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Copyright © 1995-2002 
Linda Coffman

Carnival Spirit
Hawaiian Islands
September 25 - October 10, 2002

by Joe Baumgartner 


There we went again. Around the middle of August, my Queen started making those “I gotta go on vacation” noises. Being the man of the family I always keep a “Big Picture” focus on all relevant matters concerning our activities. With a wet finger in the air, testing the vacation wind direction, I said we’d go back to Australia. She said “Hawaii.” I then suggested going on another Alaska cruise. She said “Hawaii.” Not to be put off by royal dictates I then recommended a Caribbean cruise since her highness had never been there. She said “Hawaii.” Suddenly, the sun rose and a light came over my “Big Picture.” I said “Hawaii.” She said “What a wonderful idea you smart, handsome devil.” So, Hawaii it would be.

Now the next challenge was to decide how we were going to accomplish this trip. Would it be a couple of weeks on a single island, split the trip between 2 or 3 islands, or find a cruise itinerary that made us both happy. Hell, I used to live there in the early 70’s. Simple enough, eh? NOT!!!

Using all the analytical skills garnered from 33 years working on Department of Defense weapons systems programs, I got to work. I pulled out pencil and paper, signed on to the web and started writing down hotel, car, tours, and airfare rates. After adding in a little food and a lot of drinks it quickly became apparent that we could either go to Hawaii for two weeks, or buy our dream dump on Maui, and not eat or drink. It gets expensive quick. With the consent of her royal highness, I made the command decision to book a cruise to the islands.

Several cruise lines tour the islands. None of them had an itinerary that made either of us jump up and down and shout, “We’ve got to go on this one!” Port calls were just a few hours and the sea days were trips to Fanning Island or Papeete to satisfy the law prohibiting foreign registered vessels from sailing between US ports without a foreign port visit. They’re not “Hawaii”.


Then (do you hear the dramatic drum roll?) we found the 9/25-10/7 Carnival Spirit, Hawaii cruise. Actually, it found us. I signed up for the Vacations To Go newsletter after our Sea Princess, Alaska cruise last year. Therein lie the answer. A 12-day cruise to Hawaii going to four islands with overnights on Maui and Oahu. It also had 6 sea days in a row. I love sea days. The cruise departed Vancouver, Canada, sailed 6 days to Kona, Hawaii. Then onward to Hilo, Hawaii, 2 days in Lahaina, Maui, a day in Lihue, Kauai, and 2 days in Honolulu, Oahu. If we were screaming types, we’d have let loose with the previously mentioned shout.


I immediately called Vacations To Go and booked our first Carnival cruise through their cruise specialist, Dawn Bellis. She was a dream to work with. The rate for an 8A guarantee was about the same as her, er, our booze requirements on a land only vacation. This was also an opportunity to use some perks from my last professional position. I had a bazillion frequent flier miles on Delta, and a half a bazillion Hilton Honors points. For the $15 security fee we were able to book first class airfare to LAX-Vancouver and then Honolulu–LAX for both of us. We also booked 2 days post cruise at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Honolulu for $30. (I think the $30 is Hilton’s way to punish me for not planning far enough ahead.) Then, we booked a room at the Best Western Vancouver Airport for the night prior to the ship’s departure. After doing the “get there” and “stay there” stuff, we booked rental cars on Maui and Kauai through Budget. Finally, we booked the Safari Helicopter Deluxe Volcano and Waterfall tour out of Hilo. That was enough work for one day.


One last task remained before we could leave. I blew the electronic dust from the packing spreadsheet from our Alaska cruise and began replacing long underwear and coats with shorts and Aloha shirts. I was careful not to delete the 3-outlet, 6-foot extension cord from the packing list. Cruise ship builders seem to follow some law that only allows one outlet in the main cabin area. This proved to be true on the Spirit.


Eventually, the 24th of September arrived. We packed and then drove to the kids' place in the afternoon. They drove us to LAX for the relatively short flight to Vancouver. We got in about 9:30 that night. Around 10:45 we got to the front of the airport terminal and called the hotel shuttle. Security and customs took about 10 minutes. Has anyone mentioned to you that it is a looonng walk from the plane to the terminal? We took our passports and driver’s license for documents. When you go, check current requirements because they seem to change all the time.


We got up the next morning and had a leisurely breakfast. At about 10:00 AM the hotel desk called a cab for us. It took about 45 minutes and $17 CN (without tip) to get to Canada Place. We hadn’t been there since they opened the new cruise ship facility. Wow, is it ever nice. A couple of young fellas grabbed our bags from the cab, looked at our cruise tickets, and slapped tags on them. We didn’t see our bags again until they showed up in our cabin later that afternoon. We gave those fellas a small tip even though there were really big signs that said no tipping. They didn’t give it back.


After entering the facility, all cruise ship passengers go through metal detectors just like the airport. Only ticketed passengers were allowed past this point. Once through the scanners, signs pointed the way to various ships. (Guys, you don’t have to ask directions, they’re also really big signs.)


It was a two-room process for boarding Carnival. To get into the first room, you pass under the obligatory Carnival arch to get your welcome aboard pictures taken. Since our experience has shown that these pictures are only slightly more flattering than a driver’s license photo, we grabbed a very cute Carnival employee and put her in our picture. This was our small attempt at punishing Carnival for any mishaps that may happen. Damn girl must have been a professional DMV model before her Carnival job. She looked great, while we looked liked two old folks that had been traveling for two days. Drat, another good plan gone bad. 


