Pride of America Cruise Review by Oradellian: Terrific September Getaway with Owner's Suite and Halekulani
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Terrific September Getaway with Owner's Suite and Halekulani
This was our first visit to Hawaii and sixth cruise, our previous cruises being in the Mediterranean and Caribbean, on Celebrity, Princess, and Royal Caribbean lines.
Booking: We booked directly with NCL through their website, and reserved an aft balcony category BA cabin 10180. Approximately 4 weeks before sailing, the "UpSell Fairy" called with an outstanding offer to take a category AA owner's suite, cabin 10002, at a reasonable increase in price.
Travel: It is six time zones and a 10 hour flight from the east coast. We used One Pass miles to fly Continental non-stop, first class, and it was very comfortable with decent food and wine.
Honolulu / Waikiki: Arrived Wednesday evening; had booked Halekulani via their website. Outstanding hotel with reputation for services and dining. We were not disappointed. Centrally located in Waikiki. Lots of shopping. Enjoyed the La Mer, Orchids, and House Without a Key restaurants. Great, elegant hula. A small beach More but smooth sand; large beautiful pool and excellent pool staff and drinks. Quiet clientele with many wedding ceremonies. Extensive privacy and security; security staff wore suits and carried covert communications devices. Kicked back quite a bit Thursday / Friday and tried to adjust to the time change.
Saturday Boarding: VIP boarding privileges with the suite; we were speeded through in 5 minutes. Our baggage arrived within the hour. NCL Concierge met all suite guests in the Lanai Lounge, and helped with reservations for tours and dining at the specialty restaurants.
Cabin: I can't say enough about the Owner's Suite. It is a floating apartment; 1 1/2 baths; a Jacuzzi; dual sinks; stall shower with spray guns; 3 televisions; a huge lanai with chaise lounges, table / chairs, and 60" hot tub completes the picture. The room includes choice of 3 liters of liquor, very decent brands including Beefeater, Stolichnaya and Kahlua. There is also a large espresso / cappuccino machine. Butler service, which we did not make full use of, is included. Only complaint was ice, ice, and more ice. I needed to call every day for ice.
Breakfast / Lunch: Suite guests can enjoy private sitting in the Lazy J. Food was good but menu never changed. I did get one bad meal, a "grouper filet" which obviously had just come from the freezer via the deep fat fryer. I was afraid to bite it, expecting to get the hook.
Dinner: Dined twice in Jefferson Bistro; twice in Liberty; once in Little Italy; once in East Meets West; and one dinner was the Luau field trip. Portions were small in Liberty, although seating and service was speedy (table for 2) and food was tasty. Little Italy was nothing special. Bistro and East Meets West were excellent.
Avoid the Aloha Cafe: we walked through by mistake during the "All You Can Eat Prime Rib" dinner; it was a scene from a freak movie, with heavyweight guests in motorized chariots whizzing by with multiple slabs of beef hanging off their trays.
I Told You So: The day after the prime rib dinner, the ship was locked down for a norovirus protection protocol. All the buffets were covered in Saran wrap, with ship personnel doing the serving with latex gloves. The sprayers were out in force, with fire extinguisher-sized bottles of alcohol disinfectant. We later saw a report on Honolulu TV that over 100 PoA guests and staff were ill.
Entertainment: The singer / guitarist in Napa Wine lounge was excellent and we enjoyed happy hour there most days. To be kind, the other onboard entertainers were not special and not up to the level we experienced on our other cruises. There were no late night party scenes nor midnight buffets that we were aware of.
Day Trips: With the exception of the Kauai Luau, we did our own tours each day. All car rentals were handled by Thrifty; it speeds things greatly by being a Blue Chip member and reserving via the Thrifty website.
Maui Day 1: Drove to Lahaina; toured historic sites; clunked my head on the largest banyan tree ever; and shop, shop, and shop. Drove north to DT Fleming beach; lunch at the Ritz-Carlton Beach House (!) which overlooks the action from a serene, cool setting. Note fairly heavy traffic (Sunday) so we made sure to be back on the ship by nightfall.
Maui Day 2: Took the Hana Highway a few miles to Paia, which was advertised as the last stronghold of 1960's hippiedom on the Island. Didn't see hippies, but did tour a Buddhist temple (the Maui Dharma Center) and an ancient Japanese cemetery which was crumbling into the ocean. Some light shopping, but really this town can be safely avoided and it looks like most people do.
We drove south to Makena Beach State Park. Note, Big Beach and Little Beach; each has different clientele so be cool and don't act surprised. I lost my prescription sunglasses when a rogue wave broke over me. Thanks to the Aussies who helped me comb the surf for the glasses; it's a big ocean. Hot; bring water, sunblock and an umbrella if you can find one to rent.
Hilo: Drove to Volcano National Park; did the obligatory viewing of the steaming volcano; I was ready to throw my pocket change into the crater. Walked through the 1st part (artificial lighting) of the Thurston Lava Tube; this is no big deal as I used to exit the NYC Subway at Whitehall Street, and frankly Whitehall St. looked older.
