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Saturday, November 26, 2011


Oahu: Last day on the island; homeward bound

We started the day in Honolulu with another beautiful sunrise and the skyline acting as a very nice silhouette.

Honolulu skyline at sunrise
We intended spending our last day on the island going to the beach at Kailua but when we got there, it was so cold and windy, that we decided to go to Waikiki instead because if it was cold and windy there too, we could at least go shopping.

On Friday night while we were in the Teppanyaki restaurant, we met a couple who live on Oahu and they were on their honeymoon so we asked what there was to do on the island besides the things we already did. The woman (who evidently loved to eat) told us that we had to go to Kailua and on the way there, we had to stop in to a hole in the wall restaurant called Cinnamon’s. She also said that on the way there we should stop at Pali Lookout because the view of the bay from the top of the hill is pretty amazing. Well we went to Pali Lookout and the view was indeed amazing but the wind was gale force and it was extremely cold! We were whipped around for the few minutes we spent and then were literally blown back to the car, trying not to topple over from the wind’s force.

Nu'Uanu Pali Lookout

Nu'Uanu Pali Lookout
We then drove to Kailua and found Cinnamon’s. Our GPS sure worked for us on this trip. I don’t usually trust a GPS, preferring instead to use Mapquest but that doesn’t work if you don’t have internet and cannot print directions. Karran did most of the driving except for one day when I did and I did the navigating and that got us where we needed to go – finding gas stations, restaurants, shopping, and mostly navigating our rental car returns. As one shuttle driver said, a GPS will tell you where to go but it doesn’t always tell you how high you are (as in over and underpasses). Anyway, we found Cinnamon’s and after looking at the extra huge serving sizes, we ordered two meals for 4 of us and a tea biscuit for Mom who wasn’t feeling well. We were told that the red velvet pancakes with white chocolate syrup was excellent but we all agreed that it tasted too much like boxed cake mix to be enjoyable. We also ordered four cinnamon buns and they were okay too but I’ve had better cinnamon buns in Winnipeg.

We went to the beach at Kailua and that was also cold so we headed for Waikiki. It started to drizzle when we got there so we parked and walked around the International Marketplace which sells a lot of inexpensive souvenirs. I found a couple of costume jewellery and went back to the car. We then went to Ruth’s Chris for dinner. It is one incredibly expensive restaurant but the food was good and the best part of the experience, is that they serve the food on plates that are heated to 500F so your food stays hot (scorching on the tongue at the beginning ) for pretty close to the entire meal. It was funny when the server warned us that the plates were hot and we were not to attempt to lick them. As if! We then headed off to return the rental car and go to the airport.

We are now at the airport awaiting our 11:30pm flight.  It's been a long day so far and it's going to be longer by the time we get home.

sandra

Friday, November 25, 2011

Kauai: Day of shopping and sun tanning  ship's deck


Today we decided that we would each do our own thing. The ship stayed in the harbour overnight so I got up early, had breakfast and went for a walk to one of the shopping centres near the docks. I asked if there was wifi and the woman I asked said that I had to walk back to the ship and get the shuttle to the K-Mart Mall. That was not the smartest idea on Black Friday. The mall was jam-packed with people trying to get a bargain so each cash register had about 15 people in each line. I decided that I didn’t need anything that badly that I was willing to stay in a checkout line for an inordinate amount of time.

I went back to the ship in time for lunch and then spent some time on the deck trying to collect some rays so that I could go back to Winnipeg looking like I had some sun that just might last me for part of the winter. The ship sailed at 2pm and about 5pm, they sailed to the North part of the island which is the Na’Pali coast. Apparently the best way to see it is by helicopter or boat and since I was already on the ship, that was sufficient for me. It was stunning in its wild natural beauty. The mountains looked like striations on the side. The ship did a 180 degree turn so that everyone could see the beauty of a 14 mile coastline that is well preserved. Once again, there was an amazing sunset and looking at it, you could totally see that the clouds covering part of the sunset didn’t have a silver lining but a beautiful gold and very glittery lining.

