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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.