Howdy all! My wife and I just recently returned from a two week journeys cruise on the Carnival Miracle to Hawaii out of Long Beach, Ca. This was a bucket list cruise for my wife and I, and a new experience for us as we have cruised exclusively to Caribbean destinations prior to this.
A note on pre-trip prep (and this will be a common theme for the first week of Vacation), I live on EST. My body does not care what day it is, or if I am on vacation, it just knows that I need to be up at 5:30 am, and by 9 PM I am rapidly running out of steam. Seriously, I am the type that goes to Vegas for conferences, and I am usually in bed at 7PM local time, and up, dressed, and at the poker table around 3 am. This became a running joke around my house in the weeks leading up to the vacation. If my wife and I were watching TV and falling asleep around 9:30 PM, I would look at her and casually mention that “In Hawaii, it’s 3:30 PM. That Luau you booked doesn’t start for another two hours, or end for another five…” As such, the Monday before departure, I stayed up to watch Monday night football (Lions/Packers) and got to bed around midnight. This didn’t work as I had hoped for, as I was still up at 5:30 am, and proceeded to drag butt through a day of work, frantic last minute travel stuff, and crashing around 9 on Tuesday….
While a lot of people in our cruise critic group were staying at the Queen Mary, it just wasn’t for me personally. We decided to splurge a little bit and stayed at the Hotel Maya. It can get a little pricey when you start loading up on the upgrades (balcony, top floor, harbor view), but I do not regret it. The grounds themselves are simply fantastic. If you have the means, I highly recommend staying here for your pre-cruise night.
We arrived at 1 PM and were a tad early for a room check-in. They stored our bags for us and let us use the free shuttle to head into town. My wife wanted to grab a few things (sunscreen, tide pods) and I was looking for 12 packs of soda. The driver dropped us off at a local super market where my wife quickly found what she was after, but alas they did not have my soda of choice. After walking a few miles up and down the main drag and stopping to grab a late lunch, I finally had to concede that finding a 12 pack of cans of diet mt dew was just not in the cards and I settled instead for regular dew (screw it, I’m on vacation!). Rather than call for the shuttle and wait for him to arrive, we decided to call an Uber back to the hotel (16 min/$12.37).
We were pretty tired when we got back to our room, so we showered and relaxed on the balcony to read and communicate with people back home. From our room, we had a view of the current carnival ship in port (Imagination? Fascination?), and were able to watch it leave port. I think we passed out around 8 PM local time. Here’s the funny part. I got up later, convinced it was the morning of the cruise. I grabbed something to drink and went to the balcony to see if the Miracle was in port yet. It wasn’t, so I went back in the room, which was when I glanced at the clock. The time? 11:30 PM….
Departure Day (YEAH!!!)
Wife and I woke up early (surprise surprise!), showered and got repacked. We ordered breakfast from room service (which was fabulous!), and relaxed and waited for checkout. Our check-in time for the boat was 12:30. We did have priority status, but I was not sure how far that would get us on a journeys cruise. We were initially set for an 11:00 shuttle, but instead of getting there early and risk standing in line for 90 minutes, I asked to be on the noon shuttle. We checked our baggage at the hotel, and walked the grounds, eventually coming to rest at one of the many outdoor patio areas, where my wife got in one last phone/internet fix while I read a few chapters.
We eventually made our way back to the lobby, where I noticed several people with baggage and carnival luggage tags boarding a shuttle. Thinking it was our shuttle (turned out to be the 11:30 but they let us on anyway), we grabbed our bags and got on. I made a crack about “So, is everyone going to the aquarium?” which garnered several laughs, but confused the heck out of the one group that happened to actually be going to the Long Beach Aquarium. I got to chatting with a couple from Houston, and before we knew it, we were at port! (YEAH!!)
Apparently they DO have priority boarding on journeys cruises. Upon handing our luggage off to the porters, a woman greeted us at the terminal, took a look at our tickets, and ushered us to a line with nobody in it. We breezed through security (though my travel luggage scale of all things, gave them pause), and we were on board inside of 10 minutes of being dropped off.
