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Sail Date: September 2007
We just returned from the September 18th sailing of the Rhapsody of the Seas. This was our tenth cruise and our fourth on RCI. Embarkation: We flew to San Diego, spent the night in a hotel downtown and took public transportation to ... Read More
We just returned from the September 18th sailing of the Rhapsody of the Seas. This was our tenth cruise and our fourth on RCI. Embarkation: We flew to San Diego, spent the night in a hotel downtown and took public transportation to Ensenada. The trolley to Tijuana was $2.50 per person and the ABC bus from Tijuana to Ensenada was about $11 per person. The cruise line charged $ 85 per person for transfers for transfers from the airport to Ensenada. The only problem occurred when we tried to check in we were instructed to go to a hotel several miles from the ship. This ended up costing another $25 and we were on the shop by 4:30 pm. Cabin: Our inside room was quiet and comfortable. The bedding was soft and much improved since my last cruise with RCI. Our room steward, Daniel, was fantastic. The best room steward we have ever had on a cruise. Our room was immaculate. In fact, the whole ship seemed very clean with staff observed continuously cleaning. Ship: My favorite areas on the ship were the 5th deck where if it was too windy near the pool, I could comfortably read my books; the solarium, and the beautiful atrium. Entertainment: The cruise director Tim Seivert was great! He was very personable and so funny! The RCI production shows were just ok. They weren't even up to par with some I have seen at various amusement parks! My husband and I enjoyed the casino, even though we lost more than we won! Captain Nyseter had a real nice welcome aboard party. Even though I was a little seasick, I did manage to climb the rock wall which was fun! They had a Hawaiian luau on the fifth night at 11:30 pm that was real nice, but at that late of an hour, it was difficult for me to really enjoy it. Dining: We ate most of our dinners in the Edelweiss Restaurant. Our servers Deepak and JingJing were extraordinary. They anticipated our every need and were very efficient! The food in the dining was very good. The main courses and desserts were delicious! The only complaint we had was with the shrimp cocktail that was served unpeeled with cocktail sauce poured over the top! When my husband and another member from our table complained to an upper management level staff member they were told it was due to "cutbacks". The Windjammer buffet was disappointing at breakfast. Most mornings the pancakes and waffles were hard and only lukewarm. They did offer a nice selection of fruits. The lunches in the windjammer were delicious! I loved the Indian food offered and the desserts were fantastic! The pizza in the Solarium was pretty bad, but they serve great French fries! Fitness Center: The gym had a nice selection of exercise equipment, although I never used them. The spa has a nice relaxing steam room and sauna one can use free of charge. Highlights: The overall cleanliness and elegance of the ship, along with the friendliness of the entire crew made this a great cruise and allowed for some fine relaxation time before hitting the ports of call! Our tablemates at dinner were the best! We were lucky to have such a warm and funny group. Normally, we don't care to go to the dining room to eat since we have to dress up, but with such a great group to socialize with, I strapped on my high heels! My husband appreciated the "The New York Times" synopsis that was provided every day for free near the coffee shop. We appreciated the free tote bags and coupon booklet we received for being previous cruisers and belonging to the Crown and Anchor club. Room for Improvement: Definitely the tendering process needs to be better organized. It seemed like mass confusion, tender ticket numbers weren't called over the PA system right away. With limited time on these islands, I think RCI needs to improve this. We were not able to get on the tender until 11:30 in Kona, a whole hour after the tenders started running. We found out later some people who were hanging out in the hallways and just walked on without tickets when there was space available from groups that were on ship tours. I think ship tours are best in ports where there is tendering involved and limited time! Also, I wish they would have such events like the Hawaiian Luau and the Gala Buffet at an earlier hour, rather than midnight! I have never understood why they have to be so late! Ports of call: Kailua- Kona, HI We rented scooters from Snorkel Depot right in town and near the port. We drove to some cliffs (not sure of the real name) which one lady we met called it "the end of the earth". Some teenagers were jumping off the cliffs into the ocean which I estimated to be about 40 feet. For some crazy reason, my 49 year old husband decided to jump as well! He