Luxury Cruising From San Francisco to Hawaii on Princess Cruise Lines

In a recent article entitled “Three Reasons to Book Your Next Cruise our of San Francisco,” we wrote about the fun of spending part of a vacation in the famous City by the Bay, and part of it cruising to exciting destinations like Hawaii, Alaska, and the South Pacific. This story is about the cruise we selected to follow our own tour of San Francisco.

Selecting a cruise

As Mark Twain often noted, it can be a bit chilly in San Francisco regardless of the time of year, so we thought a cruise to some place warm would be the perfect other-bookend for a vacation.

We did an internet search and explored all the cruise line itineraries sailing out of San Francisco on our travel dates, and Princess Cruise Lines had exactly what we wanted – a roundtrip sailing from San Francisco to the Hawaiian Islands. We made the right choice, and here’s what you can expect if you decide to take the same plunge.

The day before the cruise

We arrived in San Francisco the day before our cruise departure to Hawaii. We toured our favorite sites in the city, had a nice dinner at Scoma’s on Pier 47, and checked into our favorite and always fashionable San Francisco Hyatt Regency. The hotel is directly across from the iconic Ferry Building on the Embarcadero, and a very short distance from the cruise terminal at Pier 35.

Sailing out of the Golden Gate

We settled into our port side stateroom, popped open a bottle of bubbly, and when the ship pulled away from the dock, we proceeded to our patio to watch the San Francisco skyline on slow parade. There was Ghirardelli Square lit up in its entire splendor, and the famous Transamerica Pyramid Building – outstanding among its traditional “square” neighbors.

We could see the Golden Gate Bridge coming up above the bow, and we bid a fond farewell to old Fort Point as we made our way out of San Francisco Bay and into the vast blue Pacific. All we could think at the time was, “What a spectacular way to start a cruise!”

Next stop – Hilo, on the big island of Hawaii. A future article will describe the Hawaiian ports of call in Hilo, Nawiliwili, Lahaina, Honolulu, and our final stop in Ensenada, Mexico, before returning to San Francisco. Why are cruise ships sailing to Hawaii from US ports required to stop in a foreign port like Ensenada? We will explain in the upcoming article.

This story features the many vacation pleasures aboard the Star Princess. Note: The Grand Princess has now replaced the Star Princess on the Hawaiian route out of San Francisco. They are sister ships, so the differences are minimal.

Sweet suites

The Star Princess has several luxury suites positioned throughout the ship. The Grand Suite is 1,314 square feet of pure indulgence, with a walk in closet, large bathrooms, and an oversized balcony. These elegant digs are for the truly fortunate among us.

Besides luxury accommodations, the suites come with supplementary amenities such as an exclusive Suite Breakfast at the Sabatini’s specialty restaurant – where you can start your day with a complimentary “Good Morning Mimosa,” and select other goodies from an extraordinary breakfast menu. We expected the service to be impeccable, and it was.

Did you know that the now famous champagne and orange juice “Mimosa” drink was first created and named at the Paris Ritz in 1925? Its namesake is the mimosa plant, which has bright and frothy yellow flowers.

There are also afternoon and pre-dinner cocktail and private nosh parties where suite passengers get to mingle and mix with the ship’s officers that drop by.

Care for a quiet dinner for two? Having a lavish room service meal served in a ship’s suite is the height of seagoing indulgence and sublime privacy.

Suite passengers are also provided with priority boarding, and disembarkation via the Elite/Suite Disembarkation Lounge. While visiting ports that require taking a launch to shore, suite occupants are furnished Priority Tender Disembarkation Tickets – a nice time-saving touch.

Time for dinner

It was soon time for our initial dinner on board the Star Princess. The first night aboard a cruise ship is a casual affair, so after cleaning up a bit, we made our way down to the Portofino Dining Room on Deck 6.

The Maître d’hôtel was busy orchestrating the process of showing the first diners to their assigned tables. Remember when everyone ate at either an “early” or, “late” sitting? These days you can dine in traditional fashion or decide to eat at any time you choose during dining hours. There are advantages to both practices – it is clearly a matter of personal taste.

That’s entertainment

After a sumptuous dinner, it was time for our opening night of entertainment in the Princess Theatre on Deck 6 and 7. The first show included the entire cast in an extravaganza review. The large two-story theatre was packed, but comfortable, and everyone enjoyed the lavish musical production.

We took a stroll around the Lido deck before returning to our stateroom after the show. Not quite ready for bed, we turned on the TV, and watched our first movie from the library of closed circuit films. It was an oldie,- An Affair to Remember, starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr – a quintessential tearjerker with the plot starting on a cruise ship. What could be more apropos for the setting?

