This review was written for cruise critic. A message board I used extensively in planning our vacation. Forgive the impersonal tone. I have edited it where I felt it was needed.
I began planning and saving for this vacation about 2 years ago. We took this vacation to celebrate our 15th anniversary and to get away from our five childern for a week. We love em, really we do.
The Tuesday prior to our departure a representative from NCL called and asked if we would be interested in an upsell to an AE Penthouse suite. We had originally booked a balcony on deck 10. After a quick discussion with my hubby, (while holding the gal on the phone, I did not want her to get away) we decided that for 500.00 more we would definately take the upsell. Thus began our adventure in the Suite Life.My sis & her hubby were then upsold to our now vacated balcony for a very miniscule amount, and we were all happy with the world.
Day #1We were picked up at our home by my hubby's cousin who so graciously had offered to take us to the airport. Our little airport is an easy five minute drive from our place, so we arrived much earlier than nessecary, but hey, we were excited!We took United to Denver than on to HNL. I must say here that this was the absolute worst part of the whole trip. I am not a big fan of flying as it is, but this experience just was the worst. They pack you in like cattle and then expect you to sit down shut up and don't ask any questions.
I am not a fussy person at all but when the fellow in front of me spent the entire trip with his head in my lap I really began to fuss. Not outloud of course, I just set there and quietly fumed to myself.
We arrived in HNL at about 4:14 pm. Our luggage was super easy to find, and then it was off to find a cab. The cab ride cost about $25 into Waikiki. In retrospect I wish I would have sprung for a limo into town. It would have been a bit more, but due to the time of day it took quite a while to get to the hotel. It wasn't an uncomfortable ride but it would have been nice to unwind a bit after the plane ride.Our luck however was about to change.
We arrived at the Wyland Waikiki to find that they were having a huge Pro Bowl Pool Party. Yikes!! Lots of people, Lots of noise! The Assistant General Manager approached us and let us know that they had indeed oversold the rooms for that night....So they would be putting us up for the night in the Penthouse!! No Kidding. It was a beautifully decorated two bedroom place with Wyland Art everywhere. Our deck was essientially the roof of the hotel. We had an amazing view of the ocean, city & mountains. We had deck on three sides of us. We had a great view of the fireworks at the Hilton that night. The decor is lovely. The location is fantastic. The beds are incredible.
Sat. 7th of Feb
We were up bright & early this morning. My sister Beth came by and curled my hair for our departure day, but due to the humidity in Waikiki it had uncurled itself by 7 a.m. We ate breakfast at the IHOP which is across the street from the Wyland. We spent most of the morning exploring The International Marketplace. There are some great deals to be found there.
Took a morning stroll on Waikiki Beach and was amazed at the number of people out that early. This is a no sleeping town. At least it seemed that way. Took several pictures of us messing around at the beach and then headed back to our penthouse for a relaxing snooze on the deck while we waited for time to go to the ship. One thing the manager told us when we first got to our room that everything there was for us to use. He said help yourself to the liquor cabinet. Well seeing as how we don't drink that little perk was wasted on us. But..... Wyland had a stash of Hagan Daaz Icecream in the kitchen freezer, which we happily indulged in with Beth & Robert.
It cost about $20 for a cab ride to the pier, but with the four us splitting the cost it was very doable. We dumped our luggage with the luggage folks at the pier and got in the first line (security). It wasn't too long of a wait even though we showed up right after noon. Due to our Penthouse upsell we bypassed the regular embarkation line and went to the Latitudes line. We were on the ship within five minutes.We were given champange glasses full of orange juice because we don't drink, but no one else greeted us or anything. We were not offended by this or anything. We just took off to explore the ship on our own. This was my first cruise ship experience so I really had no idea what to expect.
Keep in mind we didn't book the cruise for the cruise sake, but for the purpose of seeing as much of Hawaii as possible in the short amount of time we had.Our Penthouse Suite was incredible. It was the size of a very small hotel room, but for a ship's stateroom it was considered large. It had a king size bed, a dressing room and table, a full sized bathroom (although a small one). It did have a small bathtub, it was very nice to soak in after a day of sightseeing. The balcony in this room is the greatest. It held two loungers, and a table with four chairs. It made everything much more spacious. Our cabin steward introduced himself immediately. His name was Conrado and he was the best.