was black and blue afterwards, but swears it was the highlight of his trip! Lahaina, Maui Day 1: We rented a car from Enterprise which provides a free shuttle to their lot from the cruise port. We drove the road to Hana. I would not recommend this drive unless you spend the night in Hana! It is a long, stressful drive (9 hours round trip with some stops). Basically the same scenery for the first several hours, lush foliage, waterfalls, and one lane bridges with the same scenery repeated like a broken record every few minutes. Mix that in with sharp twisty curves and cars coming at you head on every few minutes does not make for a pleasant road trip. I would suggest taking a tour (if you don't have a problem with motion sickness) and let someone else drive! That being said, if you can get as far as Wai'anapanapa State Park you will understand the popularity of this road. The park is beautiful with a black sand beach, lava tubes, hiking trails, and a cave pool. As we continued on the road to Hana, the scenery improved and then we finally came to the highlight of the whole day-Ohe'o Gulch, which is the southern end of Haleakala National Park. The area contains lovely waterfalls and pools. We went for a swim, and I could have stayed there far longer than the hour we had allotted. The area is very beautiful! The drive back in the dark was actually easier than the drive there due to oncoming headlights! Day 2: We woke up at 4 am, hopped right on the tender, got in our car and drove up to Haleakala National Park to see the sunrise. We got there as the sun was rising and it was beautiful (but in my opinion most sunrises are)! This sunrise was unique for me since it seemed like the unique landscape started to glow a bright orange and red. We spent the rest of the afternoon snorkeling at the Kahekili Beach Park where there is a reef and many colorful fish just a few feet from the shore. Hilo, HI We rented a car through Enterprise where a shuttle picked us up at the dock and promptly brought us to our car. We drove to Volcanoes National Park and spent the day exploring this very interesting place. Honolulu, Oahu Day 1: We got on the $2 city bus and hung out all morning on Waikiki. We walked around the shopping area and bought some souvenirs. Later that evening we walked from the Aloha Tower into China Town. A lot of homeless people were milling around and it was kind of creepy. We did a little shopping and quickly left! Day 2: We carried off our own luggage and rented a car from Enterprise, whose shuttle was not available at the time we made the 7 am rental reservation. They did reimburse us the taxi fare to the car rental lot which was really nice! We drove around the island with the highlights being the Pali Highway and the Nu'Uanu Pali lookout. We also enjoyed a movie set tour when we stopped at the Kualoa Ranch. The ranch itself is beautiful and the tour was very interesting. Many movies and scenes were filmed here such as Jurassic Park and Pearl Harbor. Another highlight of the day, was stopping at one of the roadside shrimp trucks. The fresh stir-fried shrimp, as well as the chili and rice were delicious and made for a great roadside picnic. Later that night we checked into the Navy Lodge Pearl Harbor. We did laundry and repacked our bags for our next cruise the following day on NCL's Sun back to Ensenada. Read Less
Sail Date: May 2005
We started in Mexico with no problems. We were told by Royal Caribbean that there were dance hosts on the ship. No true. We were told by Royal Caribbean that if we brought a letter from our doctor that we had to have early seating we were ... Read More
We started in Mexico with no problems. We were told by Royal Caribbean that there were dance hosts on the ship. No true. We were told by Royal Caribbean that if we brought a letter from our doctor that we had to have early seating we were sure to get it. No so. We were on late seating and on the first night our go no dinner since the windjammer cafe was close because of the lifeboat drill. The ship was beautiful, but if you have a cabin by the atrium, the music from 11:00 PM till 12:30 am is very noisy. Why did they have an idea to put music in the lobby at that late hour is beyond me. Our room steward only made the bed,changed the towels and nothing else. He did not even pick up a blouse that I had dropped on the floor on my rush out to go dancing, just kicked it to the side. I had finally had it and let house keeping know on about the 8th day and from then on our cabin was cleaned, The ship itself was spotless and beautiful. The crew was generally friendly and the front desk was very polite. We found to be less then we expected and if you are looking for 5 star dining go on Celebrity. The food was fair. The lunch in the dining room was the same everyday. So we like most others ate at the Windjammer. Hawaii was beautiful,but my next trip will probably not be on Royal Caribbean,but on Princess. Yes we