We really enjoyed our Hawaiian cruise experience (Oct. 24-31). Sailing with the Pride of Aloha was like having a floating hotel. The island ports were phenomenal, and for the most part, there was ample time to explore the places we wanted to see.
We, too, had read with trepidation the earlier cruise critiques which were less than favorable, but as they were beginning to become more positive, we decided to go with the flow. We had only one other cruise to compare it with--and incidentally, it was the same Hawaiian Island cruise 12 years ago with another ship and another company. That ship was much smaller and older--not nearly as beautifully appointed as this one.
Good: Embarkation process. Just like the security lines at an airport. Did not take longer than 30 minutes or so. We were greeted with leis and a photo as we boarded the ship. Good: Staff and crew. Everyone goes out of their way to greet you, smile, help in any way possible. Good: The ship is huge (2000 passengers we heard) and very nicely decorated. There were so many areas, bars, coffee areas, stores, etc. that we did not even come close to seeing all of it. Good: Our inside stateroom. It was very cozy, decorated appropriately, cleaned twice a day, and just a really cozy retreat after very active days. Our room had a tv (w/movies, CNN, and a few sitcoms running all the time). The ship records some of the more fun evening events by the pool or in the lounges and repeats these throughout the next day and evening). Our room had a very small refrigerator, a phone, a safe, and a hair dryer. Each bathroom has liquid shampoo and soap.
Good: The car rental situation is great. You could very well reserve your car now from the mainland. Just give them the port and ship name. We noticed Budget (the car rental the ship uses), Alamo, Thrifty, and Dollar. For an economy car, the cost was about $33/day. If you can't get a car through the ship for some reason, call Dollar. They had the next best prices. All you do is depart the ship, look for your rental shuttle, and they take you to the local airport to pick up your car. All of the airports were within 7 miles of the ship, so you just need to factor in time to get back to the airport so the shuttle can get you back to the ship on time. For the days that there is a layover, the cruise has designated parking areas nearby.
Good: Poolside bbq on our first day, Sunday. Very good food, fresh fruit, very nice.
Not so good: Ergonomics of eating at the buffet/bbq area. When so many people are opting for the same dining venue, there just aren't enough tables to go around. Although there are a lot of tables and chairs poolside, sometimes the weather is not conducive to eating outside. In that case, everyone moves inside to the buffet dining room, the Longboard bar, and the small room inside the Long board bar. It was touch and go at times. But you'll get the hang of it about 2 days into your cruise. You learn to be pretty creative about balancing your drinks and food while scouting out a table. Not so good: We had no problem getting a table for two in the Crossing restaurant and the Palace restaurant; however, there wasn't consistency in the wait staff. In one instance we could not seem to get refills of water, tea, or coffee, but the server was extremely nice and tried her best. In the Palace restaurant we had an extremely capable server, Brittany, an island girl, a surfer. She was just the best! The menu items were average. Tip: Be sure to order double, or add several appetizers to your meal. The entrees are fairly small.
Tips: We learned a few tips from this website which were extremely helpful before we took our trip --thank you very much. Bring extra wire coat hangers in your luggage. They will help a lot. There just is no drawer space to speak of and hangers are not plentiful. Bring additional plug-in source. We brought a short-cord plug (like a surge protector) with four outlets. It was perfect for the battery and phone chargers as well as for the hair dryer. You might also bring an electric or battery operated clock as there is no clock other than turning on the tv for an instant read of the time. Get a portside room (if you're going for a window or balcony--that's the side the volcano viewing at 1:00 AM is on. You could just as well stay in your room for this. We with inside staterooms had to go out into the rain to view the "firey slopes". On one overnight stay, we found a laundromat in the evening and freshened up some of our clothes. The crew know all the laundromats near these ports of call.
Excellent: The Islands! Rent a car or take a planned excursion. You can't go wrong. We're birders so we traveled to the ends of some roads, bumped over one-lane remote roads for miles, and even slogged up rough, muddy hillsides to get better views and maybe spot Hawaiian birds or plants. We just had a ball!
My husband, Glen, was our guide. He brought along many guidebooks, some of which gave us the best beaches, snorkeling spots, dining, birding, hiking, etc. They were invaluable to us. We did not take any ship excursions and we saw soooooo much!
Enjoy your trip!