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7 Ensenada to Cruise to Nowhere Cruise Reviews

We took the 3-day trip from Long Beach to Ensenada. We had an awesome experience and the entire weekend was just one long party. We got to pre-board for the wedding making it very easy, then a beautiful wedding/reception that was followed ... Read More
We took the 3-day trip from Long Beach to Ensenada. We had an awesome experience and the entire weekend was just one long party. We got to pre-board for the wedding making it very easy, then a beautiful wedding/reception that was followed by 3-days of non-stop fun and partying. The room steward was the best, our room was always fresh, clean and he always met us with a smile or friendly word. This was our first cruise and we were impressed by how much space we actually had in our standard room, good water pressure in the shower and toilets worked surprisingly well. Nice linens & pillows, the cute towel animals each night was a pleasant treat, and room was relatively quiet except the drunks/kids in the hallway. We dined with our group in the dining room each night and was treated to nice dinners and friendly wait staff. There were a couple of hiccups there, but the staff was always so friendly, accommodating, and fun, you really didn't mind. The only thing that could use some improvement was the very slow service at the bars. Be ready to spend a bit of time to get a drink, and even when they're not busy don't expect fast service (and they're not friendly ~ except the young gal in the atrium bar, she at least served her drinks with a hello & smile). We used the Carnival Hub app on our phones to communicate with each other, $5 charge is well worth it if you are travelling with a group. Our day in Ensenada was a lot of fun too. We went to the Rosario Beach Party at Papas & Beer. It is just what you would expect for a laid-back Mexico style party bar. They provided us seating in their reserved beach area (broken old plastic furniture), shade umbrellas, decent lunch, cold beers and great service. No complaints. The locals will try to peddle their wears but that is just Mexico, be ready for it. It's only about 30 minutes south of San Diego, so expect the ocean to have the same cold water. When the cruise ended they have that have that process down really smooth too, and we had no delays or problem (we took our own luggage off the boat). Would definitely do this trip again!! If you're looking for a quiet relaxing get away this is NOT the cruise for you. It's a fun party from the minute you board the ship. Read Less
Sail Date October 2016
This was our second cruise with Celebrity, the first was on the Millennium. We are in our mid fifties, and have cruised for the last 18 years. Arrival & Embarkation-- We flew to San Diego the day before, stayed at the Holiday Inn Old ... Read More
This was our second cruise with Celebrity, the first was on the Millennium. We are in our mid fifties, and have cruised for the last 18 years. Arrival & Embarkation-- We flew to San Diego the day before, stayed at the Holiday Inn Old Town, nice and well located, and has an airport shuttle. Since we made all our own arrangements, we purchased a transfer voucher from Celebrity, and returned to SD airport around noon, to the baggage area in American Airlines. We were directed to leave our luggage, and sent out to wait to board a bus to Ensenada. We received a bottle of water and a granola bar as we boarded. The trip took three hours,with no problems at the border crossing, but when we arrived at the Coral Hotel in Ensenada we had to wait in the bus for about another 30 minutes while they did the boarding passes and credit card work bus by bus, then we were loaded up onto another bus and driven a short drive to the pier, and then waited in line to board the Infinity. Once on board, at approx 4:30pm, we received our welcome glass of champagne and a personal escort to our room. We had a balcony cabin, and loved it. We went up to the Mast Bar on deck 11, to a pre-arranged meeting spot with some of the people from our Cruise Critic Party. It was fun finally meeting the others that we had been talking with via computer for the last six months. We sailed at 9pm. Four Days at Sea--What can I say, we really enjoyed checking out the ship, getting a start on that suntan,and just relaxing. Early seating dinner and wonderful tablemates, a great wait staff, and scrumptious food. If you like to dance, the Rendezvous Lounge was a great spot to listen to music and dance, and it was right next to the dining room. Even though this is a big ship, it never really seemed crowded, always found a couple chairs to lay out in on deck, and there was always seats at the shows. We went to a movie one night, and found the seats uncomfortable, the room very cold, and the screen difficult to see. I especially loved the aquaspa area, the warm salt water pool is so relaxing, and the hot tubs are never very crowded. We often ate a light lunch at the aquaspa cafe. We used room service for our breakfast most of the time. First Port of Call--Hilo- We docked at about 7am, we had been here 10 years ago, and had done the Volcano Tours. This time we went to the Botanical Gardens, short, inexpensive and beautiful. Second Port--Kona- Had to tender into shore here. Sunny Kona, did a Zodiac snorkel tour, highly recommend it, a little hard on the back bouncing across the waves, but only 12 to a boat, and good snorkeling. Third Port--Maui- There was only one day scheduled here and we really needed two. Once again we had to tender ashore. Shared a rental car with two of our tablemates and drove to a beach connected with a hotel and used their facilities, mediocre snorkeling. The road to Hana will have to wait till next time. We had to be back on board by 5:30p at all ports. Fourth Port--Kauai- Beautiful Kauai, this island you must stay on for a few days to appreciate it. And we did come back here post cruise for three days. We toured Wiamea Canyon while on the cruise. Fifth and Final Port--Oahu- We disembarked here in the morning and all went smoothly. If you are making your own travel arrangements, don't buy the cruise transfer to the airport, much cheaper and quicker to get a taxi outside the terminal. We had been here before and suggest the Pearl Harbor Memorial and an island Circle Tour. Happy Cruising and Aloha! Read Less
Sail Date May 2004
This was our first cruise for me and my 4 year old daughter. Carnival arranged for transportation from the San Diego Airport to Check-In at the Port of San Diego, followed by an approx. 2 hour bus ride to the ship which was at Ensenada. ... Read More
This was our first cruise for me and my 4 year old daughter. Carnival arranged for transportation from the San Diego Airport to Check-In at the Port of San Diego, followed by an approx. 2 hour bus ride to the ship which was at Ensenada. Between our flight, waiting time at the dock and other embarkation procedures, we were tired. As soon as we boarded the ship, there was a photographer who took pictures of every group. Even though the embarkation procedures took a long time, it was expected for such a large group of people (we were pretty close to a full ship) and pretty efficient. There were many opportunities to be photographed, and they were respectful of our wish NOT be be photographed. Our room was very comfortable and a nice size. We had a "handicap accessible" room and the bathroom was large. Our room steward put the two twin beds together and we slept comfortably. The pillows were adequate. Our room came with TWO pool towels that we had to keep track of. They offered to sell you two new ones for $ 20 each. We came with our own pool towels, as we wanted to be able to find OUR pool towels easily on deck. Imagine dozens of lounge chairs, each with the same blue Carnival Pool towel; how would you tell which one was yours? Our closet was an adequate size and we had enough storage for the two of us. There was a refrigerator in our cabin, which doubled as a minibar. The television was a good size. No VCR or DVD player; this would have been nice and Carnival could have made some extra money renting DVD's and tapes, if they thought of the idea. We had an "obstructed view" balcony. There was a lifeboat outside our balcony, but we had a good view of the ocean. The deck contained two plastic lounge chairs and one small, square table. Our floor had one laundry room (aft) with two washers and two dryers. They cost $ 2.00 each to run one load. Laundry detergent was available for $ 1. You could get quarters at the purser's desk. Sometimes you had to wait for a free washer / dryer. One night, I did one load of laundry on our floor and went down a floor and did another load there. I checked out several floors. Not all levels had a laundry room in the aft section. I have seen many comments (pros and cons) about the ship's decor. I liked it. The atrium was beautiful; my daughter loved riding the glass elevators UP and DOWN. She liked walking through the Jungle Room. Everything was clean and I saw ship personnel cleaning the walls and carpet throughout our cruise. There were some carpet stains from people spilling beverages, but Carnival did what they could to clean it. The ship was laid out nicely and it was easy for us to find our way around. My daughter loved the pools (and hot tubs). There were two hot tubs that were for adults only. There were two others that she could use for a little while. The water was really cold for the first 2 days at sea. She still got to splash in the shallow pool area and jump the "waves" in the pool caused by the rocking motion of the ship. Camp Carnival seemed well run and organized. It was held at the Fun House on the 5th level (bow area). I felt bad for people occupying the rooms near the Fun House as the kids made some (and sometimes a good deal) of noise when they left the Fun House. If you want a quiet room, this was not the area to be in. They gave me a beeper so they could reach me while my daughter was at camp. On "sea" days, camp closed from 12 to 2 pm and then again from 4 to 5:45 pm. Then the children could join the "kids" dinner and parents could pick their child up as late as 10 pm without paying an extra fee. Babysitting services were available at camp until 3 am. The slumber party was from 10pm to 3 am. During shore days, the children did not have to be picked up for meals. They encouraged parents to limit children's time at camp to 6 hour stretches so the children could also enjoy the cruise with their families. There were many activities; arts and crafts, face painting, making ice cream sundaes, dance parties, tunnel races, scavenger hunts, attending one or two shows, a children's talent show, Guess that tune, etc. The kids at camp seemed to enjoy it. Due to the timing of this cruise (April 18 to April 30th), there were few children on board. I believe there were a total of 3-4 children under the age of 2. Maybe 12 children from 2 - 6. A few older children and a few teenagers. So...a relatively quiet and mature crowd. The video arcade was targeted for older kids and teenagers. The library was a good size with books and games available to borrow. This also doubled as the internet room; it got pretty crowded during certain hours for internet access. They has some problems in the first few days in getting the wireless connection to work but they credited people with those minutes. For a ship, I thought the internet charge was high but reasonable for quick checks of email, stock prices, etc. We had breakfast and lunch at the La Playa Grill. It was buffet style. Breakfast was pretty much the same every day; typical American Breakfast selection with cereal, yogurt, fresh fruit (bananas, apples, oranges, pears, grapes, watermelon, cantaloupe, pineapple)available. For lunch, they had different buffet / themes, such as Asian, Mexican, Vietnamese, Indian, Greek, South American, etc. You can choose what you wanted; I thought this food was good. Beverage selections were water, coffee, tea, apple juice, orange juice, grapefruit juice and one or two other other non-carbonated choice that I can't remember. We had the early seating for dinner at the Empire Restaurant. Service was good. The food was OK to good. The menu selection was good (4-6 appetizer choices, 2 salad choices, 4-6 entrees, a few desserts. Two of the dessert selections were sugar fee ice cream and no-sugar added cakes. The regular dessert selections were nice, ie. creme brulee, cheesecake, tiramisu, cherry souffle, carrot cake, etc. Sometimes, the main entree was overcooked. Most times the food was good and sometimes it was very good. I thought the appetizers, salads and desserts were always good. I always asked for cappuccino with dessert. Pizza and Deli were always available. Being from New York, I thought the Pizza was so-so. The deli was good; they had corned beef, pastrami, tuna, turkey sandwiches. Shows at the Pharaoh's Palace were good to great. Some of the comedians were really good. They did a good job of informing guests of the day's scheduled