Monthly Archives: February 2024

Tokyo, Japan FEB 28 2024

We had two sea days between Okinawa and Tokyo. Gus Antorcha, the President of the Holland America Line, joined the ship in Okinawa for a four day visit. He always joins the yearly Grand World Cruise to meet with the passengers and crew to see how things are going and plan future cruises. One afternoon he had a presentation for all the passengers. The theater was packed, including the balcony. The presentation began with an update on how Holland America is doing as a company. Evidently very well, including breaking several records for number of cruises booked in a day. Next he announced the itinerary for the 2026 Grand World Cruise. The future grand world itinerary is always announced two years in advance on the current Grand World Cruise. This gives current world cruise passengers first opportunity to book the cruise, securing their favorite cabins and dining room seating.

The President then spent over 90 minutes taking questions, comments and criticisms from anyone who wanted to talk. Many people began with compliments followed by “however…”. At one point he jokingly said next year he was going to wear a shirt with the word “however” on the front. We thought he was very patient and graciously listened to everyone. Some of the “howevers” made me want to roll my eyes. He had an assistant who took copious notes. Don’t know what will change, but it was important that people felt like they were heard.

During these two days at sea, the ocean was very rough with gale force winds and deep ocean swells, particularly on the second night. We have become quite used to the rough seas, but they were rough enough during the night to wake us up several times as the ship rolled, pitched and shuddered.  We could hear the wind constantly howling through the balcony door. I guess King Neptune really did turn us into “shellbacks” last month since we are not phased anymore by all this, and one or two seasick pills is all I need. 

We were up very early for the sail into the Tokyo Harbor. What a surprise we had when we stepped out on our balcony and saw Mt Fuji. It is an active volcano which last erupted 300 years ago. At 12,389 feet, it is the tallest mountain in Japan. We had read that it is usually clouded over, so we were surprised to see it. It is covered with snow five months of the year. It is one of Japan’s three holy mountains and is a treasured icon for the Japanese people.

Tokyo is the capital of Japan and the most populous city in the world with 14 million people. It has the second largest metropolitan economy in the world after New York. 

An isolated country, Japan is about the size of the state of California. About 10% of the world’s earthquakes occur in Japan, as well as many typhoons. Today, Japan has a shrinking population with many young people delaying marriage or choosing not to marry. The birth rate is only 1.6 children per family. The Japanese government is paying families with more children as an incentive. The shrinking population has led to a potential crisis with their pension system. Too many people living very long lives and not enough young people paying in. 

We booked an afternoon excursion that was somewhat disappointing. It was advertised as “Tokyo Landmarks”.  First sign of a problem was our guide, a petite Japanese lady with a soft voice. We could hear her on the bus when she was using a microphone but couldn’t hear her commentary at all off the bus. 

Our first stop was Meiji Jingu Shrine. Located within a 170 acre forest, it was quite a walk from the bus. The Shinto shrine is dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife Empress Shoken. The shrine was built in 1915 and destroyed during air raids during WW2. It was replaced in 1958.

To get to the shrine we walked through a Torii gate, one of eight on the property. These torii symbolize the place where it is believed the gods come down, separating our world from theirs.

Next our guide took us to a purification station where you are supposed to wash your hands and rinse your mouth. Our guide did this but did not insist we comply.

Visiting the shrine was frustrating. We walked up steps to the entrance but could not go inside and there was a stern guard to be sure no pictures were taken and everyone remained very quiet.

Our guide demonstrated the process of making an offering. You throw a coin in a box, bow low two times, clap your hands to get the attention of the gods, say a prayer and then do another deep bow. She then said we could do it. I think she was surprised when no one took her up on the offer.

Our second of three landmarks was Shibuya Crossing. It is said to be the busiest intersection in the world and is pictured in many movies and photos of Tokyo. During the busiest time of the day, it is estimated between 1,000 and 2,500 people cross the intersection coming from several directions at once, every TWO minutes. I thought we would get off the bus somewhere nearby and walk through the intersection to experience being part of a mass of humanity. No, instead, we stopped at a light and slowly rolled through the intersection as a bus load of people jockeyed to take pictures. Are you kidding me? That is it? That is how we experience one of the three major landmarks of the day?

Our third major landmark was the Zojo-Ji Buddhist Temple. The main gate, from 1622, is the oldest wooden building in Tokyo. The original temple, and more than 120 surrounding buildings, were destroyed by fire, natural disasters and air raids during WW2. The temple was rebuilt in 1974.

Bill was able to get pictures of the inside temple from a distance, away from the guard’s watchful eyes.

On the property are trees planted by President Ulysses Grant and President George H. W. Bush. We were surprised to learn Grant visited Japan.

Throughout the afternoon our guide talked about how superstitious the Japanese people are and about some of the Buddhist beliefs. They believe that certain numbers are unlucky, such as the numbers 33, 42, 61, 73 as well as several others. When you reach those ages, they believe you need special prayers to the gods to protect you. 

There was a large bell on the temple grounds. At the end of the year and to bring good luck in the new year, large crowds gather while a priest rings the bell 108 times. Buddhists believe there are 108 types of defilements or unclean thoughts. Ringing the bell drives those defilements from the body in the new year. They believe the greatest defilements are anger, greed and stupidity. Special prayers are said repeatedly during the year to rid you of those.

