After reading the reviews on this site, I was extremely hesitant about boarding the Pride of America. NCL representatives were extremely unhelpful and I could not get a straight answer about any of the problems I had heard about prior to our cruise. I am happy to say that due to the advanced warnings and helpful hints from other Cruise Critic members, we had a wonderful time on our cruise. However, I would not take this cruise again with a child under 2. For future reference, my husband and I (and 11 month old baby) took this cruise with my parents, so we had 2 cabins on different ends of the ship.
EMBARKATION -- Embarkation was one of the worst parts of the trip. We did not purchase NCL transportation vouchers, so this may have been the cause of our problems, but I don't believe buying the pre-paid vouchers would have made any difference. The cab ride is $20 from the airport to the harbor and arrives quicker than the NCL shuttle vans.
purchased travel vouchers at the airport for $8 per person which had people on it who paid $20 for NCL's transfers. The ride is short, about 15 minutes so that's not the issue. The major inconvenience arose when we arrived at the harbor terminal and about 500 people are standing in line in the humid air waiting to go through security so they can register. This was ridiculous! NCL has got to figure out how to do this better. Apparently there are lines from 1:30 pm until 4:00 pm. My parents who arrived at 1:00 pm embarked with no wait. Once we got through security, we were able to register through the Latitudes area which probably saved us an hour.
I have taken approx. 15 cruises previously, yet I was pleasantly and constantly surprised at the beauty of the ship. It is decorated wonderfully and the American theme was carried throughout the ship.
TRAVELING WITH AN INFANT -- Our baby loved the ship. The carpet is very colorful and each restaurant and room has a different theme, so the baby received a lot of stimulation. Since he wasn't allowed to play in the children's area during "open hours" since there were 75 other children on the ship, we had to let him crawl around the different public rooms so he could get some exercise. Other people and the children's staff recommended the Champagne Bar, however, it seemed that art auctions were always going on there, plus the smoke from the cigar bar drifted up there & there was an overhang which we didn't think was too safe. We had him crawl around the library and game room and other rooms which were unoccupied. Plus, since the cruise was through Hawaii, we were only on the ship in the late afternoons and at night.
It was very disappointing not to be able to use the childcare facilities. We were not the only people in this situation, therefore there were often infants at dinner and around the common areas way past their bedtimes. If we (and other parents) wanted to eat somewhere other than a buffet, we had to take the baby to dinner. The room service menu was very limited, so there weren't other options.
Our cabin steward was good. We were one of the lucky ones. He made our baby towel animals and did a nice job cleaning our room. After the first night of trying to sterilize the bottles with the hot water dispenser for tea up in the Aloha Cafe, I asked the steward if there was somewhere I could get the bottles washed, and he ran them through the dishwasher sterilizer for me. That was a huge relief and convenience.
The crib provided was metal and didn't have any bumpers. The housekeeping supervisor made us "makeshift bumpers," yet after the first night, we decided we wanted our baby to keep his baby teeth (he kept pulling himself up and knocking his head on the rails & side bars) so we went to a Wal-Mart in Hilo & bought a pack-and-play for him to sleep in for the rest of the trip. A bonus was that the pack-and-play took up less room and every square foot of floor space counted!
CABIN -- The cabin is tiny. We had trouble fitting 2 of us and a crib in it. I don't know how 4 people could have room to put their clothes away in the limited number of drawers that were provided. The room was designed well, however, with a mini-fridge which was a lifesaver for us, a safe, tv with good reception, & closet with lots of hangers. Our suitcases fit nicely under the bed. We didn't spend much time in our room due to the itinerary and size of the room.
Balconies - We deliberately did not choose a balcony (fear of baby crawling off the ship) but our room had a big window which gave us lots of light. We saw a lot of cabins with Balconies and the Balconies didn't look that big, except for the ones on the front and back of the ship. My parents had a balcony off the back of the ship (aft 9702) which was incredible and almost 3/4 the size of their room. All standard rooms seemed to be the same size, so the balcony did provide a little more space.