events by leaving the schedule in each cabin daily. With the schedule, our room steward always left a towel animal. Very creative. My daughter loved the animals that "Tan-Tan" left us every evening. We took pictures of each one of them. My parents stayed in a separate cabin and they did not get a towel animal every evening. Just some nights. I tried out the gym a few times. I like the treadmills. Only problem was that two of them were out of order the entire cruise. Sometimes I had to wait 10 minutes for someone to finish on the treadmill before I could get on. They had a steam room and sauna which looked nice but I did not get to use them. I was disappointed that the water slide was not operational for much of the cruise. I heard it was due to the weather (windy at sea) and then some type of malfunction. The water slide did not empty into a pool. It stopped in a straight section. We did not take any of their scheduled shore excursions. We reserved cars from Hertz on each island stop (Hilo, Kona, Kahalui, Nawiliwili and Honolulu). We planned our own tours and the adults had a great time. My daughter wanted to stay on the ship and play in the pool; kids aren't into sightseeing. Debarkation went smoothly. It started about 8 am. We arranged for our own transportation to the airport. We left our baggage outside our cabins the night before and it was easy to find once we got off the ship. We had until about 11 am to get off the ship. The weather was nice; the seas were mostly calm. One or two nights we encountered some "whitecaps" and 4-6 foot swells. I didn't know of anyone who got seasick. I was not aware of anyone getting gastroenteritis. I heard the ship's infirmary was pretty efficient, but I didn't use it. What could Carnival have added? Since they are family-friendly, they should add a playground on the sundeck. Something to climb, slide, etc. It doesn't have to be elaborate; something like one of those fast-food places (ie. McDonalds). Of course, the adults would have to give up on something to make space. Maybe I would feel differently if I didn't have a 4 year old. While not perfect, we had a lot of fun on this cruise. The ship was beautiful. The service was good. It was a good value for the price paid. We would take this cruise again, if we have the opportunity. My parents like Carnival. This was their second cruise and they are planning another one to the Panama Canal in September. Read Less
Sail Date April 2004
This was one of the better cruises my wife and I have enjoyed. We are both in our 50's and this was our 9th cruise together. We have cruised RCL and NCL as well as Celebrity. We had read and heard horror stories about the 2 hour bus ... Read More
This was one of the better cruises my wife and I have enjoyed. We are both in our 50's and this was our 9th cruise together. We have cruised RCL and NCL as well as Celebrity. We had read and heard horror stories about the 2 hour bus ride from San Diego to Ensenada as well as embarkation. However everything went very smooth and we found the sunny bus ride along the Mexican coastline to be surprisingly picturesque. We had arrived by air in San Diego at 11:45 AM and by 4PM we were in our Ship room with minimal delays. I would say that Celebrity could have done a better job informing passengers as to what was happening during the periodic waits on the bus, The ship is beautiful and well maintained. We sailed at 10 PM and the first 24 hours were a bit rough with 15 foot swells and 50 mph winds but thanks to patches and Meclezine we were not seasick...just a bit drowsy and dry mouthed as side effects of the medication. The remaining days were beautiful (daytime temperatures in the 70's and 80's) with calm seas as we traversed the pacific averaging 21 knots. By far the most outstanding facet of this cruise was the entertainment. The Celebrity Dancers and singers and musicians were the most talented troupe we have ever seen on any ship ! Several full scale production shows and "Let's Rock" is not to be missed. Additionally, "Lighthouse" is an extraordinarily gifted a cappella Quartet which entertained nightly. Service, food, and friendliness aboard the Infinity was certainly good but not exceptional and we got the impression that Celebrity was adjusting to the larger numbers of passengers it is now carrying. Our best cruise still remains the Mercury in 1999 in the Caribbean. The Public areas of the Infinity are indeed beautiful with lots of glass for viewing. Michael's is no longer a Cigar lounge (The outside bar on the Aft of deck 10 is the only option for cigar smokers) and yet there was more cigarette smoking on the port side of inside lounges than I can ever recall on other cruises. This secondhand smoke was especially irritating to my wife. We had a room with a small verandah midship on the 8th deck which was very comfortable and clean. Unfortunately there was a "clanging' noise in the ventilation or plumbing system of the cabin which was more pronounced after midnight. The engineer could never correct it although we were offered another room. One of the nice features of the Cabins is the TV channel which features a map showing exactly where the ship is located in real time. There were plenty of deck and pool chairs available throughout the ship and no area of the ship ever seemed crowded with people. The Solarium is also a wonderful feature of the ship. The Ports of Call and tours in Hawaii were very nice . Wonderful photo opportunities. Transportation and Tender services were safely handled. I would recommend that Celebrity get the tour operators to ease off the pushing of "Hilo Hattie's" as the primary place to shop on each of the Islands, however. It seemed like every effort was made by the tours to connect to the Store. All in all this was a relaxing and enjoyable cruise that pretty much lived up to our expectations. We appreciate the absence of constant PA announcements and the professionalism of the Greek crew which made safety and comfort a priority on the Seas. Disembarkation was also orderly. It was a total Air, Land, Sea adventure which was well worth the money. Read Less
Sail Date April 2004
Royal Caribbean needs to improve its boarding and disembarkation process. From the time we landed in San Diego, it was a 6.5 hour process. We were held captive on a bus without air conditioning. It was totally disorganized and without ... Read More
Royal Caribbean needs to improve its boarding and disembarkation process. From the time we landed in San Diego, it was a 6.5 hour process. We were held captive on a bus without air conditioning. It was totally disorganized and without rhyme or reason. We stood in 4 lines for an hour each with a bus ride of 2 hours. Take food once you arrive at the airport. The disco is terrible and we were told that Royal Caribbean controls the music. The DJ refused to play any requests unless they were from the 1980s. By 10:30 or 11 pm the lounges and discos were deserted. The food was good and the waitstaff ok. When we were leaving the lounge, the casino had rugs over the windows and had all the cards laying out on the table. We inquired if they were stacking the decks only to be told that we needed to leave. Another passenger had the same incident occur. The disembarkation process was a free for all - dog-eat-dog process. The only way to get onto the shuttle was to push your way through and fight. We stood in one line for an hour and then another hour and a half in the hot sun. Shuttles ran about every 30 minutes with the folks spending $20 on baggage handling getting loaded first. On a good note though, we met some awesome people who will be friends and recall great memories. When booking this cruise, remember that the weather from Ensenada to Hawaii is questionable from December to March and doesn't improve until April. Read Less
Sail Date March 2004
Hawaii Cruise Review Celebrity Infinity November 16-27 2003 Introduction My name is Phil Haggerty and my wife is Edith Goble. I am a retired city attorney and Edith is a homemaker and former health services provider. We live in ... Read More
Hawaii Cruise Review Celebrity Infinity November 16-27 2003 Introduction My name is Phil Haggerty and my wife is Edith Goble. I am a retired city attorney and Edith is a homemaker and former health services provider. We live in Phoenix, Arizona and this would be our 10th cruise. Our prior cruises have been: Carnival's Elation to the Mexican Riviera, the now defunct Commodore Lines Enchanted Isle for 11 days in the Caribbean; a 7 day Caribbean cruise on Celebrity's Galaxy; from Santiago to Buenos Aires on Celebrity's Mercury; to Alaska on Sun Princess; another 7 day Caribbean cruise on Norwegian Sun; a trans-canal on Celebrity's Infinity; a Mediterranean cruise on Celebrity's Millennium and a Baltic cruise on Regal Princess.   Why this cruise? Very simply, neither of us had been to Hawaii before. We thought that the itinerary, with two stops on the Big Island, two days on Maui and one on Kauai, followed by an overnight stop in Honolulu, would give us a good look at the islands. We also arranged for a time share week on the Big Island following the cruise, and the timing of this also gave us two extra days in Honolulu. The Itinerary Federal Law requires that ships which are not U.S. flag vessels, (and this means every cruise vessel now operating), must land at one foreign port somewhere on any trip in which they touch a U.S. port. So Hawaiian cruises (1) either depart from or return to Ensenada, Mexico or Vancouver, British Columbia or (2) depart and return to Hawaii, but detour to Fanning Island, a tiny independent nation a days sail from the islands. We sailed from Ensenada, spent four days at sea, and seven days traveling from port to port in Hawaii. Review Format - What Is Covered and What Is Not I suppose there are people who call their travel agents, tell them to book a cruise, and do nothing until the day before embarkation when they pack and take off. We like to plan a lot, and feel that this is part of the fun of cruising. So we divide the review into pre-embarkation planning, getting to the ship; the cruise proper, port visits, and debarkation, followed by an overall picture of how we liked it, and the reasons for our feelings. We will add a short section on Hawaii visitation, but not a review of our post cruise travels since this is a cruise review and not a travel review. Since we do not gamble, we will not review the Casino, which seemed fairly nice. Except for a free demonstration, and the purchase of some face powder, we do not use the spa facilities. We can't rate the service or comfort of the poolside deck lounge area either. We do not play trivia games or newlywed games. If I tried Karaoke with my singing voice, the Captain would signal for another lifeboat drill, or perhaps just abandon ship. We did not attend any art auctions because once you have done this two or three times, there is nothing new, either by way of art works or in the presentations. Pre-planning Any Cruise If you have questions about any ship or cruise line, you can get a review of most ships and cruise lines in the "Complete Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships 2003" Douglas Ward; Berlitz Publishing Co.; the "Unofficial Guide to Cruises 2003"; Kay Showker and Bob Sehlinger; Wiley Publishing Co. and "Stern's Guide to Cruise Vacations 2003"; Steven B. Stern, 13th ed. Pelican Publishing Co. You can find (or order) these at most large bookstores such as Borders or Barnes and Noble. All three of these books will also provide a wealth of detailed information on cruising. Since itineraries are subject to change, and not set much more than a year in advance, you should go to the cruise lines' websites to get the correct itineraries and dates. You then can check with your travel agent to see the brochures which will give you a schematic of the ships' layouts and cabin locations. In many cases you can order brochures directly from the cruise lines, but these brochures for the major lines cover separate specific destination areas, and not the entire cruise line repertory in one brochure. (Small lines with few ships are an exception.) The pricing options vary widely. Every line has an early booking discount; many offer specials in the last days before sailing if you want to take a chance; and there are a variety of "specials" and package deals through various travel agencies. No one recommends that you do your booking through the net; having your travel agent do the actual talking to the booking clerks is best; but the net can provide a lot of information. Some people make the itinerary the prime factor, some the cruise line or specific ship, and others are controlled by time constraints and the availability of cruises within their budget range. Like many people, we consider the itinerary first, and then look at the cruise line and date options. As an exception. we decided that since we had never sailed on Holland-American, specifically looked for a convenient date and itinerary on this line for our next cruise, and succeeded in