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Jasminedog

Pride of America Aug 6 - Very Long Positive Review

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We are a family of 2 adults, 1 fourteen-year old daughter and 1 nine-year old son that sailed on the August 6 sailing of the Pride of America, followed by a 5 night stay at the Marriott Ko Olina on Oahu. We have sailed as a family on over 14 cruises, primarily with Princess (Grand, Golden, Diamond), but also one time each on Disney, Carnival and Royal Caribbean. This was our first NCL cruise. We selected NCL because (a) it sailed Hawaii and (b) the PofAm was a new ship. I will only comment on the ship experience itself and write on topics that I was interested in hearing about while cruising these boards. I hope you future cruisers find these opinions helpful.

 

Embarkation – On Saturday from Honolulu airport, we caught a taxi directly to Aloha Tower (20 min) and embarked onto the ship at 2:30 PM without any problems. There were plenty of porters to take our bags and we went through security in the ship’s terminal. You receive the obligatory flower or shell lei, pose for a photo op, and walk onboard the ship. Since the ship was not scheduled to leave until 8:00 PM, there would have been time to shop the adjoining Aloha Tower Marketplace, explore Chinatown a few blocks north, or visit Iolani Palace a few blocks northeast. The dock is too far to visit Waikiki Beach, but it is so full of traffic and full of tourists there, we thought, “why bother?” So we opted to have buffet lunch in the Deck 11 Aloha Café and acquaint ourselves with the various public areas of this beautiful new ship. Unfortunately, our bags did not arrive until after the 4:30 PM safety drill and close to our 6:30 PM dinnertime. So we could not swim in the pools or change into any of our dinner clothes.

 

Stateroom 10118 – Our category BA stateroom was expected to be compact and this turned out true. The layout matched the color glossy NCL brochure, but was still one of the smallest staterooms we ever booked. The deck plan in the NCL brochure categorized our room as “third person occupancy available”, it actually accommodated all 4 of us … a queen size bed, fold out sleeper sofa, and a full size berth folding down out of the ceiling. At night it was very cramped, but fine for sleeping.

 

Balcony Room for 4 – A word to anyone who wants to have 4 sharing a stateroom and also want a balcony (rather than just a window or an inside stateroom) … have your TA book a balcony stateroom that has the fold down berth. Before our trip, I even had a 3-way conference call with my TA and a NCL rep to confirm that our balcony room could indeed accommodate 4 (the brochure coding is misleading, balcony staterooms for 4 do exist). The balcony was great and was used a lot as a way to get out of each other’s way each morning. Since our stateroom was on deck 10, it was one deck below the Aloha Café on deck 11 and we ate breakfast on the balcony every morning. The balcony had 1 regular chair, a small table and 1 chair that had an adjustable back to lean back on.

 

Bathroom was very tiny and very large (tall or wide) people should be forewarned, especially when using the tiny shower. It may be better to book a wheelchair accessible room in order for larger persons to shower, as ours was surprisingly small and claustrophobic. There are no bars of soap or bottles of shampoo … so bring your own. The dispensers were fine, but a hassle having to keep pressing the buttons.

 

Closet space was nicely designed and accommodated our clothing for 4 without a problem. We discovered drawers in places that we thought were simply panels and used the shelves to store folded clothes as well. Our 5 large suitcases (and our life vests) were all stored under the bed without a problem. Our room had a coffee maker, small refrigerator, safe, hair dryer and television. Our stateroom was clean and in working order. Our stewardess “Monica” was fine but we rarely saw her. We missed the personal daily interaction that we received with other cruise line room stewards.

 

Overall Dining – We took our breakfasts in the Aloha Café (6x) and Cadillac Café (1x) and we had our dinners in the freestyle dining rooms … Skyline (3x), Liberty (2x), Little Italy (2x). We tried unsuccessfully to get a teppanyaki meal in East West on our first day. As an enticement to try the specialty restaurants, our cruise newsletter advertised (in fine print) a “2-for-1” dinner special in East West and in Jefferson’s Bistro on Embarkation Day only. Did not want to pay the surcharge for Lazy J and the menu in Jefferson’s Bistro did not interest us.

