This cruise was a RSVP charter. This was our seventh cruise, six of them RSVP charters (one on Princess and six on Holland America) and we had one four-day cruise on the Queen Mary 2. This was out first time in Hawaii.
Pre-cruise - Honolulu:
On Thursday we flew Continental non-stop from Newark to Honolulu and stayed at Park Shore Waikiki Beach hotel for two nights. The hotel is on the beach and the last hotel before Kapiolani Park. Our hotel package included a Dollar rental car that we picked up at the airport using the Dollar shuttle bus. The hotel's location was convenient and the hotel comfortable, if basic. Valet parking was $20 per day. The staff was very efficient and friendly. Someone at the front desk recommended the Side Street Inn on Da Strip (614 Kapahulu Ave. Honolulu) for dinner on our first night - it is off the main drag and well worth the walk - delicious food and lots of it and there were a lot of locals eating there.
On Friday we were up early to see the sunrise from the beach and after breakfast joined a group of friends on a hike up Diamond Head. After a shower we walked over to Duke's at the Outrigger Waikiki hotel where we had a very nice lunch! After lunch we took a drive along the south shore to the Halona Blow Hole and along H3 back to Waikiki. Early evening trying to catch up on lseep.
On Saturday morning we drove to Pearl Harbor and got tickets for the 8:15 am ferry to the USS Arizona, before any cruise ship excursions arrived (the Zaandam was also in port). We bought tickets for the USS Bowfin and USS Missouri and may have tried to do too much since we had to check out of our hotel at Noon. Maybe we should have skipped the USS Bowfin - but it was still worthwhile. We were back at the hotel at 12:10 pm, retrieved our luggage and returned the rental car to the airport location where Dollar called a cab for us as they do not have shuttle service to the cruise port.
We arrived at the Pier 2 sometime after 1 pm and were checked-in in no time and were on board where the RSVP staff and volunteers welcomed us with leis. Cabins were not available yet so we checked our carry-on luggage near East Meets West on deck 5 and then headed to the Aloha Cafe for lunch. They started announcing cabins being available by deck and by the time we had finished our lunch, our deck was called.
We were in cabin 7052, an Obstructed Ocean View cabin with the obstruction being a small rescue craft - not one of the big tenders - which allowed plenty of light in and also a reasonable view. The cabin can accommodate 4 - two lower beds and two upper bunk beds. I don't know if I would want to be in this size cabin with 4 people!
The bed was made up as a queen with the head of the bed in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows - which I don't like since I hate when my pillows fall off the end of the bed (I solved that problem by storing my suitcase between the bed and the window)
The cabin was a bit smaller that what we are used to but it was fine. The bathroom was compact -with the shower being a tight fit and neither of us is that big. The shower had soap and shampoo dispensers and there was a soap dispenser at the sink. Three sets of towels were frequently replaced. Two beach/pool towels were also provided.
There was a small TV (not flat panel) but we hardly ever watched TV. There was a small stocked refrigerator which we did not even bother getting emptied to use for our own stuff. There were a couple of bottles of water - for purchase. Our cabin did not come with a coffee maker (only in balcony cabins apparently).
Inside a cabinet above the desk there is a safe that is locked with a self-selected 4 digit code. There were two outlets for US plugs at the desk and another under the TV shelf on the opposite wall.
I don't know if it was particular to our cabin, but it creaked a lot! We did not think that we had rough seas but the captain did say at the end of the cruise that the stabilizers were engaged most of the cruise. There were big swell warnings out for the north shores of most of the islands while we were there. The other ships that we have been on have all creaked when it wasn't quite smooth sailing but this seemed to be going on all the time while at sea.
Our luggage arrived soon after getting to the cabin and we started unpacking. There was adequate storage for two on a seven-day, informal cruise. The closet had adjustable shelves and ample hanging space - hangers are the type where rings are attached to the rod and the hangers detach/slip into the rings. There are 2 deep drawers on either side of the cabin - at the desk and under the TV. Our rest of the luggage easily fitted under the bed.
We did not meet our cabin steward Ben until the next day. He did tend to the cabin well and we had no issues. He kept brining more beach towels to the cabin! There was a note in the cabin stating that if there were not two beach towels in the cabin when you disembark that you would be charged $25 a piece. By the end of the cruise we had 8 clean beach towels in our cabin.
At 4:30 pm we had the lifeboat drill - we assembled at our station outside on deck 6. You don't take your life jacket to the drill.
At 5:00 pm we had a Cruise Critic meet-and-greet in the Lanai Bar and Lounge with about 40 people attending. Coffee and cookies were provided and we paid for alcoholic drinks (on some HAL cruises we have had an open bar with hors d'oeuvres). Captain Buzz and Hotel Manager Carey welcomed us aboard and introduced their senior staff to us. I was impressed at how many staff were present at the meet-and-greet. They regarded Cruise Critic so highly that they asked if it would be OK to have a follow-up meeting with us at the end of the cruise to get our feedback and answer any questions that we may have.
