The Holland America Grand Circle Island excursion is listed for US$149.95, but I got $20 off from my Have-It-All package, and then another $20 off since the the tour operator is no longer including lunch in the tour. As it turns out, this excursion doesn’t much resemble the description given at all. First, we drive around the island in the opposite direction, and secondly, we miss many of the stops, so it ends up being mainly a day of driving with only limited opportunities to get off the bus to either shop or see the sights on our own.
We do not stop at Hanauma Bay Marine Preserve since it remains closed to visitors since COVID-19, so I have no opportunity to take photos, even from the top of the cliff. The lack of humans during the pandemic has allowed the ecosystem to recover, so only visitors with permits are allowed in now. We stop at the Halona Blow Hole so I have time for a selfie before we hit the road again. I appreciate the 20 minutes we have at the Byodo-In Temple, although it is full of visitors, so it’s very crowded.
We drive north along the beautiful east coast, passing by both the Polynesian Cultural Center (where we were originally to stop for lunch) and the Kualoa Ranch. We stop at a macademia nut farm to shop, but it is packed with people from other tourist buses. We are stuck in multiple construction zones along the way, which is certainly frustrating for all of us. We only drive by the famous north shore beaches: Makapu’u Point, Sandy Beach, Sunset Point Beach, and others – no stops.
Our lunch stop is in the surfing town of Hale‘iwa on the North Shore, where we have 1.5 hours to eat, shop, or do what we wish. I have an exceedingly expensive cappuccino and then wander along the main street that is lined with surf shops, restaurants, and shave ice places. I find some very nice Men’s Holoholo shorts in the Kahala shop, and buy a pair despite the US$88 price! I forgot to pack shorts for this trip for some reason…
We visit the Dole Pineapple Pavilion, which I detest, but at least we have 20 minutes off the bus. We are running late, so we miss the Nuuanu Pali Lookout (which would have redeemed this excursion for me), and drive directly back to the ship on the freeway. Needless to say, I’m frustrated and tired after this ordeal. I should have stuck to my original plan for today: take a taxi to the Bishop Museum.
After showering and putting on fresh clothes, I have a vegetarian pizza and a beer for dinner on the Panorama deck. There is a beautiful sunset over Honolulu, and later the ship departs Honolulu harbour around 10PM, bound for Kaua’i.
The ship arrives in Hilo harbour this morning in the rain, not unexpected on this wet, tropical side of the Big Island of Hawai’i. Once we are docked and I have breakfast in the Grand Dutch Cafe (cappuccino, smoked salmon, raisin bun, fruit parfait), I call my friend to let her know we are docked.
She drives from her home in Waimea to Hilo Harbour to pick me up around 11AM. We catch up with each other’s lives while she drives, and then have some lunch with her 90 year old friend, who lives in the little community of Volcano, near Volcano National Park. Cafe Ono is part of Volcano Garden Arts – a lovely tropical garden, gift shop offering original art, and a popular restaurant. I have a delightful day ashore with a good friend.
I fasten my GoPro camera to the rail on my verandah and take a time lapse video as the ship leaves the dock at 5:45PM, swings around in the tight harbour area, and heads out of Hilo Bay at sunset.
I have a coffee in my hotel room this morning before I repack my big bag and check out of the Metropolitan Hotel, walking 10 minutes downhill to the nearby Canada Place cruise ship terminal, arriving at 10:30AM. I pre-clear US Customs and Immigration, and then wind my way through the various Holland America check-in procedures. This is the first time I’ve used Priority Boarding, since I’m now a 4-star Mariner, but we end up waiting in the terminal for almost an hour before boarding commences. I must have missed the bag drop earlier, so I wheel my big bag up the gangway, all the way onto the ship and to my stateroom, arriving at Noon.
After a quick lunch in the Lido, I wander around the various venues, since the Koningsdam is my first Pinnacle-class ship. I have a martini in the Crow’s Nest Lounge, hanging out there for awhile admiring the view of beautiful Vancouver harbour on a sunny afternoon. Later this afternoon, I meet some friends on the Sun Deck 11 as we watch our departure from Vancouver. I have my GoPro action camera fastened to my verandah rail shooting a time lapse video of the ship’s beautiful evening departure, while I’m elsewhere on the ship observing and photographing our departure using my Canon R5 mirrorless camera.
