Hawaii-Tahiti 28 Day Cruise Part 2

Mount Otemanu Bora Bora

This is part two of a three part series of our recent 28 day roundtrip cruise from San Diego to the Hawaiian Islands then down to French Polynesia. We sailed on Holland America’s MS Eurodam. Part One covered the first 13 days of the cruise, from San Diego to Fanning Island. Part Two covers 4 days, 2 days in Bora Bora and then a day each in Raiatea and Moorea. The third and final part will cover the last leg of the cruise from Tahiti back to San Diego.

Bora Bora, French Polynesia

Day 1 Excursion: Motu Islet Lagoon Cruise & Beach Break

Shark Boy Boat
Shark Boy Boat

The Motu Islet Lagoon Cruise & Beach Break is a three hour tour (not on the SS Minnow) rated as moderate activity. Shark Boy excursions operates this excursion on behalf of Holland America. We tendered to the boat harbor where a representative of the excursion company directed us to their boat. The boat was a large cameraman, about 15’ by 40’, powered by two large Mercury outboards. The boat had a wide ramp in the front with steps which made it fairly easy to get into and out of the water.

Leaving the harbor we traveled through Vaitape Bay, then past Raititi Point and the islets of Motu Toopua and Motu Tapu. Along the way we saw our ship at anchor in the bay, and the island’s highest peak, Mount Otemanu. During the trip the excursion boat’s owner spoke about the island, serenaded us with local songs, and even sounded some calls on a conch shell. The weather was perfect; clear, warm, with lots of sunshine.

Our first stop was at a shallow water snorkeling spot that stingrays and Blacktip Reef Sharks frequent. The water depth varied from about waist deep to chest deep. The water was crystal clear and just cool enough to be refreshing. This experience was a blast. Almost as soon as we entered the water, numerous sharks and rays were swimming all around us. Our guides hand fed the rays, and then, after moving us away a bit, threw chum into the water for the sharks. This was my first time swimming with sharks, but not once did I feel threatened or frightened.

Our second, and last stop was at a small islet motu for a snack of local fruit and some snorkeling. The water was crystal clear, but there wasn’t much to see. We spent about 90 minutes there just relaxing and enjoying the scenery. We then returned to the boat harbor, and tendered back to the ship.

Day 2 Excursion: ¾ Day Lagoon Tour with Polynesian Feast

Patrick, our guide & the owner / operator
Patrick, our guide & the owner / operator

Long ago we learned that belonging to the online Cruise Critic community made our cruising more enjoyable and rewarding. As we prepared for this cruise, we learned that one of our fellow Cruise Critic passengers was organizing a private excursion with a company called Maohi Nui. After some due diligence we decided to take a chance on this non Holland America excursion. What a great decision! We enjoyed a five hour excursion, with three snorkeling stops, and a full lunch with complimentary drinks, all for less money than a similar Holland excursion. If you want to snorkel in Bora Bora, do not miss this excursion.

Our first stop was a deep water location that gave us plenty of opportunities to swim with the Black Tip Reef sharks. Getting into and out of the water was more challenging than the day before with Shark Boy. Instead of Shark Boy’s large boat with stairway, Maohi Nui uses small, narrow 12 person boats. Instead of stairs we had a ladder to get into and out of the water. No problems for me, but one man dropped his camera as he was clambering down the ladder. It quickly disappeared straight down 30 feet or so in the crystal clear water to the bottom. Our guides began free diving to look for it, and finally recovered it in about 15 minutes.

Our second dive stop was the same shallow water location we were at the day before with Shark Boy. Even though it was the same, it was still a blast, and I really enjoyed the closeness of the sharks and rays. Our third and last dive stop was another deep water location. No sharks or rays this time, just a reef with lots of small fish. Lots of fish. Clouds of fish. Our guides swam around feeding the fish which attracted more and more of them. One of the guides swam up to me and fed the fish inches from my face. What a rush.

