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Pre-cruise - Tuesday, 7/13 Honolulu Just for some background, this was my seventh cruise, my wife's fifth cruise and my step kids (daughter age 14 and son age 18) third cruise. I have previously cruised on Carnival and Royal Caribbean and have found them to be comparable in quality. This would be our second time on Norwegian Cruise Lines after trying them out for the first time last summer on the Norwegian Gem, which we enjoyed (but I thought was slightly lower in quality than Carnival or Royal Caribbean). We also found out 2 weeks before the cruise that the cruise would only be 6 days instead of 7 due to an unexpected coast guard inspection of the ship. We received $800 on board credit and an overnight stay at the Marriott Waikiki Beach Hotel because of the change (more about this later). We left on Tuesday, July 13 for the journey to Honolulu on a non-stop flight from Dallas (DFW). The flight was delayed about a half hour and left at 2 pm but we made up most of the time in the air and were only a few minutes late arriving in Honolulu a little after 5 pm. The audio didn't work on the flight so we didn't get to see a movie or anything so it was indeed a long flight (we ended up getting 6,000 frequent flier miles each though for the inconvenience). It was sunny and warm upon our arrival in Honolulu and we were all pretty tired but excited. We were greeted at the arrival gate by a lei greeting (I had arranged this in advance through leigreeting.com). My wife and kids really enjoyed this and it started the trip off with a smile on everyone's face so was worth it! We found all of our luggage with no problem and were soon in a taxi on our way to the Grand Waikikian (part of the Hilton Hawaiian Village). We encountered some heavy traffic on our way to Waikiki (in fact this seems commonplace even on weekends as we hit this same traffic almost everyday that we were here). We arrived at the hotel at 6pm and our room was ready but with a slight glitch. We had booked a two bedroom ocean view suite with one bedroom having a king sized bed and the other having two double beds (for the kids). The hotel only had two bedroom suites with each bedroom having a king sized bed. They were very accommodating though and offered us our choice of changing rooms after one night or bringing us a rollaway for free. We opted for the rollaway and the kids were fine with it as they took turns using the rollaway and bed on alternating nights. The room was fantastic consisting of a living room, two bed rooms, two bath rooms and a small kitchen (complete with full size refrigerator and dish washer) and dining area. There was also a small stackable washer and dryer which came in handy and three flat screen TV's. The kitchen was stocked with dishes, silverware, paper towels, and a small amount of dish washer soap and laundry detergent. There was also a coffee maker and coffee. We had plenty of room for all four of us. We had two balconies and had a really nice view of the ocean from the balcony in the living room. We also could watch the Hilton's luau each night from our balcony which was amusing. The Hilton holds their luau on top of a parking garage so we skipped it, as this wasn't really the authentic experience that I was looking for. We really enjoyed our stay here and found the staff members to be friendly and accommodating (despite some reviews I had read in advance stating the contrary). We headed out in search of dinner and saw the Wailana Coffee House so decided to eat there. It wasn't bad at all and was fairly cheap for Hawaii so we enjoyed our meal. My wife and step-son had all you can eat pancakes (for under $6) which I thought was a good deal. Afterwards we headed to a grocery store and loaded up with supplies (such as water, cereal, a $7 gallon milk - yikes, etc). We headed back to hotel and hit the sack as we were all exhausted by now (as we were still on Dallas time which is 5 hours later than Hawaii). Pre-cruise - Wednesday, 7/14 Honolulu We had a tour today with Discover Hawaii Tours for a circle island and Polynesian Cultural Center tour and were picked up promptly at 8:45 am. We were then taken to the Sheraton Hotel and were told we had to switch buses (to meet up with our actual tour bus). So we boarded another bus which arrived about 5 minutes later. After driving a few minutes the driver announced that we were headed towards Pearl Harbor where we would have to switch buses yet again. So we once again got off the bus and were told to wait for another bus (which actually turned out to be already waiting the Pearl Harbor parking lot). Low and behold, our new bus was almost completely full with only scattered seating available. I really disliked this and felt we were being jacked around, but we finally got underway and after that the tour turned out to be pretty good. It just seems that they could come up with a better system for picking people up and organizing their tours. They do use smaller mini buses that hold about 30 people rather than the 50 seat buses so at least the group size was a bit smaller! Our tour guide was knowledgeable and entertaining for the most part so no complaints there. He did seem a bit uptight all day about time, but we did have a lot of stops to make so that's understandable. Our first tour stop was at the Dole Pineapple Plantation. We were told we had 30 minutes here which isn't really enough time to do much (other than shop). We couldn't do the Pineapple Express train or the maze (it's one of the world's largest), and didn't even have time to buy a Dole whip so we just ended up buying some souvenirs here. Next we headed off to the North Shore of Oahu and made a stop at a beach where they frequently hold surfing competitions. We also passed Shark's Cove and some other scenic coastal sites. We reached the Polynesian Cultural Center at lunch time and had a barbeque buffet lunch included with the price of our tour. The lunch was actually pretty good and consisted of ribs, chicken, corn, salads, soda, fruit punch, iced tea and various desserts. After lunch we toured the PCC and stopped at the Samoa and Tonga areas to watch the shows, took the canoe tour, and watched the canoe pageant. We enjoyed our visit here although I could have used about 45 minutes less time here and 45 minutes more back at the Dole Plantation. We left the PCC and stopped at a scenic ocean overview and then made our way down the east coast of Oahu, with stops at a Macadamia Nut Plantation, Pali Lookout and Byodo Temple. It was a long day but worth it and I felt it was a nice overview of Oahu for our first activity of the trip. I would recommend this tour but with the caveat that the beginning of the tour (picking up from the hotel and getting organized) is a bit frustrating. Dinner tonight was at Duke's and we were tired from the tour so took a taxi there. This was a fairly loud and happening place but we all enjoyed it. The only thing I didn't like here was my pina colada which had too much alcohol and wasn't too tasty. I had some fresh Ono which was delicious and the salad bar was also quite good, particular the fresh tossed Caesar salad. Of course we all shared a busy of Hula Pie for dessert which was fantastic. Pre-cruise - Thursday, 7/15 Honolulu Knowing that the previous day would feature a long tour, I had scheduled today to be our relaxing day. We had some breakfast in the room and then headed down to the beach. I really liked the beach at the Hilton Hawaiian Village as it's much wider than most of the rest of Waikiki Beach (at least the parts of it that I've seen). We rented an umbrella, two chairs and two rafts and had a nice time swimming and lounging around. The sand is smooth and the waves gentle. After about three hours we headed back to the room to eat lunch and then walked over to the spa for our scheduled massages. My step son and I had separate Hawaiian Lomi Lomi massages (the masseuse uses their forearms a lot which is interesting) and my wife and step daughter had a mother/daughter massage. What a wonderful way to get fully relaxed. We all thoroughly enjoyed our experiences. We didn't feel like leaving the hotel so for dinner tonight we went to CJ's deli which was overpriced but fairly decent (I had a $15 burger)! That seems par for the course at the Hilton Hawaiian Village as the restaurants are very expensive there. Fortunately there are cheaper options within walking distance (such as the Wailana Coffee House). Pre-cruise - Friday, 7/16 Honolulu Today was our Lost tour with KOS tours and we all were really looking forward to it. The tour wasn't until 1 pm so we slept a bit later and walked to Eggs N' Things for a later breakfast/early lunch. We got there around 11 and there was close to an hour wait for a table but we gutted it out. I'm glad we did as the pancakes here were absolutely delicious. I had a Portuguese sausage omelet with pineapple pancakes (and coconut syrup) and everything was fantastic. We all thought the food here was excellent and worth waiting for. This was part one of my pancake challenge (parts 2 and 3 would come later in the trip). We took a cab back to the hotel as it was getting pretty hot out and met our private hummer for our KOS tour. It was just us and a driver which was a welcome change from our bus tour the other day. Our driver was a big Lost and movie enthusiast (as are me and my family) so we got along great. He took us past some Lost filming sites in Honolulu (including Penny's boat the Searcher) on our way towards Kualoa Ranch. We made a few stops at filming locations for You, Me and Dupree, Tears of the Sun, Godzilla, and 50 First Dates, as well as more Lost locations (such as the submarine pier for the Others). We entered Kualoa Ranch and headed off-road up a valley where many more Lost scenes were filmed as well as movie scenes from Pearl Harbor, Jurassic Park, Windtalkers, and many others. We also visited a world war II gun battery which was used as a hatch for lost. Our driver was fantastic and personable and took some fun photos of us (with the smoke monster, a t-rex, and Hurley's bus) along the way. It was also leisurely