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1 4 GROUP TRAVEL LE ADER T H E I n October, a late change of plans allowed me to spend a week cruising our 50th state aboard Norwegian Cruise Line's Pride of America, a ship I've wanted to experience for some time. Happily, there is very good news for all con- cerned, as the "elephant in the room" had obviously departed some time before I boarded in Honolulu. To explain, Pride of America, unfortunately, has a reputation for ostensibly having generally poor onboard service, since, as the only large, U.S.-registered cruise ves- sel in the world, it is required by law to be staffed by a crew that is at least 75 percent American. As such, American men and women are supposedly disinclined to work hard enough and long enough to provide the superior level of service generally expected by cruise guests worldwide. Several travelers I spoke with on embarkation day even mentioned this concern during our conversations when they found out that I am a cruise writer. Although this reputation may have been justified at some point in the past and most likely originated when Norwegian was under different ownership over a decade ago, please be assured that any such criticism is no longer valid, so any groups considering a Pride of America sailing will likely be well pleased. If for no other reason, I was impressed by the ship's super- visory personnel constantly giving their employees guidance and feedback to ensure that guests' service expectations would be fully met or exceeded. One of the big advantages of a seven-night Pride of America Hawaii trip, available year-round, is the convenience factor. While no cruise is truly care- free — in this case, one still must fly to Honolulu to get aboard — there is no better way to explore the islands in just over a week without having to pack and unpack, change hotels and endure lengthy airport hassles for brief interisland flights. Since the ship departs from Honolulu on Saturdays, a Friday hotel overnight or a late postcruise return flight will allow adequate time to see the major sights of Oahu. The cruise itinerary includes two full days in Maui, a day in Hilo and another day at Kailua-Kona on the "Big" Island, plus a day and a half in Kauai before returning to Honolulu. Consequently, since so much time is spent in port rather than at sea, except for a delightful afternoon sail along Kauai's spectacular Na Pali Coast, travel between stops is done at night, so this is not an "average" cruise itinerary. There are also no customs or immigrations procedures, there is no onboard casino — or elsewhere in Hawaii — and the ship's non-duty-free shops can stay open in port. Pride of America underwent a major renovation earlier in 2016 and is in tip-top condition. As a comfort-food lover, I found the quality and variety of the food to be so good in the Aloha Café Buffet that by Thursday, it dawned on me that I had not even ventured into one of the main dining rooms, so I dined there that night and in the extra-cost Moderno Churrascaria on Friday. Both were excellent, although the latter provides far too much food for the average diner, unless one happens to be an NFL lineman. Despite having been to Hawaii numerous times previously, I took three of the ship's wide variety of available shore excursions, which ranged from very good (Volcanoes National Park) to outstanding (Kauai's Allerton and McBryde Gardens). On board, Norwegian's typical mind-boggling array of activities and entertainment includes, of course, traditional island-centered music and shows. To sum up, although not exactly inexpensive — nor are land-based resort vacations here — unless a group has substantially more time and money to spend, it's unlikely to find a more convenient and enjoyable way to experience the best that the Aloha State has to offer. B Y B O B H O E L S C H E R E X P L O R I N G H AWA I I A B OA R D P R I D E O F A M E R I C A HORIZONS Changing Photos by Bob Hoelscher HALEAKALA NATIONAL PARK, MAUI PU'UHONUA O HONAUNAU NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK, ISLAND OF HAWAII