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Pride of America is a Good Choice
I found the Pride of America to be a lovely ship with a gracious crew and staff. I have cruised on Carnival and Royal Caribbean and was actually a little afraid of NCL when I read so many negative reviews of the POA. We went ahead and booked anyway because the Hawaiian itinerary suited us perfectly. How bad could it be? It's Hawaii, for crying out loud.
What I liked:
The lei greeting. I got flowers. My husband got shells.
The ship is beautiful. The dEcor is understated, as far as cruise ships go. I liked that it was low-key, not as glitzy as some other ships I've been on. I didn't find as many clashing patterns and over-the-top shiny, glittering mirrors and glass that make you feel like you've stumbled into a high-end funhouse. I loved the carpet in the library and in the cabin hallways. The ship was immaculately clean. My husband commented on how well polished all the wood was in the Liberty Dining Room, for example. Not a smudge or fingerprint More
to be seen.
The staff was as good as any I've had on other cruises. Our cabin steward, Marino, did a fine job keeping our cabin clean and keeping us supplied with whatever we needed. He was pleasant when we saw him in the hallways. The best staff member we met, by far, was Cathleen in the Liberty Dining Room. If you want to be treated courteously and professionally, request to be seated at one of Cathleen's tables. She and her assistant Tyler are efficient and very personable. We were lucky to find her on the first night of our cruise and we frequently requested to be at one of her tables, even if it meant waiting a little while. We also made the acquaintance of Jack Plewa, the restaurant manager. He is funny and talkative, puts you at ease, and gives great advice for shore excursions due to his many years spent in Hawaii.
The food is very good. We didn't eat in any of the specialty restaurants, but we did try all of the included restaurants. Two nights I chose the chef's selection and both times the meal was wonderful. The Cadillac diner was fun and had good, basic diner food. (See comment in What I Didn't Like.) We ate one night in the Aloha Cafe, but decided that we preferred to be seated and served on the other nights.
Our cabin (7540) was roomy enough for two with plenty of storage space for our luggage. We had a small balcony on the starboard side of the ship. The bed was very, very comfortable. The room had a powerful hair dryer and a safe. We had a tiny problem with the safe at first. The previous passengers shut it, thus locking in their code. We couldn't get it to open. We dialed 00 and waited in our cabin for about 30 minutes until a staff member could open it. After that it worked fine. Marino delivered two very nice NCL robes for our use during the cruise.
The one lecture I attended (Hawaii's Path to Statehood) was very interesting. I wish I had attended the others, especially the lei-making demonstration, but I didn't even realize there were lectures until about halfway through the week. Actually we were on shore during some of them, so I couldn't have attended anyway.
The tender system in Kona is efficient and moves well.
The itinerary can't be beat.
Local people lined up on the pier as we were leaving Nawiliwili to bid us Aloha. That has never happened to me on any other cruise.
What I Didn't Like:
The shower is small. It was fine for us, but I think a bigger person might have a problem.
Why are the milkshakes in the Cadillac Diner extra? I don't see the difference between the desserts in the dining room and the milkshakes. I thought that was a rip-off.
The menu didn't include any local Hawaiian food. Unless you opted for the Luau shore excursion, you didn't get to try poi. There was pineapple on the fruit bar in the Aloha Cafe, but I'm sure it wasn't the much-touted Maui Gold. Our driver from the airport to the pier told us to try apple-bananas if we got a chance. We never did.
The tipping policy was very confusing to me. NCL automatically adds $12.00 per person per day to your account. I guess that gets divided among the crew and staff members you would normally tip on a traditional cruise. We wanted to give Cathleen and Marino extra tips because we had the most contact with them and because we felt they did an excellent job. When I inquired at the Customer Service desk in the lobby, they said if we wanted to tip extra we could do so at each meal or on the last night of the cruise. I found it difficult to figure out how much to tip at each meal since there were no prices on the menu and tipping is usually based on the price of the meal. Instead, we chose to tip on the last night.
