Norwegian Sky Cruise Review by MPM: Hawaii - What's not to like !?!
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Hawaii - What's not to like !?!
We just got back from our 3/26/08 cruise on Pride of Aloha. I realize this ship doesn't have many days left, but I thought I would pass on some information on our trip that may prove beneficial to others.
We started out on March 25th, by flying in from Dallas / Fort Worth Texas. We arrived in Honolulu without incident at 3:30pm (direct flight with American Airlines), although eight hours is a long time to be on an airplane! We took a cab to the Waikiki Marriott, which we booked through NCL. I know this isn't the most economical way to go, but we thought it was well worth the money. We went straight to the NCL check in desk, checked in to the hotel and the ship, and were on the way to our room in short order. In no time at all, we were on Waikiki beach hunting down a restaurant mentioned in the Revealed books as being a "military" hotel, with great prices. We finally found it once we realized it was more of a snack bar. The food was decent, and the prices were good. We didn't More realize how good until we continued on in our travels. We were on Waikiki beach for sunset. What a great way to start a vacation!
The next morning we were up fairly early. We tagged our luggage, and left it just inside the door as instructed, and headed off in search of breakfast. We went to Duke's right on the beach, and got a table with a great view of the ocean. If sunset at Waikiki beach was a great way to end a day, this was surely a great way to start one! Duke's has an all you can eat breakfast buffet for $15.00 a person. After that, we went to the International Market Place. While we hadn't planned it that way, we ended up doing much of our souvenir and gift shopping here. It is hard to pass up seven tee shirts for 20 dollars, among other bargains. Then it was time to head back to the hotel for the shuttle to the ship. Our luggage had already gone on ahead of us.
The shuttle picked us up, and took us to the cruise ship. Oh, if only every embarkation could be this easy! We definitely got the red carpet treatment here. We had our own special boarding line, and we never stopped walking. From the time we arrived until the time my wife and I were up on deck eleven in search of food was less than 30 minutes. It was several hours before our rooms were ready (about 3:30pm), but we had no difficulty keeping ourselves entertained.
Our friends, and traveling companions arrived a short time later, and we went off in search of real food. I had intended to go to "Crossing" based on information I had read on Cruise Critic, but ended up at the "Palace" instead. We got in with very little wait, and ended up with a server named "Mercy". What a God send she turned out to be. Again, I knew from Cruise Critic, that half the battle was finding a good server, and sticking with them, and she was the best we have ever had in three cruises. She always had a smile on her face, and if we asked for something, she was off to get it. For example, Todd, one of our traveling companions, doesn't typically have desert. The only desert he likes is vanilla ice cream, with chocolate sauce, and whip cream. Needless to say, that wasn't on the menu. Once Mercy got Todd to mention something he would eat, vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce and whip cream were showing up at out table every night. One night she apologized profusely - no whip cream. It turns out she had been taking the ice cream from the kitchen to the bar to get the whip cream, and this particular night the bar was out. That is just one example. I could give more dramatic examples, but won't for fear of getting Mercy in trouble, or encouraging people to take advantage of her gracious nature. Needless to say, I tipped her well above and beyond the "mandatory" tips I know she would be receiving. By night two or three we were making reservations, but even when we didn't we never waited in line long, and were always able to get seated in her area. Despite a lot of criticism in times past about the food, we thought it was very good. Our traveling companions regularly commented that they felt the food was better than our previous Carnival cruise. That being said, we are just regular blue-collar folks, so we aren't much for "fancy", we just want edible and recognizable.
As far as the rooms go, we did have a few minor issues. I knew the mattresses were hard, so I had requested, and my wife had confirmed an "egg crate" mattress cover weeks prior to the cruise. It never happened, although our cabin steward Javier did add an additional pad to our mattress. After the first night, the mattress didn't really seem to be an issue any more, and we were sleeping like babies. Our friends were a little less fortunate. They requested one queen bed, and ended up with two singles. It took three days to get resolved, with trips to the reception desk every day. I also noticed that their room didn't seem as clean as ours starting out. Again, it may just be the luck of the draw, but our cabin steward Javier took great care of us. There was always ice in our ice bucket, and fresh towels when we requested them, not to mention a few towel animals thrown in here and there.
For breakfast, we often went early, around 6:30am, and ate at one of the buffets on deck eleven. There is no doubt it could get crowded by 7:30am or 8:00. While the buffet was nothing to right home about, it was nothing to complain about either. We ate a ton of fresh fruit, which was delicious!
