Year Started: 1966
Ships in Fleet: 13
Summary: With the recent introduction of new ships the third biggest cruise company in the world. Free-style cruising, elaborate dining options and surprisingly good entertainment.
Regions:Bahamas, Bermuda, Caribbean, Mediterranean Western
Good for: Teens. Seniors. Group.
Regions:Eastern Seaboard, Caribbean, Bermuda
Good for: Value for Money. Children`s Programs. Singles.
Regions:Caribbean, Mediterranean Western, Transatlantic
Regions:Bahamas, Caribbean, Eastern Seaboard
Good for: Teens. Children`s Programs. Families.
Regions:Alaska, Bahamas, Caribbean
Good for: Teens. Children`s Programs. Families.
Regions:Alaska, Bahamas, Caribbean
Good for: Teens. First-time Cruisers. Families.
Good for: Group. Singles. Families.
Good for: Teens. Seniors. Families.
Regions:Caribbean, Inland Waterways, Mediterranean Western, Mexico
Regions:Alaska, Caribbean, Inland Waterways, West Coast
Good for: Families. Value for Money. Teens.
Good for: Value for Money. Overall Service. Disabled Travelers.
NORWEGIAN PEARL NOVEMBER 27TH 2011 This was our 7th cruise, the first one on Norwegian and we were looking forward to experiencing the difference between them and Carnival and Princess, the other two lines we have sailed on before. Check in was very similar to all the other check in’s we have experienced, long lines and waiting, so nothing new there. I did like it that the Ship’s officers were waiting onboard to greet us as we stepped onto the ship and walked along the deck to the atrium doors. The atrium was much smaller then any we had seen before, this wasn’t necessarily bad or good, just different. We made our way to the Lido deck, I know the deck was called something else but to me it is always the Lido deckâ€¦lol. Pearl, my wife and I sat down and enjoyed a burger and fries, delicious! My first thought was, if the burgers are this good, I can’t wait to try the rest of the food. After my cousin Tom and his wife, Christine and son Christian joined us we went sight seeing. As a foot note, Tom andhis family didn’t know we were coming on this cruise. We wanted to surprise them and we were hoping they had boarded before we did, but they caught us as we stood at the boarding counter at check in. The layout of the Pearl was different then any of the other ships we had sailed because it wasn’t associated with Carnival Corp. like Princess and Carnival are (Basically same designs). The ship, while not gaudy in colors, was beautiful to behold and the dÃ©cor was amazing. The Bliss lounge was my favorite, it had a oriental flare with seating that looked like beds and 4 bowling lanes, 2 on each side of the lounge. The Stardust Theater, while roomy was cramped for leg room and if you sat in the middle of a row you could forget about ordering a drink as there was no room for the bar staff to walk to you and deliver your drink. The Spinnaker lounge was uniquely designed, but there wasn’t really a bad seat in the room. Bar City was a big area for watching sports and having drinks with your friends. The casino was spacious and easy to walk through. I didn’t have any luck in the casino and it seemed there were very few big winners. The Lido deck had 2 swimming pools and 3 hot tubs. There was plenty of seating and I liked it that there were very few places here for sun bathers, they were up 1 deck, so it was easier to walk thru the area. The one thing I wanted to do but never got around to was try their big water slideâ€¦it looked fun! Our room was a ocean view, a first for us, 8590. It was a obstructed view cabin having a lovely view of the lifeboatâ€¦lol. I did like the lay out as it was side ways from what most cabins are. You walk in and the bed is on the right and the closet and bathroom is on the left. Plenty of storage room in the closet and vanity, no problems there and the bathroom shower was amazing. I’m 6’3” tall and weigh 300 lb’s and normally I can just soap the walls and spin around in most showers to suds up, this shower actually had a door on it and plenty of room to move, ahhhh so nice. The toilet was a different story. I have already stated my size! I barely had room in the toilet area, another area with it’s own door I might add, but I barely had room to bend over andâ€¦well you know what I mean, I actually used a public toilet down the hall a short piece instead of our own toilet when I actually had to sit down on the toiletâ€¦if u catch my drift. But over all the bed was comfy and the room was of good size. Our room steward, Mike, did a okay job. The biggest problem we had was getting our beach towels replaced each night but other then that he was very responsive to our needs and remembered our names from day 1. What we really loved about the room was it’s location! It was on the 8th floor not 25 feet from the elevators and the Blue Lagoon dining room. This dining room was the best kept secret on the ship for breakfast for most of the cruise. It had most of the selections of the main dining room for breakfast but it was really less crowded and the service much faster. We never did eat there for lunch or supper because it just served comfort food and the food was so good elsewhere. Since I am on the subject of diningâ€¦..There are two main dining rooms on the ship. One, The Summer Palace, was huge and grand! It looked like somewhere a King would dine. The 2nd main dining room was called Indigo, which was much smaller and reminded me of dining in a nice restaurant somewhere. Both served basically the same menu, however, service was much faster and better, in my opinion at the Indigo then at the bigger Summer Palace. It was at the Indigo that we met our servers Budi and Julie. We enjoyed their service very much on the first night and then found out that we could ask for them every time we ate and they would serve us, NICE!! Â Budi and Julie even came and served us even when they were not scheduled to work or were on standby, how cool was that! We had figured that with Freestyle cruising we would miss having the same people waiting on us in the main dining room like we had on Carnival and Princess so to us, this was like having your cake and eating it too. We also was surprised as we never had to wait to be seated. We did make reservations the 2 times we ate in the pay for restaurants. We ate in the Italian restaurant, La Cucina and the Japanese steakhouse Teppanyaki. LaCucina was very good and the portions very nice. The nice thing here it was only $10.00 each to eat here. Teppanyaki had come highly recommended from another couple we had talked to in the elevator. They told us the show that the chefs did alone was worth the $25 dollars we paid to eat there. I guess that couple had never ate in a Japanese steakhouse before because it was the same old same old and I didn’t think the food was all that good. The food in the Indigo was awesome! I can tell you right now, I have never had better food on any cruise ship! Everything we ate was delicious. The buffet, The Garden Caf’e was very good and we ate breakfast there once and lunch and late night snacks a couple of times. There was also a grill at the rear of the ship and also out by the pool area that had really good burgers, dogs and fries. They even had a BBQ grill set up twice cooking Burgers, dogs and chicken that was fabulous. The entertainment on the ship was also very good. From the singers to the dancers to the comedians, all were excellent. There wasn’t a big production cast or orchestra like we have seen on other ships. What Norwegian has is a small troop of dancers, some very good singers and the Second city Comedy group to entertain you as well as a juggling act called Sharkbite who were super good and funny and a stand up comedian who was very good... There wasn’t a piano bar pianist leading songs but there was a guy playing a guitar called Tino who was very good and was fun to be around in the lounges where he played. Â There was also a Mexican singing group who played latin music and another group who played the 70’s and 80’s dance parties. There is also a huge screen T.V. in the atrium. This T.V. must have been 20 ft tall and they had the NFL games on there on Monday and Thursday night. They also played Wii on this big screen with players 3 timed your heightâ€¦cool. My cousins son, who is 15 didn’t think much of Norwegians teen program. There were very few kids on the ship and fewer teenagers, so he was kinda bored. We all did do the bowling together and let me tell you, if you think bowling is easy on a rocking ship, you have another thing coming. You could have a ball headed right for the pocket and all of the sudden it would veer right or left, whichever way the ship rocked. Either way it was fun! Christian, as we all did, loved the free icecream, whether it was from the machine or hand dipped. We visited Great Stirrup Cay, Ocho Rios Jamaica, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel, MX. We enjoyed the beautiful beach at Great Stirrup Cay. There is still a lot of building going on but it didn’t interfere with all the fun. Norwegian had 3 big tender boats so tendering was a snap. We visited Mystic Mountain in Ocho Rios Jamaica. We had been there before but wanted to visit with my cousin and his family. This time we brought our swim suites and enjoyed the pool and waterslideâ€¦.nice. We were real lucky at Grand Cayman. The water was too rough for ships to tender where the cruise ships normally tender from so we moved to another part of the Island where we was able to tender. This area didn’t have many tenders though so the Carnival and Royal Caribbean ships who were there too were not allowed to stop there and had to cancel that port of call. We did the Dolphin encounter and sting ray excursion through the ship and had a blast. I really enjoyed being up close with the Dolphins and sting rays and would highly recommend this excursion. At Cozumel, Mexico, our 3rd visit there, we did the X-rail excursion thru the ship and had a great time. These X-rails are not easy to drive with standard steering and a small steering wheel that can be ripped from your hand at anytime when u hit a rock. The wife and I really had fun driving it though and we also visited a secluded cavern and went for a swim in the crystal clear water there. I will warn everyone nowâ€¦you will get muddy and the shower off area is less then desirable back at the main building being pvc pipes with holes drilled in them outside with no privacy. We were sad to see the cruise end as this was definitely our favorite cruise we have been on. Debarkation was easy, the only problem was there was a lot of foreigners on this ship so customs was really slow. We definitely will sail Norwegian again. We loved the freestyle concept and would like to see it continue to expand industry wide. The overall crew was wonderful. Not overbearing but catering to your needs and wants and they seemed genuinely happy, unlike many cruises we have been on.
Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Star by Guy Stewart Western Caribbean November 13, 2011
Wow! Where do I start. We just spent a LONG week on the Norwegian Star. Here are just a few of many complaints and comments. Rooms are noisy, the music kept us awake. Boom! Boom! Boom! In the room on many occasions. The rooms are obviously not built well to isolate sound. (9th floor). Anytime dining is designed to drive customers to dining rooms you have to pay for. You have to wait in line almost every meal and are given a beeper so you can sit around for a half hour while waiting for food. This is all designed to make you pay for one of the specialty restaurants in my opinion. The food in the "FREE" dining rooms is mediocre at best. The same menu for the entire week, thin little steaks, very limited selection, waiters don't really care to wait on you because they know they are not working for tips because $12 per person, per day has already been added to your bill. (which I promptly went to the desk and had removed asI did not authorize it to be put on my card. The staff on the desk did their best to try to talk me out of removing it but I insisted and got it removed) (this practice alone will make it so I do not cruise with Norwegian again)
At one point they closed one of the two "free" dining rooms to use the room for another function, making hours shorter so that you were forced to pay to eat in the specialty dining rooms.
Cigarette and cigar smoke EVERYWHERE!!!! You can't sit on a deck chair without someone sitting down next to you and lighting up a cigarette or worse a cigar. At one point a lady sat down at the table we were eating at and lit up a cigarette!!!!!
The tiny little pool (only one pool) area was smoking as well so every time you walked past the pool you had to inhale smoke. It made it so you didn't want to go near the bathtub sized pool at all.
Ship is tired looking and feeling. Lots of things need attention, rugs in halls are dirty and ragged, Beds are extremely uncomfortable.
Unsanitary things with cafeteria. Juice dispenser required hands on. Dirty buttons that everyone had to touch. People dumping water bottles in juice and coffee dispenser drains and rinsing bottles and refilling.