paced and we had as much time as we wanted at each location. We learned that they are currently filming a new Pirates of the Caribbean movie on Oahu and we drove by the filming base camp at one point (although we didn't see Johnny Depp). This was a fantastic tour and everyone had a great time. The interesting thing is that our driver said their business had actually picked up since Lost had ended and that they get visitors from all around the world taking the tour. I can't recommend this tour enough as it was one of the highlights of our trip! We got back to the hotel around 6 pm and relaxed for a bit before watching the fireworks (the Hilton Hawaiian Village has a short, but good fireworks show each Friday night - about 5 minutes long) from our balcony. Dinner tonight was an unmitigated disaster. I had read about a restaurant called Shorebird where you grill up your own steaks so we tried it out. I should have known better! We were seated near the window with a great view of the ocean, but unfortunately the table was in the bar area which was extremely loud and there were three drunk guys talking loudly right next to our table (and we had kids). We ordered our food and I was surprised that absolutely everything you order (including a burger, garlic bread, etc) was brought out raw. I think the waitress tried to explain this to us but it was so loud that I couldn't hear a word that she said. So we trudged over to the grill where it was crowded, hot and smoky and tried to find a tiny spot to cook our stuff. We followed the directions posted on the wall for cooking times (while constantly having to wipe tears from our eyes from the constant smoke blowing into them) and pretty much all of our food ended up vastly undercooked. Thus I had to remain at the grill cooking and cooking while it got hotter and smokier by the minute. Finally, I gave up and we ate what we could (I barely ate any of my food though as my steak was still way undercooked and my mahi mahi was bland). The waitress never asked if were okay or if our food turned out okay. Also, there was supposed to be a person at the grill to help out with cooking, but that person was too busy socializing to be of any help to us at all. To summarize, if you like to pay $20 to $30 for raw food that you have to cook yourself in a loud, smoky, and hot environment, than this is the place for you! Personally, I'll head back to Duke's next time! I did have an outstanding tropical colada drink here though (probably the best one I had all trip) so that was one saving grace! I ordered a pizza from Round Table Pizza when we got back to the hotel as I was still starved (after barely eating at Shorebird) and the pizza was delicious. I wish we had Round Table Pizza here in Texas! Day 1 - Saturday, 7/17 Embarkation We slept until 9 am and woke up feeling quite refreshed. We checked out at 11 am and hung out in the lobby for about 45 minutes in some comfortable and relaxing chairs, and then took a taxi to the pier. We arrived at the port around 12:05 pm (the drive to the pier was shorter than I expected) and dropped off our luggage (there is a luggage drop off area very close to where the taxi dropped us off). We went inside; breezed through security and got in a very short check-in line for Latitudes members (they had separate lines for general check in, suites and Latitudes). About five minutes later, we were checked in and headed for the ship. There was no line at all and we just walked aboard. This was the quickest and easiest embarkation we've had for all of our cruises (even slightly quicker than we had last year in Barcelona on NCL). NCL definitely has embarkation down pat and does a great job in this regard. We were pretty hungry so headed upstairs to the Garden Cafe (the ship's buffet) for lunch. The buffet wasn't as nice on Pride of America as it was on the Gem but did have separate stations for hamburgers, sandwiches, ice cream, soups, salads, etc. The food was generally pretty tasty but there didn't seem to be much variance during the week and seating was usually pretty tough to find (but we did always seem to eventually find a table whenever we came here). I still think that Carnival does the best job with their buffets. Pride of America's was passable though. The state rooms weren't ready yet so we made some dinner reservations for the week and played a card game in the card room to pass the time and wait for the announcement that the state rooms on our deck were ready. They seem to work from the top down as decks 11 and 12 were called first and then 9 and 10 and then 4, 5 and 8. And finally, our deck was called! We made our way to our obstructed family suite 7594 which consisted of two rooms. One room had a fairly large sitting area and a queen size bed and a bathroom. The other room had two twin beds and another bathroom. There was also a sleeper sofa in the larger room and two pull down beds in the smaller room. Up to 8 people could stay in this suite but we only had the four of us so we had plenty of room. There were also large picture windows that were indeed partially obstructed by the life boats hanging down, but we could still see out reasonably well. The bathrooms were pretty small but manageable. There was also ample storage for us to fully unpack. One nice thing about the room is it was extremely quiet. We heard no noise from adjoining cabins or from above or below us all week. We could hear the announcements though as those are extremely loud. We checked out the small television and noticed the channels were pretty limited (Fox news, CNN, E!, BBC news, and a bunch of ships channels as well as three channels that showed current movies. There were no interactive features such as we had on the Gem (to check shore excursions, menus, to order pay per view movies, check on your ship account, etc). and we really missed that. We had papers in our cabin that indicated that we had $200 on board credit per person, due to the cruise being shortened by one day. So for us, we got $800 on board credit which isn't bad at all. Our luggage soon arrived and our room steward also poked her head in and said hello. We asked for some ice and beach towels (as we only had three in the room) and she soon returned with them for us. She did a good job with our room all week and kept our ice full and our rooms clean so we were happy! At 4:30 pm, we had the obligatory life boat drill which I always dread, but this one didn't seem too bad and only lasted 10 minutes or so. They had a first night special at the Lazy J Steakhouse for $15 instead of the usual $25 so we decided to try it out. I had lobster bisque, a salad, and filet mignon which was cooked to perfection. Unfortunately, they undercooked my wife's prime rib and the kids steaks and we had to have my step daughters' steak put back on the grill. But once we got that sorted out, everyone really enjoyed the meal. I found it odd that they didn't have any sort of Welcome Aboard show but possibly it was due to the shorted itinerary? Instead they had the Second City comedy troupe, who performed both rehearsed skits and completely improvised routines based on audience suggestions. They were enjoyable but we didn't find this troupe nearly as funny as the one we saw on the Gem. I was still on Texas time I think and dozed off for part of the show. This was also the first cruise I've ever been on where I didn't see the cruise director once the entire cruise. He or she was either invisible or I was always at the wrong place at the wrong time. On every other cruise I've taken, the cruise director seems to be an integral part of the experience, but not on Pride of America. We got our first towel animal when we returned to the room. Strangely, we got towel animals for the first four nights and then stopped getting them. Maybe it also had something to do with the crew getting ready for the coast guard inspection? We were all pretty exhausted after the show so we went to bed and day one of the cruise was over. Day 2 - Sunday, 7/18 Maui We ate breakfast at the Cadillac Diner and it was pretty good. I had an omelet and some breads and pastries and it was all fresh and tasty. My step daughter had the French toast and she seemed to really enjoy it. We had decided to rent a car for our two days in Maui and do our own touring. Thus, we got off the ship at 8:15 am and caught the Dollar/Thrifty shuttle. The shuttle was already waiting and full so we had to stand for the short ride to the rental office. There was a medium size line at the Dollar rental location but I had signed up for the Dollar Express program so was able to bypass the line. We got a full sized car which turned out to be a black Dodge Charger and it was fairly nice to drive and had lots of room so we were happy with it. The kids nodded off to sleep as we headed up towards the Haleakala Summit. My wife and I had done this drive a few years ago on our land based trip to Hawaii and we had really enjoyed it so we decided to take the kids on the same experience. As you proceed higher on the drive, the views of Maui and nearby islands gets more spectacular and eventually you even get above the clouds. There aren't any guard rails on most of the drive so it's best to take it slow and easy. We stopped at the visitor center near the main entrance to the national park to take a picture and it was really windy and cold. We stopped again at the next visitor center near the summit and viewed the inside of the crater (it's actually still an active volcano) and took some more pictures. Finally, we drove the short distance to the summit for more spectacular views and photos. We drove back down and stopped for lunch at the Kula Lodge, which was okay but featured slow service and overpriced food. The food was tasty though so this is an okay place to grab some lunch. Expect to pay about $20 per person though for pretty much anything you order. We also did a little souvenir shopping at the shop they have there. After lunch, we stopped at Wal-Mart (always a highlight of any vacation) to buy a few assorted items and then continued on into the Iao Valley. It was pretty crowded but we did find a parking spot and the kids