Cunard World Cruise Week Five Highlights (San Francisco to Hawaii)
I travelled around the world in a 12-week trip that started in Southampton UK and ended in Hong Kong. Most of it on segments of Cunard World cruise, first on Queen Victoria and then Queen Elizabeth. This 12-part series covers the journey, experiences and tips – one for each week of the journey. This post covers week five, you can read week four here.
San Francisco to Hawaii
Day 29 (7 February) San Francisco
It was all change for Sector Three with over 1,000 passengers disembarking and being replaced between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Unlike the previous sector, where it felt like one continuous voyage with a few minor tweaks, this time it had the air of being a totally new voyage with almost all new faces in the restaurant and around the ship. The feeling of change was not limited to guests as there were a lot of crew changes, including the Entertainment Manager and Assistant, our junior waiter and in every department we interacted with.
On side effect was the sudden bonding of the old hands. People that we had not spoken to before suddenly felt like old familiar friends, and would stop to chat. Familiar nods and understanding between those that had been on for the previous legs became the norm.
The on-board program felt like it had been reset and there were more induction events like tours of the ship and greater explanations at the start of things like the port lectures.
The change above was, of course, only evident after returning to the ship at the end of a day exploring San Francisco. Docking in the town, and not in a working port, was a great experience as it was within a short walk of downtown, the tourist (and rather tacky) Pier 39 and with connections to lots of tours of the harbour, hop-on hop-off busses, bike and Segway tours. Close by was also one of the offices of the GoCars. This was a brilliant and unique way to explore the city.
They are small vehicles that are a cross between a scooter and go-cart. GPS-activated commentary and directions guided us around the city. We chose to go on the route that took us to and under the Golden Gate Bridge, through the Presidio and though town. We then took the diversion that let us return to their Market Square office in town to then go and explore the centre of town before returning by bus to the Ferry Terminal to catch a trolley bus to right outside our Pier.
I can highly recommend this as a fun and informative way to see the city.
Day 30 (8 February) At sea to Honolulu Day one
The day started bright and sunny, although a fog wafted over the sea for a period in the morning but soon dispersed. It was too fresh to sit outside and only a few souls could be seen lying about on the decks. The appearance of the celebrity travel writer Bill Bryson as a guest speaker on board, therefore, drew even more attention and a very large crowd.
Non-seamless back-to-back cruise
The last few days, with the end of one sector and start of another, exposed some of the flaws in the Cunard process of ensuring a seamless experience for guests booking permutations of the World Voyage. Our trip from Southampton to Sydney was booked as two different bookings, as we had planned to change cabins in San Francisco. Later we decided to stay in the same cabin and the booking was changed to have us staying in the same one for the entire period. The bookings were supposedly linked.
However, due to two different booking references we were only given a cruise card for Southampton to San Francisco – and were assured that we would be given the new room key and everything would be seamlessly connected. However, this was not the case. In addition to various departments including he restaurant and our butler getting notifications we were leaving in San Francisco.
It took a number of requests before we finally were given the next sector cruise cards and a letter saying that things like Internet minutes would be carried over. However they were not and we had to request they were reinstated and had to set up new accounts! The team on the ship could not do this and had to email the office to make this happen. Points from playing in the Casino also disappeared and we had to request the manager to put these back on our account.
As the days progressed we discovered another issue as the credit card that had been given at Southampton was not attributed to our new cruise card, and so we found that charging was restricted once we had used up the on-board credit. When checking in for the Cunard cruise a credit card had to be provided or a cash lump sum. Charging to your on-board account was restricted when the cash was used up and during the cruise at various time pre-approvals were made against the credit card. So if an issue arose with either of these, the ability to charge anything was limited. Debit cards were not accepted. We had to go to the Purser’s Desk to get them to associate our credit card again.
The learning was, and based on experiences, when we have booked other cruises back-to-back such as the Christmas Caribbean and then added a Crossing, is that the Cunard system does not fully recognise and cope with creating a seamless event and we had to be ready to sort loose ends out.
The inaugural meeting for the new sector was held today and the three challenges for this sector were “Night” (pictures taken in low light), “People” (portraits of people on shore or the ship) and “Cunard” (what Cunard means to us). The talks were again the “Camera Basics” and then one on “Night Photography” and “People Photography”
Day 31 (9 February) At sea to Honolulu Day two
As we progressed further into the Pacific towards Hawaii, the map on the in-room television highlighted my weakness in geography. In my mind the islands were located pretty must straight west of Los Angeles, but saw they are very much further south. This answered why the weather there was always so much better than LA!