Poor organization throughout ship for moving crowds. Photographers blocking isles in atrium. Ship excursions were extremely inflated. We took exact same tours for 1/3 the cost that ship wanted. People in the Bars seemed to intentionally made soda flat and undrinkable that was served for soda package. $52 spent and soda was never drinkable. Free ice cream hidden at one end of the ship and closed lots of hours Tiny little area for kids. Puny little 13 inch tv in room Ship is primarily focused on extracting every penny possible out of it's guests with little concern of what the guest gets for value for their money.
Rooms very small but did have a nice bathroom.
Stores very tiny with poor selection. Everything on the ship is overpriced.
Pitiful attempt at a movie screen hung over a bar with crappy picture and sound with very little seating
Every other seat is broken in theatre. You sit down and often you were almost touching the floor due to a broken seat cushion. The entertainment was very good however.
We certainly will not be returning to Norwegian any time soon. We have cruised many times on Royal Carribbean and have loved it every time. Norwegian has a long, long way to go before they come close to Royal.
About us: semi-retired professionals, not too fussy, 39th cruise, 13th on NCL, and second on PoA. Cruised with two other couples, all seasoned travellers.
Our cabins were extended balconies, deck 11 forward. Our cabin ws 11526
We arrived three days early to adjust to time and see the sights on Oahu. If you plan on doing a tour of the Missouri at Pearl Harbor, arrive early. They only sell a limited number of tickets and there is no reservation system - first come, first serve. We arrived at 8:30 and got tickets for the 10:30 tour.
We booked a car through Thrifty on all islands except Kona, and had first rate service and vehicles. Be sure to become a Blue Chip member before leaving home and you will go to a special line. We never had a single person in front of us and the rental processing took about three minutes. You will also get a second driver free. It is usally a $12 fee. This does not apply on Kaui, but when I complained because this had not been in my rental agreement, they took it off. In HNL they willshuttle you from the airport rental office to the pier. the bus runs continuously. Be sure when you rent the car that you pay very close attention to where the office is, because the map in the brochure they give you is wrong and it is not near any of the other return sites. Gas was about $4.59/gal
We stayed at the Aqua Palms and it was okay. Very convenient to Waikiki but noisy, with difficult parking and an overworked desk staff. It got great reviews on Trip Advisor but did not live up to the rave reviews. For $99 a night with a beach view and IHOP breakfast included, it was a good deal, but not the great boutique hotel represented in the reviews.
Boarding: Arrived at the pier at 12:15 and there was quite a crowd but it moved quickly. We had two carry-ons, which the airlines allow and PoA allowed last time, but they decided one of them was too big and had to be checked. Unfortunately they did not tell me that until I got to the security check point and had to go back to the opposite end of the terminal to drop off my bag then come back and get in line again. Fortunately, we were VIP so the line was short. Security was similar to airport checks. We were then greeted with a lei (flowers for girls, shells for the guys) and photos taken. Checkin was quick and our total time from drop off to onboard was about 20 minutes. Rooms were not ready until 2:00. There was a bag drop at East Meets West restaurant, which is in the main lobby near the boarding area. Unlike our past NCL cruises, the dining room was not open, only the buffet. This was a disappointment since we always like to begin the cruise with a leisurely meal rather than the craziness of the buffet.
Cabin: nicely appointed with hair dryer, refrigerator, safe, and coffee maker. There is shampoo and shower gel in dispensers in the bathroom. The shower curtain is of the non-cling variety. The extended balcony has two side chairs, a tiny end table and two chaise loungers. Our steward had not conquered the art of putting beds together properly. He had put the gap guard between the beds, but had not put down the overlay on each side so there was a 4" ridge down the center of the bed. We asked several times to have it corrected but he never did. Likewise, there were no robes in our cabin and he said I'd have to call the front desk to get them (unusual since they are standard in balconies, and our friends had them in theirs) It took three days to finally get robes. The room was cleaned daily before noon but evening turndown some evenings did not happen til 9:00 pm. Ice was placed in the room during morning service which meant when we returned to the room in mid to late afternoon, most of it was melted. No ice was distributed at turn down. To get ice it was necessary to either go to the bar or call room service. None of these were horrific events (well, maybe the bed) but it was certainly a deviation from the service we have come to expect on NCL , Dining: I realize this is very subjective. We ate dinner 4 nights in Skyline (main dining room with more casual dress) 1 night in Liberty (main dining room with less casual dress) and 2 nights at buffet. The menus in both MDRs are the same. There is a nightly menu as well as an "anytime" menu. While there was always something I could find, I did find the new menus less exciting than in the past. The chef's special most nights was fish and always well done. The desert menus were pretty uninspired. Chilled soups were completely absent with the exception of gazpacho one night. This was a true disappointment. The food was well prepared and the presentation pleasing.
Service in the dining room was the worst we've had on any of our 39 cruises. Service was painfully slow. The average time between starter and entree was 20 minutes. Dittos for desert, which one night was 30 minutes and another night never came (our server, when questioned said she'd forgotten!) Coffee was usually not served til desert was almost done and one night they could not bring us coffee because they did not have any cups! There was no oversight of the table (refilling of wine glasses, water) and no notice of things like one person at our table of six not getting his entre. There did not seem to be an assistant waiter most nights, just the waiter who seemed very stressed and overextended.
There was entertainment most nights in the Skyline, which was always a pianist who played wonderful dinner music and he was occasionally joined by a vocalist or two. Very nice. However, the tables which bordered the stage area were always occupied by staff members. On occasion the wait staff spent a fair amount of time visiting with fellow staff members, ignoring the patrons. I had to get up and tap our waiter on the shoulder to ask for our water and tea refills after we had waited patiently for some time.
It is possible to make a reservation at the MDRs. We are early diners and usually arrived at the dining room at 6:00. and had little or no wait time. One evening it was 20 minutes, even though we let them know we were gold latitudes (the hostess haughtily told me she didn't care what level we were, there were others ahead of us). Wow. I can understand if the ship's policy does not favor repeaters but I was quite astounded by her lack of tact.
The staff was friendly enough, but we never had a waiter who had been onboard the Pride more than a few months. One told us the xact number of days he had been onboard and the exact number until he could leave. kind of had the impression these young people had signed on thinking this job would be a lot more fun and a lot less demanding. They would have made great camp counsellors- nice but more prepared for play than work.
The two evenings when we dined at the buffet, it was actually because we had all found the dining rooms the prior evening to be exhausting. Surprisingly, the evening buffets were some of our best meals-they even had my beloved chilled soups. A large variety of foods and attentive staff. The breakfast buffet had a very good variety of offerings and the coffee cart attendents were always entertaining. Very friendly and funny.
There is an aft buffet which has a scaled down sampling of the main buffet, but its hours are different. There is also a grill with burgers, hot dogs and all the extras.
Favorite spots: The Waikiki bar on the aft is a nice, open and quiet area. There is a small pool there with padded loungers, so it became our favorite place to relax. Pinks Lounge has a paino player most of the evening and it became a favorite spot as well.
The internet cafe is small, but adequate. The library and card rooms are larger than on many ships and quite inviting.
There is a chapel and Sabbath services were held there Friday evening. It was used for several meetings, but no renewal of marriage vows was listed as on some ships.
The saloon, which is adjacent to the buffet and provides overflow dining area, has sporting events on the TVs there (these were channels not available in the cabin) and had nightly popcorn.
Latitudes: There was a lovely and helpful representative onboard. The main latitudes party was one afternoon from 5:00 - 6:00. The captain, who is quite a chatty guy, gave a wonderful history lesson on Hawaii, and drawings were held for door prizes. I did note that the spa did not contribute anything this time. The Wave, the show band, played very nice dance music and waiters circled with free maitais, and wine. Other drinks were available by request.
A VIP party was held but since it was at 7:00 pm, we were at dinner and did not attend.
Ports: The ports are the main reason for this cruise, of course, and it was a treat to overnight in Maui and Kuai. Disembarking began about 8:00 each day and went well. The ports are all in somewhat industrial areas so there are no grand shopping and dining areas at the dock like in the Caribbean.
Each port had circling shuttles for all the rental companies. Note: we did not disembark in Kona, and I understand this was not the case there There were also vans to WalMart and/or KMart as well as city shuttles and Hilo Hatties. In the terminal buildings were racks of literature and we found the tall skinny guides for each island to have good information, coupons and good maps.
Speaking of maps - get a real set of maps before you go, if you intend to drive. The rental car and guide books maps are not especially accurate and we lost some time because the maps were not quite right.
Maui - our special trip was up to the lavender farm. It is an easy drive and a beautiful place. They serve lunch but it must be reserved in advance. Google "maui lavender" and you will find their website. So calm and beautiful - you can see both sides of the island from the porch while sipping lavender tea and sampling scones.
Hilo - I think the VNP is a must see. Currently you cannot completely circle the caldron because of road work, but well worth the visit. There is a wonderful series of videos at the museum at the caldron. After the VNP, we headed to Akaka Falls. Beautiful and not a difficult walk - but not for the mobility challenged and no handicap accessility at all. Between the two areas, be sure to watch for the "scenic road" sign and take it. A gorgeous road with majestic overviews of the ocean and near the end a terrific food and smoothie stop. What's Shakin' is such a treat for lunch or a snack. The macadamia nut pie (little snack size) are heavenly.
Kaui - we drove to the end of the island and it was an especially windy day so the waves were spectacular. There were two delightful little churches we stopped at and had lunch at a shrimp truck across from a flea market. We spent the afternoon at the beach on the south shore. The second day we did a helicopter tour with Blue Hawaiian and it was the perfect end to our trip. Be advised that you cannot wear white clothing in the helicopter and can only take a bottle of water and your camera without the case. They provide you with a locked bag for your things at the office. The pick up point is at the Harbor Mall. If you book through the ship they pick you up at the pier, but if you book on your own you can take the trolley looking shuttle - or walk, it's only about three blocks.
Spa: The prices are much higher than the deluxe spas near my home, but we did use the spa as our Kona day excursion. The treatment was well done and facilities nice. The restroom in the spa area has a free sauna and steam room. They are small but fine. If you find the cabin showers confining you may want to shower in the spa where they are larger and there is also a very large handicapped shower.
Entertainment: The production shows were only in their second week. Brand new and very nice. The magician was good and comedian was pretty good. Second City was very entertaining. The music in the bars and poolside was the best I've experienced on any ship Bravo!
Misc: There was a buy 5 get 1 free wine program. Drinks were about the same price as nicer restaurants. Soft drinks were $2.00 plus gratuity. There is a soft drink program but I do not recall the price, except that it would not have been cost effective unless you drank multiple sodas per day. Security getting onboard each day is done in the terminal and very stringent. Officers, including Captain Buzz wandered the ship regularly and were very chatty. Shopping is not my thing, but there is probably less shopping area on this ship this most.
There were two Hawaiian Embassadors onboard to do informational talks each day. They were very informative and also did a commentary while we cruised the Napali coast. There is no casino or bingo due to Hawaiian law. There are meetings for Friends of Bill each day, a Friends of Dorothy gathering and there was a Veterans' meeting, although it was during port time, so my husband missed it.
Disembaking: The Pride uses the usual color coded tags, or you can self disembark if you carry off your luggage. VIP's can disembark at their leisure. Rooms had to be vacated by 9:15. The self-disembarking call was made at 7:45 and the first color was called at 8:00. To our disappointment, they no longer offer the EasyFly program, whereby you put your bags out and they were checked through with the airlines. Luggage storage is available at the pier and NCL offers excursions to late flight passengers which store your luggage and deliver you to the airport. Taxis and shuttles were easily accessible the pier. If you choose to shuttle to the airport, the big bus by Roberts is $6 per person.
