Pride of Aloha was our (my wife and I) second cruise around the Hawaii Islands. Our first cruise was on the now defunct American Hawaiian Cruise Line. We decided to book a three day pre-cruise hotel and car package with NCL on the island of Maui, and also arranged our own air transportation. The ability to board the ship in either Honolulu or Maui is a great plus if you are using a pre or post hotel package. Upon arriving in Maui at 1:30 PM local time, we had been instructed in our cruise documents to proceed to the local Alamo car rental shuttle. It seemed like everyone in the terminal must have decided to rent from Alamo, as the line to get onto the shuttle bus stretched around the building. We were fortunate to get on the second bus to arrive and then we proceeded to the car rental office. The car we were assigned was a full size Impala. With gas over $3.50 a gallon I had expected a compact car with the NCL package. However, after pilling in our luggage we soon understood why NCL had rented a full size car. NCL assigned us to the Maui Prince Hotel on the southeast corner of the island. If you are not good at reading maps and get lost easily, the fifty minute drive to the hotel could easily expand to ninety minutes or longer. The hotel and grounds were nice, but it had a worn look. Our large size room overlooked the Luau gardens, where we were entertained nightly with Hawaiian music. This was a nice and unexpected touch. Each room had a balcony with a table and chairs which made for an excellent place to enjoy room service breakfast. We used room service twice, and had excellent service with the hot food being hot and the cold being cold. The service and hospitality of the staff at the Prince was excellent and helped make up for the lack of other amenities. The Maui Prince is located close to the ocean, and there was a nice beach where you could swim or take a boat for snorkeling and sightseeing. If you must have a pool and hot tub you will be disappointed. The pool was run down, and their idea of a hot tub was four above ground fiberglass two person spas. You are on your own with NCL at the hotel, as there was no NCL representative to help you with tours or any concerns you may have had. Luckily, we didn't need any help during our stay. If you use NCL's pre or post cruise hotels make sure you do your own research and plan before arriving.
On the day that our ship docked in Maui, we drove our rental car back to the airport where Alamo had a bus to take us on a short trip to the dock. We arrived fifteen minutes after 12 noon. Our cruise documents had told us we could board at 1:00 PM. After being checked by dock security at the gate, about twenty-five other passengers, including ourselves, were left standing in the sun waiting for the OK to proceed to the terminal. There were several senior passengers that had no place to sit and were visibly stressed for having to stand in the sun for an hour before being allowed to proceed. Since all of us had our luggage with us, many could not continue to the terminal without porter help. Unfortunately, no porters had arrived by the time we were permitted to walk the hundred yards to the terminal building to check in. While several had to wait for the porters my wife and I took our four suitcases and carry on luggage and trekked to the terminal building. Upon arrival our baggage was taken and put through the security X-Ray machine. We then proceeded without our luggage into a line for checking onto the ship. This went fairly well, and we were only in the line for about five minutes. My wife had let the porters take all of her luggage from her, but I had kept my carry on as it contained my medicines and cruise papers. Little did we know that this would be the last time we would see our luggage for the next five hours. After receiving our boarding card, we proceeded to the passenger screening area and then to the ship.
I have to stop here and let you know that I am a planning freak. I look at the ship's deck plans and before boarding I usually can tell you which elevators to take and which direction to turn to get to any room. All of this pre-planning paid off because as soon as we walked on the ship, we were on our own. No one greeted us or helped to show us the way to our cabin. No one helped us with our luggage (we only had one), and there were no signs to show you where to go. I am sure there were several passengers that wandered around the ship trying to find help when they first arrived.
We had booked the highest cabin category below a suite, so when we opened the door, we were somewhat surprised with the cabin. Closet space was minimal, and there were no drawers for clothes in the cabin. The closet had a safe and shelves which took up about one fourth of the space. Below the safe were three shelves that could not have been more than four inches tall. This along with one night stand that had two shelves below it was the entire storage available for two people. We talked to fellow passengers and found that they did what we did, leave most of your clothes in the luggage under your bed until they were needed. Thank goodness the ship's dress code was casual, as there was absolutely no room for formal wear. In the corner of the room was a desk with a three shelves to hold the TV, glasses and ice server. In the only place that could have been converted to shelving space was a refrigerator that seemed to have no depth in it for placing items. The refrigerator was not stocked with any drinks or food items. We splurged for a cabin with a verandah and used it everyday. The verandah had a small round coffee table, a chair and a lounge chair. It was great for watching the lava flows on the big island of Hawaii. The bathroom was cozy, but again lacked any storage space and little counter space for items. If you need a hairdryer (and who doesn't), then you should seriously consider bring your own. The blowing power out of the one supplied by NCL would have you drying your hair for hours. The cabin steward did an excellent job of keeping the cabin clean and ice supplied for drinks. Which bring me to another item that seemed to take away from the overall experience. NCL charges $2.50 for a small bottle of water, and in Hawaii, you go though a lot of water especially on the shore excursions. Buying water at the ports and bring it onto the ship is a great idea. A water bottle placed in the cabin is charged to your bill if used, and the cost is higher than the $2.50 you can pay from the table set up as you disembark the ship at each port.
