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Day One

We arrived at the pier by 11:00 (we were anxious) and check in was a breeze. Here we experienced something we'd never seen before. A gentleman (from NCL) was standing in front of our seating group extolling the virtues of NCL and Freestyle, explaining how the dining worked, directing folks to menus, engaging folks and telling some humorous jokes. We thought this exceptional...especially when he introduced himself as the comedian, Tim Kaminski. I've never seen this level of attention pre-cruise before and it was a really great way to start the trip. Also, being that this was Hawaii, they had people passing out pamphlets with Hawaiian phrases, orchid hair picks for the women and a man and a woman dancing hula along with a band. Truly a fantastic way to begin the trip.

While still in the waiting area it was explained to us that the blowing of the conch shell means something significant is about to happen, so when I heard the blowing of the shells I knew the moment had arrived. It was time to board!

I am unfamiliar with the Pride of America, but knew that one main dining room would be open for lunch. We headed straight back and were the first ones seated at the Skyline restaurant. NCL has adopted a fixed lunch menu with a lot more choices than previous menus so we were pleased. Having a lot to choose from with increased quality is a good thing! We both enjoyed our meals and then set out to explore before we could go to our cabin at 2:00. We booked a stern balcony, cabin 9204. I'd read that these were some of the smallest cabins around...having sailed the Spirit I don't think they're any smaller than that. We found (when our luggage arrived) that there was plenty of storage (didn't use all available drawers!). I was initially dismayed at the lack of storage in the bathroom until I'd recalled reading on Cruise Critic that the PoA had a medicine chest. Sure enough one of the mirrors swung open, revealing shelves, so all was good.

This is a port intensive cruise so the Cruise Critic meet and greet is held on embarkation day after the muster drill. I have to admit I didn't think many officers would show up. I know that embarkation day is their busiest and wouldn't have blamed them at all for not taking time out of their crazy schedules to meet with us. I couldn't have been more surprised. All of the senior officers were there including the Captain, Hotel Director, F&B director, Executive Chef, etc. The Captain introduced himself to the group saying, "Hi, I'm Buz." How cool is that? The Captain was specific in his address to us. He indicated that NCL's Hawaii fleet of the past did have some challenges, but feel the product is now impressively refined. He told us of the challenges working with a mostly American crew but as the crew has gained experience, the service has improved.

As the meet and greet wound up, they asked us to come back on Friday to give them our feedback. They truly wanted to have an opportunity to talk with us and find out what we thought. We left the meet and greet very impressed with this initiative! They also explained some things during the meeting...like they want the Waikiki Bar, deck 13 aft to be their version of the Epic's Spice H20, and that we wouldn't be seeing lava. The day of the devastating earthquake in Japan, the Big Island too experienced a bit of a quake (nothing compared to Japan!). The 4.2 shake that occurred there shook up Mauna Loa and the place the lava had been escaping into the sea has been sealed. Who knows what Mother Nature will bring in the future, but for the time being there is no lava sail bye.

We went up to the Waikiki Bar for sailaway and caught a beautiful sunset as we left Honolulu. So far the islands had already enthralled us and we'd only experienced one of them. Dinner was at the Aloha Cafe (buffet). DH has been addicted to the Indian fare served at NCL's buffets ever since sailing with HD Sean W. on the Spirit back in 2009. Sean had instituted the "Taste of India" luncheon on the Spirit, showcasing the skills of their Indian chefs, and hounded us until we gave it a try. DH has been hooked ever since. Figuring that the PoA had an American crew, DH wasn't expecting much when he saw the Indian food in the buffet. He was pleasantly surprised to find the food as good as any he's had on any NCL ship and couldn't wait to try it again. I had to give the pizza a go (my "go-to" food) and found it to be very, very good. Thin crust, nice amount of sauce...a couple of slices of pepperoni with a little salad hit the spot. In fact the PoA pizza may deserve a "Best in Fleet" award, a spot previously held by the Gem during her inaugural season.

We managed to go to the opening night show and am I glad I did. It was Tim the comedian performing and he is the funniest comedian we have ever seen. DH is a pretty hard sell and he was laughing so hard through Tim's show that I thought he'd cry. I'd pay to see him perform in Vegas. NCL has truly scored with this entertainer! I did observe one thing that made me wonder if what I'd heard about the PoA and less than "par" service was true. A waiter in the theater stood there chatting up guests for a good 10 minutes before moving on and taking drink orders...hmmmmm...it was a long time to be chatting when you had a theater full of thirsty guests. I wondered if this meant we were in for slow service this week? We'd have to wait and see.

Day Two...Maui

Okay, so we weren't quite on island time yet. We were up around 6:00 and went out onto our balcony to watch our progress into the harbor. Of course part of the reason we were awake was that a door between our balcony and the next had been left open. As we pulled into the harbor, the door began swinging wildly in a huge pendulum arc, knocking chairs and loungers about. We'd have to leave a note asking the room steward to lock that for us!

Each morning that we reached a new island one of the two Hawaiian Ambassadors sailing with us would go the to outdoor area of the Aloha Cafe and give a presentation about the new island. From our balcony on deck 9 we were able to hear these talks and find out nuggets of information (when arriving in Hilo we'd learn that Mauna Loa means Long Mountain). We really liked having them onto the ship sharing Hawaiian culture with us. Throughout the week they offered Hula lessons, lessons on making lei's and gave informative talks. This was part of what made Hawaii really special for me; learning about the culture and history which is so different from the rest of the United States.

In doing extensive research for this trip it seemed to me that the three big things to do while visiting Maui are to go to Haleakala and watch the sunrise (or sunset), drive the road to Hana, and visit the town of Lahaina. We were doing none of them! Another thing I'd noticed in my research was that people tended to really hit the islands, doing two or three things a day. Well, DH and I, although we wanted to experience the islands, wanted a more relaxing trip than that. With that in mind we scheduled one excursion each day (all through NCL.com before we boarded) leaving the rest of the day open to "whatever".

This first morning we were doing the Waterfalls and Rainforest Hike. We were divided into two small groups and went off with our trusty guide. On the way to the area where we would hike we stopped to pick up sandwiches and water shoes (I would recommend that they get your meal choice and shoe size ahead of time to eliminate this stop). They do provide everything you need. Backpacks, rain ponchos, water, bug spray (you will need it!!!) and lunch. It's not an overly aggressive hike from a physical standpoint (with the exception of one steep decent/climb), but there are slippery streambeds to cross. Our guide, Helga, was very knowledgeable about the flora that we were seeing and was very helpful. It was a nice walk and the waterfalls and scenery lovely. DH wished it were deeper into a rainforest rather than traipsing around a ranch, but we'd recommend the hike.

Back at the ship we found that the connecting balcony door remained open. So DH went into MacGyver mode and dug around to see what he could use to lock the door himself. He found a bottle opener that we carry with us that with a little persuasion from him became an Allen wrench. Viola! Of course, just moments after he'd locked the door (and finished patting himself on the back) the steward's supervisor came with the key to lock the door. He was a bit perplexed that DH had managed to lock the door himself!

We relaxed until 7:00 when we made our way to the VIP cocktail party. This was up in the martini bar on deck 13. The Captain and all senior officers were there of course. We always look forward to this as a chance to meet fellow passengers and the officers. The set up was a bit different that we've experienced in the past with appetizers set up (elegantly) on the bar instead of passed service. I spied celery stalks with something purple piped onto it...I wondered if this was poi, but was too chicken to try! We had a lovely conversation with Peggy the bartender (until she got busy). She's all the way from Atlanta and has been with the PoA for 5 years and just loves it.

Dinner was at Jefferson's Bistro and what a fantastic experience that was! Our waiter, Chris (four years with the America) was the best waiter that we've ever had on an NCL cruise. Not only was he extremely knowledgeable about the Jefferson's Bistro menu, he gave us great suggestions on wine and on dining at the other venues. For example he explained that the Kona lobster we were seeing advertised as being served in the Bistro on Wednesday was in fact Maine lobster. A man on Kona raises them and the PoA picks up 75 lobsters each Wednesday. Wednesday is also "lobster night" on the PoA (that means spiny lobster in the main dining rooms), realizing we were from the east coast (and can have lobster any time) he suggested dining at East Meets West that night as the other restaurants would be packed. I've simply not encountered another waiter on a cruise ship who knew so much about what the ship had to offer. I in fact filled out my first S.T.Y.L.E. card ever (in 17 cruises) for him!

