Number of Cruises: 21
Cruise Line: Norwegian
Ship: Pride of America
Sailing Date: July 15th, 2006
After reading all of the negative reviews about NCL’s Pride of America I was genuinely worried that we had made a mistake by booking a cruise on it. I left for Hawaii telling myself to not judge the cruise too harshly and that no matter what, a seven day trek around the Islands would be a wonderful experience, good cruise or not.
We’re in our mid 40’s traveling with my 16-year-old son and 72 year-old mothers-in-law. All of us have been on multiple cruises and have traveled extensively. I’m a Creative Director, my partner an IT Director. This cruise was my 21st cruise, having sailed before with Celebrity, Princess, Carnival, RCCL, and NCL. My favorite line is Celebrity, with understatedly beautiful ships, excellent cuisine and outstanding service. I’m happy to report that our cruise on Pride of America was far better than my expectations and that many of the complaints from past reviews have been fixed and run smoothly.
I’m not going to talk about the ports, all of which are wonderful, or the excursions, there was enough offered to accommodate anyone’s tastes. Instead I’m going to focus on what was great about Pride of America and what still needs some work.
The appeared to me as a very big, very tall, extremely white ship with murals painted all over her hull, which looked to me like big patriotic and tropical tattoos. Her most prominent feature was her squished-in nose hanging out almost over Front Street. I would not call her a beautiful ship like some of Celebrity and Princess ships are, but she was to be our home for a our visit to the Islands.
Her public rooms run from gaudy (Skyline Dining Room and Mardi Gras Nightclub) to over-the-top patriotic (reminiscent of Disneyland) to demure and understated elegance (Jefferson Bistro and Napa Wine Bar). It has something for everyone’s tastes and with that it really doesn’t have much of a personality of it’s own. That works for some but it left me a feeling like I was missing something. Everyone in my family had their favorite rooms and all agreed that the Napa Wine Bar was the most appealing. My favorite ship is Celebrity’s Millennium, which has a Ritz-Carlton hotel feel. Pride of America seems more like an Embassy Suites.
Embarkation/Disembarkation: Excellent. Since we never left the US we never had to go through customs. This made getting on and off the ship a breeze. She sails at 8pm (we set sail at 10pm to allow a group of 90 people to make the sailing after their plane was delayed getting to Oahu) so after boarding the ship at 1pm, and storing our bags by 2pm, we had time to explore downtown Honolulu, including the Aloha Tower Shopping Center, which is at the dock, and the Lolani Palace, just four blocks away on King Street. Downtown Honolulu is safe and scenic and a good place to sightsee on a walking tour.
Disembarkation was just as easy as pre-cruise. We opted for the “Easy Off” disembarkation where you take your own bags ashore at 7:30am. You just walk off the ship and hail a cab, or catch your car rental van dockside, like we did. It was so simple that it was shocking.
Staterooms: We booked two outside staterooms, port side on deck 10, numbers 10626 and 10530. They were virtually identical, both with a balcony. They were smaller than the balcony rooms we have had on Celebrity and RCCL, but they are designed well with bright Hawaiian colors and beautiful wood. Both were clean, nicely made up and well worth the extra money for the balconies. On most cruises we don’t use our balcony much but on this cruise we did while we cruised both the Na Pali Coast in Kauai and also by the lava entering the ocean outside of Hilo, Hawaii. It was wonderful to enjoy the views on our balcony instead of sharing the deck space up top with thousands of people. The chairs on the balcony were superior to those in concierge-class on Celebrity’s Millennium class ships. Kudos to NCL for comfortable reclining chairs!
Showers: The showers are small and the bathrooms are tiny but functional. They are a little smaller than those on Celebrity and Princess. I’m 6’1”/195lbs, my partner 6’5”/220lbs, and my son 6’1”/150lbs and we were able to use them without any problems. Having grown up with a motor home, I was used to bathing in a compact bathroom. There is a vanity console, with a hairdryer, in the room and my mother-in-law had no trouble using this area to dry and style her hair or apply make up.
