This was our 5th cruise, the first on NCL. We are both middle aged, and left the kids at home this time. We spent 3 days before and 3 days after the cruise in Oahu. We had the top inside cabin, category [ii], deck 11. We booked cruise only, no fly or stay packages with NCL.
This embarkation was the smoothest ever. Check-in is supposed to start at 1pm at the Aloha Tower, and we drove by at 11:30 to see what was up. There was a bit of a line, about 20 yards long, which was not moving because the doors were not open yet. But luggage reception was open, so we parked and got rid of our luggage, which is just across a sidewalk from the car, into the terminal door, and they take it right there. Then we left to turn the car in. When we got back by cab at 12:00 the line was about 30 yards long but the doors were open and it was moving. So we looked around the shops till 12:30, when there were only a few people in the line, and then went in. NCL staff have trays of juice drinks if you are thirsty, a nice touch. Check-in was fast, getting our ship cards and going through security, and we were on the ship in about 15-20 minutes with a gorgeous orchid lei. At 1pm there was no line at all.
We had some lunch on the ship in the Market Café buffet, and then left the ship to do some more things. If you are off the ship at 5pm you miss the hot and boring fire drill. All aboard call is 7:30 for 8pm sailing. There is a baggage holding service there which will hold your luggage for $5 per bag until 7:30pm. There is no reason to use them if boarding, just give the ship your luggage, but it might be useful if staying in Honolulu for the afternoon after your cruise.
The Star is beautiful and well maintained. The cabins are a bit smaller than CCL, more the size of Celeb, with cherry/redwood trim, lots of mirrors and chrome, a great shower with a door instead of a clingy curtain, and enough storage space with luggage under one of the beds. It would have been a classier cabin without the sailor knots bedspread, and the loud carpet. Bring a power bar for the one outlet on the vanity, and you might want a clock to wake you up in port. The hairdryer was good. Outside the door is a cool disc you can turn on the wall indicating "Don't Disturb", "Make up Cabin", "Turn Down Cabin", "Welcome", a nice improvement over the door knob cards that fall off all the time. The ice bucket fits in the fridge, keeping it cold longer. Free soap and shampoo in the shower, and a clothesline in the shower.
Our only cabin complaint was the thin walls, as other reviewers have noted. If your neighbors raise their voice you can hear them talking through the walls. This was ok with us, except our neighbors on one side ran their TV night and day, and we could easily tell which show they were watching, and a lot of the dialogue. Several nights after midnight we got the ship to ask them to turn it down. We don't really fault our neighbors, just the thin walls. We hardly ever heard the people on the other side.
And the ship is creaky out in the ocean when we got into the swells, it sounded like someone was walking on a squeaky floor in the next room, and another noise was a patter like a raccoon running across the roof. This didn't bother us, but if you like it quiet when you're sleeping you might bring earplugs. The Market Café was the deck above us, so we heard lots of restaurant noises when they shutting down at night and gearing up in the morning.
We also agreed with other reviewers that the 2 large yellow waterslides make the pool look more like Disneyland than a cruise ship. Pool lounge chairs were hard to find between 10 and 4, as on all the ships we've been on, but there are lots of other areas with chairs to relax and tan.
The gym was a bit smaller than on the CCL and Celeb ships, and it would have been nice if the treadmills faced the ocean instead of the atrium. The jogging track was good, not slippery when wet, but it narrowed on each side of the ship so you had to squeeze past people. There was no water fountain at any point on the track like other ships had.
The ship has an internet café (coffee only), which charges 75 cents a minute, or package deals for about $50 and another for about $100. If you wait to use it until the first day at sea you get a first logon credit of $3.95. All passengers automatically get an email account as you'll see on your cruise ticket, but you could just surf to your web email and use that. To check a couple messages and write short replies ate up between $3 and $4, which we did a few times. We joked with the webmaster that we were his stingiest accounts. There were about 12-15 stations, and always lots of room, not very busy.
The ship was sold out, so to alleviate congestion they turned 2 pay restaurants into free ones, the Endless Summer (Hawaiian) and the Trattoria (Italian). The 2 other free ones are the Aqua and the Versailles, and the meals were fine in both of them, lots of choice, and equivalent to an upscale city restaurant. The Aqua is more casual, and the Versailles is formal, modeled after a European chateau. The most dramatic table locations in the Versailles are by the side or rear windows, with a view of the ocean as you dine. You can't reserve at the Versailles, so to be sure to get a view table you have to arrive when they open at 5:30. Later you could get one if people are leaving as you arrive, or you could tell the maitre'd you'll wait for one.
