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Wow! My First Cruise Blog!

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I love all things cruising, so I’m happy to have been asked to write this weekly cruise blog. I am Rita, an assistant editor here at CruiseMates and a regular contributor.

Unlike most cruisers, I love long voyages. For this reason I am also partial to Holland America Line.  I also am interested in some of the “niche” cruise lines as well, such as Windstar, Silverseas and Cruise West.  However, no matter what cruise line you favor, I will certainly be glad to help with any of your questions.

I’ve just returned from a 35-day cruise to Hawaii and the South Pacific.  Some of those out-of-the-way ports are exceptionally wonderful, especially those places which haven’t been too affected yet by the ravages of modern tourism.  One of my favorite islands is Nuku Hiva, in the Marquesas.  It’s the largest island in that archipelago, and it is breathtakingly beautiful.  Its cliffs tower above the sea, and it is best known for the 550 metre Ahuii waterfall in its Hakaui Valley.

The island only has about 1600 residents and they don’t get very many tourists.  Holland America only stops there a handful of times in a given year, and a few of the other cruise lines make the occasional call.  There is a freighter that stops on a monthly basis with supplies for the islanders.  This freighter also carries a small complement of passengers and these people provide most of what little tourism the island gets.  There is also a resort on the island that gets some tourists.  These are mainly people who are looking primarily for seclusion, as Nuka Hiva doesn’t offer much in the way of tourist activities.  The island does have an airport and a few flights come in daily, mostly from other regions of the South Pacific, most notably Papeete.  The planes used are small … primarily “puddle jumpers,” such as Twin Otters.

Because Nuku Hiva gets very little tourism, they have no real tourism infrastructure set up … which is a good thing.  Holland America offers no shore excursions on Nuku Hiva, probably because it’s not worth it to them to develop such.  They make maybe two or three calls a year there, so putting together a shore excursion program would probably not be worth it … assuming that they could even find enough available tour operators.  There are a few people, however, who use their own vehicles to operate tours.  Horseback riding is also available, as is SCUBA diving.  One could snorkel in the waters surrounding Nuku Hiva, but be aware that the water will not be that beautiful shade of clear blue that you will see at other South Pacific islands.  But it is sure warm and wonderful to cavort in.

The people of Nuku Hiva eke out a living where they can.  Many work for the government, the community, the Catholic Church or the school system.  Many are self-employed in ventures such as agriculture, fishing, and the raising of cattle and other livestock.  Some are craftspeople as well, sculpting bowls, platters, Marquesan ceremonial clubs, tiki’s and ukuleles.  Others travel to some of the nearby islands in the South Pacific to work.  Any tourism activities they engage in are just part-time ventures.  When I was on Nuku Hiva this past October, we took a complete tour of the island by four-wheel drive vehicle.  The proprietor of the tour “company,” Claude, was a carpenter by trade, and he made his primary living fashioning handmade furniture for the islanders.  There’s no mass production there.  Every piece is fashioned custom-made and built by hand.

You won’t find any shopping malls or McDonald’s Restaurants on Nuku Hiva.  But what you will find is a small collection of stores selling mostly crafts and other hand-made items.  You can get some clothing items too, many of these hand-made and dyed as well.  I noticed a small selection of tee-shirts, which I guess they sell to tourists.

There is really only one full service restaurant on the island, as well as a few “shack” type establishments.  The craftspeople pretty much only come out to the dock area when there is a ship in port, which isn’t that often.

I’ll upload some pictures of Nuku Hiva later on this week so that you can see the beauty I’m talking about.  When your ship approaches the island, you can see  what I am talking about.  As your cruise ship approaches Nuku Hiva, the first thing you’ll notice is Muake Hill, the jagged peak and highest point on the island, towering way above you.  Its rugged beauty is impossible to describe.  The only way to get up the mountain, and to really see all there is to see on Nuku Hiva, is by four-wheel drive.  That’s because most of the roads going up the mountain are not paved.

As you travel upwards, you will notice a wide variety of flowers.  These will be everywhere … by the road side, growing in the valleys, and even adorning residents’ neatly kept yards.  Horses will be grazing by the side of the road, often with no human in sight.  This is probably because theft is not an issue in this place.  I’d be willing to bet their crime rate is zero.

There isn’t much industry on Nuku Hiva — pretty much just one resort property, a restaurant, government buildings, a post office, a small general hospital, banks, schools, and a few stores and shops.  There’s also a town hall and an Air Tahiti office.  Most of the commerce is located in Taiohae, which is a pleasant village area that borders the sea.

If you ever have the opportunity to visit Nuku Hiva, by all means do so.  And don’t be an idiot like I was the first time I happened to find myself there in January of 2006.  Since I was told there were little to no opportunities to take tours, I didn’t even bother leaving the ship.  What a waste, as I discovered during this more recent trip, when I was finally able to see all the hidden beauty of the island.  You have to work a bit to locate them, but you can arrange to hire a guide, usually through the one hotel on the island, the Nuku Hiva Pearl Lodge, or through contacts you can make over the internet.

