Pride of Aloha
by Bob McGorkic
May 13, 2007
This is an attempt at a comprehensive review. I will be telling you the good and the bad things that can happen. Hopefully I will give you some tips you can use to get the most from a cruise on this ship. If you just want a grade, here it is: I would give this cruise a B to an A grade. It is probably one of the best ways to see a great deal of the Hawaiian Islands but it is not the best cruise I have ever been on. Now that that is out of the way, please allow me to explain how we were able to have such a good time without problems and how we stumbled upon great deals in excursions and other activities. This review will also give you details on where to find those good deals.
This was like no other cruise we have been on. On the other cruises, the ship was part of the destination. There were always at least two sea days on all of the other cruises. On other cruises, the ship was there to entertain and pamper you. This ship was a hotel and a means of transportation. The islands are the destination. That is not to say that we weren't well taken care of. Over 98% of the staff, we encountered, was always friendly and seemed to try to do a very good job. We had one really bad experience in the dining room. That will be explained below. We did encounter a few people who did not like the cruise at all. Most of their complaints involved service. I suspect that these complaints were valid. We also heard full audiences applaud and cheer when the cruise director asked if everyone had enjoyed the cruise.
Getting on and off the ship was well organized and very easy.
Of all the ships we have sailed on, this was probably the cleanest of them all. The carpet looked new and the rooms and cabins were immaculate.
There are many things that the islands will promote as must see excursions, which the ship will provide for free. Two examples are the Na'Pali coast and the lava flows. These are both incredible and FREE.
The itinerary was basically: Two days on each of these three islands, Kauai, The Big Island (Hawaii) and Maui. The two days on The Big Island is divided between Hilo and Kona. I will talk about the ports separately.
I prepared for this trip by purchasing two books.: "Hawaii for Dummies" and "The Unofficial Guide to Hawaii". While neither of these books is written to help the cruise guest, I found them somewhat helpful. I also got some great insight from this website.
On previous cruises we almost always ate our breakfast and evening meals in the main dining room and the buffet was used for lunch. On this cruise we ate only three evening meals and one breakfast in a dining room. To rate the service, for each night, in the dining room I would have to give it a "B" for two nights and an "A" for lobster night. I would, however, give the food an "A" for all three nights. The crab cake appetizer was great. I had to ask for a second one.
The one morning we ate in a dining room, did not go well. We simply did not get good service. Allow me to list the things that went wrong. (1) There was no sugar on our table for tea or coffee. It took forever to get the server to bring some. (2) A table that was seated after us was served long before us. (3) Our food came slowly and cold. (4) There was no salt and pepper on our table. I finally went to an empty table and retrieved some myself. (5) I asked for some salsa for my omelet. It took 20 minutes to get it. Needless to say, I was done with it by the time it arrived. This was even after I slowly ate my horrible, cold pancakes. The two people serving us just did not seem to have their act together. Perhaps the helper was brand new. We are all beginners at times. But it just did not go well. There were other little things that did not go well. The coffee was a little slow but that would have been OK had everything else been good.
The buffet in the Hukilau Café was usually pretty good. The fish they served was often excellent, (although some foodies may consider it "over cooked" I liked it.) A previous review mentioned that the Hukilau Lanai, just outside of the café, was a good place to check out. It is often much easier to get some more bread, drinks etc. here. While on the subject of the bread, I would say that they do a good job there. It was always fresh baked and there was always a good selection. I ate way too many of their cinnamon rolls and they seem to be popular. The Lanai served mostly fast food such as hamburgers, pizza, etc. If I had one big criticism it would be about my fellow travelers in line. Apparently many of them had NEVER seen a buffet line before. They took forever to pick up a piece of fish or spoonful of gravy. Good Grief!
There are several specialty restaurants on board. There are also a few places, such as the "Longboard" that are bars that serve some food. We probably should have tried these places but never got around to it.
The dessert bar was not the best, we have seen on a ship, but it was much better than most of the other cruises we have been on. (Carnival was horrible. Royal Caribbean was the best.)
One tip – The tea glasses were small and the tea is made from concentrate. I have experience with this concentrate. Without fail people make this too strong. When this happens, it does not taste like tea. To make it taste better, dilute it. I know that this sounds counter-intuitive, but try it. The other thing you can do is ask the bartender on the lanai for some large mugs. Perhaps buy a soft drink and ask for them with ice. We did this the second day and just took them back to our stateroom after each meal. These made much better tea glasses.
I should probably mention that we NEVER USE THE SHIP'S EXCURSIONS. We have always booked our own on shore and have never been disappointed. It is important to be careful about this. Don't be afraid to talk to several people before deciding upon whom to go with.