Days at sea

It took four days to reach our first port of call in Hilo. We travelled 2,003 nautical miles (2,303 highway miles) from San Francisco. The time passed quickly.

Days at sea can be quiet or exciting – it’s your choice. You can shop endlessly in the myriad Ship’s Boutiques. You can visit the Internet Café to catch up on emails, listen to live Chamber Music, and attend lively Art Auctions. How about a workout in the extensive Gym, a Seminar at Sea, eating pizza, a hot dog, or hamburger, or trying your luck in the Casino?

Having your teeth whitened is another option, as is enjoying sundry Spa indulgences, snoozing by one of the Pools, and chatting it up while enjoying the entertainment at your choice of the many Bars and Lounges. There is also the opportunity to watch Movies outdoors or indoors, peruse the Library, read, and of course – eat.

The ship’s master

On one of our days at sea, we had an opportunity to interview the ship’s captain. At the time of our sailing, the master of the Star Princess was Edward Perrin who hails from Dorset, England. As is usually the case, Captain Perrin was most congenial and very willing to share stories about his ship and experiences at sea.

We always ask sea captains what they like best about their jobs. Captain Perrin revealed that he most enjoyed the ability to have a positive impact on people’s lives – both crew, and passengers. He gave an example of an elderly couple who saved all their lives to take a cruise. They approached him with the problem that they had no more money to spend while on the cruise. Captain Perrin summarily wrote a list of “free” things the couple could do on their cruise vacation. They were elated, and the good Captain was equally gratified – it made his day, and he has never forgotten the feeling of being able to help.

Where passenger services are concerned, an important member of the crew is the Hotel General Manager. On the Star Princess, that was Terri Lynn Cybuliak, and she greatly contributed to our fun discussion.

As we have mentioned in previous cruise articles, ship’s captains are contracted to be masters for months, not years, and therefore transfer from ship to ship quite frequently. Keep an eye out – you may very well find Captain Perrin at the helm of your next Princess cruise.

Attention on the bridge

After our meeting, Captain Perrin invited us to join him on the bridge. The ship’s bridge is always manned 24-hours a day by two officers working four-hour shifts in a three-watch system. It is interesting to witness the vast array of sophisticated systems that run these mega ships in a controlled and quiet atmosphere. We continue to be fascinated by the fact that the traditional ship’s steering wheel has been replaced by a tiny joystick on a desk panel.

Dining in the specialty restaurants

All the food aboard the Star Princess, and most other cruise ships for that matter, is quite delicious. It is amazing that seagoing chefs can prepare thousands of assorted meals daily, and do it with such finesse.

People always ask, “If all the sit down meals are included in the price of the cruise, why would anyone pay extra to eat in a specialty dining room?” The answer is quite simple – intimacy – and a little something extra special for an important occasion.

Each specialty restaurant has its own kitchen, so there is just a touch more attention to detail in the food preparation and presentation. The waiters have fewer tables to attend, and the overall experience is that of eating in a truly fine restaurant. The extra charge is never extravagant, and the experience is worthwhile.

Avoid disappointment, reserve your specialty restaurants early.

Our recommendations

Throughout the years, we have enjoyed many cruises, and Princess Cruises is one of our favorite lines. It provides first time cruisers with an enjoyable introduction to cruise vacationing, and it offers seasoned cruisers a nice selection of accommodations and amenities. Whatever your wallet dictates, a Princess Cruise will provide good value for your vacation dollars.

If you go

San Francisco International Airport is about 20 miles and a $65 taxi ride to the Cruise Terminal or Hyatt Regency. Your travel agent or Princess Cruises can also arrange transfers to and from the airport, but if there are two passengers involved, we recommend taking a cab, it’s a lot less hassle.

A final note

The San Francisco Cruise Terminal is presently located at Pier 35. That will change when the America’s Cup Headquarters pulls up stakes from Pier 27 sometime around September 2013 – after the US (hopefully) wins the Cup.

After a quick facelift and the addition of a new park at the site, the vastly improved cruise terminal at Pier 27 will be capable of handling larger ships, and will come with expansive views of the City including Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower, the Ferry Building, and the Bay Bridge.

Happy travels!

First Time Cruising With Carnival Spirit

The Carnival cruise line is an amazing fleet of luxury cruise trips that caters for all types of cruisers. Families, couples and groups of friends of all ages are made welcome on board their ships and the entertainment is catered for all.

The Carnival fleet currently contains 22 ships that are found world-wide and most popular in the Caribbean. Some of the ship names include the legend, victory, glory, pride, destiny, dream and the paradise.

Carnival finally made its move into Australian waters offering short trips on the east coast of Australia but also to the beautiful South Pacific Islands.

Currently only the Carnival Spirit departs from Sydney Australia and this is the ship I was privileged enough to experience. The Carnival Legend will soon be arriving to Australia shortly as well.

