O’ahu, Hawai’i, Maui, Kaua’i


Friday, March 17, 2006

As much as we’ve traveled the world, there are still quite a few places in the US that we haven’t been, so we decided to visit Hawai’i this spring break. (If you’re wondering about the apostrophe, that’s the correct spelling, which is on most everything in the state of Hawai’i but is only recently showing up elsewhere. And yes, the “w” is pronounced “v” in all Hawaiian words. )

Of course, living in Orlando, Hawai’i isn’t the most convenient place to get to! But we found fairly good free first class seats on Delta by booking nine months in advance and were able to make the trip in only two flights, connecting in Atlanta. The flight from Atlanta to Hawai’i is only about nine hours, not too bad compared to our 14 hour record breaker from L. A. to Australia.

The flight took us over a very cloudy country, but it cleared off as we flew over San Francisco, revealing the entire bay in all its glory, with downtown, the bridges, Treasure Island and Alcatraz all sparkling clear from 34,000 feet. It seemed funny that the only clear spot in the country was normally foggy Frisco.

Along the way I read a guide book Linda’s mom sent Dani. It contained quite a few surprising facts, such as that Honolulu is one of the ten largest cities in the US!

The flight arrived around 8 pm. Somehow it felt like we should clear customs after such a long trip! We caught a cab and arrived at the Halekulani Hotel by 9 pm. The check in service at the hotel was amazing, the best I have ever experienced. We were escorted to our room by someone from the front desk, where our credit card number was taken. The room was already set up with a rollaway, and after a light snack from room service we hit the sack (it being 3am in Orlando by this time).

The Halekulani is in the middle of that row of stars on Waikiki Beach. The cruise ships dock in the harbor formed by Sand Island. Upon our return we’ll stay near Diamond Head.

Honolulu and Waikiki Beach, O’ahu

Saturday, March 18, 2006

With a five hour time change from Orlando I was up pretty early Saturday, and discovered what a truly beautiful hotel the Halekulani is. Our room overlooks a central garden where the pool faces the breakers rolling in at Waikiki. I left Linda and Dani sleeping and had breakfast out on the terrace overlooking the ocean. Most of the hotel’s ground floor is open to the breezes, as the pleasant temperature and humidity eliminate the need for air conditioning if you’re in the shade. It’s a pity we’re checking out and heading for the cruise so soon.

I took a cab back to the airport to meet our friend from Australia, Pamela, at 9am. (Cabs are pricey in Hawai’i. It costs almost $4 a mile, or about $40 to get from Waikiki to the airport. ) Honolulu looks a bit like Southern California, particularly San Diego, with freeways and lots of 1950s era high rises, intermixed with 1940s two-story apartments. The foliage is more verdant though, and more floral than even Florida’s.

The weather is beautiful today, with deep blue skies, although storm clouds are threatening to spill over the mountain range that divides the island. The forecast for the week is for rain, rain and more rain, so we’ll enjoy it while we can.

The Hawaiian archipelago runs north for 1500 miles, impressive when you consider we crossed only 2400 miles of ocean to get here. There are eight large islands at the southern end of the chain. The largest, the Big Island of Hawaii, is larger than all the rest combined. One of the islands was used for bombing practice during WWII, and one is privately owned. Of the remaining six, we will visit four: Hawai’i (the big Island), Kaua’i (the garden island), Maui (the valley island), and O’ahu (the gathering place). This leaves Molokai (a former leper colony), and Lanai (a former pineapple plantation mostly owned by Dole).

About half the population of Hawai’i has some Hawaiian ancestry. 18% is Japanese, and about 20% are mainlanders The rest are various Asian immigrants.

The traditional language is Hawaiian, but a patois called pidgin is spoken by the majority of natives. Everyone speaks some English, but not as fluently as I might have guessed.

Hawaiian was codified by the early missionaries, who assigned it a mere twelve letters of the alphabet: all five vowels plus just seven consonants: h, k, l, m, n, p, and w. Hawaiian words are comprised of two letter syllables, and except for a few combinations such as au and ai, every vowel is pronounced separately. Often an apostrophe is inserted between vowels to show that the letters should be pronounced as two syllables. For example, the slow moving type of lava is called simply A’a.

