NCL "Pride of America" Cruise


May 2016

This was cruise number 22 in the last 6-1/2 years and was our way of crossing Hawaii off of our "Bucket List".  This was our first visit to the Hawaiian islands.  Let me start by offering some overall comments before getting into the specifics.

Getting There and Back....

Our journey to Hawaii began and ended at the Philadelphia airport.  Getting there involved taking a flight to San Francisco where we had a 1-1/2 hour layover before moving on to Honolulu.  This, IMHO, is the way to go because it gave us time to stretch our legs and have lunch.  The return trip was supposed to be the same but United changed our Honolulu departure which would have given us only a 1/2 hour layover in San Francisco.... way to tight.  We called and United booked us on a 9 hour flight to Dulles where we had a 1-1/2 hour layover before taking a short flight to Philadelphia.  9 hours turned out to be a very long time for us.  It should be noted that food is not provided these days on domestic flights.  You can buy some which we chose not to do but, in hindsight, we should have.  Early on we could have purchased a larger seat for +$165/pp but this option was sold out at flight time.  In summary, I would highly recommend the mid-way layover approach if the timing can be worked out.


We flew in/out of Hawaii through Honolulu on the island of Oahu.  The cruise took us to Maui, Hawaii (referred to as "The Big Island"), and Kauai.  There were NO sea days on this cruise so we made an effort to do something every day.  An exhausting process but Hawaii is an expensive place to visit and we wanted to maximize what we saw.  Everything grows incredibly well and, if left on its own, can make the place look pretty ugly.  Much of the beauty (especially in populated areas) comes from all of this growth being controlled.  Some areas did a better job of it than others.  The mountain vistas are, without a doubt, amazingly beautiful.  Everything has to be brought in which makes it an expensive place.  Everything... food, fuel, building supplies, etc, etc.  In Honolulu we saw regular gas prices at around $2.80/gallon.  The other islands were at $3.00/gal to $3.10/gal.  For point of reference, PA prices were running around $2.35/gal.  Our cell phones are on the AT&T system and it was wonderful having coverage.  The absence of a language barrier was nice but, frankly, visiting Hawaii was to much like home.  There is something wrong about every port having a free shuttle to Wal Mart and K-Mart.  Overall, we looked at this as our one and only time for Hawaii.

The Tourists....

An interesting observation.  Honolulu, specifically Waikiki, was teaming with Asian tourists with signage and menus in multiple languages.  Asian guides were available as well.  Very few Asians were on the cruise but we met a surprising number of Australians.  Some of the Australians had even traveled to Honolulu via an 18 day Carnival cruise.  We had an especially enjoyable time with Darryl and Linda who helped us polish off a couple bottles of wine.

Shore Excursions....

Roberts Hawaii is the largest tour operator in the islands and we utilized them for most of our airport-hotel-pier-airport transportation AND for excursions we did in all of the ports (except one).  All of their drivers were informative and entertaining.  In fact, we would not have learned as much about the places visited were it not for the insight they provided.  Buses were modern and clean and schedules were adhered to.  Prices were VERY reasonable and significantly lower than the NCL excursions.  We booked a 5 excursion package for $150/pp.  One individual we met figured using NCL for the same set of excursions he booked via Roberts Hawaii would have cost about $500/pp.  We did book one NCL garden tour excursion, for our last port day, that cost us $170/pp.  BTW, this garden tour was NOT available through Roberts Hawaii so there was no choice.  

The Ship....

"Pride of America" is the only show in town since the ship is registered in the USA and can stay in US waters without having to make one stop in a foreign port.  Everyone else has to come over from the west coast and make a foreign port stop somewhere in the itinerary, usually Mexico or Canada.   Because the ship carries a USA registry, they must follow US work rules and employ 75%-80% US citizens.  This has been the source of much complaint since the "attitude" of the American worker is felt to be different.  We did NOT find this to be a problem.  We asked EVERY crew member working with us, where they were from, what brought them to the cruise ship, about the training process, and in general what has it been like working on a cruise ship.  All were willing to talk with us and all were providing service they were being paid to provide.  We did ask if they had any desire to work on another NCL ship and they all answered "no" because wages are lower on the other ships.  One person mentioned belonging to a union.  Most were "older" and had worked on the ship for several years.  Yes, there were some who were months into their first contract but I wouldn't say they were the majority by any means.  All mentioned hearing about the job at a job fair.  We found it especially interesting to hear about the one week US Coast Guard training course they all must pass before reporting for duty on the ship.  The USCG training involved fire fighting and working with life rafts in deep water.  One young lady mentioned how her "class" started with 22, 16 passed the course and only 8 went on to work on the ship.  I would like to add that this same young lady had an MBA and described working on a cruise ship as her "adventure" before settling down into a career.  She was a couple months away from completing her contract and was not planning to re-up.  Another thing to note about the ship, there is no casino.

