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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