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Holland America’s 17-Day Circle Hawaii cruise: paradise lost and found

Hawaii had been on our bucket list for some time, and when we spotted an enticing promotional price for Holland America’s 17 day Circle Hawaii cruise we decided it was time to book our trip. The voyage aboard the Eurodam sails round-trip from San Diego, where the airport, cruise terminal and a range of hotels are all in a convenient, compact area and it features five Hawaiian ports.

We flew to San Diego two days ahead of our sail date. That way we did not need to worry about flight delays and were well rested when the cruise began. This also gave us time to see some of the city.

We were also among the first to board our cruise ship. There was plenty of time for a leisurely lunch in the dining room.

We also had time to explore and photograph areas of the ship without invading anyone’s privacy.

The Eurodam was docked between the Maritime Museum and the USS Midway. This is the view from our balcony as the city became illuminated just before departure.

We joked that there was so much to do onboard that we might not want to disembark in the ports. Little did we know what was ahead!

That night we dreamed about basking in tropical sunshine under gently swaying palm trees, walking along black sand beaches, exploring volcanoes and coral reefs, and hiking to thundering waterfalls. However, an extraordinary series of events was about to change our course.

A rare combination of storms was about to keep us from stopping in several ports. Fortunately, since we knew we would have so many leisurely sea days traveling in each direction, we had taken the time to choose a ship that offers a wide range of the kind of onboard activities, entertainment and cuisine that we enjoy.

The ship

Holland America is known for attracting a more mature group of passengers, largely retirees, who enjoy a more refined ambience, enrichment activities, entertainment and cuisine.

The Eurodam’s elegant Dutch Golden Age art and artifacts reflect its heritage.

The MusicWalk™ stretch along Deck 2 is part of the ship’s partnership spaces.

Chart-topping hits fill the air at Billboard Onboard, which is in association with the magazine. Passengers soon learn to arrive early to get a seat at the popular classical performances at Lincoln Center Stage.

The first seating of the nightly music, dance or comedy performances in the two-story MainStage generally fills to capacity, but there is usually plenty of seating for the second show. BBC Earth Experiences are also held in the MainStage. These programs are exceptionally well done and should not be missed.

There are also areas like the casino and B. B. King Blues Club, named for the Memphis blues legend, where the action continues into the wee hours of the night. By day, B. B. King Blues Club is transformed into America’s Test Kitchen.

Culinary arts programs have played an important role in Holland America’s “Signature of Excellence” ships and the America’s Test Kitchen program is one of the most popular recent enhancements.

The host during our cruise, Annette, worked with Jacques Pépin when she studied and taught at the French Culinary Institute. She also taught at the Culinary Institute of America Greystone and worked in the restaurant industry. I quickly learned to go early for the recipes and a seat at her stellar presentations, from Blue Ribbon Breakfasts to We Love Chocolate.

Digital Workshop classes on cameras and other devices offered creative ideas on things to do with vacation photos, like making Living Postcards with Movie Moments. I didn’t attend these since I use Apple products, but these were always filled to capacity.

Some learned how to make souvenirs like metal prints, mugs, photo tiles, tin boxes at the Photo and Video Gallery.

No worry about unflattering photos being on display here! Photos taken of passengers are viewed privately on a computer screen via facial recognition.

Holland America offers information on independent exploration options as well as their excursions. Exploration Central’s onboard presentations brought the details of our destinations to life. It would have been nice to have them accessible on the stateroom television, as well. There is so much to do onboard that we could not always attend sessions at the scheduled time.

The ship has many comfortable places to relax or get some sun. The wrap-around view from the Crow’s Nest lounge on the 11th deck forward is one of the best.

Board and table games like sjoelen, or Dutch shuffleboard, abound in the art-lined Gallery Bar, which features cocktails by celebrity mixologist Dale DeGroff.

There are two outdoor swimming pools, one with a dome that can be open or closed according to the weather, and several hot tubs.