With the diving complete, it was time to go to the motu for lunch. Our hosts prepared a Polynesian feast featuring roasted suckling pig, two types of grilled fish, and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. They also provided soft drinks, beer, and wine. I opted for the local Hinano Beer, a nice lager style. Following lunch, our host Patrick, put on a demonstration of fire baton twirling. Then it was back into the boats for the return trip to the harbor. Our excursion took us all around the island allowing us to take photographs of Mount Otemanu from every angle.

Raiatea, French Polynesia

A Taste of Vanilla & Taha’a Motu Picnic

View from our Platform
View from our Platform

We met our guide, Rose, dockside for this 3 ½ hour excursion. Our boat was a large and comfortable catamaran. Leaving Raiatea behind, we steadily cruised through beautiful waters to the nearby island of Taha’a. Once ashore we walked a short distance to Vallee de la Vanille. This is one of the plantations which provide much of French Polynesia’s world famous vanilla products. Workers at the plantation described and showed us how vanilla is cultivated and prepared in French Polynesia. We were amazed to learn it takes up to three years from when they are planted to begin harvesting beans from the vines.

After our vanilla visit, we re-boarded the boat for a quick trip to a nearby motu for another beach picnic. Once ashore we quickly noticed that all of the beach chairs under shade were already taken. Then I saw a small set of stairs built into a large tree leading up to a small platform with three lounge chairs. Throwing caution aside we claimed the platform as ours. We had a fun time relaxing in the shade high atop everyone else. We also snorkeled here and enjoyed yet another lunch on the beach.

Moorea, French Polynesia

Motu Beach Picnic & Ray Feeding

Sleeping Cruzer
Nap time

Another snorkeling trip, this time with the expectation of being able to feed the stingrays. We previously fed tame stingrays in the Bahamas on another Holland America cruise. I was really looking forward to feeding the wild stingrays in French Polynesia. Alas, that was not to be. Our guide did all the feeding. Trying to get up close to see and take photos was a challenge because of boat loads of people trying to do the same thing at the same time. Nevertheless, we did get a chance to get close to the guide who then allowed us to kiss a ray. Quite a slimy experience. We also saw a few of the Black Tip Reef Sharks, but not much else at this location.

Then it was off to another motu for another beach lunch. After lunch, instead of snorkeling, I decided to take an Army nap on the bench of our table. My wife took lots of photos as I slept … of me.

Our introduction to French Polynesia was fantastic, especially the snorkeling in Bora Bora. Part three of this story, and the last part, will cover our time in Tahiti, Fakarava, and Nuku Hiva, and then back to San Diego.

Hawaii-Tahiti 28 Day Cruise Part 1

Rainbow Falls on Big Island

My wife and I were recently able to complete one of our bucket list trips. This 28 day round trip cruise from San Diego took us to the Hawaiian Islands then down to French Polynesia. We sailed on Holland America’s MS Eurodam. Due to the length of this trip I have decided to break my blog post down into three parts. Part One covers the first 13 days of the cruise, from San Diego to Hawaii, Fanning Island, and on to French Polynesia. Part Two will cover 4 days, 2 days in Bora Bora and then Raiatea and Moorea. The third and final part will cover the last leg of the cruise from Tahiti back to San Diego.

San Diego

Our flight from Atlanta to San Diego landed Friday night March 9th. When we stepped outside the terminal to hail a cab the cold air, in the mid-fifties, really surprised us. A little homework would have prepared us. We were way too focused on where we were going, and not on where we were starting. Lesson learned. We spent the night at the Marriott Courtyard Hotel Liberty Station not far from the airport. Our brief stay was comfortable and the hotel’s close proximity to the cruise terminal allowed us to sleep in the next day. If we ever cruise from San Diego again, we’ll certainly plan on staying here.

Five Day Run to Hawaii

The ship offered all kinds of activities to keep us happily occupied during the many days at sea we had on this voyage. My absolute favorite were the photography classes the ship’s photography shop offered. Our instructor, Justin, did an amazing job of teaching the many novices, especially me. I learned to compose photographs and take better portraits. My photos show a definite improvement over the course of the cruise.