We drove back to Hilo and then north to Akaka Falls; nice photos. Ate lunch at "What's Shakin'", which has to be the best smoothie place on the island. We took the 4-mile scenic route back to ship, which passes the botanical gardens. Note many tour buses.
We looked forward to the hot lava from our hot tub at 9:45pm; the ship stays about 1/4 mile offshore so needless to say photos are not easy unless you bring great equipment.
Kona: Anchor and tenders. Suite guests given priority, thanks NCL. Thrifty does not pick up at the dock, so we cancelled the car and opted for a shuttle to Kahaluu Beach park. The Beach Shack, right across the street from the pier, offers a $20 per person deal for round-trip shuttle including snorkel gear. We saw plenty of nice, green sea turtles: I told a lady near me that they were man-eaters. She really lost it; sorry the devil made me do it. All in all, a very nice experience. Later that afternoon was shop, shop, and shop for coffee, coffee, and coffee.
Kauai Day 1: Drove north to Kee Beach, which is the end of the roadway. Nice beach, crowded, parked up the road on the shoulder. Huge banyan tree roots approach the water. Shop, shop, shop at Princeville and more swimming at Hanalei Bay. Some of the characters around Hanalei looked like they'd been puffing the magic dragon for quite some time.
Kalamaku Luau: Imagine a wedding with 900 guests, none of whom you know but all of whom seem vaguely familiar. In the center, a stage with scantily clad performers of various genders gyrating to the rhythms of sensual drum beats and studiously avoiding each other's flaming torches. Then, the mighty Pig appears, seemingly rising from its grave, fully roasted and ready to feed one and all.
There was also potato salad and coleslaw.
Kauai Day 2: Early start; drove south to Poipu Beach. Passed through the exciting Tunnel of Trees. Shop, shop, shop. Note huge developments going on; assume hotels, condos, golf courses are in Poipu's future. Too bad. Breakfast at Brennecke's, then swimming. There is a neat little "island" that you can wade to; makes great pictures. Back to ship early for the 2:00pm sail past the Napali coast. Great photos, just like postcards.
Debarkation: Easy. Woke up late, had breakfast in Lazy J and walked off at 9:30am. Thrifty shuttle picked us up right away.
Waikiki, Round-2: Three more nights at the Halekulani, this time with a rental car.
Saturday - Check in not until 3:00pm. Used hospitality suite to change into swimsuits; slept soundly at pool. Evening walk through Waikiki Beach shopping; viewed penguins and giant goldfish at Hilton Hawaiian Village; couldn't get into Duke's and opted for a quick meal upstairs at the Hula Grill. Note massive street festival going on.
Sunday - nice drive up to North shore. We napped on the Banzai Pipeline beach as waves were rough. Found nice lunch at Ola's at Turtle Bay. Excellent swimming at the public beach, which is adjacent to Ola's. The well-advertised north shore shrimp trucks were very, very crowded on Sunday, and we did not wait. Back to Waikiki and casual dining at Jimmy Buffett's at the Beachcomber; avoid Jimmy's Mai Tai's as DW said they were a disappointment, and she is a big drinker (just kidding !!!!).
Monday - Early start with take-away fruit from the ABC Store. Drove south, entered the Diamond Head park, but opted out of the 1 ½ hour hike to the summit. Drove through the beautiful Kahala area, skipped Hanuma Bay (DW said too much snorkeling was as dumb as buying an aquarium DVD) and wound up swimming at Sandy Beach.
Continued winding around Oahu; got to Kailua Beach Park, very very nice but we were hungry and thirsty (mostly thirsty). Found Buzz's, which has got to be on everybody's list of the best lunch places anytime, anywhere. Truly inspired Asian Seafood Over Linguine Monday special. Note cash only but lunch prices reasonable. DW says Mai Tai's much better here.
Tour books suggested a more private beach experience could be had just south of Kailua at Lanikai beach, so sure that's where we went, but everyone reads the same guides and the beach was hardly deserted. Swimming was nice and we had our trusty rubber tubes to float around in the surf and digest Buzz's good food.
Note that the return drive to Waikiki from Kailua is spectacular on the Pali Highway (Route 61).
Tuesday - Check out day !!! But the Halekulani came through for us. I explained to the lady at the front desk that our flight wasn't until 7:50pm. She offered that we could stay in our room until 3:00pm, and afterward use their hospitality suite to shower and change clothes. Great! We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast buffet at HWAK and enjoyed the pool and ocean for the remainder of the day.
Wednesday - We woke up in Newark, New Jersey. I must have been dreaming. Less
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Cabin review: Pride of America 10002
Owner's Suite, it really does not get better. Private lanai. Quiet. Only complaint was that the combination closet / dressing room was too small, and my wife and I constantly bumped into each other.