What I'm Conflicted About:
Freestyle dining. On the one hand, it IS nice to be able to eat whenever and wherever you choose. On the other hand, I really missed the camaraderie that usually develops with other passengers in traditional cruise dining. Plus I missed having my own server who knew my name and what I drink by the 2nd night. I have no experience in restaurant management, but I think there must be a way to accommodate passengers who choose to have the same server throughout the cruise even if they don't have the same tablemates or the same table.
The casual atmosphere. While I loved it during the day, I must admit that I missed dressing up for a formal Captain's Dinner.
This cruise is a great way to see a lot of Hawaii in a little bit of time. The spirit of Aloha is hard to describe. It's something you have to experience for yourself.
Ea'o aku, a'o male e mahalo aku, mahalo mai. (Learn from one another and respect all people.) Less
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Port and Shore Excursions
Hilo, Hawaii – Day 3:
We took NCL’s excursion to Volcanoes National Park. This was an interesting tour. We learned that there are 2 kinds of volcanoes – the kind that explode up into the air (like Mt. St. Helens) and the kind that erupt in a flow (like the Hawaiian volcanoes). Hawaii continues to grow because the volcanoes continue to flow and create more land. Although we saw lots of steam vents, we didn’t see any actual magma. One of the big attractions on this itinerary is to see the lava flow at night when you sail from Hilo to Kona. The captain announced that we might see it between 9;30 and 10:00 pm. So we were up on deck, cameras ready. Around 9:15 they made an announcement that, due to the recent earthquake in Japan, the lava flow had changed course and was flowing inland. We were NOT going to see the nighttime show. I know it’s not NCL’s fault, but Boo! Hiss! Apparently, at least for now, the only way to see the magma is by helicopter.
Honolulu, Oahu – Day 7:
Unfortunately we could not spend any extra days in Hawaii after the cruise because work beckoned. We chose to book the Pearl Harbor/City Tour through NCL because they would take us to Pearl Harbor, on a brief city tour, and then straight to the airport. Be forewarned, tickets are on a first come-first served basis so, unless you’re there early, you might not get tickets. We were lucky that our driver (another Wally) got us 9:45 am tickets. We had enough time to browse through the two museums, book store, and gift shop and get a snack at a little convenience stand. A boat takes you over to the memorial pavilion where you can see the Arizona right beneath you. For a separate fee you can tour the USS Bowfin, but don’t you dare try to go up that ramp if you don’t have a receipt. I wanted to take a photo of my husband in front of the submarine and the ticket agent was afraid we were going to try sneak onboard. I got soundly scolded.
I would strongly suggest wearing cargo pants or something with pockets. You cannot take any purses, camera bags, ANY type of bag into Pearl Harbor. You can take a camera, but not a bag. You must carry the camera in your hand. Even though our bus would be locked during the tour, Wally advised us to take our money and valuables with us. There are lockers available at the entrance if you want to store your belongings there.
After Pearl Harbor, the city tour was whiz-bang drive-by of some government buildings, King Kamehameha’s statue, etc. Then off to the airport. We were there in plenty of time for our 4:10 pm flight home.
Nawiliwili, Kauai – Day 5:
By far this was my favorite port. For one thing, it was easily accessible to shopping, restaurants, and, finally, at last, a beach!