booking a short Caribbean trip on Veendam next March. Shipboard Accommodations Once you have decided on the cruise line and itinerary, the next decision concerns the actual accommodations to be selected. The range here is again very large, from suites of more than 3000 square feet (how big is your house?) to "standard" cabins of about 180 square feet. Obviously the difference is price. These days the newer ships feature "veranda" cabins which make up almost half the cabins available. Then there are a variety of staterooms labeled "suites"; some of which, like Celebrity's "sky suites" are little more than larger cabins with added amenities and features such as butler service, access to spa facilities at a reduced rate, etc. Many people, like us, enjoy the outside access of a veranda, where you can sit on a small deck all your own and enjoy the sound and smell of the ocean for a better "at sea" experience. Others, including a travel agent I know, book the lowest cost inside cabin on the theory that they don't spend much time there, and they can enjoy the rest of the ship to the same extent as the people in the largest suite. Traditionally the higher decks are more costly for identical cabins. Very often the costlier suites are on the upper decks; the Millennium class ships of Celebrity being an exception with all its expensive suites being located on deck 6. Most cabins have only showers, and only very expensive suites have double sinks. Unless you bring an excessive amount of luggage, you will find that cabins, even the smallest, hold a large amount of clothing, toiletries, etc. Ships architects have long mastered the art of squeezing the maximum amount of storage space out of every square foot of cabin area. Hotel architects could learn a lot by observing how ships utilize space. What about your bags? In most cases they will fit under the bed, but the ship will store them elsewhere if necessary. This of course leads to the topic of what to pack. The cruise lines will offer their suggestions, as will the books cited above. However the season, destination, length of cruise and type of ship control this. Some lines such as Holland America, Celebrity and Princess tend to more formality than Carnival or Disney Lines. A new, somewhat upscale line, Oceania, has no formal nights and neither does the very expensive Seabourn Line. But no line actually requires formal wear, although they may not admit passengers to the main dining rooms for dinner in bathing wear, cut-offs or shorts. Aside from that, the weather and the destinations basically control what to bring in the way of clothes. Some ships have self-service laundries, and the Berlitz guide will tell you which these will be; although if you closely peruse the ships' layouts in the brochures, you may discover the laundry rooms on your own. Getting to the Ship and Back Home The next consideration is planning the route to and from the ports of embarkation and debarkation, which very well may not be the same city. All cruise lines offer to purchase air fare to and from the cruises for you. If they do so, they will normally include the transportation between the airport and the pier both ways. You can purchase your own air tickets, of course, and you may be able to buy transfers to and from the pier separately. If you are going round trip from the same city for departure and return; a common event for Caribbean cruises, you can probably do better buying your own air tickets, especially if you are good at internet shopping. Your travel agent may be willing to help if you have bought the cruise from him or her, even though their commissions these days on air travel are virtually non-existent. If you are required to use "open jaw" flights; i.e. leaving from different cities for embarkation and debarkation, it is a little more complex to get any savings compared to the cruise lines, who can save money by block booking on major airlines. [For a good example of pre-cruise flight planning, read the review of our Celebrity Mercury cruise from Santiago to Buenos Aires in January 2002 on this website.] However you may end up with weird routings as we did on this cruise because we felt we should use Celebrity in order to insure the right connections to Ensenada. You can vary the departure dates, but the cruise line might charge extra for this service. Celebrity waives any deviation charges for cruisers who are members of its Captains Club. If you can do so, always provide extra time, and for safety's sake, an extra day in planning your air connection to the departure city. Trip Insurance Finally, there is the issue of trip insurance. We recommend it, but suggest that you buy from one of the independent insurers rather than the cruise line. The basic reason is that insurance you buy from the cruise line only covers you for services supplied by them. If you fly independently, take off on shore excursions that you book yourself, or extend the trip before or after on your own, the cruise line insurance will not cover you. However your own carrier will cover all events within the dates you specify. We have found a firm known as CSA to be responsive and reasonable. Incidentally, you do not have to insure for all the costs; but you can pick a figure you would settle for to cover the travel portion. In other words, you don't have to add the flight cost to the cruise cost because you would probably not lose both. The main point is that with any coverage you get theft insurance, baggage loss, baggage delay and health coverage. You can even get pre-existing health condition coverage if you buy a higher priced policy as soon as you book the cruise. Talk to you travel agent about various policies that are available since they are commissionable also. It is worth it for peace of mind. Off to the Islands Getting to the ship was really strange. Celebrity flew us from Phoenix to Los Angeles by United shuttle, and then by noisy and vibrating United commuter turbo-prop from Los Angeles to San Diego. Air mileage from Phoenix to San Diego is 310 miles and takes 50 minutes. It was 498 air miles via LAX and 3 hours total travel time. The only explanation for this idiocy is that Celebrity possibly does not do business with the so-called "regional" carriers like Air West and Southwest which had 7 direct flights from Phoenix to San Diego in the same time frame. As we arrived in San Diego, at 9:30 A.M. after getting up at 4:30 for a for a 7:30 flight from Phoenix, we saw Infinity in the harbor where it had debarked its passengers returning from Hawaii. At about 10:15 I saw it sail away for Ensenada. The Celebrity staff which met us at the commuter terminal where we arrived were pleasant and efficient, but nonetheless we waited in the terminal until noon before we boarded a bus for our Mexico destination. Once past the border, a 30 minute trip, the rest of the ride was quite nice. There is a great view of San Diego all the way north to La Jolla as you go west through the hills outside Tijuana, and for the next hour you drive along the coast with the mountains on one side and good to spectacular views of the ocean on the other. The road is basically a four lane divided highway, so traffic moves smoothly. There is a great deal of construction going on in this stretch of road, clearly directed towards Americans with many homes as well as high rise condos. Half the roadway traffic signs are in English. Although the Celebrity staff had told us it would take 2½ hours, after about one hour and fifteen minutes we rounded a curve to see a wide bay and Infinity docked at the harbor; a beautiful sight. We stopped at the Hotel Coral beneath a university on the hillside with striking architecture. The hotel was advertising a "bargain" special of a two day stay for $280.00 U.S. Not my idea of a bargain, although it looked like a nice place. The check-in was extremely fast and we re-boarded our bus for a fairly quick trip to the pier. We were the second bus to arrive, and the ship was not ready for us as we could see the stern lines to the dock being tightened into their final position, and the gangways being put in place. After about 15 minutes we were allowed on board with no further delay beyond the obligatory boarding photo shoot. We were greeted with champagne, which we declined, and provided an escort to our cabin. We were "at home" by 3:15; very good time once we left the airport. Our luggage arrived about 4:00, the fastest we have ever experienced. Shortly afterwards our cabin steward, Ralph appeared, and then we were greeted by our butler, Alfred, who had also been our butler on Infinity in December 2002 when we sailed through the Panama Canal. Since we knew we had the same stateroom, we had our travel agent "request" Alfred, but of course had no idea if he was still on the ship or what his cabin assignments might be. Since we had our luggage, we were able to unpack, make a quick trip to the dining room to check on the menu, and then shower and change for dinner, much better than the usual experience of eating in our traveling clothes. Our dinner companions arrived slowly. First were Tony and Linda from Atlanta, then Louis and Paulette from Sonoma, California, followed by Pat and Bill from Florida. There still was room for another couple. Jim and Dawn from Fort Collins, Colorado joined us on the first sea day. Our waitress was Adela, a very attractive young lady from the Czech Republic, and her assistant was Kemal from Turkey. The dinner was as the smoothest and best we had ever had for an initial shipboard meal. As we ate we could see buses still arriving at the pier. There had been some delays, and Pat and Bill had endured a breakdown just short of the border near San Ysidro, California. After dinner we went to the first night "show" which was a typical abbreviated event with introductions of staff members by the Cruise Director. We then sailed away. Infinity as a Ship We returned to our cabin to turn in early. The cabin measures about 251 square feet with a 57 square foot veranda, compared to a "Premium" outside cabin with 191 square feet and a 41 square foot veranda, or a "Deluxe" ocean view cabin of 170 square feet with a 37 square foot veranda or an ocean view cabin and inside cabin of 170 square feet and no veranda. The walls are paneled wood with attractive paintings and good lighting. One wall is mirrored. The bathroom is small but efficient, with a great deal of shelf and other storage space which was not close to being entirely used. There is a hair dryer in the bathroom, not in the cabin as on Regal Princess! Aside from the bed the sky suites have room for a small sofa and an upholstered arm chair with small table, in addition to a desk with its own chair. The closet is ample with a sort of "walk-in" area. There are adequate drawers and shelves. The veranda has a teak arm chair and lounge chair with ottoman, all outfitted with full padded cushions which are very comfortable. All cabins have safes. The television is a decent size. I could have requested an internet hook-up had I brought a laptop. Celebrity supplies its suite guests a small pair of binoculars and two very large umbrellas in addition to a sizeable carryall bag. We are also provided with personalized stationary and a bottle of complimentary champagne which sat in its ice bucket untouched for the entire trip. All cabins have thermos pitchers for water, with a daily change of fresh ice. The overall impression of the cabins is that they are very clean, extremely efficient, and quite attractive in an art deco style. Infinity lived up to its reputation as a spotless, clean, spacious and relaxing ship. It has a displacement of 91,000 tons. This is a measure of the interior size, and is of value in measuring the amount of space per passenger. With a maximum standard passenger complement of 2000, this works out to a 45.5 space ratio. By comparisons, some cruise ships have a ratio as low as 29; while the super luxury ships like those of the SilverSeas line can run to a ratio of more than 60. Since the standard cabins on most of the larger (1200+ passenger) ships tend to be about the same size; from 175 to 195 square feet, the larger area means that the public spaces on a high space ratio ship like Infinity and its three sister ships; Millennium, Summit and Constellation, are larger, and there are more of them. The consequence for the passengers is a feeling of spaciousness and luxury. As on most ships this size, Decks 6, 7, 8 and 9 of Infinity are almost entirely devoted to cabins, as are Deck 2 and part of Deck 3. Deck 10 is the usual pool deck and buffet deck, Decks 11 and 12 are walking decks and sports decks, with the highest deck featuring a large lounge-night club forward with excellent views. Deck 3 is the deck with the "front desk", bank and excursion office, movie theater and meeting rooms. Decks 4 and 5 have the main theater forward and the main dining room aft, with the shops, casino, lounges, photo gallery and the like between the theater and the dining room. Nowadays alternative dining rooms are found at various