As a child, I first heard of Hawai’i as part of a song about traveling by sea to beautiful, exotic places. I remember growing up and hearing German singer Lolita sing “Sailor” (1959), with lyrics like “his starry friends above Rio and Shanghai, Bali, and Hawai’i.” Even as a child, I longed to visit all of these exotic-sounding destinations one day.
I finally made it to Hawai’i for the first time in 2010. My husband and I were on a round-the-world trip on a StarAlliance ticket. We celebrated Christmas on Waikiki Beach and New Years on Sydney, Australia’s Bondi Beach. We returned to Hawai’i in 2014 with our then-fifteen-month-old son and my dad. They joined us again for our third trip to the islands this summer for another vacation and cruise.
Unless you reach the islands on one of the Pacific cruises from the mainland, you’ll fly in, a five-and-a-half to six-hour flight from California. Most people fly to Honolulu, served by daily direct flights from Los Angeles and San Francisco, and from other U.S., cities, plus Japan, Korea and New Zealand. Depending on your final destination, you may find it easier to fly directly to Hilo or Kona on Hawai’i, Lihue on Kaua’i, or to Kahului on Maui. There are also smaller local airports for inter-island travel, e.g. Kapulua on Maui for those heading toward the Lahaina coast. Hawaiian Airlines and their low-cost carrier Ohana connect all the islands with each other.
Hawai’i cruise on the Pride of America
Taking a Hawai’i cruise on Norwegian’s Pride of America differs a bit from your average cruise. First of all, it’s the only US-registered larger cruise vessel and thus has a mostly American crew (>75%.) I can’t quite put a finger on how that translates into the experience, but it does feel different. Americans tend to be more outgoing and open compared to international staff. They engage more with the visitors, asking more questions. They tend to express more curiosity about the guests. Personally, I enjoy that, but I get the impression that to some non-Americans it can come across as “brash” and “in your face”. But the service is top-notch.
NCL’s Pride of America Hawai’i cruise also feels different because the ship anchors for two nights of seven, on Maui and Kaua’i. This means you can come and go whenever you like, and potentially party all night off the ship.
The vessel itself offers the same restaurants you’ll recognize from other NCL ships, although some are differently named and decorated. The entire ship carries an America theme. Pride is not as big as the newer NCL ships, and does not include NCL’s upscale accommodations sanctuary, The Haven. Since the Hawai’i voyage includes no sea days, Pride also offers fewer onboard activities compared with other NCL vessels.
Pride hosts daily LGBTQ get-togethers. They meet up at the Pink Champagne bar, an unusually loud place on deck six in the atrium. We never made it since the gatherings take place at 7:30 p.m. our usual dinner time. However, we saw plenty of LGBTQ family on board. I heard the get-togethers are well-frequented.
Let me just say this: the two hoodies I brought along stayed in the suitcase. Not once was it cool enough to wear anything long-sleeved. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t bring them again, but the weather on Hawai’i is generally very tropical year-round. Shorts, tee, and flip-flops (or “slippahs” as the locals affectionally call them) are standard Hawaiian dress code.
The northern (windward) shores of the islands are green and humid. You can expect a daily downpour or drizzle while the southern shores are generally dry and sunny. There is usually some cloud coverage as the tall mountains “trap” them as they pass over the islands. This is especially true for the two “youngest” islands Maui and Hawai’i, and their super volcanos Haleakalā, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. Climbing them, in the comfort of your vehicle often takes you into clouds or fog first, before you emerge above them to the most amazing sunshine on the summit. A must-visit if you have the opportunity!
If you’re into volcanos, Hawai’i has tons to offer. While Mona Loa on the Big Island last erupted in 1984 it is still “active. More about Pele and her mood swings later on.
Hawai’i cruise as a gay couple
I can’t speak to what LGBTQ life is like for native Hawaiians, but for visitors, Hawai’i feels very liberal. Honolulu has a decent selection of gay places to visit. During our three trips, we’ve never once felt unwelcome, unwanted, whether as a couple or as a rainbow family. Quite the contrary.
I didn’t take a poll, but definitely got the impression that many LGBTQ crew serve onboard the Pride of America. Since at least seventy-five percent of the crew are American, we encountered the openness that characterizes US culture. I recall leaving one of the restaurants with my husband one day and the server telling the hostess a little bit too loudly (as we walked by): “that’s a nice piece of ass!” We don’t know whether he meant me or my husband, so we’re both taking credit. But yeah, the Pride is a ship to live out and proud, for sure.
