May 26

Back From Hawaii

I’ve now returned from Hawaii and am reimersing myself in everyday life, I’d rather be in Hawaii. I plan to do more posts on my trip and talk about the rest of my stops, and Norwegian Cruise Line. I thought though I would give an overall impression of Hawaii. I don’t know if words can fully express the beauty of Hawaii, and part of the problem is that the beauty is in so many different forms – from beaches to mountains to cliffs to plants and trees.

When I was in Norway on the drive to Gerainger Fjord there was this gorgeous lake, beyond words. I was looking at it in awe when my Tour Manager came up to me and we were discussing how lovely it was there, and he made an ignorant comment about how there was nothing as beautiful in the US as was this, keep in mind he had never been to the US. I’ve been to some beautiful places in the US – Yosemite and the Grand Canyon come to mind, but I know there are several more that I still need to visit. I’m not sure that any one place that I’ve been to is as picturesque as this little lake was, or Gerainger Fjord for that matter. But for the concentration of land that Hawaii is and the vast types of landscapes, I think Hawaii would be the most beautiful place I’ve been. In particular, it was Kauai that won my heart.

Hawaii though wasn’t as relaxed as I thought it might be. Perhaps my expectations were too high with the “hang loose” and surfer representation that we get from TV and movies. Or maybe it was because I only had a little time in each place and was trying to make the most of my time, without killing myself. Or maybe being on a cruise with other overworked, overstressed people separated us from the Hawaiian culture too much.

May 23

The Big Island: Volcanos National Park and stuff

On Tuesday I had my first stop on the Big Island in Hilo. We rented a car from Hertz and drove to Volcano’s National Park. I rented a convertible for the day, which seemed like a good idea at the time, but it turned out to be a bit of a waste. We drove to the park with the top down and while it was a little chilly out it was fun. Once we got there though the air quality was low so we had to close the top. Then when it was time to leave it started to rain. I had a Mustang and I have to say I wasn’t impressed with the thing, I wouldn’t buy one for myself. I now know that Hilo is the rainy side of the island so it’s not the best place to have a convertible in.

But the park was nice and I’m glad I did it. We got great views of the steam/smoke coming up from the volcano and saw a lava tube, overall it was a nice place and the staff there was very helpful in deciding what to do and how to do it. It’s a pretty place, too bad the weather wasn’t a little better. If you want to see lava though it’s a 6 mile hike each way over hard and sharp volcanic rock, not for the casual visitor.

On the way back we had extra time so we took a drive on Banyan Drive, which offered great views of our ship. After we found out we should have seen Rainbow falls, but I didn’t realize it, I guess I have a reason to return one day.

Overall Hilo is a nice spot, but I’m not sure it’s the best destination in Hawaii.

That night our ship sailed by flowing lava which was really cool even though it was really cloudy and a bit rainy out. But you’ll need a good camera with a good zoom lens if you want pictures of this.

May 22

The island of Maui

In a recent post I spoke about the Road to Hana, which was really beautiful, but a long day. The following day Tara and I went to Haleakala Crater for Sunrise. It was frigidly cold up there for a bunch of tourists in Hawaii. They said the temperature was 44 (apparently warm) with 30-40 mile an hour winds (lighter then usual.) But the views were amazing. Overall though I really liked Maui and can see why it’s the Island that most people talk about visiting. It’s lush and green and has good weather. My only complaint would be that it’s not the best island for cruise ship passengers since there isn’t much near the port and taxi’s are expensive.


If you’re visiting by cruise I would suggest either doing excursions or renting a car. If you want to see Hana do an excursion, the same for Haleakala Crater at sunrise. Most other things I got the impression that a rental car is the best way to go as most of the island is drivable and there is quite a few things to do which can be covered in one day by car. But with just 2 days in port I was left with a feeling that I would like to come back one day because there is more to see there, which is a good thing. Since I’m not much of a beach person I can’t really comment on the beaches, actually I didn’t visit any in Maui. But there are supposed to be some of the best in the world there.

Before leaving home I had heard the bike ride down Haleakala was really good, I saw people doing this and it looked like a death sentence. It’s a steep ride down on the side of a road. The type of road with cars and buses driving right along side you without a separate bike lane. Our guide told us that they are considering stopping this excursion because it is dangerous. A couple that we met on our tour to Hana did the Best of Maui excursion, they said they liked it but certainly didn’t seem impressed with it.

