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Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms OR Fluffy's Birthday Party
Saturday, December 18th I wake up and my back is fucking killing me. Megan closed the spa last night and she's quitting her (shitty) second job and her last day is Saturday so she's gone in early to get everything wrapped up and her exit interview. I decide to clean up my garage a bit and get some work done around the house. The morning starts off with some eggs and breakfast sausage with a tall glass of simply grapefruit. Life isn't great, but it could be a lot worse. We are all having a little chat about life, weekends and women as I move charcoal and my dads tools around the garage when suddenly my good buddeh u/fluffy_butternut tells everyone that regular women are not damaged enough for me to enjoy. Not only is this HIGHLY insulting to me, but it reflects poorly on Megan as well. rewind to several months before Mrs. Fluffy emailed the whole reddit gang and told us we are invited to a surprise birthday party for the big guy. She gave us instructions/time/place, etc and everything. She did a TON of work to plan this and it shows. I was under the gun at the courthouse with a trial and I wasn't able to commit to the event and all of us have stuff going on so the odds of anyone being able to make it were not good. However, I kept her email, and her cell number on a burner. cut to present https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cyLdtG7KZvw Did he really go there? He really went there. It's fucking on like Donkey Kong. I pull out a burner and send a message to Mrs. Fluffy asking her if the plans are still the same. She tells me when he will be arriving at the venue and I tell her I'm gonna make a big fucking scene. She is ecstatic at this idea. I grab my packed bag from the closet and jump in the F350. I grab two organic bean to bar 88% endangered species chocolate bars for Megan and I stop by her work. She's busy, so I leave the chocolate for her at her station. I give her co-worker a note to hand to her when she gets out. "Dear Megan, out for revenge. Back tomorrow - Will." I start driving to MSY and traffic down I-10 isn't bad for a saturday. I phone Delta on the way there and book tickets for the flight. The only thing available is MD88 service connecting in Laguardia. In First. Being no stranger to the slightly elevated service and highly elevated price business model, I book the flight. I'm a little early so I make my way to the nearly brand new Delta Sky Club at MSY. It's new, the gumbo is tasty, the wifi is fast. Life isn't bad. Until I get the phone call from Megan. Me: Hi sweetie Megan: what the fuck does "out for revenge mean?" Me: It means I'm out for revenge. I gotta do some things. Megan: What things? We're supposed to have dinner with my brother tomorrow night! Me: Uh. It's a long story. How was your exit interview? Megan: It was fine. I'm leaving early today. Me: Did you go back to your station yet? Megan: No Me: You should stop there again before you leave. Megan: Why? The airport PA screeches boarding announcement for my flight. Me: They're calling my flight. I gotta run. Megan: Flight? What? Me: Gotta hop. Buy potatoes. See you tomorrow night! I hang up and hightail it for the gate. I pop in and see the pilots before we leave and ask them what are the odds we get 31 via the expressway today. He says he was just loading it into the box. I tell him the last time I did 31 via the expressway into LGA at the Delta Museum sim, it was not good. In fact it was the worst thing to hit new york since a bunch of muslims on a tuesday in September. He laughs. The ride into LGA is smooth as the HMG STG delivery schedule. New York is WINDY as fuck today and bumpy. I peer out the window of the left side of the plane and I get a beautiful close up photo of the statue of liberty and Ellis island. Wait. We're supposed to get 31 via the expressway. We should be on the localizer for LGA runway 4. That puts us right over my aunts place in Bay Ridge looking at the Verazanno. We're not getting 31, they're probably going to take us up over central park, back over da bronx and then in via 22. Sure enough, we land on 22 and I ask the pilots what happened and they said the winds shifted and they had to turn the airport around. Eh, no biggie. I've seen it once, I'll see it again. It's a great approach to fly and if you ever get to experience it, it's fucking magical. We land at LGA a few minutes late and the weather is cold, crisp and windy. I have a short connection but I head to the LGA sky club in terminal D. Life is good. I crack the laptop and do some work and as I close the laptop as they call my flight I see the very beginnings of light snow. I'm from Louisiana. I've never seen snow before. This scares me. I walk to the gate and I board in group 1 and take my first class seat. The plane is half empty. I walk up and chat with the pilots and they tell me that with the snow we are going to deice with type 1 fluid and anti ice with type 4 fluid. We will be a little delayed. As I gaze out the window from my seat, it's snowing and blowing even more. Ten minutes later, the boarding door closes and we start to push back. Conditions have worsened significantly. We can't see the next plane in front of us, things have turned into not quite whiteout but very concerning to this southern boy. The pilots tell us we are number 3 for the deicing truck and I gaze out onto the runway. It's whiter than an Ohio MAGA rally. Fuck me to tears. We deice as I check the weather in Pittsburgh. Rain/Freezing rain/Snow/wintry mix. I've never driven in snow. Fuck. Pucker factor increasing. I pull out my burner and send a message to Mrs. Fluffy and tell her I'm at the deice pad and will be there soon. We have a bumpy ride all the way across Pennsylvania and land about 30 minutes late. Hertz has me in the presidents circle but there is not a single car with local plates. I downgrade to a 2020 white Toyota Corolla since it's the only thing with PA plates on it and I hightail it to the venue. I talk to the waitstaff and tell them I'm crashing the party and ask them to get me a tray and a vest with a nametag. The staff is laughing their ass off at my idea. I message Mrs. Fluffy and she thinks the idea is HYSTERICAL. She can't wait. I tell her I'll be there at 645. T minus 60 minutes until Fluffy Arrival I've never been to this part of Pennsylvania. To be honest, I am a Philly guy. The people there are angry, drunken, profane and love cheese steaks. They're my kind of people. I've never been to a Sheetz or Primanti Brothers. However, fluffy tells me some stories about how he and his wife have a good time over at the meadows. I have NEVER been to a racino before, and ever since I was nearly arrested at Wynn Las Vegas - I've been a little scared. However, it's just down the road and as some of you know, I just came into a shit ton of money. This is not going to end well. I drive down interstate 79 and whip into the north parking garage at The Meadows. My pre-packed bag has four days of clothes, underwear, socks and PJ's, two kruggerands and $10,000 in cash just in case i need to flee the country. I pull out the ten dimes and make my way into the racino. The Meadows is HUGE. I get past the security checkpoint and walk around and I don't see any table games. I see a large well appointed poker room and see two craps tables working at the other end of the hall. I have no idea what table limits or odds are. I saunter up to the table. Me: How's the temperature guys? Degen1: Eh it's up and down. Me: As long as it's not as cold as outside amirte? Degen2: haha yeah yinz been outside today? freezing rain and that! Me: I don't know these words but whatever. The point is on 6. I drop $10,000 on the table. Me: Change only. Gimme 1 small and 9 thousands. Pit Boss: do you have a players club card? Me: never played here before, don't worry about it for now. Pit Boss: Okay! The dice come out, it hits jimmy hicks and the dealers pay out all the bets. I look at the table, the minimums are $5 and everyone has pass line and numbers. NOBODY has true odds. Fuck it. Time to show them how it's done. I drop $10 on the pass line. Dice are out. Point is four. I look up and down the table and nobody is making odds bets. I look down at my rack and drop $100 behind my bet. Dice come out. Six hard. Me: Hey pit boss! How much can I put behind the line? Pit Boss: We'll let you go to 10x, so we can take $100 on your pass line. It looks like you got $100 there but we'd count it out and if you were over we'll give you the extra back. Me: solid, thanks! I look down at my watch. Fluffy is due to arrive at 1900hrs. I told Mrs. I would be there at 1845. It's 15 minutes to drive from the garage to the party which means I need to be on the highway at 1830 which means I need to be out of the casino and cashed out and walking to the garage by 1825. She sends me a message asking me where I'm at. I tell her I'm at the meadows and.....fuck it's 1821. Fuck it. Go big or go home. I take my pass line up to $500 and shove $5000 behind the line. Everyone at the table is looking at me funny. I give $2400 to the dealers and tell them to split me the 6/8. Pit Boss: are you SURE you don't want a players club card? Me: no time! throw them bones! The whip slides the dice over to the fella next to me. He throws. Dealer: Four hard, four the hard way, four. Everyone at the table is looking at me funny. My $500 pass line bet has paid even money. The $5000 behind the line pays true odds on a 4, at 2:1. I look down at my watch. 