ED’S 82 DAY GRAND ASIA & PACIFIC SAILING WITH HOLLAND AMERICA – PART 32

December 14, 2018 – Honolulu, Hawaii

We’ve been at sea for a few days and welcome our next port.  Many of you have visited Honolulu before, but for those who haven’t or those that are thinking about it, here’s some background information.

Sometimes called “The Gathering Place,” Oahu certainly lives up to its name. The third largest Hawaiian island is home to the majority of Hawaii’s diverse population, a fusion of East and West cultures rooted in the values and traditions of the Native Hawaiian people. It’s this fundamental contrast between the ancient and the modern that makes discovering Oahu — from bustling city life to laid back surf towns — so enjoyable. You’ll find plenty of different options for exploring Oahu.

Spam, surfing, hula, ukulele – these are some of the touchstones of everyday life on O’ahu, an island out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  People are easygoing, low key and casual, with genuine aloha and fun.  O’ahu proudly maintains its own identity apart from the US mainland.

If you like outdoor adventures, Oʻahu has so much going on, especially if you like sun, sand and adventure. Playing in or on the water could keep you happy for months. Learn to surf, and if you’re already good, hit the big waves on the North Shore; dive into Hanauma Bay’s giant fishbowl, or windsurf or kayak in Kailua Bay. On the land, hike up Diamond Head or atop knife-edged pali (cliffs). Circle the island in a helicopter. It’s all there waiting.

Oʻahu, like the rest of the Hawaiian islands, is a melting pot and proud of its multicultural heritage. Mix in the descendants of European explorers, American missionaries and Asian plantation-worker immigrants with the Polynesian ancestors, plus recent arrivals from all over the Pacific, and you have one of the most multicultural communities on the globe.

While on O’ahu, there are plenty of things to see and do.  We have been here several times before and done many of the sightseeing attractions.  We would have liked to rent a car and drive up to the North Shore but as I lost my driver’s license somewhere in Australia, I can’t legally drive without the card and Karen would rather not drive, so this time we opted to walk from the pier to Waikiki Beach.

Located on the south shore of Honolulu, the world-famous neighborhood of Waikiki was once a playground for Hawaiian royalty. Known in Hawaiian as “spouting waters”, Waikiki was introduced to the world when its first hotel, the Moana Surfrider, was built on its shores in 1901. Today, Waikiki is Oahu’s main hotel and resort area and a vibrant gathering place for visitors from around the world. Along the main strip of Kalalaua Avenue you’ll find world-class shopping, dining, entertainment and resorts.

Waikiki is most famous for its beaches. With Leahi (Diamond Head) as your backdrop, the calm waters of Waikiki are perfect for a surfing lesson. In fact, legendary Hawaiian waterman Duke Kahanamoku grew up surfing the waves of Waikiki. This Olympic gold medalist in swimming taught visitors how to surf at the turn of the century and was later known as “the father of modern surfing.”

Walking along Ala Moana Beach, this beach is mostly made up of locals wanting to get away from the crowds and bustle of Waikiki Beach.  The sand is not as nice, but you certainly can enjoy the surf and soak up some sun.  It seems like it is a popular place for wedding photos as we saw 3 separate wedding couples having pictures taken.

Across the way is the Ala Moana Shopping Mall, once the largest shopping mall in the world and while it lost that title several years ago, it is a well-known shoppers paradise with all the main high-end stores catering to O’ahu’s many tourists and residents.

As we continue our walk to Waikiki, we finally arrive at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, a property that we have stayed at for a convention.  It has a beautiful, sheltered lagoon as well as all the amenities you would expect a Hilton Hotel to have, including a great little outdoor, poolside, ocean view restaurant.

Time for lunch!  Fish tacos and a massive plate of nachos complete with Kalua pork fit the bill.

We continued (dare I say waddled) down Waikiki beach stopping for some beach time to soak up the sun, surf and sand.  It truly is a spectacular beach albeit it very busy but you can rent chairs and an umbrella, water sports such as kayaks, surfboards, boogieboards, snorkel gear and the like so there is something for everyone.  There were lots of kids of all ages building sandcastles or splashing around in the water.  It was a fun atmosphere and everyone was enjoying their time.  I think that’s why it is so popular, everyone is relaxed with so much to do, with so many restaurants and bars, catering to every budget.