We made our way to Lido to grab a bite and wait for the 1:30 room call. I found a new (to me) item that I really enjoyed – popcorn chicken! We grabbed a couch/table on the serenity deck and relaxed (carryon with two 12 packs was getting heavy!).
At 1:30, we got the announcement that the cabins were open. We made our way to our room to drop off our bags and did a little exploring of the ship. Coming back to our room, we found my wife’s luggage waiting. My bag arrived shortly after, so we got unpacked and relaxed on the balcony for a bit to await the muster drill.
I have to say, the corner vista suites on the spirit class ships are my new favorite rooms! It has a long entry way, into a living room, with a dressing room, a large bathroom, and a separate bedroom. Then there is my favorite part: the LARGE balcony! We had two loungers, two normal chairs, and a table, and there was room for double that! I spent a lot of time out there, both during the day and at night.
Soon it was time for the muster drill. A muster drill on a smaller boat in October is a lot nicer than a large boat in June. It went quick, I wasn’t herded in like cattle, and I wasn’t slowly cooking in the sun. We were down, through the drill, and back to our room in no time.
After watching the sail away from our balcony, we decided to explore the boat some more. We ended up in the skybox sports bar, where we watched some college football (Michigan/Penn State was the big game on). The sports bar is actually rather nice, but they do not utilize it properly (more on that later in the week).
We then made our way to the MDR (we had YTD). We do not usually do the MDR, but decided to give it another try. Our experience this time did not change our minds. The service was not very good. It took a long time to get menus and a long time to get our order in. We never got the bread or water refills (we did not have a pitcher like on other tables), and the service was generally slow. I will say that the food was great! My wife tried a strawberry bisque, which was excellent (though I was sad to not see it again), and my roast was great. After dinner, we walked the deck, toured the boat some more, and then the “Time Zone Effect” started to kick in, so we headed back to the room and eventually passed out.
The first leg of our cruise was four consecutive sea days. Before I begin, let me back up a tad. The day before departure I was reading the LA Times. They were reporting how the power companies would be shutting off power to some towns north of LA due to expected high winds over the weekend possibly knocking over power polls and starting fires.
(Fast forward to the first full sea day). I slept like a log through the night, but when I got up in the morning, I didn’t feel right. I went out to the balcony, and my large balcony seemed awfully small. I felt like I was bouncing around pretty good, and could suddenly imagine, with clarity, exactly how it is that some people accidentally go overboard. I went back inside to take a shower, which proved to be very difficult as I had to cling to the safety rail with one arm and wash up with the other. I got dressed and tuned to the ship channel where I saw the ship reading 70 mph winds coming from our starboard-aft corner. We decided to try the sea-day brunch and headed down to the MDR, meanwhile I was feeling worse and worse. I ordered a standard breakfast (eggs, toast, hash, and bacon) which looked delicious. However, I took one bite of bacon, one bite of hash, and I was done. This was probably a smart move, since as my wife stated multiple times (while doing a poor job of hiding evil glee) that I was looking “green around the gills”. Her astute diagnosis was confirmed as we left the dining room and I saw faces that were sympathetic (and probably concerned for their own clothing) as I walked by.
We decided it was probably best if we head to the carnival shop and pick up some Dramamine (They actually had Bonine instead). We took the “long” way to get there, by way of lido deck. On the walk, I noticed that all the pools were drained with netting over them. My sickness addled brain actually thought this was because it was mid 70s and too cold to swim. After obtaining the meds (there was a line of people buying the same thing), we headed back to the room, took the meds and had a seat.
Now, I had never been seasick. I grew up boating on lakes in MI, and have taken several Caribbean cruises with no ill effects. This was completely new to me. I’ll explain it like this: it was almost identical to a bad migraine, with the very notable exception of having no light sensitivity problems (which was the only reason I was sure that it wasn’t a migraine). If you are reading this, you do not know me, but I can tell you unequivocally that what happened next was so NOT in line with my personality: I became miserable and despondent. I was bereft of reason. Ignoring the fact that rather large winds were buffeting the ship, I began to wonder if this was because we were at the back of the boat (had never booked there before), or if the Pacific was always like this (had never sailed it before). At one point, I actually had the thought (that I only later shared with my wife) that there was no way I was going to sail back from HI to CA for 4 days, and that as soon as we got to HI, I was going to look into booking flights back to LA. Yeah, it was bad.
