NCL Tahiti to Hawaii Cruise with Larry Gelwix - Cruise Review

by Larry Gelwix


Robert Louis Stevenson sailing the South Seas in 1888 wrote, “Few men who come to the islands leave them; they grow grey where they alighted; the palm shades and the trade-wind fans them till they die, perhaps cherishing to the last the fancy of a visit home, which is rarely made, more rarely enjoyed, and yet more rarely repeated.  No part of the world exerts the same attractive power upon the visitor with some sense of its seduction. The first experience can never be repeated.  The first love, the first sunrise, the first South Sea island, are memories apart and touched a virginity of sense.”  

The South Pacific, South Seas, and Polynesia – all conjure up images and dreams of faraway islands, friendly locals, crystal clear waters, fresh food at every meal, unrivaled sunrises and sunsets, and living “island time.”  There is a connection that is unspoken but deeply felt that draws us to the islands.  The natives call it “mana” and you can feel it whilst you visiting Polynesia and it brings you back again and again after returning home.  This is the “Aloha Spirit” and the “Magic of Polynesia”!

My wife Cathy and I recently returned from a “South Pacific Odyssey” sailing from Tahiti to Honolulu aboard Norwegian Cruise Lines.  We flew to Papeete, Tahiti nestled in the heart of French Polynesia, and boarded our cruise ship, the Norwegian Spirit, and for the next 13 days, April 10-22, sailed our dreams.

Our cruise itinerary included the French Polynesia islands of Tahiti, Bora Bora, Raiatea, and Moorea.  We then ventured out into the vast reaches of the Pacific, crossing the Equator, and sailing north to the Hawaiian islands of Maui, Kauai, the Big Island, and Oahu.

South Pacific travel can be expensive.  A cruise is the perfect way to see more of Polynesia with all your meals and entertainment included at a very affordable price.  Our group enjoyed a free airfare promotion which saved thousands of dollars, along with free unlimited drinks, free wifi, free specialty dining, and free shore excursion credits helped make this the trip of a lifetime.  I advised our group members that a big surprise will be when you go home and show your photos to friends and family. They will exclaim how beautiful each view is and you will say, “No, no, the photo doesn’t begin to capture the depth of colors, especially the green and blues!”

Some of our highlights and memories include:

Tahiti. Perhaps the most famous island in the world!  Tahiti is a beautiful island of jungle and waterfalls.  I love visiting historical sites including Venus Point, where the first European to visit these islands landed at Tahiti in 1769 on the first of his three Pacific voyages.  Do you remember Mutiny on the Bounty? It’s a true story and it comes alive as we stand on the very place where the mutiny was launched.

Bora Bora. The famous American author, James Mitchner, called Bora Bora the most beautiful island in the South Pacific with Mt. Otemanu’s lush, green volcanic peaks towering over the island and lagoon.  My favorite activity here is to take a jet ski around the island inside the lagoon and stop at an uninhabited “motu” (island) for a picnic lunch.

Raiatea.  Raiatea is the “sacred island” with ancient temples including Marae Taputapuatea, the most important temple in Polynesia dating to 1,000 AD and from where many of the early trans-ocean voyages departed sailing into the unknown never to return home again.  Even today I can feel the spiritual energy of this island.  In fact, stones from this marae have been taken to the Cook Islands, New Zealand, and Hawaii to endow sacred sites there with spiritual power.  By the way, I enjoy shopping here for black pearls!

Moorea.  Eight mountain peaks rise from its lagoon, while from overhead the island is roughly shaped like a heart – in keeping with its appeal as a top vacation destination. Moorea is just 10 miles from Tahiti.  Our group enjoyed my #1 favorite activity in French Polynesia – the Moorea Shark, Ray, and Motu excursion.  Our ship dropped anchor in Opunohu Bay. The same bay that Captain Cook visited.  Do you remember the 1958 movie “South Pacific” and the forbidden Bali Hai island?  The real mountain that was the inspiration for the movie mountain and island is right here at Opunohu Bay!  Our tour boat takes us to an area with waist deep, crystal clear water, and a sandy bottom.  Here the reef sharks and rays gather and, yes, we join them in the water.  Not to worry, the sharks are more afraid of you than you of them!  We then continued on to a private “motu” (island) to explore, swim, and enjoy a fabulous BBQ lunch.  Then the bad news! Time to return to the ship.  One after another, our tour members said this was the highlight of their cruise!  Nothing like it elsewhere in the world!  But isn’t that one of the highlights of travel, viz., doing things you would never do at home?

Four relaxing days at sea and crossing the Equator.  I love cruising because I can be as active or laid back as I want to be each day.  A cruise allows so many exciting onboard dining options.  Our two favorites are Cagney’s Steak House (a Ruth’s Chris “wannbe”) and the Teppanyaki (a Benihana of Tokyo “wannbe”).  Both a great restaurants and my filet mignon always comes out perfect!  Crossing the equator is fun! The ship had a big party on the pool deck with lots of games, fun, and laughter.  My favorite day? Every day with 360° of open ocean views with nothing to do or everything to do!