We went down to the Teppanyaki restaurant but before that, I went to the front desk to ask why the desk service manager had not called about the issues that we had on the ship since we arrived. The desk person said that the restaurant manager said he would give us half price off our restaurant meal and a complimentary bottle of wine. I asked to speak to the manager and I got the run around. I said that I would not leave until I could speak to him or her. The desk person then gave me another message from the manager saying that at this late date, there was nothing that they could do. I insisted on speaking to the manager himself and reiterated that I would not leave until I spoke to him. Finally she said that he would speak to me and she took me into his office a few feet away from her counter.

I entered the room to see not one but two managers there. I explained that I had spoken to the Guest Services Associate the night before about the issues that occurred over several days on the ship and the lack of attention to the details of a cruise that makes for a nice vacation. I did not sound angry but I was definitely firm in letting them know that I had done other cruises before with other cruise lines and they were far superior in every aspect than Norwegian Cruise Lines. He (the manager) said that this ship and therefore the experience was not the same as other cruise lines. I said that it was evident from the lack of service. He explained that the ship is registered in the US and therefore they have to follow strict US labour laws. I said that I was aware and noticed that most of the crew were from the US. He said that was correct and that they are not allowed to work their crew more than the labour laws allow. I said that common courtesy does not contravene any labour laws and from the sounds of what he was saying, Americans are rude and nonchalant about their jobs, not seeming to think that they needed to make any effort given that they would be getting a share of the mandatory $11 per day per guest that was already pre-paid. I told him that I write a blog and so far, I could not find anything nice to say either about the ship, the service or the staff in general – with a few exceptions. It should be the other way around – that good service should be the standard, not the exception. I asked him to give me one good reason why I would want to travel again with NCL and he said he could totally understand why I would be disappointed. I then asked what he was prepared to do about the situation. He said that he would pay for the dinner in the Tepanyaki restaurant. I told him that it was insulting to think that they mixed up my reservation and I would get a free meal – for which half was paid for anyway. I said that he would have to do better than that. He said to go and enjoy the dinner and by the end of the night, he would get back to me about other compensation for the other issues.

We went off to the Tepanyaki restaurant (which has a cover charge of $25 per person) and had dinner. The restaurant manager gave us complimentary bottle of wine with the complimentary dinner. At the end of the evening, we received a letter from the Guest Services Manager stating that they would refund all the gratuities for everyone in our group. So, all together, we received a credit of $420 plus the 5 dinners and an $80 bottle of wine. Sophie said that was impressive. For me complaining effectively means being calm but authoritative, stating my case clearly and concisely, and asking the other party for reasonable compensation based on the severity or complexity of the incident(s). It worked well but with all that being said, I cannot think of a reason that I would want to travel with NCL again.

In speaking to another woman who came off the ship the same time as us, she said that her travel agent warned her to lower her expectations when travelling with NCL’s Pride of America ship. They are the “only game in town” when it comes cruises to the Hawaiian islands so that’s another reason why they don’t think they have provide good service. Another reason apparently is that because of the American economy, many of the staff take this job as a job and not because they really want to be doing this kind of work. The Guest Service Manager as much as said that. I am lucky to do the kind of work that I do and every day is not perfect but that does not give me permission to do less than my best. My little lesson here is that there is nothing common about courtesy and a Good Morning or Good Afternoon goes a long way.

sandra

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Kauai: Sun-filled day with canyons, beaches and unspoiled terrain

This is really saving the best for last! We docked in Nawiliwili (pronounced Nah-wili-wili), Kauai and decided that we would only rent the car for one day rather than the two that we had originally planned. The island is not that big but it surely is beautiful in every corner! As soon as we saw the island this morning from the ship, we knew that it would be a good day but it turned out to be a great day.
Nawiliwili

