27 Honolulu Spring Break Cruise Reviews

This turned out to be a longer review than anticipated. Hopefully someone reading this will get an idea or two for their trip. Most of the things that we did we learned from reading reviews and posts on Cruise Critic. BACKGROUND INFO My ... Read More
This turned out to be a longer review than anticipated. Hopefully someone reading this will get an idea or two for their trip. Most of the things that we did we learned from reading reviews and posts on Cruise Critic. BACKGROUND INFO My wife and I, from Queens, New York, were on the POA the week of April 3, 2010. This was a vacation in celebration of our 15th Wedding Anniversary and (although my wife didn't know it until we got there - 'see pre-cruise review') a second honeymoon. This is our 7th cruise but first one on NCL (previous were RCI and Carnival). PRE-CRUISE I booked the cruise myself via NCL.com and looked online for the best airfare available. The Delta flight from Laguardia Airport to Honolulu via Atlanta went smoothly. We arrived on Thursday at 1:30 PM and proceeded to the Thrifty car rental shuttle area. A few months back I researched and found Thrifty to have the best rental car prices. I also signed up for their free Blue Chip Membership for ease and speed at check-in. Once on the packed shuttle in Oahu the driver asked if anyone was Blue Chip, I was the only one so he took my name. When we arrived at the car location there were huge lines at the counters. I was told to go to the special Blue Chip line - no wait as I was the only one. Once there, they had the car and paperwork all ready prepared based on my reservation and member profile info. Literally within 10 min of walking in the door I was sitting in my rental car while the first person in that long line was still signing forms. This was the same exact case at each Thrifty location in Hawaii. GO BLUE CHIP! We had rented a beautiful cottage on the beach along the northeast shore in Ka'a'Awa from http://www.vrbo.com/47077. It was called Paradise and I have to say that is an understatement. The fully furnished house with French doors overlooking the ocean and our own semi-private beach was romantic to say the least. On the way to the beach cottage we had stopped off K-Mart and a supermarket for groceries. After cooking up some steaks in the fully furnished kitchen we relaxed listening to the water and enjoying the view. We awoke at 5:30 am each morning just to watch the sun rise over the ocean horizon. It was like we had stepped inside a postcard. That first morning, as we were laying on the beach chairs soaking up the sun, my wife learned of the little surprise that I had for her. Since it was our 15th Wedding Anniversary I had arranged for a Hawaiian style Vow Renewal Ceremony at our beach paradise http://www.sweethawaiiwedding.com/ . She was totally surprised and engulfed in tears. The package included a minister who announced the wedding by facing the sea and blowing the conch followed by the recital of a Hawaiian wedding chant. We exchanged Hawaiian style vows and participated in a lei exchange ceremony (both flowered and beaded). There was also a photographer who took 125 pictures (and burned us a CD on the spot) and toasted us with champagne. VERY ROMANTIC and a great way to start off our SECOND Honeymoon. After the ceremony we headed over to the Polynesian Cultural Center, which was only 20 min away. We spent the afternoon visiting the different "islands" and seeing the various shows. We had the Ambassador package which included a personal tour guide, shell lei greeting, Luau dinner buffet and great seats to the evening show -HA Breath of life. A very nice way to get a taste of not only the Hawaiian culture but of the other Polynesian islands as well. I suggest that you get there no later than 1 to see all the shows and demos. The next morning, after watching another beautiful sunset and enjoying our deck and beach, we headed to Pearl Harbor but unfortunately by the time we got there we couldn't fit the tour into our schedule so we will make it a priority on our next. I heard that unless you get there real early, they open at 730 am, to get a timed ticket, you will have a long wait, or worse be shut out. We headed instead to the Dole Plantation for a pineapple tour on their Pineapple Express train through the plantation. We enjoyed it but it's something you would only do once. After visiting the gift shop we turned our car in and rode the free shuttle to the pier. EMBARKATION We arrived at the pier just after 5:00pm to NO LINES. We were told that most of the passengers had already checked in. This was the fastest embarkation that I have ever done. We