I have to say by the end of this first full day on the ship my concerns about potentially slow service had vanished. Yes, the staff is more "chatty" than an international crew, but that is the charm. As they're American and English speaking you have something in common right off the bat. Everyone we met was friendly and made our encounter with them special. And with the exception of that one waiter I saw the first night, everyone kept an eye on what was going on around him or her and worked with efficiency. This would be one of our most pleasant cruises in terms of crew interaction.

Back to our dinner at Jefferson's Bistro, the food itself was very good (as usual) but I have to mention the au gratin potatoes they serve with the beef tenderloin. They are to die for! A gooey, cheesy mound of yum that is just (to me anyway) better than the little potato tower traditionally served with the filet. Chris said that they'd modified the recipe to use less blue cheese because it's more in keeping with American tastes. All I can say is I wish I'd see these potatoes pop up on the rest of the Fleet!

Day three...a little more Maui!

This morning we caught the morning Molokini Crater Snorkel. In doing my research I'd read that it was better to go in the morning as in the afternoons it can be extremely windy. Also I'd read that the water temperature is on the chilly side. As I'm a huge wimp when it comes to cold water and we wanted to maximize our time in the water, we purchased shorty wetsuits before the trip. I'd also read that because of the popularity of this spot, the snorkeling could be pretty crowded. However we booked it anyway since we'd also read that it was some of the best snorkeling in the world.

A tour bus took us a short way to the harbor. The Pacific Whale Foundation operates the tour. You can book directly with them (and save some money) however we ended up being happy that we booked through NCL. The first reason was because we didn't have to figure out how to get to the harbor and secondly because our tour left about a half hour later than the other PWF tour that morning. That meant that as we arrived at the crater (about a 45 minute boat ride) three of the six boats that were there were leaving. Within 20 minutes two other boats left (including that other PWF boat). So for a good forty minutes or so it was just us and one other smaller boat. Granted our boat had close to 100 snorkelers on it (2 tour buses full) but the area is big and having those other boats leave was a huge plus.

Before arriving at the crater the crew passed out muffins, bagels and juice for breakfast (which I hadn't known about and thought was a nice touch). They also passed out snorkel gear and urged everyone to rent a wetsuit shirt ($10 each) because the water was only around 72 degrees. I was feeling pretty darn good about my wetsuit purchase! When I slid into the water without the cold knocking the breath out of my body I was even happier! My first thought when I put my face into the water was, "Wow!" All of the coral and the clarity of the water really did make you feel like you were looking into an aquarium. The snorkeling was stunning and far surpassed anything we'd experienced in the Caribbean. The variety of the coral was amazing and the water was nice and calm making for easy swimming. They let us snorkel here for about an hour and fifteen minutes, and we were in the water every moment.

From here they took us to Turtle Arches for a chance to swim with Hawaiian green sea turtles. The water here was a smidge warmer, but not as clear, the snorkeling more crowded and the current stronger. Soon after getting into the water, all around us we could hear cries of "There's one!" and "Here's another one!" but DH and I didn't see one turtle! Until we had just climbed back onto the boat that is! This one turtle popped up right next to the stairs at the back of the boat as if to wish us well. That completely made our day!

At this point lunch was served. Deli platters to build your own sandwiches and pasta salad were provided. Also the bar was opened and all-inclusive. A pleasant surprise and a Maui beer tasted good after all of that exercise! I would give this excursion 4 ½ stars out of 5. Only docking them a half because on the way back to the ship there's a forced shopping stop at the PWF store. At this point all I wanted was to get back to the ship and clean off so I didn't appreciate the stop at all (and I have to confess I'm not much of a shopper).

Back at the ship we took some pictures as we sailed away from Maui. It would be a low-key evening after all that activity today! Dinner was at the buffet again and a chance for DH to have more of his beloved curry. We were seated near the crepe station and I watched intrigued as other passengers had desserts whipped up fresh right before their eyes. I'd have to keep that in mind for another night!

After dinner we spent a pleasant hour in the Mardi Gras Lounge watching an Eagles tribute by Toby Beau. Toby and his wife comprise a two-man band with her playing keyboards and him guitar. It was a good show with each of them giving you a history of the Eagles in between the songs they played from each album. We'd missed his Beatles tribute the first night and were glad that we'd caught this performance. It was a nice way to wind up our day.

Tomorrow we were looking forward to Hilo and Volcanoes National Park.

Day Four Hilo

The arrival in Hilo was stunning. Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea loomed above us, shrouded in clouds. We'd been warned that Hilo is generally rainy and packed a bag for our excursion with rain jackets just in case. I also brought some granola bars as this was a 6-hour excursion and they only provided snacks, not lunch. When we booked this trip we knew that Volcanoes National Park was a must. The excursion we chose was the Kilauea Volcano Biking. We figured it was a good way to get some exercise and see the park up close.

This was an excellent tour. We were in a small group of eight (the bus only holds 13 so you'd never be in a group larger than that). The riding part of the tour wasn't particularly challenging, except for a couple of hills (and one fun downhill!), but you should expect to be in at least average shape. If you're not or you haven't ridden a bike in a while, you can always hop off your bike at any time and get in the chase van. You'll still stop at all of the same places as the group, but from the comfort of the van. Our driver was Ferlin and our bike guide Daniel and both excellent guides. Ferlin, in particular imparted his knowledge with humor.

The tour started at the Jaggar Museum where you can learn a lot about volcanoes and see seismographs at work monitoring movement of the earth. We then picked up the bikes and after a safety lesson we were off. This was truly great. All riding (except for one very small portion) was on the road. We were taken to many overlooks, through a rainforest, through a lava tube (we walked that part) and to lava itself (not the glowing kind!) I didn't expect a rainforest on this tour...I'd pictured a pretty barren place, which some of it was, but it is amazing what will grow on the lava and we learned an incredible amount of information about Hawaii's eco-system. For example did you know that Hawaii's mint doesn't taste like mint? Also, their nettles don't have nettles on them and their stinkbugs don't stink. In Hawaii there are no natural predators to these plants and animals, therefore they didn't develop defense mechanisms (like sharp tastes and scents). Cool, huh? (It was to us at any rate!)

The scenery was amazing and it was great to ride past the tour buses on our mountain bikes. The lava tube was very cool, but I really liked walking on the lava (from a flow in the 1970's). It was amazing to see all of the colors in the lava and to see little o'hia trees taking root (the o'hia is the first plant that will grow on the lava).

Oh, have to mention, despite being prepared for rain we caught the briefest misting and that was it. The sun was out for most of our journey to the delight of our guides. They kept saying that their shoes were usually "squishing" 20 minutes into the ride.

All tours must stop at a store it seems. At least this tour went to a candy store with free samples!

Back on the ship we were walking around deck 13 we spotted a whale off in the distance. We rushed to the stern of the ship for a better view and realized we'd have a better view from our balcony. I don't know why, but that whale (turned out to be whales) frolicked in the bay just beyond the harbor all afternoon and we just hung out watching them. We knew it was nearing the end of whale season in Hawaii and were grateful to see even a couple (I neglected to mention that one was spotted on our crater snorkel also).

During sailaway we went to the Napa Wine Bar because they have outdoor seating on the promenade deck. They also have Happy Hour between 6:00 and 7:00 and offer a red, a white, and a sparkling wine for $4.50. We were able to procure a table and enjoyed a nice glass of wine as we sailed from Hilo...and had a final sighting of the whales while we were at it!

The Asian restaurants on NCL ships are always a favorite, so tonight's dinner was at East Meets West. I usually go for the sweet and sour pork (so much better than what I can get at home) or the Kung Pao chicken. Tonight though I thought I should go for lighter fare to combat the inevitable cruise weight (we had nearly another week of vacation to go once we left the PoA). So I opted for the vegetarian dish, which was a stir-fry of vegetables with silken tofu and a sauce that was absolutely phenomenal. If I hadn't been in a restaurant I probably would have licked my plate clean!

After dinner we went to check out the magician Murray. The cruise director Sarah Hammel kept mentioning that he'd been on America's Got Talent (which I don't watch) so I figured he had to be good. He was very talented and I really enjoyed the interaction between him and his seemingly surly assistant Will. My only negative was that there seemed to be more time spent on banter (admittedly funny) and self-promotion than magic. What tricks Murray did perform were very good and he would be doing a close-up magic show later in the week.

