Norwegian Cruise Line Makes Hawaii Easy for Families

By Nancy Schretter, Editor

My husband, Jim, is a resort vacation addict. As a self-acknowledged workaholic, he enjoys the sybaritic freedom and relaxation that upscale resorts offer. While on vacation, Jim likes to eat whenever he wants, lounge on the beach at his leisure, and savor his independence. As a result, regimented cruises have never been his vacation option of choice. He hated the notion of fixed dinner times, formal nights, limited dining venues, and long lines.

All of this changed after our family's cruise in Hawaii aboard the Norwegian Star. Norwegian Cruise Line's "Freestyle Cruising" makes cruising easy and enjoyable for independent vacationers who enjoy the freedom of eating when and where they choose. This is particularly excellent for families whose dining needs and interests can change on a daily basis. The family may wish to dine early at a more formal restaurant during a day at sea, while opting for a late casual dinner after a long day in port. It's a relaxing experience, perfect for those who crave flexibility, variety, and the freedom to choose. As a result of our Norwegian experience, my husband has become a cruise convert.

In addition to making cruising easy, Norwegian has made visiting multiple Hawaiian Islands an enjoyable and relaxing experience for families. Plane hopping is with children in tow is no longer necessary. Simply board the ship, unpack your gear, and let the magic begin as you are effortlessly transported from one island to the next. The spirit and culture of the islands welcomes guests as soon as they step onboard, and days and nights at sea are just as memorable as those spent on shore. Norwegian's Hawaiian cruise is a wonderful family experience enjoyed by parents and children alike.

Family-friendly ships

The Norwegian Star is a great ship for families, and we understand that it is being used as a model for future NCL ships. The cabins on the ship are spacious, and most feature a sliding door between the toilet and sink areas perfect for families needing to crowd multiple people into the bathroom before dinner. The Oasis pool area was a hit with our kids, who loved the large water slides and terraced areas for sunbathing. The Splash Down kids' pool and play area is exceptional, and I hope this will be continued on future ships. The area consists of a playground, two large waterslides, a good-sized wading pool, a kids-only whirlpool, and a small slide for the little ones to enjoy. The nearby indoor Video Zone with its 25 video games is particularly popular with the pre-teen and teen set. The Kids Center onboard the Star is a child's dream, complete with a movie theater, computer area, playroom, arts & crafts area, jungle gym and nursery. Teens have their own Teen Club, featuring a disco and a movie area. Other family favorites include the Broadway-style shows, the Sports Deck with volleyball/basketball courts, golf driving range nets, shuffleboard, paddle tennis and horseshoes; the Karaoke Circus entertainment area, the well-equipped gym (available for older teens), and the jogging track.

Freestyle dining is a natural fit for families, and the parents on our cruise raved about this new option. Ten restaurants are available on the Norwegian Star. Some of these carry a small per person surcharge, but in most cases, the variety and quality of the food make it well worth the additional cost. Reservations are needed for some of the restaurants, but there are also a number of buffet and walk-up options available. These include the two main dining rooms, Versailles and Aqua, which have excellent food. The large variety of dining options tends to eliminate crowd and lines, and the freestyle dining approach allows for flexible eating schedules. Families with small children can eat as early as 5:30 p.m. in a number of the restaurants, and the Blue Lagoon is open for 24-hour dining as well. Our favorite restaurants onboard the Norwegian Star were Endless Summer, a Hawaiian-themed restaurant; the SoHo Room, a high-end restaurant with a live lobster tank and fabulous a la carte entree choices; and the Benihana-style Ginza restaurant. Our kids also liked the pretzels available at the Bier Garten, before dinner tapas at Las Ramblas, and the ice cream cones at Sprinkles. The Market Cafe on Deck 12 also features a Kids Cafe with a kids-size buffet and little tables and chairs. We never took advantage of room service while onboard the Star (too many other fun options to try), but it is always available.

Freestyle cruising tends to eliminate some of the stuffiness and "cattle car" feelings some people previously associated with cruising. On the Norwegian Star, guests eat when and where they please. Formal nights are optional, so there is no need to bring fancy clothes for the entire family. Casual elegance is the name of the game -- a great fit with both the family market and the Hawaiian destination.

At Kids' Crew Kids Rule

Norwegian's Kids' Crew program is divided into 4 age groups: 2 to 5 years of age; 6 to 9 years old; 10 to 12 years; and 13 to 17 years of age. Kids programs are a high priority on this ship, and families seemed very happy with the programs. Part of the reason the Kids' Crew program got such high marks may be due to the facilities on the Norwegian Star. The rooms are particularly large and well organized, and there is lots of room for kids to spread out.

