NCL, Pride of America, Kona, Hawaii

To Plan or Not To Plan….

….in my humble opinion, should never be the question insofar as travel is concerned. Even if you don’t suffer from my personal malady of chronic OCD tendencies (yes, those who personally know me are undoubtedly shocked by this revelation), I can’t imagine a travel scenario in which lacking at the very least a general game plan would prove beneficial.

Careful planning, or the lack thereof, verily can make or break one’s travel experience. This fact became evident to me back in 2007 when sitting on the balcony of our cabin aboard NCL’s Pride of America with my mom. An experience survey was left in each cabin toward the end of the cruise, and we could hear the occupants of the balcony adjacent recite boisterously as to how they were completing their survey: “NCL’s Pride of America leaves America NOTHING to be proud of!” Setting aside that unhappy cruiser’s use of a dangling modifier, much to Winston Churchill’s chagrin, my mom and I wondered, despite their being in the cabin next door, if those people were truly on the same cruise we were. We pondered at the thought of how our experience cruising from island to island and enjoying the sounds (the ocean, birds, music at a luau in Lahaina), smells (fresh beach air, blooming gardenias, juicy pineapples) and sights (too many to name) of each port stop could have differed so vastly from that of our fellow cruisers next door.

Winston Churchill, grammar, prepositions
Even Churchill’s grammar demanded respect!
NCL, Pride of America, Kona, Hawaii
NCL’s Pride of America made us proud

We then could overhear in bits and pieces myriad complaints about the cruise line excursions they took on Maui, Kauai and the Big Island. I’ve personally always shied away from cruise line excursions, both because of the inflated cost and because traveling in a herd of 50 on and off of a bus to see one or two points of interest on a time schedule determined to suit the masses never appealed to me. Our next door neighbors likely booked their cruise without putting any forethought into what they would do upon the port stops in Kahului, Nawiliwili and Kona and ended up booking NCL excursions out of sheer ignorance of what they could have done, had they done just a bit of preplanning prior to their arrival in Honolulu.

With a differing strategy from our miserable shipmates next door, I had booked rental vans in each of the ports to share with my son, mom and her husband, and my brother and his wife. With the rental, we made our way along the itinerary I had predetermined on each island, with the ability to stray from the original plan as we came across unexpected places that piqued our interest, such as Kipu Falls and Hanapepe in Kauai which were a bit off of the beaten path and were only known to us as my son and I befriended a young Marine en route back to Kauai from Camp Lejeune. We not only learned of these little gems from our new friend, my son also received an impromptu ukulele lesson as we all awaited our delayed flight from Atlanta.

The rental van allowed our group to split up as necessary when my brother and his wife tired and opted to retire to the ship early while the rest of us sought out a botanical garden to address my mother’s love of the local flora. We were able to amble at our own pace along the predestined route, making alterations to the plan as we saw fit.

It brought me immeasurable pleasure to have the opportunity to play tour guide to my own Hawaii native mother who spent her first 18 years of life solely on Oahu, yet never had the means or occasion to experience most of what the Islands had to offer. I’ll never forget my mom’s raving about the Blue Hawaiian helicopter tour which took us to Waialeale, notorious as the wettest place on earth, and along the Napali Coast to see the lava flow, and how that was a highlight of her visit back home (apart from seeing the Ohana, of course).

Big Island, Volcanoes National Park, Caldera
Mom and Ger at Volcanoes National Park

To this day, I’m saddened by our fellow cruisers’ poor experience during a cruise that possessed unlimited potential to satisfy and surpass their travel expectations had they planned properly to see Haleakala Crater, the Road to Hana, Wai’anapanapa State Park, Volcanoes National Park, Iao Valley, Waimea Canyon, the Napali Coast or any of the other numerous amazing sights we had opportunity to experience together as a family, solely by virtue of the fact that a wee bit of enjoyable planning had been a precursor to our ship setting sail from Honolulu.

Napali Coast, Kauai, Hawaii
How could anyone not enjoy a cruise to a place offering such beauty?
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