1829. The dealers are stacking and distributing chips with a fervor. Me: Take down my 6/8 and color me up. Dealer: You got it boss! As they color up my chips, I tell Mrs. fluffy I just won a ton of money at the meadows and I'm cashing out now. I take a $100 chip, hold it up and ask if the dealers want to play it or drop it Dealer: It's up to you man, we don't mind. I plant the chip down on the pass line and tell them put half on the pass line ferda boys, drop the other half. They all LITERALLY clap and thank me. Me: One more thing, where's the cashier? They point me to the cage with the aplomb of a new airport ramper. I leave the casino with a giant wad of cash bulging in my jeans. There's no line and they count out all my cash quickly. I look down at my watch as she's counting out the last of the small bills. 1835. Fuck. I'm going to be late. I hate being late. I jog out to the north garage and hightail it back up interstate 79. I have never driven in snow, at night, or for that matter driven in Pennsylvania before until now. It's snowing, it's dark, the speed limit is 55 and I am the SLOWEST guy in the right lane at 80 and people are passing me going WTF ARE YOU DOING GET OFF THE ROAD judging by the horns and the flashing headlights. I am HAULING ass back up to the venue and I park the Toyota in a handicapped spot as I race into the venue. I find Harriet, the party planner she hands me a vest with a nametag. My transition from Will the gun dealer to Mario the waiter will completed as soon as he arrives. I get fluffy's favorite drink and a plate of some food set up on a tray and I hide in the back waiting for his arrival. Here's a photo. https://imgur.com/yZP2FuI As if it were choreographed to the minute, Mrs. Fluffy walks him in the front door at 7PM to a room full of people as a birthday surprise. He had not seen it coming. He begins making the rounds seeing everyone and saying hello. It's a big party so it takes some time. I hang back for a few minutes and let him do his thing and I give my phone to one of his friends and tell them to get this next part on video as I put on the vest and adjust the nametag. Friendo: Sure thing "mario" Me: shut up and just do some good camera work! I take the tray of beverage and minature charcuterie plate over to fluffy as he's greeting the party guests and sneak up behind him. He's taking his grand old time working the room. In my best italian Pittsburgh native accent I can muster, I'm holding the tray and I walk in front of him and put on a great big smile. Me: Can I get yinz something to drink? Or some charcuterie and that? Fluffy: ....... (I now feign anger) Me: OR IS THIS FOOD AND BEVERAGE NOT DAMAGED ENOUGH FOR YOUR LIKING?!?!?!??!?!?! YOU FAT DIABETIC OLD FUCK! Fluffy: What.....are you.........doing here? Me: Mrs told us about it and I figured I should give you a hard time after your comments this morning. Would you like some food? You know, airplane noises make the food taste better. Or are you a little too old for that? Lets give it a try! (I grab a carrot stick and fly it into his face by making very loud airplane noises in a ballroom full of fluffy's closest friends and family making a gigantic scene with people wondering is this a joke or what horrors are about to come next. No, this is not a joke, this really happened. Ask anyone who was there.) Fluffy: I'm good thanks Me: you sure? (more airplane noises followed by a carrot slice raping his mouth) Fluffy is shocked and awed. I tell him to go work the room and to have a happy birthday party. There's an open bar and I help myself to a double ginger ale, neat. I find some millennials and we chat about Hawaiian shirts and stuff and they think my comedy is HILARIOUS. Unlike most of reddit. Fluffy saunters over and we chat some more and he's wondering WTF. I told him the wife planned it all months in advance. Fluffy: You know u/xxxwirtydhorexxx is here. Me: That's really funny. Fluffy: No, he's really here. Me: Bullshit. Then where is he? Fluffy: He's right in front of you, 12 o'clock. I don't see him. Then I look down and there's a guy in a boonie hat. I didn't recognize him without the dress. Me: Oh dear god. He's really here isn't he? Wirty gets up and walks over and he's like HI! I THOUGHT IT WAS YOU! We have a bunch of really really awkward conversation that involves him inviting me to sit next to him and me running over to Mrs. Fluffy asking her to save me from wirty. She finds a spot at her table by her kids for me. I forget his present, even though his wife said no presents and there's a table full of booze, scratchers, and gun stuff. I drive back up to the hotel to grab it and give it to him. He has no idea what it is. You all should ask him about it. I give it to him and Wirty starts complaining about normies. Fluffy: Where are you staying? Me: The Hilton just down the street Fluffy: Oh, the one on the top of the hill? Me: That's why it's the HILL-ton. Everyone groans. Me and wirty talk and he weirds me out and demands to stand next to me in the group photo. I tell more jokes and the millenial group loves me. We close the place down and head back to fluffy's hotel. BOY HOWDY LET ME TELL YOU.........if you thought MY stories were longwinded and pointless you have not met some of fluffy's friends! His local raconteur buddy was telling us at 145AM his story about being fucked by the Virginia state police for speeding. Yeah. I dump him off at his hotel and I head back up to my room. It's 3AM by the time I shower and sleep. SUNDAY JANUARY 19TH 2020 My alarm wakes me up at 9AM. My back is killing me. My head is pounding. It's 21 degrees outside. Fuck this noise. I go back to sleep. The hotel phone rings. Me: Go for Hayden Operator: I have a fluffy butternut on the phone for you. Me: Go ahead and connect us Operator: Thank you (sound of dial tone) I'm not making this up. I grab my phone and call fluffy and we have brunch at the meadows with the mrs. It's fun, we talk guns, life, liberty and the pursuit of extra sides of marinara. I hang out with them at the slot machines until it's time to head to the airport. I gas up at the sheetz next to the racetrack and I fly back home in coach since my status on delta is radioactive dirt. The incoming flight is late from Atlanta which means we leave late for Atlanta and i get back home 2.5 hours later than I expected. Laundry is running and I am unpacking as Megan walks in the door. Me: Hi! Megan: Hi. Back from revenge so soon? Me: Yeah. I'm actually late. How was dinner with your brother? Megan: Good. He took me to olive garden. So tell me what was so important you had to go out for revenge and come back the next day? (I tell her the story) Megan: Wait a minute. Your friend insulted you as a joke, so you bought a last minute first class ticket to new york and pennsylvania to fly to his surprise birthday party to yell at him in person, in january in 21 degree weather? Me: Yeah. Megan: Why would you do that? Me: Well he said that you're damaged goods. He wasn't insulting me, he was insulting you. I didn't like that. Megan: You cannot be serious. Me: I am serious. Megan: and don't call you Shirley? Me: You're weird. Megan: I'm not the one that just flew across the country to go "out for revenge", and I'm the weird one? Me: (goofy smile) Megan: (goofy laughter) Have a lovely holiday weekend everyone!