finally did get the first seating but only after we told the front desk that we were taking it to the captain. We had other people at our table that had the same experience. Plus was there were only 46 kids on the ship, and I only saw about 5 of them the whole trip. The maitre d' should be fired and the people at the tour desk had me repeat my statement 3 times. I finally said what's the matter don't you understand English? Then she gave me a refund when they had wrongly charged me for a tour I did not want. The ship was so clean and beautiful. Service pretty good, Oh the entertainment, NO GOOD! Lousy shows, Princess is much better. If you had the same itinerary and the same ship,go Princess. My question is when will Royal Caribbean go to Australia and Asia? No plan for that. Read Less
Sail Date: May 2003
Day 1 May 18th I'm not normally a morning person, but on this day I was up and at em'! After packing, driving 2 hours, parking at the Park n Ride and being dropped at the San Diego airport, DH and I met with the RCCL rep, and ... Read More
Day 1 May 18th I'm not normally a morning person, but on this day I was up and at em'! After packing, driving 2 hours, parking at the Park n Ride and being dropped at the San Diego airport, DH and I met with the RCCL rep, and about an hour later, we were boarding the first buses leaving for Ensenada - this was about 11 AM. We had a sort of crazy bus ride down. Even though our driver was very good (Heard some harrowing stories from other cruisers.), our "problem" was a bit different. We had a seat, second from the back, that was loose and we literally rocked the whole way down! The seat even started squeaking in a rhythmic fashion; this was getting downright embarrassing! (Sounded like we were doing something, if you know what I mean!) Luckily, we met a very nice couple, Randy and Lisa, who were sitting in the seat behind us. In addition to being really good sports about our seat bouncing around, our lively discussion sure made the trip go faster. After the Hotel check-in process, we showed up at the pier around 2:30, the thing was, the Vision of the Seas hadn't made it there yet! A famous ship "The World" was docked there, and sailed away while we were hanging tight in our buses. Vision docked about 3 PM, and we were boarding about 30 minutes later. Finally, we arrived at our suite. It was wonderful! We enjoyed looking around, did some unpacking, then went up to the Windjammer for some refreshments. Of course, we had to do the muster drill, I think it was at 6 PM. Skipping to dinner, we were seated at a table for 6, but only 4 of us showed up that evening. Sometimes we have trouble remembering names, but not tonight. This great couple had the same names as my parents, Cathy and John. They were the nicest people, celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. We did skip desert and the evening show, because I had made arrangements over the web to meet some of the Cruise Compass folks at the Viking Crown Lounge at 10 PM for a "bon voyage toast." About 8 of us showed up, I'm sure the people on East Coast time were passed out by now. We had a fun time putting some faces to names after our months of chatting on-line. We even all got on the dance floor for some of the songs. By this time, we were far enough out to sea that the swells were getting big (and the Viking Crown Lounge is at the top, Deck 11), you should have seen how we were dancing to compensate for the moving dance floor. You don't even have to drink to feel like you're half-loaded in this situation! Day 2 May 19th Even waking up to heavy swells (they were about 8-10 feet), I was doing fine. We went the dining room for breakfast, and one of our tablemates we just met decided to talk quite a bit about seasickness. I don't know if that's what did it, but that breakfast felt like a small boulder in my stomach! We went back to our cabin (we saw our cabin attendant and she did not feel good!) and I drank some soda, took a bonine, then went out to the balcony for some deep breaths of fresh air and a look at the horizon. For a few minutes I questioned whether I would make the Cruise Critic Party, but since I basically promised everyone on-line that I would host an icebreaker, I made myself go. It's back to the Viking Crown Lounge (oh, Deck 11!) but once I got there and started working with the RCCL staff, my mind got off the seasickness track. Either that, or the bonine was kicking in. Anyway, we played a "20 questions game" fill out the form with 20 different names, many of the questions were cruise-related, but many were not. We had about 40 people attend our party, and they really got into the game. Thanks to my trip to the Purser's desk the day before, RCCL supplied pens for everyone, and gave me a box of prizes to give out to the winners. I put DH in charge of collecting and numbering the completed forms so we could award the prizes. I got to meet most of the people who conversed