Bathroom - The bathroom was miniscule. Beyond tiny. I'm petite, and I was claustrophobic in the shower. I don't know how a 175 pound male could ever shower there. The counter space was ridiculously small and the bathrooms have 2 trash receptacles under the sink rather than a regular trash can since there is no space for a can in the bathroom. I would advise showering in the spa. There is no fee to use the spa facilities. Treatments are not any more expensive than equivalent hotels charge.
All of the bathrooms have soap dispensers, except ours didn't have one when we arrived. Therefore, we didn't have any soap in our cabin until I called housekeeping. I don't know what the previous occupants were thinking. We also had all the accessories to make coffee/tea, and no coffee pot. It took us 4 days of reminders to get an in-room coffee pot. We also had a big problem with our shower not draining. That took 4 days to get that fixed too. It was beyond unpleasant. The light outside our room also was burned out and never got fixed. I felt like a complainer, but whoever is in the room next shouldn't find much wrong with it.
CLEANLINESS -- We were extremely worried about cleanliness & bad smells. Yes, Deck 4 did smell of sewage occasionally. I reported this to the pursers desk & saw housekeeping putting a "smelling tree" in a closet almost immediately. Not exactly the ideal solution in my book, but it did work for that instance. At other times, the stench was terrible.
Our stateroom was not as clean as I would have liked when we arrived. Plus, some things looked worn more than they should have for a ship that is only 6 months old. We learned, and this may or not be true, that a cleaning crew comes on the ship each Saturday to clean & turn-around the rooms, and on that day, the stewards get a day off. Who knows? We didn't have ice until late the first evening and we didn't ever know at what time our cabin would be cleaned, but I blame all of this on NCL and not having proper staffing ratios, rather than on the stewards. My parents weren't as lucky with their cabin steward as we were. They never saw theirs. I recall reading something about dirty elevator doors, and while this was the case, the dirt is really just streaking since the elevator doors are stainless steel and the cleaning crew probably doesn't have the proper cleaning equipment to keep the doors streak-free.
GYM -- I hadn't seen any posts about the gym before embarkation. The gym is AMAZING! Flat panel tv's on every treadmill & bike. They nickel & dime you to take spinning & other classes, which we didn't do, but the gym is of a Four Seasons quality. More equipment was being added too, since we saw it in a "crew only" area when we were escorted with our stroller down a "restricted" area. I never used the gym except for admiring it since I was walking up and down the hallways so often carrying a 20+ pound baby.
FOOD -- Service is beyond leisurely...it is slow. However, we never once had a rude server and even though it sometimes took 2 1/2 hrs for dinner, the servers constantly came around to ask if we needed anything. It seemed that the kitchen was very backed up and the staff is running around but doesn't seem to get anywhere. But, and to me, this is more important than the food or the wait to eat, the servers are polite, helpful and trying their best. Therefore, even if the service was slow, the servers really seemed to be doing their best to keep the guests happy.
Overall, the food was fair. Other than the shrimp, which was excellent, and the sushi, which was ok, the seafood was terrible. All of the seafood is frozen and is not very good. I had a "special" of swordfish and spinach in Little Italy which was presented beautifully, yet the swordfish was inedible. It was a great presentation though. Much beyond my expectations for presentation.
Restaurant-wise, for dinner, we ate at Little Italy three times, East Meets West once, Sushi Bar twice, and the formal dining room once. We also ate at the Cadillac Diner & the Aloha Cafe for breakfast & lunch. We had a reservation at Jefferson's Bistro and decided to cancel it since the other food was not very good, and we figured it wasn't worth the extra cost since it was the same kitchen.
I'll give you the highlights of Little Italy (no surcharge) & East Meets West ($10):
Little Italy has a Caesar salad mixed table-side, however, it's bottled dressing. That pretty much sums up all the food on the ship. I'd skip the Caesar unless you choose to put Oil & Vinegar on it. All of the salad dressings I tasted seemed to be non-fat and I didn't like most of them. The menu states there are non-fat dressings, so maybe they got the labels mixed up. As I said earlier, don't order the seafood. The pasta is good, and the pizza is delicious. Fresh and hot. We didn't have a temperature problem with any of our meals on board. Also, the veal chop was fantastic. You can ask for crushed garlic for the bread which they heated up and was very tasty. All of the appetizers were ok too.
