Legend of the Seas December 1998 Ensenada to Honolulu Cruise
As we exited the plane in San Diego, a Royal Caribbean representative was right there, as usual. She led us to the baggage claim area where we had to claim our luggage and simply hand it to a man with a cart, who transferred it right to the bus. I must say the San Diego airport is a neat one. After waiting about 20 min or so, we boarded the bus and were off to the pier which isn't far from the airport.
I had visited San Diego previously onboard the Viking Serenade. We went to the same pier/terminal she uses on her weekly calls. There was a short line, with several check-in desks. As Diamond Members, we went directly up to the desk and checked in right away. The woman explained to us we couldn't do all the normal things Diamond Member check-in would entitle us to, since we were in San Diego, a port not used a great deal by RCI for check-ins. This was no problem at all, and she was extremely courteous. Also, RCI was handing out fliers explaining the Jones Act law and why we couldn't board in San Diego.
After getting our SuperCharge cards which we had to activate on-board, we received a colored sticker which assigned us to the particular bus we would take to Ensenada. It was now 12:05pm; buses for Ensenada didn't start leaving until 2:30pm. So the waiting game began. RCI had tons of chairs set up. They provided a nice buffet as well to hold everyone over.
Boarding the bus wasn't a problem, and we were off on the bus ride to Ensenada. It was about two-and-a-half hours or so. It was a pretty uneventful ride, yet scenic at times. I swear we were on the bus from the movie Speed, as we seemed to crawl to Ensenada, probably at or under 55. I would have hated to have been on a bus ride back, as the line at the border back into California was HUGE.
Arriving at the ship is where everyone's patience was tested. All the buses seemed to arrive at once, and we ended up sitting on the bus for a half-hour, staring at the ship. It was annoying, but things like this don't bother me. People were ranting and raving about the whole San Diego/Ensenada situation, which is understandable, but we all knew what we were getting into, and if some of them didn't, their travel agents should have told them.
I will say Ensenada isn't exactly an ideal starting point for a cruise. We arrived on the ship around 5:30pm and were basically thrown to our cabin with no assistance. Instructions for getting settled on-board were handed out on the bus. We immediately activated our SuperCharge cards and signed up for excursions. Dinner was at 6pm, and it was open seating that first evening.
The Legend of The Seas is a super ship for exotic itineraries. With her fast speed, acres of windows, and wonderful Solarium for inclement weather, she has it all. Public areas are tastefully decorated in similar pastel colors and patterns used on other RCI ships. I noticed a bit of wear on some of the upholstery, mostly in the That's Entertainment Theater. Other than that, the ship looked great and has been nicely maintained. As this was the Christmas sailing, the ship was decked out appropriately with large gingerbread houses making up the Centrum display. The layout of the ship makes her easy to get around in, with most public rooms forward of the Centrum.
I had read before sailing that RCI had done away with theme nights in the dining room. This was, indeed, the case and was somewhat disappointing, as I had enjoyed the theme nights, but was told they did this in response to passenger requests.
Food is always a personal thing, but here are my thoughts. Food in the dining room was very good, not excellent or memorable, but satisfying, nonetheless. The general consensus about the food was that it wasn't excellent and wasn't as others remembered it. I don't think anyone was flat out disappointed. It was certainly fine for me. We never had the same menu twice, but I did notice that two of the menus were the old styles (as in ones from theme nights). Portions weren't huge, but enough.
RCI now uses separate dessert menus that also list after-dinner drinks, shots, coffees, etc. Food in the Windjammer was really hit and miss. At times, the food selection was bizarre. At other times, I loved every entrée. Breakfasts lacked variety, but were adequate. My dad complained quite a bit about cold food in the Windjammer. I never experienced this, so I must have lucked out. Omelettes were available every morning in the center of the Windjammer, between the two buffet lines. It's easy to miss. Pastas and other entrées were often hidden here at lunch as well, so scout out every inch!
