Norwegian Cruise Line Pride of Aloha Hawaii December 26, 2004
First let me say we had a wonderful time. The ship's crew members were all kind and thoughtful. They seemed to truly care and it showed. That is not to say that all was perfect.
We left a few days before the cruise, which I advise since the time change can be a killer. We departed on a 6 a.m. Delta flight from Charlotte N.C. to Hawaii via Atlanta. I do not normally fly Delta, and was disappointed to find that the weight limit is 50 lbs. per bag. You may check two bags of no more than 50 lbs. each, and for any bag over that limit, there's a charge: If your bag is 51-69 lbs., it's $25. If the bag is 70-100 lbs., it's $80. This may be the norm on other airlines also, but we travel a good bit to Europe, which is closer in distance but considered international; hence higher weight limits may apply. Hawaii is much further, but is in the U.S.; hence domestic rules apply (seems like they should make an exception for Alaska and Hawaii).
We did a pre-cruise package through NCL; our travel agent wanted us to stay at the Marriott, but I insisted on the Sheraton Moana Surf Rider. What a wonderful hotel on the beach; it is one of the two oldest in Hawaii. (Sheraton Royal Hawaiian is the other, but it was not offered by NCL.) The Surf Rider has a wonderful bar with great Mai Tais. We ate several times on the Veranda out by the water -- beautiful and relaxing. The Sunday brunch is excellent.
The day of departure we had an excursion planned on our own through Dolphin Excursions (808-239-5579 or www.dolphinexcursions.com). I heard of it here on the message boards; take this excursion if you can, they do book up in advance. The morning excursion is the best time to see dolphins. They pick you up at 5:30 a.m. at your hotel. Their vessel is a zodiac-style boat with hand rails. There are only 14-25 people; you ride out with a captain and two marine biologists. They locate a pod of spinner dolphins, which travel in groups of 50-100. You enter the water and the dolphins will swim all around you -- but at a distance; do not expect to touch them. After this incredible encounter you go to a different site to snorkel; there we saw two large sea turtles and many fish that had no fear of people. We arrived back at our hotel at 12:30 p.m. We had already checked out, and NCL had picked up our bags, but the Surf Rider gave us a courtesy room to shower and change before heading to the boat.
Check-in was a breeze, except the schedule had been changed again (I'll explain later).
Our room was clean, though we did find someone else's dirty socks stuffed in a cubbyhole. The ship is older, and parts of it show the age. The windows on Deck 11 really need a good cleaning. Some rails really need to be stained; they look worn. On the positive side, they did a nice job decorating the ship in Hawaiian style.
As soon as we checked in, we had to go to the excursion desk to make changes due to the revised port schedule. The wait was very long, but we got the excursions we wanted. Hundreds of people were trying to make changes, and tempers flared among the guests. Many people were clueless as to what they wanted because they had not done their homework; several families in front of us were arguing about what to do. I blame NCL, because on this cruise you were unable to choose much beforehand.
At 5:30 p.m. on Deck 11 they opened the BBQ buffet. The food on board was mostly fair; some things were good, but it needs improvement. Even the specialty restaurant we tried was just OK.
1. Bring an electrical strip. There is only one plug in the cabin, and you may need to recharge cell phones, cameras or video cameras.
2. Bring hangers. There is very limited drawer and closet space, and they only give you a few hangers.
4. If you are going to snorkel, get ear plugs. I never get ear infections but this time I got a terrible one.
5. Illness on board: There is a very good doctor who has medicine to dispense.
6. Go to the shows. They are very nice, but we were too tired to see all of them.
7. Room service was wonderful and always arrived early.
8. Bring binoculars for whale watching.
9. Get a balcony cabin if you can; they're great for whale and dolphin watching.
10. Get the ‘Revealed' books about Hawaii. You can find them at most bookstores. They include Maui Revealed, The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook, Hawaii the Big Island Revealed and Oahu Revealed.
