Hawaii on NCL Pride of America September 9-19,2009 This is a summary of the detailed review below of our cruise/land arrangements to Hawaii September 9-19, 2009. We flew through Denver per travel agent advice via United Air and the flight was uneventful. We spent the first two days on Oahu, staying at the Sheraton Waikiki, a wonderful hotel, perfectly located, (newly renovated/updated) in our opinion, an upgrade to our tour package, for a modest price. Our land arrangements those days were through Globus and could not have been better. We sailed NCL's Pride of America and, particularly, given the fact that it is the only ship now working the Hawaiian islands, the cruise was fantastic. The crew was courteous and responsive and in one instance, a crew member actually argued with us over an additional tip we wished to give. (This is an American flagged ship and I was led to believe the crew is union with full benefits, unlike some other flagged vessels, so that tipping is "discouraged".) You should note that a daily "tip" of about $10-11, if I remember correctly, is included in your bill and unfortunately labeled as "discretionary", which means that where it goes is up to NCL, not you, a fact that escaped some people on the boat who complained incessantly about it. (There were some nights I questioned the quality of the cruisers, not the crew!) The ports of call were awesome, the weather was perfect, and our tour selection worked out wonderfully. We would heartily recommend this cruise to anyone who wants to sample the Hawaiian islands without packing and unpacking. Our only regret is that we did not tack on an extra day or two at the end to spend a little more time on Oahu and in Honolulu. For more detail, read on.
September 9, 2009 We booked this trip (land/cruise) through a travel agent. She recommended Globus to arrange the details on Oahu. Seven in our group, all adults, no children. Flew United Air through Denver to Honolulu. Flight was full. Met by Globus representative at Honolulu Intl. Airport. Friendly, courteous greeting. Everyone got a Lei. A Globus van (they use Roberts for all transportation) took us to the Sheraton Waikiki, (we upgraded from package to be on the beach and we were glad we did), still going through extensive exterior remodeling. Interior had been completed, together with new infinity pool (adults only but another bigger pool for families) which was wonderful. Working on exterior when we departed. Fast check in. Clipboarded assistants in spacious lobby to answer questions of the hotel. Assigned room 1158. Fabulous view of Diamond Head and Waikiki Beach from our room and balcony. Rushed downstairs for warm weather and exploration of the beach. Walked over to legendary Duke's, right on the beach, for lunch and sat on the patio. Courteous and friendly staff. 3 piece combo played happy hour music. Food good but typical of a bar/restaurant setting. Evening stroll through downtown Honolulu. Lots of shopping. Plenty of ABC stores, like convenience stores, but more upscale. Stopped in Rum Fire bar on our return to the Hotel. (Rachel Ray just did a piece on it on Food Network.) Great, open air, bar with 101 rums. Music and drink ended our first wonderful day even with the travel.
September 10, 2009 Breakfast buffet in Sheraton's Kai Restaurant was wonderful: eggs, cheeses, cereal, fruit, bacon, sausages - just everything. Our waitress, Moni (Linda) was terrific and we asked for her each morning. She would give us tips on things to do and what we could expect. We walked to the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani, which you book if you don't upgrade, for our first tour. There we were met by Debbi, the Globus representative, who was just awesome. She went over our arrangements, gave us her cell phone number, told us things to do and what to avoid. I have never seen anything like it - she was just extremely knowledgeable and helpful. Travelled by bus from there to Pearl Harbor stopped several times for pick ups at other hotels. Bus driver, William, very knowledgeable. Got great exposure to greater Honolulu. At Pearl Harbor Debbi had warned us no bags, packages, purses etc allowed in. Must be able to fit items in pockets. Moving tour of Pearl. After video, launch takes you from shore to Memorial. You are asked to treat the area with the respect accorded a graveyard. Battleship Missouri is parked behind Memorial but not accessible from tour. Left Pearl and went to Ulani Palace, City Hall, Government offices. Returned to hotel for day at the pool/beach and some shopping in Honolulu by ladies. Evening dinner buffet at hotel, again wonderful selection, hot food. Walked over to Outrigger Waikiki Hotel to see Society of Seven cabaret show where Debbi met us. Entertaining show, but not very long, about an hour. Returned to our hotel and had a drink at the bar on the top floor. Another great day.
