Pride of America Cruise Review by puddles99: Sailing Away In Paradise
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Sailing Away In Paradise
Upon arrival at the pier, we dropped off our bags & went through security. One thing we learned that is different about boarding an American-flagged ship is that some TSA rules for banned carry-on items are in effect, even in checked luggage. In other words, we could not board the ship with his pocket knife packed in checked luggage. Instead it needed to be checked in with TSA and was available to be reclaimed at the end of the cruise. This isn’t really a big deal, but not something we had considered.
After security and embarkation pictures, we asked someone to direct us to the Suite Check-in and we were escorted aside and completed the check-in & boarding process quite quickly. Here we met briefly with Nikki from Group Events to confirm the details of the Meet & Greet and met our fantastic butler George (more on him in a bit!). We were welcomed into the Napa Wine bar with a glass of champagne and met the Concierge James. I was actually quite impressed More with some aspects to this greeting - the word had gotten to the spa (via the pre-cruise concierge) that we wanted to book massages for Monday afternoon and the representative was there to confirm the times with us. We also were able to book the Chef’s Table at this time (again, it was noted that I ha informed the pre-cruise concierge of our interest).
We then proceeded into Cagney’s for lunch and I have to admit that I was unimpressed. The service was ridiculously s-l-o-w and we hoped this wasn’t a sign of how things would be for entire cruise but unfortunately it was. Our lunch was good, but unremarkable and would be our last lunch in Cagney’s for the week. After lunch, we quickly headed to our cabin to drop off our carry-ons so I could deliver invitations / reminders for the Meet & Greet. While I absolutely love to sail in an aft suite, DH specifically wanted a hot tub for our anniversary, sans kids, adventure so I did a ton of research online and finally selected Deluxe Penthouse 10000 [Note: When the new suites for POA launch in September 2013, this cabin will become an Owner’s Suite]. This suite is forward, right under the bridge and was absolutely beautiful.
Our Meet & Greet was planned for 4:00pm in Shuffles Card Room and a total of 45 CC members had RSVP’d. In the end we had right around 40 join us (plus two party crashers who thought it was a Latitudes event they had stumbled on and were quite confused about what this “Cruise Critic” thing was - LOL!). Cruise Director Silas Cook and several other members of the senior team joined us, introduced themselves, and offered to be of service. It was so much fun to begin putting names with faces and attempt to keep track of who was who as many of us would cross paths on various excursions and activities throughout the week.
During the Meet & Greet, we were convinced to join some fellow CC’ers at the Pub Crawl, so off we went. I choose to simply sip from DH’s drinks and not fully commit - which turned out to be a really good call. The Pub Crawl was advertised as 5 drinks at 5 bars, but in reality it was 5 drinks in 4 bars because we hit the Gold Rush Saloon twice. It was a raucous bunch and everyone played along with some of the slightly “inappropriate” games and innuendo.
At the advice (no real arm-twisting required) of George, we headed to Jefferson’s Bistro for dinner at 7:00pm. We ordered a bottle of my favorite wine and toasted the beginning of our cruise through paradise. We also shared the Ribeye for two, which was quite good, along with a mushroom soup, a French Onion soup, and creme brulee and an apple tart for dessert. The only thing that disappointed was the apple tart which just wasn't what I thought I was ordering.
From there we went to the Hollywood Theatre for the Welcome Aboard show which included an introduction of officers, the fantastically funny “Fountains”, and performances by the production cast. However, the bulk of the show was from the cast of “Oh What a Night!” and I think DH and I were the only ones who didn’t truly enjoy their performance. As it turned out, this would be the only show we saw all week as we ate dinners at odd times and turned in at somewhat early hours each evening.
On Sunday morning, we woke up early. Well, to be truthful, I woke up early, sipped tea on our balcony as we docked, and then roused DH so we could head to breakfast at Cagney’s. Breakfast (pancakes for DH, french toast for me) was delicious but again the service was just way too slow and I began to fear that we’d be late in meeting our tour. In the end it was fine, but we decided the stress wasn’t worth it so we didn’t return to Cagney’s for breakfast either.
