Our pre-cruise vacation in Honolulu is over, time to visit the other islands!
Day 4 (Saturday, June 1, Oahu)
My wife and I woke up early and walked to Maleko’s to pick up some (what else) malasadas for breakfast. On the way back, we walked along Waikiki Beach and spotted a rainbow and a napping monk seal. We ate out on the hotel balcony with my daughter and watched as the seal woke up and decided to lurch his way back into the ocean. We finished packing the luggage and tagged it up (Norwegian was going to pick it up from our room and transport it to the ship). By 10:30am, we were in line at the Hilton Hawaiian Village bus terminal and boarding our bus for the pier.
Check-in at the cruise terminal was easy (it helps that we were booked in a suite, similar to what we’ve done on our past NCL cruises). We met Thomas, the concierge, and by 11:25am we were on board the Pride of America having lunch at Cagney’s. After lunch we started walking around the ship to familiarize ourselves with our home for the next week. The ship was similar, but just different enough, from the Jewel and Pearl that we’ve sailed on before, to keep us on our toes when it came to finding our way around.
Eventually our stateroom was ready so we went to check it out. We were surprised to find a “Congratulations!” cake waiting for us (this turned out to be a surprise gift for my daughter from some colleagues at work). We met Susana, our butler, and then Roderick, our stateroom attendant, who also had our luggage! We spent some time unpacking and settling into our suite. Unfortunately, a lot of our pre-cruise concierge requests hadn’t been fulfilled (like emptying the mini-fridge, pillow requests, etc.) so we left a message for Susana with the details.
After the muster drill we had a little more time to unpack and then it was time for the sail-away party! We went up to the pool deck to watch the entertainment and also see the skyline of Honolulu as we sailed out of port. My wife and I had dinner reservations at Moderno so we went back to the room to change. Service at the restaurant was slow, not what we’re used to on NCL, but the food as usual was excellent. My daughter was at the ice-breaker/social gathering for the 18-21 year-old cruisers so we went to watch the variety show and then hung out at the Mardi Gras lounge watching the Billy Joel/Elton John piano player. We grabbed a quick, late-night, light dessert from the buffet at the Aloha Cafe and then met up with our daughter back in the stateroom.
Our cruise has begun!
Day 5 (Sunday, June 2, Maui)
We woke up docked in Maui (Kahului) and prepared for our morning excursion … outrigger canoeing! We went down to the Liberty dining room to get breakfast, but our food was taking so long we had to leave before it all arrived. That’s the second time in two days where we’ve had issues at the restaurants … definitely not normal for our NCL experiences.
We met Jerry from the Hawaiian Canoe Club and he walked us and the rest of the excursion group over to the club near the pier. After watching an introductory video about the history of canoes in the Polynesian culture and then doing some warm-up stretches, we were split up into teams and shown our double-hulled canoes. This was a great excursion. We spent just over an hour paddling around in the harbor amid the scenic views of the Maui coastline. It was hard work, but it was fun!
After cleaning up back on board the ship, we went to lunch at the Cadillac Diner … and had bad service again! We had read before the cruise that since the Pride of America was a US-flagged ship most of the crew were American and the service wasn’t as good as on international-flagged ships. We tried to go in with an open mind, but now after dinner last night, and then breakfast and lunch today we were starting to wonder if there was more truth to those reviews than we realized. Still, we weren’t going to let it ruin our vacation.
Originally we had planned to rent a car in the afternoon and check out the road to Hana, but we decided to just take it easy for the rest of the day instead. My daughter went to meet some of her new friends so my wife and I disembarked again and walked to the QKC mall to do some shopping and get drinks at Starbucks. On the way back we stopped at a Longs Drug (which we realized was actually a CVS) to pick up a few more necessities. Back on board, my daughter was still out with her friends so my wife and I did a few walking laps around the promenade deck before she went back to the room to take a nap and I went to play Star Wars trivia (I didn’t do very well).