On the grounds are over 1,300 Jizo statues with red hats and bibs. These represent children, both living and dead. Parents place statues here and visit to pray for the safety and good health of their living children. Parents of children lost to death, miscarriage, stillborn or abortion also place statues here to pray for their lost children. Some have placed pinwheels for the children to play with and to bring the spirits. The guide said the children go to hell because they have not collected enough good deeds. Upon seeing the look of horror on many of our faces, she quickly said it is okay because the jizo spirits take the place of the children so they can cross the river to the other side.

Please understand I really know nothing about Buddhism and I am trying to write this from my memory of what the guide said. 

We then headed back to the ship. We did notice some interesting buildings and structures.



Plum Trees Bloom First

Bill noticed how the cars do not have bumpers. Some gas stations have the fuel pumps located in the overhead and the hoses are pulled down to the car.

Gas Station

Students With Backpacks Walking After School

The Tokyo Tower, a communications and observation tower, was built in 1958 and is the second tallest tower in Japan.

On our second day in Tokyo we rode the port’s free shuttle to a large mall. Along the way we passed the Statue of Liberty. The French loaned a Statue of Liberty to Japan from 1998 to 1999 as a symbol of friendship between France and Japan. When it came time to return it, the Japanese people wanted their own. The Japanese statue was created in 1999 with the permission of France and unveiled in 2000.  It is quite a bit smaller than our Statue of Liberty.

The Rainbow Bridge is another popular landmark. It is lit with white lights at night and has colored lights on special occasions.

We really liked the drink dispensers throughout Japan. If the drink had a blue line underneath, it was a cold drink. A red line meant it was a hot drink like coffee. Bill tested it out by getting a coffee. He said it was hot. Not super-hot but hot.

The captain announced in the evening that rough weather was expected tonight and tomorrow with gale force winds and rough seas. Nothing new there! But he added it might be too rough for us to dock at our next Japanese port, Omaezaki. If it is too rough for the pilot boat to come out to deliver a pilot to us, the port would be closed. 

Next up: Omaezaki? Yes or no? 

One note: With all the Japanese ports, we are a little behind in our blogs. Today, March 6, we are headed to China. We will be in Shanghai tomorrow. We have been told by our ship officials that the Chinese government will most likely block our tv satellite reception, some email accounts like Google, and all social media like Facebook. We may not be able to update the blog for a while. There may be a lapse between postings. We will be back! 

Okinawa, Japan FEB 24 2024

We arrived at the port in Naha, the capital of the island of Okinawa, Japan. Okinawa, the birthplace of karate, has a population of 1,384,762 and is 66 miles long and 7 miles wide.  There are 160 islands that make up Okinawa, with the island of Okinawa being the largest and main island. Okinawa is an important, strategic location for the United States Armed Forces. There are around 26,000 US military personnel stationed in Okinawa today.  There are 32 military installations that cover about 25% of the island.  The main economy is tourism and the US military presence. It has a fast growing population and a low unemployment rate. Okinawans have the longest lifespan in the world.

Typical Japanese Small Vehicles


Okinawa was the location of the bloodiest ground battle in the Pacific, taking place from April 1 to June 22, 1945.  Around 95,000 Japanese and 20,195 Americans were killed. Approximately one fourth of the civilian population of Okinawa were either killed or committed suicide. Very few Japanese were in POW camps because the Japanese chose death rather than surrender.

Shuri Castle Falls, The American Flag is Raised

From 1945 to 1952, the American military occupied Okinawa and then it was under the control of the Civil Administration of the Ryukyu Islands until it was returned to Japan in 1972.

Our tour guide told us some interesting information. He said the Okinawa citizens feel that Japan deserted them after the war. Because of this, they do not fly the Japanese flag, only the Okinawa flag. They do not teach the Japanese national anthem to the school children. He also said that for many years the young people on Okinawa resented the American military presence in Okinawa today. But when North Korea started launching missiles over Okinawa and China started threatening Taiwan, the young people began to appreciate the US presence. We got the feeling that the people of Okinawa would like to be their own country rather than under Japanese rule. 

We were in Okinawa for two days. The first day we took an excursion and was fortunate to have an excellent tour guide. The first place we went was the former Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters led by Japanese Rear Admiral Ota. The tunnel complex was dug in 1944 by 3,000 men using pick axe.

The Walls Show The Pick Axe Strikes

It is 65 feet deep, 1,476 feet long and built in the shape of an arch with concrete.

It was left untouched for years after the war ended. After the recovery of soldiers’ remains, 820 feet of the tunnel was restored and opened to the public in 1970.  This was done by the Okinawan people in the hope that “future generations would see the futility of war and instead pursue world peace”. 

As the end of the Battle of Okinawa approached, Japanese Rear Admiral Ota sent a telegraph to the vice minister of the navy saying that the Okinawan people did their very best in the battle and deserved special recognition. Later, he and his remaining men committed suicide in the tunnel rather than be captured. Approximately 4,000 men committed suicide or were killed. Holes and scars on the walls from his suicide, and others, by grenades are evident on the walls throughout the tunnel. 

We descended a series of steep steps into the tunnel where tall people had to really watch their heads. The passageways were low and narrow in places.

Next up was the Himeyuri Peace Museum, where we learned the unbelievably sad story of 222 female students from ages 15 to 19, and 18 teachers, who were ordered to go to a Japanese army hospital. The Himeyuri Monument was built in 1946 and The Himeyuri Peace Museum was opened in 2009. No photography is allowed in the museum. For a time the surviving students, over 90 years of age, served as curators and tour guides at the museum until they could no longer travel to the museum.