Well before we left on this cruise I offered to teach an introduction to bourbon class to my fellow cruisers. Twenty-three people took me up on my offer, and the ship’s activity team provided outstanding support. I was limited to a one time shot, so I elected to cover more information than I should have. yet another lesson learned. 90 minutes was way too long. Next time, and I hope I will have a next time, I intend to break the seminar down into to multiple components, or if time is again limited I’ll keep the information pared down to the bare minimum. Nevertheless, the seminar was well received. A major plus was the opportunity to make new friends. I would often meet with some of them in the Billboard Onboard lounge for happy hour drinks.

One of my go to bourbons

I was disappointed to see that the ship’s bourbon selection was limited. My go to selections on the cruise were Knob Creek and Wild Turkey 101. Both are solid bourbons and served me well throughout the cruise. I also enjoyed the Knob Creek Rye on many occasions. In addition to whiskey, I enjoyed Margaritas and, for the first time, I tried a Bloody Mary. One of the benefits we enjoyed on this cruise was nearly unlimited drinks within a specified price range. This worked well for whiskey and mixed drinks, but our wine selection was extremely narrow. We received this benefit as a bonus for booking the cruise. Based on our experience we do not plan on purchasing one of these packages on a future cruise. We can do better buying on our own from the full range of the ship’s bars and wine list.

Touring Hawaii

Day 1 Excursion: Oahu: Explore and Taste Oahu’s North Shore

This six and a half hour tour provides an easy and informative overview of the eastern and northern sides of Oahu, the most populated island in Hawaii. Our guide, Keith, kept up a fairly constant and interesting patter throughout the trip which contributed immensely to the overall value of the excursion. In short, without Keith the trip would have been rather dull and nowhere near worth the cost. Keith picked us up dockside with a 20 person minibus which was in good repair and with sufficient seating for our small group.

Byodo Temple
Byodo Temple

Leaving the dock Keith drove us through downtown Honolulu then headed east on the H3 freeway towards Kaneohe. Our tour was scheduled for a scenic stop at the Pali lookout. Unfortunately, a recent landslide had significantly damaged the lookout so the state had closed it to repair the damage. Continuing on along Oahu’s eastern coast our first stop was the historic and interesting Valley of the Temples. We spent about an hour exploring the beautiful and scenic Byodo Temple. The temple has an impressive number of Koi fish in the ponds and streams which surround the temple. We picked up a small bag of fish food at the nearby shop. We enjoyed feeding the fish, as well as some of the many birds that inhabit the valley.

Our next stop was at a public park that offered beautiful views of Chinaman’s Hat. We had plenty of time to explore the park, snap photos, and even to dip our toes into the water. Next stop was for lunch at Tsue’s Farm for food truck fare with outdoor picnic style seating. Our choices were spicy shrimp, garlic and butter shrimp, or chicken. I opted for the spicy shrimp and my wife chose the garlic and butter shrimp. Both dishes were tasty, but challenging to eat as the shrimp were not peeled and they were liberally coated in sauce. In short, eating was an enjoyable, but messy endeavor requiring lots of napkins. Dessert was a local Hawaiian favorite, shave ice with innumerable flavor combinations. Then it was back in the van for our next stop, Haleiwa Bay.

The north shore parking area included the all important restrooms, which most of us took the opportunity to check out. Then we hoofed it across the highway to the beach. Although the highway was busy the drivers were courteous and always let us cross safely. We had the time to walk down to the beach. However, most of us stayed along the highway and snapped photos of the surfers out in the water. I must confess I also snapped a few photos of a couple of ladies in thong bikinis. All in all, it was a very scenic stop.

Then it was back in the van for a short drive to the Dole Pineapple Plantation located in the immense valley between Oahu’s two extinct volcanoes. This stop offered us the first serious opportunity for gift and souvenir shopping. The plantation offered a wide variety of pineapple themed foods and desserts.  I opted for the soft serve pineapple ice cream and was not disappointed. As much as we enjoyed this stop, the group’s consensus was that, given the high prices for everything, we would have preferred stopping at a local Wal-Mart which were reputed to have much the same souvenirs at much lower prices.

Leaving the plantation behind, we drove back to Honolulu, passing by the Army’s Schofield Barracks Hawaii installation. This brought back a flood of memories for my wife and me as we were stationed at Schofield for three years (1978-1981).

