Just got back from a 7 night Hawaii cruise on Pride of Aloha. Before writing this, I read the very recent review of NCL's Pride of Hawaii by a couple who traveled first class in their choice of cabin, and in a new NCL ship. Here are thoughts about an older NCL ship, in a cabin with a porthole, from the West Coast.
This was a great travel bargain. We do not cruise a lot, having been on 3 major cruises (Celebrity, Princess, and the now defunct World Explorer), plus a Russian river cruise. We always go for the destinations, not the cruise. We do travel extensively around the world, and we have been to Hawaii 5 times before, to all the ports included. That said, we had a sensational time.
We booked the trip 5 weeks ahead of the departure date, which was December 10. Apparently this week is slow for the cruise lines, and the cruise was priced at less than $1000, including all port charges and taxes for the two of us. In addition, American Airlines had a fare sale, and for $306 apiece we were able to fly roundtrip from L.A. Coach, of course.
I read a lot of negative things about this particular ship and was expecting very little. The itinerary was great because we were in port for 5 1/2 out of 6 full days of cruising. Arrived early (between 7 a.m.-9a.m.) and departed late (between 6 p.m.and 9 p.m.) Even over-nighted in two ports. (The afternoon cruise by the Na Pali Coast was beautiful, but the evening cruise by the Kilauea lava flows was spectacular.)
Let me start with the ship's cabin. Most cabins are the same size, except for the suites. They are small, but we've been in smaller. Bring soft-sided luggage so you can put it under the bed. There is about 1 foot of clearance under the beds, so you can stash things easily and keep them from getting underfoot. But we had a little settee, closet with lots of hangars, 3 drawers, an in-room safe,a desk, and a separate shower in the bathroom (we've been in cabins where the shower IS the bathroom). We had great water pressure and instant hot water. Shelves in the bathroom. Two outlets, although the one in the bathroom shuts off when the light is off. We had the beds pushed together to make a queen, but you can get them as twins also. A little hard. If you are used to a pillowtop, you will be achy. Huge porthole (the one on the Russian river cruise was like being inside a front-loading washing machine). Porthole was maybe 3 feet in diameter. Since we were not planning on spending much time in the cabin, we were quite content. Would not have been comfortable to eat in the cabin, unless you had a balcony.
We were also on the lowest deck. For us, this has many advantages. First, there is less motion. Second, there were only about 50 cabins on this deck, so there was little traffic. The major decks with cabins must have had at least 200 cabins on them. Of course, you have to be careful what you are under. We had no noise from above us, however the gangplank was right above us when it was down. Not a problem if you are early risers. However, we long ago discovered ear plugs are the most valuable thing you can take on a cruise because you never know what is going to end up rattling around on the decks around you or in the cabins next door, especially once the ship starts moving. Steward service was excellent. Only complaint was that some of the pillowcases had marks on them (we call it clean dirt), but that could have been easily resolved by taking them out of service.
Location of the cabin was forward, which meant walking the length of the ship to get to the main dining room or the buffet. Walking is a good thing when you are eating too much food. Elevators were always available, although you had to go up one deck, then cross over to get another elevator to go all the way up. The ship is bright and cheery and seemed well-maintained. The crew, all American citizens, were very friendly and solicitous. Mostly young and trying very hard. Encouraged to chat with the guests if the guests are interested.
If you are looking for gourmet dining, this may not be your favorite cruise ship. However, we very much enjoyed the food in the main dining rooms. The nice thing about cruises is that if you don't like something, you can order something else. The creativity in the entrees was very good, presentation was lovely, and the food was good. Some items were better than others. Get over it. Order something else.
Service was generally good. However - and this is a big issue - the management of the restaurants does not seem to have a handle on seating/staffing/etc. We lucked out and always got seated within 5 minutes. However, often when we left, there were dozens of people waiting outside the main dining rooms when there were many tables available. This would have been very annoying. Especially the last night of the cruise when they closed one of the main dining rooms for some reason.
You can avoid this issue if you want to eat in one of the specialty restaurants. Although they generally charge an extra $10 per person, on the first and second nights, the charge is $5 per person, and if you eat between 5:30 and 6:30 any night, it is only $5. If you got a bargain like we did, this is an easy pill to swallow. We ate twice in Le Bistro (the French restaurant) and loved it. The restaurant is small, intimate, quiet and a real treat. We also ate one night at the buffet, when everyone got dressed up for the captain's dinner and photos, and we did not. It was fine. Sufficient choices, although not the Ritz Carlton. Fun ice cream bar is open all day, and you get your choice of toppings.
A sit-down breakfast is available in the main dining rooms. They have a smaller buffet in the main dining room, but you can also order custom items. If you just take from the buffet, which has hot and cold items (loved the blintzes and the fruit muffins), you can be in and out of there in 20 minutes. Custom items will extend your time to close to 1 hour. Skip the waffles. People were making a big deal out of how dry they were. Order something else. Service was generally good. Sometimes they forgot something. Stuff happens.
One other consideration is that you are automatically billed $10 per day per person as a service charge, which is supposed to be distributed amongst all the service personnel. If you find a favorite waiter (and you can request someone, although you may not always get them), you may want to leave something for them. Or the cabin steward. It is a personal call. We did leave small extra tips in the specialty restaurants because these were experienced, professional waitstaff. (By the way, we packed some full flasks in our check-in luggage and had no problem bringing them on board.)
We rented a car in each port. Also found the best rates with Thrifty, but worth checking around. Very important to make sure they have port pick-up. Especially in Kona. We had to locate the rental desk in a hotel across the street from the tender dock. At most ports, the car rental companies automatically have shuttles waiting when the ships dock. Another nice thing we noticed is that, except for one port, we were the only cruise ship in port.
Do not be afraid of renting a car and driving around, whether or not you have been to the islands before. Although there were a lot of cool shore excursions available, most can be done on your own, for less money, and with smaller crowds.
Most of all, do not be afraid of this ship. If you can find good prices like we did, you will have a wonderful time, not worry about hotel, eating, or transportation between the islands. A superb value.