 

Aloha Café breakfasts offered the same breakfast items daily (scrambled eggs, meats, fruit, breads, pancakes), but nothing cooked-to-order. Do not waste your time in Cadillac Café as service was extremely slow and the breakfast “Belgian” waffles were simply regular flat waffles and the rest of the breakfast foods we ordered were those from Aloha Cafe. We never took lunch on board ship since we were in port every day.

 

Soda Cards - Our biggest rip off was the purchase of the Soda Cards … $34 adults over 12 and $16 kids under 12. Unlike other cruises where one may spend lots of time on the ship, those who visit Hawaii and plan to be ashore during most of the day may likely only take advantage of the Soda Card during dinner and late in the evenings. It would have been much cheaper for our family of 4 (3 “adults” and 1 “child”) to purchase the sodas individually (at $1.50 a pop) rather than to purchase this overpriced option. An even better option would be to purchase your own soda at any of the ports (Wal Mart, Costco, ABC Store, 7-11) and store them in your stateroom refrigerator. We did this without any hassles from security. We do not consume wine or alcohol and therefore cannot comment about prices or port security policies.

 

Dinners in Skyline and Liberty were fine … the menus varied every night and the food was nicely presented. I would rate the meals and wait service on par with Disney and Carnival, but definitely below par to Princess IMHO. Appetizers and salads are small, so do not hesitate to try more than one of each category if your heart desires. For those who are adventurous, you will enjoy the offerings, particularly the appetizers. For those who only prefer ”meat and potatoes” you should primarily stick with the items listed under the “Always Available” section of the dinner menu and play it safe. Our Saturday night prime rib was fine and Thursday night’s lobster tails (3 of them) was good, but nothing that you would remember as particularly memorable. Desserts, on the other hand, were great … stick with the soufflés and crème brulees and sherbets and you will not go wrong. Cappuccinos are complimentary and coffees were especially good (much better than Princess).

 

Little Italy - We ate 2 nights in Little Italy and had great meals and service on both nights because there is no surcharge for this specialty restaurant. Ask for “Desiree” and you will be well taken care of. If you can ignore the snobbiness of the Hawaiian matre’d, you will have a completely enjoyable dinner experience here. The lasagna was particularly good and highly recommended (it is not your mother’s lasagna that is for sure). Booths along the windows can easily seat 6 and were especially cozy. We really liked the tiramisu and large pudding, whipped cream concoction called “zuppa” for dessert.

 

Dining Dress Codes – Every night but Tuesday night was “resort casual” wear which meant aloha shirts, polo shirts or dress shirts with pants for the guys and dresses or pant suits for the gals. A few female passengers had shorts. At the last minute of packing, I decided to ditch the dress pants, dress shoes and dress shirts and only packed black colored jeans, aloha shirts and solid black sports shoes and was perfectly fine for the entire cruise. My wife and daughter packed a couple of rayon dresses and were fine as well. Our son wore shorts to dinner with sports shoes and aloha shirts and had no problems. The only time we had a dress code “violation” was the night my daughter elected to wear short shorts to dinner in Skyline … we were seated and then inquired if this was OK and the desk attendant asked that she go back and change. This was not a problem for us since the dress policy is stated clearly at each entrance and so she went back and changed. However, if we did not ask we are not sure if they would have said anything to us (they claim they do turn away guests, but we did not see this happen first hand). The Tuesday formal optional night consisted of coats and ties for men, and dresses for women … for those that opted to dress up. I wore the same resort casual wear and did not feel out of place at all.

 

Shipboard Activities – Unlike most other cruises, onboard ship activities are minimal since most passengers are ashore in Hawaii every day. Therefore don’t count on daily bingo, daily dance lessons, culinary kitchen tours, etc. during the day because the schedule was limited to the obligatory daily art auctions and shore talks … and that was pretty much it. We used the pools daily and my kids tried the Rascals Kids Club and the Connections Teen Club.

 

Pools – The swimming pools were a disappointment here. The South Beach Pool consisted of a 15’ x 30’ pool about 5 feet deep and a separate adjoining pool with stair steps that really served as a wading pool for toddlers (which we did not use). The aft contained the even smaller “Oasis Pool” which measured about 10’ x 10’. There were 5 spas that could accommodate 10 persons, and a 6th spa connected to the Rascals Kids Club and served as their wading pool. That was the extent of the pools available for 2,144 passengers. Of course, we were in Hawaii … so the pools would not be the big draw here … still it would have been nice after a hot day of shore excursions to hang out and swim in larger pools like we experienced on the newer Princess ships. Lounges immediately by the South Beach Pool and Oasis Pool (Deck 11) were of course limited because it got very hot lounging out in the Hawaii sun and a water dip in a pool is almost necessary. Lounges on Deck 12 were more plentiful, but required a walk if one wanted a plunge in the pool.

