California

We escaped snow and unusually cold temperatures in late February with a week break in California, meeting up with my parents in Palm Springs.

Our agenda for the week was to explore a bit of the desert, eat Mexican food and spend lots of time in the hot springs fed mineral pools where we stayed.  Done, done and done.

Pork carnitas and refried beans that we’re still talking about

Just a few miles down the road from our accommodation, in the Coachella Valley Preserve, is the Thousand Palms Oasis. The San Andreas Fault, which runs through this valley, brings water up to this area and feeds naturally growing palm groves. I suppose that’s where Palm Springs gets its name.

Murky, stinky swamp filled from water fed through the San Andreas fault

Razor sharp thorns on palm stalks

These palms are not trimmed and their long curtains of dead branches are an excellent habitat
for all kinds of creatures I don’t want to think about

The other thing we wanted to see was Joshua Tree National Park, something that’s been on my bucket list for a long time. We went, and it was great. I’ll write about that next week.

 

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Ship Details & The Trip Home

This Hawaiian cruise was our second voyage on the MS Eurodam- we sailed her in March-April 2016 on a transatlantic crossing from Florida to Spain. Launched in 2008, the ship (along with it’s twin, the MS Nieuw Amsterdam) are the second largest largest ships in the HA fleet with 11 passenger decks and capacity for 2,100 passengers and 900 crew (which makes it a mid size ship, compared to others out there).  Jeff is continually impressed with Eurodam’s agile maneuverability thanks to three 1.9 MW bow thrusters and two 17.6 MW aft mounted Azipods (for those of you who understand such things).

So what appeals to us about cruising with Holland America? Smaller ships, fantastic service, interesting itineraries and a compatible fellow passenger demographic. Holland America is not a cruise line where you’ll find all day dance music by the pool, skydive simulators, lots of children, crazy water slides or hairiest chest contests – all things we’re happy to live without on vacation. The atmosphere might be a bit staid for some our age but it suits us perfectly. We never thought we were “cruise people” but a cruise makes us completely unplug from daily life AND gives the freedom to be as busy (or not busy) as we each want. The daily itinerary is filled with activity options of all kinds and sea days give long stretches of leisure time to read by the pool, walk the promenade deck, catch a movie from the great lineup of new releases free on your stateroom TV, take in various other scheduled activities (Jeff particularly liked the botany lectures on this cruise while I enjoyed America’s Test Kitchen demonstrations) or do nothing. We tend to fill port days with as much exploration as possible and this balance of busy port days with stretches of quieter sea days works really well for us.

Beautiful evening for a walk around the Promenade Deck #hollandamericaline

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I like cooking but I LOVE a break from it on vacation. Cruise buffets in particular get a bad rap but we’ve found the food on Holland America (which does NOT have a 24 hour buffet) it to be great with lots of options for accommodating allergies.



Our dive-in burgers #westerdam #hal #diveinburgerbar

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In late 2015, Holland America started a partnership with Lincoln Center to create a chamber music stage on a number of ships. Both resident piano quartets we have seen on the Eurodam have been absolutely fantastic and the programs are fresh and exciting. Most days, there are three 45 minute recitals (2 different programs, some of which are entirely classical and others that mix different genres) at Lincoln Center Stage – a vacation with such great music is a major draw for us.




We spent the five days back from Hawaii doing the things mentioned above- going to recitals, catching interesting lectures and cooking demonstrations, reading by the pool and watching sunsets on the back deck.

As we got close to North America, the seas got a little rougher and the normally calm swimming pools transformed into very fun wave pools. The days got progressively more overcast and while we were never uncomfortable or seasick (thanks to our daily Dramamine tablets), there was noticeable movement the last few days.

The waters calmed as soon as we entered the Straight of Juan de Fuca, giving us a suddenly smoother final 14 hours on board. Preparing for bed the last night, we realized we were surprisingly close to Victoria. Standing out on our room balcony late a night gave a great vantage point to enjoying the lights and smooth-as-glass sailing, as well as an answer to our questions about the ship’s route- we had sailed close to Victoria to pick up a marine pilot who came aboard to guide the ship into Vancouver harbour. It was interesting to watch the transfer via rope ladder thrown to the pilot boat which had come along side and was matching the ship’s speed. No fancy gangways for the pilot, who Jeff calculated had to climb up about 25 feet while the ship continued at ~18 knots.

We woke up as the ship was berthing in Vancouver- one final breakfast and it was time to disembark.


#hollandamerica #vancouver #eurodam

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Was it a great trip? Yes. Was it the best way to see Hawaii? No. Port days simply can’t compete with longer stays in a particular location. They do, however, give a taste of an area and our port days in Maui and Kauai made certainly made us want to return (we had already been on the big island of Hawaii and Oahu). This trip wasn’t about Hawaiian immersion- it was about rest, relaxation and time away, together. On those notes, it was a success and we’d do it again tomorrow, if only we could.

Port 4: Lihue, Kauai

The final port on our October cruise to Hawaii was in Lihue, Kauai. It was our first trip to Kauai and while we would have loved to explore the island, a mid-afternoon departure gave us a limited time frame. Research suggested the best way to see the whole island was by air so we booked an early morning flight with Wings Over Kauai. I had not been in a small plane before and was quite nervous but soon calmed, thanks to a great pilot, perfect weather, and views that were absolutely spectacular.

With spent our final few hours enjoying the sun, sand, surf and flowers at Kalapaki Beach, a short walk from the cruise terminal.

And then it was time to leave for home.