To finally get out of the sun and the heat, we walked up to the “Westin Moana Surfrider”.  As mentioned above, this was one of the first hotels on Waikiki.  It also happened to be the very first hotel we stayed at in Hawaii and the hotel we brought our kids to on their first trip here.  The beach side bar/restaurant had some live music and we could overlook not only the ocean but also Diamond Head, so it was a natural place to sit and have a cocktail.  I can highly recommend their 1944 MaiTai as being one of the best MaiTai’s I’ve had.

Unfortunately, it is time to make our way back to the ship.  We walked all the way back to the Ala Moana Shopping Mall but by that time we were very hot and weary, so after a stroll through the mall, we opted for a taxi back to the ship.

There are many, many sights and activities to do while on O’ahu, so if you are interested in going, don’t hesitate to let us know and we can steer you in the right direction! 

So, Aloha from Hawaii and Mahalo for reading along.  Next stop…Maui!

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ED’S 82 DAY GRAND ASIA & PACIFIC SAILING WITH HOLLAND AMERICA – PART 31

December 08, 2018 – Pago, Pago, American Samoa

Talofa!  December 8 again thanks to us crossing the International Date Line!  This time we made it to Pago, Pago (pronounced Pango, Pango)!  American Samoa, the only inhabited US territory south of the equator, is given the occasional nod for its love of American football and McDonald’s, but few people realize that these lush tropical islands hold geometrically cut mountains and blue waters that rival the beauty of Tahiti and Hawaii.

Samoan culture is so strong here that some claim it’s even more traditional than Independent Samoa next door. If you’re seeking a Polynesia that’s authentic, full of adventure opportunities and nearly devoid of tourists, American Samoa may be just the place.

Few travellers go to American Samoa so there’s relatively little tourism infrastructure.  Most of the population and industry (primarily fishing and canneries) are found on the main island of Tutuila, in and around Pago Pago Harbor.

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Pago Pago is stunningly beautiful. The town is located near the westernmost end of an L-shaped bay and is surrounded by lush, green mountains. Opposite Pago Pago on the eastern side of the bay is the mountain known as the Rainmaker, so-called because its top catches clouds that frequently douse the slopes below in rain. In fact, the entire island of Tutuila is beautiful, from the coral reefs offshore to the old-world rainforests and waterfalls lining the steep sides of its mountains.

Since the island is so beautiful and boasts a large National Park, we researched that there were several hiking trails in the park.  Together with a few friends, we disembarked the ship and headed out to find a way to the National Park.

The National Park of American Samoa, America’s 50th National Park, is the only one south of the equator. This Park in the South Pacific is dedicated to preserving the Samoan/Polynesian culture and landscape. The islands neotropical forests, indopacific reefs, and 3,000 year old culture are unique in the National Park Service.

The Samoan archipelago includes the US Territory of American Samoa and the independent nation of Samoa (formerly Western Samoa).  The islands are located 2,600 miles southwest of Hawaii and 1,800 miles northwest of New Zealand, between Fiji and Tahiti. The Samoan chain stretches east to west for more than 300 miles between 13 and 15 degree south latitude (below the equator).

As we left the ship’s “safety zone” we were surrounded by many different tour and taxi drivers all vying for our business.

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After some negotiation and back and forth with the driver, we settled on a guide named Junior and his “uncle” from the same village who drove this rather rustic Toyota conversion.  Junior assured us that it would make it up the mountain!  The cost for the 3 hours was $20USD per person.

Our first hike is the Lower Sauma Ridge Trail which was not terribly long or difficult.  The path is cut out of the rainforest and has steps made of the natural rocks.  The tree roots, the wet leaves and the sometimes steep decline make for a moderately difficult 20 minute hike to a lookout point where the tall and skinny Pola Island can be seen.  It is a nesting area for seabirds.

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Our second hike was the easy Pola Island trail which was a short flat trail that led to a rough and rocky beach with views of the coastline and again, Pola Island.