on-line for months and even though the 1-hour party was too short, we then saw each other throughout the cruise and had more time to socialize. Steve took a group photo and has posted it on line. That afternoon we saw the Cabaret with comedy magician, Nick Lewin. He was very good with that great British humor. DH liked him a lot and he is a tough critic! We got gussied up for Formal Night, saw the Theatre production "Boogie Wonderland" and had another enjoyable dinner with Cathy and John (still just the 4 of us). The Captain's table was right next to ours and this was the only evening he dined at our seating. Afterwards, we went for late night dancing in the Viking Crown Lounge, and danced with "the almost Village People" to the Y.M.C.A. It was a blast! The place was packed. Day 3 May 20th OK - The sea was calmer, and we were really into the "relaxation" mode! This was a day for pampering. I had a pedicure in the morning (my second ever), and then coerced DH into a "Couples Massage" class after lunch! There were about 10 couples in the room, including one we knew from the CC Party. We got to keep the bottle of oil provided, Lotus Flower, and we learned some of the "proper" techniques of giving a back/shoulder massage - very good!! Later in the day, we checked out the pre-dinner show with The Van Dells. They are like a 50's Sock Hop Trio, and they throw in some 3-Stooges like comedy between performing their songs. One of the guys (looks like a younger replacement member) comes out later in full Las Vegas Elvis gear and does a few Elvis numbers with enough pelvic moves to whip the women into a frenzy! They were a pretty good act, but I have to say, the "funny" guy of the group gave me the biggest laugh of the whole cruise! He did a "dead on" imitation of the Crocodile Hunter while making fun of the other guy's "teeny tail." I was laughing so hard I was crying!! That evening, we finally met our other tablemates from New Hampshire, Mark and Melody. They were so nice! They spent the first evening in their cabin, exhausted by their 15-hour trip, and the 2nd night Mark got seasick. We were glad they were feeling better and ready to join in the cruise dining experience. Whenever the 6 of us were together, we started doing the after dinner "shooters" and it was especially fun to get Cathy to do it! Her eyes would water, she'd have to take off her glasses and she'd be laughing really hard all the while! We had the best bar waiter, Jai, who was a pleasure to be around. He would really entice us with these drinks - one night we had the "Italian Stallion" which had Kahlua, Frangelico and Bailey's. I asked him when we'd be having the "Mad Cuban" (that is the name I tease my husband with!) After dinner, we caught a bit of the Hoe Down, then went to see the Late Night Comedy with Rick Corso (nothing to write home about). Day 4 May 21st Here we are - our third day at sea, "Polynesia Day," and we are really enjoying it! We decided to watch the "Spirit of Polynesia" entertainment after breakfast, but after about 35 minutes of watching a Hawaiian style fashion show, we headed off to the next activity. We went to a Backstage Tour of the Masquerade Theatre - we primarily watched how the sound board is operated during a performance and we got to see the changing areas for the performers backstage. We had an extensive Q&A session with one of the dancers who was from Canada. After this informative session, we went up to deck 10 for a mile of walking and a short workout with machines and free weights. We took it easy after lunch, then went to a 5 PM Lecture on the History of Magic from Nick Lewin. It lasted an hour and we wanted it to go longer! He interspersed magic tricks, tales about magic's history and entertained questions from the audience, of course, adding in many humorous comments! We got a brief biography of Houdini and how he would conduct his performances to enrapture his audiences. Afterwards, we bought a copy of Nick Lewin's DVD and had him autograph it. He really was one of the highlights of our trip! Prior to dinner, we also saw "On the Edge" which features two young guys who do juggling and comedy. I cracked up when they came out in the audience (we were in the 5th row and they went to about the 10th row) stood on the seats, and juggled several eggs over the heads of 4 audience members! After dinner, we went to the Love & Marriage Game Show - it was funny, but not as good as some we'd seen in the past. One unexpected thing happened (for me). The Cruise Director, Mark, announced that only 1 act had signed up for the Guest Talent Show being held the following evening, and welcomed additional people to come to the Purser's desk right away to sign up, or else this was going to be the shortest show in history! I'd been on 10 cruises before and had never tried to sign up, but I decided I wanted to! So we headed over to the Purser's Desk - I was now officially act number four. We took our video