The next two days were scheduled on the Big Island. Interestingly the ship docked in two separate ports instead of staying in one overnight. The first day is in Hilo. Our plans that day included cruise sponosored excursion to volcanoes national park through NCL. Generally, we don’t usually do excursions through the cruise line. One of the reasons is we don’t love being part of a herd of 50 people or so and cruise lines tend to pack em in. Also we don’t usually enjoy superfluous stops at random sales sites…which is also another hallmark of the cruise sponsored excursions. If you remember, we checked with the Shore excursions desk upon boarding the shop and the gentleman helping us told us this was the most basic tour of the Volcanoes National Park.
That morning we had our usual outdoor buffet breakfast. We enjoyed a beautiful view. After breakfast we headed to the theater to gather for the tour. When our group was called and we headed off the ship and boarded a large tour bus. Our bus headed on its way and our tour guide started telling us all about the island. They were nice and informative.
Like many cruise tours we had to stop at some place where they were trying to sell stuff. This is my least favorite part of cruise excursions. This stop was a candy store. It was an ok stop because they had a bathroom I could use but I didn’t really need a 30-40 minute stop at a place to buy candy because we wanted to head on to volcanoes.
After the candy stop we headed back to the bus to head on to the purpose of the tour: Volcanoes National park.
First stop: lava tube. This is exactly how it sounds…a tube made from Lava. Pretty Cool!
Second Stop: The view at the base of the cinder and spatter cone of Pu’u Pua’i from the 1959 eruption. The tiny dots in the center of the picture are people!
Third Stop: Thomas A. Jaggar Museum and Overlook
The main view at the Jaggar Museum overlook is very impressive. Pictures do not do it justice! The museum itself is small but informative. There is a lot of information regarding previous eruptions at the park as well as instruments that show seismic activity. After about 30-45 minutes, we boarded the bus and started the drive back to the port. It was a good tour, but it was not great. Had we planned for a private tour we may have seen a few more things and a little less candy shop 😉 We really wanted to be able to do the hikes where you can get closer to lava, but the pregancy didn’t allow for that.
Once we got back to the ship we headed to the aft pool to hang out. We got to see a rainbow!
We headed in and got ready for dinner. We had Lebistro. Oops. I mean we had “Jefferson’s Bistro” (fyi… this restaurant is called LeBistro on all other NCL ships). Their menu was the same as LeBistro. On most NCL ships, LeBistro has a French inspired menu. This ship was about the same, but it was titled Jefferon’s Bistro to stick with the Americana theme. We had the Steak for 2. I had French onion soup, Ben had escargot, and we had Crème Brulee for dessert. It was just as good as all the times we’ve had Lebistro.
Ben with his escargot.
We went to the magic show in the theater for evening entertainment. It was a magic/comedy show that had crowd participation. It was fun!
After the magic show there was a lava flow drive by. As in, the cruise ship got relatively close to the shore where you could see lava flowing into the ocean. If your expectations were correct, this was absolutely amazing. However, if you expected the giant cruise ship to pull up right next to the shore and be really close to the molten lava, you would be disappointed (we heard some people complaining about this the following day at breakfast…seriously, you gotta consider how big the ship is and how close it can reasonably get to shore). Anyway, this was amazing. You could see the lava flowing into the water and occasionally there would be big splashes of molten lava. Pretty cool if you ask me. I had high hopes of seeing lava on the big island and luckily this drive by fulfilled that wish for me. There was also narration by the onboard Hawaii Cultural ambassador. We loved it. I took some pictures, but I don’t have a giant zoom lens…so don’t be too disappointed. I’ll post one to prove that we were there, but you cant tell much from the pic. Sorry, next time we will be more photography prepared to try to do it some justice.
After passing the lava, the ship sails away to Kona. Kona is a tender port so that’s something to keep in mind when making your plans. What that means is the ship doesn’t pull up to a dock, it stops out in the water and you ride a smaller boat to the shore. On this cruise it was cool because we got to ride on the life boats as the tender. We have tendered in a few ports before but haven’t ever ridden the life boats so its always reassuring to know that the life boats can, in fact, be lowered to the water and they do work!
Our original plan for Kona was to do the Kona Beach Day excursion through the cruise line. It promised a beautiful beach and a relaxing day. You may remember from the beginning of the review where the gentleman at the Shore Excursion Desk basically told us we didn’t need to spend our money on that excursion because there is a “great” beach right near where we tender in. We were skeptical so we checked with another Shore Excursions expert and he too confirmed that there was a beach at a hotel nearby and we would be just fine there. We took his word for it. FYI we won’t be doing that again.
We headed down to the tender/life boat after back-of-the-ship breakfast and got right onboard. One of the latitudes rewards is a priority tender pass so that was a nice perk. Like all tenders it was a few minutes to wait to board everyone, a few minutes to shore, and then a few minutes to let everyone off in an orderly fashion. All in all I think it took about 30-45 minutes to get to shore (with loading and unloading). We hopped off the tender and set out looking for the beach they described.
The Shore Excursions people told us the beach was at the Courtyard by Marriott right in the port. Let me tell you: there IS a Courtyard by Marriott in the port. However, I would not describe what is there as a “beach”. We have traveled all the way to Hawaii from near the east coast of the continental US. I will take a crappy beach over a day at work, but seriously??? This man made lagoon thingy is not what I had in mind for a day in Kona…a place I have never been to! Thank goodness for smart phones. I don’t know what we would do without them.
We both jumped on the phones and started searching for nice beaches that would be nearby. Then my husband came up with a brilliant idea: Why don’t we rent a car and drive around and find a beach and also see a few things!! We rented a car via the magic iphones and then hopped into a taxi to the airport. Once at the airport we had a rental car and were on our way within minutes!
We asked the taxi driver for a beach suggestion and he said Hapuna beach. A quick iPhone search confirmed that was the kind of beach we were looking for. We put the top down on the car and followed the phone’s directions to the beach.
Hapuna beach is a state park. It cost $5 to park. There are restrooms, a snack place, and a place to rent an umbrella and chairs. It ended up being just what we were looking for. The drive to Hapuna beach was nice because it covered a lot of the landscape near Kona.
We sat in our chairs and read our books and people watched and got in the water. You know, usual beach day stuff. It was a great time.
Below is some of the scenery driving back from the beach. Lava in the near fields and ocean and palm trees in the far fields. It was fantastic.
My favorite thing on the way to and from the airport to the beach was we found another lava tube. This one was more out in the open and it didn’t have any signs or anything pointing the way.
We headed to the airport to return our rental car and took a taxi back to the port. Once there we did a little shopping in the stores around the port area and ate lunch at a restaurant overlooking the port. This served two purposes: 1. lunch because we were hungry and 2. we were able to watch the line for the tender. The line was really really long when we first got back to the port and we hung out in the restaurant until the line died down quite a bit.
When we got back on the ship the water was off on board so we couldn’t get ready for dinner. We waited til the water was back on before heading to dinner. We had been out at the beach all day and really needed showers and who wants to eat dinner at a place with no running water where service staff and kitchen staff cant wash their hands or their utensils (and we need to wash our hands too, obviously)? Anyway, Cagney’s let us come late and we had another wonderful dinner there. After dinner we went to the Frankie Valli show “Oh what a night” and it was really well done.
It was time to go to bed, in the morning we will be in Kauai. Stay tuned for our next review.