Fantastic Freestyle Hawaii on the Norwegian Star -- by Joe Leader
If you've ever dreamed of feeling like you owned your own cruise ship, then the Norwegian Star Hawaii experience is for you. The ship brings cruising back to its glory days with 10 restaurants, consistent service, above-and-beyond entertainment, and amazing ports of call.
In Honolulu, the Norwegian Star features a late departure time of 8:00 p.m. to accommodate passengers arriving from the mainland US. That provides customers nearly eight hours to board the vessel and venture back on shore to Honolulu before departure. That leisurely, freestyle pace of boarding sets the pace for the remainder of the journey.
In my estimating, freestyle cruising should be the only way to cruise. Rather than being herded into a table of 12, you can grab a table of any size on any night in any restaurant. The formal night is held as optional. The activities are non-stop on board the ship but they do not cajole you into activities that you do not want. Decadent chocolate buffets, professional musical acts from Andrew Lloyd Webber, comics that are actually funny, and even financial talks to increase your knowledge without making a pass at your wallet top off the itinerary.
The ship and its staff are top notch with exemplary service. In addition, there are no worries for tips as they may be automatically charged to your room or you may instead opt to personally award staff for service. My Diet Coke addiction was satisfied with an unlimited Diet Coke card sticker for $25. Normally that would be the price for 12 soft drinks and the beverages were brought to me at my table, at the buffet, and even in my beach chair by the pool for free.
Early the first morning after departing Honolulu, the ship docks in Hilo, Hawaii. Called the big island, Hawaii provides a volcanic backdrop for the opening of the journey. Absolutely make the effort to get to Volcano National Park with its active lava flows visible on most trips. I would recommend booking this shore excursion before boarding the Norwegian Star as many of the popular first day trips did sell out of seats.
After viewing the moonscape of the big island, the ship departs early that afternoon to the Fanning Island in the Republic of Kiribati. After a relaxing day at sea, the ship journeys 1000 miles from Hawaii and docks for tenders to ferry you to Fanning. For the island, I would recommend the private beach excursion for $20 that affords you the luxury of being the first on to a beach that resembles Blue Lagoon.
The inhabitants on the island of 1600 are remarkable and friendly. Gifts of all sorts can be purchased for a few dollars - but I recommend bringing single dollar bills as change may be a rarer commodity. While the people have no electricity or running water, they do have a remarkable sprit. Norwegian has also invested heavily into the infrastructure of the island to better the passenger experience while broadening the horizons of the people of Fanning Island. For lunch, head back to the main island to have a barbecue feast and shop at the main market. There will be dancing and for a tip of $1 a police officer will stamp your passport officially from the Republic of Kiribati.
After a return day at sea, the islands of Maui and Kauai afford the ultimate reward upon return. In Maui, I highly recommend the Maui Downhill experience. So long as you can coast on a bicycle, then the journey will be your dreams come true as you descend from a 10,000 foot volcano down to the ocean.
In Kauai, enjoy the garden isle and pray for a sunny day as we received on our cruise. The garden island stays green from rain, but all of the excursions are unforgettable. If you have a big budget, then this is the place to invest in the helicopter ride of a lifetime. For a smaller budget, take the snorkel and boat ride excursion, as it will provide on of the best tours of the island. After venturing toward the Forbidden Island where 160 people live the life of Hawaiians from hundreds of years ago, the ship will dart down the scenic Kauai coast affording you the views of mountain after mountain along the sea, several waterfalls, caves to venture into, and snorkeling with sea turtles. On our trip, a school of several dozen dolphins followed our boat for a mile leaping out of the water. On our return, we saw two male humpbacked whales thrashing their tales in a fight for dominancy.
Upon returning to Honolulu, take advantage of the late departure of most flights by doing a final trip to parts of Oahu that you would most enjoy. My final favorite moment of Freestyle cruising was the departure. On most ships, you are corralled like cattle into public areas for hours before you are allowed off the ship. On Norwegian, you are afforded the luxury of leaving the ship whenever you like. We slept in, woke up at 9:00 a.m. to pack, and left our room at 10:30 a.m.
I highly recommend the Norwegian Star and her upcoming sister ship NCL America featuring seven-day all Hawaiian cruises. NCL has perfected the freestyle cruise and I recommend jumping on-board before word spreads and prices increase.