On April 15, my husband, 13-year-old daughter and I left for San Diego, the day before our cruise was to sail. This was my eleventh cruise; tenth for my husband and daughter. We have cruised with Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Princess and Norwegian. We traveled to San Diego a day early. Since nearly missing a cruise several years ago, we always travel to our departure city a day early to allow for possible delays. We stayed at Loews's Coronado Bay Hotel and had a delightful night.
We got up early Sunday morning, drove to the cruise pier where we dropped our luggage and then returned our rental car to the San Diego Airport. One of our biggest complaints with this cruise was we could never get a straight answer from anyone as to what time the buses actually departed for Ensenada. In fact, when we arrived at the terminal around 11:00 AM, the Rhapsody was docked (in San Diego). We were quickly told that the ship was leaving for Ensenada (something about a U.S. law that prohibits ships of foreign registry from going directly from one U.S. port to another without stopping at another foreign port). What a hassle. Even upon checking in, no one was really willing to tell us when the buses would load. Since we were among the first to arrive, we were fortunately on the first bus. It also helped to be a Crown & Anchor member.
(around 1:00 PM) there were probably 15 bus loads ready to go. Once on the road, our trip was pretty uneventful but several other buses had problems. Some broke down and had to wait for help, others experienced troubles and took a much longer time to arrive. I've spent a lot of time talking about this aspect because we had so much trouble getting any information before we left. We were really glad to get to Ensenada and see the ship.
We picked this itinerary for two reasons. We thoroughly enjoy the days at sea and this cruise had five in a row and we had never been to the Hawaiian Islands.
THE SHIP The ship was extremely similar to the Vision of the Seas we cruised last year so it was very familiar. With five days at sea, we really had plenty of time to explore the ship. I loved the art work. We probably looked at it more than on any previous ship. We liked our room (same cabin type and location at the rear of the ship as we had on the Vision). We were disappointed in the condition of much of the public furniture. Much of it was dirty and stained and this included all of the dining areas and pool deck chairs. We were told that the ship was heading to dry dock for several weeks of refurbishing. Good thing! It appeared that the Broadway Melodies Theater has recently undergone a renovation and was beautiful.
The ship is easy to learn and navigate your way around. We learned on this cruise that some of the places we really enjoyed on previous cruises (the piano lounge for instance - The Schooner Bar on this ship) weren't the same because the passengers were different. A rather rowdy travel agent took over this lounge every night. But we found plenty of things to do. In fact, the time change from Mexico to Hawaii took its toll and we were in bed early every night at sea.
There was one major problem that got increasingly worse as the week went on. There was a terrible smell on the starboard side of the ship. It started on deck 5 and by the end of the cruise, you could smell it all the way up on the pool deck. No announcement was ever made regarding the problem but I'm sure it was addressed when it made it to dry dock.
PORTS OF CALL Other than St. John (U.S. Virgin Islands) and Tortola/Virgin Gorda (in the BVI's), all of the ports on this cruise were better than anywhere else we've been. Each was different and unique and we'd go back to all of them to spend more time. I should note that we planned all of our shore activities (including car rentals) before we left home. It is very relaxing to board the ship and not have to figure out what we're going to do for shore excursions. This was also the first time that we did not take any of the ship's excursions. We rented from National in San Diego and Honolulu and from Alamo on all the other islands.
HILO, HAWAII This was our first stop. Alamo has shuttle vans at the cruise terminals to pick up passengers. We got our car and headed off to Volcanoes National Park. Our first stop was at the visitors' center. We took a brief 30-minute hike with a park guide to get a general feel for the park. I had printed out a lot of park information from the National Park Service website so we had a good idea of what we wanted to do. We drove Crater Rim Drive to the end of Chain of Craters Road. This is the spot where lava flowed across the road about five years ago. We parked here and walked out across the lava about 100 yards. You could see the steam from the active lava flowing into the ocean from here. But they warn that the hike to see actual lava is extremely dangerous. It was all an incredible site to see. We felt like we were walking on the surface of the moon. We spent our day in the park.
As we sailed away that night, we went south and as we passed the southern tip of the island, our entire dining room emptied onto the decks to watch the orange glow of lava flowing into the water. Another incredible site!
KONA, HAWAII Another stop, another Alamo car rental. This was a beach day and also Easter Sunday. We drove north and spent a couple of hours at Hapuna Beach. By lunch, we headed south to look for a resort where we could get lunch. We ended up at the Hilton Waikoloa. A lovely spot where we had a great lunch. We spent some time wandering around the resort (lots of pretty pools, gardens and grounds). As we walked up to look at the golf course, we heard someone yell "whales." We looked out at the ocean and just off shore were several whales playing. What a fabulous site. We were glad we had our video camera. We just sat and watched them jump and play for about 30 minutes. As the week went on, we realized we were very lucky. Most people never saw whales.
Car Rentals: www.alamo.com
NOTE: At each port, we rented a car from ALAMO except Honolulu where we rented from National. There was a van to pick you up at the ship and take you to their agency. The car rental company will also return you to the ship at o charge.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park www.nps.gov/havo
We printed out all of the applicable maps and tours provided by the National Park Service. It was approximately 30 - 40 minutes from the car rental pick up to the park. A terrific day!