Our Butlers name was Sean. Sean brought us Choc. covered strawberries daily and delivered movies to us on request. We really did not use Seans services much. He is trained to wait on us hand & foot, and frankly we just didn't know what to do with all that attention. He tried not to be intrusive, but he was a nice guy overall.Our first dining experience was in the Aloha Cafe for lunch. I don't care for buffets on the mainland & the same was true for the ship. I don't like the cattle call feel of it, I prefer to be served for dinner rather than serving myself. I wait on six people day in day out all the time, on vacation I like people to wait on me at dinner. The food at the Aloha was fine, but the experience really wasn't what I wanted. This was the only time we ate there.Our ship left port right on time at 8:00. It was fun watching it pull away from the port. Next Up.....Hilo.
__________________One fantastic benefit for being in an AE Penthouse is that you get to have a set down breakfast every morning in the Lazy J cafe. Doing so allows you to get to know the Concierge James, and the Restaurant Manager Thomas as well as most of the dining staff, because they actually have time to speak with you in the morning.We really enjoyed our morning breakfast. We were allowed two guest each morning so my sister & her husband ate with us. They have a fruit & cereal buffet & a menu to order of off. It was all very yummy.
In Hilo we rented a car from Thrifty and made the long drive up to VNP. This was my least favorite of all our days. They had closed most of the trails leading out to the lava crust due to VOG. It also rained continuously. What a bummer. We went back to town and drove over to the Rainbow Falls. We had a great time swinging from the branches in the Banyon Tree Forest. So the day wasn't a total loss. Back at the ship we ate dinner at Little Italy and then went to the Captains VIP Party. I really didn't feel much like a VIP but then again how often am I going to meet the captain of a cruise ship.The water was pretty rough that night so walking about in high heals on the 13th deck was not an easy task. But I managed. I did have to explain to people that no I was not tipsy, but just slightly uncoordinated.Sleeping on the ship came easier to me than I would have thought. The movement of the waves acted as a giant cradle and I fell happily asleep by 9 pm most every night. Waking up wasn't too hard either, as I had planned each day and didn't want to miss to much of my vacation.
The next day was the first of two in Maui. The ship docked, we had our breakfast and then off to rent a car. Major point here. If you think you might be needing a car for any of the ports RESERVE IN ADVANCE. Most generally they are all reserved and getting one is a major undertaking if not done in advance. One couple attempted to board a shuttle bus and was told that a car for one day would cost $200!! Yikes! Glad that couple wasn't us. We had reserved a convertible for the two days we were in Maui. We drove THE ROAD TO HANA. Was it worth it? I don't know. Our main point in driving up was to play in the falls at Oheo Gulch, but when we got there the Rangers said No Way! Too much water coming down out of the mountains. The sceanery was very pretty, but I grew up in Western Oregon and I have seen A LOT of pretty sceanery. So for us I think we would have enjoyed an extra day on they beach near Lahina.Day two on Maui found us headed south to Lahina & West Maui. We rented two boogie boards at Mr. Frogs in Lahina and headed up the west coast to find a place to use them. We found a great beach and and boogie boarded the day away. Honestly one of my favorite days.
__________________Our big mistake in Kona was not renting a car. We really should have. Taxi fares ended up costing us over $50 for the day.We had VIP tender tickets, (I was really enjoying all this VIP stuff)! We were on the first tender off the ship & really would have had time to rent a car, but didn't because the snorkel place told us it would put us late getting there. Instead we were a good hour too early!!Anyway aside from that we had a good day. We were on the Fairwinds II which ended up going to the exact same spot as every other snorkel company. The snorkeling was fun and I really enjoyed using the view boxes because I am very near sighted and needed my glasses to enjoy the experience. The water was very clear and we spotted many interesting fish as well as a moray eel! Very cool! The water was also very cold. . The people on the Fairwinds were all very nice. The grilled hamburgers were decent. We did a little shopping in Kona & then got in line to tender back.The night before the Kona stop we attended the Chris Alpine show. We were very pleased with it. It was clean comedy & he was very funny. My husband doesn't usually like comedy shows because they tend to use a lot of foul language and such, but even he liked Chris. After the show we attended the Not so Newlywed game. It was pretty fun & entertaining. We actually set next to one of the couples when we were returning from Kona the next day. A little bit uncomfortable knowing too much info about the strangers next to you. We left Kona & headed for my favorite island Kauai.
