The Mates go to Hawaii
Ports of call–you can have them
There were four ports of call on this cruise. Two (Hilo and Kona) on the big island of Hawaii then a day each on Maui and Oahu. We did not have specific plans for each island and I am here to say that not only was that mostly my fault but IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN! Either we are doing nothing or we have a full day plan. Including where to have lunch.
Our day in Hilo was for me, actually the best and most organized. We only had around 6 hours and wanted to go up to see the Volcano National Park. Before the cruise I had rented cars in every port. I will tell you that this was both a good and bad experience and I definitely have some recommendations.
Originally I had rented all our cars through Hawaii Car Rentals. They are a rental consolidator that allow you to book all your rental cars for all the islands on one website. Looked great. So I booked. Got really nice pricing and an e-mail back from them that said, “Please e-mail us with any questions. This e-mail address is monitored by a human.” Well that human must be asleep because every time I would e-mail them for info I NEVER heard back from them. Finally I got so fed up I cancelled all our cars with them and rebooked them. I am really glad I did. For instance, on Maui they had us going all the way to Maui’s main airport (Kahului Airport) to pick up our car. We found out from the folks who we rented a GPS from (more on that later) that we should not take a 45 minute drive in each direction (in a cab, on our own dime) when we are going to pick up and drop off the car. We ended up renting (with the other company) at Lahaina’s small airport, only a 10 minute shuttle away.
There were other problems but suffice it to say we were NOT happy with them. We were happy with Discount Hawaii Car Rentals. They do exactly the same thing but they do it with GREAT customer service. Even after Celebrity changed our itinerary which forced us to rebook all but one of our rentals, they were OUTSTANDING! I would definitely use them again. They were totally responsive and got us great deals on our minivans. That is not to say that all was perfect on the rental car front. Just on booking them. I will cover that later as I get into each island.
Getting back to Hilo, we arrived on time, thankfully we were docked and not tendering so Bob and I took the shuttle to pick up the rental at the airport (you could see the ship from the airport, that’s how close it is) and then went back to pick up the rest of the group and headed off to see the volcano. Our rental car that day was from Thrifty at their airport location and they did great. Quick pickup, easy drive, plenty of people at the agency to check us in and a clean, good looking mini-van ready to go.
Kilauea was much more interesting than I thought it would be and we ended up seeing a bunch of the volcano as well as a walk through a lava tube and we finished the day with a quick stop at the Mauna Loa macadamia nut factory. Strange that they call it a factory. I thought nuts were grown, not manufactured.
The next morning we were off the shore of the Big Island but on the other side off Kona. We had no real plans for this side and it was a tender port. So Bob and I got off early and went to get the car while the rest of the gang finished breakfast and followed a few tenders later. Today’s rental car was from Enterprise and I can’t say enough bad things about this experience. We were picked up in a timely manner and when we got there we filled out the paperwork quickly and expected them to hand us a key and we would be off. But that was not to be. We were told we would be called when someone (one person for the whole agency) could walk us out to the car and show it to us. What that person (25 minutes later) really wanted to do was up sell us (at the car) more insurance, GPS and all kinds of other stuff. They stole almost an hour of our time and that ticked me off. I will never rent from Enterprise again (no matter where) and I suggest you don’t rent from this location. I should also mention that Enterprise has no shuttle after noon so that meant that after I dropped off the car, I walked the 3 miles back to the pier. Not bad for me but if you aren’t a walker, it may present a problem for you. I could have taken a cab but it’s hard to find one and I would have had to wait a while.
Once we had the car we headed back to pick up the rest of the gang and head out. Since we didn’t have a specific place we wanted to go, Bob just drove us along the beaches and we looked at the pretty water. We had found out that the big attractions (if you weren’t doing helicopter flights to the volcano or whale watching) were the City of Refuge and the Painted Church so we headed in that direction. We also hoped to stop by a Kona coffee plantation if we had time. The City of Refuge is where the first Hawaiians came ashore from Polynesia. And before we went there Bob took us to a lava (not molten) covered beach. You can see it all in my Kona pics. Then we stopped at the City of Refuge and then up the hill to the Painted Church. Would I go to any of them again? Nope. Pretty, but not that interesting.
After the Painted Church we hit the road back and started looking for a coffee plantation. Saw one that said that was what they were and that they had a small cafe where we could get lunch but that wasn’t the case once we stopped the car and got out. They were just a bakery and a place that sold bagged coffee. But that was OK since Bob walked across the highway and found Jakes BBQ which was an outstanding place to have lunch. We all got Jake’s Special Pulled Pork sandwich. Yummy. I would definitely go back there again.
Then we headed back to the town of Kona where we shopped at the Farmer’s Market and the downtown shops (including the place I hit in every port--Crazy Shirts) before everyone else went back to the ship, Kathleen waited by the tender for me and I took the car back and walked back down to meet her. We tendered back to the ship and we were off to Maui.
