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LONG Review: 2/1/2020 Pride of American cruise of Hawaii

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We’re back from a wonderful cruise on the Pride of America.

 

Background

 

DH and I are in our 60s and have taken over 20 cruises, starting over 40 years ago with our honeymoon on NCL. We’ve cruised mostly on Princess, HAL, and Celebrity. Our last NCL cruise was, unfortunately, an absolutely miserable experience 12 years ago on the old Norwegian Majesty.

 

We loved our first visit to Hawaii (Oahu) a couple of years ago and wanted to explore other Hawaiian islands. We decided to try the Pride of America because we really liked the port-intensive itinerary and heard good things about the cruise from friends who live in Hawaii. We invited DD and DSIL to join us.

 

Planning Our Cruise

 

Because the fares on this cruise are relatively expensive, we decided to get the “Sail Away” rates for oceanview cabins. With Sail Away fares, you don’t get to choose your cabin—the cruise line assigns you a cabin—but the fares were MUCH less expensive than standard fares. We didn’t need most of the perks of the standard fare: we wouldn’t need wifi since the ship is in a US port every day; we don’t drink much; we prefer to do our own thing in ports rather than take shore excursions; and we’re happy eating in the main dining room. We ended up bidding for a balcony upgrade with a bid NCL called “Good” and got one. DD and DSIL bid for a balcony at the “Fair” level and didn’t get one.

 

Before we left, I made dinner reservations for the four of us every night for 6:30 pm in the Liberty dining room. We would rather have eaten in the Starlite, which doesn’t have a dress code, but Liberty is the only one that takes reservations in advance, and we wanted the peace of mind of being able to eat when we wanted to without waiting. The Liberty dress code is basically no shorts or torn jeans, and men must wear collared shirts. (We learned onboard that the dress code is not enforced the first and last nights.) I tried making reservations through the NCL app, but it kept freezing, so I ended up calling customer service, and they were happy to make the reservations for me.

 

Our itinerary from NCL said we’d need to be on board two hours before departure from each port. That’s not correct—we needed to be on board 30 minutes before departure. That extra hour and a half makes a big difference in planning what to do in each port.

 

We were blessed with absolutely gorgeous weather on this cruise, but Hawaiian weather can be rainy, windy, and even chilly in winter. Higher elevations on the islands can be extremely windy and downright cold. When it’s cool outside, some spots inside the ship can be a bit chilly too. So pack rain gear, a warm jacket, and a sweater or hoodie for chilly spots onboard.

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Getting There and Pre-Cruise Experience

 

To make the flights from the East Coast to Hawaii easier on us, we booked two roundtrip flights: one from home to Los Angeles, and one the next day from Los Angeles to Honolulu. The fares for the two flights were pretty close to what we would have paid for roundtrip straight to Honolulu; the additional expense was a hotel near the Los Angeles airport. We stayed at the Hampton Inn LAX-El Segundo, which offered a free airport shuttle and free breakfast. We chose it because there’s a 24-hour IHOP a block away, which meant we could get a meal anytime, no matter how jet lag affected our appetites.

 

Once we arrived in Honolulu, we stayed 4 nights (3 days) at the Hilton Waikiki Beach. We knew we’d be spending the first day or two mostly relaxing in our room. So we wanted an oceanview room that we could enjoy no matter now tired we were. This Hilton is one block back from the beach, but the buildings in front are mostly low rises, so if you’re on a high floor you can have an ocean view. We splurged on an “executive” room that was not only on a high floor (35th!) but included a free breakfast in the executive lounge. The free breakfast made it a good value.

 

We were very happy with the hotel. It was built in the 1970s, so the rooms aren’t huge, but the bathroom has a great shower and tons of counter space. We got the easternmost room, which had a bigger balcony than the other rooms and the best view. (The westernmost rooms have a partially blocked view.) Note that Waikiki faces southwest, so if you get an oceanview balcony at any Waikiki hotel, it will be very pleasant in the morning but hot and sunny in the afternoon.

 

The executive lounge, where breakfast was served, as on the lower level. It was our one disappointment in the hotel. It was crowded, the décor was tired, and the food mediocre (one day the potatoes were stone cold, for example). Overall it reminded me of the breakfast room at a two-star motel.

