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Cruising the Hawai’ian Islands – An Aussie’s First Time
Boarding a cruise ship is always crowded. So it was in Honolulu. We were surprised that we had to remove the locks from the suitcases before boarding. The ship, the Norwegian “Pride of America”, was similar in size to the Princess ships we cruised on in Australia. So we expected to get to our cabin after boarding the ship. We boarded around 12:30 in the afternoon and entered the cabin at 5:30. We later found out that all of the crew members were American citizens, meaning they must have been paid at higher rates than crew on other cruises. Norwegian was the only cruise line allowed by US law to only cruise around the islands. Other cruise lines were required to visit at least one foreign port. This meant that fewer crew members were doing the work.
We found that the choice of free restaurants is not as extensive as at Princess. We dined mostly at their buffet restaurant and a few times at their East-West restaurant. These were fine. By Australian standards, the coffee on board the ship leaves a lot to be desired.
We found our cabin to be the best designed we’ve seen, with a better bed layout; more closet space and a better designed bathroom and shower.
The theater was more spacious and it was easier to move in and out of the seat. People could walk past you without having to stand up. However, the Mardi Gras Cabaret showroom was smaller than the Princess and the view from the back was not as good. However, during the cruise the performances in these two areas were of a very high quality.
For those who liked to walk or run to mitigate the effects of too much food, the promenade deck had a 546-foot walkway. Three times around was a mile (over 1.6 kilometers). The path was much wider than those we had seen before on other ships.
The purpose of the cruise was to visit the Hawaiian Islands. As a result, there were not enough things to do on the ship during the day if you returned early from the tour. There was only one port where tenders were needed to bring us ashore. We were impressed with how easy it was to get in and out of the tender and how spacious they were compared to others we’ve been on.
We arranged to see all the ports we visited, six in total. We discovered Roberts Tours while searching online. It turns out that the biggest tour operators in America are in their green buses. We found them to be better priced than trips organized through Norwegian Cruise Lines. In fact, by booking multiple tours through them as so called “Combo Tours” we saved at least $100 on each. Their service was excellent, always on time with an excellent driver/guides who were able to visit additional sites as time allowed. We found the guides to be very knowledgeable and we didn’t talk too much. They gave clear instructions about departure times and made good suggestions about food and so on.
Security was a very big problem. When we got back to the ship and pier, we had to show photo ID and our cruise card to even get on the pier or tender or get off the bus on the way back from the tour.
What surprised me the most about the islands on the cruise was the height the buses climbed to without realizing we were at high altitude. I found that I would look out the bus window and see an altitude sign like 2400 feet. It never felt so high. You don’t see that in Australia. Of course, we went to see the highest volcano on the islands. It was considered the highest in the world, as it is a mountain that rises from the depths of the sea. It was more than 10,000 meters above sea level. Our bus could only take us up to 9,500 feet, where we could see its huge crater and walk up to a smaller summit some 400 meters away. Walking was quite challenging due to the lack of oxygen at this height.
We saw an active volcano. Lava bubbling to the surface of the crater could be seen from the viewing platform. Later that evening, the ship sailed past another lava flow. This one was bigger and the lava flowed into the sea. This was much more spectacular.
On tours around the island you see a lot of coffee and macadamia plantations. On one plantation that had quite a variety of activities, we found pineapple ice cream. This is a treat not to be missed. The coffee plantations we visited offered coffee tasting. We saw famous surfing beaches where Pro tournaments are held. Another point we saw was the start and finish of the famous Hawaiian Iron Man triathlon.
All the islands were very green with very steep rugged mountains. There was a wet side and a dry side on each island with large differences in rainfall. One side of each island was usually the windward side, while the other side was protected from the wind by high mountains. The weather was great for us. The only time we needed jumpers was on the ship, where the air conditioning was sometimes too cold.
Each island had a highway that went around the island, usually near the beach. On our bus tours, we’ve found that you need seats on the right side of the bus to get the best view.
If you only visit Hawaii once in your life, you should include a cruise in your vacation, as well as Honolulu, Waikiki, Pearl Harbor and an island tour from Honolulu.
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