Honeymoon in Hawai'i - Day 4: Maui

Monday, January 23, 2012

You know how they say a picture is worth a thousand words? Well, if that's the case, I'm about to give you a novel-length account of our first day in Maui. Don't worry; for the sake of time, I'm going to let the pictures speak for me as much as possible.

Here's a breakdown of our day, just so you know what's coming: 1) 'Iao Valley State Monument, 2) scenic drive along Hwy. 30/340, 3) late lunch in Lahaina, and 4) Feast at Lele luau in Lahaina. Doesn't sound like a lot, but it was a very full day, and I've got the pictures to prove it! (Plus a surprise for those of you who make it all the way to the end.) Shall we begin?

Maui map for context (courtesy of Aaccessmaps.com)
It was another early morning for us because I wanted to be off the ship at eight a.m., but by the time we packed up anything we might possibly need for a day driving around/lying on the beach, ate breakfast at Aloha Cafe, and disembarked, it was 8:15. We'd missed the first Thrifty shuttle, but another one arrived about ten minutes later, and by 8:40 we had our black Mustang and were on our way. (Blue Chip really is the way to go.)

This day was one of our more loosely structured ones. Originally I had wanted to do the Road to Hana (primarily to see the red sand beach and hike to Waimoku Falls), but we also really wanted to do a luau in Maui, and I knew that either a) we couldn't do the Road to Hana and make it back in time for the luau, or b) if we tried Hana I would be stressing all day and rushing through everything in order to make it to Lahaina in time. Either way, we probably wouldn't have enjoyed it much, so the Road to Hana was out.

T had complained that we were going-going-going without any time to relax, so I figured we might hit 'Iao Valley and then spend the day at the beach. I had a list of some of the best ones and they were all pretty close to one another, so I thought we might just drive past them, see which one called to us, and plant ourselves in the sand for the rest of the day. That ended up not being what we did, though, because once my DH got that Mustang, he didn't want to get out of it! So we ended up doing another scenic drive instead.

First, we drove to 'Iao Valley, though. This is a very short drive from the Kahului airport and pier--maybe 10 or 15 minutes at most. It's a lovely drive, too, as you head toward the gorgeous green peaks towering over Kahului. We were already pretty sold on Maui within our first five minutes there.

To get to 'Iao Valley, you drive into the mountains through some beautiful, lush rain forest. Parking at the monument is $5, and although I read some reviewers who said they just drove past the Needle, snapped their pics, and kept going so they wouldn't have to pay, that wouldn't have been possible for us since you have to drive into the parking lot to see the Needle, and they were collecting the parking fee before you ever entered the lot. 

The whole point of going to 'Iao Valley is to see the 'Iao Needle, a 1200-foot pinnacle of rock.

There are several lookouts for the Needle at different heights, but they basically all give the same view. Down below, there are lots of little gardens, streams, and waterfalls, but most of them are what you might call "cultivated," not natural, so that wasn't really where we wanted to spend our time. They did look pretty, though.

Unfortunately, the Needle was mostly shaded while we were there, which doesn't make for the most interesting pictures. Since winter is Hawaii's rainy season, clouds tend to gather on the eastern side of the mountains where they can't escape, so it can be warm and sunny in Lahaina but chilly and rainy in the eastern mountains (same thing we discovered on all the islands).

After ten or fifteen minutes we'd had our fill of pictures, and this is when T.J. announced he'd rather not go to the beach. Thanks to all my prior research, though, I quickly concocted a new plan--drive up Hwy. 30/340 along the northeastern coast. We had Maui Revealed downloaded on the iPad and thankfully had the iPad with us, which made planning on the fly really simple. The e-book version of Maui Revealed has an interactive map, so you can see the roads, mile-markers, etc., and click on locations and see what's near there and what mile-marker things are near.

Unlike Road to Hana, 340 is still kind of an "undiscovered" drive. It too is a narrow, harrowing road full of blind curves, high cliffs, and ocean vistas, much of which (strangely) reminded me of coastal Ireland.

Long sections of it are one lane without a guard rail, and the speed limit is 5 or 10 mph for extended periods of time. Thankfully, because it's "undiscovered" (or because rental car agreements don't cover you there) you'll encounter very little traffic; in fact, all the tourists we met (and we're talking maybe ten people) were also using Maui Revealed and headed to see the same sights. Since many people start the drive from the western (Lahaina) side of the island, I think it probably would get busier later in the day, but since the roughest part of the road is close to Kahului, if you start early you'll mostly have that part of the road to yourself.