camera up to the pool deck for the "Party Under the Stars" which was really like a late night luau (11 PM to 1 AM). This was very well done - food, ice carvings, and especially the entertainment! They did dances from several traditions, Hawaiian, Tahitian, Tongan. It was better than what I was expecting and it really put us in the mood to reach our destination and start enjoying the "Aloha Spirit!" Day 5 May 22nd Wow - our last day at sea! Time seems to be going so fast! After breakfast, it was time to "pay the piper" and attend the Guest Talent Show rehearsal. None of the songs I was really comfortable doing were in the book of songs that the House Band knows. They didn't have a guitar for me to do a solo with, so I was getting ready to chicken out. However, there were 6 ladies in the row in front of me and when they heard me say I was not going to do it, they were like, "You've got to do it. We'll be your cheerleaders!" They were 6 sisters, and their brother who was act number one, was there on his honeymoon! I'd seen him in the lounge one evening doing karaoke, and he was very good! Anyway, back to my predicament. We compromised. They got me a guitar, which is normally used as prop for their singing production; me holding a guitar is sort of like Linus having his security blanket. The 3-Piece-Band agreed to do "Twist and Shout," which is a simple 3-chord song. So now I'm in the show, no backing out! We then went to the morning session of Bingo, and I had forgotten how this went, since my last time playing on a cruise was in 1994. It was fun and entertaining, but I'll probably wait another 9 years to play! (Just lots of other things I enjoy doing more.) During the game, we heard an announcement over the loud speaker, "Alpha, Alpha, Alpha" then they said a Cabin number. We didn't think too much of it at the time; DH said it could be someone with a medical emergency, since it was a cabin. (More on this later.) I spent a little time in the afternoon in the pool, during the Horse Races, when the pool was fairly empty and up on a deck chair catching some rays. Prior to dinner, we went to the theatre production, "Rhythm Nation" which we had seen on a prior cruise, but enjoyed again. During the number, "Girl from Ipanema" the male singer was using "my guitar" as a prop! This got me thinking about the upcoming Talent Show, which in turn made me nervous. I tried hard not to think about it. We had dinner, then hurried off to the Masquerade Theatre; we were told to be there by 10 PM and where we should sit. The show started at 10:15 PM and there were 7 acts in total. They changed the order, and now I would be performing second - good, I could get it out of the way and enjoy the rest of the show! I invited the audience to do the "echo" part of the song, and it went very well. DH videotaped my performance, as well as most of the show, so we'll have that part of our trip available to enjoy for years to come! We tried to go up to the pool deck for some "Dancing under the Stars" but there were RCCL employees blocking every entrance. We said something strange must be going on, and headed back to our cabin. Sure enough, the Captain came on the PA system after 11 PM and announced that a passenger had sustained an injury and a helicopter was coming to pick the passenger up. Everyone was to stay off the top decks for this med-evac operation. We surmised that the "Alpha" code about 12 hours earlier had turned into a helicopter ride to the hospital once we were close enough to shore. We felt badly for the people involved; as for ourselves, we knew the next day would be our first ever in Hawaii, so we headed off to bed for some rest before our big day! Day 6 May 23rd First Day in Hawaii - Lahaina, Maui We ordered Room Service for that morning, went through the Customs process, and took our time getting off the ship. Even so, at 9:30 AM, there was still a big line of people waiting for tenders to get to the Lahaina pier. While we were standing in a long line, we asked one of the guys from the Cruise Director's Staff what was the matter with the injured passenger. After a small hesitation, he said, "Well, you could call it a comedy or you could say it was a tragedy." Now we were really interested in this story! It seems that a rather large gentleman was entering the Belly Flop Contest and decided to show his wife what he was planning to do for the competition in their cabin. He went to do a belly flop on his bed, and misjudging the distance, he hit his head on the cabin wall! Those walls are part of the hull structure and they are made of metal. And as a co-worker commented when I related the story, "He sure had momentum going for him at that point." I don't want to make fun of another's plight, but it sounds like a Darwin award to me! Anyway, we made it to the pier and went to get our rental car. Long story short, the process took about an hour (it did not help that it was the Friday before Memorial