To begin, let me start with a little background. The purpose of this cruise was for my sister to get married on the island of Maui and fellow passengers (who also contributed to this review) included my mom and dad (early 60's), sister and her fiancE (both in their mid 30's), one niece (age 5), two nephews (ages 6 and 11), my wife and of course myself (both of us in our early 30's). With the variance in age, each person was looking for their own "enjoyment" on the cruise. I've tried to sum up all their views and place it into a sorted review below.
State Room Since this trip was meant to be something special, we each got a Penthouse suite on the 12th deck. If you want to go in style, this is the ONLY way to go! The rooms were extremely spacious with enough room for a king size bed, a queen size sofa sleeper, desk, make-up area, one small table, two chairs and a flat-panel TV. The room can be divided by a curtain between the sofa sleeper and bed for added privacy (also great for a family or two parties to share a room).
The bathroom included a toilet, sink and bathtub with shower (not just a shower like the regular estate rooms). It was cleaned, restocked and fresh towels were given twice a day (once in the morning and once at night when the beds were turned down).
If you're going to fork out all the cash for a vacation in paradise, if at all possible, go all the way and go with a Penthouse. You will receive special VIP treatment the entire time, including butler service, a cocktail party with the captain and head crew, preferred luggage handling, preferred cruise check in, shuttle launch, etc!
I understand this option isn't possible for everybody. I did try to peak in the regular estate rooms and they too looked very nice. They were definitely much smaller in size, but for a place to sleep, it would do fine. The colors in the room were quite unique. From the pictures I saw online, it appeared to be a bit flamboyant (pink, turquoise, gray, maroon, etc.). However, when we actually arrived in our rooms, the rooms appeared classy and elegant.
Staff So many other reviews I read online complained about the staff. However, this being my 4th cruise (two on American Hawaii Cruises, one on Royal Caribbean and one on NCL), I've NEVER been on a cruise with a more friendly, courteous, outgoing staff! Every single person on board the Pride of America, from the maintenance guy to the captain of the ship, ALWAYS had a warm, friendly "Hello!" The staff on board really took the time to make you feel like their own personal guest. Each person was helpful, caring and treated you with respectful and great enthusiasm. Since my parents walk with canes, the dining staff offered on a couple of occasions to carry my parent's food trays and to push them around in wheel chairs.
Tipping is automatically charged to your room at a rate of $10 per person, per day. This can be changed on the last day of the cruise if you wish and you can always leave more. We offered an additional tip to the cabin steward, concierge, and butler on the first day. We explained if everything met our satisfaction, there would be an additional tip for him/her at the end of the cruise. I REALLY believe that people who are making plans to go on the cruise should definitely consider this... it makes a BIG difference (they will remember you by name during the entire cruise and they will go way out of their way for you)!
Dining Experience NCL offers Free Style Dining on their cruises. This basically means you have a choice where you want to eat, when you want to eat (dinner is served from 5:30pm - midnight) and with whom you want to eat. The presentation and taste of the food were wonderful. Portions were often times small but you can ALWAYS order as many as you want or order several different things.
Also, for just about any meal, you can always find a buffet or sit-down meal. While the Aloha Cafe offered buffets for all meals, their breakfast was GREAT (the best made to order omelets). For lunch you could go pool side for hamburger/hot dog type food and if this doesn't meet your needs, there's always 24-hour room service. This ship also offered "Specialty" restaurants where you could eat for an additional charge (usually around $10-$15 per person). These restaurants offered higher quality and tasting food with a bit more personable staff. If you want to experience the better food without the higher price, you can order this same via room service for free!
The restaurants were all very clean and fancy looking, each with a special theme. We often had window seats which allowed us to look at the ocean while eating. This was especially memorable on one day when we saw dolphins following along side the ship! The themes varied from 60's theme (Cadillac Diner), patriotic (Liberty Dining Room), western (Lazy J's Steakhouse), etc. All the restaurants were decorated in good taste and allowed for a peaceful dining experience.
While all the staff is friendly, the only complaint some people may find with the Free Style Dining is that you do not the same waiter/waitress all week long and you loose that personal touch. I personally did not find this to be a problem. My parents (who are both diabetics) found the sugar-free options to be lacking and were only able to experience a sugar-free cheese cake on one night.
Best advice I can offer, whether you're looking to eat in one of the specialty restaurants or one of the main dining rooms, book your dinner reservations for all 7 days within the first few hours you board the ship. If you don't make reservations, you can still get into the restaurants, but you'll have to wait until a table frees up.
Ports Every island we stopped at was beautiful in its own way. This cruise was nice because it visits 4 different islands over 7 days and doesn't require you to visit any foreign countries. Below is a (very) brief run down of each port:
Oahu: The cruise originated and ended on this island. Unfortunately, you're not given much time on this island to do too much, unless you arrive early or leave late. If you do decide to spend more time on this island, it's known for being a bit more busy and crowded, with a greater nightlife.
Maui: This island is known for their all around beauty. The island has beautiful scenery, beaches, and is a bit more quiet than most of the islands. This is where my sister chose to get married on one of the beaches and everything was absolutely perfect!
Hawaii: My wife found this to be her favorite island for shopping. Once you get on the island you're surrounded by one long street full of stores! Great for souvenirs, jewelry, etc...
Kauai: This was a beautiful place to stop. Once you get on the island there are free shuttles to take you shopping just about anywhere. You can also take these shuttles to the shopping areas and then walk 50 yards to the sandy beaches for some great swimming.
Wedding Accommodations If you're looking to get married in Hawaii while you're on this cruise, there are some VERY important things to know. Feel free to contact me for more details, but NCL hires an outside company to handle all the wedding accommodations. This is the worst company you can ever deal with and since they are not part of NCL or the Pride of America, I will not get into details. However, the preacher that performed the wedding and actually does all the setting up, planning, accommodations, etc was PHENOMENAL!!! As I said, if you want more details on this, please contact me and I'll provide you with all the info.
Air Accommodations This is the one part of the vacation that was the absolute worst! When booking your airfare as part of the package through NCL, they do not provide assigned seating when leaving Hawaii. So, with 10 of us traveling together, we were spread out all over the plane. Many families were trying to make switches with other passengers in order to sit with their children and family. In our case, we paid a young teenager $20 to move back 3 rows. Best advice, get your airline tickets on your own, or get to the airport early to try and get things organized on your own.
One GREAT option that I highly recommend is the EASY FLY program. This is a huge advantage if you have any excursions on the day of debarkation and/or if you have a late flight out. For about $20 per person, you leave your luggage outside your state room the night before you debark, they will collect your bags, check your luggage in at the airport for you, get you your airline tickets, and then the next time you see your bags will be at your final destination! Using this service allows you to ONLY worry about your carry-on bags and you'll never have to worry about your other luggage!!!!
Overall I went on this trip with a completely open mind and the intention that nothing was going to bother me or upset me for the next 7 days. With that in mind, I did just that and had a great time. The scenery on each island was breathtaking, but the close viewing of Peles Volcano (at night) and the Napali Coast (during the day) were absolutely beautiful. The positive experiences we had on this cruise far outweighed any of the negative ones and a great time was had by all.
I would highly recommend this cruise for couples and/or small families looking to visit the Hawaiian Islands within 7 days.