It is so difficult to believe that this cruise is almost half over; the time is just going way too fast. We’re are still in the Hawaiian Islands and will be for another two days yet. On Thursday, we spent our day in Maui. In fact, we remained there until 10:00 p.m.
I’ve spent considerable time in Maui, both on prior cruises, as well as attending a 12-day writer’s conference and retreat on the island back in 2001. So, there really was nothing particular that I cared to do on this port stop other than shop.
We left the ship after the “first wave” of people on tours had left, and we spent the better part of our morning exploring the little shops up and down Front Street in Old Lahaina. There is everything from souvenir shops, to fine Hawaiian clothing and jewelry stores. Another neat feature is the vast array of quaint little art galleries, some of them selling very expensive (and also very beautiful Hawaiian art pieces). We went to one place where the artist uses a computer generated system to create scenes that seem almost three-dimensional. This effect is achieved by printing them on a special type of paper. By dimming the lights, you can actually feel that you are in the middle of the painting, and the painting itself seems to glow all around you. He offers his works in a variety of sizes, and some of them are actually affordable, in the range of maybe $500 to $800 for a smaller sized print. Of course, wouldn’t you know that I can’t find the piece of paper where I wrote this artist’s name down, but when I return home I am sure a quick search on Google will yield it. That “quick” search is just a bit too expensive to run here via the ship’s internet.
We shopped up and down Front Street and even clear out to Hilo Hattie’s. A sad note about this well-known Hawaii landmark. She is going out of business. That’s right – Chapter 7 bankruptcy. It was all over the newspapers here in Hawaii yesterday. Citing financial problems that have spanned the past several years, as well as a declining tourism industry (one of my tour guides said that the recent summer tourism season – one of two that the islands really depend on – the other being the holiday season) had tourism off by something like 60%. Hilo Hattie’s had just been bought out by new owners about three months ago, and apparently they could not weather that particularly bad season. So, they declared bankruptcy. We figured something was up with them as the selection in their stores seemed on the “thin” side. When we asked about it, we were told that the store is going more in the direction of “resort wear” and that new stock was on order and just hadn’t arrived yet. Now we know what the real reason for the poor selection is. Obviously, they knew this was coming and just hadn’t ordered new stock – or perhaps their suppliers had cut them off knowing a bankruptcy was imminent. Sad to see such a well-established Hawaii landmark close its doors. Hopefully, a new retailer will buy it, and keep it pretty much as we know it. I’d hate to see them absorbed as a part of something like a Walmart chain.
After all that hard shopping, our little band of merrymakers was ready for lunch. We stopped by Cheeseburger in Paradise for a nice greasy burger with fries. The Onion rings were good too! While the food at this “tourist trap” is exceptionally good, it’s the views of the waterfront that I enjoy best. Gazing out the window while waiting for our order, we could see both our ship and the Volendam docked out in the harbor. As they say, two is always better than one.
That evening back onboard the Statendam, we were treated to some local entertainment by Polynesia Productions. This consisted of a group of musicians playing a variety of drums and other instruments native to Polynesia, as well as a variety of hula performers featured in a variety of Polynesian native dance ceremonies. The best part of the performance was the group of three “hula babies” – the most adorable little girls you ever laid your eyes on. These children have been started young and they too performed intricate dance routines that clearly took a lot of practice to learn. I don’t think there was a person in the audience who didn’t want to take those children home – and some even asked – but of course, their parents, who were onboard as well, weren’t about to allow that.
As soon as I can, I will get some photos of these dancers into an online CruiseMates gallery. I have actually taken a couple hundred photos thus far this cruise, but am trying to economize on internet minutes. That’s why most of them will be uploaded when I return home at the end of this month.
Yesterday, we spent the first of our two days in Honolulu. Thankfully, we dock here and we’re at the centrally located Aloha Tower dock. Sometimes Holland America gets stuck at one of the other docks. In January of 2006, we got stuck at Pier 17, which was a bit of a walk to the main shopping and tourist type area. But at this location, all we have to do is debark the ship, and we’re right in the heart of everything.
I decided to take an all-day tour billed as a “Military VIP Tour.” Conducted by “Home of the Brave,” it is a comprehensive introduction to Hawaii’s military contributions to our nation’s defense, especially during the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Of course, the tour included a visit to Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial itself. This part of the tour was not in any way VIP in nature. Just like everyone else, we got in line to get our tickets for the presentation in the theater and then embarked a Navy launch to go out to the Arizona Memorial itself. The entire experience was a very somber one, especially when you read the names of all the soldiers who died there on December 7, 1941. Another poignant reminder of that day is the oil that still bubbles up to the surface from the sunken Arizona – some 61 years later.