Tomorrow was Kona and our first afternoon excursion of the trip. I'd booked them that way on purpose thinking that at the beginning of the cruise we'd be getting up early, still on east coast time. By now we were looking forward to being able to sleep in a bit the last days of the cruise!

Day Five, Kona

Ah, it was so nice to sleep in and enjoy a leisurely breakfast before our excursion. We figured we'd take our time leaving the ship and still give ourselves a couple of hours to walk around Kona. We walked down to the promenade deck so we could check out the tender operation (we'd only tendered once before). As the crew of the PoA does this every week, four lifeboats motored between the ship and the pier with Swiss clock efficiency. There's a nice, sturdy platform that the lifeboats moor to making for an easy transition from the ship to the bobbing tender.

We stopped at the buffet to grab some sandwich fixings before we went ashore. This was another "snacks provided" excursion and since we'd be snorkeling we thought it smart to bring some extra fuel along. We probably waited in line for about 20 minutes before we got on a tender. I realized later we could have used our VIP tender tickets (received for being Platinum) but we weren't in a hurry.

Kona was lovely. We enjoyed walking around the town thoroughly and were amazed at how quickly the businesses had opened after being struck by the tsunami in March. We heard of one woman who was open within a week after kind neighbors brought back her wares as they were found strewn about the island. DH and I agreed that the Big Island was our favorite island thus far (which shocked all crew members that we mentioned this to!). The majesty of Volcanoes National Park and the quaintness of Kona appealed to us. Wonder what the real estate prices are like?

Our excursion today was the Captain Zodiac snorkel, which research showed to be very popular. This was a far different experience than the Molokini Crater snorkel. Instead of a large comfortable boat, we were perched on the edge of the zodiac with our feet tucked under rope bolted to the floor of the vessel that the captain referred to as "feet belts". The thrill of whizzing over the water and having the captain whip the boat into tight donuts (we also buzzed a parasailor who had just been launched into the air) is as much part of the experience as the snorkeling. But it is not a comfortable ride (there were a couple of "wedgie breaks") and isn't for the faint of heart! On the other hand there were 16 snorkelers in our group, not 100!

The snorkeling was in the beautiful Kealakekua Bay, the only marine life sanctuary in on the Big Island. This is also where the Captain Cook Monument is. The captain called us wusses when we slipped into our wetsuits, but despite his insistence that the water was around 78 degrees, we can assure you it was maybe 2 degrees warmer than Molokini and we were again grateful for the insulation. The water at the bay wasn't as clear as Molokini but the variety of fish much greater. There was also a thirty-foot drop off where we were told there was a chance to spot manta rays. That didn't happen, but I did come uncomfortably close to a white-mouthed moray eel!

I was glad we'd had our sandwiches. As we were the first in and last out of the water there was no food left for us (in this instance just bags of chips and cookies). At least the other snorkel trip wouldn't allow people to have seconds until everyone had been served.

On the way back to the harbor we checked out lava tubes and caves that were only accessible from the water, which was pretty neat.

Before we knew it we were back at the ship and sailing away. Since we'd been anchored, we kind of looked up at one point and realized that Kona was getting smaller!

Dinner tonight was at Lazy J's Steakhouse (which I kept calling Cagney's no matter how hard I tried not to). We both stuck with steaks (although as it was lobster night they were offering a prime rib somehow incrusted with lobster and scallops if I recall the description correctly!). Whatever you choose to call the steakhouse, it has become a favorite place to dine.

Tonight was the famous White Hot Party (at the Mardi Gras Lounge) and we'd been told that it was definitely worth a peek, just to check out Tim Kaminski if nothing else. Sure enough, Tim was there all in white...including a short white skirt, serving cocktails! (I heard that he made a couple of hundred in tips the first time he did it!) He stopped by and encouraged us to go to the Waikiki bar later. There was a large group of Australians on board who were helping to make this a happening spot.

Tim is quite the ambassador for NCL. We had seen him all over the ship this week and we'd been told he'd come up with the idea of a special lunch at Jefferson's Bistro where you'd be served a special menu and get to dine and mingle with the ship's entertainers. All of the Cruise Critics who were at the meet and greet had been invited to attend to check out the launch of this concept and give our feedback. I don't know that I would have gone without that invitation but gave Tim and the PoA crew props for coming up with new ideas!

We did stop by the Waikiki bar, but the party hadn't started yet and we now had to make it an early night. Our afternoon excursion in Kauai had been cancelled due to lack of participation and we had been rescheduled to the morning. Ugh!

Day six, Kauai

Up at 7:00, breakfast at the buffet and off the ship to meet up with our Kayak and Waterfalls tour. This was my least favorite tour. It was a mercifully short van ride to the river that we would kayak down. I say merciful, as we were packed into the van at full capacity like sardines. Now the kayak part was nice. Two thumbs up there. It was a lazy 2 and ½ mile paddle up the calm and picturesque river, which I enjoyed. I'd read reviews complaining that the kayaking part was too short, but for someone who'd never kayaked before I thought it was about right. There was a super short hike through a rain forest...the description on the NCL website says a half a mile, but I think that was generous. We then drove to the area where we'd have lunch, overlooking hills where the intro to MASH was filmed. From there we walked down a steep hill to the two waterfalls that we would visit. The decent was long with stairs built into the earth (there would be a lot of complaining about the climb back up!).

I'm sure that part of my boredom with this trip was that we'd already seen great waterfalls in Maui and plenty of rainforests in both Maui and Hilo. But I think the main thing was that the guides were just boring. They barely spoke and although one of them did impart some information about the flora that we were seeing the other trudged along nearly mute. Anyway after the climb back up to the top we did have a picnic lunch with a selection of robust sandwiches and chips. After that it was a 10-minute ride back to the ship. Honestly I would have rather been brought back to the ship for lunch since it was so close. The provided lunch just seemed an excuse to charge more money for the excursion.

Once we'd cleaned up we walked from the pier to Kalapaki beach (take a right out of the terminal and walk for about 10 minutes). Along the way we poked into some shops then arrived at the beach. I was pleased that it was a lovely beach (located at the Marriott) and already knew that Duke's Kauai was there. As we'd had a fantastic dinner at Duke's Waikiki we wanted to stop at this one at least for a cocktail. Wouldn't you know we arrived in time for happy hour? We grabbed a table close to the beach, and sat back listening to the band that was performing. The sun was shining, a light breeze danced in from the water and green mountains looked down on us. What a lovely setting for a couple of Duke's Mai-tai's (made with dark rum and far better than any Mai-tai I've ever had) and crab meat and mac nut wontons. Ah, this is the life!

Later on dinner would be at the buffet. I bring this up for only one reason. The crepe station. Yes dinner was delicious, but I kept looking over at that station and finally walked up to the chef and asked what the selection of fillings were. He listed off what you'd expect; blueberries, pineapple, applesauce, and then he got interesting. He said they had cheesecake banana (hmm, intriguing...) and the "smear". Okay I bite and ask what is the "smear". He smiles and says that it is basically the filling that goes into cinnamon buns. "If you want my recommendation," he continued, "go with the banana cheesecake AND the smear." Who am I to argue with an expert?? I drizzled this creation with a little hot fudge and a dollop of whipped cream. I took one bite and I think my eyes rolled into the back of my head. OMG, was this fantastic!!! Ridiculously so. In fact one of the best desserts I have ever had. Anywhere. I have no idea if this combination is available on other ships, but I'll be making a beeline for the crepe station on the Star my next cruise to find out! The chef had been watching for my reaction. I gave him a big thumbs up and he gave me a huge grin in return.

We took advantage of being docked overnight to walk back to Duke's. Only one night left on our wonderful vacation! Little did I know how great it would be!

Day Seven - Kauai and NaPali Coast

Today was the only time that Mother Nature really interfered with our plans. It had been our intention to spend the morning at Kalapaki beach. Just laze around and take it easy until we needed to be back on the ship. Standing on our balcony, DH saw the black rain clouds moving in and decided it had been a good thing that we'd gotten a late start that morning. It poured off and on all morning until we finally saw a break that looked like it would last long enough for us to do some shopping. We dashed off of the ship and I picked up a t-shirt that I'd spied the day before and some water at the ABC Store (they truly are everywhere!). We thought about walking to the beach, but saw the clouds rolling in again and booked it back to the ship.