Pancake Flipping and Chinese New Year
Continuing with reflecting different nations events, the ship acknowledged the start of Chinese Year of the Monkey by showing the big parade (which due to time difference was though run at 3am). To honour Shrove Tuesday a Pancake Flipping Contest was held out on the Lido Pool deck in the afternoon. Guests could sign up to take part. It was not particular well attended, as it was windy, cloudy and quite a lot of ship movement discouraged people from spending time outside.
As this was the start of another sector, and tonight was the first formal night, there was the usual flurry of Captain’s Welcome Cocktail Parties for newly joined guests. They were split again into one each for the First and Second Sitting of Britannia in the Queens Room and one for Princess and Queens Grill guests in Hemispheres Night Club. Of course due to the lack of connectivity in the Cunard system of our bookings we were invited to them again to them. Though we did not attend. So if you do like going to these events, perhaps the key is not booking one major sector of world voyage as one but do these as individual bookings to get all the invitations – if you can put up with the administration hassles described previously each time!
The usual “Black and White Ball” took place tonight as well.
Day 32 (10 February) At sea to Honolulu Day three
As we sailed further across the Pacific, the swell and ship movement continued. It was a strange sensation as the sea looked flat and calm and yet the bow and stern would rise and fall fairly significantly. In the noon address the Captain said it was due to swells created a long distance away that still impacted here.
Bomb Search Emergency Drill
Under Maritime Law a weekly crew drill has to be held to exercise them in various emergency situations. Today this involved the passengers as well. The scenario was that the ship had received a bomb threat and guests had to return to our cabins to search for suspicious items, while the crew searched public areas and then their quarters. Apparently some items were placed in cabins and guests locating them were rewarded with a bottle of champagne. We then had to proceed to our muster stations and then while we returned to our cabins the crew had to act out evacuation of the ship based on a device having been found.
Live Music and Orchestras
Cunard made much of their support and use of live music on the voyage. They had two orchestras on the ship: the Queens Room Orchestra that performed each night for dancing and the Royal Court Theatre Orchestra that supported the production shows and guests artists. Much was made of the fact that the latter only get the music and around a 45-minute rehearsal with guest performers and are experts at sight-reading music. It was very impressive how practiced and accomplished the shows were based on this.
There were many other live musicians on the voyage with classical concerts on sea days in the Queens Room by additional visiting performers, a String Quartet that played in the Grand Lobby and other venues, various pianists in different bars and a party band called Synergy that played out on the Lido Deck Pool area on sea days and in Hemispheres at night.
Day 33 (11 February) At sea to Honolulu Day four
While the weather nudged its way towards to expected warmth in Honolulu, and sat around 24 degrees, the swells that wafted across the Pacific meant the ship bobbed a great deal. The stabilisers meant there was not noticeable rolling but the stern would rise surprisingly high before falling again. You could see the swells rolling across the surface. It was a strange experience as it was sunny and bright, the wind low and yet the motion was that is usually experienced when it is stormy.
It did not deter the numbers at the fencing or ballroom dancing classes, nor at the Afternoon Tea Dance later in the afternoon.
We had booked the Waikiki Beach transfer and decided to take advantage of buying the Honolulu Hop-on Hop-off trolley tickets on-board at the Excursion Office too, as we wanted to explore more. This was possible as the all-aboard time was only at 11:30pm at night.
Rob, who does the Port Talks, had spoke about the shuttle bus option and also the Trolley Bus and took the order. He was very helpful and later called to say that he did not think we needed both the beach transfer and Trolley Bus tickets, and suggested if we were comfortable self-exploring that he would cancel our Waikiki reservation. This was a very welcome and thoughtful gesture and service that I felt showed great customer service and thoughtfulness. We had booked excursions in virtually every port for all the time on Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth and appreciated this honesty. It made me actually even more inclined to use them.
Day 34 (12 February) Honolulu, Hawaii
Visiting Hawaii was one of the destinations I was most eagerly looking forward to before setting off on the voyage. The romance of the exotic location and my love of the TV show “Hawaii Five-O” as a boy and the reincarnation running the last few years before this adventure fuelled that. As we drifted into Honolulu harbour in the early morning a gorgeous sunrise created a pink and purple haze across the water and the famous Aloha Tower. Since its creation in the 1920s it had welcomed every traveller to the island when getting there by ship was the only way of visiting these islands.