Once we are clear of Vancouver, heading south through Georgia Strait, I finish unpacking and get dressed for dinner. I head for the Main Dining Room by 6:15PM, but is very busy on this first evening of the cruise, with huge lines of people waiting. I decide to have dinner at Canaletto (an Italian specialty restaurant), where I drop-in since there’s hardly anyone up there this evening. I’m fine with paying the US$12.92 charge (discounted from the regular $18 since I’m a 4* Mariner) in order to have a quiet place to eat with excellent service. The food is very tasty: Canaletto salad to start (green salad with candied pecans and vinaigrette), Grilled prawns with rice pilaf as the main, and I have an Affogado for desert and a cappuccino to finish.
I attend this evening’s presentation in the Main Stage – The Origin Story: Holland America Line. Jayme the Cruise Director tells the 300-year story of Holland America Line, which is quite interesting and a well-done multimedia presentation. He even mentions more recent history, where in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, Holland America worked hard to get their guests home, and to later repatriate all their crew to their home countries.
The Koningsdam is offshore from my home town of Victoria, on the southern tip of Vancouver Island around 9:30PM, where the BC pilot leaves the ship. My stateroom is right above where he transfers to the boat to take him ashore, so I get a great view of the action.
We arrive early this morning in Singapore’s cruise ship terminal. We have a day in port and then overnight aboard the ship this evening. Most of the passengers are disembarking tomorrow morning, but I’m one of the 175 who are staying on board for the next cruise segment.
I take the Best of Singapore excursion today. It is an exhausting 8 hour tour, but we cover a great deal of ground, and I take some good photos and video. Our guide takes us to the City Gallery, where there are some wonderful scale models of the city and the whole country of Singapore. It shows just how much of Singapore is dedicated to gardens and other non-developed land, including the reservoir system for their water supply.
We take an electric-powered riverboat ride down the Kallang River and into Marina Bay, past Merlion Park. The Merlion fountain statue was erected as a symbol of welcome to visitors; the lion statue is emblematic of Singapore itself.
We also see the historic Fullerton Hotel, on our way to the three towers that make up the Marina Bay Sands hotel. Our group have passes to go to the Observation Deck, some 200 metres (650 feet) above sea level, perched on Tower 3 of the hotel. I manage to photograph the amazing infinity pool (reserved for hotel guests) by leaning out from the observing deck to grab a shot. The view of Gardens by the Bay below the towers, as well as the city and harbour are fantastic from this high vantage point. The Marina Bay Sands hotel has one of only two casinos in Singapore, and a huge number of high end shops in a vast mall under the main hotel.
Our bus takes us to the entrance to Gardens by the Bay – a 100 hectare (250 acre) spectacularly designed park, home to an amazing variety of rare plants housed in giant, innovative domed conservatories. There are several different regions and ecosystems to discover, but we only have time to explore two: the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest.
The Flower Dome replicates the cool-dry climate of Mediterranean regions, and showcases flora that thrive in these conditions. Oddly enough, cactus and succulents, as well as Baobab trees are included in this ecosystem. True to its name, the Flower Dome showcases massive numbers of flowers from all over the world. As we move into the mist-veiled Cloud Forest, we feel the climate change to warmer and moister conditions. The 35 metre (115 foot) tall mountain showcases the world’s tallest indoor waterfall and presents plant life from tropical ecosystems, and is nothing short of spectacular.
We stop for a family-style Chinese lunch in a restaurant in Chinatown, which offers us a welcome air-conditioned respite from the heat and humidity on Singapore’s streets after seeing the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. After lunch, we see the gold-domed Masjid Sultan Mosque, the centre of Muslim culture in the city, and nearby Arab Street offers lots of carpet dealers. Shopping in Little India is interesting, and there are bargains to be had here when compared with Singapore’s more upscale (and expensive) shopping areas.
We finish our day at the legendary Raffles Hotel. I have a Singapore Sling cocktail while our group relaxes in Raffles’ Long Bar where this cocktail was originally invented. Named after the British designer of modern-day Singapore, Sir Stamford Raffles, this property is one of the world’s finest and most famous hotels. The high ceilings and colonial architecture reflect the era of British rule (1819-1963). There is no public access to the lobby and other guest areas, however the Long Bar and shops are open to the public.