There are 10 levels on the Carnival Spirit which includes a number of restaurants, day spa, a gym, 2 main pools for all ages and an adults only area which includes a pool and Jacuzzi too.

The entire ship is decked out with magnificent artworks, structures and paintings particularly in the Grand Atrium which has a multi-level painting which is around 6 levels high.

What makes this the Carnival Spirit stand out and makes the appeal for both kids and the young at heart is its 50 foot water slide known as the Green Thunder. This is located on deck 10 and counts down from 3. The waterslide is so fast I couldn’t even tell you if the platform dropped or pulled back or what.

The restaurants on board are all paid for within your cruise ticket price all except the steak house restaurant called Noveau. It cost $35 per person to eat here and it is well worth the price as you get 3 courses of the best quality meats. Make sure you walk in hungry these meals are massive.

The main restaurant is also 3 courses and table service and just about all the wait staff are extroverts, fun and a little bit crazy all in the name of fun. After dinner is mostly served there may be a song and/or dance by the wait staff which helps lift the mood for the evening fun times.

There are also plenty of bars found around the ship which includes a karaoke bar, pool bars, the casino, Shanghai bar, the grand atrium and the waiters walking around the decks coming directly to you for orders.

Lastly the entertainment on board is also worth checking out most of which are performed in the Pharaoh’s Palace which is found on deck 2, 3 and 4. Here you will get to see magicians, hypnotists, dancers, big band concerts and more.

Directly below the palace is the Punch-liner Comedy Club where 4 to 5 comics perform most of which includes an adult’s only show.

All in all the Carnival Spirit lived up to its reputation and makes the trip as comfortable and as entertaining as possible. I would definitely book with Carnival again and would highly recommend it for any first time cruisers.

Cruising the Hawai’ian Islands – An Aussie’s First Time

Boarding a cruise ship is always a crowded affair. It was so in Honolulu. What surprised us was that we had to take the locks off our suitcases before boarding. The ship, Norwegian “Pride of America”, was a similar size to the Princess ships that we had cruised in around Australia. So we expected to get to our stateroom after boarding the ship. We boarded around 12.30pm only to enter our stateroom at 5.30pm. We found out later that the crew was all American citizens, meaning they had to be paid at higher rates than the crews on other cruise lines. Norwegian were the only cruise line allowed by American law just to cruise around the islands. Other cruise lines had to visit at least one foreign port. This meant there were fewer crew members to do the work.

We found that the selection of free restaurants was not as extensive as with Princess. We dined mostly in their buffet restaurant and a couple of times in their East-West restaurant. These were fine. By Australian standards, the coffee on board ship leaves much to be desired.

We found our stateroom was the best designed one we had seen with a better arrangement of the bed; more cupboards space and better designed bathroom and shower.

The theatre was more spacious and it was easier to move to and from your seat. People could move past you without the need for you to stand. However the Mardi Gras cabaret showroom was smaller than in Princess and the view from the rear not as good. Still, as the cruise went on, the performances in these two areas were of a high quality.

For those that liked to walk or run to wear off the effects of too much food, the promenade deck had a walkway of length 546 metres. Three times around was a mile (over 1.6 kilometres). The walkway was much wider than those we had seen previously on other ships.

The purpose of the cruise was to see the islands of Hawaii. Consequently, during the day, there was a lack of things to do on the ship if you arrived back early from a tour. There was only one port where tenders were required to take us ashore. We were impressed at how easy it was to get on and off the tender and how spacious they were compared to others we had been on.

We arranged to do a tour at each port we visited, six in all. We discovered Roberts Tours on an internet search. It turned out that they were the biggest tour operators in America in their green busses. We found them better priced than the tours organised through Norwegian Cruises Lines. In fact, by booking several tours through them as what they called “Combo Tours” we saved at least $100 each. Their service was excellent, always on time with great driver/guides who were able to go extra places when the time permitted. We found the guides very knowledgeable and didn’t talk too much. They gave clear instructions with regard to departure times and made good suggestions about food and so on.

Security was a very big issue. On returning to ship and pier, we had to show photo I. D. as well as our cruise card to even get on the pier or the tender or off the bus on returning from the tour.

The thing that surprised me the most about the islands on the cruise was the altitude that buses climbed without our realising that we were at a high altitude. I found I would look out the window of the bus and see an altitude sign like 2400 feet. We never seemed to be so high. It is not something you see in Australia. We, of course, took the tour to the highest volcano on the islands. It was reputed to be the highest on the earth because it is a mountain that rises from depths of the sea. It was over 10000 feet above sea level. Our bus was only able to take us to 9500 feet where we were able to see its huge crater and walk up to a minor peak some 400 metres. It was quite a demanding walk because of the lack of oxygen at that height.

