We picked the Pride of America (PoA) because it is the only ship you can get that sails the islands starting and ending in Honolulu. We basically needed a floating hotel room as we knew we would spend most of our time on land. Trying to pick what to do in each port was our biggest challenge. I had never been to Hawaii & my travel partner had not been in 20 years. So we asked a lot of people, read many critiques and purchased Frommer's Hawaii 2011. Here is what we ended up doing and had a fabulous time:
Honolulu: on the front end of the cruise we hiked Diamond Head. It is well worth the effort, spectacular views. Go early - no later than 9:30am. We we staying at the Waikiki Edition, so we just jumped in a cab & split the fare between the two of us. It was worth it to get there quickly. $9 bucks each. Afterwords we stored our bags & chilled out at the pool for a few hours, drinking Coconut Mojitos. Lovely, restful afternoon.
Maui- day 1. We rented a car through Discount Hawaii. Cheap prices, good service, no problems. We drove the road to Hana. Which many books & reviews made it sound like it would be difficult. I did all the driving & did not find that to be true. Yes, you have to take it slow & drive smart, but we had a dry beautiful day, it was lovely. The road to Hana is an all day event. Pack a lunch, figure out some of the places you for sure want to stop before you go. There is so much to see, one beautiful waterfall after another, lush greenery, black sand beaches, roadside stands. It is hard to drive all the way to Hana without stopping frequently. Our original plan was to drive to Hana, and make all the stops on the way back. It did not really work out that way -- it was just to beautiful. We tried to keep the stops to a minimum, figuring we would be able to pick & choose our stops along the way back. We started at about 9 am once we had our car & got back to the ship about 7:45 pm. It was a long day, but very much worth it. You can get a map or a CD in any local gas station. We did not do the CD, but others did and said it was helpful.
Maui - day 2. I really wanted to do snorkeling at Molikini Crater but did not want to go on a 'cattle boat' tour. After some searching, we found the Trilogy. This is a nice Catamaran that will take you out morning or afternoon. Morning is recommended for the best snorkeling, but you have to be at the small boat harbor at 6:30am. This is what we did. And the snorkeling was magnificent. First off, the crew of Trilogy is the most hospitable I have ever encountered. (I work in the industry in a large hotel, so I know what it takes to take care of your guests). Captain Brett, Danielle, Mike & Jacob were all fantastic. Captain Brett keeps it light & funny, but goes over the important rules you need to know before setting sail. Once under sail, the crew starts service which includes juice, coffee or tea, fresh fruit and straight out of the oven cinnamon rolls! Yummy! Once reaching Molikini we had an hour to snorkel. The Catamaran has stairs in the center, it is very easy to get in and out of the water. They have a crew member on a surf board at all times keeping an eye on everyone. Here we saw tons of sea life, including Yellow Tang, Moorish Idols, Angelfish, Trumpet Fish, Trigger fish & more. The hour went by too fast. After we set sail for our next stop, lunch was served. Salad, chicken, rice, rolls - simple but fresh and more than we could possible eat. Next stop, Turtle Town, snorkeling along the 3 fingers of lava. Lots of sea life and yes, I swam right next to a Turtle! Again, the hour passed too quickly. We set sail back to the harbor and dessert of ice cream and chocolate sauce was served. We had a lovely sail back but eventually they had to pull in the main and then the jib because it got so windy. I can not say enough about the wonderful, hospitable crew of the Trilogy. Special shout out to Danielle, who I think had a big part in running the ship (LOL).
After we returned to port, we still had our car, so we took a drive out to Kaanapali where all the big resorts are. It was a whole different side to Maui than what we had seen so far. We both agreed we enjoyed the old Maui of Hana & the snorkeling better.
Hilo - Kilauea Volcano National Park. This was the only excursion I booked through the ship. My traveling partner did not want to do the same thing as I did - so it was easiest to book the bike tour I wanted through PoA. Nui Pohaku Adventure tours was who they used. I enjoyed it so much I picked up one of there flyers and would book it myself if I ever go back. www.nuipohaku.com. They do all kinds of tours, but the bike tour starting at Kilauea and riding down through the rain forest was exhilarating. But what really made this special was our bike tour guide Daniel. He was a wealth of knowledge and so obviously loved his work. He made the trip AAA+. If you do this tour, try and get Daniel. He is worth it. This was another all day adventure for me, my friend slept in and then walked the town of Hilo. She enjoyed her leisurely day.
