So here we finally are – the retirement holiday three plus years in the making, cancelled more times than I care to remember and coming more than two years after I returned to work! Many thanks to my long suffering colleagues who are covering in my absence, I’ll make it up when I return.
So what’s cruising like in these new times? Still fun I’m pleased to report. Yes, masks are worn indoors but I’m well used to it. There was an initial plan to test everyone (self tests) for covid after 5 days but this was mysteriously cancelled at the last minute. Word is, some passengers objected. If it had raised a string of negative results allowing us to demask that would have been good but heyho. Word is there are cases on board but that’s hardly a surprise. They’re in isolation.
The main difference is in the food provision. There’s still a buffet for meals but instead of helping yourself from large pots everything is either in individual dishes or served by staff. I was never a fan of passengers pawing food and leaving it in situ so this is good. Another plus is the evening dining arrangements. The tables are further apart so you don’t feel party to others’ dinner conversations. On previous cruises we always felt pressured to share and as we like a table to ourselves we were often turned away with a buzzer and a considerable wait. Now you prebook your dining room and time on the app and every night we’ve had our own private table as soon as we arrive, no questions asked. A big step forward.
The food has been excellent, even better than previous cruises. Plenty of courses, a wide range of options, tasty and hot. Served promptly and courteously. Not an easy ask with 2400 passengers on board. Well done to all involved.
A reminder of why cruising appeals to me. It’s like a quality floating hotel, with attached restaurants, bars, entertainment venues, shops, cafes, lectures and quizzes. All within a couple of minutes walk from your stateroom. And coming up a selection of places to visit on shore trips – today Hilo, tomorrow Honolulu with future visits to Tahiti, Fiji, several New Zealand destinations and a final sail in to iconic Sydney harbour. Much to look forward to.
Today it’s Hilo, Hawaii’. Hawaii’ is an archipelago of some 137 islands and this is the largest of these, given the titular name of the island state and the nickname of ‘big island’. At 4000sqm it’s more than twice the landmass of all the other islands. The archipelago has a volcanic origin and there is still considerable activity on the island which has 5 main peaks. As we docked, the gently sloping profile of Mauna Loa was clearly visible, slowly emerging from the clouds.
We boarded the coach, glad to get the feel of solid land under our feet after five days at sea. This is a reminder of how Hawaii is in fact the most remote landmass on the planet in terms of separation from other landmasses. Hence five sea days to get here…
First destination today was the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, specifically the caldera of Kīlauea volcano. If you want ‘volcanoes 101’ can I refer you to Google but I found it interesting to be told that a caldera is a crater which must be both the highest point of the mountain and at least a mile across. Once we arrived at the Volcano House hotel (NOT shortlisted in the ‘most original name’ category in any hotel awards) it’s obvious how vast this caldera really is. The emission of steam is an indicator of ongoing active lava flows, albeit at very low levels compared to the very explosive episodes described in lurid detail by our pleasant but perhaps slightly eccentric driver who had been very close to a number of active eruptions ( he provided photographic evidence that this was not simply bragging).
Steam can be seen issuing from numerous vents beside the roads in the park. This is the result of rainwater running through fissures and hitting the rock heated by the magma below.
On our way back to the ship we stopped to see Panaewa zoo and tropical rainforest gardens. I’m not a huge fan of zoos and this was no exception. The grounds were nice however with some pretty flora and fauna and enough shade to protect from the heat and humidity of the middle of the day.
And so it’s back on board and straight to the buffet while I post. A delicious salad has been slightly offset by two Coors lights and an ice cream sandwich but, hey, life’s all about balance eh?
Check in with you tomorrow from Honolulu…..