After the picture, we picked up a group number card from a table and were then directed to a row of seats. We were part of group number 2. Handouts with boarding instructions were handed out. (I guess that’s why they’re called handouts.) Several Carnival folks walked through and made sure our groups’ paperwork was correctly filled out. After about 20 minutes sitting in the first room, our group number was called.


That was our invitation to go to room number two. Here were about 30-40 stations to process your tickets and get boarding passes. A very pleasant lady handled this quickly and gave us a map of the ship, and our sail and sign cards. (These cards are the “money” used on board; you’re getting on and off pass, and cabin key.) Here’s also where we found out we had been upgraded from an 8A to an 8G cabin.


From there we took a seat in the main area and waited to be called by group number to clear U.S. Customs and board the ship. OOPS. Big delay number 1 just happened. The customs folks work at both the airport and Canada Place. You got it, no customs folks. After a while, the chief boarder (a Canadian gentleman) announced that the U.S. Customs folks forgot they were scheduled to be at Canada Place for our departure. 45 minutes or so later they arrived. The customs folks said Carnival didn’t schedule them. Uh Oh! A U.S. corporation, foreign registered ship, U.S. Customs, all on Canadian soil! Call the UN!! Yeah, right after we get on board.


About 20 minutes after the customs folks showed up, Carnival started priority boarding wheel chaired passengers, families with small kids, the Skippers Club, and cute girls with good stories. (Remember that the chief boarder is a guy!) After that, they started boarding by the same group numbers we’ve now had for about two hours.


The next stop was the aforementioned U.S. Customs. This was great for this cruise since we didn’t have to spend time in our first port visit doing the customs clearance.


Finally, at a little after 1:00 PM, we walked on board. (Bet ya didn’t think we’d ever get here! Just wait.) Crisis number one occurred as soon as we stepped into the atrium. The atrium bar was open. A friend I’ll call Mr. Miller Lite was screaming my name. He shouted that he had been onboard too long and needed to be drunk before he went bad. Being trained to respond to a plethora of emergencies, I immediately set myself into action. My Queen recognized my desire to fix problems as soon as I find them, and in her most regal tone she said, “Hold on, Bucko. He’ll be there when we get back.”


The first place we went was to the dining room. This was aft (back of the boat) from the atrium. We requested early seating for this cruise. As usual on this request, we were assigned late seating. The Maitre d' made himself available starting at 1:00 PM to change the seating if possible. We made our request for change and were told it would be the next day before we would hear anything, and we should attend our assigned seating that night.


The dining room is on two levels. It has a very pleasant décor with a mix of tables and booths. The second level is a balcony surrounding the main dining floor. Our seating for that night was a 4-person booth on the port (left) side of the main dining area. The day’s menu is posted outside the dining room each day. The trick is that the dining room has two sets of doors. In order to see the menu when the dining room is not open, you have to open the left hand door and squeeze into the 2-foot opening between the double set of doors. You won’t find that hint in the ship’s daily paper, the Carnival Capers.


Now, it was off to see the cabin and explore the ship while the rest of our 2500 roommates got on board. Our balcony cabin was number 7219 on the Verandah deck. This is on deck 7 about amidships on the starboard (right) side. We really enjoyed this cabin. There was plenty of room for the two of us for the 12 days we were onboard. Storage for everything we brought was not a problem. Our large suitcases fit easily under the bed. We requested that the beds be made up together and this gave us quite a bit of walk-around room. Don’t be confused that it’s got enough room for a game of volleyball, but it was as comfortable, albeit smaller, as any standard motel room. We really liked having the sofa to sit on as opposed to a single chair and the bed we’ve had on other cruise lines.


When you first enter the cabin, three closets line the small hall. The first two are full hanging closets and the third has shelves. Your life jackets take up one shelf unless you shove them under the bed. There is a placard on the back of the cabin door with emergency directions and a map to your lifeboat station. A roomy bathroom is on the other side of the entry. It had a large shower, for a cruise ship, with a shampoo and body soap dispenser. There was a single “shavers only” outlet in the bathroom. (What the hell does that mean!!) We had a large basket full of product freebees such as razors, shampoos, Dramamine, Skittles, and other stuff. I reckon it’s good advertising considering the number of folks onboard.


The main part of the cabin consists of a three-person sofa with storage drawers, an adjustable height table (which was fantastic for room service), very firm beds that were exactly how we liked them, and a long built in combination dressing table, chest of drawers, and shelving unit. This unit held the 19” color TV, the safe, the built-in hair dryer, refrigerator, and the infamous single AC outlet. Two robes were in the cabin for our use on the cruise. (I personally think they should swap them out after about six days of a twelve-day cruise if you know what I mean.) The safe uses any credit type card with a magnetic strip as the combination. Don’t use your cruise card just in case you lose it and give someone else access to your cabin AND your safe.


Each cabin has its own thermostat to set it to your personal comfort level. This presumes you’re tough enough to whip your partner. Personally, I’m comfortable wherever Judy puts it. The refrigerator is a locked mini-bar. The room steward needs to unlock it. I hear if your really nice, they’ll empty it out for you. Each evening in our cabin, we were greeted by a different towel animal creation. We really began to look forward to see what creature was awaiting our return.


The balcony door is an out swinging French door. A two-foot bungee cord hooked to the handle and under the balcony divider can keep it open. This does turn off the cabin air conditioner unless you’re a magnet wizard and override the door switch. We didn’t do this since it was too cold the first three days, and too warm the rest of the cruise. Our balcony was about 12’ wide and 5’ deep with a Wal-Mart rosin chair and lounger. I mentioned we were upgraded from an 8A to an 8G cabin. That means we were on a higher deck with about a 2’ deeper balcony. Otherwise, all Cat 8 cabins are basically the same.