levels, and the United States, which is Infinity's luxury alternative dining room is on Deck 3. Celebrity puts its children's center at the aft end of Deck 11, almost completely out of sight and sound. But then Celebrity does not normally cater to children, and there have seldom been more that 15 or 20 on the cruises we have taken with them. We try to walk a lot while on board, using the stairs for almost all occasions, and Deck 7 and 8 close to midship is probably the most convenient location and one I try for when booking, although we had no choice but Deck 6 on this trip. But no matter what your desires may be, these are big ships, close to 900 feet long, and you are going to do some hoofing, like it or not. Monday - Thursday Sea Days These were definitely "sea" days, with strong winds up to 45 knots and 8 foot swells. While Edith and I were not bothered, we heard that some people were seasick, and we saw a lot of patches to prevent mal de mer. At times the waves in the pools were extreme, even in the Thalassotherapy pool. You could almost body surf from one end to the other, and since this pool is covered and heated, it was fun. Out on our balcony we had salt sea spray for a definite ocean feel. On the whole, we found no inconvenience and a nice "sailor's" atmosphere. It was chilly outside, and there was little use of the regular outside poolside deck chairs, but since we don't indulge in this form of relaxation, we did not care. The Library We immediately noticed one change on board. Celebrity decided to provide a full time librarian, the first we have seen on any cruise. This was a very nice touch, and Erin was both good and enthusiastic in her job. Celebrity deserves high marks for this addition. Prior to this, the job was assigned to other employees, often dancers or other entertainers, and their schedules and backgrounds were not conducive to providing support. Erin also ran daily programs for those interested in books, including one dedicated to mystery writers which I greatly enjoyed and which was well attended. Daily Shipboard Activities We noticed that there seemed to be a larger number of daily informational programs, called the "Discoveries Enrichment Series" There were usually about 5 scattered through the day. At least two were conducted by naturalists on the Islands, their wildlife and sea life. There was one series on the events surrounding the attack on Pearl Harbor by a gentleman with a distinct viewpoint on the politics involved. Neither Edith or I attended, but Tony from our table really enjoyed him. There also was a lady of Hawaiian descent talking about the history of the Islands, the hula (conducting "lessons") and an introduction to the Hawaiian language. While we did not attend all the nature talks, we went to a number of them and found the speakers very well qualified and enlightening. Celebrity appeared to be extending the number and scope of this series from prior cruises and is to be encouraged in this. Aside from that, there were the usual array of "sports" activities, trivia contests, bingo, art auctions, jewelry seminars, spa information promotion talks, and port shopping talks. There were a few free exercise classes in the gym and dance classes. We attended one stretch class and were the only ones there. Despite this, the instructor held the class, even though it was on one of the rough early sea days. This was in contrast to Princess, where the instructor cancelled a class where three of us showed up on the grounds the sea was too high. And this was on Regal Princess where the gym was on the 2nd deck with sea motion barely perceptible. Credit should be given to Celebrity for serving the interests of the passengers, not the crew! There was usually at least one movie per day. Entertainment The entertainment was standard for all cruises on larger ships, but the big shows were better than on most trips we have taken. Celebrity always has a quartet playing show tunes or semi-classical music. This one was the Rainbow Quartet and while doing a very nice job, leaned to show tunes without any of the light classical music occasionally played by the Enigma Quartet which we greatly enjoyed on our Millennium and Mercury cruises. These quartets often play in the Cova Cafe de Milano, and area on Deck 5 which often offered pastries (free) as well as a broad coffee selection in a very pleasant environment. We did notice that the servers would ask once if you wanted anything to drink, and if you waved them off, that was it. You were never bothered or made to feel that you really should have ordered that "Drink of the Day" advertised in the daily ship's news letter. There also was a dance band, a pianist and the "Black and White Duo" playing dance music before dinner each day in the Rendez-Vous (sic) lounge near the main dining hall. We felt that they leaned to the country and honky-tonk too much, and were not the best we had heard compared to other trips. We missed our lovely Amanda; Mary Amanda Fairchild; the harpist from Millennium. On a cruise of this length there were four production shows. As Captain's Club members, we were invited to a backstage tour, which was interrupted when one of the movable dance band stages slid across the main stage, due to the high seas, into another portable stage containing the grand piano. This limited our tour a little since our guide, who was the production manager for all events in the main theater, had to secure things quickly. But he did have time to tell us about the production shows. They are contracted for by Celebrity from a firm which puts them together for cruise lines and perhaps other venues. They cost about $1 million each, so they are kept in the cruise line repertoire for five or six years. This means that if you cruise the same lines frequently, you will see the same shows, although usually with different performers. So Edith and I had seen all four of these big shows on Millennium and on our prior Infinity cruise. Nonetheless, we do find these "Las Vegas" style shows enjoyable. The casts are fairly small with five "leads", who are basically singers and 12 "singers and dancers" who are largely dancers. This provides a fairly cozy feel, and the sense that you actually know the individual performers after one or two shows. The other Celebrity Theater shows had a variety of different acts. They included a magician/musician, Garin Bader, whom we had seen on an earlier cruise and who is pretty entertaining and talented; a comedian who we skipped as usual; and a singer, David McClaine, who had a decent repertoire, and who was not nearly as loud as the singer on Regal Princess who drove us from the room. There also was a musician with an unusual instrument, a sort of electrified zither, who was fairly entertaining. And on one of the island days a group of local entertainers, mostly hula dancers, from ages about four years old up, came on board to put on their semi-professional act. The Celebrity Theater holds about 900 with comfortable seats, good sight lines from virtually all seats, and the ability to stage almost anything. The shows as always were hosted by the Cruise Director, Don Fluke, who was very pleasant and informative, with no attempts to be a comedian; which was appreciated. You cannot expect true Broadway or Las Vegas caliber shows on a cruise ship; but within the framework of this type of venue, the entertainment was quite good. The Princess cruise shows we have seen on two cruises were about equal in quality, and the entertainment on both of these lines were superior to our single experience with Carnival and far above our one Norwegian trip. We look forward to Veendam in March and Serenity in September; with Galaxy in between in May. Cuisine and the Dining Venues This has always been a Celebrity strong point, and it seemed to improve on this cruise. The main dining room is on two levels at the aft end of decks four and five, with a grand staircase connecting the two floors. We always choose the main, or early seating. I mentioned the smooth service and fine presentation on the first night, and this continued throughout the voyage. Celebrity always has a variety of vegetables, and they are always well prepared and presented. If a restaurant does its vegetables proud, then you can be sure the rest of the food will be prepared extremely well also. Cruise lines are traditionally limited in the variety of selections they can offer at any one meal, but with the addition of a vegetarian menu, the option of ordering steak or salmon on any evening and a wide range of appetizers, this is not a problem. And Celebrity never duplicates any menu items on any cruise, even its two week trips. In addition, this line has somehow arranged its table coverage so that the wait staff is not overworked and never appears rushed as they do on Princess. Adela had a chance to discuss food items with us and chat with us during and after every meal. Our assistant maitre d' also visited us every night and clearly was keeping track of things. We seldom include this individual in our tipping plan since they often appear to do nothing, but that was not the case, at least with our maitre d' on Infinity. Since everyone's taste in food differs, I will not include a recitation of my menu selections (although I did keep notes on each meal). Suffice to say that I was not disappointed with a single choice, and there were only a very few notes of dissatisfaction at our table for the entire trip among all ten of us. We also dined in the specialty restaurant, the United States, once again, and as on our first Infinity cruise, were delighted by the service as well as the meal. It costs $50.00 for two, and should be done at least once on every cruise on the four Millennium class ships which offer such a choice. We also think the buffet setup and quality on Celebrity is better than on any other ship. There are four separate buffet lines (although they are not all always opened up), so there is a minimum of delay. The food has some imagination, and is usually quite warm, if not exactly hot. Breakfasts have a fairly good selection, with usually about four fruits along with the usual selections. There is a separate omelet station. There is also a sushi bar open in the evenings, and a pizza station which makes its own pizzas on the spot. We had a spinach pizza one night which was delicious. Next to the Aqua Spa and Thalassotherapy pool is a special "Healthy foods" small buffet open for breakfast and lunch. We enjoyed the fresh papaya obtainable there (but probably only on Hawaiian trips). There is also an outside grill for those who cannot live without hamburgers or hot dogs. At dinner there is a set up for alternative dining in the buffet area, but we never tried this although we heard that it was nice. The meal components on Crystal, SilverSeas, Radisson, Oceania and Seabourn lines are all reported to be at the gourmet level. No large ship like Infinity can reach this level. But again, these luxury lines charge at least 50% more than Celebrity, which is no more expensive than Princess or Holland American and only slightly more than Norwegian, Royal Caribbean and Carnival. But the food and service on Celebrity cannot be matched by Princess, NCL or Carnival. I cannot speak for Holland American (yet), but I have heard from those who have traveled RCI that it is not even close to Celebrity in food and food service. Shore Excursions The most salient factor of shore excursions on this cruise was the simple but critical fact that Hawaii is in the United States. This meant that we could research all sorts of possibilities for excursions well in advance, and make arrangements by telephone or internet with ease and mutual understanding. The next factor is that every port, with the possible exception of Hilo, has a wide range of shore expedition choices. Celebrity supplied us with a slick, multi page brochure of all its sponsored shore excursions. We did not take one. In fact the only shore trip we bought was a snorkeling trip for me, purchased directly from the Pacific Whale Foundation for the internet price of a little over $68.00. Their trip was a double snorkel trip, the first part being to the island of Molokini, basically a small semicircle of a volcano top, off Maui; followed by lunch in the afternoon and a second dive on the ocean side of Lanai. This was a 7½ excursion, and quite a bargain as well as providing us with a truly wonderful diving experience at Molokini. The fish were plentiful at both sites, and the coral at Molokini was amazing in its color and variety. The internet provided a wide range of diving tours at almost every port. What we did was rent cars and travel on our own. Our plans to meet an old friend who had moved to Hilo were frustrated by the weather. The ship sailed into the harbor, but when past the breakwater was actually tossed against the pier by a severe sea which came in over the breakwater. Then the Captain was apparently informed that the weather would get worse, so he turned around and sailed away without docking, leaving my friend John waiting