Hawaii for Kids with NCL

| August 4, 2003

UPDATE May, 2004: NCL Cruise's freestyle cruising in Hawaii is available aboard Pride of Aloha and Pride of America (debuts 2005) both specifically designed for Hawaii cruising. Norwegian Wind also sails 10 and 11-night cruises from Honolulu which include a call at Kiribati. Norwegian Star now sails to Alaska from Seattle in the summer and to the Mexican Riviera form Los Angeles.

As Norwegian Cruise Line's presence in Hawaii continues to grow - the line will increase its Hawaiian capacity a whopping 40% by the end of 2004 - so does its attention to the family market. According to James Deering, Hotel Manager of Norwegian Star, the line's parent company Star Cruises has put the family market on the top of its list. He also noted that on our recent summer cruise, the average age was a low 48 years due to the presence of 450 children aged two to 17.

On our cruise aboard the 2,500-passenger Star, my husband John, daughter Alex (age 10), toddler Ethan and I found that NCL not only offers a great family product, but also expertly integrates Hawaiian culture into the cruise experience for all ages to enjoy.

Aloha Spirit


Norwegian Cruise Line has successfully filled the void left by American Hawaii Cruises. Like that former operator, it offers passengers a truly Hawaiian experience. On any given day, the ship offers many different on-board activities that provide a glimpse into the culture of these South Pacific islands. Except for the lectures on Hawaiian history, the activities were all very appropriate for children. Alex and I learned how to make woven ribbon leis at one of the many Hawaiian craft sessions offered during the week. The "Hawaiian Ambassador" who taught us was very lovely and patient with passengers. She noted that NCL was the only cruise line that didn't balk at the cost of the Hawaiian enrichment program she put together. For example, the craft we made cost NCL about $10 per person; there must have been more than 100 people in that one craft session. Other craft sessions include making flower leis and woven palm fronds.

Alex and I thoroughly enjoyed the Hawaiian stage show at night. The performers, the Matangi Polynesian Dancers, are well known in the region; they wove a tale of these mystical islands with their dancing and costumes. Passengers could also get in on the act by taking hula dance lessons, which were offered by the Hawaiian Ambassador.

The Norwegian Star even has a Hawaiian restaurant, Endless Summer, which is free to passengers. (You must make a reservation ahead of time.) Endless Summer, like other specialty restaurants, either has a children's menu or will order kid-friendly food from one of the main restaurants upon request.

The Norwegian Star is leaving the Hawaiian market in April 2004 for Alaska and Mexico, but will be replaced by the new Pride of America starting July 4, 2004. This seven-day vessel is one of the Project America ships that will be American-flagged and thus will be able to sail among the Hawaiian islands without having to spend three days cruising to/from Fanning Island, Kirbati Republic. The other Project America ship, which will cruise Hawaii on three- and four-day cruises as of October 2004, is the Pride of Aloha (the former Norwegian Sky, to be re-flagged as an American ship). When the Star leaves Hawaii in April, the Norwegian Wind will begin sailing 10- and 11-day cruises in Hawaii and also to Fanning Island.

According to Deering, the Project America ships will emphasize Hawaiian culture even more than the Star presently does. He indicated that the Aloha Spirit will be incorporated more into the kids' program too. Although the youth program offers a few activities related to Hawaiian culture at present, I felt that there was room to expand this.

Kids' Crew Details

Norwegian Cruise Line's youth program, Kids' Crew, is separated into the following age groups: two to five years; six to nine; 10 to 12; and 13 to 17. While NCL is one of the few lines accepting children under three, its counselors do not change diapers. Children in diapers can attend the youth program, but parents are given a beeper and will be paged if a diaper change is necessary. Thus at least one parent or adult relative must stay on the ship when the child in diapers is in the youth program. The medical center imposes stiff fines (a nurse will eventually be paged to come change a diaper) if parents fail to respond to the beeper after three times. While this sounds stringent, I applaud NCL for making sure parents don't just dump their little ones at the youth program all day. I feel youth programs are great plusses on ships, but I also think cruises should include some family time on land.

The youth facilities on the Star are extremely large and well thought out, as they are on sister ship Norwegian Dawn. According to Angela Lamb, lead youth counselor on the Norwegian Star, now that NCL's new ships are larger, youth facilities are a priority rather than an afterthought. The main room is used mostly for six to nine year olds, usually the largest group. There is a soft, padded area with blow-up Martians, which is a great place for youngsters to blow off steam. The two-to-five year-olds have many activities in a smaller room, which has two small beds for napping. Unlike most youth facilities, there is a separate movie room for the kids. In the main part of the youth room is a wall filled with pictures of all the children in the under-10 year-old groups who have attended Kids' Crew aboard the Norwegian Star. I felt it was a very personal touch.

