May 13, 2002
SUMMIT-HAWAII TO VANCOUVER
This trip was a dream come true for my husband and myself. We had always wanted to go to Hawaii and were looking at what Celebrity had to offer. The biggest selling point was that the airfare through the cruise line was only $200/pp round-trip Chicago to Honolulu and Vancouver to Chicago coming home. Booking early ensured us a great deal on our Category 1-A balcony cabin # 9125 on the Penthouse deck. This cruise was booked one week prior to 9/11 so that tragedy didn't have any bearing on our fares. Our TA had quoted us one fare but when I went online to Travelocity and saw a much cheaper one, she matched it for us. That taught us to really shop around before just accepting the first quoted price.
The itinerary for this cruise was for the ship to leave Honolulu on Monday, May 13 @ midnight for Kauai, 2 days in Maui, a day each in Kona and Hilo on the Big Island, then 5 days at sea to Vancouver. The sea days were a big seller for us as we figured we would be really on the go on the island days and would need the down time to relax. Since we knew that arriving on Monday would not give us any time to see Honolulu, we elected to leave Chicago on Saturday, May 11 and have Sunday and most of Monday to sightsee. We took the pre-cruise arrangement through the cruise line since it would void our cheap airfare to bypass it. The two days @ the Hilton Hawaiian Village cost us $250/night.
Our United flight was to stop in San Francisco to change planes and then on to Honolulu. This was necessitated by the fact that neither United nor American had non-stop flights from Chicago to Honolulu or Vancouver to Chicago. If we flew American, we would have been routed through Dallas on the way home even if it were non-stop to Hawaii. So we elected to take the stop going there rather than on the home trip.
We had a new 777 and the seating on those is 2-5-2. This is where we were really ignorant and didn't take advantage of our Captain's Club benefits. As a Classic member you have flight benefits that allow your TA to reserve your seats in advance rather than wait for the cruise line to send you your documents. As a result, we were stuck in the middle of the 5-seater. At least to San Francisco Karl had an aisle seat and I sat next to him. But on the longest leg (5 hours) of the trip, we were right in the middle. When we do this again, we will know better. After booking 9 months in advance, we could have had much more comfortable seating.
Our flight to San Francisco was approximately 4 hours and since our plane was going on to Osaka, it was parked at the International Terminal. We had an hour layover between flights and we needed every minute of this, as we had to move at a very fast walk to get from one end of the terminal to another as well as go through security again. Lucky for us, the desk agent @ O'Hare had issued our boarding passes before we left. When we finally made it to the correct gate we were actually sweating but we walked right on the plane without a wait. This plane too was a 777 but not as nice as the one with the flat screens on the back of each seat. There was a movie but I was unable to see it since I was too short to see the screen. I have to admit it was the longest 5 hours I have ever spent on a plane. We landed in sunny Honolulu and were met by a Celebrity rep who gathered us up and took us down to identify our luggage, then to board a bus to our hotel.
Our room was in the Diamond Head Tower, which was partly ocean, partly garden view with a balcony and 2 double beds. Later on as we were talking with another couple from Chicago, we found out we could have upgraded to a king bed for $20 more. The room was a standard Hilton, which had a hairdryer in the bathroom that was good for me since I didn't pack one! This hotel has grounds that are so beautiful you can't believe it. The lobby is open air and as we stood inline to check in we were offered complimentary glasses of juice. The hotel is right on Wakikiki Beach and has at least 2 pools that we saw, the tapas pool and the Super pool.
Once we were checked in we decided to wander around the grounds to orient ourselves. It was now about 4:00 PM Hawaii time and 9:00 PM Chicago time. After getting up at 4 AM, we were starting to feel the effects of jet lag. Right on the beach is the Tropics bar/restaurant combination where we sat outside and looked at the ocean and the surfers and tried to fathom that we were really in Hawaii! I had a Mai Tai to celebrate and that was a big mistake. I don't usually drink and coupled with the jet lag, it really knocked me out.
After a light dinner, we tried to stay awake and wait for the evening show by the pool where the runners light all the torches and the dancers perform but we were just too wiped out. And this was only at 6 PM! Back to the room for a shower and we were asleep by 7 o'clock. Unfortunately, we were still on Chicago time and woke up fully refreshed at 3:30 AM. We ended up eating chocolate covered macadamia nuts we had purchased in the gift shop and looking at a map of Oahu to kill time. The hotel must realize that guests are early risers as the first restaurant opens at 5:30 AM. We finally went down to the open-air café for a lovely breakfast with fresh mango and pineapple. Here we experienced some sticker shock over the prices, as a basic breakfast of eggs, meat, toast & potatoes was almost $15 for one. But we also realized that the hotel prices would be somewhat inflated.