Graduating Class From

They became known as the Himeyuri Student Corps and worked in several  underground hospital caves made of limestone. The working conditions were deplorable. They were originally told they would be working in hospitals away from the fighting but instead they were placed on the front lines. The museum is located where five teachers and 46 students hiding inside Ihara third surgery cave were killed during an attack by US forces. The only access to the cave was by ladders down a hole. Injured soldiers were carried down the ladder on the backs of other soldiers.

In the dark cave for three months they had to help with crude surgery and amputation, often done without anesthesia. They had to care for the gravely ill, help bury the dead, transport ammunition and supplies to front line troops under life threatening conditions. 

The girls endured disease and malnutrition, often giving their daily food rations to the suffering soldiers. Before June 19, 1945 only 19 students had been killed. They were ordered to “go home” on June 19, 1945.  Many then died in crossfire and a few died by suicide using grenades and cyanide given to them by Japanese soldiers or by jumping from cliffs. They had been convinced by the Japanese if they were captured by the Americans they would be raped and killed. By the end of the battle, 211 students and 16 teachers had died.

Our guide told us a harrowing story of his grandmother and members of her village hiding in one cave. His grandmother gave birth to her first child in the cave, a son who was our guide’s uncle. She constantly held the baby, afraid he would cry and make noise. Nearby Japanese soldiers would kill any babies who made noise because it would alert American soldiers of their location. Inside the museum was a painting of a threatening Japanese soldier standing over a woman and her baby with a sword.

Another painting showed a child reaching for a pamphlet and the mother holding him back. Our guide told us that Americans sent pamphlets down from planes telling the citizens if they brought that pamphlet to an American soldier they would be safe and not hurt. If the Japanese soldiers found a Japanese citizen with one of those pamphlets in their possession, they were killed. 

Our last destination was the Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum which was opened in 1975.

It was built next to the “Suicide Cliffs” where the Battle of Okinawa ended.

Nearby is the Peace Prayer Park with a semicircular path of stones engraved with the names of those who died by nationality, including a section for Americans.

American Soldiers

Japanese Soldiers

There was a Peace Flame and Fountain with a map of the Pacific. The flame is lit up when important people visit or during special occasions.

The museum did a nice job describing the island of Okinawa and the events leading up to the battle. Information on the battle as well as life for the Okinawan people after the war was also detailed. No photography is allowed in the museum.

Peace Hill Monument, Okinawa (Japan). Represents a naturally formed cave, in which many citizens of Okinawa hid and fended for themselves.

Peace Hill Monument

We took an elevator up to an observation deck. A flight of stairs led further up with beautiful views of the ocean and park.

The only other people up there were a couple with their two young children. We struck up a conversation with them. They were fascinated by our cruise and had lots of questions about the places we had been and were going. Turns out he is in the Marine Corps, serving in Okinawa. They said they like living in Okinawa, with the wife saying she loved their own little world there. Bill thanked him for his service before we went our separate ways.

Okinawa Peace Hall

The excursion had been a day full of overwhelming sadness. Our hearts felt heavy as we reflected on it on the way back to the ship. 

Our second day in Naha, Okinawa we decided to explore on our own. We walked from the ship to Kobusai Street, a popular area with stores, malls, souvenir shops, hotels and restaurants. The port had provided a free shuttle back and forth from the ship to Kobusai Street. After walking around, we were more than happy to take the shuttle back to the ship.

That evening the ship had “The Great Fun Fair”. The inside pool deck had been turned into a carnival atmosphere with carnival games, prizes and food such as popcorn, candied apples, ice cream, appetizers and drinks. It was loud and very crowded so we didn’t stay long.

Next up: Two days in Tokyo 

Ishigaki, Japan FEB 23 2024

After three rough days at sea, we arrived at our first Japanese port, the island of Ishigaki. The island is located surprisingly close to Taiwan. 

Japan is an archipelago of 6,852 islands of which 416 are inhabited. It has 18,486 miles of coastline. It has four writing systems and the main language is Japanese. The currency is the Japanese yen. Ishigaki has a population of 48,000 and is 86 square miles in size.

We decided not to take an excursion but instead explore on our own. We were very pleased to find that Ishigaki provided free shuttle bus service from the port into town.  A very nice, large, clean bus.

First we had to have a face to face meeting with the Japanese immigration authorities on the ship and turn in our declaration forms. We received stamps in our passports and colored stickers on our ship cards and we were then free to go off the ship. After stepping off the ship we once again had to show our passports and ship cards to more Japanese officials in the terminal. They also had people standing with large signs with pictures of all the things we could not take off the ship including meat, vegetables and fruit. No way people could later say they didn’t know the rules. Some people try to take fruit and sandwiches off the ship from the buffet area to snack on. It is prohibited in all ports but usually they get away with it. In Japan they do random checks of bags taken off the ship. We were all warned if caught, you face a very large fine and even the ship can be fined.

The ship always provides us with a map of the area which also shows the location of the ship, how to say “Take me back to the ship” in the local language, and the ship’s emergency phone number. 

We had studied the map and selected a few places within easy walking distance. It was the Emperor’s birthday, a big holiday in Japan. Some things were closed such as banks. We had a little trouble finding an ATM that would work with our bank cards so we could get some Japanese currency. We could have gotten it on the ship but knew the exchange rate was better off the ship. We finally found an ATM that worked, most machines appear to be for local bank accounts.