In the early evening, we all met back at the stateroom and cleaned up and changed for the evening. We dressed up and got some family photos before going to see the Aloha show in the Hollywood Theater. When we went to the Captain’s reception (which we were invited to since we were in a suite) where we met Captain Ron Chrastina and the rest of the command crew. As part of our cruise tradition, we had the captain autograph an NCL Christmas ornament as a souvenir. For dinner we went to East Meets West, the Asian-themed restaurant. My daughter went out again to hang with her cruise friends and my wife decided to check out the Aloha Polynesia show in the theater. We also stopped into the FABBA! 70s Disco Groove Dancy Party but it was sparsely attended for some reason. On the way back the stateroom I tried to find an open outdoor bar but they were all closed! Very strange (again, another difference between NCL America and the non-US flagged ships I guess).
Tomorrow is day 2 in Maui.
Day 6 (Monday, June 3, Maui)
My wife and daughter woke up early Monday morning we went to a pilates class in the fitness center. I met them at Cagney’s for breakfast and this time the service (and food) were a lot better. We had a slightly later excursion meet time today so we had time to do a few laps around the promenade deck before heading out to the pier to meet the group.
Today’s excursion was the “Maui Downhill Bicycle Adventure” with Mountain Riders. Tamara, our driver, loaded us all into her van and drove to the basecamp where we signed the waivers, picked up our guide, Kaulana (a different Kaulana from our on-board NCL Hawaiian ambassador 😉 ), and the bike trailer. She then drove us up the Haleakalā Highway (Crater Road) while Kaulana pointed out the sights, and described what our journey down the road on the bikes would be like (he was very informative: we learned there is no letter “S” in Hawaiian, and that there is no hunting season in Hawaii, you can just hunt whatever and whenever you want). We stopped just short of the Haleakalā National Park, put on our helmets, and admired the view while Tamara and Kaulala unloaded the bicycles from the trailer. Once everyone was assigned a bike and we went over the safety instructions, we began our 14-mile downhill ride. Kaulana led in the front, and then Tamara followed the bikes in the van. This was a nice setup because she was able to block traffic behind us, or radio up ahead to Kaulana who would signal us to move over and let cars pass. It was a spectacular ride down the switchback road … we only had to pedal once or twice but were riding the brakes almost the entire time. You can see some GoPro video I took of the ride here. After loading the bikes back into the trailer, we had a little time to spend in the town of Makawao. We went to the historic Komoda Bakery to get some cold drinks and (you guessed it!) malasadas and walked around a bit. Then Tamara drove us back to the pier.
Back on board the Pride of America, we grabbed lunch at the Aloha Cafe brunch and then I took a nap out on our balcony while my wife and daughter went to a flower lei-making class with the other Kaulana. In the late afternoon we started packing for tomorrow’s excursion (another bike ride!) as the Pride of America left port. I spotted some of the canoe club kids out paddling in the harbor as we left. It was “Norwegian’s Night Out” night, so we dressed up and got some more family photos taken in the atrium. The “Lights, Camera, Music!” theater show was cancelled due to performance illness, so we saw the comedian (Michael Speenburg) instead and he was hilarious (for an all-ages show … can’t wait to see his adult show later in the week).
Day 7 (Tuesday, June 4, Hilo)
This morning we woke up docked in Hilo, Hawaii, on the west side of the Big Island (the youngest island in the archipelago). We went to Cagney’s for breakfast again and then headed down into the terminal to meet up our driver, Jenille, and the rest of our excursion group for the “Jungle Falls Bike Adventure.”
Jenille drove us to Botanical World Adventures where we met our guide, Blaine, and were fitted for our bikes. No downhill coasting this time! Our bikes were “trigger” geared mountain bikes as our 5 mile (round-trip) ride along a portion of the Old Mamalahoa Highway involved lots of hills. But like yesterday, the scenery was amazing. Unlike yesterday, however, there was an accident in our group. While going down one of the hills, an older lady must have used the wrong brake and flipped over her handlebars and crashed! She was over a rise when it happened so we didn’t see it, just her lying on the ground as we crested the hill. We were all basically strangers (even though we were all on the same cruise together), but we came together to help out, held up blankets to keep her in the shade, and waited while Jenille and Blaine called an ambulance and the police. A passing car stopped and the driver turned out to be a nurse so she also assisted with checking the woman out while we waited for medical assistance to arrive. It was a little scary (she had hit her head, and even though she was wearing a helmet she didn’t remember riding a bike or that she was even in Hawaii!). One of our tour members turned out to be an NCL ShoreEx employee who was evaluating the tour, so once the ambulance came to pick up the injured rider and took her to the nearest hospital, the NCL employee was able to call back to the ship and give the details so they were aware of the situation. It was about an hour before we were able to start riding again, with our group largely diminished (since most of the family went with the ambulance and police to the hospital with their relative). We finished the first leg of the ride and stopped at a picnic area for a nice snack lunch with freshly cut fruit (pineapple, papaya, and mango). Then we biked the same way we had come back to Botanical World (the hills were a lot different in reverse). My GoPro video of this ride is here.
