This review is a condensed version of my complete review which is posted on the Hawaii boards and can be accessed here: http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1298051. That thread contains many more details than this review including the maximum number of allowed photos and links to my web albums, a comparison of our original daily itineraries versus what we actually did, GPS coordinates, prices, questions and comments. It is as complete as I could make it and if you like a LOT of details, I suggest reading the review there. However, for the condensed version (really it is!) please continue below.
The views expressed in this review will be presented in as honest a fashion as possible. Some of them may not all be positive, but they will all be accurate from my perspective. None will be presented with malice. I know others who have taken this trip, maybe the same trip, will have had different experiences and I would love to read about theirs also.
Travelers - Me, DH and our dear friends who will be referenced in this review as DFH and DFW. DFH had some mobility issues due to a recent foot surgery. We are mid-40s to mid-50s and have taken many trips together. We all travel really well together because we all want to see, do and experience as much as possible and we are all up for most any adventure. We are all interested in anything historical, but we all also appreciate a fun time at a Senor Frogs.
Date - Oct 8 -17, 2010
Staterooms 4557 & 4555 - Inside deck 4
Booking info - After researching all the options I booked the trip through the local branch of a well known travel club. I was very happy with the cost. Booking through them I was able to get the cruise, 1 pre-cruise night in Waikiki, transfers from the airport to the hotel (we didn't use those), an airport lei greeting, and transport from Waikiki to the pier for several hundred dollars less than I could find the cruise alone through any other agency or through NCL directly.
Day One - Houston to Honolulu to North Shore to Waikiki
We flew CO from IAH to Honolulu. Flight left IAH at 9:35am and arrived HNL a few minutes ahead of schedule at about 12:47pm. The flight was smooth and we had a wonderful and entertaining captain. Food was airplane/convenience store food. But my boy scout DH and carried on a goody bags full of different snacks so we were good.
When we disembarked the airplane there was a lovely woman waiting to greet us with our leis. It was a wonderful welcome to the islands.
Next we were off to claim our baggage and pick up our Thrifty rental car. I reserved Thrifty cars in Oahu, Hilo, Maui and Kauai. The Thrifty airport location is offsite, but we were on the shuttle and at the location in just a short time. We had a nice Jeep Laredo which provided good vision all around and plenty of room for luggage. We kept the vehicle for 1 day + 2 hours and total cost was $137.66. That included an extra $30 drop off fee because we chose to return the car to their Waikiki lot.
TIP: I booked all the cars using corporate discount code HT14004118, which I got off a website for Hawaiian tourist, and is available for anyone to use. Using that code I was able to get the best prices I could find, and also no extra charge for an additional driver. Also, I joined Thrifty's Blue Chip program. There is no cost and it is a huge time saver. We never had to wait in line and our paperwork was waiting when we got there.
TIP: DH brought his GPS along. He made sure all of our necessary POIs were in the GPS before we left home. You can also rent GPS systems from the car rental companies. The GPS was a huge help on all of the islands. I highly recommend that you use a GPS if you are renting cars.
In no time at all we were in the rental car and headed to the North Shore. It is a lovely drive, as were all the drives on all the islands. You drive through mountains which give way to rolling open fields of pineapples and other crops we couldn't identify and then you see the Pacific up ahead. We passed the Dole Plantation visitor center. The parking lot was packed but with our limited time we decided not to stop. We were headed to Matsumoto's Shaved Ice in Haleiwa.
In my ongoing quest to be a traveler and not just a tourist, and to try an experience places I visit as a local does, I ordered the Hawaiian flavored shaved ice WITH ice cream AND beans. BLECH!!! The shaved ice part was delish, but those beans...yuck. I was expecting some sort of sweet tasting bean, or maybe salty would have been a nice contrast. But to me they were just like regular black beans and I can't imagine who would have ever thought of adding them to ice cream and shaved ice. I had to toss it once I got down to the beans. Everyone else just ordered regular shaved ices and enjoyed them. They are good, better than snow cones, but we all agreed that they weren't ALL that. So if you go to Hawaii and don't manage to get a shaved ice, don't feel like you missed all that much. They are inexpensive though, I will give them that.
I had two goals for this trip: 1-to see/swim with sea turtles and 2-to have some authentic local Hawaiian cuisine. I have wanted to swim with turtles for a couple of years so I was really looking forward to seeing turtles at Turtle Beach.
Unfortunately when we arrived at Turtle Beach there were no turtles actually on the beach. There were two in the surf and it looked like they were trying to get on the beach, but there were so many people standing on the small area of sand that was available for them to crawl ashore, that I think they just decided not to mess with it. They were huge too. They looked like VW bugs swimming around in the surf. I was hoping some of the turtle volunteer ladies would make the people move off the sand and onto the rocks to give the Honu a clear passage, but they didn't. The ladies did say that a big one had been sunning on the sand a little earlier in the day. It was a lovely beach.
TIP: For each island I ordered Franko's Guide Maps from www.frankosmaps.com. These proved invaluable. They also sell them in all the ABC stores and gift shops. In addition to using them as just maps, and therefore allowing me to keep check on the GPS and make sure it was not leading us astray, they have TONS of information on all the sites, estimated drive times between points, phone #s, websites, etc. They were very helpful in planning the itinerary and the order we would do things.
After leaving Turtle Beach we continued up the North Shore, making the curve at the Turtle Bay resort and south down the windward side of the island. From Kaneohe we took the Likelike Hwy back to Honolulu, picking up H1 to Waikiki. We checked in for 1 night at the Ohana Beachcomber Hotel. The hotel is not right on the beach, but it is in a great location on Kalakaua Ave, on the same block as the International Marketplace and right across the street from the Royal Hawaiian shopping center. Our package included 1 night, standard view room, which was on the second floor of the hotel, but the 3rd floor of the building. The view from our balcony wasn't the greatest, but we weren't there long anyway.
There was a little confusion on our reservation, and the hotel thought both couples were celebrating anniversaries when it was actually just our friends. When we checked in the desk clerk told us there was a little gift for us in our room in honor of our celebration. We explained that it was not our anniversary and he said he hoped we enjoyed it anyway. In each room there was a nice box of chocolates/macadamia nut candy with a lovely note from the hotel. Even though the view wasn't the greatest, the room was very nice, spacious and comfortable, with a large closet, safe, fridge, coffee maker with Hawaiian coffee, large bathroom with nice amenities. I would recommend the hotel for sure.
The hotel had a Jimmy Buffett restaurant and bar. We enjoyed drinks from the bar on the pool deck, overlooking the street before we headed across the street for dinner at the Hula Grill.
I had made reservations online months ago for dinner at the Hula Grill, requesting a table on the railing and noting that we were celebrating friend's anniversary. I had looked up the sunset time for that day and made the reservation for 30 minutes prior. However, the week before we left we realized that we would be pushing it to get back to Waikiki in time to make that ressie time, so we pushed it back 45 min to 6:30. We got there a little early and watched the sunset from the bar. It was still beautiful from there. The restaurant has a wonderful ambiance and a creative drink menu. For drinks we had Sunset Martinis, Hula Mai Tais, and Lava Flows (pina colada with strawberry puree). For dinner DH and I shared an appetizer platter and some cerviche. I am used to Mexican cerviche which is made with cilantro, jalapenos, onions and lime juice. This was a very mild cerviche made with coconut. It was good, but a little too mild for my taste. After dinner, they surprised us with a dessert in honor of the anniversary and it was VERY good, and huge.
DFW and I have a tradition of trying to get Henna or airbrushed tattoos whenever we go on vacation. We prefer Henna because they last longer. While doing research I found a temporary tattoo stand in the International Marketplace and had emailed them. After dinner we went over for my tattoo. I had picked it out online weeks ago - Hibiscus and Honu. It was less than $25 and I loved it. It lasted throughout the vacation and didn't fade until we had been home several days.
Day 2 - Arizona Memorial, Kualoa Ranch Movie Tour, ONO Hawaiian Foods, Boarding the Pride of America
We were able stick pretty much to schedule today. In spite of the previous long day (23 hours!) we didn't have any trouble getting up because our bodies were still on Texas time. BFs were out early finding breakfast but DH and I had some breakfast bars from his snack bag. We had gotten some SF Red Bulls (my caffeine of choice) and Dr. Peppers from an ABC store at the International Market the previous night, so we were good to go. We knew that the car would be unattended for long periods of time on this day and we didn't want to leave our luggage and things in it, so we called the bellman at 6:30am to come get our luggage and store it. We picked up the car from valet at 6:45am and headed to the Arizona Memorial. We were parked and at the ticket window by 7:30am. There was plenty of convenient parking when we arrived and they had uniformed security officers on bikes patrolling the lots. There was a separate lot for tour busses and there were probably already at least a dozen busses in that lot. I got a little worried that we had not arrived early enough and that our tickets would be for later in the day and throw our schedule off, but we were given tickets for the shuttle to the memorial at 8:30am. We went and stored our purses at baggage check and then went to watch the movie. There is construction going on at the site so the movie is being shown in a large 3-sided tent. Don't miss the movie. You are told to meet for your assigned shuttle at Contemplation Circle, which is behind the walled off construction area. Make sure you arrive at the circle 15-20 minutes prior to your assigned time to hear the park ranger's talk. It was very interesting and very moving. We elected not to tour the Bowfin submarine or the Battleship Missouri, as we had all toured subs and battleships at other places. This trip was really just to pay our respects to the men and women killed on Pearl Harbor day. I think that everyone who visits Oahu should make a point of visiting the Arizona Memorial.:
By 9:30am we were back in the Arizona parking lot and heading out. We had not prearranged the Kualoa Ranch movie tour because we weren't sure what time we would be finished at Pearl Harbor, and we didn't know exactly how long it would take us to get there. I called them and they said they had space available on their 10:40am and 10:50am tours and we should have plenty of time to get there.
Coming back from the North Shore the day before we had seen a Macadamia Nut Outlet Store and Visitor Center down the street from Kualoa Ranch. We had plenty of time before the movie tour so we decided to stop in. It was just meant to be a time killer but all really enjoyed it. The shop had all sorts of locally produced food items, not just macadamia nuts. They have sauces, jams/jellies, coffees, etc and gave away samples of everything. Several artists and craftsmen were selling paintings and various other crafts. We bought several plumeria plant cuttings, some nuts, a Christmas ornament, and some Hawaiian BBQ sauce for our son, which would unfortunately not make it back to the mainland, but that comes later in the story. They have some gorgeous tropical plant/flower arrangements. I had never seen a macadamia nut in its unshelled form, but there was a tree there that the nuts were dropping off of. You would take a nut, put it on a tree stump and smash it with a rock to shell it. They were really hard. They also had some coffee trees, so if you aren't planning to visit one of the coffee farms on the islands this would be a chance to at least see the plants. If you have a few minutes when you are on that side of Oahu and are interested in locally produced souvenirs, I would definitely recommend that you stop in.
Kualoa Ranch Movie Tour - We were all looking forward to this tour because we all love movies and enjoy going to movie studio theme parks. But we all agreed that we actually enjoyed the tour more than we even expected to. We purchased our tickets and were sent to check in for our tour. You check in where the tour vehicles are parked and board one of two busses - one is for English speaking tourists and one is for Japanese speaking tourists. Before you board a photographer takes your photo in front of your bus with the mountains in the background. They are $15 and are available at the end of the tour. We were happy with ours and did purchase it.
Our driver/tour guide was Cowboy. He said no one could pronounce his actual name so he goes by Cowboy. He said he was a 52 yr old native Hawaiian and we all agreed he was the youngest looking 52 yr old we've ever seen. He did an excellent job entertaining and informing. What we enjoyed so much about the tour was not only the movie stuff, which we expected, but we learned a lot about the history of the ranch and Oahu, and that was a nice surprise. During WWII the ranch was used by the military. The bunkers are still there. You are allowed to go into a portion the largest one, which is actually 5 stories inside the mountain. It was used as one of the Dharma hatches during the filming of LOST. Now it contains scenes and memorabilia from movies/shows shot at the ranch. It also contains relics left from WWII, including the metal grating that was once part of a military runway. There is an actual photo of the runway hanging above the grating, which you are allowed to walk on. Where the runway once was, at the base of the mountains near the beach is now where Hwy 83 runs along the coast. We just thought the addition of the historical facts made this a great tour, and a good follow-up to the Arizona Memorial visit. We took a lot of good pictures at the ranch.
