Cruising amid the Hawaiian islands has something for all the family, writes Andrew Louis.
"We get to see sea turtles!" 10-year old daughter Emma exclaims when I announce our plans to visit Hawaii. Away from the rat-race and surrounded by beautiful tropical islands, sea turtles graze the coral reef while gently moving through the water.
Exactly how I would define a holiday in the Pacific. For the next seven days we will island hop around Hawaii on board the cruise ship, Pride of America.
As we approach the pier in Honolulu, I catch a glimpse of the ship and she is big. So big that Emma thinks at first that it is a large hotel. The numbers: 280m long, 15 decks (12 accessible by guests), a crew of 950 and can accommodate a maximum of 2700 passengers. Boarding in true Hawaiian style, we are presented with a real flower lei for the ladies and a seashell necklace for the lads.
Our stateroom suite is cosy but comes with loads of storage space. Normally on holiday I only take things out of the suitcase as I use them but there isn't space to do that. There is no need to pack again for seven days so I unpack everything into the cupboard to keep our cabin tidy and things out of the way.
We travel during the night, which helps maximise our fun time during the day. Not having to pack, check out, travel to the next island, check in, unpack again at each new island saves a lot of time and effort. Most mornings we pull back the curtains to reveal a different port through the glass doors to our balcony.
When the ship starts moving each night, I notice how stable it is. Any swaying or rocking movement is barely noticeable. I attribute this to the ship being so large and also we are moving at only 22 knots (just under 41 km/h).
Inside, it is hard to determine even which direction we are travelling. A helpful clue in orientating where we are on the ship is the schools of fish printed on the carpet. They all swim towards the front.
The Pride of America is part of the Norwegian Cruise Line family, a company big on "Freestyle Cruising", meaning you are not stuck to any schedule or itinerary. Just like the sea turtle — eat where you like, when you like.
There are 16 dining options, 12 bars and lounges, a spa and salon, fitness centre, sports court, Hollywood theatre, library, three swimming pools and six hot tubs to choose from. On our departure from port, we enjoy sitting in the hot tub at the rear of the ship while watching the sun setting over the horizon. The waiter keeps us well hydrated.
Some speciality restaurants need to be booked to ensure a seat but I find it's easily done through the NCL app and connecting to the ship's WiFi network, which is free (if you require internet access there will be a charge).
Similar to other cruises, you have plenty of shore excursions to choose from or you can do your own thing. Booking through the cruise is the easiest, most convenient option. It might cost more than booking privately, but it includes added extras, like bus rides to and from the excursion location.
Our first trip, Molokini Crater & Turtle snorkel,is run by the Pacific Whale Foundation.
These guys are great, especially if you come with kids. All the staff are trained marine biologists and there is a fun marine environment lesson prior to jumping into the water.
They are a passionate group who care about the marine environment, from the reef-safe sunscreen to one-cup-per-passenger limit.
We join others from the ship and are taken by catamaran to Molokini Crater, not far from the island of Maui, our first snorkel destination.
The wind starts to pick up and it's choppy as we approach the crater and unfortunately the waves are too big to snorkel here. We stay a few minutes for some selfie pics then it's off to the next location back on the mainland. Large swells make for an interesting but greener ride for some guests on this leg.
We spend our snorkel time on the western side of Maui. The water is clear and calmer but cooler than I was expecting. It's getting into winter, if Hawaii ever has a winter, and the water temperature feels similar to New Zealand in summer. There are wetsuit tops available for hire for US$10. Just about everyone makes the wise choice to use one.
We see plenty of the fish mentioned in our marine lesson but no turtles.
After an hour Emma starts to feel cold so we head back for a break. Just as we near the boat we hear someone behind us yell, "Turtle! I see a turtle!".
We quickly turn around and look down. A sea turtle! It's small but it's what we've been waiting to see. The mottled patterned shell camouflages well against the coral reef. You possibly wouldn't spot it if it wasn't moving.
We return back to the ship satisfied we have achieved our goal for the day.
Another popular excursion is Luau Kalamaku on Kauai. We receive a great feast and are treated to entertaining storytelling with spinning fire balls and hula dancing.
Most passengers choose to explore each new port but there is plenty to see and experience back on the ship if you don't feel like you can be bothered going ashore. On any given day there could be game shows that involve audience participation, dance parties, art auctions, hula lessons, live music, a magic show, cabaret-style song-and-dance shows where the costumes and sets are top notch, volleyball with the crew in the pool and comedy shows to name a few. Plus there is the bonus of saving your pennies by eating at one of the many complimentary restaurants.
If the kids are too cool to hang with Mum and Dad, the ship has programmes to keep them occupied while you get some much needed me time. Guppies for under 3s, Splash academy for the 3-12s and Entourage for the teens.
The majority of passengers are around the 65-plus age group but the cruise is also great for travelling with kids. On returning to our cabin after exploring the island or activities aboard, we are greeted by a different towel animal each day waiting atop our freshly made beds. On one occasion the housekeeping staff get particularly creative and set up a towel monkey — complete with googlie eyes — hanging from the ceiling, much to Emma's amusement.
The main pool area often has something going on and there is a bar at one end and a small buffet at the other. There are plenty of deck chairs to chill out on and absorb some vitamin D while watching the kids splash about.
After our week navigating the islands of Hawaii, the Pride of America has proved to us that travelling by cruise ship hasn't lost its appeal. Back in the day,it was just a way to travel internationally. But now, with most holiday makers choosing to fly, cruise ships have had to reinvent themselves into fun ships. It's more than getting from point A to point B; it's about enjoying the voyage itself. The turtle lifestyle is very appealing, if only for a week.
on Pride of America is priced from $4369pp, twin share, including return flights, transfers and one-night pre-cruise hotel accommodation.Cruise departs November 9.