I recently spent some time visiting most of the major islands that make up Hawaii. This was my first trip to the 50th State, and I had a hard time making a decision about where to stay when I got there. I spent countless hours scouring the internet and various forums to get an inside scoop as to what island I would enjoy the most. What I found is that each island has a great deal to offer, and my ideal vacation would be spent seeing them all. That’s where Norwegian’s Pride of America came to the rescue.
Norwegian Cruise Lines -Pride of America set sail in 2005, and she is the first US flagged ship built in nearly 50 years. One look at this glorious vessel; and you can tell that the name “Pride of America” goes further than just the lettering on the outside. Everywhere on this boat you are reminded of what a great country the United States is, and most of the lounges, restaurants etc… have an American theme. Some reviewers have commented that they felt this was too tacky, however, I beg to differ, to an extent, these ships are all tacky, and this one seemed to fit
the bill, however, the décor was tastefully done, and the layout of the ship itself was very functional.
One major difference on this ship is that the majority of the staff are American Citizens. The online forums are filled with mixed reviews on the level of customer service they received while onboard. Many attribute this to the staff being American; however, I find this to be much too narrow of a thought process. I did find certain instances where the service was lacking, however, you’re on vacation, try to ignore these limited instances and enjoy yourself. For the price you’re paying for what you experience, it can be overlooked.
Here’s a breakdown of the Cruise from the flight into Honolulu to disembarkation day.
TAKE WITH YOU
· Beach Towels
· iPhone (sorry I’m impartial)
·USB Cable and charger (USB can be used with iPhone on many rental cars)
· Check to see if your Auto Insurance Policy covers Rental Liability (this will save you about $20 each time your rent a car)
· Urbanspoon – Find Places to Eat based on Users Who have gone before you
· TripAdvisor – Find things to do near you, Read User Reviews etc…
· Orbitz.Com – Use this book your Rental Cars ahead of time,and if you book your flight via Orbitz, it will send you text messages for flight status etc…
· GPS Drive – Paid app that can replace your need for a GPS
· Trip Deck – App that you can store all of your itineraries, flight numbers, confirmation #’s etc… into one app.
· My Radar– Weather App that gives you nearly real-time weather maps
· Open Table – Reservations for busy restaurants
THE PORTS OF CALL
Day 1 – My group and I flew into Honolulu International Airport and gathered our luggage at the carousel. Immediately outside the terminal is a taxi station with an employee who will assist you and your party with transportation to and from your hotel and/or the port. The fare from the Airport to Waikiki was $35. I chose to fly in a day before to allow myself time to acclimate to the time change from the East coast of the United States.
I was looking for a safe, clean, inexpensive hotel in the Waikiki area within walking distance to the beach. I found this in the Miramar Waikiki. The hotel was booked for around $145 on Hotels.com, and really exceeded my expectations.
We were all upgraded to an Oceanview room with balcony on the 15th floor. This hotel is in close proximity to many shops and restaurants, and within a couple of blocks to the beach. There is a Denny’s right outside the hotel for breakfast, and the International Market place for shopping outside the hotels door. I found a fantastic Vietnamese Pho place in this market, and was the best meal I had while in Hawaii.
You can also travel down to the Ala Moana mall and shop for hours in this gigantic shopping mall, with one of the best Asian food courts I’ve ever seen.
Day 2 – Embarkation.
We left the Miramar Hotel at around noon and took a cab to the Port. ($22 cab fare) Upon arrival, you are instructed to tag your luggage and take them via a short walk to the baggage handlers who scan the luggage. Once they take your luggage, you are required to check-in and establish your onboard account with Norwegian. This is your sole source of buying power while onboard, cash is not accepted anywhere onboard. Now that the technicalities are complete, you are ready for 7 days of seeing some of the most beautiful islands in the world.
If you notice I got to onboard around lunchtime. The ship can be boarded this early even though it doesn’t sail until later into the afternoon. The Aloha Café is available for lunch, and we took full advantage of it. I was impressed with the fact that along with standard American fare, there was an Asian and Indian section of the buffet each day. After lunch, we waited for approximately 30 minutes and they began to announce the floor number of rooms that were available. This proved to be ample time for my wife and I to get settled into our balcony stateroom and take a nap prior to dinner. We booked a balcony stateroom (7158), and once we entered the room we were a little surprised by the size of the stateroom. It was smaller than other balcony rooms we’ve booked in the past, with less storage, and a smaller TV. It should also be noted that the bathroom didn’t come with complimentary toiletries that I’ve seen onboard other ships. The size etc… isn’t a deal breaker, and once we got used to it, it became a non-issue. The balconies are sufficient in size, with 2 chairs and a small table.
