Cruise On Ocean Princess, Honolulu to Sydney. 27 days
We had booked a mini suite for this cruise and were basically pleased with the size of the room and the bathroom. The balcony was double the size of the standard balconies. The bathroom was larger and had a bath as well as upgraded towelling. So, a little bit of luxury. Our room steward, Hector, was obliging friendly and attentive. The Ocean Princess is a small ship with about 650 passengers on this cruise. Overall the ship looks OK for a 1999 build but on closer inspection it is showing it's age. The cabinets in our room were chipped and needed restaining or replacing and the pool had serious chipping on the edges. Some of the deck furniture was cheap and poor quality and there were never enough shaded areas for people to sit in when in the hot sunshine. If you are going to sail in hot climates this must be a priority since we are now educated in skin cancer causes. The pool was small and often crowded on sea days. The food was 4 star and somewhat repetitious at dinner in the main dining room over the 27 days. The best meal was lunch in the Panorama buffet when there was a wide choice and easier to satisfy your taste buds. The Panorama buffet was naturally crowded at breakfast and lunch and often it was difficult to find a table for 4 during busy periods. There were no hand sanitizers outside the main restaurant which I thought was a failing. The evening shows were excellent, especially for a ship of this size. The daytime activities were limited and often biased towards fitness and health and beauty. Over the 27 days there was a lot of repetition in daytime presentations. Overall if you choose a small ship you will have space and activity limitations. This ship is now 14 years old and cannot compete with it's newer and larger competitors in many aspects. However there were good points and overall we enjoyed the cruise. As a final thought, when our cruise lines going to do away with adding gratuities to your onboard accounts and include it upfront in your overall price. I believe in tipping for personal services eg. room steward and waiters, and not subsidising the cruise lines' bottom line which is what we are basically doing, by paying gratuities which are shared by all staff.
Ports of Call.
We ( the 4 of us ) decided at the outset to do our own thing at each port of call and this worked out well, both in terms of personally seeing what we wanted to see and also saving a pile of money. Taxis and tour operators were readily available at the docks and it was easy to find a driver who would give you a tour of the island to see the points of interest. With a little research and a read of the ship's port guide we knew what we wanted to see.
Nawiliwili, Kauai and Lahaina Maui. Taxis on the Hawaian islands charge $60 an hour per taxi for island tours and in both these ports we hired a Taxi Van which took 4 people comfortably. We had a list of places to see on both islands and we discussed the itinerary with the drivers before we set off. We confirmed the price and the likely time of the tour. On both islands we had tours which lasted 3-4 hours and we added a $5-10 tip per person at the end. The drivers were knowledgeable and we saw lots of beaches, waterfalls, vistas etc in comfort. Definitely the way to go compared to the ships tours.
Hilo, The Big Island. Prior to the holiday I had researched private tour operators and had seen good reports on Ricky's Tours. I am happy to confirm that Ricky gave us a great tour. With a running commentary about everything, done with good humour and local insight, Ricky showed us smoking volcanos in the National Volcanoes Park, Lava Tubes, Steam Vents, Volcanic rock, Macadamia Nuts, Orchids, Turtles on black sand beaches, and vistas galore. All this for $65 per head. There is not a better bargain in the Pacific. Good on you Ricky.
Bora Bora. After 5 days at sea we were enchanted to arrive at this attractive island with a lot of natural beauty. This is a small island, about 15 sq miles and with a population of about 7500. There are a few shops and some market stalls and a couple of nice public beaches. We took a $10 ride to a nice public beach past a popular, if expensive bar, called Bloody Marys. The beach was white sand and coral ( wear some protective footwear in the sea ). After an hour or so the bus returned to pick us up and returned us to the dock. There is not much to see on this island so you would not bother with a tour, just enjoy it's scenery.
Moorea. The next day we were in Moorea which is very close to the main island of Tahiti and Papeete. We rented a small car here for $90 including insurance since the island is reasonably large, 51 sq miles, and there is more to see. Again this is a beautiful island but you do notice that there is little prosperity and apart from pineapples, tourism is important. We went up to a local viewpoint called Belvedere and then after some more touring around ended up at the lovely Hilton resort where they were kind enough to allow us to swim at their beach. We bought some drinks at the bar and the pool attendant supplied us with towels to use. A lovely beach and if you have money and want to get away from it all this would be ideal.
Papeete, Tahiti. We were unable to get very excited by Papeete. The central area was not very inviting and it all looked a bit tatty for a town of this size. Up towards the hills on the West of the town there were obviously some better areas but since the major tourist sites were to the east of Papeete we never saw these. There was a tourist office right next to the pier and some taxis and tour operators around. We took a $35 tour from here and to be truthful, it was not that great. We saw a reasonable waterfall and an underwhelming blowhole and a couple of bays and some of the countryside, The guide was poor and it was not worth the money. The US$ was accepted in most places.
Pago Pago, American Samoa. Apia, Western Samoa. Tonga
I have lumped these three destinations together initially, because they all shared the same type of situations. They all have a similar feel to them. The people are friendly, religious, loyal to their culture and basically live in third world environments. The major economic pluses are tourism, bananas and fish. At each port we were able to procure and bargain for taxis and have a 2-3 hour tour to places of interest culled from the daily fact sheets provided by the ship. The golden rules are check out the driver, check the taxi, does it have air conditioning and can 4 people sit comfortably in it. Finally confirm the price and where he is going to take you and how long. Generally $30 an hour was agreed and all accepted the US$. Each port had market stalls set up to welcome us and Polynesian music. Going around the various islands you will be immediately struck by the major influence the churches play in everyday life for these islanders. There are churches everywhere from all religious affiliations. Catholic, Mormon, Protestant, traditional etc. Each little village has more than one church and several meeting places. Boy! were the missionaries ever busy. The islands were all pretty enough spoilt by run down commercial enterprises.
On Pago Pago we went to Two Dollar Beach which was very nice, with a green grassy area, a small cafe and a super and probably best beach on the island. There was not much to see on the island though we drove to the end of the island.
On Apia we went to Robert Louis Stephenson's house and quite a long drive out to see some turtles which we fed. RLS house was definitely worth the visit with scenic gardens and $10 entry fee to tour the house.
On Tonga. We were lucky to pick a taxi with a great driver who also gave us a very nice tour. Important to try and get a taxi inside the port gates. Outside the gates be careful since there are many unlicenced and dubious operators. The Royal palace was right opposite the ship and the town was pretty disappointing. We were taken to see some great blowholes and also some island children who sang for us. A nearby resort and swimming beach was very average. We also saw the Royal Tombs. A pleasant day
Auckland, New Zealand. Our friends who live in Auckland gave us a tour. This is a big city where you can easily spend a day. The ship docks right in the centre of the city and there is a tourist office near the end of the pier. The best deal looks to be a Hop On Hop Off Explorer bus which takes you to the major sites for a daily fee of NZ$40 ( about US$ 32 ). It runs every 30 mins.
Tauranga, New Zealand. Where you disembark the ship there was a very comprehensive tourist office set up. You can do everything from rent a car to book an all day tour. Eight of us went to Rotarua in a rented car. Very enjoyable. There are nice shops near the dock in Mount Manganui.
Sydney. We got off here. There is so many things to do here that you have a fantastic choice. The dock is usually right opposite the Opera House and almost underneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge, next to the Ferry terminals , The Rocks shopping area is nearby. There is a free bus 555 that goes around the central town area which leaves behind the ferry terminal. Enjoy !