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Since a lot of people are anxiously awaiting reviews of the Island Princess' first Hawaii cruise, I'm posting my husband's notes. Please excuse the lack of punctuation/spelling ... these really are just notes for when we write our usual vacation journal. Also, please excuse any politically incorrect statements! These were really written for our own eyes only!
I'll try to answer any questions.
Hawaiian Cruise – Sept 2004
We (Vicki, Angela, Roy & myself ) took a 15 night cruise on the Island Princess. The Cruise was from Los Angeles to Hilo (Big Island) , Kona (Big Island) , Honolulu (Oahu), Nawiliwili (Kauai) , Lahaina (Maui) , Ensenada, Mexico and back to Los Angeles. In total we covered 5132 nautical miles.
Day 1 (Sept 21st) Los Angeles, California, United States Day 2 At Sea
Day 3 At Sea
Day 4 At Sea
Day 5 At Sea
Day 6 Hilo, Hawaii, United States Day 7 - Kona, Hawaii, United States Day 8 Honolulu, Oahu, United States Day 9 Kauai (Nawiliwili), Hawaii, United States Day 10 Maui (Lahaina), Hawaii, United States Day 11: At Sea
Day 12: At Sea
Day 13 At Sea
Day 14 At Sea
Day 15 Ensenada, Mexico Day 16 Los Angeles, California, United States (fly back to Phoenix and then to Oregon)
• Our cabin for the duration of the cruise was B439; located on deck 11; Baja Deck; Vicki selected a cabin location in the middle of the ship so that Angela & Roy would have easy access to the elevators and not have to walk too far to any of the main areas. Being in the middle of the ship we felt very little movement, very little noise and no vibrations.
• We really liked having the patio door / balcony & there were several benefits that made spending the extra worth it. The amount of light in the room was excellent. We could open the door and let in a pleasant breeze. It was lovely to sit on the balcony and eat breakfast in the morning. Great to be able to sit outside and watch the ship sailing around the Hawaiian Islands. The only downsides we could find were the occasional waft of cigarette / cigar smoke and the noise from our neighbors.
• A wonderful ship; - sleek.
• Pools – 3 including the small splash pool. The lido deck and lotus pools are good to swim in. I did 60 lengths in the lido pool (about ½ mile) a couple of times. Very relaxing. 2 Jacuzzi’s next to the Lido pool
• Gym is well equipped – elliptical trainers, recumbent and regular cycle machines, treadmills etc
• Library is well stocked – although like usual plundered at the beginning of the cruise – so go early if you want to borrow a book from the library. The CD player / chairs are extremely comfortable – if you can find one vacant.
• There is an internet café with around 12 terminals, if you’re Platinum or higher it’s free, 35cents/min if not – we made good use of this!
• The Patisserie on deck 5 is wonderful – we typically went there around 4pm each day for a latte. They also have small cakes that are gorgeous – even if I did drop a chocolate powder coated truffle down my shorts (clean #1)
• Plenty of space to sunbathe – if you’re in to that sort of thing on the lido/sun decks
• Walking – 3 laps of promenade deck is a mile – I tried to do 1-2 miles each day. Lido /sun-deck can also be used but there are more obstacles.
• We liked to sit on Promenade deck – very peaceful – the padded teak deck loungers are very comfortable
• There are relatively few folks smoking these days – a very pleasant change from when we first cruised – there is a dedicated cigar smoking lounge which seemed to attract most of the smokers. Hopefully all smoking will be confined to this area sometime in the future…
• Several bars – which we didn’t partake of. From a décor perspective the Explorers lounge was a favorite – with it’s middle-eastern theme (bazaar/Egyptian themes)
Benefits of being Platinum class in the Princess Captains circle program
• Priority embarkation – these days there are so many Platinum + members – benefit is not that worthwhile having
• Free Internet access. Given the 35cents/min connection charge was really nice to not worry about how long we spent on the internet
• Reserved lounge prior to disembarkation. Like embarkation – too many people to make this worth having. We ended up sitting in the Horizon Lounge where there was much more space.
