My husband wanted to return to sailing the high seas as he had served in the U.S. Navy and missed the ocean. I had been a Navy dependent growing up in the Pacific region and wanted to return to the islands. In those days my girlfriends and I had greeted the P&O cruise ships when they came into port--we spent the afternoons giggling with the young British crew members and having high tea. I had also sailed aboard many military ships as a dependent traveling to and from the U.S. My husband found the HAL 17 day Circle Hawaii Cruise online on the ms Zaandam and we signed up.
HAL itself provided excellent pre-cruise service from calming my jitters re. documentation, booking arrangements, and delivering us to the ship.
As first time cruisers we were tremendously excited about our upcoming journey and for normally quite rational folks, we slowly discovered that our (fairy-tale) expectations of the cruise did not meet reality. My husband did enjoy being at sea once again--but his daily sunrise strolls around the decks were not my cup of tea.
We didn't realize it was the last day of the cruise season when we departed Vancouver, B.C. Why was it the last day of the season--because of the weather. We spent the first three days of our cruise in true high seas with grey skies skirting a storm. Not a good start and unpleasant for us landlubbers. As a result of having to follow a different route at slower speeds, we missed our first port of call in Kona. We called at our second port instead, Honolulu.
The next port of call was Nawiliwili, Kauai, where we rented a scooter from Kauai Mopeds (808.652.7407). We had a thrilling time zooming around the island, getting lost when we literally ran out of land and ended up on a small dock, being pelted by warm rain, and visiting the Kauai coffee plantation. Did we feel like kids again, discomfort and all? Yes!
We missed our next port of call, Lahaina, Maui, apparently because of rough seas. The tenders or small boats that were to ferry us from the ship to Maui could not anchor/connect with the ship properly. The captain wasted no time in continuing on to the next port of call, Hilo, Hawaii. I was ready to lead a mutiny as a couple of people actually boarded the ship from a tender--why couldn't we volunteer to release HAL of any liability, board a tender to Maui and fly to the next port of call to join the ship. Maui was my symbolic return to the islands and all I could do was watch the land disappear from my sight.
In Hilo we walked to an isolated black sand/rock beach where I finally swam in the ocean for a couple of hours. We meet a Hawaiian family and passed a very pleasant afternoon with them just talking and swimming. We were invited back for a family luau in March 2012 and we may return, but not by ship.
The ship headed for our last port, San Diego, California. Because of unfortunate circumstances, an ill crew member, we forged ahead at top speeds through the tail-end of yet another storm. (I don't know whether the crew member recovered--I truly hope so.) At this point I felt like a prisoner and just wanted to get off the dam ship. The only place aboard ship where I felt at peace was lying in the kids' area hammock (negating the always present lateral and vertical movement) at night and watching the stars and satellites go by.
On the downside, I found the captain and officers of the ship quite aloof and unfriendly. They did not return greetings nor interact with the general passenger population. I had the feeling that the passengers were secondary to the ship: I was cargo being transported from point A to point B. I really felt that the captain and crew would have been happier without passengers aboard.
The highlight of being aboard ship was the courtesy and service of the Indonesian and Filipino crew members. I watched a significant number of the passengers treating the dining crew with disdain. The crew in general spoke English phrases but did not have a comprehension of the language. I saw that lead to discourteous passenger behavior. During my second day on the ship the man in front of me in the open serving line berated the dining crew member. All she did was continue smiling at him because she did not understand what he said. I did and I sailed into a cold argument with him until he left.
In short, the pleasing ambiance of the cruise was highly diluted by the attitude of the captain and staff and the passengers themselves (median age was over 70 years of age).
I spoke to many passengers aboard and we were the only first time cruisers I found. Most people averaged four to five cruises with one couple having completed 17 cruises! My husband and I concluded that we were not really cruisers. Both of us were distressed by the disconnect with the environment, including the ship itself. Personally, I wanted knowledge, not entertainment. Because of this experience, my next cruise will more than likely be through my college--where a professor is assigned to passengers to explain and discuss the environment. That type of cruise has value to me.
Overall, I would recommend a HAL cruise. Now that I think I know what to expect--and do--I will probably return to the ms Zaandam for a short cruise as it has a home in my memories.