Hawai’i is an intermediate spot to meet Pamela, as it’s a nine hour flight for both of us. It was great to see her again after almost two years. We took a cab back to the hotel and hung out until checkout time, then headed for the cruise terminal for an early check-in.

The Pride of America is the second of NCL’s American-flagged Hawaiian fleet. It has an interesting history. Back in the 1950s Congress became concerned that America was losing its ship-building industry to overseas companies, so they passed a law that American flagged ships had to be built in America. The result was predictable: companies stopped registering their ships under American flags, costing millions of dollars in registry fees. In an attempt to combat this, Congress passed a law that foreign flagged ships had to dock at a foreign port during every itinerary. The result was predictable: American ports lost millions of dollars in business as ships substituted foreign ports. So American now has no ship-building industry, no American flagged cruise ships, and no all-American itineraries.

A few years ago a startup company decided to play the game the way Congress intended, and began construction of two American-built, American flagged cruise ships. Halfway through the process they declared bankruptcy. The hulls were bought by NCL and towed to Germany for completion. The Pride of America was scheduled for launch in 2004, but during construction a storm struck the shipyard and it sank. The Norwegian Sky was hastily refitted and pressed into service as The Pride of Aloha. A year later the refloated Pride of America finally made its debut. Next week its sister ship, The Pride of Hawai’i joins it.

The Pride of America is a peculiar ship. As the ultimate embodiment of NCL’s freestyle dining concept there are a half dozen different restaurants, most of which charge a small cover ($5-$15). But there are few cozy places to hang out, and there’s no casino. The public spaces other than restaurants are comprised mostly of a large theater and a large nightclub.

The public spaces are decorated in traditional American motifs, and the stairwells feature scenic photos from around the country. Some seem attractive, while others come off as tacky. A tremendous amount of space is dedicated to exterior walkways, with a rather narrow interior space.

Linda’s take on the interior design is that it looks like ex-Disney people designed it — the ones who’ve forgotten how to design attractions, too.

The strangest thing is the cabins. Our suite looks like it was the site of a paint fight featuring 1960s psychedelic poster paints. It includes a turquoise couch that is harder than a diamond and two purple swivel chairs that came straight from Dean Martin’s office. And the balcony is enormous — more than ten feet deep — space that could have been used to increase the interior dimensions. A fourth of the interior space is hallway, leaving only a tiny corner for a bathroom (but at least it’s larger than Pamela’s, which looks like one in a camper).

The suite doesn’t come with laundry service, free internet, or a stocked bar, all of which are Princess amenities. It does have a fully automated espresso machine, though.

The strengths and weaknesses of different, comparably priced cruise lines are odd. We’ve always had remarkable service on NCL, but their ships have always been inferior. Even this brand new one seems completely misguided in design. Yet the crew is fantastic: friendly, helpful and outgoing, just as on other NCL trips. The moderately priced ships with the best amenities have always been Royal Caribbean, but their food is pretty awful. Princess seems to fall somewhere in between.

We met our concierge and made dinner reservations for the week. This is the first thing you want to do on any cruise with specialty restaurants.   Then we had lunch in the buffet restaurant. It was immediately apparent that NCL’s  standard fare is still significantly better than Princess’ or Royal Caribbean’s, with a wide offering of super-fresh ingredients.

After an exploration of the ship, unpacking, and a fairly speedy lifeboat drill, it was time for dinner. We tried East Meets West, an Asian fusion restaurant that also incorporates a sushi bar and teppan steak room. The food included Thai soup, Chinese dim sum, Japanese miso soup, Indian tandori chicken and lamb vindaloo. All were excellent, although not particularly authentic. The vindaloo, for example, was quite sweet and used green curry, but it was delicious, whatever it was.

We were surprised to find Badoit, our favorite lightly sparkling mineral water from France available in the restaurant. I’ve never seen it outside of France.

Then it was time for some much-needed sleep. Dani is sharing a cabin with Pamela, so Linda and I have the suite to ourselves.

Hilo, Hawai’i

Sunday, March 19, 2006

There was a bit of a roll to the seas last night, which was pleasant, a rare experience on modern, stabilized cruise ships.

The cabin is not very tight, with many more rattles than any other we’ve had, but earplugs took care of it. They couldn’t muffle the banging from the deck above, though, as something was hammered by wind for hours. I checked it out this morning, and there are cabins above us, possibly for the deaf and stupid.