Our plan now was to head back to Waikiki, taking the highway south down the windward side of the island and going back to Waikiki via the Nuuanu Pali Hwy, stopping at the Nuuanu Pali lookout in route. This is the one time the GPS let us down. It tried to take us all the way back to Honolulu and then back up the Pali Hwy to the lookout, which would have definitely been the long way. On those cross island highways there aren't a lot of places to get off and turn around. By the time we realized the problem, it was too late to alter routes conveniently so we decided to skip the lookout and head directly to ONO Hawaiian Food for lunch.
ONO wasn't a must-do on our itinerary, but it was something I was really hoping to do. Once we put in the new POI, the GPS took us straight to the restaurant. Parking was an issue. We drove around a few blocks before finding a small pay lot a couple of blocks away. I think it was behind a pizza place. While looking for a parking spot, we spotted a running store, which we were happy to see and planned to visit after lunch. ONOs is small, very small, like 8 small tables small. Customers are asked to wait in line outside to the right of the door. There was one party in front of us. A local mother and daughter who said they love ONO and drove from the other side of the island to have lunch there. We probably waited about 10 minutes, maybe less before a table became available. I don't know the owners' names but they were super sweet. I'm assuming they are the family that owns the restaurant. If they were employees, then the owners have to be very happy with them. Our waitress was an older lady who was so sweet and eager to answer questions and explain the dishes. For the 4 of us we ordered 2 of the largest combos which came with kuala pork, pork laulau, lomi lomi salmon, some sort of jerky like beef, rice or poi, and halupia (a coconut pudding like dessert). (I don't have the menu in front of me, so I'm probably misspelling these dishes.) In addition to the combos we also ordered some Portuguese sausage, beef stew and butterfish luau. Altogether the lunch was less than $50 for the 4 of us. We all said we'd prefer rice over poi. She told us to order the rice, but she was going to bring us some poi to try. She did. She also brought a bowl of sliced raw sweet white onions which she salted liberally with sea salt and told us to dip in the poi. It was actually not half bad with the onion. She also made us some sort of chili sauce at the table for dipping anything in. It was pretty spicy. We all loved it, so she came and made us another batch. DH ordered a beer, but ONO doesn't have a liquor license to sell alcohol, so she told him to run across the street to the convenience store and buy some and bring it back. So that's what he did. The clerk at the store asked him if he was eating at ONO, so it must be pretty common. We all enjoyed the food very much, even DH who is not a very adventurous diner AT ALL. My favorite was the pork lau lau. The food was very much like true Southern soul food - greens, pork and pepper sauce. I was happy that I was able to accomplish one of my goals - eating true, authentic Hawaiian food.
When we finished lunch we told them how much we enjoyed it, and left the remaining beers for the young man serving as cashier and informal photographer. We left BF's to explore the interesting looking store next to the restaurant while DH and I went back to the running store and to pick up the car from the parking lot. At the store we both got running shirts that say "HAWAII" across the front and have a big pineapple on them. We got the car, picked up BFs and headed back to the hotel. We dropped them off in front of the hotel to pick up the luggage while we dropped the car off at the Thrifty drop off location a few blocks away. This is where I made an error in planning. I didn't think that this particular Thrifty location would shuttle to the pier, but they would. It would have been easier to pick up our luggage and had Thrifty shuttle us all to the pier, or even return the car back and the airport location and be shuttled to the pier from there. Anyway, it was not that big a deal, since transfers from Waikiki to the pier were included in our package. We got our luggage from the hotel bellman, our shuttle taxi van picked us up and it was about a 20 min drive to the pier.
ADDITIONAL DISCLAIMER: As I review the POA, there will be some positive observations, but regrettably quite a few neutral and even negative opinions. This was our 7th cruise, and we have taken many more land vacations to different places. Before each trip I do a LOT of research. It is my hobby. I have also traveled quite a bit for work. So I consider myself a pretty savvy traveler, with reasonable expectations based on personal history and research. And I would definitely not consider anyone in our party as overly demanding or difficult to please. I went on this trip to Hawaii with high expectations, which were almost all met. But based on research I went on the POA with lowered expectations for the cruise portion of the trip, and I wasn't wrong. If NCL is your favorite line, or the POA your favorite ship, please do not take anything I say from here on out as a personal affront. As I said, these were my experiences. Your mileage may vary. Our previous cruises have been on Carnival's Ecstasy (3 times), Carnival's Conquest (twice) and RCCL's Enchantment of the Seas (once). Any comparisons made will be against experiences on those ships.
I think it was about 3pm when we got to the pier. I thought the ship would be docked across from the Aloha Tower, but it wasn't. Another cruise ship was in that place. The driver dropped us off at the edge of a parking lot. There was a short line of people being screened by security underneath some sun awnings. The luggage drop off situation seemed weird to me. It was a while before we saw a luggage porter, and then we only saw one and he was the only one we ever saw. I don't know how this porter decided whose luggage he wanted to take but he went past us with his cart to some people in line several parties behind us, loaded up their luggage and took off with a cart that was 2/3 empty. He could have probably taken all the luggage of everyone in line at that time on that cart. I don't know what the deal was. So we schlepped our luggage across the parking lot, through another checkpoint and the length of the terminal to the luggage drop off point. It was no big deal. I'm perfectly capable of schlepping my own luggage, for great distances if need be. However, on vacation we bring plenty of tipping money and I rather spend that and let someone else schlep my luggage for me. The weather this day was super pleasant. If it had been raining, or super hot I wouldn't have been as ok with the self-schlepping.
So we drop off our luggage and go through yet another checkpoint. Then we have our photos taken against a blank screen with young people dressed as native Hawaiians. Then we finally get in line to actually check in. It didn't take long as I think most people were probably already on the ship. Even with all the schlepping from the time we got out of the taxi until the time we stepped on board the ship was probably less than 20 minutes - Not too bad. We walk across the gangway and step on the ship, one of our favorite parts of cruising - stepping on the ship for the first time. But something is wrong. Where is someone trying to sell me a welcome aboard drink? I'm confused. This is the first time I've stepped on a ship without immediately being offered a drink. About some things I'm a creature of habit...I need my welcome aboard drink!
Oh well, let's switch gears. You enter the ship on deck 5. We were one deck down so we walk down to check out our rooms. Weird thing #3 - There is no Freestyle Daily in our room and none in our BF's room. No Freestyle Daily, no fliers advertising spa services, no excursions brochure, no ship map...no nothing. What is going on here? Didn't they know we were coming? How are we going to know where to spend our money if they don't tell us? So I go back up to the guest services desk, where I expect to find displays of Dailies available for the taking...nope, none, nada. None at the excursion desk either, or at the desk where they are taking ressies for dining packages. The line at guests' services is super long, so I go ask the woman swiping key cards of boarding passengers where I can get one. She says she thinks they are out. What?? What episode of Twilight Zone is this? Didn't they know how many passengers were boarding? She asks the guy across the way if he has any left and he says he has a few he has hidden away but he would give me one. Huh? I told him I needed two because our friends didn't get one either. He gave me a look like I was trying to scam him out of the Dailys for some nefarious purpose, but he gave me two copies, and two copies of the ship's map. I have no idea why there was a shortage of Dailys, why he was stashing some away and who he planned on sharing them with. I'm just reporting what happened. I eventually got Daily's for every day, although I had to go in search the next day too.
Our cabin was small, the smallest one we've had, but there is enough storage and it is serviceable for the time we spent in it. I'm the type that unpacks, puts everything away, stores the luggage and tries to keep the room as neat as possible. I had my over the door organizer, which I hung on the bathroom door and that helped a lot because in the bathroom there is only a small counter and no shelves. I know in the shower there was a shower gel dispenser, and shampoo. I'm not sure about conditioner because I never use the provided shampoo or conditioner. The only other amenity in the bathroom was a small bottle of lotion. There were no robes provided in these inside staterooms. There were plenty of hangers. Too many in fact. I didn't need them all and at night when the ship was rocking they would rattle against each other. When I figured out what the noise was I took all the empty hangers down and put them on the top shelf which solved the problem.
So we set down with our maps and Dailys to figure out where to go to obtain a bon voyage beverage, and where to go to sign up for the pub crawl. Ding, ding, ding...an announcement...the muster drill will begin in 30 minutes. All bars are now closing in preparation for the drill and will reopen immediately following the drill. Seriously?? We dissolve in laughter about their attempts to prevent us from drinking, knowing that eventually we will prevail!
Muster drill was painless. We didn't have to take our life jackets, thank goodness. Our station was on deck 6 at the Cadillac Diner's outdoor section, so we had tables to set at. Our table mates were a lovely couple from Scotland and it had taken them 29 hours to get to Hawaii. So we will not be complaining about our mere 8 hour trip. Our muster leaders were friendly and welcoming but as usual we were glad when it was done and we were free - like kids out of school for summer free.
We go off to explore the ship, find a drink and sign up for the pub crawl. First stop, the Key West Bar for their featured drink, a berry mojito. Here we meet Surly Bartender #1 (SB1). DF's order a beer and a berry mojito. SB1 delivers the beer and the ticket for both drinks, which DFH signs. SB1 takes the ticket and immediately starts taking someone else's order. DFW and I give each other a look which SB1 catches. She says, with 'tude mind you, "Did you need something else?" DFW politely explains that she hasn't received the drink they just paid for. At which point SB1 becomes flustered and stammers something about thinking someone else was going to make it...I guess the same someone else who was going to print enough Dailys. Anyway, the berry mojitos were very good. Unfortunately that was the only bar we could find them at all week and that bar closed at 6pm every day as did some of the other outdoor bars. Which was another thing we found strange. We did visit the bar several times during the trip though and SB1 did warm up a little by the end of the trip. We actually closed it down one evening, we were partying so hard. (That was a joke - remember, it closes at 6pm. )
We head off to the Gold Rush Saloon to sign up for the pub crawl and to meet Surly Bartender #2 (SB2). We go up to the bar and I tell SB2 (who I didn't know was SB2 at the time) that we want to sign up for the pub crawl. He looks at me a second or 2, takes my card and goes to the other end of the bar where he seems to be having a serious discussion with the other bartender. He comes back hands me my receipt and tells me to take it to a girl setting up on the other side of the bar and she will get us squared away. DFW steps forward and says she want to sign up for the pub crawl too. SB2 tells her it would make his life easier if she would go down to the other end of the bar and sign up with the other bartender. Say what? We've never been on a cruise where our job was to make life easier for the ship's employees. We just had to laugh. Did someone call ahead about us or something? They seem to be doing everything they can to keep us from spending money on alcohol. Not a good business plan NCL! What makes it doubly annoying is that SB1&2 are young enough to be our children and I kind of wanted to give them a little shake and tell them to straighten up in front of company! We finally do get signed up and paid for and actually had a very good time on the pub crawl. The cost was $20/pp and you visited 5 bars and got 5 (small/weak) drinks. At each stop there were games and silliness. There were probably at least 100 people on the crawl, maybe more. And I'm pretty sure that some of those people had not encountered the same drink buying difficulties we encountered before the crawl started. The crawl ended near the pool where a very good band was playing and people were dancing and having a good time. I would say that the average age on this cruise is definitely over 50, probably over 55. I think a lot of the people below that age participated in the crawl. We met several honeymooners and people celebrating birthdays. It was a fun start to the cruise in spite of SB2's attitude. If anyone reading this was on the crawl, my name pub crawl name was Elvira. DH was Boopsie. DFW was Spanky and DFH was Spanked.
Next we headed off to the Skyline dining room for dinner. We were seated right away. Our head waiter was ok, but her assistant seemed a bit overwhelmed. The food however was horrible. This was the worst food we had all week. DH's first entrEe was some sort of short ribs/pasta dish. The waiter told him when she delivered it that if he didn't like it she would get him something else. I don't think she would think he wouldn't like it unless she had already been getting complaints about it. It was truly horrible. Like bad, bad Hamburger Helper, but with no hamburger and needing lots more help. So she next she brought him a steak that was tough as shoe leather. Poor DH wound up eating stuff from his snack bag back in the room for his dinner.