I just got back and a friend who is taking the exact same cruise and is also cost conscious asked me to give him all my lessons learned. I figured you all might benefit even if some of this information isn't strictly about cruising. I'm going to ask my travel companions to review it (first time in Hawaii and first time cruising) to see if they have anything to add.
Getting There And Getting Around
Air Fare With Southwest now offering tickets to Hawaii, I expect the competitive market to drop prices across the board but unless you are fortunate enough to live on the west coast in a city with flights that fly direct, air fare can be pricey. I had to get 4 people there round-trip (2 from rural Maine, 1 from Louisville Kentucky and 1 from the Baltimore/D.C. area). I ended up signing up for the Chase Sapphire credit card (annual fee waived for the first year) and the Alaska Airlines credit card that gave me a buy one/take one sign up offer. My total air fare cost was $2400. Besides the credit card, there was no secret other than monitoring the prices as far in advance as possible to see what typical prices are and then striking when there was a decent sale. I would also mention following Scott's Cheap Flights on the off chance a deal becomes available for when you were already planning on traveling. Ground Transportation We flew into Waikiki on Tuesday (cruise started on Saturday) so I got a rental car through Autoslash. The total cost for a mid-size for 4 days was $176 and ended up being from Alamo. While I feel this was a good deal as I had four people, if you're not 100% sure you will need it - you can probably get by with an Uber, taxi or even a hop on/off bus (see excursions later). Many excursions had an option for hotel pickup/drop-off. Probably the best deal I found was Star Taxi which only charged $25 for up to 4 people one-way to/from the cruise terminal and not much more for other locations. Call 1 hour before you need the service. Parking Parking is EXPENSIVE so be sure to do a lot of research if you plan on renting a vehicle.
General In your mind, you have this idea of what Hawaii is going to be like. Oahu (specifically Honolulu/Waikiki) is not it. It is very over developed and crowded. Many places are run-down because investors have purchased the property but have chosen to wait until conditions are more favorable to develop. There is a very large homeless population in Hawaii overall but I was shocked by the number of shanty towns and abandoned vehicles doubling as homes I saw on Oahu. Excursions
Snorkel-Cruise-Swim-Dolphins-Turtles - highly recommended (hint: This excursion may be cheaper directly with the vendor Dolphins And You - if you buy the photos, you will have to go to their Waikiki office later to pick them up and they will offer you a 10% discount on merchandise at that time).
Shark Dive - Unfortunately, this tour got canceled due to weather so I can't comment on it. Since it is on the north shore, the plan was to do an early morning adventure (when the water is calmest) and then spend the rest of the time exploring the beaches and surfers. (hints: You may be able to get this cheaper directly with the vendor North Shore Shark Adventures and if you drive, take one way to get there and another way to get back so you can experience more of the island).
Sunset Cruise & Show - The people I was going with had never cruised before so this was to get their feet wet so to speak. It was nice but not spectacular. You may be able to get it cheaper directly through the vendor Star Of Honolulu. On Fridays, they offer an extra hour for a nominal fee upgrade which includes fireworks. I didn't see the fireworks myself but several people I talked to said they are put on by a hotel and aren't anything special. (hint: If you drive, they will validate your parking ticket and parking will only be $4 instead of $18).
Waikiki Trolley Hop-On Hop-Off You can trade time for money and if you have time, this would be a much more cost effective solution to getting around and is very configurable (how many days of use, how many different lines, etc.)
Polynesian Culture Center - I had the Ambassador Luau Package With Circle Island Tour of Oahu. Pickup was at 8:30 in the morning and drop off wasn't until after 10 PM so it is a long day. If you do this one I have several recommendations. First, take it early in the trip because it includes a multi-day pass so you can go back at no charge for 3 more days and the Circle Island tour allows you to see some areas you may want to explore on your own. Second, you don't get food until 6 PM so be sure to eat breakfast first and plan the rest of the time accordingly (bring snacks for instance). The only thing I was disappointed in was the Diamond Head didn't actually drive up to the crater. Update After the initial post, I was reminded by mashel2811 of a few things. The PCC is Mormon owned/operated which has pros/cons. On the downside, there is no alcohol on-site and things overall tend on the conservative side. Not that I have an issue with that but if you're looking for authenticity then this would represent Polynesia post Christian missionaries. On the upside, it is a huge facility that truly will allow you to experience many of the cultures besides just Hawaii. Also, regardless of how you feel about religion, the money taken in from PCC helps to sponsor many students education from all over Polynesia. I had nothing to compare the luau to but I have heard from several other people that there are much better options (the luau at PCC is optional). The Breath Of Life was awesome.
Pearl Harbor (see the end of the cruise excursions)
You probably want a beach other than Waikiki due to the number of people - Hanauma Bay looked awesome. If you do decide to stay in Waikiki, walking the coastline towards Diamond Head is a better choice for the beach instead of around all the hotels. This is because in Hawaii, beach access and water is considered a public service (free)
What is and isn't expensive didn't make any sense. Eggs imported from the mainland were cheaper than eggs from Hawaii despite chickens EVERYWHERE but I was able to get a large jar of peanut butter for $1.89. The best place I found for groceries was Don Quijote and it had a free parking garage.
Souvenirs were much cheaper on other islands
It rains - almost daily - but not for long - don't let it fool you - WEAR sunscreen of at least SP50
Hydrate more than usual - especially if you're drinking beer like me
Updates From original post below
You can get insanely discounted Pearl Harbor tickets from recreation.gov but they sell out in 5 minutes. Exactly 7am Hawaii time they sell tickets for the next day or for 2 months out. Nothing in between. I recommend having 2-3 people trying it simultaneous for different time slots. The early tickets sell faster. Then the bus ride anywhere is $2.50 each. When you board the bus ask for a transfer ticket. The transfer ticket is good for two more rides for the next 2.5 hours. If you get out of PH within the time slot you can ride back for free.