Many people had told me that Honolulu was over developed, commercial and lacked charm. However, I loved my time here. I came away with a sense of a city that combines a (at times) disturbing history, modernity, tradition and beach life in one compact package. It was smaller than I had imagined, the buildings (while tall) not overly oppressive and Waikiki Beach I liked a lot. It is, admittedly, quite a narrow beach and got very busy but it had a youthful and energetic vibe and great swimming.
We explored the island first on the Hop-on Hop-Off Waikiki Trolley, which has four routes: one each focused on history, scenic, shopping and landscape. First we headed out to the famous Diamond Crater, where large numbers of people were hiking up the rim to see the views, then we headed to the beach and then off to see key historic sites including the remarkable and artistic Senate Building, Iolani Palace and the Supreme Court building before heading to the Aloha Tower. After that we caught the local bus to the Ala Moana mall (the largest open air shopping mall in the world), which was full of shops of every imaginable type and full of locals and tourists.
The all-aboard time was 11:30pm and so we had a full day to explore and enjoy this city.
Watch the time-lapse video I made of Honolulu Harbour turning from day into night: https://youtu.be/oLlO-Rku4no
Halau Hula Olana in the Hawaiian Hula and Music Show.
Local Honolulu dancers from 6 to 30 years of age performed two shows on our stop in the city in the theatre, which was a great show.
Day 35 (13 February) Lahaina Hawaii
I was woken around 7:15am with the gentle rumbling sounds of the tender boats being launched several decks below. This meant that we had arrived at the coastal town of Lahaina on the island of Maui Hawaii. The first stop on our voyage were we were docked off shore and had to tender onto land.
From the ship I could see the vast soaring volcanic-formed mountains, which looked surprisingly barren and brown. In my mind I had pictured all of Hawaii as lush and densely vegetated. So this was a surprise.
It is easier and less work to be docked at a quay than having to shuttle guests and crew to and from land on tender boats, which hold around 100 guests in each. These are also the lifeboats for emergencies. Many large ships will be scheduled to only call at places they can dock as the logistics of moving thousands of people are too great and time consuming.
We had been provided with an information sheet about what a tender was, safe embarking and disembarking, rules for while on board and the restrictions on who could use them (i.e. people with enough mobility to get on and off without assistance).
Guests on Cunard excursions met as usual on board and were escorted to the tenders as a priority. Guests in Queens Grill Q1 to Q4 were given priority passes which enabled us to join the tender line whenever we wished, other guests not on tours or in these cabins had to go to the Queens Room and get a number and then wait to be called to go ashore. Once the rush died down then all people had to do was go down to the departure area on Deck A. The priority pass did not apply to the return tenders.
We were on a tour and so did not use the priority pass and the lines moved quite fast as Cunard had a large boat from a contractor that could hold significant numbers of guests operating as a tender as the beginning of the day.
Ka’anapali Beach Break
As mentioned, we had booked the transfer to the Ka’anapali beach. This has appeared as one of the top 25 beaches in the world on the Travel Channel. It was a beautiful and great choice.
After tendering across it was about a 20-minute transfer by bus to the Sheraton Maui Hotel, which was one of a series of hotels along the beach. While the beach is public included in the package was a chair, free drink and discount on lunch at two of the hotel’s poolside restaurants. They offered upgrades to a lounger and umbrellas or a two-person cabana, which consisted of two loungers with plush cushions and cover. We chose the latter at a cost of $47.
The beach was busy but not packed and the ocean had some small waves. Very enjoyable day.
On return we had time to explore some of the historic town. Lahaina used to be the capital of Hawaii before Honolulu and used to be the winter haven for whaling ships and has always attracted and eclectic mix of people.
It looked small at first with a small square with vast old trees near the quaint port, but soon its character was revealed. There were a range of types including a few hardline religious people standing with banners condemning a range of terrible sinners (homosexuals, drug takers, child molesters, etc.), artists painting, crazy-looking hobos, American tourists and fishermen. There are some historic buildings and plenty of shops including tourist souvenirs, fine art and photography, gelato, craftwork and even an outlet mall area selling designer clothing.
People who had stayed on the ship had been treated to whales around the ship for most of the day.
As we were preparing to depart the Captain mentioned in his usual address before we set off that people had been asking him about the presence of police in Honolulu before we departed last night. He said that this was because a crew member had been in a vehicle accident and was left in hospital in Honolulu and one of the nurses had stayed behind. This sounded serious, and we later discovered from our waitress that it was the Deputy Captain that had been hit by a car in the port area and had badly broken his leg and she believed that it was pretty bad.
The journey continues
Read week six of the trip covering Hawaii to Auckland