Saturday, December 24, 2005

Home Again

We were pierside by 7 a.m. in Honolulu. Debarkation went smoothly with no lines (since we never went into international waters no customs or immigration were required) though our color was the second to last called, we left around 9:30. The bus ride home was uneventful and Angel did not destroy anything while being left alone for a week.

This was our best cruise yet and we were very lucky with the weather. It was rarely cloudy and we didn't get any rain all week. We still have 2 other NCL ships doing Hawaiian cruises we can try: Pride of Aloha and Pride of Hawaii (commissioning in 2006).

Merry Christmas

Friday, December 23, 2005

Lihue, Kauia

We pulled in at 8 and were suprised to find the Alamo shuttle waiting for us. We upgraded once again for the Sebring Tourig convertible and were off. First stop was the Wailua falls (and a cache). We were one of the first there and due to construction of an overlook we couldn't see very much of the falls. So I took the less travelled route while Rikki stayed with the car giving me some motherly advice as I hiked down into the woods. After a little slipping and sliding down a steep embankment and a few hurdles over the streams I was able to walk right out onto the top of the falls, it was a spectacular view.

We had decided that we didn't feel like visiting the West side of the island (waimea canyons) since we had seen enough hot desert wasteland on the big island. The drive up the East side of kauai was very nice and we found numerous empty beaches while geocaching once again. Several were a nasty hike but by far the best beaches we've seen so far. We found a large yellow research buoy washed up on the shore. Used the GPS to find the local police number, called them and they had me call someone else to report it. I'm surprised they didn't have me call the Coast Guard.

There is a ton of land and homes for sale all along the ocean front. Some gorgeous lots up on the hills overlooking the ocean. We stopped at the Kilauea lighthouse/bird sanctuary and grabbed a quick lunch at a local bistro. We continued all the way to the North shore and decided not to attempt to head back during rush hour. We spent sunset on an abandoned beach and finally headed back to the ship. Traffic at 7 p.m. was pretty bad, I can't imagine what rush hour must be like. Once back we were charged 10$ to park the car at the mall close to the pier (who ever worked that deal is making out) and grabbed a quick bite to eat on the ship before going to bed early. We are going to try to catch sunrise at Ninini lighthouse point tomorrow morning.

Day 2 Lihue
We were up early, we haven't been able to get back on schedule since our bike down haleakala. This worked out well since we wanted to watch the sunrise anyways. We took yet another treacherous back road faithfully following our GPS directions through a golf course and around the airport to a Ninini lighthouse. It is directly in the approach path I've shot half a dozen times to Lihue airport. We watched a nice sunrise, not as good as Haleakala's but still a nice one. We saw a few whales blow out in the distance but they also were not very active so early. We drove around the rest of the morning hitting 3 more geocaches and ended up watching the whales by the airport. They were breaching, slapping, and blowing in a few different areas. We wished we had remembered our binoculars.

We left early afternoon to cruise around the entire island and get a sunset view of the Napali coast. That was spectacular and will definitely have to hike up there some day. We hit 4-8 foot swells once again so Rikki went to bed early.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Kona, the Big Island

We tendered at Kona (anchored out and took small boats back and forth to the dock). Rikki wasn't up for it so I had the day to myself to tour, I was the last person to board the first tender. Kona was the only place we had not reserved a rental car so after getting to the pier I took the first shuttle I saw (Hertz, they were always first and had twice as many shuttles). Once at the airport I was forced to rent a Ford mustang convertible. They only had convertibles left and of course they did not allow any discounts on their luxury cars so I bit the bullet and parted with a Franklin. My plan was to spend the day geocaching. Since the airport was several miles north of Kona I continued that way to stay out of the traffic. The first cache was right by a lava tube off the side of the road. There were several caches on private resorts that have a "public beach" of course you have to go to the gateguard and ask them to give you a pass to use them. Not very public and I'm guessing a pretty big secret to most visitors. The Four Seasons was the best, all the old people zooming around in their golf carts was kind of crazy. Several caches were long hikes through desert lava fields in my semi-rugged, 9.99$ special, sandals. A few times I was wondering at my sanity and the value of taking "shortcuts" up and over hillls of sharp lava rock. I made it out with only a few scratches from the unprotected tops and sides of my feet. The soles of my sandals are torn up pretty bad. I did get some amazing pictures. I did pass up a green sand beach (a crushed up semi-precious stone). It was near the end of the day and I had already gone far too many miles on foot. My Garmin GPS saved me a ton of time today. Especially near the end of the day when I had to refill the car before returning it and the only gas station was tucked away off a side road 2 miles away. Pretty easy to use too. Just Find -> Fuel Services (listed by closest) -> goto and it gives you directions. Gas has ranged from 2.70 to 2.90 on all the islands. I made it back to the ship early with everyone else. There was a line of about 300 people so I walked the Kona strip for 2 hours. By the time I made it back I got on the last tender to the ship and got ready for supper.

