This review is for the Pride of Aloha cruise that departed on 07-31-2005 from Honolulu.
Background: My Dear Wife (DW) and I are a fifty-ish couple celebrating their 25th Wedding anniversary. Previous trips to Hawaii were land based tours on our honeymoon and 10th anniversary. We've cruised together on NCL before (Dawn 2004) as well as Holland American (4), Celebrity (2), Princess (1) and Royal Caribbean (1). Two other forty-ish couples accompanied us and they have sailed on NCL before as well as other cruises.
Summary: Internet reviews of the PoAl lowered our expectations. Our overall experience was comparable to other cruises and Hawaii was great. We did not experience the bad service, bad food and lack of cleanliness problems cited in many reviews.
There were some exceptions. The room steward was a no show the last night. Service in the Royal Palm Bistro was poor. And there were no pool towels for several hours one afternoon. Also, the ship was over an hour late getting into Hilo (headwinds) and 5 hours late leaving Hilo (mechanical problems). The late departure caused the viewing of the volcano lava to be skipped. This was a major disappointment. All three couples managed to miss the announcement that it was being skipped despite having the cabin TV tuned to the ship's information channel. We also missed out on the free champagne that was offered the next night for missing the lava flow as we never heard announcement either.
Planning: This cruise was in the planning for over a year and was booked thru a local travel agent one year ahead. We handled our own flights and pre and post cruise stays. We used Frommer's Hawaii, plus a number of travel websites and AAA to research hotels and condo's. The flights were booked thru the airline websites, the Waikiki hotel by phone directly with the hotel. The Maui condo was booked directly with the owners thru their internet page.
Flights: All fights to and from Hawaii were on American Airlines. Outbound fights went from Newark (EWR) to Los Angeles (LAX) to Honolulu (HNL). The fights were on time except on arriving at the gate at HNL the jet way could only get as close as 8 inches to the plane. After 40 minutes and a gate switch, we got off the plane.
One couple flew back right after the cruise and went back thru LAX. The others stayed on Maui for 2 nights. The inter island flight from Honolulu was on Aloha scheduled at Noon. We arrived from the ship by taxi and were able to board the 10 AM flight. Our luggage showed up on the 10:30 flight. Our outbound flight went from Maui (OGG) to Chicago-O'Hare (ORD) and onto EWR.
All these American flights were long and an endurance test. American serves soda, juice, water and a bag of chips. Sandwiches are available ($5.00) as well as a snack box ($3.00). The snack box is not worth it. The offer headsets for $2.00 and you can keep them. But, your CD walkman headset works just as well.
We had two rental cars because we could not get a van. One car was thru the hotel and was provided by Dollar. The other was booked directly thru Budget. We took the Dollar shuttle to pick up the cars. Dollar, Budget and Hertz were all at the same location. We stayed at Ocean Resort Hotel in Waikiki for a very reasonable rate. The rooms were small with a tiny balcony with an obstructed ocean view. The rooms had no fridge or coffee maker. Parking was valet only except they were always full. So, you are sent across the street and pay $7.00 a day. But, the hotel location was right across the street from the Marriott Waikiki Beach Resort and just two short blocks to the beach.
Waikiki beach was great. There was a swimming area at the end of the street that has a breakwater so the water is calm. Just outside the breakwater and on the beach towards Diamond Head there are waves that surfers and boogie boarders used. Saturday night there was "Sunset on the Beach" with live entertainment starting at 4 PM with local food vendors serving very good and reasonably priced food.
Walking Kalakaua Ave along the beach provided restaurants and shopping including the International Market Place. We had breakfast in Lulu's across from the beach one morning which was okay but a little chaotic. The Ocean Resort had a restaurant that served a reasonable and quick breakfast. We had dinner at Tiki's Grill and Bar in the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel. (Note: all the Aston's just changed their names to Resortquest. The signs changed while we were there). The food at Tiki's was great but a little steep. And it provides a view of the sunset. But, the sunset is better seen from the beach.
We went to Pearl Harbor on Saturday. We arrived about 7:45, waited about an hour for tickets for the 10:30 tender to the memorial. A movie is shown before your ride to the memorial with an introduction by a survivor of the December 7, 1941 attack. It is a moving experience and worth the visit. And it is free.
On the way back from Pearl, we scouted out the pier at the Aloha Tower for the next day. The Pride of America was in port. The Aloha Tower Marketplace right next to the ship is a full shopping mall with a food court and a couple of restaurants. NCL America (NCLA) provides an NCL Service Center in the lobby of Marriott Waikiki Beach Resort. Guests booked at the Marriott can pre-register for the cruise. I had read on the internet that if you showed up with all your documents and they were not busy they would register non-guests. I did not intend to go out of the way to do this but since we were right there, we figured why not. When we tried on Friday afternoon, there was no line. We were told no, it is only for guests booked thru NCL at the Marriott.