Enough about the cabin already. Even though it is virtually soundproof, I could still faintly hear the cries for help from Mr. Lite coming up from the Atrium. The time had come, regardless of what my beautiful Queen Judy said. I had to do my knightly duty to rid the world of frightened beer. By the way, I did consider this noble task as part of the ship’s tour. We hurried in a safe manner to the glass elevators and descended to the atrium.


The Spirit Atrium is the center of activity for the ship. The glass elevators face the Atrium bar, which is framed on each side with the grand staircase going up to deck three. Behind the bar is a small stage where different “mood” music was played throughout the cruise. The Purser’s desk and tour desk is located in this area. Across the expanse of the atrium from these desks are assorted chairs and sofas to set and watch the world go by through large windows. I digress.


With a grim determination, and a growing concern for Judy’s safety caused by her swiveling head, gawking at the décor in the atrium, I planted my butt and her royal heiny on stools at the bar. With the fear for her highness’s safety allayed for the moment, I proceeded to deal with the Mr. Miller Lite dilemma. You’ll be glad to know that Mr. Lite was saved from going bad, and we saved many, many of his family from the same fate over the next twelve days.


As we sat there doing good deeds, we continued exploring the Spirit. This consisted mostly of discussing the ship’s décor and watching cruise mates embark. As Judy so eloquently pointed out, “We’ve got twelve days to check out the boat.” Much has been said about the Spirit class ship’s decor. Many were not kind. I’ll admit that it’s a bit overwhelming when you first see it, but it grew on us. The dark colors highlighted with gold, and the repetitive geometric designs became familiar. If folks miss the old Carnival use of bright, colored patterns just go up to the pool deck. WAHOO!


Elevators and public restrooms are plentiful on the Spirit. We now know where all the restrooms are, and never had to wait for an elevator.


It soon came time to get underway. We went to our cabin and watched the departure from our balcony. It was a sunny, pleasant late afternoon to catch the Vancouver scenery. We also used this time to unpack and get ready for dinner. The ride out and through the long passage of the Straits of Juan DeFuca was smooth and uneventful. We also got to watch the season premiere of the “West Wing” while driving towards the wide, blue Pacific. The ship’s cable system had Primetime 24 East for the whole cruise. So, if you could adjust your TV watching clock to east coast time you could keep up with your favorite shows. We also filled out the customs forms that were in the cabin in advance of our arrival in Honolulu a week later.


As 8:45 neared, we headed down for dinner. We had no tablemates that evening so we missed one of our favorite parts of cruising--meeting different folks who have also left their cares and woes on the beach. Yep, I reckon that was a vote for “Personal Choice” style dining. Because food is subjective (even if my opinion is always right), I’ll forego 12 days of dinner descriptions. The dining room food was plentiful and tasty, and repetitive, without being extraordinary throughout the cruise. Most nights, the Maitre d' and his staff did some type of skit or dance, and their service was very professional. I know that’s not an overwhelming ovation for the dining room, it’s just to say everything was just fine.


From the dining room, we went back to the atrium for an après dinner cocktail before retiring. Don’t yell, when I ski, it’s called an après ski beer. Got It! After the après it was time to turn in. Day one was over. We are cruising!!!


The next five days were filled with many cruise highlights that I’ll synopsize in a rambling fashion so as to not use 5 pages a day. The first couple of days were very cool, weather wise. After that it warmed noticeably the further south we went. Six sea days in a row may seem boring to many cruisers, but somehow we stayed busy even if we were busy doing nothing. (This scared her highness once she figured out how well I could actually do nothing.) Carnival does schedule a boatload (get it?) of activities to keep you busy if’n you so choose.


Sometime in the middle of our first night at sea the weather turned. Watching the ship’s TV channel, we registered 60-70 mile per hour winds and 20-30 foot swells. While the stabilizers did a great job, needless to say there were a whole bunch of people who missed that days activities. The lifeboat drill was conducted at 9:30 that morning. It was held indoors in the hallways to be safe. It took about 30 minutes. A lot of the folks looked like they’d rather have been washed overboard. Things started to calm down after the first day and we saw more and more of our shipmates getting out and about.


We woke up early each morning of the cruise and called room service. We would order 2 pots of coffee, orange juice, Danish, and bagels. The stuff got to our cabin in less than 10 minutes each time. We brought a bunch of $2 bills and used them for tipping onboard. What a great crew.


The first morning, Judy opted for the dining room for breakfast. Both breakfast and lunch are open seating. The food was O.K. It was not quite up to the standards of a good “Lenney’s”. It was our last time to have breakfast here. This was not a cruise breaker by any stretch. There are enough places to eat onboard that the pickiest eater can enjoy. The next morning we ventured up to the pool deck to the La Playa Grill. Now they have a breakfast here! All the choices were fresh and very tasty. Lines were non-existent. Floor to ceiling windows provided a fantastic vista while folks ate more in one sitting than they probably would in a day at home. Yep, that’s cruising for ya!


