All Aboard for Hawaii

Published: November 7th 2017
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It’s Sunday morning and last minute preparations are in progress. I’ve tried to limit the number of suitcases we will be taking with us but Karen expresses no interest in my effort. Leaving directly from the San Francisco port, we will not be taking any flights and because of this, she feels the need to pack everything. It reminds of the time we cruised from SF to Alaska for 10 days with 10 bags, one for each day. With limited room in our stateroom, we were forced to keep four suitcases out on the balcony. I can only imagine what our cabin stewards thought. When we put out our luggage the night before disembarkation, I spread it up and down the corridor so no one would know we had so much stuff.

On this trip we’re going on the Grand Princess to the Hawaiian Islands on a cruise ship. Fifteen days right out of San Francisco. Nine of those days will be “sea days”, four days spent in the Islands and one day at an obligatory foreign port, in our case Ensenada, Mexico, courtesy of the Jones Act. It might seem to some that we’ll be consuming quite a few vacation days just hanging around on the cruise ship but we’re not concerned. This is a very popular itinerary, often sold out and frequented by returning cruisers over and over again, some five and six times. They must know something. We’ll see. For us, this trip is all about relaxation. No schedules or regimented tours. That’s not to say the plan is to sit around and do nothing, just that there isn’t much of a plan.

Here’s a little info on our ship, the Grand Princess, taken from their website.

When Grand Princess was being built back in 1998, the 107,517-ton, 2,600-passenger cruise ship was described by the company as "the biggest, the fastest cruise vessel in the world, the most advanced... the grandest cruise liner on the ocean." Grand Princess did actually spend a year as the biggest, fastest and most sophisticated cruise vessel at sea, but she is now dwarfed by many others which are bigger, faster, newer and more technologically advanced. Over a decade later, the main vessel design which anchors Princess' most popular class still holds its own thanks to a massive refurbishment in May 2011. The multi-million dollar overhaul of Grand Princess included a full transformation of the ship's atrium into the much jazzier Piazza (a newfangled addition represented by the fleet's most recent vessels that combines theater in the round with food and drink outlets). Grand Princess itinerary program is based on 15-day Hawaii and week-long Mexican Riviera cruises with departures from Los Angeles and San Francisco CA.

The month of October has been full of activity around our house. While we didn’t get our driveway sealed, we repaired and painted 600’ of fence, planted more than 50 shrubs and rebuilt the drip irrigation system along our driveway, moved in 8 yards of dirt for garden fill and cleaned all roof gutters of debris, all without hiring anyone. Just a couple of volunteers now and then. This needed to be done prior to the winter rains. Our Hawaiian trip was booked last January and after waiting 10 months, we’re ready for some well-deserved time off before the Holidays are upon us.

We were up at 7:30am with some last minute packing to do. While I take on a few things like locking up the outbuildings, turning off the breaker to the pool sweep and loading my camera gear, computer and other luggage to the porch, Karen deals with the animals. She feeds the squirrels, birds and fish their last meal for the next two weeks and ensures our two cats will be comfy during our absence. Our shuttle service, L & L Limousine Service, arrives right on time at 11am, providing transportation to Pier 27 in San Francisco. My brother Larry helps load the luggage and we're off to SF.

An uneventful ride to San Francisco gets us to the pier at about 12:30pm but traffic in and around the terminal eats up an additional half hour. This will be our first time embarking from the new pier. Prior to opening as a cruise port in 2014, Pier 27 hosted the World Cup Sailing Event. This operation is well organized and in no time we're unloaded, our luggage in the hands of the porter and Larry is on his way home. Check-in goes smoothly despite the large number of people arriving at the same time and we're in our stateroom within 45 minutes. Some of our luggage is here already and other pieces arrive one by one. Mom insists on emptying two of our suitcases before we go to Guest Services where she gets her Sea Pass card punched to carry on her necklace and we find out there's only one space left on the "Ultimate Ship Tour". With 9 sea days aboard the Grand Princess, this seemed to be a great opportunity to see the ship from the inside out, visiting the engine room, kitchen and even the bridge to meet the Captain. Disappointed, we settle for a waitlist position for a possible second tour offering and proceed to the Lido for a snack before muster. There we meet two ladies traveling together, one from Petaluma and the other from Dublin and we have a great view of the city from our vantage point on Deck 14.