Reading the ship's review thus far, I realize it does sound really negative. And I honestly have not exaggerated anything. But in spite of our complaints, the bartenders' 'tudes and the bad dining room food, at the end of the evening we were all still in a good mood, laughing, glad to be where we were and looking forward to the next day. We were just disappointed that so many of the negative reviews were turning out to be true. If you will stick with my review, I promise there are good things coming up.
One last thing about this day - when we got back to the rooms, DFH was missing a piece of luggage and there was a note in the room summoning him to the naughty room. He went down and they asked him what was in his bottle of mouthwash (his 32 oz bottle of mouthwash). He said, well the bottle says mouthwash. They laughed, handed it to him and told him to enjoying swishing his mouthwash. He said there were tons of liquor bottles down there that they had confiscated. I can neither confirm nor deny if the bottle actually contained mouthwash. We teased him the rest of the week about his gingivitis.
Day 3 - Hilo, The Big Island, Volcanoes National Park and Richardson's Beach Park
We went to the Aloha Cafe for the breakfast buffet. I found POA's breakfast buffet to be better than any on previous cruises. They had two types of eggs Benedict available every morning - one with spinach and one with ham. I love eggs Benedict but I've always had to go to the dining room to find it before, which I never have time to do except on sea days. They seemed to have a wide variety of breakfast food available. I can't imagine that anyone would not be able to find something they could eat. There were omelet stations, fruit stations, waffles, pastries, etc. Each morning we would take our breakfast out on the Aloha Deck at the very back of the ship and enjoy breakfast outdoors. We never had a problem finding a table. Each morning prior to disembarkation, one of the Hawaiian Ambassadors would speak on the Aloha Deck about the island we were on that day, history and suggested activities. We were sometimes gone before they started their talks, but I enjoyed and appreciated the ones I heard.
We had brought with us sandwich bags and zip locks to make picnic lunches from the buffet and a double sided collapsible cooler. They provide items on the buffet for this: white or wheat bread, croissants, condiment packages, lunch meats (ham or bologna), peanut butter and jellies, etc. About the lunch meats - they did not look good at all, especially the bologna which I probably wouldn't eat if it looked like the best in the world. However one of their hot breakfast items was sliced breakfast ham with a pineapple glaze. We used this ham for our sandwiches. We also made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and took some muffins and pastries. We gathered our ingredients together and took them back to the room to assemble our picnic lunches.
We were getting ready to leave and I called guest services to request that during the day our ice bucket be filled and that the fridge be emptied of the hospitality items, knowing that we were going to bring some bottled water and sodas back on. On this ship, at least in this room, you can't call housekeeping directly. You call guest services and they relay the info. The operator told me that she would send someone, but we would have to be in the room and it might take 30 minutes. Again - Huh? Why would we need to be in the room? Weren't they going to come in and clean it? We wouldn't be there then. DH suggested that we leave the ice bucket setting outside the door and not worry about the fridge until we got back, which is what we did.
We were in line to disembark the ship when they opened the doors. There was a Thrifty shuttle waiting. The driver already had all the Blue Chip members' paperwork ready, as well as a Hilo brochure and map. Yea Thrifty. We had reserved a Jeep Wrangler with a convertible soft top for today, with the intention of removing the top if the weather was nice. Total cost for the day was $67. There were a couple of problems. The first problem was that the weather was never good enough to make taking the top off feasible. The second problem was that it was a two door. We always travel with the DHs in the front seat and the DWs in the back seat. Climbing in the back seat through the front door was a little bit of a challenge. I'm sure it gave some people some chuckles watching the DH's push our fannies up and through the door. DFH actually thought it was funny enough to take some video of DFW climbing in. That video will not be posted here and had better not wind up on YouTube!
TIP: As you are leaving Hilo to go to VNP, you will pass a shopping center with a Wal-Mart, a gas station/convenience store and a Hilo Hattie's across the street. We stopped here for ice, waters and soft drinks. It is near the airport and a convenient place to fill the car up with gas before returning it.
It rained on us off and on during the drive to VNP, and for the remainder of the day for that matter. But it was still a lovely drive and didn't seem to take very long at all to get to the park's entrance. When we arrived at the Visitors' Center, one of the rangers had just started a talk outside next to a 3D model of the park. It was a very interesting talk and he answered questions following the talk. We looked around inside the visitors' center for a while and then walked across the road, past the Volcano House Lodge which is closed for remodeling and to the short trail to the Caldera Overlook. This was my favorite place and favorite view in the park. I think a lot of people assume that because the Lodge is closed, all the trails around it are closed and that it not the case. While we were at that spot the sun was shining. It was so quiet and peaceful.
Next we visited the Jagger Museum for a bit. There is another overlook there which is closer to the Halema'uma'u Crater. By now the day had gotten cloudy and the area really took on a hazy appearance.
We left the museum and headed to the Thurston Lava Tube, but there was no parking anywhere near the tube so we headed down the Chain of Craters Rd. We were only planning on driving halfway down Chain of Craters, but we wound up going all the way to the coast where we took pictures of the sea arch.
Once again we headed to the Thurston Lava Tube. This is a very, very popular stop, with limited parking, a great deal of which is taking up by tour busses. There is another lot about ~1/2 mile away that you can park at and either walk along the road or take a trail back to Thurston, but that was too far a walk for DFH, plus it was raining. So we drove back and forth a few times until we were able to snag a parking place near an entrance to the tube. The lava tube is definitely in the rain forest and it is beautiful. You have to walk down a pretty steep path to get to the tube, and it can be slippery. We had brought flash lights so we could go in the unimproved section of the tube. I was not loving that part of the tube. It was SUPER dark. It seemed like the darkness just soaked up the light from the flashlights. And I certainly didn't want to be at the back of our group. I've seen too many movies - I know what happens to the poor sucker in the back! At one point we all turned out our flashlights. That was the darkest dark I've ever experienced.
After we left the lava tube we headed back to Hilo and to Richardson Beach Park. This is a nice little black sand beach that is close to the pier, but not close enough to walk. It is supposed to have the best snorkeling on that side of the island, but the weather was not good and the surf was too high for us to venture out in it when we were there. To the right of the beach area there are a lot of lava rocks and little tidal pools that were fun to climb on and around. If the weather was nicer and the water calmer, it would have been a nice little beach to spend a little time at. But I wouldn't put it on the must-do list, especially if you are going to see other black sand beaches. It was convenient to the ship and the rental car return though and easy to visit on the way back from VNP.
I left something out about the beginning of the day. This morning (our first morning on the ship) DH killed a roach crawling down the wall from behind the folded up bunk. I know, anywhere regardless of how clean, could have a random bug...warm, tropical climate, bugs thrive, etc, etc. I live in Texas and DH owns a pest control company so I'm pretty familiar with insects. However, in all the cruises and land vacations that we've taken, all to warm areas, this is the first time I recall encountering a roach in our room. It didn't upset me enough to even report it, because I knew the ship was full. There wouldn't have been anywhere else to put us. The only other thing they could have done would have been send someone to spray the room, and I didn't want to be in that closed up space after chemicals had been sprayed. I didn't even report it when we came back at the end of the day and found another roach. This one was dead. (For a photo see complete review on Hawaii boards). I'm sure I would have seen him if he had been there in the morning. I don't know what killed him, maybe grieving over his buddy DH killed that morning. I didn't report the bugs, because I didn't want the hassle. However, I did list the problem in the post-cruise survey NCL asked me to complete. And coupled with the poor housekeeping we received, I did think it warranted mentioning in the review.
When we returned today, the room had sort of been cleaned. Actually the bed had been made, the ice bucket did have ice and they had emptied the fridge. They hadn't vacuumed the dead bug, though he could have crawled out after housekeeping left. They didn't do anything that we could tell in the bathroom. In fact, there was a wad of tissue on the bathroom counter that DH and I neither one remember seeing before we left, and it wouldn't be like us to leave something like that on the counter. The plates and silverware we brought down from breakfast this morning were all still sitting on the desk. I set those out in the hallway. I don't remember how long they sat there before being picked up.
But the bugs and poor housekeeping were not what annoyed me most. What was most annoying of all to me was that once again there was no Freestyle Daily!! On every cruise we've been on the day's schedule has always been left in the room the night before. When we didn't have one when we got back from dinner on Sat night, I didn't think too much of it because we were going to be leaving first thing Sun morning and I assumed that they would put one in the room while we were gone. Wrong!! I'm not sure what it says about me, that I didn't report finding two bugs in the room, or dishes not being taken away, or the grime on the nightstand that I actually wrote in, but I did go up to guest services to ask for a Freestyle Daily and complain because this was the second time I had had to track one down. That night while we were at dinner they did leave a Daily in the room and we got them every night after that.
Once again we ate in the Skyline dining room. The food was marginally better tonight than the previous night (it would have to be). Although by the time we got our food we were so hungry we might have eaten anything. And unfortunately the service had taking a drastic downturn and it wasn't great the night before. Our waiter was so overwhelmed. The poor guy just looked completely frazzled. He never even had time to tell us his name. It took us about 2 hours to finish dinner tonight. All of the tables around us were taking just as long. At one point an assistant waiter brought out plates and set them all down on our table. By now we weren't even sure anymore what we had ordered. The party at the table next to us was looking over because they had been there even longer than we had. The poor asst had set their dinners on our table. It wouldn't have been good form to just transfer them over to their table since we'd already poked at them, so he had to take them all back. Both tables were laughing saying it doesn't matter who ordered what, we would just take anything at this point. I thought all of the parties at the tables around us maintained pretty good attitudes considering the service. Honestly, the wait staff was so overwhelmed that we felt too sorry for them to complain. But if we'd received the same service at a restaurant at home, I would have asked to speak to the manager and would have probably left. I think they had some serious staffing problems this night, because when we left we passed a lot of empty tables, but there were a lot of people waiting to be seated. I guess it wouldn't do any good to seat them if there weren't enough wait staff to take care of them.
Once again, these were our experiences. Other people on the same ship may have had totally different experiences. In fact, I hope everyone else's experiences were better, and that no one else encountered any bugs. Considered separately, each incident may not seem like that big of a deal, but bundled together they did not leave with me with an especially warm fuzzy feeling for Pride of America or NCL. I'm not trying to discourage anyone else from sailing with them. I'm not even saying I wouldn't sail them again, but it might take some convincing and a really, really good deal. I do think this ship definitely has a great itinerary for people wanting a taste of Hawaii. I am just trying to present our experiences as honestly as possible so people don't get their expectations up too high.
TIP - For the lava sail by you will need a good pair of binoculars, a jacket or sweater, and a camera with a good zoom if you have one. And you will need to know how to get to a prime viewing spot, which I can help with. For the best view, go to deck 13 at the front of the ship, walk around to the left. About 1/2 way down there will be some stairs that go up one more level. Take those. You will be right below the ships radars and antennas. We watched from there with less than a dozen people. On the deck below people were stacked several deep around the railings. When they turn out the ship lights, make sure you look up at the sky. That was the most stars I've ever seen. When you are here, you will be right above what was called the Lana'i Bar on the ships map, and the Martini Bar in the Dailys. (Idk why it has two names.) If you go down and ask them, the waitress will come up and take orders and bring drinks. I would recommend checking out my instructions before the sail by, just to make sure I am remembering how to get there correctly.
We enjoyed the lava sail by so much. I don't even know how to describe it. Even though we were a pretty good distance away, it still felt like we were seeing something that most people are never going to see. DH, who is a gadget guy, has several good pairs of binoculars that he never gets on a ship without. The binoculars made all of the difference. The Daily said the viewing would start at 9:45. We went and found our spot right after dinner, about 9pm. We could already see the glow. As we neared the flow, they turned off the ships lights, which totally changes the mood. The Hawaiian Ambassador narrates what you are seeing, talks about Pele, etc. It's just really a memorable experience.
We tried to take a few pics, but our camera didn't do it justice. The ship photographers take pictures and those pictures are available for purchase the next day. They were $12.95 for 4 shots. You had a choice of several different shots. The purchased shots are what it looked like through our binoculars. BRING BINOCULARS!