Housekeeping: Our rooms were well kept and maintained. There is a little dial outside of your stateroom door that signals your housekeeper that you’d like your room serviced or a turn down. Our fan in the bathroom didn’t work properly and we notified maintenance via the interactive computer on the television and it was promptly repaired. We never experienced any problems with returning to a dirty, unmade room as some reviews have noted. We tipped our steward $5 on the first day when we met him and my mother-in-law wrote a nice letter to Guest Relations about how wonderful her steward was for her. I’ve sailed on a Celebrity cruise, where service is touted as superior, and have had worse housekeeping.
Freestyle Cruising: Absolutely Hated It! In concept this is a great marketing concept. Dining anywhere at anytime when it is convenient. It works great in concept only. In reality it is like trying to get into a popular restaurant on a Saturday night without reservations. Expect to wait for 45 minutes to an hour and a half to get into the “free” restaurants if you want to dine between 7pm and 9pm. On lobster night, forget it. We waited an hour and a half just to get a beeper.
The Main Dining Rooms, Liberty and Skyline, don’t take reservations for parties under 5 people. The specialty restaurants do. TO SECURE A TABLE IN A SPECIALTY RESTAURANT YOU MUST MAKE RESERVATIONS RIGHT WHEN YOU BOARD THE SHIP ON YOUR FIRST DAY. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. You won’t get a table for the entire cruise if you wait until the next morning to make reservations. If you want to try one of these nice restaurants then head to the hour and a half line while the rest of the folks are up at the pool partying. You book these reservations in the Lazy J Dining Room and the Jefferson Bistro (not on the interactive TV’s in your room as we had been told). You book your whole weeks worth of reservations for all the specialty dining rooms at one time so no need to run around to each dining room.
Dining Rooms and Food:
The food on the Pride of America was surprisingly good. From the buffets to the specialty dining rooms most meals were tasty and well prepared. The food is not gourmet but there is fine dinning on board. Again, book your reservations on your first day. I’d equate most dinners to be on par with a banquette you’d experience at a Hyatt or Marriott hotel. Mass-produced but tasty with a nice presentation. Some of our meals surpassed the Michel Roux meals that we have experienced on Celebrity.
Service is a little slower than on most ships but water and iced tea was filled adequately though our meals, bread was presented promptly and most servers were friendly and helpful. The servers are very American and it was strange hearing regional US accents instead of international accents. Most of the servers do not have the savior fare of international servers on many other ships, The service is more in line with an Olive Garden restaurant than at a 4-star restaurant, so if you are looking for that special nuance of service offered by other cruise lines you may find this very absent, even in the specialty restaurants.
We heard a few crewmembers complaining about their hours but on the most everyone was in good spirits and welcoming. My mother-in-law had a rude run in with an officer who refused to answer her inquiry about why there was no silver wear at the buffet. He just walked off towards a cute blond girl without helping her.
Aloha Buffet: (Free) Crowded for breakfast, the key is to enter this restaurant as far stern (to the back) as you can. The crowds are less and the food fresher. If you enter mid ship, enter from the port side (left side) through the Gold Rush Saloon and the lines will be minimal. The food is presented on “islands” and the selection is good. I’m a designer so style and presentation are important to me and the Aloha Buffet, though filled with plenty of good food, is bland and lack-luster compared to Celebrity and even Carnival’s presentations. No flowers and bread sculptures to add to the ambience here.
Main Dining Rooms-Liberty and Skyline Dining Rooms (Free): The food was good, the selections good to limited depending upon the day, service good and ambience on par with Carnival instead of some of the more sophisticated dining rooms on Celebrity, Princess and RCCL. Lot’s of glitter and mirrors in the Skyline, not for the claustrophobic. The Liberty dining room is over-the-top patriotic and I half expected to have to say the pledge of allegiance before being allowed to walk in.
Little Italy: (Free) This is an excellent restaurant and surprisingly it doesn’t have a charge. This is the restaurant that is the hardest to get reservations for. It is free so it books up by the first day. We dined here on our last night and had a wonderful meal. Everyone at our table was pleased with their selections and we all wished we had eaten there earlier on the cruise. My suggestion is to reserve Tuesday night’s dinner here if you don’t want to hassle with the long lines for lobster night in the Main Dining Rooms.