We enjoyed the sights walking through town. Throughout Japan you will find “shisas” on rooftops and entrance ways of homes and businesses. It is believed they protect you from evil. The left shisa has a closed mouth and the right shisa an open mouth. The open mouth wards off evil spirits and the closed mouth keeps good spirits in.

We visited the Tourinji Temple and Gongendo Shrine. The original was built in 1614 and was washed away in a tsunami in 1771.  It was then rebuilt and has been restored several times.

Inside the Closed Temple

Gongendo Shrine


It is always interesting to walk in a food market and compare it with what we have back home.

The Euglena Mall was a fun, colorful place to walk through.

We caught the shuttle bus back to the port where an official boarded the bus to check our passports and ship cards. Once in the terminal there were more Japanese officials to once again carefully check our passports and ship cards to be sure the names matched.

Next up: Okinawa, Japan

Saipan, Mariana Islands, FEB 19 2024

Overnight we sailed from Guam to the nearby island of Saipan, the largest island in the northern Mariana Islands. The island was formed millions of years ago by an underwater volcano. The island, has a population of 44,000, is 12 miles by 5 miles. 

Saipan has been under Spanish rule, German rule, Japanese rule and then after WW2 it was put in a United Nations Trust to determine its fate. Saipan and the Northern Mariana Islands have been a commonwealth of the United States since the 1980’s.

Hyatt Regency

We were told Saipan is only visited by three cruise ships a year! We were greeted by dancing ladies welcoming us to the island.

The water was several gorgeous shades of blue.

We decided to take a Holland American excursion to learn more about what happened there during WW2.  The Battle of Saipan from June 15 to July 9, 1944 was one of the major battles of WW2.  The United States Marines and United States Army landed on the beaches on the southwestern side of the island and engaged in heavy fighting with the Japanese for more than three weeks before capturing the island. The American casualty was 3,426 with 10,364 wounded. The Japanese casualties were 27,000 soldiers and 15,000 civilians, including 1,000 who jumped from “Suicide Cliff” rather than being taken prisoner. 

With the takeover of Saipan, the United States military was only 1,300 miles from the Japanese islands, striking distance for the United States’ B-29 bombers. The loss of Saipan was a big blow to the Japanese military, forcing the resignation of the Japanese Prime Minister. 

Visible from Saipan is the island of Tinian where the US Navy had shipped the atomic bombs. The Enola Gay B-29 bomber plane took off on August 6, 1945 carrying the atomic bomb to Hiroshima, Japan.

View of Tinian Island

Our tour guide was a native Chamorro. He gave us some background on the island. At one time it was a popular place for Japanese tourists to vacation and shop. It changed some time ago as Guam became the favored destination and Saipan has fallen on hard times. At one time a huge casino was built and now stands deserted. The roads were obviously in need of repair and our guide remarked they have been waiting over 20 years for infrastructure funding. In 2018, Saipan was devastated by one of the strongest hurricane/typhoons ever to hit the island . The island sustained widespread damage and is still struggling to recover. We saw tent structures sent by the United States that are being used as schools.

Typical House

Our guide took us to several WW2 sites. First up was a former Japanese jail. Built between 1929 and 1930, it was originally surrounded by a security fence and later a concrete wall.  During WW2, two U.S. pilots were held and died here. Some people believe Amelia Earhart was held here in 1937 when she disappeared on her round the world flight. From what I have previously read, I don’t believe Earhart was ever here.

We stopped at one of the beaches where we could see the remains of American tanks in the water destroyed during the battles.

A Pillbox or Concrete Guard-post

Tank in the Water


In the distance were two unmarked US ships that our guide said were supply ships stationed with supplies in case they are quickly needed in the Pacific region.

Our guide showed us a traditional Chamorro paddling canoe he is helping to build under a large thatched structure. When finished it will be able to hold eight or more people with supplies to travel to other islands.

All around Saipan are reminders of Japan’s air power. Massive concrete vaults were used as bunkers for Japan’s aerial bombs and as air raid shelters.

In the fields are old, rusted remains of tanks.

Underground Bomb Storage

The bus took us to the Saipan airport to use the bathroom facilities. First time that has ever happened on an excursion! The men and women bathrooms were accessed from outside the main terminal building and were very clean and well supplied.

Our final stop of the day was at the American Memorial Park Visitors Center. The park is run by the National Park Service. We found out when talking to one of the rangers that they are usually closed on Monday but they opened today just for the cruise ship passengers. We thanked her for their cooperation and thoughtfulness.

When we arrived back at the pier, once again security boarded the bus to check our ship cards. They even opened and inspected the lower bus compartments.

Since it was close to the time for the ship to depart, another group of Saipan performers had already arrived to give a farewell performance. This time the group included some precious children. After the performance ended they waited until the ship pulled away from the dock so the children could wave to all those gathered at the deck railings and balconies.

The captain mentioned later in his departure announcement that the governor of Saipan deeply appreciated our visit and said Saipan is working hard to bring tourism back to the island. 

Next up : Three days at sea and Ishigaki, our first Japanese port

Guam, FEB 18 2024

After eight days at sea we arrived in Guam on February 18th, my birthday.