Back to the cabin to drop our things off and we noticed a note in the holder by the door. It was advertising a special to order drinks for your cabin for the NaPali Coast sail by. They had different levels of champagne from sparkling wine on up (all came with chocolate covered strawberries), and of course fruity drinks served in pineapples. All orders waived the normal delivery charge. I thought it was a pretty neat idea, especially if you were on the port side in a balcony cabin where you would have the best view of the coast.

All aboard was 1:30 and sailaway at 2:00. However we had lunch with the entertainers to attend. We arrived outside of Jefferson's Bistro just before 1:00 and saw there were plenty of other people waiting in the hall for the doors to open. Shortly thereafter we were let into the restaurant. We were escorted to a booth where tomato salads were already waiting at each place setting. After a few moments we were joined by two crewmembers that worked in reception. I hadn't expected this, and thought it a nice surprise. I'm always interested in talking to the crew, but had found it especially interesting on the Pride of America. We spent a few moments chatting before Tim Kaminski joined us at our table. We felt like we'd won the PoA celebrity lottery. Throughout the meal the five of us had a really nice conversation. All of us talking about cruise life and different things we'd experienced. Being that it was Tim, he also had some extremely funny stories to share.

Once we'd finished our entrees (a delicious and juicy pork with roasted potatoes), Tim got up to mingle and other performers either stopped by or joined us. We had a really nice chat with Peter, one of the singers from "Oh, What a Night". And talked briefly with Pamala Stanley, who'd just joined the America and Murray the magician.

After dessert (a luscious black forest cake) the entertainers stood and introduced themselves to the room. They took questions, one lady drawing a big laugh when she asked Murray about his time on American Idol (he was on America's Got Talent). Everyone was very personable and open and I enjoyed the entire experience more than I thought I would. At the end of the event, the HD, Cary, announced that the luncheon was on the house for everyone, as they really just wanted our feedback.

We didn't have a lot of time before we had to go to the follow-up Cruise Critic meeting. I was again impressed by the turn out of the officers. The Captain and Hotel Director were there. Along with the Executive Chef , who'd been promoted to Food and Beverage manager, the assistant F&B manager, the bar manager, etc. I was initially a little appalled as there were only 4 of us Cruise Critics there, but thankfully a few more showed up and balanced out the numbers. There were boardroom style tables arranged in a circle and we all sat in a very friendly and open manner.

I cannot emphasize how impressed I was with this. People are always coming back from Cruise Critic meetings on NCL blown-away by the turnout of officers at the meet and greets compared to other cruise lines, but this takes it to an entirely new level. They so sincerely want to know what you think and to have the opportunity to address any issues that I felt badly for not having anything to complain about! I did mention that I'd initially been concerned that the service might be a little slow due to chatting (This drew knowing smiles from the officers and Cary said, "The good news is the crew speaks English. The bad news is that the crew speaks English.") But told them that I was wrong and in fact found the crew to be refreshing and inviting. Everyone present had mostly positive experiences to report. The minor items that could be addressed were (the Cruise Critic who complained about the ships dEcor would have to go home unsatisfied though!).

From here we had to rush upstairs for the NaPali Coast sail by. We chose to go to the Waikiki bar and secured a table out back on the port side. This was an amazing experience that I can only compare to sailing Glacier Bay in Alaska. One of the Hawaiian ambassadors spoke over the ships speakers, telling us about the history of the coast and humpback whales (we did see a couple while we were here!) as we ever so slowly made our way up the coast. The view became more magnificent the further we progressed. The cliffs begin covered in beautiful shades of green before adding stunning rusts and browns to their craggy features. After 45 minutes or so the ship turned and picked up speed as we headed away from the coast. You really do need to be on the port side to get the full effect of this experience. Although we did have a really lovely view of our departure after we ran down to our stern balcony!

Busy, busy, busy. Now it was time to begin packing (boo!) and get ready for dinner at the Bistro. We had to be more organized with packing since we'd be boarding a plane instead of flinging bags in a car for a drive home, our normal routine. So packing was taking a bit longer than usual. Finally we stacked the suitcases on the couch and headed to dinner. We both had the French onion soup. In my opinion the cream of mushroom soup just isn't as good as the days when it was all creamy and rich and served in a bread bowl. Of course I had the filet again as I had to have my last chance at those potatoes, and DH had the duck two-ways, which he thoroughly enjoyed.

It is at this point on the cruise that I usually peter out. My enthusiasm wanes as post cruise depression begins to sink in (I know! So soon!). Well, the crew on the PoA gave me no chance to give into moping. For the first time in my seventeen cruises I actually attended the farewell show! Murray kicked things off with some clever magic and banter. Tim came out and made us laugh 'til we cried. The guys from Oh What A Night did a few numbers (not my cuppa, but they're very talented). Then the crew came out for the farewell number that I had previously only experienced on YouTube. It was a really nice way to wrap things up...or so I thought.

After the show we headed up to the Waikiki Bar where the party was only beginning. Tim was there as was the Aussie contingent we'd heard so much about. The music was pumping (never thought I'd hear Ozzy Osbourne on a cruise!), drinks were flowing and the enthusiasm of everyone around us was contagious. More crewmembers joined in the fun, included David the Art Director, aka Tim's partner in crime. Finally, we just HAD to get back to our cabin. Our bags needed to be out in 15 minutes (not that I think it'd matter if they were a little late) and we hadn't finished packing yet!

I have never had so much fun my last night of a cruise. Thank you Pride of America!

Final morning...

Alas, the time has come to say farewell. We had VIP disembarkation tags courtesy of Linda the Latitudes rep. This was a very laid back system as there was no customs to clear (this was our first trip in 9 years that we didn't need a passport!). So instead of meeting the concierge for an escort off of the ship, we were told that we could pretty much leave any time after 7:45

We took our time getting off of the ship and were probably in the baggage area around 8:45. Can you believe it? This was the only snag we hit the entire cruise. One of our pieces of luggage was missing! First time in all of our cruises that this has ever happened! DH and I both combed the rows upon rows of luggage to no avail. After 45 minutes of fruitless searching we finally gave up and put in a lost baggage claim. We consoled ourselves that the bag had contained nothing important. It was just our snorkel gear and if one of our bags had to go missing that would be the one we'd choose. DH kept saying that he bet that our bag had been put with the Easy Jet bags in error.

Ultimately that was exactly what had happened. We had gotten a cab and were a mile from the cruise terminal when my cell phone rang. They had found our bag (why couldn't they have found it 5 minutes sooner?). We asked the cab driver to turn around and back at the pier, DH ran in to get our bag. That was no easy feat as everyone kept trying to get DH to go back through security. He finally found someone who would listen to what was going on and would help him. In the meantime, outside, my driver was forced to leave and circle the block because we were impeding traffic. As we entered the drop off area again, there was DH at the curb with our bag. Thank goodness our flight wasn't until 12:30!!

We finally arrived at the airport with a $40 fare instead of the $20 it should have cost, but hey, cheaper than replacing our gear!

So that was our one snag of the whole trip. Not too bad.

The Pride of America still carries a bad reputation from her early days when NCLA was still experiencing growing pains. It amazed me even before the cruise how many posts I'd see about this even though her recent reviews are overwhelming positive. It's so hard to shake off the negative. But this is not your Dad's PoA! From the moment stepped into the waiting area, we knew this was going to be a great experience. The Hawaiian dancers and singers would have done that but having Tim there talking to the guests, the Cruise Director mingling and greeting people, and even the HD walking through checking things out this was a new level of detail for us. During the cruise, most of the crew we spoke with had been with the ship an average of 4 years, so they knew what shipboard life was all about and they enjoyed their jobs. That enjoyment was evident in the way they treated the guests and went out of their way to make you feel welcome. Even the crew we never really talked to always greeted us with a smile and an Aloha!

This was really one of our best cruises with a special thanks to Captain Buz, Hotel Director Cary Turecamo, the wonderful crew, the entertainers, and the fantastic destination that is Hawaii.

Mahalo, PoA!

Not Your Dad's Pride of America!

