Okay. As this is a cruise review I won’t go into detail about our pre or post cruise adventures. I’ll limit the commentary to the fact that we decided to break up the long flight from Boston to Hawaii with an overnight in San Francisco. Our layover was 11 ½ hours, which allowed us plenty of time to sleep. Our flight out in the morning departed at 9:00 am and had us arriving in Honolulu at 11:00 am…earlier than we could have managed flying the same day from Boston. We felt this worked for us as we arrived in Honolulu on Wednesday morning and by Friday we were feeling pretty much in sync with island time (6 hours difference from home).
I’d booked the Waikiki Marriott without knowing it was the hotel that NCL uses, but got a good rate (booked a year out) and was very pleased with the location. Being down toward the Diamondhead side of Waikiki it was a bit less congested. It was across the street from the beach, but with no other hotel blocking your view, it felt waterfront. I would choose that hotel if we stay in Waikiki again.
My final mention on the “before” is to say we did the Oahu Circle tour on Thursday figuring it was a good way to see the highlights of the island (we didn’t want to rent a car) and on Friday did a mountain biking ride through the Ka’a’awa Valley which was truly excellent. It was on the Kauloa Ranch where you got to check out where movies were filmed (Jurassic Park, Godzilla, Mighty Joe Young, Lost, etc) before hitting some great single track. It was a spectacularly breathtaking valley and however you choose to check it out I would do so (the ranch offers ATV, horse and bus tours).
I was really looking forward to the cruise and being able to unpack and stop living out of suitcases! We’ve all heard the negative reviews about NCLA and the American crew. However the reviews have improved during the last couple of years, so I went into this cruise with optimism. Frankly any cruise is bound to be better than being at work!
Saturday we got to the ship without a hitch. Walked downstairs and grabbed a cab (there are numerous shuttles that you can book to save money as an alternative). We arrived at the pier by 11:00 (we were anxious) and check in was a breeze. Here we experienced something we’d never seen before. A gentleman (from NCL) was standing in front of our seating group extolling the virtues of NCL and Freestyle, explaining how the dining worked, directing folks to menus, engaging folks and telling some humorous jokes. We thought this exceptional…especially when he introduced himself as the comedian, Tim Kaminski. I’ve never seen this level of attention pre-cruise before and it was a really great way to start the trip. Also, being that this was Hawaii, they had people passing out pamphlets with Hawaiian phrases, orchid hair picks for the women and a man and a woman dancing hula along with a band. Truly a fantastic way to begin the trip.
While still in the waiting area it was explained to us that the blowing of the conch shell means something significant is about to happen, so when I heard the blowing of the shells I knew the moment had arrived. It was time to board!
I am unfamiliar with the Pride of America, but knew that one main dining room would be open for lunch. We headed straight back and were the first ones seated at the Skyline restaurant. NCL has adopted a fixed lunch menu with a lot more choices than previous menus so we were pleased. Having a lot to choose from with increased quality is a good thing! We both enjoyed our meals and then set out to explore before we could go to our cabin at 2:00. We booked a stern balcony, cabin 9204. I’d read that these were some of the smallest cabins around…having sailed the Spirit I don’t think they’re any smaller than that.
We found (when our luggage arrived) that there was plenty of storage (didn’t use all available drawers!). I was initially dismayed at the lack of storage in the bathroom until I’d recalled reading on Cruise Critic that the PoA had a medicine chest. Sure enough one of the mirrors swung open, revealing shelves, so all was good.
This is a port intensive cruise so the Cruise Critic meet and greet is held on embarkation day after the muster drill. I have to admit I didn’t think many officers would show up. I know that embarkation day is their busiest and wouldn’t have blamed them at all for not taking time out of their crazy schedules to meet with us. I couldn’t have been more surprised. All of the senior officers were there including the Captain, Hotel Director, F&B director, Executive Chef, etc.
