My husband (40) and myself (40) and our teenage son (14) embarked from Kahului, Maui, to begin our vacation. We had been wanting to visit Hawaii for a long time, and thought this approach had the most to offer. My husband has cruised before, this was my first one. I had read countless reviews in preparation for the trip and they helped a great deal. Hopefully, this will help answer some questions you may have.
Friday to Maui - Traveling and Embarkation
We traveled from Phoenix, so our internal clocks were not screwed up that badly. I can't imagine having to travel from the east coast U.S. If I were doing that I would definitely stay an extra night before embarking the ship to catch up on some sleep. Booked our airfare through the cruise. We flew United, everything was On-Time and the flight was great. Embarkation was very smooth. As soon as we arrived in Hawaii (11:26 am), we were taken to the ship. The shuttle process was very quick. We boarded the ship within 30 minutes upon arrival to the ship. We went to the buffet and looked around the ship right away. We didn't get our baggage in our room until about 4:00 pm., so there wasn't much to do until we could unpack. I would suggest packing your bathing suit in your carry on, so that you can change into it and at least enjoy the pool until your baggage gets to your room.
First Impressions of the Ship
The ship was clean. Decorated in bright colors. The photos do the ship justice. My tastes are a little more conservative, so some of the decorations were a little tacky for me. But, you are in vacation mode, so you don't dwell on the small things.
I mentioned we ate at the buffet (Haleaki Cafe). By the way, we ate here for breakfast every morning but one, and if we happened to be on the ship for lunch we also ate here. The buffet is so-so. That would be my only complaint about the experience would be the buffet lines and the quality of the food. I would compare it to a bad buffet. More like cafeteria food than food you would expect on a cruise. They offered the same selections every day for breakfast, never changed it up. Egg/Omelette station, Waffle station, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, potatoes, fruit, etc. While I am on the fruit, they offer pineapple, cantaloupe and watermelon freshly sliced. The rest is canned. I expected mango, papaya, kiwi and other fruits. No such luck. Getting served in the buffer line is a real pain. You cannot touch anything, so they pass your plate down the line and you tell them what you want. In the beginning I ended up with way too much or not enough. I learned to be very specific about what I wanted. They were also understaffed in the buffet line, so your plate was often waiting for the next person to pick it up and move forward. The beverage line was a bad set up. If was in the beginning of the buffet line. So, if you wanted only a drink during the day, you were kind of butting in line, with those that were waiting to get food. A lot of dirty looks, here from others waiting in line for food. Always had to explain that you were only getting a drink.
Now that I got that off my chest, we'll finish with Day One. Once we got our luggage we showered and dressed and went to the Palace Restaurant for dinner. This is one of the main restaurants. We ate most of our dinners there. The food was good. The menu offered some unique choses for soups, salads and dessert. There was always Chicken and Steak and Catch of the Day offered, and then it seemed they tried to mix up the other choices. After the first day, they were out of chicken breast and only offered Chicken thigh. I personally only like white meat, so that made my choice easier.
We attended whatever show was available in the Stardust Lounge. This area is really nice. We always sat on the first floor and the seating was great, no matter where you were seated. We only had to get to the shows about 20-30 minutes early, to get a front row seat. The first night was magic show and comedian combined. Very good. The magician, Fred Becker, was really good. Turned in early the first night. Had some jet lag.
Saturday - Maui
This was our second day in Maui. We booked an excursion in advance to do the Zipline Tour. After breakfast buffet, we left the ship to meet our tour bus. This process was very easy. No lines. Always great signs posted to find your group. The Zipline was awesome. We had a fantastic time. The scenery was beautiful. There were five zip-lines and one rope bridge. The guides were a lot of fun.
We were back at the ship by 12:00 or so. We spent the rest of the day by the pool. We knew we would be spending the last day in Maui, so we had plenty of time for sightseeing. Our ship departed dock at 6:00 pm.
We had dinner again in the Palace. I had the Catch of the Day. I felt horrible right after I ate dinner. We went to the Blue Hawaii Bar to watch Karaoke, and I felt worse as we sat there. I went to the room and laid down. I woke up about 11:00 pm. very sick. I was wearing the motion sickness patch (never failed me the whole cruise), so I don't think I was motion sick. I think it was the fish. I don't mean to get graphic here for those of you that may have a weak stomach, but.... I had to be sick in the sink, as the toilet was being occupied. NOT A GOOD IDEA !!!! The reason I am telling you this is, it took five phone calls, two trips to the front desk and an angry husband to get someone to clean up our bathroom. The sink was clogged for a full 24 hours. The plumber finally showed up after my husband literally dragged a manager to the room to witness what we were dealing with. Moral of the story... "Don't get sick in the sink!". Also, if you want to get something done, Don't take, "I'll have someone there right away" for an answer. Bring them with you. Anyway, felt great for the rest of the night. Woke up feeling fine.
