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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 is freestyle cruising so a very relaxed code for dress and dining. We do enjoy dine anytime but we also enjoy sharing a table at dinner. On Princess we always opt for this and 90% of the time, we share with two, four or even 6 other cruisers. We have found on NCL, this does not happen. On this cruise, we were never offered once, the sharing option. That said, we never experienced any wait for seats either.

The other BIG negative for us on NCL is their policy of not allowing carry on wine without a charge of $15 per bottle. We brought two bottles on and paid $30. (beware – NCL will find wine and liquor in your baggage). I do not mind the $15 cover if you bring the wine bottle to dinner BUT I object very strongly to the fee to have a bottle in your room!!

I was able to unload these comments to the officers of POA and feel I got a fair hearing. Thanks!

DW bought a soft drink sticker for $40 plus and probably only had a few soft drinks. This is such a port intensive cruise that you do not get to spend a great deal of time poolside.

By the time we finished our dinner (late eaters) most evening, we are too tired to enjoy the entertainment. This is a port intensive cruise and with the body clock leaning toward early mornings, one is pretty beat by 9:30 p.m. However, we probably attended more shows on this cruise than the last five or six. Cruise Director Silas, who we met on several occasions, has an excellent program which meets the wants of the varied ages aboard. From the combos in various bars to the single entertainers to the big shows - all were great and no problems finding seats in any of the venues. Willy K was great. Not sure if he is on every cruise but do not miss him. Also each morning there was a port briefing on each destination for 30 minutes. These things tend to be sales presentations but not in this case. The two hosts were knowledgeable and you were able to sit outside and have your first coffee at the Key West Bar before breakfast while reviewing the island maps you were given.

The Islands:
Sunday and Monday on Maui - A nice change from the hustle and bustle of Honolulu but busy none the less. We rented a car for two days to explore on our own. Used Alamo with a shuttle to airport available as we got off ship. We had been on Maui twice before so revisited some of the old haunts from the Ilo Valley, over to Lahaina then to Kanapalli and north beach area. Spent three hours in Lahaina with lunch at Bubba Gump’s. Busy little town with Celebrity cruisers also there that day. We got back to the ship and parked our car just outside the gates (no charge) for overnight. The next morning we wanted to find a beach but also explore so we left at 8:30 am and went to Makawa and Paia. They are called the cowboy and hippie towns. Could have stayed a few hours in each but just did a few pictures and moved on to the beaches at Kihea. Stopped at Makena and Wailea. Stopped a few times along this stretch for walks before ending up at Life’s a Beach for a burger and beer lunch. Made a quick stop at Walmart and returned the car for 3pm and shuttled back to ship.

Tuesday on Hilo - Another car rental and we were off to Alkara Falls by way of a scenic drive. Back to Hilo for a quick lunch at Subway and then to Volcano’s Park. We only had an hour here so paid $10 to get in and did a few pictures, walked the tunnel and back to Hilo with a quick stop at the Moana Lau Nut Factory. A little afraid that we might get held up in traffic. I would recommend a bus tour here rather than a car rental - you probably would see all we saw without the bother of getting to and from the airport for the car, gas and rental expense and park admission.

Wednesday on Kona - Always a relaxing day in this good weather and pretty town. You do not feel like you are in Hawaii but rather Kona has a Caribbean island feel. We tendered in (a little wait) at 10:30 am and just walked the town. Our camera battery ran out so back to ship for lunch, a new battery and then to the beach area to the left of the dock where a band was playing. Had some shave ice from one of the vendors. There is a Marriott Courtyard Hotel to the left of the ship and is a nice property to just relax and listen to the music. Had a quick beer in the pub near the port and got the last tender back to ship at 5 pm.

Thursday & Friday on Kauai - Another car rental. Off to explore the east and north side first. Up to Wailua and Princeville and Hanalei. Very picturesque and good driving. At Haena, which is the end for driving, we encountered a very busy beach with no parking so we made our way back. This is a hiker’s paradise. We wanted to revisit the Waimea Canyon which brought us back to Nawiliwili and to the west side of Kauai. Another 90 minutes and we arrive at the canyon look-off. There are two roads up. The much more scenic drive up and down is the first one when you get to the town (Waimea Canyon Drive). We took the second one and came down the other. It was not very busy at the Look-off at 5pm so had a chance to chat with a few folks. We actually met a couple from our home town. Small world indeed!! Back to Waimea and a stop at Jo Jo’s for a shave ice. I had read about this place on CC and had forgotten about it until we parked near it looking for refreshments. It is worth a visit and yes the shave ice served over ice cream is unique. You could spend 30 minutes reading the menu and soaking up the ambiance. A nice little find you would not get on a bus tour. On our way back to the ship DW wanted to visit Kmart and I wanted to see Costco. Costco has a great wine selection and also a fantastic Aloha wear and nuts and chocolates. BEST PRICES by far. I had forgotten my membership card at home so just went to the desk for a temporary one. When I went to fill up the car with gas (cheapest) my credit card would not work and they do not take cash so I missed out on that bargain. We were told that when Costco came to Hawaii gas prices came down significantly because of the competition. Not for us though - we finally found another station, filled up and returned the car by 8 pm.