We did see an active volcano. From the viewing platform, it was possible to see lava bubbling to the surface of the crater. Later that evening, the ship cruised past another lava flow. This was bigger and the lava was flowing into the sea. This was much more spectacular.

On the island tours, you see lots of coffee and macadamia plantations. On one plantation which had quite a variety of activities, we found pineapple ice cream. It is a pleasure not to be missed. The coffee plantations we visited allowed coffee tasting. We saw the famous surfing beaches where the Pro tournaments are held. Another spot we saw was the start and finish of the famous Hawaiian Iron Man triathlon.

All the islands were very green with very steep rugged mountains. There was wet and a dry side of each island with a great variation in rainfall. One side of each island tended to be the windy side with the other side protected from the wind by the high mountains. For us the weather was great. The only time we needed a jumper was on board the ship where the air conditioning was sometimes too cold.

Each island had a highway which circumnavigated the island, usually close to the beach. We found on our bus tours to get the best view you needed seats on the right hand side of the bus.

If you only going to visit Hawaii once in your lifetime, you must include the cruise as part of your holiday as well as Honolulu, Waikiki, Pearl Harbour and tour around the island from Honolulu.

First Time Cruising: How to Get the Total Experience

First time cruising is exciting yet it requires patience and a lot of research to make the most out of your planned cruise. The cruise ship is packed with a lot of goodies from activities for children to the activities that old people want to engage themselves into. It is only right that when going on a cruise for the first time you should be able to make the most out of your money.

First time cruising is tricky. Here are some of the things that you need to prepare for.

Pre-cruise Studies: Always research about the cruise ship and the trip itself. Everything else that you need should have been pre-arranged from the cabins you'll be sleeping in to the food that you'll dine.

Don't double tip: When paying for your trip you have already been charged about 10-15% for every meal that you will be having. It is really not that necessary to give tips.

When it rains pack right: When traveling on a cruise ship, it is always a must to be prepared with clothes and other stuff that you can wear when it rains. You can't always be so sure that the weather forecast is right. Sometimes there are sudden splashes of rain and you don't want your travel experience to be ruined just because you were soaked in the rain.

Stay slim amidst the all-you-can-eat buffet: Remember that all of these are paid for. If you wish to stay slim despite the huge amount that you paid for then that's completely your discretion. In case you really want to enjoy that sumptuous feast, here's what you can do. Instead of taking the elevator when roaming around the ship, why not try taking the stairs for a change. This is to ensure that you'll burn those calories just right.

Design a Ship Tour for Embarkation Day: You don't want to waste your time and energy sitting on a cabin while waiting for your ship to arrive at the pier. You can explore the ship. Take a map of the whole ship. You can use the map provided after you book for that cruise. Look at the main areas that you will be going like your cabin, the dining area, and other parts of the ship where passengers are allowed to explore.

Today, cruises have Wi-Fi so Internet connection wouldn't really be that much of a problem. Instead of wallowing yourself in your social media accounts, you can go around and look for other activities that are going on at the various stations inside the ship. It will let you see how beautiful the ship is. You will also get to experience a lot of amazing activities happening while in the cruise.

Don't forget to enjoy and try to document every piece of that memory for keepsakes. It is always good to have something that you could look back into for years. Those memories of your first time in a cruise will be rooted in your heart and mind always.

First Time Cruising Tips: Getting From The Airport To The Ship Port

When you are going on your first cruise, it can be a little overwhelming trying to plan all of the small details of your trip. One of the details that often falls through the cracks is this: planning transportation from the airport to the cruise port, and then back again when the trip is over. This article is going to help you explore your options for transfers.

1. Cruise Ship Transportation

Many cruise lines offer buses and shuttles from the airport to the cruise port. These prices usually range from $20-$40 each way. The nice thing about booking through the cruise ship is the fact that you know you will get to the right cruise in time. You don’t want to miss the boat!

2. Private Shuttles

There are private companies that can be booked through the airport that offer shuttles to the cruise ports. These shuttles vary in price, and you will need to check their schedule ahead of time to be sure that you will get to the cruise ship in time.

3. Taxis

You can always find a taxi at the airport, and this is a great option to get you where you need to go. Before you get in the taxi, make sure to negotiate a price so that you don’t spend too much on the trip.

4. Private Car Services

There are many private car services that will drive you where you need to go. These services can sometimes be cheaper than taking a taxi, and the cars are much nicer. Ask around at the airport (or look online ahead of time) to find a good reliable car service that can drive you to the port

All of these transportation options are good choices, they will get you where you need to go. But, make sure that you schedule a little bit of extra time to be sure that you aren’t late… because the cruise ship won’t wait!