and I hiked up to the overlook of the Iao Needle (my wife decided to wait below). It was a nice clear day so we got a great view. From here, we drove around to Lahaina and did some more shopping before heading to the Old Lahaina Luau. I had heard a lot of great things about this luau so was really looking forward to it (my wife and I had gone to the Feast at Lele when we had been here the last time). We had normal seating as you can choose between normal seating in chairs or traditional seating on mats. We were given leis and a mai tai (fruit punch for the kids) and were led to our seats. They have displays and demonstrations to view before the luau starts so we wandered around a bit. The setting is gorgeous as the luau is right on the beach with spectacular views. The luau includes all you can drink (tropical drinks, beer, wine, sodas, and virgin versions of all the tropical drinks). I ordered a chi chi but didn't care for it as all I could taste was alcohol as it wasn't properly mixed. My wife's lava flow wasn't very good either. I attended the unveiling of the pig from the imu which was interesting. After this they started allowing certain tables to go and get food from the buffet. Of course, our table was called last and when we got to the buffet, food that was supposed to be cold was warm and food that was supposed to be hot was cold. There were also numerous flies buzzing all around. I found most of the food to be bland and other than the pig (which was outstanding) I was really disappointed in the food. Now part of it may have been bad luck due to being called to the buffet last, but overall I didn't care for the food. The show started and it was enjoyable and featured various Hawaiian dances. I knew that they didn't do a fire dance as they put on an authentic Hawaiian show but I found the show lacked pizzazz without it. I enjoyed the Feast at Lele so much more than this luau. The food, drinks and show were all far superior there in my opinion. The kids did have a good time though and our waiter was excellent so we had a fun evening. We drove back to the pier and arrived there around 9:30 pm and asked the security guards where to park. They gave us instructions to a parking area nearby which worked out fine. The parking area was about a 10 minute walk from the ship but along a clearly guided pedestrian pathway. Day 3 - Monday, 7/19 Maui Today, the disappointment of Shorebird and Old Lahaina Luau were washed away by the wonderfulness of the Gazebo restaurant. The Gazebo is a small breakfast type restaurant within the Napili Shores Condos. My wife and I had eaten here on our previous trip and loved it so we couldn't wait to come back. It's a small place next to a pool and there is almost always a wait. We got here at 10:30 and the line wasn't bad at all. We only waited about 20 minutes before we were seated. I ordered the same exact thing as my last time, which was breakfast fried rice (with eggs, bacon, Portuguese sausage, onion, etc) and the combo pancakes (pineapple, banana, macadamia nut with coconut syrup). Everything was so delicious and just as good as last time so we were all happy campers. This was part two of my pancake challenge and so far the Gazebo was in the lead over Eggs n' Things, although both had been excellent. After our brunch, we drove to Whaler's Village at Kaanapali Beach to do some shopping and swimming. There was a big sign posted that stated "no beach parking" so I asked the parking attendant about it and he said it was fine to park there for the beach. I'm not sure why they have those signs then. We lets the kids swim for a couple of hours and then did some shopping. It was a really hot day so we left around 2:00 pm and returned the rental car and boarded the ship for some relaxation. Tonight we had reservations at the Little Italy restaurant. I had read some bad reviews of this place but I thought it was decent and we all enjoyed our meal. We had received a free bottle of wine from our travel agent (to be used at a dinner) and were allowed to pick pretty much any wine from a fairly large list. We chose a sweet dessert wine and it was very good. Our waiter actually gave us a more expensive bottle than the one we had ordered (he said the bottle he brought was much better) so I thought that was a nice touch. We were tired and skipped the show tonight. We went to fewer shows than normal on this cruise as the port intensive nature of the itinerary found us to be quite tired out each evening shortly after dinner. The only shows we went to all week were the Second City show and a comic magic show, which was good but not great. We would have gone to the Polynesian show too, but it was on the same night as our luau on Maui. Day 4 - Tuesday, 7/20 Hilo We awoke to a bright and sunny day in Hilo which is a rarity, as it rains here often. We had a tour booked with Ricky's tours to visit Volcanoes National Park and the sights in Hilo and Ricky was right on time at 8:45 am sharp. Ricky is a very knowledgeable tour guide and we found him to be informative and polite and we really enjoyed the tour. We visited Rainbow Falls near Hilo which turned out to be just a trickle (compared to a torrent of water on my last visit here) and an orchid center which had a large variety of orchards (one variety smells like lemons and one like chocolate) on our way to Volcanoes National Park. Ricky suggested that we visit the Macadamia Nut Center on our way back so any chocolate that we might buy wouldn't melt, so we took his suggestion. At Volcanoes National Park, we stopped at some steam vents and then visited Jaggar Museum where they have some displays of volcanic rocks and information about volcanoes. We also had a great view there of Halema`uma`ua crater which has a huge cloud of smoke billowing out of it (this started two years ago). We also stopped at a 1974 lava flow to take some pictures and then visited the Thurston Lava Tube which is a lighted cave like lava tube discovered in 1913. It's nice and cool in the tube so it was a nice place to cool off! We also stopped at a scenic overlook to view the Kilauea Iki crater which is another large crater, but without smoke. On the way back to Hilo, we stopped at the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Farm, which has a short tour and gift shop. I didn't realize that they had been bought out by Hershey and as such they had macadamia nut Hershey kisses that were delicious. I also saw these for sale elsewhere around Hawaii. The prices here aren't great but the nuts are fresher so we all bought some assorted goodies. Our last stop of the day was at Richardson Beach Park near Hilo which is a small black sand beach. The kids liked it but I didn't find this beach nearly as scenic as Punaluu beach which is near the southern tip of the big island. We had a great day with Ricky and were able to see many sights in a short time so I was very satisfied with the tour. We got back to the pier around 2:30 pm and rested for a bit before dinner. We tried the main dining room tonight but it was a bit warm and there was lots of motion so I bailed before we ordered and headed back to the room. My wife and kids said the food was average so I didn't miss much. I ended up ordering a pizza and BLT from room service and both were surprisingly delicious. There had been a note in the daily newsletter stating that the lava viewing tonight wouldn't be that good but we decided to go out on deck at 9:45 pm anyways and could see quite a bit of lava in the distance. There was a light drizzly rain but it didn't keep crowds from forming on deck. I'm not sure if the newsletter was incorrect or if the viewing is usually even better, but I thought the lava to be breathtaking. One spot had several explosions which were shooting lava high into the air. I couldn't get any pictures though as it was all too far away, but fortunately had brought a pair of binoculars which enhanced the experience. Day 5 - Wednesday, 7/21 Kona We were up really early this morning as we needed to be on the first tender off the ship in order to be on time for our Fairwinds snorkel tour. Thus, we ate a few breakfast bars and were in Pink's Champagne Bar by 6:50 am to get a tender ticket. An NCL representative showed up at 7 am sharp and handed out the tickets and then at 7:05 announced that we could proceed down to deck three to catch our tender. They used the ship's lifeboats for the tender process and it was a short ride to shore. We were ashore by 7:20 am and easily found some cabs waiting and caught one to the Fairwinds office in Keauhou Bay. We arrived at Fairwinds at about 7:50 am so were quite early since check in for the tour wasn't until 8:30 am. My wife and I had taken this tour a few years ago and loved it so couldn't wait to see how the kids liked it (neither had snorkeled before). The trip to the snorkel site at Kealakekua Bay took about an hour and it was smooth sailing all the way. They had bagels, Danish, muffins and juice for the ride out. The crew was very friendly and helpful with those who hadn't snorkeled before and they had flotation devices, inner tubes, viewing devices, etc. I highly recommend this trip if you haven't ever snorkeled before. The snorkel site itself was beautiful with clear water and lots of coral and fish (and some spinner dolphins near the entrance to the bay) and a huge eel. We spent about 2 ½ hours here which is more than enough time. After snorkeling, burgers and hotdogs were served up and we headed back to Keauhou. The trip back was also smooth and relaxing. All in all, this was a great outing. We had Fairwinds call us a taxi to return to the ship but the taxi didn't show up for awhile and a mini van driver (with a sign that said cruise ship shuttle) asked if we wanted a ride back for $20 for all of us so I agreed and off we went. He actually ended up dropping us off at Hilo Hatties for yet more souvenir shopping and I bought some more macadamia nuts and coconut syrup. We took the free shuttle back to the ship and I went back on board to relax while the wife and kids headed back out for a bit more shopping. Tonight we had a reservation at Jefferson's Bistro and it was