Day Weekend). But finally we were on our way in a Sebring convertible breezing along the highway! The weather was a bit warmer than usual, about 90 degrees, and we headed to the Iao Needle - I picked this location because we wanted to find a picturesque place for photo taking. This was a great choice! Not only for the awesome beauty, but because it was about 12 degrees cooler and slightly overcast (which is better than direct sunlight for good photo taking because of the lack of sharp contrast by shadows). We spent close to two hours walking and taking pictures; we would see other people from the ship and take each other's photos, which was nice. Around 1 PM we started getting hungry, so we drove around and found a McDonalds. Not my first choice, but we knew we'd be eating at the luau later, so this was just to tide us over. While we had a quick meal, I noticed 2 couples next to us who came there on Harley Davidsons. As we all headed out the door, the one motorcycle dude turns to his wife and says, "Look, it's the lady from the Talent Show!" Nothing like that brief flirtation with fame - ha ha! We then drove around some more and attempted a "romantic walk along the beach" (my idea) but as we tried it, the winds were blowing sand into our eyes, so that was a rather short walk! We then returned the rental car (this was another one-hour process, I won't even go into what happened here), but a good thing did happen when we got into the rental shuttle van. We told the driver that it was a shame he was taking us all the way back to the pier, for us to only then have to make our way back to the Old Lahaina Luau (it was about half way to the pier). He was really nice and said he would drop us off there; we could visit the mall next door while we were waiting for the Luau to open its doors. This saved us time, money for a taxi and a hassle in the heat, so that worked out great. We walked around and enjoyed some Kona coffee (even though there was also a Starbucks in the mall!!) After about an hour, we headed to the luau, and they gave everyone mai tai's upon entering. I sampled several other drinks: lava flow, blue Hawaiian, pina colada, with the heat they were sure refreshing! Then we went to find our table and we were seated across from a couple whom we had met and talked with several times on the ship (Beachnut on Cruise Critic). We enjoyed the meal and the show; got both some good photos and some video of the dancers. We then shared a cab ride back to the pier with two other couples from the ship. After a short wait (about 20 minutes) we were being tendered back to the ship - it sure had been a full day! Day 7 May 24th Second Day in Lahaina. We were able to relax in the morning, since our booked tour was not until noon. We got to the tender around 11 AM and were on shore with some time to kill shortly thereafter. There was a Canoe Festival that weekend in Maui. We went to the crafts faire under the banyan tree and saw some fabulous large wooden carvings, things like dolphins and mermaids made from monkey pot wood. We spoke with some artists and really wanted to buy one of them from a native artist who was teaching his four sons to carve, but we were running out of time, no chance to figure out if they could ship the item to California, so we just have some fond memories of him and his work. A word to the wise - unless you are very physically fit (and a masochist, basically), don't take the Ahihi Kinau Lava Field Hike & Snorkel Tour! First you ride in a van for an hour, then you walk through rocky lava fields for 1.3 miles. It is so treacherous, they caution you that if you want to look up, stand still. Also, our guide said several times, "Falling is not an option." I kept repeating that phrase over and over to myself, like a mantra! Then you finally get to snorkel; the area is very rough, small and not much to see. It did not help that it was overcast, and was even drizzling while we snorkeled. Then you get a Honey 'n' Oats granola bar and water, then get to repeat the 1.3 mile walk back and then the van ride. One lady fell just trying to get into the van! I felt so bad for her, and was surprised that she made it through the rest of the tour. One guy who was talking a lot (not paying enough attention) fell and cut his arm and both legs; I got to look at him bleeding during the whole trip back. This is one of those excursions that just makes for good story telling later - that's the redeeming quality, ha ha! I tried to make the best of it by asking our driver/guide many questions about the history of the island, etc. I don't know if it was true, but he told me one interesting tale. I told him I had seen a Cardinal the day before, how did they come to be on Maui? He said the Seminole Indians sold birds to sailors on the island of Key West, and that the Spaniards were fond of having birds, such as Cardinals, as pets on their long voyages. I thought that was a pretty neat story. We enjoyed