My wife and I celebrated our 25th anniversary with my sister and brother-in-law aboard the Pride of America during the week long cruise starting January 18. If you are looking for an event cruise that puts you in a different slice of paradise every day, this is the one to go on. It is an event cruise because it is nearly double the price of a regular one week NCL cruise plus the air fare to get to Hawaii which makes it rather pricey. If you are just looking for a vacation, there are less expensive tropical locations but for the once in a life time experience, this is the one to take.
We booked connecting cabins on deck 9 on the starboard side two years in advance and grabbed the flights just after they became available. Never saw the price for the flights less than we paid. I used the cruise critic reviews to see what excursions people recommended and whether to come early or stay after so we could create the best plan for our time. We did not go through Norwegian for any hotels or excursions. After comparing prices for the services, we chose to cut out the middle man and schedule our own trips. It was well worth it.
We decided to go early to get accustomed to the five hour time difference as we live in the Toledo, Ohio area. We booked our stay at the Ewa Hotel Waikiki (pronounced Eva) arriving on the Wednesday before the cruise. It looked good on the internet and the reviews weren’t bad. It did not have a pool or a restaurant but it was one block off of Waikiki Beach and close to food and shopping. We booked a two room suite with a car and park package. It included a rental car that you pick up at the airport and parking in the cost. Parking is at a premium so close to the beach.
The first full day we drove to Pearl Harbor and visited the Arizona Memorial. It was quite a stirring and emotional event. You can reserve tickets at the low, low price of $1.50 a piece by going to the national parks web site and finding Pearl Harbor. After Pearl, we visited the Dole Pineapple Plantation. The gardens were beautiful and we had a rather inexpensive local cuisine lunch while there. From there we drove to the Banzai Pipeline beach and watched 25 – 35 foot waves crash down on the beach. It was an amazing sight. After relaxing on the beach for a while, we drove around the island.
Since we had a kitchenette in the hotel, we stopped at a grocery store on the way back to Honolulu. Being from the mainland, I was in for some serious sticker shock. Milk was $8.00 a gallon and a box of Captain Crunch regularly $7.50 was $2.00 off. Ouch!
Friday we spent doing some shopping and enjoying Waikiki Beach. One of the fun things about that area is the dining. Every restaurant we went to was open air and had live music while you dined. It ranged from reggae, to surfer, to country rock but it was all good. The fresh fish and Hawaiian touches on the food were also wonderful. Plus every drink was packed with pineapple or some other exotic fruit.
If you are staying in Honolulu, there are some things to know. Traffic is terrible on the main highway. If you come from a major metropolitan area, it will be a snap. If you are used to country driving, grab the steering wheel tight and be patient. Taxis are expensive. From the airport to Waikiki Beach is about $45 plus tip. There is an ABC store on every block near Waikiki beach. They have everything you could want from food, to t-shirts, to wine and spirits to trinkets. The prices were reasonable and the selection is good.
On Saturday, we took a taxi from the hotel to the dock and got there about 12:00. The place was already bustling. After dropping off the luggage (make sure you put your tags on each bag before you get there to save time) we filled out our health survey and checked in. After checking in, you go through a gambit of tables. We scheduled the pub crawl, I booked a 2:00 spa appointment (get it done on the departure day so you do not use valuable island time) and ordered the wine package before we set foot on board. We were on the boat by 12:45 and headed for lunch.
I will put a plug in for the spa. It was a wonderful experience. Yes, it is pricey but this is vacation. I got the seaweed wrap and full body massage. Also found the steam room and sauna which are available to all passengers during the cruise. If you want to be pampered, I recommend getting a treatment.
The next day is Maui and we rented a black mustang convertible from Budget. They have a free shuttle that picks you up at the dock and takes you to the airport. Once we were in the car, we left for a whale watching excursion with the Pacific Whale Foundation. We booked through their web site for $75.00 per person. We thoroughly enjoyed the trip and saw numerous whales. It was the one thing my wife wanted to do in Hawaii and she would still be there if she could.
After the whales, we drove back to the boat to get cleaned up. Since it was our 25th anniversary, I booked a special meal at a restaurant call the Sea House. I had read that it had one of the top 10 sunsets in the world and after experiencing it, I would agree. The food was great and the service was excellent. I know the food on the ship is paid for but where is the romance in not treating your bride to an evening of fine dining and nature’s beauty.