On the days at sea, a buffet was set up by the pool. This was SUPER -- hooray RCI. One day it was pasta, the next it was a taco bar, another day found ribs, and so on. This helped with crowds too and ran for about three hours. We ate in the dining room for lunch once, and it was fine. My mom loved a shrimp pasta dish made by the headwaiter. Don't forget the Solarium too: food was always available there. My dad and I quickly became addicted to the fries. Several types of pizzas and hamburgers were available. This was very handy and popular with the younger crowds late at night, but it was a nice alternative that was used often by all.
I can't comment on the Midnight Buffets, except for the Gala Buffet, which was nothing new for me, but very well done. Like sister company Celebrity, there were waiters in public areas with not only trays of sandwiches, but cookies too; I liked this. So once again, the food was plentiful and suitable for me. Gourmets would probably not be happy, I fear, but I doubt we would find a lot of them on RCI anyway.
The service we received in the dining room was excellent, friendly, and attentive. Food was delivered in a timely manner and both of our servers learned the table's likes and dislikes. They were certainly eager to please. I must say again as I did in my Century review, I didn't experience that bond that many passengers experience with their waiters. Nonetheless, service at our dining room table was super. Our assigned bar waiter for the table was fantastic; the Wine Steward was knowledgeable and quite friendly, too.
Service in the Windjammer was prompt and the staff kept the tables clean, something I don't always see. Bar service ship-wide was wonderful, no complaints here: a very cheery bunch. Our Cabin Steward kept the cabin tidy each and every day.
(A little side note here. I was under the impression that RCI tried to put people of similar ages at dining room tables. I always request this and know it isn't always possible, but it rarely happens. For those who don't know, I am 21. We were seated at a table with passengers all over 70. Now PLEASE PLEASE don't get me wrong, I have NOTHING against the older ages, but when a passenger my age was seated at a huge empty table right next to me, it made me wonder. I DID meet three charming ladies at our table with whom I spent a great deal of time who kept me rolling with laughter. Our table was fine, but it would have been more fun for me to be at a table with families with people my own age. Not a big deal -- just a note I wanted to mention.)
Entertainment and Activities
I am always excited to find out what entertainment is scheduled during the cruise. How funny it was to discover we had already seen all but TWO acts/shows that were scheduled each night, on other RCI ships. Granted, we had Charo and the Platters, both of whom were wonderful. Charo is a riot. The Wave Revue shows were well-done, with the lead singers having fabulous voices.
Their holiday production show was excellent, definitely my favorite show of the cruise. Other shows included Harriet Ann's Puppet Artistry, which I have seen quite a few times, but is always cute. The family has expanded, and expanded their act. The mother now does magic, which impressed me. Other entertainment included Jack Freedman, a musical comedy pianist, the visual comedy of Yacov Noy, and Paul Boland featuring his wife Marlise. The intro and farewell shows were the usual as on all cruises, but enjoyable, too. I couldn't help but watch the "If I Were Not Upon the Sea" sketch and think of my great friend Steve Garrod doing the same thing on the Viking Serenade.
Other entertainment had a Hawaiian flair, obviously. It was neat to hear Hawaiian melodies fill the Centrum every evening. A pair of native dancers also performed every few songs on the staircase landing in the Centrum -- a nice touch. The Danny Gale Band played in the Anchors Aweigh Lounge. While talented, he was a bit much at times. He has a great sense of humor! I can't say anything about the Schooner Bar pianist, as I never listened to his music. The DJ did a nice job in the Viking Crown Lounge, playing a wide mix of music to satisfy all passengers. Most nights were spent up there and a good time was had.
Activities were plentiful and were of the typical cruise fare. Golf is now free. It seems the new fad on-board is Baggo, a bean-bag tossing game. Yours Truly was the Hula-Hoop Champion of the ship, defending my title from my Legend cruise in 1996. The 50's and 60's night was a bust, due to poor attendance and low crowd involvement. Country/Western Night was marginally attended as well. But 70's night was HUGE in the Viking Crown Lounge. Don't miss this fun event. The Cruise Staff I talked to were surprised at the low turnout for most events. Game show events are now popular as well, sometimes acting as filler events between shows. Bingo is always a draw, and the casino is the casino. (Past cruisers know what to expect here, although I didn't do too badly -- the slots weren't tight the whole cruise.)