Port 3: Lahaina, Maui

Yes, I’m WAY behind on sharing about our Hawaiian cruise so here’s the next installment:

Both Jeff and I had never been to Maui and were excited to explore the island. We rented a car for the day and zipped up country- photos are not plentiful but we had an excellent day and particularly enjoyed Ioa Valley State Park, Makai Glass, and Ulupalakua Vineyard.  Aside for the choice to drive around the north side from Kahului back to Lahaina on a road that was mostly one lane hugging the side of a cliff (very poor research on our part), we loved what we saw and plan to return.

Early morning approach to Lahaina

View of the Eurodam from Lahaina waterfront

 

Amazing Ioa Valley State Park

Lunch from the Thai Mee Up food truck in Kahului

Dolphins at Lahaina waterfront that followed the tender boat back to the ship

Skipping dinner in the dining room to stay on deck for sail away = GREAT idea.

 

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Port 2: Honolulu Day 2

Having already toured Pearl Harbour and several other sites on a previous trip to Honolulu, we followed the advice of fellow cruise passengers for our second day in Honolulu and went to the north side of the Island.

City bus passes (for a bargain $5 a pop) took us the scenic route and stops peppered all along the King Kamehameha Highway loop provided lots of opportunities to hop off to explore food trucks, beaches, quaint shopping areas and other landmarks.

We stopped at the Dole Plantation for their famous Pineapple Whip- a touristy move on our part but ever since learning that it was dairy free (the main reason we didn’t try it when we were there in 2014), I’ve wanted to get back. It was very well worth the effort, particularly after a long day in the sun.

another convert to the magical Dole Whip

On our ride back downtown Honolulu and walk back to the ship, we passed numerous murals, many of which were strikingly beautiful.

Jeff’s favourite. It became his tag line for the rest of our time in Hawaii!!

We caught the final seconds of sunset as we slowly moved out from the dock that evening.

   

We were likely some of the few (only?!) passengers on the ship not to visit Waikiki during our two days in Honolulu. Perhaps next time…. although we’d be hard pressed not to hop the bus or rent a car and head back up to the North Shore to explore more. That shrimp…. well, there are no words for how good it was.

Port 2: Honolulu Day 1

Before starting last month’s tour of advent and Christmas music, I shared about our trip to Hawaii in October but only got as far as our first stop on the big Island. As I look out the window from my home office today at dull, grey skies and more rain, it seems like a good time to remember the other stops on our Hawaiian getaway.

After a first day in Hilo, we sailed overnight to Honolulu, arriving just after sunrise on Sunday, October 8. The ship docked next to the Aloha Tower, close to the historic and business districts downtown.

I had done a fair bit of research about what was happening in the city that day and we started with a choral service at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Cathedral. We received the warmest of welcomes and enjoyed the very fine choir and pipe organ (things that truthfully appeal to us more than cocktails at Waikiki).

Incredible wall of stained glass at the Cathedral’s entrance

Our research also came across very high ratings for the Bishop Museum, the designated Hawai’i State Museum of Natural and Cultural history.

replica Polynesian Moai statue on the front lawn of the Bishop Museum

We hopped the city bus downtown and spent a full afternoon taking in the museum,science center and planetarium.

I was always vaguely aware of Polynesian migration patterns but several exhibits in the museum made this incredible history come alive. The planetarium presentation on the Polynesian’s nagvigation by the stars was fascinating- I left the afternoon truly awed by how far and how accurately these brave travelers crossed the Pacific with the most simple of tools and transportation.

Exhibits in the main museum give a great picture of life at different points of Hawaiian history.

Great Hall

I found exhibits on Hawaiian Ali’i (the royal family) particularly interesting. The feathered plumes below, called kahili, were standards used as an honour guard for different Hawaiian kings and queens in the nineteenth century. The primary motivation behind the Bishop Museum’s formation in 1889 was a desire to preserve the Hawaiian royal legacy following the death of Bernice Pauahi Bishop, one of the last members of the House of Kamehameha which ruled from 1794 until 1874 (it was succeeded by the House of Kalākaua which ruled until the kingdom was overthrown and annexed by the United States in 1893).

Kings from the House of Kamehameha wore cloaks made from small feathers as a sign of their power and authority. These cloaks, which each had a distinct pattern specific to its wearer, were astounding seen closeup.

The science center is wonderfully interactive for children- it was very quiet during our walk through and I had great fun with the hot wax lava flow exhibit.

The grounds around the Bishop Museum are full of local flora and fauna that we greatly enjoyed, despite having to duck inside during several afternoon rain showers.

 

Getting to the Bishop Museum from downtown was fairly simple via city bus and we left with a much greater awareness and appreciation for Hawaiian history. We highly recommend it!

Port 1: Hilo, Hawaii

After five days at sea, it was nice not only to see land but land that was somewhat familiar to us. As we approached Hilo on the east side of the big island of Hawaii, we had a great view of Mauna Kea that soon clouded over and remained so for the rest of the day.

Having already seen the volcanoes, waterfalls and beaches in the Hilo area during our 2013 visit, we elected to spend the day exploring downtown. First stop was the farmer’s market and it did not disappoint. We bought one of the floral arrangements and enjoyed it in our room all the way home.

Downtown Hilo is quaint andvery pedestrian friendly – walking from the Farmer’s Market to the Pacific Tsunami museum, we caught part of a band concert at an outdoor pavilion. The museum was great and we came away with a much better understanding of how tsunamis are a significant part of Hawaii’s history as well as how the Pacific Tsunami Warning System developed as a result. As Pacific island dwellers ourselves, it was particularly interesting and relevant.

From the museum, we made our way back to the ship with a few garden detours along the walk.