The menus in the pay restaurants (about $10 pp) are the same every day. The Trettoria has pizza, lasagna, chicken parmagana, and sirloin steak. The Endless Summer has ribs, tuna, rock cod, and coconut chicken. The Bistro (French) has filet done 2 ways, salmon, chicken w/ cognac, seabass, and a veggie dish. In the Ginza (Asian Fusion) you can choose 2 entrees from a list of 11. The Soho (Pacific Rim cuisine) has monkfish, tiger shrimp, steak, lamb rack, cider veal, and a veggie dish. I haven't listed all the sauces/creams or how they cook the dishes, or the other courses with the meals . appetizers, starters, soups, salads. The Blue Lagoon is a 24 hour snack bar with free wings, potato skins, fish and chips, etc, but milkshakes are $2.50. The Market Café is the main ship buffet, open for all meals. It's great for breakfast or lunch, but better to have dinner elsewhere. Every day at the pool they do a rib, chicken, and steak b'b'cue with salads and fruit, very good. Free water and ice tea, all other drinks are billed to your cabin.
The only pay meal we had was in the Bistro because it's a lovely romantic setting, and the food was fine. We tried getting into the Endless Summer, but it was usually booked solid. You can book the pay restaurants a day ahead. Only large groups can book the Aqua or Versailles. We had a booking for the Endless Summer one night, but when we saw things we liked better in the menu posted outside the Versailles, we cancelled the Endless Summer reservation and went to the Versailles.
The entertainment was fine, good song and dance shows, good comedians, and very good Asian acrobats. The pool band rocked, and all the bars had some type of live entertainment. Kareoke was popular, and hot dance lessons in the disco were too, line dancing, etc. Swing music by the ship band in another dance lounge. A fun Asian rock bank at the pool. Something for everyone. Plus various ship activities, games, bingo, pool contests, etc. It's got as much action as a Carnival cruise.
If you boarded in Maui you'll have the whole day in Oahu, and if you board in Honolulu you could embark at noon, have lunch in the Market Garden café, and be off the ship by 2 to see the sights. It's tempting to stay on board and check out the ship, but there are several interesting things to do in the port area that can easily be done before the all-aboard call at 7:30 or 8pm sailing. And you would miss the hot and boring fire drill with your lifejacket on, at 5pm.
We spent 3 days before and 3 days after the cruise in Waikiki. Waikiki Beach is a quick $15 cab ride from the ship, and it's always hopping. The main drag running along the beach is Kalahaua Ave, with tons of people strolling along, shops of every kind, from Gucci to an International Market of stall vendors, hotels, bars, and it's beautiful and clean. Have your cabbie drop you off around Kalahaua and Lewers St., and then stroll east on Kalahaua towards the Diamond Head crater/mountain. After several blocks the beach gets too close to the road for any more hotels on the beach side, and you are walking right along the edge of the beach. The action runs out a few blocks further along where the hotels end at a park. Then you can walk back to the Lewers area on the other side of Kalahaua, or lay around the beach (if you can find a spot to sit) for awhile and watch the surfers.
Another interesting sight is to take a cab up to Diamond Head, perhaps a $10 ride from the beach. You drive through a tunnel into the Diamond Head crater, where there is a parking lot, and you can stroll around the crater, perhaps a mile across. You can pay $1 to enter a path that goes up to the crater summit, a half hour walk and climb. There are stairs and rocky switchbacks, and you shouldn't do this if you are out of shape, but a granny and grandpa made it up by taking their time, and there are lots of rest benches. The view from the top is amazing, you can see all the way to Honolulu, and east up the coast.
Another quick and interesting sight is a 15 minute drive up hwy 61 into the mountains to the famous Pali lookout. Then if you had time (and a rental car) you could take the longer 40 minute drive back to Waikiki around the coast on hwy 72, lots of great viewing spots along that route.
Another sight is the Pearl Harbor memorials, a short drive from the port.
Another fun activity is to take one of the catamaran cruises along the coast. There are 2 that leave Waikiki beach every hour or so. Each operator has a clock at his docking spot showing when the next cruise leaves. And there's one that leaves from the marina near the ship at 11am, 1pm, and 3pm . it appears to be bigger than the Waikiki ones. The cruises are about $20.
It would be cheaper and more convenient than cabs to get a rented car at $30 a day to do some of these. And the rent-a-car companies have great maps on every island, better than the Visitor's Bureaus, lots of detail, notes on exits, food places, etc, at least Alamo did, and I would think the rest would too. When you debark at each island there are staff helping you get through the terminal, just ask where the rental car shuttles are and they will tell you.