Hawai’i and children
NCL’s kids’ club. On previous cruises, he was too young to join in the activities. This time we barely
Hawai’i is a very easy destination when you travel with keiki, as kids are called in Hawaiian. Every restaurant has kid’s menus. Sated on tropical fruit and chicken nuggets, and happily tired from beach and pool play, kids find Hawai’i delightful.
Our five-year-old loves his iPad to play games and watch YouTube on outings, but he was as fascinated by our helicopter tour to Kīlauea as we were. The only time he got bored was after watching us adults take hundreds of pictures in the botanical garden outside Hilo. On the other hand, he loved other aspects of Mother Nature, like the enormous Banyan trees growing everywhere, and looking for geckos and the fruits orchards and critters at the Kilohana plantation on Kaua’i. That train ride is a children’s favorite.
Sascha loves cruise ships. Our Hawai’i cruise marked our seventh voyage as a family. For the first time on this journey, he was old enough to appreciate NCL’s Kids’ Club. His eager participation in their activities provided us adults with unique and unheard of breathing time (we literally had to learn to entertain ourselves again), enabling us to go for dinners and have adult conversations, drinks in bars and all those things we hadn’t done in years.
With the always-open buffets, it was easy to feed him at any given time. Another bonus? He got to eat what he wanted, not just what was on the menu of the specialty restaurants us grown-ups preferred.
Food and drink
Hawai’i is known for a few things: fish/seafood, tropical fruit and obviously chicken and pork, served at every luau. In the past say eighteen months, poke has become a fad here in Europe (and from what I understand stateside, too). As we anticipated our Hawai’i cruise, we looked forward to trying out the original since ours here are adjusted to our palates.
We asked where we could get the best poke and were told by the hotel concierge to go to grocery stores. That never materialized for us, but on our first day on Kaua’i, we ended up at a place called Fish Express, on Kuhio Hwy. If you ever go to Kaua’i, don’t pass by this restaurant. Their poke is to die for! So many choices and the flavors are exquisite. I dream of having a restaurant like this around here.
Another thing that really stood out for me, in terms of cuisine, is the freshness of the fish and seafood. I travel a lot and I’m drawn to the ocean so I know my way around fish and seafood, but in many tropical waters, they tend to be smelly, even when fresh, and I just can’t do fishy fish. The waters off the coast of Hawai’i are deep and fairly cool, and their catch is amazing: ahi, ono, scallops, clams, and shrimp to name a few. Whatever you pick, you’ll love it. If you want to try a high-end restaurant, I warmly recommend Azure, at the Royal Hawaiian in Waikiki. I tried their tasting menu this time around and the best way to summarize it is: “wow!”
We got “lucky” and managed to enjoy the recent eruption when we arrived in Kona, taking a two-hour helicopter tour to see it. It was both magnificent and scary.
The eruption has since calmed down significantly. The lava flows into the ocean were no longer visible when we were on the Pride of America (8/7 evening.) Unfortunately, the ship completely dropped the ball. We heard about the reduction in activity when we were still in Honolulu. However, the bridge and crew didn’t inform anyone that there was nothing left to see, having everyone onboard frantically look for smoke or fiery clues until the ship unceremoniously turned around and sailed north-west to avoid the toxic fumes, leaving a lot of people very disappointed.
Don’t go on the cruise expecting to see deep-red volcanic flows into the ocean at night. And don’t expect NCL to update their website, either. When we arrived in Honolulu back in 2014 looking forward to this spectacle, the concierge on board informed us that they wouldn’t do a sail-by as there had been no visible lava flows into the ocean “for years”. NCL to this day haven’t updated their info, and probably won’t.
Also, as Randall Shirley noted in this blog earlier this year, the eruption took place in a tiny corner of the island of Hawai’i. Visitors in Hilo or Kona could easily overlook the eruption, with the exception of vog-warnings. The wildfires pose a bigger challenge for locals, just saying. The other islands experienced no effects. As Randall wrote here last week, this post-eruption period is actually a perfect time for a Hawai’i cruise (or other types of travel to these beautiful islands.)
A Hawai’i cruise offers gay travelers a great way to experience this dream destination. I for one will be back. Mahalo.
About the author
Hans M Hirschi still considers himself a fairly recent “cruise convert” with seven cruises under his belt, all with his husband and their son Sascha aboard NCL ships. Hirschi is the author of contemporary LGBT fiction and a Stonewall Awards nominee. His most recent novel, Return to the Land of the Morning Calm, is a feel-good story about a Korean War Veteran. His travel and cruise experiences tend to find their way into his writing. He lives with his family on a small island off the Swedish West coast in Gothenburg. Their next cruise will be over the Holidays to the Caribbean from New York on the Norwegian Gem
Web: www.hirschi.se / www.gothenburgtours.se