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For Coffee Aficionados, More to Hawaii Than Kona

KAUAI — For people habitually accustomed to wine tasting and not particularly motivated by rum tasting, coffee tasting is the appropriate alternative on an island that has become known for the bean and the liquid it creates. Where better to do Kauai coffeethat than at an estate where four million coffee trees each produce a pound of coffee a year?

When it comes to coffee in Hawaii, Kona is the big kahuna in the minds of most coffee drinkers. However, the Kauai Coffee Company reportedly supplies more than half the coffee produced in the Hawaiian islands, which means it's the biggest producer in the U.S. 

Hawaii is the only state that produces coffee. It has something to do with the weather.

For passengers emerging from the collection of cruise ships — Princess, Royal Caribbean, Holland America, Norwegian — that park in Nawiliwili Harbour in Lihue, it's a 17-mile trip (one way) west to Kalaheo across the southern tip of Kauai. On a two-lane highway, that means about a half hour and if it's not included in a cruiseline shore excursion a car rental is a good option…in part because it would enable you to go another half-hour on to spectacular Waimea Canyon, which Mark Twain once dubbed "Grand Canyon of the Pacific."

The coffee stop is not a long one.

We took the 20-minute walking tour to work up an "appetite" for taste the dozen and a half or so coffees on display, and both the tour and the coffee are free. A Kauai Coffee Companywalk through the coffee fields is interesting, to say the least. Among the things we learned were: 

• The intricate and natural irrigation from this rain forest disguised as an island deposits enough water for the equivalent of 1.7 billion shots of espresso — every day!

• While there are two beans in every coffee "cherry" sometimes there is only one, a rounder bean called "peaberry" that makes a more intense, full-bodied coffee that is so rare it is first offered to members of the Estate Coffee Club. Naturally, just like an exclusive wine, peaberry coffee is more expensive.

• Before it was a coffee farm, this was — like many farms in Hawaii — a sugar cane plantation. After it became cheaper to import sugar than to grow it, sugar cane was replaced by coffee plants in 1987 and the Kauai Coffee Company turned into a huge business…not to mention a great place to taste coffee.

As we said, you don't need a lot of time once you get here. But then, that depends on how much time and money you want to spend in the gift shop, right?

It is, after all, a once-in-a-lifetime coffee experience.

Holland America Eurodam
4 nights
December 18, 2013
Fort Lauderdale (return): Key WestNassauHalf Moon Cay
Inside: $199
Cost per day: $49

Tips for Shore Stops on a Cruise That Includes Kauai

KAUAI — This is called research. Wouldn't you come to Kauai to dig up, along with some sand, information for a blog? Wouldn't you make a special trip down the road a few miles just to have a look at Pride of America, which would be called Hawaii's cruise ship if it didn't belong to Norwegian? Wouldn't you try to find a good shore excursion or two for cruise passengers who spend as much as a day and a half on The Garden Island, as it's known to locals and tourists alike?

We would. So we did.

And today and tomorrow, you'll read about two of the many things to do on the oldest of the Hawaiian islands, which specialize in things to do. Both are within reasonable reach of where Pride of America docks 52 weeks a year, although just about everything is within reasonable reach on Kauai, an island that measures 562 square miles…think 56 miles by 10 miles.

Today, it's the Plantation Railway. This is right on Hawaii Highway 50, just over three miles from Nawiliwli Harbor, an eight-minute drive so it's not an expensive cab ride. 

The Plantation (called Kilohana) is a flashback to the days when sugar cane was the island's biggest business, which it hasn't been for more than a quarter century. Plantation railways were used to transfer workers and products to and from the fields, and this is the last of them. Powered by a 66-year-old engine, the trainKauai trainnow hauls customers through a mini tropical forest that features the variety of fruits and vegetables among assorted plants and trees. While the train ride is the feature attraction, there's also a mansion to be explored, a luau to be consumed, and various rums to be tasted.

The 40-minute, professionally narrated ride is interrupted once…to feed the animals. This is especially popular with kids (and old kids), who are armed with bread to satisfy the appetites of goats, sheep and wild pigs whose body clocks seemed timed for the visit. The pigs were innovative additions. They used to be a nuisance on the plantation, so rather than get rid of them the pigs were corralled in the enclosed farmyard where they now flourish…and multiply. Now more than 50 in number, the wild pigs are a fraction of the more than 300,000 that inhabit this island, six for every man, woman and child.

The tour costs $18. More elaborate options are a four-and-a-half-hour adventure that includes a hike and lunch for $75, or the "Train & Luau" tour for $117. If either is close to being as good a value as the 40-minute tour — and the many tourist books often have discount coupons — it's money well spent.

Tomorrow: Coffee, anyone?

Carnival Freedom
4 nights
December 5, 2013
Fort Lauderdale (return): NassauFreeport
Inside: $169
Cost per day: $42

Change in Plans in Northern Ireland

With the number of places cruise ships visit, there's always a possibility one of them will be a trouble spot.