Our first intended stop was at Julia's Banana Bread Treehouse in Kahakuloa Village, where supposedly you can buy the best banana bread known to humankind seven days a week (as long as you get there before it's sold out--sometimes by 11 a.m.!). Unfortunately, of all days for us to be making the trek into this remote part of the island, it was New Year's Day--and Julia's was closed. :-(  :-(  :-( We were super disappointed because everyone we met (locals included) raved about the bread, but thankfully Julia has a website and when we got home we ordered five loaves! It hasn't come in yet but we are sure hoping it's as good as everyone says. (Or even half as good as everyone says.)

Overlook above Kahakuloa Village. That little green dot is where the Julia's Banana Bread magic happens--or at least it's where she sells her product.
A couple we met at the lookout above the village told us Kahakuloa is "old Hawaii," how the islands looked fifteen or twenty years ago before they became so commercialized. So even without getting to sample Julia's bread, the trip was worth it just for the experience alone. As we drove through the village, we passed another sign for "Lorraine's" banana bread stating that she was open and just to drive around to the back of her house to get it. We hadn't heard anything about Lorraine, so we didn't stop, but I sure wish we had because the next day one of our guides said that Lorraine's bread was also incredible (especially something made with chocolate chips?) and that she was a wonderful woman to talk with. You can read another visitor's comparison of Julia's and Lorraine's bread here.

After leaving Kahakuloa, we looked for the turn off for the Olivine Pools that Maui Revealed raves about. At first, since we were coming from the opposite direction, we passed the little dirt parking lot near the pools, but once we'd gone a little bit further and saw nothing even close to resembling a side road, we turned around and went back to the little dirt lot.

The Maui Revealed map makes it look like there is a little road going down from 30 to the pools, but trust me--there's not. Instead, after parking in the little lot you will see this sign...

This sign says it all.
...and, if it's always like it was two weeks ago, a folding chair sitting in the middle of what appears to be a trail head. This "trail" meanders through weeds for a little while and then dumps you on some rocks overlooking the ocean. 

From here you must proceed down over the rocks, keeping left. It's not a trip for the faint of heart or for those in open-toed sandals or flip-flops. The rocks can be slippery and steep in places, none of which I was prepared for before. I thought the Olivine Pools would be fairly easy to get to (since all the pictures of them show people frolicking in them and were apparently shot from sea level), but I was super thankful I had my Keens because I wouldn't have been able to make it down without them. In fact, none of the people we met (about three families) coming and going down the trail seemed prepared, and I think we made it down the furthest, even though we didn't go all the way down to the pools.

The view of the pools from near the top.
As close to the pools as I got--and there was still quite a climb past this.

We didn't stay long (since we didn't actually climb all the way down), but on the climb back up, T decided to go explore what was over the top of the rocks to the right. 

The climb back up.
I wasn't about to go after him, but then he called down that I had to come up there, so despite my reservations about climbing even more rocks than I already had to, I climbed up after him. I was glad I did, though, because I liked the view even better than the Olivine Pools.

The water was a lot rougher on this side, so the waves were shattering against the rocks, spraying plumes of foam high into the air. The water was crystal clear, too, so you could see straight to the bottom.

After we finally found our way back to the car, we continued on to the next stop on the map--the Nakalele Blowhole. This was another quick stop (we didn't walk all the way down), but we sat up on the hill for ten minutes or so and watched the geyser of water that shot from the blowhole every few minutes. 

Nakalele Blowhole
We also had our first whale sighting!

Whale spit! (exhaling)
Whale bodies! (diving)
This was just the first of many, many humpback whale sightings we would have in the coming days, but we never got tired of seeing them, no matter how close or far away they were.

We continued our drive to our next stop, the lookout at beautiful Honolua Bay.

Swimmers and snorkelers enjoying the calm reef waters of Honolua Bay
View of Molokai from Honolua Bay Lookout
We were getting pretty hungry by that point (since we'd been denied the banana bread and all), so I checked Maui Revealed and my Hawai'i guidebook for restaurants in Lahaina on the beach, and we headed to Aloha Mixed Plate. We weren't planning on drinking, so we got to sit out on the patio instead of on the deck (the patio apparently is considered "on the beach" and therefore it is illegal to serve drinks there). The food wasn't anything special, but they did make a mean mango lemonade that I could have happily drunk for the rest of the trip.