 

NCL Shore Excursions – From Day 1, there was always a line of passengers at the desk. Do it online or call NCL and book ahead of time. I had originally pre-booked NCL excursions for every day of our cruise and the total came to over $2,400! Once onboard, I cancelled every NCL excursion except for Kona Captain Zodiac snorkel to Kealakekua Bay. In all of our cruises, this was hands-down one of the best ship-sponsored excursions our family had ever taken. Of course, you have to enjoy (a) a high speed and very bumpy and windy raft boat ride holding on only to a rope tied alongside the raft; (b) snorkel in pristine Kealakekua Bay (in far better shape than Maui’s over visited Molokini Crater); and © sailing up close to lava caves, blow holes and ancient Hawaiian holy sites along the Kona coast. The zodiac rafts are right where you tender pier side, so no shuttle bus is necessary. We tried to book Captain Zodiac on our own, but was told the ship bought out all of the available seats … therefore we opted to use NCL.

 

On Our Own Shore Excursions – having done my homework, we booked car rentals and shore excursions before leaving for vacation for the remaining shore days on our own without any problems (with the intent of canceling our NCL bookings): in Hilo rented a Thrifty car and visited Volcanoes National Park and shopped in Hilo; on Maui we rented a National car and drove to Lahaina and also hung by a secluded beach on our first day and then booked the Pacific Whale Foundation snorkel to Molokini Crater and to Lanai ($197 for 4) on our second day; Kaui rented a National car and booked the Kayak Wailua kayak and waterfall hike excursion ($170 for 4) on our first day and drove to Poipu Beach and old Koloa town on our second (early departure) day. Having a car for these locations was easy and allowed our family to see much of the same sites as offered on the NCL sponsored bus tours, but at far greater flexibility and pace. At all 3 ports, rental car shuttles from the very nearby local airports circled the cruise ship docks regularly (although it is helpful to have a cell phone to call the local offices to let them know you are waiting). Hawaii is the USA and the same road rules prevail, road conditions are very good, and overnight pier side parking is walking distance to where the PofAm is moored on Maui (free) and on Kauai ($10). It takes a bit more research, web surfing and reading a map to do things on your own, but at substantial savings.

 

Rascals Kids Club – beautifully appointed room with a TV lounge, crawl through play area, etc. The staff was very nice and encouraging, and my 14-year-old daughter loved it and my 9-year-old son hated it (after trying it out Sunday night and never went back). Due to the limits of their facility, children were separated into the following groups by age: ages 6-9, ages 10-12, and ages 13-17. My 9-year-old son thought the evening activities were too “immature” and the video game monitors were not made available for his use (the explanation given by the head counselor was that kids could do video games “at home” and therefore did not make them available in the Kids Club). Although we urged him to try the program again, he opted to either hang out with us in the shows (which he did enjoy) or stayed in our stateroom. As alternatives, there was a decent sized pay-to-use video arcade immediately above the Kids Club, two ping pong tables, two outdoor shuffle boards, board games in the Shuffles Card Room, and basketball hoops on the outdoor Sports Deck.

 

Connections Teen Club – My 14 year old daughter is typically shy and not one of the most ‘popular’ kids at her school. She nevertheless loved the Teen Club … a richly appointed room with a couple large screen TVs, soda bar and sofas arranged like an adult nightclub lounge. Each evening there were scheduled group activities and then plenty of time to sit and talk to other teens or play games (to midnight on one night and 1 AM on the last night). While she did not make any consistent or long-term friends, she reported having a great time anyway (probably because it gave her a chance to get away from mom and dad and little bro). However, each evening there were a lot of teens that apparently thought it was “cooler” to hang out in their little cliques on the stairs, in the spas, or by the pools (as is the case on every cruise). We also observed the few teenaged loners who are spotted on every cruise as well (this is a tough age of social adjustment and being locked onto a cruise ship is not for every teen IMHO).