Kona -- another snorkel trip for us. We had arranged a trip through Sea Quest Snorkel tours. I had read a posting on CC by a gal that said this was her favorite stop. We decide to go for it even though the schedule was tight -- we had to be on the first tender off the ship and catch a taxi to Sea Quest to make another early check in. The Sea Quest does the small 'Navy Seal' type rafts that hold 12 people max. Therefor you can go to some really small places that the bigger boats can not. This AM trip included 3 snorkeling stops and lunch. The first stop was ;Honaunau -'Place of Refuge". On our way there we saw a school of spinner Dolphins - playful and beautiful! At our snorkel we saw Plenty of colorful fish, amazing coral & even a turtle. As we got back aboard, as if by magic there was a bowl for each of us, filled with fresh fruit & beverages. The bowls were hand carved wood in the shape of fish. There was plenty of water & juice available. Our second stop was a place where they usually spot lots of turtles, but we were so lucky - lots of sea life & coral, but no turtles. Our last stop was Kealakekua Bay. Captain Cooks Monument. This is only accessible by boat. You will see tons of fish & coral here of every kind, but what is really amazing is that the water is pretty shallow where they let you off, but just swim a few yards and the drop off in to 100 foot water is right there. Beautiful! Lunch was served after our last stop - good sandwiches and Maui chips. Chocolate Macadamia nuts for dessert. Captain Maria & her 1st Mate Kevin did a phenomenal job.
Upon return to the dock, we walked around Kona a bit and did a little shopping. Caught one of the last tenders to the ship. A lovely day.
Kauai -- Beautiful, lush, green Kauai! We rented a car here when we arrived, again through Discount Hawaii Rentals. We drove to where the road ends at Kee Beach. This is a very popular spot for locals. It was a beautiful drive and a lovely beach, but too crowded for us. We took a few pictures and headed back along the road to see many other beautiful beaches. It Kauai, it seems it is just one magnificent beach after another. We stopped at many. Snorkeled some, walked some, took tons of pictures. We had brought a picnic lunch with us (hint - they have sandwich making stuff out at the breakfast buffet time, and I had bought a small lunch cooler bag & zip locks with me, so we were all set) We stopped and snorkeled at Tunnels Beach & ate our lunch there. We also stopped at Annini Beach & then Hanaili Beach and the small town there. We had a wonderful sunny day on the rainiest place on earth. We were so lunch. Things I will always remember about the drive: Rainbow shower trees along the road, Bali Hi twin green peaks right on the shoreline, the quant town of Hanali and the beautiful little church there, the Ironwood trees creating a green tunnel over the road, the Valley of the Tarot root farms and Kauai Mud pie for dessert after lunch :-)
Kauai day 2. We really wanted to see the Na Pali coast, which meant either by boat or air. We opted for a doors off Helicopter tour through Jack Harter tours. This was the guy that started the Helicopter tour trend. You will read that you should not do a doors off. I disagree. I felt perfectly safe, and the sights & views of Na Pali are indescribably beautiful. Do this tour!!
We spent the remaining time on Kauai at a pool at a hotel (I mentioned I worked for a hotel chain so this was easy to get for us) but you have to be back on ship by 2 pm, so there is not a lot of time for much else.
You have to be back on board by 2 because PoA does a lovely sail by of Na Pali. It was really quite nice and we saw several rainbows.
Honolulu - disembarked at 8:15. Stored our bags at our hotel and explored Waikiki. We strolled the beach and the surrounding area. Lots to see. Being in the Hotel Business we were fascinated by the area hotels and how they were set up. Then afternoon was spent on a Eco tour and we got to see parts of Oahu that we had not yet seen. It was quite lovely and a nice relaxing way to spend the afternoon. However our driver/tour guide was a little full of herself and a bit preachy, so I will not recommend that particular tour company to you. But a nice Island tour is a great way to see more of the Island.
Our last full day and we decided to see the North Shore via 'The Surf Bus'. This is a fairly new business, they've been at it for a little over a year. I HIGHLY recommend them. Our driver, Keoki was a local North Shore boy. He pick us up at our hotel at 8:30 am, there was about 16 people on this trip. The price of the trip includes 1 piece of equipment of your choice (snorkel, bike, surf board, boogie board) and 3 stops. We had our own snorkel gear, so we took that with us & picked bikes as our gear. You can add more gear for additional price. It takes about 50 minutes or so to get to the North Shore - Keoki was narrating the entire way -- he was so much fun, and knew all the best places to stop. The first stop is 'Sharks Cove' a great snorkeling spot. Hint -- look to were the divers are getting in to the water - it is easier there. This is a little rough place to get in to the water, but worth it. Next stop the Banzi Pipeline where the big surf competitions are in the winter. Then bike riding to sunset beach. Last stop was Haleilwa - a cute small town and home to Matsumoto Shaved Ice. This is purported to be the best shaved ice in Hawaii -- can't say I had anything to compare it to, but is sure was good! get ready for a very long line if you decide to get one. On the way back Kaoki surprised us by stopping at the Dole Plantation. Most everyone got the pineapple Ice Cream or candy, but since we had already had shaved Ice, we walked the grounds. This is when we discovered the Rainbow Eucalyptus Trees. They don't look real, but they are stunning! We did not get back until 7 pm even though we were to be back by 5 pm. But Keoki was so cool and let everyone take there time at each stop that we ran late. No one cared, we throughly enjoyed the day and were happily exhausted at the end of the day.
We were sad to leave the next day, but it was a full & happy trip all the way around. As to the PoA. It did its job and got us Island to Island. We mostly ate in the buffet, one night in the main dinning room and one night in the 50's dinner. The food was Average all the way around, but don't miss Danielle if she is still working the Crepe station when you take your trip. She does a great job and is very friendly and hospitable.