Sunday - Oahu
Arrived in Honolulu. The ship docks right downtown. There is a shopping area right there. Very nice. We had rented a car and the rental car agencies had transportation right outside the ship. After we got the car, we drove up the coast to Diamond Head and back. There is a fantastic lookout, we went over the wall and down on the rocks to the waters edge. A lot of people did this. The waves were crashing literally three to four feet where you were standing with sprays about 20 feet in the air. Took a lot of great pictures here. After this we headed back to Wikiki Beach. My husband and son rented boogie boards. I laid out under the palm trees. This was really nice. Could be within 40-50 steps from the waters edge, but had the shade of the palms. There are stands set up on the beach for food. We had the best BBQ chicken and rice here. We stayed here until it was time to go back to the ship.
I didn't know it before the trip, but there will be 1,000 or more people leaving the ship in Oahu, and 1,000 new passengers arriving. I didn't realize, but Oahu is the main port to embark the ship for the cruise. So we got on in the middle of their cruise. This answered a lot of questions for us. The entertainment, the food, the events going on around the ship were geared for those arriving from Oahu. Our first day or two was very lame in regards to events until the new Oahu passengers arrived. They held a pooldeck sail away BBQ tonight. It wasn't our first night sailing... this is were is started to make sense.
Monday - Kauai
We did not have an excursion planned for Kauai, but decided to book a snorkeling excursion. It was no trouble at all to wait until you boarded the ship to plan your excursions. A lot of people did it. We had planned two, and faxed it in before we left for our trip. But really it didn't matter if you decided to wait. We booked the Sun Fun Beach excursion. The guides took us to a rocky shoreline. They provided us with excellent equipment (wetsuits, etc.) We saw the most amazing fish and sea turtles. This was a great excursion. There were three guides, they were fantastic. They took out floating boards for those that were not comfortable swimming on their own, and guided those that decided to hold on around to spots were they would see the most fish. Our group did not hold on, but found so many fish and turtles. So either way, great excursion. You stop mid way, and move the another section of shoreline. This takes you further out to the reef where the sea turtles are resting after feeding. The water was perfect. The guides provided everyone with drinks, snacks and fruit. And we were able to stand around and talk with them about 30 minutes before we left. Would definitely recommend this excursion.
We were in this same port a day and a half, so we took a shopping shuttle (free) to Anchor Cove Shopping Mall and did most of our souvenir shopping there. There are free shuttles to Hilo Hatties at most every port. The ship left dock at 1:00 and we spent the afternoon at sea. My husband and son liked the basketball court and the golf driving ranges. They spent a lot of time there. The ship played a movie every afternoon. We were always busy. But it is available if you wanted to go see one in the Stardust Lounge.
We ate at the Royal Palm Bistro on this night. It is one of the Specialty Restaurants. They were offering the specialty restaurants at half price, so we took advantage. FYI. Reservations are needed for these restaurants. As soon as they post the half off night in your Freestyle Cruising magazine. Make your reservations. We did it early and there were still only two time slots left. The dinner was marvelous. I had the filet mignon and my husband and son had the surf and turf, filet mignon and lobster tail. They charged an extra ten dollars for the surf n' turf. Don't know if it was really worth the extra money. They only gave 1/2 of the tail. We had french onion soup that was delicious. Chocolate fondue was a choice for dessert. My son and I each got one of those with a ton of fresh fruit to dip. Definitely eat in the speciality restaurants at least once.
Wednesday - Hilo
We ate breakfast this morning at the Crossings Restaurant (the other main restaurant). Our breakfast was very good. Much better then the buffet and you didn't have to wait in line. If you have time, definitely choose to eat breakfast in the main restaurants. If we didn't want to get out and about so quickly every day, I would have chosen this option every meal. Much better than the buffet. We didn't have any plans for Hilo. We took a free shuttle downtown from the ship. There was an open air farmer's market set up and lots of stores for shopping. We ate at Cafe Pesto. A little restaurant set along the shops. It was delicious. We walked along the stores, had some ice cream, etc. At the ice cream shop, the owner told us that Rainbow Falls was within walking distance. About a six block walk. We decided to walk it and it was all uphill. Took us about 2 hours to hike up, view the falls, and hike down. It was great exercise. And the falls were pretty.
