Occupation:Fire Department Lieutenant
Number of Cruises: 20
Cruise Line: Norwegian
Ship: Pride of Aloha
Sailing Date: July 15th, 2007
Norwegian Cruise Lines America
Pride of Aloha Cruise Review
We recently took a Hawaiian vacation cruise through NCL’s sister company, NCLA. I feel that the following letter is necessary to inform your readers of the way that NCL has opted to be penny wise and pound-foolish.
Our travel agent and friend booked us on NCLA’s Pride of Aloha for the July 15th
sailing. She tried to warn us that the free style type of cruising was not the
same as the assigned seating type. Having been on NCL twice before, I thought I
knew what to expect. Besides that, it was Hawaii, a place I had not seen in 20
years. She and her husband decided to join us and she booked the air/sea program
very early, approximately 8 months in advance, in order to assure that we had
all our assignments together. She tried for weeks prior to the sailing to get
seats on Hawaiian Air and was told that we had seats but could not be given them
until our day of departure at the airport. They would not tell her where the
seats were but upon arrival we found we were seated 19 rows apart.
Being experienced cruisers, having over 80 sailings between the 4 of us, we found that the Pride of Aloha was generally lacking all of the amenities that we have become accustomed to on other cruises. Generally speaking, the ship lacked the ambiance of many of the ships in its weight and age category that sail to other ports such as the Caribbean and Europe. The opulence that we have all been accustomed to in our past sailings was missing. Things such as simply receiving Leis upon our arrival, Hawaiian dancers and musicians performing while we checked in and a welcoming atmosphere that says, “you are in Hawaii”. Instead, we had to move our own luggage from the bus into the warehouse, where we were told to “place it on the cart over there and we will take it from there”. The reception area was nothing more than a huge, vacant warehouse with a row of desks set up to check you in. We have received better service and reception at a 2 star hotel for far less the cost. Upon entering the ship, the usual greeting from the crew was nonexistent and we had to find our own way to our cabins.
We booked the balcony cabins because we wanted the view but also knew that it would be larger and have more drawer and closet space. We were all astonished and disappointed at how small and poorly appointed we found the room. There was limited closet space and absolutely no drawer space with the exception of 3 pencil desk drawers in the closet. The room was sparsely decorated and the bathrooms were tiny. We had all been on ships this size before and had booked rooms in the same comparable category, and have never been in cabins so tiny and terribly appointed. It soon became obvious that the ship was designed to cram as many passengers as possible into it. We sailed with 2500 passengers on a ship that in other fleets house around 1800. Our cabin steward was less than adequate and lacked the flair of European trained stewards. He took care of the basic needs but the extras were nonexistent. Again, my thoughts go back to the 2 star hotel, beds made but that was it. The room was never vacuumed all week, deck area was not cleaned all week, turn down service was sporadic as well as the cute extras that stewards do were non existent such as the towel sculptures, that in some way makes cruising special.
Our travel agent prebooked the luau excursion to insure that we could get good seats because she wanted to have a truly memorable vacation for all of us. Again, she booked this excursion well in advance to ensure that we were able to get seats and that the seats were good. Upon arrival, we found that it had not been reserved and she spent over an hour trying to get the luau booked and to check if she was double charged. After all this, we ended up on a table as far away from the show as possible and still be in the theater. Prior to this debacle, we had attended the meeting for the excursions where the excursion director informed us that if we didn’t book our excursions right now that we would not get them and that everyone else who didn’t attend the meeting will be left out. We all found that the costs of the excursions were exorbitant for what we received and that the excursion director was very demanding and insulting in his presentation. His demeaning attitude was such that many of the guests present in the theater left even though he ridiculed them as they walked out.
Buffets were very limited and had the same menu every day. There was only one main buffet station on the entire ship and it had the main courses mixed with the salads mixed with the deserts mixed with the drinks mixed with the deserts. Every morning that we had buffet was ridiculously time consuming because there were always hundreds of people trying to eat before their excursions, all getting frustrated because they would run out of trays, plates or silverware. Then when you received your silverware there were not any spoons with it. How can you not have any spoons with breakfast? There apparently were enough complaints because the second or third morning they put out a basket with a wide variety of mismatched spoons, from serving to demitasse spoons and everything in between. We found it humorous that there was a consistent pattern in the silverware, that being that nothing matched.
The food left a lot to be desired. There was very little variety and things that need to be kept cold were not. There wasn’t any ice on the salad bar and for the dairy products and considering that we were in Hawaii with 90-degree days, this could have been very unhealthy. The food was poorly arranged without greenery or garnish. The food was just tossed on mismatched bowls or trays set inside a steel buffet area. A beautiful presentation is part of the appeal of the food and very important to the chefs on most ships, but not so on the Aloha. Instead we had a very ugly and unappealing presentation that is usually reserved for an institutional cafeteria. There was no semblance of order to the placement of the foods. Things such as the omelet station and other things that required waiting were placed at the front of the line so that if you didn’t want an omelet you either had to cut the line or wait. Speaking of the omelet station, the cook had 2 of his 3 hot plates break on the first day and instead of replacing them they went the entire cruise using one hot plate, causing even more backup. Whether we ate in the dining room or the buffet, we never had an enjoyable meal. All of the food was always luke warm, whether it was hot entrees or cold sandwiches. We were not allowed to sit at our table one morning because the fifth member of our party had not arrived yet, even though we told the maitre d’ that she was on her way. We asked to speak to the Dining Room Manager and he told us that he would change the policy, which he did not. As the week progressed, we saw that many of the passengers had become irate at this policy. Many times we heard passengers complaining to the dining room staff but they were ignored. The service in the dining room was for the most part horrible from the hurry up and eat mentality to the inattentive staff that didn’t even know enough to keep the water glasses filled. One morning I asked for pineapple juice and was told by the server that she didn’t have any on her tray.