fantastic. My wife and I had the whole Kona Lobster which is actually Maine lobsters that are raised in Kona. The lobster was served whole but with the meat already carved out for us and it was fantastic. I also had two orders of scallops and some filet mignon. For dessert, we shared two orders of the chocolate fondue for two which was also yummy. The lobster was $20 more above the normal cover charge of $25 but where am I going to get a delicious surf and turf like that plus appetizers and dessert for $45? I thought it was well worth it. The service was also excellent here and they gave me unlimited refills for my soda as I had about four sodas but they only charged me for one. Day 6 - Thursday, 7/22 Kauai Ellen and Bruce, the owners of Wings over Kauai are two of the nicest people that you'll ever meet. We had received a phone call from Ellen yesterday letting us know that they had an unexpected inspection of their larger plane (GA-8 Airvan) scheduled for today so we wouldn't all be able to fly together on our scheduled sightseeing flight. She had offered us the option to take two separate flights on their smaller aircraft (Cessna 172) or to take their competitor Air Venture (she had even talked to Air Venture about available flight times with them). We decided to stick with Wings over Kauai and were glad we did. We decided that my step son and I would take the first flight at 11 am and that my wife and step daughter would take the later flight at 12:30 pm. Ellen picked us up at the ABC store near the ship (it's about a 10 minute walk or a free shuttle ride) and we headed to the airport where we weighed in and waited until Bruce was ready. I sat up front with Bruce and my step son sat in the back. The Cessna was definitely small and was by far the smallest aircraft that I've ever been in, and I was a bit nervous at first. Bruce's calm manner and professionalism quickly put me at ease though. We both had on headphones so we could hear Bruce's narration and converse with him. As we taxied out, he had me read off his preflight check list which was fun. He is very methodical and safety conscious so I felt like we were in very good hands. Soon we were cleared for takeoff and it didn't take long for us to be airborne. We flew over Waimea Canyon, the Na Pali coast, the waterfall from Fantasy Island, and even saw the summit of Mount Waialeale which Bruce said was rare (it's one of the rainiest spots on earth with an average of 426 inches of rain per year). We saw numerous mountains, waterfalls, beaches, and beautiful coastline on our flight and Bruce is a veritable encyclopedia of knowledge. I haven't done any helicopter flights but couldn't imagine it being any better than this, and at a much cheaper price than a helicopter too. We flew over the Pride of America on our way back to the airport and all too soon were coming in for a smooth, smooth landing. My wife and step daughter were waiting at the airport for their flight so Ellen took a picture of all four of us in front of the plane. That picture ended up on the cover of the free dvd that they gave us (which features footage from what we saw on the flight but not from our specific flight). Ellen drove us back to the ABC store (she offered to take us to the ship but we wanted to buy a few t-shirts) and bid us a fond farewell. Later, when my wife returned, her and my step daughter raved about their flight and we all compared notes. What a wonderful experience. We were supposed to overnight in Kauai but because of the shortened itinerary we were only here until 3:30 pm. We originally had an ATV tour planned at Kipu Ranch for one of our Kauai days but sadly had to cancel it. A couple of hours after we sailed from Kauai, we had a scenic sailing (with narration) past the Na Pali coast and it is indeed spectacular. It was nice to get another perspective of it after flying over it earlier in the day. We were all really tired from the week of touring so we went to the Cadillac diner for dinner tonight. I had a tuna melt but it was not nearly as good as one I'd ordered from room service earlier in the week. I also ordered a milk shake as I'd heard that they were really good but mine was average at best. Dinner here was passable but I actually preferred the room service food. Then came time for my least favorite part of the trip - packing. We put our luggage out before midnight (it would be taken directly to our hotel) and called it a night. The last night on a cruise is always a melancholy affair for me. How had it gone by so fast? Day 7 - Friday, 7/23 Disembarkation, Honolulu We had originally scheduled a tour through Roberts to see Pearl Harbor with an airport drop off, but Roberts had cancelled the tour because of the changed itinerary of the ship. Thus we decided to go with an NCL tour of Pearl Harbor and the U.S.S. Missouri with a drop off at our hotel. We met in the show room at 8:00 am and waited for our tour to be called. It didn't take long and we were off the ship in minutes and on board a large tour bus (that held about 40-50 people). NCL definitely does a great job with embarking and disembarking the ship, as well as tendering. We drove to Pearl Harbor and waited near the entrance as our driver/tour guide got tickets for the Arizona Memorial for all of us. Our tour time was 10:30 am which wasn't bad (it was currently 9 am) so our guide told us we could watch the movie, check out the store, get a snack or visit the Bowfin submarine until our tour time. There was quite a bit of construction going on as they are building a new visitor's center so we decided to watch the movie. It was a good orientation for those not familiar with the events of December 7, 1941. Finally it was 10:30 am so we took the short ride over to the Arizona Memorial on the boat launch. You can see parts of the ship sticking up out of the water (how much depends on the tide) as well as oil that is bubbling up that is still leaking from the hull (it will supposedly leak oil for another 20 years or so). There is also a memorial plaque for those who lost their lives there. It's a very poignant and solemn experience. When we returned back ashore we met up with our tour guide who led us to the shuttle bus which would take us to the U.S.S. Missouri on Ford Island. Ford Island is an active military base so you can't drive there without a Navy pass. We passed remnants of the old WW II airstrip and control tower before stopping at the Missouri. There was also a memorial for the U.S.S. Oklahoma here (also sunk at Pearl Harbor). We took a tour of the Missouri including the spot where the WW II peace treaty with Japan was signed. I hadn't realized that this had happened on the Missouri so I found it fascinating. We then had some free time to wander around the decks some more, visit the gift shop and grab a quick snack. After this, we regrouped with our tour and had a city of tour of Honolulu on our way to the various hotels where people got dropped off (our hotel was the last drop off of course and we arrived there about 3:30 pm). Upon arrival at the Marriott Waikiki Beach, we discovered that NCL had a desk setup and we got our room key from them. We were told that our luggage was already in our room which was nice. I felt that NCL handled the hotel situation very well as it was really quick getting checked in and situated. Our room was really nice with a spectacular ocean view but only had two queen size beds, so we paid for a rollaway for my step son to sleep on. The room was good sized but it was still rough having all four of us in one room but it was only for one night. For dinner tonight we tried out Mac 24-7. I had seen it on Man vs. Food and wanted to check out the monstrous pancakes there. It was a short walk to the restaurant from our hotel and it wasn't crowded at all (it was about 5:45 pm now). I ordered Pineapple coconut macadamia nut pancakes and the first thing I noticed is that they didn't have coconut syrup. The pancakes arrived and they were indeed huge and they were also indeed dry and bland. I was surprised really by how tasteless they were. Bigger is not always better. The rest of my family's food was average too and none of us were really impressed. Thus my pancake challenge ended with the Gazebo winning, Eggs n' Things fairly close behind and Mac 24/7 way behind in last place. My wife and the kids decided to go to the International Marketplace after dinner but I was tired and walked back to hotel. They did find a few more souvenirs so it was a worthwhile endeavor for them! Post-cruise Saturday, 7/24 Home Our flight home wasn't until 7:30 pm today so we had arranged to rent a car from Enterprise for the day and drive back to the Dole Pineapple Plantation. Enterprise picked us up at our hotel at 10 am and drove us over to their nearby office. We ended up with a mini van and my wife got to be the driver for the day (as I'd be navigating today). Our first stop was at Nico's on pier 38 for an early lunch. I'd seen this place on Diners, Drive-ins and dives on the food network and it looked great. I had a fresh Ahi sandwich that was outstanding and my step son had some fresh grilled Ahi that was out of this world. My wife and step daughter had cheeseburgers though as they don't like fish. Nico's features some of the freshest fish that one can get and is very casual with a decent number of tables on a patio type setting. I highly recommend it. We had a nice relaxing drive back to the Dole Plantation (we felt like we had barely seen it on our circle island tour). This time we got to take the Pineapple Express (which is a short train tour), taste a yummy Dole whip, and do some more souvenir shopping. The kids did the maze, which is supposedly the second largest in the world. They gave up after about a half hour though as it was extremely hot out. We all really enjoyed our day here though and felt it was worth coming back. We drove back to Honolulu and returned our vehicle and Enterprise called a taxi for us. Soon we were at the airport waiting for our flight home wondering where our vacation had gone. The 767 flight home was uneventful and we got all of our luggage okay so the journey had a happy ending.