After returning the bikes, we loaded back into the van and Jenille drove us to Botanical World’s private waterfall for some photos and scenic views. We also made a stop at the 6 Ton Bridge, which goes over a portion of a river that rushes through an old lava tube. We saw a newlywed couple having the photos taken and also saw one of the local kids jump off the bridge into the pool below! Crazy. Continuing the drive back to the pier, Jenille stopped the (historic) Low Store. I got some manapua and an iced coffee while other members of the tour got shave ice or other snacks. Our next stop was at Big Island Candies where people shopped for various macadamia but based products (being allergic to nuts, I did not have that much to do here 😉 ). We finally got back to the ship around 3:30pm. So we ended up spending more time off the bikes than actually riding them, but it was still a fun excursion.
Back in our stateroom, after freshening up, I spent a little time organizing all of the photos I had taken so far while the ladies took a late-afternoon nap. For dinner, we had reservations at Teppanyaki. It was a little strange having a teppanyaki chef from Kansas, but the food was good and the entertainment was … entertaining. We were sitting with a large family from New Jersey who had clearly never been to a restaurant like this before. I’m not sure they were all that happy with it (I heard one of the teenagers next to me say they were going to go get a burger at the Cadillac Diner right afterwards).
My daughter, as per her usual, headed off on her own to find her cruise friends for a bit after dinner. My wife and I tried to make it to “Friends” trivia but got there late and just played along ourselves for the last few questions. They were pretty hard so I don’t think we would have done very well anyway (although I did know “Smelly Cat” was one of the answers, but that was an easy one). We met up with my daughter later that evening to catch the all-ages magic show, featuring Joel Meyers in the Hollywood Theater. After that, it was back to the stateroom to change for the traditional White Hot Party. This was the first time my daughter was old enough to come with us, but of course she hung out with all of her friends. It wasn’t as crowded as the WHPs we’ve been to on the other NCL ships, but we still had a fun time dancing in the glow lights.
Day 8 (Wednesday, June 5, Kona)
We woke up “docked” in Kona, on the other side of the Big Island. After breakfast at Cagneys, we headed down to take a tender over to shore. This was the first time on any cruise we’ve been on where we’ve had to tender in one of the lifeboats, so that was a new, novel experience. Apparently the harbor at Kailua-Kona is too shallow for cruise ships.
At the pier, we met our guide, Sterny (Aaron), for the “Kona Black Sand Beach Hike” excursion with Kailani Tours. It was about a 90 minute drive to the start of our hike in the Polulū Valley. During the drive, Sterny educated us on what we were seeing out the windows of the van (like the old lava fields), on Hawaiian/island culture (we learned that a W in the middle of a word is pronounced like a V, hence you’ll hear “Havai’i” instead of “Hawai’i”), and even King Kamehameha. At the amazing Polulu Valley Lookout, we were outfitted with walking sticks and then started the hike down to the beach. It was only a 1/2 mile, but with a 420ft elevation change with lots of switchbacks and amazing views. Unfortunately, we were only given about 30 minutes down on the beach to explore before we had to hike back up to the vans. Still, the scenery we saw while we were down there was incredible. My GoPro video of the hike is here.
On the way back, our first stop was at the Keokea Beach Park where Sterny (and Shawn, the driver of the second van) laid out a picnic lunch for us. We also stopped briefly in the town of Hawi (pronounced “Havi”) and grabbed some ice cream (and iced coffee for me) at the Kohala Coffee Mill. For the rest of ride back to the pier, Sterny turned on the TVs and played a Nova episode of “Kīlauea: Hawaiʻi on Fire” about the May 2018 volcanic eruption. Our original cruise itinerary called for us to sail past Kīlauea but that was changed after the eruption (we’ll be seeing the Na Pali Coast on Friday instead). Like the bike ride excursion yesterday, I was a little disappointed with the excursion since we spent about 5 hours in the vans and visiting various locations and only about 90 minutes hiking and seeing the black sand beach.
