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NCL America - Pride of Hawaii Part 1 of 2

Cruise Line: Norwegian America
Ship: Pride of
Hawaii
Sailing Date:
October 1, 2007
Itinerary: Round-Trip
Honolulu

 

Review of Hawaii 7-night cruise - Round-Trip Honolulu, HI

 

I sailed on this 7-night Hawaii cruise with my husband, mother-in-law (Marie) and her friend.  The four of us had a great time, but were sure tired afterwards!  If you’re used to cruising on regular cruises with port days and sea days, you’ll need to adjust your expectations before embarking on one of NCL’s Pride ships.  (Pride of Aloha, Pride of America, Pride of Hawaii)  The Hawaii cruises are about seeing the islands, and the islands are close together.  You’ll spend every day docked or anchored with no sea days.  I had a great time and still stand by my credo that cruising is the best way to see island places rather than a land vacation, unless you just really want to lay on a beach.  One of these cruises is by far the best way to see many islands, and is the perfect way for a first-time visitor to Hawaii to see them.  Even if you DO like lying on the beach, this cruise would help you figure out which one you want to spend a week on for your NEXT trip!

 

 

Pre-Cruise in Honolulu:

 

Unless you’re just overwhelmingly pressed for time, I strongly suggest you plan a few pre-cruise or post-cruise days in Honolulu/Waikiki on the island of Oahu.  The cruise starts and ends here, but if you don’t plan for some time here you’ll not see this island where most of the population of Hawaii is.  There is a LOT to see on Oahu.  The Polynesian Cultural Center is a full-day amusement-park atmosphere of culture, shows and learning.  Strongly suggested, but remember it’s on the other side of the island from Waikiki and it’s closed Sundays.  Try to fit it into your schedule.   And, of course, Pearl Harbor and the Punchbowl Cemetery and other WWII historical things are here.  If you’ve never been, these are just a ‘must see’.

 

My little group of four did two nights pre-cruise in Waikiki at the Outrigger Luana Waikiki, which is a lower-cost condo property a few blocks off the beach.  As a travel agent, I wanted to try it out for my families that travel on a budget.  And it was a convenient location, just a few blocks away from the new Waikiki BeachWalk.  I liked it.  It was a bit more basic than I might normally book for myself, but we had a balcony cabin on the cruise, so I figure we’d see plenty of ocean for the rest of the trip.  I’ll discuss the hotel and Honolulu more in the land review paragraph I’ll add to another section of the Website.

 

Be aware though, that if you’re doing a pre- or post-cruise hotel ask your travel agent for pricing on an airfare + hotel package that can be booked separately from your cruise.  I have a lot of experience selling Hawaii land vacations, and I got us by far the best deal by using a Hawaii vacation expert company on the side of our NCL cruise.  We also booked some of our ‘excursions’ in advance as part of our land vacation.  Not all of them, but some of them.  I was testing this option on myself, and it worked out well.

 

We took a taxi to and from the Waikiki hotel, which cost us less than transfers x 4 would have cost.  About $35 for the taxi airport to hotel and $25 from hotel to pier.

 

 

Embarkation:

 

I believe we got to the pier around noon, and am I glad!  The lines were long.  First, to get into the pier area we had to show our ID and tickets/online pre-registration forms.  Then you walk into a big building where you drop off your tagged bags towards the left.  The porters don’t come to you, you walk the bags to the conveyor belt area.  And after that you get in a long switchback line that is heading towards the x-ray machines.  This is why I was thankful we got to the pier early, as the line was long already, and they had just started letting folks on.  I can’t imagine how much longer it might have gotten in the afternoon.

After you pass through security, then you get in another line that is the check-in for the cruise.  There are lots of NCL reps at lots of windows here, and this line goes a lot faster.   If you’re in a suite or have cruised often on NCL you’ll have a priority lane here.  And partway into our line, we were handed the Freestyle Daily, the onboard news of the cruise.  So, we could read about some cruise stuff while we were waiting.  I liked that little touch. 

After you get the cruise card, it’s business as usual.  Just go up the escalator to the upper hallway, have a photo taken in front of a screen for embarkation, and proceed onto the ship.

I’d say pretty well organized.

 

 

Itinerary:

 

All three Pride ships run a similar itinerary on the 7-day version, so regardless of which you’re taking, you’ll find this review helpful.  I happened to sail on the Pride of Hawaii, but that ship will be departing the islands and changing names into the Norwegian Jade 2/08, so after that time, I’ll leave this review up for reference on Pride of Aloha and Pride of America cruises.  The only thing that differs about the three ships’ 7-night sailings is which day they leave Honolulu and which order they hit the ports.  They spend the same number of days in each island though.