 

Evening Shows - Evenings are primarily limited to one main event: Saturday (sail away party at pool deck); Sunday (“Dance of Life” which I thought was boring and we left early) and Kilauea lava viewing at 10 PM (great experience, but bring binoculars); Monday (Rebecca Lowe singing in concert); Tuesday (Barry Johns juggler … funny and highly entertaining); Wednesday (“America’s Beat” which was very good and better than “Dance of Life”); Thursday (“Tihati” Polynesian dancers were excellent and you can stay for a photo op afterwards) and Friday (Barry Johns juggler and Bud Anderson comedian … both were fine). Most of the shows were offered twice nightly at 7:30 and 9:30 PM. Dancing in the Mardi Gras lounge was themed nightly and started around 10:30 PM.

 

Sunday Lava Viewing – Sunday night out of Hilo offered the lava viewing from the ocean. Without binoculars, the lava looked like a thin line of brush fires as seen on a hillside at night. Up close with binoculars, you could catch glimpses of the lava hitting the ocean and spewing steam. Impressive sight, but the show cannot be guaranteed by Pele for every cruise.

 

Friday Na Pali Coast Viewing – Friday afternoon the ship leaves Nawiliwili (Kauai) at 3:30 PM for a 6:30 PM sunset view of the Na Pali coast of Kauai. This was a confusing change of schedule, but having viewed the coast at sunset, I can understand why NCL decided to make the departure change. The coastline at sunset is spectacular, there is no sign of human civilization and the green cliffs of Na Pali are like nowhere else in Hawaii. Bonus: we booked a 6:00 PM window-side booth in Little Italy on Friday in order to catch the show while we dined. The side of the ship that faces the Na Pali coast is on the same side as Little Italy and really made for a memorable final evening for our family thanks to our server “Desiree”.

 

Fitness Center – one of the largest and best-equipped facilities of any ship I have sailed. There are Cybex weight machines (about 12 stations), a free weights rack, a number of balance balls, and a large number of treadmills, recumbent bikes, regular cycles and elliptical cross trainers. Most of these cardio machines have their own television screens and headphones (bring your own and plug it in unless you want to inherit the sweat from the previous users). There is a separate room for aerobic exercises. The Santa Fe Spa is nicely appointed and has separate men and women changing rooms, each with their own dry and wet saunas, showers and lockers that were connected to the fitness center by an obscure door and hallway. The changing facilities were usually well maintained on most (but not all) days during my daily visits.

 

Ship Photos – There are the obligatory photo ops at every new port gangway, as well as the portraits offered during “Hawaiian” and “Formal” nights. The photo gallery is a long narrow corridor on Deck 5 between Jefferson’s Bistro and Skyline Restaurant. Photos for the 5” x 7” pictures cost $13 and included a bonus print of smaller images for key chains, give aways, etc. We opted to have the photo staff create a folder for our cabin so that we could store all of our pictures to the end of the cruise and then decide which we wanted to purchase. There was no “end of cruise” special or “take as many photos for one price” special offered on the PofAm … it was simply a set price policy.

 

Disembarkation was very easy and for early risers, NCL offered the option to leave the ship whenever you want on the final morning (starting at 7:30 AM) provided that you tote ALL of your baggage yourselves (they called this option “Express Walk Off”). We decided to place our bags outside of our room on Friday night and wished we opted for Express Walk Off instead since our color was nearly the last to be called ashore. Next time we will pack lighter and definitely use this convenient option since we never left the USA and therefore no customs procedures to go through like other cruises. Breakfast on disembarkation day was available in the Aloha Café, Skyline Restaurant and Cadillac Diner until 9:00 AM.

 

We waited a long time at Aloha Tower for our Hertz shuttle to pick us up, and then spent the next 5 days relaxing on the leeward side of Oahu at the great Marriott Ko Olina resort (a vacation ownership development about 45 minutes west of Honolulu). After having seen three other great islands in Hawaii, coming to Honolulu’s traffic craziness was like coming home (Los Angeles). So being on the less developed leeward coast was refreshing and relaxing.

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Thank you for a very informative detailed review. This is the reason I participate in these message boards. We are headed on POAm on Sept. 17th. We will book the snorkel excursion you suggested too. Thanks for taking the time to help us!:)

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One of the best and informative reviews I've read here. Our son joins the cast in September and we have 14 family members cruising in November. Your information is extremely helpful for our planning. thanks.