Part of our anniversary package includes dinner at the fanciest restaurant, Jefferson's Bistro (dress code enforced!) Since we were all dressed up we had some pictures done (another part of the anniversary package) and then made it to the restaurant early. Normally you pay extra to eat at this place. The last fancy place we ate at was Scopillo's (sp?) in Pensacola after finishing primary. This place was significantly more ritzy (they had 3 types of specialized butter for the bread). A bottle of wine came with the meal so I asked for a recommendation since I had no clue and we ended up with a red Bell'agio Chianti 2004. The waiter went through the motions of preparing the wine and poured me a shot sampler. I downed it. He then poured for Rikki and she smelled, swirled, and swished it like a pro (she watches Food Network more than I do). It was very good and Rikki even drank about 1/16th of the bottle. The appetizers were salmon, asparagus, and escargot. I went with the raw salmon, and it was good until about half-way through. You can only eat so much raw fish. Rikki felt like pasta... they had none, I guess pasta is too mundane. The salad was good and the soup was even better. They served the soup in its own round loaf of bread. The meals were also very good and chocolate fondue for desert was as expected. Our waiters were great, though these fancy places remind me more of a funeral home than a place to eat. It took us over 2 hours for the 5 courses and we had alot of fun with it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Kahului, Maui

The seas were rough, and Rikki was still a bit worn down, but we still got up early to get our rental car. Once again people were debarking before they even announced it so we tagged along. Another wait for the Alamo shuttle (once again we saw 5 or 6 other rental company shuttles come and pick people up while we waited). After the shuttle to the airport we upgraded for $15 from an economy car to a Sebring Convertible. The car was filthy and had only about 3/4's a tank of gas. It was definitely the bottom of the barrel for their convertibles and not something they would give to their more respectable clients. We didn't complain. We went straight to a beach park that was a few minutes away from the airport and very secluded. We had a half mile of beach to ourselves so we enjoyed the solitude (besides the crashing waves which were still a good 4-8 ft.) We also hunted for a geocache (that was how I found out about the quiet beach) but we did not find it. Next we drove around the north east side of the island toward Hana. But, Rikki soon got sick of my driving on the insanely windy (at times one lane, 15-25 mph) road that would continue for over 2 hours. We stopped for another geocache at the twin falls. A good hike and some impressive falls. We called it quits early and headed back to the ship to get some sleep since we had to be up at 3 a.m. for an excursion.

Day 2 Kahului
It is nice to spend more than one day at a port. On our second day we planned a bike down Haleakala, but they cancelled the day prior since we were the only ones that reserved and they needed a minimum of six. They were good in setting us up with another company that was doing the same trip, Cruiser Phil's. They guaranteed the same rate and sounded decent so we chanced the last minute change. We were up and ready on time. Our van pulled up a few minutes late along with the other 4 vans (different companies) that were waiting. We hopped in and were driven to their headquarters for muffins and coffee then started the 2 hour drive to the top. Rikki did surprisingly well since the road was almost as bad as the road to Hana. Our guide was great, a good sense of humor. We were both bundled up, jeans, shirt, sweater, jacket, and we were given another leather jacket, Columbia windbreaker top/bottom (to help us "break wind, except when in the van"), and even some gloves to handle the cold at 10,000 ft. Even with all that the wind still bit pretty hard. We were popsiclish after the 45 minute wait, but the sunrise was worth it. After a quick stop at the restrooms for our "own personal eruptions" (our tour guide was full of volcano jokes) we mounted the specialized 50 lb one gear (a very slow gear) disc brake bicycles (with full helmets). They had us do a few laps around the parking lot, anyone who ran into parked vehicles would be put back in the van. Rikki wasn't too sure of herself but she did fine. Then we started the decent, 10,000 ft down to the ocean. The views were amazing and the winding road was fun to bike. The weight challenged individuals had a hard time keeping up with those of us naturally gifted in that area. Rikki would duck and tuck trying to coast to keep up with the pack while I sat fully upright and rode the brakes to keep from running into her. She was pretty good at streamlining herself near the end and I could match her speed by making myself as un-aerodynamic as possible. We finished the bike ride hours later at a small town by the ocean, Paia and had breakfast at a small cafe. Then we returned to the ship and slept!

