POA REVIEW-JANUARY 2005
I'm sorry it took four weeks to write my review. To say things have been hectic around here since I got back would be an understatement. Anyway, here it is, my synopsis of NCL's Pride of Aloha and the four major Hawaiian Islands:
The Pride Of Aloha -- When you enter the Pride of Aloha you have no doubt that you are in Hawaii. Every inch of this ship is decorated Hawaiian and it is just beautiful. We found everything to be clean and were surprised to find our staterooms to be slightly larger than the norm. My only complaint about the actual stateroom was one I have heard over and over -- there is only one outlet in the room so you need to bring a power strip.
The staff on the POA was beyond helpful. If you even looked like you had a problem there would be at least one person in front of you asking what you needed. We were constantly surrounded by smiling, helpful staff throughout the ship. It made me sad that the "freestyle" had confused so many people into not tipping. There needs to be much more explanation before this cruise that you should tip as you go along.
There are definitely some advantages to NCL's "Freestyle" cruising. I can't begin to tell you how wonderful it is to be able to disembark at the time you choose and not be herded into a room like cattle and then herded off the ship based on your cabin location rather than your flight time. It is also nice to be able to go eat when you want, BUT the dining situation for dinner was the only thing on this ship I was not happy with. The food itself wasn't bad, but the main dining rooms had the same menu everyday with just a few dishes changing. People went to -- and paid for -- specialty restaurants just to get a change of menu. I didn't feel the food in these restaurants was really anything "special." I would much rather see some changed menus in the main dining rooms. Also, if you have a formal night in a dining room then it's is a formal night. There are plenty of restaurants to go casually too and those of us who did get dressed up were not happy that they allowed people in jeans in the "formal" dining room.
Since my mom is disabled we arranged in advance for tours on all islands with buses that had lifts. NCL's shore excursion department (specifically Katrina Johnson) was just incredible in handling this. Though there were some problems with the first tours, the concierge (Patrick) made sure everything was taken care of. The tours were all terrific and I recommend booking them before you sail when you have time to really read about them and pick what you would like.
All in all I thought the cruise was well worth the money and gave a first-timer (me) an excellent overall view of Hawaii. The staff was great and the port time (two days at each island!) can't be beat. If you are looking for a luxurious cruising experience, this is not it, however, if you compare this cruise to flying between islands, staying at hotels and paying for three meals a day, the Pride of Aloha (and the upcoming Pride of America) this is the best deal around.
Now, here's my quick view of the Hawaiian islands:
Oahu We spent three days at the Hilton Hawaiian Village before the cruise and also toured the day of disembarkation before heading home. I loved the HHV. We stayed in the Ali-i Tower and were upgraded to a room with a wraparound balcony! It is a great place for adults and families when you have a short time and no car. There are restaurants of all kinds and plenty of shopping. The beach is also a little more private than others on Waikiki. You will be given a coupon book upon check in. Make sure you look through it right away as there are coupons for every restaurant and most shops at the hotel. We ate one night at Bali by the Sea and it was just incredible.
We took the Grand Circle Island Tour one day which included a trip through the North Shore Beaches, Waimea Bay, Dole Plantation and the Aloha Blowhole, among other stops. It was a really nice introduction to the island which we enjoyed. After the ship arrived back in Honolulu we went to Pearl Harbor (a must-see experience) and then went through downtown Honolulu and saw the Iolani Palace.
Kauai -- I just loved Kauai! No giant hi-rises or non-stop strip malls. It looked like I expected of a "Hawaiian Island" and it turned out to be my favorite. On the first day we took the Journey To Waimea Canyon, a great tour through the island that led us to this beautiful canyon with stops that included Poipu beach. The second day we were on the Sea Fun Beach Snorkel which didn't turn out as expected. It wasn't quite a "beach snorkel" since the group was led (in wetsuits) pretty far out. It worked out great in the end since my daughter loved the detailed snorkel and I (who don't love that type of snorkeling) used the opportunity to catch some rest and rays on the beach!
The Big Island-Hilo & Kona -- I can't imagine going to The Big Island and not visiting Volcano National Park. We took the Volcanoes National Park & Rainbow Falls Tour which took us along a scenic ride that also stopped at the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory (definitely the most reasonable place we found to by macadamia nut treats). That night the ship sailed around the Kilauea Volcano for a great view of the lava before we docked on the other side of the island in Kona. In Kona, my second favorite place, we had to tender, but we were easily brought by boat to a beautiful pier that housed many restaurants & shops. We took the Kona By Land & Sea Tour. The land tour included a visit to the beautiful St. Benedict's Painted Church, the Kona Coffee Factory and the Pu'uhonua National Park. The sea tour was great for whale-watching (we saw a mother and baby!), but no one was terribly interested when we left the whales to go see some of the things we had just seen from land.
Maui -- I have to say I was disappointed in Maui, but only because my expectations were so high. I had been told by so many people about how wonderful Maui was. I agree that there were some of the most incredible mountains, waterfalls and beaches I had ever seen. I was disillusioned though by the non-stop strip malls and buildings. At one point, halfway up to the top of the Haleakala Crater, our guide stopped to show us where they are building condos and a mall below the world's largest dormant volcano! We then had a beautiful tour of Iao Valley and a great visit at the Maui Ocean Center. We spent day to in Lahaina, mostly shopping. It's a great place for bargains and good food and drinks. (We had a great lunch at the Pioneer Inn.) If you want a more quaint Maui I would suggest spending a few hours in Pa'ia checking out the more unusual shops. Another must see thing in Maui is the rainbows. We were lucky enough to see four in the two days we were there.
I could go on for many more pages on details, but I think I've covered the basics.