 

Monday             Depart Honolulu 8pm

Tuesday            Hilo (Big Island) 8a – 6p

Wednesday       Kahului (Maui) 8a – overnight

Thursday           Kahului (Maui)  depart 6p

Friday               Kona (Big Island) TENDER PORT 7a – 6p

Saturday           Nawiliwili (Kauai) 8a – overnight

Sunday             Nawiliwili (Kauai) depart 2pm – sail by Napali Coast approx 5p

Monday             Honolulu arrive 7a

 

NOTE:  About four months before we arrived in Hawaii, so sometime in the late Spring or Summer of 2007, the Kilauea Volcano had a shift from an earthquake and no longer flows lava into the ocean.  The volcano is still active, but since it doesn’t do this ‘spectacular’ thing any more, NCL doesn’t even sail by that side of the Big Island as part of the cruise.  Their brochures will probably mention the sail by ‘conditions permitting’ for a long time, but you should no longer expect it unless you read of another shift of the lava flows.

 

Hilo, Big Island:

 

Our first full day on our cruise was the port of Hilo.  Hilo is a very rainy, dank area.  A few older hotels, no fabulous resorts, etc.  It as an absolutely beautiful Japanese Garden in the middle of town, but mostly it’s the jumping-off point for seeing Volcanoes National Park.  If you’re on the cruise, you’ll want to set up your tour for the day through NCL probably, as it’s a long distance to the Park, and other excursion companies expect you to have more hours in your day to see the Park.  Doing your Volcano excursion through NCL gives you some piece of mind that you’ll get back to the ship before it sails.

 

We did the “Volcanoes National Park” basic tour with a good guide.  It cost $49 per person for 4¾ hours.  We were taken to the National Park, got to see the visitors center and learn all about volcanoes and the Goddess Pele on our bus ride.  While in the Park, we had a stop so we could walk on an old lava flow, and also another stop to hike through a lava tube.  The scenery there at the lava tube was gorgeous and green.  Really lovely, and the tour was very educational.   And on the way back to the ship, we stopped at the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory.  Of course, we got some free samples there, and everyone purchased a few nuts.  Very touristy, but I enjoyed learning about that process as well, and it made for a great tour.

 

Going back to my comment above about the lava from the Kilauea Volcano though…I’d pretty strongly suggest that if you’re up for a helicopter tour at one of your port stops, make it this one.  The “Circle of Fire” offered through NCL cost $219.  You might be able to do a little less by buying direct from one of the local tour companies, but I’m not even sure where the airport is in relation to the pier (since we didn’t do the airport).  If you really want to see the volcano though, this is the only way to see the live volcano now.   I had some clients on the Diamond Princess 15-night cruise who did a helicopter tour from the Kona side of the Big Island to the volcano.  They said the tour was so long they had to stop for gas, but it was by far the highlight of their cruise.

 

 

Kahului, Maui:

 

This is by far the most touristy island with the most stuff to do.  However, I’d say pre-arranging a 2-day car rental would be a MUST here.  Kahului is on the top part of the island and is where the big airport on Maui is, where most of the residents are, and where there is not a lot to do (if shopping malls aren’t your top vacation activity of choice).

It’s very easy to have a car rental here.  We actually pre-arranged ours in our land vacation package to get the best price.  It really doesn’t matter which company you want to use, just be sure you pre-reserve it before you get to Maui.  All of the car rental companies have shuttles to and from the pier, and, to be honest, are in the same area of the airport anyway.  There were some folks who had nothing pre-arranged and they’d just ask the driver of each shuttle if they had any cars available that day.  Sometimes there was none.  Other times there were expensive convertibles.  Other times a reasonable variety.  Best to have a reservation so you can be sure to get one.

 

We rented from Dollar and it seemed like every other car rental company’s bus came before ours, but it was just bad timing I guess.  Check in was easy, and we had a good 4-door economy car for the two days.

 

We had nothing planned during either day.  We drove south to the Wailea and Kihei areas of Maui on the first day.  It was our plan to take a surfing lesson in Kihei, but the company we had looked up before our trip said the lessons were best in the morning and even though they advertised 8am, 10am and noon on the excursion booklet we got from our vacation company, they didn’t really run the noon one in the off time of year.  He said the wind is worse in the afternoons.  So, we had to scratch that idea, and we just toured around looking at hotels and condos throughout the afternoon.