The crew went out of the way to make my birthday special, starting with a Happy Birthday sign and a balloon on the outside of our cabin door.

I was surprised, thinking since we hadn’t told them, they wouldn’t know. Throughout the day were nice surprises, after lunch we discovered in our cabin a cupcake from the captain and several little gifts from different departments on the ship.

At dinner, Josephine the dining room hostess greeted me with a big smile and “Happy Birthday”. After dinner the waiters gathered around to sing and presented me with a big slice of cake.

When we returned to our cabin our room stewards had left a birthday cake crafted from towels, along with extra nightly candy. What a nice birthday full of thoughtful surprises.

We passed a protected area where the US Navy has some ships.

We had a Gun Boat Escort

We were surprised to learn Guam only receives five cruise ships a year! The commercial port was used for our docking. The Port Authority made a wall of shipping containers to secure the dock.

Under the Treaty of Paris in 1898, Spain ceded Guam to the United States. In 1941 immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Guam was captured by the Japanese. During this time the Guam people were subjected to forced labor, incarceration, torture and execution. The United States recaptured the island in 1944 which is commemorated as “Liberation Day”. In 1950 Guam became a territory of the United States.

Guam Flag

The indigenous people, called Chamorros, are U.S. citizens, however they cannot vote in national elections. They can caucus and send delegates to the Democratic and Republican national conventions. They can hold elections for a governor and they may elect a delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives. However they have limited voting rights and cannot vote on final passage of legislation.

It is said that Guam is “Where America’s Day Begins” because of the International Date Line. It is the westernmost point and territory of the United States. 

The population of Guam is approximately 173,000 with an area of 212 square miles (30 miles by 9 miles). The official languages are Chamorro and English.

Before anyone left the ship we all had to have a face to face meeting with the Guam/US immigration officials and present our passports and a completed declaration form.  Once again Holland America had everything well organized and the process went smoothly. The immigration officials were friendly and said, “Welcome to Guam!” 

When we left the ship we were greeted by lovely ladies from Guam who put shell necklaces around our necks. Over the next several hours off the ship, it was easy to identify fellow passengers since we all had shell beads!

The nearest city to the dock was Piti.

We made the decision not to take an excursion but took the shuttle provided by Holland America into town. It was over a thirty minute ride and gave us a chance to see much of the area. We had thought seriously about renting a car for the day but since it was unfortunately a Sunday, many of the rental companies were closed. In fact, since it was Sunday, many places were closed including museums and the War in the Pacific National Historical Park Visitors Center. Always disappointing when that happens.

The shuttle bus dropped us at a big resort area of the island. It was a beautiful area, but with many expensive stores, not of interest to us. We have read that Guam is a very popular place for Japanese to come and shop since the prices are much cheaper than in Japan. We did see quite a few Japanese people checking out of hotels and wandering the malls with many shopping bags.

We did find the Hard Rock Cafe which had a small inventory and nothing Bill liked in his size. Another disappointment and the first time Bill has left a Hard Rock Cafe empty handed. He did manage to find a Guam shirt at one of the few reasonably priced stores in the area. We spent some time walking through the stores in various malls.  It was very hot with a high humidity level, so we were glad to get back on the shuttle bus and back to the ship. Always so good to see this sign.

Guam security personnel boarded our shuttle bus twice once we reached the port, both times checking our ship identification cards to be sure we were Holland America passengers. 

Usually when docked the Zuiderdam displays their Netherlands flag.

We sailed away before sundown.

Next up: Saipan in the Mariana Islands

8 Sea Days, FEB 17 2024

With eight sea days between Hawaii and Guam, the crew of Holland America worked hard to keep us as busy and entertained as we wanted to be. The evening we left Honolulu we were entertained with a Polynesian show. After the show the group departed the ship and we pulled out of Honolulu at 11:00 P.M.

Some passengers left the ship in Honolulu and new passengers joined, so the next day we had a second “Block Party”. At 4:00 P.M. everyone went outside their cabin to meet their neighbors. The crew brings around complimentary wine and appetizers and the ship officers wander the halls to say hello. Our neighbors didn’t change but it was nice to socialize with them again. 

Super Bowl Sunday we had the option of watching the game in our cabin or the big screen in the Mainstage Theater. The CBS game was broadcast internationally by ESPN. We had the pregame show, the halftime show as well as the game, but unfortunately no Super Bowl commercials. For those watching in the theater they had beef brisket, hot dogs, nachos, cotton candy as well as cakes with the logo of each team. And of course plenty of beer and drinks to purchase. 

On February 10th the ship celebrated the Lunar New Year, year of the Dragon, with decorations and Chinese Food, including fortune cookies, of course.

In the early morning of February 12th we crossed the International Dateline. February 12th was skipped and the day became February 13th. We skipped from Sunday to Tuesday. Too bad for those that had birthdays or anniversaries on February 12th.  We received certificates of passage to add to our Amazon crossing and equator crossing certificates. On one of his daily noon updates the captain joked that we were in the middle of nowhere. It sure felt like it because in 8 days at sea, we never saw land or another ship, passenger or cargo. 

February 13th we celebrated Mardi Gras. The ship made a big deal out of the day, handing out masks, beads and had many Mardi Gras cakes.

February 14th, Valentine’s Day was celebrated with a formal dinner of steak and lobster, Valentine cakes in the buffet and fun activities. They work hard to keep us fat and happy.

