Saturday, December 31, 2022

Hawaii Vacation - Day 06: Haleakala Crater

Today, I could have gotten out of bed an hour later than I did.  Most of the excursions I'm scheduled to take occur sometime between 7:00 am and 7:30 am.  Today's excursion was scheduled for 8:15 am.  At least, I had the time to relax after breakfast and get things done.

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Around 8:00, I went down to the gangway and it started to drizzle.  I waited a while before heading towards the queuing area for the Kaleakala Crater excursion.  When the tour guide arrived, he told us that the weather at the top of Kaleakala crater is unpredictable and that we might not be able to see anything due to the clouds. 

We then started our trek from sea level to 9727 feet above sea level on a road with many switchbacks.  It was hard to remain seated through those switchbacks with no arm rest, and it was a miracle that I didn't get sick.  Rising from sea level, we encountered a cloud bank around 6000 feet above sea level, and it got worse as we continued up to the top.  At the bottom of the mountain, the temperature was in the 80's.  At the top, it was in the low 30's, and I was glad that I brought my winter coat that I knew I'd need when I returned to New York.  This coat almost got left in my car, in order to lessen the weight of the luggage that was going to Honolulu.

None of the pictures I took today are much worth posting, so I put an image from the Park Service at the top of this entry to provide an idea of what I was hoping to see.  The image above is what I did see.  Hardly worth the effort to go to the crater, isn't it?  Maybe next time, assuming there is one, I'll get a good picture.  Since we had time to kill before the driver's next tour from the ship, we stopped by a souvenir shop and at the local Safeway.  If I had been thinking, I would have picked up another roll of clear adhesive tape.  But I can't think of everything when on vacation....

Friday, December 30, 2022

Hawaii Vacarion - Day 05: Maui and the Road to Hana

Today, my excursion would take me on the road to Hana.  I may have overspent to take the deluxe version of the trip.  But it was worth the extra money to take a private mini bus (max. 8 people) charter to a small town in Maui known as Hana.  

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Waking up before dawn, I proceeded as if the original time listed on my ticket was the real time for the trip. This allowed me the extra time needed to have a leisurely breakfast at the onboard diner.  "Diner" would only be an expression of an idea - what should a 1950's version of a diner feel like, and how could they recreate that feel as appropriate for a cruise ship?  This, NCL did quite well on this ship, as it had all the fittings of a diner doing business in the era I grew up.

Around 8:00 am, the ship came into Maui, and a group of us went over to the 3 tour buses waiting for us. After we were told which buses we were assigned to, it was into the buses and off to the races.  Our tour guide was very chatty, something I had a hard time getting in to at this hour of the day.  Soon, we were on the Road to Hana.

The Road to Hana is a scenic drive to a town in the middle of nowhere on the island of Maui.  It is one of a handful of places where settlements could be placed, Hana being the most important site along the road. But to get there, one has to travel on a 1 1/2 lane twisting road on which one covers 39 miles in 2 1/2 hours each way (excluding bio breaks and a lunch break.)  None of the pictures I can take would do this road justice.  However, I would never recommend for people to drive this road themselves - inexperienced tourists ruined our return trip to some degree by not knowing when to yield for oncoming traffic.

Our tour guide, Sue, delivered an interesting commentary as she drove along the road.  She went above and beyond, by volunteering to help people get pictures of themselves with sights along the road as a backdrop.  I would gladly take this tour again if I had her as a driver.  Although we were enjoying ourselves, I could tell that this excursion was slightly longer than it needed to be.  And I might take exception to a couple of stops along the way for roadside souvenir shopping.  Yet, on the whole, this excursion provided good value for the money, and would be something I'd recommend to others.

Once back on the ship, I called RQS, then hopped into the hot tub for a quick soak.  At this time, I realized that I need to buy better fitting swim forms.  The forms I have are too small, and were a compromise when I bought them.  Now, I want forms that look better on me.  But until then, I'll make do with the ones I have.  

Now to get ready for tomorrow's excursion - a trip to Haleakala Crater.  Hopefully, I won't have any problems, as I will be going up to 10,000 feet above sea level.... 

Thursday, December 29, 2022

Hawaii Vacation - Day 04: Kualoa Ranch & Embarkation

The Kualoa Ranch.  It has been the setting for many TV shows and Movies.  You may recognize the scene above from movies such as the Jurassic Park franchise and the "recent" remake of Mighty Joe Young.  The ranch is beautiful, and well worth a visit.

But first....

Last night was my last night in Honolulu.  Packing my bags was an exercise for what I'll need to do a week from now when I return home from Hawaii.  And I didn't pack as well as I did when I was at home.  At least, I'll have more time to prepare for my next set of flights.  Next time, I'll have to pack as much as possible in my large bag without exceeding the 50 lb. limit - a task I'll dread the closer the time comes for me to do it.  At least, I have an accurate hand held scale to use while packing the bag.

