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For skeptics who question whether a sunset dinner cruise can present cuisine that rivals the scenery, it’s time to shake that shroud of doubt. Especially in a destination as aesthetically privileged as Hawaii, its easy to imagine how the stunning views unfolding on the water might bump the culinary fare to a second fiddle position. On my recent evening aboard the Star of Honolulu, however, that simply wasn’t the case.
With its four walk-around decks, six dining rooms and four cuisine options, the massive 232-foot floating beauty seemed far from crowded despite its 1,500-person capacity. With the company spending $1 million on ship renovations and $100,000 on entertainers’ costumes over the past two years, Star of Honolulu continues to focus on catering to diverse tastes in distinctive spaces.
“We offer everything — from a buffet of local favorites with Hawaiian entertainment to a gourmet experience with jazz,” said Mitzi Hirasawa Howard, vice president of sales and marketing for Star of Honolulu. “So whether your clients are a family looking for dinner and a show or a couple celebrating a wedding anniversary with a romantic dinner, we have it all covered.”
I opted for the highly touted five-star French-style dining experience that indulges passengers with seven seasonally inspired courses. On all levels, it lived up to its status.
At Capt. Frank Donaldson’s welcome reception on the ship’s 60-foot-high observation deck, I hobnobbed with other five-star guests over Hawaiian bellinis and canapes. With bustling Aloha Tower shrinking in the distance, my white-gloved waiter, Dante, led me to the art-deco Super Nova Room that’s dressed with intimate oceanview tables. That’s when the evening shifted into entertainment mode with Riya Davis crooning one jazz favorite after another as we cruised along the Waikiki coastline.
An early evening cruise on Star of Honolulu presents clients with stunning landscapes worthy of a painting — such as a rainbow arching above Manoa Valley, a glorious sunset, the full moon rising or humpback whales in the winter.
“There’s nothing quite like the ever-changing backdrop of the ocean, sunset and Oahu coastline,” said Howard.
The next phases of my culinary experience featured asparagus soup with lemon cream followed by a bouquet of baby greens. According to Howard, dishes are created from local products as much as possible.
“Because we prepare more than 350,000 meals each year in our own Paradise Kitchen, we have strong relationships with local vendors and local farms to keep the menu exciting for our guests — especially the repeat customers on the Five Star Sunset and Dining & Jazz cruise,” said Howard.
Though not locally derived, my favorite dish was air-flown live Maine lobster garnished with lobster mousse, English pea puree and saffron beurre blanc. As Honolulu’s city lights danced in the distance, this was no doubt a total sensory affair.
Despite diners sporadically leaving between courses to hit the deck for sunset photo opportunities, the timing of the service remained smooth. Dante was always on his mark with the cocktails — three premium beverages come with the Five-Star package — as well as the courses and freshly baked bread and brioche.
After a peach sorbet, Dante bowled me over with a beautiful baked salmon steak with dill lemon butter sauce. Not carnivorous, I had previously requested this option instead of the prime tenderloin with truffle au gratin potatoes that is featured on the menu. The company also offers a chicken or vegan alternative if given 24-hour notice.
Five-Star Supervisor Trevor Ruffner explained to me that especially with the top level, Star of Honolulu sees a high percentage of repeat business.
“It’s popular with honeymooners, couples celebrating anniversaries and even marriage proposals,” said Ruffner.
This cruise was no exception, with newlyweds flanking me at my table.
The ship also features a three-star, five-course meal with tenderloin steak and Maine lobster, the Pacific Star Buffet and an all-you-can-eat crab feast. With Ruffner, I sampled this level as well, and enjoyed a more animated vibe, with Hawaiian music and hula dancing drawing nearly everyone into the act.
Stuffed to the gills, I didn’t sample additional ship fare. But Howard assured me that every culinary option on the ship reflects the same high caliber.
Star of Honolulu800-334-6191www.starof honolulu.com
Departs Aloha Tower Marketplace’s Pier 8 at 5 p.m. daily. Dinner package options: Five-Star/Seven-Course - $175 per person; Three-Star/Five-Course - $129 per person; Star Sunset Three-Course All-You-Can-Eat Crab and Sirloin Dinner - $89.50 per person; Pacific Star Sunset Buffet and Show - $79 per person. Five-Star service is recommended for adults only. For children ages 3 to 11 years, prices for the other three levels are $77.50, $54 and $47.50 respectively. Commission: 10 percent.