The warm rain pelted my face as I stood in my lavender bathing suit on the black sand beach in Hilo, Hawaii. Coarse sand squished up between my toes. Lightening and thunder clapped in a sky filled with black and grey clouds. A scant hint of blue peeked through.“Don’t go in the water to swim until they have both stopped,” the lifeguard called to me.
The cove was full of black volcanic rocks and pebbles too hard to step on without hurting my feet, so I sat and searched for the famous turtles that swam in these waters. I spotted two resting on a large black rock. I ate my local meal of steamed pork in green tea leaves, a purple sweet potato, and rice. Oh, this is so delicious, it just melts in my mouth. This was so fun hopping on and off the $20 bus, and seeing the Rainbow Falls.
Then a loud snap and rain just fell in buckets, as I ran for shelter. A few couples from the cruise sought shelter with me. “The bus is coming, come on, let’s run for it,” they said. Huge puddles covered my silver Birkenstocks and my pink dress was soaked. Driving into Hilo, I bought a purple muumuu to replace my soaking one. Then boom! I jumped at the loudest thunder I had ever heard. “Welcome to Hilo, the part of the island that always rains,” said the man laughing next to me.
This was the first stop on my 15 day cruise from San Francisco to Hawaii aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship. Seeking rest and refreshment after an exhausting year, I booked the cruise last minute. It was conveniently leaving Pier 27 in San Francisco, and would be gone for two weeks. Destination, Hawaii. These were my criteria for going. I just stepped out in faith and paid the $2500 flash sale rate. No single supplement was available to me.
I loved many things about the Grand Princess. The impeccable international staff that did such a great job of caring for us: Joseph, the head waiter in the Bottecheli dining room, picked out my gluten free meals each evening, and Ricco, my personal waiter, served them; Christopher, Julio and Joseph at my favorite bar on the lobby fifth floor, making me delicious mock-tails, including the Dirty Banana; Nike, my cabin steward from India, made me laugh so much, especially telling me how the whales would swim alongside the ship in the evenings to get wifi, knowing when the ship passed by; Anastasia from near the Ukraine, at the front desk, my first helpful soul upon embarkation, always ready to listen to my escapades with a smile.
During the first few days of rough seas, I sought solace in the Heart and Soul Lotus Spa, run by manager Euniss and her lovely staff. There I received hot rock massages, a milk body wrap, a foot massage, and a facial. They welcomed me with a soft, long robe and bronze slippers. I recommend the biotech deep cleansing facial. An ultrasound wand is run over your skin that stimulates collagen production and cell renewal. After, my skin looked so clean and plump, with fine lines minimized. I was very happy. I thank Tabbi, a young South African girl, for giving me this special facial.
If you want an extra special dining experience try Sabatini’s, the Italian restaurant onboard for a $25 per person surcharge. Impeccable service and gourmet food met my hungry stomach the night I dined there. A six course meal including fresh prosciutto, fondue soup, pasta carbonara, and fresh snapper delighted me. All were made gluten free by the chef. The food was also excellent in the dining rooms for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I loved the delicious poolside Salty Dog Grill with hamburgers, hotdogs, pizza, and cheesy bacon fries.
And the music; every type was offered in one of their many lounges, my favorite being the Hawaiian musicians who serenaded us while women danced the hula. Watching movies under the stars on the top deck, snuggled under a blanket with popcorn to munch on, sometimes light drizzle falling, was a magical experience. I enjoyed sitting on one of the blue, wooden deck chairs and watching the sea roll by. As I inhaled the beneficial sea air, all the stress and worry of my life lifted.
I met many wonderful people on board; Joe, Pat, Linda, Lucia, Lisa, Jim, Sharon and Duncan. I hoped to meet more singles, and learned from other passengers the cruises to the Caribbean are the ones to do so. I did attend the ship’s single and solo gathering in the evening, only to find no single men there. I was amazed by the couples who had cruised so many times with Princess, including one couple, Mary and John, who were celebrating their 85th cruise!
My inside cabin in the front of the ship on the 10th floor heard music from the Princess Theater three stories below. There is an ongoing soundproofing problem on the older ship. So try to avoid those cabins unless you like to be serenaded to sleep!
I also prefer to have everything included in my cruise price, but on Princess you pay extra money for certain things: milkshakes and specialty hamburgers; The Sanctuary, a private lounge area with pool for adults only, has a surcharge of $20 for a half day, and $40 for a full day; the soda package covered certain drinks in the bar, but not room service. These were surprises not clear on the website.
Now to the best part…Hawaii! As I stated earlier, we arrived first in Hilo, on the big Island, and docked in early morning. My goal was to sit on a warm beach and swim at each stop. But as you know, I got a big storm! I had to be back by 4:30 PM to sail to the next island, Oahu.
I was excited to see Honolulu again after attending summer school there in my college days. Warm, windy weather greeted me. I was shocked high-risers overshadowed the pink Royal Hawaiian and Waikiki beach. I rented a blue umbrella and chaise lounge for two hours for $25 in front of the Sheridan. I tiptoed through the sand into the light blue, warm water. I can’t believe I am swimming the waves here in Waikiki beach. This is so wonderful.
My next stop was to find the Tiki Village of The International Marketplace where Don Ho used to perform. It is now gone and a three story mall is in its place. I shopped to the sounds of Elvis singing Blue Hawaii. Grabbing a fruit, non-dairy Banan, similar to a frozen yogurt, I hopped aboard a bus to Diamond Head. The bus driver, Ron, told me stories of the island and left me at a local place to get authentic Hawaiian food. Tired now, I returned to the ship, happy at my day here after 38 years!
Back on the ship, we made Hawaiian leis out of purple orchid petals. At departure, we sailed slowly watching the island disappear as we headed out to sea to arrive in Kauai next. Here, I took my first excursion offered through Princess, to the Waimea Canyon, which is known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. This was on my bucket list.
When we arrived, wild chickens roamed around. I bought some fresh pineapple fritters before I took in the sites of this gorgeous canyon, lined with green vegetation, water falls, and rivers. Overall, I tried to plan my own trips and take local transportation: the public bus, Lyft, or hop-on-hop-off bus.
Our final stop was in Lahaina on the island of Maui. We jettied in from the ship. What can I saw about Lahaina? An old whaler village nicely preserved with shops and the Pioneer Inn built in 1824. In the downtown, I sampled a shave ice, with coconut ice cream and green tea, coconut and lychee flavors on top, much better than I remembered.
My goal was to find some pink pearls, and I went into each jewelry store on Front Street until I found the perfect ones. A long string of baroque, fresh water pearls. They were tied with a brown hemp-like string which reminded me of the stings of rope hanging down from the Banyan trees throughout the islands. I stopped at the small beach and body surfed. The air was warm and balmy with a nice breeze. I sighed happily. This was paradise. All the desires of my heart were met. I was sad as we sailed from Maui in the afternoon sun, and waved Aloha.
My fondest memory was in Hilo being drenched while watching God’s magnificent show of thunder, lightening, trees, and sea, all waving together. My perfect Hawaiian day was in Lahaina because of the weather, and it fulfilled my love of architecture and history.
As a single female traveler, I felt safe aboard the Grand Princess. Nike was in the hallway available to look after my needs at most hours. The stateroom had a comforting double lock and a small safe for valuables, but not my laptop.
If you want to decompress from the stress of living in San Francisco Silicon Valley, the Grand Princess to the Hawaiian Islands is a relaxing getaway in your backyard. No need to hassle with flying. Be sure you like spending many days at sea and are up for an adventure, because as Princess advertises…you will come back new…and I certainly did!