Day 4 - Maui - Road to Hana
We were up early and having breakfast on the Aloha buffet patio again this morning. Once again we took items down to the room to make our picnic lunch. There was a Thrifty shuttle waiting and we were picking up our car in no time. Today we upgraded to a 4-door Jeep...no more climbing into the backseat thru the front door for the DWs! It was an expensive upgrade. Total for 2 days rental was $201.85, but we were much more comfortable.
There is a lot of controversy about whether or not you are allowed to take rental cars all the way around the complete Hana loop. I can tell you that there is nothing in the contract that specifically prohibits it. The only thing I see that might apply is the standard statement in the prohibited uses section that lists "the unauthorized use of vehicles on other than regularly maintained hard surface roadways", but I think it would be difficult for them to apply that statement to the Hana loop. The unpaved portion of the road was hard pressed dirt and gravel and smoothly graded. Also, when the rental agent asked me for my cell phone number I asked her if cell phone service was good on the entire island or if there were any areas where I might not have service. She said that if we go over to some southeast part of the island that is not as developed we might lose service there. She didn't tell me not to go.
To me the worst part of the drive was the section between Hamoa Beach and The Pools of 'Ohe'o. The road wasn't in bad condition. It was just so narrow, with so many blind switchbacks and 1 lane bridges. Those were the most nerve-racking miles to me. When got to the Pools, we asked the ranger about the road ahead, if she thought it would be better to make the loop back to Kahului or to turn around and go back. She said it would definitely be better to keep going and make the loop, that a few miles weren't paved, but the road straightened out and you make better time without the so many blind curves. It was about 4:30 when we arrived at the pools so we knew it would get dark on us going back. No way did I want to go back the way we came in the dark. So after the Pools, we pressed onward, brave adventurers that we are.
We picked up the rental car at 8:36am according to the time on the receipt. We stopped at a Shell station for drinks and additional snacks. Which reminds me -
TIP - Make SURE you get some Maui Style potato chips while in the islands. They are the best potato chips ever and I'm not even a big potato chip lover. They are sort of like Kettle chips, but there is something different about them. I like the onion flavor best.
We spent more time in the Shell station than planned. It didn't look like all that much from the outside, but they had some interesting things inside. But soon enough we were on the road. We didn't stop in Paia but it looked like it would be a lovely town to spend a little time. The first thing we came to that we wanted to stop and take pics of were the painted Eucalyptus trees. You will come to a grove of these all planted in a line, and you will want to stop but there is no good place to pull over here. If you keep going a little ways the road curves to the left and there is a pull over on the right. There are some more trees across the road here. They are not planted in a nice straight row like the first ones you see, but the bark is just as pretty. We took these photos at 10:10am.
If you are going to stop at the Garden of Eden, which I consider a must-do, you will see the trees there also.
The Garden of Eden - Being a plant person, I'm declaring the Garden of Eden Arboretum a must-do. If plants don't do much for you, you might still like it, but may not want to spend as much time there as we did exploring the paths and gardens. There are some wonderful views there of the ocean and two different waterfalls. And many of their plants are labeled, which I appreciated. I could take a picture of the garden sign and then the plant for easy plant hunting later. There is an entry fee of $10/pp.
We arrived at the gardens at about 10:30am. We were there a little over an hour. I could have stayed longer.
Kaumahina State Wayside - Our next stop was the Kaumahina State Wayside, just to check out the view. We arrived here about 11:50am and were only here for long enough to take some photos.
Our next stop was the pullover between MM 14 & 15 - To the left was the iconic view of the RTH and to the right are more views of the Ke'anae Peninsula.
Ke'anae Peninsula - We enjoyed this stop and I would consider it a must-do also. The village on this peninsula was completely destroyed by a tidal wave in 1946, except for the church which still stands today and is open for visitors. Inside the church there is a sign-in book for visitors and also a donation box for those wishing to make a donation, which we did. There is a small cemetery nestled beside the church, and next to the church is a little league baseball field. I bet every game in that park seems special. I would have loved to seen one. The peninsula is surrounded my black lava rocks and tidal pools. The view is beautiful everywhere you look. We arrived about 12:30pm and spent about 45 minutes here.
Halfway to Hana Stand - Once you come off the Ke'anae Peninsula and turn left back on the highway, you will come to the Halfway to Hana stand pretty quickly on your right. We stopped here to buy some of their world famous banana bread and to eat our lunch on one of their picnic tables. I was not that impressed. They also have sodas, chips, and coconut candy. NOTE - They don't have bathrooms. We bought some banana bread, a small bag of coconut candy chips, and a post card and it was $13. Definitely overpriced I thought. The bread and candy weren't bad, but they weren't to die for either. We wound up throwing both away when we packed to go home. It was pleasant to eat our picnic there. They have two tables under a cover and one that is not.
We finished lunch and got back on the road. We jumped out of the car at Upper Waikani Falls (3 Bears) and took one picture.
We stopped at Pua'a Ka'a State Wayside Park to use their restrooms.
TIP: I had read somewhere to bring some toilet tissue with you on the RTH, because some of the restrooms along the route would run out. I bought some Charmin in a little travel package. You can get them in grocery/drug/discount stores on the isle with all the sample/travel size toiletries and cosmetics. At the Pua'a Ka'a State Wayside Park restrooms we were glad I had brought it!
Wai'anapanapa State Wayside Park - We arrived at the Wai'anapanapa State Park about 2:30. This park is my last must do. It's beautiful, there is a black sand beach, caves, sea arches, blow holes. It's a one-stop park for sure. In hindsight I wish we had driven straight here and spent a couple of hours and turned around and gone back. Not that I didn't enjoy the entire day, I did. But I'd wish we'd been able to spend more time at the favorites and had skipped some of the others.
Hamoa Beach - We arrived at Hamoa Beach about 3:30pm. I was disappointed in this beach. I'd read such wonderful things about it that I guess I had built it up too much in my mind. The facilities at the beach are owned by the Hotel Hana Maui for their guests but there are some restrooms (one shared stall for men and women) and an outdoor shower for the public. There are no concessions. We did go in the restroom 1 at a time and change into our swimsuits, but the surf was so rough that only DFH was brave enough to venture into it. I wish we had skipped this and gone straight to 'Ohe'o Gulch Pools.
Ohe'o Gulch Pools - It was about 4:30 by the time we got here. This is a beautiful area and I know there are a lot of trails that would have been wonderful to hike, and the pools were beautiful. The problem was the stretch of road between Hamoa Beach and here was so stressful, it was getting late and we knew it was going to be way after dark before we got back to the ship, and we were all getting tired by now. So it was difficult to relax and enjoy it. If this is on your must do list, and if you are a hiker it may be, my suggestion would be to go straight there as early as possible and then when you leave decide if you want to go back on the Hana Hwy or make the loop around.
We left the pools and continued around to complete the loop back to the ship. The ranger was correct about the road. It was not the surface of the road that concerned me, but the width of it and some of the blind hairpin turns, several of which were up pretty high above the surf below. Fortunately the vistas opened up pretty quickly and you were able to see up ahead and know when to expect another vehicle.
We did not stop at Lindberg's grave. We did enjoy our stop at the Kaupo Store. I bought a lovely angel ornament and we enjoyed talking to the clerk.
Several cars stopped at the ruins of a church, so we stopped here and looked around and got some beautiful photos at sunset. There were some beautiful plumeria plants and bougainvillea plants that must have been years and years old. We all left within a few minutes of each other and sort of formed a caravan back. It got dark within just a few minutes of us leaving the church and we were glad to have our little parade of cars. Once you are past Kaupo Store, actually from a little ways before that, there is nothing bad about the road, it is just long and there are a lot of curves and dips that force you to go slow. And you have to watch out for cattle crossing the road.
It was about 8pm when we got back to the ship. The closest parking lot was full so we dropped DFs off at the security gate and parked in the overflow lot along the seawall. It is a little farther of a walk but it was not too bad. We drove almost all the way to the end of the seawall and there were about 11 spaces left at that time. I would suggest not taking one of the closer spots in the overflow lot even if they are available, because it is possible that someone else could park in and block you, or at least make it difficult to get out, which is what DH said had happened when he went and picked up the car the next morning.
For dinner this night we just went to the buffet and were happy with it. The dessert choices were not the best but they did have ice cream. And about the ice cream - it is not available 24 hrs like on Carnival. They shut the ice cream machine down promptly at 9pm. Personally on days the ship is in port I think they should keep the buffet open later than 9pm. By the time we got back to the ship around we had to rush to the buffet and they were shutting down before we finished. After dinner it was off to bed.
Final thoughts on the Road to Hana - We had a wonderful day and we were all glad that we had driven it and had gone all the way around. DH had no problems with the driving. We are thankful for the experience, but we were all in agreement that it is not something that we need to do again. If we are ever back on Maui, we will spend more time in Lahaina and the beaches on that side of the island.
The best source of info I found for the RTH was a book called the Hana Highway - The Road to Hana & Beyond by John and Natasha Derrick. It is not a very thick or heavy book, like the Revealed books, so it is easy to take with you. Everything in the book is listed in the same order you will come to them on the drive. The only problem with the edition I have is that when it was printed there were road closures between the pools and Kaupo and those roads have been opened since the book was printed. Hopefully newer editions have corrected that.
Regarding housekeeping today - When we got back to the room the bed was made and we even had a towel animal and the Freestyle Daily for the next day. But once again I had to set the breakfast dishes out in the hallway. And the one towel DH had left on the bathroom floor to be replaced was still lying on the bathroom floor.
Day 5 - Snorkeling Molokini Crater and Lahaina
We were excited about today because this is our first opportunity to snorkel, and we love to snorkel. We didn't have to make a picnic lunch this morning this morning or even go to breakfast because both were provided on the excursion. We left the ship as scheduled at 7:30am. It was an easy drive to the Makena Beach & Golf Resort in Wailea. The resort is beautiful. We were there at least 20 minutes before they started checking everyone in. Prior to boarding the boat everyone had to sign a release form and check in. Then one of the naturalist from the crew gave a talk about the kinds of marine life we would likely encounter. She would be videotaping the excursion and editing it with music and stock shots on the way back in. Anyone wanting a copy of the video was to let her know and she would make sure those were the participants she focused on. We didn't do that. It is a "barefoot cruise" so before boarding everyone puts their shoes in large storage buckets. When you return, all the shoes are laying out on the grass to be retrieved. The catamaran had been out on an early morning excursion and we could see it coming back in. It pulls directly onto the sand and you board via a double staircase in the center front of the boat. The boat itself very nice with plenty of indoor and outdoor seating. There are restrooms but I didn't use them so I can't comment, but I'm sure they were fine. There were places behind the seats to store your bag, or could leave on your seat to save your place.
Going out to Molokini they served breakfast muffins, fruit and pastries and juices. There may have been coffee too, but I'm not a coffee drinker so I'm not sure about that. The muffins were delicious. They were several different kinds. They were large and cut in quarters so you could try several types without getting whole muffins. As we were approaching Molokini one of the crew, Fred, gave a talk about snorkeling, how to fit your mask, etc. There were float belts available for those who wanted them. Once the ship was anchored people had the option of entering the water by using the stairs, sitting on the bottom and putting on your fins, which is what I did. Or they could jump of the side through an opened gate. DH took that option. There were several crew members sitting on boards in the water to answer any questions or help anyone who needed it. Fred dived down really deep and tried to get an octopus to come out of his hidey hole but I don't think he ever did. I did see an arm snake out. Visibility was good and there were a lot of fish to see. As far as I know we could swim where ever in the crater that we wanted. If they told us to stay in a particular area, I missed that part of the talk. They did give us warnings about going too close to the outer areas of the crater, where waves wash around and you can run into a current. The crater is "C" shaped and we were anchored pretty much in the inside center of the "C", which I thought was best because that pretty much gave us the entire crater to explore. If we had been on one of the boats that was anchored on either side, I wouldn't have wanted to go too far astray and that would have limited my snorkel area. One of the crew brought up a starfish that DFW got to hold. We had been told that we might see some small sharks, and I have friends who snorkeled the crater in August and saw sharks, but we didn't, and that was ok with me.