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Luckily it did not rain on us as it was supposed to, although we maybe didn’t get the pictures we wanted.  Junior our guide was a good guy but they did get some flak for taking us into the National Park as they aren’t “sanctioned” to take us there.

The ride home was nice with plenty of good views and a stop at a local store for a beer and some snacks.  Then to a local market where I picked up a big papaya for $1.  On the ship in time before it started raining.

We have several sea days ahead of us now before our last 2 ports of call, Oahu and Maui.  After that we are only a few sailing days from ending our cruise.

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ED’S 82 DAY GRAND ASIA & PACIFIC SAILING WITH HOLLAND AMERICA – PART 30

December 08, 2018 – Apia, Samoa

The port that wasn’t!

On the north-east coast of Upolu, Samoa’s capital, Apia is famous for its relaxed charm, hospitable locals and should be easily explored by foot.  It is also home to the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum.  The Scottish author’s former residence is apparently an enchanting estate, with a centrepiece lawn and perfectly manicured gardens. Stevenson’s mansion, substantially destroyed in the cyclones in the early 1990s, was lovingly rebuilt and opened as a museum in 1994 on the centenary of Stevenson’s death. It has rooms filled with antiques and sepia family photographs.

The ship docked in Apia but before we could get off, the Captain announced that the swells were too high and they would have to abort our stay in Apia!  Two of the ship’s ropes that secure it to the dock had already broken and the fear was damage to the ship if it rocked against the dock.  None of the ship’s tours had left the area yet and were cancelled.  Unfortunately, about 50 people had already disembarked.

This is all we saw of Apia…

The ship left the dock and maneuvered into the bay.  They deployed a ship’s lifeboats for tender and they tried to track down the passengers on shore.

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After a couple of hours, everyone was safely on board and we left.  The extra time is being spent with a gentle sail around an island before going on to Pago, Pago.

The good news is that we cross the International Dateline and we gain a day, so tomorrow is December 8 all over again.  We hope we have better luck on our second go with December 8!

 

Should Your Next Vacation Include a Butler?

Why your next vacation needs a butler, seriously.

Ok I know what you’re thinking, a butler, really?  I’m here to tell you that although there are ways that a butler on vacation could be used for over the top requests there are also a lot of ways that a butler simply makes your hard earned vacation just a little bit better.

I recently enjoyed two nights at the unbelievable Paradisus Playa Del Carmen – La Perla.  La Perla is the adults only section of this resort featuring modern décor, a hefty selection of a la carte dining and interesting bars featuring craft cocktails, multiple beaches and a pool that suites any vacationer’s tastes.  The La Esmeralda section is family friendly and equally spectacular.

La Perla Junior SuiteI stayed in a Royal Service Junior Suite which was nearly as big as the apartment I share with my boyfriend and two cats.  The room is beautifully decorated with two white closets and plenty of drawers, a king bed with an aquatic themed headboard, a sitting area featuring a couch, coffee table, table and chairs and more.  The bathroom was something out of a dream with a shower big enough for a party with two rain shower heads that provided just the right amount of water pressure, a huge bathtub and more than enough space on the vanity to keep all of your necessities organized.  All of this comes standard in any junior suite at the Paradisus La Perla but since I was in Royal Service my balcony also featured a Jacuzzi.

When you have the Royal Service upgrade, a butler is a part of your package.  I was introduced to my butler at check in (which happens in the exclusive Royal Service lobby).  He took my bags and showed me to my room, pointing out features of the building like the small fitness centre exclusive for RS guests. After the standard “here is your safe and how to use it, here is the thermostat, here is the tv remote” he asked if I was on Whatsapp and when I confirmed he asked for my phone number.  From that point on we were able to communicate via text.   The next morning as I was enjoying a gourmet breakfast at the restaurant available exclusively to Royal Service guests Fernando, my butler, texted me to see what my plans were for the day.  I told him that since it was a bit windy I would rather be by the pool than the beach and that I would go find a spot soon.  He replied almost instantly letting me know that he had a bali bed by the pool ready for me.  What a treat! I quickly realized that the major benefit of having my own butler was that I had the freedom to simply send a text from the pool or my room to arrange a la carte reservations, inquire about spa services, request late check out etc. without having to get up and wander into a lobby to chat with the front desk or a customer services desk.  I consider my time very valuable and this is a service that I genuinely appreciated.