__________________Kauai 1st DayI really enjoyed our day & 1/2 in Kauai. The people there are exceptionally friendly. We disembarked early, as usual, and were met at the dock by a gentleman giving out "Kauai Loves You" buttons. This is my favorite keepsake from our trip. Everywhere we went there the people went out of their way to be friendly to us. It was a nice place.We rented a car from Thrifty that day. Head up...Thrifty Car Rental is not located at the airport with the others. It is a completely different location. We drove to Princeville Ranch Adventures for our Zip -n- Dip. This was our funnest excursion of the trip. Our guides were Kyle & Steph and they were a blast. They made sure everyone was enjoying themselves and were always making jokes. Nobody felt rushed. Everyone in our group was very easy going. We zipped I think it was eight lines. They were all pretty long. Then we hiked down a very steep trail,(100 times steeper hiking back up), to have our lunch and do the Dip portion of the trip. The water was very brown due to excessive mountain rains, but the diehards in the group jumped in anyway. Not me. I don't like swimming in dirty water. Even if it is clean dirt. Most people in our group tipped Kyle & Steph $20 a couple, I was glad about that, they certainly earned it.
During our excursion we met a couple who own a condo on Kauai and they invited us over to visit for a bit afterwards. They were lovely and we enjoyed ourselves there also.We decided to find a beach to play on and ended up at Hana Lei Bay. We spent all afternoon & evening there. This beach was a lot of fun. Then after pulling my hubby & B-I-L from the surf we went to find something to eat. We found a place called Tiki Man Pizza. The fellow working there was by himself, but he managed to take orders, answer phones, & make pizza too. He owned the place. There was a band playing at the bar next door & they were very fun to listen to. One thing to remember when renting a car is that shuttles back to the ship stop at 7. We got there at 8. Ooops! However the nice lady at the rental desk got one of the car detailer guys to take us back to the ship. Whew! It was about a four mile walk otherwise & I was wearing a swimsuit & it is rather cool in the evenings in Kauai in winter. All in all it was a great day.
__________________Day 2 KauaiWe were picked up from the ship at about 9 am for our helicopter ride with Safari Helicopters. It was a very nice experience. Not life changing but nice. From the helicopter you get to see parts of Kauai that are so remote you wouldn't see them otherwise. Our pilot was a nice guy although I can't remember his name. We received our DVD in the mail last Saturday. It is fun to go back and relive the experience again.After our return to the ship we ate lunch in the Lazy J. A perk of Suite VIP service. Unfortunately we didnt get to stay on Kauai as long as we would have liked. We will definately vacation there in the future.End of the TripThe last day we disembarked fairly early, as we had a car reserved to explore the Northshore of Oahu. Disembarkation was simple. It is very stress free. However, lugging baggage around the airport is not fun. If we had it to do over again we would have used Easy Fly. It would have been nice to not worry about luggage and all later in the day.After renting our car we headed out to Haiwea. My sister & I did some shopping, and I got my first Shave Ice. Oh My. It was delicious. Then we started up the coastline and finally stopped at Waimea Bay, (I hope thats how its spelled). We changed into our suits and even though the weather wasn't the greatest we still had a blast playing in the surf for a few hours. We then continued our drive around the island. If you have a chance I highly recommend the drive. It is so beautiful.
After some Waikiki shopping we were off to return the rental & wait for our flight. We (as usual) got there extremely early. I read 10 chapters of my novel just waiting for time to pass. It was a good book. Our flight left at 11:30 PM. I don't care much for night flights over the ocean. We had however booked extended leg room for this United flight, so it was much more bearable than the first. The following are random things I would do the same of differently knowing what I know now.
1. I most definately would not fly United to HNL again. I would try to get a flight on Hawaiian instead.
2. I would take an upsell to a Penthouse Suite again, given the opportunity. My husband, however, after this experience said he would just save the money up and book the Penthouse Suite from the start. We really loved the room and the service. BTW we did tip our Butler & our Room Steward well at the end of the trip. They deserved it.
3. I would not make the drive to VNP unless the weather was clear. We all felt like it was a waste of time to drive up there and not get to see anything. I would instead use the time to see more of the waterfalls around Hilo.
4. I would not do the Road to Hana. Very, very long drive. Would have rather had another day at the beach.
5. Probably would have booked the Molokini snorkel excursion at Maui instead of Fairwinds at Kona. This would have freed up some beach time for Kona beaches or maybe shopping.
6. Absolutely would do Princeville Zip-n-Dip again. Well worth the time and the money.
7. Wouldn't be in such a hurry to get to the airport for home. Could have spent that time at Waikiki beach.
8. Would have scheduled more time pre cruise & post cruise for Hawaii. I think having time to adjust to the time change would really let you enjoy things more.
It was a wonderful vacation. Next time we go to Hawaii we plan to stay on Kauai and bring all five of the kids with us.