DAY 3 & 4 – MAUI
The ship arrived in the port of Kahului (Maui) at 7 am and would be docked there until 6 pm the following day. Since this was an overnight stop, passengers are allowed to come and go as they please no matter the time of night. The area where we were docked is an industrial warehouse area, and after you leave the boat many of the car rental agencies provide shuttle’s to pick up rental cars. I highly recommend renting your own car on each of the islands, with the possible exception of Kona, and I’ll expound on that later. Also, you should reserve the car prior to your arrival to ensure availability. The rates are really reasonable on all of the islands.
Our next decision was: Where do we go and what do we see? I’m sure every guidebook you will ever read on Maui will command you to drive the Road to Hana. I was dead set on doing this prior to getting here, but I tend to look for signs pointing me in certain directions. One such sign came to me over a Grand Slam Breakfast… Our waitress at Denny’s in Oahu was a Hawaiian native, and as it turns out, a well-traveled sage! Her advice to me was that I should definitely drive the road to Hana if I wanted to be stressed out, stuck in traffic for 4 hours, only to arrive at a town with very little to do. She advised us to see the Haleakala Crater and to travel around the road that leads to Lahaina and see the same scenery. I know I’ll have some that will disagree with me, but I’m glad I went with my gut. So…
After picking up our rental car, we decided to drive to Haleakala National Park to see the Haleakala Crater. The cruise line offers both sunrise and sunset bike rides down the crater. I’m certain this would be a site to behold; however, we decided just to see the island at our leisure and didn’t want to be on any set schedule. The drive into the park is very simple (using a GPS), and prior to entering the park, look for the Kula Lodge. There is a small store next door to the restaurant that is your last chance to get food and snacks prior to entering the park.
I was a little concerned about visibility in the crater since it was so late in the morning, as this can be an issue; however we had 100% visibility and were astonished at the views from the summit. The drive up was great as you actually drive through the clouds on your way to 10,000 + feet in the air. I would caution anyone with any health conditions affected by altitude to consult a physician. I personally have asthma, and could feel my chest tighten and heart rate increase, but it wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t enjoy myself. After leaving the park, it was lunch time and we chose to go back to the Kula Lodge for lunch. The food here was somewhat pricey at lunch, but we grabbed a pizza, and enjoyed the phenomenal view from off the back deck.
After lunch, we traveled to the Maui Ocean Center, a large aquarium with many exhibits located about 25 minutes from the cruise port. The exhibits were great, admission was around $22, and you can see most of the sights within about 2 hours. After our visit, we returned to the ship to relax and eat dinner. You are allowed to park your rental car overnight in a lot within close walking distance to the ship. On our second day in Maui, we decided to travel up the coast to Lahaina to see some sights,and do some shopping. The road that leads to Lahaina is filled with beautiful beaches, and mountains and it becomes increasingly more difficult to keep driving, when you really just want to pull over and hang out on the beach all day. If you feel so inclined, I’m sure you won’t regret it. I should point out that once you enter Lahaina, you will want to look for the Old Lahaina Front St.This is where the shopping is. There is another Front Street, but there isn’t much shopping.
The shopping in Lahaina consists of many chain stores, local artisans, many restaurants, and you’re right on the water, so it’s a very relaxing environment. There is a Bubba Gumps, Kimos, and several other highly rated restaurants. However, when I’m out of town, I like to eat what the locals eat. So we headed to Aloha Mixed Plate. Aloha Mixed Plate is a favorite of locals and tourists alike. They have a great outdoor seating area near the water, and they have ample supplies of cold drinks, and their mixed plates were the best I had while in the islands. The Kalua pork was outstanding! The service was a little slow; however, the one waitress that was in our area was doing her best to satisfy everyone.After lunch, we returned our rental to the agency.
You should plan on doing this no later than an 30 minutes to an hour before you’re scheduled to be back on board. You drop your car off, and then catch a shuttle back to the port.
Day 5 – Hilo, 8am – 6pm
Hilo – Same drill…. Exited the boat, caught a shuttle to my pre-booked rental agency and drove to Volcanoes National Park. This area of Hilo has lots of shops and gas stations to stop en route for snacks restrooms etc… Since we only had one day in Hilo, time was of the essence. We entered the park (for a nominal fee) and found that all of the attractions were clearly marked, and could be easily driven on your own. We first stopped at the steam vents, an area where the heat from the volcano causes steam when it comes into contact with water.