Just a bit more about food, then I’ll get on with it. After breakfast that morning we went back to the cabin to get ready for our day at sea. A card from the Maitre d' was in the cabin saying that we had been changed to early seating at 5:45 PM. We were now in a booth on the other side of the dining room with a retired couple from Florida via New York and the Philippines. We spent several nights enjoying their company at dinner. We ate about half our evening meals in the dining room, and the rest at the La Playa Grill. We never had lunch in the dining room, nor dinner at the added fee Nouveau Supper Club, so I can’t tell you first hand what that was like. But, I am a second-hand expert on the supper club. Virtually every person we talked to raved about their evening there. I guess we got so busy doing nothing that we didn’t have time to go up 2 decks from our cabin to try it.


The La Playa Grill and pool deck is also the location of other culinary delights. Each evening they had a “Taste of Nations” buffet set up. This is a little misnomer unless you agree that burritos, pork chops, and such all come from India. There was a definite Indian flavor to all these dishes.


They have a poolside grilling area for great hamburgers, hot dogs, and brats. My personal favorite was the Deli, and Judy’s favorite was the Pizza Bar. The Deli sandwiches were fresh and moist and delicious. My German heritage queen, Judy, ate so many Calzones that she was speaking Italian by the end of the cruise. To top all this off, on the aft pool deck there were several self-serve soft ice cream and yogurt machines to help fill whatever small crevices of your insides that you had left.


Finally, below on the Promenade deck is the Fountain Café. Here is the place that if your sail and sign card is low on charges, you can purchase desserts and coffees for a nominal fee. I don’t get it. Food, coffees and desserts up the kazoo and they’ll actually sell you more for a “nominal” fee!


I don’t want to get too far into the cruise without recognizing the absolutely phenomenal cruise staff and crew onboard the Spirit. They were all personable, professional, and friendly. If it was in their power to do something for you, they did it. We did have our three favorites. They were Donna and Jo Anne from the Philippines, and Geniviete from Lithuania. We spent a lot of time with those three in many enjoyable encounters and conversations.


Speaking of the pool area, which I spoke of somewhere in this thing, after the first couple of days it really got a workout. The warm days and beautiful skies kept it crowded. We never saw “chair hogging”.  The aft pool deck always had piles of chairs for passengers to use. We never did see the slide open. Each day there were contests such as “Survivor Carnival Style”, ice-carving demonstrations, and our favorite, “Hawaiian Sounds” by a group called “Ikapuahana”. Say that once real fast! After dinner each night we would go up to the pool deck for coffee and ice cream, and talk romantic cruise ship type stuff.


Before the cruise, I had “volunteered” to be the center post for a cruise forums get-together for the folks at the Cruise Critic, Cruise Mates, and Cruise Addicts web sites. This was scheduled on our second full sea day. Before leaving home, I made up a beautiful, professional sign with the logos from these forums. At the appointed place (Champions Bar) and appointed time (1:00 PM), the queen and I plopped our keisters down, started saving frightened beers, and awaited the swarming throng. In 3 hours of awaiting, 3 folks swarmed us. The time was well spent with our Lite family duties and meeting SPUDWITCH from the Cruise Critics board. SPUDWITCH turned out to be half of the Sharon and Earl team. These are great folks that we occasionally ran into around the boat, and on the beach. By the way, they are from Idaho (SPUD) and Sharon’s birthday is Halloween (WITCH). I got it after she explained it.


To further add to the excitement of our days at sea, my sweetie invited me to attend the arts and crafts activity held each day. She has always been into this stuff. If you should run across her someday, be sure to ask her which of the two of us actually finished the official Carnival plastic canvas penholder. Oh Yeah!!


Let me ramble a moment (again?), less we forget shopping on sea days. Deck 3 contains the Fashion Blvd. I didn’t count, but there were about 8-10 shops here. Momma used it to get her store fix, and to keep me in the practice of tagging along with my mouth shut, until the time we reached port. Actually the shops contained a variety of stuff with pretty good duty-free prices. The law required them to shutdown in port.


Late afternoons were taken up with Judy retiring to the cabin, taking a nap when she could, and working on a baby blanket for our soon to arrive granddaughter. (She’s here now, and she and our other granddaughter are the best looking women in the family.) I split my time between the Atrium Bar and the Champions Bar talking to the international bartenders, continuing my crusade for the Lite family, and bothering any unsuspecting passenger who happened to get too close. What a life!


One of those unsuspecting types was a gent named George from San Diego, via England. I mention George not only because he’s a great guy, but also because he related a theory that answers the ever-present question about how old the average passenger was on this cruise. I was a young 51 and George was 62 at the time of cruise. Just aft of the atrium area is the Dancin’ Dance Club. This is a disco type dance hall with a sign out front that said unescorted teenagers must vacate at 11:00 PM. George held that age is relative. If that holds to be true, he said we’d have to find someone to escort us into the club after 11. No offense, but he wasn’t far off. We counted eleven little pirates marching along with the Club Carnival kids group. The age group on this cruise was probably a factor of both the dates of the cruise, and it’s length.


The casino was open anytime we were at sea. Don’t worry about finding the casino; it’d be tough for Daniel Boone to find a way fore and aft without going through it. I don’t remember seeing the casino not crowded, unless we were in port. I was surprised at that. As tight as we found the machines, you’d think with that many folks gambling they could have pooled their money and bought the boat. I guess some folks are luckier than others.


The evenings were spent attending the shows in the Pharaohs Palace, the Versailles Room, and other venues around the boat. The shows were all energetic, entertaining, and professionally done. Norm Crosby was the headliner for this trip.