• Chris Nichol – the cruise director is excellent. Very poised. His spoken communication is excellent – for a Brit – we didn’t hear a single um or eh in any of his introductions. At one stage in the cruise he featured in the evening show & did an excellent impression of Tom Jones (which included swinging his hips & baring his chest! – he also did a splendid rendition of the “Phantom of the Opera”
• During the cruise there were 3 formal shows: rather too few in my mind
o Let’s Rock – in the Princess theatre -
o Tribute – performed in the Universe Lounge; we saw this twice; featured songs from several distinct artists; Beatles, Beach Boys, Rat Pack;
o Curtain Up – saw this twice – finale show featuring highlights from Broadway shows– 42nd street, Gershwin, Cabaret, Phantom of the Opera, Sunset Blvd, Evita, Grease & Oklahoma
• Other entertainers were of very varied theme and quality: Probably the area that Vicki & I don’t match with the majority of the cruise clientele given the large age difference.
o Our favorite was Duncan Tuck – extremely good guitar player, singer and a reasonable comedian – “You know you’re trailer trash…” Vicki bought his CD
o Our least favorite, of the ones we actually went to see, was the piano playing Mickey Finn and his banjo playing partner who seemed to spend more time telling the audience how famous they were and how good they were rather than letting their music speak for itself. A telling indication of their acceptance, many folks got up and left during the show, only 1 person lined up to purchase a CD – compared to the packed line for Duncan Tuck
o Vincent Talarico (Italian? Singer) – actually quite good – although I felt he overplayed his audience engagement a little too much. He finished with “Con Te Patiro (Time to Say Goodbye)” made famous by Andrea Bocelli (blind Italian singer) – the song was made famous for advertising The Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas when it opened…
o Seamus Early – an Australian female singer; who seemed to play like an LP record on the wrong speed. She gave a 10 minute explanation of Waltzing Matilda and then sang it at half speed. Included an Abba selection – all not quite right - She also finished with “Con Te Patiro” which had some folks asking “didn’t she know – Tony did the same song?!”
o There was also a ventriloquist – enough said!
• We’d requested 1st sitting in the “Provence” formal dining room; we got table 145 – a table for 4 situated at the back of the restaurant. We were served by Will and Leon, both from South Africa. They were excellent (their feedback said this!) The table captain was also from South Africa. He lacked much personality and came across a little bit like a “stuffed shirt”
• There is an open seating / un-timed “Bordeaux” restaurant – on deck 5. There are also the ‘premium’ restaurants which levy an additional cover charge “Bayou Café - $10 – New Orleans theme” and Sabatini’s ($20) – classical Italian cuisine. We didn’t go there
• We did notice the service in the dining room is much more relaxed than we’d seen before. The table captains are no longer tyrannical. Service quality is still excellent though, the food good and hot. Will & Leon worked extremely well together with no pretentious behavior.
• We ate lunch in the Horizon Court (a 24 hour buffet) most days we were on-board; Selection & quality very good. Can get crowded – especially on the first day.
• Also had 1 hot dog from the grill – it was spectacular;
• There is also a pizza parlor that we didn’t sample.
• Vicki did some pottery painting and generated a rather nice trivet and set of 4 coasters.
• As usual you can do a quick tour of some of the crew areas of this ship. Vicki did the galley tour, we both went to the very interesting back-stage tour.
• Most of the folks we met were through participation in the golf events; which were usually held in the golf simulator area or the 9-hole putting course. These were pretty entertaining and I won a bunch of gold/silver medals in the various competitions. The final was a 3-hole putting competition which I finished joint second.
• Four of us, Andrew, Rich, Mickey and me had 2 two-hour sessions in the golf simulator playing a championship course in scramble style which we thoroughly enjoyed.
Days at sea were pretty regular. Breakfast in the stateroom – we tipped the steward each day on successful delivery, some exercise (either swim or bike or sometimes both) golf competition; lunch buffet in the Horizon Court. In the afternoon golf, reading, exercise, usually had coffee in the patisserie at 4pm; get ready for dinner – we were on 1st sitting at 5:45pm; after diner line up for then watch the show, bed. The outward part of the cruise – could sense folks exploring & becoming familiar with the ship. The return part of the cruise was especially relaxing since everyone knew where everything was and in general everyone was focusing on having a relaxing time – 5 days of bliss.
