Monday, February 16, 2015

Lifetime Adventures!

James and I recently got back from our once in a lifetime spectacular vacation.  We had intended to take this trip in 2016 to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary, but not long ago we received an offer that saved us over half the price of what we would have paid.  So we said, who cares if we take the trip on our 9th anniversary instead!  The only thing is, we had so much fun, we are already talking about going again next year anyhow!

I'm talking about our 15 day cruise to Hawaii.  Yep, in mid-January we flew to Los Angeles and boarded the Carnival Miracle for a two week Pacific adventure.  Since we got such a magnificent deal from the cruise line for our cabin, we upgraded to the big fancy two-room suite at the back of the ship with the wraparound balcony.  How could we not??  We had this same cabin a few years ago on another cruise and we thought, with a total of 9 at sea days for this trip, the huge balcony would indeed be a treat.  And especially on port days because we were able to see humpback whales splashing about at all five ports!

All was not perfect on this trip, only because the person on the plane next to me sneezed and coughed for six hours without once covering up his mouth.  I gave him the stink eye, but unfortunately he was non-English speaking and didn't understand my subtle disapproval.  So, I was sick the entire cruise, and towards the end James caught it as well.  Good thing we had the two-room suite because the last few nights, we were both coughing so much we slept separately just to get a few hours of  peaceful rest.

Even so, I did not let the cold/flu/sinus whatever get in my way of enjoying the Hawaiian islands.  The cruise ship stopped at five different ports on four of the islands, and we had rental cars at each stop.  We've cruised enough that we now know to avoid the outrageously expensive and crowded "ship" excursions.  We've been packed into buses like sardines over the years, and paid out big bucks for it.  Now we simply plot out our days well in advance, and for the price of the rental car- which would equal the price we pay Carnival- we do what we want, go where we want, stop to eat and take photos and buy souvenirs where we want, and for how long we want.  True, many of the places we go are the same places the ship excursions go.  We just prefer to go on our own terms, and not with 50 other people.  Not to mention we were, as always, on the hunt for smashed pennies and were able to add almost 100 of them to our collection on this trip.

And I apologize right away for not punctuating Hawaiian words correctly.  I know most of the cities and islands have apostrophes in them, even Hawaii is supposed to be Hawai'i.

After four at sea days our first stop was Hilo, on the Big Island of Hawaii.  Yes, I know, I too was confused that "Hawaii" is actually the name of one of the islands.  I have just always used "Hawaii" thinking that covered all the islands, but it doesn't.  So, on Hawaii the island, we traveled south of Hilo to Volcanoes National Park.  Here we stopped to have lunch on the smoking crater rim of Kilauea.  I can't get over the fact that I sat and ate a pizza almost on top of a volcano, it was super cool.  After lunch we drove all the way down to the end of the road, a jaunt the bigger tour buses couldn't manage because it was so narrow and winding.  But it was worth the drive, to see the ocean and this gorgeous Sea Arch, right as the sun was starting to go down- not to mention also running across a little gaggle of the Hawaiian Nene geese.  On the way back we stopped at a lava tube, where we walked through the hardened cave of old lava, surrounded by a lush tropical rain forest.  The last stop was Rainbow Falls, close to town, but worth the extra little drive before we had to turn the car back in and head to the ship.  One interesting thing to note was listening to the local radio and hearing the lava flow alerts.

Day two was Honolulu on the island of Oahu.  This was the most important day for James, because we wanted to take in everything at Pearl Harbor.  And we did.  We got there a little after 10am and stayed there until well after 4pm.  We were able to visit all of the historical sites and most importantly, the USS Arizona Memorial.  We weren't sure we would be able to see the Arizona, as the tickets are free but are given out on a first come basis in the morning.  They only give out a set amount every day.  We were worried by us getting there later in the morning we would miss out, but luckily it was a week day and we were able to get the tickets.  Even if we hadn't, there were still so many other things to see and do there, and we did it all.  We went on the battleship USS Missouri, we went to the aviation museum, and toured the submarine USS Bowfin.  We also got the audio tour (Jamie Lee Curtis!) of all the museums on the grounds.  Before taking a small boat out to the Arizona, we watched a very moving documentary about the day Pearl Harbor was attacked.  I was surprised, it made me cry watching the footage, but it was also because of the amazingly talented narration of Stockard Channing.  We were docked in Honolulu until 11pm at night, so after Pearl Harbor we drove into the city for dinner.  We were shocked to find it was as crowded with bumper to bumper traffic and people as downtown Atlanta!  We of course enjoyed Pearl Harbor, but didn't get to see much else of the area, as it was dark by the time we got into the city and all we saw were the red glow of tail lights for several hours.