I eventually retired to the bedroom and lay down. This of course is when I began to worry that I was going to ruin the cruise for my wife, before I looked over to see her sleeping as well. This is when I finally gave in (note: not “up” but “in”) and I SLEPT! I now look at the whole sea sickness shenanigans as a blessing. For the first time in a few years, I actually felt rested when I awoke. The “time zone effect” was over for the duration of the vacation. The seas were once again calm and I truly began to enjoy my vacation. When speaking of this later with fellow passengers, the rumor was that we had over 20 foot swells, which sounds like a lot to my untrained ear, but the rest of the cruise was smooth sailing.
The other three sea days were great! We did do some trivia. Saw some shows. Walked around the boat and just generally relaxed (and of course ate too much!). I discovered that the popcorn chicken that I loved so much, was actually full sized chicken tenders when you got them fresh, so that was my NEW new favorite. I tried a couple of times to get a Texas Holdem game going, but as usual on these cruises (with the computerized tables and the LARGE rake), there was very little interest. It just could not have been a more relaxing time. We had no internet, no TV, no Phone, work, email, kids, Facebook, etc. We just had each other. I know some couples that would dread this. For us, it rejuvenated, re-energized, and reinvigorated us to realize that we had nothing anymore to take our focus away from just being “us”.
Anyway, on to Maui! I personally call the three islands we are visiting, the “Goldilocks Islands”. By that, I mean that Oahu has the bigger city, is slightly faster paced, and more touristy. Kona/Hilo seems slower paced, almost rural. Maui, on the other hand, to me, falls somewhere in between and is “juuust right!” There are some larger towns, and some wide open spaces. Large green mountains shoot through the clouds and into the sky to paint a beautiful backdrop. If I were to ever pull up stakes and move to Hawaii, the island of Maui would be my choice to plant my flag.
Getting off the boat was quick, easy, and painless. The port is more industrial than it is touristy, and it showed. The “terminal” that you walk through is all gray metal and concrete. There is an area right outside the “terminal” where it looked like tours were meeting and cabs were waiting. If you are walking to the street to hit the stores (or in our case, the car rental agency), you have to continue on walking between fenced off areas to get to the main road and it is a bit of a hike.
Our plans today were to rent a car and drive around. We had pre-purchased tickets to the Maui Ocean Center and had tickets to the old Lahaina luau for dinner. There are two rental car agencies right outside the port. The distance from the port entrance is about half of the distance from the cruise ship itself to the port entrance.
I had booked a car rental through Enterprise months in advance. I would highly recommend this, as the price that I heard some paying in the lobby were 50-100% higher than what I paid. The process to get the car went pretty quick and smooth, especially considering the crush of cruise passengers flooding the agency. We made a quick stop at a gas station for a beverage, took a minute to get the top down on the car, hooked up the android auto app on my phone to the car for GPS directions, and we were underway!
Which reminds me, if you are renting a car, be sure to bring a charging cord for your phone! Aside from the obvious benefit of charging, a lot of these cars need the direct connection so that they can integrate and display the turn by turn directions.
First stop was the Maui Ocean Center. This is not a long drive from the port (maybe 15 minutes). Carnival had an excursion for this, but once it was decided that we were renting a car, we simply booked the tickets ourselves online. The Maui Ocean Center is an aquarium complex. If you are an aquarium junkie as my wife is, it has everything most aquarium complexes have, just a little bit more and a little bit better. There are loads of exhibits, both inside and out, with tons of colorful and interesting fish, as well as sharks, turtles, and everything else. They also have plenty of real live people around that were eager to answer questions and tell stories about what they do there. We also caught a 3-D humpback whale experience, which was better than I thought it would be.
After the aquarium, we decided to head up the coast to Lahaina. The drive was awesome! I know a lot of people will talk about taking the northern route. This is not for me! That route is very curvy, with single lane roads. I have heard the views are great, but I would never know as I am sure my knuckles would be white and I would be too focused on driving to actually see any of it. I’ve seen the pictures, they look great, and that’s good enough for me! The southern route is a very wide, two lane road, taken at a leisurely 50 MPH. The views there are breath taking as well! As an added bonus, they have a couple of scenic overlooks where you can park and take pictures at leisure.