• Hilo (Big Island) – our first stop. Island Princess tied up against the dock. Collected rental car. Headed up to Volcanoes National park, parked at the visitor centre, and watched the movie. Then we drove the crater rim drive – stopping at several points of interest to observe lots of steam activity at the Kilauea Caldera. We then continued down the “Chain of Craters” road – that goes all the way down to the beach on a road that winds its way through several historical lava flows. There was relatively little volcanic activity at the time we were there but we were able to spot small areas of lava activity during the night as we cruised around the Big Island from Hilo to Kona (photo’s don’t do this justice) We stopped for a smoothie at “What’s Shaking” – made with farm fresh ingredients. We dropped off the car and returned to the ship where we discovered that there was a long line to get through ship security that consumed >30mins – not pleasant!
• Kona (Big Island) – caught a tender to shore. The harbor is the starting location of the famous Ironman Triathlon. There had been an accident between harbor/airport that prevented the rental car shuttle bus collecting us, we cancelled the rental. We spent our time wandering along the beachfront, looking in shops – actually very relaxing. We bought a “red-dirt” shirts each as well as visiting the local “Hilo Hatties” store where we bought a bunch of stuff including an excellent sun hat that I wore the rest of the holiday having gotten rather more sun than I wanted at Hilo..
• Honolulu (Oahu); we actually had a full day in Honolulu. After picking up the car we headed off to Pearl Harbor (make sure you follow the signs to the Arizona Memorial – not Pearl Harbor as you’ll end up on a military base!) We joined the long line to collect our Memorial tour tickets. The park requires you to individually collect a tour ticket to avoid any scalpers; may take 30-45mins to do this & you’ll get a tour scheduled in perhaps 2hours; The memorial is well worth the wait and shouldn’t be missed. Since we had 2 hours before our tour we drove back into Waikiki to visit the Hilton where we have our timeshare so we could show Angela & Roy the property; we had time for a brief tour of the apartment. We returned to the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor which was still packed with people. Fortunately it was calm enough to catch the ferry to the memorial – is a very moving experience even though this is the 4th time we’ve visited. After this we drove in a counterclockwise path around the Island stopping on the North shore for a burger at Kua Aina Burger Bar. For desert we stopped for “shave ice” at Matsumoto’s store – yummy! We continued our drive, stopped in at the Turtle Bay Hotel, then continued our tour driving through the centre and stopped at the Pali mountain lookout. Finally got back to Waikiki, where we dropped off the car in Waikiki got a free ride back to the ship with a driver who was speaking local pidgin dialect. We got back on-board ship. After dinner there was a hula performance this evening by the local school kids – excellent!
• Nawiliwili (Kauai) – rented a car and elected to focus on the West side of the Island. Did the scenic drive to Waimea Canyon and finally to the Kalalau lookout location where you get spectacular views of the Na Pali coast – one of my personal favorites having stopped at the Glen. We continued to the “spouting horn” where sea water is forced through a hole in the shoreline rock formation and spouts a regular plume of water/spray into the air. We ate an excellent lunch at the vegetarian Hanepepe café before returning to the ship.
• Lahaina (Maui) – tender transfer; rental car shuttle procedure was really poor – loads of folks had rented a car and only 1 shuttle bus was running between the office and the pier (7 miles away!) Vicki & I pushed ourselves on the shuttle, picked up the car then returned to the port to collect Angela & Roy. We decided to not try and do too much today. We drove to the Iao Valley state park and the Iao needle a 2250’ vertical needle used as an observation post during the Hawaiian inter-Island wars. Vicki & I forgot our weatherproofs – this region is noted for it’s rainfall – fortunately we were able to tour the entire park in between showers – got some great pictures too!
