Thursday, 20 December 2012

The Aloha Cruise - On Dry Land

Continuing our grand Hawaii cruise adventure with Norwegian Cruise Line and Virgin Holidays. The 7-day cruise is over, but there's more in store...!

While we had planned for the full seven-day cruise aboard Pride of America, with that much-needed overnight stay at the Modern Honolulu Hotel the day before, we were asked by Virgin Holidays - who had helped with our flights from Florida - if we could stay on for an extra couple of days to see something of their resort choice on Oahu as well.

With their help - and a very generous offer from the Walt Disney company - we were able to extend our stay to three extra nights, starting with a night at the exclusive Kahala Resort on our return to Honolulu. And we were SO glad we had the additional time, both to truly see some of this island and also to relax a little (because, for all the fact it had been a wonderful cruise, we had packed a LOT into the 7 days).

Our first item of business was to pick up a hire car from the Airport (a 15-minute shuttle ride from the port - and just $7 per person with Roberts Hawaii), and then we were finally off under our steam.

With all our luggage in the car, we were advised it was extremely unwise to park in any of the tourist spots on the island as car theft (when obvious items are in view) is somewhat prevalent. Therefore, we headed straight to the Kahala so we could leave our baggage there, even though it meant driving to the far side of Waikiki and then returning to Pearl Harbor, our main target for the day.

We were actually glad we did as the Resort took a bit of finding in daylight, and we were able to navigate back later on with no trouble. It is also quite stunning, with a beautiful entrance reception area that we took to terming New World Chic for its airy, contemporary styling. It was also in the middle of one of its trademark Dolphin Shows at the big seaside lagoon that sits at the back of the resort (a more personal Dolphin Quest adventure is also available but we were happy just to watch the Christmas-themed show).

Once unloaded, we stopped off at the Diamond Head crater, the iconic volcanic outcrop at the end of Waikiki Beach. Here you can drive (or hike) in and then follow the winding path  and 175 steps to the crater summit for a wonderful overview of Waikiki. Due to the fact we didn't have two hours to spare (or any water on a pretty hot day), we opted for a look around inside the crater (including the history of the Crater as a WWII army base) and just a gentle wander along the path to get the general idea. We will be back to tackle the summit another time, though!

Next, we headed for the site of the infamous Japanese attack that brought America into WWII. Pearl Harbor is still a working military base, but there is also the main Visitor Center, with 5 distinct historic sites to peruse and learn about this tragic day for the US Navy, when some 3,500 lost their lives to the sneak attack.

The free-admission USS Arizona Memorial offers a film about the main attack on the island and the ship that took the biggest hits on that fateful day, with a boat ride over to the site of the ship itself, with a hugely poignant display and tribute to the 1,177 men who perished aboard. 

For an additional fee, we went over to the USS Missouri, or the Mighty Mo, one of the WWII battleships that 'bookended' the War by being the place where Japan officially surrendered on September 2, 1945. The Missouri also served in the Korean and Gulf Wars before being retired here in 1999. A full tour of the battleship would take several hours but we managed to do it in about 90 minutes, ending quite in awe of how much of the ship's interior you can actually see.

Other exhibits included the submarine USS Bowfin, which offered more interior touring and the story of the Pacific's under-sea war, and the Museum and Park, with its moving memorial to the 52 US submarines lost in the course of duty. We would have loved to include the Pacific Aviation Museum and the USS Oklahoma Memorial (the other big battleship lost during the raid, along with 429 crewmen), but it was already gone 4pm and things were closing, and we also had one other stop we wanted to make on our way back to the Kahala.

The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific is located in the Punchbowl Crater overlooking Waikiki and is otherwise known as the Arlington of the West. Another volcanic crater - albeit not as big as Diamond Head, the Punchbowl is a dramatic and fitting tribute to the many US servicemen and women who have died in the various Pacific theatres of war. Superbly laid out, with dramatic views from the crater rim, this is a somber but impressive memorial to those who died in WWII, the Korean War and Vietnam, as well as being the resting place for servicefolk and their families in between.

 Our day was completed back at the Kahala Resort, luxuriating in a walk along the beach at dusk and then retiring to the Verandah Lounge for drinks and a light meal (in our case, a superb burger and some sushi) while we contemplated the enormity of our Hawaii journey so far. We were still waking up FAR too early in the morning but, all in all, it was worth it, as we were covering a lot of ground...

Next up - Kualoa Ranch and the North Shore