Here’s another tip. If you decide to drive with the top down, and your hair is a little thin up top, either wear a hat or use some sunscreen! It was a tad painful brushing my hair for a couple days after….
We were a few hours early, so we parked in the downtown shopping district and did some walking. First we headed to the public beach. We did not do any swimming, but the walk was nice and the beach was relatively quiet. I had never seen sand crabs before, but they were in abundance here. I was simply mesmerized by how fast those suckers can move! We then proceeded to the shopping district. It looks like any touristy type shopping district you would find in the Caribbean, but there was one important difference. My wife found a shop that had a lot of flowery dresses. You know the type as they are all over every shop in the Caribbean (and my Wife’s closet), and usually go for $20 - $50. The first one she found, that to me looked no different than others, had a price tag of $1,300. Overall, I did enjoy the walk. The weather was nice and the town was hopping with tourists.
Next up, was the luau we had booked. What Hawaiian vacation is complete without attending at least one luau? We did some research into this, as the official offerings from the boat seemed a little sparse, and we settled on the “Old Lahaina Luau”. It is a more traditional luau, with a classic show, and does not have the fire twirlers like you see on TV, so if that is a must have, this is not for you. However, I can tell you that it was fantastic! Book your tickets online as far out as you can, as they do tend to sell out. The luau was scheduled for 5:15 and we arrived a tad early. Upon check-in, they give you a traditional ley and escort you to your assigned table. There are around 70 tables, each holding about 8 guests, set in a semi-circle around the central stage. Before dinner begins, you are free to roam around the grounds, take in the various areas that show how coconut is prepared, poi is made, a talk on Hawaiian history, all while walking along the shore watching the sun set. Oh, and I should probably mention that they have an open bar with a rum punch that was great!
In a bit of a statistical anomaly, seated at our table were 3 other couples all from the Miracle, 2 of which had vista rooms like ours. They were from LA, TX, and MI and were all very nice and the lively conversation made the dinner even better. Our assigned server had a long Hawaiian name, but we were told to call him “Tim”. He was extremely friendly and a great server. The dinner itself is served buffet style. It contained a bunch of different foods including fish, steak, chicken and poi, with rice and veggies, (all of which I made sure to try) but the main attraction was the pork! Definitely get the pork, it was so delicious! After dinner, they serve a tray with assorted desserts. The highlight for me was the banana bread with an in-house butter that was to die for. They give you a bag of bread when you leave to take with you, which became my breakfast the next morning. Near the end of the meal, and during desert, they start the show on the center stage. As stated, it is a traditional show, with dozens of talented dancers and was very captivating. I only grabbed one bad picture, but between the food, the show, and the lively conversation with my table mates (not to mention the rum punch!), I did not think to grab more pictures.
When booking this luau, that is not Carnival official, you will get some naysayers telling you that you are cutting it close and you may miss the boat, etc. Allow me to give you an official timeline to help allay some fears and stress. The boat was set to leave port at 11:00 with a back on board time of 10:30. We left the luau at 8:12, calmly drove back to the port area, stopped at a Costco to fill up the tank, returned the car, walked to a Long’s drug store to buy another 12 pack (side note: Long’s is EVERYWHERE on the islands, like Starbucks in Seattle), walked back to the boat, took a quick shower and changed, and were sitting on our balcony by 9:32.
Today, our plan was to visit Pearl Harbor, then do some shopping and hit up Waikiki beach for some swimming. We looked at doing the Carnival Excursion, but opted to get to PH ourselves. Tickets are purchased online for only $1 and you have to schedule a time to be there (we had an 11 AM time-slot). Our cruise Facebook group was most helpful in alerting us when the tickets for our date became available. Originally, before I became addicted to Uber, I was thinking of taking the city bus (“The Bus” as they call it on Oahu), however the ship had some kind of delay getting us released and everyone was late getting off of the ship.