I did find the tour guides to be really friendly and eager for everyone to learn about Hawaii, this included the shuttle drivers who take you to the shopping centers near the port. Everyone I met wanted us to enjoy our trip and love the island as much as they did.

May 19

The Road to Hana


On Sunday Tara and I did an excursion in Maui called, “Hana Picnic.” It was an 8 hour (well in our case 9 and a half) tour where we went to Hana, had lunch, and came back. The tour was with a company called Imperial Tours and was really good. I was so glad I didn’t have to do the drive, it’s a long drive on a windie road and if you’re driving you don’t get to enjoy it. Plus I got to learn more about plants and flowers then I ever wanted to know. Gary, our guide was really into plants and flowers.

Once in Hana there was a lot going on, which is unusual and Gary had to find us an alternate place to eat then his usual. He made us a nice picnic with a table cloth and all. We had chicken, Mahi Mahi, rice, pineapple, bread, cookies and soda. It was a really nice lunch. Much better then the people who were stuck on tours that had to eat at the one quick place in town with $13 burgers.

On the way back we had a stop at a waterfall, which I did swim to. The water was cold, but it was fun and invigorating. Then I froze the rest of the way back to the ship in my wet bathing suit.

For anyone going here I would suggest looking at tours, I think it will allow you to truly appreciate the road to Hana since it’s really about the journey and not the destination.

May 06

Taking a trip with friends

I’ve traveled several times with different friends and it can be stressful. Figuring out how each person likes to travel and each persons interests and blending them is a challenge. I think all my trips have gone well, no had has said they wont travel with me again… I’m sure I’m not a perfect travel partner, and to be fair my friends aren’t always either. Just because your friends doesn’t mean that your good travel partners. A big part of making a good trip for all parties is reasonable expectations and planning together.

Last year I went to Disney World with Terye, before the trip I probably tortured her with emails about planning. First, I was figuring out a list of restaurants that we wanted to eat at, I was sending a little synopsis of pretty much every restaurant with review information. We were able to narrow that down to a reasonable list and I went ahead and made a variety of different reservations for us for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Then we worked on a list of attractions we did and didn’t want to do, but the most important was a list of our MUST DO attractions. This was the list that would allow us to leave Disney knowing that we didn’t miss anything that we really wanted to do. This allowed us to make sure that while we might not get to do everything we wanted, we wouldn’t leave with any real regrets. Terye and I did have one issue, it’s called mornings. Terye is not a morning person, she did ok the first couple days, but towards the end… Lets just say that I had to inform her that she wasn’t allowed to put the TV on in bed when I had already taken my shower. I’m sure she had some issues with me – like me nagging her to get out of bed. In the future we decided that we should go somewhere where getting out of bed in the morning is not necessary for your enjoyment – I’m thinking Las Vegas or New Orleans.

Planning my trip with Tara to Hawaii has also required a lot of planning. I started with the list of what must have been 1,000 excursions and started to break them down a bit and learn what Tara was interested in that I was also interested in. I couldn’t convince her that zip-lineing would be fun, but she’s agreed to take the helicopter tour. As the more experienced traveler I’ve tried to send her information about what to expect when flying and on the cruise. It’s good for things to be a surprise, but not all surprises are good. We still need to discuss the dining options on the ship as I hear it can sometimes be hard to get into some of the restaurants.

Here are some things to keep in mind when choosing travel companions and planning a trip. What are the eating habits of the person you want to travel with? If someone is the make every meal at home type and you like to eat out a lot, then you’ll want to discuss that. My sister’s friend traveled with a family who wanted to make dinner every night, but they wanted to go out every night – not a good combination. If the other person is a beach person and you hate the sand – another thing to discuss. Also, what types of activities do you want to do, art musuem, history museuems, major landmarks, photography. All these things are reasons people travel, and just because someone has different interests then you doesn’t mean that you can’t travel together, but it means that you need to discuss these things and find out if you can each compromise so that each person can get what they want out of the trip. If you want to travel together and have some different interests then consider setting aside time to split uop. Waiting until your on your vacation to have these conversations may lead to the end of your friendship. A friend of mine traveled with a friend once and their friendship barely survived, later on he traveled with a girlfriend of his and that was how he knew they could live together.

Apr 27

Getting ready for Hawaii

With Hawaii less then 3 weeks away I thought it was time to start checking on some things.