After lunch, we headed back to the ship so that we could shower and change for the luau that night. The drive between Lahaina and Kahului is really nice, about 45 minutes mostly along the coast, with mountains rising to the left and ocean to the right. We really enjoyed the drive with the top down (although it was cool enough that when we had the top down I had the heat on full blast!).

Since it was still early, we were able to park in the small lot right beside the ship, though that wasn't the case when we came back that night. (Even the auxiliary lot was full that night, and T had to go park at the dock headquarters!) We got cleaned up and dressed for the luau, and then headed back to Lahaina. 

We had to check in for the luau at Feast at Lele by 5:30, so we planned on arriving in Lahaina by five so we'd have time to go to Walgreens first. I'd been having sinus issues ever since arriving in Hawai'i (allergies, maybe?--even though I've never had them before...), so I just wanted to pick up a few things so I wasn't having to wipe my nose every three seconds like I'd been doing all day. The GPS showed several Walgreens locations in Lahaina, so we picked the closest one, which took us to a small strip mall where there were several doctors' offices--but no pharmacy. We thought maybe it had closed, so we picked the next location, and the GPS directed us to a large shopping center. After driving around for a while and not seeing it in any of the buildings, we asked a valet where it was...and he directed us to an entirely different area several blocks away! His directions were perfect (people in Hawai'i give my kind of directions--based on landmarks, not street names) and we found the Walgreens with no trouble, but that Walgreens wasn't even mentioned in the GPS! Have no idea where it got the idea there was a Walgreens in either of the other two places. 

We were pushing it for time now, but we got what I needed and headed back to Front Street, where the Feast at Lele (and every other dinner show) is held. The Feast takes place on the beach behind Pacific'O, and the menu was created by the executive chef of Pacific'O and I'O, which are directly across from each other with the entrance to Feast at Lele between them.

Seating began a little after 5:30, and we joined the line walking down to the eating area on the beach. We were greeted with a koa nut lei and a mai tai and were shown to our table--the best table in the whole place!

I'm still not sure how we were so fortunate, but we were given the middle table on the front row--seriously, best seats in the house! The reason we chose Feast at Lele over Old Lahaina Luau, which I had originally booked, was that we were looking for a more intimate experience from the traditional luau. We were on our honeymoon, so eating buffet food while sitting on the ground or at a picnic table didn't seem as appealing as a private table with servers. Feast at Lele didn't disappoint in that respect because we barely saw anyone other than the dancers and servers during the entire meal, since all the other diners (other than the couples sitting on either side of us) were all sitting behind us.

There were photographers stationed in the corner and down on the beach to take your pics in front of the sunset, so we went to have our pictures taken, which I paid an exorbitant amount for later. I guess it was worth it, though, because the sunset was incredible. It looks fake in the pictures!

We went back to our table and chowed down on the sweet potato and taro chips our server had brought us, and then shortly thereafter the first (of five!) courses was served.

Yummy starters. Can you believe our view?!
First Course: Hawaiian roasted kalua pig, heart of palm salad, fresh island fish with mango sauce, and poi
Although not a "traditional" luau, what I appreciate about the Feast is that it allows you to sample other cultures without trying to convince you that anything about it is authentic. The Feast is four main courses, each one of them representing a specific Polynesian region, and each course is accompanied by a few dances that represent that region. So even though you are seeing fire dancing and other styles that are not authentically Hawaiian, you also are learning where the fire dance came from and what the history of it is.

As you can probably tell from the picture above, the first course/dance focuses on Hawai'i, and after the meal was served, the Hawaiian portion of the Feast began.

The Feast begins with the traditional blowing of the conch.

Traditional Hawaiian hula dancing is far slower and more rhythmical than what we typically think of. Although there is a little of that hip shaking we've come to know and love, most of the Hawaiian dances are far more graceful, with each movement a deliberate gesture.

The second course/dance was based on New Zealand food and culture.

Second course: sea bean duck salad with poha berry dressing; Maori fishcakes with mussels, scallops, and salmon; and harore kumara--roasted mushrooms, sweet potato, and garlic 
The men performed a traditional war dance, complete with facial tattoos that would reveal one's family group.

Then the women performed a dance with poi balls which are used to imitate the rhythms of nature.