Monday, December 19, 2005

Hilo, the Big Island

We were up early and one of the first people off the ship. We spent the next 20 minutes waiting for our Alamo shuttle to take us to the airport to pick up our rental car. Once there, check-in was quick and we were on the road in our Pontiac Grand Prix. I hooked up my new GPSMAP 60CS and followed the directions to our first stop the black sand beach. It was a sight to see, and since we went there directly there wasn't a crowd. On the way back we hit a few geocaches and then stopped at volcano national park. We spent a good 5 hours there driving around and seeing all the sites. We even found one hidden spot that was a geocache. It was called the Devil's throat and looked like a quarry. As is typical for most geocaches we had to park on the side of the road and hike a bit to get there. We drove all of Crater Rim Drive, ate at the Volcano House and drove to the end of Chain of Craters Road that led to the active lava flow. All we saw was the steam from it hitting the ocean. We ended up rushing back to make the ship in time for departure. We missed out on the Mauna Loa, botanical garden, chocolate factory, and several other places. We needed more than a day here. That night we were supposed to cruise by the lava flow which is visible at night. But a few miles short the Captain came on saying we had to turn around due to bad weather. This has been a recurring complaint in the forums and I would have been sceptical if we hadn't actually hit bad weather on our way to Maui. Rikki didn't handle the 4-8 foot swells very well.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

On Vacation

We were both up a bit early to finish preparing for the cruise yesterday. I did a bunch of errands and picked up some malasadas from Leonard's while I was out. The dog was flipping out, she knew we were leaving. I am expecting her to tear one thing up in the house in rebellion. While I was gone for a week she attacked some paperwork Rikki left out from work. She took it right off the kitchen table and shredded it. She doesn't like to be left alone. Rikki is already worrying about her Angel.

We took the bus to the Aloha Tower pier. I'm not sure why everyone doesn't like the bus, we find it convenient. Rikki has an annual pass so it only cost us 2 bucks. We arrived early, checked our baggage, went through check-in, and were on the ship in about 20 minutes. One of the better check-ins so far. I think Rikki and I are getting pretty good at cruising. We took a quick tour of the ship (the largest cruise ship in the U.S.) until our room was ready. The christmas tree tied to the top of the mast was a good touch. Our deck was done early (they do a same day turn around so rooms are not cleaned and ready to use until after 3 p.m.) so we headed down to it. As we were at the door a staff member gave us some mail. Our christmas present from my side of the family was the anniversary package. We had some flowers, chocolate strawberries, a bottle of sparkling wine, and later in the week: some hors d'oeuvres, a free anniversay photograph, a cake and champagne party with everyone else celebrating their honeymoon or anniversay plus a free dinner at the best restaurant (you have to pay extra normally). A very nice gift.

We were also pleasantly surprised by our room 10042. Deck 10 with a balcony. I have learned a few tricks from our previous cruises so we picked the best balcony room there was. It has a wrap around balcony and we are just forward of the pool, a deck above us so we don't have to listen to them rearranging tables/chairs and our balcony view isn't blocked by extra supports needed to hold the weight of the pool/spas. The rooms on the ship do have the smallest bathroom and shower I have ever seen. Cramped, but nice. This is the first room we've ever had a fridge with, that is a nice touch.