a pre-dinner show that evening, featuring an impressionist. Once again, there were only four of us at dinner, and we got on to the subject of reading books. Turns out that John, Cathy and I had all finished reading a book at this point, so we agreed to do a "trade." I stopped by their cabin with my book and got 2 of theirs in return! After the strenuous day, reading was about as adventurous as I was getting! Day 8 May 25th The Big Island - Hawaii! Our day in Hilo. Rented a car from Budget - this went very smoothly, and we got a free upgrade to a Lincoln Town Car. Just as I had read on the CC boards, it is very easy to find your way around, and we were soon making our way to the Volcanoes National Park. (On a side note, I have to mention that I liked the innovative signs along the highway for wearing a seat belt; they stated "Click-it or Ticket!") After stopping at the Visitor Center for a map, we headed to the Thurston Lava tube, which we walked through. It was more like a damp cave and was wetter and muddier than I expected. We stopped at many of the places designated for photo taking along Crater Rim Drive. We drove along the Chain of Craters Road, which ends near the sea, and did some walking. This was another day of "unusual" weather for the islands - high eighties and no clouds in sight. After we saw the March and April 2003 lava flows, we were getting hot and going to head back. Then we hooked up with a park ranger who gave us the history of the area and a detailed explanation of the methane gas explosions and showed us a huge one of these. DH really loved that part! On our drive back to the highway, we saw many helicopters with buckets hanging from them, performing a fire rescue. Suddenly, after curving around a bend, the helicopter was only about 100 feet in front of us, dipping its bucket into what looked like an elaborate kiddie pool of water. We quickly got out the video camera and filmed 2 other helicopters repeating the process. It was way more exciting to watch than how it sounds in writing! After having a meal at the Lava Rock Cafe (wouldn't recommend the place), we succumbed to the shopping bug and spent some time at Hilo Hatties. It seemed like we knew half of the people in there! After speaking with a local craftswoman who was selling her wares in the store (we bought a painted sea shell and a necklace from her), I got her to recommend some Hawaiian music CD's. We bought a "Brother Iz" CD, which contains a rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" that DH really enjoys. Getting into the music of the islands is part of the vacation experience, and really puts you in a good mood! After boarding the ship, we went to the pre-dinner show, this time featuring Craig Dahn, a concert pianist. He was a protEgE of Liberace and he evoked the same style and flourish. I only wish we sat closer to get a better look at his hands along the keyboard. We went to our balcony after finishing dinner in a hurry and got out the binoculars, cameras and video camera. We took turns using all of them, but viewing the red molten lava through binoculars was really the best way to see details - this went on for about 45 minutes. Another great day on our cruise!! Day 9 May 26th - Memorial Day Kona - Thanks to the MANY great reviews of the Captain Zodiac tour from CC, we decided to book this. Also liked the idea that the boat would come right up to the ship and we would not have to use a tender for this tour. We had another lazy morning on the ship and took the afternoon tour. I read that the visibility in the morning is better, but hey, this is our vacation! Anyway, the weather was sunny and hot, again, not the typical afternoon clouds - great! One of the passengers even noticed a school of dolphins frolicking and pointed it out to the boat driver - he stopped the boat so we could get a better look and take photos. They were swimming on one side of the boat, swimming under it, then coming out the other side - we all got a great view! Then we went on to the snorkeling spot (Captain Cook's Monument), which is really only accessible by boat. This was the best snorkeling I've done, except for Grand Cayman. Though the water is cooler, we saw many different species and types of coral, and it was a large enough area for all of the snorkelers. Then they took us back to the ship with a few stops along the way to explain about rock formations, lava flows, blow holes, etc. The wind was picking up and that ride was E-ticket, man! One guy with several body piercings and tattoos sitting in front of us was trying to go it "no hands" and when we hit one large wave, he flew a few feet into the air and landed in the pile of snorkeling gear! I can't tell you how much I was laughing at this guy! Then the boat driver made him hang on like the rest of us!! We decided after this excursion that we needed some "down time" before the formal dinner, so we watched "2 Weeks Notice" in our cabin and relaxed. Our