When we had checked in we had been handed an envelope from the Celebrity with a list of pre-boarding shore excursions. We found the Celebrity rep in the hotel and booked a city bus tour including Pearl Harbor. Inquiring as to how we could get to the Polynesian Cultural Center, we were informed that it was closed on Sunday. Our other option was the Aloha Bowl Flea Market. Since Karl would rather have his teeth drilled without Novocain than go shopping, I was quite surprised that he wanted to do this. But a friend who had been to Hawaii several times had told him that this was the best and cheapest place to get souvenirs. We asked a cab driver how much to get there and he quoted us $30 one way and we decided that was not a good option. The concierge is right there in the lobby so we asked her and she arranged for a bus to pick us up for $8/pp round trip. As it turned out, the same bus also stopped at Pearl Harbor and made the same stops every hour. If we had known, we could have skipped the shore excursion.
It was a partly cloudy day on Mother's Day in the 80's and off we went to shop for souvenirs. The bus driver was the first of many who really showed the Aloha Spirit. The tourist is king here and everyone is glad to see you. We had to keep reminding ourselves that we had traveled this far and were still in the USA. We made a stop at Pearl Harbor and noted that it was almost empty and on to the Aloha Bowl Stadium where the vendors were set up in 3 rings in the parking lot. This flea market is enormous and it would take all day to see everything. We bought macadamia nuts for the cheapest prices we would see and embroidered t-shirts 4/$10. Karl was on the lookout for hats for the guys he works with and found them for about $4 each. After a good 3 hours, we were starting to wilt (and get sunburned on the back of our necks) and headed back to the bus area. We had just missed our bus by 10 minutes and thought we would have to wait an hour for the next one when the guy with the walkie-talkie called it back for us! We were so grateful, especially as we were still feeling jet lagged.
Back at the hotel we cleaned up and looked for a place to have dinner. We weren't too adventurous to go outside the grounds merely because we were so tired. There was a special Mother's Day buffet in Bali by the Sea restaurant for $39/pp. I didn't want to spend the money only because I didn't think we would actually eat that much, but Karl insisted because it was Mother's Day and we were away from the children. So we had crab legs, shrimp, prime rib and did eat a lot!
The next day was Monday, boarding day for the ship. We brought all of our luggage to the bus area and boarded the bus for our trip to Pearl Harbor. This attraction is free and you just have to wait your group's turn to first view the movie (approximately 20 minutes) and then board the shuttle boat to the docking site of the Arizona. There is a ramp for handicapped access on the Memorial but it would be a little difficult getting on the shuttle. This is done like clockwork. You move through the Memorial up one side and down the other and are ready to leave as the next group is coming. It is very moving and solemn and post-9/11, quite timely as well. Considering this was our parent's generation and not ours it still struck close to home.
Back on the bus with our very entertaining driver, we made a stop for a fast-food lunch and then made the abbreviated circuit of Honolulu. We drove through Punchbowl Cemetery and were not allowed to get off the bus as they said it was too many tourists at one time trampling the graves. I was surprised to see that the rows of white crosses that you see in many photos have been replaced with flat markers. It seemed the termites were eating the crosses and they were too difficult to maintain.
The visit to Punchbowl set the tone for the whole trip. We never got off the bus to see anything. If your idea of sightseeing is drive-by, then you'd love this excursion. We were really disappointed. If I have any gripe with Celebrity it is that their shore excursions are usually humdrum and include a lot of shopping. We have found we do better on our own unless it is something very unusual that we wouldn't normally do. The Honolulu City Highlights Tour dropped us at the pier for boarding. Security was very tight and we not only had to identify our bags, but our luggage tags had to match our photo id's.
When we were finally allowed inside the terminal building we strolled up to the Captain's Club desk told them our names and we were on our way. It was so easy and convenient that we could almost forgive them for the boring shore excursion. Up the escalator, we skipped the photo op and walked up the ramp to the ship. There we were greeted with orchid leis! I was really impressed and excited over this lovely touch. It made me feel like I was really welcomed to Hawaii. Since we were boarding later, there were no white-gloved cabin attendants to escort us to our cabin but we found it without a problem. This was our first experience with a veranda. The room was supposed to be larger that a standard room but it didn't really look like it. Lots of storage as is normal with Celebrity and our boxy suitcases fit under the bed. The desk had great lighting for applying makeup and outlets for your curling iron and other beauty aids.