Pride of America Cruise Review by Cubechick

Trip Details
  • Sail Date: April 2011
  • Destination: Hawaii
  • Cabin Type: Aft-Facing Large Balcony
Day One

We arrived at the pier by 11:00 (we were anxious) and check in was a breeze. Here we experienced something we'd never seen before. A gentleman (from NCL) was standing in front of our seating group extolling the virtues of NCL and Freestyle, explaining how the dining worked, directing folks to menus, engaging folks and telling some humorous jokes. We thought this exceptional...especially when he introduced himself as the comedian, Tim Kaminski. I've never seen this level of attention pre-cruise before and it was a really great way to start the trip. Also, being that this was Hawaii, they had people passing out pamphlets with Hawaiian phrases, orchid hair picks for the women and a man and a woman dancing hula along with a band. Truly a fantastic way to begin the trip.

While still in the waiting area it was explained to us that the blowing of the conch shell means something significant is about to happen, so when I heard the blowing of the shells I knew the moment had arrived. It was time to board!

I am unfamiliar with the Pride of America, but knew that one main dining room would be open for lunch. We headed straight back and were the first ones seated at the Skyline restaurant. NCL has adopted a fixed lunch menu with a lot more choices than previous menus so we were pleased. Having a lot to choose from with increased quality is a good thing! We both enjoyed our meals and then set out to explore before we could go to our cabin at 2:00. We booked a stern balcony, cabin 9204. I'd read that these were some of the smallest cabins around...having sailed the Spirit I don't think they're any smaller than that. We found (when our luggage arrived) that there was plenty of storage (didn't use all available drawers!). I was initially dismayed at the lack of storage in the bathroom until I'd recalled reading on Cruise Critic that the PoA had a medicine chest. Sure enough one of the mirrors swung open, revealing shelves, so all was good.

This is a port intensive cruise so the Cruise Critic meet and greet is held on embarkation day after the muster drill. I have to admit I didn't think many officers would show up. I know that embarkation day is their busiest and wouldn't have blamed them at all for not taking time out of their crazy schedules to meet with us. I couldn't have been more surprised. All of the senior officers were there including the Captain, Hotel Director, F&B director, Executive Chef, etc. The Captain introduced himself to the group saying, "Hi, I'm Buz." How cool is that? The Captain was specific in his address to us. He indicated that NCL's Hawaii fleet of the past did have some challenges, but feel the product is now impressively refined. He told us of the challenges working with a mostly American crew but as the crew has gained experience, the service has improved.

As the meet and greet wound up, they asked us to come back on Friday to give them our feedback. They truly wanted to have an opportunity to talk with us and find out what we thought. We left the meet and greet very impressed with this initiative! They also explained some things during the meeting...like they want the Waikiki Bar, deck 13 aft to be their version of the Epic's Spice H20, and that we wouldn't be seeing lava. The day of the devastating earthquake in Japan, the Big Island too experienced a bit of a quake (nothing compared to Japan!). The 4.2 shake that occurred there shook up Mauna Loa and the place the lava had been escaping into the sea has been sealed. Who knows what Mother Nature will bring in the future, but for the time being there is no lava sail bye.

We went up to the Waikiki Bar for sailaway and caught a beautiful sunset as we left Honolulu. So far the islands had already enthralled us and we'd only experienced one of them. Dinner was at the Aloha Cafe (buffet). DH has been addicted to the Indian fare served at NCL's buffets ever since sailing with HD Sean W. on the Spirit back in 2009. Sean had instituted the "Taste of India" luncheon on the Spirit, showcasing the skills of their Indian chefs, and hounded us until we gave it a try. DH has been hooked ever since. Figuring that the PoA had an American crew, DH wasn't expecting much when he saw the Indian food in the buffet. He was pleasantly surprised to find the food as good as any he's had on any NCL ship and couldn't wait to try it again. I had to give the pizza a go (my "go-to" food) and found it to be very, very good. Thin crust, nice amount of sauce...a couple of slices of pepperoni with a little salad hit the spot. In fact the PoA pizza may deserve a "Best in Fleet" award, a spot previously held by the Gem during her inaugural season.

We managed to go to the opening night show and am I glad I did. It was Tim the comedian performing and he is the funniest comedian we have ever seen. DH is a pretty hard sell and he was laughing so hard through Tim's show that I thought he'd cry. I'd pay to see him perform in Vegas. NCL has truly scored with this entertainer! I did observe one thing that made me wonder if what I'd heard about the PoA and less than "par" service was true. A waiter in the theater stood there chatting up guests for a good 10 minutes before moving on and taking drink orders...hmmmmm...it was a long time to be chatting when you had a theater full of thirsty guests. I wondered if this meant we were in for slow service this week? We'd have to wait and see.

Day Two...Maui

Okay, so we weren't quite on island time yet. We were up around 6:00 and went out onto our balcony to watch our progress into the harbor. Of course part of the reason we were awake was that a door between our balcony and the next had been left open. As we pulled into the harbor, the door began swinging wildly in a huge pendulum arc, knocking chairs and loungers about. We'd have to leave a note asking the room steward to lock that for us!

Each morning that we reached a new island one of the two Hawaiian Ambassadors sailing with us would go the to outdoor area of the Aloha Cafe and give a presentation about the new island. From our balcony on deck 9 we were able to hear these talks and find out nuggets of information (when arriving in Hilo we'd learn that Mauna Loa means Long Mountain). We really liked having them onto the ship sharing Hawaiian culture with us. Throughout the week they offered Hula lessons, lessons on making lei's and gave informative talks. This was part of what made Hawaii really special for me; learning about the culture and history which is so different from the rest of the United States.

In doing extensive research for this trip it seemed to me that the three big things to do while visiting Maui are to go to Haleakala and watch the sunrise (or sunset), drive the road to Hana, and visit the town of Lahaina. We were doing none of them! Another thing I'd noticed in my research was that people tended to really hit the islands, doing two or three things a day. Well, DH and I, although we wanted to experience the islands, wanted a more relaxing trip than that. With that in mind we scheduled one excursion each day (all through NCL.com before we boarded) leaving the rest of the day open to "whatever".

This first morning we were doing the Waterfalls and Rainforest Hike. We were divided into two small groups and went off with our trusty guide. On the way to the area where we would hike we stopped to pick up sandwiches and water shoes (I would recommend that they get your meal choice and shoe size ahead of time to eliminate this stop). They do provide everything you need. Backpacks, rain ponchos, water, bug spray (you will need it!!!) and lunch. It's not an overly aggressive hike from a physical standpoint (with the exception of one steep decent/climb), but there are slippery streambeds to cross. Our guide, Helga, was very knowledgeable about the flora that we were seeing and was very helpful. It was a nice walk and the waterfalls and scenery lovely. DH wished it were deeper into a rainforest rather than traipsing around a ranch, but we'd recommend the hike.

Back at the ship we found that the connecting balcony door remained open. So DH went into MacGyver mode and dug around to see what he could use to lock the door himself. He found a bottle opener that we carry with us that with a little persuasion from him became an Allen wrench. Viola! Of course, just moments after he'd locked the door (and finished patting himself on the back) the steward's supervisor came with the key to lock the door. He was a bit perplexed that DH had managed to lock the door himself!

We relaxed until 7:00 when we made our way to the VIP cocktail party. This was up in the martini bar on deck 13. The Captain and all senior officers were there of course. We always look forward to this as a chance to meet fellow passengers and the officers. The set up was a bit different that we've experienced in the past with appetizers set up (elegantly) on the bar instead of passed service. I spied celery stalks with something purple piped onto it...I wondered if this was poi, but was too chicken to try! We had a lovely conversation with Peggy the bartender (until she got busy). She's all the way from Atlanta and has been with the PoA for 5 years and just loves it.

Dinner was at Jefferson's Bistro and what a fantastic experience that was! Our waiter, Chris (four years with the America) was the best waiter that we've ever had on an NCL cruise. Not only was he extremely knowledgeable about the Jefferson's Bistro menu, he gave us great suggestions on wine and on dining at the other venues. For example he explained that the Kona lobster we were seeing advertised as being served in the Bistro on Wednesday was in fact Maine lobster. A man on Kona raises them and the PoA picks up 75 lobsters each Wednesday. Wednesday is also "lobster night" on the PoA (that means spiny lobster in the main dining rooms), realizing we were from the east coast (and can have lobster any time) he suggested dining at East Meets West that night as the other restaurants would be packed. I've simply not encountered another waiter on a cruise ship who knew so much about what the ship had to offer. I in fact filled out my first S.T.Y.L.E. card ever (in 17 cruises) for him!