Right next to the Champions Bar is Club Cool. This is a smallish lounge with a dance floor and stage. This is where tender tickets were handed out. It’s also where karaoke was performed. Those were some brave passengers. Judy and I were in Champions the first time karaoke fired up. The bartender, Jo Anne, ran to us with horror in her eyes looking for help. It was no use. Until that time, Judy and I had assumed we were afraid of absolutely nothin’. Again it goes to show where assuming will get you. Those passengers sure were having a great time though. That about takes care of the trip across the Pacific to the islands. It seemed to take about as long to do it as it does reading to here.


Before I blither on about the port calls, I want to mention that we did not book any tours through the cruise line. We’ve found they cost way more than doing them ourselves. This overrides the small risk of being left behind. Heck, buy third-party vacation insurance with the saved money. It also leads me to the one thing about cruising that puts a giant bite on our backsides. Folks who book tours through the cruise line are the first off in ports where tenders are used. We understand why the lines do this. Don’t bother flaming me or arguing cause I don’t care. Cruise lines, please hire enough tenders to take care of your tour paying passengers, and enough to get those of us who paid the same price for our trips, on the beach at the same time so we all can enjoy the limited port time. This ain’t rocket science, and we’re not traveling steerage. Whew! I feel better now.


Next is security. Every time you get on or off the ship, your sail and sign card is run through a machine to confirm who you are, and whether your onboard or not. When we first came aboard in Canada, our picture was taken by security, and associated with the card. They looked at the picture every time we boarded to insure you-is-you. When returning to the ship, all hand-carried items are hand searched, ID’s checked, and your body is wanded on the pier. Once on the ship, your card is scanned and your carry-on stuff is run through an x-ray machine.


Now on with the cruise. We pulled in and anchored in Kona about an hour and a half ahead of schedule. Her majesty had designated this a shopping port with some picture taking and eating as a sideline. After getting our tender numbers from Club Cool we proceeded to the beach. AAARGH! Free shopping buses from Hilo Hattie’s and Wal-mart where waiting, as they were in every port.


Kona is a tourist town that circles beautifully around its bay. Judy says it reminds her of Avalon on Catalina Island. It reminded me of Kona since I’d been here a couple of times in my younger years. It was hot and sunny as we began the marathon-shopping run. There were some folks training on the Iron-Man triathlon venues. Those wimps would have died keeping up with my Judy. As usual, we hit every store within the boundaries of this side of the island, ate some food for strength, and then did some real shopping. We got a chance to slip into the oldest missionary church on the island, which is built out of coral, without being blasted by the oft spoke of bolt of lightning. Kona is truly a beautiful place. After the marathon, we returned to the Spirit and continued our late afternoon and evening routine on board. The ship departed for the other side of the island at around 5:30.


Upon awaking the next morning, we went out to the balcony, with our morning victuals, to watch our approach into Hilo. The early morning was bright and clear as we proceeded down the coastline. With no clouds forming yet, we had clear views of the observatory stations at the top of Mauna Kea, down across Mauna Loa, and a stunning view of the volcanic plume of Kilauea. We tied up at a pier a couple of miles from downtown, and right next to the airport. Upon disembarking, we finally got “lei’d” in Hawaii. You could tell the cruisers from the rest of the folks by the purple flower leis we were all wearing. (Not to mention the bright, white legs on oh so many of us.)


Hilo can be a pretty wet place. They get between 130 and 200 inches of rain a year. As the morning warmed up, clouds rapidly formed. Starting about noon that day the rainfall average was significantly added to. This microclimate of warm and sunny on the west side of the islands, and warm and wetter on the east side holds true for most of the Hawaiian chain. Also, the year round temps across the islands are almost always in the 80’s during the day, and the 70’s at night. Look out Al Roker, me sound like I know weather, uh. 


As I said somewhere towards the top of this thing, we booked the Safariair helicopter tour of the volcanoes and waterfalls. This was the tour we were most looking forward to on this trip. We were not disappointed. I love any type of flying, and Judy had never been in a rotary wing contraption. The combination of my anticipation and her trepidation got our “couples” karma out of whack. We were already a little uncertain whether the flight would get off with the building weather. When we booked this flight over the Internet, we requested the 1:30 PM flight just in case there was a major delay in getting off the boat. When you book these rotary wing tours you need to give your height and weight so the pilot can calculate center-of-gravity and weight and balance for the aircraft. We received an e-mail from them prior to leaving home; implying one of us was just a little too “tubby” for the 1:30 lift-off. We were shifted to the 10:00 AM flight.


A representative from Safariair picked us up from the pier at about 9:15 and drove us to their facility at the Hilo airport. Once inside, we were weighed on a digital scale to confirm no “slimming” fibs were told over the Internet. After the rest of the tour group arrived, we were given a safety briefing, our seating assignment, and introduced to our pilot, Jim. The aircraft held seven people. Four sat in the back seat, and two passengers and the pilot sat in the front. We got really lucky here. Four nice people loaded into the back, Judy got the middle, front seat, and “tubby” got the left hand, front door seat. What a fantastic view for the hour-long flight.


Jim gave us another flight safety briefing, and we went light on the skids. We all wore Bose noise-canceling intercom headsets during the flight. These worked fantastically. You could barely hear the airplane, but the piped over Hawaiian music and Jim’s superb and entertaining narration was crystal clear. The aircraft was equipped with a video camera system with forward and side mounted cameras and six videotapes. The tape has the flight video with Jim’s narration, and the Hawaiian music for $20. They’re worth it for the music!