Lazy J Steak House ($15.00p/p) Of all of the restaurants on board this was my least favorite. I love a good steak and unfortunately the steaks were mediocre. We reserved two dinners here. I chose the Rib eye steak for the first night and it was really tough. My second night’s choice was the filet and it was good. For an extra $10.00 you can have a small filet and a lobster tail, or a 1 ½ pound Mine Lobster, or a Porterhouse Steak. The dining room is Texas cute, a notch or two above a Sizzler in décor, and the servers wear cowboy outfits. Some people really loved this restaurant. My mother-in-law, who lives outside Austin, Texas commented with a smile that it’s “a California Steak House, real Texans would be ashamed”.
Jefferson Bistro ($10.00p/p) This restaurant is the classiest on the ship. It is intimate and beautiful, similar in ambience to the Olympic Dining Room on Celebrity’s Millennium and the United States Dining Room on the Infinity. The food is French and was quite delicious. The decor is refined and elegant and the service was good (though far less superior than at Celebrity’s Olympic and United States). Reviewers have complained about service being slow here. It is, and this is typical with any higher end restaurant that is not trying to rush you though it’s courses. Relax, have a glass of wine and enjoy the evening. You’re in Hawaii so hang loose! This is a good choice for a romantic dinner or to celebrate an anniversary.
East Meets West ($10.00p/p) this is a nice choice for Asian inspired dining. Because this dining room serves all of the Asian dining venues on the ship it can be a little confusing. There is an a la carte sushi menu as well as the standard menu. Dinner starts off with dim sum and our entrees were delicious. The selections are a potpourri of Chinese, Japanese, Thai and Indian dishes. The décor is beautiful and the dishes are presented stylishly.
Teppanyaki ($10.00p/p) This is Bennihanas on the sea. The food selections were similar to those at Benihannas. It is a really fun place to have dinner. The chefs are tableside and perform while they cook your dinner. There were a lot of little children at our 7pm seating so if kids being rambunctious is distracting to you make sure you get later seating. The room is intimate and cozy. And for an added $15.00 price to your $10.00 surcharge you can have a filet and lobster.
Cadillac Diner (Free): Everything here is free except the shakes and malts. This is similar to Johnny Rocket’s 1950’s inspired diner on RCCL and has burgers, hot dogs, meat loaf, and fish and chips. Expect very slow service here. I don’t quite understand why it takes so long for burgers and fries. Maybe the kitchen is a few decks below and they are scurrying to and fro to get you your orders. It is open 24/7. It becomes a teenager haunt after 11pm. My son, who is 16, hung out here late nights with his friends. They have a “free” video jukebox that is fun.
Room Service: We ordered coffee and Danishes on the fist morning for a wake up call and they never came. We tried once again later in the week and they came as scheduled. My son ordered from the 24hr menu a few times and was uninspired with the choices. He kept saying, “It’s not Celebrity”. He only ordered cheeseburgers so I’m not sure what his complaining was all about.
Cleanliness and Upkeep: I read complaints that the ship was dirty and unkempt. Our rooms were spotless when we arrived and well kept the entire cruise. Upon embarkation they hold you back from entering your room until the whole floor is readied and you are requested to explore the ship or go to the buffet while you wait. There is an announcement when the rooms are ready.
The public areas were very clean and not worn at all. The glass mirrors in the elevators were the only things that I saw fingerprints on. There was always a crew cleaning, polishing or varnishing something though-out the cruise. In fact I had to wait for a few crew members to move in order to take pictures of the grand staircase. I’d say that the rooms were as clean and well kept as on any ship that I’ve sailed on.
Shows: We didn’t go to any of the shows because we wanted to get up early in the mornings to go sightseeing on the Islands.
Excursions and sightseeing: We opted out of taking the ships excursions and rented cars instead. I went to college on Oahu at UH and have traveled to the Islands countless times and we own property on the Big Island, so we know my way around them. Here’s some valuable advice. If you have a big family, renting a car to sightsee may be more cost effective than taking a tour.
The Islands are easy to navigate, though the town and street names may cause your tongue to twist a few times. You can rent a car for two days on Maui and Kauai and park it nearby the ship (Maui-free, Kauai-$10.00). All of the major sights (volcano, Haleakela, Hana, Lahaina, Waiamea Canyon, all Beach Parks) are easily accessible and clearly marked by map and road. There is ample parking most everywhere (Lahaina fills up).