My mom and I participated in the ShipShape program often, and found it to be excellent. The aerobics teacher, who consequently gave me a wonderful foot and ankle massage, did a great job teaching the wide variety of classes offered. We frequented the Step classes most often. Too bad the aerobics area itself is not larger, as we were often packed in like sardines. The aerobics classes decreased in frequency after the four sea days, but that is expected on any cruise.
I must say the Cruise Staff was excellent and we had some great times. (It helps when you have worked on a ship before, too.) They were all outgoing, friendly, personable, and really made the eleven days a blast. Kudos to them. Jamie did a commendable job as Cruise Director and his wife, Hostess Dana Logan, was charming. They seem to have a large following. Captain Antalis was extremely personable, with a super personality and sense of humor. He frequently traversed the ship, conversing with passengers, never passing up an opportunity for a conversation -- definitely a first-rate Master.
Two Special Events
Many repeat passengers were found on this sailing: the Anchors Aweigh Lounge was full for the Crown and Anchor Society party. Our robes were waiting in the cabin upon our arrival. A few nights after the Crown and Anchor party, we were invited to another cocktail party, held for Platinum and Diamond members only. This was held in the aft section of the Viking Crown and was attended by various staff, including the Master and some of his officers. There were warm nibblies and free drinks once again.
As we were conversing and drinking, a bar supervisor handed out boxes to all. Inside were large Legend of The Seas inaugural glasses. These lovely glasses were almost the size of those fishbowl glasses you often see in restaurants. We ended up giving one glass to our cabin steward, leaving one behind, and bringing one home. They took up lots of room in the suitcase. (I was overruled in bringing them all home.)
Christmas on board was a special time as always. Besides the wonderful holiday show by the Wave Review Cast, they also had caroling in the Centrum twice, in addition to full religious services. At the later session of caroling, we were all singing when suddenly we heard this whizzing sound, only to glance up and see SNOW falling from the 6th level of the Centrum. This was a moment I will never forget: it was magical. RCI also distributed glass bowls with fish etched in them as Christmas presents. I was frankly surprised to see this, since they had stopped giving out gifts a few years ago. Certainly a thoughtful gesture.
I must say first that Hawaii is absolutely gorgeous; I loved every second of it. I now understand why people go back again and again. Wouldn't take much for me to return!
The Big Island (Hawaii)
Our first port was Hilo, on the Big Island. The brochure listed our arrival as 12noon, but back in Ensenada, we found out we would arrive at 8am. The ship was greeted by a flock of Hawaiian dancers and two singers. They did a nice job and set the ambiance for the rest of the islands. Beautiful white and purple orchid leis were given to each passenger as they disembarked.
We ended up deciding we would take a free shuttle to Hilo Hattie's before our afternoon tour. Well, this was a waste as Hilo Hattie's was full of junk and clothes we could never get away with wearing back on the mainland. My mom and I walked through the nearby mall for about 10 minutes before catching the bus back to the ship. In the afternoon, we took the Best of Hilo Tour, which took us to the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory, the Nani Mau Gardens, and Akaka Falls. This was a wonderful tour that covered a lot of ground. The Gardens and the Falls are lovely -- make sure to bring your camera. If you like macadamia nuts, this tour is for you; they are the cheapest here, so stock up!
The tour also showed us the main city of Hilo, which looked deserted. My recommendation would be to take a tour here -- this isn't an area you would enjoy walking around in. It's a hike from the ship, too. Akaka Falls were amazing. You see two waterfalls here as you walk through lush paths with streams and bamboo. There is a strenuous route and an easier route to the falls, so you don't need to be an Olympian to see the sights. Others we talked to enjoyed their Volcanoes tour, by far the most popular choice of tours in Hilo. The day started out clear and clouded up later in the day, with rain here and there.
