Diamond Head Odyssey a paradise for families

Hawaii bureau chief Katherine Nichols and her family sampled Paradise Cruise's three-hour Diamond Head Odyssey cruise. Her report follows:

urely my two children have had more fun than they did this day aboard the Starlet II. But I don't remember when.

After all, how many activities show off Honolulu's most attractive features and leave three generations pleasantly exhausted?

Paradise Cruise operates a variety of excursions from two harbors in Honolulu, covering everything from weddings and five-star sunset dinners to Hawaiiana lunch tours. The firm offers 10% commission to travel agents on all bookings, including charters.

One of the most popular programs also is the most unusual.

The Diamond Head Odyssey packs water sports, a snorkeling tour, fishing and a barbecue lunch into a half-day adventure.

Next year, the excursion will change its name to the Diamond Head Snorkel & BBQ Cruise and will move to the bigger, 128-foot Starlet I while the Starlet II undergoes a $300,000 renovation.

Cruises depart from Oahu's Kewalo Basin at 9:30 a.m. and return at 12:45 p.m. Transportation is available from Waikiki.

Passengers should be sure to bring towels and sunscreen; everything else is provided.

Once underway on the 20-minute sail, what grabbed our attention wasn't the spectacular view of the mountains shrouded in gray mist but a pod of about 80 dolphins frolicking nearby.

Our captain circled the boat -- an invitation to play -- and the dolphins loved the idea.

Several leaped from the water then swam alongside the speeding craft.

After saying good-bye to the dolphins, life jackets and snorkeling gear awaited us. The kids could hardly contain themselves when we arrived at the mooring to find a floating trampoline about 30 feet from the Starlet, along with inflatable boats, two two-person kayaks and a windsurfer.

Even getting into the water can be its own adventure. Cruisers have the option of stepping off the rear of the boat or sliding from the top level at the stern. The high velocity of the latter trip elicited high marks from all of the pre-adolescent boys aboard, including my son.

But the boys thought they'd gone to heaven when the crew opened a gate for a 15-foot leap off the bow. A 20-minute guided snorkeling tour invited everyone to join a swarm of glossy black trigger fish and catch glimpses of two turtles.

On other occasions, snorkelers have spotted an eagle ray and been joined by dolphins.

While not fancy, the food aboard the vessel was fitting for a barbecue. Everyone dipped into hamburgers and garden burgers, hot dogs, fruit, baked beans and brownies.

A few even relaxed with a red and white "lava flow" cocktail, a blend of pina colada, pineapple and strawberry.

Too soon, we were back on land, and grandparents, parents and kids in my group raved about the cruise.

For days, my son did not stop talking about "playing on the trampoline and the slide and seeing grandma go off the platform." And my 8-year-old daughter kept asking, "When can we go on that boat again?"

The Diamond Head Odyssey costs $49.95 for adults and children, $58.95 with transportation from Waikiki.

For more details on Paradise Cruises, call (800) 334-6191 or visit www.paradisecruises.com.

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