My 11-night Honolulu-Vancouver cruise aboard Royal Caribbean International's Vision of the Seas afforded us ample time to witness the Polynesian charm and friendliness, experience the spectacular scenery of the Aloha state, and indulge ourselves with five sybaritic days at sea. The cruise included overnights in both Honolulu, Oahu and Lahaina, Maui. Including calls at Hilo and Kona on the "big island" of Hawaii and the five days at sea it turned out to be a stimulating itinerary that managed to remain a relaxing cruise experience.
Boarding the ship in Honolulu, we were welcomed with the traditional Hawaiian lei greeting. Vision remained in port until 6:00 p.m. the following day, and even though the shops and casino were closed there was a full schedule of entertainment on board. The Masquerade Theatre was packed for the "welcome aboard" hula show, presented by the award winning dancers and musicians of the "Keiki Hula Childrens' Folkloric Show". The gentle spirit of these Hawaiian children was beautifully conveyed by this touching concert as they explained the tradition of the Hula dance.
Shore excursions departed the second day for Honolulu and the island of Oahu. The ship-offered tours included historical, cultural, golf and nature themes, and there was something for practically everyone. The tours were favorably priced, even in comparison to tours offered ashore - something practically unheard of in most cruising destinations. An outline of shore excursions and prices is included at the end of this article. Shore excursions can now be booked online at www.royalcaribbean.com using your booking number.
Knowledgeable drivers conducted the shore excursions, teaching us about Hawaiian history and culture as we went. There is much to learn about these islands and we found the tours to be most informative. There was time to explore downtown Honolulu and the pier area before sailing. It is dominated by the famous Aloha Tower which has greeted passengers since 1929; at ten stories it was the tallest building in Honolulu at the time. Recently renovated, the tower offers superb views of the city and your cruise ship in port. The Aloha Tower marketplace and the Maritime Museum are right at the pier, and you are within walking distance to the only royal palace on American soil, the Iolani Palace with its famous statue of King Kamehameha the Great, the king who united the Hawaiian islands.
Sailout was accompanied by Hawaiian music and hula dancing on the pier, a harbor fire tug shot water fountains into the air and a helicopter flew overhead dropping flowers onto the ship. The view from the Viking Crown Lounge was superb as we enjoyed sailout with a cocktail.
The diversity of Hawaii adds to any cruise itinerary. The next day in Hilo, the highlight was a visit to Volcanoes National Park. Walking through a lava tube and over an old lava flow, then driving through the Kilauea Caldera to view Halema'uma' crater is a thrilling experience and a total departure from the palm fringed beaches and tranquility of the islands. This is the most active volcanic region in the world and the most easily accessible; not to be missed on any journey to Hawaii.
That night Captain Antalis sailed close to the molten lava flowing from the side of Kilauea which has been erupting continually for seventeen years. The molten lava, bright red and orange in the darkness is a striking sight. It was one of those exciting, unscheduled events that "makes" a cruise.
Kailua, Kona, the world's capital for marlin fishing, is a good starting point for exploring the historic Kona coast. This area is known for its famous Kona coffee, black sand beaches and superb snorkeling and scuba bays. At Kealakekua Bay a white plinth marks the spot where English explorer, Captain James Cook, the first westerner to discover the islands, was killed in 1779. The City of Refuge is an ancient religious center where Hawaiians who broke taboos could be absolved of their guilt, if they could survive the swim across shark-infested Hanaunau Bay. The area has been restored to its original Hawaiian name, Pu'uhonua o Honaunau, one of many signs we saw indicating a resurgence of Hawaiian culture.
Spending two days at anchor off Lahaina in spectacular Maui is a highlight in itself. Passengers who had only visited by land remarked on the sheer beauty of this port of call from the sea. (There is another cruise ship port on Maui - the small town of Kahului, a 45 minute drive from Lahaina. While ships anchor off Lahaina and passengers tender ashore, cruise ships dock at the container port in Kahului.)
The town of Lahaina played a vital part in the development of Hawaii and was named a national historic monument in 1964. The tender takes you to the Pioneer Inn (1901), Court building (1859) and the massive banyan tree (1873) in the middle of town which is also an artists'colony. The visitor's center provides an information package specifically for cruise passengers which includes a historical walking tour guide book. A huge marina of pleasure boats, including whale watching vessels and America II, a contender in the 1987 America's Cup race, are available for hire.
The shore excursions were comprehensive, but it is also easy to get around on your own. Trolley cars shuttle visitors to various shopping areas, the Sugar Cane Train runs between Lahaina and Kaanapali and there are rental cars available. Maui has grown into a tourist mecca to rival Waikiki Beach so it is prepared for visitors. More active passengers can take a bike ride down the dormant volcano Mt. Haleakala or tee off at the tournament grade golf course.
