Grand Princess Hawaii cruise review
By Sara Macefield | 10 Nov 2015
A cruise around Hawaii gives you a unique perspective of the islands, their culture and history, says Sara Macefield
When Captain James Cook sailed into Hawaii in 1779, only nine years after stumbling across Australia, he was feted by islanders who adoringly believed this mysterious visitor was their fertility god, Lono.
Extravagant feasts and riotous merry-making marked his arrival, and by all accounts Cook’s crew enthusiastically engaged in their own fertility rituals with obliging Hawaiian maidens.
Sailing into Honolulu nearly 240 years later on board Princess Cruises’ ship Grand Princess, I had a sneaking suspicion that our arrival wouldn’t be quite on that scale, but I was curious for a first glimpse of these distant Pacific isles, more than 7,000 miles from the UK (and a jet-lag inducing 11 hours behind BST).
As our taxi sped towards the high-rises of Waikiki, I noted that the wide roads lined with chic designer stores could have come from any smart American city. But then, in front of us, the bay opened up; an arc of bright golden sand bordering the translucent emerald shimmer of the Pacific Ocean, embellished with small curls of foaming white rollers.
The water was dotted with surfboards, their riders waiting in hope of the perfect wave to whisk them towards the shore; while surf shacks scattered along the sands offered board rentals and lessons.
Of course the chance to join in proved irresistible and soon my husband, our 12-year-old daughters Dani and Holly and I were practising our best surfing stances as our laidback instructor Winnie launched us into the waves, shouting encouragement.
Needless to say, I soon became an expert at ‘wipe out’ and more adept at quickly climbing back onto my surfboard than staying on it in the first place; but it was certainly exhilarating, a lot of fun, and made for a memorable experience.
Of course there is more to the island of O’ahu than surfing – most notably Pearl Harbor, where the world’s attention will be focused next year as it will be 75 years since the base was attacked by the Japanese on 7 December 1941.
Another must-visit landmark is Honolulu’s Iolani Palace, from where Hawaii’s royal family ruled until the end of the 19th century, when the islands became a republic. It represented another chapter in the fascinating history of these outposts, originally named the Sandwich Islands by Captain Cook in honour of his expedition sponsor, the Earl of Sandwich.
Even though the name never stuck, the Union flag did as the Hawaiians adopted it and, much to my surprise, to this day it is incorporated into the canton of the Hawaiian state flag.
As Hawaii’s capital and most developed hub on the island of O’ahu, Honolulu was a welcome first stop as the archipelago takes four days to reach from Los Angeles, or five days from Vancouver, two of the West Coast cities from where Princess voyages depart.
During our crossing of more than 2,300 nautical miles from Canada’s west coast, we’d fallen into a daily routine of bracing deck walks and competitive table-tennis matches, while Holly and Dani splashed around in the deck pool under its all-weather roof. Our days revolved around mealtimes and themed activities designed to get us into the Hawaiian mood.
The daily ukulele classes, which culminated in a concert at the end of the cruise, attracted an enthusiastic crowd of nearly 100, while hula dancing lessons proved a popular alternative. I tried my hand at lei-making classes and even had a go at origami – gentle stints that proved an ideal way to strike up conversations with fellow passengers. Quizzes and trivia contests attracted a competitive crowd, while evening shows in the main theatre ranged from musical concerts to a mesmerising performance by sleight of hand magician Ben Seidman.
The onboard restaurants adopted a Hawaiian flavour with menus featuring Pacific Rim dishes such as slow-cooked Hawaiian Luau pork, and delicious pineapple with honey-roasted pistachios. For an all-American-style alternative, we also opted for the succulent steaks in the Crown Grill where, for a $25 supplement, we chose between tender hunks of filet mignon and hulking 16oz sirloin cuts.
With only four ports of call before our ship headed back across the Pacific Ocean, we were determined to capitalise on our days on shore.
On the “Garden Isle” of Kaua’i, we opted for a snorkelling expedition in the hope of spotting turtles. Alas, they proved elusive, but after swimming through shoals of bright yellow tangs (whose dainty demeanour has earned them the nickname Edwardian Ladies) and blue parrot fish, we did get to stroke a velvety octopus that our guide found nestling on the reef.
Kauai’s lush surroundings have made it a favoured holiday spot among Hollywood stars, with the likes of Johnny Depp, Sylvester Stallone and Pierce Brosnan reputedly owning holiday homes here, while its rugged interior has made it a popular film backdrop too, providing the setting for Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Maui is another isle famous for its ruggedly beautiful topography, and the charming former whaling port and royal capital Lahaina. However, our attention was focussed on off-shore waters during a whale-watching trip where we followed a mother humpback and her calf for a fascinating few hours.
But it was the biggest and rainiest island of Hawaii, also know as the Big Island, that gave us a true taste of the archipelago’s rumbling volcanic nature. This is home to the Volcanoes National Park where seismic tremors and regular eruptions add an extra frisson of anticipation to visits here.
Clouds of hot steam billowing from rock vents remind visitors of the power lurking beneath the seemingly benign landscape, with viewing platforms outside the visitor centre giving an ideal vantage point over the vast lava strewn wasteland surrounding the active Kilauea Volcano, which last erupted in 2008.
Inside the centre were a series of fascinating accounts and film footage of volcanic eruptions; fountains of molten rock shooting high into the air; curtains of fire; and vents roaring like jet engines. It was a stark reminder of nature’s unpredictable power.
Before setting foot in Hawaii, my perception of the islands had been confined to images of Elvis crooning his way through Blue Hawaii and wave-riders furiously paddling outrigger canoes in Hawaii Five-0. I hadn’t expected to see such staggeringly beautiful scenery. I’ll remember the lilting tone of the ukulele floating across the warm Waikiki breeze, and the greeting we heard everywhere we went: “Aloha”, which means love, affection, hello and goodbye.
A 14-night round-trip sailing from Los Angeles on Ruby Princess departs on 24 March 2016, calling at Honolulu, Kauai, Hawaii, Maui and Ensenada (Mexico) and costs from £1,230pp cruise-only. Flights start at £800pp and depart the UK on the day prior to the sailing. For more details, call 0843 374 2401 or visit princess.com.
Read a review of a cruise in the Baltic on board Regal Princess at cruise-international.com/regal-princess-baltic-cruise-review.