We spent our first day in Maui on a "Road to Hana" tour with Valley Isle Excursions which was great, but exhausting. Despite our exhaustion, we pulled ourselves together to go to the Captain’s Reception at 7:00pm. As we were dressing, I decided to check our excursion tickets to find out what time we were to meet the next morning as we had booked the Molokini Crater Snorkel through NCL. Imagine my horror when I realized the tickets said the wrong date! As we left our cabin in a hurry to go to the Shore Excursion desk to see if anything could be done (this was clearly MY error, not NCL’s mistake), we passed George in the hallway and he asked what was wrong. He asked me to give him the tickets and let him take care of it (and then reminded me that we have Butler, and shouldn’t actually feel compelled to do anything for ourselves). I could have kissed him. About 15-minutes later, he found us at the Martini Bar and presented us with new tickets for the next day. George to the rescue!
I should note here that this is one of many times throughout the course of the cruise that George played the role of both Butler and Concierge. We actually didn’t see James much at all and when we did, he didn’t acknowledge us. We were thankful that George was quite happy to play both roles and tipped him accordingly.
After the Captain’s reception (which was held in the library), we had dinner in Liberty. Dinner was quite good and our waiter, Darnell, was fabulous. When DH asked if he could get a Stella draft with dinner, Darnell volunteered to run up to the Gold Rush Saloon (from deck 6 to deck 11) to get him one and while there, spied that they had my preferred Belvedere vodka and brought back both a perfect martini and DH’s beer. Big kudos to Darnell!
We awoke to another gray day in Maui, which was quite sad. We had breakfast in the crowded Aloha Cafe and then gathered our gear to meet our excursion. I was glad I thought to bring a waterproof jacket with me. We took one of two buses over to meet the Pacific Whale Foundation’s Ocean Odyssey and set out for a day in the water. As the Captain reminded us, once we’re in the water, we won’t care if we’re getting wet! Due to the weather and rolling waves, several people got sick during the boat trip, but the Captain was right - once we were in the waters surrounding Molokini, we all felt fabulous. The water was clear as day, the fish colorful and plentiful, and DH and I ventured quite a distance from the boat as we explored.
We returned to the POA happy but tired and were looking forward to our 3:00pm massages. DH opted for the Lomi Lomi massage and I indulged in the Hot Stone massage. Both started with an odd “dry brushing” that despite having had many massages in a variety of spas, I had never experienced before. Later that evening I realized that some of the discomfort from the brushing and hot stones that followed was due to the fresh sunburn I had on the back of my legs! Oh well!
Keeping with our laid back afternoon, we chose to go to the Cadillac Diner for dinner and indulged in comfort foods including potato skins, spinach dip, the prosciutto & mozzarella panini, and fish & chips before returning to our cabin happy & exhausted.
In Hilo, We arranged a private tour with Ricky's Tours who met us at the Aloha Room at 8:30am. I hadn't realized that this meeting point was literally at the end of the peer, so I left us plenty of time to walk - way more than we actually needed.
Ricky had lots of great trivia to share along the way and planned an appropriate amount of time for each stop which included Rainbow Falls, a Macadamia Farm, an Orchid Farm, Richardson's black sand beach, and several stops in Volcano National Park including the Thurston Lava Tube, Jagger Museum, and more. The crater road remains closed due to its proximity to current activity.
We returned to the ship in mid-afternoon and after showering and freshening up, we headed to the Gold Rush Saloon so DH could participate in the Hawaiian Beer Tasting while I happily stuffed my face with the fresh popped popcorn available each evening. The tasting included five beers - two from Maui and two from Kona. DH discovered a new favorite in Kona Brewing Company's "Big Wave." We were surprised & delighted to learn that all participants in the tasting received a 1-liter glass beer stein emblazoned with the POA's hull art. It is one sweet mug to say the least!
With DH nursing a slight buzz, we returned to our cabin to drop off the stein and then headed to martini bar to meet for the Chef's Table. As in our past experience, there were a total of 12 participants and a group photo was taken in advance. The photographer also took a few shots of each couple. All pictures were included (four total) were complimentary and delivered in commemorative folders, which included a copy of the menu, at the end of dinner.
We were seated for dinner in the library of Jefferson's Bistro at a long table and had an opportunity to introduce ourselves to those around us. Some of the courses were the same as what we had on the Sun last year and others were new or different in some way. All were delicious. The Executive Chef was not as dynamic as the Chef on the Sun so that aspect of the meal was less memorable & fun, but the company was great and we thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
We stumbled happily back to our cabin in time for the volcano-flow sail by which was stunning. The Captain darkened the ship which enabled steady-handed photography. The flow could be seen from forward, starboard, and (I'd imagine) aft balconies and public areas. We stayed on our balcony.