On Sunday morning at 9:30, we went to the ABC store in the Marriott right next to the NCL center. There were no customers in the center. Eight employees were standing around with nothing to do. We asked to register again but now they would do it but could not after 9 AM for that day's cruise.
Not a good first impression of NCLA. I felt like I was not important to them.
We got to the pier around 11 AM and checked in our luggage with the help of a porter. The two drivers took the cars back to the airport and taxied back ($20). The registration line started at noon. Once you get thru security, there is a separate line to the left for the Marriott pre-registered folks, suite guests and Latitude members. Being Latitude members helped since we were second in line and taken right away. Registration went smoothly. They sell leis on the first floor right after registration. But, NCLA gives you a lei upstairs just before the customary welcome aboard photo. On board by 12:30, we were welcomed and directed to the Stardust Theater since the rooms were not ready. We were in the room by 1 PM. The two couples had to wait for the drivers to check in. But, they went directly to their rooms also by 1 PM.
We booked our anniversary package dinner at the reservation desk in the Kumu Cultural Center (Deck 7 mid-ship) for Saturday night. The lunch buffet at the Hukilai Lanai (Deck 11, Aft) was next. Soda cards cost $35.00 for the week. Individual soda's are $1.50. DW definitely got her money's worth, mine was a close call. Bucket's of Beer are available. This is a yellow plastic football helmet that they put six beers and ice. You can keep the bucket if you want but there is no other savings. Corona's were $4.75. (Note: Hawaii taxes are added to the drinks when in port).
Dinner the first night was at the BBQ at the pool. The food was pretty good and we did not have to dress up.
Ship: The Pride of Aloha was in good condition. At 77,000 tons, she is smaller than the last three ships we have cruised. But there is no crowding except at the Hukilau Cafe. Just head to the back to the Lanai and if you can't find a table at breakfast or lunch head in the Longboard Bar (opposite the cafe on Deck 11). The only other crowds were leaving the ship at Kona which is the only tendered port and coming back from the luau on Friday night on Maui.
A special note on the shipboard medical services: DW had the misfortune to pass a kidney stone early in the cruise. Her visit and follow-up at the medical center were handled very professionally. The doctor referred her to the Maui Medical Group in Wailuku to confirm the diagnosis. Our 9:30 AM appointment there was terrific. The doctor examined DW, recommended a sonogram which was performed immediately on site. The results were provided to the doctor quickly confirming the passage of a kidney stone. We were back on the ship by 1 PM. DW was a trooper throughout and never missed a meal. DW did not see much of the NaPali coast and we did miss a trip to the Volcanoes National Park and a Maui excursion. But, we made the best of it.
One last note on the ship; the Hawaiian ambassador runs several lei making classes during the cruise. The ladies in our little group loved them.
Cabin: All three couples had BD Balcony rooms on the starboard side on Deck 9. The rooms are small but adequate. Suitcases fit under the beds. There is a small sofa and a small desk with a small fridge below. The closet is small, one having 3 drawers and a shelf with the safe. There were plenty of hangers. The bathroom was typical with the sink having shelves on either side. The shower is opposite the sink with a curtain. The vacuum toilet sits on an angle between the sink and shower. NCL does not provide those little bars of soap and bottles of shampoo. There are dispensers but I am not sure what's in them. We bought our own.
Cabins on the starboard (right) side were picked based on being the preferred side for the lava flow viewing. Since the ship skipped the lave flow, we'll never know But, the both the Captain and Cruise Director indicated the ship would do a complete 360 degree turn so all would have a good view of the lava. Viewing for the Na Pali coast of Kauai is only from port (left) side or directly forward or aft. We had no problem viewing Na Pali from the Promenade deck. Also, the starboard balcony offered better views at all the ports including one incredible rainbow in Maui.
Some observations on the ship: The main buffet is the Hukilau cafe (Deck 11, starboard, aft) Sprinkles, the ice cream bar, is just as you enter the Hukilau Cafe is on the starboard side. Sprinkles was open from lunch time until 9 PM. If the Hukilau Cafe is crowded, just head to the back to the Lanai with two more serving stations. This is where the waffle man sings his way thru breakfast. There are omelet stations on both lines. There is also outside but covered sitting. If you can't find a table at breakfast or lunch head in the Longboard Bar (opposite the cafe on Deck 11).
The Longboard Bar has a pub menu available from mid-afternoon until 3:30 AM. You can order things like burgers, hot dogs and pizza. We had the chicken wings and they were very good. Just forward of the Longboard Bar is the pizza oven which you can walk right up and get a slice most to the time. The pizza is just opposite the Pacific Heights restaurant in an out of the way spot. Do not let the fact that it looks like the entrance to the restaurant put you off.