San Francisco is a popular international tourist destination famous for its steep hills, summer fog, diverse mix of Victorian and modern architecture and its famous landmarks including the Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars, Chinatown and Fishermaen's Wharf. Pier 39, located near Fisherman’s Wharf, is celebrated as the third-most popular tourist attraction in the nation. The pier offers shopping, dining, street performers, an aquarium and is the permanent home to hundreds of San Francisco sea lions. Visitors can also take a bay cruise and travel directly under the Golden Gate Bridge, cruising within yards of the legendary Alcatraz Island. That makes for great sightseeing for the tourists coming from all over the world to take this cruise but for us, we’ve seen it all.

The required muster drill is at 3:30pm and we arrive on time at our station, complete with life jackets. This safety drill takes about a half hour, allowing us time to return to our stateroom to drop off our life jackets and for Karen to attack another of her suitcases. I see that my 12 pack of Coke arrived to our stateroom, somewhat mangled. No not mangled. Destroyed. Smashed. Ruined and mutilated beyond belief with 3 cans missing. It's a conspiracy. No. Collusion. That's it! My entire plan to rip off Princess by bringing my own soft drinks on board has been foiled. The whole crew is down in the luggage hold drinking my sodas and laughing. The nerve. I must find a way to retaliate and make them pay!

After a period spent mourning my lost sodas, we both returned topside for the "Sailaway" under the Golden Gate Bridge. It's cold and foggy. The wind is howling as we leave the protection of the bay, heading out to sea. Mom lasts just a few minutes in the chilly air before retiring to the restaurant below, leaving me to record the rest of the event in solitude. There are festivities like dancing and drinking going on amidships but I remain astern, intent on a photo of the Golden Gate Bridge. Once outside the gate, I put away my camera gear and find Karen sitting in the comfort of the Lido restaurant talking on her cell phone to Queenie, trying to get in the last few minutes of cell time as the Point Reyes Lighthouse disappears into the fog. From now until we reach Hawaii, their conversations will remain on hold, a $5/minute charge being the determining factor.

Back in our room, Karen continues to unpack her suitcases while I organize the electronic stuff and check out the TV. Changing into our "smart casual" attire, we join the short line waiting to be seated at the Michelangelo dining room. This will be our evening dining place for us. We've opted for "Anytime Dining", meaning that we can arrive anytime between 5pm-8:30pm. We can either wait for a table for two or agree to share. Sharing is our usual choice as we find it interesting to dine with different people each night. In line, Mom strikes up a conversation with a lady from Texas before we're seated at a table for 6 with two other couples from England. We have a nice conversation over dinner. Karen has the Chilean bass & mango cheesecake while I have ceviche, prime rib and a souffle. After coffee, we excuse ourselves so the Mom can get her coffee card and check out a few shops. Accomplishing that, we feel that we've done enough and retire to our room. The boat has been rolling some, giving Karen a queasy feeling and sending her to bed early. I work on this blog while watching game 5 of the World Series. Astros win, 13-12. We also win tonight since we are setting our clocks back one hour. It's like sleeping in an extra hour tomorrow. That's what I'm talking about!

Note to our Online Readers: While we're halfway through our trip, I've yet to send out any entries until now. We've been busy with activities all day long so I find just making written entries daily and shooting pictures is about all I can manage to complete. Now that we're returning from Hawaii and I have five sea days to catch up, I intend on doing just that, maybe 3-4 postings per day. Everything's written. I just need to download the photos from my camera and publish our daily entries online. I'm using a different blog site too. We'll see how it goes. Watch for the notifications informing everyone that one of our entries has been published.

Al & Karen

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