My husband and I just returned from a 2 week vacation to Hawaii with our 7 year old daughter that included the 7 day cruise aboard the Pride of America.
Prior to the cruise we spend 4 nights at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Waikiki. This let us recover from our jet lag (after flying to Honolulu from Toronto, Canada) in a 1 bedroom suite. We loved the manager's reception with a live band and free drinks each evening, as well as the complementary breakfast buffet this morning. There is a large AAA (or CAA) discount that saved us over $200 on this visit and made the hotel more affordable. The hotel is located a short walk from the beach right in the middle of the action in Waikiki and we could walk to most of the sites we wanted to see.
The embarkation process was very efficient, considering we arrived at shortly after 12pm, which is an extremely busy time. The large lineup was processed quite quickly, and there were Hawaiian dancers to entertain us in line. My daughter was delighted to receive a fresh flower lei and flower for her hair.
Freestyle Cruising and Food
This was our first time with Norwegian Cruise line, and we loved that we were free to eat anytime we wanted. This is much better for a family with young children. Kid favourites such as grilled cheese and pizza were available for our picky eater.
We found the food in the buffet to generally be quite good, although some nights my husband found that they were lacking in vegetarian items. The food in the two main dining rooms was generally good, although sometimes it was quite poor. We found that ordering the special of the day was usually a good bet, while ordering the items that are always available - such as the roasted chicken, was a bad idea as these tended to be poor quality (the roast chicken was dry, rubbery and extremely unappetizing).
We chose this cruise because it is the only one to depart from Honolulu and cruise the Hawaiian islands. The port-intensive cruise was wonderful and was the easiest way for us to experience the other islands.
We had cabin 8578, a mid-ship balcony. We chose this cabin to help reduce sea-sickness, and found that it was not very rocky, even when cruising fast on the open ocean. Also, the accessibility of fresh air from the balcony was very helpful with sea-sickness. This cabin gave us great views of the Napali coast during the sail-by, and also a nice view of the mountains when docked in Kaui. The cabin had a few maintenance issues, such as a broken door and a door lock that sticks - but these were minor problems that did not detract from our experience.
My daughter loved the kid's program, which is complementary each evening between 6pm and 10:30pm. During afternoons at port and between 10:30 and 1:30am, there is a charge for the club (we did not use this paid service). The kid club staff were very nice, although the room is quite small, and there are fun programs each night between 7 and 10pm, such as pirate night, scavenger hunts, spy night, and silly games night. My only issue with the club is that the nightly activities end at 10pm, which was very late for my 7 year old to go to bed, and she was very sad if we picked her up at the club before the activity was finished.
The ship has two Hawaiian cultural ambassadors, who offer talks, hula lessons and classes such as lei-making all week long. We found they really enhanced our experience on the ship, and were a wonderful way for my daughter to learn a bit about Hawaiian culture. She took part in their hula lessons all week, which culminated in a wonderful show on Friday afternoon, where everyone who took hula lessons performed and graduated with a special certificate. We also loved the lei making classes.
We attended two shows during the week - the Polynesian show and the Rock a hul luau. We really enjoyed both - the Polynesian show highlighted dancing and music from the various Polynesian islands, and was very fun and entertaining. The Rock a hula luau was an original NCL musical featuring updated Elvis music, and we found it to be really fun and great for our 7 year old daughter.
We chose to walk off the ship with our luggage, rather than go through the process of getting luggage tags and leaving our bags in the hall. This meant we could leave whenever we wanted, which was great. We had breakfast at the buffet and walked off the ship at 9am and went straight to the shuttle waiting area, where we caught a thrifty shuttle to the airport for our car rental within about 15 minutes.
After the cruise we rented a condo at Turtle Bay Estates in the Oahu North Shore for 3 nights. This was a great way to relax after such a busy cruise. We got to explore the North Shore beaches, and enjoyed attractions such as the Dole plantation, which has the world's largest maze (which our daughter loved) and Koalua ranch, where did a fun jungle expedition and movie tour, and my daughter had a kid's horseback ride.
Overall, this was the trip of a lifetime, and we had a wonderful time.