I don't have pictures of the food from the next two courses, but the third course was from Tahiti and included Fafa-steamed chicken and taro leaf in coconut milk and scallops on the shell, and the fourth course was from Samoa and included shrimp and avocado with lilikoi and supasui-grilled steak. All the food was good, but I think the first course was the best and then they gradually got a little worse. Kind of wish they had done them in reverse, but I think they structure the meal based on the dancing (moving from the slowest to the most exciting--the fire dance!) rather than on which courses are the tastiest. 

The Tahitian dances are more what we think of  as "hula" dancing--swinging hips, coconut shells, grass skirts, all that.

The Samoan course was followed by the Samoan dances, which involve a lot of noise making--slapping thighs, clapping, and tapping sticks together.

Then dessert was served...

Fifth course (dessert): caramel macadamia nut tart topped with fruited coconut pudding,  Hawaiian chocolate truffles, fresh fruit.
...and it was time for the most exciting part of the evening--the fire dance! 

The fire dance would be exciting anyway, but this particular night something...unusual happened. Half-way through the performance, the dancer lost control of one of his flaming torches...and it went flying under our table! T.J. kicked it back at him, so no harm was done, but it was a pretty crazy few seconds.

After the fire dance, the rest of the dancers came out for their farewell.

"Praise the Lord, it's over!"
Overall, T and I had a great time at the luau. I have no idea who gave us that table, but it truly made our night being so close to the entertainment, and the view of the sunset was absolutely magnificent.

After the luau, we headed straight back to the ship (it was already after 9:00, I think) because we had a very early morning ahead of us--sunrise on Haleakula! So stay turned for that in the next blog! Until then, here is the little surprise I promised...

The fire dance! Enjoy!

(That would be me saying, "Oh my God. Is my purse on fire?")


Honeymoon in Hawai'i - Day 3: Oahu & Cruise Embarkation

Monday, January 16, 2012

It's been snowing here in PA all weekend (although the sun did decide to come out for a few minutes today and blind us all), so T and I have been holed up in the house most of the weekend, wishing we were back in Hawai'i and trying our best to recreate Hawaiian life here in PA. For us, that means eating lots of the yummy Hawaiian snacks we brought back with us:

Sadly, we already finished the Kauai chocolates last week, but you can have them delivered to the mainland in winter, so we just might have to order some more. We've been sampling a cookie a day from our Honolulu Cookie Company jar, and last night we broke into the pineapple snow macadamias from Tropical Farms, which I was a bit suspicious of. I was imagining something sprinkled with coconut shavings (and while I love the flavor of coconut, I hate the texture of shavings), but imagine my delight when I opened the box and found these:

And they are delicious, very smooth and creamy.

But the local delicacy that we have become most enamored with is the mango macadamia pancake/waffle mix we got at Dole Plantation.

***Bag clip not included.***
T.J.'s favorite thing that we got as a shower/wedding present was this double-sided Belgian waffle maker:
Waring Pro WMK600 Double Belgian Waffle Maker
It's like the ones at those hotel DIY waffle stations--fresh waffles in seconds! So T has been experimenting with it for the last couple of months, and this weekend he decided to use the mango macadamia waffle mix--and friends, these waffles are a delight. Perhaps (dare I say it?) the best waffles I have ever had the pleasure of eating.

We weren't sure what to put on them because maple syrup sounded a bit too sweet. The kind ladies at Dole Plantation suggested plain syrup instead of maple, but we aren't too sure what "plain" syrup is, so I Googled the waffles to see what I could find. Turns out several Hawaiian restaurants sell them, and the reviewers said they were served with sweet cream. We weren't sure what sweet cream was either, but trusty Google found us this recipe, which basically consists of cream cheese, sour cream, and brown sugar. So T.J. whipped up a bowl of sweet cream, cooked up some bacon, and made a couple of waffles, and we had one of the best breakfasts we've had in ages. (The cream went perfectly with the mango macadamia.)

Since we had leftover sweet cream in the fridge and weren't sure what to do with it, T.J. decided to make the waffles again this morning while I searched the Dole Plantation website to order us some more. BUT THE DOLE PLANTATION DOES NOT SELL IT ONLINE!

This, my friends, is a tragedy the likes of which I have not experienced in some time. No waffle mix on the Dole site? But they carry every other flavor of candy/chocolate/barbecue sauce available in the store! Why not the waffle mix???