The next day, we were booked through NCL for the Captain Zodiac Snorkel Adventure in Kona. To put it simply - it was awesome. Upon our return to the dock, we asked a local for directions to the Kona Brewing Company & after a short walk found ourselves pouring over a menu full of delicious options. We each ordered a 5-beer sampler and we shared the Macadamia pesto focaccia as an appetizer (Yum!). DH had a BBQ chicken sandwich and I had the Hawaiian Luau (hold the onions) pizza. Everything was very good.
We got a tip from our waitress about where to get some locally grown, family-farmed coffee and set off to find it. We were about to turn back for fear we'd messed up the directions when we finally spied the shop - Donkey Balls Outlet. Go ahead and laugh, I did! But the coffee (they had free samples) and sweets were delicious and we stocked up with all kinds of goodies to bring home to family & friends. We had heard that fresh lobsters would be brought aboard in Kona and DH wanted one so that evening we headed back to Jefferson's for the third time!
On Thursday morning, we finally arrived in Kauai for two days of adventure! We started bright & early with the Kauai Canopy Zip Line Adventure booked through NCL. A van from Kauai Backcountry Adventures met ten brave-faced adventurers at the pier. Our first line was the "bunny slope" to make sure we all had the hang of things and then off we went down a series of six more lines including the longest in all of Kauai for a total of nearly a mile of zipping down to a secluded swimming hole. It rocked.
After an amazing morning, we returned to the ship for lunch, a shower, and some down time - including about an hour of wandering the shops near the harbor - before meeting our Roberts Hawaii bus for the Smith Family Luau. The food at Smith Family was quite good and the grounds were beautiful. We also thoroughly enjoyed the music, singing, and informal dancing during dinner. After dinner, we moved to the amphitheater for the show. Here, the seats were horrible metal benches. The show was nice, but the lighting & effects (combined with the “no flash” rule) made photography difficult and let’s be honest - I could not stop fidgeting.
After an amazing evening and a good night’s sleep, we were ready for the grand finale of our cruise - the Jurassic Falls Landing Adventure through Island Helicopters. This tour includes a full circle island tour and an exclusive landing at the impressive 400-foot tall Manawaiopuna Falls which are more famously known as "Jurassic Falls" because of their featured role in the movie Jurassic Park. These falls sit on private land and Island Helicopters is the only commercial company with landing rights. Because the owners of the property want to guard against the introduction of new plant & insect species, we wore hospital booties over our shoes until we reboarded the helicopter for the remainder of our tour.
We practically floated back onto the ship and I discovered that I was STARVING but we happened to hit a time between meals when very little was opened on board. But Travis in the Cadillac Diner hooked us up with some appetizers and two delicious milkshakes (Note: the milkshakes cost $4.50 each). After wandering the ship, doing a little shopping, and browsing our pictures in the photo gallery, we headed to the 7th deck for the Silver / Gold / Platinum sail-away party on the bow. What an AMAZING view and unique opportunity!
We then returned to our balcony to enjoy the foggy Na Pali coast sailby. DH had his binoculars out and we took turns spying and pointing out various sites along the shoreline as I peered through the telephoto lens of the camera.
We had decided to have our final dinner at Cagney’s. DH had the lobster bisque while I started with the wedge salad. We then each had a steak with sides of truffle fries, creamed spinach, and gratin potatoes. For dessert we had the apple crisp and raspberry creme brulee. It was a wonderful meal that we savored - and for dinner, we didn’t mind the slow service at all.
We then sadly finished packing, placed our bags in the hallway, and pre-ordered our room service breakfast one last time.
While on board we made the decision to book the much recommended Circle Island Tour - through NCL which includes luggage storage & airport transfer. Our flight didn’t depart until nearly 11:00pm, so we had all day to say a long goodbye to Hawaii. This tour includes buffet lunch at Kualoa Ranch, drives by Diamond Head Crater, and stops at Hanuama Bay, Halona Blow Hole, Aloha Tropical Farms, Sunset Beach, North Shore, and Dole Pineapple Plantation. It was a nice way to see the areas of Oahu we had not yet ventured to, but if I had to do it again, I would just get a day room and laze on the beach until it was time to head to the airport.
All in all, I cannot imagine a better way to get a taste of the islands. I have a long list of things I would do again, and another list of new experiences that I look forward to returning some day to experience. This cruise truly is about the destinations - not the ship. We absolutely loved the Pride of America, her crew, and this itinerary. Like with any vacation, however, your mileage may vary. Less
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