We were on the May 10th sailing on the Pride of America, a 62-year-old male and 55-year-old g/f. Overall an EXCELLENT experience. We had sailed on the "Pride of Aloha" two years ago and liked the itinerary so well that we came back, this time to the "Pride of America". We took NCL shore excursions on our previous trip (snorkel trip to Molikini, Haleakala downhill bike ride (from the TOP, since the restrictions on bike rides in the national park were not in place at the time), bus tour to Volcano National Park, kayak ocean trip/snorkel in Kona, bus tour to Waimea Canyon/Fern Grotto on Kauai, kayak/hike to waterfall on Kauai). This time we decided to rent a car at all ports. We had an inside cabin on Deck 11. HINT: The inside cabins on Deck 11 seem to fill up last, I suppose because they are a bit more expensive. Nevertheless, they are quite convenient to the Aloha Buffet on the stern of the same deck, to the pools and hot tubs if that is your thing, and to the observation areas on Deck 12 and above.
Embarkation Day: We took a chance and flew in on the same day as the sailing. It always makes me nervous when time is of the essence. Nevertheless, planes were on time and we boarded the ship in late afternoon. We did not have a "transfer" and had a little trouble finding a Roberts van to take us to the ship. I would suggest researching "VIP" as they charge just $6 per person, as I later found out. I don't know how their service is, however.
Day 1, Maui: Rented from Budget and we were in our car in less than five minutes after arrival on their lot using Budget Fastbreak. Spent a leisurely morning shopping on Front Street in Lahaina. Had lunch at a little Thai restaurant called Pad Thai, IN the shopping mall across from the Banyan tree park area. Their selection is good, prices are quite reasonable, cashier/cook is quite pleasant, and food is individually prepared so have a little patience. We highly recommend this restaurant. HINT: While shopping in Lahaina on your first day, buy some "beach mats" at one of the variety stores if you plan to "beach it" later in the trip. They are quite inexpensive and by using them you save your towel to use as a pillow or to dry off with a minimum of sand on it. The mats are too bulky to travel with, so give them away to someone on your last visit to a beach. After lunch, we headed north to drive the winding road to the Olivine Pools. Very nice views along the road. We arrived at the Olivine Pools and walked down to them to spend some time swimming, messing around, and taking pictures of the gorgeous scenery. Headed back the way we came (continuing east would have meant driving the one-lane portion of the road, which we did not want to do). Stopped to observe the Nakalele Blowhole from above. It would have been a much better sight if we had walked down to it, but we decided not to. Headed back to the ship in time for dinner. NOTE: There was a mother and daughter on the ship that broke their arms on the Haleakala bike ride. You can't go all the way to the top anymore, but there are still some curves lower down the hill. The daughter, who looked about 10, evidently somehow flipped her bike and the mother, behind her, then rode into downed bike and also fell. They had "twin" broken right arms. They did not seem to let it slow them down, as I saw them at various beaches and activities after that.
Day 2, Maui: Beach day in SOUTH Maui! We started at the Kama'ole Beach I. Lots of parking right across the street. "Facilities" of restrooms and showers. Lifeguard. Sand slopes very gradually in the water, making it a nice beach for both adults and kids. Some snorkelers near the rocks on the right side of the beach, but they did not appear to be seeing much. We swam and sunbathed until around noon, when we looked for a restaurant and found Maui Tacos a few blocks south. Good and filling fish tacos at the reasonable price of $3.99. I had two and g/f had one. We then headed south to Palauea Beach. More informal than the previous beach. No facilities or lifeguard. You have to find a place to park along the road and walk through a wooded area to get to the beach. Again, a beautiful beach gradually sloping into the water making it a great place for both adults and kids. Did a bit of snorkeling around the rocks on the left side of the beach. It was okay, with some individual fish, but certainly not great. Enjoyed a nice afternoon of swimming and sunbathing, and then headed back to the ship in time for the 6:00 pm departure.
Day 3, Hilo: Rented through Budget. A bit of a hassle. The van they sent to the ship was not big enough for everyone, so ourselves and another couple rented a taxi to get to the airport. There were only two clerks in a small kiosk and a relatively long line. The "Budget Fastbreak" worked well after getting to the counter, but it took awhile to get there. Headed to Volcano National Park. As you approach the park, you can see the steam from the vent pouring into the sky at a distance straight in front of you. Our activity there was to hike the Kilauea Iki trail. What a great hike! You first walk through a fern (BIG ferns!) and Ohi'a tree forest, which is beautiful. You then descend 450 feet into the caldera floor where the various formations of lava are very fascinating. You hike for about a mile across the caldera floor and then it's back up to the fern forest. The entire hike is about 4 miles long and takes 2+ hours, depending on how much time you spend stopping to observe and take pictures. I can't recommend this hike more highly, if you like hikes. Ate lunch at the Kaiwe Kitchen in the village of Volcano. Excellent pizza, a bit pricey. The place is not that big and actually turned away a party of 8 or 10 claiming they had not enough seating. Then headed back down the hill for the mandatory stop at the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut farm. You don't visit Hawaii without taking back some macadamia nuts! Then it was on to Banyan Street and the Queen Liluokalani Japanese Gardens and Coconut Island in Hilo. Beautiful and restful setting, great for some pictures and for just doing a bit of relaxing. Final stop for the day was at Hilo Hattie's and then back to the ship in time for the 6:00 pm departure.
