5/23/09 Pride of America Review
First, I'll let you know a little about us. We are a late 20s professional couple from CA looking for some great beaches, beautiful scenery, and some great tropical weather to relax and have a great time celebrating our anniversary. We aren't into the party atmosphere and just wanted a comfortable, entertaining vacation.
We flew in Friday evening, took the Roberts Hawaii shuttle for $9pp to our hotel, the Auqa Palms. It was about a 30 minute shuttle ride with a couple of stops. The Aqua Palms was a clean, good enough hotel, with incredibly slow elevators, a tiny pool, and a good continental breakfast. It was around $95 for the night. We had dinner at a deli at the Hilton Hawaiian Village for $30ish. The pool and beach area of the HHV are very nice, and there are a ton of shops in the HHV, though it's very crowded. On Friday nights, they have a show and fireworks that were fun, and free, to watch.
We woke up early on Saturday, had breakfast at the hotel, checked out, and headed to the beach at the HHV until our shuttle (Roberts again for $6pp) came and took us to the cruise at 2:30. Check in to the cruise was simple (no porters needed), though there was a line that took about 30 minutes. We made dinner reservations for Teppanyaki as soon as we boraded. Then, we headed for the lunch buffet, then to our rooms, and the pool. The rooms on NCL are tiny, way smaller than the RC or Carnival ships we've been on before, and we had a balcony this time compared to inside rooms on the others. Also, the "king" bed had a HUGE, uncomfortable lump in the middle where the pillow was that connected the two twin beds. There is a mini fridge in the room, and we did get ice everyday. Our room steward was very friendly and our cabin was clean.
Now about the ship: The ship seemed very narrow compared to other ships we've been on, and it seemed to rock back and forth more rapidly and in a more jerky motion than others. We woke up multiple mornings thinking it was an earthquake! I don't get seasickness, but many people did on this ship that hadn't before, and the seas were really calm! But, I think our biggest complaint was the "freestyle". There were times during the day where there wasn't food available, or the only available food was in the Cadillac Diner, that was very greasy and slow. We much prefer the 24 hour pizzeria or buffet where you can grab a quick bite to eat and leave. We also had a couple of nights where we had to wait 10-15 minutes to be seated for dinner (at either main dining room around 8pm). The wait was longer earlier in the evening. The food was fine, portions were small (and we don't eat alot), nothing spectacular, but good enough. The staff were very friendly. The Teppanyaki was just like Bennihana or any other restaurant, through not worth an additional $25pp. We regretted spending the $$ on it, as the regular dining room was just as tasty. The entertainment was typical of any cruise including a magician, comedian, newlywed gameshow, etc., though the hula and island dance shows were nice. The decor wasn't breathtaking, but it was nice to see the Americana theme and a tribute to our nation.
Our first stop was Maui. We did the Road to Hana and then the Molokini Snorkel trip. The Road to Hana was a little boring honestly. Just a really winding road, on a big bus, with a guide and lots of small pre-planned, overcrowded stops. It was more of a nature drive, and while we did get some great photos, and saw some beautiful places, it could have gone a lot faster and been more entertaining. Molokini snorkeling is run by the Pacific Whale Foundation and is a great tour. The snorkeling was good, and the guides were great. We saw dolphins, a reef shark, some manta rays, lots of coral and fish.
Next was the Big Island. In Hilo we rented a car from Thrifty and toured Volcano National Park on our own. Thrifty took forever. We were in line for over an hour to rent the car and they only had 1 person checking people in, while at least 10 people were waiting in line. People were even running to get on the shuttle as even the shuttles were slow! VNP is super easy to do on your own and it gives you the freedom to stop and hike where you want. We heard the group tour through NCL was slow and boring and people felt constricted. We covered the entire park, and did a 4 mile hike through the volcano (I think it was the Hiluea Iki 4 mile loop) that was awesome. We also did the lava tube walk, did the Crater Rim Drive as far as we could since part of it was closed, and did the Chain of Craters Road to the beach. It was raining, but it felt nice as we were hiking and sweaty! Though it did make the viewing less spectaculr. Definitely stop at the Visitors Center and ask a guide what the recommend, as they are really helpful and knowledgeable. Stop on the way to VNP and grab some lunch to bring with you and stop for a beautiful picnic in the park. On the way back we stopped at the Mauna Loa Nut Factory and bought some chocolate coconut macadamia nuts, though we later found them for less at the Whaler's General Store. That night we did the lava flow cruise by and it was definitely cool to see and something to remember. Go on the top deck on the starboard side to enjoy it.
