This was our seventh cruise, having already been on Carnival (Festival 1989, Tropicale 1993, Imagination 1995, and Fascination 2004), Norwegian (Norwegian Dream 2000), and Celebrity (Horizon 2002). For the third time, I made all the arrangements myself on Expedia, and it worked out fine.
Embarkation: Honolulu - We arrived in Hawaii a day early, and booked a night at the Ohana West Hotel in Waikiki. We spent a post-cruise week at the same hotel, so I'll talk about it later.
The Port of Hawaii may have had the smoothest embarkation of any cruise we've been on to date. We left our hotel around 11:45 am and arrived at the port shortly after 12 noon. We were a little nervous, as we received no ticket folder or bag tags for our luggage from the cruise line (our Cruise Tickets were printed out online) But, Norwegian had a table set up when we arrived where you gave them your cabin number and they filled out the luggage tags and attached them to your bags. We had done the pre-check in at ncl.com, so after the usual on-board account sign-up, we boarded the ship after only about 10 minutes total. They told us our cabins would not be ready until 3pm, but that we could drop our carry-on bags in our rooms and the rest of the ship was open. Upon arriving at Cabin 8047 (Outside cabin with obstructed view) we met our Cabin stewards who informed us that our cabin was indeed ready for occupancy.
Cabin - We thought the cabin was quite spacious, with a king bed (two twins pushed together) and a small sitting area close to the picture window with a loveseat and a small table. There was enough hanger and shelf space for our clothes, but we could see how someone who was a heavy packer could have space problems. The room had an in-room safe which you program yourself with a 4-6 digit code number. The air conditioning was just adequate. The bathroom had shampoo, shower gel, and hand soap dispensers, which were kept full. The hair dryer was sufficient but not overly powerful. The Rooms were kept quite clean and set-up for sleeping promptly every night.
Ship - The Wind is one of the Norwegian "Stretched" ships, cut in half and a center section added. Because of this, navigation on board was a challenge to some. For example, on Deck 9 to go from bow to stern you had to cut through the Four Seasons restaurant. It can be a little embarrassing during meal hours. We usually walked up a deck to go around. The Stardust Lounge, which hosted the main shows, was comfortable with only a few bad seats. (Tip: The sofas in the Stardust Lounge, while comfortable, were a shade lower that the movable chairs). As usual on a cruise, you should get to the shows early for best seats. It's very annoying dealing with those few thoughtless passengers who wait until 30 seconds before show time and ask if a whole row of people can move down so their spouse can have a seat. Or, those who hold half-dozen seats for their friends who never show up.
The bars and lounges on board were nice but nothing spectacular. The disco was busy most nights, as was the Observatory lounge. There was NO CASINO on board. This is because of Hawaii State Laws against gambling. We knew this going in, so it was no problem for us, but apparently several couples' travel agents didn't inform them of this. The only gambling on board was Bingo, and they only had that on the sea days to and from Fanning Island.
There is ample outdoor deck space on the Wind, and even on sea days there were good chairs available near the pools. It was often quite breezy on deck, and we saw many hats disappear forever over the side. Despite the 90 degree+ heat, the public rooms and restaurants were quite comfortable almost too chilly for some on occasion.
The ride on the Wind was pretty smooth, especially for the North Pacific, which can be quite choppy. Hey, this is not the Southern Caribbean folks! The motion was noticeable, although we didn't hear any complaints of seasickness. We thought the stabilizers did their jobs quite well.
Food - Despite the comments of some other reviewers, we thought most of the food on the Wind was quite palatable. Meals were well prepared and presented. The waiters quickly corrected any problems we experienced. (Tip: One nice thing about Freestyle dining was that you could eat your dinner, and if you were too full for dessert, you could go back anytime before 10:00 pm for dessert and coffee.)
There are six restaurants on board:
The Pizzeria - Which served Continental Breakfasts, Salads and cold cuts at lunch, and of course pizza until 3:00 am
The Sports Bar and Grill - Which serves very good buffet meals all day. Breakfast with made to order omelets and waffles. Lunch included salads, several different hot entrees, hot dogs, and disappointing hamburgers from a warming bin instead of a grill. (Tip: This area is extremely crowed at peak lunch times on sea days, it's better to go early or late). Casual Dinner buffet here was a very good option when the restaurant menu was not to your liking. There was a good selection of entrees, salads and desserts.
Le Bistro - a specialty restaurant (same menu every day), which cost a $10.00 per person cover charge.
La Trattoria - Which featured Italian Dinners and Ala Carte lunches.