To complicate matters further, the line to get off was long and winding. We got in line in the atrium (which was where you got off and didn’t seem too bad), but then the line wound down the hall, through the casino (which caused a lot of non-smokers to complain and I understand), through the coffee bar lobby, into the theater, to the stage, back out to the lobby and all the way back to where you started, just to get off. Honestly, I thought the line moved along pretty well, but there was a lot of grumbling and a lot of people were nervous that they were going to miss their activities. I did hear that many did not make their appointment time at PH. Once we got off the boat and through the terminal (which is just as nice as Long Beach), we were able to grab an Uber just outside the doors. (25 minutes / $24.09)
We arrived at PH with 15 minutes to spare. They do not allow you to bring anything in with you except your phone and a very small purse. They do have lockers available there if you do need them, but I would recommend that you leave everything on the ship. My wife just tucked her ID and S&S card in her phone case and we were set. At your appointment time, you are ushered into a theater where they show you a movie on the history of PH with a focus on the attack. I found this both interesting and moving. After the movie, you are then ushered to a small ferry boat that takes you out to the Arizona memorial. Your group gets dropped off, and the group that was there, gets on the boat to head back. You get about 20 minutes to walk around and read about the Arizona, before the next group comes and you are taken back to shore. Back on land, you can see the USS Missouri, the Bowfin submarine museum, and an aviation museum. When we were done, we grabbed an Uber and headed back to the ship. (26 minutes / $24.45)
We had a late lunch on the ship, after which we put on our beach clothes and disembarked again. We grabbed another Uber and had him drop us off at the HRC (18 minutes/$13.20) so that we could grab the shot glass. From there, it was a short walk to the Beach. The beach area itself is nice (but definitely NOT Aruba!) and they have public facilities where you can change and wash the sand off your feet if you need to, and the beach itself was clean and was not awfully busy. My only real complaint about the beach is that in the water, there is a tide line of sharp rocks and shells which wrought havoc on my poor feet! It was fine once you crossed either going out or coming in, but I would definitely get a pair of beach shoes to go swimming. There is also a 3 foot drop off and a decent undertow to be aware of if you bring the kids. After swimming, we walked around town a bit and did some more shopping before calling an Uber to get back to the ship. (35 minutes/$15.59)
That night, we had reservations at the steakhouse on board. I want to say that I very much enjoyed dinner. The food was excellent. The service was great. The Chef came out and talked to us for a bit (his wife worked on board as well). The environment in the actual room was great. The carnival funnel is tainted red and is translucent which paints the room in a warm red glow. My minor gripes were with outside influences. The first is that the steakhouse is on deck 10 and there is a walking deck just outside. Not a big deal, but it’s a little unnerving to look out at the scenery and have a passenger staring back at you. The second gripe I have is that the steakhouse is over the atrium and is open all the way down. This means that in the middle of dinner, you could be treated to sounds of pop songs being played by the band 10 floors below you. The music was not bad; it just was not in keeping with the atmosphere in the restaurant. Don’t read too much into my complaints as I had a wonderful time and would most definitely go back.
This may be helpful for those of you wondering about canceling Carnival excursions and what happens when you do. We originally had booked an excursion to the Kona Coffee factory. My wife is a bit of a coffee nut and thought it would be cool, and I was just along for the ride. Around two weeks before leaving, my wife had a change of heart, and decided that Kona would be a good shopping day and decided to cancel. She simply went online to our booking and cancelled. It could not have been too difficult, as I didn’t hear any complaining. Within 2-3 days, we received a FedEx envelope with a Carnival gift card loaded up with the amount we had paid for the excursion.
Kona itself is a tender port. I had never done a tender port before, so this was an all-new experience for me. It got off to a bit of a rough start as first the ship was late, and then they determined that the sea was too rough (though it appeared calm to me)and needed to turn the ship 180 degrees. They also had a sort of lottery system to get off the ship. You had to get a number from a designated spot up on lido in the morning, and that would determine your time slot to get on a tender. When it was your time, you met down at deck 2, where they put you on one of the 5 or 6 lifeboats that they had running back and forth, and it took you to shore. When you were ready to come back, you just met one of the boats at the dock, and it took you back to the ship.