The 10-to-12 year-olds spend most of their time in the teen disco and go out on deck once in a while for games like balloon toss and basketball. During the day, teen activities take place in various public rooms around the ship. After 10 p.m., teens can hang out in their dedicated teen disco since the official youth program ends at that time. From 10 p.m. to 1 a.m., there is group babysitting in the main children's room or in the cinema for those under 13 years. The hourly fee is $5 per child per hour; $3 for each additional child per hour. The youth counselors also will take the children to dinner (no charge) on formal night, which is once per cruise. Make sure you sign up for it once you are aboard ship.

One of the highlights of the youth program is a talent show for those under 13. This is a very well attended activity since both kids and parents show up. The counselors even sing songs with the children.

For the two-to-five year-olds, activities include an "un-birthday party" complete with cake, songs, and party games; undersea adventure where a diver comes and discusses fish with the kids; and the pirate parade, complete with face painting. I found the counselors for this group, as well as for the six-to-nine year-old group, to be very warm with children. They had a good command of this high energy group yet were fun enough to have impromptu tickle time with the kids.

The six-to-nine year-old group gets the most attendees. These youngsters keep Hawaiian journals; enjoy "secret agent" night; and are a part of creative Harry Potter night. The kids make crafts a la Harry Potter, shop at "Dragon Alley," are sorted into houses like Harry, and watch the movie.

The 10-to-12 year-olds go on scavenger hunts, attend some of the shows together, and have a Hawaiian themed morning. While I think that on the whole, the Kids' Crew is a very good program, there could have been a bit more creative offerings for this age group, such as Harry Potter night, which was just offered for the six-to-nine year-olds. Unfortunately, my daughter and the five friends she met on the cruise did not find the counselors for this age group very friendly. We parents agreed that they didn't exude the warmth of the other counselors on the ship. However, Alex and her friends still had a fabulous time thanks to all the other kid-friendly amenities and Hawaiian themed activities.

Teens can participate in such activities as: teen hot tub party; karaoke night; battle of the sexes (boys vs. girls); and late night disco parties.

Our Family Favorites

The Norwegian Star is the line's prototype for family-friendly facilities on future ships. Hands down, the Splash Down kids' pool and outdoor play area was the best we have ever seen. Although it was very popular with toddlers through pre-teens, I never felt it was overcrowded. The area includes two good-sized spiral water slides that my daughter and her friends couldn't get enough of. There was a rather large wading pool, kids-only whirlpool, and a tiny slide just the right size for Ethan to go on independently. Ethan also really enjoyed the playground equipment there, including dinosaurs and other fun creatures to ride. Conveniently located next to Splash Down is the ice cream kiosk and the indoor video arcade.

John and I found the decor of the ship pleasing, while the kids found some of it right up their alley. For example, Ethan loved seeing the murals of fish and also sitting on the carousel horses at Karaoke Circus. This spot was an after-dinner favorite of my daughter and her friends. The youngsters got a kick out of practicing in the private rooms before singing a song in front of the crowd. Another evening favorite was the main stage show. After 14 cruises, Alex is not always wowed by cruise entertainment, but she, John and I thought the shows were excellent. We particularly enjoyed the Cirque Asia show full of high-flying stunts, as well as the high energy of the Matangi Polynesian Dancers.

Freestyle dining is a good fit with children since you can eat as early as 5:30 p.m. in many of the restaurants, or whenever little tummies get hungry at the Blue Lagoon 24-hour eatery. We found enough variety at the Market buffet and outdoor grill for lunch to suit all our tastes. There is also a cute Kids Cafe at the Market, which is a pint-sized buffet (with matching tiny tables and chairs) stocked with kid favorites like hot dogs and fries. Freestyle dining also means relaxed dress (formal night is optional), which cut down on the amount of clothes we needed to haul for all four of us on the trip.

The Norwegian Star's cabins are very family-friendly. According to Deering, all except a few indoor cabins have bathrooms with sliding doors between the toilet and sink area. This is helpful when trying to get a family of four showered and dressed for dinner.


One of the ship's strongest attributes for families was not in its hardware. We found the ship's staff extremely warm and helpful with children. With Freestyle Cruising, staff is tipped automatically, yet we still found them particularly friendly. Since Ethan is a rather busy toddler, he could not sit through long meals. Many times we ran into familiar waiters who would take him by the hand - without us asking us to - and walk him around for a while so that John and I could eat. This was something we not only valued but will long remember!


See the related article "What to do in Hawaiian ports with children".

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