Prior to this cruise I asked a friend of mine who has a timeshare in Kauai if she had only one day there what she would do. She answered unequivocally that she would do a helicopter tour. I researched several different options until I found what I considered to the perfect helicopter ride. "Hawaii for Dummies" offered some good advice on what to look for in a helicopter company and we chose "Island Helicopters" (www.islandhelicopters.com). When I booked our Grand Circle Island Tour, Heidi told me there would be a 4% discount if we guaranteed our reservation with a credit card and paid in cash on the day of our flight - pretty much saving us sales tax. They called us a day ahead to confirm our flight. Holly picked us up right at the ship and took us to Lihue airport where we finalized our cash payment with Nikki. Steve then briefed us about the flight. Our pilot Isaac was a wonderful tour guide. He exuded confidence, which was important to me as I was a little nervous about riding in a helicopter. We did not choose the Jurassic Falls landing, but our tour was excellent. Isaac took us in very, very close to the falls and turned the helicopter around so everyone had a good view. He swooped us through the Waimea Canyon and gave us an up close and personal view of the Na Pali coast. It was exhilarating! He narrated through the noise-cancelling headphones in between a beautiful, soothing soundtrack. This was a once in a lifetime experience for us and I found it thoroughly enjoyable. It is NOT scary at all. One couple on our flight had an 11-month old daughter who slept throughout the entire flight. Another passenger, an airplane pilot himself, said it was one of the best flights he had ever been on. We received a CD with a slide show of the sights as an added bonus.
Here's the best part for NCL cruisers - this tour is WAY less expensive than the Mokihana Helicopter tour NCL offers. NCL's tour is $269.99 per person. Island's internet special price (including $30.00 airport surcharge) is $183.00 per person. How can you beat it?
After our flight, we returned to the ship for lunch and then walked over to the beach. It’s about a 5-minute walk. There are plenty of shuttles if you feel you can’t make it. Anchor Cove is a beautiful little protected area. There were lots of paddle-boarders the day we were there.
Nawiliwili, Kauai – Day 6:
Since we had not booked anything in advance, we debated between NCL’s “Director’s Cut” or “Tubing Adventure” tour. We chose the “Director’s Cut”.
We first made a stop at Big Island Candies (www.bigislandcandies.com), a locally owned and operated chocolate shop. Don’t waste your money on Hilo Hattie’s candy. Splurge on this. It is outstanding! Try the samples of candy and Kona coffee they offer. The Milk Chocolate Crunch is phenomenal.
I was very disappointed in the movie tour, though. The description leads you to believe that you are going to see a lot of the island. Not so. Many movies were filmed at the same spots (Hanalei, for example). We drove past The Coco Palms (Elvis’s Blue Hawaii), but were unable to stop there.
The highlight of this trip for me was lunch at a lovely local place called “The Garden Cafe” at the Common Ground (http://cgkauai.net). The food is fresh, healthy, local. The limited menu they offered us was either a fresh fish sandwich, Kauai beef burger, or a grilled vegetable wrap. Both of us chose the excellent burger. It was served with a small salad and baked tropical home fries. The iced tea of the day was ginger. So good, but alas, no refills. After lunch we had time to walk around the gardens, which were kind of Japanese in design. One of the workers was harvesting begonias and offered us a taste. Yes, they’re edible. They taste kind of like pomegranates.
This movie tour is the only one I wouldn’t do again and wouldn’t recommend. It’s overpriced and you don’t see nearly as much as you think you will. I wish we had tubed instead.
Should you choose the tubing adventure, it might be better to book it on your own. NCL’s is $159.99 per person. www.kauai-tubing.com (866-482-9775) has it for $88.25, but you must provide your own transportation. They are about 3.6 miles north if the pier. Tom Barefoot has it for $91.99 but, again, you must provide your own transportation. The woman at Tom Barefoot said taxis are plentiful at the pier when the cruise ships are docked. http://www.tombarefootshawaiitoursactivities.com/product.php?id=2281&name=Tubing_Adventure
For an video, go to http://video.search.yahoo.com/video/play?p=tubing%20the%20ditch%20kauai&tnr=21&vid=1081013895689&l=199&turl=http%3A%2F%2Fts2.mm.bing.net%2Fvideos%2Fthumbnail.aspx%3Fq%3D1081013895689%26id%3D20bf9f3f3b08dd45df266fda3021f1df%26bid%3DvzzJvM0svLd1Ag%26bn%3DThumb%26url%3Dhttp%253a%252f%252fwww.youtube.com%252fwatch%253fv%253dHe0tFMhwV48&rurl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DHe0tFMhwV48&sigr=11ae8prhr&newfp=1&tit=Tubing+the+Ditch+-+Kauai%2C+Hawaii
Kona, Hawaii – Day 4:
At Kona, it is necessary to take a tender to the shore and NCL has a very efficient system for tendering. Guests on an NCL excursion go first. Everyone else gets a tender ticket. Things move along very smoothly. We didn’t book an excursion of any sort. We took the tender over and spent our time browsing in the shops, sightseeing (Royal family’s summer “palace” is right on the seafront), and eating. We had good pizza at Boston Basil’s (www.bostonbasils.com) and shave ice at Scandinavian (www.scandinavianshaveice.com). “If it isn’t Scandinavian, it’s not Hawaiian” is their motto. How funny is that?
