Colorful Kauai…By Air and By Sea

Much like Thursday, on Friday we were blessed with (mostly) cooperative weather for some flight-seeing and some cruise-seeing!

We chose a flight with Wings Over Kauai for a Friday morning excursion. https://www.wingsoverkauai.com/ Wings Over Kauai was another tour provider we had been booked with several times in the years it took for us to finally get to go on this cruise. I found them exceptionally easy to work with, understanding about cancellations, and committed to keeping prices reasonable. The only change from our first booking in April of 2020 to our flight on October 7, 2022 was that Wings Over Kauai wasn’t able to provide transportation to and from the airport as they had in the past. That wasn’t a problem, and the added expense was minimal in the whole scheme of things. We took a taxi from the port in the morning, and used Uber to get back to the ship. Easy!

If you’re even thinking about a flight tour, I highly recommend Kauai and this company. The sights are simply breathtaking, and Wings Over Kauai provided an excellent flight. The experience is a little different than a helicopter tour in that the plane does fly a bit higher, but I didn’t feel like I missed out on anything in the plane (I’ve done a helicopter tour before). The tour we chose (Air Van) has the advantage of being considerably less expensive than a helicopter, and everyone gets a window in the Air Van! Wings Over Kauai makes a recording of each flight using a GoPro strapped to the wing strut. The video is narrated and set to music — well worth the extra $50 we paid for a copy.

Ready to go! The white tube you see is the plane’s “air conditioning” system!😂

Words can’t do this excursion justice! I’m not sure pictures can either, but I’m going to let them do the talking. Most of the pictures are mine, but I did include a few screenshots from the video where my pictures had too much reflection from the window.

One of the first things we saw after we took off was our ship.

The colors were absolutely stunning…the bluest blues and the greenest greens. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it.

Do you remember Wailua Falls from yesterday? I thought they were much more impressive from the air!

Almost back to the airport…you can see the beach in front of Duke’s on the right and our ship on the left.

We were back at the ship in time for a relaxing lunch followed by plenty of time for me to pack😢 as we cruised to the NaPali coast. When we left the weather was still decent, but we could see rain in the mountains and I began mentally preparing myself for a rainy sail-by of the Napali coast.

Leaving Nawiliwili Harbor, Lihue, Kauai

Sure enough, it got foggy and started misting not long after we left port. On the bright side, that meant packing was faster because I wasn’t distracted by what I was missing on the balcony.

We rounded the northeast point of the island about 5:00, and at first it didn’t look too promising.

There were patches of blue, but mostly low clouds.

We decided to go downstairs and get our picture taken with the rugged coast in the background. We had waited three years for this, and I was determined to get a Christmas card picture for my persistence!

Merry Christmas from the Rouses!🌺

There was more and more sun peeking through so we went back up to our balcony to enjoy the show! The views just got better and better — sun and clouds, interesting shadows, the setting sun glowing orange-yellow on the rocks, and finally an intense, magnificent sunset.

The sun was setting quickly, and just as we turned to head back to Honolulu Mother Nature put on a display.

Good night, Kauai.♥️

Mauka Makai — Kauai Day 1

Sunrise near Kauai

Kauai was the island that most intrigued me when I was planning our trip. I knew the least about it, and the pictures I saw were stunning. Kauai seemed to have it all — cliffs, beaches, mountains, a canyon, and a blowhole!

I booked with Noah’s Ark Kauai—https://www.noahsarkkauai.com/#tours—for our cancelled trip in 2020, and never wavered from my plan to spend our first day in Kauai touring with Noah. We anticipated a fun day going to the mountains (mauka) and towards the sea (makai).

I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me back up a couple days. On Monday afternoon when we got back to the ship from our excursion to Haleakala, I had an urgent e-mail from Noah. He had just tested positive for Covid and had to cancel our tour on Thursday.😢

This was bad news for many reasons! Most importantly, I hated that Noah had gotten sick. I hated that Covid was impacting a trip that had been cancelled and postponed so many times. I hated that my “best laid plans” had to be scrapped. Finally, I was worried because I felt responsible for salvaging not just our plans…we had several others from our Facebook group joining us on the tour.

Thankfully when I got the e-mail I had most of the afternoon to spare before we sailed. I called every recommendation Noah had made in his e-mail, and of course nobody had availability on such short notice. I asked everyone I called for recommendations and then called those people. None of them had availability either. I was starting to panic when I reached out to the ship concierge and got a name and number. Several phone calls back and forth with Casey and we had a reservation to tour Kauai on Thursday. Phew!

Do I think our day was the same experience we would have had with Noah? Unfortunately, the answer is definitely not. Noah is a guide, and we anticipated a day filled with stories, planned stops/activities, a lunch break, and being entertained by Noah on his ukulele. What we got was a driver who was very nice and knowledgeable about the island. Casey took us everywhere we wanted to go, but lacked the polish and professionalism of a true guide. That said, we had a pleasant day and we saw a lot. Casey threw in some nice touches and put his personal stamp on our day.

For the most part I’m going to let the pictures do the talking. We were very lucky, and our weather was picture perfect as you will see.

Driving away from Lihue on our first day in Kauai.

Menehune Fish Pond

Menehune Fish Pond

Menehune Fish Pond

Poipu Bay Golf Course at the Grand Hyatt Kauai

We went searching for turtles in Poipu. They were out there, but it was virtually impossible to get a picture at our first stop.

I finally saw Hawaiian Sea Turtles soaking up the sun at Poipu Beach Park!

After we saw the turtles I thought it would be a good idea to get a picture of me and Jim in our beach attire!😂😂😂

When we left Poipu Beach we went to Spouting Horn, a fabulous blowhole. It was mesmerizing…I could have watched it for hours!

Spouting Horn in Action

On the way to Waimea Canyon we stopped in a small town — I think it was Hanapepe — and walked around for a while. This was where I think it would have been helpful to have a guide to plan a place to stop for lunch, make suggestions, and set some times to keep us on track. We got to see a lot of things, but I didn’t feel like there was any real plan or itinerary for the day.

Waimea Canyon lived up to its reputation! One nice thing Casey did was take us off the beaten path to see the canyon instead of going to the very crowded visitor’s center.