September 11, 2009 Picked up a rental van through Budget with pick up within walking distance of our hotel to drive to Diamond Head and the country side. Got a nice Dodge van seating 7. We climbed Diamond Head. The climb is rigorous but non-experienced hikers can do it if they take it easy. Go early as it gets very hot during the climb. Trails form the initial part of the climb, mostly paved. Then you traverse about 280 steps. The access winds around at the top with a spiral staircase which is a little daunting. The observation areas at top are crowded. (We get 2 cell calls up here, one from a friend back home and the other a wrong number!) The wind up there that day was somewhat disconcerting/scary. The views are spectacular, especially that of Honolulu. After that we met Bridget, a cousin of one of our group, and headed to the Dole Plantation and the North Shore of Oahu. The Plantation is really nothing special and we could have skipped it. The Pineapple Express was a somewhat interesting tour of the plantation. However, pineapples are not grown on Hawaii to any large extent anymore and Dole does not use the plantation as a principal growth farm. The Plantation has a large gift shop so its mostly commercialized, tourist stuff. After Dole we continue toward the North Shore and stop at a small restaurant/shopping area. There are a couple of restaurants there and we opt for Breakers where we have a nice lunch of mostly mainland-style bar food. Then we head to Wiamea Valley Park. We get there just before the swimming is to end at Wiamea Falls and run/walk (kind of like Amazing Race) to get back to the Falls before closure at 5 p.m. There is a fee to get in but it was pretty modest due to the late hour. The vegetation is fabulous. The Park was used for several movies, including Jurassic Park. We brought our towels to swim at the Falls. We arrive to find the lifeguards still on duty and we ask if we can just have a quick swim. They are very friendly and say we have plenty of time another 20-30 minutes. Everyone grabs a "kick board" and in we go. A lot of fun swimming up to the Falls and standing under them. Friends who don't join us take pictures from the shore. We are very grateful toward the life guards for the opportunity. From there we drive to the North Shore to catch the sunset, going past the popular Jamison's which is right on the water. The North Shore waves are fabulous and we stop to stand on the beach to watch the sunset and take pictures. It's beautiful and a lot of locals are gathered around with us to watch the end of the day and finish up surfing in the twilight. We return to Honolulu and try to get into the Yard House to eat but it's an hour wait so we eat outside, which everyone liked better anyway, at the outdoor bar of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel next to the Sheraton, a great way to end another great day.
September 12, 2009 We spent the morning at the Hotel pool. The Roberts bus came to the hotel to pick us up for transfer to the dock. Debbi was there to see us off and wish us well. The driver was a little goofy, trying to be funny, and had a language issue. After several stops we arrived at the pier. We took our bags over to a loading area and they were quickly taken away. Check in was very smooth, but the line was long. Disappointing that the embarkation pictures only allowed 4 at a time. We wanted our 7 but once we saw the cost, probably would not have gotten one anyway. The staff on the ship were friendly and courteous. When we get to our room's deck (Cabin 9518, portside, forward, balcony) the luggage was lined up in the hallway for all cabins in our area. We helped ourselves to our own. The cabin was very nice with much in the way of storage areas with a fridge, a small safe (big enough for some jewelry, wallets and small cameras) and small desk area and loveseat. The balcony was spacious with a regular deck chair with high back and a chaise lounge that I napped on one afternoon after an early tour. The room had some leftover trash in the can and a bottle opener that needed some cleaning but all else was very nicely made up. (We later learned that the staff has 2 hours to turn around all the cabins on the day of departure.) We ate in the more formal large dining room, the Liberty, which we found a little to "stuffy" for us. The food that first evening was fair to good. The wait staff was pleasant but a little overwhelmed. After dinner, we checked out the shopping, had a drink in the Key West Grill and then headed to our cabin to finish unpacking and to get some rest.
September 13, 2009 The ship arrived in Maui and the approach to the dock was beautiful. We got a shuttle to the Alamo car rental facility. Were told at the desk that the last shuttle returned to the pier by 9 p.m. We had a date at the Old Lahaina Luau that might run over. But you can get a cab that will call for you from the nearby airport about 10 mins. away to take you back to the ship if you miss the shuttle. Things went well at Alamo. They offer a GPS for $11 but we brought our own from home (it's great as a handheld walking pathfinder). The drive to Lahaina was very nice. We stopped at the first scenic overlook and spoke to some "free divers" with spear guns. We also visited the Black Sand beach. In Lahaina we took in the shopping and ate at Lahaina Fish Co./Hammerheads Bar and had a great lunch. We next stopped at a nearby Black Beach and then went to Black Rock near the Sheraton just north of Lahaina. Did some ocean bathing on a beautiful day. Changing room there allowed all to change prior to Luau. We headed back to Lahaina and stopped at Whaler's Village so that the shoppers could shop. The guys found a place at the bar at Leilani's on the Beach, in Whaler's Village, which was beautiful and the bartenders great and had a few while watching the NFL games. Proceeded to Lahaina for the Old Lahaina Luau which was very nice. The wait staff was extremely pleasant and the food good (except for the poi which was the "runny-tourist version". Plenty of alcoholic drinks for the price. The show was very good. We got back to Alamo around 9:30 and the shuttle was still there and the driver promised he would wait for us. We quickly turned in our vehicle and were back on board the ship by 10 p.m. for a nightcap.