The fitness center has state-of-the art equipment. There is a fee for some exercise classes.

The spa’s full range of services are supplemented by classes on ways to improve health. For the ultimate in relaxation, there are a limited number of day or weekly passes available for purchase for the spa’s turbo-jetted thalassotherapy (seawater) pool and thermal suite with heated ceramic lounge chairs.

Groups meet for chess, mahjong, pickle ball, Chinese checkers, trivia games and walking a mile around the promenade deck. On our cruise, a quilting group was also onboard and met in a conference room filled with sewing machines brought onboard by the group.

A program of the next day’s activities and a different towel animal was in our stateroom each evening when we returned from dinner.

One day, towel creatures took over the pool area!

En route to Hawaii, there were things to learn daily about the Aloha State. There were talks, documentaries and movies filmed in Hawaii. Hawaiian music and hula dancing were featured nightly at sunset.

Hawaiian Cultural Ambassadors taught classes on the history and art of fresh orchid lei making, the Hawaiian language, and hula dancing, which, we learned, is much more than pretty girls in grass skirts.

History and culture presentations included personal stories, like the chilling one by Kainoa, whose grandfather dived in Pearl Harbor to inspect after the attack. He never forgot how the taps for help coming from the USS Arizona faded away as time passed.


There is fine dining and open seating in the Dining Room, where we went for most breakfasts, lunches and dinners.

From regional specialties like huli huli chicken to traditional favorites like Beef Wellington, all is artfully presented and graciously served.

There were plenty of sweet treats. The Valentine’s Day dinner featured a heart-shaped chocolate dome dessert.

Sometimes we skipped lunch and went to Afternoon Tea.

The casual dining LidoMarket buffet has a variety of stations with freshly baked breads and pastries, quiches, croissants and sandwiches, a selection of salads,  comfort food classics, daily global cuisine specials, hand-carved meats and fish, brewed beverages and chilled juices, ice cream and desserts.

There are also hamburger and pizza stands for quick poolside meals. And then there is 24 hour room service.

The specialty restaurants offer fine dining with the highest level of personal attention and a more intimate dining experience for a fee. A fusion of flavors of the eastern Pacific Rim is offered at Tamarind Restaurant.

Italian specialties are served at Canaletto, which is in a corner of Lido Market. Seattle-style Pacific Northwest cuisine, such as steaks, chops, and fish are served with ultimate panache at the Pinnacle Grill.

What happened?

As we approached the Hawaiian islands we watched televised news reports about strong winds downing trees and power lines and creating colossal waves in Hawaii. A foot of snow fell in Maui’s Polipoli Spring State Recreation Park, the first in Hawaiian history according to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources!

When land was sighted the Hawaiian musicians performed a traditional welcome chant and dance. We hoped for the best.

Speculation linked the conditions to a split in the polar vortex combined with multiple storm systems. Our stops in Maui, Kauai and in Kona, on the Big Island, had to be cancelled, one by one. That left only the two ports in more sheltered areas.

While disappointed, we knew the best was being made of the situation. We reminded ourselves there are much worse things than extra time on a ship like the Eurodam!

Docking space was arranged and a day was added in sunny Honolulu. Cruise Director, Towanna Stone, a delightful former Miss Tennessee and Miss USA runner-up, kept us updated as more and more activities were added to our two additional sea days.

Ask the Captain was a question and answer session with the Captain and Cruise Director in MainStage later in the cruise. We learned a great deal about the workings of the ship and what happened on our cruise.

The ports

Honolulu, Oahu

There was sunshine for our first stop, Honolulu, on the island of Oahu. This cosmopolitan state capital is the most remote city on earth. The waves along its North Shore make it one of the most renowned surfing spots in the world.

Some opted for the scenic coastal tours and since the ship docked overnight, there was plenty of time for luau excursion or a night out at the nearby Waikiki Beach.

