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El Aliga

Age: n/a

Occupation:Retired

Number of Cruises: 34

Cruise Line: Norwegian

Ship: Pride of America

Sailing Date: August 26th, 2006

Itinerary: Hawaii

Island Hoppin' While Cruisin' Heavenly Hawaii.

Enjoy the magic of Maui, the kaleidoscope of Kauai, the horizons of Hilo, the wildness of Waikiki or simply just chillin' amidst the Hawaiian heat. It's cruisin' Hawaii. The massive, luxurious, mega-resort ship, Norwegian Cruise Lines-America's (NCL-A) Pride of America will take you there amidst the comfort of home while soaking in the island flavor, magnificence, enchantment and excitement.

There's an aire of welcome all over as the island greeters say and interact the words, aloha oe. The quick and easy embarkation started at Honolulu's Aloha Tower cruise port. There awaits the brand new American-staffed ship. It's a seven day summer cruise in this popular playground of planet Earth. Greeted by some white-clad cruise staff, the cruisers board the ship in stylish elegance and a chorus of "How ya' doin?". The ship and amenities were conceived with luxury and opulence in mind.

Meanwhile as a 34-cruise veteran, this ship's overall staff service is unprecedented as way-below-standards while going through industry experimentation. This affected the food quality, amenities and accommodations which give the cruisers an unforgettable travel experience, indeed. Almost all of the ship's restaurants, venues and public places were grossly understaffed. As per online reviews by many past cruisers, this is the unfortunate mark of disappointment on this NCL-A cruise ship. Even with a free Hawaii cruise attraction, good local help is hard to come by nowadays. The allure of "drop everything, surf's up!" possibly contributed to the staff shortage.

To get stringent maritime law exclusions, NCL-A somewhat made a deal with the state of Hawaii that they'll employ American workers instead of foreign workers. Well, it's an experiment that continues to disappoint many cruisers who are used to getting pampered royally by highly appreciative foreign cruise staff at foreign-flagged ships. Interestingly, a large number of staff don't seem to care about cruiser relations. Many are young, ill-trained, unmotivated and can't wait to get off work to enjoy or party on the islands themselves

Imagine going to a Key West Grill restaurant and being served by no more than two workers, a cook & a waiter, that's it. Many public places are unattended amidst the hazardous spills & messy areas. Blocked off sections at the restaurants were a commonplace. However, several hard working and friendly staffers who we had the pleasure of meeting received additional tips. NCL-A imposes mandatory tipping and many opt out of that idea and give discretionary tips to deserving ones only.

But, this was a vacation for me and my cruiser fun friends. Besides, NCL-A gave a free-air fare promo enticement. So with a positive mindset, we set aside the drawbacks and enjoy. Just like anything in life, it pays to over pack heavily on positive mental attitude. The great thing is that you only unpack once while visiting Hilo, Kona and a day and a half stays in Kauai & Maui. Extra sightseeing treats include up close ship-side viewing of Kilauea lava flows and the majestic Napali coastal cliffs.

The mega ship: The year-old and 81,000-ton ship is awe-inspiring and the interior is detailed primarily of wood, marble, etched glass and polished granite. As a reflection of American history and culture, the theme is predominantly colonial to frontier, from 50's design to modern. The 14-deck ship is the second NCL-A brand ship to roam the Hawaiian waters with U.S. registry while the majority of NCL ships are foreign registered with foreign workers.

Balconies are outfitted to roughly half of the staterooms. Our stateroom with a lanai deck is somewhat cramped, but comfortable and serviced twice a day. It is a welcome and comforting sight after a day-long tour, shopping and/or beaching. Evening chocolates on the pillows? Of course.

On-board activities: There are various entertainments aboard from Las Vegas shows, theme dances to relaxing piano bar. Casino capers or bingo binges? Nope, state of Hawaii won't allow gambling donations. Shopping? Stroll among the fine shops and sophisticated galleries offering countless treasures and souvenirs. For the dance fanatics and wannabes, there are varied dance instructors to finesse those cool moves and salsa gyrations. Oh no, there's no top deck party or luau.

The sail-a-way party was fun and this author won the electric slide contest and runner-up to the Elvis impersonation at the 50's night. The prize? 2 Maui luau tickets and t-shirts. The commendable cruise director & staff pick participants and indeed memories last longer with interactive participation.

Extensive children's activities are available to ensure ohana (family)-friendly fun. There's a conservatory with tropical gardens and exotic birds, as well as a tennis court and art gallery. But no art auction. From the Lazy J's Steakhouse to the Teppanyaki, the cruisers indulge in waist-enlarging cuisine at eight restaurants. Lobsters and filet mignon are offered nightly, but at extra cost. Dance the night and cruise calories away at Mardi Gras Cabaret Lounge. Too bad there's only one dance place unlike 3-4 at other cruise lines.

Food, food.. but it's ok food: Unlike foreign-flagged cruise lines, this ship should not boast award-winning cuisine or claim world-class. Prepared by unknown chefs/cooks, the culinary selections are average and limited. Almost all of the restaurants imposes cover charge. Extra fees if you order surf and turf of lobster & filet mignon. All the eating places were short of personnel. At early part of the cruise, the ship ran out of papayas, mangoes, etc. Empty food trays were too common. At first night, room service wait was hour-and-a-half.

The greatness of this cruise are the ports of call. It's great to explore Hawaii's lands rich in natural beauty and the warmth of its diverse people.

First stop is at Hilo on the Big island. Best thing to do is take advantage of the cheap online car rentals. Then tour independently on your own compared to the super expensive ship's cow tours. The Volcanoes National Park, Akaka Falls, Hamakua Coastline & local sights are nearby. Next day and a half, the ship is docked at Kahului, Maui harbor. A rental car is a must again on this island that's rated world's top island destination by Conde Nast magazine readers. Check out awesome Haleakala, grand spots at Wailea, kool Kaanapali, funky Lahaina and world class beaches including America's top rated Kapalua beach.

The island hoppin' continues at Kona. Check out the opulence at America's top rated tropical resort, the super swanky Four Seasons Hualalai. Many of these resorts welcome the well-heeled cruisers to use their facilities. Last stop is at the garden isle of lush Kauai. Rental car is another must here due to the many breathtaking sights and natural wonders. Too bad, the island's second tourist spot, the Fern Grotto was closed for maintenance. Honolulu's Arizona Memorial is number one.

There it is, Island Hoppin' aboard Pride of America. Hawaii radiated beautifully as always. One can never get tired of mother nature's creation. There is a certain mistique that happens here that attracts tourists from all over the world. The experts know what they are talking about when they rate the 5 main Hawaiian islands in the top 10 world's best island destinations. Surely, the Caribbean isles are equally magnificent but the Hawaiians do care about upholding and preserving the awesome beauty with controlled growth. That's the award-winning key.

Hawaii is more than islands, it's a state of mind. E komo mai... aloha!







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