Other services available when you have a butler on your vacation at the Paradisus La Perla are:

  • preparation of whirlpool bath in your room if you wish.  Just shoot him a text and let him know when you would like to enjoy a bath on your balcony and he’ll have everything set up for you including bubbles and towels.  If you request some sparkling wine for your bath, they’ll be happy to oblige.
  • personalized coffee service in the room
  • free ironing of up to two garments per day
  • shoe shining services
  • booking of the tennis courts and other activities
  • personalized mini-bar in the room adapted to your taste
  •  unpacking and repacking of your suitcase
  • personalized wake up calls
  • And more!

Although an upgrade to a vacation that includes a butler may not be practical for every traveller or every trip, it’s certainly something that has value and well worth considering for your next special vacation.  You absolutely won’t regret it!

To book your next vacation to Paradisus Playa Del Carmen reach out to our team!

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ED’S 82 DAY GRAND ASIA & PACIFIC SAILING WITH HOLLAND AMERICA – PART 29

December 06, 2018 – Suva, Fiji

Suva (soo-va) is the heart of Fiji, home to half of the country’s urban population and the largest city in the South Pacific. It’s a lush green city on a hilly peninsula, that gets more than its fair share of rain, and has a vibrant cultural scene.

Downtown is as diverse architecturally as the populace is culturally. A jigsaw of colonial buildings, modern shopping plazas, abundant eateries and a breezy esplanade all form the compact central business district. Small passages are lined with curry houses, sari shops and bric-a-brac traders. Bollywood and Hollywood square off at the local cinema and within the same hour you’re likely to see businessmen in traditional sulu (sarong) and students from across the Pacific region rocking the latest styles.

Today we are on a private tour and on a bus with 22 of us.  Our first stop is at Bilo Battery, a WWII historical site.  The Bilo Battery was a key part of the defense of Fiji, being one of only four gun positions protecting Suva. Frankly, there is not much left to see but if it were not for the rain, it would provide an excellent view of the Suva harbor.

Our next stop was the Fiji Museum. This museum offers a great journey into Fiji’s historical and cultural and evolution. The centre piece is the massive Ratu Finau (1913), Fiji’s last waqa tabus(double-hulled canoe), over 13m long and with an enclosed deck for rough weather.

Other attractions in the main hall include war clubs, a gruesome display about cannibalism and the rudder from The Bounty (of Mutiny fame).

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The growing influence of other South Pacific and European cultures is documented in a hall on the other side of the museum shop. It is here that you’ll find the well-chewed, but ultimately inedible, shoe of Thomas Baker, a Christian missionary eaten for his indiscretions in 1867.

Upstairs, a small Indo-Fijian hall chronicles some of the contributions made by the Indian workers and their descendants who were brought to Fiji in the 1870s as indentured labourers.

Adjacent to the museum are the Thurston Gardens.  After visiting the museum, the plan was to wander through these compact but beautiful gardens. However, again, the weather played havoc with our plans.

After a scenic drive through the city (not much to see really), we went to the very interesting Municipal Market.  It’s the beating heart of Suva and a great place to spend an hour or so poking around. The boys with wheelbarrows own the lanes and they don’t seem afraid to mow down a few tourists to deliver their cassava on time. Besides the recognizable tomatoes, cabbages and chilies, there are bitter gourds, mangos, papayas, jackfruit, dalo (taro), yams and so much more. Produce is cheaper than in supermarkets and there’s no need to haggle – prices are clearly marked.  They measure their produce by handful, heap or bundle.

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Our lunch was at the Holiday Inn and so I was not expecting much from a hotel restaurant.  I was mistaken!  The quality and quantity of food showcasing their local cuisine was excellent.  There were also several desserts and I asked them to also serve the mangoes (a heap for $3 Fijian or $1.85CAD) and papaya (large for $2 Fijian or 1.25Cad) that I bought at the market.  Delicious!