Later in the evening we sailed past the Kilauea Volcano, which was spectacular as we viewed the lava meeting the sea. Don't wait for the announcement to be made; you will probably miss it by the time you hear it. They will give you an approximate time, so go by that instead. The best advice is to keep a watch outside, because you don't want to miss this.
Christmas Day found us in Kailua-Kona, also on the Big Island. Before arriving at the ship, we were under the impression that only one tour would be running due to the holiday. Again, this was wrong; they were all running. Kona is the first tendered port. Here we chose to do the Kona Highlights Tour. Sights on this tour included the Painted Church, the Mauna Loa Royal Kona Coffee Store, and Honaunau or "Place of Refuge" [also known as the "City of Refuge" -- ed.]. Honaunau was stunning, situated right on the shoreline with palm trees everywhere. It is a very historical site with plenty of paths for walking. The Painted Church was quaint and cute, only requiring a few minutes to see. The inside of the church is filled with murals all painted by house-paint! The Kona Coffee Shop offers many varieties of coffee and other goodies all available for purchase.
Bring your credit card, as 100% Kona Coffee is not cheap. A pound will run you around $30.00. I don't care for coffee, but those with me enjoyed it, commenting that it was pretty strong. This tour was very leisurely and we enjoyed seeing the lovely panoramic views from the bus. Most stores on Christmas were open, especially since the S.S. Independence was in port with us too. After lunching at the open-air Hard Rock Cafe, my mom and I walked around this charming town. The weather was perfect.
The next stop was the island of Kauai. The port of Nawiliwili has quite a narrow entrance, so I am sure it was tricky to navigate. But on one side of the ship you have lush mountains, making for a pretty setting. Today's tour was the Kauai Helicopter Flightseeing. We decided to fly here, based on the recommendations of others. We certainly weren't disappointed. Our helicopter flew us around the island for 45 minutes, swooping over the breathtaking Waimea Canyon and Na Pali Coast, as well as Rainbow Falls and the wettest spot on earth. The flight was beautiful, and Blue Hawaiian Tours I would recommend highly. A videotape, recorded during our flight from four cameras, was available for purchase at $20. We did, and it was well worth it.
In the afternoon, my mom and I took a free shuttle over to a small shopping center, which is within walking distance of the ship. Right near all the shops is the Marriott hotel, which is where we spent the afternoon, plopped on their pleasant beach. The grounds are immaculate and the pool area is something to see. As we left the harbor, a few boats tried to play chicken with us, much to the Master's and officers' dismay. So the horn sounded again and again and again, so many times islanders were probably happy to see us go. I loved hearing the horn over and over, though. There were lots of locals on the pier waving goodbye to us. The weather was, again, lovely.
Lahaina, on Maui, was our next port, where we would spend two full days. It's a good thing too, because there is a lot to see on this island. First off, Lahaina is a lovely area, with lots of shopping and restaurants. I really enjoyed our walks around town. This is a tendered port. The Paul Gauguin was with us here, which really surprised me. I chalked it up to being a special Holiday cruise.
On the first day, we took the Best of Maui Tour. Are you seeing a trend in our tours? We visited the Iao Needle (huge cinder cone) park, the Maui Tropical Plantation, and ended the tour at the Waikapu golf course for a beautiful scenic outlook. We were supposed to visit the Maui Ocean Center, but we never made it there; the driver must have been misinformed. We were later credited on our SuperCharge bills, in addition to an apology letter. This tour was a neat way to see A LOT of the island.
The plantation was definitely a highlight, as we saw various crops and huge fields of flowers. The Iao Needle State Park, very lush, was right in a valley accompanied by a small river -- a very scenic place great for pictures. The rest of the day was spent on Kaanapali Beach, the resort area, at the spectacular (and crowded) Westin Maui. In addition to the bunch of hotels in this area, there was another nice open-air mall with big name stores.
