Cruising the Hawai’ian Islands – An Aussie’s First Time

Boarding a cruise ship is always a crowded affair. It was so in Honolulu. What surprised us was that we had to take the locks off our suitcases before boarding. The ship, Norwegian “Pride of America”, was a similar size to the Princess ships that we had cruised in around Australia. So we expected to get to our stateroom after boarding the ship. We boarded around 12.30pm only to enter our stateroom at 5.30pm. We found out later that the crew was all American citizens, meaning they had to be paid at higher rates than the crews on other cruise lines. Norwegian were the only cruise line allowed by American law just to cruise around the islands. Other cruise lines had to visit at least one foreign port. This meant there were fewer crew members to do the work.

We found that the selection of free restaurants was not as extensive as with Princess. We dined mostly in their buffet restaurant and a couple of times in their East-West restaurant. These were fine. By Australian standards, the coffee on board ship leaves much to be desired.

We found our stateroom was the best designed one we had seen with a better arrangement of the bed; more cupboards space and better designed bathroom and shower.

The theatre was more spacious and it was easier to move to and from your seat. People could move past you without the need for you to stand. However the Mardi Gras cabaret showroom was smaller than in Princess and the view from the rear not as good. Still, as the cruise went on, the performances in these two areas were of a high quality.

For those that liked to walk or run to wear off the effects of too much food, the promenade deck had a walkway of length 546 metres. Three times around was a mile (over 1.6 kilometres). The walkway was much wider than those we had seen previously on other ships.

The purpose of the cruise was to see the islands of Hawaii. Consequently, during the day, there was a lack of things to do on the ship if you arrived back early from a tour. There was only one port where tenders were required to take us ashore. We were impressed at how easy it was to get on and off the tender and how spacious they were compared to others we had been on.

We arranged to do a tour at each port we visited, six in all. We discovered Roberts Tours on an internet search. It turned out that they were the biggest tour operators in America in their green busses. We found them better priced than the tours organised through Norwegian Cruises Lines. In fact, by booking several tours through them as what they called “Combo Tours” we saved at least $100 each. Their service was excellent, always on time with great driver/guides who were able to go extra places when the time permitted. We found the guides very knowledgeable and didn’t talk too much. They gave clear instructions with regard to departure times and made good suggestions about food and so on.

Security was a very big issue. On returning to ship and pier, we had to show photo I. D. as well as our cruise card to even get on the pier or the tender or off the bus on returning from the tour.

The thing that surprised me the most about the islands on the cruise was the altitude that buses climbed without our realising that we were at a high altitude. I found I would look out the window of the bus and see an altitude sign like 2400 feet. We never seemed to be so high. It is not something you see in Australia. We, of course, took the tour to the highest volcano on the islands. It was reputed to be the highest on the earth because it is a mountain that rises from depths of the sea. It was over 10000 feet above sea level. Our bus was only able to take us to 9500 feet where we were able to see its huge crater and walk up to a minor peak some 400 metres. It was quite a demanding walk because of the lack of oxygen at that height.

We did see an active volcano. From the viewing platform, it was possible to see lava bubbling to the surface of the crater. Later that evening, the ship cruised past another lava flow. This was bigger and the lava was flowing into the sea. This was much more spectacular.

On the island tours, you see lots of coffee and macadamia plantations. On one plantation which had quite a variety of activities, we found pineapple ice cream. It is a pleasure not to be missed. The coffee plantations we visited allowed coffee tasting. We saw the famous surfing beaches where the Pro tournaments are held. Another spot 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 wet and a dry side of each island with a great variation in rainfall. One side of each island tended to be the windy side with the other side protected from the wind by the high mountains. For us the weather was great. The only time we needed a jumper was on board the ship where the air conditioning was sometimes too cold.

Each island had a highway which circumnavigated the island, usually close to the beach. We found on our bus tours to get the best view you needed seats on the right hand side of the bus.

If you only going to visit Hawaii once in your lifetime, you must include the cruise as part of your holiday as well as Honolulu, Waikiki, Pearl Harbour and tour around the island from Honolulu.

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A Starting Cruise for an Australian

Many Australians have a cruise initially on their “Bucket List” but are not sure it is for them. Many have heard stories of wild weather, sea sickness as well as diarrhoea. These are really events that occur less frequently than the media would have us believe.

The best way to start is to select a short cruise at a time when the weather is sure to be kind. Here in Australia the best time is in the latter half of the year. The best cruise to begin with, in my opinion, is not the three or four day sample cruises but a cruise of seven days up the Queensland coast from Brisbane or Sydney to Airlie Beach, Cairns and Port Douglas. (The cruise from Sydney will be a couple of days longer but you will call into Brisbane on the way).

If you are worried about the expense, select an interior stateroom. If you book late, you may even be able to reduce the costs further to as little as $100 a day. You don’t need to spend any money on or off the boat as all your meals and entertainment on board are part of your fare. Tipping is included in your price for cruises from Australia.

At each of the ports you visit, there are cheap shuttle buses to take you into the Airlie Beach and Cairns. At port Douglas, once you embark from the tender at the marina, it is only a short walk into town.

There are some great tours off the boat but most include many sights and animals that the average Aussie has most likely seen. The Great Barrier Reef and the Whitsundays are mostly new experiences to many Aussie’s. You can see these areas with onshore tours organised through the cruise line.

If you are trying out cruising for the first time, leaving and arriving in Brisbane is a delight with the sun setting over the hills beyond the city, passing under the huge Gateway Bridge and arriving. At dawn as the city wakes up.

In Airlie Beach, you can browse the beachfront market, gaze at the sand beach sculptures or have a cup of coffee and watch the world go by.

In Cairns, you can jump on the shuttle at Yorky’s Knob to go into Cairns city area, have lunch on the waterfront and wander among the hundreds of backpackers basking in the sun around the waterfront parks and pools.

In Port Douglas, you can visit a lovely little historical church with windows behind the altar overlooking the mouth of the creek and the open sea and then walk up town for a bit of window shopping, perhaps a purchase or two plus a coffee.

On board, there are many activities from Bingo to art lectures to quiz shows to entertainment in the atrium, bar and musical productions in the theatre. There are pools, spas, outdoor overs, and a gymnasium to mention just a few activities. You could, of course, just sit and read in many places on board.

Once last point I would make. Not all the cruise lines cater for the full range of passengers. Princess Cruises cater extremely well for the more mature passenger while P and O Cruises cater very well for the younger passengers, children included. There are many other cruise lines coming to Australia. I note these two cruise lines because they service this particular cruise regularly each year.

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