I have to say by the end of this first full day on the ship my concerns about potentially slow service had vanished. Yes, the staff is more "chatty" than an international crew, but that is the charm. As they're American and English speaking you have something in common right off the bat. Everyone we met was friendly and made our encounter with them special. And with the exception of that one waiter I saw the first night, everyone kept an eye on what was going on around him or her and worked with efficiency. This would be one of our most pleasant cruises in terms of crew interaction.

Back to our dinner at Jefferson's Bistro, the food itself was very good (as usual) but I have to mention the au gratin potatoes they serve with the beef tenderloin. They are to die for! A gooey, cheesy mound of yum that is just (to me anyway) better than the little potato tower traditionally served with the filet. Chris said that they'd modified the recipe to use less blue cheese because it's more in keeping with American tastes. All I can say is I wish I'd see these potatoes pop up on the rest of the Fleet!

Day three...a little more Maui!

This morning we caught the morning Molokini Crater Snorkel. In doing my research I'd read that it was better to go in the morning as in the afternoons it can be extremely windy. Also I'd read that the water temperature is on the chilly side. As I'm a huge wimp when it comes to cold water and we wanted to maximize our time in the water, we purchased shorty wetsuits before the trip. I'd also read that because of the popularity of this spot, the snorkeling could be pretty crowded. However we booked it anyway since we'd also read that it was some of the best snorkeling in the world.

A tour bus took us a short way to the harbor. The Pacific Whale Foundation operates the tour. You can book directly with them (and save some money) however we ended up being happy that we booked through NCL. The first reason was because we didn't have to figure out how to get to the harbor and secondly because our tour left about a half hour later than the other PWF tour that morning. That meant that as we arrived at the crater (about a 45 minute boat ride) three of the six boats that were there were leaving. Within 20 minutes two other boats left (including that other PWF boat). So for a good forty minutes or so it was just us and one other smaller boat. Granted our boat had close to 100 snorkelers on it (2 tour buses full) but the area is big and having those other boats leave was a huge plus.

Before arriving at the crater the crew passed out muffins, bagels and juice for breakfast (which I hadn't known about and thought was a nice touch). They also passed out snorkel gear and urged everyone to rent a wetsuit shirt ($10 each) because the water was only around 72 degrees. I was feeling pretty darn good about my wetsuit purchase! When I slid into the water without the cold knocking the breath out of my body I was even happier! My first thought when I put my face into the water was, "Wow!" All of the coral and the clarity of the water really did make you feel like you were looking into an aquarium. The snorkeling was stunning and far surpassed anything we'd experienced in the Caribbean. The variety of the coral was amazing and the water was nice and calm making for easy swimming. They let us snorkel here for about an hour and fifteen minutes, and we were in the water every moment.

From here they took us to Turtle Arches for a chance to swim with Hawaiian green sea turtles. The water here was a smidge warmer, but not as clear, the snorkeling more crowded and the current stronger. Soon after getting into the water, all around us we could hear cries of "There's one!" and "Here's another one!" but DH and I didn't see one turtle! Until we had just climbed back onto the boat that is! This one turtle popped up right next to the stairs at the back of the boat as if to wish us well. That completely made our day!

At this point lunch was served. Deli platters to build your own sandwiches and pasta salad were provided. Also the bar was opened and all-inclusive. A pleasant surprise and a Maui beer tasted good after all of that exercise! I would give this excursion 4 ½ stars out of 5. Only docking them a half because on the way back to the ship there's a forced shopping stop at the PWF store. At this point all I wanted was to get back to the ship and clean off so I didn't appreciate the stop at all (and I have to confess I'm not much of a shopper).

Back at the ship we took some pictures as we sailed away from Maui. It would be a low-key evening after all that activity today! Dinner was at the buffet again and a chance for DH to have more of his beloved curry. We were seated near the crepe station and I watched intrigued as other passengers had desserts whipped up fresh right before their eyes. I'd have to keep that in mind for another night!

After dinner we spent a pleasant hour in the Mardi Gras Lounge watching an Eagles tribute by Toby Beau. Toby and his wife comprise a two-man band with her playing keyboards and him guitar. It was a good show with each of them giving you a history of the Eagles in between the songs they played from each album. We'd missed his Beatles tribute the first night and were glad that we'd caught this performance. It was a nice way to wind up our day.

Tomorrow we were looking forward to Hilo and Volcanoes National Park.

Day Four Hilo

The arrival in Hilo was stunning. Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea loomed above us, shrouded in clouds. We'd been warned that Hilo is generally rainy and packed a bag for our excursion with rain jackets just in case. I also brought some granola bars as this was a 6-hour excursion and they only provided snacks, not lunch. When we booked this trip we knew that Volcanoes National Park was a must. The excursion we chose was the Kilauea Volcano Biking. We figured it was a good way to get some exercise and see the park up close.

This was an excellent tour. We were in a small group of eight (the bus only holds 13 so you'd never be in a group larger than that). The riding part of the tour wasn't particularly challenging, except for a couple of hills (and one fun downhill!), but you should expect to be in at least average shape. If you're not or you haven't ridden a bike in a while, you can always hop off your bike at any time and get in the chase van. You'll still stop at all of the same places as the group, but from the comfort of the van. Our driver was Ferlin and our bike guide Daniel and both excellent guides. Ferlin, in particular imparted his knowledge with humor.

The tour started at the Jaggar Museum where you can learn a lot about volcanoes and see seismographs at work monitoring movement of the earth. We then picked up the bikes and after a safety lesson we were off. This was truly great. All riding (except for one very small portion) was on the road. We were taken to many overlooks, through a rainforest, through a lava tube (we walked that part) and to lava itself (not the glowing kind!) I didn't expect a rainforest on this tour...I'd pictured a pretty barren place, which some of it was, but it is amazing what will grow on the lava and we learned an incredible amount of information about Hawaii's eco-system. For example did you know that Hawaii's mint doesn't taste like mint? Also, their nettles don't have nettles on them and their stinkbugs don't stink. In Hawaii there are no natural predators to these plants and animals, therefore they didn't develop defense mechanisms (like sharp tastes and scents). Cool, huh? (It was to us at any rate!)

The scenery was amazing and it was great to ride past the tour buses on our mountain bikes. The lava tube was very cool, but I really liked walking on the lava (from a flow in the 1970's). It was amazing to see all of the colors in the lava and to see little o'hia trees taking root (the o'hia is the first plant that will grow on the lava).

Oh, have to mention, despite being prepared for rain we caught the briefest misting and that was it. The sun was out for most of our journey to the delight of our guides. They kept saying that their shoes were usually "squishing" 20 minutes into the ride.

All tours must stop at a store it seems. At least this tour went to a candy store with free samples!

Back on the ship we were walking around deck 13 we spotted a whale off in the distance. We rushed to the stern of the ship for a better view and realized we'd have a better view from our balcony. I don't know why, but that whale (turned out to be whales) frolicked in the bay just beyond the harbor all afternoon and we just hung out watching them. We knew it was nearing the end of whale season in Hawaii and were grateful to see even a couple (I neglected to mention that one was spotted on our crater snorkel also).

During sailaway we went to the Napa Wine Bar because they have outdoor seating on the promenade deck. They also have Happy Hour between 6:00 and 7:00 and offer a red, a white, and a sparkling wine for $4.50. We were able to procure a table and enjoyed a nice glass of wine as we sailed from Hilo...and had a final sighting of the whales while we were at it!

The Asian restaurants on NCL ships are always a favorite, so tonight's dinner was at East Meets West. I usually go for the sweet and sour pork (so much better than what I can get at home) or the Kung Pao chicken. Tonight though I thought I should go for lighter fare to combat the inevitable cruise weight (we had nearly another week of vacation to go once we left the PoA). So I opted for the vegetarian dish, which was a stir-fry of vegetables with silken tofu and a sauce that was absolutely phenomenal. If I hadn't been in a restaurant I probably would have licked my plate clean!

After dinner we went to check out the magician Murray. The cruise director Sarah Hammel kept mentioning that he'd been on America's Got Talent (which I don't watch) so I figured he had to be good. He was very talented and I really enjoyed the interaction between him and his seemingly surly assistant Will. My only negative was that there seemed to be more time spent on banter (admittedly funny) and self-promotion than magic. What tricks Murray did perform were very good and he would be doing a close-up magic show later in the week.

