I've read several times on this website that this is the best way to see Hawaii for the first time and I absolutely agree. My husband and I just got back from this cruise and we loved every minute of it. We have never visited Hawaii before and we had plenty of time at every stop to do everything we wanted to do. Let me tell you a little about ourselves before I start this review because that helped me when I was reading them. We're both 25 years old and went into this experience knowing we wanted to see and do a lot every day. We were not traveling with children, and I don't know if I would say we're adventurous, but we planned on hiking, snorkeling, and being on the "go" the entire trip. We didn't want to just lie on a beach at every port for 7 days. If you want to do that, I would suggest staying in one of the resorts in Maui. Also, because we're younger and saved for this trip for the past year, we did have a budget. It wasn't very strict, we didn't miss out on things if we really wanted to do it, but at the same time we tried to save money whenever we could. We didn't book an excursion through the boat. We enjoyed making our own schedule and honestly think we got to do a lot more by not doing the excursions. I hope this review helps someone because I used the reviews on this site so much; it was very helpful in us planning the trip.
BEFORE THE CRUISE: We flew into Oahu on Friday and stayed at the Best Western-The Plaza Hotel because it was close to Pearl Harbor and the airport. It was okay, I'm not sure if I would recommend staying there. We saw (what we hope) were ants in the bathroom and on the desk. Anytime I see any type of bugs in hotels I can't help but wonder what bugs we aren't seeing! We took the city bus to Waikiki beach that afternoon. It was $2.50 per person but I would NOT recommend doing this to Waikiki beach. It took almost an hour because we stopped every 100 feet. It's very economical to do this, but took way too long. We walked around Waikiki until after sunset then took a taxi back to the hotel.
We went to Pearl Harbor Saturday morning. The city bus was a good choice to Pearl Harbor. It was just a few stops away and only $10 for us to travel there and back. I read and heard from several people Saturdays are extremely crowded but we reserved our tickets for the Arizona Memorial in advance so we didn't have to worry about getting there very early for tickets. I didn't realize you could reserve tickets until the day before we left but you can at www.recreation.gov. There is a reservation fee of $1.50 per ticket (the actual tickets are free) but it's worth not having to worry about what time you're tour will be.
ARRIVING ON THE BOAT: We got on the boat around 1:30-2:00 p.m. and everything went very smoothly. We went through security and got checked in very quickly, they were very well organized. We got lunch and dinner at the Aloha Cafe and just enjoyed the boat the rest of the day. Our room was ready around 3:00 and we had an inside cabin on deck 4. We were worried about noise because the theater was directly on top of us on deck 5 and we were close the elevators but we didn't have a single noise problem the entire cruise. Also, our inside room was small but for two people we had plenty of room and we were never in there anyway other than to sleep and we enjoyed the complete darkness that came with the room.
MAUI DAY 1: The Thrifty shuttle picked us up immediately from the port and we got our rental car. We joined the Blue Chip Program before going and it really did make things faster when picking up our cars because they had a separate line for us. It's free to join and I could recommend everyone do it if you're renting from them. We did the Road to Hana, and as we've read, it was extremely curvy! We thought we were prepared but wow. My husband was driving and had to stop several times because he got car sick! You can't go over 25 mph on this road the entire way, and we enjoyed it and would encourage everyone to do it once but I don't think we would do it again. The best part of the drive was stopping at Waianapanapa State Park. If you do the Road to Hana you have to stop here! It's almost to Hana and it is absolutely stunning. After dinner we drove to Lahiana/Kaanapali Beach that night to look around. There was public parking for cars overnight right next to the ship, very easy to find a space and it was free.
MAUI DAY 2: We booked surf lessons through Royal Hawaiian Surf Academy on Kaanapali Beach. We met outside the Marriott Resort (beautiful!) on the beach and had a 2 hour lesson. This was one of our favorite things we did and loved the instructors. We went at 8:30 a.m. and it was us and two other girls and we had two instructors so it was almost like a private lesson. After surfing we stayed on the beach in front of the Marriott the rest of the day. We drove through downtown Lahiana on the way back and wish we would have spent more time there. There were tons of shops and was a really neat place to walk around.
HILO: This was the only day we had trouble with our shuttle with Thrifty. They had security at this port that all of the shuttles and buses had to go through every time they went in and out of the gate and it made everything slower. We missed the first shuttles (they let people off a little before 8 a.m. this day) and we had to wait for them to come back. We had to wait almost 25-30 minutes even though the actual office was only about 5-10 minutes away. However, once we go to the office we were given our car very quickly. We went to the Hawaii Volcano National Park and thought we would be there for most of the day but we went through this fairly quickly. After lunch we drove back toward Hilo and stopped at Akaka Falls State Park. It was very pretty! We also took a scenic route off of the main road (didn't have a name) that was 4 miles long and it was very pretty as well. We ate at Liberty this night. This was the only night we ate at Liberty because of the dress code (we just didn't want to think about what we were wearing, and the food was almost the exact same at Skyline.) I can't really remember which nights we ate at which restaurant but after this night we switched between the Aloha Cafe and Skyline and really enjoyed both. We thought the food everywhere was amazing!
