Before our Hawaii cruise, it was time to enjoy Oahu

Tahiti dancers in the Polynesian Cultural Centre's boat pageant.

Tahiti dancers in the Polynesian Cultural Centre’s boat pageant.

When I was a first diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, my life didn’t change but 14 years later it has – now my mobility is severely affected but my determination to enjoy life hasn’t changed. I see no reason to shut myself away and suffer; my need is to get out and live life as well as I can. Yes, I need a wheelchair to travel more than 10 to 15 yards but so what? In today’s world of improving (though by no means perfect) accessibility, a wheelchair is no reason to be held back.

A cruise in a wheelchair? Absolutely. Hawaii in a wheelchair? Of course.

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Just a few days ago, I brought you memories of a great cruise that Lisa and I enjoyed around the islands of Hawaii on board Norwegian Cruise Line’s Pride of America.

Mention was made of our shore visits on Maui, the Big Island – two stops there at different ports, and Kauai but how could Oahu, the most populated of the islands, and the one containing Honolulu the state capital, be ignored?

Well, of course, it cannot; so back to Hawaii we go.

On arrival at Honolulu airport, we were greeted with leis of flowers.

On arrival at Honolulu airport, we were greeted with leis of flowers.

The Pride of America cruise actually starts and finishes in Honolulu so, to make the most of Oahu, Lisa and I arrived by plane three days before embarkation.

We stayed at the tremendous Outrigger Reef on the Beach hotel where, on our first morning, we enjoyed breakfast in one of its restaurants with no windows and the Pacific Ocean only a few yards away.

During our stay on the island we packed a lot in. This included visits to the Polynesian Cultural Centre, Pearl Harbor, Paradise Cove Luau, dinner at the Top of Waikiki, and coach tours that included passing the golden statue of King Kamehameha. Fans of the modern version of the TV cop show Hawaii 5-0 will be used to seeing that statue outside the Steve McGarrett team HQ in the series.

Polynesian Cultural Centre: Tonga's host.

Polynesian Cultural Centre: Tonga’s host.

The cultural centre features the traditions of many of the original Pacific islanders, including those from Tonga, Tahiti, Fiji, Samoa, the Marquesas islands and Hawaii itself plus the Maoris from New Zealand. Their skills are fascinating to see and experience and it is certainly not a place to rush through.

USS Arizona likes where she sank in Pearl Harbor.

USS Arizona likes where she sank in Pearl Harbor.

The Shrine Room at Pearl Harbor is a memorial to all who died.

The Shrine Room at Pearl Harbor is a memorial to all who died.

Another ‘must’ is a trip to Pearl Harbor, the US Navy base that was notoriously attacked by Japan on December 7 1941 – bringing the then neutral USA into World War II. I am a Brit and even I found our visit there to be emotional.

If you go to Hawaii and don’t go to a luau, you will have missed a treat.  It’s a series of entertainment spectaculars plus a great meal. There are a number of luaus to choose from and we chose the one at Paradise Cove. We were picked up by coach close to our hotel and that’s when the fun started as we were kept fully entertained by our guide. As I was in my wheelchair, when it was time to get our dinner from the servery, he told Lisa and me to stay at our table while he brought our food to us. It was absolutely perfect.

One night we decided to eat in the Top of Waikiki revolving restaurant. Having taken an elevator as far as it would go, we found ourselves one floor below the restaurant with the only access being via stairs. Seeing my problem, a senior staff member appeared and took us to another elevator that was actually inside the kitchen. Still, it got us to our table.

At the end of our three days on the island of Oahu, we boarded the Pride of America for our cruise.

Sunny and warm outdoors on winter cruise

coast

There’s something rather special about choosing a December cruise in the northern hemisphere and wearing shorts, t-shirts and sandals – all without feeling cold.

Yes, in the northern hemisphere. Yes, in winter. But lovely sunny weather and not at all cold. How can that be? Well, Lisa and I were cruising around the Hawaiian Islands.

prideNow plenty of cruises start or finish in Honolulu and go to other places but we chose to take the only cruise around the archipelago, aboard Norwegian Cruise Line’s Pride of America (pictured right).

We sailed from Honolulu, the state capital on the island of Oahu, and visited three of the other islands during a week-long cruise. It was picturesque with both beauty and dramatic scenes including Kauai’s Na’pali coast (main picture), sunset at the 10,000 feet high Haleakala – a dormant volcano – on Maui, some smouldering volcanic lava at Kilauea on the Big Island (pictured below) and, spotted from our balcony, whales swimming free as nature intended.

There were a number of shore excursions including one to Kona, home of the famous and delicious coffee of the same name, and another that enabled us to take a voyage on a glass bottomed boat, allowing us to see underwater sights that I could not otherwise have seen.

smoking lavaBecause I need a wheelchair to travel more than a few yards, we booked an accessible cabin. It was huge, with a balcony to match and a superb accessible bathroom. It was everything we needed.

Most days we were docked portside but at one stop, the ship had to anchor and use tenders to take passengers to and from the shore. I was most impressed by the attention NCL paid to disabled passengers. I had to get out of my wheelchair to board and disembark the tender but the crew ensured my safety and comfort before bringing my folded chair on board.