It was a pretty long drive back to Lihue from Waimea Canyon, and we made two more stops before we went back to the ship.

The first was at the Koa Store in Lihue. https://thekoastore.com

They carry a great assortment of handcrafted Koa wood products made by local artisans. We are in the habit of bringing home one nice souvenir from each trip and we look for something that represents the local culture. I rule out things that are mass-produced, stamped “Made in China,” or that I could pick up on Amazon. I know those criteria don’t always guarantee authenticity, but I think they improve my chances!

We chose this hand carved Koa wood bowl as our Hawaii souvenir.

After our stop at the Koa Store we went over to Wailua Falls. I’m only going to share one picture of the falls now, because I got MUCH better pictures on Friday.

Wailua Falls

At Wailua Falls

I loved these trees. I think they are called Albizia trees.

We were tired when we returned to the ship, but our day wasn’t over! We walked to Duke’s for dinner. It was delicious and a nice change of pace.

Duke’s is an easy walk from the ship. This was taken outside Duke’s and you can see the Pride of America in the background.

I can’t remember what we had for dinner, but our drinks were fantastic! I had a Lava Flow…

Lava Flow

…and Jim had a Mai Tai!

Mai Tai

Of course, no meal at Duke’s is complete without a “slice” of Hula Pie! The dessert was delicious and enormous! We were both pretty full by the time we left.

Hula Pie

We had seen about as much of Kauai as we could pack into a single day and were excited about seeing it from two different perspectives on Friday!

They Can Make Beer Out of Anything — Hilo Day 2

Since we overnighted in Hilo, we needed a short excursion to fill the short day. We didn’t want to cut our return too close to the all-aboard time, but we didn’t necessarily want to have to get up and leave the ship in the wee hours either. We chose a farm-to-table tour — my thought was how bad can something that involves food and beverages be? It ended up being a fantastic day!

Most of our morning was spent at OK Farms, located in the hills above Hilo. They grow an incredible variety of fruit, nuts, coffee, and spices on their property, and they also supply fruit to Ola Brew for their craft beers, ciders, and hard seltzers.

We started our tour with freshly brewed coffee, and then drove around the property sampling fruits and spices right off the trees!

OK Farms

Longan Fruit — Also known as Slimy Eyeballs!

The inside of a Longan (Internet picture)

Rambutans (Internet picture)

Nutmeg and Mace

Cloves

We were also treated to some relaxing food and beverage stops with views of Kaiemukama Falls and Rainbow Falls.

No visit to a working farm would be complete without a stop in the gift shop! Since everything we tasted was so good we took the opportunity to stock up on gifts for friends and neighbors and bought some gifts for us too! I’m still hoarding the delicious Macadamia nuts we brought home, and I only allow myself 2 or 3 at a time!😂

Even though our farm visit was over, the tour was not! We enjoyed a delicious lunch at Ola Brew where we were able to sample the beers and hard seltzers made with produce from OK Farms,

I chose hard seltzers.

So good!

If you’re looking for something different to do in Hilo, I highly recommend both OK Farms and Ola Brew. If you don’t have time in Hilo, don’t worry, there’s an Ola Brew in Kona!
https://www.okfarmshawaii.com
https://www.olabrewco.com

We got back to the ship about 1:00 and actually had some time to relax, sit outside for sailaway, and enjoy a few hours of not having to be anyplace! I took advantage of the downtime in the afternoon to go through e-mail, download pictures, and do a load of sink laundry.

Sunset was just before dinner. It was too pretty to miss…they all were!

Dinner was at Teppanyaki and it was fabulous! Our chef/performer Mario was great and really helped make the meal entertaining and memorable.

After dinner I was done! It was all I could do to put one foot in front of the other to walk to our cabin so I could have a close encounter with my bed! We had three more fully packed days ahead and I wanted to be able to take advantage of every minute!

Fire and Ice — Hilo Day 1

Our cruise had an itinerary change. Several months before we sailed we were notified that we wouldn’t be able to go to Kona because of the Ironman World Championship. At first I was upset — I mean, what else could possibly happen with this trip?!? In the end, the change was actually a good thing, because it allowed us to see things we never would have otherwise, like lava at night!

Mauna Kea from the Ship

We arrived in Hilo on a beautiful, picture perfect morning, with hardly a cloud in the sky and a stunning view of Mauna Kea (which many never see).

Arriving in Hilo

We had decided to do a small group excursion called “Land of Frozen Fire” to the Puna District of the Big Island. This tour took us to the area most heavily impacted by the 2018 Kilauea eruption.

The Puna District

The Big Island’s Volcanoes. This map is now inaccurate since Mauna Loa erupted just a couple months after our cruise.

The most fascinating thing about the tour was how arbitrary the lava was. We drove past (but not through) the Leilani Estates neighborhood, made famous in 2018 when fissures erupted and lava flowed through the neighborhood. Here’s a link to a Wiki article about what happened in the neighborhood during the eruption: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leilani_Estates,_Hawaii

Internet picture of Leilani Estates during the eruption.

Driving through lush rainforest with the coast on one side, we suddenly came upon a desolate, craggy landscape with a road built right over the top. This “Frozen Fire” is what was left behind when the lava flow cooled and hardened. It’s uneven, sharp, and almost impossible to walk on (for the most part we didn’t even try!).

Lava Field

Jagged and very sharp!

Lava field with one of the small cones (fissures) in the background.

We also went to the Black Sand Beach at Punalu’u Park. The beach is huge and waves crash dramatically on the nearby lava cliffs.

Punalu’u Park Black Sand Beach

Punalu’u Park Black Sand Beach

Punalu’u Park

Punalu’u Park

One of the most interesting sights at the park is the road that dead ends into a wall of hardened lava. Adjacent to the wall are untouched picnic tables! I wondered why the road hasn’t been rebuilt over the lava, and learned it’s still too hot! I can’t even imagine something that wouldn’t be cool enough to build on after 5 years.

Punalu’u Park

Punalu’u Park

Punalu’u Park

On our way back to Hilo we stopped at the famous Star of the Sea Painted Church. The history of this small church is very interesting, including a move by trailer to save it from a 1990 lava flow! Here’s an article with more information about the church: https://www.civilbeat.org/2020/03/how-the-faithful-took-it-upon-themselves-to-save-this-unique-painted-church/

Star of the Sea

Star of the Sea

Star of the Sea

After we left the church we headed back to Hilo, and stopped for a few minutes at the Grand Naniloa Doubletree Hotel. No surprise that the tour company just happened to have a gift shop there! Luckily the other thing they had was a wonderful view of the ship across the harbor.