After exploring the ship, it was soon time for us to set sail so we head to the upper decks and the magnificent sight of sailing out of Honolulu leaving the lights of Waikiki behind us.
There is only one word to describe the decor: pretty bad! I am used to the classic style of HAL so the Pride of America was quite a shock to the system. From the bright colors in the cabins and in the Aloha Cafe to the fake brick walls in the Lazy J Texas Steakhouse and by the atrium elevators on deck 5 it was just a bit too much. The Mardi Gras lounge was also just gaudy. The only time we spent in there was one night during a theme party where the lights were low, thank goodness. There are a few bright spots of which the Lanai Bar and Lounge was the classiest; Jefferson's Bistro wasn't too bad as was the Liberty dining room (if they could just get rid of the bright red neon ceiling lights!) and the Napa Wine Bar.
The layout took a little while to get used to but that could partly be because I have become so accustomed to the layout of HAL's larger ships. It was a bit annoying not being able to get to the Liberty dining room without having to go to deck 5 first - but I have seen that kind of issue on other ships too.
We had the opportunity to see a few different cabins and I am rather glad we did not book a balcony cabin as categories we would have gotten had rather small balconies. We attended a party in a penthouse cabin and I was not impressed by it - it was big but ugly. The bathroom was really nice, surprisingly..On the last day we popped into an empty two-bedroom suite to take a look - nice size but way too much orange decorations.
As this was a primarily American crew I was not quite sure how they would react to a gay charter but was pleasantly surprised by them. They were as friendly as we could have wanted and seemed to really enjoy having us onboard. From the front desk personnel to the crew spraying hand cleaners at the Aloha Cafe they were all friendly and helpful. They may not always have been as polished as the crews we have seen on the other cruise lines but they were very eager to please. One would see odd things such as big Igloo coolers and milk crates parked for hours in the corridors while the stewards were cleaning cabins - it seemed a bit tacky.
There were a number of gay and lesbian crew members and it was a nice to see them enjoy the experience of being part of the majority for once. I never experienced even a hint of negativity from the crew towards the passenger complement. We heard the usual comment from ship crews on gay charters: that they never work as hard as on a gay charter, that everyone is so nice to them and everyone smiles and are out to have fun. Oh, and that they make a lot of money when we are on board. (Alcohol sales are much higher on a gay charter than on a regular cruise!)
Micah at the Lanai Bar and Lounge was my favorite bartender - he makes a mean Mai Tai - and he was usually assisted by the lovely Sandra and always fun Daniel. Bartender Juan at he bar outside the Aloha Cafe was great too.
RSVP charters have numerous dance parties mostly outside on the upper decks and on the POA it was held midships around the South Beach Pool. The waiters were kept very busy working those areas, if not a little over-eager pushing drinks but a simple 'not now, thanks' was all it took. At times it seemed as if the crew was enjoying the parties even more than the passengers were - it was a nice break from their regular routine.
In chronological sequence we experienced different dining areas:
First up was the Aloha Cafe for lunch on embarkation. It did not seem overly crowded and the food was nice and fresh. I was quite impressed with the Indian food selections and tried it most days. We actually ate all our lunches and breakfasts there when we ate on board. The fresh fruit selection was great; especially the pineapples. Some of the selections did seem of lower cost and quality such as the yoghurt and breakfast sausages.
The Aloha Cafe crew was quick to bus tables and one time that I had to leave my plate of newly acquired lunch to get something else, I mentioned it to a server nearby and was assured that my plate would still be there when I got back. It was.
Later-on we discovered the joy of taking our food outside on deck 11 and also found a pretty good selection of food at the outside stations - and much shorter lines.
At times in the Aloha Cafe we encountered some blunt responses - like when I asked if they had ham for the made-to-order omelets and the response was 'NO!' or when a friend asked for sprinkles with the ice cream and got the same 'NO!' even though sprinkles were available before.
For dinner the first night we ate in the Skyline main dining room. The food and the service were bad. A friend ordered the shrimp cocktail and did not eat much of it - it was tiny shrimp on a bed of lettuce. He and I ordered the leg of lamb and it was just boring. The dEcor did not enhance the dining experience.
The second night we opted for the Liberty main dining room and things were a lot better. The service was a bit better and the food was much better even though the assistant waiter could not get an order straight. I ordered a steak dish (medium rare) and he delivered goulash, which he insisted was what I ordered. That was soon sorted out and we ended up with an extra serving of the pretty decent steak. The Asian noodle salad I had was quite good too.