My first two flights (Victoria to Vancouver and Vancouver to Hong Kong) are both about an hour late departing. This doesn’t cause me any major problems since I have lots of time between my flights into and out of Vancouver.
The Cathay Pacific flight from Vancouver to Hong Kong takes over 14 hours of flight time. We fly up the coast of British Columbia and Alaska, over Russia, and then south across central China, and to Hong Kong. I get a beautiful view of Venus off the wingtip and also of the lights of Wuhan, China.
In the Economy section where I am seated, the flight crew serves dinner shortly after we leave Vancouver, and breakfast before we arrive in Hong Kong, but otherwise completely ignores our cabin. They never check on passengers, or offer any water or other refreshments or snacks. This is completely unacceptable. I have flown many long duration flights, and all airlines take much better care of their passengers than I experienced on this flight.
I am anxious about my late arrival in Hong Kong, since I have to go through security and change gates for my onward flight to Singapore, and accomplish all of this within an hour in an unfamilar airport. Deplaning in Hong Kong goes surprisingly quickly, but I immediately have to re-clear security before I can proceed to my next gate. The security guy operating the scanner screws up his face when my computer bag goes along the belt, so at the end, a young woman asks to see inside my bag. It appears she doesn’t know what binoculars are, but is satisfied once she inspects them. She even asks me how to pronounce the word “binocular”!
Cathay Pacific does redeem themselves on the Hong Kong to Singapore flight, where the cabin service in Economy is very good. They serve us breakfast after departure, and ensure the passengers are comfortable throughout the four hour flight.
After over 30 hours elapsed travel time, and losing a day in the process, it feels great to get to the Pan Pacific Orchard hotel, have a shower, and get some sleep for a few hours in my quiet hotel room. This hotel is not new, but it is very nicely appointed, and is located in the fairly quiet Orchard district of Singapore. This area is not downtown, but there are lots of malls, hotels, embassies, and residential towers in the area, and a subway station is close. I sleep soundly overnight. This property is now being redeveloped (opening in 2023), however the other Pan Pacific hotels in Singapore would all be good options.
Feb 16, 2016 – Singapore departure aboard Volendam
I have some cappuccino and breakfast this morning at the hotel, and then repack before taking a taxi to the cruise ship terminal just before noon. As usual, Holland America Lines (HAL) are well organized. After filling in a few additional forms to allow me to exit Singapore, I check in at the cruise ship counter, receive my personalized security card for the ship, and walk my bags and myself through the concourse and along the gangway, board the ship and find my stateroom.
The ship is docked in Harbourfront, a busy area of Singapore. When I return in 15 days mid-cruise, I will have some time to explore Singapore, since the ship stays overnight before departing for Indonesia and the Solar Eclipse. I attend a welcome reception for three and four star Mariners, where snacks are served, along with champagne and orange juice. The Cruise Director and Hotel Manager welcome us as repeat HAL cruisers. After some delays caused by Singaporean authorities, the ship pulls away from the dock around 4:30PM into the busy harbour. We have a day at sea tomorrow before our arrival in our first port: Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia.
March 9, 2014 – Sunday –Nuku Hiva, Marquesas Group, French Polynesia
I wake up very early and look out the cabin window to see that the ship is very close to the coast of Nuku Hiva. I grab my camera and go out on the Promenade Deck to take some photos as we enter Taiohae harbour. The light is wonderful, and a rainbow appears as the ship anchors in the harbour.
My excursion assembles in the Showroom very early, so I don’t have time for breakfast or even a coffee. I’ll just have to suck it up and survive, since the tour will end mid-morning. Private vehicles are waiting to take us for a drive, since Nuku Hiva lacks the tourist infrastructure the main French Polynesian Islands have. I luck out on two counts: our driver speaks some English, and I get the front passenger seat in a new Ford Explorer 4X4. Our driver owns the car rental agency on the island, and has worked in Honolulu.
We drive away from the harbour, over the mountain ridge, and into the next harbour and valley. It is a pretty drive, and we stop for two photo opportunities along the way. The first stop is a lookout high over the harbour. The second stop highlights the Survivor Marquesas location, and gives us great views of a long inlet with very pretty colours and interesting topography, with a community at the head of the inlet.