Tipping: NCLA did not charge the $10.00 per day per person service charge on this cruise. You are on your own for tipping. Basically, we used a $3.50 per day guideline for the room steward at the end of the cruise. The same guideline was used each night for the dining room service. These tips were in cash. Tips are not automatically added to drink orders. So, there is a spot on the bill to add a tip each time so these can be charged to the room account. . Ports:
Nawiliwili Kauai: Entering Nawiliwili was interesting since there is a golf course on the cliffs just off the entrance to the harbor. Take advantage of this port for the closeness of a shopping center and beach with a free shuttle. The other ports are more commercial. There are free shuttles to Hilo Hattie's, the Anchor Cove Shopping center and Coconut Marketplace.
Hilo, Hawaii - Hilo harbor is pretty commercial but has free shuttles to Hilo Hattie's and Prince Kuhio Plaza. We rented a car at Hilo and had no trouble getting Budget Shuttle.
Kona, Hawaii - Ship's tenders are used and drop you off on a dock. It is an easy walk into town. We did not walk into Kona on this trip but found the area to very interesting on prior trips. Again shuttles to Hilo Hattie and some other shopping were available.
Kauhului, Maui - The most remote of the ports. But, taxi's and car rental shuttles were available. There was a shuttle to Hilo Hattie's at specific times. It's a long ride. There is also a shuttle to a shopping center with a fee of $7.50 Excursions:
Kauai - Waimea Canyon and Fern Grotto. I was definitely not looking forward to a 7 hour bus tour. But, our guide, Hilary, was tremendous. He was very informative about the island's history and culture. Waimea Canyon is not to be missed. We also stopped at the Spouting Horn, a lava tube that shoots water like a geyser each time a wave hits the shore. The fern grotto involved an entertaining ride on a boat up the Wailua River. The fern grotto is an interesting botanical garden with interesting lava formations. Your group walks up to the grotto where you are serenaded by the Hawaiian Wedding song.
Kona - Kamanu Catamaran Dolphin Sail and snorkel. - Vans pick you up at the tender pier for a short trip to a marina. Boarding the Catamaran, Captain Ray and Deckhand Meredith took very good care of us. The even had prescription masks for the nearsighted that helped me and others see very well underwater. The catamaran anchors at a buoy off a rocky beach which non-Hawaiians are forbidden to go on. Inner tubes were provided for buoyancy and that worked out much better than expected. Snorkeling was a little disappointing compared to the Caribbean in that it was not as colorful nor were there as many fish. But, I did see a sea turtle. Sandwiches, fresh fruit, beer water and soda were provided as we sailed back to the marina.
Maui - Pacific Paradise Luau - This was better than expected. It's a 30-40 minute bus ride to the Maui Prince where the Luau is held. Mai-Tai's, Blue Hawaiians, Beer and soda was available. The entertainment was good and the food not bad
One of the couples with us are certified scuba divers. On Kona, they went on the Kona 2 Tank Certified dive and were somewhat disappointed. They were expecting a lot of colorful reefs and lots of fish. They got neither. Also, the outfit charged $10 extra for anything you needed besides the tanks. I am no diver but $10 for a mask or flippers or buoyancy control seems like a lot. One family had to shell out an extra $180 for this dive. The other dive on Maui was Turtle Reef Certified Scuba. This went much better. But, since the couple was pretty much told they would not make it back to the ship in time to get bussed to the luau, they rented a car. They were still late getting to the luau. And at the luau, the Maui Prince provided them a place to shower and change.
Post-Cruise: One couple went on the Grand Circle Island tour back in Honolulu since their flight home was Sunday night. They were impressed with the tour and especially the north shore of Oahu.
DW and I went with the other couple back to Maui. We stayed at the Valley Isle Resort Condo in Kahana that's just above Kaanapali. The condo was great but had no air conditioning and it was warm. There was a beach right in back of the condo that was nice for swimming and snorkeling. Our lanai looked out toward Molakai and two beautiful sunsets. We toured the beaches of Kapalua and above and then shop til we dropped in Lahaina. Lunches both days in Lahaina; one day at Compadres, a Mexican restaurant at the Cannery shopping center and the other was at Bubba Gump's. There was a free Hula show at the Cannery on Sunday's at 2 PM. The dancing was as good as or better than the luau.
On the way to the airport, we stopped at the Maui Ocean Center. This has an excellent presentation of Hawaiian sea life presentation including a shark tank and a detailed section on whales
Conclusion: If we took another cruise it would not be on the Pride of Aloha. There are better cruise ships. If we went back to Hawaii, it would be on a land based trip. There is so much to see on each island that a few hours just do not do them justice. But our cruise was not a negative experience. And if you only have a week and want to see four islands, this is not a bad way to go.