Today, I knew what I had to do to have some food in my stomach before today's excursion.  To be safe, the night before, I had picked up a couple of bananas to eat if I couldn't get any food from the coffee shop in the hotel building.  And I was doubly fortunate that today's line was short enough to allow me to get a cup of black coffee and a breakfast turnover.  

So I left my large suitcase in the room for NCL to pick up and bring to the ship, then checked out of the hotel.  I was on the bus at 7:00 am, but we didn't get moving that early.  There was a "fun run" going on, and it got in the way of us going to the Kualoa Ranch via the normal route.  Instead, we had to go through an upscale residential district to get out of the Waikiki area and out of Honolulu.

The city of Honolulu is larger in area than I thought, and we made a stop at the Halona Blowhole Lookout.  This is a beautiful place to catch a view of the ocean.  But it was very windy there, as evidenced by the photo below:

I certainly don't look very attractive in this picture.  But I felt good, as people were accepting me as the female I wanted them to see.  

Our next stop was a Buddhist temple in the middle of a cemetery.  It was a pretty place to visit, but we only used it as an opportunity to make a pit stop for bio breaks.  Other than the small main area of the temple, there wasn't that much to see except for a bell that could be rung.

Of course, a chance to ring a giant bell is not enough to justify lingering at this place.  It was time to go to the Kualoa Ranch.  I wasn't sure of what to expect when I got there.  But I knew one thing - I'd get some beautiful pictures, like the one below..

One thing I've noticed in Hawaii is that almost every tour guide talks about is that few things on the islands are "pure Hawaiian."  In the case of human settlement, less than 2% of the people living in the islands are "pure" Hawaiian stock.  (Even the origins of "native Hawaiians can't be determined, as there were at least 2 waves of Polynesian settlers to the islands.)  In the case of plant and animal life, each group of settlers brought their own plants and animals to the islands (see images of "Canoe Plants" below) which squeezed out much of the native flora and fauna.
Arriving at the Kuoloa Ranch, we went through an "Educational Experience" about how outside plants and animals have changed the islands.  Sadly, I couldn't maintain any interest in the presentation, as I hadn't been able to have a bite to eat since 6 am and was falling out due to a low blood sugar level.  Luckily, the presentation was short, and a tasty box lunch was served a little bit before noon.  After this was the movie site tour of the ranch.

All too soon, our time on Oahu had to end.  We got back to Honolulu by 3:30 pm, and then embarked on the ship.  Arriving after the majority of people have boarded the ship allowed us to breeze through check in and security. At that point, we were able to get on the ship.

(Pardon the hokey picture.   I bought it to get a
discounted price on the pictures I really wanted.)

The Pride of America (POA) has an interesting history.  The cruise line that commissioned the ship went bankrupt.  NCL bought the unfinished ship, and had it towed to Germany to be fitted out for service.  Congress enacted a law to allow this ship (and another non American built ship) to sail as US flagged ships.  Although no other cruise ship sails under a US flag, POA does, and is able to make the 7 day Hawaiian Island round trip from Honolulu.

Once on the ship, the first thing one will notice is that the ship reeks of America.  The seal of the United States is on the floor by the grand staircase - which, itself has an "American" feel.

Now, it was time to find my room.  Although I was below the buffet area, I didn't notice much noise coming from above.  However, I did get a little upset that my large suitcase hadn't yet made it to my cabin. So, I ended up going to guest services to take care of this, finding out that my suitcase was in transit, and that it should make it to my cabin before we left port.  Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get my dinner reservations taken care of at this time, as the crew was starting to get ready for the mandated muster drill.
Most of the ship seems a little bit dated, as this is a 20+ year old ship. Yet, everything is in good repair.  Unfortunately, the bathroom is a little cramped and does not have enough room to store a woman's toiletries.  (It must have been designed by an unmarried male.  No hotel designs bathrooms anymore without input from females.) Additionally, the shower stall is separated from the rest of the bathroom by a shower curtain.  Yet, I did not find that shower water would flow into the rest of the bathroom, unlike an accessible bathroom I stayed in at a land based casino/hotel complex.

After the muster drill, it was time to get comfortable.  By the time I was ready to eat, I decided to try out the buffet - a big mistake.  Unlike all other onboard buffet experiences, I could not find utensils or napkins at any of the tables - I had to ask an overworked employee for help.  Like cabin service, food service was understaffed.  In the "post Covid" environment, it's hard to find enough qualified American workers to staff this ship.

Around 8:00 pm, I had a decision to make: Do I go to the Solo Travelers gathering, or do I go to the LGBTIQ gathering?  I made the obvious choice: I decided to go to sleep for a while.  And sleep I did, as I didn't wake up until 1:30 am....