 

The hotel has a 24-hour restaurant, MAC 24/7, that gets good reviews, so we tried it and liked it so much that we ended up eating three meals there. It has a large menu, huge portions, and a Hawaiian-diner ambiance.

 

We spent our first two days walking around Waikiki, eating, and relaxing. We spent every morning on our balcony enjoying the view and pleasant weather. One day our room wasn’t ready when we returned from our walk, so we sat by the pool for a while, which was also pleasant.

 

Our first dinner was at one of our favorite places in Waikiki: the Beach Bar at the historic Moana Surfrider hotel. It has great service, great sunset views, and great live Hawaiian music and dancing. We splurged on a steak, lobster roll, mai tai, and cream ale. The next day we had lunch at another of our favorite places: Barefoot Beach Café in Kapiolani Park. Excellent swordfish sandwich and great views. One night we had dinner with DD and DSIL—who arrived a day later than we did and stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn. We ate at Duke’s—another lovely experience, with very good food, excellent service, great sunset views, and tableside Hawaiian musicians.

 

On Friday, the day before our cruise, we rented a car for the day to show DD and DSIL the rest of Oahu. We rented from the Enterprise right in the Hilton, and the whole experience was very nice. We started with a stop at Leonard’s Bakery for malasadas (Portuguese donuts). The malasadas and service were great. The malasadas are made to order—too hot to eat right away—and the macadamia nut cream filling is very rich. But there were no legal parking spaces open anywhere nearby, so DH waited in the car while the rest of us ran in and out. Then we drove up the east coast to the North Shore, stopping at several scenic points along the way. When we got to the Banzai Pipeline, we learned that there was a major surfing competition underway. Again, it was impossible to find an open, legal parking space nearby, so DH (who is a saint) waited in the car while the rest of us jumped out to see the pipeline and competition for a few minutes. Then we continued into Haleiwa for lunch from the food trucks there. I had a huge, delicious plate lunch of shrimp with butter lemon sauce, rice and salad. After lunch we stopped at the Dole Plantation to pick up souvenirs and Dole Whips. Then DH dealt with very heavy traffic back to Honolulu.

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Boarding the Ship and Our Onboard Experience

 

In late morning, after enjoying our hotel room balcony one last time, we took an Uber to the ship. Except for a long check-in line, boarding was a very pleasant experience. There was live Hawaiian music and dancers for the early arrivals, and all passengers received a lei (flowers for women, shells for men). Boarding began at 11:45 AM. We had lunch in the Skyview dining room, then walked around the ship to get acquainted with it. Cabins were announced open on a deck-by-deck basis. We got into ours around 1:30, relaxed on our balcony, and unpacked our luggage once it arrived. One piece—DD’s backpack—didn’t arrive by 7 PM, so she checked at Guest Services and found it there with her NCL baggage tag missing. So we learned it’s a good idea to get your cruise baggage tags laminated before you leave … or buy a holder for them.

 

The ship is in very nice condition except for the windows, which are foggy. The only area I thought looked dated is the Aloha Café on Deck 11. One design flaw: The Liberty Dining Room on Deck 6 is blocked from the rest of Deck 6 by Cagney’s Steakhouse, which you can’t walk through. If the weather’s good, you can get to the Liberty via the promenade deck, but sometimes that was closed because of winds.

 

This cruise had the biggest array of onboard activities, events, and shows we’ve seen on a cruise in a long time. Unfortunately, because of the port-intensive itinerary, we were either too busy or too tired to experience most of them! We went to the welcome show on the first night and I went alone to the Polynesian show, which was terrific—highly recommended. A lot of the evening entertainment is tribute performances. We tried the Billy Joel-Elton John tribute show but ended up leaving because it wasn’t very good. We also tried going to Pink’s one night after dinner to listen to music but couldn’t find an empty seat.  We were ashore during some activities that looked like fun, such as a presentation on “How to Run a Floating Hotel.” We were glad to see a game room—newer cruise ships often don’t have them anymore, and we usually love playing board games in the evening—but again were too tired to play. No movies were shown except on cabin TVs.

 

Something we noticed and really appreciated was that there was very little upselling on this cruise. We only saw photographers when we disembarked and at portrait locations. No bartenders asked if we wanted to buy a beverage package, and no one pushed the specialty restaurants.