Kona is the land of the Ironman Triathlon. There are lots of very fit people running and biking all over the place. There are shops dedicated to Ironman wear.
For you Harley Davison fans, there is a dealership (Harley Davidson Kailua-Kona) within walking distance from the pier, but it’s uphill.
Of all the ports, this was my least favorite. Something about it reminded me of Venice Beach. It had a 60’s vagrant hippies feel to it.
Kahului, Maui - Day 1:
We had breakfast at the Aloha Cafe, then went on our Road to Hana tour. After reading many reviews and doing some internet research, I chose Valley Isle (www.tourmaui.com) for the tour rather than book through NCL. We saved a total of $56.00 for both of us in the bargain. We met Wally in the parking lot just outside of the terminal and he gave us a very thorough tour. Wally is a native of Oahu, but has lived and raised his family on Maui for the past 30 years so he really knows the area. He stopped frequently and graciously photographed us at various points of interest. We drove through Paia, where Willie Nelson is a regular. We learned that Jim Nabors has a huge macadamia nut farm near Hana and that Kris Kristofferson lives right across the road. Wally's children go to school with Kris Kristofferson's and Woody Harrelson's children. We learned that Oprah is buying up much of Maui to preserve it and save it from the developers. We swam at the Pools of O'heo and walked through a lava tube adjacent to a black sand beach. We had lunch at a botanical garden where we purchased a plumeria plant that I am currently trying to root. Finally we had a wine tasting at Tedeschi Winery. (Remind me to never buy wine while on vacation again. You can't ship wine to PA thanks to the LCB and Delta wanted to charge us $90.00 extra because our bag was over 50 lbs.) Wally also provided us with plenty of soft drinks and water along the way. My new favorite: Aloha Maid Passion Orange. Ono (delicious)!
The Road to Hana is a worthwhile trip. We saw lots of native plants and numerous waterfalls. The road is very windy and narrow, but the views are breathtaking. At some points you are right on the cliffside with nothing but a two-foot rock wall to keep you from going over. I'm glad we had a professional driver instead of driving it ourselves. While I guess there is a certain thrill to that, I don't think you'd get to enjoy the scenery as much since you'd be busy trying to navigate the road.
Kahului, Maui - Day 2:
We hadn't really planned anything for the 2nd day on Maui. We wanted to get a feel for it and then make a decision. We took NCL's Lahaina on Your Own tour. We were told a taxi to and from Lahaina would take about 45 minutes each way and would cost approximately $150.00 roundtrip. NCL's trip was $29.99 per person, so it was a deal. We took the afternoon excursion. Lahaina is a beautiful little town nestled between the ocean and the mountains. The view in any direction is spectacular. There's lots of shopping, watersports, and restaurants. (To clarify the conflicting information we got on the ship: there is a Harley Davidson dealership near the port. I believe you can take the Walmart shuttle and then walk from there. There is a Harley retail shop in Lahaina.) We had two burgers, two soft drinks, one side of sweet potato fries at the original Cheeseburger in Paradise for $35.00. (Read the history on the menu.) We also had real Hawaiian shave ice. Mine was passion orange, banana, and pineapple - great combo. We visited Hilo Hattie's and got some chocolate macadamia nut candy. (See Day 6 for more on candy.)