So my plea to anyone who is going Oahu, and specifically to the Dole Plantation, at any point in the future, is that you please pick up a bag or ten of this waffle mix and send it to me. I will happily pay for it and all your shipping costs. And while you're at it, a bag of the pineapple coconut mix would be lovely as well. We are really regretting not getting it when we had the chance.

Okay, enough with the self-pity. On with the review!

This one's going to be a short one (or short for me) because this was one of our least active days of the cruise. However, it started early, even though it was around ten before we'd gone to bed the night before. We woke before six again, and my first thought was "Let's go see the sunrise at Diamond Head!"

For once I didn't have a definite plan for the day. I'd thought about getting up early and going snorkeling at Hanauma Bay before the crowds muddied the waters, but I'd temporarily had enough of snorkeling after yesterday's disastrous shark swim. I definitely wanted to hike Diamond Head at some point during the day, but I wasn't going to force myself and T to get up well before daybreak two days in a row (especially knowing we were doing sunrise at Haleakula in a couple of days). But since our internal clocks had a different plan, and we were up before daybreak anyway, why not head up to the best place in Honolulu to see the sunrise?

T was game, so we threw on our Keens (never go hiking without them!), grabbed the camera and tripod, and headed for the parking garage. On the way, I realized I hadn't done a whole lot of research on the Diamond Head hike, so I did a quick search on my phone and found this very detailed review. Although it didn't show up on my cell, the review includes an amazing map of the hike:

Diamond Head Hiking Map

The entrance to Diamond Head is just a few minutes from the Marriott, and we pulled off at Lookout B (see map above), which is just before you enter the tunnel and the crater. It was dawn at this point, and the colors were beautiful.

We quickly set up the travel tripod we bought specifically for this trip, and T.J. happily snapped away as the colors changed. However, we had wanted to see sunrise from Diamond Head, and since Lava Surfer's review had said the first good lookout was about nine minutes up the trail, we were hoping if we ran for it we might make it there in time. So we quickly packed up, drove through the tunnel, paid our $5 entry fee, and parked, only to see this as we started the trail:

Yup, definitely missed the sunrise.
So, yeah, remember how I said the sun rises and sets really fast in Hawaii? We were a little bummed we hadn't just stayed at the lookout and watched the sunrise, but we pressed on anyway. We never found the lookout Lava Surfer claimed was just nine minutes in, but it was hard to stop at any point in the trail because an avalanche of Japanese tourists was flowing down the side of the crater! Seriously, I think every Japanese tour group on Oahu chose that morning to see sunrise at Diamond Head, so the whole way up we were hugging the rocks letting people go by. At some point, T did manage to take this pic, though:

Close to the top you take some stairs (74, according to Lava Surfer), and then you go through an uphill tunnel during which your heavy panting will be magnified and everyone coming downhill toward you will just smile knowingly, completely unwinded (if that's a word). Then, you will emerge from the tunnel and see this:

Hey, people! Why are you coming down the stairs? Read the map! This is one way only!
And you will think, "You have got to be kidding me?! 99 more of these things?!," but you will climb them anyway, and then you will be inside a weird bunker-like building and you will ascend several more flights of spiral stairs, and then, only then, will you see this:

Ummm, didn't I just see this?
But you will ALSO see this...

I think I can see my hotel from here!

AND this...

So that's what the inside of a volcanic crater looks like...
And it will all be worth it.

When you come out of the bunker you aren't at the very very top of the viewing platform yet; you have to go up another flight of stairs for that one. (Haha! And you thought you were done!) Once I saw how tiny the viewing platform at the top was, I was actually glad we hadn't made it for sunrise--we would have been pretty disappointed if we'd just been squeezed into the middle of a huge group up there and not been able to see anything. At Lookout B we'd had the place almost entirely to ourselves and the view was pretty much the same, only much much lower, so if the sunrise itself is really what you're after (and you want to enjoy it without being smashed against 400 total strangers), I would say just go and see the sunrise from Lookout B or from one of the smaller lookouts along the trail, then hike to the top afterward. It's still cool enough right after sunrise that you won't have to guzzle water all the way up, although you will get sweaty.

On the way down (which is all downhill), we took the other, windier (there I go making up words again) way down to the base of the 99 steps,  and we were actually thankful we took the stairs up (you know, the way we were supposed to)--they get the climb over with more quickly and are probably less difficult in the long run.  We basically skipped down the trail, laughing at all the poor souls gasping for breath on their way up and all those--hey, who are all those people running up the stairs?... What? They are training for a marathon, you say? Show-offs!