On the 27th, in Oahu, I had scheduled a rental car with a cruise ship pick up through Thrifty for 6:30am. It turns out that their shuttles don't start until 8:00, so I had to take a cab to the Thrifty location to pick up my car. The folks at Thrifty did make up for the problem by discounting the car. I had rented a GPS that didn't turn out to be nearly as user friendly as the Garmen 350 I had previously used through another rental company. We had a difficult time making our way back to the pier to pick up our friends. Thankfully, I had my wife with me, who IS willing to stop and ask for directions, while I sat in the car wondering if the $1.00 insurance I got on the GPS unit paid for intentional abuse, as I considered backing over it!
By the time we picked up our friends, we were about an hour and a half behind "schedule", which put us at Diamond Head a little later than I had hoped for. Todd and I headed for the top like two men on a mission, while the ladies followed at a more leisurely pace. To be quite honest, we didn't really expect the women to make it to the top, but after arriving ourselves, we found out that they were only a short ways behind us. The views from the top were spectacular - well worth the hike, although by this time it was 9:00am, and fairly crowded. Back down we went to head to our next stop - Hanauma Nature Preserve. We arrived about 10:00am, and as I feared, the parking lot was already full. Bummer! Oh well, we are on vacation, so we just turned around and headed for the North Shore. When we got to Haleiwa, we ate at a "hole in the wall" called "The Grass Skirt". It is just south of Matzimoto's shaved ice. It was probably some of the best food we had anywhere, and the prices were great. I highly recommend it if you can find it! Then we headed to Shark's Cove for some snorkeling. The North Shore is very iffy this time of year for snorkeling, and this day proved to be no exception. I am a pretty experienced snorkeling, and had a great time once I got out past the rocks and breaking waves. My friend Todd, who is a good swimmer, but a beginning snorkeler didn't fair quite as well, and took a bit of a beating. After missing Hanauma Bay, I was fairly determined, and probably didn't use the best judgment. We did see some cool fish though. Then it was back to Thrifty to drop the car off, and head back to the ship. We stopped by the Dole Pineapple Plantation on the way back, because my wife wanted to. I knew better after reading Cruise Critic, but after 26 years of marriage, I also new better than to argue. Yep, your typical tourist trap, and crowded. Of coarse even I didn't want to leave without grabbing a pineapple ice cream cone, which was delicious.
The on board entertainment was good, but not excellent. To be honest though, I was still on central time most of the trip, so it was early to bed and early to rise. At 47, we were some of the YOUNGEST on the ship. One night I went up on the top deck around 9:00pm, and it was vacant! On our Carnival cruises, the party was just getting started. None of us are partiers though, so this suited us just fine. The Comedian was funny and clean, the magician and juggler were decent. Most of the time we were more interested in sleep than the shows - too much to do on shore!
On the 28th, in Maui, we grabbed another car from Thrifty. Blue Chip is a must! We left the ship, and were driving our car in under 30 minutes. We had originally intended to go to Iao Valley, but it was obviously fogged in, so we headed straight over to the Lahaina area, and Kaanapali beach. We tried to find parking near the Sheraton, and Black Rock, but public parking is very limited. We got lucky, and found a spot about a mile away. We mostly wanted to give our friend Ranelle a chance to learn how to use her snorkel equipment. She doesn't swim well, and had a lot of apprehension. When we got to the beach, she decided she wasn't ready to get in the water yet. We had plans for Molokini Crater the following day, so we really wanted to get her used to her equipment. After kicking around in the water for a while, I really wanted to go to Black Rock, but as I mentioned it was quite a ways away. Much to my surprise, everyone decided they were up for the hike, and I was so glad they did. Black Rock was crowded with snorkelers, but boy was it worth the walk. Once we swam out past the throng of young snorkelers, the views and fish were amazing! I don't know if it is like this every day, but there were even turtles swimming up close to the shore, despite being surrounded by dozens of young kids. Some turtles in the water was all it took to get our friend Ranelle to decide it was time to put aside some fears, and try on that new equipment. She snorkeled around the shore area, and began getting comfortable with the equipment. We snorkeled out around the point of Black Rock, where it was far less crowded, and oh my goodness, what a display! Tons of live coral and fish of all different sizes and shapes. Some of the best snorkeling I have done anywhere! And if you dove about ten feet under the water, you could hear the whales singing! It was really quite awesome.