There's a stand near Breakout Waikiki that is a hard sell timeshare sales pitch (couples only). If you're willing to sit through it, they give you $150 towards an excursion or a free meal and a $120 Visa gift card (as of March 2019). If you want the exact location, message me.
You may think being a Costco member will help you out on expenses and you're probably right but know that the busiest Costco in the world is on Oahu and they claim 1 in 4 people have membership so plan accordingly (think shopping for the latest toy on Christmas Eve)
Pride Of America
I have to be honest, this was hands down the most expensive cruise I have taken and it was the worst cruise ship. I had a great time but there was a lot left to be desired.
Entertainment was very underwhelming - I believe unlike other mass-market cruise lines, NCL's entertainers are on multi-month contracts just like other staff. This tends to be bad for entertainers like comedians (how many different sets can they have prepared) but should be better for magicians (you shouldn't have to rely on the suitcase you get through security at the airport). I have seen a Vegas quality magic show on NCL before (Norwegian Spirit last November) but this act was honestly no better than a birthday party. I could go on but I will summarize it as this: On Carnival, I struggle deciding what I am going to do because of so many good things where as on this ship, I struggled to find anything I actually wanted to do.
Beer prices were outrageous and included a mandatory 20% gratuity and since you spend a LOT of time in port, taxes too. In each port, I found a better selection of beer right off the ship for at least 20 - 30% cheaper than on the ship. If you do drink on the ship however, I highly recommend the Gold Rush Saloon as it has a couple of beers on tap you can't get anywhere else. It has a self-serve popcorn machine and is adjacent to the buffet so you can get self-serve ice cream too.
The food was mediocre (main dining quality was about the same as the buffet which was good but not great). I didn't spend the money to try any of the specialty dining.
Update: One thing that really stood out as being a good thing is that the room had 3 US standard outlets!!! Why Does It Cost So Much
There is no casino to subsidize the fare cost
It is a US Flag cruise ship which means it has to abide by US labor laws (this is an indirect result of the Jones Act as it doesn't travel to any foreign ports)
Hawaii not only has a sales tax but a tourist imposed General Excise Tax which of course NCL passes on to you
Exclusivity - unless you want an extremely sea day intense cruise from California, around Hawaii, to Mexico and then back to California (or similar) cruise - they're the only show in town
Hint: You should get the NCL Mobile App. It includes dinner reservations, account charges, dinner reservations, deck plans, passenger to passenger chat for an additional fee ($10 vs Carnival's $5) and other nifty features. Observations I was astounded by the number of first time cruisers I saw (based on their ship card color). Because so many of the employees were American, I was also surprised by how many told me that they were on their first contract and wouldn't be back. The people (both employees and passengers) were incredibly friendly and most everyone seemed to be having a good time. I didn't see long lines at guest services. I mentioned earlier how this was the worst ship I had been on - and, while true, shouldn't give you the impression that I didn't have a great time. For my traveling companions, they had nothing to compare it to and other than the entertainment - they had no complaints at all and loved it.
Day 1 & 2 Maui (overnight)
If you have ever been on a Caribbean cruise and you didn't feel like paying for an expensive excursion you could always just walk off the ship and go to a beach or a shopping district or a friendly bar - something. This is not the case in Maui. Where the Pride Of America docks there is absolutely nothing (it took 10 minutes to walk out of the port with chained link fence on both sides only to end up about another 10 minutes away from a strip mall). I do want to point out that the strip mall did have a few artisans selling things out on the sidewalk but this was far from what you will be used to at other locations. So what to do instead?
Rent a car if you want to go on your own - day rentals are common and you will be in port overnight. You will have to do your own research as to what to do as I booked excursions for both days
Go up to Haleakala Crater for sunset or sunrise. I went for sunset as sunrise required leaving the ship at 3 AM. I can't stress how amazing this sunset was at nearly 2 miles above sea level. If you go, take plenty of warm (think Maine winter) cold. It was 44 degrees without the windchill when we arrived at around 5 PM (still sunny) and the temperature dropped significantly by the end of the sunset (around 6:40 for us but varies based on time of year).
Road To Hana - I didn't take this excursion but it is extremely popular. Most guests I spoke with said they absolutely loved it though a few called it the road to hell (it's an all day excursion)
Maui Northshore & Waterfall Walk - This is the one I took because it was rated as "easy" and one of my traveling companions has mobility issues. There is an alternative called Waterfall Hike that you may want to consider. This was a great excursion which took you into a historical town for lunch (delicious) and gave you some free time to explore the artisans (glass blowing, jewelry making, etc.) before taking you to the private access Wailele Farm. The waterfalls you can walk to (as opposed to hike to) were not breathtaking but overall the plants and flowers here were amazing. You will get an opportunity to eat many of the things you encounter so if you're feeling adventures, give it a try.
This is the first of two days on the island of Hawaii and it is on the eastern (very wet) side of the island. Normally doing two excursions in one day is a not recommended. I would make an exception here because the Botanical Gardens are not to be missed. It is a short excursion (2.5 hours), is relatively inexpensive (you can even do it on your own) and is offered at multiple times allowing you to get another excursion in. Recommendations
The Botanical Gardens - either through NCL or directly with Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden - they have social media as well if you have questions. Tip: One of my traveling companions said walk through twice - once looking down and once looking up because there is just so much to see.
Go zip-lining. I happened to choose Zipline Through Paradise as it had a tandem/parallel course (you got to zip at the same time as someone else). You can even hold hands on one line for a very special photo. You may even want to book directly with Kapohokine
The other side of the island is a stark contrast to Hilo as it is dry/desert climate. It is the only tender port on the cruise. Unfortunately, we didn't fare very well here on excursions but shopping and beer was good. It has been on my bucket list to be in a real submarine and go over 100 feet to below the surface to the ocean floor. That's what 3 of us did here in Kona and while I am glad that I can now say I have done it (105'), the experience itself was underwhelming. To not interfere with the wildlife, the sub doesn't use any artificial lights nor does anything to attract the fish to your windows. This means almost everything is a monochrome blue (the color red doesn't exist at this depth for instance). It's also nearly impossible to get nice photos out the windows even though they are clear enough - just not the right conditions. Now, I met a guest back on the ship that said he had a phenomenal time on a sub that wasn't sponsored through NCL but I'm not sure what it was. The other guest in my party decided to go on the Gold Coast & Cloud Forest excursion and was also not impressed. The gold supposedly comes from the Hawaii state fish (yellow trigger fish also known as humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa) but apparently they haven't been plentiful enough to turn the coast gold for years. She also said if she was a coffee drinker, she probably would have enjoyed it more (they are famous for their coffee). Recommendations
If you would like to buy coffee at a discount, a tour guide let me in on a little secret. To be called Kona Coffee it has to indicate what percentage is from Kona (i.e. 100%). Well, geography being what it is, the line between Kona and the region to south is arbitrary (created by humans) so buying coffee labeled just across the boarder (I forget the name of the place - I don't drink coffee) is 25% cheaper
If you want to see the pretty coral and reefs, consider a glass bottom boat ride. The bartender I chatted with told me that she used to work on the sub and a much more beautiful experience was the glass bottom boats.