I don't remember exactly how long we were in the water at the crater but it was a pretty long time. A lot of the other boats had left the crater already and I think everyone was ready for a little break. There was a fresh water hose on the back of the boat that you could rinse off with if you wanted, or use to rinse of your equipment. They had put out an array of snacks that included pineapple, chips, dips and juices. It was those delicious Maui Style chips. Yum. We sat on the bench along the back of the boat behind the Capt to enjoy our snacks and the ride to see turtles. They put out fishing lines behind the boat while we were moving, but if they caught anything, I missed it. The Capt did say that they had caught a tuna on the morning trip.
Soon we pulled up to an area where they said they can usually find turtles, and sure enough there was a turtle. Some of the crew jumped in and looked around and gave the ok, so once again we were all getting in the water. And there he was, finally, the Honu I've been looking for. The naturalist from the boat said that this was not a Hawaiian green sea turtle, but a rare hawksbill turtle. She was very excited to see him. But he wasn't a very social turtle, staying at the bottom most of the time, and it was pretty deep here, so he was pretty far away. The crew and some passengers including DH would dive down to get photos, but no way could I dive down that far. So even though I was thrilled to see him and be in the same water with him, it wasn't the turtle bonding experience I had hoped for. But I had more snorkeling opportunities coming up, so I was still hopeful! I was sure that the real Honu were somewhere waiting to see me and would be more social. And yeah! Here is a real Honu!!! Unfortunately he was pretty deep too. Tomorrow I'm going to get close to a turtle if I have to weight myself down with lava rocks!
When we got back on board they had lunch set out for us: sandwich fixings which included white or wheat bread or croissants, turkey or ham lunch meat, different sliced cheeses, tuna salad, potato salad, Cesar salad, more Maui Style chips, pineapple, more muffins and cookies. I know there were juices, water and unlimited beer on tap or mai tais. I'm not sure if there were sodas, but I'm thinking there were. You could have as many drinks as you wanted, but you had to finish them before they beached the boat. Apparently Hawaii has very serious laws regarding alcohol on their beaches - it's not allowed at all. The mai tai the Capt made me was very good. But one of the girls made my second one (don't judge - they ware small!) and it was not good. So if you want a mai tai, see if you can get the Capt to make it.
All too soon we were back at the beach. The waves were a little higher than when we boarded, so if you didn't feel comfortable carrying your stuff, if you were short or afraid of dropping it in the water, the crew would take it off for you. We didn't have any problems handling our own things. Crew members stood on either side of the steps and would time the waves, telling you when to step off so that it was easiest. I didn't see anyone have any problems. Our shoes were waiting for us on the lawn above the beach. We used the outdoor shower at the Makena resort's pool to rinse the salt water off, and their pool restrooms, which are nice, to change into dry clothes. We made our way through the resort and waited in the lobby while DH went and got the car. Soon we were on the road to Lahaina.
If you are interested in snorkeling at Molokini crater I would definitely recommend the Kai Kanani. It was easy to get to from the ship. The catamaran was large and comfortable and rode smooth through the water. There were plenty of crew (7 I think) to help anyone that needed it. They anchored in a good location in the crater and the food was good. And the beach they are based at is just absolutely beautiful if you wanted to spend some time there relaxing after the trip.
It was about a 45 minute drive to Lahaina. I have heard parking can be a problem in Lahaina but we didn't have any problems. When we got to Lahaina we stayed on Hwy 30 until we got to Papalaua St, where we turned left. Hilo Hattie's is on the corner at the next intersection (Papalaua and Wainee St.) Just past Hattie's you can turn right into the parking lot. Hattie's will validate your parking ticket. Actually I think any shop in the center will validate. This was the first Hilo Hattie's that we had been in and I was not that impressed. They do give everyone coming in the door a shell lei and there are samples. There prices weren't any better than I'd seen in other places. In fact we went in some of the other shops and saw some of the exact same clothing for less. I did buy another ornament, some Christmas cards and calendars for stocking stuffers. I had a coupon for a free sarong or mug with a $15 purchase. I took the sarong to give to my niece. Our travel agent had given us coupons for a free towel with a $30 purchase and DFW got that. It was an inexpensive, thin towel. After Hattie's we wondered in a couple of the other shops and over to the Hard Rock Cafe. DH and I are Hard Rock fans. We try to collect pins and beach towels from Hard Rocks in all the places we visit. The Lahaina HR had a nice pin with a Honu on it, but unfortunately their beach towel was the same exact design as the one we got in Cozumel last year. We did get shirts for DH and our son. We enjoyed a drink while looking out at the water and had a nice visit with some of the other patrons. By the time we finished our drinks it was almost time to start back to the ship and we hadn't even gotten to walk down Front St. So we sent DH back to get the car, while DFW and I started off for a power walk down Front St. DFH would go with us and stay on the sidewalk so that when DH pulled up, DFH could pull us out of whatever shop we were in. We really didn't have any time to give any of the shops more than a quick look through the window. Before we knew it DH was pulling up and we were headed back to Kahului. If we ever make it back to Maui, we definitely want to spend more time in Lahaina.
We left Lahaina about 3:50pm and I think it was about 5:15 when we boarded the ship. We took our bags to the rooms and made it back up to the Waikiki Bar, which is on the back of the ship for some outdoor sunset cocktails. We enjoyed the evening watching the sunset behind the mountains and the kayakers and windsurfers on the water. We could also see a line of traffic that looked like it was snaking back into Kahului from the Upcountry. We stayed on deck watching the ship leave Maui and head back towards The Big Island again.
We had dinner again tonight in the buffet and it was prime rib night. We were all happy with it. If you wanted medium well or well done, they would carve a slice from the medium roast and finish it off on the grill. DH got his medium well and he was happy with the way it was done.
Day 6 - Kona - Our best day
This was one of those rare, special days in life where everything goes just right, and in fact exceeds all planning and expectations. The more I remember this day and we talk about it, the more special it seems to me. Everyone we met that day just seemed nicer than need be, the weather could not have been more perfect, the food more delicious or the marine life more welcoming. If we ever go back to Hawaii, we will definitely go to Kona.
We went down at 6:45 to get tender tickets and there were only 4 people there in front of us, so we had no trouble at all getting on the first tender. The ride to the pier was quick and smooth. There are taxis there waiting for people who need them. I had pre-arranged taxi service with Mel's Taxi. The ride to SeaQuest's office at Keauhou Bay was about 15-20 minutes. We were there early, so we walked around and explored a little bit. Keauhou is both the birthplace and burial site of King Kamehameha III and I think the King was smiling on us today.
Our boat was crewed by Capt Kyle and Abby. It was rated for 20 people but there were just 13 on our trip, 8 from the POA. Capt Kyle is originally from Texas. I was a little nervous about taking a tour on this type of boat instead of a catamaran but it was fine. There was a bench seat up front that would seat 2. In the middle was a large dry well to store all of our bags. It was covered by a cushioned seat and at least 4 people could set here. This was my seat for most of the trip. Behind this was the Capt's area. Between my seat and the Capt's console was a raised area about 3' sq that all of the food would be laid out on. Behind the Capt's area was Abby's area. Abby kept everyone's gear in order, and was also responsible for the food I think. I never saw where they kept all of the food and drinks; they were just magically out for us when we would get out of the water.
Capt Kyle is very engaging, entertaining and informative. He is a very good host, and not bad to look at either. Once we were out of the bay he pointed out our ship in the distance. He would ask everyone their names, where there were from, what they did, etc. Like any good host, he made everyone feel comfortable and facilitated people talking to each other.
We hadn't been on the water very long when he slowed the boat to a stop. I was wondering what was wrong and he calmly says, "There are some pilot whales right over there." It was so exciting. I can't imagine how exciting it must be to see the humpbacks. There were quite a few whales. They didn't seem to have any fear of us at all. (Duh - They're WHALES!) It seemed like they were just kind of casually hanging out, in no hurry to get anywhere or anything. Sometimes they would blow and we would all cheer and point like that was some kind of special whale behavior. (OK - it might just have been me that was cheering, but I'm pretty sure some of the others were too.) The whales were probably rolling their eyes at each other and saying "Stupid tourists!" Some of them swam under the boat. DH leaned all the way over and into the water and DFH held onto his legs to get some underwater pictures of them.
We had to leave the whales after a while to continue our journey but we saw more on the way to our first stop which was Honauanau Bay (Place of Refuge). The snorkeling was FABULOUS. Much better than Molokini Crater where we had snorkeled the day before. The photos do not do it justice. The fish were amazing, the coral was beautiful. The coral rose and fell in peaks and valleys so there were lots of interesting places to explore. Everyone who had snorkeled Molokini agreed that this was better. Also, some people had snorkeled Hanauma Bay in Oahu and they thought this was better than that also.
When we got back on board there were snacks, water and juices waiting for us. They had prepared each of us a little fish-shaped wooden bowl filled with pineapple, papaya and fresh lime slices to squeeze on the papaya. They looked beautiful and tasted delicious and refreshing. They also gave each of the ladies a little fish on a stick made out of woven palm fronds. Neither of ours would make it home (more on that later), but I found instructions for making them on the internet and I have some palm trees so I'm going to try to make a replacement for my scrapbook.
While we enjoyed our snacks Capt Kyle was piloting us towards our next stop which was a secluded, inaccessible by land, black sand beach and TURTLE PARTY!!! Finally, the turtle bonding experience I've been waiting for was here, and I even have pics to prove it! (I told my son that the Honu accepted me as one of their own!) Do you remember in the movie Finding Nemo, where he meets the turtles and they all talk like surfer dudes and are all just swimming around, having a good time? Those are THESE turtles!!! Some people waded out of the water and onto the beach to check it out. Not me. I'm all about the turtles. These turtles were not scared of us at all. When they started to surface, if you were in their way they expected you to move, they weren't going around you. Luv, luv, luv these turtles and thank you Capt Kyle for bringing us here!
All too soon we had to say goodbye to the turtles to get to continue our voyage. This time when we got back on there were packages of Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies for all of us, two packs if we wanted, and more waters and juices.
Our next stop was Kealakekua Bay (Capt. Cook's Monument) which is famous for its snorkeling and it did not disappoint. This was the best snorkeling I've ever experienced, even though there were no turtles. There were several boats when we pulled in, but most of them seemed to be packing up. I'm assuming our trip was timed so that there would be fewer people there when we were.
Once again the snorkeling was over to soon, but not the adventure. Once back on board lunch was waiting for us - really good, stacked high Dagwood type sandwiches, Maui Style chips, more cookies and unlimited chocolate covered macadamia nuts. To be a small boat, I was really impressed with the food and the presentation.
Between each stop and on the way back Capt Kyle pointed out a lot of interesting things on the shoreline. We saw lava flows and lava tubes, went into sea caves, and saw grottos that honestly looked like a place mermaids or sirens would hang out. We saw regular blowholes and sideways blowholes. This tour was educational, fun, exciting, active and relaxing all at the same time and I would recommend it without reservation to just about anyone.
When we arrived back at Keauhou Bay, Grace with Mel's Taxi was waiting for us. She gave us all time to go into the restrooms and change clothes before starting the meter. She was a super sweet young lady and told us a lot about Kona and the area on the way back to town. She dropped DFW and me off at the edge of the main shopping area so that we could shop our way back to the pier. She took DH and DFH all the way back to the pier so that DH could do an open water swim where the Ironmen do theirs. DFW and I went first went upstairs to Lulu's for a pre-shopping drink. We then worked our way down the street and through the shops. We spent quite a bit of time at the farmers market, which was more crafts and souvenirs than produce. There we picked up some coffee and a few other things. We went over to the Kona Inn which actually is a little outdoor shopping area with several good shops. We spent a lot of time in these shops. We both like toe rings (real ones, not the kind that pinch) and ankle bracelets and there was a shop there that had both. We both got sterling Honu (surprise!) toe rings and ankle bracelets with turtles, fish and shells. We spent longer here than planned because the toe rings had to be sent to the jeweler next door for sizing. The DH's called and said they were upstairs at Pancho and Lefty's when we got ready to find them. We headed down there and enjoyed a mango margarita with the guys before heading off to catch one of the last tenders. Of course we had to stop in one last shop where I managed to find another ornament, and some t-shirts for the nephews. And then all too soon we were sadly boarding the tender for the ride back to the ship.