One activity was “The Game of Love” based on the “Newlywed Game”. Held in the Mainstage Theater, the contestants were our fearless Captain and his wife (second couple from the right) , the head chef and his wife who is also an officer on the ship, the ship Hotel Manager and his wife, and the Beverage Manager and his wife Josephine (far right) who is also hostess in the main dining room. Josephine is one of our favorites, and from the reaction of the crowd, a favorite of everyone.

It was a lively, fun game but the Captain and his wife Alexandra won in the end. In all our cruises we have never encountered such a personable, friendly ship Captain.

When we arrived back to our cabin at the end of the evening, our room stewards had left us two entwined towel swans.

Valentine evening will also be remembered as the evening that the very rough seas arrived. We were sitting on the back of the ship at the Sea View Pool at sunset. Quickly, dark ominous clouds enveloped the ship, the wind picked up and the seas became very rough. Not a surprise since the Captain had been warning us for several days during his noon talk of the approaching weather. For the next three days the seas were very rough with no relief. With seasick pills I was fine, but it was very difficult to walk around the ship. There was almost a constant howling of the wind noticeable from our balcony and in the hallways we occasionally heard the ship creaking. The one thing I enjoyed was being rocked to sleep each night. It was like sleeping in a cradle. I think I will miss that when we leave the ship.

On the last sea day the chefs had another cake extravaganza. This time we got there early to get pictures before they started serving.

The seas finally became less rough as we approached Guam on my birthday, February 18th. I think it goes without saying that everyone was glad to get off the ship after eight days at sea, many of them rocky. 

Another thing that made those eight days unusual was we turned the clocks back an hour, four different times.  We are getting further and further away from east coast time. 

Next up: Guam 

Oahu Hawaii FEB 8 2024

After another rough night sailing from the Big Island to the island of Oahu, we arrived at the port in Honolulu in the early morning. We were welcomed with a beautiful rainbow.

Our goal today was to take the city bus from the port to Waikiki Beach to get Bill a shirt at Hard Rock Cafe. We then wandered around the area looking for a food truck on the beach that had garlic shrimp. When we were on Oahu in 2014 we found a roadside stand on the North Shore of the island that had the best garlic shrimp that Bill had ever tasted.  Unfortunately this time around, we didn’t find any garlic shrimp on Waikiki. To show you how wonderful the crew of Holland America are, that evening on the ship one of the chefs stopped by our table. He asked how our day in Honolulu had gone. Bill casually mentioned that he was disappointed he never found any garlic shrimp. The chef immediately pulled out his notebook and made a note to have garlic shrimp especially made for Bill the next night. He said just tell the waiter. Sure enough, the next evening Bill told our waiter, and sure enough the garlic shrimp was prepared for him. How nice is that!

We had a great view of Diamond Head from Waikiki Beach and even from the ship.

In 2014 we rented a car and spent a week on the island of Oahu. The following pictures are from that visit.

Houses are built everywhere

Houses are built everywhere

Diamond Head is the most recognized landmark in Oahu.  The actual name of the volcano is Le’ahi.  It is believed to have been formed about 300,000 years ago during a single brief eruption.  The broad crater covers 350 acres with its width being greater than its height.  The southwestern rim is highest because winds were blowing ash in this direction during the eruption.  Since the eruption the slopes of the crater have been eroded and weathered by wind, rain, and the pounding sea.

Diamond Head got its nickname because in the late 1700’s, Western explorers and traders visited Le’ahi and mistook the calcite crystals in the rocks on the slope of the crater for diamonds.  Imagine their disappointment when they discovered it was not diamonds!  Because of its panoramic view, Diamond Head has been used over the years as a site for coastal defense. Most pictures of Waikiki will have Diamond Head in the background.IMG_3223


Kalaniana'Ole Highway

Kalaniana’Ole Highway

Halona Blowhole

Halona Blowhole

Eastern shore

Eastern shore


Puu Ualakaa State Wayside Park is on a cinder cone with a breathtaking sweeping view of downtown Honolulu and Diamond Head.  IMG_3228

Overlook of Diamond Head Crater and Waikiki Beach hotels

Overlook of Diamond Head Crater and Waikiki Beach hotels

The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific is otherwise known as the Punchbowl.  The cemetery is located in the Punchbowl Crater, an extinct volcanic tuff cone that was formed 75,000 to 100,000 years ago.  The Hawaiian name is Puowaina which means “Hill of Sacrifice” because the area was first used as an altar where Hawaiians offered human sacrifices to pagan gods.  In 1948 Congress approved funding to make it a national cemetery as a permanent burial site for the remains of thousands of World War II servicemen.

National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific

National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific

It is a very lovely, peaceful setting with beautiful views of Honolulu and Diamond Head.

How does one even begin to write about Pearl Harbor, such a hallowed place? The USS Arizona Memorial is built over the sunken hull and honors the 1,177 crewmen who died.  The memorial was dedicated in 1962 and the hull is a tomb for over 900 sailors who died inside. IMG_3242

Display of what the USS Arizona looks like underwater

Display of what the USS Arizona looks like underwater

The names of all those who died are on a wall inside the memorial

The names of all those who died are on a wall inside the memorial

Some survivors later chose to be buried inside the memorial

Some survivors later chose to be buried inside the memorial

Also nearby is the USS Oklahoma honoring 429 sailors who died when the ship capsized, as well as the visible hull of the USS Utah Memorial commemorating its 58 dead.