Tomorrow was Kona and our first afternoon excursion of the trip. I'd booked them that way on purpose thinking that at the beginning of the cruise we'd be getting up early, still on east coast time. By now we were looking forward to being able to sleep in a bit the last days of the cruise!

Day Five, Kona

Ah, it was so nice to sleep in and enjoy a leisurely breakfast before our excursion. We figured we'd take our time leaving the ship and still give ourselves a couple of hours to walk around Kona. We walked down to the promenade deck so we could check out the tender operation (we'd only tendered once before). As the crew of the PoA does this every week, four lifeboats motored between the ship and the pier with Swiss clock efficiency. There's a nice, sturdy platform that the lifeboats moor to making for an easy transition from the ship to the bobbing tender.

We stopped at the buffet to grab some sandwich fixings before we went ashore. This was another "snacks provided" excursion and since we'd be snorkeling we thought it smart to bring some extra fuel along. We probably waited in line for about 20 minutes before we got on a tender. I realized later we could have used our VIP tender tickets (received for being Platinum) but we weren't in a hurry.

Kona was lovely. We enjoyed walking around the town thoroughly and were amazed at how quickly the businesses had opened after being struck by the tsunami in March. We heard of one woman who was open within a week after kind neighbors brought back her wares as they were found strewn about the island. DH and I agreed that the Big Island was our favorite island thus far (which shocked all crew members that we mentioned this to!). The majesty of Volcanoes National Park and the quaintness of Kona appealed to us. Wonder what the real estate prices are like?

Our excursion today was the Captain Zodiac snorkel, which research showed to be very popular. This was a far different experience than the Molokini Crater snorkel. Instead of a large comfortable boat, we were perched on the edge of the zodiac with our feet tucked under rope bolted to the floor of the vessel that the captain referred to as "feet belts". The thrill of whizzing over the water and having the captain whip the boat into tight donuts (we also buzzed a parasailor who had just been launched into the air) is as much part of the experience as the snorkeling. But it is not a comfortable ride (there were a couple of "wedgie breaks") and isn't for the faint of heart! On the other hand there were 16 snorkelers in our group, not 100!

The snorkeling was in the beautiful Kealakekua Bay, the only marine life sanctuary in on the Big Island. This is also where the Captain Cook Monument is. The captain called us wusses when we slipped into our wetsuits, but despite his insistence that the water was around 78 degrees, we can assure you it was maybe 2 degrees warmer than Molokini and we were again grateful for the insulation. The water at the bay wasn't as clear as Molokini but the variety of fish much greater. There was also a thirty-foot drop off where we were told there was a chance to spot manta rays. That didn't happen, but I did come uncomfortably close to a white-mouthed moray eel!

I was glad we'd had our sandwiches. As we were the first in and last out of the water there was no food left for us (in this instance just bags of chips and cookies). At least the other snorkel trip wouldn't allow people to have seconds until everyone had been served.

On the way back to the harbor we checked out lava tubes and caves that were only accessible from the water, which was pretty neat.

Before we knew it we were back at the ship and sailing away. Since we'd been anchored, we kind of looked up at one point and realized that Kona was getting smaller!

Dinner tonight was at Lazy J's Steakhouse (which I kept calling Cagney's no matter how hard I tried not to). We both stuck with steaks (although as it was lobster night they were offering a prime rib somehow incrusted with lobster and scallops if I recall the description correctly!). Whatever you choose to call the steakhouse, it has become a favorite place to dine.

Tonight was the famous White Hot Party (at the Mardi Gras Lounge) and we'd been told that it was definitely worth a peek, just to check out Tim Kaminski if nothing else. Sure enough, Tim was there all in white...including a short white skirt, serving cocktails! (I heard that he made a couple of hundred in tips the first time he did it!) He stopped by and encouraged us to go to the Waikiki bar later. There was a large group of Australians on board who were helping to make this a happening spot.

Tim is quite the ambassador for NCL. We had seen him all over the ship this week and we'd been told he'd come up with the idea of a special lunch at Jefferson's Bistro where you'd be served a special menu and get to dine and mingle with the ship's entertainers. All of the Cruise Critics who were at the meet and greet had been invited to attend to check out the launch of this concept and give our feedback. I don't know that I would have gone without that invitation but gave Tim and the PoA crew props for coming up with new ideas!

We did stop by the Waikiki bar, but the party hadn't started yet and we now had to make it an early night. Our afternoon excursion in Kauai had been cancelled due to lack of participation and we had been rescheduled to the morning. Ugh!

Day six, Kauai

Up at 7:00, breakfast at the buffet and off the ship to meet up with our Kayak and Waterfalls tour. This was my least favorite tour. It was a mercifully short van ride to the river that we would kayak down. I say merciful, as we were packed into the van at full capacity like sardines. Now the kayak part was nice. Two thumbs up there. It was a lazy 2 and ½ mile paddle up the calm and picturesque river, which I enjoyed. I'd read reviews complaining that the kayaking part was too short, but for someone who'd never kayaked before I thought it was about right. There was a super short hike through a rain forest...the description on the NCL website says a half a mile, but I think that was generous. We then drove to the area where we'd have lunch, overlooking hills where the intro to MASH was filmed. From there we walked down a steep hill to the two waterfalls that we would visit. The decent was long with stairs built into the earth (there would be a lot of complaining about the climb back up!).

I'm sure that part of my boredom with this trip was that we'd already seen great waterfalls in Maui and plenty of rainforests in both Maui and Hilo. But I think the main thing was that the guides were just boring. They barely spoke and although one of them did impart some information about the flora that we were seeing the other trudged along nearly mute. Anyway after the climb back up to the top we did have a picnic lunch with a selection of robust sandwiches and chips. After that it was a 10-minute ride back to the ship. Honestly I would have rather been brought back to the ship for lunch since it was so close. The provided lunch just seemed an excuse to charge more money for the excursion.

Once we'd cleaned up we walked from the pier to Kalapaki beach (take a right out of the terminal and walk for about 10 minutes). Along the way we poked into some shops then arrived at the beach. I was pleased that it was a lovely beach (located at the Marriott) and already knew that Duke's Kauai was there. As we'd had a fantastic dinner at Duke's Waikiki we wanted to stop at this one at least for a cocktail. Wouldn't you know we arrived in time for happy hour? We grabbed a table close to the beach, and sat back listening to the band that was performing. The sun was shining, a light breeze danced in from the water and green mountains looked down on us. What a lovely setting for a couple of Duke's Mai-tai's (made with dark rum and far better than any Mai-tai I've ever had) and crab meat and mac nut wontons. Ah, this is the life!

Later on dinner would be at the buffet. I bring this up for only one reason. The crepe station. Yes dinner was delicious, but I kept looking over at that station and finally walked up to the chef and asked what the selection of fillings were. He listed off what you'd expect; blueberries, pineapple, applesauce, and then he got interesting. He said they had cheesecake banana (hmm, intriguing...) and the "smear". Okay I bite and ask what is the "smear". He smiles and says that it is basically the filling that goes into cinnamon buns. "If you want my recommendation," he continued, "go with the banana cheesecake AND the smear." Who am I to argue with an expert?? I drizzled this creation with a little hot fudge and a dollop of whipped cream. I took one bite and I think my eyes rolled into the back of my head. OMG, was this fantastic!!! Ridiculously so. In fact one of the best desserts I have ever had. Anywhere. I have no idea if this combination is available on other ships, but I'll be making a beeline for the crepe station on the Star my next cruise to find out! The chef had been watching for my reaction. I gave him a big thumbs up and he gave me a huge grin in return.

We took advantage of being docked overnight to walk back to Duke's. Only one night left on our wonderful vacation! Little did I know how great it would be!

Day Seven - Kauai and NaPali Coast

Today was the only time that Mother Nature really interfered with our plans. It had been our intention to spend the morning at Kalapaki beach. Just laze around and take it easy until we needed to be back on the ship. Standing on our balcony, DH saw the black rain clouds moving in and decided it had been a good thing that we'd gotten a late start that morning. It poured off and on all morning until we finally saw a break that looked like it would last long enough for us to do some shopping. We dashed off of the ship and I picked up a t-shirt that I'd spied the day before and some water at the ABC Store (they truly are everywhere!). We thought about walking to the beach, but saw the clouds rolling in again and booked it back to the ship.