It started raining fairly hard as we departed the airport. Jim kept up his running narration of points of interest as we flew toward the Kilauea calderas. The rain stopped just as we started flying over older lava flows. Once we got over the southwestern side of the volcano, we could see the venting plumes from the lava tubes running down to the sea. Periodically we could see the molten lava as it broke through the surface. Once over the ocean, we could clearly see the orange-red lava flowing into the ocean from several tubes, sending vast clouds of hydrochloric acid into the air. That would be a baaad place to take a deep breath if you were on the ground. After showing us the volcano area, Jim headed back to the north of Hilo. Along the winding river, flowing out to the sea, several huge and majestic waterfalls came into view. We descended and circled the waterfalls for about 15 minutes. Way, way too soon it was time to head back and land. After landing, we deplaned the rotary thing. A staffer grabbed our cameras and took a shot of each of us in front of the helicopter. Safariair is one class act.


We were driven back to the pier upon completion of this fantastic tour. We later heard that the rains and low clouds had cancelled the afternoon flights. Tubby is now glad he didn’t listen real close to his cardiologist.  Otherwise we’d have missed our flight. The helicopter ride was silky smooth, Judy likes helicopters, and all is right in the world.


During our flight, Jim told us that downtown Hilo is not really a “tourist” type place as far as its layout goes. So… momma made a decision and we went shopping. We jumped on the ever-present gratis Hilo Hattie’s bus and headed out. The Hattie’s representative handed out free puka shell necklaces. They did this in every port. (OOPS! Kids, the necklaces we gave you were the really, really expensive ones.) After Hattie’s, we walked across the street to Wal-Mart for more vacation fun. From there it was back to the ship for our now normal shipboard routine, and our departure for Maui.


The next morning the ship anchored in the bay at Lahaina, Maui. We’d be here for two days. The ship did lift anchor and head out to sea after midnight, and then returned and anchored early in the morning. Yeah, you could stay on the island all night if you wanted. We went back to the boat since we’d already paid for our room. We heard that shorts were allowed that night in the dining room. That was the only time on this cruise.


Once we went through the get off the boat and tender thing (yatayatayata), we walked a block through town to pick up the Budget rental car shuttle. Lahaina is an old whaling village that has maintained its charm. The seaside bars from my youth are now a lot of, no, hundreds of, no, thousands of shops. We had both been here during the years before we met. You know, the unhappy years. Anyway, we picked up the car and headed across the island to Hana. If you haven’t taken the infamous “Road to Hana”, you gotta try it someday. The road is a little over 30 miles long with over 600 curves and 59 one-way bridges. It winds through some of the most beautiful and lush tropical mountain rainforest that we have ever seen. Waterfalls are spread throughout the trip. It’s also the only road I’ve driven that has the sign “Speed Zone Ahead” where the speed limit goes “up” from 15 mph to 30 mph. The round trip from Lahaina can take all day, and is well worth the time.


After entering Hana, we took the fork to the right and searched out a place for lunch. We found it at the Hotel Hana Maui. This is one high class, high-end inn. Don’t confuse it with a high-rise hotel. It’s low-slung buildings and oriental gardens spread across the landscape presenting a view just short of heaven. We had lunch in their covered lanai dining room overlooking their unbelievable ocean vista. We did not want to leave, but with anything less than winning the lotto, it would have been a short stay. Kicking and screaming, we got back in the car and retraced our route back to Lahaina. We searched out a lot to park the car for the night. There are several on the street about 2 blocks from the pier. Be warned that they vary in price without any seeming reference to the proximity to downtown Lahaina. We found one directly up from the wharf for $10 a night.


With very little begging on my part, my queen consented to forego shopping until the next day. Instead, we did manly stuff. The Pioneer Inn is a hundred-plus year old wooden hotel sitting at the foot of the wharf where our tenders arrived and departed. Sailors, whalers, and other tough guys have frequented this joint for decades. My new, old buddy George was sitting in the open sided bar imbibing with his three female tablemates from the ship. He graciously asked us to join them. Shortly after we arrived, one of our new, young crewmember friends, Geniviete, and her friend joined in. A Samoan singer large enough to make Shaq look like Minnimee from Austin Powers, sang beautiful Hawaiian songs while our six female tablemates and us two guys did manly bar things. This lasted until the call for the last tender of the night forced us to return to the ship. God I love port calls.


The next morning, it was up early and onto the tender back to town. We found our car and went to the Lahaina Cannery shopping center for a couple of hours of shopping. After that tour of duty, we loaded up and headed back to Budget to turn in the car. A quick shuttle ride back to Lahaina placed us back into the “Judy shopping heaven” portion of the port call. The next several hours (read days) were spent going in and out of the lots of, no, hundreds of, no, thousands of shops. Looking down the sidewalk was hilarious. The lined up, vacant stared shopping “husbands” could get an invite to the International Identical Twins Day festivities. Then it was back to the ship to go to Kauai.


Nawiliwili. That’s a name that deserves to stand-alone. Lets all say it together. Nuh-willy-illy-willy. PS, you’ve got to say it real fast to say it right. Yep, that’s where we tied up on Kauai. It’s located just outside of Lihue. Kauai is often referred to as the most beautiful of the Hawaiian Islands. I don’t know about that, given the awesome beauty found throughout the island chain, but there are astounding visionary spectacles to behold on this, the oldest of the islands.


With extraordinary skill, care, and a boatload of thrusters, the Captain maneuvered the ship through a small opening into the harbor, and tied up to the pier in the place I said above. I dare you to say it again. Our visit on Kauai was a relatively short eight hours. Even though we reserved a car, her royal person and I decided to forgo the pleasure of getting it, and turning it back in. We planned to drive up the coast and do the Wailua River and Fern Grotto tour. Instead, we asked one of the cab drivers at the pier how much. He said 16 bucks. We said OK. We got in, and away we went.