Pride of America in Hilo on October 4, 2022

Most of the couples on our tour opted to stay at the resort for the rest of the day, but Jim and I went back to the ship for lunch (at Cagney’s) and to rest a little before Day 1, Part 2!

Yum!

Since we were overnighting in Hilo, the local HOHO company, Keikana Tours, had added an evening tour of Volcanoes National Park for lava viewing. Remember when I said the itinerary change ended up being a good thing? That’s why! We never would have gotten to see lava during the day…just smoke and steam.

We took a small bus with 12 people to the park. Our first stop was at the Thurston Lava Tube, which we walked through and I thought was kind of creepy.

Entrance to Thurston Lava Tube — Photo by National Park Service

Thurston Lava Tube — Photo by National Park Service

Here’s some information about lava tubes: https://www.nps.gov/havo/learn/nature/lava-tubes.htm

The lava viewing was both an amazement and a disappointment. While we didn’t see giant rivers of lava, we saw flows within Kilauea’s Halemaʻumaʻu Crater. Occasionally we saw a flare up from a fissure, and the sky had an orange glow reflecting off the clouds. That was the amazement part. The disappointment part was the selfish people who had gotten there early, set up tripods and chairs along the rope, and refused any and every request to share space, even when asked by the park ranger. The darker it got the better the viewing got, and the more immovable the squatters at the rope became. Thus, most of my pictures were taken by crouching and shooting between peoples’ legs or holding my camera in the air and shooting over peoples’ heads.

Kilauea

Kilauea

Kilauea

Kilauea

Kilauea

Nevertheless, we saw lava and also stopped to experience a steam vent on the way home. The steam vent was interesting…cold on one side, and hot enough to give yourself a facial on the other!

Photo by National Park Service

Dinner wasn’t much. Remember the banana, mango, and guava breads from Maui? They found their way onto the bus and were enjoyed by everybody on the way back to Hilo. We had a quick snack in the buffet when we got back to the ship, but for the most part we were just tired and we knew we needed to get up early to be tourists again!

It was a great day and if I had it to do over I would make the same decisions!

The Long and Winding Road(s) — Maui

Arriving in Maui

Our view at breakfast.

One of the first things I read about when I started researching what to do on the islands was the Road to Hana. I knew I didn’t want to rent a car, because that would mean Jim was driving while I enjoyed myself! We settled on NCL’s Road to Hana Deluxe and it was a great choice.

We were fortunate to have a clear, sunny day for most of our tour. Hana — and the road to Hana — are on the wet side of the island, and rainy/foggy/cloudy days are common. Even on our tour the mist set in about 3:00, so an early start on the Road to Hana tour is preferable.

We had a group of 8 in a van with comfortable Captain’s Chairs. Temptation Tours was the tour operator, and Gail was our driver. She was excellent…her stories and knowledge of Maui were a real asset during the tour.

We made many stops during the day. For the most part I’m going to let my pictures do the talking.

Our first stop was at the Ke’Anae Peninsula for dramatic views of the rugged coast composed of huge lava rocks.

Ke’Anae Peninsula

Ke’Anae Peninsula

Ke’Anae Peninsula

Ke’Anae Peninsula

Ke’Anae Peninsula

Ke’Anae Peninsula

Ke’Anae Peninsula

Our next stop was “Halfway to Hana” for some overpriced but delicious banana bread and smoothies.

There were waterfalls everywhere, but our first waterfall stop was at the Pua’a Kaa State Wayside.

Pua’a Kaa State Wayside

Pua’a Kaa State Wayside

Pua’a Kaa State Wayside

I had a great time playing with shutter speed at this stop! It was hard without a tripod, but still fun.

Along the way we saw beautiful Rainbow Eucalyptus trees and other spectacular vegetation.

Rainbow Eucalyptus Tree

Hana is a quiet little village at the eastern tip of Maui. In the late 1800s-early 1900s the main industry was sugar cane plantations. There were 7 of them! In 1946 much of the town was destroyed by a tsunami, so what you see today is mostly post-tsunami construction that is built on higher ground than the destroyed homes and structures.

Hana and the surrounding secluded areas are favored by travelers who value luxury and privacy.

Hana Coastline

Hana Coastline

Hana

Lunch was at Wai’anapanapa State Park. Bet you can’t pronounce it…I couldn’t either! Gail provided a wonderful array of wraps, fruit, salads, and sweet treats in an idyllic setting.

Wai’anapanapa State Park

Wai’anapanapa State Park

Wai’anapanapa State Park

Wai’anapanapa is also the home of Paiola, Maui’s black sand beach. On the day we visited the beach was being enjoyed by quite a few people and one Hawaiian Monk Seal!

Paiola Black Sand Beach at Wai’anapanapa State Park

At Wai’anapanapa State Park

At Wai’anapanapa State Park

At Wai’anapanapa State Park

We made a couple other stops on the way back to the ship, but in my opinion the Crown Jewels of the day were the Ke’Anae Peninsula and Wai’anapanapa State Park.

Wailua Valley State Wayside

Wailua Valley State Wayside

The weather had started turning and fog/rain/mist set in for the rest of the day.

Gail did a great job getting us to the major sites on the Road to Hana before the weather turned. We learned it rains on that end of the island more often than not, so we were fortunate to see some of the views with clear sunny skies.

The rain is both a blessing and a curse…all the rain is the reason for the lush tropical vegetation and waterfalls.

It’s truly a rainforest, and the inland part of the drive is enhanced in the rain. Unfortunately the rain does nothing for the ocean views.

We got back to the ship about 4:00. It was a long day, but a great one and we were glad we made the trip.

Dinner was at Cagney’s, and our evening entertainment was trying not to fall asleep in our food!

We were hopeful for a repeat of Sunday’s weather for our Monday trip to the Haleakala National Park and the volcano summit, but it wasn’t meant to be. I know the people who made the sunrise trip did actually see sunrise before the fog and rain set in, but I don’t think the visibility window lasted too long.