This morning the boat docked at Hilo on the big island of Hawai’i. At least that’s what they claim. Visibility is less than a half mile, through steady rain.

We had an expensive tour of Volcanoes National Park booked for today, so Linda bought ponchos and we waded to the terminal building. After a half hour wait as they ascertained road conditions it was a relief to learn the tour was cancelled. I wasn’t looking forward to spending $450 to see nothing. I guess we were fortunate, because it seemed ours was the only one that was cancelled. Linda and Dani caught a taxi to go to town in the rain or something, but I couldn’t see the point (literally). So I retreated to the cabin to relax, type and read.

They saw a muddy waterfall and did some shopping at a mall, then rejoined Pamela and me for lunch in the ship’s main dining room, the Skyline Restaurant. The space is decorated like the Chrysler Building, and mostly looks pretty neat.

I worked on my new writing class during the afternoon, and then we met for drinks and dinner at Jefferson’s Bistro. This continental restaurant is probably the best on the ship. There’s a small cover charge, and up charges for a few foods including the superb fois gras appetizer I had. Our waiter (who claimed to be named Francesco but was from India) was excellent, and the meal was top notch.

At 10pm we cruised past the southern part Hawai’i, and could see the lava spurting up out of the ocean from about a half mile away. It looked hot. Strange sounding birds circled overhead, either warning us off or begging for handouts, I wasn’t certain which.

Kahului, Maui

Monday, March 20, 2006

What an improvement in the weather! Maui gets 400 inches of rain a year on the east side, where we’re docked, so we were particularly lucky to get a sunny day. It’s an interesting island, with 11 of the world’s 13 different climate types packed into a very small area (it lacks only Saharan and arctic).

We met at 8:30 am for our Best of West Maui tour. Our bus driver, Claude, also acted as guide, and was terrific, with an easy to listen to voice and lots of interesting information. Maui is called the Valley Island because most of the settlement is in the saddle formed by northern and southern volcanoes. It only takes about 30 minutes to cross from one side to the other, and our tour visited spots on both sides, plus a plantation in the middle.

Once a major sugar producing economy, the sugar plantations are still the island’s largest landowners.

Our ship is docked in Kahului Harbor. Driving straight up the hillside brought us to a deep box canyon called the Iao Valley. Near the top is a 1200 foot basalt spire called Iao Needle that is pretty impressive. It’s also impressive that it and the surrounding vertical canyon walls are quite verdant.

Our next stop was Maui Tropical Plantation where we took a 40 minute tram tour of cultivated fields including papaya, mango, banana, macadamia nut, sugar cane, coffee, coconut and many others. We also saw a demonstration of how to husk and open a coconut. The fibrous outer coating is called copra, and is the stuff they grew on the plantation where Pamela lived as a young newlywed. They just threw away the coconut and sold the copra!

We had a pleasant lunch of duck, rice and fruit, then headed for our final stop, Maui Ocean Center on the west coast. This was a nice aquarium with both indoor and outdoor displays of the ocean life found in Hawai’i, including the state fish, the Humuhumunukunukuapoa’a. Say that five times fast.

For dinner the ship was nearly deserted due to the fact that more than half of the passengers went to a Luau. Those who were too cheap to go to the Luau went to the main dining room because it’s free. This left all of the specialty restaurants (except Little Italy, also free) at our disposal. We selected Teppanyaki, and had a meal we’ll be talking about for years to come — but not for the right reasons!

Teppanyaki is Benihana-style cooking on a large cook top, with lightning fast food preparation accompanied by juggling and impressive culinary acrobatics. Or it’s supposed to be. Our chef was named Fung. Fung the Incompetent. We knew we were in trouble when Fung appeared on the scene, pulled out his spatula, twirled it, and had to grab it by the blade to keep it from falling on the floor.

Next Fung began to stack up onion slices to form a volcano. We’ve seen this trick many times at Benihana. They fill the volcano with oil and water and set it on fire to make a plume of steam. Fung stacked a couple of slices of onion, but when he went to put on the third one the bottom one slipped. Darn. Let’s try this again. And again. Almost got four one time. . . Maybe it’s having to do it with this damned spatula. . . Five minutes later Fung finally gave up and stacked them with his blue latex-gloved hands. Couldn’t get them lined up to hold the oil, though. . . let’s just pour oil all over the griddle and set the whole thing on fire. Well that was pretty spectacular. Then Fung departed to fetch meat, leaving the onions to permanently burn themselves onto the surface of the grill.