Normally, the closer to port you are the more expensive things are - like souvenirs. That may in fact be the case in Kona but I found the prices at Whalers General Store to be very competitively priced. Many of the same items I saw at stops before here were at least 20% cheaper.
Have a drink or 6 at Paradise Brewing Company. I was fed up with the prices on the ship so I checked this place out (there was another one further up the street with a fairly large beer menu as well but they weren't very friendly so I moved on. I sat in here for hours (was one of the last tender boats back to the ship). It was extremely friendly - the beer was good, the food was good - I would definitely recommend.
Remember how I said you have this ideal image in your head of what Hawaii is and Oahu doesn't meet it. Kauai exceeds it - I fell in love and if I ever go back, I will just fly directly here and stay on this island - it is that good. I am not going to suggest you do anything other than exactly what I did because I couldn't possibly imagine having a better time. Recommendations
Day 1 - Best Of Kauai. I have no idea if a similar excursion can be booked elsewhere because it included 5 stops (Waimea canyon, Spouting Horn Park, Keoki's Paradise for lunch, Opaekaa Falls and Wailua River Fern Grotto). If you want to "build your own", just go to Waimea canyon and dine at Keoki's Paradise as they were the highlights of the day. If you are into photography and have gotten tired of lugging all of your lenses around, today is the day to have it all at the ready.
Now, there's more to the story than just these two excursions. First, since you're overnight you can stay out as late as you want. I asked our tour guide where an affordable place to get good beer close to the ship was. She recommended The Nawiliwili Tavern (or just the Tavern). It happens to be a 2 minute walk from one of the free shuttle stops and they have great pizza, beer and pool. Secret I learned this is also where a lot of the crew from the ship hang out after they get off at 9PM so if you want to have a real conversation and ask real questions - this is the place to do it. Once the bartender realized I was into craft beer and trying all they had, she told me about a brew pub not too far up the road that I really wanted to try but ran out of time.
Napali Coast (still day 6)
The cruise ship leaves port early (circa 2PM) and instead of heading to Honolulu backtracks around Kauai. There is a portion of the island that's only reachable by air (helicopter) or by sea (cruise ship) and I was fortunate enough to do both. Actually, our pilot said that a few of the beaches can be reached by a hiking 11+ miles but it isn't an easy hike. In any event, this is where the opening scenes of Jurassic Park were filmed if I remember correctly - utterly gorgeous. My pilot also let me in on a little secret - that the captain times the cruise ship to sunset when the coast is all lit up in spectacular colors so be out on deck with camera ready.
Day 7 - Honolulu (Pearl Harbor & City Tour)
I made a big mistake here. I booked a late flight so I could go to Pearl Harbor and then get dropped off at the airport. We had already done the Circle Island Tour and none of the other offerings were of interest. This was a mistake for two reasons. Reason 1: Exhaustion After having spent 5ish days in Waikiki and then taking a 7 day cruise, we were wiped out and really didn't have the stamina to really take it all in. Recommendations
Eat a big breakfast as this tour didn't include food
Bring food for the tour and possibly the airport (see airport notes below)
The cheapest place to get hot dogs at the time was at the Missouri ($6 as of March 2019)
If you are using your phone as a camera, practice taking photos against the bus window as the city tour took you to some neat places but they didn't stop to let you off
The tour includes the Missouri and the Arizona - everything else is additional
At the time of this writing, the Arizona was still under repair so you only took a boat close. You will be watching a very emotionally moving video before the boat ride so sit as close to the exit doors (front left) as you can so that when it's over you can pick one of the corners of the boat to get unobstructed photos from - they don't allow you to stand up and they don't play. Oh, and if you are sensitive to loud noises - when the bomb actually drops on the Arizona it is about 10 times louder than the rest of the film so be prepared
Our guide got tickets for the Arizona at 2:15 PM, helped us navigate the shuttle over to the Missouri and told us he would see us at the bus 3:30 PM. If you're not comfortable navigating on your own then this is probably not the tour for you
It's only 5 minutes from the airport so if you want to stay longer because of a late flight it would be fast/cheap to go on your own - just ask to get your luggage off the bus
Reason 2: Airport If you have a late flight home, I'm sorry. All of your checked bags have to be screened by agriculture (certain plants are not allowed to leave the state) which is airline specific and unless that airline is running flights all day (looking at you Alaska), then you will have to wait for them to open before you can even check in. While you wait, there is essentially no place to eat (Starbucks and a bar that serves hot dogs for $12.50 - yes, $12.50). I recommend you keep some food with you for this reason. They do offer a baggage hold service but the prices were ridiculous (4 checked bags for 24 hours was $100). Sorry if it seems like I am whining - it was the end of a long trip and I was returning to reality.
In this post, I have provided a number of links to NCL's excursions, directly to the vendor and also to Viator. Viator is part of Tripadvisor and generally speaking, you can trust the reviews. On most of the bookings, you can cancel for a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. They are competitively priced and you can usually get a discount. For instance, new customers will get offered a 10% discount off their first purchase. Companies like Ebates and TopCashBack will offer an additional 3 to 6% cash back as well. Use a credit card that gives back 2-4% on travel and it can really reduce the price. I haven't had too much trouble figuring out what vendor was being used through Viator so you could just book with them direct too and just use them as a way to find fun things to do and use the reviews to distinguish between what's good and what's not.
Trip Report: Sakura Season 2017 - Sendai to Fukuoka
I saw on the last trip report someone else posted, people really appreciate these. I thought I would put mine up from last year. We did a huge itinerary which people ask about all the time. I hope this helps anyone trying to figure out their trip.
We flew out of JFK on March 29th 2017 at 9am non-stop to Tokyo – 8 total Americans 27-31 in age, all first timers. There are 3 females, 5 males, 3 of the group are heavily tattooed including neck and hands. I spent 12 months planning this itinerary and booking everything for the whole group. We all had back packs and carry on size luggage, no one had a suitcase. Total trip time – 22 days (including South Korea). This is a hefty itinerary and I would never do this again. It was exhausting and rushed. But, for all those who say ‘I HAVE TO SEE EVERYTHING RIGHT NOW!” this is how we did it. Most of our friends will never go back, so they didn’t care how, they wanted to do as much as possible. This itinerary would be more manageable with less than 8 people. We flew JAL which I liked better than ANA. I felt the food was better, the attendants were more attentive, and the movie selection was better. But, that is just my opinion.