I went to book the final excursion Tara and I are going to take while in Hawaii, the Helicopter tour of Kauai. I was debating between a 9:30 am and a 10:30 am flight, and decided to go with the 10:30 flight. It will be one of our only “late” mornings of the trip. When I went into the booking system it showed that Tara and I were scheduled for the Wailua River and Fern Grotto on Thursday, I was sure I booked that for Friday. I scrambled through my papers and found that I did book it for Friday. A bit nervous I called Norwegian to check on this, apparently there was a problem with the website and I was booked on that excursion on Friday. The girl then booked Tara and I on the Heli tour and emailed me a confirmation of everything.

I also called Continental to find out if it would be an issue for Tara and I to arrive at the airport at different times. While speaking to the woman from Continental I realized that we would actually be checking in online from home. We just have to make sure that we each end up with the correct boarding passes so we can get through security and check our bags.

Apr 17

Hawaii by cruise

My trip to Hawaii is barely a month away so I thought I would give an update on my plans there. Tara and I will be sailing with NCL America on the Pride of America on May 16.

We’re flying out on May 15 to Honolulu and will be spending the night on Waikiki Beach. The following day we will try to spend a little time at Waikiki and then head back over to Honolulu to drop our luggage off at the ship and take a little time to explore downtown Honolulu. If we can we would both like to do a tour of the only palace on US Soil, Iolanai Palace. Then we’ll go back and board the ship, hopefully our luggage will have made it to our room by then.

May 17th and May 18th we’ll be in Maui where we’ll be doing excursions for the Road to Hana and to Haleakala Crater for sunrise. If we’re still awake after that then we’ll probably go to a beach for a while, or maybe some shopping. You can sleep when you get home, right?

May 19th we’ll be in Hilo and are renting a convertible to go see Volcano’s National Park.

May 20th is Kona where we plan on taking a glass bottom boat and hitting the beach.

May 21st and 22nd we’ll be in Kauai. Here we’ll do an excursion to Wailua River and Fern Grotto and also a helicopter tour of the island – Tara refers to that as the day she is going to die. She’s very excited she just has trouble expressing herself.

May 23rd they kick us off the ship. Since our flight isn’t until 8pm we will go see Pearl Harbor on this day.

Apr 15

Pearl Harbor

I was recently watching a documentary about the Pearl Harbor attack, it was called Tora Tora Tora, not to be confused with the movie of the same name. It was really good, it went over the history of the relationship between the United States and Japan prior to Pearl Harbor and why the Japanese attacked. It closed with a segment about the 50th Anniversary. They had a memorial event there and Japanese veterans were invited to the event. It was interesting to hear the American survivors of the attack speak about meeting the Japanese. The Japanese who were interviewed were ones who had actively participated in the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Many of the American veterans seem to have forgiven them, I was a little surprised. There were also some veterans who have not been able to forgive these Japanese veterans. As a nation we have moved past the events, as we should, though as individuals we all deal with these things differently. I started to think about Pearl Harbor and the memorial that I am going to see in a few weeks a little differently.

I’ve been to many similar types of places in the world – Gettysburg, Dachau Concentration Camp, WWI Trenches, Khatyn Village and the the World Trade Center site. These are great places that help you remember those have fallen before us, but I think sometimes we forget about those who live on with the scars of those events, that was one of the things I got out of this documentary. These are the people who live with the violence of the event, remember their friends who did not survive, and ultimately must find peace with the event and maybe or maybe not find forgiveness for those who perpetrated those acts. The survivors are the ones who keep the history alive for the rest of us, so we can can remember those who were lost, but we can’t forget to remember those who have survived. That’s something I’ll remember when I’m in Pearl Harbor.

Mar 23

Tenement Museum, NYC

This past weekend I went to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, I had heard good things about this museum and I agree – it’s a very good museum. It’s located at 97 Orchard Street and the museum store is across the street at 108 Orchard Street, this is where you can arrange for a tour. The museums mission: promote tolerance and historical perspective and help preserve our immigrant heritage.

97 Orchard Street was a tenement house from the 1860’s until 1935 when it was deemed uninhabitable. In 1935 they sealed off the apartments and rented only the 4 store fronts. In 1997 the owner sold the building to the Tenement Museum people (Ruth Abram), the building is now a National Historical Site. Access to the museum is only available by one of the 4 tours offered inside the museum, there is also a lower east side walking tour available seasonally. The tours inside the museum are approximately 1 hour, the walking tour is 90 minutes.