 

We went back to the ship in the afternoon and had a quick bite to eat, picked up Marie and her friend, and were off for our pre-planned evening entertainment.  We went to the Ulalena Show – Myth & Magic that is in Lahaina.  It was quite a drive, again, down to the other side of Maui.  A 45 minute drive each way.  It was scenic on the way there, just long on the way back in the dark.  I’d really suggest this show though.  It was a production show about the history of Hawaii and culture, and really fun.  The Maui Theatre it’s in is right near the Hilo Hattie’s store, so we were instructed to park in that lot with a validation from the show, and we also shopped at Hilo Hattie’s after the show was over.  This is where I bought some Hawaiian dresses and a few other souvenirs.  The Ulalena Show was one of NCL’s excursions as well, so if you don’t want to deal with driving at night, that’s a good option.

 

There is quite a bit of free parking near the pier in Maui.  There is a designated lot at the pier entry at the seawall, and if that fills up you can apparantly park in the nearby residential area.  We were able to park in the lot every time we needed to, so it worked fine for us.

 

On the second day in Maui, we decided to explore on our own towards Lahaina where we’d driven the night before.  We started off though going to I’ao Valley and hiking around.  This is a beautiful green valley with a rock formation that points straight up into the air that is called the I’ao Needle.  Besides the Needle though, there are two or three very short loop trails that take you down to the stream or up to the observation tower closest to the Needle for best viewing.  We hiked around on all three little trails and just enjoyed ourselves quite a bit.

 

We then just did the drive down to Lahaina and walked around the old town there.  This is the true touristy area with lots of restaurants, shops and bars in a great atmosphere.  LOTS of things to do leave from here too.  (snorkeling, submarine tours, jet skis, etc.)  I know some cruise ships use Lahaina instead of Kahului, and I now know that tendering into Lahaina would be supremely wonderful, but just isn’t how it works on the NCL cruises.  We have the convenience of docking, but not in the most convenient part of the island.  There was a Celebrity ship anchored off of Lahaina that made me just WISH I could be on that one for those two days!

 

We had lunch in Kaanapali Beach, a big resort area part of Maui, and then drove back to the airport to return the car and head back to the ship.

 

In all, I loved Maui.  We didn’t do a lot of activities, because we were busy exploring the island and getting a lay of the land.  As a travel agent visiting Maui for the first time, I just really needed to do that.  Next time there, we’ll likely do a lot more ‘vacationy’ things.

 

 

Kona, Big Island:

 

We took a private tour of Kona that was likely our best day of the trip!  One of my friends, Donna Brown who sometimes writes cruise reviews for my site, lives near Kona, so she actually picked us up at the pier and took us for a tour herself!  We did a route that could easily be done by someone with a rental car on their own though, so if you don’t want to pre-arrange anything in particular, feel free to follow our trail!

 

Our first stop was the Greenwell Farms coffee plantation.   http://www.greenwellfarms.com/  We did the coffee tour, learning how they hand pick the cherries, how the season runs, we saw how they dry the beans and got explanations on all different types of roasting.  We also learned why Kona Coffee is so famous and is of such good quality.  It’s the perfect mix of altitude and weather in that region.  Since I’m obsessed with coffee, this was my specific request to have some kind of coffee tour being in Kona for a day.

 

We then headed down to our main highlight of the day.  This was the Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Park.  This park shows you how native Hawaiians lived, has locals there some days doing crafts the old fashioned way, and has a really nice little inlet where a lot of green sea turtles come up close.  Since we never did a water activity on the trip (much to my husband’s chagrin), it was really nice seeing the turtles here.  To learn more, go to this website:  http://www.nps.gov/puho/   We spent quite a bit of time walking around here and reading all of the exhibits and listening to Donna educate us.  (I wasn’t kidding about what a great tour guide she was.  I told her she should do this for a living!  She said she has enough jobs already, but enjoys touring friends around when they stop in Kona on cruises.)

On our way back to Kona we stopped at the Royal Kona Coffee Company, which is more the tourists’ version of coffee places as compared to the Greenwell Farms.  I like decaffeinated coffee in fun flavors though, so I was on a mission to find something fun and interesting besides just basic decaf while I was in Kona.  I did find a couple of choices, and was done after a quick stop.