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Hawaii Vacation - Day 03: Pearl Harbor


Sadly, this was as close as I was going to get to the USS Arizona this trip.  The wind was too gusty for the ferries to transport people to the memorial.  Yet, this was an enjoyable excursion.

But first....

Unlike yesterday, it was much harder to find something to eat.  Unless one remembered that there was a Mickey D's about a block away, the only dining options were a sit down "diner" and a coffee shop inside the hotel building.  This meant that I would go hungry and thirsty if the ABC store downstairs didn't open up before 7.  As was my luck, the store opened up at 6:30 am, and I was able to eat the egg sandwich on the bus to Pearl Harbor.

Ever since 9/11, the military insists that a "no bag" policy is observed, save for clear plastic "stadium bags".  I was lucky to know about this, as I bought such a bag before the trip.  Today, I packed much of the stuff I normally keep in my handbag into the stadium bag, and was ready for today's excursion.  First stop was at the visitors center where security "inspected" the bus for contraband before entering the base. And then, it was off to the USS Missouri.

The "Mighty Mo," as the battleship is called, has an interesting history.  It was built at the beginning of WW2, and the war ended with the Japanese government signing a peace treaty on its decks.  The ship was mothballed, only to be reactivated for the Iraq war. Now deactivated again, it has become a living museum.  It was nice to be able to see this ship in person, but felt a little sad that something like this now only serves historical use.


Next, it was off to the Pacific Aviation Museum to see all the old military aircraft.  This was interesting, but marred by one incident.  Stuff started spilling out of my stadium bag (I didn't zip it up right) and I dropped a water bottle on the floor.  I'm glad that it was only water!  So I got out of Dodge, and went to another area of the museum where restorations were going on.  And then, it was off to the USS Arizona. (Or, I should say, it was off to try and see the USS Arizona Memorial.)

The USS Arizona has an interesting history, but it is best known for being sunk on 12/07/41.  The Memorial was built above the ship, but not touching it.  The only way to reach the memorial is by ferry, and they weren't running because of gusty winds.  So, I decided to have lunch, then explore the USS Bowfin. 

The Bowfin is a typical WW2 submarine.  Having been in one before (in San Francisco), I knew that space would be tight - and it was.  Since I had 3 hours to kill, it made sense to explore the sub, then go back to the tour bus a little early.  This time, the bus was parked way off to the side, and I couldn't find it at first.  At least, I knew enough to ask questions.  I walked over to the bus and relaxed until it was time to leave.

Once back at the hotel, I decided to take a second shower for the day and make myself look pretty.  I was getting together with my late therapist's wife and son, and I wanted to make a good impression on them.  She came at 7 pm, and it was off to dinner.  The conversation could have gone on forever.  But this is typical of people who may never see each other again, but have a common thing or person to talk about. It was nice to find out things about my therapist that I didn't know, including the good and bad things that I would have found out had his demons not got to him when he left his New York support structure.   Also, it was nice to tell the son about his dad, sharing things that he may never have heard from someone who wasn't family.  Hopefully, the son will turn out to be as good a person as his dad was, without the issues his dad had. 

All too soon, it was time to go back to the hotel and pack for the next 7 days on board the cruise ship.  Hopefully, I won't have this much trouble when I have to pack to go home....

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Hawaii Vacation - Day 02: Polynesian Cultural Center

This is the view from my hotel room this morning.  Tthe weather was warm, but not too humid.  And I was up at the crack of dawn to go to the Polynesian Cultural Center on the first of my 3 days in Honolulu, I feel that this is a practice run for the two days that follow, as I will need to be ready for each day at 7 am, instead of 8:45 am.  If how I felt by 4 pm is any clue, I'll be wiped out before I even get on the cruise ship. 

- - - - - -

As usual, I didn't get much sleep the night before.  But I felt that I had a restful sleep, and was ready to go out for the day.  So, I got showered and dressed, then picked up "breakfast" ar the ABC Store downstairs. (For those who've never been to Hawaii, the ABC Stores are all over Hawaii's tourist areas and sell both "tourist" and "non tourist" goods - all with a focus on serving the tourist.)  Today's breakfast was more tasty than yesterday's overpriced airport sausage and egg sandwich.  It was a dish with eggs, bacon, spam (?) and rice.  It was yummy, but not something I'd want to eat on a regular basis.  And then, it was off to the meeting area for those on our cruisetour.  

NCL packages 3 days touring Oahu with a 7 night cruise.  It's a good deal, and I highly recommend this way of visiting Hawaii for the first time.  There were 30-40 people who, like me, opted for this travel option, and NCL representatives were trying to make sense of who was and wasn't there.  I thought they had checked my name on the list of attendees, as they had given me an ID tag for the 3 days of Oahu touring. But later on, I found a message from NCL telling me that I missed the tour.  Once everyone was supposedly accounted for, it was off to today's first stop - The Dole Plantation.