Tonight we had decided to give the Skyline another try because it was lobster night. First though we headed off to the Napa Wine Bar.
TIP: Each night from 6pm-7pm is happy hour in the Napa Wine bar. Selected wines are $4.95 a glass. You can leave with the glass so you can get a glass of wine at happy hour prices at Napa and take it to where ever you are having dinner.
We enjoyed the Napa Wine Bar very much. We found the service here to be a notch above the above the other on board venues we visited and we enjoyed the atmosphere. We also very much enjoyed the entertainment here: "The Smooth Guitar Stylings of Butch O'Conner". He didn't look like a Butch O'Conner, but he did have some smooth guitar stylings. He did all types of songs, took requests. He was the perfect type entertainer for the wine bar.
At the Skyline tonight we were fortunate to get Waiter Michele and Asst Waiter Kyle and both were excellent, 180° from what we had experienced before. The food was still just ok, but we enjoyed Michele and Kyle so much that we counted the dinner a success.
After dinner we went to the Newbury Street shops for the first time to check them out. I thought they were better than most ship shops for variety, prices and presentation. There were a couple of things that I meant to purchase before the trip was over, but unfortunately we never got back to the shops. If you are a scrapbooker, they did have a lot of items you could use.
Day 7 - Kauai
This was my second favorite day of the trip. As with all the other days we were off the boat as soon as we were allowed and picking up our jeep from Thrifty. We didn't pack a lunch today but we did stop at a convenience store to pick up sodas for the trip to the North Shore.
Our first stop was the Hanalei Valley Lookout. When you leave the lookout, you actually wind you way down through the valley on your way to the north beaches. We drove straight through Hanalei and didn't stop until we reached the end of the highway and Ke'e Beach. We had been carrying our snorkel equipment with us on all our drives all week in case we came to a beach we wanted to snorkel at, and except for our excursions we hadn't yet seen a place where the surf was calm enough for us to be comfortable in. So today we didn't bother carrying in and wouldn't you know it…The water was beautiful and definitely calm enough for snorkelers, and there were quite a few of them in the water. When we got to the beach all the parking spaces were already taken, so DH dropped us all off and went back about ½ mile to another parking lot. This was a beautiful beach and the view of the Na Pali coast - Awesome…better than any of the views on the RTH.
DFH could not do any of the Kalalau Trail, but DH, DFW and I were excited to hike at least as far as the first good lookout. It wasn't terribly difficult but you did have to watch your footing and it did get the heart rate up. The views were definitely worth it. This is where I took some of my best "postcard shots". Some of trail was wet and slippery. If you are going to do it, make sure you were good hiking shoes, or at least tennis shoes. Don't try it in flip-flops.
After our hike we rinsed off the sand and mud at the outdoor shower while DH ran and got the car. Next stop was Hanalei, which is a lovely little town. We spent some time in the shops and galleries and had lunch at Kalypso. It was good, but a little overpriced I thought. The waiter gave us directions to the beach at Hanalei Bay. If you want to go to the Hanalei Bay beach with the pier, the one you see in all the photos this is how you get there:
If you are in Hanalei, when you see the Kalypso Restaurant (you can't miss it, it's on a corner), turn there towards the beach. Go to the end of the street and turn right, go to the end of the street and the beach will be on your left. This is another great beach. There are restrooms and outdoor showers. Best of all, you can park on the this part of the beach so you don't have to worry about your car being broken into in the parking lot. Your car is right there within feet of you. If you want to rent paddleboards or kayaks, you can do that in Hanalei and bring them to the beach. We saw lots of both. This was our first view of Hanalei Bay. We would be lucky enough to see it again both from the air and the ship.
We played in the surf here until it was time to go back to the ship and get ready for the luau. Actually we stayed a little too long. We drove back to the Anchor Cover shopping center and paid $20 to park for the night, and then we waited for the ship's shuttle, and waited, and waited…idk what the deal was, but I didn't think we would have to wait that long for a shuttle. By the time we got back to the ship, we had about 20 minutes to shower, get ready and be back downstairs to meet the Roberts bus and go to the Smith Family Luau. Definitely the fastest I've ever gotten ready.
I loved the luau! I expected it to be one of those things you do because that's what you do when you're in Hawaii, but you don't really ever need to do it again. But I'd go back in a minute. This is how I felt about the Smith Family Luau - Have you ever been invited to a wedding where you aren't really close to the couple but for whatever reason you feel you should go but you're not expecting to have that much fun. But when you get there, the venue is beautiful, the flowers are gorgeous, the hosts are wonderful, the food is delicious, the entertainment is lovely, the bar is open and you meet some great people at your table. You have so much fun and when the event is over, you're so glad that you went. That was the Smith Family Luau, and you don't have to dress up too much, so that's a bonus! When you arrive you are greeted and presented with a shell lei and photographed with some of the entertainers. Then you board a tram for a tour of the gardens which are beautiful. If I had one complaint, it would be that the tram went to fast and the guide spoke so fast that I missed some things while looking at others. When your tram tour is over you are free to explore the gardens, which DH and I did while BFs rested near the imu pit. Soon you are directed to the imu pit and Kamika Smith welcomes everyone. He was a wonderful host. He gave some history of his family's land and explained the imu ceremony and how the rest of the evening would go. Then two young men in native dress dug up the pig. It was really interesting. Everyone was then directed to the pavilion where the buffet would be served. DH had gone ahead and gotten us seats at one of the tables nearest the buffet, but they send the tables to the buffet in order starting at the far tables. But that was ok. The bar was open and we were enjoying talking to our tablemates, one of whom had completed the Ironman triathlon in Kona a few days before. There were three drink stations - a mai tai station, a station with sodas and water, and a regular bar. There were multiple bartenders and the lines went fast. If you wanted you could take a mai tai over to the bar for some additional "seasoning". Kamika made his way to each table to greet everyone and welcome them. There was a band playing and some hula dancing going on. Kamika took the stage and invited everyone celebrating a birthday or honeymoon to come up on stage for a hula lesson. Kamika is also a singer! There were six buffet lines, so they went fast. We all agreed that the food was surprisingly good considering that they had to feed so many people. After dinner everyone went to the outdoor theater for the show. I don't know how authentic the show was, but we enjoyed it. One thing that seemed really authentic to me and that I really appreciated was that all of the dancers did not look like bikini models. They looked like real people, the girls and the guys. Some of them were a little fluffy! Yay for Smiths!
When the show was over, the entertainers were available for photos and the photos we had taken on arrival were available for purchase. We bought ours. One of the young ladies who had posed in the photo with us was also the one who sold the picture to us. I complimented her on the flowers in her hair. She took them out and pinned them in my hair. That is how everyone at Smith was...just warm and welcoming and really seemed to want everyone to feel comfortable and have fun. Our neighbors across the street had gone to Kauai over the summer and had told me to make sure we go to the Smith Luau and we were so glad we did.
Day 8 - Blue Hawaiian Helicopters, Kalapaki Beach
DH left before us to go get the car and come back and pick us up so DFH wouldn't have to walk to Blue Hawaiian's offices. Since we were taking home more than we came with, DH went ahead and ran to Kmart and picked up an extra duffle bag for us. He then picked us up and we headed to Blue Hawaiian's offices which are in the Harbor Mall, just across the street from the Anchor Cove center, and within an easy walk of the ship if everyone in your party is fully mobile. I was anxious about two things regarding the helicopter flight. First, it was a helicopter flight. Second, they weigh you in before they let you on! Jeeze! I was planning on leaving about 20 lbs at home on this trip, but it decided to come on the trip regardless of what I wanted. But both of my fears were unfounded. In the offices, you step on a mat to be weighed and the person checking you in is the only person that sees it. I don't even know what it said. She didn't laugh or try to make me pay for an extra seat, so I was happy. Once your flight is all checked in, they call your name and give you your seat number, which is assigned by computer based on the weight of all the passengers. I was 2, DH was 1, DFH was 5 and DFW was 6. Then you watch a little safety presentation, get your floatation devices which are like little yellow fanny packs and are shuttled to the airport. At the airport, there is a shade awning with chairs where you wait for your helicopter. Our pilot was Don. My seat was in front center between the pilot and DH. DH was responsible for opening the door on that side if we needed to evacuate. BFs were in the two seats behind the pilot, 6 was the window seat. Soon we were loaded, buckled up and taking off. It was so much smoother that I expected. The views were just amazing, especially of Waimea Canyon and the Na Pali coast. Once we were under way, I never had one nervous moment. I definitely recommend his tour.
After we returned from our helicopter tour instead of driving down south to Poipu Beach, which was what we had originally planned to do, we decided to spend the remainder of our last day in Kauai relaxing at Kalapaki Beach. Afterwards we all agreed it was an excellent decision. I don't why you don't hear more about this beach. It is really lovely. There is plenty of shopping at Harbor Mall, Anchor Cove and some more little nearby shops. There were several restaurants and bars nearby, including Duke's right at the beach. There are beach rentals available. And between the sidewalk and the sand is a large grassy lawn. It's always nice to be able to put your towel on the grass instead of in the sand. While DH went to return the rental car, DFH went to stake out his spot on the beach, while DFW and I shopped our way from Harbor Mall over to the beach. DH got back to the beach about the same time as DFW and I arrived. We went to Dukes for the Hula Pie we had been hoping to have before we went home. It was good, but not as good as the dessert we had at Hula Grill in Waikiki the first night of vacation. After our Hula Pie we rented some boogie boards and headed down the beach where the waves looked a little better. We had fun playing in the surf and relaxing until it was time to head back to the ship for the last time.
There is a sports bar at Anchor Cove and we stopped there for one last drink before going to catch the shuttle back to the ship. Once again we had a problem with catching the shuttle. We went out about 1pm to get in line for the shuttle. There were several others also waiting. A few minutes later a couple of the merchants came out and told us all that the shuttle driver had made his last run. When he pulls up his little traffic cones, he is done for the day and he had already taken them up. This was annoying. There was no sign saying when the last shuttle ran. I went back and looked in the Daily and there was nothing about what time the last shuttle ran. Passengers didn't have to be back on board until 1:30pm. So the shuttle could have made two or 3 more runs in that time. I guess I was most annoyed because that shuttle said NCL on the side of it. NCL should have told us what the schedule was so that we could have planned appropriately. So we had no choice but to start walking back. I wasn't worried that we wouldn't make it before the ship sailed, but I was concerned about the wear and tear DFH's foot and ankle would take on a rushed walk of that distance. Fortunately one of the merchants saw there was an issue and offered to drive him and DFW back to the ship. With traffic lights, they just barely made it in front of us. When security scanned by card I asked how many people were still out. He said 24, and they are all on a ship sponsored golf excursion, so we'd be waiting on them if they were late.
Our plan for the rest of the day was to shower and clean-up, go to the Cadillac Diner for a late lunch, come back and pack so that our bags would be ready to sit out and then go to get a table at the Waikiki Bar to watch the Na Pali sail by. Our timing was perfect. We requested an outdoor table at the Cadillac Diner, so that we could watch the sail away. Except for Michelle and Kyle in the Skyline, the staff at the Cadillac provided the best onboard service we had all week. One of the waiters asked where we are from. When we told him he said, he thought one of the waitresses was from our community. Soon the waitress comes to our table and not only is she from our community, at one time we had lived in the same neighborhood. When she described it, I know the exact house she lived in. Our sons went to the same schools, but at different times. It was one of those small world things.
Then an entertaining thing happened and you should try to catch it if you can. There was a tugboat escorting the ship out of the harbor. A waiter told us to watch the tugboat, and when the ship was free of the channel, the tugboat would start doing 360’s in the water to tell us goodbye. And he did. And not just not just 1 or 2 circles, that little tugboat was spinning like a top as we sailed by. If you’ve ever read the Little Toot books to your kids, that’s what this tugboat reminded me of. It sounds silly to describe it, but it was funny and whimsical and made us all laugh. This was the only lunch we ate on the ship and we enjoyed it very much. So I recommend the Cadillac Diner on deck for lunch during the Kauai sail away.
Now it was time for the sad duty of packing for the trip home. We had signed up for the Easy Fly program. So we were just keeping our carry-ons for the final day and wouldn’t see our luggage until we arrived back in Houston on Sunday morning. It was a good thing that DH had purchased that extra duffle that morning, and that almost wasn’t enough. Fortunately his portable luggage scale told us all of our bags were under the weight limits.