 

On every cruise I seek out a quiet spot where I can curl up in a comfy chair with a good book. Because of all the onboard activities, this was a challenge on the POA, but about halfway through this cruise I found it: the Wine Bar on Deck 6. A lovely place to relax in the afternoons when our balcony was too hot to enjoy.

 

One morning I needed to make a business call, and the Game Room was perfect—quiet with tables and chairs. If you’ve brought a laptop, it’s a good place to catch up on e-mail.

 

During our cruise, there were surf warnings for all the islands we visited. It wasn’t stormy—we had virtually perfect weather—but the ship definitely rocked once it left port each evening. Passengers staggered a bit as they walked, and a couple of us sometimes felt a bit queasy. So if you’re sensitive to motion sickness, it’s a good idea to pack something to deal with it. Once we were in bed, the motion was fine—we feel like we were being rocked to sleep.

 

The POA seems to attract a lot of first-time cruisers. Many passengers wore their key cards on lanyards, and we could identify NCL first-timers by the color of their key card. We heard staff explaining basic things like “As we pull out from port, you’ll feel a vibration from the engines.” And a few people did things that experienced cruisers wouldn’t. For example, someone in the balcony next to our cabin started playing a ukulele (poorly) at 8 AM, probably oblivious to the many people very close by who were still trying to sleep. And during dinner in the Liberty Dining Room, a woman a few tables away played a video—with sound—on her phone for her tablemates, loud enough to interrupt our conversation. But overall we found almost everyone we met to be very pleasant, courteous, and clearly enjoying their cruise.

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Cabins

 

Our cabin (9170) was clean and in good condition. The closet was relatively small, but we found places to store everything. The sofa—which folds out into a single bed—had no arms and wasn’t really comfortable for sitting. Our balcony had two chairs and ottomans, but it wasn’t big enough for us to use the ottomans, so we kept them tucked under the chairs. The cabin had a coffeemaker, something I’ve never seen on a cruise ship before. Every cabin has a little color-coded dial outside the door that can be set to Welcome, Do Not Disturb, Please Make up Room, and Turn Down Service Requested. That’s a lot nicer than dealing with a doorknob hangtag.

 

DD and DSIL’s cabin (4606) was virtually identical to ours except of course it didn’t have a balcony or sliding glass door. A couple of nights into the cruise, they were awakened around midnight by a very loud metallic banging outside their window. They called Guest Services, who sent a technician, who said it was the propeller (?!?). About 20 minutes after he left, the noise stopped and they were able to get back to sleep, but they lost a good bit of sleep that night.

 

A few nights later, the same thing happened, and this time DSIL recorded the noise. The technician admitted to Guest Services that the noise was really loud, and Guest Services now offered to move DD and DSIL to a different cabin, which turned out to be a balcony on Deck 10 (10108). I should point out that DD and DSIL didn’t ask to be moved; they only wanted the noise to stop. But the sleep they lost on two nights was somewhat offset by enjoying one afternoon on a balcony before the cruise ended. But don’t get Cabin 4606!

 

The balconies on Deck 10, by the way, have a big overhang from Deck 11 as well as side supports for that overhang. This makes the Deck 10 balconies a lot shadier than those on Deck 9—which we think is a huge plus—but obstructs the view a bit.

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Dining

 

We ate most of our meals in one of the main dining rooms: the Skyview Dining Room for breakfast and the Liberty Dining Room for dinner.

 

We thought almost everything we ate was very good. A couple of fish entrees were a little dry, one salmon appetizer was salty, one apple strudel ‘s crust was tough, and some of the fruit wasn’t quite ripe. But everything else was fine, and if we didn’t like something we could order something else. I thought the appetizers were more interesting than the entrees, and a couple of nights I ordered three appetizers and no entrée. Portions of appetizers, entrees, and desserts were the largest we’ve seen on cruise ships in a long time.

 

On our first night in the Liberty, our server Gennady absolutely charmed us. He reviewed the menu thoroughly, with detailed suggestions on which dishes to try and which to avoid. He also explained some ingredients that obviously some past passengers weren’t familiar with. He brought us an extra bread basket, and he offered tips on what would be happening the next day on the ship and in port. We asked the hostess if we could be seated in his section every night, and she cheerfully took care of that.