We parked the car on the dock near the boat until the next day when we visited the Maui Winery. The wine was what you would expect from a tropical environment. The drive up to the winery was amazing. They Mustang wanted to go faster but the curves in the road were prohibitive. It was very scenic and enjoyable. On the way back to the airport to drop the car off, we hit a off the beaten path beach and lounged for about an hour.
We woke up in Hilo the next morning. We had booked a day trip with Marylou’s Big Island Tours and could not have been more pleased. It is Marylou, her husband and their son. We were driven around by their son Kyle, who had been a tour guide driver for only three weeks. He knew the area very well but was a little sketchy on the local flora and fauna. It made for some interesting conversations. We saw Volcano National Park, the Thurston Lava tube, the orchid greenhouse, the macadamia nut plant and some local Hilo landmarks. The best part was the trip to the outdoor market downtown. He bought some local exotic fruit and we learned how to eat rambutans which look like sea urchins but taste like plums and longans which look like giant grapes but are delicious. The local avocados were also the size of soft balls. The last stop was a black sand beach and a chance to see sea turtles up close. Thanks to Marylou’s and especially Kyle for making Hilo a fun and interesting day.
Kona was the next stop and we had nothing planned. I had two objectives on this stop. The first was to eat at the Kona Brewing Company. The second was to pick up some Kona coffee. I accomplished both but it was on the one day per year that it rains in Kona. It came down in buckets from the time we anchored until early afternoon. The Kona Brewing Company was very busy when we arrived. Since we walked, we were soaking wet but they accommodated us this towels to dry off and chairs on the porch to wait for the pager to go off. Food was good and the beer was unique. Finding coffee on the island was a snap since every store sells it. You even get to do some taste testing. We tendered back to the boat and ended up at the Waikiki Bar on the back of the boat. They had a DJ and the best bar tender we had found. Our waiter, Billy kept our glasses full and we enjoyed the afternoon in paradise.
The last island on the cruise was Kauai. We booked a helicopter tour with Blue Hawaiian on line for $210.65 per person. Since I had never been on a helicopter, it was a must thing to do. They pick you up at the dock and take you to the airport. After the weigh in and a short safety film, you are strapped in and on your way. The island is beautiful and this is the way to see it. When we got back to the ship, it was back to the Waikiki Bar to while away the afternoon.
Kauai is a two day stop so the next morning, we took a free trolley into town and went to the beach. It was the best of the beaches we had been on. The sand was fine and the sun was wonderful. It is also a great place to do the last minute shopping for those people that you need to buy for. We walked back to go through the shops and of course once on board, went up to the Waikiki Bar to watch the sail away. The Pride of America sails past the Napoli Coast, which is the very eroded coast line, as it returns to Honolulu. It was very misty as we floated past but the majesty was not lost.
Disembarking was as easy as getting on. Since our flight was not until 11:10 PM, we got a day room at the Castle Pacific Marina Inn near the airport. It was a good place to store our bags and enjoy the last day in Hawaii.
As to the entertainment and meals, we had room service bring coffee at about 7:30 every morning. After coffee, we went to the Aloha Café for breakfast. It is a standard buffet with a big offering but very little daily variety. Good food and plenty of it. For the lunches we are on the boat, it was also the Aloha Café. We did not do any of the specialty restaurants so we split between the Skyline and Liberty Dining Rooms. Both were nice but the service at Liberty seemed to be slightly better.
The entertainment was good. The comedian was very funny and the auxiliary musicians in the lounges were fairly competent. They had an Eagles tribute that gave everyone an opportunity to sing along. We did not attend any of the stage shows. Not a big fan of song and dance or Broadway productions.
One area that failed to meet expectations was the John Adam’s Coffee bar. It served coffee and was a bar but did neither very well. It appeared to be a specialty coffee spot but they made it somewhere else and brought it there. We ordered adult beverages one evening and I know what I ordered but am not sure what I got.
This cruise was the experience of a life time. Now I know which islands I would return to and what else I would like to see. There is only so much that a day or two will allow and most places need a week to be fully explored. A great way to see Hawaii.