Nawiliwili

Nawiliwili

Nawiliwili
I went up for breakfast this morning on the 11th floor outer deck and was lucky enough to see the sun rise right out of the ocean. It wasn’t quite as stunning as the one on the volcano a few days ago but it was beautiful, nevertheless. Everyone else came up soon after and joined me. We left the ship around 830am to get our rental car from Alamo. We’ve rented from them pretty well every day and the service is quick and efficient and the cost for a minivan per day worked out to be about $65. If we had done the same activities from the ship, we would easily have paid in excess of $100 per person, per day. So if anyone is planning to do this trip, call me and I can give you all the tips you need! Agnes, I am not trying to take your travel agent job away from you, but I can do almost as well and with some practice, I bet that I can be as good as you!
Okay so now for our activities, we went from the Lihue airport, west to Waimea Canyon. According to the ship’s person, the canyon is the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. If you have never seen the Grand Canyon (I saw it last year when I was in Phoenix), then this would be considered beautiful. But I have to say that it doesn’t quite compare to the magnitude of the Grand Canyon. The view was pretty incredible anyway and the sun cast some amazing shadows in the peaks and valleys of the mountain.
Waimea Canyon

Waimea Canyon

Waimea Conyon
We then drove down a different road to get back to Waimea. Now, how can I describe Waimea? It is the most perfect seaside little town that I have seen in a long time. I took a picture of a house that I’d buy if I had $1,000,000+. It was a blue and white two-story house that faces the beautiful sandy beach, with the most amazing waves. I grew up by the ocean so I love the smell of the salt in the air and this house reminds me of Belair. We passed another house with the hugest sai-jan tree in the front yard and a mango tree close by. All we needed was some fresh fish to make a good fish curry. I could totally get used to living here, although yesterday Karran and I were saying that we couldn’t live on an island because it would be too restrictive. I could make an exception for this island.

May vacation home in Waimea
We drove for a while and ended up in Poipu which was on our list of places to see today. Now, that’s a lovely little town. We found ourselves at the beach at a picnic table under a shady coconut tree and that’s where we had lunch of bread, cheese, fruit and water. We all thought we’d be eating more, but I am quite comfortable with a big breakfast, a light lunch and a not so big dinner. When everyone was finished eating, I took off my shoes and walked along the shoreline for a few minutes enjoying the warm ocean water right at the edge where it hits the shore. If you go out too far, the water is cold, but if you walk right along the edge, the water is warm on your feet. I stood there with the warm water lapping at my feet and staring at the big waves, which can be very hypnotic for me. I don’t know if you ever had that feeling but it’s as if the water is calling out to me and I can’t help but walk towards it as if hypnotized. I could easily understand how people can drown with the water calling out like that.  

Poipu Beach

We left Poipu and headed for the Na’Pali coast which is on the North side of the island but in the opposite direction (we went west to Waimea and then East and North to the Na’Pali coast). The 28 mile drive took almost an hour and a half but it was worth it. The drive through all the little beach towns was quite scenic. Then we got out to Na’Pali Beach Park and the waves were coming in full force. We walked out on part of the beach and then I heard a woman behind me saying “There’s a shark” but before I could see where she was pointing, I missed it. Karran, however, saw it. Later in the dining room, one of the staff said that when she was surfing, she saw a shark (probably in the same vicinity).


Na'Pali coast

Na'Pali sunset


Na"Pali sunset
 Before we left Na’Pali, we saw a man in an old jalopy truck selling coconuts so we bought some and had a good drink of coconut water (not the white milk that some people mistake for coconut water). The water was good but the jelly was a bit too hard. Anyway, it was still good. Then it was the drive back to Lihue which took about an hour. The search for a gas station to gas up the car prior to returning it to Alamo, took almost half as much time as it took to go to the Na’Pali coastline. Today is Thanksgiving so most businesses are closed, including gas stations.