Wonderful Hawaii on the Pride of America - 7/17/2010

Pride of America Cruise Review by kingpgmr

Trip Details
  • Sail Date: July 2010
  • Destination: Hawaii
  • Cabin Type: 2-Bedroom Obstructed View Family Suite
Pre-cruise - Tuesday, 7/13 Honolulu Just for some background, this was my seventh cruise, my wife's fifth cruise and my step kids (daughter age 14 and son age 18) third cruise. I have previously cruised on Carnival and Royal Caribbean and have found them to be comparable in quality. This would be our second time on Norwegian Cruise Lines after trying them out for the first time last summer on the Norwegian Gem, which we enjoyed (but I thought was slightly lower in quality than Carnival or Royal Caribbean). We also found out 2 weeks before the cruise that the cruise would only be 6 days instead of 7 due to an unexpected coast guard inspection of the ship. We received $800 on board credit and an overnight stay at the Marriott Waikiki Beach Hotel because of the change (more about this later).
We left on Tuesday, July 13 for the journey to Honolulu on a non-stop flight from Dallas (DFW). The flight was delayed about a half hour and left at 2 pm but we made up most of the time in the air and were only a few minutes late arriving in Honolulu a little after 5 pm. The audio didn't work on the flight so we didn't get to see a movie or anything so it was indeed a long flight (we ended up getting 6,000 frequent flier miles each though for the inconvenience). It was sunny and warm upon our arrival in Honolulu and we were all pretty tired but excited. We were greeted at the arrival gate by a lei greeting (I had arranged this in advance through leigreeting.com). My wife and kids really enjoyed this and it started the trip off with a smile on everyone's face so was worth it! We found all of our luggage with no problem and were soon in a taxi on our way to the Grand Waikikian (part of the Hilton Hawaiian Village). We encountered some heavy traffic on our way to Waikiki (in fact this seems commonplace even on weekends as we hit this same traffic almost everyday that we were here).
We arrived at the hotel at 6pm and our room was ready but with a slight glitch. We had booked a two bedroom ocean view suite with one bedroom having a king sized bed and the other having two double beds (for the kids). The hotel only had two bedroom suites with each bedroom having a king sized bed. They were very accommodating though and offered us our choice of changing rooms after one night or bringing us a rollaway for free. We opted for the rollaway and the kids were fine with it as they took turns using the rollaway and bed on alternating nights. The room was fantastic consisting of a living room, two bed rooms, two bath rooms and a small kitchen (complete with full size refrigerator and dish washer) and dining area. There was also a small stackable washer and dryer which came in handy and three flat screen TV's. The kitchen was stocked with dishes, silverware, paper towels, and a small amount of dish washer soap and laundry detergent. There was also a coffee maker and coffee. We had plenty of room for all four of us. We had two balconies and had a really nice view of the ocean from the balcony in the living room. We also could watch the Hilton's luau each night from our balcony which was amusing. The Hilton holds their luau on top of a parking garage so we skipped it, as this wasn't really the authentic experience that I was looking for. We really enjoyed our stay here and found the staff members to be friendly and accommodating (despite some reviews I had read in advance stating the contrary).
We headed out in search of dinner and saw the Wailana Coffee House so decided to eat there. It wasn't bad at all and was fairly cheap for Hawaii so we enjoyed our meal. My wife and step-son had all you can eat pancakes (for under $6) which I thought was a good deal. Afterwards we headed to a grocery store and loaded up with supplies (such as water, cereal, a $7 gallon milk - yikes, etc). We headed back to hotel and hit the sack as we were all exhausted by now (as we were still on Dallas time which is 5 hours later than Hawaii).
Pre-cruise - Wednesday, 7/14 Honolulu We had a tour today with Discover Hawaii Tours for a circle island and Polynesian Cultural Center tour and were picked up promptly at 8:45 am. We were then taken to the Sheraton Hotel and were told we had to switch buses (to meet up with our actual tour bus). So we boarded another bus which arrived about 5 minutes later. After driving a few minutes the driver announced that we were headed towards Pearl Harbor where we would have to switch buses yet again. So we once again got off the bus and were told to wait for another bus (which actually turned out to be already waiting the Pearl Harbor parking lot). Low and behold, our new bus was almost completely full with only scattered seating available. I really disliked this and felt we were being jacked around, but we finally got underway and after that the tour turned out to be pretty good. It just seems that they could come up with a better system for picking people up and organizing their tours. They do use smaller mini buses that hold about 30 people rather than the 50 seat buses so at least the group size was a bit smaller! Our tour guide was knowledgeable and entertaining for the most part so no complaints there. He did seem a bit uptight all day about time, but we did have a lot of stops to make so that's understandable.
Our first tour stop was at the Dole Pineapple Plantation. We were told we had 30 minutes here which isn't really enough time to do much (other than shop). We couldn't do the Pineapple Express train or the maze (it's one of the world's largest), and didn't even have time to buy a Dole whip so we just ended up buying some souvenirs here. Next we headed off to the North Shore of Oahu and made a stop at a beach where they frequently hold surfing competitions. We also passed Shark's Cove and some other scenic coastal sites. We reached the Polynesian Cultural Center at lunch time and had a barbeque buffet lunch included with the price of our tour. The lunch was actually pretty good and consisted of ribs, chicken, corn, salads, soda, fruit punch, iced tea and various desserts. After lunch we toured the PCC and stopped at the Samoa and Tonga areas to watch the shows, took the canoe tour, and watched the canoe pageant. We enjoyed our visit here although I could have used about 45 minutes less time here and 45 minutes more back at the Dole Plantation. We left the PCC and stopped at a scenic ocean overview and then made our way down the east coast of Oahu, with stops at a Macadamia Nut Plantation, Pali Lookout and Byodo Temple. It was a long day but worth it and I felt it was a nice overview of Oahu for our first activity of the trip. I would recommend this tour but with the caveat that the beginning of the tour (picking up from the hotel and getting organized) is a bit frustrating.
Dinner tonight was at Duke's and we were tired from the tour so took a taxi there. This was a fairly loud and happening place but we all enjoyed it. The only thing I didn't like here was my pina colada which had too much alcohol and wasn't too tasty. I had some fresh Ono which was delicious and the salad bar was also quite good, particular the fresh tossed Caesar salad. Of course we all shared a busy of Hula Pie for dessert which was fantastic.
Pre-cruise - Thursday, 7/15 Honolulu Knowing that the previous day would feature a long tour, I had scheduled today to be our relaxing day. We had some breakfast in the room and then headed down to the beach. I really liked the beach at the Hilton Hawaiian Village as it's much wider than most of the rest of Waikiki Beach (at least the parts of it that I've seen). We rented an umbrella, two chairs and two rafts and had a nice time swimming and lounging around. The sand is smooth and the waves gentle. After about three hours we headed back to the room to eat lunch and then walked over to the spa for our scheduled massages. My step son and I had separate Hawaiian Lomi Lomi massages (the masseuse uses their forearms a lot which is interesting) and my wife and step daughter had a mother/daughter massage. What a wonderful way to get fully relaxed. We all thoroughly enjoyed our experiences. We didn't feel like leaving the hotel so for dinner tonight we went to CJ's deli which was overpriced but fairly decent (I had a $15 burger)! That seems par for the course at the Hilton Hawaiian Village as the restaurants are very expensive there. Fortunately there are cheaper options within walking distance (such as the Wailana Coffee House).
Pre-cruise - Friday, 7/16 Honolulu Today was our Lost tour with KOS tours and we all were really looking forward to it. The tour wasn't until 1 pm so we slept a bit later and walked to Eggs N' Things for a later breakfast/early lunch. We got there around 11 and there was close to an hour wait for a table but we gutted it out. I'm glad we did as the pancakes here were absolutely delicious. I had a Portuguese sausage omelet with pineapple pancakes (and coconut syrup) and everything was fantastic. We all thought the food here was excellent and worth waiting for. This was part one of my pancake challenge (parts 2 and 3 would come later in the trip).
We took a cab back to the hotel as it was getting pretty hot out and met our private hummer for our KOS tour. It was just us and a driver which was a welcome change from our bus tour the other day. Our driver was a big Lost and movie enthusiast (as are me and my family) so we got along great. He took us past some Lost filming sites in Honolulu (including Penny's boat the Searcher) on our way towards Kualoa Ranch. We made a few stops at filming locations for You, Me and Dupree, Tears of the Sun, Godzilla, and 50 First Dates, as well as more Lost locations (such as the submarine pier for the Others). We entered Kualoa Ranch and headed off-road up a valley where many more Lost scenes were filmed as well as movie scenes from Pearl Harbor, Jurassic Park, Windtalkers, and many others. We also visited a world war II gun battery which was used as a hatch for lost. Our driver was fantastic and personable and took some fun photos of us (with the smoke monster, a t-rex, and Hurley's bus) along the way. It was also leisurely paced and we had as much time as we wanted at each location. We learned that they are currently filming a new Pirates of the Caribbean movie on Oahu and we drove by the filming base camp at one point (although we didn't see Johnny Depp). This was a fantastic tour and everyone had a great time. The interesting thing is that our driver said their business had actually picked up since Lost had ended and that they get visitors from all around the world taking the tour. I can't recommend this tour enough as it was one of the highlights of our trip!