If you have some extra time to spend in Oahu and want info on kayaking, walking/hiking, local art displays, surfing lessons, or driving directions just email us. You can order a free Tourist Bureau vacation planner online at: www.visit-oahu.com (1-877-525-OAHU).
The next port is Hilo. In the Hawaiian ports you have three main choices for tours . chopper, bus, or car rental. The people who took chopper rides had a good time, but we just preferred to be on the ground close to the sights. The bus tours cost about $60-80 pp, and the people who took them said they stopped at too many shops, and too many bathrooms, and there are some sights the bus can't get into due to size. Car rentals were about $25-40/day, depending on size, and if you booked ahead on the net. We used Alamo, who rent a full size for $34 on the net on any island. When you leave the ship, walk into the terminal, turn right and walk along the yellow fence to the right hand side of the terminal, and that's where the rental car shuttles are. Alamo has a rep at this port with a cell phone, and he lets you know when the next shuttle is coming, and checks your name on his clipboard. Our name wasn't on it, but he wasn't concerned when we showed him our res number, and the office had a car for us (whew!). All the car rental companies had shuttles at each port which ran every 10 minutes or so, but when you're anxious to get going on your sight-seeing it seems like hours to wait, and some reviewers jumped in a $6 cab to the rental site, but we waited and tapped our feet. We didn't hear of anyone who reserved a car who didn't get one.
We docked at 6:45. On this island the main attraction is Volcanoes National Park, and it's truly amazing. It's a 40 minute drive straight up hwy 11 into the 4000 foot mountains, 4 lanes most of the way. Turn left into the park entrance, pay $10/car and they will hand you a great map of the park. No need to stop at the visitor's center a bit further on unless you want to talk to a ranger about something. Then you take Crater Rim Drive, several miles, around Kilauea Caldera, an area containing various volcano craters, stem vents, dead lava flows, sulpher deposits, and volcanic landscapes. There are view stops every couple minutes, and it will take your breath away to stand on the edge of these craters, half a mile to a mile wide, looking 100's of feet down at swirls of dead lava and colored deposits, imagining them blowing sky high. Most of them blew between 1950 and 1980s.
If pressed for time you might skip the first stop, the steam vents, where rain gets in, is heated by the magma way below, and comes out as steam. But don't miss any other stops, each crater has it's own character. They aren't currently active, and to see lava flowing you have to drive down the Chain of Craters road to the coast, which branches off this Rim road about three quarters of the way around. Then drive a short way along the coast to the East Rift Zone, where Kilauea has been active since '83, and the road is destroyed by recent lava flows. Then you hike into the lava flows. We compared notes before we left with other drivers, and there was no way we could fit that into the time available. We had time to go down the Chain of Craters Road about halfway, I think we got to Mau Loa Manuna Ulu before we were at our midpoint in time and had to turn back. Back on the Rim Drive you come to the Thurstone Lave Tube, a tunnel carved in rock by lava, which you can walk through. It's in a beautiful fern grotto. Then one more stop, Kilauea Iki Overlook, and you're back at the park entrance. We figured we had to leave the park by 11am to make it back to Alamo by 11:40, and get the Alamo shuttle to the ship by 12:15, which we did. All aboard call is 12:30 for 1pm departure.
If for some reason you aren't up to doing the volcanoes, there is a short drive to 2 pretty falls near the ship, the Rainbow Falls and the Akaka Falls, and the Panaewa Rain Forest zoo is near, and the Lava Tree State Park with beaches nearby off hwy 137.
Fanning Island is an atoll of 3 islands, each about 10 miles long and half a mile wide. There is no electricity, plumbing, or phones. The one road is a sandy 2-track path used by the 1 pickup truck on the island. The islanders live in grass roof huts, unchanged for the past 100 years. NCL built a school, a warehouse style building, in exchange for beach rights. There is no doctor or dentist on the island. There are pictures and descriptions at the Pacific Island Relief Org site: www.interpac.net/~fanning/
Passengers are tendered ashore, and tender tickets are handed out on a first come basis starting at 8am the day before Fanning. We went at 10am and got tender # 12. On Fanning day they call 2 tender tickets at a time, and we were called at 9:15. There is no need to get up early for a lower tender ticket, everyone gets ashore by 10am, and the last tender back is 2:30pm, enough time to do everything. If you miss your tender they let you on a later one. The tender ride is about 10 minutes over a rolling sea. Oh, one tender tip, don't take the red/white enclosed tender from the midship gangway, it's stifling hot because the breeze can't get to the passengers, and everyone gets off panting, a bad start to an already hot island. Take the larger blue/white open air tender from the forward gangway, and you'll feel a nice breeze all the way in.