The ships in red were sank during the attack

The ships in red were sank during the attack

Bill took a tour of the Battleship Missouri Memorial which was docked nearby.  The USS Missouri was launched on January 29, 1944, and is the last U.S. battleship ever built.  She is three football fields long and towers over twenty stories tall.  Most importantly, after joining the battle of Okinawa, she became the site of the Japanese surrender on September 2, 1945.IMG_3244 IMG_3253 IMG_3254 IMG_3255 IMG_3258 IMG_3259 IMG_3262IMG_3260

The attack on Pearl Harbor killed 2,400 people and sank or damaged 21 vessels and 323 military planes.

The North Shore area of Oahu is made up of beautiful beaches with dramatic mountains  towering above the shore.  This area is famous for its “pipeline” waves, the massive waves you see at the beginning of the tv show “Hawaii 5-0”.  It is a surfers paradise.  We saw larger waves than we had seen on other parts of the island, but the massive pipeline waves usually occur during the winter months.IMG_3396 IMG_3402

Turtle Beach with no turtles

Turtle Beach with no turtles

Watching the world go by

Watching the world go by

Nuuanu Pali State Wayside Overlook which at an elevation of 1,200 feet had amazing views of Oahu from a stone terrace on the edge of cliffs.  The Hawaiian word “pali” means cliff.  This area is of historical importance to the Hawaiian people because on these cliffs in 1795 is where King Kamehameha won a battle that united Oahu under his rule.  The battle was fierce and during the battle hundreds of soldiers lost their lives, including some who were forced off the edge of the sheer cliffs.

Impressive view of windward O'ahu from Nu'uanu Pali State Wayside (cliffs) at 1200 feet elevation

Impressive view of windward O’ahu from Nu’uanu Pali State Wayside (cliffs) at 1200 feet elevation

A view of Waimea Valley and the northern shoreline from the Puu O Mahuka Heiau on O’ahu

King Kamehameha the first

King Kamehameha the first

The statue is of King Kamehameha the Great (1756-1819), perhaps Hawaii’s greatest historical figure.  There are four statues of the King; this one in downtown Honolulu, on the Big Island at his birthplace, another in Hilo, and in Washington, DC.

We sailed out of Honolulu at 11:00 PM, so no whale watching on our last sail away in Hawaii.

Next up: eight days at sea as we sail towards Guam, including crossing the International Date Line. What day is it????


Hilo Hawaii FEB 7 2024

As we sailed around The Big Island to get from Kona to Hilo, the rough waters continued throughout the night.

At 7:00 A.M. we were luck to see this fat rainbow and the nearby mountain appeared red in the early morning light.

In 2014 we rented a car and drove around the Big Island, including visiting Hilo. Many of these pictures are from that trip. We decided not to pay for an excursion on the cruise since we had already visited most of the places.

Widescreen view of Akaka Falls, 422 feet tall

Hilo is known as Hawaii’s Little Big City and is nestled on the slopes of three volcanoes. It has a population of around 41,000.  It is one of the wettest towns in the United States.  The University of Hawaii has a campus there as well as on other islands.  Hilo was hit by tsunamis in 1946 and 1960.  

We love the huge, lovely trees called Monkeypod we noticed around the town of Hilo.

The Monkeypod trees look like large umbrellas

The Monkeypod trees look like large umbrellas

Rainbow Falls usually make rainbows in the morning hours

Rainbow Falls usually make rainbows in the morning hours

There is a lighthouse on the easternmost point of the state of Hawaii called Cape Kumukahi.  Since this is where the sun first shines in Hawaii every day of every year, it is of spiritual importance to native Hawaiians.  In 1960 Kilauea erupted, destroying a town near the lighthouse and crops nearby.  Just as it appeared the lighthouse would be engulfed by the lava, it split into two streams and flowed into the sea on either side, sparing the structure.  People were amazed by this phenomenon and felt it was a message from the god Pele telling them of the lighthouse’s importance to the people.

This Cape Kumukahi lighhouse was saved in 1960 when the lava flow split and went around the lighhouse fence

This Cape Kumukahi lighhouse was saved on 1960 when the lava flow split and went around the lighhouse fence

Here is the height of the 1960 lava flow next to the Cape Kumukahi lighthouse

Here is the height of the 1960 lava flow next to the Cape Kumukahi lighthouse


Volcanoes National Park was established in 1916 and became a World Heritage Site in 1987.  The Big Island is the largest and the youngest of the Hawaiian Islands, home to the world’s most active volcanoes, and this park is a good example of why and how this is true.  The overcast sky is due to increases in gasses called “volcanic smog”, also called “vog”.  This vog blows west towards Kona during trade wind weather. The park is 33,000 acres of lava land on the slopes of Mauna Loa, the world’s largest mountain by volume and the world’s tallest when measured from the ocean floor.  Five volcanoes make up the Big Island. 

Mauna Loa is not only 56,000 feet above the ocean floor but also has a large volume.

Kilauea is a relatively young volcano estimated to be 600,000 years old and first erupted 2,500 years ago.

Kilauea Crater leaks lava through its top and side rift zones

Kilauea Crater leaks lava through its top and side rift zones

Halemaumau Crater emitting gas plume at the summit of Kilauea Crater/Volcano

Halemaumau Crater emitting gas plume at the summit of Kilauea Crater/Volcano

The newest Hawaiian island, already named Loihi, is being created 22 miles offshore from volcanic activity growing on the ocean floor.  It will be thousands of years before the new island emerges, so don’t let anyone try to sell you a cheap condo there!