After reading reviews about the Pride of America on cruisecritic.com I had lowered my expectations for this cruise. It seems Norwegian Cruise Lines has been working hard and they have come a long ways. I already know this will be our best cruise yet. Service is fine so far (even with an all-american crew) and the ship, commissioned in 2004, is spotless. There are numerous little things that only new ships designed as cruise ships from the bottom up would have. After our first cruise I realized the age of the cruise ship is a huge factor when deciding what to book.

It is now 5 a.m. and we are sailing towards Hilo on the Big Island. According to the "report from the bridge" channel, it is 75 degrees outside with a 20 knot wind and .3-.5 foot seas. I think I can see the lights for Upolu Point. We are making good time. We have to travel over 200 miles overnight to get from Honolulu to Hilo and it feels like we are going about 20 knots. We will be picking up a rental car from Alamo to go see the black sand beach and volcano national park. I have my GPS and plan on hitting a few geocaches along the way. The next three days will be very busy.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Vacation

Vacation has started, we both need it. After being gone for a week I had SDO (squadron duty officer) tue & thu. As SDO you are required to stay on base for 24 hours and in squadron spaces when an aircraft is airborne. All the packing is done. The dog will be staying home nights and with a neighbor during the day. I wouldn't feel safe leaving the house unguarded during the holidays. Crime is so horrible in our area they finally closed off one entrance into the housing and added gateguards near our house (which they said they couldn't afford). Even with the extra precautions I know there will still be some break-ins. So much for the security of base housing.

Monday, December 12, 2005

North Island Det

I spent the last week in San Diego, flying out of North Island, doing some work with the brand new carrier Ronald Reagan and its battle group. It was my second time to the west coast and first time to really see anything. The week went by quick with 5 night flights and plenty of Mexican food. I didn't make it to Tijuana, but I'm not sure that is a bad thing. The wife and dog did fine without me. Of course the A/C in the house died and there was a torrential downpour that caused a little flooding in the house. Problems always hold off until I leave so Rikki has to handle them all by herself.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Vacation Planning

This is what we've put together so far for planning the cruise. A compilation of reviews and research on the Internet:

Day Port Arrive Depart
Sun. Hilo, Hawaii 8:00am 7:00pm
Volcano National Park (45 min $10 parking fee), Chain of Craters road, Rainbow Falls, punalu'u blacksand beach, thurston lava tube


Mon. Kahului, Maui 8:00am overnight
Tue. Kahului, Maui - - 6:00pm
Car rental - road to Hana
http://bikeitmaui.com/contact.htm 2:30 am haleakala

Wed. Kona, Hawaii 7:00am 6:00pm
Tender, local guy offering snorkeling for $30 a couple.

Thu. Nawiliwili, Kauai 8:00am overnight
Fri. Nawiliwili, Kauai - - 2:00pm
Hanalei Bay, Wailua Falls, Waimea Canyon, Hanapepe blowholes, Wailua river and fern grotto
There are free shuttles to Hilo Hattie's, Wal-Mart, etc. in many ports. When you dock in Kauai for two days, there is a free shuttle every ten minutes to a shopping mall called Anchor Cove less than a mile away. My husband walked to it. If you're not doing an excursion or have free time, get beach towels and take the shuttle. Walk through the small mall, cross the little bridge to your left and you will find a gorgeous beach behind the Kauai Marriott.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Heightened Security

I came home late a few nights ago and was greeted by a couple security guards checking ID's at our normally unguarded base housing. I asked what got them to finally put up security? (the last we were told they could not afford guards). They said "several vehicles have come up missing" in our neighborhood. So they block off one entrance and have setup some cones and check ID's at the other. They write down your name, adress, car type and year. From the rumors it sounds like Hondas were the target of a rather large, island wide chop shop heist. Not sure how anyone can make much profit off of stealing cars on an island. But, the extra security is nice.

Our A/C unit was on the fritz the last few days. Today it finally went out with some rather impressive sparking (like a really big moth in a bug zapper) and alot of smoke. The repair guy came pretty quickly, but he has to put an order in and since it is over 300$ it has to be approved and who knows how long it will take. I guess Rikki will have to suffer in the hot 85 degrees without A/C while I'm gone.