KONA We drove North and stopped at several beaches along the way to swim and relax. Around noon, we headed back South looking for a place to eat. We stopped at the Hilton Waikola Village for lunch. We had a great time walking around the grounds (everyone was very friendly). We enjoyed lunch outdoors near one of the many pools. After lunch we continued our exploration. My husband was dying to see the golf course. As we walked up to it, someone yelled "WHALE". Just off the golf course there were several whales frolicking in the waves. We watched them (and videotaped them for about an hour). As it turned out, this was one of the rare whale sitings on the trip.
MAUI Two days are spent here. On the first day, we ventured out on Trilogy, a catamaran that sails from Kaanapali Beach. WE HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS TOUR! We've done a lot of ship excursions over the years and this was better than most. We booked it ourselves (www.sailtrilogy.com). These trips sell out early so I'd recommend booking prior to your trip. We did the Kaanapali Picnic Sail. We visited two different (very good) snorkeling sites and had a terrific barbecue lunch on the boat. They even served us ice cream sundaes for dessert. This was a first class excursion!
Our first night on Maui was spent at the Old Lahaina Luau. Like the Trilogy excursion, this luau fills up quickly. We made our reservations before leaving home on-line at www.hawaiiguide.com If you do a search on Old Lahaina Luau, you'll also find the site. We had a great evening and it was well worth the money. We choose to sit on the ground on mats and were very close to the show. The only down side was that we were the last to go for food (the VERY last) and there wasn't much left by the time we got there. Always a downside of a buffet type meal. But the surroundings, the ceremonies and the people were well worth the money. We had a spectacular sunset and thoroughly enjoyed the evening.
For our second day on Maui, we hired a private guide from Guides of Maui (www.guidesofmaui.com)
Donna was our guide and did a FABULOUS job at showing us a side of Maui that most people never see. While you might think it is a bit more expensive than a ship excursion (it was $220 for the day), an 8-hour trip from the ship's excursion desk would cost more for far less attention. We picked Donna up at her office and she was available to us all day long. We chose to let her show us her "favorite" part of the island since she was native to Maui. We ate at a wonderful place in the middle of the island that most tourist never see. We saw private, out of the way waterfalls, and we saw the popular spots such as the Ioa Needle. We'd highly recommend Donna! She was a delight! And don't forget to ask her about Sean Connery!
KAUAI Hands down, our favorite island. We would (will) go back here to spend an extended vacation. We began with a helicopter tour with Island Helicopters (www.islandhelicopters.com). It wasn't an easy sell to get our 13-year-old to agree to this tour. We told her that she didn't have to go if she really didn't want to once we got there. Upon arrival, she got to sit next to the pilot and the rest is history. This was truly like going to heaven. It can't be described in words. The sites, the music, the feeling…..they are all indescribable. Be sure you check out IZ while you are there. He is a Hawaiian legend who has the voice of an angel. Any Hawaiian will know who he is. His music filled our tour! While this might be the most expensive thing you do, this IS the place to do it. Even more so than Maui. We WILL go back to Kauai for vacation!
After the tour (it only lasts about 50 minutes) we ventured to Poipu Beach on the south side of the island. This was a wonderful choice. We spent the rest of the day here and it was our favorite beach of the entire trip. We ate lunch directly across from the beach and again, it was as if we were in a painting. GO HERE. You will not regret it!
OAHU Our last stop, and we had a great time here. Upon disembarking from the ship, we rented our car (had to take a cab to the National counter). We drove to the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbour (my husband really wanted to visit here….so did the rest of us) where we got a number for our tour. Since it was approximately three hours until our tour left (you take a boat to the memorial), we drove to our hotel to check in. We stayed overnight at the Halekulani. If there is anyway to swing the cost of this hotel, it is worth it. It is very expensive, but you know that old saying, you get what you pay for. It is true here. The service was unbelievable (more on that later). After checking in, we drove back and did the tour at Pearl Harbour. My dad was in WWII and it was really important that our daughter see the memorial. It touched us all.
That night we had (without a doubt) the best meal of the trip at Roy's Restaurant in Honolulu. Roy Yamaguichi is one of Hawaii's best known chefs (kind of like Emeril stateside). His Honolulu restaurant is located beyond Diamond Head. The food and service was the best! We wish we could go to Roy's every week. If you have just one night in Honolulu, go to Roy's!
On our second day, we were flying home late that evening (an 11:00 PM flight). We spoke to the front desk at the Halekulani about storing our luggage and changing for our flight because we were dining at their restaurant, Orchids, before leaving for the airport. The gracious staff offered us to stay in a room if we were willing to move (our room was already reserved for the evening) at NO EXTRA CHARGE!!!! Yes, the hotel is expensive, but offering a checkout at 10:00 PM certainly wasn't something they had to offer without additional charges. It was a delightful way to spend the last night of our trip….and dinner at Orchids was superb, too!
Overall, we had a terrific time and will definitely return to Hawaii again.