Night view of Halemaumau Crater emitting gas plume

Night view of Halemaumau Crater emitting gas plume

Thurston Lava Tube is a 500 year old massive lava cave.  It was an easy walk through the well lighted cave.

Thurston Lava Tube

Thurston Lava Tube

Thurston Lava Tube

Thurston Lava Tube

Kilauea Iki Crater created in 1959

Kilauea Iki Crater created in 1959

Kilauea Iki Crater with Halemaumau Crater emitting gas plume in the distance

Kilauea Iki Crater with Halemaumau Crater emitting gas plume in the distance

Pauahi Crater

Pauahi Crater

Younger lava flows are dark

Younger lava flows are dark

Some of the newest coastline looks like this

Some of the newest coastline looks like this

Sea arch within the Volcanoes NP

Sea arch within the Volcanoes NP

The port is located in an industral area, not very attractive and not convenient to the city.

View of Hilo from the Ship

These are pictures we took of the city and breakwater that protects the harbor.

Once again as we sailed away from Hilo, whales were spotted off the back of the ship and they put on quite a show. Everytime one was spotted the crowd would cheer, making for a very fun, festive atmosphere.

Next up: Island of Oahu and Honolulu


Kona Hawaii FEB 6 2024

We had six sea days between Mexico and Hawaii. Everyone was kept busy attending lectures on the history, animals, sea life, etc of Hawaii. Also available were lessons on making leis and learning to hula dance. 

The days would have been very pleasant except for the gale force winds and rough seas on days 4, 5 and 6. The Captain had warned us of 17 foot sea swells, common in the Pacific Ocean during the winter. It was so windy we could barely get our balcony door open. The rolling of the ship was constant and relentless. 

One morning the Cruise Director’s “Coffee Talk” was with the Captain. For thirty minutes he answered questions from the audience. He has a quick wit and is very open with the passengers. They put a box at Guest Services for people to submit additional questions and he promised to answer one or two questions each day during his noon commentary.

When we boarded the ship back in January, Holland America took our passports to hold. We were now required to have a face to face meeting with immigration officials at our first port in Hawaii. This requirement was because we had been out of the country since leaving Fort Lauderdale on January 3rd.  We picked up our passports and met with an immigration official at our assigned time.  As we filed through the line, the immigration official barely glanced at our passports. Obviously just a formality.

Two of our Hawaiian ports is on The Big Island, with the first being the town of Kona. The Big Island is really an island of contrasts with Kona on one side and Hilo on the other.  Kona is a major beach resort area with less than ten inches of rain a year.  Hilo is the largest city on the island and tropical with more than 150 inches of rain annually.  The total population of the island is around 185,000.

The Big Island is the biggest of all the Hawaiian islands with 4,028 miles, twice the size of all the other islands combined, and most importantly, it is still growing!!  It is the youngest of all the islands, estimated to be about 800,000 years old.  This is the most volcanic of all the islands, with Kilauea near Hilo being the world’s most active volcano.  Kilauea has been sending rivers of lava since January 1983, adding more real estate to the island every day.  It is also an island seeped in history.  It is the birthplace and deathplace of King Kamehameha, a great king who united all the Hawaiian Islands under his rule.  He died in 1819.

British Captain James Cook, after exploring in 1778 the islands of Kauai and Oahu, arrived on the Big Island in 1779.  At first, thinking Cook was perhaps a god, the natives welcomed him with great feasts.  After discovering he was in fact not a god, they became hostile.  Cook and four of his men died on the Big Island during a battle.  A small bronze plaque at the north end of Kealakekua Bay marks the spot of his death.  Cook’s countrymen erected a 27-foot memorial near the plaque to honor him.

We had spent a week on The Big Island in 2014 so we didn’t feel the need to pay for an excursion. Our plan was to walk around the port area and go to Walmart. Problem was we had forgotten how hilly Kona is and it was a steep uphill walk to Walmart.

On the way back we saw a man with his dog on a surfboard. Really cute.



Kona is a great place to snorkel. Living coral can be found in 57% of the waters surrounding this island. 

Kahalu'u Bay

Kahalu’u Bay

 Also on the Big Island is the South Point, the southernmost point in the United States.  (Sorry Key West).  This South Point has a latitude 500 miles farther south than Miami.  It is believed in 150 A.D. the first Polynesian explorers set foot on the island near this point.  IMG_3047 IMG_3053 IMG_3055

These pictures are from our trip in 2014.

Punalu’u Black Sand Beach Park is one of the most famous black sand beaches in Hawaii.  The black sand is made from basalt created by lava flowing into the ocean which exploded as it reached the ocean and cooled. IMG_3074 IMG_3068 IMG_3069

Again, these pictures are from 2014. On the island you can find sandy beaches or lava rock beaches. IMG_3076


As we went through security to get back on the ship, the Hawaiian port authorities had us show both our ship ID and also our driver’s license and each passenger was wanded. Most thorough security since we left Fort Lauderdale.

Shortly after leaving Kona someone reported seeing whales. That caused everyone to scatter to all the decks.  We were at the rear of the ship and saw quite a few whales breaching and spouting. It was as if they were putting on a farewell show for us.

Next up: Hilo, Hawaii