Our cabin steward came by almost immediately and introduced himself. We hardly saw him as he learned our schedule quickly and took care of the room when we were out. The staff is always friendly and does an excellent job keeping the cabins spic and span. After our previous cruise on RCCL, we were so happy to see Celebrity's spacious shower stalls. (Say that 5x fast!) The hair dryer proved a big improvement over other Celebrity ships, more powerful and didn't burn your hand if you held it too long. There were dispensers in the shower for shampoo and body bath gel. I learned a lesson the next day that the showers have temperature governors on them and ended up taking a cold shower, as I could not figure out where the hot water was. It turned out that here is a button under the controls and you have to push it to get hot water.
We headed upstairs to the welcome aboard buffet and then took a tour of the ship starting on the sports deck and working our way down. This had to be the most beautiful ship we had ever seen. The Art was quite modern and did elicit a lot of comment from the passengers, but there were beautiful flower arrangements all over and lots of nooks and crannies to sit and relax. The International Market was right across the street from the pier and a lot of people were doing some last minute shopping. Since the ship wasn't scheduled to leave until midnight, there was ample time for some people to do this.
The first night dinner was open seating and we ended up with a group from Indiana who had just arrived a few hours before and were they tired! We were so happy we had elected to come 2 days early. The show after dinner was a performance of the hula by the #1 hula school in the islands by children. They were very good and warmly received by the audience. It was now about 10 PM and we were still feeling the effects of the time change so it was off to bed we went and never felt the ship leave the dock.
We woke up on Tuesday as we were pulling up to the dock at Nawawiliwili, Kauai. It was cloudy and rainy. This was the day for the first of our shore excursions and as it turned out, almost the last. There were 3 different times for the excursion down the Wailea River and the Fern Grotto. We took the one @ 11:30 AM. There were 4 buses of people from the ship to a dock where we boarded boats for the cruise down the river. There were musicians on board and a girl doing the hula. It was here that we noticed that the age of the passengers was way upwards of 65. It didn't seem that anyone was without a crutch, splint, walker, wheelchair or some other kind assistive device. By the time we got to the Grotto by means of a rather slippery concrete walkway, it was pouring rain and I felt sorry for all those people trying to maneuver their way. This was supposed to be so romantic with about 200 total strangers and the hosts playing the Hawaiian Wedding Song. Maybe on a nicer day, we could appreciate it. Back on the ship, we were so happy to be warm and dry and watch Kauai recede in the mists from our seats in the buffet area.
That night was our reservation for the Normandie dining room. We had a table for two by the window and it was quite the experience. You have 3 waiters and there is a surcharge of $25/pp for a 4-course meal. Very rich, very French and very long. It was probably about 3 hours from sit down to dessert. You have a choice of appetizer, salad or soup as a first course. I had the goat cheese appetizer which someone recommended and Karl had the Caesar salad which were both very good. You next have your entrée. I had the Chateaubriand which should have been noted it was for two people as there was no way I could eat all of it and Karl had the Dover Sole. Again, everything was scrumptious but the portions were larger than in the regular dining room and we were stuffed. Then there is a cheese course with assorted wines. Karl had a port they recommended and he did say it was excellent. Lastly was dessert which I had pre-ordered the chocolate mousse and I think Karl had ice cream. You could have rolled us out of there. It was quite interesting to note that when someone got up to use the bathroom, a waiter escorted him or her and your napkin was replaced with a fresh one. This was a nice experience for one time and I don't think we would do it again. We found the food in the dining room just as good and the portions were so much smaller for the amount of food that you consumed.
Wednesday, we dropped anchor at Lahainia, Maui to sunny skies. As usual, we were late risers and didn't get off the ship until almost noon. We found a post office on the main drag and mailed all of our postcards. I had purchased postcard stamps before we left so I wouldn't have to run around looking for the correct postage. I was still on the hunt for the 2 items I didn't want to leave Hawaii without a Christmas ornament and a photo album with a space for captions. I think we hit Hilo Hattie's on every island. This is the ultimate Hawaiian shopping experience. Karl found a great knit shirt with pineapples on it and I found great flip-flops with a palm tree design. There was a shuttle to the store but we just followed the map supplied by the ship and got to see lots of little shops where I found my Hawaiian Christmas ornament.
There is a museum of one of the first missionaries to see which was quite interesting. We did not take any shore excursions here and actually enjoyed the down time of not being held to a schedule. There was a place to rent a car or scooter for a reasonable price if you so desired and we even found places advertising luau's for $20 at the Marriott. The excursion through the ship was $84/pp and we heard that the food was not very good. But you are also paying for the bus ride to and from and for the show accompanying the feast.
