As a prelude I should point out two major driving forces that inform our motivation and expectations for this trip. First, my wife and I were fortunate to have lived and worked in HI for five years back in the 1980s; we were residents of Oahu and took frequent weekend trips to all of the major neighbor islands. Second, our last cruise was a 12-day Rome->Venice itinerary in the summer of 2011 - in many ways the trip of a lifetime, but with only one sea day and an excursion on all the others it was exhausting: getting up every morning earlier than I would at home to go to work and returning to the ship just in time to sail to the next port. Fantastic trip; very little relaxation.
Having sailed on the Star and Crown Princess previously we felt familiar with the layout of the ship and staterooms already. We chose a mini-suite on Deck 9 and found it to be exactly as we expected from our earlier experience. A compact but functional layout with queen-sized bed, desk, sitting area, More
two small flat-screen TVs, and a mini-fridge. The balcony had the expected two chairs and small footstools which were quite comfortable and new-looking. The balcony floor had the usual blue mat that provides some cushioning while allowing water to drain. I was pleasantly surprised by the nice shower-massage feature and great water pressure.
The entertainment choices were ample, but other than seeing the juggler (Matt Henry) and ventriloquist act we generally skipped them. The cruise staff was very good and high-energy, doing a good job running the various games and activities. Drake, in particular, did a fantastic job and is a great guy.
Almost without exception, the service staff is excellent. They're friendly and accommodating folks who genuinely want to see you have a good time. The bartenders at the Promenade Bar make a mean martini and were great guys too!
The many days at sea were just what we were looking for. There was no shortage of available activities for those who wanted to take advantage, both Hawaii-themed (courtesy of Elua) and 'normal' cruise stuff like trivia, bingo, etc.
The four ports provided a great overview of the islands for first-time visitors but also gave us the opportunity to focus on the places we knew we wanted to spend time. The only excursion we signed up for was a snorkeling trip out of Lahaina which turned into an amazing close encounter with a pod of humpback whales who surrounded our boat, providing close-up views for 30-45 minutes. Happily the Princess videographer happened to be aboard so there is documentation of this on the 'Reflections' DVD!
Based on positive reviews here at CC we signed up for the Ultimate Ship Tour and found it to be well worth the cost. Terrific access to all areas of the ship including chatting with the Captain and senior officers on the bridge.
The food, which I had found to be the subject of much consternation on the forums here, exceeded my recollection (this being our 3rd Princess cruise since 2007). Contrary to what I had read I noticed that beef tenderloin was on the 'always available' list, though the daily choices were so tempting that I never bothered to try it. We dined at each of the two specialty restaurants twice each and found the main dining rooms to be quite good as well (anytime dining). The International Cafe (IC) offered excellent small plate options including paninis (prosciutto and mozzerella, yum!) and greek salad. And of course I'm a sucker for the poolside pizza and grill items - if you can please a New York native like me with your pizza you're doing pretty well!
Honestly, there just weren't that many. But...
I'm disappointed in the quality of the coffee, which just doesn't come close to the overall quality of the food aboard. Frankly it reminds me of college dining hall coffee from concentrate and seems to be the same stuff whether delivered by room service in the AM, served in the main dining room, or out of the tap in the buffet area. In fact, it even seemed to be the same in the specialty restaurants except for one of my two visits to the Crown Grill when I was inexplicably (but happily) served an excellent cup. A cynic might opine that this is a move to push sales of the specialty coffees in the IC but I'd rather consider it an opportunity for future improvement.
Finally, as I said, we enjoy the anytime dining option and understand that sometimes this means waiting for a table for two to become available. On two occasions, though, having chosen to wait for a 'private table' rather than sit with others, we were ultimately brought to a table which clearly was a 4-top in which the two halves had been separated by approximately 3 inches. In other words we were, for all practical purposes, seated with another couple despite having expressed our preference not to do so. I didn't want to make a fuss about it, not wanting the couple already seated to take it personally, but I felt that this was a sneaky way to ignore our stated wishes.
All in all this was a fantastic experience that wasn't significantly lessened by my minor quibbles. I highly recommend sailing the Golden to Hawaii - just be ready to enjoy the wonderful stretches at sea. Less
Hilo is a very quiet and rather old-fashioned little town. There is considerable local beauty to be found - the 'downtown' area with the harbor and park and looming visage of Mauna Kea is charming and picturesque. If you're the type that likes fine dining and nice wine with lunch you may well be disappointed, however. We didn't take any excursions there (having visited the area numerous times previously) but I know that the other areas of the Big Island are full of amazing sights (e.g., Volcanoes National Park). The highlight was a local plate lunch, served by a guy in a food truck in a parking lot, that was fantastic!
Having lived in Honolulu for five years we chose to rent a car and spend the day visiting friends, etc. I'll just point out to first time visitors that Oahu has so much more to offer than Waikiki and Pearl Harbor (not that there's anything wrong with those places)!
Nawiliwili is a charming little harbor near Lihue. We chose not to take an excursion there either, instead taking the short walk to the nearby beach. Being adjacent to the Marriott there is a nice little beachfront restaurant and a small shopping area featuring the usual t-shirt stores, etc. Kauai is one of the most beautiful places imaginable and I'm sure the first-time visitor would love a trip to Waimea Canyon or a helicopter tour.
This 'snorkeling' trip was the highlight of the trip. I use the quotes because while the snorkeling was lovely, we had the once-in-a-lifetime experience of being "mugged" for an extended period of time by a pod of humpback whales that surrounded the boat and put on a fantastic show for us. Captain Dave and his crew, being experienced whale naturalists themselves, provided terrific information and seemed as blown away by the experience as we were. Obviously one has to be extremely lucky to have that happen but the crew were really fun and engaged and I'm sure they would provide a good time no matter what.