We took a private tour with Gus from Holo Holo Maui Tours. He was fantastic and really worked with us to salvage something of our day, but I’m getting ahead of myself…

When we left port at 8:30 the weather wasn’t too bad. We had a mix of sun and clouds and it had been raining, but it didn’t look like a total washout. You couldn’t see the top of Haleakala, but Gus was hopeful the clouds would lift, so off we went.

We saw many variations of vegetation and scenery as we climbed Haleakala.

Haleakala Highway (Crater Road)

Haleakala Highway (Crater Road)

Unfortunately the higher we climbed the worse it got.

Haleakala Highway (Crater Road)

We got to the summit and walked around for a while, but there wasn’t a lot to see. It was foggy, rainy, and COLD!

What we thought we’d see.

What we saw.

What we saw.

What we saw.

The clouds parted for about 30 seconds and allowed me to get my lone clear shot of the volcano out of the window of the van.

On the way down things looked a little more promising for our hike, but then the rain set in to stay.

We ended up stopping at the trailhead for a snack, but it was raining hard by this time so no volcano walk for us!

Guava Bread and Mango Bread…both delicious!

The fresh pineapple is fantastic!

Eucalyptus Forest

Eucalyptus Forest

Instead of our volcano hike Gus took us down to Paia Town where we walked around and did a little shopping. All was not lost, because we found our Christmas ornament for the trip.

If we had the day to plan over again I would make sure we had back-up plans in case of weather. We had a great time because of Gus, but there really wasn’t much to see because of the weather. Since it was a private tour I think we could have/should have gone over to Lahaina and Ka’anapali Beach where it hardly ever rains!

My consolation prize is that we by pure luck picked the good day for Road to Hana. It rained out there ALL DAY Monday, so the people who chose that really didn’t see a lot.

We got back about 1:30ish, and then what I thought would be a leisurely afternoon turned into frenzied activity because of an e-mail. Our guide for Kauai, Noah (Noah’s Ark Kauai) had to cancel because he tested positive for Covid. He sent several contacts and I reached out to all of them, but of course looking on Monday for a tour on Thursday is an exercise in futility. I reached out to the concierge who gave me a name that worked. We played phone tag for a while and I reached out to the other people on the tour, and finally just as we sat down for dinner at LaCucina everything was set. So much for relaxing!

We had an excellent dinner at LaCucina as we set sail for two days in Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii!

Insalata Con Pere — Pear Salad

Pasta Y Fagioli — Cannellini Bean Soup

Risotto Ai Funghi Di Bosco — Wild Mushroom Risotto

Lasagna

Osso Bucco

Scaloppina Di Vitello Marsala — Veal Marsala

Tiramisu

Finally!

I woke up predictably early…after all, it was cruising day! Jim was still sound asleep and snug in the bed, so I went out on the balcony and started looking for signs of life.

OK, what I was really looking for was a ship! Between binoculars and a zoom lens, I was soon rewarded!

The hours before we left for the ship were pretty unremarkable. We ate breakfast in the club lounge, finished packing up, and actually had time to relax before it was time to leave for the ship. Confession — I felt guilty leaving without purchasing anything at the hotel, so I went down to the art gallery in the lobby and found some sea glass jewelry that I thought needed to leave Hawaii and go back to Houston.😂

I never said much about our hotel room. It was newly renovated and nicely furnished, but the real attraction was the view. The entire hotel was finishing up a major renovation, so things still had that new car smell. They had taken out the bathtubs and replaced them with walk-in showers which I thought was great! One thing I thought was strange was there was only one mirror in the room. It was over the vanity, but there was no electricity anywhere in the vicinity! Thank goodness I have a lighted travel mirror, or I’m not sure how I would have dried my hair. First World problems, right?

This would never get old!

One disappointment was the hotel laundromat had been taken out during the renovations. I was counting on using the laundromat to get our sweaty stuff washed before the cruise. As it was I ended up having to do a sink load on the ship.

Something I wasn’t expecting was the open air/non-air conditioned corridors. I wasn’t surprised that most of the hotel lobbies were open air, but I had expected hallways in high-rise hotels to be enclosed with A/C and they weren’t. I think that contributed a little to the room always feeling a bit humid and sticky. Still, we liked the hotel, the location was perfect for us, and we would definitely stay there again.

Our ride to the ship with Go808 Express was a few minutes late, but that was OK…it was a beautiful morning and our ship check-in time wasn’t until 11:30. Our driver was chatty and personable, and the ride to the terminal only took about 10 minutes.

Check-in and boarding were a breeze. We had a suite, so we never stood in a line of any kind. We were taken to a side room where there were snacks and drinks, and each suite was seated at a desk for check-in. Right about 11:30 the concierge spoke to the group then we were escorted onto the ship. It’s funny, after waiting so long I thought I’d be giddy with excitement when we boarded, but it really just felt normal.

We changed some of our dinner reservations, then had a leisurely lunch in Cagney’s. I’m nothing if not a creature of habit…I decided at that very first lunch on board that the Chicken Milanese was excellent and I ended up having it every time we ate lunch there!

We had to have dessert, because we were on a cruise ship which for us equals having to have dessert! We split a piece of carrot cake, which was delicious.

I’m going to put all the ship stuff here, because to be honest for us the ship was really just our hotel with several restaurants that sailed from place to place. We never made it to a show, there wasn’t a casino, and although we sat down in a bar a couple times for the most part our daily routine was get up, eat, tour all day, return to the ship, clean up, eat again, and sleep.

Many said the buffet was great. I couldn’t tell you, because we only stopped in once for a quick snack after an evening tour. I never even located the main dining room, because we ate all our dinners in the specialty restaurants. I went to the Shore Excursion desk once and Guest Services once. Both were reasonably quick and provided good service. Our room steward seemed efficient…we never formally met him and only saw him once. I guess that’s what happens when you have a butler to take care of you!

I’m not sure I would take the beverage package again. I really don’t think we were on the ship enough to get good value for our money. At most, we each had 2, maybe 3 drinks a day, and it would have been much less expensive to decline the package and just pay for our drinks.

Don’t bother upgrading your internet unless you plan to spend your days sitting on the ship working! We had cell service almost the entire trip save a few hours overnight when we were between islands. For the times we didn’t have service, the included internet was more than enough to cover it.