When you step off the pier, the islanders village and their craft area are to the left, and to the right is the NCL area for passengers with 3 or 4 small sandy beaches, with beach chairs, and several b'b'cue areas for the free lunch. Go to the last beach for the most space. Drinks are charged to your cabin, but there is free cold water behind the second beach. Also behind the second or third beach is a pavilion where the islanders put on a dance show, lots of action and energy.
On the left of the dock the craft area has perhaps 50 tables set up. The islanders are rather shy, and will not approach you to sell anything, a big change from places like Jamaica and Mexico. They know enough English to tell you how much things cost, but that's about it, although a few have better English. They will smile and say hello if spoken to. There are a few flies buzzing around as noted by other reviewers, but no biting insects that we found.
Most of the crafts appear home-made, with 2 exceptions that we saw. There are T-shirts for $15, which are 3/$10 on any other island. And they sold those conical shells that have a scene carved in the top, on a pink background, as if the shell coating has been peeled away to reveal a pink underlayer, and then a scene carved in it. Those are sold at every tourist trap we saw on the cruise. So some stuff is getting imported.
We took gifts for the island kids, a dozen finger puppets for the 3-6 year olds, and 50 cent frisbees for the 7-11 y. olds, and gum. We were trying to take things that were easy to pack and carry. When my wife came across a 3-4 y. old at the craft area, or near the huts, or on one of the paths, she would squat down beside the child and show him/her a finger puppet. The kids don't seem afraid, but are cautious and curious. None of them knew what to do with the puppet, probably had never seen one before, so Wendy showed them how it worked on her finger, then asked them to stick out their finger, and put it on for them. Then we put one on our fingers, and wiggled the puppets and did some little puppet conversations. They stared in amazement, then with more coaxing and puppet noises they would move their fingers and smile a bit. Some of the older kids knew what to do with the frisbees, but we had to show others, who then quickly ran off to find a friend to practice with. Almost all of them said thank you, and if a mom was near she reminded them.
We heard the school was desperately in need of supplies, and I'm in education, so we took a few things, colored chalk, stickers, pencils, etc. We got chatting with one of the dads at the craft area who spoke good English, we gave him a Canadian flag clothing pin to wear which put a big smile on his face [he'll probably trade it for something later], and when we asked him if we could meet a teacher he told his son to take us to find one of the teachers in the village. He found one of the teachers, Tara, on one of the paths, and we gave him a frisbee which produced a big smile, and he was gone. We told Tara what we had brought, and she took up back to her hut, and we sat down at a table outside the door, and had a good visit. She spoke good English, which she learned at a high school on another island. She got a piece of paper and wrote down what we brought and what it was for, to show the headmaster. I don't think she'd ever seen stickers or clothing pins. We gave her a pin saying "Kids First" with an apple on top, and she asked why the apple. We told her about the North American custom of kids trying to please the teacher by bringing her an apple for a snack, which seemed strange to her. Maybe she didn't know what apples were . we were told most of the islanders have seen nothing of the outside world, being isolated in the central Pacific. We had to show her how to put the clothing pin on, and she was careful to figure out how the squeeze-clasp behind it worked.
She said paper is scarce, and the kids do their schoolwork on hand-held chalk boards, like in No. American about 100 years ago. We got thinking later that they could perhaps use some acetate boards, the kind you write on with a no-ink pen, and erase it by pulling up the clear acetate cover sheet. Perhaps they would rather have some scribblers or notepads, but we tried to think of gifts that would be easy for us to pack and transport.
The height of the island is 10 feet above sea level, which would be completely underwater from the tidal surge if a hurricane hit. We asked Tara about that and she just said they'd never had a hurricane, just storms. I don't think she really understood the power of a hurricane. If the one that destroyed 70% of Kauai in 1992 hit them I don't know how any of them would survive, they're too isolated for an evacuation.
So we took some pictures and said our good-byes, and strolled further down the path along the beach, coming across a few more craft tables, and an empty primary "school" under a large thatched roof, the teacher's name on a log beam, and the kids mats in rows. We were reluctant to walk through their hut areas, that seemed to be their personal space and it felt like we were in someone's back yard. After a bit we went back to the lunch area, feeling a bit embarrassed at the excess of food there, when the islanders live on coconut, breadfruit, and fish.
NCL rents bikes for $10, but there is no reason to do that, there is nowhere to get in a hurry, and it just works up a bigger sweat. Also, the path has puddles and the wheels throw up sand and water on the riders backs (no fenders).
We read a couple reviews by people who where "disgusted" at being taken to a scene of such poverty. If you think this would bother you, you should probably just stay to the right of the dock in the b'b'cue/beach area.