Since the wife and I had no place to be, we didn’t bother to grab a number and just decided to hang out on the boat until the madness died down and we could get off at leisure. We finally went down just after lunch, and found that they were still calling the last of the numbers. It was not a big deal for us, we just had to wait in line for about twenty minutes and we got on the boat. I asked the pilot if he minded if I drove, to which he responded with a laugh but never actually answered the question. The majority of the people on the ship complained about it being “the worst tender process ever”, and that they really "botched it", and that may be true. Personally, my only issue was that it was hot and stuffy with very little air flow in the boat, but I was not in a hurry like others were.
The ride only took about 10 minutes and we were dropped off at a dock near a shopping district. We spent about three hours walking up and down the street doing some shopping for souvenirs and such. I was told by fellow passengers that there was some very good food to be had there, but we did not personally eat anything. Again, the weather was great, and the views were good. There was a lot of interesting foliage to see up and down the street
That night, we decided to go back to the MDR for the first time since the first night. This time, we were seated in a different section and it was a night and day difference. The service this time was awesome! The food was great, and everything was pretty close to perfect. The server gave us her card, so that we could ask to be seated in her section for the rest of the cruise. We did end up going back almost every night thereafter. I know some people did not like the decor of the dining room, but I enjoyed it and dubbed it the “grape hall”. Those of you that have been there know why, and those of you going will get it quickly.
After dinner, we walked the deck for a bit. They had brought a “Mentalist” on board to do a show that night only. It was held in the main theater and was definitely worth the time. I had never seen a “Mentalist” show before, but he was very funny and had a pretty amazing routine. After dinner, we went back to our balcony to relax for a bit before falling into bed for the night.
Hilo is actually the other side of the island from Kona, but it is another climate altogether. Where it hardly ever rains in Kona, it rains very frequently in Hilo. There is nothing to do what so ever in the immediate port area. There are two general stores (not even a Long's!) within a quarter mile and that is it. They do have a shuttle bus that took several passengers back and forth to the Walmart shopping area in town. If you are only going to take one excursion on the cruise, this is probably the best place to do it. This was the case for us, as we had booked a 5-hour tour of the area called "Land of Frozen Fire".
I started my day by heading down to the sports bar after an early breakfast. We were not in port yet, and it was Sunday, and with the 6-hour time difference, that meant the 1 EST NFL games were starting at 7 am local, and I was hoping to catch some football. I knew from the start that the game I wanted to watch (Lions/Giants) would not be on, and it wasn't. They did however, have several games going on the TVs, so I took a seat to watch. After a while, I noticed that the Lions/Giants game was being shown on one of the smaller TVs, so I excitedly switched seats to get a good view. After about 10 minutes of that, the TV suddenly switched to the game that was playing on several of the other big TVs. I got the bartender's attention and asked if he could switch it back. He stated that he had no control over the TVs and they were controlled "somewhere else" (There was no word on if this "somewhere else" was on the boat, at Carnival HQ in Miami, or my wife with the clicker at the coffee bar messing with me). After he walked away, I glanced back at the TV and saw that it was now playing women's college volleyball. I left in a mix of frustration and disgust. Seriously Carnival, you have a somewhat decent sports bar area, do better.
My wife collected me when we docked, and we headed out to meet the tour. The tour itself was on a 25 person mini bus, and was led by a 20-something local woman who had only left the island twice (to go to Oahu) and nowhere else. She was very personable and knowledgeable about the area, and an overall fun tour guide. I did get a kick out of her whenever she would say stuff like "back in the States" or "do you have these in the States?"
She drove us through town, where she told us the history that was very much shaped by a couple of Tsunamis, before heading out of town and on to Rainbow Falls, where we stopped for some pictures and a bathroom break. There was no sun at the time, so we did not get a rainbow, but the area was still nice.
We next ventured off towards the lava flows. On the way, she told us about 2018. Her tale included three earthquakes, mudslides, the lava flow, two tsunami warnings, and a false incoming ballistic missile warning (She definitely did NOT moonlight as a local realtor). We briefly stopped at a road that had been closed due to lava flow damage. It was raining, but the tour provided plastic rain ponchos for our use. It was a short five-minute stop and then we were off to a park nearby that was set up around the lava flows. We were able to get out there (there were bathroom facilities) and take the half mile hiking trail through the woods to look around and take some pictures.
