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Time For a Hoʻolauleʻa - The Festivals of Honolulu

5th June 2014

There are some very good reasons why the Hawaiian islands are some of the most popular cruise destinations in the world, and those reasons are reflected in the islands’ many festivals. Colorful, joyous celebrations which welcome in both Hawaiian and haole revellers alike, Hawaii’s best festivals include a range of things to do for visitors both young and old; from stately parades to all-night parties, whole cities put everyday life on hold to celebrate the beauty and history of these remarkable islands. Although there are fantastic events across each of the islands, Oahu - and the state capital of Honolulu in particular - is home to some of the most famous and exciting. Visitors quickly succumb to the city’s beauty and hospitality even on the calmest days, so imagine the scene when the city shows up to celebrate; there’s nothing else like it in the world.

Honolulu Festival

For three days in March (2015’s will be held from March 6-8), Honolulu descends into revelry. Parades, performances, and fireworks all draw people from across the islands - and around the world - to celebrate Hawaii’s diversity and its deeply-felt connections to the other countries and islands of the Pacific Rim. These connections are seen from the moment you step off your cruise ship - Hawaii is a rich blend of Asian, South Pacific, and American influences, and by taking part in this 21 year-old festival, visitors are able to immerse themselves in Hawaiian life and culture.

Take the famous performances, for example. Examples of the traditional dances of Hawaii and other Pacific islands are available everywhere from shopping malls to luaus, but the Honolulu Festival is the place to be if you want to see Alaskan Native dancing and Japanese samurai performances, as well as the brightest talents of the islands showcasing the hula and other Hawaiian dances. Singing, drumming, and even acrobatic performances all have their place here as well, celebrating the diversity of Hawaii’s thriving culture.

Of course, nobody can visit the Honolulu Festival without taking in the Grand Parade, traditionally held on the last day of the festival, followed by a spectacular fireworks show. For four hours, the parade winds through the streets of Waikiki, treating everyone to some of the highlights of Hawaii’s heritage and diverse culture. Richly decorated floats, marching bands, dance troupes representing not only Hawaii but all the cultures of the Pacific islands, and other traditional performances from across the Pacific Rim will keep revellers of all ages enchanted and entertained until the sun goes down. Alongside the parade route you’ll find games, food booths, and much more, ensuring that by the time you reach Waikiki beach (or your ship) for the fireworks show, you’ll have had your fill of fun and excitement.

King Kamehameha Day and Floral Parade

On June 11 every year, the Hawaiian islands come together to celebrate Kamehameha the Great. During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, King Kamehameha united the islands, preserved their independence, and helped to establish their place in the growing Pacific trade routes. For over 140 years, Kamehameha Day has brought Hawaiians together in celebration of their unique history and heritage, and the modern festival is the perfect time for visitors to take in the real Hawaii.

Although celebrations are held across the islands, the most famous festival - the King Kamehameha Floral Parade - takes place in Honolulu, Oahu. Held on the first Saturday after King Kamehameha Day, the Floral Parade will reach its 100th running in 2016, and is a much-beloved part of Oahu life. Celebrations begin with the ceremonial draping of leis on the statue of Kamehameha the Great, while leis are also placed on a Kamehameha statue located at the United States Capitol. The parade route starts at the beautiful ʻIolani Palace (open as a museum, and well worth a visit) before winding its way through Oahu and ending at Kapi’olani Park; Waikiki is one of the major hubs of activities (and easily accessible by most cruise docks), but if you’d rather watch the float away from the worst of the crowds, Ala Moana is a good compromise.

The parade itself is a wild profusion of music and color, from some of the island’s best marching bands to the intricate, spectacular floats which utilize the exotic flowers and plants found on this island paradise. Be sure to catch the traditional pa’u riders, one of the parade’s most popular sights; decorated in flowers, leis, and flowing clothes, the pa’u “royal court” of queen, princesses, and ladies-in-waiting is sight to behold. Once you’ve had your fill of flowers and music, visit Kapi’olani Park for the Hoʻolauleʻa - with arts and crafts, games, food, and even more performances, this party is the perfect way to cap off a perfect day in Oahu.

Aloha Festivals

Celebrated across the Hawaiian Islands, the Aloha Festivals - held in late September for over 60 years - are one of the most exciting times to visit Honolulu. Think of the biggest block party you’ve ever seen, and you won’t even come close; the streets fill with celebration, Hawaiians and visitors alike join together to have fun, and the soundtrack is provided by rock bands and traditional musicians. Wandering through Waikiki during the Hoʻolauleʻa, you’ll find traditional dance performances, food booths with mouth-watering offerings, the chance to make a lei of your own, and many more attractions.

Aside from the block party, the Aloha Festivals feature many other highlights as well. The festivities begin the day before the party, with the ceremonial recognition of the festival “royal court”, complete with hula, chanting, and a glimpse at Hawaii’s past. A floral parade then kicks off the next day at nine am, ten hours before the Hoʻolauleʻa. Here you’ll see pa’u riders, floats, and more music. You’ll think you’ve seen the best that Hawaii has to offer, but then the Hoʻolauleʻa will begin, and you’ll realize that there’s still a whole world of excitement left to discover in this beautiful, exciting city.