The third night we decided to have the prime rib in the Aloha Cafe and were pleasantly surprised by the dining experience: the food was good and eating outside was very nice and relaxing. Juan and his bartenders were quick to serve us and were also very entertaining (as I think we were to them too) since it was rather quiet out there.
Next up was the Lazy J Texas Steakhouse where the service was rather slow and the steaks not much better than at Applebee's. The shrimp cocktail was better than in the Skyline dining room.
We also ate in Jefferson's Bistro which was the more stylish and refined dining venue. The food was decent and the service was good; the main server chatted with us explaining that the charter was a great challenge for them to step up the levels of service that they usually provide.
We returned to the Liberty dining room on the last night of the cruise and the food was once again not bad. (Note: none of the food compared well with what we have had on Princess, Cunard or HAL) Service was reasonable but still lacking the small touches such as not serving coffee when desert is served - I had to ask for coffee after desert was served.
RSVP brings its own entertainers onboard and some of the usual ship's entertainment is also presented. The only ship's show I attended was the Polynesian show which was a bit campy yet very enjoyable.
We had a rental car from Thrifty the first day and took a shuttle bus from the cruise terminal to the airport location. My partner and I drove up to Iao Valley State Park in the morning, did some shopping at Macy's at the Queen Ka'ahumanu mall (where I bought a nice Hawaiian shirt and a not-so-touristy HIC T-shirt). We picked friends of ours up back at the ship and drove to Little Beach for the afternoon. It was a mix of cruise ship people and locals hanging out at the beach. As was apparently what happens on a Sunday afternoon, a drum circle formed late in the afternoon with some very 'happy' hippy types dancing within the drum circle.
After leaving the beach we stopped of at Ed Robinson's Diving Adventures in Kihei so that the two of us going scuba diving early the next morning could get our gear sorted out. That allowed us to sleep a little bit later as we only had to be at the boat slip at 6:30 AM, instead of 6:00 AM!
The night in Maui was also Halloween and there was a party at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center welcoming the RSVP cruisers. After dinner and a quick nap we changed into our costumes and boarded the shuttle busses to the party. We had a great time there and saw some impressive entertainment too but around 2 am we called it a night.
My scuba buddy and I ended up getting three hours of sleep before heading out to go scuba diving at Molokini crater. I read about Ed Robinson's on the Cruise Critic scuba diving boards and they were as good as everyone has said. We were done with scuba diving before lunch and returned our rental car on the way back to the ship, had lunch and tried to get a nap.
Back in the cabin there was a message to come down to the front desk as they were holing something for me. When I checked, it was my iphone charger that I had left in the rental car and Thrifty was nice enough to deliver it back to the ship.
My partner and I booked the NCL 'Circle of File' helicopter excursion over the Kilauea volcano for 9:00 am. Blue Hawaiian Helicopters picked us up at the ship and shuttled us to the airport. The excursion was totally worthwhile even if we paid more for booking it through NCL. We flew over the Big Island, the volcano's caldera and along the lava flow which is hidden in lava tubes - but we did see a section where the tube collapsed and got a glimpse of the red-hot lava flowing towards the ocean. We circled the area where it reaches the ocean a few times before heading back to the airport and some good views of the Pride of America docked at the cruise terminal.
Back at the airport we picked up our Thrifty rental car and after lunch back on board we met up with our friends and drove out to Volcanoes National Park to get a different perspective. We drove around the park, walked through a lava tube and stopped at the steam vents along the way.
Back in Hilo we searched out Richardson Beach Park that the Blue Hawaiian excursion leader told us about - it is a black sand beach about two miles form the cruise port and seemed to be more popular with locals than with cruisers. There were huge waves crashing on the area but the main swimming section is quite protected.
There was not a lot of lava flowing into the ocean but it was still an amazing sight sailing past it at night. We opted for Deck 12 aft and had a good view. We came to Hawaii to see volcanoes and we were not disappointed.
My diving buddy and I signed up for a scuba excursion through HAL. Getting on a tender for our early excursion was easy and we were met by a representative from Big Island Water Sports. What was a little odd was that after we were all loaded into a minivan we then had to provide payment for the equipment rental that was not included in the excursion price. So about 14 cash or credit transactions were negotiated while we were just sitting in the van. The excursion was very good though.
Back in Kona we tendered to the ship to shower and I decided to take up the excursion van driver's recommendation of having lunch at the Kona Brewing Company. Her directions were not very good and my iphone's map app wasn't very helpful either but after asking around I finally found it and sat down to a beer sampler and ordered the fish tacos. That was the best meal I had during the cruise, the tacos were delicious!