We drive down to sea level through the Taipivai valley and the community of the same name. A river runs beside the community, and we eventually come to the head of an inlet called Comptroller Bay, where there is a little community called Houmi. There is a nice beach and a single sailboat is anchored in the sheltered bay. Our stop here includes fresh fruit snacks, and the obligatory crafts for sale. Since it is Sunday, most people are attending church this morning.
We then return along the same route back to the main town of Taiohae, stopping at the local historic Notre Dame Cathedral, and return to the departure point near the tender dock.
By this time, it is starting to heat up, so I’ve had enough and head straight back to the ship on the next available tender. As always, it’s great to be back aboard the ship, where I can shower, change clothes, have some lunch in the Rotterdam Dining Room, and have that much-needed cappuccino afterwards!
The ship departs on time at 3PM, cruising along the coast of Nuku Hiva before setting a course for San Diego, which will take us six days.
March 5, 2014 – Wednesday – Tahiti, French Polynesia
My excursion this morning is called Off the Beaten Track: Tahiti by 4-Wheel Drive, which is another tour using 4X4 trucks, but this time to explore the interior of Tahiti. We drive along the north coast of Tahiti from Papeete to the Papenoo Valley, and then head inland up to the base of one of the volcano calderas, now covered in lush tropical vegetation, with a river and waterfalls. The river is used for hydropower generation, although the dams, reservoirs and power stations are very small by British Columbia standards. We return using the same route, marvelling at the huge rough surf crashing on the rocks and shoreline. Our final stop is at an outlook over Mataval Bay and its black beach, with the capital of Papeete and island of Moorea behind.
After lunch, I venture out to walk around Papeete for a few blocks. Everything is closed today, since it is Ash Wednesday (and Missionary Day), both a civic and religious holiday. There are a few restaurants open and a few tourist shops, but otherwise the city is closed for the day. The Vaima Shopping Center was newly opened when I was here in 1978, but it is closed for the holiday like most other retail. The afternoon heat is a killer, so I return to the air-conditioned ship.
This evening there is a special folkloric Tahitian dance troupe the Showroom aboard ship: Tahiti Ora. They are top-notch, high-energy performers, and the room is packed for their single performance. After the show, the rain is pouring down outside. We have been incredibly lucky during out time in French Polynesia, since this is their rainy season. We seem to have been perpetually a day ahead of serious-looking rainstorms. See my photos of our scenic cruise along Raiatea and Taha’a for some major clouds and even a funnel cloud!
March 3, 2014 – Monday – Bora Bora, French Polynesia
I have some breakfast in the Lido early, since I have to be ashore for my excursion by 9AM. Another cruise ship has anchored beside us, replacing the one I saw yesterday. Bora Bora is obviously a popular port-of-call! After breakfast, I take the 10 minute tender ride ashore, and eventually we are collected and board our catamaran. We actually depart a bit early since everyone is present from the ship. Moana Adventure Tours runs this excursion with four Tahitian guys. They are well-rated on TripAdvisor and I can see why – I had a great day, as did the others from the ship on this excursion!
First stop on the tour is just around the seaward side of the closest motu (islet) to Vaitape harbour, so we arrive there in only 15 minutes. We see Stingrays and Black-tipped sharks in the shallow water. Most of the people get into the water with them, however I stay aboard and get some great photos and video from the deck.
Next stop is about 20 minutes away: a small, private motu where there are coral reefs and a nice sandy beach. It is a wet landing, so everyone gets in the water here. I have a wonderful hour poking around, taking photos and video of the fish and the coral formations in the shallow lagoon. The excursion guys serve snacks and drinks under the shade of the palm trees before we return to the catamaran for the trip back to Vaitape harbour. This 3.5 hour excursion couldn’t be much better, but I’m very glad to head back to the ship’s air conditioning, since the oppressive heat hits us once we are back in the town of Vaitape.
Cruising from Fanning Island, Kiribati to Bora Bora, French Polynesia aboard ms Statendam
February 28, 2014 – Friday –Fanning Island to French Polynesia – Day 1 at sea
Since we crossed the International Dateline again, we get to live February 28th for a second time today, a day at sea enroute to Bora Bora. So I’m calling today February 28B, and yesterday was February 28A. The ship also crossed the Equator last night, so we are now officially in the Southern Hemisphere and the South Pacific Ocean.
