Number of Cruises: 3
Cruise Line: Norwegian
Ship: Pride of America
Sailing Date: December 16th, 2006
We cruised with Norwegian as a family—eight adults ranging in age from 20s to
50s. I mention that because traveling as a large group (yes, Norwegian considers
8 to be a large group) made the trip both more fun and more frustrating.
We found to be the staff aboard the ship to be friendly, kind, and refreshingly outspoken. On many cruise ships, the staff can be a little subservient, which can make me feel a little uncomfortable—I liked that the staff gave great service, and had a lot of personality, too.
As a large group, we had booked only two rooms—six of us stayed in a family penthouse suite, and the other two stayed in a regular balcony cabin. The penthouse suite came with all kinds of perks—some of which were great, and some of which caused more trouble than they were worth.
BE FOREWARNED, however—NCL is blatantly dishonest about how it describes the space in the suites. On the website, our room was described as follows: “Living room, private balcony, two separate bedrooms one with a king-size bed and walk-in-closet and one with two lower beds, two TVs, two bathrooms one with bath and shower.” This was very important to our decision to upgrade, because there were three couples staying in that room. With two separate bedrooms and a living room, there should have been enough space for everyone to have some privacy. Instead, the cabin contained ONE separate bedroom (with lower beds) and ONE living room with a king bed in it. The king bed could be “separated” from the living room by a curtain. As far as we could tell, the advertised “two separate bedrooms” was an out-and-out lie. This discovery was the first of several times NCL delivered far less than they promised.
Instead of lying about the number of bedrooms to sell the “deluxe family penthouse,” NCL should have instead told customers about the fabulous view that people in the room receive. We had a balcony off the bow of the boat, so our view was the same as the captain’s. It was wonderful to roll out of bed, make coffee from the espresso maker in the room, and be welcomed by the sunrise as we came into port each morning.
The view is worth the cost of upgrade, even if the space is not. On two separate nights, the ship sails by some incredible sights—in Hilo, it sails by an erupting volcano. From our balcony, we had a great view of the lava. The last night, in Kauai, it sailed by the back-side of the island, which looks like something out of Jurassic Park. In fact, it might have actually been the set for that movie—though I got conflicting information on that. That night, we ordered room service appetizers and drinks, and lounged on our balcony enjoying the view. Really a very nice experience.
The butler and concierge
Another “perk” of upgrade is your own personal butler and concierge. Both are overrated. We felt as though we had to tip them quite a bit—so they actually cost even more money-- but both ended up being more trouble than they were helpful. Our butler was EXTREMELY nice, and really tried to be helpful. The problem was, she really didn’t do anything that room service couldn’t do. And in fact, I might have preferred to go through room service because then, there isn’t a “middle man” that causes things to take longer and orders to get mis-communicated. So, for example, instead of just calling room service, ordering what I want, and waiting for it, I was required to call our “butler,” and wait for HER to call room service. Then, if they are out of something, she has to call me back, ask what I would rather get (assuming I’m not in the shower or something), and then call room service back to communicate it. In all that confusion, they (of course) get orders wrong. Not the end of the world, but one of many inefficiencies that could have been avoided by just letting me call room service myself in the first place.
The concierge was even worse—he is responsible for all dinner reservations. Apparently, as penthouse suite residents, we were entitled to “VIP” status, which meant that we could often get reservations when others couldn’t. So, we told the concierge when we wanted reservations, and he would set about trying to get them. The problem was the same as the butler, though. If he COULDN’T get them (which happened more often than not), we’d have to wait for him to call back (hopefully we were in the room, but if not, wait until we got his message), call him back with another preference (and likely leave a message for him), and then wait to see if we could get our second choice. If not, the whole process started all over. Plus, there was the risk of miscommunication once you add a concierge/middle-man. At least once, we were told the wrong time of a reservation and missed it. I would have preferred to get face-to-face with the person looking at the reservations computer, and just worked it all out in one fell swoop. A more efficient and more effective (obvious) management choice would have been to issue us a “VIP” card instead of a concierge if they really wanted to give us a reservations advantage.
RESTAURANTS AND DINING
Drinking: NCL is extremely strict about bringing liquor on board, but drink prices on board were VERY reasonable—sometimes cheaper than at home. For example, a generous pour of Johnny Walker Blue Label (often as much as $40 per shot at home) was $12.50 at John Adams Coffee Bar. Beer was $4-$5 per bottle, and specialty drinks were $6 to $7—even the really elaborate-looking ones. Service at bars was friendly and prompt. You can get a soft drink sticker for $35, which entitles you to unlimited soft drinks. But there are some restrictions. For example, only one drink at a time per sticker—a reasonable rule meant to keep one guy with a drink sticker from taking advantage of the program and ordering for his whole party. Also, it is supposed to only allow you to get fountain drinks, but occasionally bartenders will bend the rules and give out cans (which are convenient for drinking later in the room).