If there is any further information you’d like about Nuku Hiva, just leave me a note and I’ll be happy to provide it.  If there is another subject you need more information about, just leave a comment and I’ll be happy to try and provide it as well.

I love cruising and there is no other subject I more love to write about.  So go ahead and put me to work. That’s what I’m here for.

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Comment from Love Sac Fan
Time December 2, 2008 at 11:37 pm

Its rugged beauty is impossible to describe. The only way to get up the mountain, and to really see all there is to see on Nuku Hiva, is by four-wheel drive. That’s because most of the roads going up the mountain are not paved.

Comment from CRUSIN’ FOOLS
Time December 3, 2008 at 8:56 am

Rita, thank you for taking the time to write about the wild beauty of Nuka Hiva. I look forward to reading about the other South Pacific islands you visited on your cruise.

Comment from MTL
Time December 3, 2008 at 5:30 pm

Your review is fantastic it is like I was there,because the way you describe is really tempting to go.Congrats are in order.MTL

Comment from Eileen Vernon
Time December 9, 2008 at 2:00 pm

One issue brought up by everyone I know, the cost of the internet is exorbitant. this appears to be true on HAL ships. .60cents a minute…and very slow.. when we can use it free off ship and coffee shops etc. This is stone age pricing. I hope that changes.

Comment from Dale
Time April 2, 2009 at 5:53 pm

Hello…I am single, female, I have a boyfriend and want to cruise alone, but do not have the money to double the room fare. I would imagine I’m just out of luck right? I’ve called cruise sites and they all tell me no deal. I ask what a person does that wants to travel alone and they tell me to put an add in for a companion! I don’t want a companion! I want 3 or 4 days to get away alone in the better balcony room and unwind…read a book, be alone sway in the sea and take long walks on the beach at whatever destination we stop at…why is this so hard to understand? I don’t want a singles cruise…I’m not looking to meet anyone. I will have conversations while I eat, but besides that books, movies and naps are my ideal vacation.
Any help would be appreciated.

Comment from Joni
Time October 8, 2009 at 8:30 am

HI Rita,

What cruise line can I look to for meeting other singles in their 30’s who are intelligent, upscale, and have healthy habits?


Comment from Fred Herman
Time December 22, 2010 at 1:31 pm

I should have seen it as an omen. The government goons who keep Our Nation safe from Muslim terrorists by molesting American airline passengers stole a little pocket knife – valued at around 75 cents thirty years ago – at the San Francisco airport. Its two inch blade was dull (never sharp), I used the bottle opener to clean my nails, but it had sentimental value. It was attached, with no problem ever, to my key chain on trips to many lands. An 80-year-old man barely able to hobble was unlikely to force his way into the cockpit with it and demand transport to Havana. They offered to mail it back (two 41-cent stamps?) for eleven bucks. They also took a 99-cent can of shaving cream, presumably because it could become a bomb. Like my shoes?

Well, okay, the facts: In making copies of my passport to assist protectors of our homeland security, Mary forgot my passport in her copy machine. She discovered the error in San Francisco, 90 miles away, and offered to drive back for it. “Naaah,” I replied. “Of 3,000 passengers, a third are likely to overlook passports. This cruise is from Miami to Los Angeles, and if it’s a problem. however unlikely, I just won’t go ashore in Colombia.” No cruise line or federal agency, no matter how spooked by Bush, Rove and 9/11, could be that picky. So assess Mary 5%, me 10% for being as wrong as I’ve been since suggesting at age 11 that Hitler was unlikely to invade Russia. Combine 15% more between Norwegian Cruise Lines and Kandy’s Karefree Kruisin’ for not making it crystal clear to even a Neanderthal: No passport, no cruise! No provisional alternatives, no other proof of legitimacy accepted.

Our government gets the remaining 70%. It was indeed that picky. Not that our government was even there. Two cute little things were there inform me that I couldn’t come aboard, and there’s no appeal. Da gummint made sure that no higher authority was around for an appeal, based on varied defenses: I had photocopies of my passport and IDs up the gazoo, but they wouldn’t do. A professor friend noted that Uncle Sam has complete files on everyone so it had to be easy to determine I am – er – legitimate. But it was hopeless. Nobody to help. As our luggage was already in our cabin, we feared the Norwegian Star would sail without us, rendering our enforced Miami stay tougher yet. It took four agonizing hours, full of the stress we came east to avoid, but NCL finally produced our undies minutes before the ship sailed without us.

Victoria, a nice customer relations lady paid to tell us how sorry she was but it was out of her hands, got us two nights in an upscale hotel at “reduced” rates as neighbor Marlene, the cat rescuer with a key to our house to feed our cat, Fed Exed the elusive passport, guaranteed by 8 a.m. Tuesday; it was in the concierge’s hands by 7:45 a.m. Within hours we were aloft to Cartagena, Colombia, arriving 12 hours before a Norwegian Star that kept us waiting on the dock two more hours.

