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Aloha, Cruise World

"Creating an American cruise ship crew out of thin air is quite a challenge," Veitch said. "We didn't have a pool of experienced U.S. workers to draw from. It didn't exist. We're importing jobs, unlike most employers."

It's the Islands, Stupid

There's no denying that the Pride's first cruise ended with a lot of ranting in the "I-didn't-pay-$3,000-to-make-my-own-bed" vein. But after talking to dozens of other passengers, it seemed that the only people who ultimately let lots of little problems ruin their trip were, well, the kind of people who let lots of little problems ruin their trips. It was certainly possible to find people on board who were ignoring the cold eggs and happily grooving to the Pride's If-It's-Tuesday-It-Must-Be-Kauai routine.

An exterior view of Norwegian Cruise Line's Pride of Aloha, the first Hawaiian island cruise of its kind. (Tim Wright - Associated Press)

_____Fall/Winter Cruising 2004_____
Aloha, Cruise World
Baltimore Cruises Cut Back
Cruise Lines

The ship leaves Honolulu every Sunday, making the short steam over to Kauai for two days, then on to the Big Island for separate overnight stops at Hilo and Kona, followed by two days on Maui before landing back in Honolulu the following Sunday. In all, the ship spends more than half of the trip tied up at one pier or another. It's all about going ashore.

"It's the only way to do Hawaii for the first time," said Donna Derick, the yearly cruiser from Connecticut, on the ship's inaugural voyage. "Now we've been to all the islands, we've had a tour in every port and we know what we'd like to do when we come back."

Her highlights: the bus-based tour of Volcanoes National Park and Rainbow Falls out of Hilo, the ride through coral reefs off Kona in an air-conditioned, glass-sided submarine, and shopping in the old whaling town of Lahaina on Maui.

"We probably spent about $1,500 on tours, but they've all been good," said her husband. "We spent a lot more than that in Alaska."

NCL markets the shoreside events heavily -- passengers get a lush 130-page catalogue of options ranging from Kona coffee plantation tours to a rim walk around Maui's Haleakala crater to horseback trekking, ATV riding, snorkeling, diving, surfing, dolphin swimming, helicopter riding, sailing and shopping all over the four islands. The ship-sponsored activities all begin and end dockside, which sometimes causes a backup at the reboarding security lines when more than one bus pulls up at a time. But many passengers bypass the excursion catalogue altogether, instead renting cars for an independent day of touring. Hertz, Dollar and the others, no fools they, run constant shuttles from the pier to nearby airport rental stations.

"We've been getting a convertible at every port," said a windblown blonde with an armload of Hilo Hattie bags as she waited to pass through the gangway metal detectors at Hilo. "Today we drove up to Volcanoes, stopped for lunch, stopped to shop. It was just spectacular."

The Pride's itinerary is one that pushes the floating hotel concept to an extreme, basically relocating a thousand rooms from one island to another and turning 2,000 tourists loose each day. What's missing, on a ship that spends minimal amounts of time sailing and never leaves U.S. territorial waters, are such quintessential at-sea diversions as casinos, midnight buffets and nonstop bingo. There was, of course, a daily menu of bridge, trivia contests, crafts and kickboxing, but the choices are modest compared with the dozens-a-day offerings of other cruises.

At night, there are the usual magicians and comedians and splashy revues (and in fact, the shipboard entertainment got good marks even from the curmudgeons). And there was a deck party one night, where beaming staff lovelies in bare-midriff fiesta-wear led rows of Japanese tourists in the Electric Slide. But with shore excursions beginning near dawn the next morning, the crowd had thinned by 11 p.m.

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