We flew into San Diego 2 days early to enjoy some warmer weather, being from NE Ohio. It was chilly and rained some. We walked around downtown area and the gaslamp district. Walked over to the port and saw Celebrity Mercury, and HAL Oosterdam. We stayed at the Holiday Inn downtown location next to the I5 freeway. I had gotten this on Priceline for the 2 night stay for $155. total. The location was fine, and the king room was nice. They had a free shuttle from the airport and again to the port. We left for the port about noon.
Once we arrived at the San Diego port, it was very easy. Gave our luggage to a porter, then went to check in. There was a small line. It moved very efficiently. We were on the ship by 12:30, but couldn't go to our cabins until 1:00. We had booked an inside guarantee, and been upgraded to an oceanview, category E. Our cabin was located on deck 4, starboard side, right in the middle. The room had plenty of storage, 2 sets of drawers in the dresser area, and the closet was very adequate (4 doors). The safe is located in the closet, and you must use a card swipe. We brought an old gas card. We went for lunch in the Lido. After lunch, we went back to the room, and our luggage had arrived, so we unpacked, and went to the sailaway party in the Crows Nest.
WEATHER: The first 2 days were chilly outside, but clear. The seas were relatively smooth. By day 3, it was nice and warm and we spent time soaking up the sunshine. Once we arrived in Hawaii, the weather was in the 70's and beautiful. I was concerned about the weather this time of year with it being the rainy season for both Hawaii, and Tahiti, but we had very good weather. On our last sea day before the French Polynesian Islands, it was cloudy, some rain and no sunshine. Our first day in Raiatea, it started out raining for about an hour, then cleared up. We had a little rain in the upper mountain area in Tahiti. Upon our arrival in Nuku Hiva, it again greeted us with rain for about an hour, then cleared up. Our first 4 sea days on the return trip to San Diego were sunshine in the mornings, cloudy in the afternoons. By sea day 5 and 6, it was again chilly and somewhat cloudy, so no more sunshine.
PORTS OF CALL: In Hawaii, this was our 2nd visit there, so we didn't do too much. In Hilo, we rented a car, and drove to Akaka falls, then to Walmart to pick up incidentals for the cruise. Kona, we used the free trolley to go down to the Kahuluu beach area and see all the turtles. In Lahaina, we did a 2 hr whale watch through Pacific whale foundation: http://www.pacificwhale.org/mauiecocruises/ We didn't book this until we arrived, as we were concerned about the weather. We saw lots of whales. Very interesting tour. Price was very reasonable, we paid $68. for the 2 of us. On Oahu, we just took the bus down to Waikiki beach and spent time at the beach and did some shopping. I would recommend renting a car, and driving to the North Shore, very beautiful there. In Kauai, we rented a car, and drove to Waimea Canyon, and over to the Fern Grotto, took the boat ride, then stopped to see some of the waterfalls.
Our favorite island was Bora Bora. On our first day, we did the tour with Patrick, http://www.maohinui.net/index.php The 5 hour snorkeling and motu picnic. His outrigger canoes are all decorated and he plays his ukelele and sings along the way. The food was very good. We ended up having 24 people go all together. One of our CC had gotten in touch with him, and made the reservations, and we had 320 from our rollcall signed up before we left, and added 4 more from the ship. Some of us in his boat had been talking about going to Bloody Mary's when we got back, so he just dropped us off at their dock, rather than back in town, so we didn't have to pay for the taxi ride. On our 2nd day, we used Patrick again for his 4X4 tour. He is very knowledgeable about his island, and very personable. We went to 3 different lookout areas to overlook the lagoons, and they were beautiful.
On Raiatea, we did the tour with Bruno. http://www.tahaa.net/?p=-1 Bruno required a $20. pp deposit ahead of time, and he can take 12 persons. He had actually booked 14 persons from our ship but everyone fit in the boat without a problem. . He has broken english. His tour goes around Tahaa, with a drift snorkeling (if you are not experienced snorkelers and GOOD swimmers, I would skip this part, or you will get all cut up from the coral, happened to lots of the passengers on our cruise), then tour a vanilla farm, pearl farm and have a motu picnic lunch. The day was very nice.
On Moorea, we rented a car and drove the island. We stopped at the Intercontinental Hotel for a while, and they have very good shopping at their little table inside their reception area if you would like some trinkets of black pearls. They had some that were only $6.00, the best price I saw on the island, and I didn't get any and was mad I didn't. Then we went over to the Soffitel hotel and had a couple drinks there. Walked the beach. Also took a tour of their over water bungalows
On the island of Tahiti, we booked a 4X4 tour with Patrick Coridier: http://www.papeete.com/patrick/index.html We did the full day, and it was way too long. Patrick is very knowledgeable, but was a little too much like a professor and his information sessions seemed more like a lecture, with questions at the end. The island of Tahiti wasn't what I had imagined it would be, very commercialized, heavy traffic, dirty city, lots of people. We didn't see many pretty beaches. If I would go back, I would rent a car, and just drive on our own here.