Reservations and logistics: NCL advertises that they are “fun for the whole family.” Trouble is, they really can’t accommodate “whole families.” We spent literally hours of the cruise trying to get reservations for 8, even in the main dining hall. The first night, they split us up into 2 tables of four. Freestyle dining would probably be great if it was a twosome, but as a group of 8, it proved to be more restrictive than regular seated cruising. With “regular” cruise dining schedules, where you have either the first or second dinner seating, you are guaranteed a table together each night, and guaranteed a dinnertime that didn’t conflict with shows. With “freestyle,” we HAD to eat whenever they could find space for us (really leaving us without the choice to do “what you want when you want” that NCL advertises), and that often meant that we missed the shows and other activities that we wanted to do.
Perhaps the most irritating thing about dining, however, was the EMPTINESS of the restaurants despite the difficulty in getting reservations. For example, there was a Japanese “Benihana-style” steakhouse on board with three seatings per night. We asked if we could get a party of two into any one of the seatings (on a night our group decided to try our luck as twosomes). We were told that they were completely full, with no space left and no chance of getting in on the waiting list. So, we went to the restaurant next door. When we were done, however, we peeked into the Japanese Steakhouse to see if we could catch part of the show from the third seating—and found that it was almost completely empty. The same thing was true of the other restaurants. On a night when we were told that we could only have a very early reservation (like 5:00 when we asked for 8:00), our dinner took about 2 hours to serve, and throughout that two hours, the restaurant remained more than half empty. We were left wondering why on earth we couldn’t have a 6:00 or even 7:00 reservation.
Food Quality: The food quality ranged from okay to outstanding. To get outstanding food, however, you have to pay for it. You don’t pay much-- $10 at Jefferson’s Bistro will get you a decadent French menu with perfectly-prepared entrees made with fresh, high-quality ingredients (in particular, the “chef’s tasting menu for two” with the lamb is worth the extra $10 (on top of the $10 cover)). Well worth it. At the “free” dining spots, however, the menu is interesting and even sounds high quality (cream of macadamia soup, NY strip available every night, fish of all kinds, lobster/prime rib one night, and all manner of mousses and baked goods for desert), but the food quality disappoints. The prime rib was WAY overdone (though the lobster was pretty good), the strip steak was extremely tough, the fish was dry, and seriously, don’t try the macadamia soup. I really enjoy adventurous eating, but that soup just tasted bad. Do try the braised short ribs (very good), the ceviche, and the macadamia creme-brulee.
Turns out the room service has the best menu of all—hummus was great, and the pizzas on board are superb (they are available at the Little Italy restaurant as well—which is also good, and free—if you can get reservations.)
Restaurant Hours: The restaurant hours were probably the single most absurd thing on the ship (and the second example of blatantly false advertising by NCL). Despite advertising that freestyle dining allows you to eat when and where you want, even if you were a two-person party that didn’t need reservations, MOST of the restaurants are closed for MOST of the day. I arrived at the main dining room at 9:05 for breakfast on the first day, only to be told that it closes at 9 AM. And doesn’t re-open until dinner. So, according to NCL, you can eat breakfast “where you want, when you want” as long as you eat between 7-9 AM, or otherwise in the one other place that’s open for breakfast.
For lunch, the buffet and diner-style restaurant is open. So, if you’re on the boat (which you shouldn’t be—the ports are really nice), you get junk food for lunch. There’s a “bar and grill” by the pool that I tried to grab lunch at one day, but it doesn’t open until 1:30. Seriously? Why 1:30? Why not at noon for lunch? Or stay closed until dinner? Why open at such a weird time? It was yet another illogical management decision by NCL.
ISLANDS AND EXCURSIONS
Excursions: This trip we did a lot more excursions than we had in past cruises, but it was a great way to see the islands, and lots of fun with a group. We did downhill biking in Maui (bring warm clothes—it’s COLD at the top of that volcano!), the Zipline adventure in Kauai (really a great time—and the guides make you feel very safe and secure), Kyaking and Snorkeling in Kona (well-run and beautiful views), the Kona coffee tour (informative and friendly guides), and the Mudbug off-roading in Kauai (also fun and well-run).