The next day in Kauai was spent in the general vicinity of the ship. To the right of the port is a beautiful Marriott resort. We just spent a couple of hours on their property and beach. Back to the ship for lunch and the sail away at 2 pm. The ship makes its way up the Na Pali Coast during the afternoon. By 4:45 pm there is a commentary until 5:15 when the ship reaches the end. A few whales were sighted. It can be windy on deck by a spectacular sight that one would not otherwise see. The night we left Hilo was the sail by the lava flow. This was nice but not quite as the Na Pali Coast in the afternoon. Certainly these two sail bys heighten the cruise experience and is a great way to end the cruise.

Before the Na Pali Coast sail past, the ships officers had wanted to meet our small CC group for feedback on the cruise. Four of us met with 8 officers who listened and exchanged comments with us. It was a most unique experience and one that had never happened to us before. We were quite upfront about some of our disappointments but also shared the very positive things that this ship and the cruise offers. We found the officers were very visible throughout the cruise and never lacked the time to connect with us. At our second meeting were joined by NCL’s Director of Hotel Operation (Klaus). He shared some background on the new Breakaway and other NCL improvements happening on the POA in the coming months. We were privileged to have had this opportunity and thank NCL again for this. After the meeting, we did go and purchase a future cruise credit for sometime in the next four years. The new Breakaway sounds pretty good and the travel time to New York is sure better than Hawaii or Florida.

Disembarkation and Post Cruise:

We chose the late time of 9:15 since we figured our hotel room would not be ready anyway. Had an unrushed breakfast in the buffet where there was lots of room. When our color was called, we proceeded to Deck 5and walked off the ship, found our luggage and got a cab. This was all of ten minutes. No doubt the smooth exit is because you do not have to do Customs but it sure was faster than getting on.

Back to Waikiki:

Our final five days were at the Waikiki Sheraton. We had stayed at the Royal Hawaiian on our last visit so was familiar with the Sheraton Waikiki. We had a room on the 31st floor which is as high as you can go. It was a partial ocean view so you could appreciate the city and ocean. The adult pool is crowded in the daytime so if you did not get down to reserve your chair at 8 am you did not have a great area. Guests can leave their chair for up to two hours without losing it. Cards are available from the towel desk and the chairs are checked regularly. We never had a problem with a second row seat, The sunset is beautiful from the Infinity Pool. We did not eat at the hotel but usually wondered to nearby restaurants near Lewers Street. I purchased the Entertainment Book for Hawaii for about $20 before our cruise and got some deals. Used about ten coupons and actually missed a few. Had a great burger for lunch at a reasonable price at Kelly O’Neils and a 2 for 1 buffet at the Marriott. Used Tony Romas, Burger King, Life’s a Beach in Maui, Seafood House in Waikiki and others. If anyone is doing a summer cruise the books go real cheap after April and are good until November 1. There are lots of Maui deals and for the other Islands too. I found there were not a lot of deals in the various coupon books around the streets but to each his own.

We rented a car again on Sunday to complete the Circle Tour. We ended up covering some territory that we had already covered but got to a few places that were worthwhile including a few beach walks. We stopped for an hour at the Valley of the Temples Cemetery which we would not have gotten on a tour. Also drove into the Brigham Young Campus. The Polynesian Cultural Centre was closed though because it was Sunday. That evening was the finale for the Honolulu Festival so when we went to return our car we got stuck in a massive jam for 1 hour 30 minutes to travel one half mile. We would never rent again in Honolulu. That evening at 10 pm there was a huge fireworks display for 10 minutes. Caught five minutes of it when we were able to get to the pool to watch. It was one of the best fireworks displays I have ever seen.

We did a Pearl Harbour and city tour from 6 am to 11:30 on Tuesday. Paid $42 each through hotel and then realized the Entertainment Book had a two for one with Polynesian Tours. There are also some good combo tours where you get to pick three from a list for $90 per person. These are usually available from street vendors. We did this a few times on previous visits and were not disappointed. I would opt for this in the future rather than rent a car and do your own. If you do not know the shortcuts to avoid traffic or have a sense of what is worth seeing, an organized tour is best.

All in all it was a great vacation and the NCL Pride of America is a wonderful way to get to see the other islands.

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