Places like Northern Ireland. Specifically, Belfast.

This week, passengers on the Caribbean Princess had their shore plans altered to avoid trouble (or possible trouble)  between Irish nationalists and the police. When the dust settled, there were injuries on both sides of the street, none of it witnessed by visitors from the cruise ship.

For the most part, cruise line avoid the world's trouble spots. Cruises in and around the Middle East — habitually more volatile recently than Northern Ireland — have been canceled or re-routed to keep passengers from seeing first-hand the demonstrations in Egypt, as one example. And you always have the option of skipping a shore visit if you're concerned and enjoying the safety of the ship.

Sometimes, changing a shore itinerary, whether it's an excursion or a private (ad)venture, can be rewarding. On one of our visits to Cozumel, we wandered ashore with no game plan. We arrived the same time as a parade with a nationalistic theme. It was a parade by Mexican people for Mexican people. We're not even sure what they were celebrating but we just happened to be fortunate to see such a fun event.

In Northern Ireland, cruise passengers avoided seeing a nationalistic event that wasn't fun. Unfortunately, that probably meant they missed a chance to see Titanic Belfast, the impressive museum that was completed last year, 100 yards from where the famous ship's hull was launched.

The good and the bad…just like life.

Leslie Shaw photo

Celebrity Summit
7 nights
October 26, 2013
San Juan (return): St. Croix, St. Kitts, Roseau, Grenada, St. Thomas
Inside: $679
Cost per day: $97

Two Shore Excursions, Two Accidents

Earlier this month, a cruise passenger died when his kayak overturned on a shore excursion on Mendenhall Lake in Alaska. He was a passenger on Rhapsody of the Seas, but it was not a Royal Caribbean shore excursion. It was a private excursion…in fact, the Texas man and his friends rented the kayaks on their own.

The first tendency here is to say that such misfortune is unlikely if you sign up for a cruise ship shore excursion.

Fast forward to this week.

A tour bus on a Royal Caribbean shore excursion plunged into a ditch in St. Martin. It was the end of a scary ride for 36 Freedom of the Seas passengers, six of whom were injured, none seriously.

Here's what one of the passengers, Matt Stead, told NBC's Today:

"We felt the driver hit the brakes, but [there were] no brakes and then the bus just started careening down. About halfway down we hit a speed bump and everyone hit the ceiling and then the bus just continued rolling down the hill. There was a guy driving up the hill while we were going down so we ran into him, flipped that vehicle over and then ran straight down into the ditch. Tree branches got into the bus and many people received whip lashes from the branches. Everyone was screaming manically, we thought we were plunging to our deaths but the tree saved us."

The bottom line?

Stuff happens…whether you book a cruise line shore excursion, find a shore excursion from a local vendor, or wander off and rent a boat (or kayak) on your own.

Sapphire Princess
7 nights
September 8, 2012
Vancouver, Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, College Fjord, Anchorage
Inside: $599
Cost per day: $85

Carnival Breeze's Three Island trip


The newest ship on the ocean (okay, sea) these days is the Carnival Breeze, currently on its inaugural cruise in Europe, in the Mediterranean en route to Venice. This is the latest in a long line of ships from the world's biggest cruise line and, while it's not necessarily the biggest and the best, the Breeze will have something new to offer.

Like 180 shore excursions.

That's right…180. Actually, according to Carnival, it's "more than" 180. Of the four Carnival has featured, the one that caught our eye was in Dubrovnik, the Croatian city that last week became the Breeze's maiden port of call.

It's called the Three Island Yacht Cruise.

While we're not big island hoppers, having a chance to see Murano and Burano on the same day in Venice last month was a bonus. Both are designed for first-time visitors (our opinion) and when you go to both on the same day — they're about half an hour apart by boat — that means you're not spending more time than you want to in a souvenir haven.

So here's the Three Island Yacht story…

The whole trip is five hours. The islands are called Lokrum, Kolocep and Lopud. They are the Elaphati Islands, now that you ask, and that makes three of us who learned something today. The legend is that Richard the Lion Heart was cast ashore here in the 12th century after surviving a post-Crusades shipwreck. Better him than you.

On Lokrum, you tour a monastery built by the Benedictine monks of that era. You are not required to enlist. On Kolocep, you will be surrounded by 15th-century mansions, olive groves and vineyards. So if you're not into mansions and olives aren't on your diet, you can always just drink wine. On Lopud, you can swim or walk the promenade or taste Croatian delicacies. Who knew Croatians had delicacies?

And if you don't find seeing all of this from a yacht while sipping chilled wine intriguing, you can always go back to the drawing board and read the other "more than" 179 excursions.

Royal Caribbean Enchantment of the Seas
6 nights
September 14, 2012
Baltimore (return): King's Wharf, Bermuda
Inside: $499
Cost per day: $83

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