Finally back on board the ship, my wife and daughter ran off to another pilates class while I cleaned up and did some more photo organizing. Then my daughter and I went to the ribbon lei-making class with Kaulana. For dinner, my wife and I went to the sushi bar inside East Meets West and made friends with Eddie, the sushi chef. We then met up with my daughter and her friends for Harry Potter trivia and then stayed in the Mardi Gras Lounge for another Joel Meyers magic show (my daughter was thrilled to be chosen to come up on stage and participate in a trick). The “Lights, Camera, Music!” show that had been postponed on Monday had been rescheduled for tonight, so we went to watch that and then hit the buffet for a light snack. Then it was off to the 80s Dance Party for some late-night dancing before turning in for the night.
Yesterday, I started having issues with my Canon PowerShot SX710 HS camera (the lens was making clicking noises when extending or retracting and sometimes the camera would just show “lens error”). Rather than risk having the camera die on today’s excursion and be left with just the camera on my iPhone 7 Plus, I took my Olympus Stylus Tough TG-4 (which only has a 4x optical zoom compared to the 30x on the Canon). Still got some great shots, though …
Day 9 (Thursday, June 6, Kauai)
Today we awoke in Lihue, Kauai, at the port of Nawiliwili, our last island of the cruise. It’s another two-day overnight stay, and this was the first day we didn’t have any pre-planned excursions … we’re on our own! My wife and daughter went to their pilates class and I had breakfast alone up on deck 12 at the Aloha Cafe. Once we were ready to disembark, we caught a taxi at the cruise terminal over to the nearby Enterprise Rent-a-Car location (we realized later there was a dedicated shuttle for this, oh well) and picked up our rental car (a Ford Mustang convertible) for the day.
We drove around the north-east side of the island on scenic HI-56 (the Kuhio Highway) making a stop at the Kilauea Lighthouse before our final destination of Hanalei. We spent some time walking around the town, had smoothies and poke, and did a little shopping. Then it was back into the convertible for the drive back to the pier, then past it, around the north-west side of the island to go to Waimea Canyon (there’s no road that circles the entire island). It was a lot of driving, like our other excursions, but this time we were driving and were in control of where we went, when we stopped, what we wanted to stop and see, etc. It was getting cloudy as the afternoon wore on and we were worried it was going to rain at the canyon. It did sprinkle on us a bit, and it was foggy, but the view was still impressive (they call it the Grand Canyon of Hawaii for a reason!).
We drove back to Enterprise to return the car, caught their shuttle back to the pier, and were back on board the Pride of America by 6:00pm. Unfortunately tomorrow is our last full day on the cruise so we started packing and organizing the clothes and things we weren’t going to need to get a head start on that. My daughter then headed out (as usual) to meet her friends so my wife and I were free for the evening. We stopped by the Cruise Next desk to get some information about our next cruise … the Panama Canal for our 25th wedding anniversary in 2021! Never too early to start planning, right? We also stopped by the main desk to ask about transfers from the pier to the airport on Saturday morning. They turned out to be $75 per person so we decided to just find our own way there instead.
We visited our friend Eddie at the sushi bar for dinner and were sitting next to Joel Meyers, the magician from yesterday evening. We were going to introduce ourselves as the parents of the young lady he selected as a volunteer at the show, but decided to just leave him alone since he was at dinner with a friend. After dinner, we headed to the Gold Rush Saloon to meet my daughter and her friends and to play Majority Rules. Basically the hosts ask a question, every team writes down an answer but you want to write down the answer you think everyone else is going to write down. Whoever answers in the majority, gets a point. My daughter decided to team up with her friends instead of my wife and I, which was her loss because we won! Ha! Although karma came back later as we were totally crushed at rock-and-roll trivia later in the evening (another hard one!). We finished up the evening with a snack dessert from the buffet and then hung out on our balcony for a bit before going to bed. Hard to believe tomorrow is the last full day of our vacation!