NOTE: All prices given in this review are without tax. Hawaii has a rather large tax for things such as hotel rooms and other tourist activities. Count on about 10% more with tax added.
I might also point out that there was a beach within walking distance of every port. You can see them from the upper deck of the ship. It might not be the best beach for what you have in mind, but you can always go for a swim without much trouble. All beaches are public in Hawaii. If in doubt, ask a bartender or other crewmember.
One of the books I bought recommended a small hotel in Waikiki. The average room rate for Waikiki is about $225 a night. While it is possible to do better than this if you are AARP, AAA etc. we were able to get a room at the Breakers Hotel for $99 a night (with AAA). The "Breakers" is a pretty little, two story, oasis in the middle of giant high rise hotels. It was built in the 50's. There are only two of these hotels left and they are right next to each other on Beachwalk Street. The rooms are quaint and clean. The staff is friendly and available at the office by the pool, 24/7. The pool is sparkling clean and surrounded by tropical plants. Some of the palm trees must be 50 years old. It is only about 100 yards from the same beach all the fancy hotels use. The post office is right across the street, along with the bus stops. You are also only about a half block from the main shopping street in Waikiki. There you will fine restaurants and fancy stores such as Coach, Tiffany, Rolex, Eves St. Laurent and others. The Breakers has a Japanese feel, which goes along with the small, outdoor tempura and sushi bar near the pool. There is an Italian restaurant across the street, along with an ABC store. (But there are 43 ABC stores in Wakiki alone.) There are hotels with restaurants up and down the beach.
On the Sunday morning of the cruise we went to Diamond Head and hiked up to the top. This is a great trip with an amazing view. Don't attempt it without good shoes. (We wore our hiking boots.) We saw people trying to do it in flip-flops. Take water with you. It only takes about 30-45 minutes to reach the top. But it is a mental challenge in places. Don't stop. You will be rewarded. Among other things, you will see military structures that were built in 1908.
We were back at the hotel before 10:30. We checked out but they watched our bags while we went to lunch and explored some more. At about 3:00 we took a taxi to the ship.
The main reason we booked a night at the Breakers after the cruise was so we could visit Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial. We arrived back at Honolulu early on Sunday and spent most of that day on the beach and relaxing. We were going to snorkel some more but we were tired and chose to just relax.
The books touted the virtues of the Honolulu bus system. This is known simply as "The Bus". (http://www.thebus.org/) On Monday morning we got up early and went to the bus stop in front of the post office, across the street. By "early" I mean at 5:45 we were at the bus stop. We were told that people start lining up at the memorial as early as 6:30. We arrived at about 6:55 and there were people in line. If you want to see the Arizona and the USS Missouri, plan on a full day. We made prior arrangements with the hotel about a late checkout. While we rode taxis to and from the airport and to and from the ship, taking the bus was fun and easy. We would do it again. Buses number 20 and 42 go right to the memorial. You don't have to worry about missing the stop.
The audio self tour was $5 at the memorial. I can't imagine going without it. The lady who suggested it while we were in line said that we would miss much without the audio. It was the best $5 we spent.
IMPORTANT NOTE: There are NO bags, fanny packs, handbags, backpacks, or PURSES allowed at the Arizona memorial. Do yourself a favor, do not take them. There is some storage that is rentable nearby but that will only slowdown your entrance to the memorial.
From the 11th deck of the ship you can see two small shopping centers. One on the left just about 150 yards from the ship and one on the right about 400 yards away. The important one here is on the left. It is in a building where the rear is a lumber and hardware store. There you will find a "Discount Activities" desk in the very front. It is easy to find helicopter rides over this beautiful island for well over $200 a person. At this desk you can book a flight with "Air Ventures" for $89 a person. This is a fixed wing aircraft ride that rivals any helicopter tour. The pilots are very experienced and knowledgeable. I can't imagine a better way to see Kauai in the limited time you have there. See: http://www.airventurehawaii.com
From the same desk you can book a tour with Danny (an off duty firefighter) who will take you around the island to see historical places and waterfalls. His tour also included a stop at a beach for snorkeling. Bring your swimming gear with you. Just ask for Danny's tour at the discount activities desk. If you want this tour decide so early on your first day. Since he is a firefighter there is a good chance that he will not be available both of your days on Kauai. We chose to do this on the second day.
