Author: Jim David
Date of Trip: February 2013
NCL Cruise from Feb 23 – March 2 and Waikiki Feb 19—March 7
Pre cruise we spent four days at the Marriott Waikiki. We flew from Halifax via Montreal, Newark and then Honolulu. In Montreal there was a last minute change when our UA Washington connection was changed to Newark. Luckily we were one of few passengers to get on the Newark flight which connected to a Honolulu flight with only an hour delay. Luggage also made the connection although luggage for fellow travellers did not. By being an hour late, we missed meeting up with two cruise critic friends who were to meet us at the airport for a quick dinner before getting back on board their cruise on the Golden Princess which was in Honolulu that day.
Our taxi which had been booked from Royal Hawaiian Taxi were there to meet us at arrivals and we were off to the Marriott in 30 minutes. After checking in we decided to have a quick bite and found a great Italian Restaurant near the Marriott. A ceasar salad and pizza hit the spot after a long day. Hawaii is a wonderful destination but getting there and returning is a long trip for east coasters. We were up for 26 hours before finally seeing a comfortable bed. The first day in Honolulu had us up at 3am and anxious to get going.
The first day included a morning getting reconnected with the city and a city bus ride out to the Aloha Stadium for the Swap Meet. Picked up a few souvenirs and some Aloha wear at prices a bit better than Waikiki. The bus trip out was about 90 minutes so decided to spring for a shuttle back for $5 and got dropped off at our hotel.
Day 2 – Wednesday: We had decided we would rent a car for a Circle Island Tour. Picked up a good deal with Thrifty through Hawaii Discount Car Rentals (Cruise Critic Boards). We decided to take the GPS for 12.95 extra so we would have a guided commentary on our tour. We were picked up at hotel by shuttle to Thrifty and were on our way with the car by 9:30 am. About 25 minutes into the trip the weather turned wet and shortly after the GPS ceased working. It turned out the outlet in the car for charging was not working. We could not find the secondary charge which was in the storage compartment. We had maps but still found it difficult to stay on course. We managed to get to the Dole Plantation followed by the town of Haleiwa. Found a Shrimp Truck for lunch but the rain showers continued off and on each hour which was having a dampening effect on the tour. After leaving Haleiwa we headed to a deserted beach somewhere near the Dillingham Airbase (Kaena Point). With no GPS, and bad weather, we decided to abort the trip and head back to the city. Around Pearl City we got stuck in a traffic jam for about two hours so were anxious to ditch the car and call it a day. A shuttle back to the Hotel and drinks by the pool were a welcome relief. Again heavy rain on the pool deck had us ducking for cover.
Day 3 – Friday: We spent near the beach, zoo and aquarium. At 3 pm had our Cruise Critic meeting (all six of us) at the Yardhouse. Met friends from NS who were on their way to Australia and had dinner at 7 pm at the Outback near the Hawaiian Prince.
Day 4 – Saturday: Up at 4:30 am and packed suitcases, St. Augustine’s RC Church was across from Marriott so we attended 7am Mass. Breakfast at the International Market. Pancakes for $1, Not on menu. Just ask. This was the best deal in Waikiki. Did some pics at the statue and a final wave at the webcam before heading back to hotel for shuttle to Port. We had phoned a shuttle service from a handout on street. Waited from time of 11:30 am to 12:30. No show from shuttle so called a taxi and made the trip in 20 minutes and a $25 fare. By trying to save $10, we ended up having a later than desired arrival and got caught in a busy embarkation. Sometimes trying to save a few dollars is not the best decision.
Finally arrived at NCL embarkation at 1 pm. Long line and wait to get on ship. 1hour, 30 minutes. Must have been peak time. It was probably the longest embarkation we ever experienced and no doubt due to the time we arrived and the screw-up with our shuttle.
Impressions of ship – very positive. We liked the uncrowded feel of the ship. Very seldom if any lines anywhere and the cruise was sold out. The main entry area of the ship is welcoming with great seating areas at the Pink Champagne Bar, Wine Bar and Coffee Bar. The fact there is no casino mid ship is a welcome change. The white winding staircase and Great Seal on the marble floor makes an impressive gathering space.
Skyline DR was closed so we went to Buffet and enjoyed the first meal of our cruise. More about food and service later.