Remembering my father’s and others’ stories about World War 2, we took an early Uber ride to the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor to have plenty of time to see the memorial sites and museums.

The extra day in port gave us time to see Iolani Palace, the only official royal residence in the United States.

It dates to the time of the monarchs who ruled the Kingdom of Hawaii until 1893 when overthrown with the assistance of the former Missionary Party, businessmen and U. S. forces. President Clinton apologized for this injustice a century later.

Lahaina, Maui

Lahaina, Maui, idyllic site of the Hana Coast, Haleakala Crater National Park and the world’s largest dormant volcano. We had hoped to spot some of the humpback whales who come from Alaska in winter to give birth. There would be no black sand beaches, lava tubes, sugar cane fields or pineapple plantations this time.

Nawiliwili, Kauai, the Garden Isle

Storms persisted in Kauai, the idyllic Garden Isle. The waterfalls, scenic Hanalei Coast, Na Pali cliffs, lush tropical forests, beaches and canyons like  Waimea Canyon, the” Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” would have created a spectacular view from a helicopter. 

Kona and Hilo, on “The Big Island”, Hawaii

Kona, the dive capital of the Big Island, is known for its coral reefs, tropical fish and snorkeling, Atlantis submarine and glass bottomed boat tours to see them. There are walks through the tropical cloud forest sanctuary on the slopes of Hualalai Volcano and petroglyphs at the southern side of Kilauea volcano. And then there’s Kona coffee!

This port required tenders. Despite the sun and repeated attempts, the waves were still too rough for a visit.

However, we we able to dock and see Hilo, on the other side of the island, on the next day. We took a tour in a minivan that began with Rainbow Falls, which lived up to its name, and traveled past macadamia nut orchards to the Moana Loa Visitor Center.

Hilo is the gateway to Volcanoes National Park. Some areas are closed as a result of the massive 2018 Mount Kilauea eruption that produced 13.7 miles of lava.

Since we were in a minivan we were able to access sites we had seen on the news. The glowing lava is gone, but the distinctive smell of sulfurous steam still seeped through fissures.

Lone homes with lush vegetation stood amid the destruction of over 700 homes. 75′ high lava blocked this road to the coast.

Hawaii is constantly growing and changing. According to the U. S. Geological Survey at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, the delta created as the lava flowed to the sea created 875 acres of new land! 

We went out to lava fields where people who live off the grid are rebuilding. There we could stand on the same kind of lava that created the Hawaiian islands millions of years years ago.

Little plants taking root in tiny crevices were reminders of the cycles of life here.

Mango and banana trees flourished in the wild untouched areas.

We had seen authentic Hawaii, after all!

Ensenada, Mexico

The cruise also stops in Ensenada, Mexico to comply with an 1886 law that requires  foreign-registered ships like the Eurodam, which is registered in Rotterdam, to include a foreign port.

A shuttle takes cruise passengers into town to a small shopping areas where typical Mexican souvenirs are sold. There were also numerous places that sold tequila shots and places like the Happy Pharmacy above.

Instead, you might want to head south with a scenic Holland America excursion to the Punta Banda area and open-air market, take in a folkloric show with mariachi band, or head to the to wineries in the the Calafia Valley.

Vendors also offer souvenirs right at the port.

When we returned to the ship sea lions were climbing on the rocks just below our balcony. Their serenade went on for hours while they settled in for the night.

There were fewer stops in Hawaii than we had hoped for, but we’d had plenty of time to enjoy rainbows and sunsets at sea. Our Holland America cruise to Hawaii was a dream trip, after all.


  1. Your positive attitude on this trip made a huge difference. So glad you had a chance to see some of Hawaii and were able to enjoy all your cruise ship had to offer.

    • Thank you, Lori. Yes, we were disappointed not to be able to stop in Maui and Kauai, but there was no point in letting that ruin our trip. Some things cannot be controlled and there are much worse problems in the world!

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