Saints, Sinners and Tomatoes - The Festivals Of Spain

5th June 2014

Spain is a modern country steeped in a deep sense of history, where astonishing centuries-old architecture embraces hyper-modern lifestyles, and where vast dry vistas suddenly give way to plunging cliffs, deep blue waters, and spectacular beaches. Spain’s many festivals embody these contradictions, braiding the past together with the modern era and producing a riot of sights and sounds which can’t be found anywhere else on earth. It’s enough of a joy to go cruising past the shores of Spain on your Mediterranean adventure, but taking the time to join in with the revellers at Spanish festivals will leave you with memories you won’t forget for the rest of your life. These are the moments which make life truly worth living, and if you join in wholeheartedly, you’ll find yourself living for the moment in a way you may not have done in years. From the joyful celebration that is the Fiesta de San Isidro in Madrid, to the ancient Moors and Christians Festivals, to the bizarre and wonderful tomato-flinging party which takes place in Buñol for La Tomatina, you can have your fill of celebration simply by stopping by at one of Spain’s fantastic festivals.

Fiesta de San Isidro

Madrid’s largest festival, the Fiesta de San Isidro is held every year in mid-May. This is the kind of festival which is known all over the world, complete with spectacular parades, stunning costumes, flamenco dancing and music wherever you turn, and many more public events spanning over nine days of revelry. The festival marks the feast day of San Isidro, the city’s patron saint as well as the patron saint of farmers. San Isidro was said to have lived in Madrid from 1082 to 1172, and his feast day has been a time of celebration and excitement throughout the centuries.

Madrid is a city with a long history and a storied culture, and this amazing festival is the perfect time to see it in all its glory. Dressed in the traditional costumes of Madrid, chulapos and goyescos arrive in public spaces to dance the chotis, eat delicious Spanish food, take in the parades with their bright colors and strange giant puppets, and much more. The grand parade is part of the “launching party”, complete with food vendors, family-friendly events, and music everywhere you turn, but the festivities don’t stop for over a week.

If you’re interested in the religious and historic reasons for this festival, the Pradera Of San Isidro is unmissable. Crowds go on pilgrimage through the streets to drink from the sacred spring at the shrine of San Isidro, before settling beside the Manzanares river to sample the food available from countless vendors, listen to traditional music, watch dancing, and come together in celebration. Of course, there are plenty of purely secular events as well. Massive dances are held with free concerts, activities for children, and - as always - more to eat and drink than you’d ever be able to sample all of.

The Moors & Christians Festivals

Celebrating the victory over the Moors during the 13th century, La Fiesta de Moros y Cristianos is a tradition stretching back to the 1500s and still observed today. Throughout Spain, people dress up in dramatic 13th century costumes in order to re-enact battles, listen to medieval music, watch impressive fireworks displays, and - above all - have as much fun as possible while celebrating their long history. While you can find these festivals throughout Spain in late April and occasionally July (due to various feast days and dates of historic battles), two of them most impressive and widely known are found in Villajoyosa and Alcoy. Recognized as being some of the most popular events for tourists in Spain, these events are nonetheless as spectacular and authentic as you could possibly wish them to be.

As bystanders fill the streets in search of the perfect viewing spot, the Moorish and Christian “armies” arrive to march through the city, a procession of camels and elephants, Arabian horses and Spanish Andalusians, gunpowder and flashing scimitars. People in fur and metal stretch out for as far as the eye can see, while the crowds cheer on the opposing armies. After the parades, ceremonial readings, and many more wonderful events, the armies finally clash in a final battle which inevitably ends in a triumphant victory for the Christians. The battle is a sight to behold, echoing back through the centuries until you can truly believe you’ve found yourself in the distant past; this is one festival you won’t soon forget.

La Tomatina

On the last Wednesday of every August, as part of the week-long festival of Buñol, the people of this Mediterranean town take part in a giant tomato fight. In many ways, that’s the end of the story; this isn’t based on ancient customs or centuries-old history, and it doesn’t have deep symbolic meaning. In fact, the tradition has only been in place since approximately 1950, but in those 60 plus years it has developed a frenzied momentum (much like the tomatoes themselves) and a cherished place in the hearts of those who have taken part. Billed as the world’s largest food fight, La Tomatina draws visitors from across the world to throw tomatoes at each other until the streets run red with pulp and everyone is laughing, happy, and feeling very much like a kid again. Tomatoes (too flavorless to be used as food) are brought in via truck for the festival, and revellers go through approximately 150,000 of them every year.

Due to the popularity of the festival, tickets are limited to 15,000 for out-of-town visitors, so make sure to pick up your ticket online before arriving. As one of the strangest, most wonderful events in the world, La Tomatina is an absolute must for anyone who’s cruising the Mediterranean in August. Located a short drive from many popular docking sites, it’s well worth the trip, and will leave you with stories which will keep your friends in stitches for years.

