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Great way to sample Hawaii

Author: Tina Brennan
Date of Trip: June 2008

Took my first trip to HAWAII this month and truly saw paradise! Being raised on Miami Beach, I have traveled world-wide, seen many beautiful places- but seeing HAWAII is at the top of my list and worth every penny spent to do so!

I feel I have some great money-saving tips on how to do this economically. I spent 15 days in Hawaii total. We arrived in Honolulu 3 days prior to a cruise we were taking on NCL’s Pride of America and got a great deal on our room at the Ohana East by bidding on a ebay deal. (Approx. $79 total for 5 days and 4 nights) the deal runs through a calif. charity (sideliner’s club) and is completely legit. Corporations donate rooms to be auctioned off for their charity and if you get a good bid- as I did- you can save alot of money.

Honolulu has the most efficient public transportation system I have ever seen and it is punctual. We did get free trolly rides while staying at the Ohana along with some really nice deals with coupons they provided. But for $2 you can ride the bus over the whole island of Oahu and get a transfer back included- if you disembark. I dealt primary with Roberts Hawaii for all tours on all islands, they are much cheaper than booking tours through the ship and the same tour.

I did alot of research prior to the trip and it paid off. My # 1 choice in unusual and fun things to do in Honolulu is the Hawaii Food Tours “Hole in the wall” tour. For less than $100, you will be provided personal door to door transportation and two culinary experts to show you places and foods you could never find on your own- and you get recipes for many of the foods you try! Matthew and Kiera will share their vast knowledge of the island, it’s customs and even give you their home phone number if you need something later… truly treat you like “Ohana”. I found the culture of Hawaii to be warm and friendly. People are truly appreciative of your visit- “aloha spirit” abounds. Another must-see is Pearl Harbor and the Circle Island tour- I booked this through VIP along with airport to hotel and back and hotel to pier transports. VIP is professional and knowledgeable and will be waiting with a sign bearing your name in baggage claim when you arrive. No hunting for the spot after a 16 hour flight to get your ride to a hotel!

Upon returning to Honolulu after our 7 day cruise on the “Pride of America”, we snorkeled a Hanauma Bay and visited the Polynesian Cultural Center. The Luau- although alcohol-free was one of the best I attended. The only draw-back is NO CREDIT or ATM cards are accepted there. I would have spent alot more, if this wasn’t the case. But the day long trip (we had transportation through them to and from ) was well worth a long day. The night show after the luau is one of the best I have ever seen. Honolulu has alot of great free things to do – like movies on the beach, hula demos etc if you check the local activities.But go to the Polynesian Cultural Center for a full overview of the islands and Polynesian culture!

The NCL “Pride of America” cruise was wonderful. I am a culinary teacher and was impressed with the attention to food safety and cleaning. The variety of food was good and I feel well-thought out. I did go to some of the specialty restaurants (cover charges up to $20 PP) but used a buy one/get one coupon which made it $10 each and we had everything from Oysters Rockefeller to Creme Brule at the “Lazy J”.

I booked shore excursions with Roberts of Hawaii for 1/2 the cost of NCL’s tours and was very pleased. We did take a rental car in HILO and the Luau on Kauai through NCL and it was without problems.

Embarking and disembarking was a breeze and I like the “Freestyle” dining with no real requirements except to eat when you like. The ship was clean and our stateroom had plenty of storage and the balcony made it great for watching the NAPALI COAST on kauai. Get a portside room! Breakfast on the aft (back) of the ship every morning was wonderful. Go into the Aloha cafe buffet and simply take your food out & get refills, if needed on the aft.

To get an overview of all the islands, the cruise can’t be beat… we saw it all. I biked down Haleakala on Maui and it was wonderful to watch the sun rise within the clouds-(I used Maui Downhill for biking) we traveled the “Road to HANA”, VOLCANO NATIONAL PARK(AND THE SHIP GIVES YOU THE NIGHT TIME LAVA FLOW INTO THE OCEAN ADVANTAGE by cruising past the flow with the lights out- breath taking! Along with all the other major sites on every island.

On the ship, the entertainment was top-knotch. I especially enjoyed seeing Jeffrey Allen as Elton John and enjoyed his talents in “Pinks champagne Bar” almost every night. Another NOT TO BE MISSED thing to do! The ship’s activities(when I was not touring), were great. Something for everyone, from Hula lessons to lei making. I would have enjoyed some quick cooking lessons and more island decor on the ship- but overall, it was a excellent value and a great time.

The crew were all willing to do whatever it took to make guest happy. While this ship does not have the culinary artistry of many with ice sculptures and the like… it is a great value and very nice! People need to have realistic expectations. You don’t expect prices or quality of Saks while shopping at Walmart and NCL’s market isn’t that of Crystal or other pricer cruiselines.

Where else can you unpack once, have your food, transportation and entertainment for less than $170 per day in Hawaii?

I could do this trip “over and over again” and still be happy in doing so! With the dollar being down, now is the time to visit our state of Hawaii and it’s lovely people and experience true “Aloha Spirit”.

PS: Don’t forget to toss your final lei into the water and make a wish to return! I sure did and I hope it works!

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