Onboard activities and seminars: whenever I travel with a group, if the date and time allow I organize onboard get-togethers for our group, including a Sunday non-denominational devotional. It’s about 30 minutes and strictly “come as you are.”  Our subject for this devotional was St. Matthew, chapter 14, and the account of Jesus walking on the water.  I think Peter gets a bad rap here.  He at least got out of the boat.  Where were the other guys?  We also met one day whilst sailing to Hawaii and I shared a seminar entitled, “Attitude & Effort: the Muscle of Resilience” that I present to conventions, professional groups, and educational and professional gatherings on how to develop a championship attitude and effort.  The message of my presentation came about when the movie “Forever Strong”, which is based on me and my coaching career, was released.

Big Island of Hawaii.  We were scheduled to stop at Hilo on the east side of the island that allowed us to explore Volcanoes National Park.  As luck would have it another ship was moored at the one and only cruise ship pier at Hilo and had some operational problems and could not depart on time.  Sadly, we had to skip Hilo and sailed to the west side of the island and dropped anchor at Kailua-Kona.  As much as I was disappointed to miss Hilo, I do love Kailua-Kona.  I encouraged everyone to walk up down the boulevard that runs along the shoreline.  The area is dotted with shops, boutiques, restaurants, and historical sites.  So much fun!  Here’s an insider secret: you know that wifi on a cruise ship is slow and expensive.  In the U.S. you will find a nearby public library and McDonalds, both of which offer free wifi.  Having been here many times, what did I do?  I walked a few short blocks to Mcdonald's, enjoyed my Diet Coke, and went online to answer emails, review upcoming groups I will be hosting, and work through several files.  Sounds exciting – NOT!  But it did help me catch up on some work.

Maui.  I love Maui.  We docked at Kahului.  Normally we organize a tour to visit Iao Valley, a beautiful state park steeped in Hawaiian history, followed by an afternoon in Lahaina.  Sadly, Lahaina burnt to the ground last year and there is nothing left to see.  I do enjoy renting a car and making the drive to Hana.  On our last trip there, Cathy and I counted 98 waterfalls.  Hana is a sleepy village that time has forgotten with tropical rainforests, white and black sand beaches, and more twists and turns on the road than you can count.  Lots of fun!

Kauai. The “Garden Island” is everything you dream of Hawaii to be.  Our cruise ship docks at Nawiliwili Harbor near Lihue.  We organized a group tour of Waimea Canyon, better known as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.”  And grand it is.  From the summit, we see sweeping vistas of lush rainforest clinging to volcanic mountains.  We stop at Hanapepe for a mandatory “shave ice”, shopping, and walk through the sleepy village.  The buildings all look like a throwback to the 1930s. A drive along the coast brings us to the famous Spouting Horn where waves crash into the rocks and shoot high into the air through a tunnel in the rocks followed by a drive-by of the Old Russian Fort dating to 1817.  You want to come at high tide for an unforgettable spectacle. There is a calm on Kauai I don’t always feel in the hustle and bustle of other islands.

Oahu.  Our South Pacific Odyssey sadly comes to an end as we disembark our cruise ship.  The cruise terminal is near the iconic Aloha Tower dating to 1926, and serves as a guiding beacon welcoming ships from all across the Pacific to Honolulu.  Some of our group members, now better called “friends”, opted to extend their stay in Hawaii after disembarkation.  After all, you’re already in Hawaii, so why not spend a few extra days?  Cathy and I had an obligation the next day back home and booked the “red eye” flight home.  But what to do all day until our late evening flight? We rented a car and drove around the island visiting the North Shore, Waimea Bay, Laie, Pounders Beach, and the sights along the Kamehameha and Likelike highways.

The ”Aloha Spirit” is real.  It is the oneness of mind, body, and spirit that emotes good feelings towards oneself and others.  It is a connection to not only the islands but to the spirit of the land and people.  It is the inner force that brings us back to Hawaii again and again, if not in person then in our dreams and imagination. 

Cruising is the best way to see Polynesia.  I enjoyed not having to worry about onboard meals or entertainment.  The friendly crew is always anxious to help and serve.  I pack and unpack one time and cover a large area of the South Pacific.  The islands and open ocean are breathtaking.  This cruise fulfills many dreams for me. One dilemma, however, as we approached the end of our odyssey, I kept thinking, “Who will clean my room and make my bed? Who will fix my meals? Who will entertain me?”  The only solution, it’s time to plan my cruise and tour adventure!

FYI, I am planning to do this cruise again in a couple of years or so.  Please come with me!