East Meets West was salty, yet it had the best Chicken Satay I've ever tasted. Nothing else on the menu was outstanding, and the miso soup was too salty to drink, however, the green tea, which is only served at this restaurant, is very good. All tea & coffee drinks are included.
The coffee was delicious every day. There were machines which brewed the coffee and even though one was often not working, the coffee they produced was delicious, though sometimes even too hot to drink. The espresso was particularly strong.
Breakfast was the best meal. I enjoyed eating at the outside area of the Aloha Deck. Omelettes were made to order (with egg whites or egg beaters) and the view couldn't be beat! We ate in the formal dining room twice for breakfast, however, the service was very slow and we wanted to see the sites.
I also really liked the Diner. They made me a turkey sandwich to-order and although it wasn't fancy, it was exactly what I wanted. Further, we had purchased the "unlimited sodas" for the week (not really necessary but we were afraid ordering too many diet cokes would break the bank) and servers brought them without batting and eye and they weren't being tipped by us since we paid a flat fee.
Wine is very expensive for the quality and we stuck to diet coke after a few bottles that were barely drinkable.
EXCURSIONS/SEEING THE ISLANDS -- My husband took the volcano bike ride excursion in Hilo. He enjoyed it. The excursion prices seem high until you realize how much money it is to take a taxi. We tried to take an excursion our last day in Kauai to see the Na Poli coast, however, since our departure was supposed to be earlier than originally scheduled, they didn't have the excursion that day (Friday) and only offered it on Thursday. In retrospect and after doing the excursion on our own, the $175 a person is reasonable since our taxi cost $120 round trip.
Most days we rented cars, and ironically, the prices we were quoted off the ship were often less than the price we were quoted when we pre-reserved our cars. It was a hassle to take the rental car shuttles to the airport or nearest car rental place, especially with a baby, and in Kona, the car shuttles stop at 3:30 due to traffic, so we had to get into a cab anyway.
We spent a few days seeing sites and a few days lounging at hotels on the beach/by the pool. We found a few hotels where we could pay a "day rate," but this is unnecessary since all of Hawaii's beaches are public beaches and all of the hotels are required to provide access to visitors. The hotel pool areas are restricted to guests only.
ENTERTAINMENT -- I only went to one show which was ok. My parents thought the juggler and the acrobats were fantastic. My husband and dad slept through the comedian and apparently were the butt of the jokes there.
OVERALL -- In summary, we enjoyed ourselves and the baby had the best time of all. It was exhausting to get off the ship each day with an infant and next time we'll stay at one resort. We loved the Na Poli coast from the ship and the nighttime cruise of the volcano (the first time they'd sailed past it at night in 4 cruises) was really special. I wouldn't take this cruise if your child is under 2 unless you bring a full-time babysitter. It was a wonderful way to see the differences in the islands and Hawaii is gorgeous!
DINNER RESERVATIONS -- 1. Make dinner reservations for specialty restaurants as early as possible. They fill up very fast. You can now make all of them upon embarkation and don't have to wait until Sunday morning. 2. Specialty restaurants are half price the first evening, so go to the expensive one them. 3. Everyone raved about the Teppanyaki dinner and it filled up quickly with only 45 people seated a night (15 or so per seating). 4. The sushi restaurant was the best bargain. $5 all you can eat. Personalized service and you don't have to pay the $10 cover for East Meets West. Most people don't realize that. Again, seating is limited (15 at a time), so make your reservations early.
OTHER -- 1. If you can request a cabin toward the back of the ship, do so, since you'll be closer to the Aloha Cafe and can run upstairs for a quick bite. 2. If you're traveling with a family, you all want to be near each other. The ship is too large to walk back and forth. 3. The fourth floor has limited access so certain stairwells don't go through. If you're on the fourth floor, you want to be in the middle of the ship. 4. The Jacuzzi on Deck 11 or 12 on the back of the ship was empty and the views of the coast were amazing from it.
Feel free to email me if you have further questions or would like more information about our cruise. Less