September 14, 2009 Up at 2:15 a.m. for our tour to take us to Haleakala to see the sunrise. We are told by one couple that this is their third attempt to see it. Each time before the cloud cover was too great. Spouse takes her coat. I wear 100 weight fleece with wicking garment underneath and long pants. We both wear knit hats and gloves. Each of us has a flashlight. It's cold, but not too cold. Temp is around 50 degrees. Jim, our tour driver is very nice and informative. He really respects what we are about to see. Our tour bus holds about 20. We have 17. There are buns, coffee and hot chocolate on the bus if we want to wait until the last minute to get to observation area. DON'T WAIT - head right for the observation area if you can. We waited for 5:30 when the visitor center opened. We go through it to a spot outside the visitor center. People scramble for best observation/photography spot. Some are so rude. They want to stand right in front of us but we ask them to move away and most do so without saying anything. Predawn is awesome but at 6:06 a.m. the sun comes up and it is fabulous. It is only partly cloudy and in the crater below us float hundreds of clouds. It is a fantastic sight. Jim brings us back down the mountain and we stop at a couple of observation points and then a snack/souvenir stand. We get back to the ship at about 9:30 or 10 a.m. and get some breakfast and just chill for the ship is sailing in the afternoon. That night we eat in the Skyline dining room. It is the "free style" dining room and any reasonable attire is permitted. Things are busy and we have a good meal with good, courteous wait staff. We did not eat in any of the "cover" restaurants. We felt it unnecessary to pay additional money to have our meals and we enjoyed being together at a big table with good food, not gourmet or overly fancy. In the mornings we took our breakfast from the Aloha cafe on the fantail of the ship. You get your food inside and can enjoy the wonderful, bug free, weather sitting outside on Deck 12.
September 15, 2009 We had some excitement. Two travelers were taken off our ship with "intestinal disorder". The ship went into its "service mode" which meant that all buffet food service areas are "masked" with plastic wrap and you may not serve yourself - only the staff may serve you. This is in response to the H1N1 threat. The possibility of a higher required response level from the ship was confirmed by one of our friends who travelled with us and worked for U.S. Health and Human Services. Although an inconvenience, we felt it better to be safe than sorry. Everyone still got the same amount of food and the servers were very, very pleasant.
Today is the "Secrets of Puna" tour. We have made a lot of jokes about the name amongst ourselves but by the end of the day we will have taken one of the most fabulous tours of any we have ever been on. The tour is booked through the ship with Kapohokine Tours. When we get off the ship our 7 are together and ready to go. April claims us as her group and brings her Lincoln Navigator, which sat us all comfortably, around to pick us up and off we go. We immediately hit it off with her. She is knowledgeable, attractive and has a great personality. The women adore her, especially as the mother of 3. She says she lives on a ranch near Kilauea Volcano. She tells us we have the first clear, beautiful day in quite some time. We stop at the "painted church" which has beautiful interior painting. It's the church of Father Damian whose statute sits outside the state office building in Honolulu. A little odd in light of church/state separation but he is recognized as someone who helped everyone, no matter what their religious affiliation, belief or lack thereof. Across the street is the Noni Factory, a homeopathic remedy that we try but I don't care for. No one buys any. We next visit the Kapaluna lava flow area. Breathtaking with steam rising off in the distance from an active lava flow from Kilauea. In the car, April gives us something to read and we listen to a CD describing the devastation of the town that was once there when Kilauea erupted years ago. Walking on the cooled lava flow at Kapaluna is awesome. Next we head to Mackenzie Park for some fabulous views of the Ocean. Then on to Puna Girl Ranch to view the ranch's floral offerings and enjoy the view at a gazebo dedicated exclusively to our tour and lunch. Another tour group from the same company is there with us. We have Macadamia nuts (all you can eat, still in the shell) and a wonderful lunch of Huli chicken, beer, mimosas and vegetables all freshly cooked on the grill by our tour people and the ranch owner. We are taken next to a Black Sand beach where there is loose Peridot to be found. The women are fascinated as April helps them find the semi-precious gem bits. We tear ourselves away and proceed to a roadside stand that sells white pineapple and stopped to buy some. Then we travelled to Lava Tree State Park and saw some of the plant life that was affected by lava flows. We end the day with swimming and snorkeling (they supplied snorkels, masks and water shoes) in a lagoon not far from the ship's dock. It is fed by a spring and the ocean so the water was both warm in spots and chilly in others but it felt great. That night we established our "spot" at the Waikiki Bar, Deck 13, on the fantail of the ship, always our favorite spot, and Jennifer, our server, who was simply fabulous, made sure our drinks kept coming while we whiled away the evening prior to dinner. After dinner, the ship sailed past the Kilauea lava flow and it was fabulous (although pictures were hard to get because of the movement and the distance at night) but even better was when the Captain turned out the lights on deck and we could see all the stars. What a terrific experience.