• We had lunch at a bakery/café in Wailuku which is run by two well renowned cooks, the coffee was awful but the sandwiches and desserts were awesome. We stopped at the beach on the way back to eat the cakes – once again I managed to spill the fruit down my shorts (washing #3)
• After dinner cappuccino at the table now costs $1.75 rather than being free. We ended up just having regular coffee with dinner and had a latte each day in the patisserie. We got to know the patisserie staff pretty well during the cruise!
• Good tea-bags (such as Bigelow’s Earl Grey; Breakfast tea, Darjeeling etc) are no longer on display at breakfast / lunch in the Horizon Buffet – the default is the rather lackluster Lipton’s tea-bags. However if you specifically ask for the decent tea-bags they are available. (if you have breakfast in bed – write on the order sheet that you’d like these…) Makes sense to bring a box with you.
• Both the coffee and iced-tea (both made from concentrate) in the buffet areas border on un-drinkable – Vicki bought a bottle of raspberry flavoring for her ice-tea.
• Cups in the buffet area are small – we brought large thermally insulated mugs that held approx 2x & also allowed us to take them with us around the ship
• Bottled water is not cheap on board ($3 + 15% service charge) – can be purchased for $1 or so in any of the local stores.
• You can purchase spirits (by the bottle) on board for stateroom consumption. If you like the good stuff would advise bringing it with you – because it’s either really expensive or not available. For example Harvey’s Bristol cream sherry – 750ml bottle brought from home is $10; versus $3.75/glass on board!
• There are more Laundromats on board Island Princess than we’ve been used to – you can get away with 5-6 days worth of clothes. Washer & dryer each cost $1 (in quarters) to operate. Soap powder is available $1.50 / packet – but we’d brought some with us.
• Security checks getting back on board can be a big time sink. We spent >30mins lining up at Hilo on the first day. Princess staff seemed to not mind you bringing back water/beer/wine in your knapsack – that’s what I did several times.
• Time allocated at the Islands seemed very short – only Island where we got a full day was in Honolulu – others seemed very much a rush.
• The Princess organized tours – are very expensive for what they are – if you’re willing to do some homework it is much more efficient – you’ll get more done & it will cost less to simply hire a car at each of the destinations. We hired from National at each of the ports – got a full size car for around $40 / day + gas.
o One word of warning here. If you rent a car – check where the pick up place is – for example National have offices at the Airport and Waikiki – the latter has a complementary shuttle, the airport does not come to the harbor and it will cost $20 for a taxi to get there… All the other locations had free shuttle bus for collection/drop off…
Thank you llandaf for your very great review!!! We have always wanted to try this cruise and your notes helped so much. How were the three days at sea coming and going? That would probably be a little hard on the rest of my family, I actually love sea days.
Thanks so much for posting this review! Your trip sounds wonderful! I'll be aboard for the holiday cruise in just a couple of months! Can't wait.
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Thanks Vicki for the great review. I've made several notes so as not to make the same mistakes. The double portion mug is a great idea for HC. My moring routine is two large cups of Joe to get my mojo going. We leave in 10 days and it can't come soon enough. I'm also taking your advice with respect to renting a car.
As far as the weather was concerned, it was a little cool and breezy on the first two days out of LA, but after that it was warm and sunny every day. As far as I remember, people were sunbathing every day except the last on the return journey.
The ocean was very calm, with hardly any motion going to and around the islands. On the way back, the captain picked up the speed and we had one evening where the ship was rocking a little for several hours, but nothing extraordinary.
The only rough sea we encountered was on the tender returning from Lahaina which was very "bouncy". We were made to stay seated and get back on the ship one by one. It was good fun, although I imagine a little scary if you had any difficulty with balance or walking. As usual the staff were excellent though, and helped those who needed it without any fuss.
I guess this is definitely more of a cruise for those that enjoy sea days. We love just sitting around in the different areas of the ship. I loved the Island Princess although I missed having a lounge at the top front of the ship (my favorite places on the Regal and Royal). On the Island, the Horizon Court buffet has been moved to the front of the ship rather than being at the back on most ships.
I thoroughly enjoyed the pottery painting and thought it was good value. I think I paid $20 for a trivet which I then spent four hours painting. The coasters were $17.