The third port was Kahului on Maui, another long day (7am to 11pm).  Our busiest day as far as driving around, because we had a lot of stops on our itinerary.  Our first stop was the Maui Tropical Plantation.  We lucked out and got there ahead of any of the tour buses, so had a quiet visit at this gorgeous working farm.  We rode the tram to tour the grounds, saw all the many types of fruits they grow, and even saw a wild mongoose on the prowl!  We also learned the proper native technique for getting the meat out of a coconut, which was worth the price of the tram ride!  At the plantation, they were kind enough to tell us about a lovely little museum not on our list, and we made our way over to the Bailey House where we spent a nice hour with our native tour guide. We had lunch on the water in Maalaea, hoping to go to the aquarium.  But we did not beat the tour buses, and there were a lot of them, and the line to get in was so long we didn't want to wait.  We drove to Lahaina to walk around and do some shopping, and indulged in shaved ice, then stopped back by the aquarium but it was closing time.  A lot of the ship excursions went to the other side of the island, to Hana, but most of the people we talked to said it wasn't worth the incredibly long and dangerously winding drive.

The next day we put in at Lihue on Kauai.  This was my favorite island.  We had a lot of driving to do on this day as well, because the two things we wanted to see were on the opposite sides of the island, with the ship docking in the middle.  First we drove around the south end of the island and stopped at the Kauai Coffee Plantation.  We walked the grounds to look at the trees and then stocked up on coffee at the visitor center.  Then we made our way to two state parks- Waimea Canyon and Kokee.  Waimea Canyon is aptly named, and the amazing waterfall was probably my favorite stop on the entire trip.  We had lunch in the town of Waimea, then started the long drive to the north side of the island.  Our destination was the Kilauea Point Lighthouse which was, unbeknownst to us, closed that day!  We were only able to get photos from the parking lot above, but it was still a nice drive, and we were able to see more Nene geese toodling about.

The last day was back on Hawaii at Kona, and it was our shortest because of an itinerary change on the ship.  We got to port late, and then because this was a tender port (you don't pull up to a dock but instead take small boats over to the island) it took us several hours to get off the ship.  The Big Island turned out to be James' favorite stop, and I do wish we could have spent more time in Kona.  We went to a few local markets, and had time to head out to another coffee plantation, but that was about it.  We had planned to visit a beautiful historical park and church further up the road, but didn't have time.  We had a late lunch there in town at a nice outdoor restaurant on the water.  As we headed back to the ship, James was eyeballing the big Marriott sitting right there on the beach.

The cruise ended with five more at sea days then a very short evening in Ensenada Mexico, where the most exciting thing we saw were the droves of harbor seals playing about everywhere.  The next morning we were back where we started from, in Long Beach California.  The cruise was long, and I admit I was starting to get a bit restless on the sail back from Hawaii.  One benefit of visiting Hawaii on a cruise was being able to visit several of the islands, because other than by air, there is no service between the islands.  A disadvantage would be just getting to spend a few hours at a time at each island, never venturing too far because we had to be back on the ship at a certain time.

But we loved the islands, and ever since we got home we have talked nonstop about going back to Hawaii.  Not on another cruise, but picking one island (hard decision!) and flying there for a week long stay.  Not sure when that trip will be possible, but as much as we enjoyed our visit to the Hawaiian Islands, I'm sure we'll get back there again as soon as we can!