More information on cruises to Spain

Vikings and Jazz - The Fascinating Festivals of Norway

23rd May 2014

A cruise alongside Norway’s dramatic fjords is the trip of a lifetime. With their raw, astonishing beauty, they push away thoughts of the modern world and reconnect you with what our world is capable of creating. Norway, ancestral home of the Vikings, is the perfect place to bask in this feeling. Its most popular festivals will take you back in time, then home to the present to enjoy some of the best music in the world. From Karmøy’s time-travelling Viking Festival, to the world-class music and food festivals which can be found across Norway during the summer months, cruising visitors will be hard-pressed to choose where to go and what to see here.

Viking Festival, Karmøy

The coastal municipality of Karmøy, found in the northwestern region of Norway, had a reputation as a sailing community even during the time of the Vikings - in spite of the stormy and dangerous seas off its coast. It was said that Thor, the god of thunder, waded the straits at Karmsund each day on his way to Yggdrasil. This heritage is evident by the Viking remnants and ruins to be found here, and at the beginning of June Karmøy celebrates its long and storied past by recreating the lives of the Vikings.

The festival, which takes place at Karmøy’s reconstructed Viking settlement, is a treat for history buffs of any age. There’s no feeling in the world like standing in a place of history and watching that history unfold around you in a stunning and fascinating way. Wander through the vast “Viking Market” at the center of the festival, watch actors recreate living history, and take in the reconstructions: massive wooden boats, a blacksmith exhibit, storytelling of Norse myths and history, horse shows, archery, weapons demonstrations, and much more. When you’re ready to dig your hands in yourself, you can take part in a wide range of activities that have been put together to pull you deeper into authentic Viking life. Once you’ve learned the ins-and-outs of plant dyeing, learned how to start a fire, tasted the herbs used a millenia ago, and competed in games, you’ll begin to understand Norway better than you ever could before.

To finish your time at the festival, you can either purchase food, or grill up your own barbeque on communal barbeque pits - either way, you’ll want to sit back, relax, and listen to traditional Norwegian music while you eat. As the sun stays high in the sky long into evening, you’ll watch the jugglers pass by and thank Thor that you’re in Norway.

Summer Music Festivals

Of course, Norway is also a modern country, and its music scene has produced many exciting festivals. No matter your taste in music, you’ll find something here to keep you dancing: classical music, jazz, acoustic, folk, blues, rock, and indie are all well-represented at different festivals throughout the summer. Of these, the Molde International Jazz Festival and Øya Festival are two of the most popular.

Held each July and founded in 1961, the Molde International Jazz Festival is the longest-running in Europe. Drawing both Norwegian talent and top performers from across the world, this festival is a must-see for jazz fans, but also a great way to spend the day for everyone else. Over the course of five days, over 100 concerts - many of them free - are held across Molde, giving visitors the chance to see jazz greats in person. Herbie Hancock and Jamie Cullum have both performed here, and the 2013 list included Bryan Ferry & The Bryan Ferry Orchestra, John Legend, Jason Moran, and many more. No matter what you think of jazz now, this festival will re-ignite your passion or introduce you to the complexity and brilliance of modern jazz.

Image: fulya atalay /

Øya Festival, Oslo’s largest outdoor music festival, is held at the beginning of August each year. Even among rock and indie festivals, Øya is unique; despite hosting some of the biggest names in the game, Øya retains its green roots (with environmentally ethical standards and 100% organic food) and provides a chance to see top acts without the crush of people found at most major festivals. In recent years, featured acts have included Queens of the Stone Age, Robyn, Kanye West, Iggy Pop, the Arctic Monkeys, and Lily Allen. If you’re cruising through Norway this summer, there’s no question that Øya is the place to be.

Gladmat Festival, Stavanger

When you think of what Norway offers, you might not think of delicious food - but Gladmat Festival aims to change that mistaken way of thinking. Drawing 250,000 people to Stavanger (on the northwestern coast) every year in July, the Gladmat Festival is Scandinavia’s largest food festival, and gladly welcomes everyone from top chefs, to the curious visitors in search of a nibble or two. Local, fresh, and seasonal ingredients are featured, but classes are held on cuisines from across the globe, and tastings are available for everything from chocolate to beer.

Eat your fill of local shellfish, listen to talks by famous and established chefs (Gordon Ramsay was the guest of honor in 2010), and wander through the vendors in search of something delicious to eat there, or to take home to your friends and family. Whether or not you consider yourself a pro in the kitchen, it’s well worth taking the time to attend some of the classes. Taught by some of Norway’s best chefs, these deal with everything from how to cook seafood, to how to brew your own beer - just watching these masters at work is a great opportunity itself. This is a festival which rewards day-long visitors as much as it does those who stay for the entire celebration, making it the perfect day trip during your cruise. Not only does it give you a literal taste of what Norway has to offer, but it will provide you with plenty of delicious memories to take home with you.

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