Ahoy and aloha
Fun in the sun on a voyage around the Hawaiian islands
The name is unambiguous and it delivers, as they say, what’s on the label. Pride of America is a cruise ship that does week-long circle voyages from Honolulu of three of the so-called Neighbour Isles — Maui, Hawaii (or the Big Island) and Kauai.
You know you’re on a US-flagged ship when stars and stripes dominate the decor, there’s a chequerboardfloored Happy Days- style Cadillac Diner with Elvis movie clips, 1950s vinyl seats and burgers and the fine-dining restaurant goes by the name of Jefferson Bistro, complete with solemn decor devoted to the third president, including mock leather-bound volumes that echo those in his library at his historic home, Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia. When I ask a waiter why the restaurant is themed, he seems perplexed. “I guess Jefferson liked French food … you know, duck a l’orange,” he ventures. And the John Adams Coffee Bar? Was the second president not a tea-drinker, then? “Um …”
This is not sophisticated, ultra-luxurious cruising, with tux-and-taffeta occasions and legions of those trim and tan couples you see in holiday brochures. You know the pair — he’s the Mark Harmon silver fox lookalike and she’s slightly younger, all swinging ash-blonde bob and unfeasibly toned arms. Those shiny passengers are not on board, but off strolling the decks of Silversea, Crystal and Seabourn liners, where they belong. The clientele on the 2186-passenger Pride of America is here to wear aloha shirts and fake floral leis and eat big and drink large and have a good time. And so am I.
“Let’s party into your vacation!” is the announcement from cruise director Malu, signalling we are setting sail from the Port of Honolulu on Hawaii’s gateway island of Oahu. As the famous 1920s Aloha Tower beacon clock by the pier recedes into the twilight, out come tiny club sandwiches and coloured drinks for the Sail Away Party. “Dance away your Hawaiian sunset!” calls Malu.
This Norwegian Cruise Line ship, built in 2004 and refurbished in 2013, has been a resounding success with its year-round plain-sailing itinerary that has you moving by night and then, hello, there’s a new port virtually every morning. The announcements claim “almost 100 sunny hours in port” so this is destination cruising of the best kind, with two overnight stays, on Maui and Kauai, to enable dinner and further touring ashore, although most Pride of America holidaymakers seem keen to get back on board and head to the likes of the Gold Rush Saloon or the Mardi Gras Cabaret.
On the islands of Hawaii and Kauai, the ship skirts the coast to give passenger two sides, as it were, of the landscape and attractions. On the former isle, we dock at quiet little Hilo, with its timber buildings and banyan trees planted by celebrities (Babe Ruth, Cecil B DeMille), and Kona, famous for coffee plantations, waterfalls and snorkelling adventures. It is out of Kona, on a Zodiac tour organised by Sea Quest Hawaii, that we snorkel around Kealakekua Bay, where a well-maintained white obelisk marks the spot where James Cook was killed by native Hawaiians in 1779, a year after he had charted the Hawaiian isles.
On this same excursion, close to Keauhou Bay, with Pride of America anchored in the distance, we slide from the side of the Zodiac to swim with spinner dolphins. Or, more specifically, to glide; we float on clear aquamarine water and through filtered, gauzy sunlight watch the torpedo-like shapes below. Then one pirouettes up and breaks the surfaces, merrily spins like a top and plops down with what we imagine to be a contented sigh. It is sudden, circus-like and so entertaining that for days we talk of little else.
Plenty of organised tours are offered at extra cost and, at each port, there are courtesy shuttle boxes and rows of convertible Mustangs in jolly colours lined up waiting to be rented and driven mostly on belt roads that circle the islands. Some teenagers disembark with skateboards under their arms. Keen golfers lug off their gear to tackle well-regarded resort greens. Dedicated shoppers keen to hit the retail outlets at the former whaling village of Lahaina on Maui get off at Kahului Harbour with an arsenal of empty carriers ready to fill with half-price Coach handbags and discount Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger clothing.
It is not exactly cultural touring, but I don’t see one person not having a good time, ashore or aboard, including senior staff who get into the Dance Like a Norwegian parties, and even prim-looking grandmothers scooting about the deck with a plastic “traveller’s cup” of Sailor Jerry’s mai tai in hand. Multi-generational families appear to be having a hoot and I meet Australians, Hong Kong Chinese, Japanese and Scandinavian passengers who claim this is the easiest and best-value way to “do” the Hawaiian chain. The Australians are easy to identify.
The Na Pali Coast on Kauai, top; MS Pride of America, above; Limahuli Garden on Kauai, left