for me on the pier. We simply sailed around the Big Island to Kailua-Kona on the leeward side, arriving in the evening instead of the next day. We though we could tender in and check on our rental car arrangements, but after waiting by the tenders for an hour or so, we were told that the lights at the tender pier were not sufficient to allow us to land, and that the Coast Guard barred any tendering. The Big Island - First Pass The next day we drove our rental car clear across the Big Island, through the delightful town of Waimae and into Hilo, which we explored on foot. We saw that the waves were still very high, and auto travel was barred on the bay front street. Hilo is a quaint town, with stores from the 50s and a busy farmer's market. We ate at a very nice restaurant called Kaikodo, which we located by accident, located at 60 Keawe Street, a block up from the waterfront and a block down from the Federal Courthouse and Post Office. Traveling by car in Hawaii is not rapid since the only four lane roads are a brief stretch on Maui and on Oahu. The speed limit on the Big Island is 55 mph, with many stretches lower than that. We found out later that most if not all Hawaii police forces do not use regular, publicly owned official police cars, but have the police officers drive whatever car they choose to buy and run at public expense, and furnish it with a blue light for the top as its sole designation that it is a police vehicle. So you really have to watch the limits. The rental cost was not high, but the gasoline charge was, and gas is very expensive on the islands, about 40 cents more than even California. We heard on a local television show that the actual cost of transporting gas to Hawaii is only about 6 or 7 cents a gallon, so the gas companies are raking it in. Maui Our next port was Lahaina and we used our cell phone to call the rental agency, which told us the van was on the way to pick us up and take us to the airport. Cell phones work well here. We drove up Mount Haleakala, over 10,000 feet of twisting but good roads. A favorite tour is to ride a bike down after being driven to the top, but we saw several people biking all the way up, and a few who we saw made it to the top. The diversity of Hawaii is surprising. As you go through different elevations the scenery changes. At about 3000 feet it looked like New England with deciduous trees, rolling hills and lots of cows. Hawaii is great for livestock. The views into the crater on Haleakala are good, and we could see the top of both Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on the Big Island 80 miles to the south. This is a highly recommended trip, especially in your own vehicle. We looked all over Halakeala for the state bird, the endangered nene, which looks like a small goose, but found none. Towns along the north coast were well developed and looked like southern California. Real estate prices are sky high, especially on Maui. The ship stayed overnight in Lahaina, and the next day was my snorkel trip described above. Edith wandered around Lahaina which she reported to be hot and totally tourist oriented, nowhere nearly as interesting as the real Hawaiian towns we had seen the prior day. A lot of people went to a typical staged luau, which includes a show. The reviews were mixed, but most thought is was pretty expensive for what you got, especially since the ship put on the same type of polynesian show as its regular offering, and there is of course no charge for that. There is a trip called "The road to Hana" which involves a long drive around Haleakela through a semi-tropical area with true "South Pacific" hidden valleys and waterfalls. If you have your own transportation, you can probably enjoy it on the first day, since there is no worry about getting back to the ship on any time schedule. Infinity is very good about allowing early diners eat at the late seating on these nights. We plan on this trip on our next visit. Kauai Kauai, the next stop, is a truly beautiful island. There are two major areas to visit here. One is the Waimea area on the west side of the island, and the other is the Hanalei district on the north coast which is basically a seashore of reported beauty. The Waimea trip involves driving up a ridge with a beautiful canyon on one side, called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, and a series of ridges running down to the Na Pali coast on the west. We chose the Waimea trip, and drove our rental car west out of Lihue, the port town, on Route 50 through small towns on the south coast and then turned north. The road is actually an inverted Y, with two roads up joining together after a few miles. We recommend taking the 2nd, westernmost road up because it is much easier to spot from the road you are on. This road is Route 550 and is marked. There were low lying clouds which barred our view west to the coast, but about halfway up is a lookout point with a large parking area clearly labeled as the Waimea Canyon Lookout. This is a good vantage point for the canyon, and we enjoyed the view. It does look a little like our own Arizona Grand Canyon in terms of colors, We spotted a feral goat about 400-feet below us and could clearly hear his neighing in the quiet air. This lookout place is as high as the tour buses go. We drove on to the next to highest spot, Kalalau Lookout, which would have provided a view down to the western coast except that it was covered with clouds, a frequent occurrence probably. We then walked up a road to the east, closed to auto traffic, to the Puu O Kila Lookout, through drizzling rain. We could not see much and started back when we ran into two fellow passengers from Infinity. The man lives in Maui and was showing his girl friend around the islands. They were going to walk down a trail, So we went back for another look. As the clouds cleared away to the east and south and we could suddenly see all the way down the Waimea Canyon to the shore on the south coast about 15 miles away. Then, in just a couple of minutes, the clouds closed in again, and the view was lost. Of course you have to remember that across this canyon to the east is another range which creates the highest annual rainfall, over 450 inches a year average, on the face of the earth. We returned and where the road branched off, took the eastern route which was shorter, but provided a number of good coastal views. This is a tour to be taken if you have a chance, and can be done with much more freedom and at lower cost in a rental car. On the way back, and close to the main town of Lihue we stopped at a large Trading Post at a stoplight. This place also was a Museum for the necklaces made by the native Hawaiians who are the only residents of the private island of Ni'ihau, which is located about 12 miles northwest of Kauia, and clearly visible on our trip down the canyon. These necklaces are made from tiny, flower shaped seashells found only on the shores of that island. They are extremely beautiful, but very costly, with some marvelous specimens in the museum costing up to $6,000.00; and standard strands starting at $150.00. Like our Navajo rugs, the museum specimens usually had the names of the makers attached. Despite the clouds we thought the Waimea Canyon trip was just great, and we thought Kauai was a marvelous place. Oahu and Honolulu We then sailed to Honolulu, where we would have an overnight stay on the ship before debarking on Thanksgiving Day. So on Wednesday we left the ship and walked around the downtown area near the pier for a few blocks before we caught a city bus to the Waikiki area. Seniors showing Medicare cards, I had mine of course, but Edith is still too young for one, get to travel for half price, that is $1.00. We continued past the east end of Waikiki Beach (it is about two miles in length) to the Honolulu Zoo, which is just below Diamondhead. There we saw a lot of nene in a fine exhibit area. We walked back along the beach to the Parc Waikiki Hotel where we would be staying, and had a very nice lunch, with an extremely pleasant and helpful waitress. Since Honolulu is a pretty good sized city, about 800,000; and has only one freeway, we stopped at our hotel desk to get directions from the airport where we would pick up our rental car the next day. They had the directions on a printed card. We traveled back by bus to a small but very authentic and somewhat exotic Chinatown near downtown, and walked back through it to the ship's pier. We had a special party that afternoon for Select and Elite Captain's Club members (five and more Celebrity cruises) which was attended by perhaps 15 couples and gave us a chance to have a nice chat with some staff members. Debarkation was quite relaxed since we had priority treatment again as Captain's Club members, and had no plane or tour to catch. Even more relaxed were Bill and Pat from our table who were not leaving the ship at all, but proceeding back to the states on board for a round trip. Our priority status also gave us a separate baggage area which let us get on an airport bus to pick up our rental car without waiting in a very long line in the pier building. We again rented a car and drove across Oahu to the northwest coast. We detoured to drive around Schofield Barracks, the Army Post featured in the novel, and subsequent movie, From Here to Eternity. The old post barracks are attractive and functional at the same time. They exemplify Army efficiency when it is really working well. We hoped to see good surfers at work on the northeast coast with its famous Banzai Pipeline waves at Sunset Beach, but there were very few waves at all, so this was disappointing. Oahu is roughly square, trailing off to the south east, so that there is a southwest coast, a northwest coast, a northeast coast and a south coast with Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, Waikiki and Diamondhead all in a row. We drove clear down the north east coast and through a tunnel south back to Honolulu. Since many cruisers will stay an extra day or so in Honolulu, it is appropriate to describe in our ports of call section of this review. A prime attraction is the USS Arizona Pearl Harbor Memorial. It is a U.S. Navy facility and operation, and is free and open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas. Do not bring any bags, even handbags or camera bags. Photos are permitted, its the bags that are seen as security risks. You line up for tickets and are given (not sold) a ticket for a specific tour in first come-first served order. The trips out to the Memorial across the harbor towards Ford Island are by navy run tenders, and they stop at about 4:00 in the afternoon. Since the number of people allowed on the Memorial is strictly limited by its size, unless you get there early, you may not be able to get a ticket. There is a small museum on land which can be visited freely at any time. We were a little late on Friday morning, and had not brought hats or sunscreen. So we decided not to wait, and to come back later. We went back at about 1:30 or 2:00 to see no line, but to find out that there were no more tickets available either. So our attempts to see them memorial were a failure, although we did enjoy the museum, which I enjoyed since I distinctly recall being the first in my family to hear the radio newscast that we had been attacked and telling my family who were reading the Sunday newspapers. The shopping on Waikiki is amazing. There are more stores, and more high end shopping than any place I have ever been except New York City. Since this was the start of the Christmas season, the stores were all open to 10:00 and jammed with customers, a substantial number of whom were apparently Japanese, and who were freely buying. But there were obviously a goodly number of locals and mainland tourists as well. The beach itself is not bad at all. The surf was not high here either, but the water, as in all the islands, is extremely clean, clear and pleasant for swimming. Traffic in Honolulu is bad, and driving is not much fun, but we got used to it in two days. One way streets are a special problem, and it is not always clear how you get onto the single in town freeway, H1, or where the exits will take you. If you shop at only one place in all the Islands, this place is Baileys Antiques and Aloha Shirts, Inc. This is a crowded, funky, marvelous store with more aloha shirts than you could imagine, including not only decently priced contemporary ones, but shirts from the 1940s running $150.00 and more. It is located at 517 Kapahulu Avenue, which is also the street fronting the Zoo, and is 90° to Kalakaua Avenue, the main street running along Waikiki beach to Diamondhead. I left my credit card at the store on my way out of town, and called them from the airport. They had found it and at my request, mailed it to our time share in Kailua. Like many places in the Islands, we found the tradespeople at Bailey's to be extremely friendly and pleasant, and rather laid back rather than frantically trying to sell you things. Of course there are a number of Hilo Hattie's, the