If you choose to rent a car, pick ups and drop offs are at the local airports and they shuttle you back and forth (max 10 minute rides). Because NCL doesn’t profit from us renting cars they make you walk a bit down the dock to get to the rental car buses and they do not provide a person to organize waiting lines for the buses so it can be a free-for-all out there.
Tip-make your rental car arrangements at home and bring your reservation numbers with you. The rental car companies are good at readjusting your pick up/drop off times if there is a change in arrival time with the ship. Kona and Hilo sells out fast so it is best to book before the cruise. You can use the Internet (for a fee) on board to book cars or change rentals. Our cell phones worked in every port, but as you go across the Islands there are dead zones.
If you plan on going to see the Volcano when visiting Hilo I would recommend renting a car so you can maximize your visit. There is so much to see up there and tours are too rushed and don’t go past some interesting sights. We live part time outside of Hilo and getting to and from the ship to Volcanoes National Park is extremely easy. If you plan on renting a car buy a tour guide for the island at your local bookstore to help you plan your visit. AAA members can order tour books on line for free or a nominal cost.
The things we loved about the cruise: Seeing the lava flowing into the ocean up close and from the sea, watching the magnificent Na Pali coastline from the sea, not having to fly from island to island and have to go through airport security, not having to pack and unpack to go to new hotels, having our “hotel” take us from port to port, coming home to nice dinners and a relaxed environment, making new friends, enjoying the shops on board that are not all duty free and the same old merchandise as on every ship we’ve been on, the spa’s great masseurs, and most of all, our balcony.
Areas that need improvement: The pools are inadequate for the number of passengers on board. They are too shallow and too small. They need to designate a kid’s only pool and an adult’s only pool. Kids are great but they tend to monopolize the pools during peak hours, like when everyone is returning back to the ship. There is a pool at the back of the ship that would be perfect as an adult’s only place to swim and sun. I missed the spa pools that are on Celebrity, Princess and RCCL.
Freestyle cruising needs a total revamp to include reservations in the Main Dining Rooms for parties that are less than five, or the option for traditional style dining as well as Freestyle Dining (like Princess does). The complaints that I heard most often on the cruise were about the reservation and wait systems for dining. Disney has a great way of allowing guests to feast in different dining rooms. They assign you a table and you and your tablemates rotate from dining room to dining room throughout the cruise flawlessly. NCL needs to rethink this, especially on the Hawaii sailings. It is so stressful to wait and wait and wait for dinner.
There needs to be refreshed water containers dockside for returning passengers. When we got to the dock in Kona to come back on board (this is the only port using tenders) there was a problem with an oil slick. Tender service was halted to get it cleaned up. This caused a line of over 1,000 passengers to form in the 95-degree muggy, un-shaded heat. People were getting sick and the water containers that NCL put out for returning passengers ran dry. A woman passed out from heat stroke on our tender due to dehydration. So we had to wait on the water for another 20 minutes in an enclosed, un-air-conditioned tender, while they worked on her. More people started to get sick. This was unspeakable and dangerous for us to have to endure. My mother in law is 72-years-old and stood in line feeling ill due to dehydration. If we had left the line to get her bottled water at the ABC store a couple blocks away we would have had to wait in the security line for another ½ hour. Shame on NCL!
No Sea Days. I missed not having a day at sea. There is something relaxing about spending at least one day on the ship with out rushing around to meet a tour, rent a car, or get to a tour site. I would suggest losing the second day in Kauai (since you must be back on board by 1pm anyway) and spending a day Island coasting for a day.
Would we do this again? No, once is enough. The cruise is much better than I thought it would be (an 7.5 out of 10), the Islands are magical but the Freestyle Dining will stop us from sailing on NCL again. Part of taking a cruise is to help you shun stress and responsibility. When you have to wait in line for dinners or hurry to get reservations it ruins the whole cursing experience.
Pre-Post Cruise Suggestion: Stay for a day or two before and after your cruise on Oahu. You’ll need the time to decompress and Oahu is a nice place to sightsee. Waikiki is a 20-minute cab ride away and Turtle Bay on the North Shore seems worlds away from Waikiki if you want tropical quiet with relative proximity to all Oahu offers.