet! [TIP: If you plan to do this activity, please check with the weather report in the morning!]
After we drove back down and took a short break in the ship, we went to Iao valley state park. This was a nice visit too, with some short trails and completely rainforest terrain. Since we had a couple more hours before the ship left, we drove a loop around the western side of the island starting at Iao valley state park. We only stopped at a lookout (don't remember its name) where you could spot whales in December. We did spot one, albiet it was bit far away and all we saw was a huge splash. We then drove back around to the airport, returned our car and took the shuttle back to the ship.