Summation: This cruise was a disappointment because of our previous experiences with NCL. For some time the Pride has gotten very mixed reviews and we did our first PoA cruise with very low exectations but found it to be fine. As such, we thought this one would be the same and that poor reviews were often times by people with unrealistic expectations. I'm afraid, this go 'round I had to agree with many of them. I still feel the PoA offers the best value you can get for a Hawaiian vacation, but the service sector of this ship certainly needs some serious attention.
I have 2 options-drinks or tips.If I'm not allowed to take my prefer drinks with me-than I can't afford the tips,because I have to spend money for drinks which I don't like and my vacation will much below my expectation."Thank" you for this policy
Hawaii Trip Review 06/21 â€“ 7/12/11
We were really looking forward to this cruise because it was our first chance to see Hawaii. Plus, as travel agents we've booked this cruise for a lot of our clients, but we were not able to provide them first-hand personal information about it; only that which we had gained via reading reviews and talking to those who have actually done it. We heard many dismal comments, especially about the ship, food, and service, and we felt it was important for us to do it and decide for ourselves whether the many negative reviews were justified or not. After all, this is a very unique cruise that only visits U.S. ports and it was obvious to us many people were comparing it against regular cruises and what they like or don't like instead of critiquing it on its own merits. This being our 41st cruise and the fact we've been to many different places around the world on all of the major cruise lines, we figured we would be able to provide a fair and honest review to our clients based on our past experiences.Hopefully, you'll find this review helpful in deciding whether or not you'd like to try this one-of-a-kind opportunity.
Tuesday, June 21
We were supposed to fly out of Dulles airport on Monday, but there weren't any seats available. Our son works for United Airlines, so while we get to fly for free, we have to fly standby and that can very often create problems; such was the case on this trip. Today, we got up at 3:30am EST and managed to get a flight to Los Angeles, but once we got there, all the flights to Honolulu were overbooked for the rest of the day. We had to purchase a reduced-rate standby ticket on Hawaiian Airlines to Honolulu, but it wasn't scheduled to leave until much later and, after spending 5-1/2 hours flying to LA, we had to sit around the airport for 8 hours awaiting our next flight. Luckily, we were able to get on the 6:00pm flight and got to Honolulu around 8:30pm local time.
There were over 250 people on the plane and Nancy was the only one to get a lei! While we were in LA, I ordered a lei and transfer to our hotel on the internet and they were there to meet us at the gate. After all, if we're flying into Hawaii for the first time, then she should get a nice lei. I couldn't believe she was the only person on the entire flight to have a lei waiting for her when we got off the plane. (Says a lot about her husband, huh?)
Note for future reference: We got there in the evening, and all the vendors were closed, but if you arrive earlier in the day, there are vendors available selling leis, so you don't have to order one. Having someone meet you at the gate with a smile and a lei is the best way to arrive in Hawaii! There are several vendors online where leis and transfers can be ordered.
There was a lovely young lady holding a sign with my wife's name on it and Nancy was very surprised to see it. The lady had a beautiful lei that she placed around Nancy's neck, gave her a kiss on the cheek, and added a warm welcome to Hawaii. (I ordered the deluxe lei with three times the number of flowers as the regular lei.) She escorted us to the baggage claim and then to the shuttle that took us directly to our hotel. While researching on the internet, I found shuttle services are cheaper than taxis and the price was about $28 for the two of us, versus about $35 for a taxi.
We arranged a 4-night stay at the Hilton Waikiki Beach, which is about 3 blocks from the beach. Luckily, our room was high enough (12th floor) that we could see the beach from the balcony. It was beautiful. The hotel was very nice and the bed very comfortable. We had an in-room safe, a big 36 inch flat screen TV, and a nice refrigerator. The bathroom was well-appointed and while there wasn't a bathtub, there was a nice big shower.
After checking in, we took a walk to find some place to eat and happened upon Cheeseburger in Paradise, which we had heard was highly recommended. While the food at this particular place was mediocre, we were tired and really didn't care. After all, it was about 5:30am our body time and we had been up for 26 hours so we were more than ready for sleep.
Wednesday, June 22
We went to bed around 11:30pm Honolulu time and slept for 10 hours, so when we awoke, it was still early in the morning and we were ready to go exploring. We heard the one place to visit on Wednesdays, Saturdays, or Sundays was the famous Honolulu Flea Market that takes place at Aloha Stadium, which is where the NFL All-Star game is held each year. We asked the concierge about taking the public bus over to the stadium and were told it would cost $2.50 per person and take about 45 minutes. Off we went and grabbed the bus to the flea market. The concierge was wrong on his estimate as it took 1-1/2 hours to get there! We didn't have to change buses, but wished we would have done some more research on transportation as riding a public bus for 90 minutes is not my idea of fun in the sun. We later found some shuttle companies providing service for $5 per person each way and taking only 20 minutes.
The flea market is quite amazing and not something to be missed, plus it's not crowded during the week. It goes all the way around the stadium and in some places is two and three rows deep. They have everything imaginable and is the place to go for souvenirs, apparel, and everything Hawaiian. We walked around the entire stadium for a couple of hours and bought several goodies to bring home. We wished we had bought more things there as the prices were very good and we saw items we did not see anywhere else in our travels. So lesson learned; if you see something you want, buy it, as you may not see it again.
After the flea market, we took a shuttle back and, as I said, at $5 per person sure beat taking the public bus.
It was a fairly hot day, so when we got back to the hotel, there was only one thing on our mind â€“ going to Waikiki Beach! It was all it was suppose to be â€“ beautiful water, beautiful scenery, and of course, all the beautiful people! The surf was wonderful â€“ they said on the news it was better than it had been for weeks and all the surfers were taking advantage of the great conditions. Having been a surfer in my teen years, I really wanted to get out there and enjoy the waves, but alas, at 61 the body wasn't what it use to be and I had to live vicariously through those much younger. I did take a picture from our hotel room that showed a set of 8 waves breaking at the same time â€“ something I had never seen before â€“ it was quite amazing and very enticing. I showed this to a long-time surfer who lives on Maui and she couldn't believe the picture saying she had never seen or heard of this.
We spent the evening shopping around in the International Market and found a couple of very nice matching his and hers Hawaiian shirts. (Anyone visiting the islands is obligated to buy Hawaiian shirts! But make sure they are Made in Hawaii!! And shop around because prices definitely vary for the same brand name and style.) The vendor was a local who had lived there all his life and very helpful. He gave us some great information, including a couple of places to eat that he highly recommended.
Thursday, June 23
We rented a car from a local vendor â€“ all the major ones wanted too much money, so we ended up with a rent-a-wreck, it did the job and we were able to spend the next two days seeing what we wanted to see. At about $100 for two days, it was a bit more than we expected to pay, but that's what we got for not pre-planning.
Note for future reference: If you want to rent a car, do so at the airport as the prices are much cheaper. However, taxis to and from the airport are not cheap, so plan accordingly.
Today, we decided to drive around the southern part of the island and found some beautiful beaches. We wanted to climb up to the top of Diamondhead, but chose not to as it was hot and it's quite a climb to the top of the crater, deciding instead to spend our energy seeing the rest of the island.
A few hours into our travels, we eventually made our way to KÄne'ohe, which is on the other side of the island from Honolulu, where we wanted to find one of the hole-in-the-wall joints our local Hawaiian friend at the International Market told us about. It is owned and operated by Dean, who is a formally trained chef. He worked for many years in a 5-star resort and had had enough of working for other people. He decided to open his own small restaurant called Dean's Drive-In. We stopped at a gas station to get something to drink and although I had my GPS, I asked directions and the first thing the lady asked me was, "How do you know about this place? It's just a small place where locals eat and not where tourists go." She was really surprised to see a tourist wanting to go to a restaurant only frequented by locals. We finally found it and it was definitely an out-of-way place that one would easily miss unless they knew exactly where it was. They only had 4 tables, yet we were the only ones sitting down and eating. While we were there, many locals came in to carry out their dinners, but no one stayed to eat except us. Nancy ordered the Ahi cakes and I had teriyaki beef â€“ both of which were absolutely wonderful! I'm not crazy about fish, but the Ahi cakes were out of this world! This is truly a gem in the dessert and not to be missed when in the area.
After touring around for several hours, we finally made our way back to Honolulu and spent some more time on the beach. Parking is at a premium and our hotel wanted $25 for the night, but we found a place that charged $10 and was only about a block from our hotel.
Friday, June 24
We got up fairly early, swung by McDonalds to pick up some quick breakfast and headed over to the USS Arizona Memorial. They open at 7:00am and we got there at 7:45am. While we thought this was early, our tickets were marked for 10:45am. I talked to others who had gotten there at 7:15am and got tickets for 8:45am. So the lesson here is to get there before 7:00am!
In this area, you can pay a fee to tour the USS Bowfin, which is a Word War ll submarine. But having seen one before and having been on a new Dallas-class submarine while in Norfolk with our daughter, we really weren't interested in seeing this one. You can also drive over to Ford Island and see the USS Missouri, which is an amazing battleship that was the stage for the surrender of Japan and also saw duty during the Vietnam war. If you've never seen a battleship, this is one to visit.
The visitor center is completely brand new, having been re-dedicated on the 69th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor after a $58 million rebuild and opened on December 7, 2010. It is impressive and informative.
After waiting 3 hours till our turn, we went into the auditorium to see a 20 minute movie on the attack of Pearl Harbor and the destruction of the Arizona. It was very well done and very interesting, not to mention very moving. Afterwards, we boarded one of two boats provided by the Navy for the short ride to the memorial.
Having served in the Navy for 6 years, including a year fighting in Vietnam on river patrol boats, and having a daughter serving in the Navy and currently on a 6-month deployment, seeing the memorial was very heart-wrenching for me. Truly a very emotional experience. Words cannot describe how I felt during my visit, except to say this is one excursion everyone needs to do once in their lifetime. During our 3-week stay in Hawaii, this was the only 'have to' on our entire trip and it was worth the wait.
After we returned from our 20 minute visit at the memorial, we got in our car and headed around the north side of the island. We stopped at the Dole Pineapple Plantation for the obligatory tour and sampling. Have to admit, I like pineapple, but the ones we had in Hawaii were the sweetest and tastiest I've ever had anywhere. Afterwards we drove to the North Shore of Oahu. As I mentioned earlier, I was a surfer in my teens and had always wanted to visit the Mecca of surfing, but never got the chance. Here it was 40 years later and I finally made it to one of the most renowned surfing spots in the world. Unfortunately, the really big surf hits the North Shore in the Winter and we were there in the Summer, so we didn't get to see what made the North Shore famous. In fact, being Summertime, there were no waves at all! But then again, we also didn't get to witness the incredible traffic jam as well! The North Shore is relatively small with only a two-lane road and VERY few places to park, so the Winter is incredibly overcrowded. But all in all, it was nice to at least see the places I had always dreamed about visiting; Waimea Bay, Sunset Beach, and the legendary Pipeline.