Our cabin was great! We were in 13518, a Penthouse on a small, quiet deck. We had tons of storage, a huge balcony, and one of the most comfortable beds I’ve ever slept in. All the soft furnishings were in really good shape, and the cabin was immaculate.

What didn’t I like? The lighting at the vanity was awful (Once again I was thankful for my lighted travel mirror!), the railing for the balcony was way too high, and the bathtub was a lethal weapon. Seriously, I could have used a step ladder to get in that thing, showering while the ship was moving was an adventure, and I said many prayers before I got out. There was just no way to bathe and feel safe at the same time! Definitely not for the elderly, klutzes, or anyone else who values their life and limbs! The tub alone would cause me to choose a different cabin next time…one with a shower that doesn’t require gymnastic feats to enter and exit. I would choose a cabin with a walk-in shower!

The mirror over the vanity is lighted, but it doesn’t make it lighter!

Evil bathtub!

You can see in the reflection how high the rail was. There is a thick white rail above the normal brown rail…it was more like a ledge, and it was quite a bit higher than a regular rail. Idiot proofing?

We sailed at only 50% of capacity, so the ship never felt crowded. There was never a wait for an elevator, and I never saw any long lines for anything. I thought the staff was warm, friendly, and did everything they could to be helpful and provide great service. There were times we could tell someone was in training, but it in no way impacted our trip or our enjoyment.

I had been a little worried that after such a long wait and so many disappointments the cruise would be a let down, but it wasn’t at all. I will say if someone books this cruise expecting it to be like cruising in the Caribbean with lots of sea days and fun in the sun they need to find a different cruise. If people do their homework and understand what the ship is and what it isn’t they will have a great time. For us, the opportunity to see four islands without having to mess with airports, TSA, rental cars, and schlepping luggage around Hawaii was better than any casino or water slide!

My only gripes (and they’re pretty minor) were disappointment with the wine list and the open hours of the coffee bar. I had expected the specialty restaurants and the wine bar to carry a much wider choice of wine by the glass, but the list was the same (and very limited) in all the restaurants and at the Napa Wine Bar. As for the coffee bar, a 6:30 opening time is simply not early enough for this early riser!

Our muster drill location was out on deck (how did we get so lucky?🙄), and right after that we had a meet and greet with about 25 people from our FaceBook group page. It’s always nice to see some familiar and friendly faces around the ship!

Dinner was at Jefferson’s. I had the veal chop and Jim had the salmon. Both were great, and dinner was pretty much the end of the day for us. That night we started the habit of getting everything ready for the next day before we went to sleep, because we were off the ship early every morning.

As soon as I stretched out on the bed the motion of the ship rocked me to sleep. Next stop, Maui!

Oahu Through My Lens

We woke up at a slightly more reasonable hour on Friday. We were in no rush…we were taking a photography tour and our pick-up time wasn’t until 9:40.

We decided to have breakfast in the Kani Ka Pila Grille both to try some local specialties and to burn more of our resort food credit.

I had never heard of Loco Moco before I started researching Hawaii, but once I read about it I knew it was a must try. Loco Moco is rice topped with 2 beef patties, carmelized onions, mushroom gravy, and topped with a fried egg.😳 I opted for that while Jim had the Hawaiian Style Eggs Benedict. Oh, and we both ordered the smoothie of the day. Big mistake. We had enough food to feed a family of 5 with leftovers for another meal!

Da Loco Moco

Jim’s Hawaiian Style Eggs Benedict with our Blueberry-Banana Smoothies. The smoothies were thicker than milkshakes!

The van for our tour arrived right on time, and we joined one couple who had already been picked up. We were soon joined by a couple from Canada and a young man from Australia.

I quickly realized that this was not going to be like any of the other photography tours I had taken on vacations. Even though we saw some nice sights and enjoyed our guide, there was little that made it a photography tour other than the name on the van and the number of cameras aboard. I expected some discussion of settings for the conditions, or maybe some talk about framing or favorite shot tips from a local, but our guide (who was a very sweet young girl) didn’t provide any of that so in that aspect I was disappointed.

The most popular tours seem to be the longer sunrise tours, which we easily could have done Wednesday or Thursday. If I had it to do over again I would choose differently. Oh well, we don’t get a mulligan. It was still a pleasant day of seeing spectacular things.

Our first stop was Tantalus Lookout, where we had stopped with Kirk on Wednesday. Since I had those pictures already I switched to a wide-angle lens and also took a panoramic picture using my cell phone.

https://dlnr.hawaii.gov/dsp/parks/oahu/puu-ualakaa-state-wayside/

Our next stop was at the Nu’uanu Pali State Wayside Lookout for a fantastic view of the windward side of the island. The place lived up to its name…it was very, very windy!

https://dlnr.hawaii.gov/dsp/parks/oahu/nuuanu-pali-state-wayside/

So much for my hair-do!💨

After Nu’uanu Pali we headed to Waimanalo Beach and our lunch stop at Ono Steaks and Shrimp. Shack. This is a tiny place with a deservedly stellar reputation for the food. They were very busy when we were there, and there were few places to sit inside. I also thought it was uncomfortably warm inside.

Ono Steaks and Shrimp Shack

Outdoor Eating Area

Jim and I ordered their smallest steak and shrimp plate to split (no appetite due to Da Loco Moco!) and happily grabbed a place to sit outside where there was shade and a slight breeze.

PSA: If you don’t like garlic, don’t order this meal. This is the most garlicky garlic shrimp I can imagine. Look at all the garlic!

Makapu’u Beach Lookout was our next stop. We spent a few minutes looking out over the stunning views of the coast. This was the only stop where I heard our guide make a comment about our photos. She pointed out her favorite view on the island.

Finally, we went to the lookout at the Halona Blowhole (not blowing when we were there) and Eternity Beach.

There was some nice spray at the Halona Blowhole, but the blowhole wasn’t blowing.