Upon his return, Fung spent five minutes trying to scrape the goo from the cook top, and another five trying to scrape the goo from his spatula into the sink, finally giving up and simply covering the cook top with oil. He then prepared vegetables — the traditional final course of a teppanyaki meal. While most teppanyaki chefs slice the vegetables faster than the eye can follow, Fung appeared to have never before actually seen a zucchini, let along tried to slice one up. But after only a slight learning curve he managed to inundate our plates in seven or eight servings of vegetables sautéed with garlic, butter, oil, salt, garlic, pepper and garlic.

As we attempted to unearth our plates, he then launched into shrimp preparation. He was surprising competent at cutting the shrimp into bite-size pieces, as long as you define bite-size as smaller than your mouth. The shrimp were perfectly cooked, using garlic, butter, oil, salt, garlic, pepper and garlic.

Preparation of the meats followed, with each of us receiving beef, chicken and scallops all prepared in garlic, butter, oil, salt, garlic, pepper and garlic. and additional steak was partially prepared for a phantom person that apparently only Fung could see. This process was aborted, though, when Fung ran out of plates on which to serve the steak.

The crowning finale to this act of culinary incompetence came as Fung attempted an extremely tricky move — simply removing his knife form his belt sheath — and dropped it on his foot.

Needless to say, we’ll be talking about this meal for years to come, and wondering, “How can that man possibly still have ten fingers?”

Kahului, Maui

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Today Linda, Dani and I took a tour to the top of Haleakala Crater. The trip took us through sugar cane fields where they were starting the process of harvesting by burning off everything – including the irrigation pipes(!) — except the cane. We passed through several of the island’s 11 climate zones, with commensurate changes in vegetation, from sub tropical to alpine.

On the way we saw Tom Selleck’s house, the front of which is plastered with incredibly tacky life-size bronze sculptures of horses, cows and roosters.

I forgot my camera, so you’ll have to settle for a postcard view. The crater isn’t a conventional volcano crater, it’s really the junction of two valleys that formed on opposite sides of the cinder cone. The elevation is just about 10,000 feet, the highest spot I’ve been to outside of a plane. The crater was used to train the Apollo moon landing crew, but it looks more like Mars — quite unearthly. The air was pretty thin up there, but fortunately we didn’t have to do a lot of walking. Nothing grows at the top except the silver sword plant, a peculiar little clump of leaves that sprouts a six foot flower just once, then dies.

Back on the ship we had lunch in the dining room, and in the afternoon managed to order Sevruga caviar from the room service menu — a feat it appears no one else has ever accomplished on this ship.

This was “formal” night, and three or four people actually got dressed up for dinner. We ate in the Liberty Dining room, which is decorate in an American Centennial motif that would have been almost tasteful if they’d stopped before the silver stars were applied to the draperies. And before the life size statue of Lincoln. And before the wall of American flag with strobing stars and water dripping down hundreds of strands of fishing line. And the mural of Mount Rushmore surrounded by fake rockwork. And the planter of plastic Hawaiian flowers. But otherwise it’s quite tasteful.

Lobster is the traditional cuisine of formal nights on cruise ships, and was the reason the concierge booked us into the dining room this night. And that’s what they called the things they served, all right. They certainly provided the waiter with plenty of exercise attempting to remove them from the shell. Even though they were just tails. And even though the tails had already been sliced in half. What attached the meat to the shell I don’t know, but the superglue manufacturers should check it out.

Our waiter shared with us the fact that next week he flies to Holland to commission the new Pride of Hawai’i, which he described as “elegantly decorated, not like this ship which was designed for Americans. ” Amen to that.

Kona, Hawai’i

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Our return to the big island of Hawai’i — this time on the other side — was much drier than our previous visit. It was cloudy most of the day, with occasional patches of sun, but no rain.

Kona is a small city that flows up the side of the cinder cone of one of the islands five cinder cones. The main street runs straight up the slope, terminating at a giant Lowes home improvement store, visible for miles.

There’s no harbor here, so a tender trip took us to the dock .

Linda and Pamela went on a short glass bottom boat ride, but Dani and I opted for the Captain Zodiac snorkel adventure. This was probably the best shore excursion we’ve ever been on.