March 30th 2017 – Arrive in Tokyo!!!! Shibuya We took the N’XT and got to Tokyo in 58 minutes. Narita airport was easy to navigate. While we waited for the next train, we pulled money out of the international ATM at the airport. We were stopped in the airport and filmed for the Japanese show “Why did you come to Japan?” There were 8 of us, so I think we really stood out. We went to our Airbnb and unpacked. Our Airbnb was about a 12 minute walk from Shibuya station. The Airbnb was tiny, but it was a great location. We paid $880 for the week, so each person paid $98 for 7 days. After we unloaded, we walked to Shibuya and got curry at a vending machine ticket shop near the station. I don’t know the name of it, but it is across the street from SCRAMBLE café. It is now my go to food after we get off the train from the airport.
March 31st 2017 – Harajuku -> Akihabara We started on Takeshita Street. I really wanted to get a purikura (I read a lot of shoujo manga). My friend and I went into the purikura basement along the main street. There are about 13 machines down there, it took a minute but we figured out how to use it. It was super fun, I even got my boyfriend to do one. I didn’t realize it was so popular. I always thought of it as something you happen upon in the mall like a photo booth at home, but nooooo. Be warned, rowdy pre-teen & teenage girls will be everywhere with makeup falling all over the place, it’s really a sight. We walked around and somehow ended up at Togo Shrine. It was a nice shrine in the middle of some greenery in the city. It was quite pleasant. We did our first prayer placard here and tied our fortune to the string after we opened it. We walked around Takeshita Street for a good while, it was a Friday so it was crowded and I wanted to look in everything. After this we went to Akihabara. Most people on the trip were at least slightly into anime, most were extremely into it. I finally got my Japanese Gaming Cards for Konami and MaiMai. You create a profile and save your avatar, think gaming cards for casinos. Even as a souvenir (since they don’t work in America) they are cool. We played a lot of video games where you get cards after each round and build your deck to play the game with! The arcades there are filled with business men! It is so interesting to see, we rarely saw young kids like you get at home.
April 1st 2017 – Nakano Broadway -> Ikebukuro -> Akihabara We started the day out at Nakano Broadway. We walked around all the floors but I wasn’t overly impressed with it, but maybe I didn’t look hard enough. I will definitely go back next time we are in Tokyo. The side streets leading off the main street as you walk up are pretty cool though, they are so quaint and fascinating to look down. After this, we headed to the Pokecenter and J-world! They are in the same Sunshine building in Ikebukuro. The shopping center itself is impressive and had a mariokart tournament going in the main plaza. We had lunch at J-world and I played every carnival game I could. It was very much geared towards children but we had a blast either way. There were anime key chains that were exclusive to J-world. It was a money sink, but whatever. After this, we went to Akihabara again for the night. We ended up there every night to play MaiMai. You can’t play it in America (only LA and Vegas) so we had to get our fill. We went to AkibaZone to buy anime statues. They have a whole floor of unboxed statues and they are much cheaper then you find in America. I spent about $400 and got about $600 worth of statues. They also have retired statues you can’t get anymore.
April 2nd 2017 – Shibuya -> Takanawa -> Roppongi Today I walked Shibuya 109 Men’s and Shibuya 109. No one else wanted to go. After that, we all went to Yoyogi Park and Meiji Shrine. I don’t remember being overly amazed by it. The walk around the park was quite lovely though. I really enjoyed how cool and fresh it felt. After this, we got on the subway and went to Sengakuji Temple. We were on the actual subway, not the JR train lines. It took 5 huge escalators to get back to ground level!!! I am quite intrigued with the story of the 47 Ronin and this is the temple that has the graves of all 47, plus the master and his wife. It also has the well that the ronin washed the head in before presenting it to their master’s grave. It is a small complex in a quiet part of the city with lots of houses. There was almost no one there even though it was the middle of the day on Sunday. I really enjoyed this temple. Next we went to Roppongi Hills. There was a sakura festival going on in the main garden area of the shopping center. We walked the garden and enjoyed all the amazing cherry blossoms. Roppongi Hills is an amazing architecture building with a museum and observation floor. We went to Café Crepe for dinner. The crepes were amazing, absolutely delicious and the entire interior is designed like a French house. We paid $18 to go up to the observation deck. We knew we were not doing Tokyo Tower or Skytree, we choose this place instead. They take your picture and give you a tiny one for free, it’s a nice little souvenir. The observation deck is on the 52nd floor of the building, we ate on the 6th. We took a bus back to the Airbnb, it was very easy with google maps to find and identify the bus stop and read the timetable.
April 3rd 2017 – Shibuya -> Mitaka -> Asakusa To start the day, I got my shower first and then walked around the neighborhood whole waiting for everyone. I found a small neighborhood temple and sat and watched people pass on their way to work or school and pray. It was really nice to be able to see this custom first hand in actual practice. I have no idea what the shrine was called, but if you are staying in a neighborhood area, I would suggest taking a relaxing morning stroll around and finding these little surprises. We went to Shibuya to turn in my JR pass. Everyone else had turned it in on Sunday and waited 2 hours in line. I was there 32 minutes and got my pass. The Ghibli Museum is great! It was fascinating to see all the movies I love in the drawings and storyboards. You will often find that in rural or less touristy places in Japan, there are no paper towels in the bathrooms. People carry tenugui (personal towels, looks like a wash cloth) and dry their hands with that and go on their way. The first bathroom I encountered like this was the one in the park by the Ghibli Museum. The first tenugui I encountered after learning what was going on was in the Ghibli gift shop. So, I had to buy one! If you can’t get into the café at the museum, don’t worry. The donut balls at the window next to the café are DELICIOUS! If you buy the photobook of the museum, since you can’t take pictures, you get a huge watercolor map of the museum. It is a wonderful souvenir. The short film we got to see was adorable, about a water skimmer and a crab. You get a piece of film as your ticket and they let you keep it. After this lovely afternoon we went to Sensoji Temple. It’s HUGE! There were cherry blossom food and hanami everywhere. Sakura flavored grilled mochi is the best. Getting your fortune here is fun. You shake a big drum and a stick falls out. You find the drawer with the number on the stick and that’s your fortune. This is where we first encountered the “fake monks.” They shove a gold medallion in your hand and ask for money. I took the first one for a souvenir and then denied the other 30 we encountered on the rest of the trip. We had dinner at Ippudo, mostly because we go there in NYC. I can’t believe in NYC it’s a high end restaurant and in Japan it’s like McDonald’s. It blew my mind the difference in presentation.
April 4th 2017 – Shibuya -> Harajuku -> Ueno -> Akihabara We went to the post office and jettisoned our extras and souvenirs. My box cost $101 and had anime statues, manga, and clothes. We walked to this little hole in the wall art store across from the money exchange bank near Shibuya station. There were several artists among us who wanted a sketch book for the remaining travels. We walked from Shibuya to Harajuku to Ueno (or so I was told, this was a free day with no plans). We found B-Side Stickers on the way in a very trendy part of town. B-Side Stickers is a fun shop, there are four people who design all the art in the stores. The shops are all over the place and we always happened upon them by chance. We stayed at Centurion Hotel Ueno. The room was about $450 but there were 6 of us in it. There were 2 sets of amazing built in bunk beds with a TV, a king size mattress (extra thick futon) on the other side of the room on a raised section of floor, sliding shoji screens to a terrace, which had a private soaking tub and bamboo. The room and hotel was absolutely stunning and worth every penny, this was our splurge hotel. We walked to Akihabara from here and got food on the way. I thought I ordered a 3 gyoza piece meal but I ordered 3 orders of the 5 piece meal…… After Akihabara on the way back to the hotel we passed a Mos Burger. I always hear about this in Shoujo manga so I ran in and grab a burger, they are actually really good, get the teriyaki one.