We stopped at a little roadside place called Fumi's that came highly recommended by one of the locals we met and were told this was the best fresh shrimp on the island. To look at it, you would normally not give it a second thought and drive right by as it looks like a real hole in the wall. But they raise their own shrimp in the huge shrimp ponds behind their restaurant, so when you order a shrimp dinner, they are alive until about 5 minutes before you eat them - they just don't come any fresher than that! Fumi's is one of many places like this in the area and their shrimp dinners are absolutely wonderful! We ordered a combination of coconut shrimp and garlic butter shrimp that came with rice and a small salad. We also got some delicious corn on the cob and diet Pepsi. Everything was fantastic! At about $12 per serving, it was well worth the cost and something I highly recommend. Another place just down the road called Giovanni's is equally as good, but it's popular because it was highlighted on TV and in some magazines, so it's often very crowded.
We continued our journey around the north end of the island, stopping at several places to take pictures and sample their wares, including a macadamia nut factory and the Polynesian Cultural Center.
After we returned to our hotel, we dropped off our car and again visited the beach to enjoy a nice swim in the lovely waters of Waikiki.
After dark, we walked around the area, visited the International Market once again, and enjoyed a beautiful evening in Honolulu. We had a coupon for Chili's and there happened to be one close by, so we had a nice dinner, albeit basically the same as back home except Nancy said their fresh fish was very good.
Saturday, June 25
We asked for a late check-out and were told we could do so at 1:30pm. We didn't have to be on the ship until 6:00pm for a 7:00pm departure, so we weren't in a hurry. We asked the front desk clerk if we could check our baggage and go to the beach. She said this was not a problem and we could shower when we got back. So, off to the beach we went for another couple of hours of fun and sun.
Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel and they gave us a regular room for free where we could use the shower and change. Totally unexpected and very much appreciated. Needless to say, we would definitely recommend this hotel for its service, hospitality, ambiance, and location â€“ the Hilton Waikiki Beach (also known as the Hilton Kuhio by the locals since it's on Kuhio Street and not to be confused with the Hilton Hawaiian Village which is also on Waikiki Beach).
We found a coupon in one of the local guidebooks for a shuttle service to the cruise port for $7 per person, so we called them, made a reservation, and waited while we checked our email, and took care of some business. They arrived about a half hour later and off we went to begin our next adventure.
Since it was relatively late in the day, about 5:00pm, and the ship wasn't scheduled to leave until 7:00pm, there was no line and check-in was relatively quick and painless. They provided a flower lei for the women and a shell lei for the men, adding a nice touch to welcome us onboard.
They hold their lifeboat drill around 4:30pm, so it was a blessing to us that we missed it.
Once we got onboard, we made our way to our balcony cabin on Deck 8 on the port side (#8622).
Note for future reference: Everyone had always said and posted the starboard side was the place to be on this cruise, but I'm here to tell you it really doesn't matter. In fact, often times the port side is better than the starboard side. This was especially true when we departed Honolulu and when we cruised the Napali Coast after departing Kauai'i. When sailing from Hilo to Kona, the ship stops by the volcano and does a 360 degree turn, so both sides of the ship have the same opportunity to see it at night. We didn't get to see the volcano because it was not active, so it really didn't matter during our cruise. Both sides have advantages and disadvantages, but neither is better than the other and I don't care what anybody says about it!
The cabin itself is not much different than most cabins we've been in â€“ smaller than some, bigger than others. We had a balcony, which was really nice to have around the Hawaiian islands. The bathroom was small, as usual, but workable. Storage was adequate. The TV was small and old with very limited channel selection. The bed was comfortable and had plenty of room underneath for storing our 3 suitcases. Our cabin steward provided nice thick bathrobes for us to use. The only negative was that he needed to provide more ice in our bucket of beer, but other than that, he did a nice job. Overall, it was fine â€“ nothing special, but no major complaints. After all, with being in port every day of the cruise, we weren't in our cabin all that much anyway. So if money is an issue, go with an inside cabin and save the money for sightseeing. For the few times it's nice to be outside, you can go on the Lido Deck and enjoy departures, sunsets, and cruising the Napali Coast. But if you can afford a balcony, it really is nice to have on this cruise.
The ship itself was inaugurated in 2005, but feels much older as it's not a good design, especially the main elevators. There are four of them in the middle of the ship, but only two go down to Deck 3, which is the disembarkation point when in port. This creates a problem when everyone is trying to get on and off the ship. It would have made much better sense to have all four elevators go down to Deck 3. The other two stop on Deck 4, so to get these, you have to walk up one flight after boarding the ship. All the elevators are very small â€“ having a maximum capacity of 13 people while in reality only about 8 people can fit in them comfortably. And when you add suitcases, only about 4 people can get in each one, which can make for a long wait when first getting on the ship. There are also only 2 elevators in the aft part of the ship where the dining rooms are â€“ again, not very good planning.
The other poorly designed area was the main pool. It looked as if it came off a ship that was built 50 years ago. The other pool in the back of the ship was nothing more than a square pool about 10 feet wide. Overall, the pool areas were not attractive nor user friendly. But then again, there was only one half day when these areas were really used by the masses and that was on the last day when we left Kauai'i at 2:00pm.
However, with all that said, the ship is very nicely appointed on the inside with a wonderful American dÃ©cor. The main show lounge is large and comfortable. The two-story main dining room is very nice. We liked the Cadillac Diner, which is open 24-hours a day. They had only a few shopping areas onboard, but carried everything you would need. There is a rather large jewelry store that was actually too big, especially considering the small size of the ship. It's a well-known fact there's no casino on this ship, but that's never a problem for us. Although the ship was clean in all areas, there were signs it's due for refurbishment; railings needed sanding and painting, rust noticed in a lot of areas, and it was just showing signs of wear and tear throughout. There were no unwanted odors, the air conditioning worked well, and we did not hear of any problems with the plumbing, so we had no complaints. The few problems I have mentioned were all minor and did not distract from our overall experience.
They were offering a reduced rate at all the specialty restaurants for the first night of the cruise, so we made a reservation at the Lazy J Texas Steakhouse for 8:00pm for $15 per person (normal rate is $25). Everything leading up to the main course was good and we expected the steak to be equally good. I should first say that I love a good steak and as most people know, there are basically three cuts of steaks from which to choose; select, choice, and prime. Prime cuts are what you'll find at upscale restaurants and in the specialty restaurants on most ships. They normally serve choice steaks in the main dinning rooms on ships, but lately, due to the economy, I feel a lot of them have now gone to select steaks to save money. Rarely have we gotten a really good steak in the main dining rooms on most cruises anyway, but some are definitely better than others. On the NCL Pride of America I have always heard that the food was mediocre at best, but I really expected the specialty restaurants to be good based on our experiences with other NCL ships. Needless to say, we were disappointed to find the steaks were not that good in Lazy J. In fact, most main dining rooms serve better steaks than this specialty restaurant. Nancy ordered a filet mignon and I ordered the New York, both cooked medium. And while they were cooked correctly, the quality was just not there â€“ they were dry and we could tell they were previously frozen, plus it was obvious to us these steaks were choice cuts at best. Overall, a disappointing meal given we had to pay extra for it.
Sunday, June 26
The bed was very comfortable and we slept well, but the pillows were terrible â€“ very flat and in desperate need of replacing. Last night we asked for 6 more pillows, which were delivered to us in short order, but they, too, were no better than the rest. We even put two pillows in one pillow case to try and solve the problem, but to no avail. We asked if they had any others from which to choose and were told they were all the same. We were resolved to handle this problem later in the day.
Most people were in a hurry to get off the ship, but we wanted to avoid the rush and took our time, so we went to the main dining room for breakfast. This was our 41st cruise and the one thing I've learned is that no matter what cruise line we're cruising with, no one seems to do a really good breakfast like restaurants back home. This was no exception; while it wasn't bad, it was just average for a cruise.
Today we were in Kahului, Maui. As with every port, we reserved a rental car and these two days would prove this was a wise decision. We rented it through Dollar Car Rental and the price was $17 a day! With taxes, the total for two days was $40 â€“ such a deal considering where we were about to go. Dollar has a free shuttle that took us to the airport where we got a nice Ford Focus â€“ perfect for the drive ahead.
We hooked up our GPS, typed in Hana, and away we went down the famous Road to Hana. It's 52 miles long with over 600 curves and 54 bridges, almost all of them one-lane â€“ definitely not for those who don't like to drive on narrow curvy roads or who get motion sickness, that's for sure. We made several stops along the way to see the scenery, take pictures, visit waterfalls, and enjoy black sand beaches. It really is a beautiful drive.
Since it was a nice day and the weather was good, we drove about 8 miles past Hana and found the gravesite of Charles Lindbergh. (Without a GPS, this is an easy miss as it's off the main road and there are no signs pointing to the site.) We were the only ones there and took the opportunity to show our respects to an amazing American hero. We were glad we made the side trip.
On the way back to Hana, we saw an elderly lady hitchhiking, so we stopped and offered her a ride. This proved to be a good decision as she had lived there for most of her life and was full of wonderful information. She even pointed us to a place where I could buy a cheap, but very nice handmade lei for Nancy â€“ at only $4 it was really beautiful and very fragrant. She also routed us down a road less traveled by tourists that went by several beaches, which were awesome. When we got to Hana, we dropped her off and thanked her for all the great information and insight on what life is like on that part of the island. We went up to the Hana Ranch Restaurant for lunch and had an absolutely fantastic cheeseburger and our first Bikini Blonde Lager, which is a very good local Maui beer.
If you want to take a tour to Hana, they can run from about $75 - $100 per person, so renting a car for $20 a day is a very cheap way to do it. Like others who have done it and survived always say, "Been there, done that, don't need to do it again." My sentiments exactly. The mountains, waterfalls, beaches, and scenery were magnificent, and we're glad we did it. We really enjoyed the experience, but don't need to do it again.
Unfortunately, the only way back to town is via the same road, so getting to Hana is only half the fun! There are now 52 miles and 600 curves yet to drive! (The main road does continue around the other side of the island, but about 10 miles of it is dirt road and car rental agencies don't want you doing it.)
When we got back to town, we found a Costco and made a stop to pick up a few supplies. Next door was a Walmart, where we found a couple of nice pillows and cases to make us more comfortable in our cabin. This turned out to be a very good investment â€“ they were normally $12 each but were on sale for $8 and were not a major investment. (We later bought a vacuum-storage bag in order to bring them back home with us as we had plenty of room in our suitcases.) So lesson learned; we will do like we did in Europe and compress our memory foam pillows into storage bags and take them with us!
I take my laptop with me when I travel so we can still conduct business and stay in contact with our clients while we're gone from the office. We usually find a nice bar that has free wi-fi, get a couple of beers, and take care of the day's business. This sure beats paying the high price for internet service and beers on cruise ships! We've done this everywhere we go, including Europe. Today we found a great little restaurant to meet our purpose and while checking email, we couldn't help but see and smell the wonderful pizza they were serving that was baked in a wood-fired oven. We decided to give it a try and found it to be very good. Needless to say, we weren't hungry for quite a while afterwards and had dinner on the ship in the main dining room late in the evening just before closing. We sat at a table with two other couples and we all agreed that while the service on this ship was very good, the food left a lot to be desired.