The shopping center up on the right has an ABC store and some other places. There is also a place where you can rent scooters and snorkeling gear. They want about $13 a day for a full set. You can buy everything from about $59. We took the free shuttle to Kmart and bought TWO sets of good snorkeling gear for about $50, including tax. You can also buy good gear at most ABC stores for under $30. ($11-13 for mask and snorkel and around $16 for fins.) The ABC store here was one of the few that did not have both masks and fins.
There are free shuttles, on all the islands to places like Walmart or Kmart, etc. There is always a free shuttle to the largest shopping mall too.
One of the big things to see on Kauai is the Na Pali coast. This is the rugged north coast. It is beautiful. The plane ride gave is a wonderful view. But the ship gave us an even better one. The ship departed Nawiliwili at 1:00 pm and sailed around the north coast before heading south. This gave us a wonderful view for the afternoon. Over the ship's speakers was a narration about the history of the area, as we passed.
While in port at Kauai, we had one night that we chose to over indulge in good food and wine. Since the ship would not be moving we thought that this might be the best time to do this. Unfortunately this was the same night that someone flushed a prohibited item down the toilet and stopped up the plumbing for dozens of staterooms. Ours was one of them. We found ourselves looking for a bathroom, which worked, between midnight and 1:00 am. Too much wine affects us both that way. By 1:00 we were ok and the plumbing was fixed. Most people probably never knew this had happened. Bad timing on our part.
The Big Island –
The first port was Hilo. This is on the north side of The Big Island. Here we walked off the ship to find several good tour companies waiting for us. Take your time to talk to them and decide what you want. The favorite activity here is to visit the volcanoes. Note: A tour of "the volcano" does not mean you will see flowing lava. That does not mean you can't go see the lava. You just have to choose. You can go look into the crater and see steam or smoke or you can go on a tour that requires you to hike over lava fields until you get to where some is oozing from under the rocks. We chose the fresh lava. It was amazing but not for those with sissy footwear or unable to trek over very uneven terrain for MILES. This is a rough hike. But if you do it you will be rewarded with views and sensations that are indescribable. You are required to take water with you but some of it is wasted by spitting it on the rocks around you to see it boil as though you were pouring it on a hot frying pan. And that is the lava that it older. We paid $50 a person for this tour. There were other people there who had paid $169 each. Our guide was a seven year army veteran who was a career soldier who was out recovering from a combat wound. It was a family run tour company with several vans. Everyone in the family was ex-military. It was J & W Tours.
The same tour guide made arrangements with some or our people to meet them at Kona for a tour the next day.
Kona was the only tender port on the cruise. In Kona the thing to do is snorkel. The beaches are full of the most beautiful fish in the world. You can see turtles and dolphins too. There are several great beaches for this. One of the best is called Kahaluu Beach but the local tour guides call it "Turtle Beach". It is located about 5 1/2 miles south of Kona. Other beautiful beaches are Hapuna and "A-Bay". Both are 18 to 27 miles north.
We went to Turtle Beach because it is easy to get to and considered one of the best. A shuttle will give you a round trip ride for $10 a person. If you have several people in your group you might save a few dollars by using a taxi. This was one of the best things we did. If you snorkel nowhere else, go here. There may be better places but you would have to travel great distances. You will not be disappointed.
As the ship sails from The Big Island the captain takes the ship right past the Pu`u `O`o - Kupaianaha Eruption of Kilauea Volcano. We saw red lava flowing down the mountain and pouring into the see. What a sight! The boat is stopped and turned 180 degrees to allow all decks to witness this. There was a good narration about the geology and the mythology as we sailed by. See: http://hvo.wr.usgs.gov/kilauea/summary/Current_map.html
After the drive to Hana we set out for the northwest side of the island to look for a beach to snorkel at. The books mentioned several. This is the resort side of the island. While the beaches may be nice, the really good ones (for snorkeling) are by the resorts and they prohibit beach parking in their lots. What few beach parking places do exist, are always full.
I should point out that free beaches for surfing are everywhere along this coast. There are no facilities for most of them but you can just pull off the road and surf.
Renting a car in Maui was cheap and easy. We just called Budget from their dedicated phone in the terminal and a bus picked us up. The cost was only $38 for a midsize car. But listen to this! GAS WAS $3.75 ON THE ISLAND. If you pay for a full tank in ADVANCE, at the car rental place it was only $3.25. That is not a big deal unless you understand that if you bring the car back needing gas that they will charge you $1.50 a gallon service charge to put it in for you. This brings the total to over $5.00 a gal. You must set this up before you drive out. If you pay for the full tank in advance you are then credited back the gas you do not need. I don't know if the other car rentals have the same program or not. NOTE: It is possible to spend $100-200 a day if you want a convertible or some other fancy car.
Entertainment Aboard Ship