We got back to the hotel around 6 pm and relaxed for a bit before watching the fireworks (the Hilton Hawaiian Village has a short, but good fireworks show each Friday night - about 5 minutes long) from our balcony. Dinner tonight was an unmitigated disaster. I had read about a restaurant called Shorebird where you grill up your own steaks so we tried it out. I should have known better! We were seated near the window with a great view of the ocean, but unfortunately the table was in the bar area which was extremely loud and there were three drunk guys talking loudly right next to our table (and we had kids). We ordered our food and I was surprised that absolutely everything you order (including a burger, garlic bread, etc) was brought out raw. I think the waitress tried to explain this to us but it was so loud that I couldn't hear a word that she said. So we trudged over to the grill where it was crowded, hot and smoky and tried to find a tiny spot to cook our stuff. We followed the directions posted on the wall for cooking times (while constantly having to wipe tears from our eyes from the constant smoke blowing into them) and pretty much all of our food ended up vastly undercooked. Thus I had to remain at the grill cooking and cooking while it got hotter and smokier by the minute. Finally, I gave up and we ate what we could (I barely ate any of my food though as my steak was still way undercooked and my mahi mahi was bland). The waitress never asked if were okay or if our food turned out okay. Also, there was supposed to be a person at the grill to help out with cooking, but that person was too busy socializing to be of any help to us at all. To summarize, if you like to pay $20 to $30 for raw food that you have to cook yourself in a loud, smoky, and hot environment, than this is the place for you! Personally, I'll head back to Duke's next time! I did have an outstanding tropical colada drink here though (probably the best one I had all trip) so that was one saving grace!
I ordered a pizza from Round Table Pizza when we got back to the hotel as I was still starved (after barely eating at Shorebird) and the pizza was delicious. I wish we had Round Table Pizza here in Texas!
Day 1 - Saturday, 7/17 Embarkation We slept until 9 am and woke up feeling quite refreshed. We checked out at 11 am and hung out in the lobby for about 45 minutes in some comfortable and relaxing chairs, and then took a taxi to the pier. We arrived at the port around 12:05 pm (the drive to the pier was shorter than I expected) and dropped off our luggage (there is a luggage drop off area very close to where the taxi dropped us off). We went inside; breezed through security and got in a very short check-in line for Latitudes members (they had separate lines for general check in, suites and Latitudes). About five minutes later, we were checked in and headed for the ship. There was no line at all and we just walked aboard. This was the quickest and easiest embarkation we've had for all of our cruises (even slightly quicker than we had last year in Barcelona on NCL). NCL definitely has embarkation down pat and does a great job in this regard. We were pretty hungry so headed upstairs to the Garden Cafe (the ship's buffet) for lunch. The buffet wasn't as nice on Pride of America as it was on the Gem but did have separate stations for hamburgers, sandwiches, ice cream, soups, salads, etc. The food was generally pretty tasty but there didn't seem to be much variance during the week and seating was usually pretty tough to find (but we did always seem to eventually find a table whenever we came here). I still think that Carnival does the best job with their buffets. Pride of America's was passable though.
The state rooms weren't ready yet so we made some dinner reservations for the week and played a card game in the card room to pass the time and wait for the announcement that the state rooms on our deck were ready. They seem to work from the top down as decks 11 and 12 were called first and then 9 and 10 and then 4, 5 and 8. And finally, our deck was called! We made our way to our obstructed family suite 7594 which consisted of two rooms. One room had a fairly large sitting area and a queen size bed and a bathroom. The other room had two twin beds and another bathroom. There was also a sleeper sofa in the larger room and two pull down beds in the smaller room. Up to 8 people could stay in this suite but we only had the four of us so we had plenty of room. There were also large picture windows that were indeed partially obstructed by the life boats hanging down, but we could still see out reasonably well. The bathrooms were pretty small but manageable. There was also ample storage for us to fully unpack. One nice thing about the room is it was extremely quiet. We heard no noise from adjoining cabins or from above or below us all week. We could hear the announcements though as those are extremely loud. We checked out the small television and noticed the channels were pretty limited (Fox news, CNN, E!, BBC news, and a bunch of ships channels as well as three channels that showed current movies. There were no interactive features such as we had on the Gem (to check shore excursions, menus, to order pay per view movies, check on your ship account, etc). and we really missed that. We had papers in our cabin that indicated that we had $200 on board credit per person, due to the cruise being shortened by one day. So for us, we got $800 on board credit which isn't bad at all.
Our luggage soon arrived and our room steward also poked her head in and said hello. We asked for some ice and beach towels (as we only had three in the room) and she soon returned with them for us. She did a good job with our room all week and kept our ice full and our rooms clean so we were happy! At 4:30 pm, we had the obligatory life boat drill which I always dread, but this one didn't seem too bad and only lasted 10 minutes or so.
They had a first night special at the Lazy J Steakhouse for $15 instead of the usual $25 so we decided to try it out. I had lobster bisque, a salad, and filet mignon which was cooked to perfection. Unfortunately, they undercooked my wife's prime rib and the kids steaks and we had to have my step daughters' steak put back on the grill. But once we got that sorted out, everyone really enjoyed the meal.
I found it odd that they didn't have any sort of Welcome Aboard show but possibly it was due to the shorted itinerary? Instead they had the Second City comedy troupe, who performed both rehearsed skits and completely improvised routines based on audience suggestions. They were enjoyable but we didn't find this troupe nearly as funny as the one we saw on the Gem. I was still on Texas time I think and dozed off for part of the show. This was also the first cruise I've ever been on where I didn't see the cruise director once the entire cruise. He or she was either invisible or I was always at the wrong place at the wrong time. On every other cruise I've taken, the cruise director seems to be an integral part of the experience, but not on Pride of America. We got our first towel animal when we returned to the room. Strangely, we got towel animals for the first four nights and then stopped getting them. Maybe it also had something to do with the crew getting ready for the coast guard inspection? We were all pretty exhausted after the show so we went to bed and day one of the cruise was over.
Day 2 - Sunday, 7/18 Maui We ate breakfast at the Cadillac Diner and it was pretty good. I had an omelet and some breads and pastries and it was all fresh and tasty. My step daughter had the French toast and she seemed to really enjoy it. We had decided to rent a car for our two days in Maui and do our own touring. Thus, we got off the ship at 8:15 am and caught the Dollar/Thrifty shuttle. The shuttle was already waiting and full so we had to stand for the short ride to the rental office. There was a medium size line at the Dollar rental location but I had signed up for the Dollar Express program so was able to bypass the line. We got a full sized car which turned out to be a black Dodge Charger and it was fairly nice to drive and had lots of room so we were happy with it.
The kids nodded off to sleep as we headed up towards the Haleakala Summit. My wife and I had done this drive a few years ago on our land based trip to Hawaii and we had really enjoyed it so we decided to take the kids on the same experience. As you proceed higher on the drive, the views of Maui and nearby islands gets more spectacular and eventually you even get above the clouds. There aren't any guard rails on most of the drive so it's best to take it slow and easy. We stopped at the visitor center near the main entrance to the national park to take a picture and it was really windy and cold. We stopped again at the next visitor center near the summit and viewed the inside of the crater (it's actually still an active volcano) and took some more pictures. Finally, we drove the short distance to the summit for more spectacular views and photos.
We drove back down and stopped for lunch at the Kula Lodge, which was okay but featured slow service and overpriced food. The food was tasty though so this is an okay place to grab some lunch. Expect to pay about $20 per person though for pretty much anything you order. We also did a little souvenir shopping at the shop they have there.
After lunch, we stopped at Wal-Mart (always a highlight of any vacation) to buy a few assorted items and then continued on into the Iao Valley. It was pretty crowded but we did find a parking spot and the kids and I hiked up to the overlook of the Iao Needle (my wife decided to wait below). It was a nice clear day so we got a great view.