The 2 to 5 year olds have most of their activities in a small room off the main Kids Crew area. This room has two small beds for kids who need an afternoon nap or just some quiet time. Activities for the 2 to 5 year olds include parades, face painting, games, arts and crafts, an un-birthday party, and other events. According to parents of kids in this age group, the counselors are warm and caring, and know how to deal well with little ones. Kids in diapers can take part in the Kids' Crew program, but counselors do not change diapers. Parents are given beepers, and will be called if their children's diapers need to be changed. As a result, at least one parent or adult must be on board and available to assist when their child in diapers is attending the Kids' Crew program. This eliminates the possibility of both parents or all adult relatives leaving the ship on a shore excursion when a child in diapers is in the youth program.

The largest group in the Kids' Crew program is generally the 6 to 9 year olds, and they use the main room for their activities. The main Kids' Crew room on the Norwegian Star is brightly decorated and has a soft padded area for kids to play. There is also a separate movie room for the children to enjoy. During our cruise, "Harry Potter" activities seemed to be the order of the day for this age group. They were grouped into "houses" similar to those in the Harry Potter movie, watched the Harry Potter movie, made Harry Potter crafts, and had a Harry Potter evening event. The activities were definitely a hit, as was the secret agent night. Some Hawaiian-themed activities were also offered.

The kids in the 10 to 12 year old group spent much of their time in the teen disco during the day and in the early evening, and also participated in a number of activities and games on the Sports Deck. Activities included scavenger hunts, sports games, and a youth talent show for children under 13. On selected nights, the group also attended some of the evening shows together.

Teens have a wonderful time on the Norwegian Star, due in large part to the ship's excellent facilities. The Norwegian Star features a dedicated teen disco, and teen activities take place in that area starting at 10 p.m. Teen activities during the daytime take place in other areas around the ship. Teen activities included a teen hot tub party, evening disco parties, karaoke, and TV-style events such as the "Battle of the Sexes." In addition, teens tended to participate in some of the Hawaiian craft sessions offered by the ship's "Hawaiian Ambassador," such as making flower leis.

The Best of Hawaii

A Hawaiian cruise is a particularly good choice for first-time visitors to the islands, as it allows vacationers to experience several islands on one trip and then return to their favorites for a longer stay. It's a wonderful way to learn more about the best that Hawaii has to offer. Norwegian Cruise Lines does this cruise right with its beautiful ship, friendly crew, and family-oriented activities. Our family discovered so many beautiful places on each island, and we will definitely return to Hawaii again.

The Norwegian Star offers a number of family-friendly shore excursions on each island, and rental cars are available at each port as well. If you tend to be an independent traveler or have a large family, a rental car is a good choice. It allows for freedom of exploration, and can cut down on the cost of family shore excursions as well. In addition, Norwegian Cruise Lines offers opportunities for an extended pre- or post-cruise stay in Oahu. We stayed at the Hilton Hawaiian Village for several nights before our cruise, and found it to be an excellent family-friendly option. This large beachfront resort offers beautiful views of Diamond Head and Waikiki Beach, and the penguins are a hit with the kids. Don't miss the sunsets, they provide a stunning backdrop for family pictures and unforgettable Hawaiian vacation memories.

2005 Update: Norwegian's freestyle cruising in Hawaii has become so popular that the cruise line will be launching a new ship this year. This summer, The Pride of America will join the Pride of Aloha in making 7-day year-round sailings from Honolulu to the Big Island of Hawaii, Kauai, and Maui. Both of these Norwegian Cruise Line American-flagged ships were specifically designed for cruising the Hawaiian Islands and strongly emphasize Hawaiian culture. In addition, both ships feature American crews. The Pride of Aloha is available for 7-day round-trip cruises from Honolulu, and will also sail on 7-day cruises from Maui this year. The Pride of America will sail on 7-day roundtrip cruises from Honolulu, and will also offer 3- and 4-day cruises between Honolulu and Maui. NCL also offers 10- and 11-night Hawaii cruises from Honolulu aboard the Norwegian Wind. These longer cruises also include a stop at Kiribati, an unspoiled island that was one of the highlights of the cruise we took with Norwegian in 2003. For more information on Norwegian's Hawaii cruises, visit their website at Norwegian Cruise Line.

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