In Kona we did the Captain Zodiak Dolphin and Snorkel adventure. It was great, and by far our best NCL excursion. We saw lots of dolphins and even a baby dolphin that was jumping and playing for us. We went to a great snorkel place near the Captain Cook Monument that was better than Molokini. The ride was fun and the guides were great.
In Kuaui we walked to the beach by the Marriot hotel for a day and a half of beach time. There was also a shuttle to the "Anchor Cove" shops that took you there for free. It was very relaxing, and the hotel had some great pina coladas. It also rained a little while we were here, but nothing more than a sprinkle, and it went away quickly. That evening we watched the Na Poli coast sail-by from our balcony. Again it was really foggy, so we couldn't see a ton, but it was still nice.
The last day we booked the Best of Oahu excursion. The Pearl Harbor part was nice, because we got off of the boat around 7:30, got our luggage, and got to PH around 8 and got tickets for the 9:15 tour. It was really amazing to see such a vivid part of our history and to hear their stories. We left PH around 11. The lunch was less than stellar at a run of the mill tourist trap souvenir store and lunch counter that you would find in old-Vegas. We wasted an hour there and then another half hour at a nut farm across the street. We finally made it to the Polynesian Cultural Center around 1:45, just in time to get tickets and seats for the canoe parade at 2:30. Our tour guide was informative, but really slow, and we felt that he wasted a good portion of our day and guided people around like kindergartners. We left the guide along with about half of the group to experience PCC on our own. We quickly made it to almost every village's show and got to experience way more of the PCC than most of the group. We met back up with our group at 4pm for the Samoa show as we were directed by the tourguide. After that, he showed us where the bus would be after dinner, then told us dinner would start in half an hour so we could sit and wait there. We decided to leave again and experience the last village and got to play with the New Zealand ball weapons and take a quick lesson! We made it back to the group before dinner opened, were given our leis, and enjoyed the show and dinner around 5 or 5:30pm. The food was great, and the leis were included. The tour leaves the PCC around 6:30 and is back to the airport by 7:30. So, the package does not include the well known "Horizons" show or the better luau.
Again we took the Roberts shuttle to our hotel, the Outrigger Reef, and went for a walk along Waikiki beach and through the shops. (A bit about Roberts Hawaii: they are cheaper than most other options and are convenient, however, the service was hit and miss. We'd have a great driver, then a horrible one, a friendly ticket giver, and then a mean one. They do try to sell you excursions while driving you to the cruise, but aren't high pressure.) The Outrigger Reef was great, very comfortable, spacious, new, and clean. It was about $165 a night I think for Sat and Sun nights. Sunday we did surf lessons at the Outrigger down the beach and enjoyed the softer sand on the Diamondhead side of Waikiki beach near the Outrigger at Waikiki. The lessons were great and we were both riding waves on our first try! We also got a free 1 hour board rental that we used on Monday. So, we finished up our trip with some great beach and pool time! We had estimated $100 a day for food while at Waikiki and spent about $110 (skipping breakfast, but nice dinners, and a virgin pina colada snack). So, food really is expensive in Waikiki. On Sunday, we had dinner at Roys and really enjoyed it, the 3 fish sampler was great as was the chocolate lava cake. Monday night our flight left at 9:30pm, so we checked out in the morning, hung out at the pool and beach, and used our free surfboard rental. The Outrigger Reef also gave us a hostpitality room to use to shower and freshen up before our flight. We had dinner at 5pm at Dukes and loved the coconut shrimp, the Ohno fish with pineapple salsa, and the Hula Pie. It was the great ending to a great vacation! We both can't wait to go back and have decided this is our #2 vacation we want to repeat (#1 being our honeymoon to Bora Bora)!
A couple of things you must bring - more than 1 bathing suit and coverups, 1 sweater or light jacket, lots of sunscreen, binoculars would have been nice a couple of times. Bring your own soda onboard, as you do have a fridge and drinks on the boat are pricey. There's no need for really nice formalwear as slacks or a skirt and a cute top were perfect for the nicer dinner restaurant. Very few people got really dressed up.