We took our friends and their son to dinner in the Asian restaurant one evening. We were fully aware that it was a $10 service charge per person as well as drinks and gratuity. The 5 of us ordered meals and because there were so many other interesting items on the menu we ordered 4 other entrees to sample. After all it is a cruise and the food has always been included in the price. When we finished, they brought me the bill, which should have been 5 service charges and 2 drinks. It came to about $86 which I added the tip to and signed for. Later that evening, I started thinking about the cost and realized that something was amiss. I looked at the receipt and to my amazement I found that there was a $20 food service charge. I immediately went back to the restaurant to find out what it was for and was told that we had 4 extra entrees and they charge $5 per extra entrée. I asked why I wasn’t informed of this in advance and they said that the waiter was suppose to tell me, which he did not. I asked to see it in writing and they could not produce any policy on it. I immediately demanded that it be removed from my bill, which they did.
We had one day at sea and my wife and our friends wanted to treat themselves to a massage. They made their appointments and were told that there would be a service charge of 18% automatically added to the $135 price tag. They figured that that was the tip but were told that in fact it wasn’t but that it was the "base pay" for the massage therapist. A tip on top of that was expected and appreciated. It was a shock to them that 18% was not enough of a tip so they went to the Purser/Info desk to inquire about the policy and was told that it was a different company who ran the massages and to talk to them. They told the person at the desk that they did talk to them and they are the ones who told them about the 18% add-on and the extra tip policy, and besides, this is happening on your ship and you should have an answer. They were told that the ship had nothing to do with the massages.
We found that the ship was lacking in so many areas that experienced cruisers come to expect on a cruise. The midnight buffets are no longer available. The chocolate buffet, one of the better food events on cruise ships, has been eliminated. Different dinner themes, baked Alaska parade, singing and dancing wait staff, fancy place settings, wildly folded napkins and exotic cuisine are a thing of the past. Fruit, butter and ice sculptures no longer adorn the service areas. Courteous, helpful management staff has been replaced by rude company people who quite obviously put the company before their guests. The high quality shows that most ships produce have been replaced by NCLA with a couple of comics and a show or two involving high jinx with the crew. There is no house orchestra, no guest talent shows, no bingo, and because we are in U.S. waters, no casino.
One would expect that the initial higher than average cost per cabin would give the cruise passenger something remotely memorable, but the exact opposite is the case. Virtually everything that makes a cruise special has been eliminated by NCLA in favor of making as much money as they can. They have reduced the size of their cabins to fit more guests, charged exorbitantly high prices for excursions, doubled the price of their photos, cut back on staff and eliminated a lot of the little extras. On every other ship I have been on, including NCL, there has always been a promenade where passengers strolled at night with shops, bars with music, and intimate gathering places. Not true on the NCLA Pride of Aloha and I would venture to guess, the other two Prides, also. There is a mish mash of bars and lounges placed throughout the ship in such odd areas, that after a week, we still had trouble navigating our way around the ship.
Other lines are flourishing, building larger and larger ships, each new ship more adorned than the last. They are geared to making their passenger’s cruise experience the best they have ever had, giving them the “oh wow!!” factor. NCL, on the other hand, seems to be going the other way. Yes, we had the oh wow, but it was the oh wow, can it get any worse; oh wow, I cannot wait to get off of this ship.
We found that management, on a whole, not only did not have any consideration for the passengers but also found many of the crew to be dissatisfied with the way the ship was run. We witnessed the wait staff complain many times and heard lots of muttering about extraordinarily long hours, some as many as 18 hours, into the late night, then up for the morning breakfast with no days off. We heard that the number of crew has been reduced considerably under the guise of the moniker “Free Style Cruising”. The icing on the cake was when on day 5 we went to the front desk to ask for the prepaid gratuities back so that we could tip those we want to. We were told that the gratuity is non-refundable. We were shocked to say the least. We asked to see it in writing and he produced the brochure that states that the gratuity can be adjusted. No where did it say that it was not refundable. Then he said in an accusatory tone, “it is funny that you wait until the fifth day to complain”. He actually said that we should have come down to complain every time we had a problem. We told him that it was constant and we wanted to see Hawaii, not stand in the continuous lines that were at the desk because they were under staffed. He, finally, reluctantly agreed to credit our account after we spent 20 minutes listing out our complaints.
There were very few plusses but the most noted were that we actually had a pair of waiters who enjoyed their job and were happy to see us, a piano player in one of the lounges who looked like George Carlin and had the voice of Frank Sinatra. His ability to play any song from memory was amazing. We did find some of the staff, all of them service people, to be friendly and hospitable. The plusses were few and far between and the most memorable was to finally get off of that ship.
I have cruised at least once a year for the last 20 or so years and before this cruise I have never had a complaint. I have sailed on Celebrity, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Princess, and NCL. I will never again sail on the NCLA cruises in Hawaii nor the NCL cruises in the rest of the world. Their lackluster attitude and total disregard for their passengers is reprehensible and does not warrant consideration for any future cruises.