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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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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