A short ride north of Lihue brought us to the River tour office and restaurant. Anyone who spends time watching movies rather than working will recognize this place. Let’s see, Donovan’s Reef, Blue Hawaii, and Jurassic Park to name just a few. We bought our tickets and waited for the time to board the really big river barge for the two and a half mile trip up the Wailua River to the Fern Grotto. Once aboard we set sail for the leisurely cruise. The barge had a small band to do band stuff, and hula ladies to do hula stuff on our way up. They were really good considering the number of times they do this trip day in and day out. A half hour trip brought us to the docking area for the grotto.


Upon reaching the grotto dock, we walked on a concrete path for about 10 minutes through the jungle. Don’t fret; Hawaii has never, ever had snakes. The grotto suddenly opened up through the thick foliage. It’s a truly beautiful place with giant ferns overhanging the cliffs and grotto. We were invited to walk into the grotto. Once there, the crew sang the “Hawaiian Wedding Song”. Remember Elvis. And yes, they really do perform a ton of weddings here. After that we loaded onboard the barge and headed back to the tour dock. On this trip, the pilot gave a great talk about what we saw on the boat ride. O.K. it may sound a little hokey, but we loved it.


Once ashore, we called our cab company and had them take us to downtown Lihue. The town was putting on their part of the annual Aloha Festival. This festival is held all across the islands. The festival was set up in the town square. We spent a few hours here rummaging through the crafts, watching the entertainment, and eating hot dogs. This was a case of a small town, good time. Rather than spend money on another cab, we walked a few blocks to Hilo Hattie’s and took the free bus back to the ship. Onboard we went, and it was Honolulu bound.


Honolulu. This is it, our last port, the end of the road, the place to get off, the last of this novella! Aloha. Not yet. We didn’t disembark until the next day. This gave us a whole day and night in Honolulu, with a room. That is until we shifted over to the Hilton Hawaiian Village for two more days.


We tied up that morning next to the Aloha Tower and got ready to ransack the island. This was “my island”, the place where I had lived and loved for three years. (WHOOPS! yet again. Judy didn’t know about that part.) I was going to spend the next few days taking my sweetheart to all my old haunts and hideaways. That took about 5 minutes discounting driving time.


What the hell did they do to my island in the last 28 years? I’ll tell you! They built a herd of new buildings all over the island; added new roads; grew the population by 100%; and tore down my old haunts and hideaways. Damn, I hate it when that happens. I know, I know, you don’t care. That’s fine, Judy didn’t either. Okay, okay. We had planned this first day as the day we explored Waikiki. We departed the Spirit that first morning, and to my surprise, we went shopping at the Aloha Tower.


Once we exited the pier building, several tour buses, cabs, and company shopping vans were waiting to take the milling throngs to their appointed places. This was also the place we found the Waikiki Trolley stop. These are open sided trolleys that run different routes from the Aloha Tower through the downtown and Waikiki area for $2 a day. The first thing we did, after the little shopping spree, was to jump on the trolley and ride it down to the Hilton Hawaiian Village (HHV). I wanted to verify our room reservation and give Judy a preview of the 24-acre “hideaway” where we would be spending the next couple of days. Whew! I’d like to own 24 acres on Waikiki for about the 30 seconds it would take to become a multi-billionaire. Once the reservations were confirmed, we stopped by the hotel’s tour desk to book the Arizona Memorial Tour and reserve our rental car for the next couple of days.


From the HHV we hoofed it down to the Waikiki beach area. This is where the first dramatic changes to “my island” were noticed. I had regaled Judy with the absolutely true, unvarnished, no bull facts about the functions I had attended at the world famous, pink Royal Hawaiian Hotel and it’s equally famous Mai Tai Bar. I couldn’t find it. How in the world could I NOT find a giant pink building on Waikiki beach? Simple, high-rise store/office buildings were built in the front of it. We eventually found the “free beach access” alley and went to the Royal Hawaiian for a walk around. She’s still a beautiful place.


From there, we headed over to the International Market Place for an afternoon of shopping. The mostly open-air market place is located in the middle of the Waikiki beach area, and has been there for decades. We spent a long, long time here. After the Market Place, we crossed the street and “walked the sands of Waikiki”. Yep, just like the words from the songs. In the late afternoon we boarded the trolley to head back to the Spirit for one last night of that ole cruise feeling.


Disembarking the next morning was a piece of cake. Earlier in the cruise we filled out a form that had been left in our cabin. This form detailed each passenger’s post cruise itineraries. Based on flight times, tour schedules and such, Carnival assigned a number and color for getting off the ship. Luggage tags with this info and directions were delivered to the cabin. On the last night, we packed up and put the tags on our bags, and then set them outside our cabin by midnight. For those folks leaving the island, remember to keep out clothes and stuff for the flight home. We heard that folks forgot to do this more than once. I’m not sure that the new airline security measures allow you to fly home only wearing day old underwear. I can think of cases where that could constitute a terrorist act. When our color and number was called, we departed the ship, went to the luggage holding area, and grabbed our stuff. We were off the ship by 9:30 that morning.