KONA: You have to take the tender boats to this pier and it went very smoothly! They had 4 boats going to and from the port. This was the only day we did not rent a car. We looked into doing an excursion through the boat this day but decided not to and I'm so glad we didn't! We heard about the Surf and Beach Express company (from the front desk) that would take you to and from a great snorkeling spot. There was a lady with brochures when you get to the port we asked her about it and she gave us a brochure and pointed us in the right direction. The office is right across the street in the shops and for $20 per person we were able to use the shuttle and rent snorkeling gear. The shuttle ran every 30 minutes all day and they took us to Turtle Beach or Turtle Bay (I heard both used.) We loved it there! It's called Turtle Beach because of the sea turtles! They like the algae on the rocks close to the shore so they come up the shore during high tide. They ignore humans because they're used to us snorkeling there. The snorkeling was amazing there as well, the coral and fish were beautiful and we did see a sea turtle swim by us too. We really enjoyed this day and for $40 total were very happy! Snorkeling excursions through the ship were anywhere from $90-$130 per person! Don't do those; you will see more at this place and save a lot of money!
KAUAI DAY 1: This was by far our favorite island. It was gorgeous! We caught the Thrifty shuttle and easily got our rental car at the airport nearby. We went on a helicopter ride with Jack Harter Helicopters at 11:00 a.m. and it was the highlight of our trip. We went with Jack Harter because they offer a helicopter ride with no doors. It was fantastic, just you and the scenery! Our tour guide was very very helpful in pointing out things and giving us facts. We got a full hour in the air and my (sometimes frugal) husband said a thousand times he would spend this money again in a heartbeat. Afterward we drove up to Ke'e Beach and hiked the first two miles of the Kalalau trail. This is labeled strenuous for a reason. We're in shape and it was tough. The views of the NaPali Coast made it worth it though. Overall gorgeous area. We stopped at Bubba's Burgers on the way back for dinner and really enjoyed it. It's small but apparently very famous and we didn't even know it. They had pictures of Ben Affleck, Adam Sandler, Jimmy Kimmel, Bill Clinton, Matt Damon and many more on the wall from when they had stopped in to eat. The Boston cook talked with us while we ate and it was a very neat, good local place. We went to the Smith Family Garden Luau after that. We opted not to do the entire luau, just the show only option. It's kind of hidden on their website but the option is there. It was only $15 per person for just the show. We knew we would rather have more time exploring that afternoon and also knew we weren't going to eat $70+ each in food. The show itself was good, very educational and told the history of Hawaii. There is overnight parking down the street from the ship in a small shopping center. A shuttle runs from the lot to the ship until 9 p.m. You have to pay $20 to park there which we didn't know if we really needed to pay (or just park for free) but a man said they did tow and we didn't want to take the chance. He gave us a parking pass to put in our car. (Could have been a scam but we didn't get towed, so I guess it was worth it.)
KAUAI DAY 2: We left early for Waimea Canyon. It took longer than we expected to get there; I think about 1 hr. 15 or 30 minutes. It was very beautiful though, worth the drive. After that we went south to the Grand Hyatt because we read about Shipwreck beach and a hiking trail in that area. It was hard to find the beach; you have to drive past the Hyatt and onto a dirt road. The road is pretty rough for a car, but once we got to the beach it was very pretty and isolated. We even saw a seal sunning itself on the beach! We used www.kauaiexplorer.com to pick out beaches and trails. It was a very helpful website.
DOCKING/LEAVING: Again, everything went very smoothly. We didn't get a luggage tag for a specific time to leave because our flight was later in the afternoon and we had two bags we could carry on our own. We slept in and were off the boat at 9 a.m. (the latest you could stay on was 9:15.)
FINAL THOUGHTS: Something I read on this site that we did and many other passengers wished they did once they saw us doing it, was order room service the night before and packed our lunches for the next day. We brought a small cooler from home and Ziploc bags and ordered sandwiches, chips, cookies and fruit every night before bed for our lunch the next day. It saved us a lot of money and sometimes we would be places that didn't have any food options around. Also, I read on this site where people thought the boat was outdated and not nice. I completely disagree! I've been on several other cruises and I thought this boat was great and up to par with every other boat I've been on with Carnival and Royal Caribbean. They also had a lot of activities at night. They had a show plus the comedian plus someone playing in a piano bar and something else going on. There were always options at night.
Again, I hope this review helps someone plan their trip and prepare for what to expect. We would recommend this cruise to everyone!