Next stop was one of the two “painted churches” on the islands. It is a small church that had been completely moved at some point (the reason currently escapes me), and was beautifully painted on the inside with beautifully maintained grounds on the outside.
She next drove us down to the water’s edge, where the lava flows had met the ocean and had formed a sea arch. Along the way, we passed an area where steam was still coming up from the ground. At the sea arch, we parked and again were able to get out and walk around to take pictures.
Next stop was a lava field which had a sort of pop-up shopping area next to it. I do not know how best to describe it other than that. We were given 30 minutes to look around. Some people went to walk the fields to the ocean’s edge, we went shopping. We bought a hand carved turtle from a woman selling out of a VW bus, walked by the general store and “restaurant” and entered a glassware store. I got to talking to the proprietor, which was a 50-something woman that was born in Wyoming, had lived in Florida, Texas, and California, and had somehow ended up on this very remote part of Hawaii. I would have loved to have sat down and heard her life story. Her and her daughter made most of the glass and ceramic pieces, and there were several local artists that had wood pieces, pictures and paintings that she put up for sale. My wife bought a couple of pretty (surprise surprise) coffee mugs, and paid to have them shipped to us via USPS.
Our next (and last) stop on the tour was the Mauhna Loa macadamia nut factory. They had a café with hotdogs, drinks, ice cream and other things, as well as a store that sold MANY variations of nuts, chocolates, nick-knacks, etc. We bought a few too many bags of various forms of chocolate covered nuts, a bag of Kona coffee, and a few souvenirs, before getting back on the bus to head back to the ship.
Once we were dropped off at the port, I briefly left the area to grab one last 12 pack before getting back on the ship. This was the smallest of the three ports we were at, but had the most security check points. We were stopped at the gate, stopped again at the terminal, run through a metal detector/x-ray combo inside the terminal, checked again before getting on the boat, then run through the Carnival metal detector/x-ray combo on the boat. It was not a big deal at all, I just found all the extra security at this port a bit odd.
Once back on board, we took a quick shower and watched the sail away from our balcony. From a distance, you could see the many bands of rain hitting different parts of the island. We had dinner in the MDR that night, before doing our nightly routine, and enjoying the balcony for a bit before falling into bed.
I like sea days, especially sans children. I know some people do not want to be in the room and prefer being on deck, or out and about, but I actually enjoy relaxing on the balcony with a good book. I was actually able to finish off five books on this cruise. We actually slept part of one night under the stars on the balcony. That’s not to say that we spent the entire time in the room, as we did spend a good deal of time out experiencing the ship. We caught several sessions of various trivia. Caught the lecturer's shows on star navigation and camera usage. We played Clue. We caught the morning show with our cruise director Chloe (who was great by the way). My wife got more familiar with her barista, and I tried unsuccessfully a few more times to catch a poker game. They had a “throwback” day with eighties dress and a midnight buffet. My wife experienced a little melancholy on the first day as we were beginning our journey home, but got over it quickly after I pointed out that we still had seven days before boarding a plane and heading home.
The most notable of the sea days was the fourth one, as it was Halloween. Passengers really went all out with their costumes. I really had to wonder how some people managed to get their elaborate costumes on board with a restriction of luggage space. For our part (and I SWEAR this was my wife’s idea), she was dressed in a pumpkin sweater with black shorts, and I wore a t-shirt that said “PETER! PETER! (I’m with pumpkin)”. Many got the joke and it garnered both laughter and a few disapproving stares, each reaction equally satisfying to me. I unfortunately did not get a picture of us in costume, but several of our fellow passengers did stop us to take our picture. If any of them happen to read this and can post, I would be thankful.
After the sea days, it was time for a day in Ensenada. My mindset, one that I am sure is shared with many, is that Ensenada is just a port added to fulfill the requirement of a foreign port, and not all that special. That aside, I was pleasantly surprised by our experience here. The day began with a little bit of excitement as it was announced that we were being met by the Mexican Navy who were delivering medical supplies for a passenger with a bit of a medical emergency.