The production shows were all excellent; the singers (four of them) were the best we had heard on any cruise. Apparently on future Hawaii cruises there will be a fourth production show which they were just learning on our cruise. We were sorry to miss that. Also be aware that the lines to see 'Tribute' which is performed inthe Universe Lounge rather than the Theatre start forming about 45 minutes before showtime. Well worth the wait if you enjoy this type of show however.
A couple questions, if you don't mind. Are there taxi's or buses at the port that could take you to The Arizona? We were thinking of just hanging around Honolulu for the day and thought maybe a car wouldn't be worth the trouble. For Volcano National park, since Hilo's time has been shortened, would it be worth trying to go there from Kona? or is it too long of a drive? Thanks for all your great information.
Thanks for a great review - just what we've been waiting for - you really sound as if you had a wonderful time. Don't know if you can help here, but we were thinking of doing Deluxe Hilo with Princess, but as the time on shore is shortened, does this trip still take place, maybe with a reduced itinerary. Also, in Maui, again with the shortened time, do Princess still do a trip morning and afternoon to the Iao Valley, and do you have any idea what the times are. Hope you can help, but ithanks again for all the info.
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Nrknits - there are taxis at Aloha Tower in Honolulu. You will be directed to a "taxi person" (do they have a special name??) as you leave the port building. They are in radio contact with all the taxis; we waited less than 5 minutes. The taxi fare to the airport was $20, so I would expect it to be somewhere around $35 maybe to the AZ memorial.
The bus system in Honolulu is supposed to be very good and very cheap, although we have never used it ourselves. They have a website at www.thebus.org . I had a look for routes and it seems the 40 and 62 stop at the memorial; you might have a walk from the port to the nearest bus stop though. I guess if it were me, I would take a taxi to the memorial since time is of the essence (the lines are enormous, though move more quickly than you would imagine) and then maybe catch a bus back into the center of Honolulu or Waikiki to look around before returning to the port.
To give you an idea, we arrived at the memorial around 9am, lined up for around 25 minutes for our entry tickets which were timed for 11:40am. The Missouri battleship is next door and would be a great way to pass the time waiting. It is fascinating (even for someone not hugely interested in war memorabilia). The Bowfin submarine would be a good alternative if you have less than an hour to wait (that is also interesting and can be seen in 30-60 minutes).
I have to be honest and say we haven't "done" Honolulu in its entirety....somehow we always say we can do it "next time"! From what I've read, I would think there would be more than enough to occupy you just wandering around. We have walked through Chinatown which was great. The shops around Aloha Tower Marketplace (at the port) are also pleasant.
For Volcanoes National Park, even with the ship leaving earlier from Kona you have plenty of time to circle the park and drive down the Chain of Craters road. I think it's a longer drive from Kona, although we were stuck without a car due to the road closure and don't know that side of the Big Island very well.
Kittycat - I'm hoping someone else will be able to help you with Princess' tours. We only got notification of the shortened times about a week before we left so had no new tour times, although they did say the tours had been rearranged. I do remember one gentleman (?!) shouting at the Tour Desk personnel apparently because he couldn't do the two tours in Maui that he had planned.
Hopefully someone on the cruise that took the tours can tell you which tours were rescheduled.
We walked about 5 block north to Beretania St. and caught the bus ($1 senior). The line was daunting but the wait was not as long as we thot. We had to check our fanny packs which was where the shuttle back to Aloha Tower left so we took it back ($4). Don't know where to catch it at the tower. It was all well worth it even tho two of us had been there before.
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Last time we were there we did the same thing as Elequieu and it worked great. There were several of us from the ship on the bus and the driver gave us words of wisdom. We were on the Star Inaugural and a Holland America ship was also in port. Some of the people on the bus were from the Holland America were ready to jump ship and go back with us. They said the food was really bad and their cabin steward was way below average and were lucky to just get their bed made up before night.
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Star Princess 2/02
Pacific Princess 9/02
Royal Princess 3/03
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Golden Princess 4/14
Royal Princess 1/15