From here, we drove around to Lahaina and did some more shopping before heading to the Old Lahaina Luau. I had heard a lot of great things about this luau so was really looking forward to it (my wife and I had gone to the Feast at Lele when we had been here the last time). We had normal seating as you can choose between normal seating in chairs or traditional seating on mats. We were given leis and a mai tai (fruit punch for the kids) and were led to our seats. They have displays and demonstrations to view before the luau starts so we wandered around a bit. The setting is gorgeous as the luau is right on the beach with spectacular views. The luau includes all you can drink (tropical drinks, beer, wine, sodas, and virgin versions of all the tropical drinks). I ordered a chi chi but didn't care for it as all I could taste was alcohol as it wasn't properly mixed. My wife's lava flow wasn't very good either. I attended the unveiling of the pig from the imu which was interesting. After this they started allowing certain tables to go and get food from the buffet. Of course, our table was called last and when we got to the buffet, food that was supposed to be cold was warm and food that was supposed to be hot was cold. There were also numerous flies buzzing all around. I found most of the food to be bland and other than the pig (which was outstanding) I was really disappointed in the food. Now part of it may have been bad luck due to being called to the buffet last, but overall I didn't care for the food. The show started and it was enjoyable and featured various Hawaiian dances. I knew that they didn't do a fire dance as they put on an authentic Hawaiian show but I found the show lacked pizzazz without it. I enjoyed the Feast at Lele so much more than this luau. The food, drinks and show were all far superior there in my opinion. The kids did have a good time though and our waiter was excellent so we had a fun evening.
We drove back to the pier and arrived there around 9:30 pm and asked the security guards where to park. They gave us instructions to a parking area nearby which worked out fine. The parking area was about a 10 minute walk from the ship but along a clearly guided pedestrian pathway.
Day 3 - Monday, 7/19 Maui Today, the disappointment of Shorebird and Old Lahaina Luau were washed away by the wonderfulness of the Gazebo restaurant. The Gazebo is a small breakfast type restaurant within the Napili Shores Condos. My wife and I had eaten here on our previous trip and loved it so we couldn't wait to come back. It's a small place next to a pool and there is almost always a wait. We got here at 10:30 and the line wasn't bad at all. We only waited about 20 minutes before we were seated. I ordered the same exact thing as my last time, which was breakfast fried rice (with eggs, bacon, Portuguese sausage, onion, etc) and the combo pancakes (pineapple, banana, macadamia nut with coconut syrup). Everything was so delicious and just as good as last time so we were all happy campers. This was part two of my pancake challenge and so far the Gazebo was in the lead over Eggs n' Things, although both had been excellent.
After our brunch, we drove to Whaler's Village at Kaanapali Beach to do some shopping and swimming. There was a big sign posted that stated "no beach parking" so I asked the parking attendant about it and he said it was fine to park there for the beach. I'm not sure why they have those signs then. We lets the kids swim for a couple of hours and then did some shopping. It was a really hot day so we left around 2:00 pm and returned the rental car and boarded the ship for some relaxation.
Tonight we had reservations at the Little Italy restaurant. I had read some bad reviews of this place but I thought it was decent and we all enjoyed our meal. We had received a free bottle of wine from our travel agent (to be used at a dinner) and were allowed to pick pretty much any wine from a fairly large list. We chose a sweet dessert wine and it was very good. Our waiter actually gave us a more expensive bottle than the one we had ordered (he said the bottle he brought was much better) so I thought that was a nice touch. We were tired and skipped the show tonight. We went to fewer shows than normal on this cruise as the port intensive nature of the itinerary found us to be quite tired out each evening shortly after dinner. The only shows we went to all week were the Second City show and a comic magic show, which was good but not great. We would have gone to the Polynesian show too, but it was on the same night as our luau on Maui.
Day 4 - Tuesday, 7/20 Hilo We awoke to a bright and sunny day in Hilo which is a rarity, as it rains here often. We had a tour booked with Ricky's tours to visit Volcanoes National Park and the sights in Hilo and Ricky was right on time at 8:45 am sharp. Ricky is a very knowledgeable tour guide and we found him to be informative and polite and we really enjoyed the tour. We visited Rainbow Falls near Hilo which turned out to be just a trickle (compared to a torrent of water on my last visit here) and an orchid center which had a large variety of orchards (one variety smells like lemons and one like chocolate) on our way to Volcanoes National Park. Ricky suggested that we visit the Macadamia Nut Center on our way back so any chocolate that we might buy wouldn't melt, so we took his suggestion.
At Volcanoes National Park, we stopped at some steam vents and then visited Jaggar Museum where they have some displays of volcanic rocks and information about volcanoes. We also had a great view there of Halema`uma`ua crater which has a huge cloud of smoke billowing out of it (this started two years ago). We also stopped at a 1974 lava flow to take some pictures and then visited the Thurston Lava Tube which is a lighted cave like lava tube discovered in 1913. It's nice and cool in the tube so it was a nice place to cool off! We also stopped at a scenic overlook to view the Kilauea Iki crater which is another large crater, but without smoke.
On the way back to Hilo, we stopped at the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Farm, which has a short tour and gift shop. I didn't realize that they had been bought out by Hershey and as such they had macadamia nut Hershey kisses that were delicious. I also saw these for sale elsewhere around Hawaii. The prices here aren't great but the nuts are fresher so we all bought some assorted goodies.
Our last stop of the day was at Richardson Beach Park near Hilo which is a small black sand beach. The kids liked it but I didn't find this beach nearly as scenic as Punaluu beach which is near the southern tip of the big island.
We had a great day with Ricky and were able to see many sights in a short time so I was very satisfied with the tour. We got back to the pier around 2:30 pm and rested for a bit before dinner. We tried the main dining room tonight but it was a bit warm and there was lots of motion so I bailed before we ordered and headed back to the room. My wife and kids said the food was average so I didn't miss much. I ended up ordering a pizza and BLT from room service and both were surprisingly delicious. There had been a note in the daily newsletter stating that the lava viewing tonight wouldn't be that good but we decided to go out on deck at 9:45 pm anyways and could see quite a bit of lava in the distance. There was a light drizzly rain but it didn't keep crowds from forming on deck. I'm not sure if the newsletter was incorrect or if the viewing is usually even better, but I thought the lava to be breathtaking. One spot had several explosions which were shooting lava high into the air. I couldn't get any pictures though as it was all too far away, but fortunately had brought a pair of binoculars which enhanced the experience.
Day 5 - Wednesday, 7/21 Kona We were up really early this morning as we needed to be on the first tender off the ship in order to be on time for our Fairwinds snorkel tour. Thus, we ate a few breakfast bars and were in Pink's Champagne Bar by 6:50 am to get a tender ticket. An NCL representative showed up at 7 am sharp and handed out the tickets and then at 7:05 announced that we could proceed down to deck three to catch our tender. They used the ship's lifeboats for the tender process and it was a short ride to shore. We were ashore by 7:20 am and easily found some cabs waiting and caught one to the Fairwinds office in Keauhou Bay. We arrived at Fairwinds at about 7:50 am so were quite early since check in for the tour wasn't until 8:30 am. My wife and I had taken this tour a few years ago and loved it so couldn't wait to see how the kids liked it (neither had snorkeled before).
The trip to the snorkel site at Kealakekua Bay took about an hour and it was smooth sailing all the way. They had bagels, Danish, muffins and juice for the ride out. The crew was very friendly and helpful with those who hadn't snorkeled before and they had flotation devices, inner tubes, viewing devices, etc. I highly recommend this trip if you haven't ever snorkeled before. The snorkel site itself was beautiful with clear water and lots of coral and fish (and some spinner dolphins near the entrance to the bay) and a huge eel. We spent about 2 ½ hours here which is more than enough time. After snorkeling, burgers and hotdogs were served up and we headed back to Keauhou. The trip back was also smooth and relaxing. All in all, this was a great outing.
We had Fairwinds call us a taxi to return to the ship but the taxi didn't show up for awhile and a mini van driver (with a sign that said cruise ship shuttle) asked if we wanted a ride back for $20 for all of us so I agreed and off we went. He actually ended up dropping us off at Hilo Hatties for yet more souvenir shopping and I bought some more macadamia nuts and coconut syrup. We took the free shuttle back to the ship and I went back on board to relax while the wife and kids headed back out for a bit more shopping.