walked in, dropped off our luggage, picked up our ship cards and a few minutes later were in our cabin (7618). We had an "obstructed view" - but it was only $10 more than an inside cabin. Having a huge lifeboat outside our window WAS our view on all but the tender day. But that is fine since the only time we spent inside the cabin was to sleep. We had large suitcases but they still fit under the bed. The room had a stocked mini-fridge (which we unstocked and filled with our stuff) and a small couch that I believe might have turned into a small bed -not sure. Our steward, Josephine, immediately greeted us. She was constantly very polite and sweet. She forgot a couple small things over the week but when I mentioned it to her she would immediately stop what she was doing and see to our needs. Some comments on here mentioned that the crew wasn't as friendly but I didn't find that to be the case at all. But of course, I am not demanding and don't "look down" on people in the service industry. I smile and greet the crew members I encounter and actually talk to them. There was an organized Meet and Greet for the Cruise Critic members but unfortunately I missed it. I heard the captain and the department heads, including the cruise director and Executive Chef were there along with some food and drink. I was told that they seemed concerned about our opinions and assured us that they DO read the comments on Cruise Critic. They handed out their They even invited us to an evaluation meeting on Friday to get our feedback (which I did attend). We missed the muster drill but there was a make-up one on Sunday - unfortunately we were planning to still be ashore in Maui. A crew member confidentially told me that I don't have to go but I should make sure that I know where my muster station was. MEALS We ate all of our breakfasts in the Aloha Cafe. It was crowded each morning so when we entered we looked for seats and I sat down as my wife went to the buffet first. When she returned, I then went (she is a slow eater so it worked out). There was a wide variety of food. Some complaints online were that "it's the same food every morning". That is true HOWEVER they have anything and everything that you could want. I don't know what else they could have served. I thought the variety and flavor was better than RCI and Carnival. My only complaint was the amount of oil in the home fries and hashbrowns. They did have multiple stations with the same food which resulted in faster service. We were recently on Carnival Victory and the lines at the buffet were always so long. The only lunch we had on board was during the last day of the cruise. Again the selection and flavor was better than expected. We did take some fruit and other small items ashore with us for snacks. We split our dinners between the Aloha Cafe, Liberty and Skyline Dining Rooms. We would check the dining room menus first and if nothing caught our fancy we went to the cafe which had different main selections each night along with some standard items (like shrimp cocktails, salad bar, burgers, pasta station, etc.) There was a carving station with two choices each night. We really had no complaints with the food. I did like the dessert choices on RCI and Carnival much more though. But since I am watching my weight it is a good thing I wasn't tempted to have multiple desserts each night. I do love Carnival's chocolate lava cakes though. The menu in the Liberty and Skyline are identical however the Liberty is supposed to be a bit dressier as no shorts are allowed. However I did see people in shorts and t-shirts and nobody said anything. The dining room did take a little longer but the servers were friendly. We had a table for two each time without having to ask. If we wanted to share, we could have requested it. SHIP ACTIVITIES/SHOWS Most nights the main theatre show was at 7pm and again at 930 pm. We usually had dinner at 6pm-ish and caught the early show. The cruise director used to be an opera singer and does perform a few nights in one of the lounges singing Broadway tunes. The main entertainment was all VERY GOOD. The Polynesian Show was a lot of fun. If you are not planning on going to a luau in Hawaii (and shame on you if you don't) then don't miss this show. The Second City improv comedy troup was hilarious as well as the comedian. I find most lesser known magicians lame however Matt Marcy who performed was very good and funny as well (I even bought his DVD after the show). I do suggest a light sweater as it did get a bit chilly in the theater. We were exhausted each night on this port intensive cruise so we didn't do anything else much in the late evening other than relax since