Muster drill was at 4:30 pm in Hollywood Theatre. It was conducted quickly and efficiently. Back to our room to begin unpacking before our CC gathering at 5:30 pm. Our CC group was the smallest we have ever experienced in cruising. Seven of us at the gathering with more NCL officers than CC members. Full marks to NCL for going ahead with this small gathering and giving us full attention for about 40 minutes. Not only did we get a very up close and personal from the top crew, we had calls throughout our cruise and several treats delivered to our cabin. And we had an invitation to meet again on Day 6 to give feedback. More on this later.
Final unpacking before the Sail Away. Another huge shower and the decks cleared quickly. The first four days we were in Honolulu was very much a combo of rain and sun.
Dinner in the Skyline on Night 1 was great. Had the lamb shank with spring roll and key lime pie. DW had rosemary chicken and the first of many spring rolls which are on the Classic Menu each day. Very happy with first meal.
We only had one lunch time meal at buffet but had six breakfasts there. Found their breakfast selection typical of most cruises with omelette station very efficient and friendly. Very little wait and no problem finding a table even on very busy days. Thumbs up to buffet breakfast on Pride of America.
We had one breakfast in Skyline and one lunch. Breakfast was ok however lunch was not. Service was very slow, taking well over an hour to be served and food was just warm. Waiter was very apologetic and kept giving us the – we will have your food shortly update. We ate in Liberty once and the food and service was better than Skyline but does not measure up to Princess in terms of service and quality. However POA was an improvement over two prior NCL cruises on Pride of Aloha seven years ago and the NCL Sun last year.
We had three dinners in the specialty restaurants. Enjoyed Jefferson’s the best overall with fantastic lamb and a side of duck. The escargot were not as hot as they could be but only get them when cruising as with lamb and duck so took advantage of this. Service was top notch with Byron, who we met when we toured the ship the first day. He really enjoys his job and shows it.
Our second restaurant experience was Teppanakyi which we had booked prior to the cruise. There appeared to be openings every evening but from missing it last year on the Sun, we decided to book early. It did not disappoint either. You are seated with at least 9 or ten others around a hot grill on which your food is cooked. From looking at the menu, we thought we would leave here hungry but not so. First was a miso soup and a small salad. Decided to have a Japanese beer as a chaser. The combos for the grill included tenderloin, chicken, pork, shrimp, scallops and lobster. Most at the table had the shrimp and tenderloin combo. I had shrimp and scallops. I did have a taste of the tenderloin from DW. Full marks to the quality of the tenderloin and scallops. I thought the shrimp were a tad overcooked but were very tasty and none went uneaten. Veggies and rice were also prepared before the mains and served and eaten before the mains as well. Desert was unimpressive perhaps because we were so full!! A very entertaining show and thanks to our chef and wait staff. Both great guys.
Lazy J’s was our third choice and the least liked of the three specially restaurants. Wait staff (from Jamaica were great guys) and the best of the experience besides the wine. Oysters Rockafeller were only warm and had a bit of an off taste and the T-bone steak was not as thick and tasty as I was expecting. Perhaps because it was the last night of the cruise and we were getting the last of the choice steaks. Enjoyed the meal but it did not measure up to the experience on the Sun last year nor any of the Princess Steakhouses. Iff I do over, I would have gone back to Jefferson’s.
More comments about dining:
Had to send back swordfish (Chef’s Suggestion) in Skyline one evening and another evening had the Asian beef ribs. Although tasty, they were not real hot. The encrusted tilapia was tasty but presentation not great. I also found the deserts mediocre. Food is such a personal and individual thing with folks and these are my impressions and may not be indicative of the majority. We enjoy cruising and food is probably one of the top reasons for taking this type of vacation. So we tend to be a little more critical when you compare different ships and lines.
NCL is freestyle cruising so a very relaxed code for dress and dining. We do enjoy dine anytime but we also enjoy sharing a table at dinner. On Princess we always opt for this and 90% of the time, we share with two, four or even 6 other cruisers. We have found on NCL, this does not happen. On this cruise, we were never offered once, the sharing option. That said, we never experienced any wait for seats either.
The other BIG negative for us on NCL is their policy of not allowing carry on wine without a charge of $15 per bottle. We brought two bottles on and paid $30. (beware – NCL will find wine and liquor in your baggage). I do not mind the $15 cover if you bring the wine bottle to dinner BUT I object very strongly to the fee to have a bottle in your room!!