We got back to the ship around 5:45pm and got ready for dinner at the specialty Teppanyaki restaurant (where there is an additional charge for eating there). We all got very dressed up because it was really a celebration of Karran’s birthday which was Sunday (and we postponed till today). We arrived at the restaurant for our 7:30 reservation only to be told that someone made a mistake and it was booked for tomorrow night. Needless to say, we were not impressed. We ended up in the Aloha cafe on the 11th floor, annoyed that this was yet another screw-up by the staff. I finally felt that it was time for me to go and talk to the manager.

When I got to the desk, I spoke to Chelsey - a Guest Service Associate - who told me that the manager had already left for the night. I told her about the number of incidents since we arrived on the ship that was contributing to my frustration and of course she asked what she could do to make it better. I told her that I was not satisfied about hearing that once again from another staff member, only to have something else happen. I explained that the ship has my credit card information and can charge me if I do not show up for a reservation but should the reverse happen, and one of their staff member screws up, I have no recourse but to take whatever the inconvenience is. That is not a good situation. She said that they’ll try to fix it and someone will be contacting me tomorrow. We’ll see what happens.

I have to say that I am disappointed with Norwegian Cruise Lines. The accommodation is not what I expected. The food is okay but the service is less than satisfactory. We were speculating that part of the reason is that the ship is registered as American and most of the staff are Americans so their attitude is “this is just a job until I can get something better” rather than some of the other cruise ships that are non-US registered and there are a lot of people from developing countries who depend on this kind of work to make a living, and therefore want to accommodate the needs of the guests. The other part may be that the gratuities are pre-paid so the staff doesn’t feel like they have to work hard to earn it. Imagine going to a restaurant and paying the gratuity before you’ve even been served a meal. Why would the server want to accommodate your needs if she/he is getting a tip anyway? That’s what it feels like with the staff.

Okay, did you think I let all that ruin a good day? No. No. The island was beautiful. The beaches were clean. The waves were huge and awesome and tomorrow is another day to do as we please. I think I’ll go to the beach but we were warned not to go alone but to walk in pairs or groups because the locals like to party, and if they see you alone, they’ll invite you to party with them, I can’t see how that’s a bad deal. I’m thinking that it sounds pretty good to me. It’s now 10pm and I’ve had a full day so good night.

sandra

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Big Island: Tendered in Kona: light shopping day

We arrived in Kona today at 7am but I didn’t get out of my bed until 7:35 because I felt like having a sleep-in morning. The ship dropped anchor off the shore of Kona and passengers had to be tendered to the shore in life boats that seat about 90 people. Mom decided that she didn’t want to go ashore because she doesn’t like the tenders so Karran and I went at about 9am and Bena and Sophie went after I got back at 12:15pm. Karran went off on his own and I did my own thing which was to check my email at an internet café which is advertised as free wifi but you have to buy a cup of coffee for $5.00. Still, it’s cheaper than the ship where pay-as-you-go internet is 75 cents per minute.
NCL's Pride of America

Pride of America

View of Kona
I made all my calls by Skype (if you don’t have Skype, you have to get it. I’ve been using it for at least 5 years with more success recently because of better broadband service). Then I walked around town and did some sightseeing. We had a car reserved for today but yesterday we decided to cancel it because we wouldn’t need it. It was fortuitous on our part to pre-book our car rentals and cancel if we needed to than try to get a car on the day we need it. With tomorrow being American Thanksgiving, there are a lot of people looking to rent cars and none are available. Well someone got lucky today with our cancellation.

Okay, where was I? Yes, I did some sightseeing, mostly walking around the town. This looks like a total cruise ship town with the cheap, touristy stores and the over-priced jewellery stores selling the same over-priced pearls as all the other ports. There was, however, a couple of small beaches right where the lifeboats are docked so within 100 feet, you could be at the beach. The water is so crystal clear and clean. I found a farmer’s market that sold all kinds of fresh tropical fruits and this was one time that I wished I was really hungry but I had a good breakfast on the ship, so I had to pass up the fruits. I imagine that most of the fruits that were being sold are imported because there is not much agriculture any more on the islands because of skyrocketing labour costs. When we were doing the bike tour, we saw the last of the pineapple fields in all of Hawaii. The company sold off most of the fields when the economy started to go downhill in 2008 and all that’s left is about 38,000 acres of an almost 138,000 estate.