I go to the coffee chat interview that the Cruise Director Armen does each morning in the Crow’s Nest Lounge, because he is interviewing Emile and Marie-Claude, the duo of Band Artistique, the act I saw two nights ago in the Showroom. They reveal they have their two pre-school children with them onboard, and will be performing next in Germany for a few months.
I meet a couple who ran into the Jones Act issue as I did on the Big Island of Hawaii. They had planned to stay with friends overnight on the Big Island, but like me, they decided not to risk the wrath of the US Immigration coming down on them in future. They did not stay overnight with their friends, but just visited them when we pulled into Kailua-Kona.
I watch my first movie while aboard ship this afternoon. Amelia is a biographical account of Amelia Earhart’s adventures and eventual attempt at flying around the world. She and her navigator were eventually lost over the part of the Pacific Ocean we are currently sailing through. She was attempting to land on Howland Island, but never made it. Hilary Swank and Richard Gere were the two stars playing Amelia Earhart and her husband/publisher George Putman (respectively). Not a bad movie, from someone like me who rarely watches movies.
March 1, 2014 – Saturday –Fanning Island to French Polynesia – Day 2 at sea
Our second day at sea is routine, however the weather is certainly warming up. The temperature at noon is 30℃, but the humidity is down to 66%. It is mostly sunny, with some clouds in the sky. The deck chairs are full of people tanning this morning. I walk a couple of circuits around the Promenade Deck, but otherwise stay inside where it is cooler. I take a tech class this morning on the Windows App Store. It certainly has come a long way from when it started, and offers a serious alternative to the Apple App Store for Mac. There is always something to learn while aboard cruise ships.
I sit in the library and finish reading a book on my iPad that is 611 pages long! It is time once again to do some laundry before the busy days in French Polynesia, so I throw a load into the self serve laundry located on my floor at lunchtime. There are only two washers and two dryers on my floor, so it is always busy. It is $2 to wash and $1 to dry, so for $3 I can have as many fresh clothes as would cost $20 to have done by the ship’s laundry service.
The captain reports we passed within 6 nmi of Starbuck Island at 1AM this morning, so we are in a very remote part of the South Pacific right now. As of noon today, we are still some 500 nmi from our destination of Bora Bora, so at 18 kts we still have about 28 hours of travel time. The schedule calls for us to arrive at 4PM tomorrow. The captain feels we should meet that goal if the winds continue to cooperate.
There is a tropical rainstorm this afternoon. It looks grey and wet outside through the windows, despite the warm temperature. New to this cruise are art exhibitions and auctions, which are held during the day in the Ocean Bar. I can’t image lugging paintings home aboard an aircraft, but obviously they must do pretty well at selling aboard ship. The ship’s crew set it up for them and tear it down a few hours later, and store all the paintings, restoring the bar area for general use after the art auction is over.
It is formal night this evening, so after having a nap in my cabin, I get dressed in my dark navy jacket, black pants, shirt and tie. Dinner in the Rotterdam Dining Room is very pleasant, since I am seated with a couple at a table for four. There are only three of us, so it is easy to talk. Like most of the passengers aboard, they have cruised extensively. In fact, they did this particular cruise just last year! Probably the most interesting cruise they mention during our conversation is a repositioning cruise from Singapore to Amsterdam, with stops in India, the Seychelles, around the Cape of Good Hope, and then northward. They said the ship was only about half full, so there was lots of service from the staff, and they got to know both the staff and passengers well. This interests me, since I had planned to take a similar cruise but in reverse – Europe to SE Asia through the Suez Canal.
March 2, 2014 – Sunday – Fanning Island to French Polynesia – Day 3 at sea, arriving in Bora Bora
Essentially, this is a day at sea, however we arrive as scheduled at Bora Bora this afternoon at 5PM. The seas this morning are much reduced, the grey skies are gone, and things are looking decidedly tropical outside. As we pass through the channel into Vaitape harbour, there is another cruise ship anchored: the Artania, registered in Hamilton, Bermuda. The island and the volcanic mountain are as I remember them, but I can’t quite place where the airport is located. I’m assuming it is to the east of us, further down the lagoon.