Speaking of exercise, my husband and son worked out quite a bit in the fitness center. Very nice set up. The machines were in good shape. They got everything they expected from the workouts there. Elliptical machines and treadmills and lots of nautilus equipment.
Thursday - Kona
We had an excursion planned for Kona. We took the Body Glove Snorkel and Dolphin Sail. You tender to this island from the ship. I would highly recommend you do an excursion at the island first thing in the morning. The tender boat lines are crowded and when you have an excursion planned and leave as a group you jump ahead in front of all the other lines. Then when your excursion is complete, stay on the island as long as you want, as catching the tender boat back takes a long time. The lines were very long.
The Body Glove excursion was good. We got off the tender and boarded immediately the boat for the excursion, as it was dock right next to the tender ship drop off. They had a continental breakfast set up with a lot of fresh fruit and croissants and danish. Very good. We set sail for about a 45 ride to our snorkeling spot. We were able to see one dolphin. He swam in front of our boat for a few minutes. When we got to the snorkel spot, they put of intertubes and handed out pool noodles for those that wanted to just relax. The snorkeling was not as good as Kauai, in my opinion. The water was deeper and the fish wanted to hang out more near the bottom. But for those that wanted to dive down, plenty to see. My husband said he dove under the boat for a while and there were about three hundred fish enjoying the shade under there. I missed it. The boat had a slide and diving platform. My son and the other kids enjoyed that. They served deli meats and cheeses and bread/rolls to make sandwiches for lunch. All very good.
When we arrived back at the dock, we stayed on the island. There are a ton of shops and restaurants at the dock. We walked around. Ate dinner at Bubba Gump's Shrimp House. The food was good and the atmosphere was excellent. We sat on the patio on the shore and the waves were breaking literally at our feet. Just amazing views.
When walking back along the shore wall back to the docks, we saw four or five sea turtles swimming along the wall. We were able to get some video of them. Make sure you look for them.
Friday - Maui
Disembarking was a breeze. We chose to store our bags at the terminal for the day since we were renting a jeep. So the night before we paid for the storage and got special tags for our luggage. We put everything outside the door the night before. We did the express walk off at 7:45 am. No lines. No confusion. No bags. We caught the free shuttle to the airport and picked up the jeep. Then we headed for the Road to Hana. This was amazing. Many stops for waterfalls. The lookout stops were breathtaking. I would not miss this trip. We stopped for lunch when we reached Hana at the Hana Ranch House Restaurant. Excellent burgers. Then back down the hill we went.
Our flight did not leave until 9:30 pm so we had plenty of time to kill. We drove the LaHaina. Didn't make it to town though, because there was so much traffic backed up coming out of LaHaina that we thought we would get caught in it. We did a U-turn and headed back. I regret not leaving time to get to LaHaina. But it was a good thing we turned around. After picking up our baggage at the ship, returning the rental car and getting to the airport, we realize our flight had been bumped up to leave at 8:05 pm. We would have really been in trouble had we not turned around and headed back when we did.
Couple more things in general. There was a teen club that had a full schedule of events. My son was "too cool" to participate. His loss. It was available for those of you that can talk your "cool" teen into participating. The state rooms were ample size. We had an inside cabin and had plenty of room for the three of us. You are not in your cabin enough for this to matter. We attended most shows in the Stardust Lounge and shows in the Blue Hawaii bar. All were fun and good for passing the time in the evening. We also went to the library/game room and got a deck of cards and played some cards in the evening.
Overall, let me mention one more thing in regards to the cruise in general. The staff was excellent. I had read a ton of horror stories as I am sure you have. We were treated wonderfully. Always smiles and Aloha's coming from the crew. They want you to have a good time and they were very helpful. I think people tend to treat others the way they are treated. If you want to treat the crew disrespectfully and rudely, I'm guessing you will get what you dish out.
The one downfall is the food. If you are going on this trip for the food, you are going on the wrong cruise. But, if you are going to see the Hawaiian islands and all their glory, this is most definitely the way to go. We had an amazing time. As soon as I get my clothes washed and repacked I might head out again tomorrow.