 

Breakfast in the Skyview was great—just about anything you could want—but service was slow. One morning it took 30 minutes from when we arrived til we got our food. But we found it a much more pleasant way to start the day than battling buffet crowds in the Aloha Café.

 

We went to the Aloha Café only for a couple of lunches and snacks. It had a really nice selection of lunch dishes, but when the ship was at sea it was crowded and noisy. Also…I didn’t see or hear an announcement explaining this, but when we boarded the ship was obviously under extra-strict sanitation rules. We couldn’t help ourselves to anything in the Aloha, even a plate or a glass of water. Self-serve spots were roped off, and we had to ask staff for everything. Obviously this created lines and delays. Halfway through the cruise the restriction was lifted, and the Aloha Café was more pleasant.

 

I’m an early riser, so I appreciated the Cadillac Diner being open 24 hours--I stopped by there every morning for coffee.  (The Aloha Café opens at 6 AM.) It’s also great for night owls—the Aloha Café closes at 10:30. The Cadillac Diner is really cute! One morning we ate breakfast there. It’s got a limited menu but the food was fine and there’s an Express Breakfast if you’re on a schedule. It was a nice change. I only noticed toward the end of the cruise that there’s a free jukebox on one wall with all kinds of music, not just 50s and 60s oldies.

 

On the evening we left Maui we ate dinner at East Meets West. When I told the Liberty hostess that we were cancelling our dinner reservation there, she said, “Oh, Gennady will be so sad!” We found out later that many passengers go to the luau in Kauai and all restaurants are relatively empty that night, making that a good night to try a different restaurant. Some staff including Gennady are given that night off, so we ended up missing Gennady on two nights.

 

East Meets West doesn’t take reservations, and we had about a 45-minute wait for a table. We went to the coffee bar for drinks while we were waiting, but no one asked us for our drinks order until just before our buzzer went off—one of the few instances of poor service we experienced.

 

We loved East Meets West. Our server suggested that we order one of each appetizer and share, which we did. We then asked if we could do the same thing with the entrees, and she enthusiastically agreed. She brought all four main entrees plus one of the fried rices plus one of the noodle dishes (Peking Chicken). Everything was delicious and it was fun to be able to try everything—one of the most fun meals we’ve ever had on a cruise. Definitely fit in a meal there during your cruise!

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Maui Day One

 

I found Maui frustrating to plan. DH and I love seeing beautiful scenery and wanted to do the Road to Hana, but it’s not recommended for people with back issues, which ruled me out. Our second choice was to see the beautiful beaches and coastlines of West and South Maui, but the only shore excursion to that part of the island was “Lahaina on Your Own,” which didn’t get us where we wanted to go. Renting a car for two days in port is a challenge because there’s no overnight parking at the pier.

 

Once we disembarked, our frustration continued. If you’re not on a tour, there’s no clear signage on how to leave the port area, and it’s a long roundabout walk out of the port. You would think that, with at least one cruise docking every week, Maui would have its act together better! We eventually theorized that the Maui resorts really don’t want cruise day-trippers—we think they want the cruisers shuttled off just to those spots on the island that really want passengers to visit.

 

Fortunately we found a lot of helpful info on these boards, and we had a wonderful day. We rented a car from Enterprise, which is a 15-minute walk from the ship. They close at noon on Sunday but have after-hours returns (the parking lot is not gated). We returned the car in the late afternoon and returned to rent another car the next day. When we picked up our car the first day, we were told there’s another option: we could park the car overnight for $10 at a hotel a quarter mile away. We decided to stick with our original plan and it worked out fine.

 

Once we had our car, we drove through Lahaina and all the way to the Nakalele blowhole on the north shore. Then we backtracked to Kapalua. We’ve found that parking throughout the Hawaiian islands is a challenge (wherever you go, there are few spaces and they fill quickly). In Kapalua we parked with a valet at the Ritz Carlton, intending to go to the Ritz Carlton’s Burger Shack on the coast for lunch. But first we starting walking south on Kapalua Coastal Trail, an absolutely stunning walk along the coast. If you take it, be aware that the middle half of the two-mile trail is unpaved and unshaded. Bring water and sunscreen and plan to visit early in the day before it gets too hot. It’s not difficult to walk, but you have to watch your step so you don’t stumble. As we approached Kapalua Beach, we were ready for a break, so we stopped at the Mirage resort’s outdoor bar to rehydrate. It was so pleasant, and the views were so gorgeous, that we ended up eating lunch there.