I took an 11:45 tour called Piecing it Together, this tour concentrated on the growth of the garment industry on the lower east side. My tour guide, who was excellent (J.R. McCarthy), spoke a little bit about the museum from outside and then took us inside. Walking into the museum is like walking back in time, it’s lack of preservation is well preserved. The formerly redish wallpaper is now soot covered and gray/black. The metal covered ceiling is peeling, dark and dirty. I think the conditions in here struck me more then they did when I walked inside the Great Pyramid in Egypt. The museum also only offers limited lighting, similar to what you would have found back when the gas lighting was added.

We were first taken to one of the tenements that had not been fixed up since it was opened. The layers of linoleum floor were peeling, the layers of wallpaper were peeling, the wallpaper on the ceiling was peeling, pieces of the walls were missing, where the wood floor was still exposed it was heavily warn. Next we went to see 2 tenements – one housed a couple there 5 children and also served as a garment factory, this was a one bedroom. The second was the home of a garment worker. My tour guide described life in a tenement and the life of a new immigrant – no matter where they were from they were all living in the same circumstances. We also learned about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire and the growth of the garment industry in New York City.

I thought this was a great museum, and absolutely worth a stop for anyone visiting NYC. The building allows a genuine visualization of tenement life at the turn of the century and my guide bridged the gap of understanding the lives of the people who lived in these tenements. My guide also talked about immigration and touched on the different groups who lived in these lower east side tenements.

If you’re interested in visiting the museum I would recommend booking a tour on-line or in person prior to your visit to the museum. I visited in March and several of the tours were already fully booked 2 days prior. My NYC guide book (Foders New York City 2009) recommends this museum for children. However, I’m not sure my 10 year old nephew would have the attention span for this, nor do I think he would appreciate the power of it. If you are interested in taking a child here the Confino Family Tour is recommended for children 5 and up or I would suggest looking into the childrens programs that are offered.

Mar 15

American Museum of Natural History

This weekend I went to the American Museum of Natural History in NYC with my sister, brother-in-law and 3 year old nephew. My nephew was really excited to see the dinosaurs, which he knows more about then I do. Natural history isn’t totally my thing, but lately I’ve thought I need to get out and visit these museums in NYC and I got invited here so I gave it a shot. There were some good things, and some not so good things.

Our first stop was the dinosaur rooms, which were really nice, even for a novice like me. Of note is that the T-Rex is mostly made of real T-Rex bones and was recently repositioned to represent what the newer research indicates was a more likely position for the T-Rex. We also went to see Dinosaurs Alive at the IMAX, which was really interesting, and showed how dedicated the museum is to dinosaur research (they dropped a lot of names of people who were working for the museum and are doing the filed research.) If you’re interested in dinosaurs this place is definitely worth visiting. The IMAX wasn’t quiet as good as some others I have seen, but the others I have seen were based on real video (one of the coral reefs and one from space) but this one was a mixture of things – video and computer technology, it ended up not being as dynamic as I’ve come to expect from IMAX movies.

The Milstein Hall of Ocean Life and the African Mammal Hall. I’m covering these together because my thoughts on them are pretty much the same. These halls are not a reason to visit this museum. They’re like the poor man’s Zoo and Aquarium. It’s not that the exhibits are cheap, but its dead stuffed animals with little bits of information about them. Unless the animal is extinct find a Zoo or Aquarium to see it in, it will be a much better experience. My 3 year old nephew did love these two rooms though, so maybe kids will like it.

We did make quick stops in a couple other rooms, but didn’t spend much time in them:
Northwest Coast Indians – this room seemed to have a bit of promise, though I suspect that the amount of stuff on exhibit might not make it to the top of the list of places to visit for someone really interested in this. But then again I don’t know too much about this topic so I could be wrong.
Human Origins – This was actually a pretty interesting exhibit and a place I wouldn’t have minded spending a little more time in. Though I suspect that someone who believes in creation wouldn’t want to bother stopping here.
Hall of Planet Earth – Another exhibit that showed some promise, but my nephew wanted to go home and play with his new dinosaurs so we didn’t spend much time in here.

Some other notes about the museum: I found the ticket line to be long at 1:00 on a Saturday and poor signage to explain different ticketing options. It was my first time there and found it confusing. You need to pay for admission and then for the IMAX and for any current/temporary exhibits. If we had realized this we probably would have gotten tickets for the climate change exhibit, but by the time we realized it, it was too late. The cafeteria is pretty nice, though it was so crowded and there were so many choices that it was a little overwhelming. There were the usual grilled options, a nice looking salad bar, sandwiches, pizza as well as some entrees and desserts. I wouldn’t shy away from eating here, though it’s not the cheapest option.