Tonight we had a reservation at Jefferson's Bistro and it was fantastic. My wife and I had the whole Kona Lobster which is actually Maine lobsters that are raised in Kona. The lobster was served whole but with the meat already carved out for us and it was fantastic. I also had two orders of scallops and some filet mignon. For dessert, we shared two orders of the chocolate fondue for two which was also yummy. The lobster was $20 more above the normal cover charge of $25 but where am I going to get a delicious surf and turf like that plus appetizers and dessert for $45? I thought it was well worth it. The service was also excellent here and they gave me unlimited refills for my soda as I had about four sodas but they only charged me for one.
Day 6 - Thursday, 7/22 Kauai Ellen and Bruce, the owners of Wings over Kauai are two of the nicest people that you'll ever meet. We had received a phone call from Ellen yesterday letting us know that they had an unexpected inspection of their larger plane (GA-8 Airvan) scheduled for today so we wouldn't all be able to fly together on our scheduled sightseeing flight. She had offered us the option to take two separate flights on their smaller aircraft (Cessna 172) or to take their competitor Air Venture (she had even talked to Air Venture about available flight times with them). We decided to stick with Wings over Kauai and were glad we did.
We decided that my step son and I would take the first flight at 11 am and that my wife and step daughter would take the later flight at 12:30 pm. Ellen picked us up at the ABC store near the ship (it's about a 10 minute walk or a free shuttle ride) and we headed to the airport where we weighed in and waited until Bruce was ready. I sat up front with Bruce and my step son sat in the back. The Cessna was definitely small and was by far the smallest aircraft that I've ever been in, and I was a bit nervous at first. Bruce's calm manner and professionalism quickly put me at ease though. We both had on headphones so we could hear Bruce's narration and converse with him. As we taxied out, he had me read off his preflight check list which was fun. He is very methodical and safety conscious so I felt like we were in very good hands. Soon we were cleared for takeoff and it didn't take long for us to be airborne. We flew over Waimea Canyon, the Na Pali coast, the waterfall from Fantasy Island, and even saw the summit of Mount Waialeale which Bruce said was rare (it's one of the rainiest spots on earth with an average of 426 inches of rain per year). We saw numerous mountains, waterfalls, beaches, and beautiful coastline on our flight and Bruce is a veritable encyclopedia of knowledge. I haven't done any helicopter flights but couldn't imagine it being any better than this, and at a much cheaper price than a helicopter too. We flew over the Pride of America on our way back to the airport and all too soon were coming in for a smooth, smooth landing.
My wife and step daughter were waiting at the airport for their flight so Ellen took a picture of all four of us in front of the plane. That picture ended up on the cover of the free dvd that they gave us (which features footage from what we saw on the flight but not from our specific flight). Ellen drove us back to the ABC store (she offered to take us to the ship but we wanted to buy a few t-shirts) and bid us a fond farewell. Later, when my wife returned, her and my step daughter raved about their flight and we all compared notes. What a wonderful experience.
We were supposed to overnight in Kauai but because of the shortened itinerary we were only here until 3:30 pm. We originally had an ATV tour planned at Kipu Ranch for one of our Kauai days but sadly had to cancel it. A couple of hours after we sailed from Kauai, we had a scenic sailing (with narration) past the Na Pali coast and it is indeed spectacular. It was nice to get another perspective of it after flying over it earlier in the day.
We were all really tired from the week of touring so we went to the Cadillac diner for dinner tonight. I had a tuna melt but it was not nearly as good as one I'd ordered from room service earlier in the week. I also ordered a milk shake as I'd heard that they were really good but mine was average at best. Dinner here was passable but I actually preferred the room service food. Then came time for my least favorite part of the trip - packing. We put our luggage out before midnight (it would be taken directly to our hotel) and called it a night. The last night on a cruise is always a melancholy affair for me. How had it gone by so fast?
Day 7 - Friday, 7/23 Disembarkation, Honolulu We had originally scheduled a tour through Roberts to see Pearl Harbor with an airport drop off, but Roberts had cancelled the tour because of the changed itinerary of the ship. Thus we decided to go with an NCL tour of Pearl Harbor and the U.S.S. Missouri with a drop off at our hotel. We met in the show room at 8:00 am and waited for our tour to be called. It didn't take long and we were off the ship in minutes and on board a large tour bus (that held about 40-50 people). NCL definitely does a great job with embarking and disembarking the ship, as well as tendering.
We drove to Pearl Harbor and waited near the entrance as our driver/tour guide got tickets for the Arizona Memorial for all of us. Our tour time was 10:30 am which wasn't bad (it was currently 9 am) so our guide told us we could watch the movie, check out the store, get a snack or visit the Bowfin submarine until our tour time. There was quite a bit of construction going on as they are building a new visitor's center so we decided to watch the movie. It was a good orientation for those not familiar with the events of December 7, 1941. Finally it was 10:30 am so we took the short ride over to the Arizona Memorial on the boat launch. You can see parts of the ship sticking up out of the water (how much depends on the tide) as well as oil that is bubbling up that is still leaking from the hull (it will supposedly leak oil for another 20 years or so). There is also a memorial plaque for those who lost their lives there. It's a very poignant and solemn experience.
When we returned back ashore we met up with our tour guide who led us to the shuttle bus which would take us to the U.S.S. Missouri on Ford Island. Ford Island is an active military base so you can't drive there without a Navy pass. We passed remnants of the old WW II airstrip and control tower before stopping at the Missouri. There was also a memorial for the U.S.S. Oklahoma here (also sunk at Pearl Harbor). We took a tour of the Missouri including the spot where the WW II peace treaty with Japan was signed. I hadn't realized that this had happened on the Missouri so I found it fascinating. We then had some free time to wander around the decks some more, visit the gift shop and grab a quick snack.
After this, we regrouped with our tour and had a city of tour of Honolulu on our way to the various hotels where people got dropped off (our hotel was the last drop off of course and we arrived there about 3:30 pm). Upon arrival at the Marriott Waikiki Beach, we discovered that NCL had a desk setup and we got our room key from them. We were told that our luggage was already in our room which was nice. I felt that NCL handled the hotel situation very well as it was really quick getting checked in and situated. Our room was really nice with a spectacular ocean view but only had two queen size beds, so we paid for a rollaway for my step son to sleep on. The room was good sized but it was still rough having all four of us in one room but it was only for one night.
For dinner tonight we tried out Mac 24-7. I had seen it on Man vs. Food and wanted to check out the monstrous pancakes there. It was a short walk to the restaurant from our hotel and it wasn't crowded at all (it was about 5:45 pm now). I ordered Pineapple coconut macadamia nut pancakes and the first thing I noticed is that they didn't have coconut syrup. The pancakes arrived and they were indeed huge and they were also indeed dry and bland. I was surprised really by how tasteless they were. Bigger is not always better. The rest of my family's food was average too and none of us were really impressed. Thus my pancake challenge ended with the Gazebo winning, Eggs n' Things fairly close behind and Mac 24/7 way behind in last place.
My wife and the kids decided to go to the International Marketplace after dinner but I was tired and walked back to hotel. They did find a few more souvenirs so it was a worthwhile endeavor for them!
Post-cruise Saturday, 7/24 Home Our flight home wasn't until 7:30 pm today so we had arranged to rent a car from Enterprise for the day and drive back to the Dole Pineapple Plantation. Enterprise picked us up at our hotel at 10 am and drove us over to their nearby office. We ended up with a mini van and my wife got to be the driver for the day (as I'd be navigating today).
Our first stop was at Nico's on pier 38 for an early lunch. I'd seen this place on Diners, Drive-ins and dives on the food network and it looked great. I had a fresh Ahi sandwich that was outstanding and my step son had some fresh grilled Ahi that was out of this world. My wife and step daughter had cheeseburgers though as they don't like fish. Nico's features some of the freshest fish that one can get and is very casual with a decent number of tables on a patio type setting. I highly recommend it.
We had a nice relaxing drive back to the Dole Plantation (we felt like we had barely seen it on our circle island tour). This time we got to take the Pineapple Express (which is a short train tour), taste a yummy Dole whip, and do some more souvenir shopping. The kids did the maze, which is supposedly the second largest in the world. They gave up after about a half hour though as it was extremely hot out. We all really enjoyed our day here though and felt it was worth coming back.
We drove back to Honolulu and returned our vehicle and Enterprise called a taxi for us. Soon we were at the airport waiting for our flight home wondering where our vacation had gone. The 767 flight home was uneventful and we got all of our luggage okay so the journey had a happy ending.
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