 

After lunch we finished our walk to Kapalua Beach, which we found small and crowded and therefore a little disappointing. Then we walked back to the Ritz Carlton, where we were able to watch part of the Super Bowl in the lobby lounge. The staff brought in extra TVs and turned all the chairs toward them. Watching the Super Bowl with lovely ocean breezes floating in was really special! We were really impressed with the Ritz Carlton—it’s beautiful and staff service extraordinary. We’ve added it to our bucket list for a possible future vacation splurge—on a Super Bowl weekend!

 

DD and DSIL meanwhile rented a Jeep at the airport, stopped at a Whole Foods for sandwiches, and drove to the top of Haleakala. It was a hard drive, with lots of hairpin turns, some through clouds/fog, and the summit’s high elevation made it hard to breathe up there. But the view was incredible and they were glad they made the trip.

 

Both of us bought the Gypsy self-guided tour app for our phones and loved it. Very easy to use and very interesting. We felt we were on a private tour of Maui!

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Maui Day Two

 

After a leisurely breakfast, we got bottles of water for $1 from a vendor in the cruise ship terminal, picked up our rental, and headed out again. While we considered visiting Kaanapali Beach in west Maui, we decided to see south Maui. We first stopped at Wailea, where we found plentiful free parking and walked a good portion of the four-mile Wailea Beach path, past many beautiful, manicured resorts. Then we drove to the very southwestern tip of Maui through lava fields there. Then we drove back up, stopping at Monkeypod for a very good lunch. We got back to the ship by mid-afternoon.

 

Overall we liked west Maui better than south Maui—south Maui is beautiful but more built up and upscale, which is not as much to our taste.

 

DD and DSIL, meanwhile, drove a little over half of the Road to Hana, seeing beautiful views and three rare seals playing in a cove. They had a great day too.

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Big Island - Hilo

 

Today was a big day of our cruise: we splurged on a Safari Helicopters tour for the four of us of Volcano National Park and the recent lava flows. None of us had ever been on a helicopter tour before. It was absolutely amazing and worth every penny. We saw old and new lava flows and two calderas, plus a couple of waterfalls near Hilo. Samantha, our pilot, turned the helicopter around a few times so people on both sides could see the views. We were blessed with perfect weather—barely a cloud in the sky. We felt completely safe and left the ride stunned by everything we saw.

 

After lunch in the Aloha Cafe, the four of us took a taxi to Hilo and walked around. I’d read that there was a free shuttle into Hilo, but the only shuttle we saw was a hopper bus costing $22 per person. (There’s a free shuttle to a local Walmart, but that’s not near downtown Hilo.) The taxi cost $15 including tip, and our Uber back was even less. Downtown Hilo is an interesting collection of vintage buildings, intriguing shops and galleries, and vacant storefronts. A free shuttle would really help the shops and galleries survive. Tourism is not as well developed here as on the west coast of the Big Island because all the rain makes it less appealing to tourists. We were really fortunate to have unusually beautiful weather.

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Big Island – Kailua-Kona

 

This is the only tender port on the cruise. If you leave before 7:45 AM (which we did), you can go straight to a tender. After 7:45, you must get a ticket and wait to be called. While we’re not a fan of tenders, the upside is that these disembark right in the heart of Kailua-Kona—there’s no big industrial port to get through. We walked across to an ABC store for coffee and bottles of water, then walked into the Courtyard by Marriott to pick up our Enterprise rental. We drove north through big lava fields that one map said were from 1859. We saw quite a few goats, including a group at a gas station! Today we used the Shaka self-guiding tour app. It’s very similar to the Gypsy app, but we liked the Gypsy app better—it seems more comprehensive. We stopped at Hawi, an adorable old town (with a business district just two blocks long!) in the northeast corner of the Big Island, for a Kona-coffee-and-snack break. The town has several interesting restaurants, shops, and galleries. Then we continued to the Pololu Valley Overlook, which (like just about everywhere in the Hawaiian islands) has a miniscule parking area that was packed. So I jumped out for a couple of photos while DH turned around our SUV and we headed back.