From Black Rock, we showered on the beach, and headed back to Lahaina for Old Lahaina Luau. After snorkeling, we were ravenous. I started out looking for a restaurant recommended by the "Revealed" books, but it appears to be gone. We went to "Cheeseburgers in Paradise" instead. Great ambiance, and right on the beach. We had four cheese burgers, four pineapple smoothies (one with alcohol), one side of fries, and one side of onion rings. When our waiter brought the bill, our friend just stuck a $100.00 bill in the folder, and handed it back to the waiter. He asked "did you want change?" I remember thinking, "this guy was a good waiter, and entertaining, but he must be expecting a hefty tip." When my friend got the folder back, he collected his change - $4.00! He carefully looked over the bill, and it was right! Thankfully my friend has a good sense of humor. We laughed about our $100 hamburgers the rest of the trip, but did not return for seconds! As far as the Luau goes, I don't know that I can add anything here that hasn't already been said on multiple occasions. It was a great show - well worth the money. After the show, we beat feet back to the ship in hopes of finding parking at the sea wall. It turned out to be no problem.
On the 29th, it was up early to head over to Maalaea Harbor to meet up with Aloha Blue Charters. It is a good thing we aren't drinkers, it might have been a rough morning after the Luau the night before. We were at the Harbor by 7:00am. Aloha Blue Charters is a snorkeling trip to Molokini Crater and Turtle Arches. We picked them because they also offer fishing on the way to the crater and back (for $10.00 a person!), and our friend is an avid fisherman. I originally discovered them through the web site www.tombarefoot.com. As it turned out, there were only six people schedule this day, the four of us, and two others. It was like our own private charter. We heard there were about 30 people the day before. The crew was great, and off we went. It wasn't long before the fishing poles were in the water, and we were off to the crater. Snorkeling at the crater was okay, but certainly not great. I talked to some people from the ship who took the afternoon trip on another boat. They said they had gotten in at the crater, but the water had gotten rough, so they went to an alternate site. I believe they called it "Coral Gardens", and they said the snorkeling there was far superior. After the crater, we headed off to Turtle Arches. After seeing turtles the day before, again, this was somewhat anti-climatic. We did see turtles, so it certainly wasn't in vain. Then it was time to head back to the port, and drop the poles back in the water. As we were headed back, some whales started breaching about half a mile behind us. It was fairly spectacular, although somewhat distant. The ladies wanted to turn the boat around, and go see them, which I can understand, but at that point we were in "fishing" mode. I heard one of the Pacific Foundation boats did turn around, and they got quite a show. If I went again, I would surely pass on Molokini Crater. And we were definitely glad we had our wet suits! That being said, if you want to go, and especially if you would like to throw in a little fishing, I would recommend Aloha Blue Charters. We didn't catch any fish that day, but neither did the other charter boats that we talked to, and I am sure those folks paid a lot more than $10.00 to fish!
After the snorkel trip, we caught Iao Valley, and Iao Needle, which we missed the day before. It is a short trip, and doesn't take a lot of time, so I would recommend it. Some very beautiful scenery, and very interesting history.
We dropped off the rental car, and headed back to the ship for some much needed rest!
On the 30th, in Kona, my wife and I were right back on the water with Captain Zodiac. This was the only excursion we booked through NCL. We could have saved $10.00 if we had booked directly, but Kona is a tender port, and we thought of the $10.00 as insurance. This was a great trip! The rigid hull inflatables were just bouncy enough to keep things exciting, without being overwhelming (although some people looked a little overwhelmed). The snorkeling by Captain Cooks Monument was second to none. We were some of the first to arrive, so we had the run of the place until many of the other boats started to arrive. Tons of fish and coral. My wife and I were the last ones back in the boat after a little more than an hour. On the way back we saw some very interesting lava tubes, and spent a short amount of time cruising with some spinner dolphins. At one point I could have leaned out of the boat and touched one of them. It was a great trip!
On the 31st, in Kauai, we grabbed another rental car and headed to Waimea Canyon. Waimea Canyon was awesome in every sense of the word. I have been to the Grand Canyon, and this was equally awe inspiring. We went to the very end, and can now say we visited the wettest spot on earth (440 inches of rain a year). While we were there, we had plenty of sunshine! After Waimea Canyon, we headed for Po'ipu beach. We decided to do some snorkeling here as well, and WOW! The water was much cloudier than many other places, but talk about fish! And the area is fairly shallow, so you can get really close to them, which is great for taking underwater photos. There was also a Monk Seal there basking in the sun on his own little beach. From what I have read, these are now a protected species, and very rare. We stayed long enough to watch the sun set, before dashing back to Thrifty just in time to catch the last (8:00 pm) shuttle back to the Ship. The second day in Kauai was originally scheduled to end at 2:00 pm, so we didn't rent a car. We originally planned to spend time right next door to the ship at Kalapaki Beach in front of the Marriott. By this time though, we were pretty well "beached" out, and instead spent time walking around the many local shops. The departure time had been changed to 5:00pm, so we had a little extra time.