Eternity Beach

It was a pretty long drive back to Waikiki Beach through heavy Friday afternoon traffic. I might have caught a little nap on the way back!😴

I spent a couple hours reorganizing things for the cruise, then we were off to dinner at Roy’s. We had been trying to get back to Roy’s since our spectacular dinner overlooking one of the greens at Pebble Beach in 2009. For the most part the food didn’t disappoint, but I don’t think we will ever match the magic of the evening we spent at Pebble Beach. The only negative of the evening was a large, extremely loud, drunk group at a nearby table who seemed to think the entire restaurant wanted to hear their opinions on politics and women’s rights.🙄

We both chose the Prix Fixe menu, and had this meal including subbing the Hot Chocolate Melting Soufflé for one of the cheesecakes:

First Course

Second Course

Chocolate Soufflé

Cheesecake

We walked around a little bit after dinner and I finally picked up a couple magnets, but a Christmas ornament for our travel tree was avoiding us. Since we still had more than a week to take care of that I wasn’t too worried.

Something I haven’t mentioned that shocked both of us is how BUSY Waikiki was. When we were walking around at night we were amazed at how many people there were. It was a lot like being in any world-class city with great restaurants and hotels, interesting people, and high end shopping. The thing that set Waikiki apart and made it not like the others was the beach.

We didn’t linger on the Streets of Waikiki too long. We had packed a lot into 3.5 days, and we would have another day to explore Oahu before we flew home. I was ready to finish packing up to get on a cruise ship the next day! It would be the first time since we left the Ruby Princess on August 31, 2019, and I was more than ready!

Links:

Oahu Photo Tours — https://www.oahuphotographytours.com/tours/beautiful-hawaii/

Roy’s Waikiki — https://www.royyamaguchi.com/roys-waikiki-oahu#roys-waikiki-menus-1

Our Honolulu Triathlon — Biking and Hiking and a Luau!

We slept in on Thursday…all the way until 4:00! Darn jet-lag! The only positive was that we were going to bed so early we were still getting a decent amount of sleep.

We had planned something completely different for the morning — an e-bike ride and climb of Diamond Head. I was a little apprehensive about both activities but we put on workout clothes, grabbed a quick breakfast, and headed out. We had arranged a ride to the starting location with Charley’s Taxi, and were glad we did. It was a little further than it seemed on the map. It would have been a long walk trying to follow the blue dot on my phone to our destination in an unassuming building a few blocks away from the major hustle and bustle of Waikiki Beach.

The e-bikes took some getting used to, but they were a lot of fun! I thought the experience was kind of a cross between a bicycle and a moped, and I appreciated the assist on some of the hills! Most importantly, neither of us fell off, so that aspect alone made it a great day!😂

We started out riding along Waikiki Beach, stopping at places of interest for pictures.

Banyan Trees at Kapiolani Beach Park

Ryan, the owner of 808 eVentures was great! He was very patient while we learned to ride the bikes, and very patient with my pathetic, plodding pace while we climbed the volcano! He took lots of pictures along the way.

Along the ride to Diamond Head

I really enjoyed the bike part of this tour. It was fun zipping up the hills with ease! We arrived at the base of Diamond Head in one piece and got ready to start our climb.

Before

I’ll tell you right now that this was more difficult than I anticipated. The climb isn’t overly steep, but the terrain is very uneven and it was HOT!🫠 Add to that I should have chosen different shoes (I wore regular tennis shoes and had a hard time with my feet moving in the shoes) and the climb kind of kicked my butt! There really is no correlation between walking on a treadmill at an incline in air conditioning (my preparation method) and climbing an extinct volcano in full on sunshine!

This was about 1/4 of the way up, while we were still on the fairly flat, paved portion of the trail. If you look closely you can see people walking along the ridge. That’s where we were headed!

Still, I persevered and the views on the way up and at the top were well worth it!

Taking a break!

I had no problem following directions! The drop-off here looked scary!

These were the STEEP stairs to the bunker at the top. We chose the other route, which had more stairs but a gradual ascent.

Worth it!

The pink building is the Royal Hawaiian where we went for a luau Thursday evening.

What goes up must come down, and we were no exception! I thought the downhill hike was easier physically but a little more treacherous if that makes sense. There were lots of places where I thought it would have been easy to lose my footing or twist an ankle. Since I’m a klutz and I’ve had vacations impacted by my klutziness before I was extra careful. I was amazed at the people doing the climb in flip flops while I was wishing I wore hiking shoes!

We left Diamond Head and rode through some residential neighborhoods on the way to our reward for our efforts…a shave ice! We went to a tiny but popular place away from the tourist areas and all 3 of us had a delicious treat for less than $10 total. Most of the shave ice I saw in the tourist areas was at least double that!

After

Back at our hotel (we took an Uber) we decided on a light lunch at the Kani Ka Pila Grille. Unfortunately the concept of a “light” meal is foreign to them. I had an appetizer portion of coconut shrimp and a side salad, and even after some pretty strenuous morning activity I still thought it was too much food. Jim had what he called his first Poke Bowl of the trip, but I’m not sure he ever had another one so maybe it was his first and last!

Jim’s Poke Bowl with my coconut shrimp behind it.

This would have been a great time for laundry! Alas, the laundromat at the Outrigger Reef was taken out during the recent renovations, and taking an Uber or a taxi seemed like too much effort. We draped our hike and bike clothes on every available surface to let them dry before we banished them to sealed ZipLoc bags🤧, and decided a nap was in order.

I don’t think I slept, but I did rest for a while and I went through pictures, so I guess that counts as down time.

At 4:30 we were off to our next event, the Aha’aina Luau at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. It was a fairly easy walk from the Outrigger Reef — about 10 minutes or so.

Photo taken from the Royal Hawaiian website.

Photo taken from the Royal Hawaiian website.

The luau was pricy, but they all are. We debated a little, but finally decided since we hadn’t been to Hawaii before we needed to splurge.

We chose this luau for a couple reasons, and we thought we made a good choice. First and foremost, we wanted to attend a luau outside by the ocean, and the Aha’aina delivered. We also wanted something close to our hotel, so that eliminated a lot of the big names that required an hour on a bus in each direction. Hmm…walk vs. take a bus? It was an easy decision for us.

I thought the event was very well done! The luau takes place out in front of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel with a view of Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head in the background.

The food was good, not great. They no longer have a buffet. Instead you are served a pre-plated meal. Three drinks each were included, and we both thought two was plenty.