Captain Zodiac is the island’s oldest snorkel trip operator, founded in 1974. They own several pontoon rafts that seat 16 passengers and two crew. The passengers sit on the inflated sides of the raft and hang onto a rope for dear life. On our boat 12 of the 16 passengers were from Florida, as was the captain!

He was a knowledgeable and entertaining guide and his assistant was a slumming marine biologist. hey took us about 12 miles down the coast on a fun, sometimes bumpy ride that topped thirty and possible forty miles an our.

The cove is the place where Captain Cook finally wore out his welcome with the natives and was killed. A monument marks the spot.

Snorkeling was fantastic: 73 degree water, no current, 150 foot visibility, and most of the reef between four and eight feet deep. Also, the fish were completely unafraid of snorkelers, which made it easy to see them up close.

Fresh water flowing down from the island creates pockets of cool water — or is it warmer? Where the fresh water and salt water meet a strange effect occurs that is like looking through obscure shower door glass.

After an hour of delightful snorkeling we had some snacks and then headed back to the ship, exploring some lava tube openings in the volcanic coastline along the way. At one point we zipped between a tight gap in one of the promontories at top speed, which got a scream out of some of the passengers. Quite fun.

Back at the dock we did a bit of shopping in the ma and pa gift shops, and found some nice T-shirts at 5 for $20. Can’t beat that!

Back on the ship we had a late lunch at the Cadillac Diner, a 50’s themed coffee shop with posters for Elvis goes Hawaiian movies. Good theming and excellent food.

At 2:30 they set up the much anticipated chocolate buffet in the main dining room. Typical of the disorganized management of the ship in general there was a 30 minute queue. This was caused because there were two identical buffets where items repeated at least three time, instead of six separate buffets. The selection was heavy on cakes, with no fine chocolates at all. That didn’t stop the passengers from piling their plates four inches high, edge to edge.

Dinner was back at Jefferson’s Bistro, definitely the best restaurant on the ship. Dani and I shared a “Fire Star”, a peculiar contraption that looks like a torture device, with chunks of chicken, lamb and beef shoved onto nails protruding from a mace-like thing hanging from a hook. The attraction, of course, is that it is set on fire at the table. Serious fire, with a three foot column of flame briefly. An odd thing for a continental bistro, but tasty.

Nawiliwili, Kaua’i

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Dani and I had a great breakfast in the oddly deserted Cadillac Diner. I had that Hawaiian favorite, Spam and eggs. Apparently Hawaii consumes more Spam than anywhere else.

We had a 7:40 meeting for our shore excursion, but the captain announced they were “having some trouble with our redundant systems. ” Translation, the ship is broken and we’re not in port yet. Much ominous vibrating and shaking followed. While we waited we spotted humpback whales blowing right off the port side of the ship, within fifty feet. There seemed to be a whole family of them.

We finally docked after 9am, pushed into port by tugs.

Today’s tour was with Tom the Control Freak. This was probably the worst shore excursion ever. Tom had many rules and procedures, and although he had lots of information (delivered pretty much nonstop over a seven hour period) he treated us with condescension throughout. An example of one of Tom’s rules was the way the bus was to be unloaded. One side first, alternating at each stop. This meant that the second side to go was unloaded back to front, incredibly inefficient, since you didn’t know when the people behind you had gone. In short, Tom was a controlling moron. Let’s just say we didn’t hit it off.

Our first stop was at the Wailua River where we boarded a barge pushed by an incredibly polluting diesel motor to travel upstream to the Fern Grotto. Along the way a collection of Hawaiian “entertainers” performed. When I use the word “entertainers” read “torturers”. The lead dungeon master was a 95 year old man who simply didn’t understand that he couldn’t sing. He was accompanied by a number of “musicians” When I use the word “musician” read “person capable of making loud noises”. Chief among these was a person playing an instrument that sounded like a piece of clothes line tied to a garbage can. (We later discovered that this instrument was, in fact, a piece of clothesline tied to a garbage can. )

After a number of truly horrendous offerings they were joined by hula dancers who flagellated themselves with split bamboo rods in time with the music. If they’d offered me one of the rods I would have been happy to beat them much harder. Next we were forced to dance the hula along with them. This is the point at which I adopted a Gandhi-like posture and embarked on a program of passive resistance. Ignoring them for the remainder of the trip was fairly successful in reducing the journey to only incredibly annoying.

