Let's start with the most controversial issue - tipping.
In the packet of material handed out while in line before boarding the ship was a page explaining that NCL would NOT be charging the customary $10 per day per person "service charge" to your account and that if you choose to reward any of the crew with a gratuity, "...the standard practice used in any land-based resort or restaurant is applicable."
In conversations with table-mates during dinner I found that many people had not read (or understood)this information and were not tipping at all although they wanted their servers to receive a tip.
Tipping was still a problem for meals eaten at the buffet, which was all of my breakfasts and many of my lunches. There was no "service" in the buffet area other than having the "servers" buss the tables.
Confusion reigned here. Some times none of your plates were removed until after you had completed your meal. Other times someone was quick to More
remove any plate with which you were finished. The problem became the fact that three different people might clear a portion of the dishes. There was, generally, no one person working in your particular area.
I finally adopted the practice I read on one of the message boards written by "Retired, Not Expired" who stated that he watched for someone being diligent in bussing dishes in the general area where he was eating and then handed the tip directly to that person. Even that became somewhat of a problem because by the time I finished my meal that person might no longer be bussing, but might be working on cleaning up the serving area in an entirely different area of the cafe.
For the room steward, I did the old practice of putting the tip in an envelope on the last night of the cruise. I tipped above the "industry recommendation" because I felt he did a particularly good job.
The service in the main dining rooms was quite slow compared to what I have experienced on other ships. There are only two "main" dining rooms and they share the same kitchen. Both dining rooms have the same menu so there is no real difference other than minor changes in decor.
We were always one of the first ones in the dining room at 5:30PM, but on the second night of the cruise (the first night that there was a show) we were not able to get served and get out in time to attend the first show in the Stardust Theater, at 8PM.
On the third night we were seated at a table with a more efficient serving team so we asked for them for all dinners for the rest of the cruise. Their tables were right next to the kitchen. I don't know whether or not this contributed to their speed.
All servers were friendly and courteous.
We did not use the speciality restaurants.
The main restaurant food was superior to the buffet food.
The buffet food was about what you would expect from buffet food anywhere - not particularly tasty, but filling.
Freestyle dining was OK, but I prefer the Princess Line practice of assigned seating and dining times with the alternative of "Anytime Dining" at a third dining room. Pride of Aloha is too small a ship to provide this option.
The entertainment was not top-of-the-line. I didn't see the singing and dancing talent that I have seen on other cruise ships. One of the men dancers who was quite acrobatic was not at all good as a singer. Some of the "Joe Fosse inspired" choreography in one show seemed very "uninspired" to me. The choices for some of the featured songs from Broadway shows were not particularly good and not well executed.
The night when they were to feature a popular lounge singer they ran the audio system so loud that my wife and I left before he finished his first song. The noise of the combo was painful to hear! Friends who stayed said that the singer repeatedly asked that the sound be turned down during the show.
The ship is quite attractive and other reviewers who described the cabins as "tiny" were accurate. They are in fact "cramped." There are only three small drawers in which to store clothes. We were able to store our suitcases under the beds, and left some things in the suitcases for lack of other storage space.
Our cabin had a small sofa which folded out to make a bed. Having three people in one of these cabins would be quite uncomfortable! We had a balcony, which made the room feel somewhat larger.
The beds are rather novel. They are actually folding cots with relatively thin mattresses, very much like the cots I slept in during boot camp in the Army a very long time ago. (No innersprings.) They are quite firm, which I like, but a thick mattress pad is available for those who prefer something softer. Just ask your cabin steward for one.
The shore excursion activity is somewhat disorganized. I made my reservations on the NCL web site prior to the cruise. They got it wrong twice. I finally got a confirmation that everything was the way I wanted it. BUT, when I got to the ship they still had one excursion time wrong when they actually printed out the tickets. Getting things corrected was not difficult, except for the fact that you had to stand in line with all of the people who had not had the foresight to book on line.
We found a couple of the excursion descriptions quite deceptive. The glass bottom boat excursion over a coral reef in Kona was a great disappointment. The coral is dull and uninteresting, the few fish you see are small.
The Hawaii Volcanoes Deluxe Nature Adventure description states, "... if flowing lava is accessible we will make that a priority." Our tour driver stated that the nearest active lava flows are four to six miles(one way)from the nearest road. No tourists on shore excursions get near lava flows. Other than that, it was an interesting tour.
When, and if, NCL gets settled on the tipping or daily charge issue and improves the speed of food service, this will be an excellent tour venue.
Being able to sail the Hawaiian islands without having to make a foreign port of call is excellent!
One other thing - leaving the ship on the last day is really a breeze for those who are able to manage all of their own luggage. You don't set out your luggage the night before arrival, but keep it in your cabin. After the ship docks and is cleared by port officials you have permission to be the first ones off - on the condition that you carry all of our own luggage. Quite an innovation! Less