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Whale of a Cruise

When the Golden Princess visits Hawaii,
passengers experience the best of four islands.
By Tracey Teo

It seems to defy the laws of physics that a 45-ton North Pacific humpback whale can use its powerful fluke to propel its body out of the sea, perform an aerial twist, and submerge like a submarine. Whale watchers sailing the blue waters of Maui’s Auau Channel, part of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, sometimes witness this amazing display called breaching. It’s the grand slam of whale watching and elicits a collective “aahh” from Golden Princess cruise ship passengers on this half-day shore excursion as a highlight of their two-week Hawaiian Islands cruise that docks in Maui, Hawaii (Hilo), Oahu, and Kauai.

Whale Watching

Above: Whale-watching tours are available to Princess cruise passengers for an extra charge. Many times, participants will see the endangered humpback whale. Hawaii Tourism Authority/Tor Johnson photo

Below: The Polynesian Cultural Center on Oahu is one of the most-visited attractions in Hawaii. Ship passengers can book a full-day shore excursion to this 42-acre cultural park. Polynesian Cultural Center photo

Entrance

Tour participants watch from the vessel’s railing, cameras and binoculars ready for the next sighting. The group learns that from November to May, about two-thirds of the endangered humpback whale population make the 3,000-mile journey from Alaska to Hawaii to mate or give birth. Calves are born with very little blubber, so the warm, shallow water is the perfect nursery. At a depth of 250 feet, it’s a kiddie pool for the leviathans. The calves’ main predator in Alaska is the orca, or killer whale, but in the Auau Channel, these aggressive hunters are absent.

Mother and calf can’t stay indefinitely; she doesn’t eat while nursing her calf, living off her blubber. The female whale will lose about a third of her body weight during the six to eight weeks she is in Maui. Her calf, on the other hand, can gain an astounding 100 pounds a day from her high-fat milk.

Male whales are known for their mysterious song, and a submerged hydrophone brings to the surface the crooning that sometimes sounds like cheerful whistling and other times echoes like a hauntingly melancholy dirge.

As the boat cruises back to Lahaina Harbor, a large pod of high-spirited spinner dolphins surrounds the boat, breaking through the ocean’s surface. It’s an unexpected grand finale to an all-too-short seafaring adventure.

Golden Dining and Nightlife
Part of the fun of a Princess cruise is discussing the day’s activities with dining companions who started out as strangers, but more often than not, quickly become friends. In the Canaletto Dining Room, passengers swap stories of spotting neon-hued fish while snorkeling in Maui and the almost spiritual experience of hiking through the natural beauty of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in Hilo.

Princess passengers have come to expect exceptional culinary offerings and fine wines served by a wait staff with an eye for detail, and the cruise line does not disappoint.

The pinnacle of fine dining aboard the Golden Princess is The Crown Grill, a New York-style steak house also known for fresh seafood. The restaurant offers a truly first-rate dining experience in a sophisticated setting with impeccable service. For a cover charge of only $25 each, diners can order anything and everything on the menu, from appetizers to desserts.

Nightlife aboard the Golden Princess ranges from rockin’ to chillin,’ and there’s something for all ages. Get your groove on in the chic Skywalkers Nightclub or try your luck in the Grand Casino.

The Princess Theater on the Fiesta Deck is where sequins sparkle and fringe flies as the talented Princess cast dances across the stage in high-energy, Broadway-style shows.

And there’s no shortage of evening activities for families. Snuggling in beach chairs on the Neptune Reef Pool Deck for “Movies under the Stars,” a signature Princess program, is a favorite.

hawaiian culture in oahu
The 42-acre Polynesian Cultural Center in Oahu, one of the most visited attractions in Hawaii, is a not-to-be-missed, full-day shore excursion. Part theme park and part living history, it’s an introduction to six Polynesian villages representing Hawaii, Aoteroa (New Zealand), Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, and Tahiti.

Every afternoon, visitors line the banks of a meandering lagoon in anticipation of The Rainbows of Paradise Canoe Pageant that showcases the traditional dances of each Polynesian culture. As the Tahitian canoe (more of a floating stage, really) sails into view, girls sporting sunny yellow grass skirts perform the wicked-fast, hip-shaking dance that is sometimes confused with the Hawaiian hula.