So we headed up to the Waikiki Bar to snag a good table for the Na Pali sail by. When we got there, the ship was just approaching Hanalei Bay. We were happy that we had been able to see Hanalei from land, air and sea, and the same for Ke’e Beach and the start of the Kalalau Trail.
After the sail-by we had our last dinner at the buffet. BFs went to the final show, but it was early to bed for DH and I. We wanted to get up early Saturday morning to make the most of our last day in Hawaii.
Day 9 – Waikiki Beach and Home
We had a day room reserved at the Hilton Hawaiian Village from 9am – 5pm. Originally we were going to sleep in a little, have breakfast on the ship and then head over to HHV. But being who we are, we had decided that sleeping in was crazy talk and we needed to get to the beach asap. We could sleep on the sand if we wanted! So the day before I had called Honolulu Airport Shuttle, who I had prepaid transfers with and told them we wanted to be picked up at 7:30am instead of 9am as we had originally scheduled. They said no problem, just to call them as we were about to disembark.
NCL’s EasyFly program worked really well. You have to be flying on a participating airline (we were on CO) and sign up by Thursday evening. We signed up Wed. It is $25 per person and you are allowed 2 bags per person. (There may be additional charges depending on your airline baggage fees.) On Friday NCL delivered an envelope to our room which contained our airplane boarding passes, and airline luggage tags. We kept out a carry-on bag for Sat and sat the rest of the luggage outside the cabin as usual. NCL picked up the luggage and checked it in the airport for us. It was waiting for us on the baggage carousel when we returned to Houston. If you have an evening flight on Sat, as we did, I recommend you consider this service. It saves you from have to schlep your luggage around all day and we felt like we could stay at the resort a little longer instead of rushing to the airport to get the bags checked in.
So at 7:30am we were walking off the ship. It took the driver a few minutes to get there, but just a few. Apparently there is some kind of controversy between regular cabs and pre-scheduled rides, so we had to walk down the drive a bit past the waiting taxis to where he was allowed to pick us up but it was no biggie since we didn’t have luggage. He gave us a bit of bad news once we were on our way – housekeeping and restaurant/bar employees at the HHV had gone on strike a few days before and as a result we might have to wait a few minutes for the strikers to clear the street and allow the car in, which is exactly what happened. There seemed to be groups of strikers on several sides of the resort. They all wore red shirts and chanted “Who’s going to win?! – LOCAL NUMBER 5!!” So, our first impression was that we were not sure how relaxing of a day it was going to be.
The resort is a beautiful resort. There are several towers and all the lobbies are open air. In the middle of the resort it is almost difficult to tell if your are really indoors or out. Check-in was a breeze (Hilton Honors member). They gave us a list of places that were closed due to the strike. Only one bar was listed as being open, but we never saw it open when we walked by. Now that I think about it, I’m surprised they didn’t offer some sort of reimbursement, or some drink coupons or lunch…something…to make up for everything being closed. But they didn’t. (Guess they couldn't offer meals or drinks with the staff being on strike.) We went up to our room which was on the 19th floor of the Tapa Tower. It had a city view, and a great view of another group of strikers down below. It was a nice room though not as nice as some Hiltons. We dropped our stuff and made our plans. DH wanted to rent a surf board and try it (he was a surfer back in the day, or as much as a surfer as you can be on the Texas coast). DFH was going with DH to rent a boogie board. DFW and I were going to walk down to the International Market for one last bit of shopping. She had seen an ankle bracelet when we were there the previous week she wanted to get. Then we were all going to meet back at the HHV beach. Well when we got back downstairs to the beach, there was a large group of strikers on the side of the hotel as close to the beach as I guess they were allowed to get, and they were LOUD. There was no way we would be able to have a relaxing day listening to strikers chant. So we told the DH’s that the beach here would not be very relaxing, and we would meet them a little farther down the beach, “near those umbrellas”...to be continued...
One more thing about HHV, there are a LOT of shops here...I mean a LOT. And they were all open...unfortunately we were almost out of time and money so we couldn't explore them.
Once we had decided on a meeting spot (or thought we had) DFW and I decide to walk down the beach to the hotel where Duke’s is located and go through that hotel to the International Market. It was a nice walk, and it is on sidewalk for most of the walk, but there are parts where you have to walk through the sand. And not packed, easy to walk on sand but deep, trudge through it sand. We decided to walk back on the streets and we were glad we did, just because of the different sites/shops we saw. When we got back, DH’s weren’t where they were supposed to be. I think DH’s were too excited to get in the surf because they later claimed they missed those “near those umbrellas” instructions. DFW and I got our towels from the towel stand and started looking, and looking, and looking, between where we originally planned to be and where we told them to be. We sat down a while and thought they would come find us. Finally we decided we would go find a drink…no drinks at HHV, because no workers. So we start down the beach and run into the DH’s. They claimed they were right where we told them to be (they weren’t!)...but actually we couldn’t be upset because they were in a really good spot, and they looked like two little boys that had been having such a good time. (They may have been doing some unauthorized bikini watching!) And since we had been off spending money, we couldn’t really fuss.
Sidebar: I don't want to take sides in a labor dispute when I know nothing about the issues, and this is certainly not the forum for a labor/management debate but I think that the strikers may have been shooting themselves in the foot somewhat by being so obtrusive. They actually did us a favor by running us down the beach, where it was more relaxing, and prices were cheaper. If I were to go back to Waikiki, I probably would consider a hotel closer to the middle of Waikiki, instead of the HHV...so even when they go back to work, they may have lost me and others like me as a future customer, and that won't be good for them. But I digress....
Right next to HHV is the Hale Koa military resort, then Ft. DeRussy Beach park, and then you start getting to the all the other hotels. The Hale Koa has all the concessions between HHV and the Ashton Waikiki Shores Hotel. When we were getting our towels at HHV I asked how much to rent a kayak there. I forgot exactly what he said, but it was so ridiculously high I said no thank you, and I've been waiting to try kayaking for a while. I think it was $40 for the first hour. From the Hale Koa beach rentals kayaks were $12 for the first hour. Those are my kind of prices! Fr. DeRussy park is a beautiful green lawn park with beautiful palms, lots of shade. Then there is the wide sidewalk, then the beach. DH's had staked a claim on the grass right by the sidewalk between the Koa Oasis snack bar and a surf school. It was a wonderful spot. We had lunch at the Koa Oasis which was being run by John, a retired marine (thank you John!). John made THE BEST Mai Tais I had the entire trip, bar none. Probably the cheapest too. We just had burgers, chips and drinks, but in that sitting on that day, it was one of my favorite meals of the trip. DFH asked if John had any lettuce and tomatoes for the burgers. John said "Son, this is just a one star restaurant." LOL We gave it and him four stars.
From our base if you walked towards Diamondhead the first hotel you come to is the Ashton Waikiki Shores. Just as you get to the hotel, if you look left there is a public restroom, then a sidewalk to the street, then a little covered alley with a few shops and snack places. This is where we met another friend that day - Susan from Korea. Just outside the shops on the sand was another new friend, whose name I can't remember but who for the purposes of this review will be called Tommy Chong.
Susan from Korea had the kind of shop that I am a sucker for...a hodge podge of different items all crammed together just inviting you to explore. She sold liquor and mixers. And since you can't have alcohol on Hawaiian beaches, if you bought liquor she provided for free some of the famous red plastic solo cups, which as everyone knows makes liquor undetectable to authorities. (Or at least it worked for us.) We visited Susan several times during the day (not just for liquor!). If you are looking for women's board shorts, which I've been trying to find forever in a fluffy size - Susan is the hook-up! We also got koozies, ice, waters, and a few other souvenirs.
ParrotDise was a tent set up on the sand where Tommy Chong worked. And he had a flock of parrots. For a price he would take a picture with your camera holding the parrots, with Diamondhead in the background. If you didn't have a camera, he would use his camera and print out the picture right there for you. Our plan was to go down there right before we needed to go back to the hotel and get our picture made with the parrots. We had so much fun with Tommy and the birds that we really had to rush to get cleaned up and be ready for our ride to the airport. Tommy charged $20 to use our camera. I thought he would take one or two shots and it would take 5 minutes. Wrong. Tommy takes his job as photographer seriously! He spent time posing us, posing the birds, tilt your head this way, turn your head slightly, changing camera settings...I doubt the photographers on the ship worked as hard. And he took a LOT of shots. It was one of those unplanned, unexpected things that winds up being a great, fun memory. It was well worth $20.
Once Tommy Chong finished taking our pictures with the parrots, it was time to go back to our room and get ready for the flight home. We squeezed every last minute out our time on the beach, so we had to take some quick showers, throw on our travel clothes and head for the airport. The driver called before he was scheduled to pick us up and told us where to meet him downstairs. He was there waiting when we got there. On the way to the airport we saw the only rainbow we saw on the entire trip.
Back on the ship when we were packing the luggage and weighing it, mine kept weighing over 50 lbs. So I took all the bags of souvenirs we had purchased and put them in a carry-on. So I had two carry-ons, one to go in the overhead and a bag to go under the seat. Unfortunately when packing up the souvenirs, I forgot about the bottle of Hawaiian BBQ sauce that I had bought for our son at the Macadamia Nut Outlet way back on day 1 of the trip. The BBQ sauce did not make it past security. And of course it was wrapped up in a bag in the very bottom of the carry-on, so the TSA agent had to go through the entire bag, opening every sack. And in the process my palm frond fish from the Kona snorkeling trip, and my two raffia angels that I bought at the Kaupo store were also confiscated! OK - my bad regarding the BBQ sauce. I just forgot about that. And I figured that there was a chance that my palm frond fish would get confiscated if it was found. In fact, I purposely carried it in the carry on because I didn't want the luggage being held up during the agriculture inspection when I wasn't there with the luggage. But did they have to take my angels??? They were nice about it though, even though it took a while to go through everything. They even let us take pictures of them, which I would have thought would be against some sort of regulation, but apparently not. We still got to the gate with plenty of time to roam the airport and get some dinner before boarding for the long, tiring flight home. Don't the flights home always seem longer?!
And so our Amazing Hawaiian Adventure was over. It was a trip that we will remember, talk about and treasure for the rest of our lives I'm sure.
Following is a day by day listing of anything that I would have done differently or anything that went especially well. I will finish with my final thoughts on the POA.
Pre-trip – The best pre-trip advice I can give you is to research, research, research, get organized and be prepared. I admit I’m a little OCD about my travel folder, but it saves so much stress during trips. I always have confirmations, phone numbers, maps and directions, etc. I am always floored when I meet people on a trip and they haven’t decided what they are going to do the next day. The thought of going on a trip that ill prepared gives me heart palpitations!
Day 1 – IAH > HNL > North Shore > Waikiki
Flight – Bring a travel pillow, a light jacket and a snack bag if you are not in first class, because the food they give you in coach is not too good.
We enjoyed our drive around the North Shore and back to Waikiki, but in hindsight, with the limited amount of time we had I wish that we had gone straight to the hotel and walked around Waikiki. Or done some of the things that we didn’t get to do in Honolulu – China Town, the Palace, etc. What I would really recommend is to try and fly in at least 2 days in advance if possible. There is so much to see in Oahu that you really need at least 2-3 days. But if you come in the day before as we did, the North Shore is a pretty good drive for what in the end was a hyped up snow cone. If the surf had been up and there had been a lot of surfers to watch, it probably would have been more exciting.
Day 2 – Arizona Memorial > Mac Nut Farm Outlet > Kualoa Ranch > ONO Hawaiian Foods > Embarkation
I liked everything we did on this day and would do them all again. I think every American who goes to Oahu should see the Arizona Memorial and pay their respects. The Mac Nut Farm Outlet is a great, quick little stop for. But if you buy any BBQ sauce there, remember to pack it in your carry on for the trip home. The Kualoa Ranch tour was one of my favorite things we did during the trip and I definitely recommend it for all ages. We always try to have some regional cuisine wherever we travel and we loved ONO’s.
Day 2 regrets – I wish I had arranged to drop the rental car off at the airport location instead of in Waikiki. And I wish I had found a malasada to try.