Back to the cabin to drop our things off and we noticed a note in the holder by the door. It was advertising a special to order drinks for your cabin for the NaPali Coast sail by. They had different levels of champagne from sparkling wine on up (all came with chocolate covered strawberries), and of course fruity drinks served in pineapples. All orders waived the normal delivery charge. I thought it was a pretty neat idea, especially if you were on the port side in a balcony cabin where you would have the best view of the coast.

All aboard was 1:30 and sailaway at 2:00. However we had lunch with the entertainers to attend. We arrived outside of Jefferson's Bistro just before 1:00 and saw there were plenty of other people waiting in the hall for the doors to open. Shortly thereafter we were let into the restaurant. We were escorted to a booth where tomato salads were already waiting at each place setting. After a few moments we were joined by two crewmembers that worked in reception. I hadn't expected this, and thought it a nice surprise. I'm always interested in talking to the crew, but had found it especially interesting on the Pride of America. We spent a few moments chatting before Tim Kaminski joined us at our table. We felt like we'd won the PoA celebrity lottery. Throughout the meal the five of us had a really nice conversation. All of us talking about cruise life and different things we'd experienced. Being that it was Tim, he also had some extremely funny stories to share.

Once we'd finished our entrees (a delicious and juicy pork with roasted potatoes), Tim got up to mingle and other performers either stopped by or joined us. We had a really nice chat with Peter, one of the singers from "Oh, What a Night". And talked briefly with Pamala Stanley, who'd just joined the America and Murray the magician.

After dessert (a luscious black forest cake) the entertainers stood and introduced themselves to the room. They took questions, one lady drawing a big laugh when she asked Murray about his time on American Idol (he was on America's Got Talent). Everyone was very personable and open and I enjoyed the entire experience more than I thought I would. At the end of the event, the HD, Cary, announced that the luncheon was on the house for everyone, as they really just wanted our feedback.

We didn't have a lot of time before we had to go to the follow-up Cruise Critic meeting. I was again impressed by the turn out of the officers. The Captain and Hotel Director were there. Along with the Executive Chef , who'd been promoted to Food and Beverage manager, the assistant F&B manager, the bar manager, etc. I was initially a little appalled as there were only 4 of us Cruise Critics there, but thankfully a few more showed up and balanced out the numbers. There were boardroom style tables arranged in a circle and we all sat in a very friendly and open manner.

I cannot emphasize how impressed I was with this. People are always coming back from Cruise Critic meetings on NCL blown-away by the turnout of officers at the meet and greets compared to other cruise lines, but this takes it to an entirely new level. They so sincerely want to know what you think and to have the opportunity to address any issues that I felt badly for not having anything to complain about! I did mention that I'd initially been concerned that the service might be a little slow due to chatting (This drew knowing smiles from the officers and Cary said, "The good news is the crew speaks English. The bad news is that the crew speaks English.") But told them that I was wrong and in fact found the crew to be refreshing and inviting. Everyone present had mostly positive experiences to report. The minor items that could be addressed were (the Cruise Critic who complained about the ships dEcor would have to go home unsatisfied though!).

From here we had to rush upstairs for the NaPali Coast sail by. We chose to go to the Waikiki bar and secured a table out back on the port side. This was an amazing experience that I can only compare to sailing Glacier Bay in Alaska. One of the Hawaiian ambassadors spoke over the ships speakers, telling us about the history of the coast and humpback whales (we did see a couple while we were here!) as we ever so slowly made our way up the coast. The view became more magnificent the further we progressed. The cliffs begin covered in beautiful shades of green before adding stunning rusts and browns to their craggy features. After 45 minutes or so the ship turned and picked up speed as we headed away from the coast. You really do need to be on the port side to get the full effect of this experience. Although we did have a really lovely view of our departure after we ran down to our stern balcony!

Busy, busy, busy. Now it was time to begin packing (boo!) and get ready for dinner at the Bistro. We had to be more organized with packing since we'd be boarding a plane instead of flinging bags in a car for a drive home, our normal routine. So packing was taking a bit longer than usual. Finally we stacked the suitcases on the couch and headed to dinner. We both had the French onion soup. In my opinion the cream of mushroom soup just isn't as good as the days when it was all creamy and rich and served in a bread bowl. Of course I had the filet again as I had to have my last chance at those potatoes, and DH had the duck two-ways, which he thoroughly enjoyed.

It is at this point on the cruise that I usually peter out. My enthusiasm wanes as post cruise depression begins to sink in (I know! So soon!). Well, the crew on the PoA gave me no chance to give into moping. For the first time in my seventeen cruises I actually attended the farewell show! Murray kicked things off with some clever magic and banter. Tim came out and made us laugh 'til we cried. The guys from Oh What A Night did a few numbers (not my cuppa, but they're very talented). Then the crew came out for the farewell number that I had previously only experienced on YouTube. It was a really nice way to wrap things up...or so I thought.

After the show we headed up to the Waikiki Bar where the party was only beginning. Tim was there as was the Aussie contingent we'd heard so much about. The music was pumping (never thought I'd hear Ozzy Osbourne on a cruise!), drinks were flowing and the enthusiasm of everyone around us was contagious. More crewmembers joined in the fun, included David the Art Director, aka Tim's partner in crime. Finally, we just HAD to get back to our cabin. Our bags needed to be out in 15 minutes (not that I think it'd matter if they were a little late) and we hadn't finished packing yet!

I have never had so much fun my last night of a cruise. Thank you Pride of America!

Final morning...

Alas, the time has come to say farewell. We had VIP disembarkation tags courtesy of Linda the Latitudes rep. This was a very laid back system as there was no customs to clear (this was our first trip in 9 years that we didn't need a passport!). So instead of meeting the concierge for an escort off of the ship, we were told that we could pretty much leave any time after 7:45

We took our time getting off of the ship and were probably in the baggage area around 8:45. Can you believe it? This was the only snag we hit the entire cruise. One of our pieces of luggage was missing! First time in all of our cruises that this has ever happened! DH and I both combed the rows upon rows of luggage to no avail. After 45 minutes of fruitless searching we finally gave up and put in a lost baggage claim. We consoled ourselves that the bag had contained nothing important. It was just our snorkel gear and if one of our bags had to go missing that would be the one we'd choose. DH kept saying that he bet that our bag had been put with the Easy Jet bags in error.

Ultimately that was exactly what had happened. We had gotten a cab and were a mile from the cruise terminal when my cell phone rang. They had found our bag (why couldn't they have found it 5 minutes sooner?). We asked the cab driver to turn around and back at the pier, DH ran in to get our bag. That was no easy feat as everyone kept trying to get DH to go back through security. He finally found someone who would listen to what was going on and would help him. In the meantime, outside, my driver was forced to leave and circle the block because we were impeding traffic. As we entered the drop off area again, there was DH at the curb with our bag. Thank goodness our flight wasn't until 12:30!!

We finally arrived at the airport with a $40 fare instead of the $20 it should have cost, but hey, cheaper than replacing our gear!

So that was our one snag of the whole trip. Not too bad.

The Pride of America still carries a bad reputation from her early days when NCLA was still experiencing growing pains. It amazed me even before the cruise how many posts I'd see about this even though her recent reviews are overwhelming positive. It's so hard to shake off the negative. But this is not your Dad's PoA! From the moment stepped into the waiting area, we knew this was going to be a great experience. The Hawaiian dancers and singers would have done that but having Tim there talking to the guests, the Cruise Director mingling and greeting people, and even the HD walking through checking things out this was a new level of detail for us. During the cruise, most of the crew we spoke with had been with the ship an average of 4 years, so they knew what shipboard life was all about and they enjoyed their jobs. That enjoyment was evident in the way they treated the guests and went out of their way to make you feel welcome. Even the crew we never really talked to always greeted us with a smile and an Aloha!

This was really one of our best cruises with a special thanks to Captain Buz, Hotel Director Cary Turecamo, the wonderful crew, the entertainers, and the fantastic destination that is Hawaii.

Mahalo, PoA!

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Cabin Review

Aft-Facing Large Balcony
Cabin B1 9204
Small cabin, but ample storage and huge balcony.
Deck 10 Inside Cabins, Balcony Cabins, Suite Cabins