Jim’s Mai Tai and my Pina Colada

First Course

Second Course

Dessert

The show was very entertaining. All in all it was a great way to spend the evening.

Once the luau was over we were done for the night. We walked back to the hotel and did a little souvenir shopping along the way but we didn’t find anything we liked, so we decided to save that for another day. We were looking forward to “sleeping in” since we had a later start to Friday’s Tour — a “Beautiful Colors of Oahu” photo tour with Oahu Photography Tours.

Links:

Charley’s Taxi — https://charleystaxi.com

808 eVentures — https://808eventures.com

Waiola Shave Ice — https://www.facebook.com/WaiolaShaveIce/

Aha’aina Luau at the Royal Hawaiian — https://www.royal-hawaiian.com/dining-overview/ahaaina-luau/

Aloha, Honolulu!

We had plans for all our days in Honolulu, starting with a Pearl Harbor and Honolulu tour on our first full day. In hindsight what I should have scheduled for the first day was something involving sunrise because we were up at 3:00, but I wasn’t thinking about jet-lag, just about fitting things in.

I guess one advantage of having jet-lag is you’re awake for sunrise. Actually we were awake for several hours of darkness before sunrise, but we were finally in Hawaii and didn’t really care. I peeked at sunrise from our balcony and sent Jim out to the beach alone to take some pictures. I decided a shower was much more important than sunrise!

Sunrise over Diamond Head.

Sunrise from the jetty at Outrigger Reef.

After a quick breakfast in the club lounge at the hotel we were off to meet our guide for the day, Kirk Hendricks.

Our fantastic guide!

We had a wonderful tour of the Honolulu area. Our tour guide, Kirk, was friendly and very knowledgeable. We went to numerous scenic overlooks, the National Cemetary of the Pacific, Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial, and then to some neighborhoods for local snacks. I highly recommend Kirk! It didn’t hurt that Kirk has an amazing, super comfortable car (2022 Audi Q7) and we travelled in style all day!

From Tantalus Lookout at Puu Ualakaa State Park.

From Tantalus Lookout at Puu Ualakaa State Park.

From Tantalus Lookout at Puu Ualakaa State Park.

Punchbowl Crater — National Cemetery of the Pacific

National Cemetery of the Pacific

Pearl Harbor

Pearl Harbor

Pearl Harbor — Arizona Memorial

Pearl Harbor — Arizona Memorial

Pearl Harbor — Arizona Memorial — Aft Gun Turret

Pearl Harbor — Arizona Memorial

Pearl Harbor — Arizona Memorial

Postcard of an overhead shot of the Memorial that clearly shows the sunken ship in the shallow waters of the harbor.

We drove through some neighborhoods and downtown after Pearl Harbor, debating what to do about lunch. In the end we decided we weren’t very hungry so Kirk took us to Chinatown where we wound up at Sing Cheong Yuan Bakery. We got some delicious and very inexpensive savory pastries to tide us over. Jim had Pork Hash, and I think what I had was called Char Siu Manapua which translates to pastry with barbecued pork inside. In other words, I had a kolache!

Bakery in Chinatown.

Outside the Sing Cheong Yuan Bakery on Manuakea St. in Honolulu.

We made one stop that wasn’t on a list of sights to see. We stopped at the grocery store so I could get a bottle of creamer for my coffee. That was where my jaw really hit the floor at prices…a bottle of Carnation creamer was SEVEN DOLLARS!😳 Ouch! I know groceries are high everywhere, but that’s more than $3.00 higher than the current inflated price at H-E-B!

We got back to the hotel around 3, which meant we had a very little down time before our dinner reservations. It felt good just to sit in one place and not be moving for a while!

We ate at Orchids at the Halekulani, which was an easy 2 minute walk from our hotel…right next door!🙂 One of the reasons I chose the Outrigger Reef was that we could walk everywhere in the evenings…no taxis, rental cars, or Ubers required.

This is probably a good time to mention I was surprised by how hot it felt to me in Hawaii. I thought it would seem like nothing after a Houston summer, but the difference is almost everything (restaurants, hotel lobbies and corridors, stores) is open-air or not air conditioned. I’m used to cooling off when I get inside, but that didn’t happen in Hawaii. I only remember one air-conditioned restaurant the whole trip. Anyway, back to dinner…

We have mixed opinions about Orchids. I thought it was great, but there was something about it that Jim didn’t love. I don’t think it helped that it was hot, we were very jet-lagged, and I insisted that Jim wear jeans because I thought Orchids enforced their dress code. At any rate, we had a very nice meal in a beautiful setting, but we sweated most of the way through dinner! It got better once the sun went down.

We ordered from the Prix Fixe menu to save money, but it was too much food for these tired travelers!

The gorgeous view from Orchids at dusk.

Sunset at Halekulani

The coconut cake was phenomenal, but we could barely keep our eyes open and only finished one piece. We took the other one back to our hotel, but never found an occasion (or the appetite!) to eat it!

Links:

Kirk Hendricks — https://www.toursbylocals.com/Private-Guide-Hawaii-Oahu-Honolulu-Top-Rated-Best-Spanish

Orchids at the Halekulani — https://www.halekulani.com/dining/orchids/

Has it Really Been That Long?

I’m back! Actually, I never left…I just stopped updating the blog. I think I got busy, then Covid hit and I lost interest for a while. At any rate, I was bored at 35,000 feet en route to Hawaii so I decided this trip would be a good time to make a comeback!

I’m not usually a numbers person, but I’m still shocked at how long we waited to take this trip. 1,184 days. That’s how much time had passed since we booked the flight we took on September 27. Don’t bother doing the math. I’ll save you the trouble. It was July 1, 2019.

901 days. That’s how long it had been since the flight we booked on July 1, 2019 was supposed to fly.

895 days. That’s how many days had been since I turned 60, which was the reason for the trip.

We were on the plane and still kind of in disbelief that my countdown clock finally hit zero!

My United widget finally hit zero!

Let me back up a little and explain how the whole idea of celebrating 60 in Hawaii came to be…

In June of 2019 I went to Annapolis for my nephew Jack’s induction into the Naval Academy. Jim stayed home because of that pesky thing known as work.

This picture was taken by the USNA.