The balance of the afternoon was free time which we spent by walking around the downtown and retreating back to the ship to immerse ourselves in the books we are enjoying.  Next stop is Apia, Somoa!

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ED’S 82 DAY GRAND ASIA & PACIFIC SAILING WITH HOLLAND AMERICA – PART 28

December 05, 2018 – Nadi, Fiji

Nadi (pronounced Nandi) is Fiji’s third-largest center and its gateway town. Most budget and mid-range accommodations as well as the vast majority of shops and restaurants are in or just north of the town center. A 20-minute drive over a short bridge to the east lies Port Denarau, home to six international luxury hotels (and counting), the shopping complex and marina, and large private homes.  A shared beachfront and free shuttle bus makes it easy to get around Port Denarau and access the restaurants and spas of each hotel. Denarau is built on reclaimed mangrove mudflats; most of the beach has dark-grey sand and murky water makes it unsuitable for snorkeling.

Having said all that, our focus today was on golf!  The plan was to meet another couple to make a foursome.  However, when we got onshore (this is a tender port), just our friend Terry was waiting for us.  It seems his wife Cynthia was not feeling well and opted out of golf.  Rather than an awkward 3-some, Karen bowed out of golf and thought some shopping might be in order.  When our friends Jillian and Ed saw Karen and inquired what had happened, they graciously invited Karen to join their group to go to the mudbaths.

Their first stop was at Garden of the Sleeping Giant.  Founded by the late American actor Raymund Burr (anyone remember Perry Mason?) in 1977 to house his own orchids, the garden now displays more than 2,000 kinds of orchids across its 50 acres. It’s located in the foothills of the Sabeto Mountains.

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From there, it was on to the Sabeto Hot Springs and Mud Pool for a naturalistic bathing experience north of town, where you can take a dip in these underdeveloped thermal bathing and mud pools in the lush Sabeto River Valley.  Anyone looking for an expensive spa experience substitute will be disappointed. The admission fee is approximately $30 Fijian Dollars.

Before the mud…

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After the mud…

The cleanse…

The massage…

And then the drinks!  Life is good!

While Karen was enjoying her adventures, Terry and I checked in for our golf game.  The cost was $90 Fijian dollars for green fees and $65 Fijian for club rental.  Works our to about $95 CAD, so not too bad.

We were teamed up with another couple of guys from the ship.  The course was reasonably good.  A different type of grass which made the greens a bit tricky but no excuses.  We had a wonderful day albeit very hot and humid.  Our round was about 4.5 hours and we really enjoyed a local beverage after the round.  I’m very glad we had the chance to play golf in Fiji…it made up for our missed round in Mooloolaba, Australia!

ED’S 82 DAY GRAND ASIA & PACIFIC SAILING WITH HOLLAND AMERICA – PART 27

December 03, 2018 – Mystery Island, Vanuatu

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A regular stopping place for South Pacific cruise ships, this tiny islet off the southern tip of the Vanuatu archipelago is totally uninhabited. Surrounded by clear blue waters and sheltered by coral reefs, it’s the perfect spot for swimming and snorkeling. It only takes about 45 minutes to walk around the sandy shore (in low tide).

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Although the island is uninhabited, there is quite an infrastructure for the tourists.  When ships moor, villagers come from nearby Anatom island (off the larger volcanic island of Tanna.  Locals also entertain visitors with charming dancing and singing.

There are bathrooms, restaurants and lots of shopping stalls selling a wide variety of trinkets, hats and t-shirts, etc.  The real draw though is the beach.  The sand is lovely and the water warm with a relatively gradual drop off.  It really is a lovely way to spend a relaxing day.  While we did not go, some of the snorkelers were very happy with the amount of sea life they saw including many varieties of colourful fish, large starfish, turtles and the occasional small shark.

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Used as an Allied forces landing strip in World War II, the grassy landing area dominates the centre of the island.

That’s our visit to Mystery Island…next stop Nadi, Fiji!  Thanks for letting us share our adventures!

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