I was able to unload these comments to the officers of POA and feel I got a fair hearing. Thanks!
DW bought a soft drink sticker for $40 plus and probably only had a few soft drinks. This is such a port intensive cruise that you do not get to spend a great deal of time poolside.
By the time we finished our dinner (late eaters) most evening, we are too tired to enjoy the entertainment. This is a port intensive cruise and with the body clock leaning toward early mornings, one is pretty beat by 9:30 p.m. However, we probably attended more shows on this cruise than the last five or six. Cruise Director Silas, who we met on several occasions, has an excellent program which meets the wants of the varied ages aboard. From the combos in various bars to the single entertainers to the big shows – all were great and no problems finding seats in any of the venues. Willy K was great. Not sure if he is on every cruise but do not miss him. Also each morning there was a port briefing on each destination for 30 minutes. These things tend to be sales presentations but not in this case. The two hosts were knowledgeable and you were able to sit outside and have your first coffee at the Key West Bar before breakfast while reviewing the island maps you were given.
Sunday and Monday on Maui – A nice change from the hustle and bustle of Honolulu but busy none the less. We rented a car for two days to explore on our own. Used Alamo with a shuttle to airport available as we got off ship. We had been on Maui twice before so revisited some of the old haunts from the Ilo Valley, over to Lahaina then to Kanapalli and north beach area. Spent three hours in Lahaina with lunch at Bubba Gump’s. Busy little town with Celebrity cruisers also there that day. We got back to the ship and parked our car just outside the gates (no charge) for overnight. The next morning we wanted to find a beach but also explore so we left at 8:30 am and went to Makawa and Paia. They are called the cowboy and hippie towns. Could have stayed a few hours in each but just did a few pictures and moved on to the beaches at Kihea. Stopped at Makena and Wailea. Stopped a few times along this stretch for walks before ending up at Life’s a Beach for a burger and beer lunch. Made a quick stop at Walmart and returned the car for 3pm and shuttled back to ship.
Tuesday on Hilo – Another car rental and we were off to Alkara Falls by way of a scenic drive. Back to Hilo for a quick lunch at Subway and then to Volcano’s Park. We only had an hour here so paid $10 to get in and did a few pictures, walked the tunnel and back to Hilo with a quick stop at the Moana Lau Nut Factory. A little afraid that we might get held up in traffic. I would recommend a bus tour here rather than a car rental – you probably would see all we saw without the bother of getting to and from the airport for the car, gas and rental expense and park admission.
Wednesday on Kona – Always a relaxing day in this good weather and pretty town. You do not feel like you are in Hawaii but rather Kona has a Caribbean island feel. We tendered in (a little wait) at 10:30 am and just walked the town. Our camera battery ran out so back to ship for lunch, a new battery and then to the beach area to the left of the dock where a band was playing. Had some shave ice from one of the vendors. There is a Marriott Courtyard Hotel to the left of the ship and is a nice property to just relax and listen to the music. Had a quick beer in the pub near the port and got the last tender back to ship at 5 pm.
Thursday & Friday on Kauai – Another car rental. Off to explore the east and north side first. Up to Wailua and Princeville and Hanalei. Very picturesque and good driving. At Haena, which is the end for driving, we encountered a very busy beach with no parking so we made our way back. This is a hiker’s paradise. We wanted to revisit the Waimea Canyon which brought us back to Nawiliwili and to the west side of Kauai. Another 90 minutes and we arrive at the canyon look-off. There are two roads up. The much more scenic drive up and down is the first one when you get to the town (Waimea Canyon Drive). We took the second one and came down the other. It was not very busy at the Look-off at 5pm so had a chance to chat with a few folks. We actually met a couple from our home town. Small world indeed!! Back to Waimea and a stop at Jo Jo’s for a shave ice. I had read about this place on CC and had forgotten about it until we parked near it looking for refreshments. It is worth a visit and yes the shave ice served over ice cream is unique. You could spend 30 minutes reading the menu and soaking up the ambiance. A nice little find you would not get on a bus tour. On our way back to the ship DW wanted to visit Kmart and I wanted to see Costco. Costco has a great wine selection and also a fantastic Aloha wear and nuts and chocolates. BEST PRICES by far. I had forgotten my membership card at home so just went to the desk for a temporary one. When I went to fill up the car with gas (cheapest) my credit card would not work and they do not take cash so I missed out on that bargain. We were told that when Costco came to Hawaii gas prices came down significantly because of the competition. Not for us though – we finally found another station, filled up and returned the car by 8 pm.