We were sorry to see the Hawaiian trio leave the ship in Lahaina but new entertainers were brought on board to replace them. The peaceful, evening sailout from Maui, past the islands of Lanai and Molokai brought us to the five relaxing sea days of this intriguing itinerary. There were plenty of venues to choose from for music throughout the trans-Pacific voyage. Easy listening, ballroom dancing, disco and light classical were the main styles offered each night. The winds were strong as we sailed to Vancouver, and day three was rough with 8 to 12 foot waves and gale force 4 winds. Vision of the Seas handled it with skill, however, and carried on at 21 knots until we approached the Washington coast on our final day.
A full roster of activities took place daily: art auctions, dance and fitness classes, quiz sessions and the ever-popular bingo were regular events. The spa was open from 8am to 8pm and there were a number of wellness lectures held in the relaxation lounge of the spa. The Academy at Sea added an educational theme to the cruise. One-hour classes were offered each day at sea; topics included health and fitness, beauty, hospitality and beverage, theatre production and photography. Taught by the ship's staff, the informal and informative classes were well attended.
Bridge and galley tours were extremely popular -- two hundred forty people had already signed up to see the bridge by the time I got in line. Bridge officers conducted groups of 20 on the 20 minute tour of the sophisticated equipment. A galley tour took place late one night, and the magnificent gala buffet, resplendent with culinary art, was a huge success.
The new Internet cafe was out of order throughout the voyage home due to a "weak and intermittent satellite signal". This ended the plans of many passengers to keep in touch with home, work or their stock reports. The daily news appeared in the library for pick-up after 11am each day and was in great demand. American, Canadian and British reports were available. It was a good opportunity to pickup the daily trivia quiz at the same time.
Vision of the Seas has many peaceful spots to enjoy. Passengers passed the sea-days reading in the comfortable leather chairs of the well-stocked library, playing games in the colorful card room or simply relaxing in one of the many lounges and the centrum. RCI's Vision class vessels are designed with walls of glass to give you superb ocean views throughout the ship. The public rooms are magnificent in this regard - you never feel closed in. The decor is also very pleasing with an emphasis on blue and green hues. There is artwork at every turn, all well identified and explained.
The Solarium is an enclosed deck area with a retractable glass roof, swimming pool, hot tubs, cafe and ping-pong tables. It was very popular, particularly on the three colder days when the sun filtering through the glass managed to warm the air even though it was cold outside. On day five we saw land - the coast of Washington state. At 7pm we sailed past Cape Flattery and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It was a beautiful evening of scenic cruising before arriving in Vancouver at 7am the following morning to end our voyage.
The serenity of being on board ship away from the traffic and haste of life on land had been very welcome and rejuvenating. Gazing to the horizon of the vast Pacific, we had seen only an albatross following our ship and just one other vessel in the first four days at sea. This is definitely an itinerary to be cherished by those seeking to get away from it all.
SHORE EXCURSION OUTLINE:
HONOLULU AND THE ISLAND OF OAHU:
Visiting the most famous sights, the half day, $28.00 tour to the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbour, Punchbowl Cemetery and City highlights was extremely popular. Little Circle Island Tour, 3 ½ hours, $26.00, took us on a drive through Waikiki, to visit the coastline and mountains for Oahu's SE side. including the Kahala coast, Hanauma Bay, Sandy Beach, Waianalo, the Pali Highway and lookout. The most comprehensive island tour highlighted the Polynesian Cultural Center where you can experience the culture of seven Polynesian islands, meet the people enjoying their dancing and learn how they live. The 8 hour journey cost $89.00 including a buffet lunch. City highlights, the Pali Lookout, sugar cane and pineapple fields, the North Shore surfing beaches, Waimea Bay and the Pali lookout were also visited on this tour. RCI's Golf Ahoy! program took golfers to the Waikele Golf Course which overlooks Pearl Harbor and the Pacific. Tee time, green fees, shared car, taxes and round trip transfers included for $93.00 plus taxi, club and shoe rental. Also offered were the Atlantis Submarine ($91.00), Volcanic Coastal Excursion ($46.00) and a Rainforest Hiking Excursion ($46.00).
