When I discovered this forum some months back, I promised I would report on the experience - good or bad. So here goes.
This was my first cruise ever and we chose a 7-day jaunt round the Hawaiian islands. I can't imagine there could be a more perfect way to see these beautiful islands than this! It was like having a floating resort at your disposal. We arrived at each destination early in the morning and that day was filled with shore excursions that allowed us to see the natural splendours of this most extraordinary group of islands. This kind of island hopping without the hassle of luggage was perfect.
The Big Island (Hawaii) has to be seen to be beileved. Exploring Kilauea is a must although the hike that we did is NCL's most strenuous excursion and it does require some fitness and ease with walking on rough terrain. It was mind-blowing! Awesome in the proper sense of the word! For the less adventurous, a helicopter flight is available. We did not get to see the molten lava up close as the flow has recently changed direction and it would have taken six hours to hike to where we could get close to it. But we saw where one branch of it enters the sea and the plume of steam and acid cloud that it generates. We left Hawaii at sunset sailing round the south coast and at roughly 10:00pm we got to see orange lava flowing down the black velvet slopes of the island from our cabin. What an incredible sight!
Next morning we docked in Maui, the most beautiful of the islands in our opinion. We took the day-time tour to Haleakala (not the one that gets you up there to see the sunrise) and had the best tour guide we could have had. He was entertaining, informative and extremely proud of his cultural heritage which he willingly shared with his passengers. He even taught us a bit about the Hawaiian language.
We decided to make our own way to the Old Lahaina Luau and I can now confirm that it is possible to get there on your own for just $2 by bus. This is one area in which I feel that NCL is a bit naughty. From the time we got on board, their luau was being pushed, but we felt that turning up to a mass produced event with hundreds of other passengers from the ship was not ever going to be authentic. Although I never heard any report on the quality of NCL's luau, I would certainly recommend the Old Lahaina Luau. For a start, it is in Lahaina which has got to be one of the prettiest, little, picture-postcard towns I have ever seen and just strolling on Front Street as the sun began to set was magical. The audience was only a fraction of that which we saw coming back from NCL's luau so we were sure that we had made the right choice for us. Drinks were also full strength and kept coming all evening by the end of which I was very tipsy with three untouched cocktails in front of me!
Even if you don't go to the luau, make sure to see Lahaina. The Lahaina on your own
excursion leaves the ship at 10:30, 12:30 and 2:30 and takes about 45 minutes to get there. NCL's last bus back to the ship leaves Lahaina at 7:30pm. Public buses also stop running at 7:30pm so to get back from the Old Lahaina Luau, we shared a taxi with another couple from the ship. This worked out at just about $20 for each of us. I also heard that NCL does an itinerary that docks off the coast of Lahaina and if I had to do it all again, I would choose that option.
We overnighted in port and the next day we took in to Best of West Maui
tour with the same tour guide from the day before. That was great once again.
Our next port was Kona and we decided to have a day relaxing on a nearby beach. The one we chose was too far to walk to but we only discovered that when we were already quite far from the port. We found a quiet spot but the shore was too rocky for swimming. I felt we needed to look into the options offered in Kona more closely.
In Kauai we had the only excursion that I would describe as disappointing. It was meant to be a visit to the Waimea Canyon, Wailua River and Fern Grotto
but the Fern Grotto was closed due to rock slides so we got a visit to a farm instead. It was OK but the only bit of the trip that I found worthwhile was the Waimea Canyon and that was the first stop and quite short. A lot of time was spent driving from point to point and our tour guide was not in the class of our guy from Maui. We also had a couple with a small baby on board (younger than 1 year) and this was a 7.5 hour tour! Need I say more? The poor little fellow got tired and restless and after an hour on the bus, was not enjoying himself. I don't get the point of bringing such a small baby on a cruise and even worse on such an excursion. The screaming spoilt it for the parents and all of us.
The next day I had my first helicopter flight ever! I was excited and a little worried about what it would be like but it was wonderful! The actual flying was much smoother than I thought it would be (I have had much bumpier rides in planes) and the scenery was breathtaking but, of course, that sort of goes without saying! For some reason the pilot only showed us a small bit of the spectacular Na Pali coast but we did get right into one of the valleys and to the top of Mt. Wai’ale’ale which was just a bit scary as there was quite heavy cloud cover. I'm glad we did this flight in Kauai, but I would have liked to see the Big Island from the sky as well. That just gives us a reason to go again!
Our final day back in Honolulu was spent doing a Highlights of Oahu
tour which filled the time we had to kill before our flight that evening. Unfortunately, this did not include getting to the top of Diamond Head but we saw many of the landmark sites mentioned in guide books. I should say that we took in Pearl Harbour and a city tour before the cruise and that is a must! It was one of the most moving experiences I have ever had at such a memorial site.
So what about the Pride of America itself? Well, we loved it! We ignored some of the negative comments we had read on this forum and decided to take the experience as it came. Thankfully, the corridor outside our cabin did not smell of sewage! We found that the restaurant staff were generally pleasant and friendly. We encountered only one bar-man who was a bit rude and inattentive and when there was no room at one of the restaurants, the hostess was a bit dismissive. The maitre d' of the Jefferson Restaurant was exceptionally attentive and welcoming. Several of our waiters were equally nice and always made time to chat to us even if they were not attending to us that night. Our cabin attendant took excellent care of us despite being busy from dawn to well after dusk! The cabin was always clean when we returned from an excursion. I should say that we always started off by being polite to the staff and they responded accordingly.
So, were there any down sides? Well, I'd have to say yes - but small ones. I was disappointed that there wasn't a member of NCL staff on hand to greet passengers when they arrived at the pier for boarding. We made our own way there so when we got out of the taxi, we thought we'd just join the back of the queue for boarding. No one said we had to take our luggage to a different pier which was right in front of where we got out of the taxi. Given that passengers are bound to be arriving with baggage, I felt that there should be someone there to point us in the right direction and take some of the stress away from cruise virgins like us. I am also not pleased with this business of a $70 "gratuity" added to each passenger's on board bill. A gratuity is optional in my book and this was certainly not optional. Calling it a service charge would be more honest and I felt it should be mentioned up front in the original billing, not buried in the Welcome Aboard leaflet around the section dealing with passengers travelling with children. I missed it and I'd bet that lots of other passengers did as well.
All in all, I would most certainly recommend cruising with NCL to my friends. As for Captain Merky and his first mate, we have our eyes on an East Mediterranean cruise in 2008 and we can't wait! If I can be of any assistance answering questions anyone might have, please don't hesitate to ask.