At the other end, the same attention was paid as my chair, now unfolded and ready for use, was waiting for me on the jetty and one crew member ensured I was seated properly before we left the jetty. On our return to the ship, exactly the same service and courtesy was extended.

Last sunset before we returned to Honolulu.

Last sunset before we returned to Honolulu.

NCL specialises in what it calls Freestyle Cruising and that means that passengers choose when and how they wish to eat and be entertained; no need to pre-book, just turn up and enjoy. This may not be everyone’s preference but it is convenient when going on sunrise or sunset shore excursions.

Lisa and I both agree that the Pride of America cruise is the best way to see Hawaii as you get the chance to visit so many of the islands, each with its own contrasting character. Oahu is the gathering place, Maui is the valley isle, Hawai’i is the Big Island and Kauai is the garden isle.

The ship itself has, unsurprisingly, an American theme. It has 18 restaurants plus 11 bars and lounges, with a variety of entertainment, including Broadway shows. If you’re a lover of casinos, however, you’ll be disappointed. Gambling is not permitted in Hawaii or in its territorial waters, so there is no casino on board.

Dream the impossible dream…..but sometimes our dreams do come true

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Left: The beautiful Na Pali coast, Hawaii in December. Right, reindeer in Norway, in July.

Dream the impossible dream? Ok, ok, what’s he rambling on about now?

To tell you the truth, my dreams only really started to come true after I met Lisa. Let me explain.

I first married in 1977. It was on 26th February to be exact, I was 24 years old. Over time, the relationship deteriorated until we were finally divorced on 5th September 2011. Somehow it had managed to last nearly 34½ years. It should have ended years earlier but inertia kept it going.

It was not a life in which I was happy. Of course, there were good times but overall neither of us were enjoying the marriage.

My earliest dreams that I never, ever thought would come true were as a youngster. My mum (who would eventually become a top breeder, exhibitor and international judge of Pembroke Welsh Corgis) sold a couple of dogs to someone in Honolulu. It sounded so exotic but was so far away, so out of my reach.

Australia was another country on my dream list, also sparked by mum exporting dogs there.

Similarly, at high school there was a trip to the USA but it was expensive and I thought it was too much money to ask my parents to find. So I said that I didn’t want to go but, in reality, I would have loved it.

During my first marriage, I wanted to go on a cruise but that was not to be. In fact, I had dreamed of crossing the Atlantic on a liner since that form of travel caught my attention as a child watching television.

Then it all changed. I won’t bore you with exactly what happened and when; it is enough to say that Lisa and I met virtually at first, playing a computer game. That was in October 2009 and after two years, and two divorces, we married.

married2  Lisa and I on our wedding day at sunset.

Not any old marriage ceremony for us though. We married on a beach in south western Florida, where Lisa then lived. It was at sunset on 31st October 2011, it was attended by Lisa’s mom, sister, brother in law and two of our friends whom we had also met online. That was my very first trip to the USA. A dream wedding in a dream location, with dolphins playing just off the beach.

A cruise holiday was next on my list and that came true in 2013 after I received a £1,200 grant from the short break fund of the UK’s Multiple Sclerosis Society. It was great, two weeks on board with various shore visits in and around the Norwegian fjords. That was on Lisa’s dream list too as her dad’s family were from Norway, so she is half-Norwegian.

A second, week long cruise, followed a few months later. This time we few to Milan for a circular cruise around the Mediterranean. A day on Sicily ticked off a second dream on Lisa’s list as her mom’s family came from there, making her half Sicilian.

Last year, we enjoyed an absolutely magnificent holiday. In December, we flew to Honolulu (childhood dream) and enjoyed three full days there visiting a luau and Pearl Harbour– among other things. After that we boarded a ship for a seven day cruise around the Hawaiian islands, with shore excursions every day. The whole trip was warm and sunny, even in December.

We then flew to New York (high school dream) and spent three full days there. My ex had never wanted to go to NYC but Lisa was born and brought up there and so I was given my own personalised tour with a very special tour guide. Highlights were riding to the top of the Empire State Building, going to the famous Radio City Music Hall to see its Christmas Spectacular, Times Square, Central Park, the 9-11 Memorial which I found very moving, the Rockefeller Center and store windows all decorated for Christmas.

Added to that, we travelled a little outside the city to meet up with Lisa’s other sister and her husband, plus their children and grandchildren.

Needless to say that the weather in New York was more wintry than in Hawaii but we went prepared for both.

This year, we are in for quite a busy time this autumn. In October we are sailing on an eight-day Atlantic crossing (childhood dream) from Southampton to New Jersey, then spending nine days touring several north-eastern states. We fly back – and then we are moving to Spain. There we will be able to escape the rainy British climate and be able to soak up sunshine for much of the year. And that is fulfilling a dream that I only had early this year.

Do I have dreams left on my list? Oh yes, a cruise taking in Australia, an African safari (photos only, no shooting), a Caribbean cruise and a second trip to Hawaii are all high up there.

But my biggest dream has already come true and I live it everyday. I am talking about meeting and marrying Lisa. She is the one true love of my life, my soulmate, my lover, my best friend – my everything. We make each other so happy and so full of life that my illness, my multiple sclerosis, pales into insignificance. That’s what dreams are made of.