 

We had lunch in a small town in an old movie theatre.  I’m not sure of the name, but the lunch was good and large glasses of water were our biggest desire after walking around at the park in the sun all that time.   And even though we had a good lunch, we decided we all wanted ice cream for dessert, so we headed off to Cold Stone Creamery before calling it a day in Kona.  Gotta love just being in an another American state when you’re on vacation!  We ate ice cream and then did a run to the grocery store for bug spray and laundry soap!  (The Pride of Hawaii had free self-serve laundry rooms, but I’m not sure if Pride of Aloha or America were designed with these or not.  The Pride of Hawaii deck plans don’t actually show them, so I can’t inspect a deck plan and be educated on that specific point.)

 

Our last stop of the day was the Del Sol store.  Now, I realize Del Sol is a store that is in every cruise port now, kind of like Diamonds International.  If you’re a cruiser, you’ve always had enough offers for DI that you can’t believe it.  However, I’m personally obsessed with Del Sol stores.  These stores have items that are white or black and white when you’re indoors, but when you get in the sunlight there are crystals built into the t-shirts, hats, sunglasses, nail polish, etc. that make colors.  NCL passes out coupons for a free tote bag if you present it at the Del Sol store, so I went to the Del Sol on EVERY island!!!  I honestly shopped in Honolulu before we left for the cruise, but then decided not to actually buy the t-shirts I’d picked out because I guessed (correctly) that I’d get some kind of free offer on the ship and I knew I could go to other stores.  We found the t-shirt I’d picked out for my husband in Maui and got a tote bag.  We found the t-shirt I’d picked out for me in Kona and got a tote bag for my Marie’s friend.  And saw in Kona a shirt I liked but they didn’t have my size.  So, guess what?  I shopped at the Kauai store and got the second t-shirt I liked, and got a second tote bag for me!  (I promised it to my Mom.)  I had a fun time.  And what’s really fun about Del Sol is that even though they have the same patterns or photos in the t-shirts at many stores worldwide, each store sells one that has their own name on it.  For example, the first one I got was a sailboat one from Puerto Vallarta.  The next, dolphin and beach scene from “Hawaii” in 2005.  (The Honolulu store sells “Hawaii”, and other islands mention their own town or island.)  Earlier this year we got some in St. Thomas, USVI and I got one for hubby when I was in Cabo San Lucas without him.  And on this trip he has a Maui, I have a Kona and a Kauai!  http://www.delsol.com/

 

 

Nawiliwili, Kauai:

 

Kauai was our last island, one of the two hubby and I visited on a quick land trip to Hawaii in 2005.  I already knew I loved it even before getting there this time.  One of the problems we had had in 2005 was that we’d not been able to see Waimea Canyon due to clouds and rain.  Waimea Canyon is commonly referred to as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”, and is really spectacular.  Because we wanted to see Waimea so badly this trip, and because we had driven the whole road in our rental car last time wanted to fly over the rugged Napali Coast this time….we did a helicopter tour.  Everyone kept asking us why we chose this island rather than the volcano, and the answer was that we didn’t realize that we wouldn’t see the lava going into the water, and we planned this ahead of arriving in Hawaii.

 

We chose Blue Hawaiian Helicopters, as they’re very highly rated.  We booked direct on their website, saving some money.  http://www.bluehawaiian.com/  And it’s easy to walk to their offices from the pier – a big plus when you DON’T plan on renting a car.  I have to say my experience was two-fold.  It was certainly spectacular.  As always it was cloudy and rainy looking, but we actually flew into the canyons and craters under the clouds and got to see just green lushness and waterfalls everywhere.  We even saw a complete circular rainbow!  This is something you can only see from the sky and we had a pristine one.  Really great. 

 

My big complaint was that the chopper holds six people, two that get seated in the front with glass all around them, and then four slightly elevated in the back, with still some glass above and the view out the front around the heads.  Blue Hawaiian says every seat is great, but I beg to differ.  The back seats most definitely aren’t as great of a view as the front, and there is absolutely nothing you can say about where you’ll be seated.  They place the guests based upon weight and balance they say, so it’s the luck of the draw.  Also, their paperwork says to wear dark colored clothes as white reflects on the windows.  Well, the two guests in the front wore white and the reflection really dampened our view and our photos for sure.  Thank goodness the chopper itself has cameras mounted everywhere outside and in, and the pilot got photos of things we couldn’t due to the white reflection.  I’d say the purchase of your flight DVD is almost a given.  I believe it cost $25 and took about 10 minutes to make after we returned from the flight.  We’ll enjoy watching the DVD in years to come, but I’m not sure if I think $200 per person for an hour in the back seat was worth my money.  Kind of a toss up there.