The ship clears immigration by 5:30PM, and there are already 200 people waiting to go ashore on the tenders. I’m in no rush to go ashore this evening, but perhaps I will go after I have dinner in the Rotterdam dining room. There is a Polynesian BBQ and buffet on the Lido deck, which I will avoid! After dinner, I decide to stay on board the ship, and simply enjoy the views of this tropical paradise from the ship’s decks.
February 20, 2014 – Thursday – The North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii
We arrive in Honolulu harbour on time this morning. The early morning approach offers some superb views of Diamond Head and the south shore of Waikiki and Honolulu before we slip into our dock at Pier 2.
I am on an excursion today, our first of two days in Honolulu. The Explore and Taste Oahu’s North Shore tour is a 6.5 hour all day affair run by Roberts Hawaii, which visits the tranquil Byodu Temple after we travel over the H3 freeway through the Koolau Mountains to Kaneohe. The temple is quite beautiful and tranquil despite the groups from the numerous tour buses wandering the grounds.
We then stop at Chinaman’s Hat Rock, which is a rock sticking out of Kaneohe Bay. We drive by the Crouching Lion restaurant (now closed), which my friends and I stopped at for lunch the last time I visited Oahu. Our stop at Malaekahana State Recreation Area offers a great view of the ocean and a spectacular beach, not often visited by tourists or locals. (It looks like Malaekahana is now operating as a campground and retreat.) As we pass the Polynesian Cultural Center, our guide explains how the students study at the Brigham Young University and the adjacent Latter Day Saints temple in Laie, and also work at the Polynesian Cultural Center to pay for their education.
Our destination for lunch is just up the road: Fumis Kahuku Shrimp (Yelp reviews), where we have a pre-ordered lunch of shrimp, cod, or chicken. Most people order the shrimp, which is a large portion that comes in a Styrofoam plate along with some salad and rice and a soft drink. I find the Lemon Pepper Shrimp to be very tasty. There is a washbasin to get the grease off after the meal is finished. Shave Ice can be purchased for dessert, for those so inclined. This is very casual dining, but the food is very good! The James Campbell Wildlife Refuge is visible out by the coastline from here, and the shrimp ponds where the shrimp are raised are right beside this roadside stop.
We carry on to see Sunset Beach for a quick 10-minute stop, then pass by Tunnel Beach, both of which are world-famous for surfing (see banner image above). There are lots of surfers riding the waves.
Waimea Bay Beach Park is the next stop to see the turtles in the bay feeding on the algae. We spot one turtle. We then turn away from the coastline, driving through the little town of Haeliwa, and make our final stop at the Dole Plantation. This is the typical tourist trap if ever I saw one, but thankfully it is only a 20-minute stop before we carry on back to Honolulu over the H2 and H1 freeways, passing Pearl Harbor along the way.
The ship stays at the dock overnight, so we sleep aboard.
February 21, 2014 – Friday – Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii
I don’t have any excursions booked for today, so I get up and have a leisurely breakfast in the Rotterdam Dining Room. I go ashore from Pier 2, walking a few blocks up South Street as far as the Mission Houses, the Kawaiaha’o Church, and then cross South King Street to see the State Capital and Iolani Palace.
I return to the Mission Houses for their tour of the inside, paying the $10 admission. It was very interesting hearing how the missionaries from Boston sailed around Cape Horn, to live and work in Hawaii. They supported themselves by printing and selling (or bartering) books and documents. They gave the Hawaiians their written language, introduced them to western music melody, and of course as missionaries, converted many of them to Christianity. I don’t have time to go into the Iolani Palace before it closes, so I return to the ship to freshen up and have some lunch.
I spend the afternoon aboard ship, swimming in the Ocean View Pool and generally relaxing. I am also taking advantage of the roaming package I purchased from Rogers, my cellular provider in Canada. The roaming package includes 15 minutes for voice calls, and also includes 200Mb of data. Since I have high speed LTE connectivity here, I can ignore the ship’s slow and expensive satellite Internet connection, and get a few things done online. I also call Harper’s Car Rentals to change my arrangements on the Big Island of Hawaii to a one-day rental with no drop off in Kona, which they happily do for me.