April 5th 2017 – Ueno -> Nikko Before we left for Nikko, we stowed our bags at the station and walked around Ueno Park. There was a cherry blossom festival going on with lots of vendors and food stalls. We spent about an hour eating and walking around then left for Nikko. Ieyasu Tokugawa is my favorite figure in Japanese history. I was very excited for Nikko because of this. We got our Nikko bus passes when we got into town and took a short bus ride to our onsen. When we got to our onsen, called Nikko Tokanso, my name was written on a chalk placard outside the hotel welcoming us. The hotel only has maybe 20 rooms. We had 2 rooms for 2 nights, four people were in each room and they allow tattoos in the public bath after 9pm. We picked this onsen for its proximity to the sights at the bottom of the mountain. We stored our bags at the hotel and walked to Toshogu Temple, it was 5 minutes away. The shrine was beautiful. Words can’t do it justice, it was so ornate and crafted with such skill. This is where Ieyasu’s mausoleum is. It did cost money to go in but it was so worth it. The monkeys and white cat always featured in Nikko pictures are also in the shrine. We went back to the onsen and relaxed for the rest of the night. They serve traditional kaiseki meals for dinner and breakfast that were included in the price. The food was fantastic and fresh and just amazing.
April 6th 2017 - Nikko We had our awesome kaiseki breakfast to prepare us for a full day! I even tried the natto but that is not for me… After breakfast, we took the bus up the mountain. We had no traffic and we didn’t see a ton of tourists. First stop was Kegon Falls! We walked around and took the elevator down to the bottom. I love waterfalls, I think for this reason, my boyfriend suddenly proposed to me!! What?! I bought a tenugui to commemorate the event and matching phone charms. After all the excitement and pictures, we all walked down to Lake Chuzenji. We accidently walked to the north side of the lake and encountered Futuraasan Chuzenji shrine. It was small and not the one I was looking for. So, we walked all the way back to the main corner and went east instead. Along the way we passed a guy selling grilled mochi out of a window. We got some again, grilled mochi is the best! I will eat a lot of it this trip. On the east side of the lake we found an obaasan selling hand carved plates and statues from a shop. She was working on a plate while we watched, I couldn’t believe how nimble her fingers were. We ended up buying a plate and talking to her for a bit. Finally, we got to Nikkoyama Chuzenji Shrine, the right one. This shrine has a tree in it that was carved in to Kannon in the 700s. It is now petrified and the temple stands around it. It was super interesting seeing it up close. This shrine also has an amazing view out over the mountains and lake. The monk that was showing us around (we were the only ones there) took a group photo for us with the beautiful scenery in the background. After this, we went back down the mountain and had lunch in town. We still had some day light after this so we wondered the forest and around town. We found some local omiyage shops and got maple cake. Maple is a very big flavor in Nikko as we found maple coffee in the vending machines as well. We relaxed in our room and watched Japanese shows before dinner and then enjoyed the open air bath.
April 7th 2017 – Nikko -> Sendai We woke up and had our last meal at the onsen, sad to be leaving. Our friends who wouldn’t get naked in public took their last turns in the private one or by woke up at 4am when no one would be in the public one. We walked to Rinnoji Temple. The main temple building is under construction at the time we went but you could go all the way up the construction building and see how they were restoring the temple. I thought it was fascinating that you could do this and really see what goes into the restoration process. After this, we walked to Iemitsu’s mausoleum. We took the bus back to town and waited for our train. When you are in Nikko, right by the train station, there is this little stall that sells “Age Yuba Manju.” You need to eat this. I literally got 4 the first time and 5 the next trip. These are delicious and you must eat them. After we finished eating, we got on the train and headed to Sendai. We got to our hotel in Sendai, dropped everything off and headed out for the evening. We walked Clis Street (covered shopping streets like this one are everywhere in every city in Japan) and found Café Misty. I might have had the best omurice and hamburger curry of my life there. We ended the night at Taito Station playing video games. Sendai is not interesting in itself, at all.
April 8th 2017 - Hiraizumi Today we went to Hiraizumi. We started with Mustoji Temple. The pure land garden was pretty, but it was still pretty cold up north so I don’t think we could appreciate the beauty. We walked to Chusonji Temple and ended up at Kinjikido Hall. The golden hall is actually HOUSED in another building. The whole Kinjikido Hall is gold, shinning gold like you see it movies! No one else wanted to go in with me, but my breath was taken away. It was absolutely beautiful and I’ve never seen anything like it. We walked around the area a bit and found some other small temples. We took the shinkansen back to Sendai and went to the Book Off Bazaar next to the station. I found some manga I was looking for and some super cheap anime keychains. Book Off is a second hand store and the bazaars have an anime and manga floor. We got bento’s at Familymart for dinner, went to Taito station to play for a while, then called it a night.
April 9th 2017 - Yamadera Today we go to Yamadera. We got there and even the walk through to town was enjoyable. It is 1000 steps to the top of the mountain, I lost count at 890. We started walking up the side of the mountain and all the little shrines and small statues along the way were adorable. There were lots of coins pushed into the soft rock along steps. The view at the top is gorgeous. We sat up there a while and took pictures and just enjoyed the view. There weren’t that many people and most were Japanese so it was nice and quiet. I took a bunch of time lapse video of the clouds rolling in. After we came down, we stopped at the Enzou soba noodle shop right by the station. They specialize in curry udon. It was the best meal I had the whole trip, especially after the cold damp climb. We told them that their food was amazing and the waiter brought the owner out who got on the floor and bowed to us! I was really touched that our comment meant that much to them. We will go back to that shop any time we are in the Tohoku region. We went back to Sendai and to Taito station….there is not much to do in Sendai. Our one friend is an impressive crane game winner and won me a statue, plus 4 for him and his gf. We went back to the hotel and relaxed for the night.