And while I'm on the subject of service, I'll say contrary to the many reviews I've read about the lousy service on this ship, we found it to be very good in every area. When NCL first started this new service in Hawaii, they had many problems and the service was rated very poor by everyone. At the time, they were required to have an all-American crew. Later, NCL went to Congress and asked for an exemption, which was granted, so they now have a 75% American crew and 25% foreign crew. This has helped greatly. We thoroughly loved all the crew we dealt with. They were always upbeat, very cordial, and always willing to help. It was also fun meeting staff that came from all different parts of the U.S. instead of the usual cruise where you meet staff from all different parts of the world. While the service in the past may not have been all that good, the current service has improved and we had no problems or complaints, only compliments to the crew.
Monday, June 27
Today was our second day in Maui. We woke up a little later than planned and found the main dining room had already closed for breakfast. Instead, we went up to the buffet to see what was available. I've read reviews where people always said the buffet on this ship was overly crowded. While it was crowded, I did not feel it was more crowded than a lot of ships we've been on and was actually less crowded than others. And while we only ate breakfast in the buffet a few times, the crowd or lack thereof, will depend greatly on when one goes up there, but we never found it to be a problem.
My normal breakfast consists of two eggs over easy, home fries, bacon or sausage, an English muffin, coffee, and orange juice. I usually don't vary much from this as I find it filling, but sometimes will get a bowl of fruit and occasionally a pastry. My vice is a chocolate covered donut, but will hold back to only one or two during a cruise, if they have them. They didn't on this cruise, so I substituted a cinnamon bun, which is another vice I have. While it looked really good, it was like most food on this ship and was just so-so â€“ lacked the flavor I expected. Nancy usually has a bowl of oatmeal, yogurt, fruit â€“ all the good stuff you're suppose to eat. It really irritates her that I eat wrong and don't gain any weight, while she eats right and gains weight. What can I say â€“ I just have a high metabolism.
Okay, so I walked up to one of the three stations where I could get an omelet or eggs made-to-order and asked for two eggs over easy. I kid you not â€“ I watched this guy screw up 7 eggs! He broke every one while trying to cook them in the pan. He never did get it right. (Guess that's why they have him working at the omelet station!) After waiting quite a while, I told him he needed to practice and left to find someone else to cook my eggs. While this time she at least didn't break the eggs, she didn't understand the concept of 'over easy' getting them pretty much over hard instead. We only went to the buffet three times during our cruise and the second time I finally found someone who knew how to cook eggs properly.
We didn't have to walk very far as they provide free parking close to the ship for those who rented cars. We loaded up and begin our drive up to the top of the Haleakala crater.
We started at sea level and ended up at 10,000 feet, so it was quite an uphill drive. The road was extremely curvy and very scenic â€“ just had to watch out for all those bicyclists making their way down the mountain. We drove above the clouds and found the crater to be absolutely amazing! When we viewed the pictures later, it looked as if someone had painted the pictures â€“ the color, contrast, and depth was incredible. Definitely a must-see when in Maui.
After we came down the mountain, we drove north of the city quite a ways and enjoyed some truly magnificent scenery.
Since we had already been in Hawaii for a week, we needed to take care of some laundry and found a self-serve laundromat that was right around the corner from the bar we visited the night before. We dropped a load in the machine and drove around to the bar to use their wi-fi and check our email again. Sometimes those GPS units can be very helpful.
We then returned the car and went back to the ship where we had dinner in the main dining room. As usual, the service was good and the food was just okay.
Tuesday, June 28
This morning we chose to try the breakfast in the Cadillac Diner and it was basically the same as the main dining room, but better than the buffet, plus I got my eggs perfectly done over easy as ordered. At least it wasn't crowded and we enjoyed humming to the music from the 50's.
Today we were in Hilo and since we were only in port for the day, we got off the ship early to make sure we saw and did everything on our schedule. We walked off the ship and only had to wait a short time before the shuttle to Dollar was there to take us to the airport. Imagine our surprise when they brought out a brand new Ford Mustang convertible! Things were looking up!! Unfortunately for us, it rained most of the day and we never got to put the top down â€“ go figure! Couldn't have gotten one of these when we were driving all those curves back on Maui, but hey, I got to drive a new Mustang for a day.
We hooked up the GPS and off we went to see Kilauea. Wouldn't you know it, we've always wanted to see one of the most active volcanos in the world and finally get the chance only to find that Pele, the goddess of fire, dance, lightning, and volcanoes, has been sleeping since April!! We kept wondering what we needed to do to wake her up, but figured perhaps it was wise not to do so â€“ never know what she might do to get even with us â€“ wouldn't want her waking up angry!
We drove to the top of the crater and through the mist, we were able to see the steam and smoke arising from the middle. We drove around and wanted to see the lava tube, but the crowds were incredible, so we bypassed this area and headed to the end of the road where the new lava had been flowing. It was all quite amazing to see even if there was no lava currently pouring into the sea, plus the weather was much nicer on this part of the island.
We made our way back to Hilo and stopped at the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Company where we bought some of the best chocolate covered macadamia nuts we found during our trip. Unfortunately, they were too good and we ate what we had bought for gifts, requiring us to buy more later on. Those, too, may not make it to the intended recipients!
Wednesday, June 29
Today we were in Kona and again rented a car, only this time we used Budget because they had an office right by the pier. Other car rental places were at the airport and did not provide free shuttle service. We were not about to pay around $60 each way for a taxi and were glad Budget was close by.
This was the only port where we did not have a particular plan in place as to where we wanted to go or what we wanted to see, so we just played it by ear. This was also the only port where we were tendered, which was not a real unpleasant experience as we didn't have to wait very long getting off or on the ship as they used enough tenders to keep people moving.
There are a couple of beaches right near the pier for those wanting to swim and not go too far or do an excursion. There is also plenty of shopping and restaurants around the pier, so there's no need to rent a car unless you want to see the countryside.
We walked one block to the Budget office and off we went to see what Kona had to offer.
We drove about 35 miles north, stopping at a few beaches and seeing the sites. Then turned around and came back to town, where we stopped at the Maui Brewing Company brewery and enjoyed some lunch and a couple of beers while checking our emails. We then drove about 30 miles south of town to see the sites. Thanks to our GPS, we found a small coffee company off the beaten path. We spent about 45 minutes talking to the owner who gave us some wonderful information about coffee in Hawaii. There was no one else there, so she just kept going on and on about the beans, growing, harvesting, roasting, varieties, pests, diseases, weather, etc. She also talked about cocoa beans and chocolate on the island. All quite informing and fascinating. All the while, we enjoyed some of their wonderfully delicious coffee. We purchased a couple of pounds of their best Kona coffee and headed back to town.
We took the back roads until we found the place closest to the Captain Cook memorial across a small bay. In order to get to the memorial, you have to take a boat or have a 4-wheel drive vehicle if you want to approach it from land. We decided to do neither and just saw it from a distance.
Afterwards, we made our way back to town via other back roads where we did some sightseeing and shopping before returning the car and going to the ship.
Tonight we were invited to have dinner with John O'Hara, who is the Hotel Director on the Pride of America. Spending two hours with him was very interesting and we learned a lot while asking him every question you can imagine. Needless to say, I took the opportunity to mention the situation with the pillows and suggested they seriously think of replacing them. Hopefully, that suggestion will make it nicer for those coming in behind us and that NCL won't wait until refurbishment. The next day he sent us a note thanking us for having dinner with him and gave us a complimentary dinner at the Jefferson's Bistro specialty restaurant.
Thursday, June 30
Today we arrived in Kaui'i for 1-1/2 days. Luckily, we had pre-reserved a rental car because several of the companies did not have anymore to rent. We were picked up at the pier by the Dollar shuttle bus and taken to the airport, where we got a brand new Ford Fusion with only 16 miles on it. It was very nice with leather seating and all the latest gizmos.
Waimea Canyon is called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific and was one place we had to see. At 10 miles long, 1 mile wide, and over 3,500 feet deep it is quite an amazing site. The colors and waterfalls make this a wonderful place and the drive up was great.
Note for future reference: We were told if you ever want to do a helicopter tour while in Hawaii that Kaui'i is the one island to do it. We looked into doing this but at a minimum of $175 per person, was a little out of our budget. One of the major attractions that can only be seen by helicopter is the Manawaiopuna Falls, which is more famously known as the Jurassic Falls because it was featured in the movie Jurassic Park. But if you have the money and are visiting Kaui'i, this is an excursion you should plan to do as this is one of the most beautiful islands there is in Hawaii. It's easy to understand why more movies were filmed on this island than any other island in Hawaii.
We spent some time driving around, seeing the sites, and doing a little bit of shopping. As usual, we found a nice little local bar, drank a couple of beers, and took care of some business on the laptop before heading back to the ship.
Unfortunately, there is no place to park near the pier in this port, so we were forced to park at a restaurant close by and pay $10 for the night. This was better than where they recommended, which was $15 a night. After parking, we still had to take a complimentary shuttle to the ship, as it was a little too far to walk on a hot day.
Thanks to John O'Hara, we had reservations at Jefferson's Bistro for dinner tonight. We ordered a nice bottle of wine and had what can best be described as a below-par meal for a specialty restaurant. As we had come to expect, the service was very good, but it was obvious to us that the food was previously frozen â€“ not bad, but just lacking in flavor, freshness, and moisture.
Friday, July 1
Since we were only in port for half the day, we chose to drive north to visit some little towns, sightsee a bit, see a couple of waterfalls, do a little shopping at some flea markets, and just tour around Kaui'i for a while. We returned the car around 1:00pm and the ship departed at 2:00pm. When I asked one of the crew why we were leaving so early, he advised we would be sailing by the Napali coast before turning around and heading to Honolulu. We grabbed a quick lunch and headed to our balcony to watch the world go by as we cruised north. Being on the port side of the ship was much better than the starboard on this part of the cruise as we got to see the magnificent coast line in full sunlight from our balcony. While we sat in the shade, the starboard side was in the hot sun. The Napali coast is truly an amazing place, but can only be seen by water or air. When we got to the turnaround point, the sun was starting to set, so while those on the starboard side enjoyed the coastline in fading light, we were treated to a wonderful sunset.
As with a lot of cruise lines, they had a drink special whereby if you buy 4 beers, you get the 5th beer for free. We bought this special a couple of times and enjoyed beer on the balcony. Another good point was they never checked the water bottles we had in our backpacks and we were able to enjoy cocktails on the balcony as well.
Tonight we chose to bypass the main dining room and instead just enjoy a nice meal in the Cadillac Diner. While we had become accustomed to the food just being average and this was no exception, we enjoyed the variety and had a good time.
The entertainment on board was okay â€“ some good, some not so good. But after 41 cruises, we're really not into attending all the entertainment anymore. Pretty much seen it all, so tonight, being our last night, we chose to pack and spend a quiet romantic evening on the balcony watching the stars instead of watching any of the entertainment.
Saturday, July 2 â€“ Friday, July 8
We were hopeful we could get to the airport in time to catch a 9:30am flight on Island Air from Honolulu to Kapalua Airport on the west side of Maui. We were lucky to get off the ship by 8:00am and found shuttles outside waiting to take people to the airport â€“ cost was $5 per person, which really beat the taxis and cruise line shuttles. We had plenty of time to check in and wait for the plane, but we weren't sure we would get on the flight as we were flying standby. Although the flight was sold out, we again got lucky and two people did not show up, so we managed to get on the plane. This is a small twin prop plane that only holds 30 people and does not fly very high. Our faces were glued to the windows as we got an excellent view of the islands during our 30-minute flight.