 

On the way back we stopped at the Hamakua Macadamia Nut Co. for souvenirs including macadamia pancake mix and macadamia blossom honey. Hamakua specializes in flavored macadamia nuts…including Spam-flavored! We didn’t get those.

 

We tried accessing some of the beaches north of Kailua-Kona, but either their parking lots were full or they were state parks that charged $5 to park, which we didn’t want to pay since we weren’t planning to stay. So we didn’t see any of the Big Island’s beaches. When we got back to Kailua-Kona, we returned our rental, walked down Ali’i Drive, and had a really nice casual lunch at the Kona Canoe Club in Kona Inn Shopping Village. The restaurant is right on the water with a lovely view, and the weather continued to be perfect. After lunch we headed back to the ship. At this point in the cruise we were ready to relax and catch our breath!

 

We thought Kailua-Kona was really cute. It’s not as upscale as Maui yet not tacky either. It would have been fun to spend more time browsing through all the shops. We also liked the Big Island in general. It’s less crowded, less developed, and less pricey than the other islands, and there’s a lot to see and do. We felt we were seeing more “real” Hawaii and less “tourist” Hawaii. We’re adding a possible return to the Big Island to our bucket list.

 

DD and DSIL, meanwhile, took an Uber to Kaloko-Honokohau National Historic Park north of Kailua-Kona. They saw some petroglyphs, sea turtles, and beautiful scenery before Ubering back to Kailua-Kona to walk around.

 

This evening, about an hour after the ship departed Kailua-Kona, the captain announced that we were returning to Kailua-Kona to disembark an ill passenger. This meant a late arrival in Kauai, although the captain said shore excursions would not be affected. More on that in the next post.

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Kauai Day One

 

Because of rough seas, we ended up arriving in Kauai three hours late (11 AM instead of 8 AM), and full-day shore excursions were cancelled. We had booked the Director’s Cut shore excursion (a tour of Kauai movie locations) but received a mid-morning call in our cabin that it was cancelled because of flooded roads, which we found out later were west of Hanalei on the north coast. While the staffer who called said we could visit the Shore Excursion desk to choose another shore excursion, there was nothing that appealed to us. DD and DSIL were renting a car to tour Kauai so we joined them.

 

Obviously there was a long line to disembark at 11 AM (why didn’t the ship give us tickets like they do for tenders?!?). Once we were off we Ubered to the airport to pick up the rental, then headed west to Waimea Canyon. We stopped for lunch at Kiawe Roots in Poipu—an open-air restaurant with an interesting menu including very good barbecue and some delicious bowls. It was in a very nice open shopping mall with a lot of restaurants. (Funny story: When DH and I offered to pay for the rental, DSIL said, “Oh, you can just take us to Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse (one of his favorite restaurants),” figuring there’s no way there would be one on Kauai. We pull into the mall…and there’s a Ruth’s Chris! But it was closed for lunch.)

 

The drive to Waimea Canyon is long and slow, with lots of switchbacks. But it was worth it: the view of Waimea Canyon is indeed spectacular. There was a beautiful rainbow from the waterfall’s mist. There are several overlooks, but the first one is probably the most impressive. It was VERY windy and cold at the overlooks—and drizzly at some—so bring a warm hooded jacket if you go. Traffic back to the ship was really slow because of road construction—allow plenty of time if you’re driving on Kauai.

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Kauai Day Two

 

DH and I deliberately left this morning unplanned. DH decided to stay on board, while I joined DD and DSIL on their driving tour of the west and north coasts of Kauai. Today was the only day the weather wasn’t perfect—there were more clouds and occasional rain. The upside was seeing literally too many rainbows to count! (We think about 8.) We stopped at Wailua Falls, Kilauea Lighthouse, and Hanalei Pier—all beautiful—and again used the Gypsy app guided tour to learn about the island. We saw a lot of feral chickens and roosters and learned that they arrived with the first Polynesian settlers. When coops for domestic chickens were damaged in recent hurricanes, the escaped domestic chickens and feral chickens mated and the population exploded.

 

Traffic was again really heavy going back to the ship. The whole trip out to Hanalei Bay and back, with brief stops, took about 4 ½ hours. Allow plenty of time to get back to the ship!