The Dole Plantation is not much of a destination as it is a good place for a bio-break on the way to the other side of Oahu.  Inside the main building are 20+ separate stores, most of which are selling tourist goods made somewhere other than Hawaii.  The only thing I bought these was a pineapple ice cream cup, and then it was off to our second and main destination - the Polynesian Cultural Center.

The center is a park dedicated to show the commonality and differences of the 6 main Polynesian cultures: Samoan, Hawaiian, Tongan, Fijian, Tahitian, and Aotearoan (Polynesians of New Zealand) peoples are represented here, and cultural demonstrations are performed for visitors.  Is it real?  Is it fake?  To me, it's like visiting the old World's Fair, where people of different nations demonstrated things that defined their cultural identity.

When touring this place, you will notice places where traditional culture clashes with modern building codes - and modern codes win out.  Hopefully, all my readers will get the chance to visit this place, as it gives a typical main-lander an idea of what Polynesian culture is and what it isn't.

Once done, it was back to town.  And this is where I'll leave off for the day.

Monday, December 26, 2022

Hawaii Vacation - Day 01: Flying to Honolulu

When I first learned of Hawaii, it was as exotic to me as it was to the people who could afford to fly on the Pan-Am clipper.  It was the type of place that seemed so far away, and so different from the America in which I grew up.  So, when my Dad died, I figured that it would be good for me to take the small amount of cash I inherited and put it to use in having a bucket list experience.  This Hawaii cruise and tour is that experience.

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So, let me start at the beginning....

The night before the cruise, I took Google's directions to reach the hotel I'd stay at the night before the cruise.  This was a mistake, as the route had me going through one of NYC's worst jams - taking the exit ramp from the Major Deagan expressway to go onto the George Washington bridge.  This jam is caused by trucks slowly coming into the expressway from the far right, and having to cut over to the far left to take the bridge's upper level across the Hudson.  (9/11 screwed up a lot of things, and this interchange is one of those things.)  So it took me 30 minutes to travel less than a mile.  Due to the rain and poor road markings, I almost got into several accidents as soon as I crossed the river. I was very glad that I made it to the hotel safely, as I was concerned about my ability to drive safely in this weather.

After a night of almost no sleep, I headed off to the airport to catch my plane.  The first thing that was fouled up was that United wanted to charge me again for checked luggage, and I was not going to pay them a second time when I had the receipt that proved I paid for a checked bag.  So, after waiting about 10 minutes, this issue got resolved (for the outbound trip) and I proceeded to make it to the PreCheck line, where I had no problems getting through security,  (Given issues I discussed earlier, I had my concerns, and things worked in my favor for a change.)  But then, things began to change....

This was my first time "Flying Pretty", and I had problems that were unrelated to being gender non-conforming. My outbound flights had me flying out of Newark, changing planes in San Francisco, and landing in Honolulu at 3:45 pm local time.  Well, after an hour, they scuttled the flight, as they couldn't supply water to the lavatories.  There was no way that the pilot would fly the plane without water for the loos.  So I had to rebook my flights, and got a route that would go to Los Angeles instead of San Francisco for a connection to Honolulu.  One problem: I had to kill 3 hours at the airport before making my connection. I accepted this change, and rushed over to a gate 10 minutes away before my rebooked connection was complete.  (I had the agent at the second gate print the boarding pass for the second flight.)  

Eventually, I got on the plane bound for the coast, and we had a problem - a passenger had what could have been called a heart attack, and they were asking the passengers if there was a coronary specialist on board.  Luckily, that passenger was in stable condition, and the plane didn't have to make an emergency landing which would have kept me from making it to Honolulu.  What I haven't mentioned so far is that my bags were not on the same plane that I was on.  Instead, they were traveling to San Francisco, and then onto Hawaii.  Someone said that the bags would be at the airport before I was, and I was rightfully skeptical of that.

Once in Los Angeles, I checked my bag's status with customer service and they again said that my bag would be in Honolulu before me.  I was glad that I had a complete change of clothes in my carry on bag, just to be safe.  Then, I called RQS to catch up on things. After a nice chat, I killed more time at LAX, and then got on the plane for Honolulu.  And again, the pilot asked passengers if there was a doctor on the plane.  AARGH!

Eventually, I made it to Honolulu to find that my luggage did make it to the airport before me.  And then I finally heard the dreaded "Mr." word attached to my name when I was obviously presenting as a female.  Luckily, I got my ride to the hotel, and I was finally in for the night

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Was she dead or alive? Inquiring minds wanted to know.

  I hadn't seen Pat in months, and I haven't been able to reach her by voice or text.  Given that she's 84 years old, I figured ...