We had originally made reservations at the Westin Resort Hotel and Spa on Ka'anapali Beach for only a few nights because of the cost. But I was fortunate enough to find a company specializing in selling timeshares people can't use and want to rent out at the last minute. A studio unit at the Westin Resort Villas North on Ka'anapali Beach normally rents for $1200 - $1700 a week, but I managed to find a unit for $499 for a week and couldn't believe our luck â€“ it was for the exact week we needed it. One week there was less than a few days at the resort. Plus, the unit had a full kitchen and we were able to cook our meals and save even more money.
When we arrived at the airport, we found we were going to have to take a taxi. While the Westin Resort has a complimentary shuttle, it does not service the villas, which is strange given the resort is further away. It just so happened, the shuttle was there to take a family to the resort and the driver was kind enough to take us to the villas. Needless to say, I gave him a very nice gratuity.
We got to the villas around 10:30am and found we could not check in until 4:00pm. We checked our bags with the bellmen, walked around the property, took pictures, and then took the free shuttle into Lahaina for some grocery shopping. We found a nice little Mexican restaurant in the mall and while we ate, enjoyed a wonderful hour-long hula show by a local group who was performing in the center of the mall. We shopped around for a while and then picked up groceries for our stay. By the time we got back to the villas, it was 4:00pm and our villa was ready for us. It was really nice with a very comfortable king-size bed, a wonderful large bathroom with a big shower and a large Jacuzzi tub. The full kitchen was stocked with all the utensils we needed, including long-handle grilling tools. There was a large 42" flat screen TV with about 100 channels and a Bose stereo clock radio. It also had a washer & dryer, in-room safe, iron & ironing board, dishwasher, microwave, coffee maker including Kona coffee, stove, and full-size refrigerator with icemaker. The balcony had two chairs and a table that overlooked the pool and a view of the ocean. The beach area was very nice and the snorkeling was outstanding, so we really enjoyed our week there. All-in-all, it was quite wonderful.
I won't go into a day-by-day description of what we did, but we spent a lot of time on the beach just relaxing and enjoying the beautifully clear water. We went into town a couple of times, but only ate out twice during our stay. Instead, we bought some great steaks, awesome shrimp, and local ground beef that we cooked on the outdoor Jenn-air gas grills provided for guests at the villas.
A couple of weeks before our trip, we booked reservations at the Feast at LeLe luau for July 4th, figuring this was a most appropriate time as we could enjoy the fireworks in Lahaina along with our luau. This turned out to be a very good decision because, as usual with most luaus, they were sold out ahead of time.
We took the shuttle downtown and then walked towards the luau. The police had blocked off the main street, which was a good idea given the large crowd of people arriving to see the fireworks. Luaus are a must-do when visiting Hawaii, so this was something we had been anxiously awaiting. Many luaus offer seating that requires you to sit on mats, while others offer mats as well as tables. Some offer buffet style, while others offer full service. This one was relatively small, having only about 100 guests, all of which sat at tables and served each course by waiters. All guests are greeted with a flower lei and a mai tai. Tables are pre-assigned, so imagine our surprise when they sat us front row center by the stage - we had the best table in the entire place. Photographers were onsite, but at $25 for a 4x6 print, we thought this a bit expensive.
The meal at this particular luau is four courses, each representing different parts of the Polynesian culture that make up the Hawaii islands (Hawaii, New Zealand, Tahiti, & Samoa). Plus, they have an open bar and we took advantage of the many local beers and liquor. After each course, there are dances representing each of the four cultures. During the second course, the fireworks started, so they stopped the show to allow us to watch. We got up and walked about 30 feet to the beach where we watched the display reflecting off the calm sea. Overall, a wonderful and very romantic evening, albeit a bit expensive. Luaus run about $100 or so per person, so this one night cost us around $250 with gratuities â€“ not something one wants to do too often. The food was pretty good and each course offered three different dishes from which to choose consisting of such things as chicken, pork, beef, fish, and vegetables.
Our stay in Maui was awesome â€“ we just wish we could have stayed there for another week. If we ever decide to go back to Hawaii, we know of some places we would want to stay for a couple of weeks and not worry about seeing other islands. I now understand why those on the West coast like to go to Hawaii, while those on the East coast prefer the Caribbean. Given the length of time to get there and the costs involved, I also would prefer the Caribbean since we're on the East coast. But if time and money were not a big issue, there's no doubt I would go back to Hawaii in a minute.
Saturday, July 9
We got a shuttle from the Westin Villas to the Kahului Airport for $25 per person that took about 45 minutes. There are two airports on Maui and this one is on the east side of the island and serves the major airlines. The other airport, Kapulua, is on the west side of the island near Lahaina, but is very small and only serves the inter-island prop aircraft. (There's only one runway, which is fairly short, no taxiway, and no real baggage claim. After flying into and out of large airports, this one is a real hoot!)
Once again, we were lucky there were a couple of seats remaining for standby passengers and we got to LAX without any problems. But when we got to LA, our luck ran out. The flight to Dulles was overbooked and we could not get on it, but our luggage did. (Another bad thing about flying standby.) Since it was about 10:00pm, there were not a lot of flights to choose from and we did not want to spend the night in LA. The flight to BWI was overbooked, which left flights to Chicago or Orlando as the only ones available that night heading towards the east coast. We checked for flights from Chicago to Dulles on Sunday and they did not look promising, so we decided to chance it and fly to Orlando.
Sunday, July 10
We arrived in Orlando only to find all the flights to Dulles were overbooked for both Sunday and Monday. We could have rented a car and driven to Tampa as there was a possibility of a flight out Sunday night, but we decided to just rent a car and drive to Jacksonville to visit our son-in-law and our 2-1/2 year old grandson for a couple of days. Our daughter is in the Navy and currently on a 6-month deployment, so we figured they would love to have the company while she's away serving her country. Too bad our luggage was in Dulles! But having been there many times, we leave a suitcase at their house with extra shoes, shirts, shorts, and toiletries, and in that way we don't have to carry everything back and forth all the time. It wasn't a big deal we didn't have our suitcases with us and asked our son to pick them up for us during his shift at Dulles.
Tuesday, July 12
All the flights from Jacksonville to Dulles were booked until today, so our choice to fly to Orlando and drive to Jacksonville turned out to a good decision. During this entire trip, we did what you should not do when flying standby and that's travel during the Summer and on the weekends. It's the worse time, but it was the only thing we could do in this particular case. So lesson learned â€“ do not fly standby in the Summer or on the weekends, especially to Hawaii!!
We got home about 9:30pm, went to bed about midnight, and then slept for 14-1/2 hours!! Traveling at our age with major time differences definitely take their toll on one's body, that's for sure. Besides, we really missed our nice big comfortable waterbed!
We had a great time and are so glad we finally got to check this off our bucket-list. Hawaii was better than we thought and is definitely some place we'd like to visit again. The Hawaiian people are very special and they are the ones who make a visit to the islands a very special experience.
With everything we did, we can now discuss Hawaii with our clients from a first-hand experience and let them know what to do, what not to do, what to expect, and where to go. This is very important to us as we always want to provide personal insight and information to our clients, which is what separates us from those online sites and large travel agencies who are only interested in 'selling' cruises and not in providing personal service.
The cruise was the main purpose for our trip and we're glad we did it, but it's not something we would want to do again. As we've told our clients when doing this particular cruise, this is not the normal cruise you get when cruising to other places on other ships. This is a unique one-of-a-kind experience that should not and cannot be compared with regular cruises. If you look at this as a 2-star hotel taking you around to the islands, you'll enjoy your trip. If you try to compare this to a regular cruise, you'll liable to be disappointed. I would definitely recommend this to those who have never been to Hawaii and would like to visit 4 of the islands. It gives you the opportunity to see more than just one island without having to worry about flying to each of the islands and going through all the hassles of airports, taxis, hotels, and restaurants. It's also the only one doing a 7-night cruise around the islands â€“ all the rest do either a one-way to or from the West coast, or do a roundtrip from the West coast â€“ both have many days at sea and don't spend as much time in the islands.
I would also recommend reserving a rental car ahead of time in each port. This is one cruise where doing organized shore excursions are not really necessary. We checked to see what was available and felt we did more and saw more by doing our own thing â€“ we definitely saved a great deal of money by renting cars.
While the ship was okay, it's not one of our favorites. The food left a lot to be desired and, quite frankly, was mediocre at best. I know those who love NCL will disagree with me and I'm sure I've irritated some of them with my comments. It simply does not compare to other cruise lines that pay more attention to quality and flavor. We heard many comments by passengers about the food; most were negative, only a few were positive, so it was obvious this was not just our opinion. And it wasn't just the passengers who were not happy with the food. On many occasions, we saw crew members carrying boxes full of food onto the ship. In all our cruises, I've never seen crew bringing this much food onboard. When I asked a couple of them, they were polite enough about it, but hinted the food on the ship was not that good.
In fact, we met one of the chefs at a bar one day while both of us were checking emails on our computers. We carried on a conversation for over an hour and I told him in all honesty we thought the food was just adequate. He was a formally trained chef who has worked at some fancy restaurants, but wanted to try something different, so he thought cruising around Hawaii on a ship sounded interesting and exciting. I thought he might take offense to my comments, but he laughed saying he had to agree with me. He said most of the food was received frozen and the chefs were not allowed to stray from the very strict corporate ingredients or recipes, even in the specialty restaurants. He said it was unfortunate that NCL hires well-trained chefs and yet won't let them do what they have been trained to do. (This was very obvious to us.) They do try very hard to make it look good, which they succeed in doing, but throughout the cruise, the food simply lacked flavor, freshness, and originality. Don't get me wrong, it was not bad and I have no real complaints about the food because quite frankly, it's what we had expected. I just feel they should listen to the chefs and let them put more of their creativity in the dishes and provide fresher non-frozen products. Even this chef told me the food would be much better if it weren't all frozen. Of course, one might believe this is only unique to this ship due to where it's located, but we've found the exact same thing on all 4 of our NCL cruises. However, it's not just NCL, so please don't think I'm only picking on them â€“ after all, this is a review of this one cruise, but we've found the same thing on other cruise lines and we've been a little disappointed in them as well. While we were not totally disappointed in the food in the main dining room because we got what we expected and there were no real surprises, I do have to admit, in my opinion, the specialty restaurants on the Pride of America were disappointing. While they were better than the main dining room, we did expect better from them given the extra charge.
But with that said, and I know I'm repeating myself, the one thing we were very happy with was the service. Contrary to what we've read and heard from others, we thought the American crew did a wonderful job. We gave our compliments to the Hotel Director when we had dinner with him and he was happy to receive our comments because he said they have been trying very hard to improve in that area.
However, I still heard people complaining. I listened to one lady on the phone while we were standing outside the ship waiting for a shuttle in Kaui'i and she was remarking how terrible the cruise was, how horrible the food was, and how bad the service was. Nancy and I looked at each other and said, "Wonder what ship she's on!"