We hopped a cab and checked into the HHV. As it was early, no room was available. They checked us in and took our luggage anyway. The HHV has a desk setup to come back later and pick up the room keys later in the day. We then walked around the corner to the small Budget office and picked up our car. Today was our vehicular tour of the island of Oahu across Diamond Head, and up the coast to the North Shore. After working our way through the Waikiki traffic, we wound our way up Diamond Head to the lighthouse and lookout point. From there it was down to Hanauma Bay, Makapu Point, and up the coast to the North Shore and Sunset Beach. The surf was calm at Sunset and Bonsai Beach, so Judy didn’t get to see how terrifyingly huge this can be.


From there, we cut across the island through what remains of the Dole pineapple plantation, and worked our way back to Honolulu. Driving times on the islands are deceptive because of the winding coast roads, and lower speed limits. This trip took us all day. We got back to the hotel and picked up our room keys. Our bags had already been taken to the room. We walked down to the ever-present ABC convenience store and picked up snacks and liquid sustenance for use in the room. We had dinner at one of the whole bunch of eateries in the village, and returned to our room to partake of the afore mentioned sustenance on our balcony. Sorry that there’s no review of the village. We didn’t really avail ourselves of all they had at this beautiful resort.


The next morning we had scheduled the Arizona Memorial Tour. Our tour left the village at 6:30 in the morning. This atrocious time was selected so as to be in the first group at the memorial. Later in the day, the lines and waits can become brutal. When I was stationed at Pearl Harbor, I was a member of the Fleet Reserve branch that participated in the fund raising and construction of the museum associated with the Arizona Memorial. I had seen conceptual stuff before leaving the island, but had not returned to see the final product. Many of my old shipmates and other organizations toiled unflaggingly for the years it took to get this part of the memorial opened. They exceeded the definition of a superb job.


The shuttle took us to Pearl Harbor. Our tour guide quickly got our group lined up and signed in at the museum. The tour is free to all, and it is first come-first served. So get there early. We milled around smartly for a little while until our number was called. Once called, we entered the theater for a 20-minute movie of the history leading up to, and the attack on that infamous day. At the conclusion of the film, we loaded onto a launch piloted by U.S. Navy personnel, as only it should be. After a short ride, we arrived at the Arizona. Each group has 15 minutes to board and view the memorial. The quiet, solemn air and feeling of this final resting place of so many brave men must be felt, while never truly explainable.


At the conclusion of our time onboard, we reloaded the launch and returned to the museum site. Plenty of time was allowed to tour the museum proper, and then it was back to the shuttle and our return to the hotel.


We jumped into the car and headed out to the western side of the island for our last day of the trip. This was “my side”. We drove past the airport, Pearl Harbor and into Aeia. This was the first town in which I resided. I was able to recognize it by viewing the arrangement of the surrounding hills. Darn, they did it again. We pulled into a large coffee shop for breakfast. After eating we got back in the car to continue the “old haunt” search. As we were pulling out of the parking lot, I thought I recognized the layout of a small road. We made that turn, and I’ll be durned if my old apartment building wasn’t still standing. Somebody must have messed up and not knocked it down for a used car dealership. Now I also know why the helicopter place inferred that I was a little “tubby”. The place had gotten a lot smaller than when I lived there. After the ten seconds of reminiscing, which was about all Judy could stand, we headed north up Kam highway. Our destination was Naval Air Station Barbers Point on the north end of that side of Oahu. With my previous family, we had moved from Aiea to Barbers Point. The house was so new when we moved in, that the paint was actually still wet. Damn again. NAS Barbers Point had been decommissioned, and my house was now a giant fuel storage tank.


What the heck, we’re really not nostalgic folks. Besides, we had accepted our new, holy mission to rid the world of bad beer, didn’t we? So, it was back to the hotel to pursue our new mission in life, and to pack for our flight home the next morning. Judy got a driving tour of the entire island of Oahu.  If she wants to see anything in detail, we’ll have to come back.


The next morning we packed up the car and sallied forth to the Honolulu International Airport. We dropped off the car, checked in for the flight, and boarded the plane for our last “waited on hand and foot” first class ride back to LAX. The smoothness of our vacation didn’t end here. Oh contraire! As Judy was struggling to get the in-seat video unit out for the in-flight movie, the ever vigilant flight attendant jumped in to help her. With a practiced pull and twist of the display by the flight attendant, my honey’s index finger was smashed between the display and the seat. She was cut clear to the bone. We now had a horrified flight attendant and a queen in pain for the rest of the flight. We did get good service, though.


Alas, not everything can be perfect. The cruise breaker we did experience was the ride of the Carnival Spirit. When at sea, with the right conditions, our cabin shuddered so hard that we had to pack the drinking glasses in towels to keep the clanking noise in check. Judy made up for her lack of sleep with naps when she could, and some sleep in port. To be fair, the shuddering decreased dramatically the lower we ventured on the ship. That was not the way to venture forth into new adventures. I’ll stand on my experience of 10 years of sea duty on various classes of Naval vessels, and our previous cruises to say that this violent shuddering was mechanically or ship design induced. For the first time in my life I wrote a letter of complaint. I asked Carnival to give us an explanation just so we had the “real” story to base future adventures with them, on this otherwise unbelievable ship and cruise. Carnival did respond thanking us for our input, and 15% off future cruises with them. It’s with a saddened heart that while this otherwise “trip of a lifetime” was truly enjoyable, we just can’t recommend the Spirit to our friends and associates until we know that the problem is fixed.


And this, my friends, concludes this very condensed version of what we did on our summer (fall) vacation. While we thoroughly enjoyed our adventure to those golden Pacific isles, 15 days away from home with an expectant little girl, and a longing for my recliner, allowed us to return home with light, though shaken, hearts.


Aloha, Joe and Judy.

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