Nuku Hiva: The ship doesn't offer any type of tours. We usually don't book with the ship. I had gotten info from 2 different tours: email@example.com the tour we had done. It was a 7 hr. tour in AC SUV's. There were 30 people total, and we had 8 vehicles, locals driving, and only 3 of them spoke English. We would get out at various places for overlooks and pictures, and the English guides would tell us about the island. We stopped at 2 archeological sites, a beach area, and had lunch on the other side of the island, very good. It was a very good day to see the island and how laid back they are. The other tour guide is Jocelyn: firstname.lastname@example.org We didn't use her, but she has several tours available, some only a 1/2 day. If you don't book anything before you get there, take the first tender over, and there will be a couple tours available, and a couple cars to rent. Not much, so you must be first ones there to get something.
SHOPPING: The best shopping in Hawaii is the International Marketplace. I purchased a hawaiian dress, a beach coverup, and a 24" surfboard with a hawaiian painting on. Everything is very reasonable here. For the French Polynesian islands, everything is very expensive. There are little shops in Viatape, Bora Bora that are very reasonable, lots of little places at the boat dock in Moorea (they will bargain there), but things are very expensive. Not sure what you would be looking for.
THE CRUISE: As for the cruise itself, we took too many clothes. Too many for chilly weather. On Formal nights, there were lots of tuxedos, and many gowns. We had 6 formal nights. They have the self service laundromat. The cost is $2. wash, $1. dry. The dryers took forever. There were many older passengers, (avg. age was 75). DH is 52, and I am 49, but there were others in our age range. The ship offered "Happy Hour" each day from 4:30 to 5:30, 2 for 1 house brand drinks. We also spent most of our afternoons here meeting many new friends.
The ship will have entertainers from the local islands come on and do shows. They were VERY GOOD. Be sure NOT TO MISS them. The "children of Raiatea" was so good watching the little children dance. The show in Tahiti was also excellent. The entertainment on the ship was also very good. The exception was the singer from the HAL band, Jenny. She wasn't very good. There was music for a couple sailaway parties from Hawaii (Kauai, our last stop, and Moorea, our last island)
The ship offered lectures by a stargazer and a couple others about the islands but we didn't have time to go to them. We enjoyed many sea days lounging by the pool. On port days, we spent most of the time on shore.
The ship photographers were not very good. We have so many photos from previous cruises, we didn't get that many taken. The price was very high, $14.95 per sheet. I took over 1,000 photos myself and will choose from those.
The food was quite good. We had open seating for dinner. Most nights, we went between 6:30 and 7:00, and never had a wait. We did sit with other passengers. Several times, we would meet our new friends at the dining room, and go into together and be seated at the same table. The one place HAL is lacking is their desserts. They look very good, but are missing the great taste. For breakfast, we ate in the lido. Lunch was either in the lido or the terrace grill. They had very tasty burgers, and great nacho chips. We did go to the Pinnacle grille for lunch (I won this from the Blue Ball dance from HAL) The food was just ok, as our steaks were dry (DH ordered med. rare, and mine med) We didn't complain, as we weren't paying anyway. HAL did have a chocolate extravaganza towards the end of the cruise. It was really nice to look at, but we only got a couple choco. covered strawberries. That was enough. There was a large variety to choose from, and we never tired of the food, as we tried not to overindulge since we had so many days to try many different types of food.
We did do a couple behind the scenes tours. There was a kitchen galley tour, not very long though. Behind the scenes of the stage for the production show where we saw the dressing rooms in the back of the stage area. We also took a tour of the storage area on deck 3. We saw the freezers, coolers and storage for the dry foods. They have a coffin room, that will hold 4 bodies, but we didn't get to see it.
There was a medical emergency the evening we left Moorea. Someone had heart problems, so about 10:00PM, the ship headed back to Tahiti to drop off the person, and we were on our way again just after midnight. Not sure who they were or what the outcome was. There were a few passengers that got off in Tahiti for medical reasons. We had hears several had pneumonia, and with the long trip at sea back, the Ship Doctor felt their health was not well enough for all the sea days.
We did not get the college bowl games, so DH was not happy about missing Ohio State play on our fist sea day. We did however, get to watch the Superbowl. It was live, but we were not able to see the commercials, and that is what I like to watch. They had a superbowl party for the afternoon, with wings, hamburgers, hotdogs, and sides. It was very nice, and they used a big screen in the Vermeer Lounge for this.
Overall, this has been our best cruise to date. We met many new friends, and had a very relaxing cruise. We would like to see HAL reverse the itinerary, and go to the French Polynesian Islands first, then to Hawaii. We would definitely consider this cruise again. I don't think I can go on just a 7 night cruise anymore. Yes, I am now very spoiled by this cruise!