we were waking up early each morning. The Hawaiian cultural ambassador hosted a number of classes on board for hula dancing, lei making, etc. We attended the Kahului nut lei making class. Each person received a free kit with the option to buy additional kits of different varieties. We did attend the sailby's of the Napali Coast and the Kilauea lava flow. It is almost impossible to get a good photo of the lava flow but it was fun to watch. Bring a sweater and binoculars. The ship will sell 4x6 photos the next day. Unfortunately we didn't spend much time on the pool deck but there did seem to be lots of live music whenever we passed by. The gym is also very well equipped for those trying to negate all that food. SHORE EXCURSIONS We only booked one of the ship excursions. Trust me that it is much cheaper and you have more freedom to do excursions on your own. I rented a car in every port except for Kona and still saved money rather than using the ship excursions. Plus I got to do multiple excursions on the same day which you can't always do with the ship. The freedom to go when you want as well as being able to pull off to take a pic or stop at a local store is great. If you don't drive or really don't want to rent then I highly suggest Robert's of Hawaii tours. Great selection of tours with many the same as the ship's but cheaper. They have a special site for cruise passengers for excursions to make sure you are back on time: www.gorabbitgo.com MAUI DAY ONE: Caught the Thrifty shuttle at the pier and once again had no wait at the Blue Chip counter. I even got upgraded to a bigger car and it was only $30 a day. We drove to Lahaina with a short stop at the lookout just pass mile marker 8 to view a whale in the distance. We made a stop at Boss Frog's to pick up our tickets for tomorrow's Molokini Snorkel excursion www.bossfrog.com. Our next stop was our 2-hr whale and dolphin watch catamaran cruise with the Pacific Whale Foundation www.pacificwhale.org ($28 per person). Even though it was the end of the season we saw LOTS of whales including behaviors that surprised the marine biologist tour guide we had. One female whale even passed by under our boat. Many others were very close as well. Afterwards we walked along Front street visiting the many interesting shops. There was also an outdoor craft market in the park around the large Banyan tree. DAY TWO: We booked the Molokini Crater snorkel with www.bossfrog.com for $85 pp/ We had to be at Lahaina at 7:15 am to check in. The tour, on their Quicksilver catamaran, included a continental breakfast, BBQ lunch, a snorkel stop at Molokini crater (includes gear and instruction but an additional charge if wetsuits are desired, which I recommend) and a second stop at Turtle Town to swim with the sea turtles. We saw lots of fish and turtles and really had a good time. For an additional charge of $69 they can videotape you underwater and mail you an edited, custom DVD with music. On the way back to shore we had multiple whale spottings and were also treated to a pod of dolphins swimming and leaping alongside the boat. A truly majestic experience. We returned to the dock just after 1 pm. HILO Today was the only day that we had bad weather. It was cloudy and rainy which made our trip to Volcano National Park not the greatest. After a quick stop at Thrifty to pick up our car, we drove to the Visitor Center and watched the short movie and spoke to the park ranger for suggestions on what to do. Crater Rim Drive was closed between Jaggar Museum and the Chain of Craters Road junction due to volcanic activity in Halema'uma'u crater. We received a park map and drove Crater Rim Road to Kilauea's summit caldera and craters and made a few stops to view steam vents. We then continued on to the Jaggar Museum and the Thurston Lava tubes. The first part is lit but if you want to explore the second part you need to bring your own flashlight. Was hoping to do some hiking and see more but the conditions and the rainy weather prevented that. It was still interesting and I will definitely return on my next visit to Hilo. On the way back we stopped off the Mauna Loa factory (I love macadamia nuts). They have a short self guided tour and a nice gift shop which offers samples and sells various products including amazing mac ice cream. After a quick stop at Hilo Hatties we returned our car and took the shuttle back to the ship. KONA This was the only island where we booked a ship excursion. We did the one-hour glass bottom boat tour which was nice. Since this is the only time we had to tender (using POA's lifeboats), everyone (except people with ship excursions) had to get a sticker. We just met in the theater