The Terraces - is one of the two main dining rooms. They are the only restaurant that serves Ala Carte breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Four Seasons - is the other main dining room. They serve a rather weak breakfast buffet, and the same lunch and dinner menu as the Terraces.
This was our first exposure to freestyle dining, and we enjoyed the flexibility. Some nights we ate early, others we ate after the 7:15 show. We alternated between sharing a table and eating alone at a table for two. It is always your choice. We thought the service was best at the Terraces. We did not try Le Bistro or La Trattoria, but heard good comments about both of them.
Entertainment - We enjoyed the shows on the Wind very much. Alfred and Seymour - The Blackstreet Boys were hysterical as was the Comedy of Joe Yannetty. The Hawaiian Cowboy Wes Epae had a wonderful voice and could mimic many famous singers. The Jean Anne Ryan Company did their thing in Four Musical Reviews. And the amazing Matagi Polynesian Cast did two Hawaiian Shows that were not to be missed!
Even though she told the same jokes that every other cruise director on all of our seven cruises told, Cruise Director Sharon Escott gets an "A" for energy and enthusiasm! But, if I hear that dated: "If you didn't like the cruise, my name is Julie McCoy" joke one more time.
Ports - The itinerary was the reason we chose this cruise, and we would highly recommend cruising as a great way to see Hawaii, especially for the first time. Yes, the tours we took were expensive, but if we had rented a car to save money, we would have been reading maps and driving instead of sightseeing and taking pictures. This is a personal decision, but we don't regret the expense.
We took the Volcanoes National Park and Rainbow Falls tour (6 hours - $85.00 pp run by Polynesian Tours)
Imagine lunch overlooking a volcano crater! We visited the beautiful Rainbow Falls, in Hilo "The wettest city on earth" but the day we were there it was bright and sunny - so there were no rainbows! After the awesome drive around the crater rim at Volcanoes National Park we walked through the Thurston Lava tube and toured the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Orchard and Factory (Note: If your stop in Hilo is on a Sunday the factory will be closed). I got hooked on the "Maui Onion and Garlic" Macadamia Nuts.
Like Hilo, the port is in a cargo warehouse. We walked (about 15-20 minutes) to the Queen Ka'ahumanu Center, which is a tent-covered mall. Late in the afternoon we went to the Hoko Nui Luau (5 hours - $95.00 pp). It was a great time - Free Mai Tai's, Beer, Wine, and Soda, great food, a super Polynesian show, and a not to be missed sunset!
The bad news was we had to tender ashore for the first time. The good news was that the tender pier was right smack in the heart of downtown Lahaina. In the morning we took the Maui Ocean Center and Iao Valley tour (3½ hours - $52.00 pp-run by Polynesian Tours). It was awesome to us to be driving in brilliant sunshine, see the valley ahead shrouded in rain clouds, drive into the warm rain (which often felt refreshing), and then reverse the process as you leave the valley. The Iao Valley is beautiful, and some of the views are breathtaking! To anyone who likes aquariums, The Maui Ocean Center is a must! Tanks full of multi-colored pacific tropical fish, sharks, sea turtles and more, viewed in a walk through glass tunnel. Then it was back to Lahaina for shopping. The main street runs parallel to the ocean. There were many interesting shops and plazas.
For the third time in four ports the ship docks at a warehouse. The State of Hawaii really needs to do some work on their pier areas. Some of the smallest Caribbean islands have beautiful dock areas with shops and island information. Wherever we tied up in Hawaii all we saw was a dirty warehouse with some security tables set up. At least, this time the free shuttles were waiting! Tours, rental car, shopping center, K Mart and Wal Mart shuttles departed about every 15 minutes. Be warned - That night the comedian singled out the people who: "Came 6000 miles and went to Wal Mart instead of the volcanoes." We took the Mokihana Helicopter Tour (2 hours - $189.00 pp - Run by Heli-USA). It was expensive, but worth every penny! The views were unbelievable, especially Wailua Falls and Waimea Canyon - "The Grand Canyon of the Pacific." (Travel Tip - Because we were the only ones who ordered the DVD of our flight for $49.95 they taped us getting on the helicopter last - which meant we got the front seats and an unobstructed view).