The Fern Grotto is actually a pretty place, at least it would be without several busloads of tourists. The island of Kaua’i received 107 inches of rain in four days last week, and the devastation was evident in washed out trail, piles of debris and mud everywhere. It began to rain while we were there, and the clear waterfall at the grotto soon turned to mud.

Our next stop was at another waterfall where we saw some of the many free range chickens(!) that wander the island. Apparently descended form jungle fowl brought by the original Polynesian settlers, these birds roam the island, and are too tough to be of much culinary interest.

We had lunch at an adjunct to a local hotel that was undoubtedly the low bidder. The less said about lunch the better. Then it was time for the hour and forty minute drive to Waimea Canyon.

Kaua’i is easily the most scenic of the islands. It is much older than the other inhabited islands, and no longer resembles a volcano. There is read dirt everywhere and the hillsides are quite verdant. There is a pronounced demarcation line between the wet eastern side of the island and the dry western side. Rainfall in the east is 400 inches a year, and in the west only ten or twenty. This demarcation line is so pronounced that it essentially runs through the middle of an intersection in the town of Koloa.

In 1992 Kaua’i was destroyed by Hurricane Iniki, which had winds of well over 200 miles per hour. Every tree on the island was completely stripped of leaves, and most structures were damaged or destroyed. The island’s sugar cane and cattle were already in decline, and Iniki wiped out tourism. So Kaua’i went into a period of decline from which it is only now emerging. Now its sole business is essentially tourism.

Unfortunately the development on most of the island is shoddy. The roads are lined with dumpy buildings that owe more to strip mall architecture than resort or small town ambience. We drove around most of the east, south and west sides of the island, and saw little to attract us. The only exception is the resort community of Po’ipu in the south, where there are some upscale homes and a Hyatt Regency. There are some movie stars who live on the north side, so perhaps it’s nicer there, too.

In mid-afternoon we reached Waimea Canyon, and it certainly was spectacular. It looks much like the grand canyon, but is much more colorful because it is more verdant. It’s surprising how similar they look, given that this canyon was formed do to a volcanic collapse rather than sedimentary deposition and erosion.

We arrived back at the ship around 6pm, having been forced to say Humuhumunukunukuapoa’a over and over for the last two hours like a third grade class of misbehaving children. After stiffing Tom the Control Freak we reboarded the ship and had appetizers in Pink’s Champagne bar, followed by dinner at the lazy J Steakhouse. Although the restaurant was noisy, the steaks were quite good, as were the accompaniments.

Of all the islands, Kaua’i is the one that looks like Hawai’i. It doesn’t have the urban sprawl of Oahu, the suburban sprawl of Maui, or the barrenness of the big island. But I doubt I’d come back. Once you’ve seen the sights, there’s nothing to do. At least at the Grand Canyon you can stay at the rim, sit on your porch, and watch the changing light and weather conditions. Here there’s nothing once you get to the spectacular view except a parking lot.

Nawiliwili, Kaua’i

Friday, March 24, 2006

We saved the best for last. Although a morning thunderclap ushered in a squall, the weather cooperated for our helicopter ride around Kaua’i.

This is the thing to do! For $199 each (plus a premium for fat people like me) you get a half hour or more of the most spectacular scenery you’ll ever see.

I had never ridden in a helicopter before, but Linda and Dani had in Alaska, and still rave about it as the highlight of that trip. It is, indeed, like being lifted in someone’s hand. There are none of the feelings one associates with flying in a plane.

Our pilot skirted the bottoms of rain clouds and squeezed over mountain passes, passing over the same terrain it took us hours to negotiate yesterday. Within minutes we were in Waimea Canyon, and able to explore nooks and crannies far beyond the view from the lookout point. Fresh rain on the mountain had created even more waterfalls during the night.

We climbed out of the canyon and continued up to the inaccessible Napali Coast on the Northeast shore of Kaua’i. No roads go here, and it’s a rugged day’s hike from the nearest one. The steep cliffs make it equally inaccessible from the sea. Caves hollowed out by the surf interconnect in mysterious ways, and the white sand beaches come and go with the seasons.

Climbing over the mountain we saw hundreds more waterfalls, and passed over the fern grotto and river we saw yesterday, then returned to the helipad at Kaua’i airport.