 

The overnight in Kauai was next, and we just stayed onboard and went to bed early because we had a very early tour the next day.  However, NCL heavily promotes the Luau Kalamaku they helped build / design at the Kilohana Plantation in Kauai.  There are three choices – Luau only for $95 per person, Luau and Kilohana Plantation Train for $111, and a premium package called Kilohana Manor House & Kalamaku Show.  This one includes a private tour of the history of the Manor House, train ride and premium seating at the show that is part of the Luau.  For folks that spend just the 7-nights of the cruise in Hawaii, this was “THE Luau” of the week, heavily promoted by NCL.  However, it’s rather new for them, just opening this year.  The feedback from the guests the next day was that they were logistically challenged with the busses and the lines for seating at the Luau, but the entertainment was excellent.  I’m not quite sure I’d suggest this to those going to Hawaii in the very near future (and remember I’m writing this in October, 2007), but as time passes they’ll get it working well I’m sure.  The ship was nearly a ghost town though.  Really pleasant actually for us that stayed onboard!

 

Our second day in Kauai was just a part day as we sailed at 2pm and the all-onboard was 1:30pm.  I had, for years, heard from my Hawaii land vacation vendors that the Movie Tour was THE thing to do in Kauai.  Many movies and TV shows are shot in Kauai, and it was supposedly really fun to ride on a bus that showed a movie clip, and then you viewed that mountain outside the window.  So, this was a tour we REALLY wanted to do.  I tried to book it originally with my land vacation vendor, but I was told that it wasn’t offered on Sundays.  And my original itinerary from NCL had us arriving in Kauai at 10am Saturday, so it was too late to catch it then.  However, I did notice when I was booking my Volcanoes National Park tour with NCL, that NCL was offering the “Hollywood in Kauai & Falls” tour on our dates.  I then concluded that NCL must book out all of the Movie Tours busses for the ship guests on Sunday and that must have been why I couldn’t book it on my own.  I later learned there was two VERSIONS and the one I was trying to book wasn’t offered Sundays.  Whatever the reason though, we booked it with NCL and had a great time.

 

The Hollywood in Kauai & Falls tour we did was LONG, about 6 hours and included lunch.  If you’re doing this on the second day when the ship sails at 2pm like we did, be prepared to get up EARLY.  Our tour departed at 6:50am.  I felt good about having it booked with the cruiseline though, as I was sure they wouldn’t sail without us. 

I would say this tour we did was as great as billed.  If you enjoy the movies, and you just want to see a lot of Kauai and get a great overview of the island, this is a great tour.  Not cheap though.  It costs $139 per person.  It took us to many waterfalls that were off the beaten path.. including many famous ones that were in movies, TV shows and music videos.  The guide was great, entertaining and informative.  And to clarify, our tour was on paved roads mostly in a normal-looking bus.  We spent a lot of time on this particular tour talking about and viewing the Elvis movie Blue Hawaii.  We had an opportunity to tour the falling-apart Coco Palms Resort where the movie was filmed, and at the end of the tour we had to watch a very large section of the movie.  An Elvis fan’s dream tour, for sure.  Being that I’m only 39 I would have enjoyed seeing a few more modern films highlighted, but I still enjoyed the tour immensely.

 

They offer a second tour which is a 4x4 off road type tour, this is the one not offered on Sundays and that I saw advertised a bit more.  THAT one spends a lot of time on Jurassic Park I believe and wasn’t offered by the ship. 

To learn more about the Movie Tours visit http://www.hawaiimovietour.com/.  They’re working up a similar tour for Oahu, and I’ll certainly try that one when it’s up and going on some future trip.  And I’m even going to look up the Movie Tour in San Francisco near where I live.  How fun that would be for a weekend adventure!

 

After we sailed away from Nawiliwili, we had lunch and then went back to our cabin to hang on the balcony and watch the views.  I think I enjoyed this part of the cruise the most, as we were actually sailing for the afternoon.  Kauai has a jagged mountainous upper left side that is so spiky that they can’t even build a road on it.  The road circles the rest of the island, but this rugged Napali Coast area is just vast and can’t be seen except from the sea or from the air.  We did enjoy seeing it from the air, but sailing by gave us and even better perspective I believe.  We absolutely loved just seeing all of it’s lush greenness and waterfalls.  Be sure you’re out gawking during this part of the cruise.  Save your naps for later!

 

Continued in Part 2 of the NCL America Review...

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