PAPEETE, TAHITI - Why go on an 18-day cruise to the South Seas when you live in paradise? More reasons than you can count on-ship and off.
Via Hawaiian Airlines after a day in Sydney, Australia - a very American-like city - we boarded the Celebrity Soltice, a virtual 14-deck city on steroids with 3,000 travelers and exactly 1,213 employees.
We cruised to the Bay of Islands and Auckland, New Zealand; Moorea, French Polynesia; Papeete, Tahiti; Bora Bora; and finally Honolulu with 12 days at sea.
Lahaina News columnist Norm Bezane at a bronze plaque commemorating the voyaging canoe Hokule’a at Papeete,
The most memorable moment? Arriving here in Papeete, where Tahitians embarked 800 years ago to become the true discovers of Hawaii. Finally, we found the memorial to the voyaging canoe Hokule'a, which was greeted by thousands when it completed its epic voyage from Hawaii in 1976. The Hokule'a will begin its new worldwide cruise on May 17, according to the Polynesian Voyaging Society.
Among 1,000 photos taken in six different towns were images of eight bronze tables in Bougainville Park, Tahiti, depicting the first voyage. This columnist has no Hawaiian blood - unless in another life. But there was a feeling I was coming home.
Our shipmates included 700 Australians, who we celebrated with on their Memorial Day (they drink beer); 47 New Zealanders; 1,000 Americans; some 37 attendants from Bali alone; 160 chefs and cooks; 105 entertainers; and a dozen lecturers (four from Hawaii, according to cruise director Ben, who hardly ever mentions his own last name). We got to be friends with many of them.
BORA BORA - A ride on a truck bus to magnificent lagoons and the restaurant Bloody Mary's featured in the film "South Pacific" and visited by everyone from Prince Rainier and Nelson Rockefeller to John McCain. Delicious mahi mahi sandwich.
MOOREA, FRENCH POLYNESIA - Easter Sunday, greeted by eager wahines with bare midriffs who insisted that every man ashore take a picture with them. Some 12 volcanoes, many pointed, etched across the sky. Even more beautiful than Maui.
PAPEETE - The oldest missionary church (missionaries arrived in Tahiti the same year they arrived on Maui, 1823). They did not go into the sugar cane business and overthrow the government.
AT SEA - Paki Allen of Napili, son of steel guitar master Henry Allen, joined the trip in Tahiti. Had never met him on Maui. Paki, Amanda and her partners taught 80 women and one guy over four days to do a beautiful hula and introduced them to Hawaiian culture. Morning lectures on coral reefs, volcanoes, ocean traveling and Hawaiian birds (learned a lot). A hundred or more guests dancing spectacularly to the music of the Top Notch Band (mahalo Mary Lynn for dancing with the inept me), nightly entertainment with a concert pianist playing and explaining Chopin and Andrew Lloyd Webber songs, trapeze artists flying above the 1,000-seat theatre, drinking traditional beers with fun-loving Aussies after their Memorial Day sunrise service, and meeting a remarkable Jesuit priest who said Sunday mass and invited him to stay with us on Maui after the journey's end.
In Honolulu, we had a memorable trip to Punchbowl to visit 28,000 men and women buried there from six wars.
Cruises are supposed to be relaxing, and they are - lots of reading and some writing at sea at the pool, in the solarium. A tiring, 90-minute walk in Moorea, a three-hour walk in Sydney from downtown to the harbor, etc., etc. And from time to time, exhaustion.
Norm being Norm, there were down moments: the Canon camera failing with battery trouble after Auckland, the iPad with many photos and writings lost on the ship, the notebook with many notes and e-mail addresses lost. But there were so many memorable experiences, they are easy to reproduce from memory.
As to the spouse, exercising shipboard, loving the salads, relaxed, tired, finishing two books and looking more beautiful than ever at lunch in Bora Bora. She put up with my lost key cards, notebooks and electronic gear. Many funny stories.
And about that coat. One of two formal nights, when all guys are required to wear a suit coat, I do not own one. I showed up in my fancy Guy Buffet aloha shirt once given me by Jim Killett. The columnist was not admitted, even though this was a cruise to Hawaii.
No problem - guest services to the rescue with a borrowed coat. And the best one-liner on the trip from an outlandish lady at the Martini Bar the next night: "If I had known, Norm, I would have lent you a dress."
COLUMNIST'S NOTEBOOK: Next columns are on Hokule'a, the involvement of the newly married Mary Anna Waldrop of Sacred Hearts School (overdue), and a profile of Paki Allen, who has been teaching Hawaiian culture on cruise ships for eight years. Visit my new blog at http://joysofcelebritysolice to see dozens of photos of the lands and fun shipmates. Time to relax for the rest of the day.