Since they do a very precise job of weight balancing, Pamela was on a second chopper, and we were proud to see her look of triumph as she disembarked, given her fear of heights!

This flight is really the reason to come to Hawai’i, and shouldn’t be missed.

We left port at 2pm and sailed northward around the island, passing the Napali coast, where there were many pods of whales blowing. I had read on the Internet a tip that there was a great view from the ship’s Italian restaurant, Little Italy at 5;30pm, so that’s when we had made our reservation. This proved to be the case, although as it happed the view from our balcony was the same. Quite amazing.

Diamond Head, O’ahu

The Kahala Mandarin Oriental is at the base of Diamond Head on the southern tip of O’ahu.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Today is our 28th anniversary!

After a leisurely breakfast in the Skyline Dining Room we disembarked, collected our luggage and caught a cab for the Kahala Mandarin Oriental Hotel. The Honolulu cruise terminal is the easiest to get in and out of that we’ve experienced, particularly since we didn’t need to clear customs.

Our hotel on the southern coast of O’ahu, as the base of Diamond Head. The volcaono’s slopes are covered with incredibly expensive homes. Houses on small lots near the hotel go for as much as $50 Million.

The hotel isn’t really a Mandarin anymore. Apparently their contract expired about three weeks ago. This doesn’t surprise me, as the 45 year old building doesn’t seem quite up to the level of perfection demanded by the Mandarin, although the rooms are quite nice and the location can’t be beat.

Our room overlooks the dolphin lagoon, where six bottlenose dolphins swim with guests–for a price.

Since our rooms weren’t ready we checked our bags and took the hotel shuttle, first to the Kahala Mall, and then to Waikiki, where we had a very authentic Japanese lunch at Kyo-ya.

After a relaxing afternoon Linda and I caught a cab to Chef Mavro’s, who is regarded as one of the top ten chefs in the world. It seemed strange to be dining in a really nice restaurant wearing a Hawaiian shirt! One interesting aspect of the menu is that there is no wine list. Each food has been matched with a specific wine. At the waitress’ suggestion, one of us had the four course tasting menu, and the other had the six course, which gave us an opportunity to sample ten different dishes and wines. Although eight of the wines were ones it would never have occurred to me to order, they were all superb matches with the food. Each course was a small serving with a number of different flavor on the plate. Two of the courses stood out as among the best I’ve tasted. The first was lobster with a delicate reduction infused with fennel. The second was goat’s cheese mixed with lemon peel and herbs served on a sliver of toasted brioche and poached apple.

Diamond Head, O’ahu

Sunday, March 26, 2006

It was rainy today, a good day for relaxing at the hotel and watching dolphins. Brunch was at Hoku’s, one of the hotel’s three restaurants, and voted best in Hawaii by Food & Wine magazine. It was the best brunch buffet I’ve seen, with lobster, crab, sushi, sashimi and a chocolate fountain. We had a quite afternoon, and a lovely dinner downstairs at the Plumeria Beach Cafe which was open air. It looked a bit more like a coffee shop, and did offer a few sandwiches, but also had some excellent salads and fish dishes.

Diamond Head, O’ahu

Monday, March 27, 2006

Another lazy (and still rainy) day. This is the rainiest March in Oahu’s history. It makes us realize how lucky we were with the weather on the cruise. The golf course looks like a lake! We had a terrific, multi-course, Japanese businessman’s lunch at another of the hotel’s restaurants, Tokyo Tokyo, then it was time to head to the airport for the redeye flight home.

It’s been a pleasant trip, with Hawai’i just about as we expected: scenic but not life-changing.

Rating the mid-level cruise lines

 NCLRoyal CaribbeanPrincessDisney
Ship DesignCA-A-B+
Management & PoliciesC-B+A-A-
Suite AmenitiesB-B+A-?
Internet PoliciesB-B+A-?

Ships included in the rating:
NCL: Norway, Norwegian Dream, Pride of America
Royal Caribbean: Voyager of the Seas, Explorer of the Seas
Princess: Coral (Twice), Star, Grand, Diamond
Disney: Magic

Ships that would have almost all A’s, but are more expensive lines:

Regent: Voyager
Oceania: Marina, Insignia (Twice)

Ships that would receive mostly F’s:

Costa: Victoria
Premier Cruise Lines: Big Red Boat