Day 10 (Friday, June 7, Kauai)
The call time for this morning’s excursion was the earliest yet: 7:15am. We grabbed a quick bite at the buffet for breakfast and then headed out into the cruise terminal. We met Julio, our guide, and Ernesto, our driver, from Keko Adventure Tours for our last excursion, the “Kauai Hiking Adventure.” If you hadn’t noticed, we enjoy doing the more active excursions … canoeing, then two bike rides and two hikes. 🙂
Julio (and Edward, the other guide) took us on the Moalepe trail and then on to the Kuilau ridge trail. This was a longer hike than the one we did out of Kona, not as difficult, but no less scenic … a completely different kind of scenery. Julio and Edward pointed out the local plants (like the shy mimosa pudica whose leaves close up when you touch them). We stopped at a shelter about halfway through for snacks (granola bars) and then continued on to the end of the ridge trail (my GoPro video of the hike is here). While waiting for Ernesto and the vans, we cleaned our muddy shoes in the river, had a light snack of freshly cut fruit (pineapple and mango again!) and also watched a group of people try to help out a tourist who had somehow accidentally driven his rental car into a ditch. We looked at it to see if we could help, but the car was so tilted we were worried it would flip over and told the poor guy to call a tow truck instead. Back in the vans, we were driven back to the cruise terminal.
We debated freshening up first, but we were still hungry so we went straight to Cagney’s for lunch. The ship departed the port around 2:00pm, heading for the Na Pali coastline. While we sailed out of the harbor, my wife and I did some walking laps around the promenade deck. We then finally went back to the stateroom to clean up and continue packing.
For dinner, we ordered room service through Susana and had her set it up outside on the balcony. We enjoyed a final family dinner on the ship enjoying the absolutely amazing views of the Na Pali Coast (“Welcome … to Jurassic Park.”). Seeing an active volcano would have been cool, but this was a perfect way to end the cruise … enjoy dinner, a nice glass of wine, and watching the scenery go by. Just, wow.
After dinner, as we left the island of Kauai in the distance, we went to see “Vegas! The Show” in the theater and then went to Michael Speenburg‘s adults-only comedy show in the Mardi Gras Lounge. My sister and her friends were sitting in the front row (hoping to be picked on, I guess, and it worked). After the show, my wife and I went to check out our on-board photos and ordered a few to take home (I still don’t love the way they handle selling photo packages on NCL (no re-sizes, no re-prints or duplicates), but at least we’ve learned never to go to the actual “professional” portrait studio again after our experience in Alaska). We went back to the lounge to watch the “Strongest Link” game show and were disappointed mainly due to one lady on stage who had obviously had too much to drink and was ruining the game for everyone. We picked up the photos we had ordered (along with digital copies on a little NCL ship USB drive) and grabbed a snack at the buffet before heading back to the stateroom for the evening.
We finished packing and put out luggage outside in the hallway for pickup. The cruise really does end tomorrow … 🙁
Day 11 (Saturday, June 8, Oahu – Chicago)
This morning the Pride of America was docked back in Honolulu. We had our last breakfast at Cagney’s and then Thomas (the concierge) escorted us off of the ship into the cruise terminal. We quickly found our luggage, went outside, and ordered an Uber to take us to the airport. It was a little crazy (obviously) in the car pickup lot of the terminal, but our driver found us and had us at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport by 9:10am. We were in first class again and there were really no lines so we had our bags checked by 9:30am. I’m amazed that check-in area is just a big open-air area (no doors, windows, just air-conditioned space open to the outside. We could never get away with that in Florida.
Our flight, however, wasn’t until 4:00pm. While we were on the cruise, my daughter found out that a friend of hers from a previous cruise was on Oahu for vacation with his family and they were staying at Disney’s Aulani Resort. Since we’re Disney fans, and had nothing else to do for 6 hours, we quickly rented a car from Enterprise at the airport and drove over to the resort. While my daughter caught up with her friend, my wife and I wandered around the resort and surrounding community. After being on the cruise ship and the different islands all week, it was a little strange to be in a Disney hotel because it reminded us of a Disney hotel back in Orlando (packed with families with small children, characters wandering around, gift shops, etc.). At least we got to see it.