There was a Bubba Gump's Seafood restaurant there and for the first time ever; we had lunch off the ship sitting at a dockside table. The downside is that we were eaten alive by bugs of some kind. On the way back to the ship, we were window shopping at the jewelry stores and Karl insisted on buying me a beautiful gold pineapple pendant as a souvenir. I guess he thought the flip-flops and the ornaments weren't enough. I have worn that pendant every day since then.
Before we were allowed back on the tender to the ship, we were in a small pavilion area where we were scanned with metal detectors and all our bags, purses and cameras were thoroughly searched. Before we entered the ship all carry-ons had to go through the Xray machine. I was unhappy about this after I saw my pictures when I got home. Maybe one time won't hurt the film but a few times definitely changes the quality of the images.
Since we had no shore excursions planned, we actually never got off the boat on Thursday. I was thinking that this was some kind of aberration since we were in HAWAII, but Karl wanted to relax and enjoy the empty pool area. We took advantage of the sunny weather to get some tan.
The next stop on Friday was Kona. Again we tendered into the town and continued our quest for my photo album at yet another Hilo Hattie's. We finally found it at an ABC store in a little mall in the downtown area. The day was cloudy and we did not take any shore excursions but again enjoyed the ship and all that was offered.
Saturday was our last stop in Hawaii and we were at Hilo. Here we had elected to take the Volcano National Park tour. We had booked this online and the tour without lunch was full so we ended up taking a stop at Volcano House hotel for a lackluster buffet lunch. Certainly not in the same category as the ship but considering that this was an all day tour, we were hungry by the time we got there. This was probably the best tour we ever took on Celebrity, but be aware that the temperature is much lower up in the mountains than by the dock. By the time we got to Volcano House by way of the macadamia nut farm and the orchid farm, we were freezing! The torrential rain did not help this. Volcano House gift shop did a brisk business in jackets and sweatshirts.
The guide was once again informative and funny. We drove down to the caldera and saw lots of steam vents and lava-ruined roads. There was a new black sand beach created from the 1991 lava flow through a park area. This ground is so fertile that people just stick a cocoanut in the ground and it sprouts into a palm tree. I wish that I'd had a container to take some of the black sand to show to our kids, as it was amazing. This tour was a good 8 hours and we got back to the ship about 45 minutes before we set sail for Vancouver. If you are taking this cruise, we highly recommend this excursion. The shopping was minimal and the education factor was high.
The next two days at sea were sunny but very windy and we were able to get in our jog around the track where once around was 5/8 of a mile. The third day was cloudy and rainy, but then the sun came out once again. At no time was the sea anything but smooth going. Every day at noon, the cruise director made an announcement from the Navigational Bridge with time, temperature, ship speed, sea depth, and miles from Hawaii and miles to Vancouver. It was interesting to note that every day the ship was slowing down due to the fact we were getting there too fast! This was in sharp contrast to the experiences of two women I worked with who had taken the same trip at about the same time on two different occasions (with Princess) and had had very rough seas.
The entertainment staff worked overtime to keep the passengers occupied and entertained. There was an afternoon show featuring some of the ships' performers who were very talented, a passenger talent show, and various take-offs of game shows that were all very well attended. Of course there was Bingo where I won about $350 in different games. The Big Game at the end of the cruise was worth $6600 and was split by 2 people. Karl was really hoping that my luck at Bingo was going to last, but alas, it was not to be. We spent a lot of time after the evening shows at the blackjack table where I pretty much broke even. But finally it was Thursday and we saw land for the first time in 4 days as we entered the Straits of Juan de Fuco and came back to North America.
Friday was our disembarkation day and we had elected to take a city tour of Vancouver, as our plane didn't leave until after 2 PM. This was also entertaining and again we had lovely weather. There are lots of gardens and there is also a lot of rain. Their climate is similar to Seattle. It gave us just a taste of Vancouver and we would like to go back and really see it. Finally to the airport, which is one of the nicer ones, I have seen and after going through Customs again we started our trip home. The plane was not full but it was late, so people making connections through O'Hare were really scrambling to make their flights. Since we were already home, we waited until the plane was empty to get off. Our son picked us up and his first words were "Wow, you guys are really tan". Our lovely trip was over and we wanted to do it again. This was the longest cruise we had ever taken and it was the best. The only down side is the long flight to Honolulu and I am glad that we had taken it at the beginning instead of at the end. We have recommended this trip to everyone and you would like it too.