Fanning Island, Kiribati Republic
Because the Wind is registered in the Bahamas, they need to stop at a foreign port. Fanning Island, only about 3 degrees north of the equator is the closest. I read a lot of comments about this island before we left - both pro and con. Some felt the four days at sea and the six hours on Fanning were a total waste, others referred to it at the highlight of the cruise. We were somewhere in the middle. We wished the stop had been a day closer from and to Hawaii, but what a beautiful island! Fanning Island is really three islands in a circular shape with a sand bottom lagoon in the middle. You can walk 200 yards off shore and still be in only knee-deep water. We took the Napali Beach Getaway (All Day - $25.00 pp) and that was the one tour we wished we hadn't done. There was plenty of beach and loads of beach chairs at the Fanning Island stop along with bathrooms, food and drinks. Fanning Island has a post office, and is a great place to mail post cards from. The cards however will arrive long after you're home. They also have Customs Officers on the island who will stamp your passports from the Kiribati Republic. The locals set up booths and sell crafts and souvenirs near the beach. For an eye-opening experience, walk down the path away from the crowds, and see the village, the school that NCL built for the island children, the general store, and most importantly the way these people actually live between the bi-weekly cruise stops, and the quarterly visits from the supply ship
(Travel Tip - The islanders also sell hats made from the thick palm leaves, but save your money - the U.S. Department of Agriculture won't let you bring them back to the States).
Once again, Kona is a tender port, but before you can go ashore you have to go through U.S. Immigrations. Once you pass inspection, you can get a tender ticket.
We spent the morning walking along the bay shopping. We took the free shuttle from the pier and went to the Kona Coast Shopping Center. We of course had to buy some Kona coffee fresh from the plantation. It is expensive, but worth it if you like coffee (the Island Peaberry is delicious and has almost no acid)!
Maybe it was because we had gone through immigration at Kona the day before, but once again getting off the Wind was by far the easiest of any of our cruises. Based on a form you filled out, your time to leave the ship was linked to several factors: Flight times, shore excursion times, etc. They also offered an "Express Walk Off" option. You could keep all of your luggage and carry it off yourself, beginning at around 7:45 AM. We thought this was a great option for those who pack light, and those nervous travelers who are always in a big hurry to get off the ship.
Extra Week - Waikiki
We spent an extra week at the Ohana Waikiki West hotel. We would certainly recommend at least a few extra days in Hawaii for cruisers. There is so much to see and do on Oahu that one post-cruise tour on the way to the airport couldn't do this island justice. The Ohana West is NOT a luxury resort! It is a clean, modestly priced hotel, with a nice pool, about a 6-10 minute walk from the beach. But if a little peeling paint in the shower ceiling bothers you, don't stay there! The Ohana West is right across the street from the International Marketplace. That little "shortcut" through the Market to the beach is not only potentially expensive; it can actually extend the walking time an hour or more! There is a supermarket right next door to the hotel, and plenty of restaurants (Chili's, Denny's, Jack in the Box, Smorgy's and a few food courts) within an easy walk.
Some highlights of our week in Waikiki were:
Climbing Diamond Head - We took the Waikiki Trolly from the beach to the parking lot inside the crater, then did the approximately 45 minute trek to the summit. There was a lot of uneven trail, tunnels and stairs including "the killer" - 99 steps straight up! But the view at the top was worth the effort! It is a magnificent view of Honolulu and Waikiki!
Royal Circle Island Tour - E Noa Tours (www.enoa.com) 8-9 hours $54.00 pp
This was an all day, 120-mile drive in a smaller 25-seat bus, which we thought was a vast improvement over the large City-type Tour busses. We saw the north shore surfing beaches (big waves are in the winter only), Hanauma Bay, From Here to Eternity Beach
(I could almost visualize Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr), rainforests and valleys, Byodo-In Temple, Moli'i Gardens, the Dole Pineapple Plantation and more. A great tour!
Pearl Harbor, Battleship Missouri, and Punchbowl Crater Combo Tour
E Noa Tours (www.enoa.com) 5 hours $ 47.50 pp
One of the most memorable and moving tours I've ever been on. You could almost visualize the Japanese planes in the air. The guided tour of the Missouri was led by a Navy veteran who served as Assistant to the Captain on her, starting in 1944. As you might guess he had some great stories!
The US Army Museum on Waikiki. Free
Usually when you think of Pearl Harbor you think of the Navy. But this museum highlights the very real contribution of the Army in the days and months following the December 7, 1941 attack. There are many displays to look at, as well as tanks, weapons, and even a helicopter on view.
People watching on Waikiki Beach at night. Free
We thought Toronto's Younge Street was a great place to people watch, but Waikiki was just as good with better weather! Sidewalk Entertainers are all along Kalakaua Avenue, along with people of all shapes, sizes, ages, and cultures!
Conclusions - We thought that Cruising might be a great and cost efficient way to see Hawaii for the first time. We were not disappointed! We were blessed with great weather, a talented and efficient crew, good food, fine entertainment, comfortable accommodations, and scenery that literally took our breath away. What more could anyone ask out of a vacation!