September 16, 2009 Our first tender port is Kona. The tendering over goes smoothly. At the dock I use my GPS to get our bearings and navigate a walk. (It is really hard to get a car rental in Kona, you have to book WAY in advance and the car rental area is not near the tender dock.) Really, there is not much opportunity to get lost. Getting off the tender and turning right from the dock onto the main street there is a small beach immediately next to the pier with no one on it. It is a nice beach but not fantastic. Certainly you could sun there if you wanted. The shopping along the main street is okay but nothing terribly fancy. There are a number of bars and restaurants. Some of the merchants seem anxious for customers. After walking through the downtown area we journey up a hill to Hilo Hatties (a big upscale souvenir chain in Hawaii) for some souvenirs and they are very gracious about the use of the bathrooms. They hand out some free shell necklaces which is a nice touch. After Hilo Hatties we walk over to Kona Brewing Co. to tour the brewery. You have to sign up when you arrive at the brewery as they won't take any more than 8 or 9 at a time. There is also a nice restaurant there. We get a sampler of some of the beers. All beer at that brewery stays on the islands according to Randy, our tour leader. Kona beers for the west coast and east coast are brewed in Oregon and New Hampshire, respectively, by recipe. This "contract brewing" goes on with many smaller brands of beer. Melissa, our waitress is very nice. After a filling lunch (the portions are huge) those of us who want to take the tour do so. Very interesting with some free samples at the end. No charge for the tour which takes about 45 minutes. The day is hot and we decide to return to the ship which will be leaving on an early departure. The tender line is somewhat long but moves very quickly and we are joking with some of the passengers so things move along nicely. The tender crew compliments everyone for cooperating to keep things moving. That afternoon we remain at the Waikiki Bar playing card games and enjoying the weather. That night we visit the Lanai Martini Bar, one of the favorite places for us on the boat, Deck 12 forward, I think. It is richly paneled like a New York establishment and that night they have half price "specials" on certain martinis. (This happened almost every night, during certain hours, in an attempt to get cruisers to use this "hidden gem".)