We were on the Celebrity Eclipse in May and it was one of the most wonderful cruises we've ever been on. Everything was great. Out of 41 cruises, it now ranks #2 on our all-time favorite list. Yet even then, I heard people complaining about something or other. As the saying goes, "You can't please everybody no matter how hard you try."
As a Matre'd once told me on a cruise a couple of years ago, "Some people complain because the water's too wet!"
My credo has been, "You will always find what you're looking for, so why not look for the best in everything." In other words, if you want to be miserable, you will be if all you do is look for the negative things. Nancy and I always truly want to enjoy our cruise, so we don't go looking for discouraging things and we don't let the few negative things we do find bother us all that much. Even with the food, we were fine with it, albeit a little disappointing at times, but we had no complaints.
Cruising is definitely one of those things where you can have a great time or a miserable time - it depends on how much you let the small stuff affect you. And, as the book says, "Don't sweat the small stuff - and it's all small stuff." Some people are very detailed oriented when it comes to cruising â€“ they are constantly looking at the little things and judge accordingly. We try not to look at the little things, preferring instead to judge based on the overall experience.
There's something out there for everybody and the fun is finding the best one for you. We, on the other hand, obviously have to try them all so we can tell our clients about them. We can honestly say we've never had a bad cruise. Yes, some have been better than others, but none of them have been to the point we've had to complain about everything or caused us to have a miserable time.
Our worst cruise was still very good in some areas, so like all cruises we've taken, we concentrated on those good things in order not to let the negative things impact on the overall experience. And while there were a few areas on this cruise that could use improvement, we did not let them dictate whether we were going to enjoy the cruise or not. For us, this particular cruise was a positive experience, while I know others on the same cruise had a negative experience. It all depends on one's ability to really relax and enjoy themselves while on vacation. The bottom line is had we listened to all the negative reviews, we may have had second thoughts about doing this cruise in the first place. Lesson learned, opinions are like bellybuttons, everyone has one. Don't listen too hard to reviews as your experience may be completely different than theirs because we're all different people and what one loves, another will hate and vice versa.
Sorry, didn't mean to get off the subject, but this particular cruise tends to elicit more comments (good and bad) from passengers than any other cruise we've ever taken. I just think it's very important for prospective cruisers to understand this cruise is really more about what you do with the opportunity to visit Hawaii than it is about what you expect to get out of the cruise itself. In other words, it's about the itinerary and not about the cruise. Hope that makes sense, but as I said in the beginning, this is not your usual cruise â€“ it is what you make it.
In closing, I would highly suggest to anyone considering this cruise that they plan to spend at least a few days in Honolulu before the cruise. This not only gives you time to get use to the time change, but also an opportunity to see the sights, visit the beach, try some local foods, and appreciate the Hawaiian lifestyle. While the cruise affords one the time to visit 4 islands, it would be a shame to fly in the day the cruise started and fly out the day the cruise ended. Keep in mind that Honolulu is a big city, so if you can, plan to spend some time either outside the city or at one of the other islands. It's truly a magical place with wonderful people and should be visited at least once in everyone's lifetime.
Pete & Nancy Peterson Cruise Planners, Inc. www.storybookcruises.com
My youngest daughter turned 21 this month and wanted to see Bourbon St in New Orleans as a 21 year old. We decided to take her and three friends from college to New Orleans for an afternoon and evening there, and sail out of New Orleans on the Norwegian Spirit for 7 days to Costa Maya, Roatan, Belize, and Cozumel. I have booked lots of customers on this ship for this year and wanted to see it firsthand. I recalled that it was originally Superstar Leo sailing in Asia for Star Cruises, NCL's parent company. It was renamed and moved to NCL about 6 years ago and renamed Norwegian Spirit. It began in Alaska, and later was doing alternating 5 and 9 day Caribbean cruises, and I had looked forward to sailing on it.
We have sailed on Norwegian Dream, Star, Jewel, Pearl, Sky (twice), Epic, and Pride of America out of 64 total cruises. I can honestly say I have enjoyed every one of them. While my wife is a traditional cruiser, we like Freestyle Cruising, dining whenever we like. My wife dresses for dinner no matter what line weare on, and we enjoy music for listening and dancing, especially ballroom style.
After the necessary stops in New Orleans at Acme Oyster House, Bourbon St in the afternoon and evening, dinner on Decatur Street, and morning coffee and bengiettes as Café DuMonde Sunday morning, we arrived at the cruise terminal about 12:30pm. The ship had been a bit later arriving due to the high water in the Mississippi. By arriving then, and thanks to a Latitudes embarkation desk, we were promptly processed and aboard before 1pm. The cabins were to be ready by 2pm, but they began calling them by decks about 1:45pm. We did the customary tour of the ship and taking photos before the bulk of passengers arrived in order to get good photos of all the venues.
Our cabin was a category BA balcony on deck 11. Storage drawers were at a premium, and there was only one bedside table, but there proved to be adequate storage in the closet, on shelves in there, and in some drawers below the coffee/ice counter. TV did not have interactive account monitoring. There was the usual coffee maker, but no refrigerator. I especially like the way most NCL bathrooms are set up, with the toilet in one side of the bathroom with a door closing it off, the sink in the center, and a shower stall to the right with a sliding door. The condition of everything was fine. There was a little marking in some of the shower tiling, but generally everything was very attractive.
The four girls were in an inside cabin on deck 10, and it had two twins, a Pullman, and a rollaway. Interestingly, they didn't have the partitioned bathroom, and the bathroom seemed roomier therefore.
The fact that the ship was designed for the Asian market originally is only really noticeable on the deck where the Steakhouse, and Asian/teppanyaki restaurant is located, as even the steakhouse has an oriental décor. The teppanyaki table only seats 40 per night, and must be reserved starting at 8am the day before. It fills up fast. They were offering discounted pricing at all the specialty restaurants during May and June, and although we had originally thought we might use one or two, we all found the food in the main dining rooms excellent, with good variety, and ate there every night. Sometimes my wife and I ate by ourselves and sometimes with the girls. They ate in the Windows dining room every night and loved the food and service. We ate in the Garden dining room one night and while the atmosphere was more subdued, the service was not as good and the glare of the entry to and from the pantry/galley by the staff caused repeated distractions and lighting. That was not the case in the Windows dining room, where the service was outstanding. The Maitre De', Louis P, stopped by every night to talk with my wife and me and even gave me his card with his phone number. He even arranged a surprise birthday cake for my daughter and on another night a cake for the girls who had just graduated. The girls enjoyed a water nicknamed “Naughty, Naughty” and managed to request and get him assigned every night. To give you an idea of the food, my wife eats seafood every night and loved the selection. It started with lobster and shrimp the first night, and she never had to repeat the fish choice once. My daughter, a bit picky, loved the salmon on the always available menu and had it three times. I enjoyed lamb twice, osso bucco, English loin, turkey, and a sirloin from the always available menu that was excellent. They even had gravlox and escargot as appetizers.
The Garden Café, the buffet area on deck 12, had at least 4 different stations preparing eggs to order in the morning, as well as all the normal stations. Seating on the starboard side on the rear was below the basketball court, and I don't recommend seating there. There was amply staff and supervision, the tables were promptly cleared, and we never experienced any difficulty finding seating. At night a portion of one side of the Garden Café is closed off and becomes the Italian Trattoria, with appropriate décor and lighting.
There were three excellent production shows, one with a touch of the Circe' style, an illusionist/magician who did several shows, and some comedians. I was very pleased with the quality of the shows. There were so many activities during the day that we were interested in that we couldn't do them all. A wonderful couple, Arvin and Emily, entertain in Champagne Charlie's most evenings, and even participated in one the afternoon shows. The orchestra throughout the week did sessions in the Galaxy club on deck 13 and in Champagne Charlie's. That is our kind of dance music, and we loved it. There was the customary “White Night” one evening in the Galaxy Lounge, plenty of late night activity in Maharaja's Night Club, and even a toga party on the pool deck one night. The ship is easy to get around, and the only confusion I had was that the theatre is all the way aft, instead of forward like on most ships. I'm not a fan of lots of announcements, and thought there were a lot on this ship.
Debarkation on NCL ships is my favorite: you don't have to vacate the cabins until about 10, you don't have to drag carryon's to breakfast, and everything goes very smoothly. They did have colored tag announcements, but everyone is off between 9 and 9:45, or earlier if they can carry their own luggage off.
A word on ports. In Costa Maya my wife and I decided to skip the cruiseline developed port, but walk outside and observe the new shops set up out there, even a Senor Frog's, and then took a taxi for $2 per person into Mahahual, the nearby local town that was devastated by a hurricane in 2007. It has recovered and we walked the entire boardwalk to check it out. We found that you could get an hour massage for $20, or go snorkeling for an hour including gear for $20. Price for 2 margaritas, 3 beers, and plate of nachos on the beach in free tables and lounge chairs was $21. Check out http://www.sandalsandskis.com/Tropicante.html You can even reserve space in advance there. We were fortunate that there was only one ship in port.
In Roatan we chose to try Bananarama Resort. For $30 per person they pick you up in a van, take you to the resort on the beach on the West Bay were the other resorts are, and include a drink and a chair all day. For $5 more they include snorkel gear. There is an excellent snorkeling site and reef that you can walk into the water and swim out to, nearby. The best snorkeling I've found in Roatan. Lunch for 6 and a few beverages was only $73.
In Costa Maya, instead of reef snorkeling….my favorite….we did ca ve tubing. There are many companies offering it, including the cruise lines. We had been referred to one that offered a private van transfer (about 1 hour each way), a guide and after 30 minute hike to the cave, the tubing, followed by good buffet lunch, and the ride back. There is a place to change to dry clothes.
In Cozumel, the girls wanted to see Chankanaab National Park. I found a coupon online for $2 per person discount. They now require all swimmers to use life vests, which they will provide free. Snorkel gear is $10 per person. We did observe the free sea lion show up close and observe the dolphin encounters that are now included in the entrance fee. The NCL ships berth at Punta Langusta pier, right downtown, across the street from Carlos & Charlie's (downstairs) and Senor Frogs (upstairs).
In summary, we had great food, outstanding service and entertainment, more activities than we could participate in, excellent weather, and one of our best seven day cruises in quite some time. The Norwegian Spirit is a GREAT value. The ship is even scheduled for a refurbishment later this year and is scheduled to sail in Europe next year.
Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Star by Tina Mexico April 29, 2011
I booked 8 rooms for my wedding party. To keep it simple here's what went wrong!
My husband got food poisoning from chicken ordered to room service he threw up for a whole day!!! bugs in two of the rooms in the beds medical service unclean (nurse dropped gauze on the floor then used it on us also removed cap of a syringe with her mouth and used it on us) a crew came to paint a moldy ceiling in one of the cabins of the wedding party even though we asked them not to and the girls had to sleep with fresh paint smell in their room! on booking all 8 rooms we had room credits which once on board they did not want to give to us. since we were a group they had promised something in the room every night for the group and for myself and my husband (the newlyweds) and we got nothing but bugs and paint smell and so much more!
Service and food were the worst I've had on a cruise ever! (i've beenon 4 cruises and ha people with us who had cruised 8 times with other lines who were in disbelief at this terrible cruise!!!)
STAY AWAY FROM THE STAR!!! we had a terrible experience and would never step foot in a Norwegian cruise again!!!
