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NCL Cruise from Feb 23 - March 2 and Waikiki Feb 19—March 7

Author: Jim David
Date of Trip: February 2013

NCL Cruise from Feb 23 - March 2 and Waikiki Feb 19—March 7

Pre cruise we spent four days at the Marriott Waikiki. We flew from Halifax via Montreal, Newark and then Honolulu. In Montreal there was a last minute change when our UA Washington connection was changed to Newark. Luckily we were one of few passengers to get on the Newark flight which connected to a Honolulu flight with only an hour delay. Luggage also made the connection although luggage for fellow travellers did not. By being an hour late, we missed meeting up with two cruise critic friends who were to meet us at the airport for a quick dinner before getting back on board their cruise on the Golden Princess which was in Honolulu that day.

Our taxi which had been booked from Royal Hawaiian Taxi were there to meet us at arrivals and we were off to the Marriott in 30 minutes. After checking in we decided to have a quick bite and found a great Italian Restaurant near the Marriott. A ceasar salad and pizza hit the spot after a long day. Hawaii is a wonderful destination but getting there and returning is a long trip for east coasters. We were up for 26 hours before finally seeing a comfortable bed. The first day in Honolulu had us up at 3am and anxious to get going.

The first day included a morning getting reconnected with the city and a city bus ride out to the Aloha Stadium for the Swap Meet. Picked up a few souvenirs and some Aloha wear at prices a bit better than Waikiki. The bus trip out was about 90 minutes so decided to spring for a shuttle back for $5 and got dropped off at our hotel.

Day 2 - Wednesday: We had decided we would rent a car for a Circle Island Tour. Picked up a good deal with Thrifty through Hawaii Discount Car Rentals (Cruise Critic Boards). We decided to take the GPS for 12.95 extra so we would have a guided commentary on our tour. We were picked up at hotel by shuttle to Thrifty and were on our way with the car by 9:30 am. About 25 minutes into the trip the weather turned wet and shortly after the GPS ceased working. It turned out the outlet in the car for charging was not working. We could not find the secondary charge which was in the storage compartment. We had maps but still found it difficult to stay on course. We managed to get to the Dole Plantation followed by the town of Haleiwa. Found a Shrimp Truck for lunch but the rain showers continued off and on each hour which was having a dampening effect on the tour. After leaving Haleiwa we headed to a deserted beach somewhere near the Dillingham Airbase (Kaena Point). With no GPS, and bad weather, we decided to abort the trip and head back to the city. Around Pearl City we got stuck in a traffic jam for about two hours so were anxious to ditch the car and call it a day. A shuttle back to the Hotel and drinks by the pool were a welcome relief. Again heavy rain on the pool deck had us ducking for cover.

Day 3 - Friday: We spent near the beach, zoo and aquarium. At 3 pm had our Cruise Critic meeting (all six of us) at the Yardhouse. Met friends from NS who were on their way to Australia and had dinner at 7 pm at the Outback near the Hawaiian Prince.

Day 4 - Saturday: Up at 4:30 am and packed suitcases, St. Augustine’s RC Church was across from Marriott so we attended 7am Mass. Breakfast at the International Market. Pancakes for $1, Not on menu. Just ask. This was the best deal in Waikiki. Did some pics at the statue and a final wave at the webcam before heading back to hotel for shuttle to Port. We had phoned a shuttle service from a handout on street. Waited from time of 11:30 am to 12:30. No show from shuttle so called a taxi and made the trip in 20 minutes and a $25 fare. By trying to save $10, we ended up having a later than desired arrival and got caught in a busy embarkation. Sometimes trying to save a few dollars is not the best decision.

Finally arrived at NCL embarkation at 1 pm. Long line and wait to get on ship. 1hour, 30 minutes. Must have been peak time. It was probably the longest embarkation we ever experienced and no doubt due to the time we arrived and the screw-up with our shuttle.

Impressions of ship - very positive. We liked the uncrowded feel of the ship. Very seldom if any lines anywhere and the cruise was sold out. The main entry area of the ship is welcoming with great seating areas at the Pink Champagne Bar, Wine Bar and Coffee Bar. The fact there is no casino mid ship is a welcome change. The white winding staircase and Great Seal on the marble floor makes an impressive gathering space.