A few steps away from this you have a scenic overlook, and once you leave from here, drive directly to the Jagger Museum. Here you find information on the Kilauea, and the best views of the volcano. The loop around the volcano is currently closed due to volcanic fumes, but the areas that are open, are spectacular. On the way out of the park, make sure you take a walk through the lava tubes.
This is an underground tunnel that was formed via lava flow. It’s very interesting, and a fairly easy walk for most people. The entire walk takes about 15-20 minutes.
After leaving Volcanoes National Park, type in Mauna Loa Macadamia Farm into the old GPS, and take a self-guided tour of this enormous Macadamia Plantation. The tour itself isn’t all that entertaining, but the trees are something new to most people’s eyes, and you can stop in the gift shop for free samples, and buy some snacks for the road.
This entire process shouldn’t take longer than 30 minutes from the time you drive in, until you leave.The next stop is one of my favorites from this entire trip: Akaka Falls. Once again, we found this area via typing the name only into our Garmin GPS. This destination takes you somewhat off the beaten path through a small town and through some cow pastures, but the falls themselves are worth every minute of it! You’ll know when you’re getting close as you’ll see the cars lined up on the side of the road. These cars are parked here, because there is a charge to park in the park area. I suggest you pay the price and park here. The proceeds from the parking charges are used to maintain these areas. Once you arrive you’ll see a walkway, and after about a 15 minute walk downhill you’ll see the beautiful Akaka Falls.
After leaving the falls, it was time for a late lunch, so we headed downtown Hilo. I highly recommend Café Pesto in the old downtown area. The ambiance of this place is that of 1950’s Hawaii. The food is great, and affordable, and a view of the old downtown area; and the ocean makes you want to stay until dinner!
If you’ve done all of the above, it will be just about time to return your car and head back to the ship. On your way back, make sure you stop by and see the Banyan Trees planted by the movers and shakers at the time on Banyan Tree Drive. But wait: No trip to Hilo would be complete without a trip to Hilo Hatties! On your way back to the rental car agencies, stop in and pay homage to one of the largest chain of gift shops in
Hawaii: Hilo Hatties.
The store is loaded with any kind of Hawaiian sovunier you can imagine, browse the Hawaiian shirts, coconut syrup, jewelry, etc… but be prepared to pay. This store has a great selection, but if bargains are what you are looking for, search in the downtown area, or wait to pick up that gift for Uncle Tony in Kona. Returned the car, and took the shuttle back to the ship.
Day 6 Kona – 7 am – 6 pm
Kona is the one port of call on this trip that I would consider NOT renting a car. Since you’re only in port for the day, (this is also a tender port) you could potentially lose several hours just tendering, getting to the rental agency, getting your rental car, and allowing as much time to return the car, and tender back to the ship.If you choose to rent a car, you could visit the various island attractions such as the City of Refuge, or the Kona Coffee Plantation. If you’re just looking for some R&R, the Hapuna Beach State Park is the preferred beach access area on this island. Hapuna Beach is about 30 minutes from the cruise port by car.We chose to spend the day shopping at the many shops along the main street in Kona, and at lunch at the Kona Inn. The Kona Inn opens at 11:30, and it provides a fantastic view of the ocean while you eat.
The food at lunch is pretty much sandwich fare, but the ambiance makes up for any shortcomings of the food. After shopping, we took a cab to a local beach, where many of the cruise ship staff and some locals were hanging out. Here you can get shave ice, and swim and snorkel with the local sea turtles.
Day 7 – Kauai (Nawilliwilli) 8 am until 2 pm the following day
Kauai is my favorite island in Hawaii. This island is much more laid back than the others, the scenery is magnificent, and there are chickens everywhere! Yes, chickens… According to the locals, these chickens spread like crazy during a hurricane several years ago. Hawaii law protects all native birds, and these chickens are no exception. You will see them everywhere you go, they pose no threat, and add to the flair of this picturesque island.
It should also be noted that since Hawaii has no native predators, the chicken population is not thinned out… unless they wander onto a locals property, at which point they can
Once again, do the rental car shuttle and pick up your ride. You would be doing yourself a great disservice if you didn’t rent a car on this island.
The major drawback of the rental car on this island is the parking situation. The main overnight parking area is quite a distance from the ship near the Anchor Cove shopping center. if you plan on being out past 9 pm, plan on walking with a group. The last shuttle from the
Anchor Cove shopping center runs at 9 pm. Since the ship is parked in an industrial area, the surroundings are somewhat daunting. I wouldn’t say you should fear for your safety while walking back at night, however, my wife and I made the walk past 9, and while not fearing for our safety, it was a little sketchy.