After some shopping I headed back to the ship for a quick nap. Sleep was a luxury on this cruise! Well, I tried, because arriving back at the cabin there was an invitation to a birthday party to be held in a penthouse suite - and I take every opportunity to see the expensive cabins on a ship!
As usual I was up early and went to the upper deck to see the sail in to Kauai - quite an impressive maneuver to get into the harbor!
I decided to let my partner sleep in and opted to go get our rental car and come back for some breakfast and a drive out to Waimea Canyon. Well, as I was waiting for the Thrifty shuttle to the airport location, I realized that I forgot to take my wallet! No driver's license, no credit card, no rental car. And no getting back on the ship either! I started dialing friends hoping they were still onboard so they could wake my partner and get him to bring me my wallet. After 30 minutes of waiting I asked a crew member if there was a way to call a cabin on the ship - he asked for the cabin number, dialed it and handed me the phone. Ten minutes later I had my wallet and was on my way on the shuttle. The shuttle driver was quite chatty, pointing out interesting places along the way, including the cruise parking lot at the Anchor Cove Shopping Center ($20 for overnight parking and a free shuttle till late evening). The driver was also surprised that he had not picked up many cruisers yet - he said the by 9 am they usually have 2 or 3 shuttles running. I explained that our cruise had a lot of late night parties and that the guys must be sleeping in and will be out later.
The drive out to Waimea Canyon was amazing and along the way we saw many more rainbows, one in a valley below us. One the way back we stopped in Waimea for lunch and ate at the Shrimp Station - delicious shrimp, especially the coconut shrimp. After a little more shopping we headed back to the ship, picked up our friends and drove to the Spouting Horn Blowhole on the south shore.
We returned to Nawiliwili, parked the car at Anchor Cove and headed back to the ship for the evening.
The next morning was rather wet and three of us headed out for a drive along the north shore of Kauai. Nicer weather would have been good, but we stopped along the way seeing taro fields, beautiful beaches and narrow roads. We explored the caves in Haena State Park before turning back. We stopped for coffee and some shopping along the way and reckoned we had plenty of time to get back to Lihue airport, return the rental car and get back to the ship for lunch and some relaxation before sail-away at 2 pm. Well, we hit really bad traffic north of Kapaa due to road construction and started panicking that we might miss the sail-away! Finally the traffic cleared up and we rushed to the airport, dropped the car without refueling just to save time. Thrifty was great and kept a shuttle ready to take us back to the ship. Then another group arrived after us and soon all of us were heading back to the ship. We got onboard with 13 minutes to spare! I don't want to go through that again.
The end of the cruise.
After rushing back on board in Kauai, we had lunch and relaxed a bit before the Cruise Critic follow-up meeting which was held in the Diamond Head Auditorium at 4 pm. There were about 20 passengers attending, as well as the president of RSVP and the captain, hotel manager and the senior staff of the ship. The back-and-forth was quite informative for both sides and the scheduled 30 minutes soon stretched into an hour. The hotel manager then pointed to the windows and we could see the spectacular Napali coast we were approaching. The meeting wrapped up right after that and we headed outside to take in the views. It was spectacular.
While still sailing along the Napali Coast the final tea dance for the cruise was taking place around the South beach pool. At one point it started raining lightly but everyone just kept on dancing. As the ship turned away from the shore a rainbow formed in front of the ship and it appeared as if we were going to sail right through it: "Somewhere over the rainbow..." The crowd went crazy!
Since our flight was not until 7:40 PM we opted to use Easy Fly to check our luggage from the ship to the airplane - we have used HAL's program before and NCL's worked just as well.
That left us with just carry-on (carry-off?) luggage and we were free to leave the ship when we chose to. After breakfast in the Aloha Cafe and saying goodbye to friends, we gather our belongings and disembarked. The Thrifty shuttle was waiting outside the terminal and soon we were picking up our fifth rental car for the week.
Friends of ours had booked a room at the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani in Waikiki for the day - one wanted to stay in Waikiki and go to the beach and other joined us for a drive to the North Shore of Oahu. It was raining off-and-on but it was still a nice drive. We had lunch at Mack's Shrimp truck - in the rain. Yummy stuff.
We returned to the hotel and were very happy to be able to take a shower before getting on a plane for 10 hours. After popping into ABC for a few last minute souvenir purchases we were on our way to return the rental can and off to the airport.
Other than Continental reassigning our seats so that none of us sat together, the flight was uneventful and I got a couple of hours of sleep. Finally.
The Pride of America was not as nice as I would have liked and I am not so sure that I would sail NCL again, but this cruise was more about the destination (Hawaii) and the people (our RSVP friends and also the POA crew). Hawaii is beautiful and this itinerary is a nice way to experience Hawaii for the first time. It is a bit port intensive and I missed the sea days but I still had a really good time.