and were escorted onto a boat. Overall it went rather smoothly. Afterwards, we booked a guided tour (from the Surf Shack on the pier). We were the only people signed up for 11:30 am so we had our own private tour with a great guide. We stopped off the Greenwell Coffee farm, which grows the coffee beans that are sold to other companies to roast and sell as Kona coffee. Their tour was very interesting and quite enjoyable. We were able to sample numerous types of coffees (and honey too) before seeing the process first hand. They also grow bananas and oranges in which we were able to "help ourselves" and pick some free samples from the trees. Our next stop was a quick tour of the famed Painted Church before heading to Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park. We saw many archeological sites including temple sites (heiau), some sledding tracks (holua), and old house sites. There is also an open lava tube that ends at the face of a sea cliff. We also spotted green sea turtles in Keone'ele Cove sunning themselves on the beach. We had a very good tour and were happy that we booked it. Upon return we spent some time at the beach near the pier before taking the last tender back to the ship. The line was long but the boats came quickly. KAUAI Once again we took the shuttle to Thrifty and experienced the benefit of Blue Chip Service. Close by was the viewing area for Wailua Falls, made famous as being in the opening sequence of TV's Fantasy Island. There was a lot of rain during the previous week so the water was running quite heavy but unfortunately was also very muddy looking because of it. Our next stop was Blue Hawaiian Helicopter Tours in Lihue. My wife wasn't quite up to a helicopter ride so I did this one alone. Our pilot Kevin was great and the experience was amazing (I even got to sit in the co-pilot seat). We flew in the new eco-star with great viewing areas. The views of Kalalau Valley, Waimea Canyon and the Napali Coast, not to mention the many waterfalls, etc. were just amazing. They also have a 4 camera video recording of your flight (including an inside camera) that they sell after the trip for $25. It includes music in the background as well as the pilot's commentary on what you are seeing. A must buy!! After a quick lunch at a Mexican place in the shopping center where the Blue Hawaiian office is we headed to nearby Poipu. We had reserved a 2 hour beach and valley horseback ride with CJM Country Stables. The horses were well cared for and the trail guide was great. It was a very scenic and relaxing "walking ride". Overnight parking at the pier is limited but at nearby Anchor Cove shopping center they offer parking for Cruise passengers but they charge $20. It is a short walk to the ship or you can take their shuttle. The next day we headed out to go "Tubing the Ditch" booked from www.kauai-tubing.com. This 3 hr water tubing ride down a ditch of a former sugar plantation was a lot of fun. They issue you gloves and a helmet with a miner's light because along the trip there are 5 tunnels that you tube through. A picnic lunch is provided and swimming can be done at the end of the ride. After some last minute shopping, we returned our car and headed back to the ship to hit the buffet and relax on deck. DISEMBARKATION We spent the extra money and took part in the "Easy Fly" program in which you place your luggage outside your cabin at bedtime and don't see it again until your home airport. Since we had a lot of carry-ons, including souvenirs and pineapples, this made things so much easier. We relaxed on board until 9:15 am and had a short line to leave the ship ?. There were plenty of taxi's at the pier as we headed to the airport for our trip home. We didn't get jetlagged on the way to Hawaii but coming home we were messed up for a few days. IN CONCLUSION My wife put it best when she told me that - "this was our BEST vacation ever!". In eight years we are planning on selling our house in New York and were going to move somewhere in Virginia or North Carolina. After this trip we are seriously considering a move to Hawaii. We met so many people who came to visit years ago, fell in love with the land, the people and Hawaii's "Spirit of Aloha" that they just packed up and moved there. I can totally understand why. If you reached this point in this long review, Congratulations and Mahalo! Read Less
Sail Date April 2010
Let me start by saying that this was my third trip to Hawaii but my husband's first, so we did all the "touristy" things for his benefit. As a result, he enjoyed the trip much more than I did...but I'm the one writing ... Read More