Like previous cruises, we signed onto the Cruise Critic "Roll Call"for this cruise and began making contact with a bunch of fellow cruisers.  There was some exchange of information but no Meet & Greet organized for this cruise which we suspect was because it was so port intensive.


Be sure and click on any image for a larger view, some additional information about the image, some camera information and a satellite image of where the picture was taken.

Ohau, Honolulu, Waikiki....

A trip to Honolulu wouldn't be complete without a visit to pearl harbor. For this we took an all day bus tour organized by Robert's Hawaii.


We went off on a 2-1/2 hour "Blue Route" sightseeing trip along the coast on the Waikiki Trolly.  Several picture stops were made but really not enough time for much else. A rental car would be a better way to see the area but some of the parking areas fill up early and turned cars away.  An even better approach would be going on a Blue Hawaii Photo Tour described next.


The best part the pre-cruise time in Honolulu was spent on a Blue Hawaii Photo Tour. It was nice having time to capture some images at various locations without being rushed. Our guide, Marie, is a professional photographer and knew where to take us.


We stayed in the Waikiki Beach area and spent a lot of time walking around.



Maui Day 1....

The first island visited was Maui where we stayed tied to the pier for an overnight stay. For this day, we went off on an excursion to the IAO Valley and a Tropical Plantation. It poured the entire day day so we spent a lot of time in the pounchos we purchased aboard the ship.   


Maui Day 2....

We spent our second day on Maui on a bus tour up to the Haleakala Crater. The visitor center is at a 10,000 foot elevation It was a trip riding the bus up the road to get there with all of it's twists and turns. We got to the top and it poured so the view wasn't there for us.



Hawaii (The Big Island) Hilo....

This port was on "The Big Island" of Hawaii. We spent the entire day on a Robert's Hawaii bus tour that took us to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. This turned out to be the most enjoyable tour of all made especially interesting by our bus driver. On our own, we would not have learned as much as he provided. 


We made a quick stop at Rainbow Falls.


Hawaii (The Big Island) Kona....

Overnight the ship moved to the other side of "The Big Island", Hawaii, to Kona. Kona is a tendered port.
We had a shore excursion planned for each port and this was no exception. Two major stops on this tour. 1) St. Benedict's Church (The Painted Church) and Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Park.
St. Benedicts church, also referred to as the "Painted Church" was an interesting stop. Someone was available in the church to explain it's 116+ year history. It was VERY interesting and I was impressed at how regular house paints were used hence the reason they held up so well. 

Pu'uhonua O Honaunau NP was, back in the day, a Hawaiian Village of Refuge. It was a self guided tour but our bus driver had given us some of the history as we approached.


 Kauai Day 1....

The ship stayed at the pier overnight on Kauai. This first day on the island was a busy one for us because we spent the morning on a bus tour and then spent the evening at Smith's Luau.
We spent the morning on a short Wailua River Cruise to the Fern Grotto.


The evening was spent at Smith's Luau, considered one of the best in the area. We had some time to walk the grounds prior to dinner and the show. Several peacocks put on a show for all of us.


Kauai Day 2....

Our second day on Kauai was a short one with sailaway set for 2pm. We spent the morning on an excursion that took us on a tour of McBryde and Allerton Gardens. After sailaway, the ship cruised along the Na Pail Coast.

We spent the morning on a mini-bus tour of McBryde and Allerton Gardens. Both are National Tropical Botanical Gardens and were pretty interesting. Everything grows very well in Hawaii but clearly maintenance is the key to keeping everything looking good.


After sailaway, the ship cruised along the Na Pail Coast which has to be the most spectacular natural scenery we've ever seen. We had booked a balcony cabin for this cruise and were told to get one on the port side, we did and were able to watch from our balcony.



For the photographers among you:  Both of us now shoot with Olympus Pen Lite E-PL5 "mirrorless" interchangeable lens camera.  We geotag our images with an iPhone app and some software on an iMac computer.

Click here if all you want to do is browse through the images.... Flickr Album
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