trademark Hawaiian wear store chain. They carry a lot of decent quality merchandise without being terribly expensive, and would be our next choice for shopping. We ate at two good restaurants outside the hotel. One was the Sunset Grill in Restaurant Row, about halfway from downtown to Waikiki, and Kincaids, which is actually a chain restaurant, in a shopping center just west of Waikiki. Edith had a traditional Thanksgiving turkey dinner at the Sunset Grill, but, as in just about everyplace we ate in Hawaii, if they had fresh fish, that is what I chose, and in these two restaurants, with satisfaction. We drove around Diamondhead, but the timing did not work out well for climbing it, which we understand is spectacular if you get to the top at sunrise or sunset. The Big Island Revisited After Oahu, we went back to the Big Island for a week's stay at a nice timeshare about a mile from the main part of Kailua. If you cruise there, and can take a trip to the town of Waimea, we recommend seeing the Parker Ranch Historic house. This was once the largest cattle ranch in the United States, and still may be, although it is no longer owned by any member of the family. The original Parker jumped ship in 1809 and a few years later married the niece of the warrior King Kamehameha who united the Islands by defeating all of the local kings and chiefs in a series of bloody wars, and established the Hawaiian monarchy which lasted until the end of the 19th century. The photos of the Parker family are fascinating. Also worth visiting are the coffee plantations and a coffee cooperative on the Naapoopoo road to Kealakekua Bay near Captain Cook, south of Kailua on Highway 11. The Bay itself has good snorkeling. For body surfing there is a good although very small beach called White Sands Beach, or Disappearing Beach about 3-4 miles south of Kailua on Alii Drive, near a supposedly very good restaurant called Jamison's. It is called "Disappearing Beach" because the sands wash away each winter, and return each spring. The first day I was there, the surf was up and body surfing was great. Also, in Kailua, in the Safeway shopping center, is a restaurant that everyone, with good reason, recommends, with the unlikely name of Oodles of Noodles. Don't let the name or location put you off. It is delightful, had excellent food, and is reasonably priced. We also ate at Huggo's (that's correct, two "g"s) near downtown Kailua. The setting was just great, we sat outside on a porch area overlooking the bay with the waves slapping the rocks beneath us, and the service was excellent. But I thought the meal left something to be desired. It did not touch the delicious ono I had a few days earlier at a very unpretentious restaurant in the tourist area just near the tender pier. I think it was called the Galley, and was upstairs. Edith did not like the lasagna there however; but I guess you should not expect great Italian food at a seafood restaurant. Aside from this, the great attraction on the Big Island is the volcano, but it was not erupting and since it is a 90 mile drive from Kailua, we did not bother to try it. We also visited a friend who was staying at one of the very high end resorts on the Kohala Coast. The Big Island, like Oahu, is roughly square, with a long Kona coast on the southwest side. Kailua is often called Kailua-Kona for that reason. The Kohala coast is very barren except for these resorts, which are pretty much self contained, with no true towns very close by. The windward, or north east side is quite extensive, including the Hilo area. It is also subtropical and gets a huge amount of rain, 150 inches a year being typical of Hilo, whereas the Kohala and Kona coasts only get from 6 to 10 inches. The reason for this is that the big mountains, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, separate the windward from the leeward sides, and the prevailing winds running into these huge mountains, drop all their moisture on the windward side. The south east coast is basically the side of Mauna Loa, with its volcano offshoot, the Kileaua Caldera about two-thirds of the way down at 4000 feet sending its lava flow, when flowing, into the sea. To get from one side to the other there are three routes, one through the Volcano National Park past the Kileaua Caldera; one up north through Waimea, and one between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, called the Saddle Road, which is forbidden to rental cars even though it is entirely passable according to reviews I have read. The Waimea route is so pleasant that I would see no reason to try the Saddle Road unless both peaks were clear of clouds, in which case it might be spectacular. Or you could rent a four wheel drive for lots of money and really go road trekking! Hawaii Overall as a Cruise Destination The islands have a wide variety of topography, and a wealth of attractions. There are a host of activities geared to the tourist trade which by now is the greatest source of income, the sugar and pineapple cultivation industry largely having moved away. There are also a great many books available everywhere, covering all possible aspects of what is really a rather small state. The weather never changes much, with winter being considered the rainy season and summer the dry. But these terms are relative, since location counts more than time, and no weather system stays around too long - everything blows through in a day or so. It is strange to hear a weather reporter on a local station describe a morning temperature of 60° as "nippy". The only problem is choosing among the various attractions, with six or seven choices at most locations. In addition, this is the easiest place to avoid the high cost of cruise sponsored tours since there is a lot of competition, rental cars are cheap (although gas is not), and directions are in English. Well sort of in English - Hawaiian street names are difficult to pronounce and remember; and signs are not always as informative as they should be. Public transit in Honolulu is excellent, and while available, sporadic in the smaller islands. Food is California priced; that is, higher than most places outside New York, and not really too outrageous. Of course the tendency is not to dine extensively on land since you can return to great food on the ship; but daytime shore excursions often mean land lunches. With a good set of maps, some advance research, and a spirit of adventure, you can really have a great time in this beautiful place. We did, and we are seriously planning doing the whole cruise over again next November and seeing what we did not have the chance to see this trip. Overall Experience This was an excellent cruise. We felt that Celebrity had moved its service and food up a notch from its prior very high ranking. We liked their touches beginning with escorting you to your cabin on arrival. We enjoyed having the daily news sheets with world news and sports, delivered to our suite, but available for every one and in several languages at the Guest Relations area. We loved the concept of having a librarian, and appreciated the staff's willingness to conduct exercise classes for two people. We were delighted by the enthusiastic cooperation of the dining room staff in assisting our birthday party for our waitress. We admired the special service in the United States Dining Room; the excellent stateroom care and the overall appearance of the ship. We greatly enjoyed the relaxed entertainment in the quiet and delightful Cafe Cove de Milano. We know that there were people who were not as pleased with the cruise as we were, but we think that perhaps their expectations might have been different. We know that the husband in one of our table groups was not nearly as pleased with the excursions that his wife loved, but we can hardly put the blame for that on Celebrity. There are always things that come up that could have been better. We were a little miffed with the confusion and eventual failure to allow tendering into Kailua-Kona after our forced abandonment of the landing in Hilo; but this was really a factor of weather. Nobody really enjoys tendering, but with large cruise ships there is no other choice in many ports. It would be impossible to suit the entertainment standards of all passengers. After all, I would prefer classical music, opera and real ballet; but this would be an unrealistic expectation. As standard cruise type entertainment goes, this cruise was again a touch above other Celebrity cruises, and much better than any comparable line. We feel the best individual performers we have had were Lindsey Hamilton, a soprano who had played West End shows in London, and who entertained in Celebrity Theater shows on Mercury around Cap e Horn, and Amanda Fairchild, the harpist on Millennium for our Mediterranean cruise; but the overall level was very high on this cruise. Within the limitations of providing for the general level of taste and expectations of 2000 people, Celebrity does a very fine job, and better than any other line in its major ship category. We think that every cruise line we have been on, including Celebrity, could do a better job with its daily programs, but we are not sure exactly how. This trip was one of the best for the lectures on the ports to be visited and the conditions, wildlife and customs to be expected on shore; better than on any other Celebrity trip, so perhaps there is improvement in that facet of passenger enrichment. For the first time ever on any cruise, we thought that the formal portrait actually looked like us, and we bought it. We have already noted our dissatisfaction with Celebrity's arrangements for getting us to San Diego, and there were some problems with the buses carrying people to Ensenada. I would guess that this problem is more a factor of the ports selected for embarkation than anything else, and there may be little choice; although there were clear choices on air transportation between Phoenix and San Diego. We should have done our own air purchases, and bought separate airport to ship transportation vouchers at both ends of the trip. Hawaii is worth seeing, and if you have never been there, a cruise like this is a great way to get to know the islands in a relaxed and reasonably informative way. If you are going to do it, do it on Infinity. Read Less
Sail Date November 2003
Day 1 May 18th I'm not normally a morning person, but on this day I was up and at em'! After packing, driving 2 hours, parking at the Park n Ride and being dropped at the San Diego airport, DH and I met with the RCCL rep, and ... Read More
Day 1 May 18th I'm not normally a morning person, but on this day I was up and at em'! After packing, driving 2 hours, parking at the Park n Ride and being dropped at the San Diego airport, DH and I met with the RCCL rep, and about an hour later, we were boarding the first buses leaving for Ensenada - this was about 11 AM. We had a sort of crazy bus ride down. Even though our driver was very good (Heard some harrowing stories from other cruisers.), our "problem" was a bit different. We had a seat, second from the back, that was loose and we literally rocked the whole way down! The seat even started squeaking in a rhythmic fashion; this was getting downright embarrassing! (Sounded like we were doing something, if you know what I mean!) Luckily, we met a very nice couple, Randy and Lisa, who were sitting in the seat behind us. In addition to being really good sports about our seat bouncing around, our lively discussion sure made the trip go faster. After the Hotel check-in process, we showed up at the pier around 2:30, the thing was, the Vision of the Seas hadn't made it there yet! A famous ship "The World" was docked there, and sailed away while we were hanging tight in our buses. Vision docked about 3 PM, and we were boarding about 30 minutes later. Finally, we arrived at our suite. It was wonderful! We enjoyed looking around, did some unpacking, then went up to the Windjammer for some refreshments. Of course, we had to do the muster drill, I think it was at 6 PM. Skipping to dinner, we were seated at a table for 6, but only 4 of us showed up that evening. Sometimes we have trouble remembering names, but not tonight. This great couple had the same names as my parents, Cathy and John. They were the nicest people, celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. We did skip desert and the evening show, because I had made arrangements over the web to meet some of the Cruise Compass folks at the Viking Crown Lounge at 10 PM for a "bon voyage toast." About 8 of us showed up, I'm sure the people on East Coast time were passed out by now. We had a fun time putting some faces to names after our months of chatting on-line. We even all got on the dance floor for some of the songs. By this time, we were far enough out to sea that the swells were getting big (and the Viking Crown Lounge is at the top, Deck 11), you should have seen how we were dancing to compensate for the moving dance floor. You don't even have to drink to feel like you're half-loaded in this