Cruising from One Paradise to Another: San Diego to Hawaii
Celebrity Cruise takes you from San Diego to Hawaii
By Sharon Whitley Larsen | WDSD Travel Writer
I thought I had it all figured out.
After traveling to 30 countries, including exotic places such as the Australian Outback, Rio, and the Norwegian Arctic, several years ago I proposed to my husband Carl my "bucket list" idea. When the time came that my travel-weary body could no longer endure 14-hour flights, "Just plop me onto a wheelchair and roll me down to the pier!" My dream was to hop aboard a cruise ship right here in San Diego — and return home here as well, on a round-trip ("closed loop") or back-to-back cruise. No airport hassles!
Then, in 2009 and 2010, we took repositioning cruises from San Diego to Alaska on Royal Caribbean International (no longer offered) — but had to fly back from Vancouver.
Recently, my travel bucket list hit a jackpot when we came across a good deal — a 15-night round-trip cruise from San Diego to Hawaii on Celebrity Century. It would stop in Hilo, Kona, Honolulu, Lahaina (and briefly in Ensenada). We would trade one paradise for another, with ample time to relax.
According to Rita Vandergaw, director of business development and marketing for the Port of San Diego, in 2011 there were 105 ship calls here, with 350,000 sailing passengers. (Information about cruise ships sailing from San Diego can be found at www.thebigbay.com. Passports are required for most cruises; check with your cruise line or travel agent.)
On the sunny, warm afternoon of our departure, we wandered around the ship, sipping welcoming champagne as we watched excited lei-wearing passengers board, accompanied by ukulele singers. One frazzled family of five had just flown in from North Bay, Ontario, Canada. "We've been traveling since 5:30 this morning," the father breathlessly told us. "Our connecting flight in Buffalo was changed and we barely made it!"
When he asked where we were from, we smugly smiled and responded, "San Diego" — and then added that it took us just 15 minutes to be driven to the pier. No jet lag prior to boarding, and that was a great feeling!
As the Beach Boys' signature song "California Girls" aptly played, we strolled around the upper deck and took in the glorious skyline view of downtown, seeing it through tourists' eyes. Some 1,800 passengers would be our cruise buddies for the next two weeks (230 from other countries, many from California), with 800 crew.
Soon the ship's horn blew — and, as a live band played on the pool deck, passengers danced, posed for photos, or sipped bon voyage drinks. Many leaned against the railing, taking in the great view and watching planes land as we set off. This was the ultimate harbor cruise.
The shimmering San Diego downtown skyline gradually retreated as we slowly headed around Point Loma and out to sea, toward the sunset.
"There's no better perspective than to see San Diego from a ship, it's spectacular and impressive to come in and out of San Diego," points out Vandergaw, who loves cruising and has taken several cruises from here. "It's really a great opportunity to sail from your hometown, so easy and convenient."
We would be at sea five days before reaching Hilo. But, as we discovered, there would be no time for boredom. With various onboard activities — from ukulele and hula lessons to Hawaiian arts and crafts classes and cultural lectures — we would quickly feel the Aloha spirit.
So why do I love cruises? With some deals (found via travel agents, Crucon.com, TravelZoo.com, etc.), they can be booked for about $100 per person per day (gratuities extra). Where else, for that price, can you have room, board (wonderful food, all you can eat), twice-daily housekeeping service, nightly Vegas-style entertainment — besides your transportation to various ports of call? There are also spa treatments (discounted on port days) — and no luggage fees/weight limitations! Not to mention the interesting people you meet from all over the world.
I took four books to read, but barely finished one. We walked around the deck, relaxed in the Jacuzzi, or read in the sun. We attended fascinating lectures — from marine biology to behind-the-scenes at the White House. Most evenings our dinner mates (one couple from San Diego, two couples from South Carolina) proudly sported leis that they had made during class as we shared our sea- or port-day adventures.
The ships offer various shore excursions — but, since we had previously visited Hawaii several times, we decided to head off on our own. Once we docked or tendered in, some passengers rented cars to go sightseeing.
In Hilo we shared a taxi ($12 fare) to town with a couple from San Francisco — then toured the fascinating Pacific Tsunami Museum ($8), and the farmers market. We rode the town's shuttle bus (free) back to the ship. In Kona we belatedly strolled into a service at the Mokuaikaua Church, established in 1820, reportedly the first Christian church founded in Hawaii by Boston missionaries. We lingered afterward to hear its interesting history. In Honolulu we toured Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial, a moving experience (and free). We also visited Iolani Palace (audio tour $13), the only royal palace on U.S. soil, the former residence of Hawaii's monarchy. And we leisurely strolled down Lahaina's Front Street in Maui, and attended a performance up the coast of the nonprofit Napili Kai Foundation Keiki Hula Show ($10), performed every Tuesday evening by the local children.
"This is the first time we've been on this cruise," said fellow passenger Pat Pion of San Carlos. "We really wish there were more cruises from San Diego." She and her husband Art have taken 20 cruises and plan another one in the spring, from San Diego through the Panama Canal.
"We've cruised enough that the itinerary really doesn't matter," she added. "Just get on the ship and go!"
Larsen is a San Diego-based travel writer. This story originally appeared in U-T San Diego http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2012/jan/13/from-one-paradise-to-another/