There are not too many Pearl Harbor survivors left, but one was apparently at the Memorial yesterday, as a camera crew was setting up to interview him about the events of that tragic day. Of course, time was allowed for us to visit the Pearl Harbor Museum and Gift Shop as well, and once we returned from the Memorial, this is exactly what just about everyone wanted to do. The foundation that runs the memorial is undertaking a major rebuilding effort, and are trying to raise funds to support this. The existing center is aging rapidly and if it is not renovated or rebuilt, it may have to be closed down. So any purchases made in the store, as well as donations offered, will go toward this rebuilding effort. Just about everyone reboarded the tour bus laden with packages.
As I noted, the visit to the Arizona Memorial was not very much “VIP” in nature. We were just a group of the many tourists that visit the site daily. The “VIP” nature of the tour mainly took place on the bus – where we had a World War II “docent,” or expert aboard who regaled us with stories about the attack on Pearl Harbor and the events and personalities surrounding it. The bus itself was adorned with authentic photographs of some of the aircraft used in the conflict, both American and Japanese. Many maps and photos were also passed around to illustrate the stories that were being told as we traveled from one destination to another. We visited the Punchbowl Memorial to see the graves of all the military personnel buried there. Today, there is no longer any room for coffins, but cremated remains can still be accommodated. We saw the gravesites of Ernie Pyle, a war time correspondent who covered World War II as one of the first “embedded” reporters to cover actual wartime events. Today, we have sophisticated satellite networks to deliver real time reports of events occurring on the other side of the world. But Pyle had only his pen and note paper, but still managed to earn a place for himself in history due to his fine reportage. He also earned a place to be laid to rest in this military cemetery even though much of his work during the war was as a civilian. He is one of the few such people buried there.
Another sobering site we viewed was the grave of Elison Ozinoka (please forgive spelling – again, I’m not “wasting” time to Google the proper spelling due to internet costs). Many will recall that Ozinoka was one of the seven astronauts who lost their lives in the Challenger tragedy. He was a native of Hawaii and served in the military, and hence earned for himself a place of honor at the Punchbowl Memorial.
The interesting thing about the Punchbowl Memorial is that tours can drive through, and can even slow down to a snail’s pace to view the various sites. But they can’t stop and allow people to get out. This is because previous visitors to the Memorial have left their marks in the form of various graffiti and other vandalism, so today the park imposes a $75 fine on any tour operator stopping his vehicle or allowing people to get out in order to take photographs, etc. Sad commentary on our sometimes less than human nature, huh?
We also had the opportunity to visit the Schofield Army Barracks, Fort Shafter and Wheeler Army Air Field. At Fort Shafter, we enjoyed a delicious buffet lunch at the Military Base Club, a facility only open to active and former military and their guests.
Our last stop of the day was at the “Home of the Brave” museum and store, where we had the opportunity to shop for Pearl Harbor-themed tee-shirts, videos and other items significant to that infamous day. An upstairs lounge provided a place to relax and enjoy a Coke before returning to the ship.
This day was one that I won’t soon forget, and I am glad that I finally took the time to learn a bit about that tragic day in 1941. I had been to Honolulu several times in the past and had never taken any sort of military-related tour. I was too busy engaging in “fun” stuff to be bothered. Several people, including my own father, had to “shame” me into visiting the Arizona Memorial, and to be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to it. In retrospect, I have to say that taking this particular tour, and learning about the events our military faced back in 1941, was truly enlightening. This day was one of the most sobering and moving days of my life.
We got back to the ship in the afternoon. I spent a couple of hours walking in and out of the stores in Aloha Tower and around the marketplace. I didn’t buy anything, though. My head was still full from all the things I saw at the Arizona Memorial, and somehow my heart was just not into doing any serious shopping this evening. So, instead – to cheer myself up – I took a nice long walk, with a mission to find the office of one of my favorite reality tv stars, Dog the Bounty Hunter. Armed with a brochure obtained for me by my friends Trish and Virgil, along with some helpful advice of people I stopped along the way, I found the site of DaKine Bail Bonds located on Queen Emma Street. It’s a hearty walk from the ship – about seven blocks each way – but it wasn’t too bad. Around the corner from the bail bond office is the gift shop. Sadly both were closed, which I found shocking at around 5:30 p.m. on a Friday night. I would have thought they would have been open until at least 8:00, but no such luck. I am doing a shorter “Little Circle Island” tour on Saturday, and will ask the bus driver if he can let me off in this general area at the end of it. That should give me plenty of time to shop, maybe meet “the Dog” or some members of his posse, and then get back on the ship long before sailaway – a very, very happy woman.