Let me start by saying that this was my third trip to Hawaii but my husband's first, so we did all the "touristy" things for his benefit. As a result, he enjoyed the trip much more than I did...but I'm the one writing the review. We stayed in Honolulu at the Hawaii Prince for 4 days before the cruise. We got a really discounted rate online and, for the money, the room was great, the bed comfortable, the shuttle service really handy, and when waiting for the arrival of the tsunami on the morning of March 1, 2010, we wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else but our "front-row" seat by the yacht basin. Waikiki is fun, the weather was perfect, and we rented a car all four days to drive around the island. (Rental cars are amazingly cheap in Honolulu.) Take your GPS with you; it really simplifies navigating. Nightlife in Honolulu is surprisingly limited but I would HIGHLY recommend the MAGIC IN POLYNESIA show at the Ohana Beachrider Hotel. (Don't have dinner; just go for the show.) After seeing their Polynesian dancers, fire dancer, and a truly beautiful hula (I'm generally not a "fan" of the hula), we were spoiled for all other "polynesian" shows on the islands. But even if we had NOT been spoiled by the MAGIC OF POLYNESIA show, we would have nevertheless hated GERMAINE'S LUAU. I attended this big, commercial luau thirty years ago and thought, at the time, that it was fun. Unfortunately, nothing seems to have changed in 30 years...and I mean NOTHING!!! I think the same entertainers are still there with the same outdated, corny jokes and pathetic audience participation. Honestly, it was like watching an old Arthur Godfrey TV show--you remember the ones where he had that stupid ukelele and the fake flower lei around his neck. And it wasn't just me feeling that way. The late-20's-something woman across the table from me leaned over and asked how much longer the show would last. I told her that it would soon be over, but then we would have to endure the painful bus ride back to the hotels with all the bad jokes and singing ("I'm a lollipop...than a sucker like you") DO NOT EVEN THINK ABOUT GOING TO THIS SHOW...YOU WILL REGRET IT! The morning of the cruise, we were awakened at 6:00am by the tsunami warning, and the next 5 hours were the most exciting I've ever experienced on a vacation...at least until 11:05am when we watched the 6-inch tsunami wave hit the shores of Hilo. (Ok, it was a non-event, but in retrospect, we are certainly grateful that the tsunami did not materialize as predicted.) Of course a tsunami warning will disrupt any vacation, but it will wreak havoc on a cruise vacation. The pier where the Pride of America was to dock was closed and we watched the ship sail back and forth a few miles offshore for several hours. We called NCL several times but they were unable to give us any updates until the tsunami warning was cancelled at 3:00pm. The hotel was great and let us stay in our room until 3:00pm when we received word from the cruise lines that the ship would, indeed, be boarding that evening. (BTW: We booked through Travelocity and they contacted us right at 3:00pm to advise us that boarding would take place later that evening; other cruise passengers we talked with had been erroneously told by their travel agents that the cruise was canceled.) Boarding was a nightmare, but I have to give NCL "kudos" for prepping the ship and getting all of us underway by 11:00pm considering the events of the day. The weather on this cruise was far from ideal...very windy, cloudy, frequently cold and rainy, and the seas were quite rough. We had an inside cabin, which should have been one of the more stable locations on the ship, but it was very hard to sleep with all the rolling of the ship. (BTW: Some of the other passengers we spoke with had booked balcony staterooms and, in retrospect, they thought it was a waste of money because you spend so much time in commercial ports with no views.) We took no arranged shore excursions; we rented cars in every port except Kona. On Maui, be sure to rent a convertible to drive the road to Hana then continue to drive all the way around the backside of Haleakala. (Yes, your rental contract will tell you that you void your rental agreement if you go beyond Hana, but it was the most exciting drive on the entire vacation.) This drive is not for the feint-of-heart; you are constantly meeting cars on one-lane roads and you're passing with centimeters, not inches, to spare. Just beyond the "WARNING" signs, you'll drive on the edge of a sheer cliff; the road is so narrow, you can touch the rock walls with your hand as you pass. It was especially windy when we drove this section of the road and we were pelted with small pebbles coming