The next day in Kauai was spent in the general vicinity of the ship. To the right of the port is a beautiful Marriott resort. We just spent a couple of hours on their property and beach. Back to the ship for lunch and the sail away at 2 pm. The ship makes its way up the Na Pali Coast during the afternoon. By 4:45 pm there is a commentary until 5:15 when the ship reaches the end. A few whales were sighted. It can be windy on deck by a spectacular sight that one would not otherwise see. The night we left Hilo was the sail by the lava flow. This was nice but not quite as the Na Pali Coast in the afternoon. Certainly these two sail bys heighten the cruise experience and is a great way to end the cruise.
Before the Na Pali Coast sail past, the ships officers had wanted to meet our small CC group for feedback on the cruise. Four of us met with 8 officers who listened and exchanged comments with us. It was a most unique experience and one that had never happened to us before. We were quite upfront about some of our disappointments but also shared the very positive things that this ship and the cruise offers. We found the officers were very visible throughout the cruise and never lacked the time to connect with us. At our second meeting were joined by NCL’s Director of Hotel Operation (Klaus). He shared some background on the new Breakaway and other NCL improvements happening on the POA in the coming months. We were privileged to have had this opportunity and thank NCL again for this. After the meeting, we did go and purchase a future cruise credit for sometime in the next four years. The new Breakaway sounds pretty good and the travel time to New York is sure better than Hawaii or Florida.
Disembarkation and Post Cruise:
We chose the late time of 9:15 since we figured our hotel room would not be ready anyway. Had an unrushed breakfast in the buffet where there was lots of room. When our color was called, we proceeded to Deck 5and walked off the ship, found our luggage and got a cab. This was all of ten minutes. No doubt the smooth exit is because you do not have to do Customs but it sure was faster than getting on.
Back to Waikiki:
Our final five days were at the Waikiki Sheraton. We had stayed at the Royal Hawaiian on our last visit so was familiar with the Sheraton Waikiki. We had a room on the 31st floor which is as high as you can go. It was a partial ocean view so you could appreciate the city and ocean. The adult pool is crowded in the daytime so if you did not get down to reserve your chair at 8 am you did not have a great area. Guests can leave their chair for up to two hours without losing it. Cards are available from the towel desk and the chairs are checked regularly. We never had a problem with a second row seat, The sunset is beautiful from the Infinity Pool. We did not eat at the hotel but usually wondered to nearby restaurants near Lewers Street. I purchased the Entertainment Book for Hawaii for about $20 before our cruise and got some deals. Used about ten coupons and actually missed a few. Had a great burger for lunch at a reasonable price at Kelly O’Neils and a 2 for 1 buffet at the Marriott. Used Tony Romas, Burger King, Life’s a Beach in Maui, Seafood House in Waikiki and others. If anyone is doing a summer cruise the books go real cheap after April and are good until November 1. There are lots of Maui deals and for the other Islands too. I found there were not a lot of deals in the various coupon books around the streets but to each his own.
We rented a car again on Sunday to complete the Circle Tour. We ended up covering some territory that we had already covered but got to a few places that were worthwhile including a few beach walks. We stopped for an hour at the Valley of the Temples Cemetery which we would not have gotten on a tour. Also drove into the Brigham Young Campus. The Polynesian Cultural Centre was closed though because it was Sunday. That evening was the finale for the Honolulu Festival so when we went to return our car we got stuck in a massive jam for 1 hour 30 minutes to travel one half mile. We would never rent again in Honolulu. That evening at 10 pm there was a huge fireworks display for 10 minutes. Caught five minutes of it when we were able to get to the pool to watch. It was one of the best fireworks displays I have ever seen.
We did a Pearl Harbour and city tour from 6 am to 11:30 on Tuesday. Paid $42 each through hotel and then realized the Entertainment Book had a two for one with Polynesian Tours. There are also some good combo tours where you get to pick three from a list for $90 per person. These are usually available from street vendors. We did this a few times on previous visits and were not disappointed. I would opt for this in the future rather than rent a car and do your own. If you do not know the shortcuts to avoid traffic or have a sense of what is worth seeing, an organized tour is best.
All in all it was a great vacation and the NCL Pride of America is a wonderful way to get to see the other islands.