My mom with Jack on I-Day

I was scheduled to fly home out of Washington National on a small plane using a short runway on a very hot day. I was all settled in with my belongings stowed when the gate agent boarded and said we couldn’t leave until 20 people volunteered to deplane. We were overweight because of the runway length and heat. That’s another number that kind of blows my mind. They had to get 20 people – over 25% of capacity – off a plane that holds 75.

Of course, compensation was involved. They started at $1,000 and nobody budged. I got Jim on the phone and had him pull up the United website to see if I could get home that day if the offer became irresistible, and I could. Several numbers were thrown out but they still weren’t having a lot of luck. The gate agent left and came back on a few minutes later with a firm and final $2,500 offer. I told Jim, “Gotta go,” grabbed my stuff and took the voucher! In other words, I took the money and ran! All told I think I got home about 8 hours after I was due and had to go through Chicago, but on an hourly basis I thought that was a pretty good use of my time. It was a good day for me, but expensive for United!

The day after I got home we were talking about what to do with the voucher (it had to be used within a year) and Jim came up with the idea of going to Hawaii (we had never been) and taking the Pride of America cruise that goes from Honolulu to Maui, Hawaii, and Kauai. At the time my voucher was enough to cover the cost of one first class ticket and miles covered another. We booked the flight and the cruise and I started planning.

I’ve held on to this voucher for over 3 years in anticipation of this blog post!

Little did I know that by the time the voucher actually got used we would be making plans to travel to Annapolis for Jack’s commissioning!

Some things just aren’t meant to be, and some are meant to be, but not when we think they should be. So it was with our Hawaii trip. Covid had other ideas and we waited through multiple cancellations and disappointments, but we finally found ourselves at 35,000 feet at the start of a trip we thought might never happen. In a twist on the words of Red in my favorite movie Shawshank Redemption, “I couldn’t wait to see if Hawaii is as beautiful as it’s been in my dreams!”

We did have one glitch in the trip which ended up being a non-issue but could have been huge. We flew to Hawaii on September 27, 2022. Do you see a problem with this picture?

Oops! The valid license didn’t make it into Jim’s wallet!

Jim didn’t see a problem either until the agent at the TSA checkpoint casually mentioned to him his license was expired!😳 Thank goodness for very good friends who know the alarm code and where the spare key is hidden, and don’t mind risking life and limb (well, limb anyway) to hop the fence and retrieve Jim’s VALID driver’s license and his passport card for good measure!

I’m only telling this story because all’s well that ends well. If we were going out of the country I would have double checked for passports as obsessively as I double checked for vaccination cards, but I thought we were in the clear because we were staying in the US.

Knowing that we probably (not worth the risk!) couldn’t get on the ship without valid ID, our friend Charlie overnighted the IDs to us in Honolulu so we could continue to enjoy our vacation and I didn’t have to abruptly stop writing this blog when it had just barely been resuscitated!😰

The spelling wasn’t good, but it served its purpose! The package was on its
way long before we got to Honolulu!

Now, back to our many times rescheduled almost cut short by an expired license vacation!

The flight was long but amazingly uneventful. We were served lunch twice. The first one was pretty awful…a piece of rubber chicken with a way-too-vinegary rice and cabbage mixture, but the second one was actually good! It was a Japanese noodle salad and both of us liked it!

Rubber Chicken🤢

Lunch #2 was pretty good!

Would it be inappropriate for me to have flown in first class and whine about the plane itself? United should be embarrassed that they’re still using antique planes with a 2-4-2 “domestic first class” configuration on an 8-hour flight. Half of the seats face backwards! Granted they were lie-flat seats, but the seats actually felt cramped and there was NO storage at all. Anything more than our iPads and teeny (clutch sized) bags had to go overhead.

Despite the less than optimal first class cabin and the rubber chicken we made it to Hawaii 30 minutes early, our luggage arrived at baggage claim the same time we did, and our driver from Go 808 Express was waiting for us. You can’t ask for a travel day to go any better than that.

Nothing to see yet!

Pearl Harbor from the air.

Landing in Honolulu

I was ready if things went wrong with our checked bags! After reading about luggage woes all summer I equipped our bags with color-coded Air Tags so I could locate them if needed. I thought they were very accurate…when we were still in Houston I could see that our carry-ons were with us and the suitcases were on the plane but further away.

When you plan something as far in advance as I planned this trip and wait through multiple cancellations it can get built up in your head to be something the reality could never measure up to. I was worried about that, because with 2.5 years to obsess over the details and tweak things I expected to be wowed. You know what? I was! For the most part we liked/loved the choices we made, the weather was almost perfect, and Hawaii was even more beautiful than I imagined it could be.

We were already exhausted by the time we got to our hotel — Outrigger Reef on the Beach. It was a great choice! Our room was comfortable and newly renovated, we got a GREAT deal on a club-level room through Costco, and it met my #1 requirement…I had to be able to look out and see only ocean. After all, I had never been to Hawaii and that’s the main attraction! I wanted to make sure I saw the Pacific Ocean, not the busy streets of Waikiki Beach.

Who wouldn’t want to relax on their hotel balcony and see this?

Looking straight out we had the jetty and the ocean!

If we looked left we could see Diamond Head.

Our only goal for our first day was to stay up as long as possible to try to acclimate to the time difference. We went to happy hour in the Voyager 47 Club, and then decided to use some of our resort credit (thank you, Costco!) on dinner in the Kani Ka Pila Grille at the hotel. I guess it was good…I was too tired to really care! We ordered only appetizers and ate too much. The portion sizes were huge. We found that to be the case throughout the islands, which I guess is how they justify their prices?

From the Voyager 47 Club terrace at the Outrigger Reef.

From the Voyager 47 Club terrace at the Outrigger Reef.

Dinner at the Kani Ka Pila Grille

Dinner at the Kani Ka Pila Grille

At any rate, by the time we finished we could barely keep our eyes open. I think we both fell asleep about 8:00 and slept until 3ish which is a nice 7 hours of sleep for a completely different time zone!

Good night, Honolulu!

Up next…views, Pearl Harbor, and a little bit of exercise!

Links:

Go 808 Express (Ground Transportation) — https://go808express.com

Outrigger Reefhttps://www.outriggerreef.com

Kani Ka Pila Grille https://www.outrigger.com/landing-pages/services/orf-kkpg