Remember I had mentioned that our luggage did not arrive at our cabin for several hours. My wife had no casual clothes to wear for dinner, and our suitcases had not arrived by dinner time. I called the hotel desk to ask where our luggage was, and was told that new security procedures had slowed down the delivery of the luggage. I might have bought that, but my wife and I were with our luggage as it had gone though the screening X-Ray machine. By the time we had left our luggage, it had already been screened. Shortly after that phone call I made a personal visit to the purser's desk to ask to talk to the hotel manager. I was told he was not available, and no one seemed too concerned with my problem. I asked that a message be given to him to call me in my cabin. An assistant hotel manger later called me, but I never did hear from the hotel manger. We finally received our luggage almost five hours after checking it at the terminal building. The lesson here is don't expect quick delivery of your luggage, and make sure you carry on any items you would need for that day.
NCL is noted for their freestyle dining, and both my wife and I loved the idea that you can eat when you want and with whom you want. We ate at three different venues during our week stay on the Pride of Aloha. Food and service varied from excellent to poor. Our best experience was at the Palace restaurant on deck 5. The staff seemed to be much better than any other restaurant we tried. The food was very good, although not exceptional. We kept returning to this restaurant when ever we could manage mainly because of the service. Unfortunately the Palace was only opened in the evening, and on some port days did not open at all. Our second favorite restaurant was the Crossings on deck 5 at the AFT of the ship. Both the Palace and the Crossings had very nice décor. Windows looked out at the ocean, and a traditional and sophisticated décor made the dining experience enjoyable. Service at the Crossing was a notch or two below the Palace. The service was sporadic. We ate here for dinner, and breakfast, and the breakfast buffet was excellent. You have the option to order from the menu or go to the buffet, or do both. . We chose both on most occasions. Some of our best service came here from a waitress that went out of her way to go to the Kahili restaurant next door to find some Green Tea that my wife loved. This particular tea seemed to have disappeared from all of the other restaurants by the half way of our cruise. Our first experience with Pride of Aloha's restaurants was the Kukilau Café on deck 11. We later tried to avoid eating here when possible due to the change over from a cafeteria style to a buffet style meal. In addition this was absolutely the worst experience we had with service (or lack of service) during the cruise. On the second day of our cruise the menu was changed and trays that had been available to carry your food and drink were discarded. Staff did not help carry your plates, and when you did get to your table you were lucky to be asked if you wanted a refill on your drink. Most of the staff stood around and talked with each other. I observed as many as five staff members carrying on a conversation when the passengers (several with disabilities) had trouble carrying their food and finding a table. The second issue, and probably just as bad, as the service issue was the organization of the Café. The drink line was in the same area that you had to stand for the buffet line. Passengers kept bumping into each other, and the staff just stood around and never offered to help. The buffet line was not organized, and we continually found ourselves bumping into others that tried to cut into the line for the items they wanted rather than staying in the cafeteria style line where you keep the line flowing in one direction. The food was mediocre, although the deserts were a notch above most of the food. The ice cream bar in the corner of the Café stayed busy and posted three flavors of the day. When one passenger asked for a flavor from the previous day, they said it was not available. We later found out that they just didn't want to go get the container for them. This attitude seemed to be the norm for the Kukilau Café staff. Thankfully there were other bright spots in the Crossings and Palace restaurants to off set the Cafés experience. We did not try the specialized restaurants which charged a $10 per person cover charge. Fellow passenger said the food and service was good, but not exceptional.
Entertainment on the Pride of Aloha was good to excellent. The circle de sol show was outstanding. There were fabulous gymnasts and dancers that did all kinds of stunts. Another hit was the magician who did a comedy and magic show. In the lounges we experienced several excellent singers and keyboard artists. Pride of Aloha excelled in this area.
NCL offers many shore excursions, and we heard few complaints from passengers. Our shore excursions were very good, and the variety of possibilities should make everyone happy. You will however pay a premium price for the NCL excursions. The six excursions we scheduled for two cost $1,500. Few excursions could be purchased for less than $120. per person, and most were in the $150 to $200 range. Some of the cost justification is that it is Hawaii which tends to be more expensive than most destinations. Pre-booking your shore excursion is a good practice. This is especially true if you plan on a helicopter tour as these usually sell out fast. Remember unlike some other cruise lines, there is no NCL representative with you on most shore excursions, so if you don't like something, you have to address it after the tour is over.
Tipping is included in your daily ship account. This is probably necessary as passengers can go from one venue to another with the free style cruising. However, outstanding service is not rewarded since all of the tips are put in a general pot and split with the staff. You should consider rewarding individual staff member at the end of the cruise in addition to the required gratuities. Some of the staff members go out of their way to serve you, but many know they will receive a set amount no matter what type of service they render. This is probably the biggest obstacle that NCL has in improving their service.
The disembarking plan left a lot to be desired. We had been told that an announcement would be made on the ship's TV channel when our floor could leave the ship. No announcement was ever made on the ship's TV so we left as we had arrived, on our own.
If you plan your own air, consider renting a car on your last day especially if your plane does not leave until later in the day. Free shuttles are available from the dock to the car rental offices at Maui. You can see sights that you missed on earlier tours, and keep busy before your flight leaves. Book before you leave home, and save on your daily cost. NCL has tours available on your last day, but many tours end early, and you will be sitting at the airport for hours before your plane is scheduled to leave.