April 2nd was a much needed sea day. We slept in, and the wives both got massages. We spent the afternoon playing some version of a domino game, and had a very relaxed day overall. At 8:30pm, the ship passed the Big Island for a little volcano viewing. I wanted very badly to hike to some real lava, but there was just no way I could work it in, or have any real confidence of actually seeing lava. The sail buy was probably even better. Words cannot describe it! We could see lava coming out of the lava tubes and pouring out into the ocean, creating giant steam and gas clouds. Occasionally you could see the lava spraying up in to the sky in a spectacular display. There was a lot of high dollar cameras out, catching lots of pictures of "orange blobs" in the dark of the night (they actually turned off some of the ships lights for better viewing). Somehow, with my point and shoot cannon, I managed to capture one spectacular picture, along with plenty of my own orange blobs. I attribute it to turning the flash off, so I could get longer exposure times. My camera also has optical image stabilization. That and a lot of luck appear to be what it takes to get a good picture. The ship turned around to make a pass the other way, so we headed around to the other side of the ship. While we were heading back the other way, we actually got to watch a new lava tube, and a new lava flow being formed right in front of our eyes! If that doesn't make you stand there in awe, I am not sure what will.
The next morning, on the 3rd, we were back in Lahaina. We spent some time walking around, but spent most of the day doing something a little off the beaten path. My wife and I got a tattoo at a place called Atomic Tattoo, just around the corner from the Burger King. There was another Tattoo shop there as well, but they weren't open yet. Getting a tattoo is not something I wouldn't recommend on a "whim", but it is something my wife and I have done on occasion as a way of remembering a special moment or time together. Hey, it beat jewelry! We had time to do this, because once again the ship extended the time we were in port from 2:00pm to 5:00pm. By the time 4:00pm rolled around, the water was getting pretty rough, and there started to be some concern about tendering back to the ship. Everyone got back on safe and sound though.
On the 4th we headed back to the Big Island to visit Hilo. Originally I was going to rent a car here, and drive to Volcano National Park. With everything going on with the Volcano though, we decided just to take a tour instead. We were realizing that by renting a car we were giving up at least a couple of hours each day for pick up and return. Even though it didn't really take that long, with the "safety factor" thrown in, it did. We booked Volcano National Park and Rainbow Falls through Roberts. Roberts was handing out tour information when we first got on the ship. Their tours were about half of what the cruise ships were. I made reservations at the last minute over the phone. The tour was about what you would expect for a bus tour. The driver was informative and humorous, Volcano National Park was great, Rainbow falls was beautiful, and a few "tourist traps" thrown in (Macadamia Nut Factory) so you know you are on a commercial tour bus. At $35.00 a person, it well worth the money, and we didn't have to spend time figuring out where we were going, and how to get there.
On the 5th, it was back in the home port. Getting off was just as easy as getting on. If only all ports could be this easy! While we were on our 10 day cruise, two airlines went out of business. First, Aloha airlines, then ATA. Well, our friends were flying out with ATA. As a result, they could not get out of Hawaii until Wednesday after we arrived in port on Saturday. Fortunately they were able to find a hotel (Aqua Aloha Surf Hotel) which put them up for free! My understanding is that this was done strictly as a courtesy by the management of the hotel. If so, my hat is off to them!
From the ship, we helped our friends get settled in for their extra stay, and then headed off to the airport to catch our flight. Once we arrived at the airport, we discovered our flight had been delayed by a little over an hour, which put our connecting flight in Los Angeles to Dallas Fort Worth very much in question. When we asked one American Airlines agent what would happen if we missed our connection in Los Angeles, he told us most likely WE would be stuck for at least two days in Los Angeles, as all flights were booked to the max. We seriously considered staying in Hawaii. I would much rather be stuck in Hawaii, than Los Angeles. As it turned out, the flight from Los Angeles to Dallas / Fort Worth was also delayed, otherwise we would have missed our flight. We traveled on to Dallas with many other travelers who were once again facing the prospect of missing their next connecting flight.
It was a wonderful vacation, a great trip, and a great ship. I truly think you get what you expect. If you go expecting to have a great time, you will. If you go expecting to find problems, you will. If you treat people with respect and gratefulness, for the most part you will get the same in return. I count myself as blessed for getting to do a 10 day cruise in Hawaii while the trip was still available. Aloha, and may your trip be as blessed as mine was!
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