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Monday, April 25, 2011

The warmth of the "aloha spirit" awaits on a Holland America cruise to fabled Hawaii

An overview of Hawaii's scenic Hanauma Bay near Honolulu where scenes from Blue Hawaii starring Elvis Presley were filmed. (Jim Fox photo)
    (c) By Jim and Barb Fox

   It isn't until you sail around the fabled tropical islands of Hawaii that you feel the real warmth of the "aloha spirit."
   Wanting a leisurely, upscale voyage with many "days at sea" en route to paradise, we opted for a 15-day Circle Hawaii cruise with Holland America Line.
Surf's up and palms line the shore in Hilo, Hawaii. (Jim Fox photo)

   Sailing round-trip from San Diego on the musically themed ms Zaandam, a spacious 1,440-passenger ship, it afforded a refined experience with service by an Indonesian and Filipino crew that's truly amazing.
   We arrived a couple days early and spent the time exploring the San Diego Zoo, Coronado Island and Old Town where we dined on Mexican food at Casa Guadalajara and took in a comedy show at the historic area's theatre.
   The Marriott San Diego Gaslamp Quarter hotel (www.marriott.com/sangl; 1-800-228-9290) put us right in the chic nightlife district with lots to see and do. The beautifully appointed hotel offers a cruise package with free transfers to and from the ship and parking while away.
   At the sail-away party as you cruise literally into the sunset, the anticipation of Polynesia doesn't get any better than this.
   Your "aloha" welcome onboard includes a silk lei as a prelude to being immersed in island culture. There are guest lecturers, a Hawaiian-themed evening with everyone adorned in real orchid leis, folkloric and hula shows, and a night-time luau poolside on the Lido deck.
A hula dancer performs in a folkloric show for cruise passengers. (Barb Fox photo)

   In keeping with its musical theme, the Zaandam has artifacts and memorabilia including guitars signed by the Rolling Stones, while the soaring three-story atrium has a working Baroque-style Dutch pipe organ.
   A bonus were the hundreds of jazz aficionados onboard as part of Jazzdagen Tours (www.jazzdagen.com), bringing with them four bands that kept everyone jiving day and night.
   Jack Prout of London was among the 200 Canadians onboard and he gracefully swept the ladies off their feet in his role as one of the four dance hosts.
   Seeing nothing but water, water everywhere for five straight days over and back are indulgent days at sea.
   They're made for rejuvenation or activities from dawn to dusk including culinary arts demonstrations, spa treatments, going to the movie theatre, hanging out in the Explorations Cafe where there's a well-stocked library, newspapers, magazines, music listening stations and Internet access.
   There are also art auctions, a casino, swimming pools, strolls around the promenade deck, bars - and all the jazz.
The ms Zaandam is shown dockside in Honolulu. (Jim Fox photo)

   The two-tier Rotterdam Dining Room offers delicious five-course menus, including caviar, escargot, lobster tails and filet mignon for the Captain's dinner. The Signature Master Chef's Dinner has performing waiters in a song-and-dance presentation.
   An observation lounge by day, the Crow's Nest lounge high atop the ship is the location for the Black and White ball to mingle with the captain and officers.
   An alternative restaurant, the Pinnacle Grill ($30 surcharge at dinner), features Pacific Northwest cuisine including 22-ounce porterhouse steaks, seafood and fine wines - not to forget the warm Grand Marnier chocolate volcano cake.
   Exploring the islands by ship as the natives did will leave you marvelling at the molten lava spewing into the ocean from Kilauea volcano, hearing the pulsating beat of the Hawaiian war chant at luaus and the seeing giant moai statues representing ancient Polynesian lore.
   In Hilo, gateway to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, is the Mauna Kea Observatory and don't forget to stop at Hilo Hatties, the island chain - also in San Diego - for fine clothing and souvenirs.
   Two days in Honolulu provides time to explore Waikiki Beach, Diamond Head, Pearl Harbour and Iolani Palace, last residence of Hawaii's monarchs.
   Chef-food critic Matthew Gray and Kiera Nagai of Hawaii Food Tours (www.hawaiifoodtours.com) took us Lunching With the Locals, hitting favourite off-the-beaten path culinary delights.
Keira Nagai of Hawaii Food Tours shows a box of Portuguese-style malasadas - airy fried dough confectionaries coated with sugar - that are specialties at Leonard's Bakery in Honolulu. (Jim Fox photo)

   We took in an authentic luau at Drums of the Pacific in Lahaina on Maui, a vacation playground with beaches, golf courses and resorts.
   Stepping into a "cloud forest," we hiked through a naturalist's private estate in Kona on the slopes of the sleeping Hualalai volcano and visited a nearby organic coffee plantation.
   Everywhere there are plenty of opportunities for shore excursions to view the volcanoes, flora and fauna by helicopter, snorkel, golf, go deep-sea fishing and even learn to surf.
Someone created this replica of a Hobbit House in Honolulu. (Barb Fox photo)
   Ensenada, Mexico is an evening stop with time for a tour and folkloric show, with crowd-pleasing unlimited margaritas and cervezas before returning to San Diego.
   Current (2011) Holland America itineraries offer 14-day round-trips from San Diego with one-day ports of call: Nawiliwili; Lahaina (Maui);  Honolulu; Hilo; and several hours in Ensenada, Mexico on the return.
   If you sail:
   - Circle Hawaii sailings (2011) are priced from about $1,500 a person (inside cabin) to $8,000 (deluxe veranda suite). Sailings this year include a 17-day Vancouver-Hawaii round-trip leaving Sept. 25 and 14-day Circle Hawaii, round-trip San Diego, leaving Oct. 22, Nov. 12 and Dec. 10. A holiday trip, leaving San Diego on Dec. 21 for 14 days is about $2,100 to $10,000.
   Contact a travel agent or www.hollandamerica.com; 1-877-SAIL-HAL (724-5425).

(This feature was first published in 2007 when two nights in Honolulu and a day at Kona were included in a 15-day, round-trip, San Diego.)
Jim and Barb Fox are freelance writers/photographers who can be contacted at outtosea50@hotmail.com

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