Homeward Bound to Hawaii – Aloha Style

by John Chernesky, Director of Onboard Revenue and Business Development

BB-63 firing a full broadside
BB-63 firing a full broadside

A trip to Hawaii is always a sort of homecoming for me. Although I’ve lived in Los Angeles for 20 years now, Hawaii was the place of my birth (and yes, I have the birth certificate to prove it!). If you’ve ever flown into Honolulu and looked up to the hillside, to see an ugly pink building reminiscent of a resort trapped in a bad time warp, that’s the site of my birth: Tripler Army Medical Center.

Living in Hawaii for the first seven years of my life was (particularly in hindsight) a gift from the heavens. My father was in the US Navy and worked on diesel submarines, thus we lived in Navy housing with Pearl Harbor as our backyard. Although my youth has long since drifted away, I still have glorious memories of my formative years, most of which I recall spending time at the beach or climbing the banyan tree in our front yard. I guess it was the thing to do, since my sister and I didn’t exactly have Nintendo or Facebook to keep us otherwise occupied. For us, just running around in the tropical heat and watching our dog chase after the family of mongoose that had built a labyrinth of tunnels in our yard was good enough.

My wife, Kristi, and I love to travel. The thrill of scuba diving has taken us to exotic locales such as Australia, Fiji, Tahiti, Palau, Yap and the Galapagos Islands…just to name a few. Then one day, both of us decided it would be a great idea to have a kid.  That singular noun turned to plural when we ended up with twin boys. Our days of jet-setting around the world were soon over, but we looked forward to the time when our boys (John and Michael) would grow old enough so that we could return to our exploratory ways.

Working for a great cruise line like Princess Cruises, I’ve been able to travel all over the world. Through the years, Kristi and I have enjoyed nearly ten cruise vacations together, but all were without kids. To see if our boys would like cruising and the open ocean, we decided on a 7-day Caribbean cruise aboard the cruise ship, Crown Princess, in early 2010 to test the water. In the end, our boys loved the youth center, the abundance of pizza, cheese burgers and french fries, and honestly enjoyed the movement of the ship in heavy seas. While some guests popped Dramamine, ours squealed with delight. I guess it’s in their blood, but more of that later.

We greatly anticipated our next cruise in Spring 2011, this time, a Hawaiian cruise aboard Sapphire Princess. Some of our friends thought that a 14-day cruise with 8 days at sea was “too much time at sea,”  but we looked forward to it, since we could drop our kids off at the youth center and do something most parents of young children have forgotten even exists,the art of doing nothing. Take a nap? You bet. Read a book without a Matchbox car flying in from left field and whacking you in the temple? Absolutely. Go to the Lotus Spa and let a highly trained therapist melt your tensions away? Well, I encourage everyone to do just that during your next cruise vacation, but as I’m responsible for running the spa operations for Princess, I may have a biased opinion.

Ok, I promise I’m getting to this homecoming. Hawaii here we come. Just me, Kristi, John and Michael…and ten suitcases filled with every piece of clothing we own, plus I swear some of our neighbor’s just for good measure. Honestly, you would have thought we were escaping from an evil dictator and moving to a new country in the middle of the night, but at least we were prepared.

It’s hard to ignore the impact of the military when you’re going to Hawaii, at least for me. As the son of a career Naval Officer, it’s even harder to ignore the obvious historical references. Although Pearl Harbor was a playground for a young kid who didn’t know any better, I quickly learned about the thousands of lives lost and the role the attack had, in catapulting a reluctant nation headfirst into war with Japan and Germany.

In addition to the Arizona Memorial, we would have the opportunity to tour the Battleship Missouri (BB-63), which hosted the Japanese surrender in September 1945. Although the Arizona and Missouri respectively signified the beginning and the end of WWII for the United States, I was looking forward to touring the Missouri with my young sons to show them what their grandfather used to do for a living. The last time I had been on the Missouri was back in 1990 during my father’s change of command ceremony. He served as Missouri’s Captain for two years and then retired from the Navy to pursue a career in the private sector. As fate would have it, cancer took my dad’s life in 2001 (at the ridiculously young age of 57), so he wasn’t available to offer his grandsons a private tour, let alone meet them. As any sailor (or son of one) quickly learns, you make do with what you have at your disposal.