Day 2 Excursion: Big Island Tour: Volcano and a Taste of the Big Island of Hawaii

This six and a half hour tour provides a good overview of the windward side of the Big Island with the added bonus of a fairly long sightseeing stop inside Volcano National Park. Our driver, David, provided an informative running commentary along the way, keeping us entertained and engaged in the tour. David picked us up dockside with a full sized window van which was in good repair and with sufficient seating for our small group.

Our first stop was at a local coffee grower and processor, the Hilo Coffee Mill. The owner gave us a 5 minute overview of the coffee growing and roasting process then turned us loose to visit his small gift shop. In addition to having the opportunity to buy coffee and coffee themed merchandise, we were given small free samples of his coffee. Sad to say, I was not impressed with his coffee. However, to be fair, as an old Soldier, I like my coffee strong, which is not how they brewed their samples. Tasting it brought to mind a favorite cousin who we joked brewed his coffee by waving a single bean over the hot water. 

Volcano National Park
Volcanoes National Park

Our next stop was Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Our first and only previous visit was in 1979 during a short break I had during a 30 day Army training exercise. It was fun and interesting to see the park again, and to marvel at the tremendous changes the recent activity had created in the landscape. Most amazing of all was the transformation of the Halemaʻumaʻu crater. We had plenty of time at the park which allowed me to take the one and a quarter mile Ha‘akulamanu (Sulphur Banks) hike in addition to viewing the caldera. After a pit stop at the Volcano House it was back in the van to drive to our next stop; lunch.

We enjoyed a simple, but tasty lunch at Volcano Garden Arts, an eclectic art gallery located about a mile from the entrance to the park. We had plenty of time to shop and wander around the beautifully maintained grounds. After lunch it was back in the van to drive to Rainbow Falls.

This was our first time to the falls, and it was postcard picture perfect. We spent about 20 minutes at the falls. I used all that time to take a few hundred photos, putting my new found photography knowledge to good use. Our last stop was at Big Island Candies. This was a fun and tasty way to wrap up our visit to the Big Island of Hawaii. As we shopped in the storefront part of the factory we could see the workers making the candy through a large window. More importantly, employees circulated through the shop handing out free samples. I made a point of seeking out every available sample while we were there. Most of us left with more than one bag or box of goodies to enjoy on the rest of the cruise.

Fanning Island

Staying out of the rain
Staying out of the rain

Our next port of call was the tiny atoll of Fanning Island, properly known as Tabuaeran. Located in the central Pacific Ocean, it is part of the Republic Kiribati. The island only has about 13 square miles of land area, and the maximum elevation is about 3 m (10 ft) above high tide. About 2,000 people live on the island scraping out a basic subsistence living. In addition to the tourist dollars we brought, the ship donated school supplies, from Holland America as well as some of the passengers, to the children.

No shore excursions were available. Just go ashore, walk around, buy some handmade trinkets, and take photos. Unfortunately, during our time ashore it rained … a lot. A true tropical downpour. I elected to stay under cover dockside, while my wife, armed with our only umbrella, braved the mud and wind to do some shopping. Of course, just as soon as we returned to the ship to dry out the rain stopped and the sun came out in all its glory.

Crossing the Equator and International Date Line

One of the many fun activities we experienced on this voyage was the line crossing ceremony when the ship crossed over the equator. Sailors have for centuries celebrated such crossing with an initiation rite that, unfortunately, often involved extreme hazing. Luckily for us, Holland America doesn’t do any of that, at least for us passengers. Those crossing the equator at sea earn the title of Shellback. Our crossing coincided with crossing the International Dateline, which made us Golden Shellbacks. Additionally, our crossing occurred at the Vernal Equinox which added the Royal Order of the Purple Porpoise to our honors. Each passenger received a certificate, signed by the Captain, attesting to our elevation into the Royal Order of the Purple Porpoise Golden Shellback. I celebrated the occasion with a double Knob Creek Rye whiskey.

The first part of our 28 day Hawaii and Tahiti cruise was very relaxing, and we met lots of fun and interesting people. It was wonderful to see Hawaii again and renew our relationship with the islands.