Because the Pride of America mostly cruises from island to island after dark, and we were off the ship during daylight hours, we decided to skip the balcony and got an inside cabin. Good decision, and it saved us about $1000.
Cabin was small, but adequate. Good service from our steward, but he did seem overworked. Drinking glasses not changed all week. No refill of soap dispensers, etc. Room was pretty quiet from outside noises. Bed cover was a thick duvet wrapped in a sheet - so at night, it's lots of covering or none! I couldn't quite get used to that.
As others have reported, our cabin's safe also malfunctioned one day, necessitating a late night visit by a security guy.
Our friends in a nearby cabin had numerous problems with their room key ... the steward said that it was a recurring problem with that particular room.
Couldn't hear announcements in the cabin.
RESERVATIONS: The restaurant reservation system needs a serious overhaul. There was a lot of confusion about the reservation process, particularly on the day of arrival. We had read that dining reservations should be made as soon as you board ship because the popular restaurants fill up early, especially at certain times. So when we got on board mid-afternoon, we tried repeatedly to call the dining reservation number but never got through the whole afternoon. We decided to try Little Italy, so we showed up just before they opened (7:30 PM) figuring it must be on a first come, first served basis on the first day. The greeter was frazzled and not helpful, but we left our names with her. Two groups, who had somehow gotten reservations (how, I wonder?) were called in ahead of us. Then we were called in to be seated. Some friends of ours showed up 15 minutes later (7:45 PM) and were told that Little Italy was "full". Being on the inside of the restaurant at that time, we knew that definitely wasn't the case - it was at least half empty until we left about 9:00.
The next morning, I called to make our reservation for the second evening (at Jefferson's Bistro), and had no trouble getting through or making the reservation.
Our very nice maitre d' (Merrill) at Little Italy said that there was a new policy, not made public, that the ship would take reservations for only 24 hours in advance. Our experiences later in the week proved that wasn't true - if there were openings at the time we wanted, we could make reservations for any time in the future. And, we discovered at the Jefferson Bistro, they would take reservations right at the entry way - and were delighted to do so (obviously we like that restaurant a lot, but more about that later). However that proved a fiasco because they made the reservation at the wrong restaurant!
But the biggest problem was that neither the main restaurants (Skyline and Liberty) nor specialty restaurants could accommodate the demand at dinnertime, especially for seating for any time before 8 PM. Too many people had to wait or were turned away. It should not be such a hassle to get to eat at all of the sit down restaurants. We frequently resorted to the buffet - which was good - at the Aloha Cafe.
BREAKFAST. Thankfully someone in this forum recommended the Aloha Bar which is located outdoors aft of the Aloha Cafe. It's on the back deck, about half covered if it rains or it's too sunny. Typically, the inside Aloha Cafe was mobbed with people around the buffet tables and trying to find good seating. But just a few steps away and through a back door was the Aloha Bar with almost everything you could want (made-to-order omelets, etc.) and there were very few people. Such a nice way to enjoy the early morning in the out of doors!
LUNCH. Great hamburgers at Cadillac Diner. Again, the Aloha Cafe and its companion Aloha Bar were good at lunchtime.
DINNER. - Little Italy - Service. We were the third party seated on the first evening (see Reservations above). The good news is we were seated next to a window. The bad news is that we were also right next to the door going into the very noisy kitchen. We put up with the distraction of the kitchen noise the entire meal. But finally at the end of the meal, when the maitre d asked, we suggested to him that, when they have plenty of tables available, this one should not be used. He apologized and explained that he was trying to spread the diners to all of of his servers' stations, and we had just drawn that spot (I thought maybe it was because we didn't have one of those impossible-to-get reservations!). The moral of the story ... if you don't like your table, ask to me moved! We did the next night (see Jefferson Bistro), and it was great that we did.
At Little Italy, we got our first taste of what some critics have pointed out as the lack of professionalism of an all-American crew. Both the waiter and his assistant were much more into themselves than giving attention to us as diners. Several inappropriate quips were made that should never have been said at a fine restaurant. We could see one of them preening himself in the back, etc. Yuck.
- Little Italy - Food. My wife and I both had the veal specialty, and we disagreed on our rating - she liked it, I didn't. We both agreed that the salad and desserts were unimpressive.
Nice tip ... At Little Italy we learned, if you buy a bottle of wine and don't finish it, you may take it with you. OR, they will re-cork it and store in their wine cellar, and you may ask for it at any other restaurant later in the week. We took advantage of this and had our half consumed bottle saved, and we used it the next night! Cool!
Jefferson's Bistro - Service - On our second night we went to Jefferson's Bistro. What a great restaurant! It was truly a fine dining experience. As mentioned before, we asked if we could be moved from our initially assigned table (near the door), and she graciously moved us to the "Library" which was a smaller area, very quiet and lovely. Our waiter (Daniel) was terrific as was his assistant. We never felt hurried and spent a very pleasant 2 1/2 hours there! And immediately made reservations to return later in the week. We again had Daniel on the second visit, and he charmed our larger group that night the way he had the 2 of us on the first visit.