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I believe I forgot to mention that I worked out one day on the trip and loved it; it was the best equipment I have every experienced; and loved the tvs with earphones next to the bics, stairmasters, etc.

Wonderfully equipped, so don't miss it.

Also there was a separate steam room and sauna for the ladies.

Quite nice!!! Better than any other exercise facility I had seen on Disney or Celebrity. It is hard to find though; I think the way I got to it was from the 12th floor rear elevator.

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Jasminedog,

 

Thank you for that wonderful, detailed review. I'm sure it took quite some time and effort to organize and post such a full review. No doubt it will be helpful to those due to cruise on this ship soon.

 

Even though I'm not booked on this ship right now I enjoyed reading all the details and feel almost as if I experience your cruise even if it was a second hand experience for me.

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Great review loaded with extremely useful information! Thank you very much for taking the time to post it!:D

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Wow!! What a great informative review! We are going on POA Sept. 17 and you have answered some of our questions. We have been debating Captain Zodiac or Body Glove for a snorkel trip, and you have made the decision easier.

Do you think all the cabins have a coffeemaker in them? We always enjoy a early morning cup of coffee to get our eyes open. I guess we could also use room service.

Sounds like the service is getting better and better. The first reviews scared me, but I guess with anything you have to work the kinks out.

We haven't cruised with NCL before, used RCCL, Celebrity and Radisson in the past, but couldn't pass up the deal on a new ship in Hawaii. We are flying direct out of Houston, TX and doing a 2 night pre cruise stay in Honolulu.

If you think of any more great hints you can email me gzyteck@tisd.net. I've made a list of things to do and bring after reading your post.

 

Thanks again

Gayla

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Thanks jasminedog...just what we all needed a positive attutide and a great review. You helped with a few things I needed to know. Glad you had such a great time.:D

 

Just a heads up to POAM sailers..Kauai sailing the second day went from 6:00p.m. to 3:30p.m.to 3:00p.m. and now to 2:00p.m. I called today and she confirmed the 2;00p.m. but couldn't tell me much else:confused: So be careful on excursions that you might not get back in time from.

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That is the most informative cover I have seen. Many thanks. We are on the September 24 sailing.

 

A couple of questions. Are the restaurants busier early or late? Also the shows. Is it better to go to the first or second session?:)

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gzyteck - IMHO one of the best things about the Big Island is being able to snorkel places like Kealakekua Bay. We orginally booked the Body Glove trip but then switched to Captain Zodiac after we set sail, primarily because of the smaller size of the tour (Body Glove = 100 people vs Zodiac = 16 people) and because it was the only NCL excursion that visited Kealakekua. This was the only port where we did not have a rental car for a nice change of pace and was not really necessary since the main corridor of shopping was to the right of the pier. And after our excursion, we walked over to the little beach in front of the King Kamehameha Hotel to the left of the pier and swam for a couple hours before returning to the ship.

 

Do I think all the cabins have a coffeemaker in them? Stateroom 10118 was just a regular room and so my guess is that they all do. You get 2 prepacked filters of coffee (leaded and unleaded), as well as tea bags, sugar, creamer that is stocked by your steward.

 

Aussie Bruce - Are the restaurants busier early or late? The freestyle dining rooms are definitely busier after 7:00 PM. We ate around 6:00 - 6:30 PM every night and never waited at all. Meals were usually 90 min to 2 hours, depending on the wait staff.

 

If you want to reserve ahead of time, then here is my suggestion: look at your daily port plans and figure out what hour you want to realistically eat dinner and have some kind of idea which restaurants you would like to try during the week. Then after getting settled in your stateroom on Sunday, head to the far right side of the purser's desk in the Atrium and talk to the staff that makes restaurant reservations. They have all of the dinner menus in all of the restaurants for the entire cruise that you can then review and compare. As I wrote earlier, our "Freestyle Daily" newsletter offered a 2-for-1 special in East West and Jefferson's Bistro on Sunday night only, so be sure to read your newsletter once you board.