Day 3 – Hilo, The Big Island > Volcano National Park > Richardson’s Beach Park > Lava Sail-by
We had fun this day and the schedule worked out perfectly. My biggest recommendation for this day would be BRING BINOCULARS! See my earlier comment for recommended viewing spot for the lava sail-by. I recommend getting to your viewing spot about 45 minutes earlier than stated in the Daily.
Day 4 – Maui > The Road to Hana, ALL the way around
We all enjoyed this day and are glad we did it. It was definitely adventure. But it was a LONG day. Looking back on the trip, this is the only day that I really feel like I should have planned differently. If I had to do it again, I think I would go to the Ioa Valley, snorkel at Kalanapa/Black Rock and then shop at Lahaina. To really get the most out of the RTH, I think you would have to plan on working your way to Hana the first day, spending the night there and then working your way back around the second day. So basically I think I would recommend saving the RTH for a land vacation. But don’t get me wrong – It is beautiful and we did enjoy it. We just didn’t have the time to enjoy each stop as much as we could have.
See my earlier comments for pier parking recommendations.
Day 5 – Maui > Snorkeling at Molokini Crater with Kai Kanani > Shopping in Lahaina
I definitely recommend snorkeling at Molokini Crater and I definitely recommend the excursion that we took on the Kai Kanani. They are located so close to the crater that you don’t have to leave the ship as early to get there, and it takes them no time to get to the crater. I wish we had had more time in Lahaina. If we had gone to Lahaina the day before, then I think we would have just spent the afternoon at Makena beach when the snorkeling excursion was over.
Day 6 – Kona, The Big Island > Snorkeling with SeaQuest > Shopping in Kona
This was our favorite day of the trip. My only regret on this day is that the ship had to leave. I’d love to spend more time here. I cannot recommend SeaQuest enough. Not only was it our favorite thing on this trip, it is the best excursion we have done on any trip. If you can only take one snorkel excursion during your trip, make it this one.
Day 7 – Kauai > Ke’e Beach > Kalalau Trail > Hanalei Bay > Smith Family Luau
I loved this day too. If I ever come back for a land vacation, it will be split between Kauai and Kona. I have two small regrets about this day. One, we didn’t bring the snorkel equipment and we could have used it at Ke’e. And two, we didn’t pack a picnic lunch on this day. If we had brought the snorkel equipment and a lunch, we would have stayed much longer at Ke’e Beach. And even it the surf had been up and we weren’t able to snorkel, the picnic lunch would have allowed us more time to be at the beach, instead of sitting in a restaurant.
The Smith Family Luau is a Kauai must-do in my book. I thought the luau would be one of those things that I’d be glad I’d done, but wouldn’t necessarily do again. But I’d definitely go again.
Day 8 – Kauai > Blue Hawaiian Helicopter Tour > Kalapaki Beach > Na Pali Sailby
My other Kauai must-do is the helicopter tour. You’re in Hawaii, just do the helicopter tour. Trust me, you will be glad you did. As for Kalapaki Beach, I don’t think this beach gets the props it should. We had a wonderful time here. This beach has a lot of nearby shopping, restaurants and bars, which except for Waikiki Beach, a lot of the Hawaiian Beaches that we saw don’t have. It’s within walking distance of the ship. I recommend that you wait and have lunch back on the ship at the Cadillac Diner’s outside area during sail away, so you can watch the tugboat say goodbye. If you have little kids, that’s a must do. If you don’t have a balcony on the port side, then I suggest you watch the Na Pali sail-by from the Waikiki Bar. Get there 45 minutes to an hour before the time listed in the Daily for the sail-by. If you have binocular, or a camera with a good zoom you will be able to see the tents of people camping at Kalalau Beach.
Day 9 – Disembarkation > Hilton Hawaiian Village > Waikiki Beach
If you have a late flight on Saturday, then I definitely recommend using NCL’s EasyFly program. Spend more time enjoying your last day and less time schlepping luggage around. The HHV is a very nice resort, although our day was marred by the employees on strike. Honestly, even if there was no strike going on, I think I would try and get a day room closer to the middle of Waikiki Beach. For inexpensive concession food and beach rentals, definitely use the concessions in front of Hale Koa resort and Ft. DeRussy Park, which is a nice place to lay your towel on the beach. Also – and this applies to all of the beaches – pick up a couple of the woven straw mats to lie on instead of a towel. That will keep your towel from being quite so sandy.
Final thoughts on the Pride of America:
Food: We didn’t eat at any of the pay restaurants so I can’t comment on those. We had 3 dinners in the Skyline dining room. One night we had great service and so-so food. One night we had fairly bad service and horrible food. And one night we had horrible service and pretty bad food. So overall I can’t recommend Skyline at all. We had dinner 3 nights in the Aloha buffet and thought it was much better than the Skyline. They had prime rib one night and we all enjoyed that. They had shrimp cocktails every night in the buffet. The breakfasts we had on ship were all at the Aloha buffet and we ate them outside. I was happy with the buffet breakfasts, especially the eggs Benedict. If you are going to make lunches from the breakfast buffet, get the ham from but buffet area and NOT the lunchmeat area, or get peanut butter and jelly. We only had one lunch on board and that was at the Cadillac Diner. Service was good there and food was ok. DH had the brownie chocolate sundae and it was the only decent dessert we had on the ship the entire week.
Bars: These were the happy hours on most days (copied from the Dailies):
Wine Happy Hour in the Napa Wine Bar - $4.95 selected wines by the glass 6p-7p
Sangria Special in the Aloha Café “Sangria” Bar – $4.95 Sangria 6pm-7pm
Happy Hour in the Martini Bar – Martini’s - $4.95 and Mai Tai’s - $3.95 9pm-10pm
We did go to the happy hour in the Napa Wine Bar. You can get a glass here and take it to dinner. We enjoyed the Wine Bar. It is a nice, mellow place to wind down between the excitement of the day and dinner. We enjoyed the entertainer here, Butch O’Conner, also.
We also went to the happy hour in the Martini Bar. That bar is below the deck we watched the lava sail-by from. The mai tai was ok.
The Key West Bar made a very good berry mojito, using blackberries and raspberries. Unfortunately that was the only bar that made those drinks and it closed at 6pm every day, along with the Ocean Drive bar. They pretty much rolled up the sidewalks at 6pm on deck around the pool.
The Dailies list a drink-of-the-day every day, but I was never offered one. Also, this is the first cruise I’ve ever been on where someone wasn’t waiting to hand me a drink as soon as I stepped on board. Idk if there is bar waiter shortage on this ship, or if they are just not very fast or what, but it was definitely not like other cruises where waiters are trying to take your order for the next drink before you finish the first one. You will wait for your drinks on the POA. On the plus side, this was the cheapest bar bill we’d ever had on a cruise.
Activities: The only activity we participated in all week was the pub crawl on the first night, and I only knew about it because I had read about it on CC. They were disorganized about taking payments and signing up participants. But the actual crawl was fun. We left the ship each morning as soon as we could and didn’t return until we had to, so we didn’t make it to any of the other activities. I would have liked to attend some of the activities lead by the Hawaiian ambassadors, but not so much that I’d cut my island time short.
Entertainment: We didn’t go to any shows so I can’t comment on those. We didn’t want to stay out too late because we wanted to get up early every morning, and because we were so active during the day we were just too tired. The evenings we ate dinner in the Skyline, dinner took so long that we didn’t have time for any of the shows. And the other nights we chose to spend visiting with each other and other guests. As mentioned earlier, we did enjoy Butch O’Conner in the Napa Wine Bar.
Housekeeping: I won’t belabor the housekeeping issues stated early other than to say our stateroom service definitely left something to be desired. The rest of the ship seemed clean and in good shape. I didn’t notice any other dirty areas.
Cruise Director: His name is Dougless Dunnell, but I only know that because I just looked it up in the Dailies. Some CD’s really make themselves known. Not this guy. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I may have known his name if we could have heard announcements in the stateroom, but we couldn’t. From what I hear they can’t be heard in any of the staterooms.
Staff: Many of the staff we encountered were friendly as can be. But on a cruise you expect everyone you meet to be friendly. Unfortunately there were several bad apples in the bunch, and the general attitude of the staff was unlike any of our other cruises. I hate to say it is because the staff is American. But I did hate that the people we met on the cruise from other countries (Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Scotland, England) would go home thinking that the employees on the POA were representative of all Americans, because I don’t believe that. I’m of the impression that the problems with the POA employees are top-down problems that originate with management. The prevailing attitude was that they weren’t happy to be there, and it showed. Once again, I’m not saying everyone. I’m saying some, but definitely enough so that it made a definite negative impression.
Photography Services: We didn’t have any formal portraits made and we didn’t buy the embarkation photo or any of the photos taken as we left the ship. In two of the ports they had some really cheesy looking costumed characters to pose with. I think one was a sea turtle and one was Uncle Sam. The photographers did take some good photos of the lava sail-by. You could purchase 4 shots for $12.95. We also purchased a digital photo book package and that was a big mistake. For $69.95 you get a 100 page (50 sheets) photo book that you can load your photos from the trip into. It also has several pages with descriptions of the ship, ports, etc. If you purchased any of the ships photos, they will upload up to 5 of those digitally, but only the pictures with you in them, not the lava photos. We were led to believe that the book was much more customizable than it actually is. The name of the photo book company is Panraven and if I had done any research, I would have known not to buy it. But it looked good at the time and we made the impulse purchase of two copies, costing a total of $159.90 w/S&H. Of all the online photo book services available, Panraven has to be the least user friendly and the least customizable. It may be ok if you don’t have very much experience with digital scrapbooking, and want to take what is basically a promo book for NCL and just drop a few pics into their layout. There are only 30 layouts to choose from and you can’t edit the layouts at all, can’t rotate or move picture placement, can’t put text where you want it, no embellishments at all. On most of their page layouts the picture boxes are square. Pictures aren’t square. So you have to decide which part of the beautiful Na Pali coast pics you want to cut out. It is ridiculous. I contacted Panraven and NCL about a refund. You can only contact Panraven by email and each response takes days. NCL doesn’t have a customer service email address. You can call them, but if you are requesting any type of action, that has to be put in writing and faxed or mailed. I thought we would probably have to eat the money we paid for the Panraven book in order to put a decent book together with another service. However, 17 days after I faxed a letter to NCL explaining my dissatisfaction with PanRaven and requesting a refund I did receive a letter from NCL stating that they had issued a refund to my credit card.
Would I recommend the Pride of America?
It depends on who asks. If you are looking for an easy way to get a taste of the islands, you can roll with things and aren’t too picky then definitely I would recommend it. When my friends ask me if I had a good time in Hawaii, it is all the wonderful things we did that I remember and tell them about. I remember how friendly and welcoming everyone on the islands were, how much we learned and the beautiful things we saw. I tell them about the lava sail-by and the Na Pali coast sail-by. The bug in the room, the bad food and surly bartenders are not what I think about and talk about when asked about the trip. But since this forum is Cruise Critic, I do think that not to mention those things would be doing a disservice to those looking for honest recollections of the ship experience. My recommendation to sail the POA would come with a warning to lower their expectations if they have been on other cruises, especially regarding dining room food, service and housekeeping. I do think it is the most cost effective way of seeing as much as possible in a limited amount of time. I would also recommend just getting an inside stateroom, and I’m a balcony lover. When I first walked in the stateroom I thought “uh-oh”. But honestly we were in the room so little that I am glad now we didn’t spend the extra money on the balcony.
If someone was looking for a relaxing cruise with great food and wonderful service, I would tell them to save their money and flight time and book a Caribbean cruise with several sea days.
Would I book with NCL again? I won’t say that I would never book with NCL again, but it would definitely not be my first choice.
Once again, these were all just my opinions and I’m sure there were lots of opinions and experiences on my sailing that were completely different from mine. If you have any questions, post them on my thread over on the Hawaii board and I will try my best to answer. I still have all of the Dailies, all my confirmations, etc.
So there it is…the end of my review. Thanks for sticking with it. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it. I enjoyed writing it and reliving it as I did. I’m already planning our next big adventure, but it’s not a cruise so I don’t know where I’ll put that trip report…maybe Trip Advisor.
Mahalo & Aloha!