We arrived two nights early and stayed at the Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk. We were coming from Florida and wanted to adjust to the time change. We rented a car and toured around Oahu. Embassy Suites was a great location to see the shops/restaurants of Waikiki beach.
While in Oahu we went to Pearl Harbor. We arrived at 8:15 am and got a tour ticket for the 8:45 am tour. This gave us time to look at the exhibit before the tour started. Leave all bags in purses in your trunk. They are not allowed at Pearl Harbor. When we left Pearl Harbor at 10am it was much busier because the tour busses had arrived.
If you want to shop, the Ala Moana Shopping Center is 5 minutes from Waikiki beach and has an outdoor setting with gardens and waterfalls. Very pretty and great store selection. Locals and tourists shop there.
One night we ate at Chuck's Steakhouse which is above the famous Duke's Restaurant. Duke's had an 1 1/2 hour wait so we went to Chuck's which had immediate ocean front seating (Waikiki beach). They serve great steaks for less than $30 which includes potato and salad bar. It is a quiet and class atmosphere.
On the day of embarkation we dropped off our rental car at the airport and then took the Roberts Shuttle to the ship. It was $6/person. Outside of the baggage terminals there is a person wearing a yellow shirt that will tell you wear to stand for the shuttle.
Embarkation took less than 30 minutes. We boarded at 1pm.
Once onboard the ship we had lunch in the Skyline dining room. Service was great and the meal was tasty.
Our room was ready at 3pm. The room was clean. The ship only has liquid soap so we brought our own bar of soap.
Maui: We rented a car from Thrifty through www.hawaiidrive-o.com. We used this website to book all of our car rentals. It cost $30/day. The shuttle was at the pier to take us to the airport to get the car. The entire process took less than 30 minutes. We parked the car overnight at the pier at 6pm. If you returned much later than that you would probably not get a parking space. Parking is free.
Our first day in Maui we drove to Hana. The drive took 3.5 hours to get there. We stopped in Hana to have lunch (there are only a few places to eat at. Hana is VERY Small)and then continued on 10 more miles to the Haleakala National Park ($10). There is a waterfall and 7 pools of water to see, plus the ocean. The drive back from Hana took about 2 hours because we made no stops for pictures. The drive is exhausting for the driver. At times we wondered why we were making the drive because the roads are so curvy and dangerous. I think driving halfway gives you enough sites to see.
On the second day in Maui we drove to the top of Haleakala and entered using our pass from Day one. It was 45 minutes from the ship and took about 2 hours roundtrip with photo stops. It was COLD at the top. 40 degrees. Bring warm clothes. We were there at 9am and it was freezing. Then we went to Lahaina (30 minutes away) and walked around to see the shops and had lunch. We ate at Aloha Meal Plate which has great food, view, and great prices.
HILO: We rented a car from Thrifty. We drove to Volcano National Park($10) (45 minutes). It was cold there too. We drove around Crater Rim Drive which took us about an hour with stops. Half of the 11 mile drive is closed due to the active eruption. We then went to Rainbow Falls. We stopped in downtown Hilo and walked around the shops. We were told there was a 4 mile scenic driving route just north of downtown we should have done. We stopped at the Macadamia Nut farm and had free samples and you can see the manufacturing facility.
KONA: We did not rent a car this day. This is a tender port and the airport was about 30 minutes away to get the car. The shops/restaurants are in walking distance of the pier. The crew told us a cool thing to do is to go to Turtle Bay and go snorkeling. Onshore there is a company that will drive you there for $20, including gear.
KUAUI: We rented a car from Thrifty. It took less than 30 minutes to get the car. The shuttle was waiting at the pier for us. As soon as we got the car we drove back to the pier (5 minutes) and paid to reserve a parking spot at the Scooter Rental Place. It cost $20, but there is no where else to park the car overnight. We took a helicopter ride on Blue Hawaiian. We booked directly and got a AAA discount. It was $45 cheaper than the same excursion booked through the ship. Their facility is in walking distance of the ship. We then drove to Poipu beach and had lunch. Then we went to the spouting horn which was cool to see. Then we were off to Waimea Canyon. We were back at the ship by 5pm.
Day 2 of Kuaui: Got off ship at 8am and drove to the northern coast. We drove all the way to the end past Princeville. We stopped at the Kilauea lighthouseopens at 10am ($5). You will see Nenes (Hawaiian state bird) here. The lighthouse is not open to climb up into but the grounds offer a pretty view.
FInal Day: We carried off our luggage and were off the ship at 7:30am. When we disembarked there was a Thrifty shuttle that came at 8am and took us to the Honolulu airport to rent a car. We had to call Thrifty to request the free shuttle pickup. (Only certain rental car companies offer this service) We drove to the North Shore to watch a Triple Crown surfing competition. The drive is about 45 minutes from the airport. We then drove back along the east coast of Oahu. We returned our car for our 7pm flight.
The cruise had a great comedian and magician and offered multiple nights of local entertainers. They performed the polynesian dances and played polynesian music. There were two Hawaiian ambassadors on board who held a FREE class each day to teach you about the culture (lei making classes, hula classes, language classes).
Also at 7:30 am (Aloha Cafe outside deck)one of the ambassadors spoke about the port of the day and gave you ideas on what to see and gave you history of the city.
After Hilo, the ship cruised by the active volcano at night and we saw the lava flowing down the mountain and flowing into the ocean to create steam. After we left Kuaui, the ship sailed by the Napoli Coast, at sunset, which offered great views.
We ate in the Cadillac diner (food was okay). Service was good. We ate in the Skyline restaurant one night for dinner and the service was slow. Food was fine. Two nights we ate in the Liberty restaurant (upstairs from Skyline and requires dress pants). The service was much faster. The waiter told us that is because only senior servers get to work in the Liberty Restaurant. If you dine at 5:30 or 6pm you will have no wait. There are monitors around the ship advising you of dining wait times.
We ate breakfast in the Aloha cafe every morning. They have a great set up with the buffet stations and they have multiple omelet/egg makers. Breakfast was great. At dinner, they had some of the same options that were offered in the dining room. We did not eat in the specialty restaurants. They do offer 1/2 off specials if you dine early.
I thought the ship was beautifully decorated and clean. I think NCL has worked out the troubles they were experiencing a few years back. This cruise is an excellent way to see the islands. The port times were perfect because we felt we saw everything we wanted to see.
The only problem we had was on the last night we heard the luggage carts. It was very loud. We were on deck four and they were running the carts on deck 3. If your cabin is on deck four make sure it is an outside cabin because then you should not be located above this hallway.
TIPS: Rent your cars ahead of time to lock in a good rate. You can always cancel. Bring warm clothes. Do a luau in Oahu or Maui because it will be at least $30 less than the ship will charge. Ask the crew for advice on what to do in the ports. They are very knowledgeable. There is a Wal-mart in every port and a free shuttle from the ship.
Overall, I thought it was an excellent cruise and the best way to see the Hawaiian islands. I would recommend this cruise to anyone interested in seeing Hawaii.