Within minutes we were back in the parking lot on the crater floor, and we headed back to the Marriott to shower and pack up. We went ahead and checked out and loaded up the car before we walked to Duke's for breakfast. By then it was close to ten and Duke's breakfast buffet only lasts until 10:30, but we made it in time and were immediately seated right by the railing at the table that was furthest from the buffet line. (Seriously, if we had been any further away, we would have been dining at the Moana Surfrider.) The food was mostly good (although not as good as the previous night), but the most disappointing thing was the pina colada bread pudding--the very thing that had enticed me to return! I had covered half my plate with it, but I ended up only eating a couple of bites (which felt super wasteful). Perhaps the bread pudding they serve at dinner is different, but this one was just sort of...bland and dry. My favorite things on the buffet ended up being the sausages and breakfast potatoes, although I didn't try the pancakes and waffles or the omelet, so those may have been superior.

After breakfast we walked back to the Marriott to get our car, stopping first at the Honolulu Cookie Company store on the corner of our hotel. We had actually stopped by there the night before (how did that not make it into my last review???), and we'd bought ourselves a giant cookie jar of them and some for my brother as well (sorry for the spoiler, little bro!), but T wanted to buy individual boxes for his staff, so we stopped back by and bought eight more boxes. The cookies really are quite yummy, and we've been sampling the flavors slowly. Me being me, so far my favorite flavors are the fruity ones, especially the Mango Macadamia and Mango Lillikoi.

After we were all cookied out, we picked up the car and headed for pier 2, where Pride of America was docked. The plan was to drop off our bags and go ahead and check in while there wasn't a line, just as I've read some other passengers have done. Unfortunately, we got to the pier and found out there was no parking (!), and when we pulled into the drop off line, we were yelled at by taxi drivers who said the line was for taxis only. Thankfully, T managed to flag down a porter to take our bags off our hands, but we didn't get to check in, so then we had to come up with a new plan for the day.

I'd hoped to check in and then go to Kualoa Ranch to do the movie tour, but since I thought the tour was two hours long (turns out it's only an hour), I mistakenly thought we wouldn't have enough time to drive across the island and do it. Since we would have to check in later in the afternoon, when there could quite possibly be a lengthy line, we'd have to cut our exploring short for the day.

T did a search for scenic drives on his phone, and while some of them sounded really nice (such as one that went through Manoa Valley to waterfalls and a rainforest), none of them gave very specific directions that we could input into the GPS. So we ended up doing the Round Top Road drive up to Puu Ualakaa State Park.

This drive is one of those super windy (long "i" there; we weren't being blown around or anything) roads through a residential neighborhood. For whatever reason, it reminded me of the time my TomTom got me lost trying to get to Griffith Observatory in LA and I drove up this narrow residential street full of blind turns and I kept worrying someone was going to back out of his/her driveway and crush my rental--it was that kind of road. But it wasn't a bad drive and before you get to Round Top Road you drive through some suburban-type areas that are cool because you get to see how the "real" Hawaiians live--a far cry from Waikiki.

At the end of the drive you reach Puu Ualakaa, and more specifically, the lookout there, from which you can photograph these views of Honolulu/Waikiki:

Fun fact: We just saw night shots from the lookout on the new Hawaii Five-O ("Pu'olo" episode).
I remember you! We met just this morning!
Let's look at the other side, shall we? Ooooh. Ahhhhh.
Hey, there's the Pride of America!
After a few minutes we were bored (and I'm kind of bored right now), so we left and went to Wal-Mart. How's that for excitement? The most interesting thing about this Wal-Mart was that it was right in the city, not out in some suburb, and thus instead of an enormous parking lot in front of it, it had a parking garage!

Honestly, I was pretty excited about this Wal-Mart because I was hoping it would be different from the ones at home, and I could thus say that I had been to a real, authentic Hawaiian Wal-Mart, but alas, it wasn't any different than every other Wal-Mart I've ever been in. (Other than having a huge Hawaiian souvenirs section that I never got to explore. Oh, and being way more expensive.) We picked up the case of bottled water we'd come for, grabbed a few boxes of breakfast bars, trail mix, and other snacks, like the Maui Style chips everyone on Cruise Critic raves about, and then we headed for Thrifty so we could drop off our rental and catch the shuttle to the pier.