April 10th 2017 – Sendai -> Kyoto -> Nara Travel day. We left Sendai at 8am and took the train all the way to Tokyo and on to Kyoto. There was a lot we wanted to see in Kyoto. So, when we got to Kyoto station, we got off and did some sightseeing before heading to Nara for the evening. We went to Nijo Castle first. It was our first castle and very interesting to see. There were cherry blossoms blooming in the gardens and the whole grounds were in bloom and beautiful. We walked down to Kamigamo Shrine and there was a traditional wedding going on. What a great event to get to see happening live. After this, we continued on to Nara. On the train to Nara, a girl got on and sat across from me. She had exclusive Big Bang (kpop) concert key chains. I pointed at it and said they were awesome and that I love G Dragon in Japanese. She smiled really big and nodded at me. A few minutes later she took the G Dragon key chain off her book bag and handed it to me. I said “honto?!” and she said yes. Then she dashed off the train, I couldn’t believe it! I wasn’t sure if I made her feel uncomfortable but I felt like she gave it to me out of happiness to meet a fan. We asked our host where we should eat in Nara and she told us about an izakaya near the house. She said the owner would come and get us from our Airbnb. So, an older lady came and got us….and took us to a house across the street. We are all kind of like….whaaaaaat?? I emailed our host and she said the izakaya only sat 10 so the owner shut it down for the night to host us in her house! The dinner was $25 each with all the beer and bottomless bowls of food you could want. The food was delicious and she was cooking and preparing it right there in her kitchen. She knew almost no English but with google translate and our broken Japanese we managed to have a wonderful 2 hour conversation with her about her family and Japan. It was a truly wonderful experience that I don’t think we will ever have again! The people we met today were very nice and very open to us and it made me really happy. The woman who cooked for us and let us into her home had no issues or hesitations about all of our tattoos. I was overly worried about this planning our trip, that I would make people uncomfortable but I haven’t felt that at all.
April 11th 2017 - Nara Today was the first day we didn’t have Familymart breakfast. We went to a nice café and took the day really slow. We walked to the station and got our bus tickets for the day. We walked to Kofukuji Temple, then we walked around the area for a bit. We got on the bus and went to Kasuga Taisho. This shrine is known for its 3000 lanterns on the temple grounds. I would like to go back and see this in the evening when everything is lit up. We walked around and fed some deer and got some souvenirs. We walked to Todaiji Temple. This temple has the largest bronze Buddha in the world. This temple had the biggest impact on me out of everything we saw. It is so massive and so imposing. I took pictures but it just doesn’t capture it. Even the building and the gate as you walk up are huge! We went to Rokumei Coffee and walked around town a little. We found a nice restaurant and had curry hamburger for dinner (can you tell this is my favorite dish?). Walking between each of these temples we encountered a lot of food stalls. We had dried rice crackers with spices, the lady said she dried those two weeks. And grilled mochi, one with sakura and one with red bean, they had a deer face pressed into them. We took the bus back to the Airbnb and relaxed for the night.
April 12th 2017 – Nara -> Kyoto After getting to Kyoto and exploring, I wish we had just done a day trip to Nara. I found the deer kind of depressing and shabby from over eating or eating things they shouldn’t. I really did not like the deer part of Nara. We left Nara around 8am and got to Kyoto around 9am. We headed to Arashiyama first. The bamboo grove was already filled with people, but it was still beautiful. We went to Kofukuji and then on to Gio-ji Temple. These two temples are offered on a combo ticket. We weren’t planning on going to Kofukuji but since it was included, why not. Gio-ji Temple is a moss temple and my send favorite temple following Todaiji. There were people weeding the grounds while we were there and it took them so long to go over one small patch to get everything perfect. I was mesmerized watching them work so diligently. We spent a lot of time walking around this temple. It was very calm and serene and almost no one was there but us. Considering how busy the rest of the area was, it was a very nice respite. We walked all the way to Daikaku Temple after this. It had amazing cherry blossom viewing and we sat and enjoyed that for a long time. After this, we picked up our bags at the station, got lunch and went to our Airbnb. We headed back out and went to the Kyoto Pokecenter next. Amazing. So many exclusive items you can’t get at the other centers. I played the raffle at check out and got a tenugui with Hawaiian Pikachu! After this we went to the arcades for the night. Our friend put $10 into this interactive dinosaur game on the pachinko floor. It wasn’t vertical like a regular pachinko games but like a huge casino game. That $10 lasted 4 hours! I tried Evangelion pachinko, lost $10 without figuring out how to play and was done. On the walk back we found a ramen hole in the wall restaurant that everyone else said was amazing because they gave you a ton of meat, which was true, but the broth was meh.
April 13th 2017 - Kyoto We walked to Fushimi Inari around 930am. There were food stalls set up everywhere. I got a rice ball wrapped in bacon! The shrine area was super crowded with school kids all over. We didn’t go that far before deciding to leave. We took the bus to Toji Temple which has the biggest pagoda in Japan. This was the first blue sky day we had in a week! It wasn’t always raining, but it had been badly overcast for a while. The time at Toji Temple was extremely enjoyable. There is a small pond, lots of benches and ice cream. We were definitely running around a lot this trip and with the blue sky and the blooming flowers we just sat down and ate an ice cream. The other buildings on the grounds had amazing statues in them and were quite impressive themselves. After this, we all met up and went to Nishiki Market. We got grilled squid, shrimp tempura, a chocolate croquette, and other foods. We walked to Pontocho and marveled at the tiny streets and all the little restaurants. Our friends who were leaving Japan the next day decided that they wanted sushi for their last dinner. We found a sushi restaurant all the way at the end of the alley past a little playground. It was delicious, I have never been able to eat raw sushi until this moment. I will probably go to hell for it but we had whale sushi and raw chicken sushi. I couldn’t help myself, when will I ever get that opportunity again? We started walking back towards the Airbnb and passed a building along a covered shopping street that said massages 30 minutes 2000yen. So, we all got massages! It was so nice after 2 weeks of carrying my book bag all day every day.
April 14th 2017 – Kyoto -> Fukuoka We got up at 630am and walked to Fushimi Inari. I got my no people picture just like I see on Google. I was quite happy. The food stalls started opening again so we got grilled sweet potato with sugar on a stick. I follow Kyoto Dog Café on Instagram so we went there and I got shiba inu souvenirs! I have a shiba and I really wanted to go to this café. After this we headed towards Fukuoka. Some of the group stopped in Hiroshima, but we went straight to Fukuoka because I had a tattoo appointment. We found the NERV Shinkansen store at Hakata station and I got another tenugui there. We walked around Tenjin Underground for a little bit but the shops were expensive! It was hard to find that tattoo place but a little old lady pointed us to it after she saw my neck tattoos and worried face. I got a ramen bowl tattoo because tonkotsu ramen was born in Fukuoka and it’s my favorite type of ramen. The tattoo was only $150 with no tip (no tipping in Japan!). The guy was super nice and stayed till almost midnight to tattoo a kitsune mask and daruma on my other two friends. After this we headed to Nasaku Island to find some yatai! My fiancé really wanted to eat ramen at an open air stall like in movies and TV shows. We found one that was perfect and got the best ramen for $5 with a huge beer. We checked into our ryokan and enjoyed our last night with a public bath, sad, but what a great day.
April 15th 2017 – Fukuoka -> Busan / Seoul, South Korea till April 22nd 2017 We went to the Fukuoka Pokecenter then headed to the port. We took the JR Beetle for $110 to Busan, South Korea. The process with customs was easy on both sides and they played a One Piece movie on the 3 hour trip. I really liked taking the ferry, which is jet engine powered.
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