 

I’m embarrassed to say DH and I missed the Napali Coast. We were tired and, with the rough seas, a little queasy, so we decided to stay in our cabin and see the coast from our balcony after the ship turned around, even though we knew it would be getting dark and the view wouldn’t be as good as from the other side of the ship. We waited until almost 6:30—sunset and our dinner reservation time—and the ship still hadn’t turned around. So we went up to Deck 11 aft to see the coast for just a moment before heading to dinner. It turned out that the captain announced that, because of the rough seas, the ship wouldn’t be turning around but would instead head straight around Kauai before heading back to Honolulu. We didn’t hear her announcement because we were in our cabin the whole time. Fortunately DD and DSIL did see the whole coast and loved it. I guess DH and I just need to take this cruise again!

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Disembarkation in Honolulu and Traveling Home

 

This morning I was up at 5 AM. The Cadillac Diner was closed, but early coffee was available in the Aloha Café. People started streaming in around 6:30 AM, so get there early if you want a less crowded experience.

 

DD and DSIL had a 5 PM flight out of Honolulu, so they took the Pearl Harbor/airport shore excursion. It was a great choice because it can otherwise be a hassle to get tickets to see Pearl Harbor. We all met in the Skyline at 7 AM for one last breakfast together before they left. (Tip: While the schedule says it opens at 7, it actually opens at 6:45.)

 

DH and I had a 2:30 PM flight, so we planned our day on our own. For people without cruise-arranged transportation, the POA had the most sensible disembarkation scheduling process I’ve ever seen. A day or so in advance, color-coded luggage tags were available in the atrium. You picked up your own luggage tags for whatever time you wanted to disembark. If there are no luggage tags left for that disembarkation time, you simply chose another.

 

Since we were in no hurry, we took baggage tickets for 9 AM (the latest available time). But we were finished with breakfast and ready to disembark at 8:15, so we decided to try leaving then. We had no problems disembarking or collecting our luggage early.

 

Rather than sit for hours in the airport, we took a taxi to one of the Waikiki beachfront hotels for one last view of the ocean. We’d heard that the beachfront hotels don’t like to store luggage for people who aren’t overnight guests, but when we pulled up, we told the bellhop we wanted to get brunch at the hotel restaurant and tipped him, and he was happy to take care of our luggage. (I’m not saying here which hotel we visited because I don’t want to get the bellhops in trouble. Tip: Take off the cruise ship tag before you arrive to be more discreet.) We walked around for a while, then shared a leisurely continental breakfast at the hotel’s open-air beachfront restaurant. It was a beautiful morning and the perfect way to end our Hawaiian vacation. Around noon, we tipped the bellhop again to retrieve our luggage and took a taxi to the airport. We flew to Los Angeles, spent another night at the Hampton Inn LAX-El Segundo, then flew home the next day.

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Summary

 

This was a really nice cruise. The itinerary is terrific; the ship is in good condition; service is friendly and very good; there’s a great selection of onboard activities and entertainment; and food is very good. DH, DD, DSIL, and I all had different opinions on our favorite islands, which shows how great the itinerary is, how much we were able to see, and how well we got to know all four islands. Of course it made a big difference that we were blessed with beautiful weather for almost the entire trip.

 

This was our first cruise with no days at sea. It’s a great choice for people who want to stay active. DSIL says this was his favorite vacation ever because he saw and did so much. On the other hand, there’s literally too much to see and do in one week, and it’s easy to overdo. Pace yourself so you have time and energy to enjoy both the ship and the islands.

 

No cruise is perfect, of course. Our big disappointment was the noise outside Cabin 4606 and the time it took to resolve it, which left DD and DSIL sleep-deprived for part of their vacation. But we still had a wonderful time, and we’d recommend the POA highly to anyone who wants to explore the Hawaiian islands.

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Sunset from the Beach Bar at the Moana Surfrider in Waikiki...

2020-01-28 18.12.42.jpg

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Surfing competition at the Banzai Pipeline on the North Shore of Oahu...

 

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Edited by Suskies
Posted wrong photo

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Some of the lava flows we saw on our helicopter ride over the Big Island...

2020-02-04 10.28.25-1.jpg

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