Again, Thrifty made this a painless process, and within five minutes after pulling onto their lot we were on the shuttle. When we reached the pier, carry-on bag full of bottled water and snacks in tow, we were told since we didn't have luggage to check we could go join the express line. Woohoo! But there weren't that many people there at 2:30 in the afternoon anyway, so we probably would have gotten through quickly no matter what.

We were "lei'd" immediately with strings of shells (the same kind you get for free at Hilo Hattie) and then went to take our obligatory picture with the "native" Hawaiians. I accidentally picked the wrong line and we ended up with the short chubby guy instead of the tall, beefy, tattooed one :-(, but we didn't end up buying the pic anyway, so it didn't matter.

After that we went to join the short queue at check-in. Check-in was easy breezy, although I'm not sure the guy who checked us in was even conscious. He had about as much personality as a doorknob, but whatever, we got past him pretty quickly, boarded the ship effortlessly, and then were told that our room wasn't ready! At almost three in the afternoon! Well, since we hadn't really had lunch yet, we hauled all our goods up to deck 11 to see what was available on the buffet in the Aloha Cafe. About halfway through our less-than-memorable meal (seriously, I cannot recall anything that either of us ate), the cruise director announced that all staterooms were now open! Wahoo!

So we proceeded down to deck 8 to check out our port-side balcony stateroom, 8610--and immediately our excitement died a quick and painful death. After three weeks of living out of suitcases (first for the wedding, and then for the holidays at the in-laws), we had been so excited about the prospect of unpacking all of our things and finally having a home for a week, only to find out NCL wanted us to sleep in a matchbox instead! I mean, I know staterooms are tiny, but this one took the cake, and even worse, there was so little storage. For days I went around the room (or, you know, stood on one side and then stepped two feet over to the other side) pointing out all the missed storage opportunities in the room. I mean, why were there five shelves down the side of the room and only four small drawers in the whole place? Why was the nightstand just a shelf when it would have been so easy to put a drawer there? Seriously, the NCL designers needed a lesson from IKEA on effective use of small spaces. It wasn't so much the size of the room that bugged me as much as I had nowhere to put anything! Even the closet was about half the size of what we usually have on ships.

Once the suitcases started arriving, we weren't really sure where to put them (no way all of them and us were fitting in that room at the same time), so we brought them in a couple at a time, unpacked, shoved them under the bed, and then went for the next one. We depended on the hangers a lot, hanging even things like t-shirts and shorts to get full usage out of closet, and I tried to cram all of my things onto two small shelves in the closet to give T.J. the other three for his clothes. There really wasn't anywhere else in the room to put clothes, so we had to find space for them in the closet or else leave them in the suitcases. T.J. cleared off the five room shelves, too, but there really wasn't much purpose to them--not much you can put on a shelf in a moving vessel. I think one of them ended up holding our beach towels and another one was where I stacked the Freestyle Dailies. Most of the NCL stuff (bottles of water to purchase, glasses and ice bucket) took up another couple of shelves, and when we called our room steward to come empty the fridge, he ended up using one of the shelves to hold all of the soft drinks from the fridge, so we lost even more storage space.

One other complaint about the room: it was dirty. Not sure if this had more to do with our room steward or NCL's training/expectations, but the bathroom shelves had not been cleaned in quite some time--they were coated in dust and hair--and one of the drinking glasses had been used! It still had water in it and a lip stain, and the steward or someone had just sat the paper topper back on it. We left our steward a note after the first day (with a nice tip) asking if the bathroom shelves and glasses could be cleaned and if the room could be vacuumed (it obviously hadn't been in some time), and while the carpet looked like it had been run over with a vacuum cleaner when we got back, the shelves were never cleaned. We had some housekeeping problems throughout the week (not being given enough towels and then being told we should just use the ones from the towel animals; getting extra washcloths from another--more generous--steward and stashing them in our medicine cabinet, only to have our steward take them out when he cleaned. What was he even doing in our medicine cabinet when he obviously wasn't bothering to clean the shelves?) On tours other people complained to us as well about their housekeeping, some even saying they didn't have top sheets for a few days, so this seems to be an NCL thing (or PoA thing at least), perhaps not just a particularly bad steward.

