Maui (Hawaii) in 4 days

Maui is a small but beautiful island of Hawai’i. Here is a recommended 4-day itinerary for Maui. This itinerary is a slightly modified version of what I was able to do. The public transport on the island is poor. For solo travel outside the rainy season, I would recommend renting a moped to go around. Otherwise, rent a car.

The island has a much more developed western part consisting of Kaanapali and Lahaina, which have major resorts.

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Cruising in French Polynesia

We sailed on the Windstar cruise in French Polynesia. On a 7-day cruise, we stopped on six different islands, including two days in Bora Bora.

The cruise ship has a crew of 99 and 74 staterooms for~150 passengers. This ratio ensures exceptionally personalized service, and you get to know pretty much everyone else on the ship. The crew members learn everyone’s name pretty quickly, and, especially, in our case, we got custom orders for vegetarian food of our choice regularly.

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French Polynesia – the basics

Getting to French Polynesia

Getting from the US to French Polynesia used to be hard and expensive, with Air Tahiti Nui being the only option from the Los Angeles airport (LAX). In 2018, French Bee and United Airlines started direct flights from San Francisco (SFO) to Papeete (PPT). Papeete, the main island, is relatively dull, and there is nothing much to do on it. The two best islands are Moorea and Bora Bora. Alternatively, one can take a 10+ day-long cruise from New Zealand or Australia.

Do check whether you need a TOM visa or not on the official website. For some nationalities like India, a French Schengen visa suffices.

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A trip to Antelope Canyon

Antelope Canyon is probably the most photographed canyon in the world. Located in the Navajo Indian preservation, only guided tours are permitted.  We took a trip to Antelope Canyon Tours. The tour lasts about an hour, and it takes ~20 mins one-way drive to reach the canyon. There aren’t any hikes, just simple walks in the canyon. Everyone is crazy running around and taking photos, so it does become a bit hard to enjoy in the mad rush. Even then,  if you are in the area, I would recommend booking a tour in advance to visit the canyon.

 

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A vegetarian lunch at French Laundry

For the uninitiated, French Laundry is one of the best restaurants in the world. I got a chance to try the tasting menu. I had a vegetarian, or to be precise, a lacto-vegetarian (milk and cheese but not eggs) meal here.

The restaurant looks nondescript from the outside, and it is easy to miss it while driving.

French Laundry

French Laundry

It was an 8-10 course meal, depending on how you count a course. Portion sizes were small but delicious. And there was a gap of about 15-20 mins before each serving. So, a commitment of 3-4 hours for the full course.

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Some tips for the first time cruisers

  1. How to book – Search and book via a travel agent like Expedia.com or cruisecompete.com. If you have to ask something then these travel agents usually provide way better customer service than the ones employed by the cruise company.
  2. Deck – The cruise floors are called decks. Larger the number, higher the deck. Most outdoor activities (including pool, spa, nightclubs) are usually located happen on the higher decks. The lower decks are usually about indoor activities and restaurants.
  3. Bidding – If your cruise line permits, always bid for a better room within your budget.
  4. Formal Dress – Carry at least one formal dress, it can turn out to be useful for some formal events on the cruise.
  5. Diet – Popular dietary restrictions like vegetarian or vegan are not hard for them to meet most of the time. But if you have a more special requirement (like halal diet or kosher), let the cruise ship know in advance.
  6. Meals – Usually all cruise ships have a buffet restaurant and multiple dine-in restaurants. Former is quick and contains prepared food. Latter is fancier but takes its own sweet time. The buffet restaurant is usually on the higher deck and is included as a part of the cruise. Some Dine-in restaurants (high brow term: “Speciality restaurants”) are complementary, some are not. An advance reservation is good to have (but not required) for the latter.
  7. Beverages – While the standard food is free on the ship. Standard addictions like Soda (soft-drinks), carbonated water, and alcohol (hard-drinks) are not free. If you really need them, buy them in advance, buy them onboard (expensive), buy and consume them whenever ship stops at a new destination or look for a promotional package which includes them for free.
  8. Water – Carry a few empty water bottles to refill or even better a hydration pack. A hydration pack is really useful for the day trips at the intermediate stops (fancily called, “port of call”).
  9. Shore Excursions – Shore Excursions at the port of call can be booked via cruise ship or on your own. The cruise ship ones are expensive but are a safer bet. If you are adventurous then book them on your own. If you are not, just go with the cruise bookings.
  10. Guest service – If you need something from the guest service, catch them early in the morning or late at night. Every other time, I have seen a queue. I wonder if they give out some raffle tickets but I digress.

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Two days at Zion National Park

Day 1

We did Zion Narrows on the first day. The hike consists of walking in the flowing water, which is ankle to knee-deep. Therefore, getting wetsuits and water shoes is highly recommended. The views are marvelous, and since one has to return along the same route, one can decide how far one wants to go. Total hike length is 9.4 miles, starting at the visitor center.

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