situation! Day 2 May 19th Even waking up to heavy swells (they were about 8-10 feet), I was doing fine. We went the dining room for breakfast, and one of our tablemates we just met decided to talk quite a bit about seasickness. I don't know if that's what did it, but that breakfast felt like a small boulder in my stomach! We went back to our cabin (we saw our cabin attendant and she did not feel good!) and I drank some soda, took a bonine, then went out to the balcony for some deep breaths of fresh air and a look at the horizon. For a few minutes I questioned whether I would make the Cruise Critic Party, but since I basically promised everyone on-line that I would host an icebreaker, I made myself go. It's back to the Viking Crown Lounge (oh, Deck 11!) but once I got there and started working with the RCCL staff, my mind got off the seasickness track. Either that, or the bonine was kicking in. Anyway, we played a "20 questions game" fill out the form with 20 different names, many of the questions were cruise-related, but many were not. We had about 40 people attend our party, and they really got into the game. Thanks to my trip to the Purser's desk the day before, RCCL supplied pens for everyone, and gave me a box of prizes to give out to the winners. I put DH in charge of collecting and numbering the completed forms so we could award the prizes. I got to meet most of the people who conversed on-line for months and even though the 1-hour party was too short, we then saw each other throughout the cruise and had more time to socialize. Steve took a group photo and has posted it on line. That afternoon we saw the Cabaret with comedy magician, Nick Lewin. He was very good with that great British humor. DH liked him a lot and he is a tough critic! We got gussied up for Formal Night, saw the Theatre production "Boogie Wonderland" and had another enjoyable dinner with Cathy and John (still just the 4 of us). The Captain's table was right next to ours and this was the only evening he dined at our seating. Afterwards, we went for late night dancing in the Viking Crown Lounge, and danced with "the almost Village People" to the Y.M.C.A. It was a blast! The place was packed. Day 3 May 20th OK - The sea was calmer, and we were really into the "relaxation" mode! This was a day for pampering. I had a pedicure in the morning (my second ever), and then coerced DH into a "Couples Massage" class after lunch! There were about 10 couples in the room, including one we knew from the CC Party. We got to keep the bottle of oil provided, Lotus Flower, and we learned some of the "proper" techniques of giving a back/shoulder massage - very good!! Later in the day, we checked out the pre-dinner show with The Van Dells. They are like a 50's Sock Hop Trio, and they throw in some 3-Stooges like comedy between performing their songs. One of the guys (looks like a younger replacement member) comes out later in full Las Vegas Elvis gear and does a few Elvis numbers with enough pelvic moves to whip the women into a frenzy! They were a pretty good act, but I have to say, the "funny" guy of the group gave me the biggest laugh of the whole cruise! He did a "dead on" imitation of the Crocodile Hunter while making fun of the other guy's "teeny tail." I was laughing so hard I was crying!! That evening, we finally met our other tablemates from New Hampshire, Mark and Melody. They were so nice! They spent the first evening in their cabin, exhausted by their 15-hour trip, and the 2nd night Mark got seasick. We were glad they were feeling better and ready to join in the cruise dining experience. Whenever the 6 of us were together, we started doing the after dinner "shooters" and it was especially fun to get Cathy to do it! Her eyes would water, she'd have to take off her glasses and she'd be laughing really hard all the while! We had the best bar waiter, Jai, who was a pleasure to be around. He would really entice us with these drinks - one night we had the "Italian Stallion" which had Kahlua, Frangelico and Bailey's. I asked him when we'd be having the "Mad Cuban" (that is the name I tease my husband with!) After dinner, we caught a bit of the Hoe Down, then went to see the Late Night Comedy with Rick Corso (nothing to write home about). Day 4 May 21st Here we are - our third day at sea, "Polynesia Day," and we are really enjoying it! We decided to watch the "Spirit of Polynesia" entertainment after breakfast, but after about 35 minutes of watching a Hawaiian style fashion show, we headed off to the next activity. We went to a Backstage Tour of the Masquerade Theatre - we primarily watched how the sound board is operated during a performance and we got to see the changing areas for the performers backstage. We had an extensive Q&A session with one of the dancers who was from Canada. After this informative session, we went up to deck 10 for a mile of walking and a short workout with machines and free weights. We took it easy after lunch, then went to a 5 PM Lecture on the History of Magic from Nick Lewin. It lasted an hour and we wanted it to go longer! He interspersed magic tricks, tales about magic's history and entertained questions from the audience, of course, adding in many humorous comments! We got a brief biography of Houdini and how he would conduct his performances to enrapture his audiences. Afterwards, we bought a copy of Nick Lewin's DVD and had him autograph it. He really was one of the highlights of our trip! Prior to dinner, we also saw "On the Edge" which features two young guys who do juggling and comedy. I cracked up when they came out in the audience (we were in the 5th row and they went to about the 10th row) stood on the seats, and juggled several eggs over the heads of 4 audience members! After dinner, we went to the Love & Marriage Game Show - it was funny, but not as good as some we'd seen in the past. One unexpected thing happened (for me). The Cruise Director, Mark, announced that only 1 act had signed up for the Guest Talent Show being held the following evening, and welcomed additional people to come to the Purser's desk right away to sign up, or else this was going to be the shortest show in history! I'd been on 10 cruises before and had never tried to sign up, but I decided I wanted to! So we headed over to the Purser's Desk - I was now officially act number four. We took our video camera up to the pool deck for the "Party Under the Stars" which was really like a late night luau (11 PM to 1 AM). This was very well done - food, ice carvings, and especially the entertainment! They did dances from several traditions, Hawaiian, Tahitian, Tongan. It was better than what I was expecting and it really put us in the mood to reach our destination and start enjoying the "Aloha Spirit!" Day 5 May 22nd Wow - our last day at sea! Time seems to be going so fast! After breakfast, it was time to "pay the piper" and attend the Guest Talent Show rehearsal. None of the songs I was really comfortable doing were in the book of songs that the House Band knows. They didn't have a guitar for me to do a solo with, so I was getting ready to chicken out. However, there were 6 ladies in the row in front of me and when they heard me say I was not going to do it, they were like, "You've got to do it. We'll be your cheerleaders!" They were 6 sisters, and their brother who was act number one, was there on his honeymoon! I'd seen him in the lounge one evening doing karaoke, and he was very good! Anyway, back to my predicament. We compromised. They got me a guitar, which is normally used as prop for their singing production; me holding a guitar is sort of like Linus having his security blanket. The 3-Piece-Band agreed to do "Twist and Shout," which is a simple 3-chord song. So now I'm in the show, no backing out! We then went to the morning session of Bingo, and I had forgotten how this went, since my last time playing on a cruise was in 1994. It was fun and entertaining, but I'll probably wait another 9 years to play! (Just lots of other things I enjoy doing more.) During the game, we heard an announcement over the loud speaker, "Alpha, Alpha, Alpha" then they said a Cabin number. We didn't think too much of it at the time; DH said it could be someone with a medical emergency, since it was a cabin. (More on this later.) I spent a little time in the afternoon in the pool, during the Horse Races, when the pool was fairly empty and up on a deck chair catching some rays. Prior to dinner, we went to the theatre production, "Rhythm Nation" which we had seen on a prior cruise, but enjoyed again. During the number, "Girl from Ipanema" the male singer was using "my guitar" as a prop! This got me thinking about the upcoming Talent Show, which in turn made me nervous. I tried hard not to think about it. We had dinner, then hurried off to the Masquerade Theatre; we were told to be there by 10 PM and where we should sit. The show started at 10:15 PM and there were 7 acts in total. They changed the order, and now I would be performing second - good, I could get it out of the way and enjoy the rest of the show! I invited the audience to do the "echo" part of the song, and it went very well. DH videotaped my performance, as well as most of the show, so we'll have that part of our trip available to enjoy for years to come! We tried to go up to the pool deck for some "Dancing under the Stars" but there were RCCL employees blocking every entrance. We said something strange must be going on, and headed back to our cabin. Sure enough, the Captain came on the PA system after 11 PM and announced that a passenger had sustained an injury and a helicopter was coming to pick the passenger up. Everyone was to stay off the top decks for this med-evac operation. We surmised that the "Alpha" code about 12 hours earlier had turned into a helicopter ride to the hospital once we were close enough to shore. We felt badly for the people involved; as for ourselves, we knew the next day would be our first ever in Hawaii, so we headed off to bed for some rest before our big day! Day 6 May 23rd First Day in Hawaii - Lahaina, Maui We ordered Room Service for that morning, went through the Customs process, and took our time getting off the ship. Even so, at 9:30 AM, there was still a big line of people waiting for tenders to get to the Lahaina pier. While we were standing in a long line, we asked one of the guys from the Cruise Director's Staff what was the matter with the injured passenger. After a small hesitation, he said, "Well, you could call it a comedy or you could say it was a tragedy." Now we were really interested in this story! It seems that a rather large gentleman was entering the Belly Flop Contest and decided to show his wife what he was planning to do for the competition in their cabin. He went to do a belly flop on his bed, and misjudging the distance, he hit his head on the cabin wall! Those walls are part of the hull structure and they are made of metal. And as a co-worker commented when I related the story, "He sure had momentum going for him at that point." I don't want to make fun of another's plight, but it sounds like a Darwin award to me! Anyway, we made it to the pier and went to get our rental car. Long story short, the process took about an hour (it did not help that it was the Friday before Memorial Day Weekend). But finally we were on our way in a Sebring convertible breezing along the highway! The weather was a bit warmer than usual, about 90 degrees, and we headed to the Iao Needle - I picked this location because we wanted to find a picturesque place for photo taking. This was a great choice! Not only for the awesome beauty, but because it was about 12 degrees cooler and slightly overcast (which is better than direct sunlight for good photo taking because of the lack of sharp contrast by shadows). We spent close to two hours walking and taking pictures; we would see other people from the ship and take each other's photos, which was nice. Around 1 PM we started getting hungry, so we drove around and found a McDonalds. Not my first choice, but we knew we'd be eating at the luau later, so this was just to tide us over. While we had a quick meal, I noticed 2 couples next to us who came there on Harley Davidsons. As we all headed out the door, the one motorcycle dude turns to his wife and says, "Look, it's the lady from the Talent Show!" Nothing like that brief flirtation with fame - ha ha! We then drove around some more and attempted a "romantic walk along the beach" (my idea) but as we tried it, the winds were blowing sand into our eyes, so that was a rather short walk! We then returned the rental car (this was another one-hour process, I won't even go into what happened here), but a good thing did happen when we got into the rental shuttle van. We told the driver that it was a shame he was taking us all the way back to the pier, for us to only then have to make our way back to the Old Lahaina Luau (it was about half way to the pier). He was really nice and said he would drop us off there; we could visit the mall next door while we were waiting for the Luau