The luau is a time-honored symbol of Hawaiian hospitality, and the center presents this feast with the customary pomp and circumstance. Guests help themselves to a Polynesian buffet heaped with the traditional pit-roasted pig called “kalua” and ocean-fresh mahi-mahi. Those with adventurous palates go for the poi, a traditional Hawaiian staple made from taro root. Hula dancers moving as fluidly as a gently cascading waterfall provide entertainment in the open-air dining room.

This may sound like the perfect end to a fun-filled day, but the best is yet to come. Following the luau, “Ha Breath of Life” is performed in the Pacific Theater. This unforgettable Pacific Island story about the bonds of family and community is told through a dynamic song and dance performance featuring dozens of native Polynesians, mostly talented college students from nearby Brigham Young University.

Next, fire knife dancers boldly take the stage. They are a force of nature, twirling the knives like airplane propellers, until rings of fire illuminate the stage.

sensational sea days
Sea days are the time to seek out the numerous amenities aboard this 2,600-passenger, 18-deck ship, like its four pools that offer distinctly different ways to enjoy the sun. Get your tropical tan playing water volleyball at an action-packed beach party in Neptune’s Pool, the largest on the ship, or seek the tranquility of the adults-only Lotus Pool in an area aptly named the Sanctuary.

If your sea day plans include a rejuvenating massage at the Lotus Spa, book ahead, because sea days are prime spa days.

Did you overindulge in those tempting desserts? Zumba classes, a great cardio workout set to Latin music, are popular.

After exercising your body, give your brain a workout by joining the Princess Scholarship@Sea Program. Learn to speak Hawaiian, whip up a few Polynesian dishes, and even take a ukulele lesson.

Princess cruise lines offers so many diverse onboard activities and shore excursions, it’s easy to customize a vacation that’s right for you. Whether you’re on your honeymoon, traveling with toddlers, or bringing the whole family together for a multigenerational experience, you are sure to feel that ethereal aloha spirit beckoning you back to the islands time and again.

Tracey Teo is a contributor from Evansville, Ind.

Sept/Oct 2012 Issue

BEFORE YOU GO

Fourteen- and 15-day cruises onboard the Golden Princess depart from Los Angeles. Fares in 2012 start at $1,199 and go up to $3,595 per person, cruise only, double occupancy, depending on the date of travel.

AAA also offers Hawaiian travel through a preferred vendor, Pleasant Hawaiian Holidays, for a land-based vacation.

For details, see your AAA Travel professional, call (888) 366-4222 or visit AAA.com/travel.


 

Preparing
By Tracey Teo

Princess passengers are accustomed to sailing in grand style, but now the cruise line is raising the bar on luxury at sea. The Royal Princess, a new 3,600-passenger ship debuting its 12-day Grand Mediterranean Cruises in June 2013, is designed to wow guests with its innovative design and numerous upscale amenities.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the signature piazza atrium. This social hub of the ship is 50 percent larger than the atriums on other Princess ships and has much-needed additional seating. Twin marble spiral staircases flanked by soothing water fountains are illuminated by backlit glass domes to create a contrasting but beautiful juxtaposition of Old World elegance and cutting-edge Vegas glamour.

The piazza, with its outdoor café vibe, has always been where passengers gather to grab a morning pastry at the International Café or a pre-dinner glass of wine at the popular Vines bar, but now, more choices are available.

The introduction of a gelateria, Gelato, means nobody has to wait for a port of call in Italy to satisfy a craving for the country’s unofficial national dessert. Bellini’s, the new Italian cocktail bar on deck six, exudes a romantic ambience. This chic, sophisticated venue appears to hover in space over the piazza, providing a bird’s-eye view of the live entertainment below.

The upper deck features the dramatic over-water SeaWalk, a glass-bottomed walkway that extends more than 28 feet beyond the edge of the vessel. The same design concept was applied to the SeaView bar across the deck.

The addition of private cabanas in the Sanctuary, the popular adults-only pool area, makes this tranquil oasis even more appealing. And after the sun sets, a spectacular light and water show entertains passengers on the main pool deck.

“The combination of an extraordinary onboard experience with iconic European ports is sure to give passengers the cruise of a lifetime,” says Jan Swartz, Princess Cruises executive vice president.

atrium
Rendering of the Royal Princess, scheduled to begin service next June, and its stunning atrium.
© Princess Cruises

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