Maui was a heartbreaker because of time constraints. We knew we arrived at 1pm, but not that everyone had to go through customs before debarking. First, about 10am find a chair on the starboard side of the ship somewhere and you can watch some nice scenery as the ship approaches Maui. The captain will announce which islands you're passing.
After clearing customs (first US port after Fanning) we debarked at 2:30 and were in our rented car by 3:15. The 2 awesome sights too see in Maui are Haleakala National Park and Iao Valley State Park and the Iao Needle, where they shot many movies such as Jurassic Park and Indy Jones. Iao is a valley with amazing vertical carved walls and cliffs on each side, and the famous Iao Needle is a pointed mountain. Waterfalls and streams wind through the valley.
Haleakala Park is an erosion crater carved into a volcano 10 thousand feet high. Newer volcanic activity has added cinder cones and lava flows, which give a variety of colors and scenery. Their site is www.haleakala.national-park.com which describes some nice short 10-15 minute hikes/walks at the top. And there is another site which describes in detail how to get there, how long each segment takes, and what you will see . http://alternative-hawaii.com/hnp.htm
Sunset is about 7:15pm, after which it's too dark to see any sights. From the ship it takes about 3 hours to do Haleakala, and about 45 minutes to do Iao. So at 3:15 it was decision time, and we decided we couldn't do both places, so we gave up on Haleakala and went to Iao. The top deck cabins clear customs first, and Americans clear before non-US, so some lucky Yanks were off by 2pm, and would have had time to do both places.
After seeing Iao we drove across the island to Lahaina, where the ship used to stop. It's a scenic drive along the coast most of the way. Lahaina is a pretty bay, and a tourist town with tons of shops and people walking along the strip. We didn't come to Hawaii to do tourist traps, so we got ice creams and drove out of town further up hwy 30 to Napili, where they shoot the famous sunsets. Around 7pm we found a good viewpoint between Napili and Kahana, and got some nice shots of the sun setting over the angular edge of a mountain, golden reflection in the water, beach and trees in the foreground. Then we drove back to the ship for dinner.
The Maui Visitors Bureau vacation planner had the best map of all the planners we got from the islands, almost as good as the car rental map. You can order one at www.visitmaui.com
Finally a port where there is enough time to do everything! The big attraction is the famous Waimea Canyon, similar to the Grand Canyon. It's a mile wide and 3600 feet deep, and has amazing colors. It's about a 40 minute drive from the ship to the first main lookout, with lesser lookouts before that. Regarding weather, the rule of thumb is that if you have bad weather when you reach the first main lookout, there is no point in driving another half hour to see the other lookouts further down the ridge road, it will not get any better. But if you have good weather, drive further down the canyon to the Puu Hinahina lookout, and then the Kalalau lookout, and Puu o Kila lookout at the end of the road.
Then you can drive back on hwy 50 past the ship to the Wailua Falls up hwy 583, and Opaekaa Falls up 580, which feed the Wailua River. Then go back to hwy 56, turn back south on 56 for a few hundred feet, and turn right into the Fern Grotto tours place, I forget the name. There are other smaller vendors selling grotto tours, but the main one has a big parking lot, restaurant, etc. Tours are $15 and last 1.5 hours. The ship price is $45. The tour goes up the Wailua river, lots of great scenery, to a fern grotto where the locals put on a bit of a show. Then you can drive back to hwy 56 and check out the beaches along the coast. Waipouli Beach in Wailua Bay at the junction of hwy 56 and 580 has some nice big breakers to watch. Lydgate Beach, a mile south, is better for small kids, it's calm and has lifeguards, and good snorkeling. There's a beach every couple miles on this coast.
You can order the Visitor's Bureau travel planner online at www.kauaivisitorsbureau.com
Debarkation was very smooth, very few lineups. As with all cruises, your luggage goes out in the hall before Sat. midnight, so the crew can take it. Your bill is delivered to your cabin in the wee hours Sunday morning, and if you find errors they ask you to come to the desk by 7:30am to correct them. There were lineups of people, but our bill was fine. Luggage is color coded and was easy to find in the terminal, and the cabs are right outside the terminal door, not way down the sidewalk like in Tampa.
Thanks to all the Cruise Critic web site people who helped us with info before we left . Chuck, Glenda, Kris, Bryan, Patti, Narda and Max, and Joanne. [Cruise Critic members meet in the Beer Garten at 6pm on Mondays of each cruise, and get a tour of the garden villa if possible, and some nice perks and freebees.] The crew on board said you were all a pain in the butt, so we pretended we didn't know you ;-}