Once my daughter was done visiting, we got back in the car and drove back towards the airport. We made one detour … for … what else? Malasadas! (hey, we hadn’t actually had any since Monday, in our defense). We stopped at different Leonard’s truck and picked up a dozen hot malasadas to take home with us. On the way back to the airport, we picked up some zip-lock bags to store the malasadas in and also gassed up the rental car. We returned the car, took the shuttle back to the airport, and went through security to wait for our flight. For the flight back, we knew we were going to have a long wait in Honolulu and layover in Chicago, so we had United Club passes. So we went to the Club in the airport and had a few drinks and snacks in the air conditioning while we waited for our flight to start boarding.
Eventually we boarded our Boeing 777-200 and settled in for the long flight to Chicago. We stayed up for dinner, but then pretty much everyone went to sleep …
Day 12 (Sunday, June 9, Chicago – Tampa)
… and woke up on our approach to Chicago O’Hare International Airport. We were off the plane and in the terminal around 5:20am CDT. Sleeping on the plane definitely helped, but still that 5 hour time-change on the way back is tough (so it still felt a little like midnight to us). We had two hours before our connection to Tampa so we went to the United Club, had a light breakfast and hung out for a bit while the airport woke up and got busy around us and we missed our cruise ohana.
Our flight to Tampa was uneventful. On the way home we stopped to pick up groceries and were pulling into our driveway around 1:30pm EDT. The rest of the day was spent unpacking, doing laundry, catching up on some yardwork … all the normal routines that signal a long vacation is over.
And yes, the malasadas made it all the way to Florida. They’re in our freezer now waiting for when we need the occasional reminder of this vacation. Mmmmm …
Our Hawaii vacation was an incredible experience and went smoothly and mostly exactly as we planned. It was nice to have years of planning pay off like that. It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime trip we’ll remember forever. Everyone we interacted with on the PoA (Thomas the concierge, Susana our butler, Roderick our room steward, Ana and George at Cagney’s, Jami the cruise director, Crystal the assistant cruise director, Jonathan and Nick on the cruise staff, Eddie our sushi chef, etc.) were all amazing.
Since this was entirely a domestic cruise, we didn’t need to get an on-board internet or texting/calling package. We just used our AT&T service the entire time (except for those few times when we were far enough from land). My daughter made the comment that the AT&T service on the ship was sometimes better than what we have back on the mainland. 🙂 That’s pretty impressive.
Our excursion call times kept getting earlier and earlier as the week went on. This is definitely something we need to keep in mind for next time. It’d be nice to be able to stay up/out later as the week progresses without having to worry about getting enough sleep due to an early call (at least we didn’t do the sunrise bike tour in Maui, which departed at 3:30am!). That being said, it’d also be nice if the call times (not just the “reservation time”) was shown on the NCL website when booking excursions. I’d also love to see a breakdown of how much time is spent travelling to/from the port. As I mentioned a few times above, some of our long excursions were long because of the drive on either end. A 6-hour “hiking” excursion was really 90 minutes of hiking and 4.5 hours of travel in a van.
On a related note, an itinerary like this with no “at-sea” days meant no time to just relax and hang out on the ship. We were in port every day and had things to do every day. It would have been nice to have a free day. I guess we could have used one of the two days when we were in Maui or Kauai for overnights, but there was stuff we wanted to do and see. That’s why an at-sea day is nice because you’re effectively “stuck” on the ship.
Another side-effect of having an American-flagged ship is no unlimited beverage package. They did have a “Hawaiian Beverage Package” but it worked out that I’d have to drink something like $75 worth of alcohol a day to make it worth it. I enjoyed the UBP on the Mexico cruise because it was a free perk and let me try different items on the bar menu, but I’m not a big enough drinker to justify that. Plus, if one person gets the package, everyone in the stateroom needs a similar package. That would mean my wife, who doesn’t drink except for occasional glass of wine, and my daughter (who isn’t old enough to drink) would also need a soda/water-type package and that just didn’t make financial sense. Paying ala carte for my alcoholic beverages was the right choice and we bought a bottle of wine at dinner that first night and saved the rest of it for our Friday night dinner during the Na Pali coast part of the cruise.
Hawaii is an amazing place, geologically. Every island is different because each one is a different age. Kauai is the oldest and most lush, Hawaii is the newest with the most lava rock (and an active volcano). We learned a lot about the formation of the islands and the Polynesian culture of that area of the world, which was really cool.
Now to start planning for our next cruise … the Panama Canal in 2021!