After having read many reviews of this ship and this cruise, I am pleased to report that most of the negative reviews that I had read were grossly overstated. Obviously, the strength of this cruise lies in its itinerary. However, my wife and I were very pleasantly surprised by the crew (very helpful and friendly) the food (for the most part- both varied and very tasty) and the over-all appearance of the ship (It probably is in need of a renovation, but, again, for the most part, it was very clean and it was also fairly easy to "navigate".)
From the time that we booked the cruise right up until the time that we arrived, our biggest decisions were "Do we book excursions or do we rent a car?" "Where do we want to go and what do we want to see at each island?" After much consideration and re-consideration, we decided this as our final plan: We'll save the renting of the car for our next trip (and yes, I hope to do this cruise once again). In addition we'll do an excursion every other day, and leave the alternate days as "chill time", to do what we want, when we want. So here's a brief summary of our trip...
Sat.- Arriving in Honolulu:
Because we come from Mass., we decided that to cut down on the length of the trip, we'd stop and spend a few days in Las Vegas on the way out to Hawaii and stop and spend a couple of days in Vegas on our way back home. We hadn't seen Vegas in about 15 years, and naturally it had become a whole new city in that time span. I've posted reviews of The Mirage ("A Wonderful Experience") and The Flamingo ("Never Again") on Trip Advisor, if you're interested.
Our flight to Honolulu was 6 hours long (Hawaiian Airlines), and it wasn't nearly as bad as I had feared. I spent a good deal of time doing research on the islands that we were going to visit using the airlines touch-screen. After arriving, having paid for a transfer to the ship, we were taken by mini-van, and because we are Latitude members (i.e. we've used N.C.L.) before, getting boarded onto the ship was an easy and fairly quick procedure (about 20 minutes in total), including many "alohas" and also a lei for each of us.
We had dinner just about every night in the Liberty, and we were generally very satisfied with both the food and the service. We didn't have to wait in any lines at all, and every night except one, we requested and received a table by a window. The portions aren't very large, but if you didn't think that one appetizer, one entree and one dessert would be enough, you were free to request more than one of any (and perhaps all) of the three.
Sun.- Day 2 in Kahului, Maui:
We had heard good things about the Valley Isle excursion "Hana, The Incredible Journey". We were picked up right at the pier, and were seated on a 12-passenger van with captain's chairs for everybody. Our tour guide was a fellow named Tim, who was fantastic! He went out of his way to make the trip as informative and pleasurable as possible, answering every question, stopping at all the great stops for beautiful vistas and photos--- the Rain Forest, Black Sands Beach, Oheo Gulch, Wailua Falls, Haleakala Nat'l. Park, Kaupo Trail and Gap, etc., etc.! Tim gave anyone who asked suggestions for travel for the next day in Maui, as well. The only negative comment that I might have is that the tour was very long. (We met at about 8:05AM and returned at about 5:35PM--- information overload!) This tour seemed to be much more personal and friendly that the typical "Road to Hana" tour offered by N.C.L., and the tour also included a BBQ chicken lunch (my wife preferred a veggie dish, which we requested and they provided). The cost for the tour was $120.00 each, which, I believe, is better than the "going rate" for this tour.
Mon.- Day 3 in Maui:
We decided to head to a local beach and just "chill" for most of the day. So, at Tim's suggestion, we walked a few blocks to the local beach. However, when we asked a "local" about the beach, she suggested that we walk about another mile and a half to a better state park beach. (She said the beach that we were originally walking to had some homeless folks hanging around and described it as "a bit sketchy".) So, my wife and I walked (about two miles) to a beautiful beach (I think that it was called Kanaha Beach, but I'm not really certain.) with a life guard station and when I asked the guard why the beach was empty, he informed me that at 11:00AM "the wind kites will begin arriving", and to be sure to stay inside the buoy markers. We noticed that the beach was very windy, but if we put our towels down just around the bend of the guard's station, we were pretty much shielded from the wind. The water was clear and warm, with mild waves. Like clock-work, at 11:00, the kite-surfers began to arrive, and within an hour or so, the beach was blanketed with beautiful wind kites, and they were entertaining us with their skills, sometimes leaving the water and actually reaching 15 feet into the air. It was quite a site to see.
Tue.- Day 4 in Hilo, on the Big Island:
Once again, because we had read some very good reviews, we went to a local source for our excursion--- Ricky's Tours at www. http://rickystourshawaii.com. Like Tim, Ricky was excellent! He was knowledgeable, personable, and he couldn't do enough for us! He tours the area in his 15-person van, rather than a huge bus-load of folks, and Ricky only had us and another couple on this particular day. (Evidently, one of his competitors had hacked into his web-site and contaminated it with a virus, and put it "out of commission" for at least a week or so.) His tour includes Volcano Nat'l Park, the Thurston Lava Tube, the lava flow areas in the park, Rainbow Falls, Banyan Dr., Richardson Ocean Beach Park and Hilo's Black Sand Beach, the Mauna Loa Nut Factory, etc., etc. a great tour that started at 8:30AM (meeting us at the pier) and dropping us off at about 2:00PM. All for $60.00 each, which he doesn't collect until the tour is over. We made a run to both Walmart & Hilo Hatties (They have one at each port.), and we were advised to purchase souvenirs here rather than paying twice as much for the same merchandise at local vendors. With a few exceptions, this advice is well worth heeding.