The NS sailed Sunday afternoon. We caught it Wednesday morning. Thanks for understanding, said a form letter from the nice PR lady. We don’t for a moment understand. I try to estimate what this bureaucratic idiocy cost us: $800+ for two fares to Colombia, $500+ for two hotel nights and meals, $80 for taxis and car rental, a $70 Fed Ex fee for openers. Plus unmeasurable (except by lawyers) mental anguish. For zero reason. It was asinine bureaucracy no reasonable person could forgive. An even partial refund? I used to insert in my talks “pause here for laugh.”

But the other ten days? Programs at sea were Las Vegas style. Much glitz, but lounge show talent, folks unlikely to make the varsity. Staff had not mastered the secret of lighting without shining blinding beams into audience eyes. A heavily accented (every Star crew member seemed heavily accented) asked audiences eight times per show to “put your hands together for …”

Food was adequate, especially in eating sites with no additional charges. The default cafeteria had admirable selections of everything, staff picking up plates and utensils the nanosecond the last forkful of food was chewed, Noisy dining rooms for folks who like to be served well prepared food were excruciatingly slow even with huge staffs. You didn’t go there if trying to catch another show. Doubling up, four or six to a table, was always fun. It’s what cruises are about. One cafe advertised “open 24 hours a day – closed from 4 to 5 a.m.”

French, Italian, Japanese, “Tex-Mex”, steak house and other “cover charge” eateries featured their cultures at extra cost. Bi-i-i-i-ig extra cost. Twenty-five bucks in the French place. But … ten bucks more for the sea food entree. Ten more for a glass of nothing-special wine. Service charge/gratuities added to bills without proof these “tips” actually went to the help. (We found the same dare-I-call-it-scam in Florida; California still relies on over-pricing.) NCL advertises “free-style cruising.” That means you can eat when you like, instead of at assigned times at assigned tables. But damlittle is free with NCL.

The nickel-and-diming transcended normal bounds, giving the word c-h-e-a-p new meaning. A buck for soda that in minimal fast food joints comes from a machine – all you can drink. Mary bought an Irish coffee and asked for a bit more plain coffee in her glass; the water brought a bill for $1.75. There was laundry service – forty bucks for a $2 laundromat machine load. Internet was $1 a minute. (It was 50 cents for a half hour in Cartagena.) “Toll-free” 800 calls were $5.95 a minute. I enjoyed (with some guilt) being pushed around airports in a wheelchair; I heard late that wheelchair rentals were available on the Star. For $900!

One more example of Norwegian Cruise Lines relentlessly pursuing any spare change left in passenger pockets: A single afternoon’s “pizzazz” infomercials and money traps included indoor and outdoor casinos (to my knowledge not subject to gaming commissions), an auction of art that didn’t come from crew or passengers, a $20 wine tasting, a jewelry sales presentation, a “Cabo San Lucas shopping talk,” a talk on future cruises and “rewards,” “Pathways to Pilates” for $12, a mojito tasting for $15, an “ultimate skin clinic” seminar, a “lose weight with hypnosis” seminar and “body sculpture camp.”

Ports we encountered:

• Cartagena, which Mary and I did on our own, rich condos amid poor people. The contrast was startling. We ate native foods outdoors as monotonous Latin beats emanated from speakers. Every now and then I’d recognize the word “navidad,” reminding us it was the Santa season.

• Puntarenas, Costa Rica; I adored that little country, not only because of the pride our guide displayed in it, but because it abolished its army years ago and survives as independently as ever. The World Health Organization ranks Costa Rica’s medical system 36th compared to the United States’ 37th. Its people pay 9 percent of their income for health care – which covers all tests, all medicine no matter how expensive, and even dental care.

• Huatalco, Mexico, described to us as a tourist trap; I didn’t go ashore. Mary bought a few items from hawkers on the dock and beach.

• Acapulco, Mexico; what seemed important to our guide was the hotel at which John Wayne, Johnny Weissmuller and other Hollywood notables stayed a half century ago. He did take us to the famed cliff divers, but from our vantage points we couldn’t quite see their entries into the Pacific. And, of course, shopping. T-shirt and basket shops galore.

• Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, We were by a sleepy little fishing resort of a few thousand which we saw quarter century ago grown tenfold into a development of gringo homes with all the big city pluses and minuses.

A dozen K’s is surely as much as anyone wants to read of my-two-weeks-at-sea, but I’d be remiss if I omitted the ordeal of leaving the ship in Los Angeles. Of 2,400 passengers served by a crew if more than a thousand, about 90 percent seemed to prefer the “easy off” option. Two thousand stood in a line stretching longer than the ship’s three football fields, first to tell overworked customs guys we were not planning to blow up the Pentagon (something like that) and then others that the baggage we schlepped contained nothing to alter reality.

It seemed as if every passenger wanted off the ship now, but when I asked a woman in line ahead of me if she’d do this again, she grinned “sure.”

Would I fly again? With the degrading, humiliating, abasement of passengers in effect, not if I can help it. But would I fly the “bare bones” US Airways that took us from S.F. to Philadelphia, Philadelphia to Miami, without food or amusements and broke Mary’s luggage to boot? Never. Will I “cruise” again? I’d offer a positive no, but Ms. M is ready. Probably not on Norwegian Cruise Lines, however. Someone should have told me saving a buck isn’t everything.

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