Day Two - Kona
Avoid the Body Glove excursion; the snorkel site is terrible. The boat is very nice, and it may be a good way to learn to scuba although they charge you $65 additional. But the snorkeling site is near the pier you tender to and the fish were very limited, there was no pretty coral, etc. Then you take a sail and we did see a humpback whale but overall, the excursion is not worth it.
Day Three – Hilo
We were going to rent a car here, but instead we took a tour with a company at the pier. Don't do that. Get a car or take the excursion from NCL. The craters were very interesting, as was Rainbow Falls.
Day Four – Maui/Lahaina
This was my favorite port. We woke up, ordered a pot of coffee and whale-watched from our balcony; they are all over this port. Watch for a puff of water that looks a bit like smoke; then a whale hump or a tail may appear. Bring binoculars.
Take an excursion with Pacific Whale Watching Tours (808-879-8811). We booked this on our own and were able to change the date when the ship's schedule changed. The guidebook Maui Revealed says not to take the Explorer (they felt it was small and tight), but it was wonderful. The whales seem to know the boat; they were everywhere around it just a few feet away. We were able to move from side to side easily and see the whales for over an hour. We then walked around this wonderful seaside town, which is called the Key West of the Pacific. If the ship does not tender in Lahaina, take a cab or rent a car, but go there.
That night we took the luau excursion. It was very nice, out near the water at a lovely hotel a good hour's drive from the ship. The luau food was good, not great, but the show was excellent.
When the ship was sailing, we saw dolphins right next to it twice – bottle-nose dolphins, which we hear are rare in Hawaii. One night we saw a mother and calf so close to the ship that the lights of the boat shining in the water showed them clear as day.
Day Five – Maui/Kahului
This is a bit of the boring side of Maui, but still not far from Lahaina. This is where NCL offers the Molokini Carter Excursion. This was very good, with beautiful coral and fish; some people saw eels and reef sharks (the kind that won't hurt snorkelers). It was worth the cost (about $97). They do not offer lunch but give you snacks, chips, fruit and drinks. They have the best Mai Tais I've tasted. The problem is that the only excursion offered by NCL is the afternoon sail, which can be canceled due to rough waters. You will miss the famous Chocoholic Buffet, but Molokini is worth it.
We were still in Maui due to rough water. A large storm is hitting Hawaii, and Kauai - where we are to head next - has closed its ports, so the captain is keeping us in Maui at Kahului an extra day. We rented a car from Budget with no reservation; it was a breeze -- they picked us up at the port. We rented a jeep and in about five minutes we were on the road. We drove part of the Hana Highway, which has lots of beautiful sights. The ‘Reveal' books tell you where to get off the road; waterfalls and beaches are only marked by the number of cars stopped. It was a lovely drive. On the way back, we stumbled onto a famous restaurant called Mama's Fish House (808-579-8488). It had great food and great views on the beach, although it is very expensive. We spent about $115 including drinks, but this restaurant is worth it. We departed and although Kauai's ports were still closed, they had a wonderful party on Deck 11 when the seas calmed. The water was very rough even in Maui from the storm.
Kauai was not an option as its ports remained closed. It was New Years Day, and we spent it cruising. It was very beautiful to see the Molokai Cliffs, some of the highest in the world. The crew had a number of activities scheduled, but it was a real disappointment not to see Kauai. I hear it is the Garden of Eden on earth. Well, this gives us a reason to return. Would we take NCL? Yes; it was a great cruise and nothing is every perfect.
Our flight didn't leave until 6 p.m., so we took the Historic Cultural Tour. We wanted to see Pearl Harbor, and we did. We stopped there first, then toured the city by bus. What they don't tell you in advance is that you won't get off the bus except for Pearl Harbor -- Hilo Hattie's Gift Store if you have time. Do not wait to buy gifts for friends until you get to the airport – they are five times more expensive there than at Hilo Hattie's. The night before you leave, you place your bags outside your cabin, and you are given tour labels for them. You get off the ship at 8 a.m. and your luggage is waiting for you at the port. A porter will take the bags to your bus, so your luggage follows you as you tour.
We really enjoyed Hawaii, and NCL has honestly made big improvements, compared to the posts we've seen from earlier cruises.
If any one has questions, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.