After a late breakfast, we went to the theater to catch the end of Clue and Chloe’s talk on the disembarkation process in Long Beach. Chloe mentioned that the shops on board would close once in Ensenda and would not reopen. Due largely to my wife’s shopping, we were in need of additional luggage, so we hit the shops to buy a wheeled Carnival duffel bag. While in the shop, I happened to look out the window and catch the sight of 20 to 30 dolphins that were jumping out of the water alongside the ship. We rushed out of the shop, and outside on to deck 3 to watch.
After buying the bag, we headed back to the room to pack a little, and relaxed on the balcony to watch the ship pull into port. This is where we were treated to the second sea life event of the day: sea lions. You could hear them before you could see them. We first caught sightings of them lounging on the buoys in the bay, and then once at the port, there was a large group of them on the rocks. It was really neat to see –at first. By the end of the day, a group of about 50 had gathered near where the ship was tied, and had to be chased off. The sea lions constantly “barked” their disapproval at our presence. Seriously, it was constant and loud. Even as we left port that night, you could hear their barks echoing from miles away. You know how when you leave Vegas, you can still hear the sound of slot machines a day later? I swear I woke up the next morning in CA and could still hear their bark echoing.
Getting on land was quick and easy. There is a little shopping area that you walk through when you come into port. If you are going no further, feel free to shop. Otherwise, I would recommend waiting to buy anything as I found prices to be slightly higher than you could find in town, and you will always have a second chance on your way back on board. For a nominal fee (I *think* it was $4 for both of us), we had round trip bus tickets into town. The bus brings you right into the heart of town where there is plenty of shopping to be had. One store had a vendor in it that was intent on proving everything was “real leather” by taking a lighter to it. There was a part of me that was morbidly curious if he would start a fire in the store. After leaving the store with some nick-knacks, a small leather clutch, and a hand-made bag with the “Patriot” logo on it (my wife isn’t perfect and was born in Maine so I am just happy that she now uses the letter “R” properly and we no longer have to go to the “bah” for a drink), we stopped at a McDonald's for some bottled water and to use the free Wi-Fi.
We then walked down the street passed a park where they were having a day of the dead celebration, then back to our bus pickup. There were a couple of street vendors there that were a tad pushy. One saw my wife’s new Patriot bag and tried to sell her a bracelet with the logo. The price started at $5, then kept going down to $1. I finally found a dollar and handed it to my wife. She tracked the vendor down for the bracelet, and all of a sudden it was $5 again. We left with naked wrists.
Once back on the boat, it was time to start the sad process of packing. We grabbed a late, light dinner up on lido (double bacon BLT!), watched from the balcony for a bit, then headed for bed.
Originally, we had flights for 12:30 PM out of John Wayne airport (Santa Ana). We received an email several months prior from American saying that our flight had changed to a 7:45 AM departure. Doing some quick math in my head, I was able to determine that would not work. We called American and had our flight switched to Sunday. I usually prefer a “buffer” day before going back to work, but it did give us an extra day of vacation.
I see questions asked a lot on this board regarding if they can make X flight at Y airport. I will not answer this for you. What I will do is give you the timeline that we experienced. We decided to carry our luggage off ourselves, and had priority since we were in a suite. We left our cabin at 7:42 AM and headed for the designated meeting place (the main theater) on deck 2. We had to wait a little bit for an elevator that wasn’t already full, but we eventually made it to the theater entrance where disembarkation had already started. We kind of snuck in the line that was already leaving the theater and waiting for the elevator to take them up to deck 3. I kind of felt bad about cutting the line a bit, but I just didn’t want to haul the luggage up the steps, into the theater, then back down more steps on the other side. Apologies to fellow passengers.
The line moved rather quickly and we were off the ship in no time. Customs may have been as easy as I have ever seen it. No declaration forms or anything. The Official just looked at our passports, asked us our birthdays, and waved us on through. Once outside, we called an Uber that quickly met us just inside the parking garage and headed off to our hotel in Santa Ana. By 8:25 we were passing the exit for the Long Beach airport. By 8:45, we were being dropped off at our hotel which was right next to the John Wayne airport. (34 mins/$38.12) Read Less