It has long been my dream to see Hawaii. My husband and I are in our upper 60s and finally decided that it was now or never. NCL's Hawaiian cruise included the 4 largest islands and seemed our best bet. For me it was more about the destination than the cruise. We let NCL make all the arrangements including the flight to and from Massachusetts to Honolulu. We also booked an excursion on every island through them. Doing things this way was worry-free. From the moment we were met at the airport by an NCL representative to the time we left Honolulu after a 2 day post-cruise stay, everything was taken care of. The trip exceeded my expectations in all areas.
I had read some negative reviews about the Pride of America, but we found the captain and crew to be extremely friendly and helpful at all times. Our balcony stateroom was small (as expected) but with plenty of room for us to unpack everything. My house should be so organized! The ship seemed very clean to me. Although our stateroom showed some signs of wear (a chip in the woodworkand a crack in the vanity) it was very clean and the queen-size bed was really comfortable. That was a huge relief as it is a big deal for me to get a good night's sleep. On past cruises we have always used the dining rooms, but on this cruise we fell in love with the ease of the Aloha Café and ended up eating there for every meal. The food was simply great and by using the cafeteria, we could make any combinations we wanted.
We chose to have NCL take care of all our excursions because we were unsure how to manage it otherwise. The ports in Hawaii are all very simple to deal with, however, and I now know that I could have booked tours independently. Tour buses for other than NCL-booked tours were always lined up right next to the NCL ones and there were no crowds such as you might find in the Caribbean. For peace of mind use NCL, but if you're more adventurous and/or want to save some money you can book the same (or other) tours on your own on-line. Since you cruise each night, you have more time than usual in the ports giving you plenty of time for a long excursion or individual travel to get a good look at each island. The only hard part of the whole trip was the long flights. My advice is to bring plenty to do, such as puzzles, electronic games and/or readers, earphones, etc.
I've been a some other cruises between 2001-2006, like on Royal Caribbean and NCL Norwegian Dawn (ND), both ships, smaller than Norwegian Gem (NG), but much, much nicer, like palaces, like opulent hotels, mirrors and nice entrances, elevators in glass, open space 5 or 6 floors high, magnificent. On Gem the reception area, it is like 3rd class hotel, in the beginning, I asked the reception person where is the Atrium, the Centrum. This is it, she said. wow bummer. Compare NG atrium with ND: see the links
Comparing with our previous experiences, the main difference is that the economic recession affected the cruise industry visibly. They are passing the buck as much as possible, charging as much as possible for anything possible.
For example, there were no trays to carry your food in the buffet lines (imagine if you had a stormy sea and have to walk to a empty table), the bottled water over $5, beer a bit under $5, no free movie channels on TV, $9.99 per movie. The food variety lower than a few years back.
Starting from the begging…it was a big plus, the embarkation was much, muchbetter organized than other times. Almost no wait to get on the ship, went through all the checks in probably 10 minutes. The embarkation started at midday, they would call numbers, very nicely organized. We waited much longer, lol, almost half an hour to make some specialty restaurants reservations (they hand only two persons and only one computer working). When we got on the boat, in the Atrium, the guys from the Caffe bar greeted us with nice cocktails, joyfully welcoming on board, and asking for our key card to pay for the colorful cocktails (9 bucks if I remember correctly)…warning… they are not free. Not long after that we went to our staterooms. I am a map person, so the first think was to look for the daily boat pamphlets, and the boat layout map. I found the schedule for the day, but maps? Noap, no such a thing. Even on the daily schedule, the way the info was put, the restaurants location, hours etc, were not very easy to digest.
Regarding the food, I will be more specific in the dining category below, the food was ok, not too much variety, very crowed, lines to get omelets, lines to get “orange” juice, if you could find it.
Regarding boat stops activities.
In Orlando, we went to Cocoa Beach. Nice weather, the water a bit cold. Some taxi buses had arrangements with the cruise lines to transport passengers to/from boats to the beach. In the same day it was also a Royal Caribbean boat there. At around 5 PM was the last pick up shuttle. We went at about 4 PM at the pick up spot, where it was a sign “for Norwegian Gem” and were a group of people waiting. After a while some other people came from RC ship and they formed another line, 15 feet before NG. Nobody knew if those Taxi buses will carry both parties or they were separate for NG and RC. The fact is that when the bus came at 5, the driver, (Ronald Sterling was id in the bus), stopped where the RC group was and which came there after us. Imagine the frustration when that big crowed starting pushing, trying to get on the bus, and some of the people that were among the first in line, couldn’t get on the bus. We had to travel back, standing in bus crowed like sardines and he drove us to the Royal Caribbean ship first. Very poor organization and service.
In Great Stirrup Cay, they made a lot of new improvements, be aware that the lounge chairs are free but those covers $30. The food was better, more variety. The drinks ok, except beer, I am an European beer drinker, so from 5 spots/bars, only one had Heineken and of course long line.
In Nassau was ok, you can do so many things. We went to see the aquarium in Atlantis Hotel, but now is $39 bucks and even to access parts of the outside hotel (with great water views) is not allowed anymore.
The voyage back was ok, normal.
Ship Quality Average
As I said before, the ship is bigger than what I experienced before but the Atrium is UGLY, it doesn't exist. The main eating area-Garden Caffe (Buffet) it has such an inefficient layout, it is smaller or seems smaller than Norwegian Dawn (ND). It seems that even if the ship is bigger, the extra space was used for cabins but the public areas weren't increased proportionally I guess, they are smaller, that's way it was crowded at dining, at pool, at the bowling/karaoke/disco lounge (Bliss Ultra Lounge). Good thing that they are clean, a very clean ship, EXCEPT, even if "washy washy" was the motto in the dining areas, I found to issues: 1-the close napkins that had wrapped the fork and knife were that clean at all 2-more dangerous, how the staff would clean the table after somebody else was disgusting, with some cheap blue cloth, no detergent.
Quality food for the restaurants that we went:--Buffet areas: Garden Caffe, ok, shortage of paper napkins, tea spoons, very crowed.
Difficult to find seats, many times we will find seats all the way at the aft open area where they did not have as much food as in the middle buffet, the bar was closed at breakfast, you were lucky to find one of the the 2 or 3 Orange Juice dispenser (by the clock, they were available only during the breakfast)
Great Outdoors, ok, same like GC but much less variety. If it was not windy, it was very crowded.
The Pool Grill; I am wondering why it is called Grill, very poor offer of BBQ and grill; some chicken and ribs. The worse cruise regarding BBQ.
On most of the Buffet areas, if don’t hold on your food, the waiters will take your plate even if you did not finish, very annoying.
Summer Palace Main Restaurant; almost OK; we had steak, it was like the cow was a bodybuilder, it was medium done as requested but, the meat was so hard.Indigo Main (Magenta on the ship); better than Palace, good food, very good service, drinks Le Bistro; very good, the Fillet Mignon was a delish, wine good, nice variety from $20-30 something to $120. The service a bit slow. Cagney Steakhouse; excellent food, drinks and service. Best Margaritas from Star Bar. La Cucina; ok, the pizza not that ok for an “Italian” restaurant, but pretty good for a cruise --Bars: Good and cheap (bet $2-$5) coffees and lattés from Java Cafe
Stateroom Quality: Good We had a balcony room 10th deck. The toilette very small, but the rest was nice, very good insulation, you barely can here the outside public announcements. Not too many times we found the towel animals; on Royal C. almost every day we will have another animal, sometimes twice a day. TV program very poor, no free movies, not even 1 channel; it was something like the preferred programs that was mostly for kids or nothing.
Ship Staff Quality: Very Good
Entertainment & Activities Good
Sinan is funny funny funny. But as I read, his nickname was the Bingo boy. Not that I am such a bingo fun, but damn it if I heard more than two times that they have Bingo games...and when I heard it, they were at not a very good time. The shows were also funny and entertaining, except much acclaimed Second City; I cannot digest at all this type of fun.
They have a casino also, which was ok.
Bottom line, I would think twice before taking a trip on this ship.
"No booze in the stateroom"
We've travelled over ten cruises before this one with Norwegian Cruise Lines, so we're well aware of the restrictions that are in place regarding the bringing on board of liquor. All the previous cruise lines we have travelled with have, however, turned a blind eye to liquor packed in checked luggage.
Not NCL. On boarding, I waited for five hours for my checked baggage to arrive; eventually, I got a note telling me that I had restricted contents in my bag and that I would have to go to a certain location to have my bag searched. Proceeding to that location, I found a queue of about two to three hundred angry passengers in the same situation. After a long wait and a humiliating search, my checked two litre bottles were confiscated for the duration of the cruise.
During the lineup, I had plenty of opportunity to commiserate with fellow passengers about this appalling lack of consideration for customers on the part of NCL. One guy had brought along a bottle of his favorite Kentucky whisky which he knew would not be available on just about any cruiseship, but it was taken anyway. Without exception, all were vowing that this would be their last cruise with NCL.
So, why do they do it? Well, it must be partly because of the liquor prices. NCl charged consistently charged a couple of dollars or so more per drink than on the cruise we took with a competitor immediately following theirs. I even asked for a bar menu and the standard drinks were listed, but no prices! Clearly, NCL is aware of their predatory pricing and can't bring themselves to admit it, and do all they can to maximise their liquor profit.
Another problem is with the "free style dining." Firstly, you don't get the opportunity to get to know dinner companions in the same way that traditional cruise dining gives you. Although we were prepared to accept that, what we were not prepared for was the 20 to 30 minute wait for an available table at dinner. It was possible to make an advance reservation (at least several hours in advance), but even then you had to wait 10 minutes or so. Furthermore, if you got into the restaurant after 8.30 pm or so, in the hope of avoiding the crowds, the waiters were clearly agitated at having to serve so late, bringing on courses before you had finished the previous one.
The food itself was generally poor. At dinner, I did get excellent roast pork loin once, other times not so good. For instance, once I ordered "rack of lamb," only to be served with a couple of extremely tough regular individual lamb chops, not the delicate small juicy ones you normally associate as a rack.
There are numerous premium-priced "specialty" restaurants on board, which again tells you something about NCL's eagerness to extract yet more money from its customers. For instance, there is "Le Bistro," a restaurant offering French cuisine for an extra $25 per person. But what most diners don't realise is that once inside, to order any item you wish from the extensive menu may cost you $10 more. Check the menus carefully prior to using these establishments.
What can I say to be positive? Well, the standard of entertainment is very high and presented in a beautiful theater. There is lots to do daytime with plenty of interesting and fun activities. We had a very spacious penthouse suite with the services of a butler and a concierge fresh flowers and a welcome bottle of champagne, etc. The concierge was particularly helpful. The balcony was huge, but being forward (just below the bridge) was almost always unuseable when the ship was in motion due to the high wind.
Beware of some of the shore excursions. We went on a snorkelling trip at our Belize stop and the boat we were taken on was totally unequipped for this; no rear platform for easy access to the water and the rental snorkel gear was defective. "Lunch" consisted of dried-up roast chicken with rice and beans, worth all of $3. In fairness to NCL, after we complained about this to NCL our money ($109 per person) was completely refunded.
In summary, although NCL offers some very attractively-priced cruises, they more than make up for it once you're on board. And, because of the outrageous liquor seizure, We will never sail with NCL again.