off the sides of the cliffs. Like I said earlier, this is the most the exciting, but also one of the most beautiful drives anywhere in the islands. In Kona we went snorkeling at Turtle Beach and, true to its name, we snorkeled with two large turtles. Be advised, however, that getting in and out of the water is a painful experience because you have to walk across sharp, slippery coral. We saw one elderly man take a dreadful fall on the rocks as he exited the water, lacerating his temple. If I ever snorkel in Hawaii again, I will go on a catamaran to avoid having to enter the water from the shore. But now to the reason you're reading this review in the first place: the PRIDE OF AMERICA. The stateroom was as expected, the bed was comfortable, the space in the stateroom was adequate, the cabin steward was great, the staff was generally efficient and helpful, the public rooms were plentiful and comforable. But cruising to us is all about 3 things: FOOD, ENTERTAINMENT, and PHOTOGRAPHY, and in our opinion, the PRIDE OF AMERICA was lacking in all three areas. The FOOD: Unless you pay the additional surcharges (which we didn't because we thought the cruise was already fairly expensive relative to other 7-day cruises), your food choices are the SKYLINE and LIBERTY dining rooms (both have identical menus), the ALOHA buffet, the CADILLAC DINER, and limited room service. (We've read that Little Italy is also a surcharge-free diner, but we were not aware of that on the ship and still have not confirmed that to be true.) We liked the simple fare of the CADILLAC DINER the best, especially the sundaes (they're not on the menu, but you can order one nonetheless.) The SKYLINE DINER has a pianist who will take requests. We ordered club sandwiches from room service and took those with us on our road trips. We were not overjoyed with the selections from the SKYLINE dining room. I think the only thing I really enjoyed (and this included desserts too), was the Shimp-and-Swordfish brochette. The PHOTOGRAPHY: One of the bizarre but fun activities we love to do is dress up in "outfits" and have multiple pictures taken in front of various backdrops every night. The POA had almost no backdrops to choose from. They did portraits on the stairway, portraits in front of a cloudy blue backdrop, portraits in front of a plain white backdrop, and some strange "turtle-riding and surfing" green-screens which would only make sense if you're wearing swimwear. I guess I've been spoiled by Carnival's photographers with at least 3 different backdrops available every evening. Backdrops can't be that expensive; why couldn't we have more choices? The ENTERTAINMENT: This was the biggest disappointment of the trip. Perhaps management was thinking that passengers would spend so much time onshore that entertainment was secondary, but because you had to be onboard by 5:30pm almost every evening, entertainment was a major factor. Unfortunately, NCL was a real disappointment. I read the "official" review posted by Cruise Critic from 2006 or so, and frankly, I see no resemblence. As far as I'm aware, there were no entertainers boarding the ship at the local ports (although we missed the Polynesian show scheduled for the first night because of the tsunami delay.) Here's a run-down of the really poor entertainment as I recall: --The Cruise Director singing selections from BRIGADOON (we arrived a bit late, but I think he may have played a part in this broadway play at some time) --A hula performed by Malu, our "Hawaiian ambassabor". I enjoyed her flower and kukui-nut lei-making classes, but I didn't enjoy her dancing, especially not as our primary entertainment of the evening. --SECOND CITY; the "rehearsed" material was very good, especially a number performed in office chairs to SWAN LAKE, but the improvisation material, while beneficial to the training of a stand-up comedien, was not entertaining. --A talent show performed by the crew. The opening ear-bending song was performed by an employee from the laundry room...and she should have stayed in the laundry room. In all fairness, however, the closing number performed to ENYA was quite funny. --The comedian was funny, playing mostly on audience interaction. --The magician was lame, with old-school illusions such as the "floating cane". In summary, the entertainment screamed: CHEAP!!! It was simply unacceptable, especially considering the number of passengers on the ship. NCL could afford better. Before we left the ship, we were offered a discount on future NCL sailings; we "passed". I think we'll go back to CARNIVAL for our next cruise. Read Less
Sail Date March 2010

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