I liked Maui best of all. We did not go to Kauai and everyone tells me I would like that better and I will probably be talked into going there someday but until then, Maui provided the best experience. It was another tender day so that meant taking the tender in. But once in, our rental car company that day was Dollar and they did a great job of picking us up and getting us back out on the road in our promised mini-van in no time at all. I can’t stress enough that you should rent your cars in advance. We saw many people trying to squeeze six people into a compact car because that’s all was left since they didn’t have a reservation. We picked up the car and then headed back downtown to pick up the rest of the gang and then we had also rented a very special GPS from GyPSyguide. We picked up this special GPS unit in downtown Lahaina and it was installed and we were on our way in no time.
Why is this such a special GPS? Because it doesn’t just tell you where to go but what’s interesting as you are getting there and then some history and geography facts on the way. For instance, it not only tells you directions but tells you what’s around the next corner and that there’s a beach you should see coming up in a few minutes. Or that this is your last chance for gas on the Road to Hana. We rented one of these on both Maui and Oahu. I will talk more about the one we got on Oahu later but I can say that the one we got on Maui was amazing. I highly recommend it. I would love to go back to Maui, rent a car and this GPS for three days and see the WHOLE island. It was outstanding. And funny. At one point we came to a corner where we had three possible turns. It told us that if we turned right, we would go to Hana, if left the Iao Valley and “going straight, goes nowhere.” Funny, I bet the people who lived and worked in that direction didn’t really think of it as “nowhere.” I wish that there were more places in the US that had this kind of GPS unit to rent when you rented a car. It was worth every penny on Maui. I just found out they have a GyPSy Guide for Las Vegas and Kathleen and I are going there in February so I may give it a try.
As soon as we had the GyPSy we headed north to drop off Bob and Jude who had decided they just wanted a day on the beach. After we had done that, we were headed to the Iao Valley with a great many stops and info from the GyPSy on the way. The Iao Valley (above) and the Iao Needle were beautiful and interesting. After seeing the Iao Needle we decided to head up the Road to Hana but only got as far as Paia before we stopped for lunch at a little place called Charley’s. Good sandwiches but not as good as Jake’s BBQ the previous day. Stopped at a few beaches to take some great pictures of wind and kite surfers. Then we headed a short distance up the Road to Hana and stopped at the first waterfall that the GyPSy recommended. We (Mike, Kathleen and I) were going to walk the 40 minutes in to the waterfall but some folks coming out told us the water was so low that it really wasn’t worth the walk unless we were going to swim, which we weren’t. So we jumped back in the car and headed back to Lahaina. I think I would like to do the entire Road to Hana someday. I bet it is amazing.
Got back there in about an hour, returned the GyPSy and the car and then walked around the lovely village of Lahaina. They have an incredible banyan tree that sits in the middle of the town. It is truly amazing. See my pics. There was a holiday craft sale going on under the tree as it was a Sunday. We did some browsing, hit the Crazy Shirt shop and then got back on the tender to head to Century. Our best day in Hawaii. Tomorrow on Oahu would be the worst.
Early the next morning we sailed into Honolulu. Took lots of pictures as we sailed in. To start with we ended up docking at the industrial pier instead of the one regularly used by cruise ships at the Aloha Tower Shopping Mall. We don’t know why but it did cause us to have to walk a whole lot farther just to get anyplace. Bob and I got off early and went to get the rental car. We were shuttled by Thrifty to their office at the airport. It’s quite a ways away. It took us about an hour to get back to the Aloha Tower Mall where we were meeting everyone else and the people with GyPSy for Oahu. We got the GyPSy hooked up and we were on our way. Kind of. Unlike the GyPSy on Maui which covered the entire island, the GyPSY only covered two very specific routes on Oahu and neither one of them were near where we were at the time. I don’t fault the GyPSy people for this but I do blame them for not meeting with us a paper map that would get us to the start of one of their routes.
Once we got to the first route, it was pretty much a day of beaches and views. That’s about it. And to be honest, beaches and views of trees and water don’t do that much for me. Especially after three days of beaches, trees and water. There were some beautiful scenery but a day doing that is just not my idea of fun on vacation. Especially driving through holiday traffic to see it. (I forgot to mention that it was Veteran's Day.)
That’s about it for me on Oahu. I wasn’t impressed. I can honestly say that I would not go back to Oahu except to see Pearl Harbor but not sure if even that is worth an entire trip there (I could have gone there on this trip but everyone else was either not interested or had been there before.) I might try Kauai or maybe even Maui again but there is no way I would go back to Oahu.
Kathleen has expressed an interest in returning to Hawaii and in my never-ending quest to make her the happiest woman on earty, I imagine we will go to Kauai someday. I just know that's it is not at the top of my list.