November 6, 2013 | By Erica Silverstein | No Comments
Aloha from Hawaii! We’re onboard Pride of America
, the only big mainstream ship sailing weeklong itineraries in the Hawaiian islands — no long treks across the ocean by ship from the North American West Coast or the South Pacific.
For this Cruise Critic editor, this trip represents a number of firsts: First time “freestyle cruising” with Norwegian Cruise Lines, first time cruising around Hawaii, even first time spending a week onboard with my husband! Just a few days into our sailing, here are my first impressions.
Ports Steal the Show. It’s hard to size up ship life quickly because we’re hardly onboard. The itinerary features two overnights in port (Maui and Kauai) and only five nights and one half day of sailing time. And with such amazing ports — Maui’s Road to Hana and inviting beaches, the Big Island’s Volcanoes National Park and excellent snorkeling, and Kauai’s drop-dead gorgeous scenery — no one wants to waste a minute of time on shore. That leaves little opportunity for doing all the frivolous and relaxing Sea Day activities.
Yet Pride of America is a good match for this port-intensive itinerary. It’s got everything you need — multiple dining options, several pools and bars, a spa — but not the marquee “ship as destination” draws of Norwegian’s newest vessels that might convince you to skip time in port to play onboard.
Everyone’s Up for a Good Time. That said, we’ve heard no complaints. Hawaii cruisers are good sports and here to have fun — despite the six-hour time difference from the East Coast that makes acclimating to Hawaii time a bit like flying to Europe. All the main stage shows have been packed, and smaller shows, the first-night pub crawl and trivia competitions have all been well attended. In the late afternoons, deck chairs fill up and our shipmates were grooving to the pool band and enthusiastically participating in (or cheering on) the poolside games.
At 8 a.m. on our first morning in Maui, the port was bustling with cruisers headed out on tours or catching shuttles to the airport’s car rental agencies. Several buses of travelers were even willing to get up at 3 a.m. to catch the sunrise over Maui’s volcano Haleakala — and my husband, who was among them, reported no grumbling about the early hour from anyone.
Service Is…Different. When Norwegian’s American-crewed ships first debuted (originally there were three), they got panned for bad service, which Norwegian strove valiantly to improve. Years later, I wouldn’t call the service bad — just different from the typical cruise ship experience.
Our waitress in the main dining room was very attentive, but perhaps a bit too familiar; our waiter the next day was stand-offish. We waited a very long time for food at breakfast in the Cadillac Diner, but the team at Moderno Churrascuria went out of their way to cater to a toddler and a non-meat-eater. Often simple requests (“I’d like to order two appetizers”) seem to confuse the waitstaff. Also, it’s just strange to hear a cheery “aloha!” from a non-Hawaiian crewmember from Portland — but nice that the majority of the crew is so friendly.
Cabins Do the Trick. Our standard balcony cabin is perhaps a bit small compared to some of the newer ships we’ve sailed, but I can’t really fault it. We have plenty of space for three people’s clothes, beach gear, a carseat in the closet and a foldout couch that’s never folded back up. My only complaint is the very narrow shower, complete with infamous clingy curtain and outfitted with mystery shower gel and shampoo in a dispenser.
For top of the line, book the newly added cabins on Deck 13. They range from multi-room suites with enormous balconies (that really could use a hot tub, dining table or even yoga studio to make use of all that deck space) to the four studios — hip single cabins that all open onto a communal living room with comfy chairs and a large flat-screen TV.
Freestyle Works.I wasn’t sure how I would react to freestyle cruising — Norwegian’s signature term for its laid-back style — but so far, so good. I like dining in a different venue every night (so far), and we’ve had no problems either making reservations or walking right in. Helpful TV screens show availability throughout the evening for the various options. We’ve always gotten a table just for our family; after a long day of sightseeing, I’m so happy not to make small talk with strangers over a meal.
And I adore the lack of dress code. I’ve been changing for dinner every night since my day clothes are just sweaty and gross by the end of a beach day, but it’s all been comfy skirts or capris, with no thought to “which dress code is tonight” and “how am I going to fit this formal gown and high heels in my suitcase?” My uber-casual husband is thrilled that he can wear jeans every night and skip the khakis. I think I could get used to this…
Have you sailed on Pride of America? What did you like – or dislike? Tell us in the comments!