BACKGROUND: After flying to San Diego the day before our cruise, we stayed at the Holiday Inn Harborside. This is conveniently across the street from the dock. In fact, we watched the Westerdam arrive early that morning from our hotel balcony.
EMBARKATION: We walked our bags across the street at 10:30 and checked them in outside the terminal. Inside the terminal there was just a 5 minute wait to get our paperwork done. Since I had a dental emergency the day before and was able to find a dentist to see me at noon, we could not immediately board the Westerdam. Instead we went downtown to the dentist office, returned around 3:00, and walked directly to our cabin.
SHIP INFO, ACTIVITIES, and ENTERTAINMENT: The Westerdam is a "happy ship", Staff is pleasant and helpful, and the ship is always sparkling. The beds are very comfortable and our veranda cabin on deck 5, is quiet all conducive to a good night's sleep! Hadi and Lianny, our cabin stewards, do a great job. We prefer small tables to those that seat 6 or 8, although we enjoy meeting other cruisers at large tables for breakfast and lunch After calling for tables of 2 or 4 for the first week, we were able to secure a table for two at 5:45 for the rest of the cruise.
Activities abound! There is a watercolor class that seems to meet each morning and afternoon. Needlework time is scheduled each sea day at 1 in the Explorer's Lounge. Bingo is daily at 4. Trivia is daily at 2. Pub trivia is daily at 6 and we noticed a music trivia tonight at 8. Enrichment activities on sea days includes presentations on what to see and do in a future port, followed by an Explorations Speaker on topics like flora and fauna, or tropical storms. I signed up for Book Club; the book "Honolulu" was provided and discussion is on sea days. Special event of Crossing the Equator where some crew are "initiated" by "King Neptune". The Piano Man on board is Herman Harper II. There is also a guitarist Zach Winningham in the Crows Nest as well as the Adagio Strings in the Explorations Lounge. We generally attended the early Showtime and returned to our cabin by 9:00 each night.
PORTS OF CALL: As we approached the dock in Honolulu, we watched Sea Launch come into another dock area. It was huge, about the size of several cruise ships. We learned it is taken from Honolulu to the equator for rocket launches. The Honolulu tram tour to Diamondhead and the Beach area was overcrowded. We ended up standing for nearly 2 hours and had trouble connecting to return to our ship. What we thought would be a relaxing tour of Honolulu and Diamondhead, was totally exhausting. We had bought this tour through the ship and our money was refunded. The second day, we went to the port shops near the dock, had a drink, and used the free Wifi. In Hilo, we found the Tsunami museum interesting, found free Wifi at Bear's CafÃ©, bought some flowers at a wholesale flower market just off the main street, and some woven jewlery at the Farmer's Market. The bus is FREE in Hilo for those over 55 with an ID. But lines were long and we ended up sharing taxi both ways for $10-12 each way (split 4 ways). Dockside, I bought a lei for myself made of white flowers and interspersed with pink rosebuds for $8. In Maui we met up with tour guides, Richard and Shawn. We had taken their tour when we were in Lahaina Jan. of 2010. Richard agreed to take just the two of us in his SUV for an Island Tour. We ended up at Hilo Hatties where we stocked up on some Kona coffee.
After several days at sea, Fanning Island was amazing. As we tendered in, a choir was singing and donations for classrooms were requested on a neatly printed sign nearby; they sang the entire day! We were the second of only 2 or 3 ships to visit this year. Our first stop was to drop off our school and medical donations; they are thankful for everything. At the other end of the small thatched roofed building was the post office where I purchased and mailed 4 postcards and stamps for $8. We then took the Truck Tour. The trucks (there were 2 or 3) were cleverly decorated with palm leaves. The tour was $10 per person and took 10 passengers plus, our guide named Christmas. Christmas was quite good at English and described what we were seeing, churches, seaweed harvesting, banana, and pandamas trees with big pineapple-looking fruit. The road is only a mile or two, but we got a good glimpse of the life on the inhabited part of the atoll island. Shopping was next on our schedule.....a basket for $20, a woodcarving for $15, and various shell necklaces for $1-5 each. The only other "industry" in the island is the production of seaweed. We watched at the packing house as 3 men pressed the dried seaweed into cubes by all getting on a swing thus compressing the seaweed. They then transferred the 27 kilogram cube of seaweed to wrapping table and secured it with clear plastic wrap for shipping to Japan. The Westerdam held position by means of two Azipods all day.
Due to strong winds from the south we were unable to anchor at Rartonga. Captain Maurik cruised the leeward (west) side of Rarotonga for several hours and we viewed beautiful irregular mountaintops covered in shades of green ending in sand beaches and aqua water. The next day, we were able to dock at Raitea amid a wonderful welcome dance performance. Dockside, we booked and Island Tour for $40 pp. The 4 hour tour included a visit to the 19th century marae and brief stops at a vanilla farm and pearl farm. The marketplace was wonderful with lots of friendly people selling shell jewelry, vanilla, and floral leis and crowns. A large arrangement for our cabin cost $7.
At our next port, Bora Bora, we had booked Patrick's tour through our very active Roll Call on Cruise Critic. It was an entertaining day in a beautiful lagoon of amazing shades of turquoise waters. We swam with stingrays and sharks, snorkled, and enjoyed a beach picnic as we circumnavigated the majestic mountains of BoraBora. The second day we joined 6 others on a 4 x 4 Island and Mountain Tour. The final stop was at Bloody Mary's for a Bloody Mary, of course. Back in town we went to the Chinese Grocery Store for a few supplies.
Moorea was a tender port. The Westerdam anchored in Cook's Bay and we tendered to the next bay to the West, Opunoho Bay. There we found live music and dance, lots of crafts, and island tours available. Our guide, Tieva took us to Belvedere point, through pineapple plantations, and along natural shorelines which they manage to keep accessible to all.
Papeete, Tahiti found us on a 5 hour bus tour of the island. We stopped at Angel Point (lighthouse, Captain Cook monuments, and good shopping), a blowhole, two beautiful waterfalls, the Gauguin museum area, and two grocery stores. Tahiti is a beautiful island with many high mountains, lush vegetation, black beaches, and delightful people.
Our final stop was at NukuHiva. Through our roll call we had made reservations for Claude's 4 Valley Tour. It was a rainy day, but we were still able to enjoy the hills and valley of this amazing island. I'm sure every vehicle on the island was in use today as we drove in caravan style to the marae, and had lunch at Yvonne's on a bay beyond the ship's view. The visit here motivated me to read Melville's Typee, his account of living on the island for 2 years after jumping ship. The cruise back to San Diego is 6 days.
DINING AND SERVICE
Canaletto restaurant was good, our first time ever. We especially enjoyed the garlic bread and a wonderful antipasto plate from which I selected my favorites, olives, peppers, tomatoes, salami, mozarella cheese. However, we prefered the Vista Dining Room and our servers Joko and Tut were a great team - and always smiling. The food and service was excellent. Still, we couldn't resist dining at the Pinnacle two times during our 30 day cruise and it more than met all our great expectations.
The itinerary of this cruise was spectacular. We especially enjoyed the uniqueness of the less touristy islands of Fanning Island (Kiribati) and Nuku Hiva. The other thing that stood out on this cruise was the crew of the Westerdam. From the Cruise Director, to the Chef, to the maintenance workers - they were all amazing. Of course, with a longer cruise there is an opportunity to learn names, likes, and dislikes.....and the Westerdam staff did just that. We couldn't have had a nicer cruise. Sea day, or port day - everyday was paradise!