I forgot to mention that along the bike tour, we also stopped at the Baldwin farm – if you can call it that. The Baldwins were missionaries who arrived in Hawaii about 100 years ago and pretty well bought up all the land on Maui. They owned the Halaekala national park which they “gifted” to the state of Hawaii in exchange for all the military contracts for supplying beef to the navy in Hawaii. That’s in perpetuity. Some gift!! They still pretty well own more than half the island, most of the crops and about 6,000 heads of cattle. Mark, our guide, said that he was embarrassed to think that his people did that to the Hawaiian people. I was thinking that being that kind of missionary can be a lucrative endeavour, but then I’d have to live with my conscience and would my progeny. Not the kind of legacy that I would want to leave.
Back to my trip into town. I walked around the marketplace and saw some touristy souvenirs – t-shirts and the like – but I didn’t buy any. Couldn’t think of anyone I’d want to give a cheap t-shirt to. Then I joined to tender and got back on the ship at 12:15pm. Checked in on Mom who was sleeping in her cabin (we have adjoining cabins with interlocking doors which we have opened) and then went off to have lunch on the 11th floor deck café. Karran arrived a bit later and we had a chat. That’s the good thing about being together. We have various combinations of us spending time with each other and we all have dinner together every night.
Karran went back to his cabin and I went to Deck 12 and read and sunbathed for a while before feeling bored so I went back to my cabin to have shower and write part of today’s blog entry. We’ll be sailing at 6pm and we’ll likely go for dinner just after that. Tomorrow we have reservations in the Teppanyaki restaurant and that’s for Karran’s birthday since we didn’t have time to do that on his actual birthday (we had to go to bed early for the 2:30am sunrise and bike tour).
I brought some of my school work to do but except for about 5-6 hours on the plane, I have not so much as looked at it but I don’t feel bad. I got lots done in those 5-6 hours. And of course when I go back to work, I have 4 x 12-14 hour days in a row, so I am going to enjoy this time while I can. School work can wait.
On my way back on the tender to the ship, I was sitting on the seat nearest to the gate of the tender so I had a god view of the ocean. The sun was sparkling on the water so that the gentle waves had the most incredible iridescent cobalt blue colour. I tried to capture it with my camera, but all I got was blue-coloured water without the iridescent cobalt blue. I was disappointed but then I consoled myself by thinking that I’d just have to come back again to these places.

It’s about 5:23pm and I am sitting on my balcony facing west with a perfect seat to watch the sun set. The sky is clear and I have my camera (which has been travelling with me everywhere because everything I see seems to be a picture-perfect postcard picture.



So it’s now later in the evening and we’ve just come back to our cabins from having dinner. The waters have gotten rough and it’s supposed to get rougher as the night goes on. Apparently there is a late season hurricane off the Baja Coast of Mexico and it is heading this way. We’ll see what the night is like as it goes on. I just looked out the balcony window and the water is churning up out there. I walked down the stairs to the cabin and if I didn’t know me, I’d think that I was drunk – flopping from side to side as I try to maintain my balance.

I’m going to say Good Night – for now. Good night.
sandra

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Big Island: Beauty in Hilo

This morning I woke up around 6:30am but decided to stay in bed till 7am. When I opened the drapes, the very first thing that greeted me was the most glorious and very brilliant rainbow! The colours were so vivid that the part of the rainbow that started at the water’s edge was reflected in the water in the ocean so that it looked like there was a rainbow going up to the sky and one going into the ocean.


What a sight to wake up to. I ran for my camera and exclaimed so loudly that Bena and Sophie both ran out with their cameras. I got a couple of really good pictures. I have seen more rainbows in a few days than I think I’ve seen for several years in Winnipeg.