Jefferson Bistro - Food - After the dining experience the previous evening, I wondered whether our expectations were just unreasonably high. No, no, mon ami! This time we both had fabulous meals. We were both gently encouraged by the waiter to choose something from every course (appetizer, soup, salad, entree, dessert), so we did. Our favorites before the main course were the escargot for me, and onion soup for her - both wonderfully prepared and presented. She had filet mignon for main entree and I had a sea bass -- both were excellent. It was all so good, we immediately made a reservation for later in the week - Thursday, when everyone else would be gorging on some all-you-can-eat pretend lobster at the main restaurants, we planned on having another intimate dinner (perhaps even Maine lobster) at Jefferson's.
Liberty and Skyline Restaurants. These were the main dining rooms. As mentioned before, the reservation system is a mystery. The food was mediocre at best. The service was uneven. "Free Style" dining is supposed to mean that you can eat when you want, but if you can't get in, so what? And every meal there is luck-of-the-draw if you agree to share your table, which the greeter strongly pushes if you want to eat on your schedule rather than theirs.
RESERVATIONS. As suggested by other reviewers, make your shore excursion reservations weeks in advance, if possible. And, if you haven't gotten a confirmation within a day or 2, start calling NCL. The hassles we had trying to get confirmed shore excursion reservations in advance are too much to detail here; suffice it to say, I spent hours on the phone (mostly on hold), and never had clear confirmation of our excursions. But the bright side of this is that there was little hassle once on the ship, we finally had confirmations, etc. ... I don't think I heard of anyone who could not get the excursions they wanted either added or cancelled at the Shore Excursion desk.
Our excursion experiences were ...
SUNDAY (Hilo, Hawaii): Volcanoes National Park and Rainbow Falls (ITO-03). The Park is a must see. Next time we would choose (ITO-01) which (a) skips a big buffet lunch which was not very good, wastes time, and is unnecessary with all the food on the ship, (b) skips Rainbow Falls which, while nice, lasted only 15 minutes and not that spectacular, and (c) is $35 less expensive.
MONDAY (Kahului, Maui): Maui Ocean Center; Iao Valley (IGG-04). Good tour - glad we did it. The aquarium is very well done, a real treat. We heard that the luau shore excursion is the most popular - 800 people signed up! We went to the luau at the Polynesian Cultural Center back in Honolulu (which we highly recommend), so we passed on this luau in Maui.
A great resource for Maui is Jon Blum's internet site: http://www.mauihawaii.org/
TUESDAY (Kahului, Maui): Haleakala Crater at Sunrise (OGG-48) This was a great tour. The ride up and back could be an issue if you're prone to motion sickness due to the many switchbacks on the mountain. Do take warm clothing!
WEDNESDAY (Kona, Hawaii): Valley Waterfall Hiking Adventure This was another good choice, though a bit pricey. The trail out to the waterfall is private, so there are no crowds. It's a good way to see the western and northern coast of the Big Island, and the hike out (not too strenuous) to the waterfall is through beautiful scenery.
THURSDAY (Nawiliwili, Kauai) Again thanks to an earlier reviewer, we rented a car. If you are sure you're going to do this, rent the car ahead of time. Without a reservation, the shuttles to the airport were reluctant to take us. But we did finally get there and had no trouble renting a mid-size car from Dollar. On Thursday, we drove up the east side all the way to the end of the road, where the scenery on the North Coast at Haena State Park is fabulous. The Kilauea Lighthouse and National Wildlife Refuge at Princeville is a must-see. Overnight we parked our car in a $10 lot near the ship, but could have parked for free at the Anchor Cove shopping center.
FRIDAY (Nawiliwili, Kauai) The next day, we took our rental all the way to the other end west. Drove up to the Waimea Canyon. If possible, recommend seeing the Canyon in the afternoon when the sun is overhead or in the west so it shines on the eastern canyon walls - the road is on the west side of the canyon so in the morning, the sun is shining on on the wrong side. But still spectacular at any time.
ENTERTAINMENT The cruise director is very good - humorous and knows how to work the audience. The juggler was terrific - we saw him every opportunity. The dancers were not - well, they were VERY good dancers and singers, but their show just didn't "work", as indicated by the very lukewarm applause. Who ever designed their show didn't understand what this audience would like. We've seen much better on other cruises.
LITTLE THINGS. No "behind the scenes" tours as on other ships (the bridge, the galley, backstage in the theater, etc.). Never saw or heard from the ship's captain - the ship could have been on auto-pilot for all we know. No "baked Alaska" or "tower of champagne" on the last night. Photographers were annoying, blocking the path every time we got off the ship.
BIG THING. The ship's employees are over worked. Most were very pleasant, but we could tell that they were tired, and many admitted it to us. We heard from one of the them that 50-60 employees quit the weekend we embarked because they couldn't take the demands. That might account for seeing the same crew members working different shifts and positions throughout the day, the specialty restaurants not using all their tables, etc. We understand that there is only one doctor for the 2000 passengers and 900 employees, which is a telling indicator of the short staff.