Trans-Pacific Sailing (or, 25 Days Cruising with Retirees)

To make our way from New Zealand back to the US, we took the leisurely way and set sail on the Holland America Lines Maasdam cruise ship across the Pacific Ocean. The journey took 25 days, but at least we weren’t cramped in an economy airline seat for 12 hours. We had the chance to see some Polynesian islands of the South Pacific, as well as experience living the month of February among a floating village of retirees.

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A photo a day, most taken from the starboard side around 5pm. There were many days spent at sea!

Ship Life

Having just completed our budget-conscious road trip where we cooked our own meals and cleaned up after ourselves in airbnbs, it was quite a luxury to board the moving hotel. Our stateroom was serviced twice a day – once in the morning for a thorough cleaning, and once in the evening for turndown service and the obligatory towel animal.

IMG_8287There were endless options for food as well. The formal dining room and buffet market were both open for three meals a day. There was also afternoon tea every day, a nacho bar by the pool, late night buffet, and 24/7 room service included. We typically had a late breakfast, alternated between nachos and afternoon tea for lunch, ate a 3-course meal every evening, and had a late night snack before bed. It was certainly an indulgent diet and not the healthiest; very few vegetables were offered in comparison to the plethora of protein. In fact, the ship consumes an average of 17,000lb of meat and seafood a week, compared to 12,500lb of vegetables. Despite regular visits to the gym onboard, we both came home with a few extra pounds.

After our last cruise experience in the Bahamas when we quickly ran out of entertainment on days at sea without wifi, we came prepared this time with plenty of books to read and Netflix shows to watch. Luckily there were also many daily events as well, from educational talks on the ocean, introductions to our ports of call, trivia challenges, and nightly performance shows (although most are geared toward the demographic, described below).

Demographic

As you might imagine, not many people are available to take almost an entire month off to enjoy a slow Pacific crossing, except for retirees looking to pass the time. There were many walkers being utilized, and even one guest who carried around an oxygen tank. We found it funny that in true elderly fashion, everyone always arrived early to everything – including the mandatory emergency drill and the bar hop event. Most guests read paperback books while we used our e-readers.

We also couldn’t help but notice that approximately 95% of the guests were white, and of course well-off enough to afford the cruise, including the higher-tier rooms and coveted suites. There were a couple of Asian families and one black couple. Meanwhile, most of the staff and servers come from the relatively poorer countries of Southeast Asia, namely the Philippines and Indonesia. Many of the guests are also serial cruisers, so they’ve become accustomed to being waited on hand and foot – never needing to wash a bath towel or do any dishes. A few guests seemed to have a real sense of entitlement as a result, always asking to speak to the head of guest services at any small hiccup in travel. Meanwhile, we spent our days just trying to eat as much food and do as many free activities as possible to get our money’s worth…

The Journey

This leg of the Maasdam’s journey departed Auckland, New Zealand, and made its way through the South Pacific to disembark in San Diego, USA. We’ve both been on cruises previously but never on the Pacific and did not realize how large the average swell is in this large ocean. For most of the trip, while we swayed back and forth struggling to walk in anything resembling a straight line, it seemed like we were living in an alternate universe where no one else seemed to notice. The roof deck pool was regularly turned into a nice wave pool from the rocking.

On February 5th, the ship crossed the International Date Line. We turned the clocks back a full 24 hours and did February 5th all over again. This gave us a sense of time that was certainly different from flying.

Almost one entire day after departing our stop in Honolulu, the captain announced that the ship needed to turn around for a medical evacuation. We headed back to the coast of Maui and waited for the Coast Guard to evacuate the patient via helicopter. We then proceeded to head full speed toward San Diego, creating even more rocking and swaying, but still managed to reach the destination as originally scheduled. By then, we were happy to see solid land again.

Ports of Call

Auckland, New Zealand – We said a rainy farewell to Auckland.

The Bay of Islands, New Zealand – We had previously visited Paihia early on during the winter, but it’s definitely more lively in the summer (or with the arrival of two cruise ships). So we joined in the excitement and… went to a grocery store to buy water bottles.

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View of Nuku’alofa from the port, including the Royal Palace of Tonga

Nuku’alofa, Tonga – It’s summertime in the tropics, so our day in Tonga was extremely hot and humid. We walked a full block around town before proceeding back to the air-conditioned interior of the ship. A group of performers was set up to entertain the ship from the dock, and sellers had small goods and crafts for sale just a few feet away. We couldn’t help but feel sympathy for the sellers who had to sit in the heat, cater sales to the wealthy cruisers, and likely rely on this as their main source of income.

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A brief view of Rarotonga and its crashing surf

Rarotonga, Cook Islands – We were actually unable to make a stop here as high surf created unsafe conditions for the tenders. From what we could see from the ship deck, the volcano landscape has a very New Zealand-like feel.

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Municipal Market in Papeete

Papeete, Tahiti, French Polynesia – Papeete had a bustling city feel with plenty of traffic to show for it. We experienced some true tropical downpours here, and walked around the busy shopping streets and the colorful municipal market.

Mo’orea, French Polynesia – Just a few miles from Tahiti, in Mo’orea (pronounced “more-o-rea”) we boarded the back of a converted pick-up truck and set out for a two-hour “open-air Jeep tour” of the island with our guide Tico (we’re pretty sure his name isn’t actually Tico but it’s easy for foreigners to remember). We headed up to the Belvedere Lookout Point on a curvy mountain road much like those in New Zealand, except here we drove on the right (as in not left) side of the road. We also visited a pineapple plantation and tasted fresh pineapple straight from the plant – the core is even edible!

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Matira Beach, Bora Bora

Bora Bora, French Polynesia – We didn’t see a single over-the-water bungalow, but we did see some severely flooded yards from recent rain, and spent a few wet minutes on Matira Beach – one of the only public beaches remaining outside of pricey resorts. Although there weren’t any saturated turquoise colors like those you see in brochures, the water was still warm and clear.

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View of Honolulu from Diamond Head

Honolulu, Hawaii – After five full days at sea, we were greeted with bright blue skies in Honolulu. We did a sweaty hike up Diamond Head along with hundreds of our closest friends for a 360-degree view of Honolulu. With our exercise out of the way, we spent the rest of the day eating and drinking our way through Waikiki, trying spam musubi (satisfying!), drinking mai tais at the original Mai Tai Bar, and eating fresh poke along the (smelly) river.

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San Diego, California – After another 6 days at sea (including one return trip to Hawaii for the medical evacuation), we finally disembarked in San Diego. More details on our short visit here in a coming post!

This trip has satisfied any desires we have to cruise long-term for a long, long time.

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