Skyline DR was closed so we went to Buffet and enjoyed the first meal of our cruise. More about food and service later.

Muster drill was at 4:30 pm in Hollywood Theatre. It was conducted quickly and efficiently. Back to our room to begin unpacking before our CC gathering at 5:30 pm. Our CC group was the smallest we have ever experienced in cruising. Seven of us at the gathering with more NCL officers than CC members. Full marks to NCL for going ahead with this small gathering and giving us full attention for about 40 minutes. Not only did we get a very up close and personal from the top crew, we had calls throughout our cruise and several treats delivered to our cabin. And we had an invitation to meet again on Day 6 to give feedback. More on this later.

Final unpacking before the Sail Away. Another huge shower and the decks cleared quickly. The first four days we were in Honolulu was very much a combo of rain and sun.

Food impressions:
Dinner in the Skyline on Night 1 was great. Had the lamb shank with spring roll and key lime pie. DW had rosemary chicken and the first of many spring rolls which are on the Classic Menu each day. Very happy with first meal.
We only had one lunch time meal at buffet but had six breakfasts there. Found their breakfast selection typical of most cruises with omelette station very efficient and friendly. Very little wait and no problem finding a table even on very busy days. Thumbs up to buffet breakfast on Pride of America.

We had one breakfast in Skyline and one lunch. Breakfast was ok however lunch was not. Service was very slow, taking well over an hour to be served and food was just warm. Waiter was very apologetic and kept giving us the - we will have your food shortly update. We ate in Liberty once and the food and service was better than Skyline but does not measure up to Princess in terms of service and quality. However POA was an improvement over two prior NCL cruises on Pride of Aloha seven years ago and the NCL Sun last year.

We had three dinners in the specialty restaurants. Enjoyed Jefferson’s the best overall with fantastic lamb and a side of duck. The escargot were not as hot as they could be but only get them when cruising as with lamb and duck so took advantage of this. Service was top notch with Byron, who we met when we toured the ship the first day. He really enjoys his job and shows it.

Our second restaurant experience was Teppanakyi which we had booked prior to the cruise. There appeared to be openings every evening but from missing it last year on the Sun, we decided to book early. It did not disappoint either. You are seated with at least 9 or ten others around a hot grill on which your food is cooked. From looking at the menu, we thought we would leave here hungry but not so. First was a miso soup and a small salad. Decided to have a Japanese beer as a chaser. The combos for the grill included tenderloin, chicken, pork, shrimp, scallops and lobster. Most at the table had the shrimp and tenderloin combo. I had shrimp and scallops. I did have a taste of the tenderloin from DW. Full marks to the quality of the tenderloin and scallops. I thought the shrimp were a tad overcooked but were very tasty and none went uneaten. Veggies and rice were also prepared before the mains and served and eaten before the mains as well. Desert was unimpressive perhaps because we were so full!! A very entertaining show and thanks to our chef and wait staff. Both great guys.

Lazy J’s was our third choice and the least liked of the three specially restaurants. Wait staff (from Jamaica were great guys) and the best of the experience besides the wine. Oysters Rockafeller were only warm and had a bit of an off taste and the T-bone steak was not as thick and tasty as I was expecting. Perhaps because it was the last night of the cruise and we were getting the last of the choice steaks. Enjoyed the meal but it did not measure up to the experience on the Sun last year nor any of the Princess Steakhouses. Iff I do over, I would have gone back to Jefferson’s.

More comments about dining:
Had to send back swordfish (Chef’s Suggestion) in Skyline one evening and another evening had the Asian beef ribs. Although tasty, they were not real hot. The encrusted tilapia was tasty but presentation not great. I also found the deserts mediocre. Food is such a personal and individual thing with folks and these are my impressions and may not be indicative of the majority. We enjoy cruising and food is probably one of the top reasons for taking this type of vacation. So we tend to be a little more critical when you compare different ships and lines.

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