The Hilo and Kilauea Volcano tour combined sightseeing in Hilo with Volcanoes National Park and stops at the Akatsuka Orchid Garden Macadamia Nut Factory and Rainbow Falls. 6 hours for $56.00. The Volcanoes National Park tour featured a walk through the Thurston lava tube, the Kilauea Caldera and craters with a stop at the Macadamia Nut Factory. 4 ¼ hours for $34.00. A walking tour of Volcanoes National Park. 5 ¼ for $125 without lunch or 7 ½ for $135 with lunch. Combine Hilo sightseeing with Volcanoes National Park. 6 ½ hours $56 without lunch or 7 ½ hours $72. with lunch. Hilo Helicopter Flightseeing over Kilauea Volcano lasted 2 hours for $185.00 The Mauna Kea Summit Tour took us to the 14,000 foot summit to visit the world's largest telescope at the Onizuka Center. 6 hours for $98.00 Golf Ahoy! featured the Volcano Golf and Country Club at 4,000 feet near the Kilauea volcano. 4 ½ hours for $102.00 each. Also offered were the Kapoho Snorkel Tour, 6 hours for $86.00; Tropical Botanical Garden Tour, 2 ½ hours for $32.00 and the Best of Hilo sightseeing, 3 ½ hours for $46.00
KAILUA, KONA, HAWAII
The Captain Zodiac Raft and Snorkel Adventure was very popular. A 24ft, high-speed motorized raft took us to otherwise inaccessible sights to snorkel for 1-hour in Kealakekua Bay's vast marine preserve. Spinner dolphins and sea turtles can be seen. 3 ½ hours for $79.00 adults/ $61.00 children. Kona Scuba Tour included two exciting one-tank dives up to 60 ft. For certified divers only. 4 ½ hours for $115.00 Kona Highlights was a coach tour to the major attractions along the coast; City of Refuge, painted church, Kona coffee plantation, a view of Kealakekua Bay and a drive through town. 3 ½ hours for $35.00 Waipo Valley Helicopter Adventure over the Kohala Mountains lasted 2 ½ hours for $186.00. Golf Ahoy! offered a day at Makalei Country Club. $140. plus $25 club rental. Shoe rental not offered. Other tours included the Atlantis Submarine, 1 hour for $89.00 adult/$46.00 child; Kailua Village Walking Tour, 1 ½ hours for $24.00; Body Glove Snorkel tour, 4 ½ hours for $89.00 adult/$48.00 child; Kailua Glass Bottom Boat. 1 hour for $25. Coral See Historical and Cultural Cruise. 2 hours for $49. Valley Waterfall Hiking Adventure for 6 hours, $114.00; Historical Kona by Carriage, 1 hour for $35.00.
Maui Downhill Bicycle Cruise took us down the Haleakala volcano on custom-built bikes with 6" drum brakes. Minimum age: 12. Minimum height: 5'. 8 hours, $119.00 Lanai Wild Dolphin & Snorkel Adventure cruise to the island of Lanai in search of spinner and bottle-nosed dolphins was conducted by a naturalist from the Pacific Whale Foundation. 1 hour of snorkeling. 5 ½ hour total, $81.00 adult/$40.00 child. Maui Helicopter Flightseeing over Haleakala Crater lasted 3 hours 45 minutes for $199.00 Hawaiian Luau Dinner was attended by 1,000 people. Held on a beach in Maui, the entertainment and Hawaiian feast lasted 4 ½ hours for $86.00 Golf Ahoy! visited Sandalwood Golf course, 5 hours for $111.00 plus club and shoe rental. The Best of Maui visited the Maui Ocean Center, Tropical Plantation, the Iao Needle and Iao Valley State Park, 5 ½ hours, $69.00; Other tours included the Maui Whale Watch, 2 hours, $35.00 adult/$19.00 child; Molokini & Turtle Arches Snorkel Picnic, 6 hours; $81.00 adult/$40.00 child. Atlantis Submarine, 2 ¼ hours, $86.00 adult/$47.00 child; Adventure to the Hana Pass, 9 ½ hours, $112.00; Haleakala Crater, 7 ½ hours, $78.00.
Our cruise did not call at the island of Kauai but these shore excursions are offered:
Golf Ahoy! Kauai Lagoons Resort, $135 plus shoe rental. Wailua River Cruise and Fern Grotto. 3 hours, $47.00; Waimea Canyon, 4 ½ hours, $31.00; Hanalei and Bali Ha'i, 6 ½ hours, $74.00; Kauai Helicopter Flightseeing, 2 hours (55 minute flight time), $185.00; Na Pali Expedition, 6 hours, $139.00 adult/$84.00 child; Safari Adventure tour, 7 ½ hour, $101.00 adult/$72.00child; Hulei'a River Kayak and Hiking Adventure, 2 ½ hours, $53.00 adult/$32.00 child; "Seafun" Kauai Beach Snorkel Tour, 4 hours, $81.00 adult/$63.00 child.