At any rate, the only ray of light in our room that first day was this display of chocolate-covered fruit and wine we found waiting for us:

I won't be bought! All the chocolate-covered pineapple in the world won't make up for a dirty room! (Well, unless it's white chocolate-covered.)
The goodies were actually from our travel agent, Kenzo--a little "Happy Honeymoon" welcome present. After we were all settled in we called down to make dining reservations and were told we couldn't do it for that night, but we went ahead and made reservations for dinner Wednesday at Jefferson's Bistro and Friday at Lazy J.

It was time for the embarkation drill then, so we headed down to our station on deck 6. The drill lasted longer than any we've done previously, but it was far more organized and I felt better prepared for a disaster than I've felt after other drills. Pretty important considering what just happened with Costa!

Then we went up to the pool deck bar because the Daily said pina coladas would be $4.95 from 6-7. The pina coladas were great--until we got the bill. When we showed the bartender the Daily, which I had conveniently brought with me, she just shrugged and said, "Sorry, it's a misprint," while we gaped at her. Umm, I'm sorry. A misprint? As in, NCL's mistake? And you aren't going to fix it? After about five minutes of trying to flag down someone important looking behind the bar (suddenly everyone was too busy to even look at us), T got a hold of another bartender, and she immediately went and fixed the error. I realize it was only a few dollars difference, but still--it's the principle of the thing. Strike two against NCL (or five maybe, but who's counting?).

A little before seven we headed over to the Gold Rush Saloon, where the Daily claimed there would be an East Coast celebration of New Year's. However, there were only a handful of people sitting around the bar watching ESPN, so I'm not sure what kind of "celebration" they were planning. All we really wanted to see was the ball drop, so we went back to our room to see if we could find NBC on the TV, but we never found it! Seriously, how could they not have NBC? With just minutes to spare, we frantically flipped through the stations trying to find someone who was in Times Square, and the only station we could find filming live was Fox News. Imagine! Having to watch the ball drop on Fox News! I mean, where was Ryan Seacrest and Dick Clark's Rockin' New Year's Eve?

Well, we watched the ball drop in the saddest, sedatest of circumstances (other than the fact that we were, you know, in Hawai'i on a cruise ship), then headed to East Meets West to see if they could seat us. There were about five people in the restaurant, so it obviously wasn't a huge inconvenience.

At East Meets West we had one of our best dining experiences of the cruise, mainly because we loved our waiter, a recent college grad from Texas who was a delight to talk with, but I can barely remember what we ate that night. I enjoyed my meal, I know, but it obviously wasn't particularly memorable. I do know that if you ask you can do a sampling of the appetizers instead of just do one each, and we ordered a sampling of four of them. I also had scallops of some variety for my entree, but I couldn't tell you how they were prepared/flavored. For dessert I had the trio of creme brulees, which weren't quite what I was expecting but were good, and T.J. had the banana pancakes. As a surprise, our waiter gave us a "Happy Honeymoon" cake at the end of the dinner to take back to our room. We're still not sure how he knew it was our honeymoon (and we never even ate the cake), but it was a much-appreciated gesture and probably one of the reasons the dinner ranks so highly in my mind.

After dinner we went back to our room to find everything just as we left it. No turn down service? No towel animal? We went down to the main desk to ask and were told that stewards can do turn down service "if they want to." ???? We were very confused by this point because it's never been optional on any cruises we've been on before, it's always been automatic during dinner, so again this might be an NCL thing. The next day we discovered that the little wheel outside the stateroom door can be turned to indicate whether or not you want turn down service, so every night after that we turned it and we got turn down service then, but I'm not sure why the clerk downstairs didn't just tell us to do that.

After that we turned in rather early, long before midnight, but we set the alarm for 11:55 so we could get up and see the fireworks display. Even though the ship sailed away at six, we actually only went a little ways out from Waikiki and anchored, thankfully with the port side of the boat turned toward shore. (I hadn't even thought of that until just now. What if we had woken up and the fireworks had been on the other side???)

The fireworks were good but missing one element crucial to fireworks viewing--timing. Part of the joy of watching fireworks is the anticipation after one disintegrates and you wait for the next one to burst. But these fireworks were shot off rapid fire, one after another, with no time to enjoy the one you were seeing before another one took its place.

The show lasted about ten minutes, everyone on the decks above blew their noisemakers and shouted "Happy New Year," and then it was back to sleep for us. After all, Maui (and a much more exciting and happy day!) was just a few hours away.


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