The Captain introduced himself to the group saying, “Hi, I’m Buz.” How cool is that? The Captain was specific in his address to us. He indicated that NCL’s Hawaii fleet of the past did have some challenges, but feel the product is now impressively refined. He told us of the challenges working with a mostly American crew but as the crew has gained experience, the service has improved.
As the meet and greet wound up, they asked us to come back on Friday to give them our feedback. They truly wanted to have an opportunity to talk with us and find out what we thought. We left the meet and greet very impressed with this initiative! They also explained some things during the meeting…like they want the Waikiki Bar, deck 13 aft to be their version of the Epic’s Spice H20, and that we wouldn’t be seeing lava. The day of the devastating earthquake in Japan, the Big Island too experienced a bit of a quake (nothing compared to Japan!). The 4.2 shake that occurred there shook up Mauna Loa and the place the lava had been escaping into the sea has been sealed. Who knows what Mother Nature will bring in the future, but for the time being there is no lava sail bye.
We went up to the Waikiki Bar for sailaway and caught a beautiful sunset as we left Honolulu. So far the islands had already enthralled us and we’d only experienced one of them.
Dinner was at the Aloha Café (buffet). DH has been addicted to the Indian fare served at NCL’s buffets ever since sailing with HD Sean W. on the Spirit back in 2009. Sean had instituted the “Taste of India” luncheon on the Spirit, showcasing the skills of their Indian chefs, and hounded us until we gave it a try. DH has been hooked ever since. Figuring that the PoA had an American crew, DH wasn’t expecting much when he saw the Indian food in the buffet. He was pleasantly surprised to find the food as good as any he’s had on any NCL ship and couldn’t wait to try it again. I had to give the pizza a go (my “go-to” food) and found it to be very, very good. Thin crust, nice amount of sauce…a couple of slices of pepperoni with a little salad hit the spot. In fact the PoA pizza may deserve a “Best in Fleet” award, a spot previously held by the Gem during her inaugural season.
We managed to go to the opening night show and am I glad I did. It was Tim the comedian performing and he is the funniest comedian we have ever seen. DH is a pretty hard sell and he was laughing so hard through Tim’s show that I thought he’d cry. I’d pay to see him perform in Vegas. NCL has truly scored with this entertainer! I did observe one thing that made me wonder if what I’d heard about the PoA and less than “par” service was true. A waiter in the theater stood there chatting up guests for a good 10 minutes before moving on and taking drink orders…hmmmmm…it was a long time to be chatting when you had a theater full of thirsty guests. I wondered if this meant we were in for slow service this week? We’d have to wait and see.
NCL Majesty 05/02, NCL Majesty 06/03, NCL Majesty 06/05 ,NCL Majesty 06/06, NCL Spirit 04/07, NCL Majesty 06/07, NCL Majesty 10/07, NCL Gem 01/08 (Mmm.. New Ship Smell), NCL Dream 5/08, NCL Dream 6/08, NCL Dawn 10/08, NCL Gem 01/09 (best cruise yet! ), NCL Pearl Alaska 6/09 (WOW!),NCL Spirit 09/09 , NCL Gem 1/10, NCL Epic 6/10...Most Excellent!, Mahalo Pride of America 4/11, NCL Star Panama Canal 10/11, NCL Spirit 2/12, NCL Sky 5/12, NCL Epic Med 10/12, Breakaway One Night from Rotterdam 4/13, Breakaway TA 4/13, NCL Star Norway & Faroe Islands 9/13, NCL Gem Eastern Caribbean 1/14, NCL Jewel...GV to Alaska! 6/14, NCL Dawn Bermuda 10/14, NCL Pearl 3/15 - Awesome Southern Caribbean Cruise!, 10/15 Escape One-Nighter, 10/15 Escape Inaugural Crossing, Celebrity Silhouette Scandinavia and Russia, 5/16, NCL Dawn Fabulous Repo 10/16, NCL Jade British Isles 05/17
256 days and counting...
Cruise on deck!
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