My family travelled on the Pride of America the week of July 7th. We had a group of 8 consisting of my wife and myself (early 40's), our 2 kids ( 8 & 12) and two sets of Grandparents (65-75). This was our first trip to Hawaii. In preparing to go to, everyone we spoke to had a different opinion of which island to visit so we chose the cruise, allowing us to see them all and form our own opinion. I'll try to be thorough without being exhausting just because so many of these reviews helped us plan our trip. I'll break the review down to the following sections: ship, service, dining, excursions, post/pre stays.
We chose a family suite and an inside stateroom. The suite was fantastic and easily slept 6. Everyone loved the size of the balcony and I would recommend this type of room for anyone taking this trip. The inside stateroom was designed for 4, but we only used it for 2. It was spacious enough for the 2 people to be comfortable and have room for their belongings. Our cabin steward was fantastic. She was always available and often times anticipated what we needed before we realized it. We did have problems with our safe in both rooms and had to have maintenance fix each safe at least 2x. We also had some minor problems with the toilets not flushing. Generally, if you waited an hour it was flush again. We found the remainder of the ship to be well maintained and up-to-date. The only exception was the last day or two it became difficult to find a public restroom that was working on the main decks.
Service was generally excellent throughout the ship. Most staff are excited to hear if you know something about their home town. As we'd run into them throughout the ship, they'd always remember us and ask how our day in port was and what we did. The only complaint I have about service is the crew didn't always seem to know what was going on. There were a few times where we would get different answers to the same question. Like any service oriented organization, there are always a few who didn't seem to enjoy their jobs or want to be bothered with people. This was the exception, NOT the norm. We also spent many of our evening's enjoying the music at Pink's Champaigne Bar. In preparing for the trip, this is not where we expected to be spending our time! Staff was fantastic, entertainment here was engaging and fun.
This was the most disappointing portion of the trip. My entire group felt this was a letdown all around. We tried different dining locations to make sure it wasn't just a bad experience. We ate in the following: Aloha Buffet, Skyline Dining Room, Liberty Dining Room, Cadillac Grill, Little Italy & Jefferson's Bistro. Because we were sailing in a suite, we also had access to the Lazy J for breakfast & lunch. Breakfast & Lunch in the Lazy J were excellent. Jefferon's Bistro was average. The rest of the food seemed to be very repetitive. Service was often slow and non-attentive. It felt as if the wait staff was over extended. (each team only seemed to be serving 4 tables at a time). During several meals, our entire group was left with nothing to drink. This included wine, beer, etc along with the entire groups water glasses. While my wife and I do enjoy a nice meal and can sometimes be accused of being a food snob, the rest of the group is perfectly happy with a Chilli's or a Ruby Tuesday type meal. With that said, the ENTIRE group was dissapointed with this portion of our trip.
Our experience in Little Italy was unacceptable. After 1 'Â½ hours we finally received our entrees. The waiter skipped an entire course. Half the entrees were served cold. Two people in our group ordered the pork saltimbocca that was supposed to have prosciutto and cheese on top. It was missing when it arrived. When we asked the waiter why it wasn't there, we were told "It's there, it's just hard to see". That was the point when we I got up and searched out the Maitre D. We explained the problems to him and informed him that we just can't continue with the disappointing dinner at that point. He handled the complaints very well and ensured we weren't charged extra for the meal.
We booked excursions both through the ship and on our own. My recommendation is if you're doing something active (snorkeling, parasailing, kayaking, etc.) book through the ship. This gives you peace of mind that the company is properly trained and insured. Also, if something runs long (many did) you don't have to worry about missing the boat. We snorkeled the Molikini Crater in Maui (not for those who are prone to seasickness), kayaked in Kauai and tubed the irrigation canals in Kauai. Tubing was a favorite for our entire group but book early. Many others we met wanted to do this but it had sold out. For excursions that are more sightseeing based, you'll have a better experience and save money if you book on your own. We used www.hawaiicruiseexcursions.com to book our trip to the volcano in Hilo. Had only 12 people total allowing us to see more and take our time. We didn't have to wait on 50 people in a bus to move to the next destination. Phil & Kai did an excellent job of taking care of us. Side note here... my wife left her SLR Camera on the van. They were extremely helpful in locating it and getting it back to us in perfect condition. I'll talk about our Luau, Pearl Harbor and the Circle Island Tour during post/pre stays.
We arrived early and spent 4 days at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. The goal of our pre-stay was to allow everyone time to relax and enjoy the Hawaiian Beaches. The Hilton was a fantastic hotel and we felt very well taken care of the entire time we were here. There are plenty of pools to go with the large stretch of beach. The Hotel is a large property with something for everyone. Good food (and diverse options) were within a five minute walk from anywhere on the property. There was a large amount of shopping both on-site and within a very short walk. To get from the airport to the hotel and then to the cruise ship, we used Mark at www.hawaii23.com. He did a great job communicating with us and was waiting at the airport when we landed. For 8 people and our luggage (about 20 bags with carry-on's, etc) it was about $60 each way (before tip). I wouldn't hesitate to use Mark or recommend him again.
We chose to do a Luau as part of our pre-stay. Chose Paradise Cove and they did a great job. Food was good, drinks were decent. They also pick-up and drop-off from most of the major hotels in Waikiki which was convenient.
For our post-stay, we chose to stay at the Ramada Waikiki due to price. (cheapest hotel on hotwire.com with a name I recognized). For our post stay, we weren't looking for all the amenities of the Hilton, just wanted a bed to sleep in and a place to store our luggage. Upon leaving the ship, we dropped our luggage with the bell hop and immediately headed for Pearl Harbor on our own. The most difficult part of the entire trip was determining what to do with our luggage while at Pearl Harbor. We decided it was worth the extra charge to first go to our hotel and check the bags there. Mark (hawaii23) doesn't make the trip to Pearl Harbor but recommended Johnnycabhi.com for that trip. John did a great job meeting us at the pier. Cost about $150 round trip for all 8. (pier to Waikiki to Pearl Harbor & return). You can now book your tickets for the trip to the Arizona online. www.recreation.gov charges a $1.50/ticket processing fee but worth it. No worries about getting there early to secure a spot.
For our last day, we decided to do the Circle Island Tour before our flight left that night (9pm). After much research, I discovered most of the limo companies on Oahu offer the Circle Island Tour and believe it or not, it's a little cheaper if you have 4 or more in your group. We used jayslimousine.com for a 14 person shuttle that we had all to ourselves. Bobby was our guide and did a fantastic job. They picked us up at 9am and dropped us off at the airport at 5pm. We used their basic itinerary, but made some personalized changes. They were more than willing to take us wherever we wanted to go. This allowed us to visit the Swap Meet, stop at Mosimoto's for Hawaiian Shaved Ice and get lunch at a Hawaiian shrimp truck. Total cost for all 8 was $440 and this included transportation to the airport! Circle island tour alone through the big companies was going to cost more than $600.