After reading some of the reviews on Pride of America, we approached our upcoming 7 night Hawaiian Island cruise with more than a little anxiety. I am delighted to say that this cruise far exceeded any expectations we had, and we would not hesitate to take this same trip again! From beginning to end, it was a pleasure.
We arrived in Honolulu a day early in order to go to Pearl Harbor. This is an experience not to be missed! We were picked up at 6:15 a.m. by our tour bus - which we booked independently from the cruise line - and were given a verbal tour of sites passed on the way to Pearl Harbor. Afterwards, on the way back to our hotel our bus driver showed us more sites and gave us some of the history of Oahu. The hotel stored our luggage while we were gone and called a taxi for us when we returned. Then we were off to the ship by 2 p.m. for hopefully an early check-in. We arrived shortly after 2 and were greeted by a wonderful staff who quickly signed us in and took our pictures for our ID cards. We were in our cabin by 2:30 and our luggage was at our door about an hour later. The embarkation staff has their act together!
Our cabin was small but very nice. We had a large picture window and a king sized bed. There were two upper berths that could have been used for a 3rd and 4th passengers. We enjoyed having a refrigerator for our personal items, and there were other amenities such as a safe, iron, ironing board, and hair dryer. Most of the cabins had coffee pots with Kona coffee; however, our coffee pot was missing. After asking for one a couple of times, the front desk apologized and offered to have room service bring coffee to us each morning. It arrived right on time each day. And, yes, the showers are very small, and the room has no wasted space, but it was decorated well, efficiently arranged and very comfortable. We had no complaints.
Our cabin steward was fabulous! Thanks Rosita! She took care of every request immediately. A tip to all who are planning to take this ship - there is a dial outside your door with these settings: Welcome, Do Not Disturb, Make Up Room, and Turn Down Bed. I think some passengers forget to use that dial; and therefore, they don't get a desired service. The cabin stewards pay close attention to it, so remember to use it! And when we didn't want a knock at the door - especially on that last morning - the Do Not Disturb dial did the trick.
Now, about the crew. We had heard that since it was an all American crew, they were lazy and inattentive. Our experience was totally the opposite. This was the most friendly and attentive crew we have experienced in six cruises. They bent over backwards to be sure we were happy. When we looked lost the first day, there was constantly someone asking if we needed help. I can't say enough about how wonderful they all were - we didn't encounter one single crew member that was anything less than top notch, and we were always greeted with a smile. We saw several passengers being very rude to some of the crew, but the crew members never showed them anything but respect and patience.
Our first stop on embarkation day (after checking our cabin) was up to Little Italy where we were told Michael would take care of all of our reservations for us. In less than five minutes, we had reservations in Little Italy, Lazy J's, and Jefferson's Bistro. Little Italy was our favorite and there's no cover charge for that one. Lazy J's and the Bistro were both excellent and do carry a service charge. Tuesday night is 50% off the cover charge, so plan to eat at one of the restaurants that require a cover on that night. Service in all three was wonderful; however, don't expect to have a hurried meal. The waiters give you time to enjoy your dining experience without feeling rushed. We also ate in Skyline twice and Liberty once. The wait staff was excellent there as well, and the food was very good. Our one experience in the Cadillac Grill was our last - food was good but the service was not. We ate breakfast each morning in the Aloha Cafe. The menu was always the same, but you can change things up a little by getting a freshly prepared waffle or omelet (the omelet chef makes great fried eggs!). If the Cafe is crowded, there's another one just outside on the fantail that generally had no lines. Some of the passengers complained about dirty coffee cups, but I never picked one up. I'm sure it's hard to get every single one of them spotless in an industrial dishwasher. The coffee machines provided challenges some mornings by going on the blink. But there were several of them around so if one went out, I just found another one and had all the hot fresh coffee I could ask for.
The Shore Excursion staff was extremely helpful and exceptionally nice. Because of rain, one of our tours was cancelled and they tried to find another similar tour for us. They very patiently explained what each one was even though we had lots of questions. We did the Maui Whale Watch and Atlantis Submarine in Maui. Both of these were excellent and well organized. The Whale Watch was my favorite and is operated by the Pacific Whale Foundation so it was educational as well as entertaining. Atlantis Submarine was also excellent and well worth the time and money. In Kona we went on the Kamanu Catamaran Dolphin Sail and Snorkel. In all fairness, the waters were very rough so snorkeling was not very enjoyable, and the trip was cut short due to the choppy seas - so maybe that's why we didn't see any of the advertised dolphins and sea turtles. And this is not an excursion for someone uncomfortable with swimming in deep water. On Hilo and Kauai we rented a car from Thrifty. They picked us up at the terminal, and those with advance reservations are taken before those without reservations which caused a lot of complaining by those left behind. On the way to the rental location, the driver gave us maps and told us how to get to places of interest. One piece of advice, go online and join their Blue Chip program. It's free and easy. All the car rental companies have something similar so just be sure you do this in advance regardless of the company you choose - your rental process will go much more quickly that way. In Kauai we drove all the way to Kee Beach stopping along the way at the lighthouse, as well as some of the beaches and scenic overlooks. If you like beach snorkeling, stop at one of the road side rental shops along the way and pick up some equipment. Kee Beach had some great places to snorkel. Be sure to take some type water shoe because walking on the lava rock at the beach is tough on the feet. Another site not to be missed is Waimea Canyon. Be prepared for a long drive, but the payoff is spectacular!
Be sure to save some time for sitting by the pool onboard the ship. There's always something going on and the staff around the pool and at the bar was terrific! At times it's hard to get a poolside chair; but with 2000+ passengers onboard, that is to be expected. There are ample towels made available, and there are lots of lounge chairs on the deck overlooking the pool.
Disembarking was a breeze! Unlike previous cruises where we were up at the crack of dawn and herded off the ship, we were encouraged to get up and have a nice leisurely breakfast. Since we had no shore excursions planned, we were free to stay on the ship until 10 a.m. After breakfast we got our carry-on bags, said goodbye to our cabin steward (who was still apologizing for not being able to get us a coffee pot!), and went to the John Adams Coffee Bar to sit and watch the other passengers leave. At 9:45 we decided, reluctantly, that it was time to go. We went to the terminal where the baggage was waiting and, again, the process was well organized and relatively painless! Our bags were waiting and we rolled them outside to a nearby cab.
One thing worth noting - there were automatic hand sanitizer dispensers everywhere! They were particularly noticeable outside every restaurant and at the gangway. This was a great idea on NCL's part, and we appreciated being able to sanitize our hands after being on shore and before having meals. With the much-publicized diseases breaking out on cruise ships, this gave us an extra sense of well being.
Finally, please remember to read your Freestyle News everyday! Everything you need to know is in it. A complete schedule of all the restaurant hours is listed (I heard lots of complaining from people who didn't know when a restaurant was serving.) Certain areas of the ship are non-smoking and those areas are discussed in the newsletter. It's a wealth of information - don't let it go to waste! And try to remember that this is NOT your normal cruise. A day on this cruise ship is not like a day on any other. Freestyle means exactly that! Do what you want, when you want - it's not just about dining. It's extremely laid back. I thought I wouldn't like it and I loved it!
The Pride of America is an absolute dream! I hope to be able to sail on her again! Thanks to this wonderful crew for a great experience!