dinner was very nice, and our bar waiter, Jai, returned after being gone a few days with a toothache. Even with a wisdom tooth removed, and his cheek puffed out like a chipmunk, that guy was still smiling like crazy! You had to give him credit, and his good mood was so infectious!! We then went to see Norm Crosby perform, and even though that guy is older than dirt, he was still hilarious! After that, we caught the end of the karaoke idol, but the judges (passengers) were only selecting people singing country/western numbers, so I decided not to throw my name in the ring - I am a rock 'n' roller! Day 10 May 27th Our last port - Kauai! This was really the most lush and beautiful spot on our trip. We ended up with a banana-yellow Mustang convertible from Budget rental car, and soon we were zooming along the highway! Our first stop was Fern Grotto - even though this is recognized as being a "tourist trap" we had a really nice time riding the boat up river, making fools of ourselves doing the hula (with the band on board) and of course seeing the grotto. DH got a few lovely photos there. On the return boat ride, I sat next to my new friends (the 6 ladies I met at the Talent Show) and we got our photo taken together. Next we went to the Opaekaa Falls. Just can't help taking lots of photos; the view was breathtaking. Then we drove to the Kilauea Lighthouse, and the view from there was spectacular. We met a nice couple from the ship and we took each other's pictures. We also stopped at a turnoff near Princeville with a panoramic view of the valley and farmlands before heading back. Last stop before returning the car was the set of Wailua Falls. The last 2 miles to get there included some treacherous single lane roads that had to be shared by 2-way traffic! Hmmmm.that was interesting. The drive was worth it, spectacular view! This whole island is just filled with beauty and it was hard for me to leave and get back on the ship. I hope we can return here someday. All good things must come to an end; we spent quite a while before dinner packing for our trip home. (Gotta do it!) We did make most of the Farewell Show, complete with the top ten stupid questions, including a few that I had not heard before: "Is this Island completely surrounded by water?" "Do you need to leave the ship to take an excursion?" "If the pictures in the photo gallery aren't marked, how can I tell which ones are ours?" and my favorite - "Has this ship ever sunk?" They also filmed us dancing at disco night, DH was shown dancing for about 5 seconds (just him on that big screen!). We had a fun last dinner with our tablemates (I have videotape to prove it!) and got a printed list of the ingredients for all the Liquor shots from Jai. Then we packed it in early. Day 11 May 28th - Disembark and return home After eating breakfast in the dining room and meeting a very nice couple who had 4 boys waiting at home (!), we went to our cabin to pack the carry-ons. We finally found our cabin attendant, Ana, to give her a tip. She was so nice to us, I could not help it, I gave her a hug good-bye. We then went to a "Priority Departure Lounge" for Diamond & Platinum members, and it was like a reunion - many of the couples from Cruise Critic were there, plus we chatted with a new couple who own grocery stores in New Orleans. The hour there til our group was called passed quickly. Then out to the terminal for the chaotic process of picking out our bags (went smoothly), boarding the bus to go to the airport (very unorganized but really only took 25 minutes), then the drive there. By 10 AM we were at the Honolulu Airport and our flight wasn't til 1:50 PM. After the baggage screening, check-in, etc. we walked around for a while and went to the Main Terminal. We had lunch at a place called Stinger Ray (I think) and the roasted pork on the sandwich was better than at the Luau! Also saw an interesting thing while eating. Since most of the airport is "open air" a bird came into the restaurant and was banging into the window, trying to get outside. The customer sitting next to this was getting upset that the bird was hurting itself and next thing, the waitress went and cupped the bird in her two hands and walked it out if the restaurant where there were open windows. Looked like she was used to doing that on a regular basis! Our flight home on Hawaiian Airlines was uneventful (good) and arrived in San Diego on time about 10 PM. We then had a 2-hour drive home, after some lousy directions from the Park n Ride attendant (or maybe we were just really out of it) we couldn't seem to get on any freeway, and almost drove into Sea World! A few minutes later, and we found the 5 FWY then we were on our way. Upon reaching our house at 1 AM, we were greeted enthusiastically by our 2 doggies (and received a groggier greeting from our son) - it was a great vacation, but it was good to be home! Read Less
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