 

Is it better to go to the first or second session of the show? Sunday night (Hilo) was lava viewing at 10 PM, so the earlier evening show is better if you don't want to risk missing it. Friday evening (Kauai) Na Pali coast sailaway was at 6:30 PM and most people probably tried to get dinner afterwards (around 8:00 PM) thereby creating long dinner waits and a larger crowd at the 9:30 PM show. There were always seats available at either shows (no need to get a seat extra early), especially at the sides of the theater. Wednesday's "America's Beat" and Thursday's "Tihati" polynesian revue were the more unique shows to catch, the other nights were typical cruiseline offerings.

 

I forgot to write that the cruise was not perfect nor was it the best we ever sailed (and we have sailed a lot), but we came aboard ship knowing our room was going to be small, the food might not be as stellar, the crew was going to be a bit different, service could get spotty, and things might break down ... and then was pleasantly surprised by how we enjoyed our overall cruise experience. We are glad we tried it. Would we do it again? yes.

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Forgot to mention that as an option to the all-you-can-drink Soda Card, bar staff were also selling a book of 20 "coupons" for the same purchase price of $34. The primary advantage of the soda coupons was that the user could exchange each one for either a regular glass of soda or one of the daily non-alcoholic "smoothies of the day" (sold at $6.25 each), so this option is worth considering. Unlike the Soda Card, the 20 coupons could be shared or split amongst a family.

 

The smoothies were offered in the following sequence each day: Blueberry, Cantaloupe Melon, Mango, Papaya, Pineapple, Strawberry Banana and Banana. The alcoholic versions sold for $7.75 each.

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Aussie Bruce - go to the Roll Calls board and join our thread for the 9/24 cruise. We'd love to have you join in. Only one month to go before we sail!!!

 

Sue

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Having used NCL-POAM excursions exclusively, I cannot agree more regarding renting cars at ports! We're not very adventurous, and getting on-and-off tour buses all day was tiring and time-consuming! (I would have preferred driving to Volcanoes Nat'l Park on my own!)

 

Thank you for your review! I'm sure you've helped some people with their decisions.

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Someone said in another post that the Soda/Smoothie Coupons could only be purchased in you have teens in your group. Has that changed? I am young at heart!

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JasmineDog--

It's too easy to read and digest a very informative review, then forget (or neglect) to thank you. So I want to thank you very much for the effort you put forth in this review. It is excellent--covers so many salient points--very descriptive, and in comparing your experiences with others, fills out much that I want to know.

I'm nearly there myself; we are boarding the POA this Saturday and are in last stages of packing.

Someone asked more about coffee makers onboard: you might look at the Sticky thread, http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=205288 for a whole lot of info. I now have a 4-cup Bodum coffee press to take along. This has a glass beaker, but it is small enough to pack in its box safely. The 4-cup size makes two coffee cups for us. Normally we grind our own coffee beans just before making coffee; I had planned to have a week's worth of beans ground to a press grind (coarse) just before we left, so I tried that this week. Don't do it. No matter how you keep the grounds airtight, they still lose flavor. So I'll take along my grinder too. Hey--we coffee freaks will do anything for a really good cup! :)

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Thank you for a very interesting and informative post. DH and I are booked on the October 22 sailing along with two other couples. After reading all the bad posts, we were getting nervous. Thanks for allaying our worries and providing a great review of your trip.

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I also want to thank you for the very informative and positive review. I am in charge of booking and planning shore excursions, renting cars, etc. for four adults, so your comments have been most helpful.

 

Octocruiser (love the username), my husband, sister-in-law, and mother-in-law, and myself are booked for the Oct. 22. sailing also. Haven't run across too many on these boards who are booked for that date, although I'm sure the ship will be full!

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gzyteck - IMHO one of the best things about the Big Island is being able to snorkel places like Kealakekua Bay.

 

I totally agree with this! We used Fair Wnds for the catamaran tour to Kealakekua Bay last year (DW and I). This year my oldest son and I had already decided to do the Zodiac, since it's just us two going on this excursion. I've never snorkeled anywhere that is even close to what Kealakekua Bay has to offer.

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Jasminedog,

 

I almost forgot to ask - did the Captian Zodiac boat in Kauai meet you at the Kailua-Kona pier (where you tendered), or did they shuttle you to their pier just to the North? I'm also curious to know if in fact the tour did end just before noon (I'm looking to do something in the PM with DW and the rest of the family).

 

Thanks again for the great review!

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