Wed.- Day 5 in Kona, on the Big Island:
This is the port where you have to be tendered in because the ship is too large to bring into its harbor. I thought that the tendering process was very organized and moved along quickly, as a few of the ship's life-boats acted as tenders. This was one of our "chill days", and after renting a couple of beach chairs, we took the shuttle bus ($10.00 each R/T) to Turtle Beach. This beach was amazing! There were sea turtles right along the shore among the lava rocks and there were guides to be sure that no one touched or disturbed them and also to provide information for anyone who had questions. I had not snorkeled in more than 20 years, but I thought that I'd give it a try, and I am so glad that I did. The snorkeling here is nothing short of amazing! So many beautiful species of fish and plant life! There's a van right there at the beach that rents the snorkeling packages and gives a quick lesson on using them, and shows a quick little video on what you can and cannot do. (One little caveat: the beach and shore have a combination of lava rock and coral, so beach shoes might be a good suggestion.)
After the beach, we took the shuttle back and we walked around the town--- a quaint little village right there where the tender drops you off. We figured that we head heard so much about the Scandinavian Shaved Ice here that we had to give it a try. There was a long wait, but I think that the ice-cream centered shaved ice was probably worth the wait.
Thu.- Day 6 in Nawiliwili, Kauai:
We had made reservations through Robert's Tours for an excursion beginning at 2:30PM, so in the morning we took our time and headed to the local beach by the Marriot Resort. In Hawaii, all beaches are allowed public access. So, even though the beach sits on the back door of the Marriot, anyone can enjoy it, and it really is beautiful! You can rent anything from beach chairs and umbrellas to paddle, body and surf boards. I love boogey-boarding, so I rented a board and had a great time in the waves! The beach is really pretty neat in that there's a section that is perfect as a family beach, with mild waves and beautiful sand. However, experienced boarders can either paddle out to ride waves or use surf boards, and the waves are probably 4 -- 8 feet high, but they break about 150 yards out and then they gently come into the "family beach" section--- we have nothing like that in the Northeast. Then, to the left of that gentle beach, there's another section that has the waves for boogey-boarders that are probably 3 -5 feet high, but pound the surf pretty roughly--- great fun for boogey boarders!
We returned to pick up our 2:30 excursion with Robert's Tours. First we traveled by bus to the Opaekaa Falls, then to the Wailua River, where we got on board a boat and while being entertained by singers and hula dancers we made our way up the river to the Fern Grotto, and then back down the river back to the bus that brought us to the Smith Family Luau. The trip to the falls and up the river was interesting and entertaining, but the Smith Family Luau was by far, the most disappointing part of our entire trip. For our review of this event, please refer to Trip Advisor and look up "Smith Family Luau" (Robert's Tours)- Save your time and money!! I certainly won't repeat the entire review here, but the pay-off was when my wife found a very long hair in her food, which naturally destroyed our appetites, and when she told the host for the evening- a Mr. Cominga Smith- his response was simply "Okay. Thanks." as if it happens all the time! Suffice it say that the title tells you all you need to know! As I said, it was clearly the "low-light "of our entire trip!!
Fri.- Day 7 in Kauai:
Another "chill day". We slept later than usual, had a nice leisurely breakfast in the Dining Room, and then headed back to the beach at the Marriot. (We both really enjoyed this beach--- white sands, a "beach" to suit your needs/wants, some shady trees for respite from the sun.) We also meandered through the Marriot botanical gardens, that were very pretty, and headed back to the ship. Today was the "short day", where the ship was leaving port at 2:00 PM so that we could cruise along the Na'pali coast. This is a site not to be missed--- absolutely stunning! We were lucky that our balcony was on the port side which afforded us the best view of this beautiful shoreline.
Sat. Arrive back in Honolulu
Because our flight left for Las Vegas at 2:30, we booked a reservation (through N.C.L.) for the "Early Bird Pearl Harbor Excursion". Our group met inside the ship's theatre at about 7:45, and the de-embarkation went very quickly and smoothly. We boarded a very nice and comfortable bus and made our way through a brief tour of Honolulu to the Pearl Harbor site. This was a very moving experience, and I was amazed that even during the short film that we watched before getting on the boat to the USS Arizona Memorial, a respectful silence permeated the atmosphere. As I said... a very moving experience.
That wrapped up our 7-night Pride of America cruise, and, for the most part it was a wonderful experience, and a great introduction to the Hawaiian Isles! Obviously, I could write a narrative that could go on for page after page, but like the cruise itself, I hope that it gives you a brief glimpse of the cruise and many possibilities that await.