We had breakfast on deck with mom. Karran left the ship early to get in a game of golf (18 holes) but he could only complete 9 because he was behind some Japanese tourists who were taking their time on the course because they were playing for money. The rest of us decided that we would head for the beach but when I picked up the rental car, the agent said that Hilo is not a beach place. We wanted to see the volcano but we were told that the best way to see it is by helicopter at a rate of something like $249 per person. We decided that we were not that eager to see it after all. Sophie and I stayed at Starbucks and Mom and Bena went to Macy’s to do some window shopping until Karran was ready to be picked up.

I did that and we went off to the Mauna Loa macadamia farm to buy some more nuts. We were quite disappointed to see that although the orchards and processing plant are located there, it was less expensive to buy the nuts at Walmart than it was to buy it there. So we headed off to Rainbow Falls. When we arrived, we had a light lunch and walked up almost 40 stairs to see if we could actually see rainbow since the falls was named after a rainbow. Indeed we found one over the falls but not as bright as the one we saw first thing this morning. Beautiful nevertheless.

Rainbow Falls

Rainbow Falls!

Rainbow |Falls!
After the falls, we headed over to the botanical gardens on the east side of the town. I cannot describe how many species of unique flowers and other foliage there were in that garden. Some of those flowers were so unusual, that I have never even seen pictures of them. The colours ranged from silvery blue to reds, oranges, pinks, yellows and even a blue flower. There was a spectacular pink flower that looked a bit like it had scales with vivid bluish-purple secondary flowers growing from the sides. I wish we had discovered it earlier in the day because we only had about an hour to cover a large area, resulting in us not getting to see some of it. Maybe next time.
Pink quill

Heliconia

Cat's whiskers

Heliconia

Red Wing Heliconia

Anthurium

Bird's nest anthurium

Bromeliad

Bromeliad

Dwarf pineapple


Orchid

Anthurium

Anthurium

Anthurium

Anthurium

Anthurium

Mini anthurium
Ice Blue calathea

Yellow plume flower


Amazon lily



Tennis Ball ginger



Agnes, if you are reading this, you can send me back here so that I can blog about Hilo or anywhere on the Big Island as a travel destination. We got back to the ship about 4pm and had a bit of a relax and chat before heading off to dinner. We decided to skip the formal dining room tonight for the more informal but might I say, equally as good if not better café on the 11th floor. There was such variety of stuff to choose from but as with the Guyanese in all of us, I think we all had some bits of curry. I had the veggie curry, dhall and the fish curry with pita bread and some rice and a caprese salad with marinated atrichokes. Then I had a cheesecake crepe for desert with a nice cup of Darjeeling tea. Karran had almost the same thing except for the fish curry. He doesn’t eat meat or fish on Tuesdays. Bena and Sophie had roast beef but with some curry on the side. Mom had chicken and something else and said she was so full, she couldn’t eat another bite. When I offered her dessert, she had a piece of pecan pie and several pieces of fruit (for someone who couldn’t eat another bite). Bena and Mom went to their cabins and we stayed and chatted for a while. That’s the part of the vacation that I think we are all liking – that we are spending time with each other in various combinations and sometimes all together. By the time the three of us got back to the room, Mom and Bena were sound asleep – and it was not yet 9pm! Bena said that this is the best sleep she has had in some time and I can believe that. Last night she was talking to me and I heard her breathing change the next minute so I looked around to see if she was doing some meditational deep breathing but she was fast asleep and that took about 90 seconds from the last word she said to me. I have to say that I have been sleeping quite well too.

Tomorrow we arrive in Kona at 7am. The ship will be anchored off shore and we’ll have to take a tender to go to shore so we all decided that we would skip the shore trip. By tonight we had all decided that maybe we’ll go on shore and take one of the free shuttles provided by several shopping centres and either do some shopping or look around town. It’s now 9:50pm and I am going to call it a night. That means good night to you.

sandra