I believe that Norwegian should either provide parking closer to the port, or reach some agreement with the shuttle companies. Some of the older guests on our trip didn’t want to make the trek, so we were able to drive up close to the port and drop them off. That being said, the shuttle service is very convenient, and will take you to many of the shopping centers nearby.
The first thing on our to-do list for after arriving was to see Waimea Canyon. Waimea Canyon is the island’s version of the Grand Canyon. Once you get near the road that leads you to the canyon, stop at the last gas station you see and grab some steamed buns filled with Shoyu Chicken for the ride. At the Waimea Canyon, you have a (very) scenic overlook to enjoy the canyon, and there is also a fruit stand right there to buy fresh fruit. Helicopter tours are also available to see the canyon and the island as a whole. If you’ve got the cash, I think this would be the island to use it to take that Helicopter ride.
You can leave Waimea Canyon and see Kokee Park, but by the time we got there fog made visibility nearly 0%. After leaving these areas, we headed over to the Poipu Beach resort area. On the way, you can stop off at the Kauai Coffee Plantation. This plantation provides free samples of some of the best coffee in world. It is available for purchase, and I highly recommend you doing so.
We arrived in the Poipu Beach area and stopped in at Brenneke’s Beach Broiler. Brenneke’s has great, fresh seafood, and it’s exactly the kind of laid back, beach restaurant that I love. You overlook Poipu Beach Park; this was my favorite place on the whole trip. If you’re looking to spend the day at a Beach on Kauai, I’d highly recommend coming right here, you won’t regret it.
To celebrate the conclusion of our Hawaiian adventure, we chose to do it the “Hawaiian” way and planned to attend a Luau. Although we all know that Luau’s on the island can be quite touristy and not true representations of the islands, I chose to book with one that has been operating on Kauai for decades. Many of you will find it difficult to steer clear of the Luau that is provided by NCL, but trust me, save your money and go to the Smith Family Luau.
The Smith family Luau is located near the Wailua River and is family-owned and operated, and has been for decades. You can tell from the opening ceremony that the Elder of this family is very proud of the business he has built and his family. The Grounds are beautiful, the food is exceptional, and all drinks are included in the price of admission, and plentiful.
The show itself is great, the performers are great, and there’s not a bad seat in the house. One very important note: USE YOUR GPS, AND TYPE IN SMITH’S TROPICAL PARADISE. The only time we got lost during our trip was using the address given to us on our tickets to this luau. Also, en route to this location allow some time for traffic, as you will be traveling through the main thoroughfare.
The following day we got in some last minute shopping and boarded the boat early, as we were asked to board around lunch time.
DAY 8 – Disembarkation
Norwegians procedures for disembarkation was very well organized, and not a hassle. The only excursion we booked via the ship was a Pearl Harbor and USS Missouri tour, so we were scheduled to meet in the main auditorium to leave the ship. The main advantage I found in booking this excursion is that we had a late flight, and this 8 hour tour allowed us to see the sights, and not wait in line to do so.
We left the boat and boarded our tour bus to see Pearl Harbor. The excursion information didn’t tell us this, but this tour also gave us a Honolulu City Tour, where you get to see the town (as well as Dog The Bounty Hunter’s office!) The tour takes you through the Punchbowl Cemetery, then to Pearl Harbor & The Mighty Mo (USS Missouri). This tour is one of the best I’ve ever taken. The time flies even if you’re not a history buff. I would recommend this tour to anyone over the age of 6. It is a very solemn and sobering tour, but something that everyone should see. It drives home the point that war is real, and greed, hatred and ignorance in any form has devastating consequences.
After this, we headed to the airport and took the arduous flight back to the East Coast of the United States.
This cruise is hands-down the best way to see all of the islands of Hawaii in such a short time, and for the price. It is a very port-intensive cruise, so you don’t really get the lazy days at sea as some cruises provide. The accommodations were adequate, overall the ship itself if beautiful. I would recommend having breakfast on the ship every day, but if you have the money, get out on the islands and eat what the locals eat, and support these small businesses. What I believe the ship needs to focus on for future cruises is the quality and flavor of the food they serve, and the level of customer service needs to be taken up a few levels.
This is not to say that some onboard didn’t exceed my expectations, however, other cruise lines have far exceeded my expectations in this area.
I would recommend this ship to anyone, and I think the positives far outweigh the negatives. You won’t be disappointed.
P.S. Learn two words before you go, Aloha
& Mahalo, use them every chance you get!