Day 4, Kona: Got our tender tickets just outside the Mardi Gras Lounge at 7:45 or so, the result being that we were on the first NON-TOUR tender. Rented through Dollar at the King Kam Hotel. Slow going. Only one clerk and she does not show up until 8:00 am on the dot. Had Dollar Express, so it went quickly once I got to the counter, but that took awhile. Our mission for the day was to drive to the north side of the island to the "end of the road" at the Pololu overlook. Remember that this is the BIG Island, so it can take up to 1 1/2 hours to get there from Kona driving along the coast.. Hiked down to the beautiful black sand beach for observing and taking pictures. Waves way too big and rough for any swimming, although there were a few surfers there. They and their boards are evidently transported there by jet-ski. By the time we headed back up the 400 foot hill, it was quite warm. Ate lunch at the Rainbow Cafe across from the King Kamehameha statue in the village of Kapa'au. Good wraps and sandwiches. There is also a small cafe in the Nanbu Courtyard just down the street to the west if you are looking for a bit smaller sandwich. A local told me that their sandwiches were excellent. Headed back to Kona inland on the Kohala Mountain Road. Lots of very green grass and cows, perhaps part of the 175,000 acre Parker Ranch. Arrived back in Kona in time to return the car and do some shopping on Ali'i Drive. HINT: There is a small "lunch wagon" on the south end of the shopping area of Ali'i Drive that sells local Kona coffee instead of lunch. It is called "Hawaii Mountain Gold" from the Ferrari Coffee Plantation. It seems to be a bit less expensive than other places and is worth checking out. Another hint: if you take a morning tour south of Kona, ask them to drop you off at the south end of the Ali'i Drive shopping area and take a leisurely walk back to the pier.
Day 5, Kauai: Rented through Thrifty Blue Chip and it went rather quickly. Headed for the Kilauea Lighthouse. Beautiful setting, great for pictures. Opens at 10 am. Ate at the Polynesia Cafe in the Ching Young Shopping Center in Hanalei. I had a Hawaiian "plate lunch". It was okay, but I think you would have to get used to it. Then headed for the "end of the road" again, this time to Ke'e Beach. Parking lot holds quite a few cars, but it fills up fast. If there are no spaces, you might wait a few minutes because there always seems to be someone leaving. The beach is beautiful and is protected by a reef, but the water was too choppy for any good snorkeling. I still spent quite a bit of time in the water. There was a monk seal sunning himself on the sand a couple of hundred yards east of the main beach. He was there when we arrived, and still there a few hours later when we left. He hadn't moved a muscle other than to twitch his whiskers and breathe heavily on occasion. What a life! Headed back to the ship in time for dinner.
Day 6: Took a ten-minute ride north to the Lydgate Park Beach. This is a nice little beach for kids and has facilities. Did some snorkeling. It was okay, not great. Water somewhat murky due to stirred-up sand. You are allowed to feed the fish here and it is evidently the way to attract large numbers. Headed back to the ship for the 2:00 pm departure. BTW, there was quite a bit of haze, so the Napali Coast sail-by was somewhat of a bust. HINT: There was a large school of dolphins on the right side of the ship just as it got outside the Nawiliwili harbor. One seemed to like to show off by jumping out of the water and spinning around. I don't know if they are always there, but it is certainly worth a look.
Disembarkation Day: We elected the "Easy Fly" option whereby your luggage is taken off the ship the nite before and the next time you see it is when you arrive at your final destination. (NOTE: Thanx so much to American Airlines for transferring our luggage in DFW from the inbound flight to our outbound flight in less than 1/2 hour!) We got up relatively late, ate a leisurely breakfast, and got off the ship at about 9:45. It took awhile for the Thrifty shuttle to get there, but it eventually arrived. Headed for the "Blue Chip" window but got in behind someone whose reservation had somehow been messed up and they got a car that they did not want ("too small"). Blue Chip works well if everything is correct, but it's "back to the drawing board" if there is a problem of any sort. Bottom line: it took a long time to get waited on, and the clerk was still working the previous problem half-an-hour later when we finally left. Headed for lunch at the Sea Breeze restaurant "on the water" at Hickam AFB (don't try this unless you are active or retired military). Then over to the USS Arizona Memorial area. We walked around, but did not take the tour to the Arizona. (NOTE: You can easily do this tour if you have a late flight. We arrived at the Memorial area at 12:45 and got a ticket for a 1:15 departure to the Arizona. The guide said that the tour takes 75 minutes.) Headed for the North Shore for a hike at the Waimea Valley Center. Great place if you are interested in flora! Hike is only about 3/4 mile each way, but we stopped so much to observe and take pictures that it took probably an hour. The waterfall was not running for some reason. Perhaps not enough rain in the mountains. There was a big traffic jam on the North Shore going both ways because it was Sunday and everybody was headed for the beach. Headed back to the airport to return the car and catch the "red-eye" home. NOTE: We went through Hawaii Drive-O for our Thrifty rental cars. They were $30 per day for a compact, no matter which island.
FOOD ABOARD SHIP: We ate at the Aloha Buffet every day for breakfast and dinner. We just liked being able to eat when we wanted and make our own selections of salad and dessert. People were always fighting for a seat on the Pride of Aloha, but there seemed to be no problem finding one on the Pride of America. (HINT: There is a crepe kiosk near the dessert kiosk at the back of the Aloha Cafe. The crepes are made one-at-a-time, so it can take up to fifteen or twenty minutes or more to move through the line, but they are worth it!)
ENTERTAINMENT: We only went to one show, the "Crew Review". We always find it interesting to see what "amateurs" can do. They were all quite good! Overall we considered this an EXCELLENT cruise. Anybody who can't find a way to enjoy themselves on this cruise must have the last name of Scrooge.