to open its doors. This saved us time, money for a taxi and a hassle in the heat, so that worked out great. We walked around and enjoyed some Kona coffee (even though there was also a Starbucks in the mall!!) After about an hour, we headed to the luau, and they gave everyone mai tai's upon entering. I sampled several other drinks: lava flow, blue Hawaiian, pina colada, with the heat they were sure refreshing! Then we went to find our table and we were seated across from a couple whom we had met and talked with several times on the ship (Beachnut on Cruise Critic). We enjoyed the meal and the show; got both some good photos and some video of the dancers. We then shared a cab ride back to the pier with two other couples from the ship. After a short wait (about 20 minutes) we were being tendered back to the ship - it sure had been a full day! Day 7 May 24th Second Day in Lahaina. We were able to relax in the morning, since our booked tour was not until noon. We got to the tender around 11 AM and were on shore with some time to kill shortly thereafter. There was a Canoe Festival that weekend in Maui. We went to the crafts faire under the banyan tree and saw some fabulous large wooden carvings, things like dolphins and mermaids made from monkey pot wood. We spoke with some artists and really wanted to buy one of them from a native artist who was teaching his four sons to carve, but we were running out of time, no chance to figure out if they could ship the item to California, so we just have some fond memories of him and his work. A word to the wise - unless you are very physically fit (and a masochist, basically), don't take the Ahihi Kinau Lava Field Hike & Snorkel Tour! First you ride in a van for an hour, then you walk through rocky lava fields for 1.3 miles. It is so treacherous, they caution you that if you want to look up, stand still. Also, our guide said several times, "Falling is not an option." I kept repeating that phrase over and over to myself, like a mantra! Then you finally get to snorkel; the area is very rough, small and not much to see. It did not help that it was overcast, and was even drizzling while we snorkeled. Then you get a Honey 'n' Oats granola bar and water, then get to repeat the 1.3 mile walk back and then the van ride. One lady fell just trying to get into the van! I felt so bad for her, and was surprised that she made it through the rest of the tour. One guy who was talking a lot (not paying enough attention) fell and cut his arm and both legs; I got to look at him bleeding during the whole trip back. This is one of those excursions that just makes for good story telling later - that's the redeeming quality, ha ha! I tried to make the best of it by asking our driver/guide many questions about the history of the island, etc. I don't know if it was true, but he told me one interesting tale. I told him I had seen a Cardinal the day before, how did they come to be on Maui? He said the Seminole Indians sold birds to sailors on the island of Key West, and that the Spaniards were fond of having birds, such as Cardinals, as pets on their long voyages. I thought that was a pretty neat story. We enjoyed a pre-dinner show that evening, featuring an impressionist. Once again, there were only four of us at dinner, and we got on to the subject of reading books. Turns out that John, Cathy and I had all finished reading a book at this point, so we agreed to do a "trade." I stopped by their cabin with my book and got 2 of theirs in return! After the strenuous day, reading was about as adventurous as I was getting! Day 8 May 25th The Big Island - Hawaii! Our day in Hilo. Rented a car from Budget - this went very smoothly, and we got a free upgrade to a Lincoln Town Car. Just as I had read on the CC boards, it is very easy to find your way around, and we were soon making our way to the Volcanoes National Park. (On a side note, I have to mention that I liked the innovative signs along the highway for wearing a seat belt; they stated "Click-it or Ticket!") After stopping at the Visitor Center for a map, we headed to the Thurston Lava tube, which we walked through. It was more like a damp cave and was wetter and muddier than I expected. We stopped at many of the places designated for photo taking along Crater Rim Drive. We drove along the Chain of Craters Road, which ends near the sea, and did some walking. This was another day of "unusual" weather for the islands - high eighties and no clouds in sight. After we saw the March and April 2003 lava flows, we were getting hot and going to head back. Then we hooked up with a park ranger who gave us the history of the area and a detailed explanation of the methane gas explosions and showed us a huge one of these. DH really loved that part! On our drive back to the highway, we saw many helicopters with buckets hanging from them, performing a fire rescue. Suddenly, after curving around a bend, the helicopter was only about 100 feet in front of us, dipping its bucket into what looked like an elaborate kiddie pool of water. We quickly got out the video camera and filmed 2 other helicopters repeating the process. It was way more exciting to watch than how it sounds in writing! After having a meal at the Lava Rock Cafe (wouldn't recommend the place), we succumbed to the shopping bug and spent some time at Hilo Hatties. It seemed like we knew half of the people in there! After speaking with a local craftswoman who was selling her wares in the store (we bought a painted sea shell and a necklace from her), I got her to recommend some Hawaiian music CD's. We bought a "Brother Iz" CD, which contains a rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" that DH really enjoys. Getting into the music of the islands is part of the vacation experience, and really puts you in a good mood! After boarding the ship, we went to the pre-dinner show, this time featuring Craig Dahn, a concert pianist. He was a protEgE of Liberace and he evoked the same style and flourish. I only wish we sat closer to get a better look at his hands along the keyboard. We went to our balcony after finishing dinner in a hurry and got out the binoculars, cameras and video camera. We took turns using all of them, but viewing the red molten lava through binoculars was really the best way to see details - this went on for about 45 minutes. Another great day on our cruise!! Day 9 May 26th - Memorial Day Kona - Thanks to the MANY great reviews of the Captain Zodiac tour from CC, we decided to book this. Also liked the idea that the boat would come right up to the ship and we would not have to use a tender for this tour. We had another lazy morning on the ship and took the afternoon tour. I read that the visibility in the morning is better, but hey, this is our vacation! Anyway, the weather was sunny and hot, again, not the typical afternoon clouds - great! One of the passengers even noticed a school of dolphins frolicking and pointed it out to the boat driver - he stopped the boat so we could get a better look and take photos. They were swimming on one side of the boat, swimming under it, then coming out the other side - we all got a great view! Then we went on to the snorkeling spot (Captain Cook's Monument), which is really only accessible by boat. This was the best snorkeling I've done, except for Grand Cayman. Though the water is cooler, we saw many different species and types of coral, and it was a large enough area for all of the snorkelers. Then they took us back to the ship with a few stops along the way to explain about rock formations, lava flows, blow holes, etc. The wind was picking up and that ride was E-ticket, man! One guy with several body piercings and tattoos sitting in front of us was trying to go it "no hands" and when we hit one large wave, he flew a few feet into the air and landed in the pile of snorkeling gear! I can't tell you how much I was laughing at this guy! Then the boat driver made him hang on like the rest of us!! We decided after this excursion that we needed some "down time" before the formal dinner, so we watched "2 Weeks Notice" in our cabin and relaxed. Our dinner was very nice, and our bar waiter, Jai, returned after being gone a few days with a toothache. Even with a wisdom tooth removed, and his cheek puffed out like a chipmunk, that guy was still smiling like crazy! You had to give him credit, and his good mood was so infectious!! We then went to see Norm Crosby perform, and even though that guy is older than dirt, he was still hilarious! After that, we caught the end of the karaoke idol, but the judges (passengers) were only selecting people singing country/western numbers, so I decided not to throw my name in the ring - I am a rock 'n' roller! Day 10 May 27th Our last port - Kauai! This was really the most lush and beautiful spot on our trip. We ended up with a banana-yellow Mustang convertible from Budget rental car, and soon we were zooming along the highway! Our first stop was Fern Grotto - even though this is recognized as being a "tourist trap" we had a really nice time riding the boat up river, making fools of ourselves doing the hula (with the band on board) and of course seeing the grotto. DH got a few lovely photos there. On the return boat ride, I sat next to my new friends (the 6 ladies I met at the Talent Show) and we got our photo taken together. Next we went to the Opaekaa Falls. Just can't help taking lots of photos; the view was breathtaking. Then we drove to the Kilauea Lighthouse, and the view from there was spectacular. We met a nice couple from the ship and we took each other's pictures. We also stopped at a turnoff near Princeville with a panoramic view of the valley and farmlands before heading back. Last stop before returning the car was the set of Wailua Falls. The last 2 miles to get there included some treacherous single lane roads that had to be shared by 2-way traffic! Hmmmm.that was interesting. The drive was worth it, spectacular view! This whole island is just filled with beauty and it was hard for me to leave and get back on the ship. I hope we can return here someday. All good things must come to an end; we spent quite a while before dinner packing for our trip home. (Gotta do it!) We did make most of the Farewell Show, complete with the top ten stupid questions, including a few that I had not heard before: "Is this Island completely surrounded by water?" "Do you need to leave the ship to take an excursion?" "If the pictures in the photo gallery aren't marked, how can I tell which ones are ours?" and my favorite - "Has this ship ever sunk?" They also filmed us dancing at disco night, DH was shown dancing for about 5 seconds (just him on that big screen!). We had a fun last dinner with our tablemates (I have videotape to prove it!) and got a printed list of the ingredients for all the Liquor shots from Jai. Then we packed it in early. Day 11 May 28th - Disembark and return home After eating breakfast in the dining room and meeting a very nice couple who had 4 boys waiting at home (!), we went to our cabin to pack the carry-ons. We finally found our cabin attendant, Ana, to give her a tip. She was so nice to us, I could not help it, I gave her a hug good-bye. We then went to a "Priority Departure Lounge" for Diamond & Platinum members, and it was like a reunion - many of the couples from Cruise Critic were there, plus we chatted with a new couple who own grocery stores in New Orleans. The hour there til our group was called passed quickly. Then out to the terminal for the chaotic process of picking out our bags (went smoothly), boarding the bus to go to the airport (very unorganized but really only took 25 minutes), then the drive there. By 10 AM we were at the Honolulu Airport and our flight wasn't til 1:50 PM. After the baggage screening, check-in, etc. we walked around for a while and went to the Main Terminal. We had lunch at a place called Stinger Ray (I think) and the roasted pork on the sandwich was better than at the Luau! Also saw an interesting thing while eating. Since most of the airport is "open air" a bird came into the restaurant and was banging into the window, trying to get outside. The customer sitting next to this was getting upset that the bird was hurting itself and next thing, the waitress went and cupped the bird in her two hands and walked it out if the restaurant where there were open windows. Looked like she was used to doing that on a regular basis! Our flight home on Hawaiian Airlines was uneventful (good) and arrived in San Diego on time about 10 PM. We then had a 2-hour drive home, after some lousy directions from the Park n Ride attendant (or maybe we were just really out of it) we couldn't seem to get on any freeway, and almost drove into Sea World! A few minutes later, and we found the 5 FWY then we were on our way. Upon reaching our house at 1 AM, we were greeted enthusiastically by our 2 doggies (and received a groggier greeting from our son) - it was a great vacation, but it was good to be home! Read Less
Sail Date May 2003

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