From our balcony stateroom, overlooking Los Angeles harbor as we sailed away, the SS Lane Victory bid us a fond farewell. This refurbished merchant marine vessel (which served in WWII, the Korean War and Vietnam) would serve as a fitting bookend to our cruise vacation.

Our days at sea flew by and we found ourselves truly relaxing and gaining weight with every meal. There’s something about being on a cruise that shifts our appetites into overdrive. I think it’s a combination of the abundance, the excellence and the service which makes it so appealing. All of that is a polite way of saying I wasn’t ashamed to order three desserts at the end of a four course dinner.

After a great visit to the Big Island, our second port of call was Honolulu. We met up with my stepmother Melinda (who now lives on Oahu) and embarked on a full day ashore, which included a private tour of the Missouri Memorial, thanks to the generosity of Mike Carr (who serves as the president of the Missouri Memorial Association). As we walked up to the Missouri, I was overtaken with a sense of pride for not only my father, but for the countless sailors who devoted so much of their lives to this incredible battleship. The fact that this ship serves as a floating museum rather than sitting in a “mothball” graveyard, is testament to the passion and loyalty of all those who sailed on her. As my father once said, there are only two things that could sink Missouri, a nuclear warhead…and Congress! Congress managed to do their part and decommissioned the Mighty Mo in 1992, but thankfully it’s back in action…sort of.

As we walked aboard the Missouri, I looked forward to regaling my sons with my own stories of being onboard when my father was in command. In my late teens, I had the pleasure of a “tiger cruise,” whereby I joined a select group of family and dignitaries as we sailed onboard for three days. I stood on the bridge wing next to my dad when a full broadside was unleashed. There are no words to describe the sensation of standing amidst the explosion of nine 16″ guns and six 5″ guns as they simultaneously go off. The only thing I can remember about that experience, other than my ears ringing, was….I’m just glad I’m on this end of the explosion and not the other.

So as we stood on the fo’c'sle deck with the forward turret of 16″ guns pointing ominously towards us, I bent down to tell my two sons how their grandfather was once Captain of this mighty vessel. They responded by asking me for a cereal bar. They were hungry, and like any good sailor (or the grandson of one) they wanted some chow.

Our tour of the Missouri was quickly sped up and we visited the Captain’s quarters, right next to the plaque commemorating the Japanese surrender. It hadn’t changed a bit since I last saw it in 1990. In fact, my father’s original Apple Macintosh computer (purchased with his own money since Congress wasn’t about to fund that purchase in 1988!) was still on the desk, a relic from a day gone past. A Mac computer on a Battleship Captain’s desk? Yep. Even a warship has paperwork.

The rest of our trip was simply amazing. We frolicked on the beach at Waikiki, toured Waimea Canyon on Kauai, went whale watching on Maui and then spent four days at sea returning to Los Angeles.

As we disembarked the cruise ship, sad to leave the newfound friends we made on our cruise vacation (and wishing we could take our room steward Magolino with us), we joined the procession of guests filing through US Customs & Immigration. Not exactly the highlight of any cruise experience, but a necessity nonetheless. The couple in front of us was elderly, probably in their late 40s. Ok, maybe slightly older. The gentleman was struggling to carry his hand luggage and so I offered to carry it for him. He gave me the once-over, I think to make sure I was up to the task as my hands were already pretty full (see above regarding our own luggage). His stare reminded me of my father’s and I soon realized this gentleman was a veteran of WWII. His straw hat featured several pins identifying him as a retired US Marine, but the Purple Heart really caught my attention. I guess I passed the muster as he handed me his luggage and thanked me profusely for helping him out. It was the least I could do.