That night the group of friends I had met and I went out to a bar and dance club, the same place all the crew was going. It was a lot of fun, and was quite packed. The tenders at night run every half an hour, so we were back on the ship at around 2:30am. And The Solarium was open for food.
Our next day in Maui we took the Lanai Wild Dolphin and Snorkel Adventure, operated by the Pacific Whale Foundation. While we didn't see any dolphins, we did see quite a few whales. This was a super tour, I recommend it highly. Sailing on a catamaran, you are briefed on the snorkel equipment and also served snacks. We anchored near where the Lanai ferry pulls in, but that did not hinder our snorkeling. There was a tour of the reef, where our guide pointed out the fish and coral species we were viewing. We saw plenty of fish, and the visibility was the best they had seen in a while. After snorkeling we were served a wonderful lunch of either hot dogs, mahi-mahi, or chicken. They also had salads and dessert. It was quite a spread for just a regular catamaran! At the end of the tour we were given vouchers for a free poster at the tour companies shop. Overall, the tour was informative and a great way to spend a half-day. The rest of the day we spent walking around town.
Honolulu marked the last port for the cruise. We docked right at Aloha Tower. The cruise terminal is very modern and well organized. Aloha Tower is surrounded by a two-level open air mall, which also has a few restaurants. Today we took the Kahala Gold Coast Tour and Lunch Cruise. We boarded one of the weirdest looking vessels I have ever seen, the Navatek I. It had a few levels on it to accommodate different tour groups, but sadly, it had little outside deck space. We were served an international lunch buffet which was pretty good, along with two drinks of our choice.
The Navatek then sailed for the next two hours along the Gold Coast of Oahu, right past Diamond Head, Waikiki Beach, Hawaii Kai, and Koko Head. It was a super way to see the island from the coast and the development is amazing, I must say. In addition, there was live entertainment offered.
After this tour, my mom and I proceeded to Waikiki Beach, which was just amazing. I was thrilled to be someplace so famous. The area around the beach is very commercialized, but tastefully done and not tacky. Lots of pricey big name stores. The beach itself was packed, as you can imagine, but I really enjoyed the experience. I didn't go in the water or really move from my spot. All in all it was very pretty.
Another side note: the taxis in Honolulu have the FASTEST meters I have ever seen. A trolley was available to the beach here, but it stopped at numerous places, so if you want to get to the beach in a hurry, don't wait for the $1-per-person trolley. Different colored trolleys go to different places, so make sure to ask the woman who should be standing there to advise you. If not, just make sure you are on the right trolley by asking the driver.
Our group of friends left the ship at night briefly, since we overnighted here, but we didn't stay off long since we didn't really know where to go. Many of the crew was heading to a Mexican restaurant in the Aloha Tower Mall. There is a Hooter's here, too. Before our flight left the next day, we took the Arizona Memorial, City, and Punchbowl Tour. Doing this tour is the easiest way to leave the ship. Disembarking for us was a breeze.
The memorial was quite moving, and it was hard to imagine that people were still buried right there in the wreck of the ship we were staring at. The land museum itself is filled with info, pictures, displays, etc. It is well done and despite the crowds, you don't feel squished. As most things in Hawaii are, it was open air. The tour ended at the airport, where your luggage is waiting. It does NOT travel with you on the bus for the tour.
We had a long wait for our flight, but that wasn't a big deal. The Honolulu Airport was beautiful. Open air again (most of it), they had several beautiful Japanese and other themed garden areas to walk around or sit in. One note about the flights home: most of the RCI passengers weren't assigned seats. We didn't find out what seats we were in until the last minute. It was a bit nerve-wracking and I began to wonder if we would be on the flight home. But after that, our flight was smooth all the way back into Chicago.
So overall, as you can probably tell, we had a fantastic trip. I would recommend Hawaii by land or sea to anyone and will continue to recommend RCI and the Legend of the Seas.
John is a frequent contributor to The SeaLetter, and a student at Dennison University from where he will graduate this May. John can be reached for questions or comment at: JOHNNYI@aol.com.
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