September 17, 2009 Today's port is Kauai the scene of our Heaven and Earth tour through Sunshine Helicopters. The helo rides are seat assigned by weight and don't be offended because my spouse found they add ten pounds to everyone's "stated" weight. (You have to turn in a form at the excursion desk on the ship with that information on it.) Unfortunately, and to the dismay of my spouse, because we are lighter than most, we are separated from our friends and placed in another group with "Domi" as a tour leader. In the end, this worked for the best since it kept those who really needed to stay together, together. Our helo ride is set for first thing in the a.m. Our friends are doing the "earth" part of the tour first and flying later on. (The helo flights take place all day long.) In the end, we could have just settled for the helo ride, which was fabulous. The earth part was longer than we would have liked and somewhat unusual, but fun, thanks to Domi. Steve Schaefer is our pilot. (They operate two choppers and that day the other was flown by the company owner's son.) Boarding is by a set procedure they use and is easy. There are 8 of us. Steve advises that he has flown for and with many movie stars, was a Blackhawk pilot in Vietnam and the island's only ordained pilot/minister. He recently flew a couple in the reality show The Bachelorette, he says, and could have recently married a couple on the show (remember Reed, he says?) but the bachelor got jilted. Steve's voice is very smooth. He points out the camera in the helicopter which is recording us from the inside. (There is also at least one external camera.) Steve backs us off the landing pad for a just awesome flight covering almost the entire island: new Marriott development near the docks, Na Pali Coast, the valleys and falls and mountains (we can see the other chopper up ahead), Barking Sand Beach, all with running commentary (we can hear him through our headsets but cannot talk to him) about the island. The flight is just great and passes quickly and we are soon on the ground after about 45 minutes. From there Domi takes us to the "headquarters" of the tour operator where you can buy T shirts and other souvenirs as well as a DVD of the flight, which we bought and thoroughly enjoyed although my spouse and I laughed at the way we looked on the cockpit camera. (We sat right in front with Steve.) Domi then takes on the earth part of the island tour. We catch the Falls, the lighthouse, the Secret Beach (there is no one there and it is beautiful!) and the homes of Stallone and Willis (yes, the celebrities' Hawaiian villas, and we only pass by - no stopping). Domi also takes us to his home and shows us his pet pig "Omar". We have lunch with Subway sandwiches (so much for island cuisine) at park nearby the Stallone and Willis locations and then Domi makes us sing and shows us how to perform the hula. Our friends enjoyed their experience on their tour but may have seen less than us. We pass several golf courses on the way back to the ship. A warning that when the sun is out it is very hot and I would have not enjoyed a golf excursion, personally, unless it was very early in the morning. We are back to the ship in the late afternoon and get some dinner. Steve's (our pilot's) son is the bar tender at another Duke's located on the island about a 10-15 minute walk from the pier, just behind a small strip mall, next to the Marriott, (past Nawiliwili Park) and his son in law is the manager. We walk over to have a drink without our friends who are too tired. The walk is okay but somewhat dark but we have flashlights and no one bothers us going or coming even though we run into some young people hanging out. At Duke's we sit at the open air bar on the beach and enjoy the final moments of our day out.
September 18 We went to the beach in front of Duke's and the Marriott today before our ship sailed. A nice sandy, hot beach. There was a rental stand there to get some chairs and, if you wanted two attached chaises with an umbrella in between. The beach chairs were great, practically brand new. The beach was clean, with a shaded grassy area behind it, and had a smooth bottom, no water shoes needed here. We stopped at the strip mall to do some shopping. Again the ubiquitous ABC store was encountered but there were some nicer shops as well. That evening the ship took us along the Na Pali Coast, turned around and sailed back down it to return to Oahu. What a sight of the cliffs in the setting sun! Just breathtaking. It was very windy on deck so we retreated for our nightcaps to the Lanai Martini Bar where our wonderful server, Valerie, took care of us. (By the way, the ship's officer in charge of all the ship's bars, stopped to visit with us one night and asked for some suggestions to get more travelers into the newly revamped Lanai. Following our conversation he "comped" us! What a charming guy!)
September 19, 2009 We returned to Oahu this morning. Our plane is leaving late and we are very sad to have to go. The trip has been wonderful. Our agent suggested renting a van, touring the island somewhat, and then returning to an inexpensive room in a hotel near the car rental location where we could use the bathroom and freshen up. We used National Car Rental and took a room at the nearby Best Western, within walking distance of the car rental location, and that worked out great. Our van, again, was a very nice one, same as before, and off we went to explore the southeast coast of the island. First stop was Hanauma Bay. You had to pay to use the beach but the parking area is just a dollar and the paths provide a fabulous view of the Bay. The next stop was the Halona Blow Hole with great views of the coast. We drove up the coast for awhile looking for a place to eat and stumbled upon the Ho'omaluhia Botanical Gardens. What a find! It's a little off the beaten track, you have to enter through a residential neighborhood, and the sign for the place is small and comes up quickly but it is absolutely gorgeous. With over 400 acres there is plenty to see. And there was a Hawaiian wedding there that day as well which was fascinating! We took H3 down to Park Ridge Center still in search of lunch, nothing appealed to us, when we realized there was an air show going on after one of the jets thundered right overhead. From there we jumped back on the causeway to our digs - deciding to get some snacks, beer and wine while we waited to leave for the airport. The hotel shuttle took us for the 10 min. ride to the airport and we were on our way back home via United Air. What a great, fabulous trip. We would recommend this cruise to anyone, but be sure you do your planning. Read Less