I have been on the Pride of America 5 times-- in 2006, 2009, 2011, 2012, and this past cruise in 2013. I have sailed with NCL a total of 17 times.
In my mind, the NCL international fleet has been 4.5+ star in my mind, although I have not been aboard the newest 140,000+ GT Epic and Breakaway yet. In 2006, I considered the NCL America ship Pride of Americas as 2-star. It slowly improved to 3.5 star by 2012 and today nears 4-star on a good day.
But there are a lot cutbacks and "missing" amenities that experienced cruisers would notice. My guess is because of the high expenses this ship incurs. The Pride of America is the only U.S. certificated cruise ship of its size or larger...in fact, you would go down many, many gross tons to find the next U.S. passenger ship.
Being U.S. certificated means the ship must meet all the safety, training, engineering, and licensing to comply with staffing and U.S. environmental protection laws. The U.S. Coast Guard boards More
and inspects the ship annually to ensure it's compliance. No compliance = no sail. The maintenance expenses are very high. The wages paid to the U.S. crew is very high compared to international flagged ships... and U.S. crew get overtime pay.
Being U.S. certificated and crewed means that it exempt from the antiquated and obsolete Passenger Vessel Services Act of 1886 ("Jones Act"), which allows it to sail round trip from Honolulu without having to visit a foreign port before return. This "unique" 7 night Hawaii itinerary comes at a relatively high price in terms of crew and maintenance expenses, but is probably one of the safest ships afloat.
The hotel side of the ship had horrid problems in 2006 in terms of service. The requirement was U.S. crew, and there was virtually no U.S. passenger vessel ships to draw experience crew from... the early staff was all rookies. The ship was allowed to have foreign captains and senior officers for passenger safety until U.S. citizen captains could be found and certificated for this size/type vessel. On the hotel side, an allowance was made to allow a percentage of foreign crew to serve, and this base of very experienced stewards and waiters brought some stability until the U.S. staff could develop.
So the ship hotel side has developed to near 4-star status in the opinion of this reviewer. Those disappointed reviewers who paid 6-star ship prices and expected the same in staterooms, amenities, and service are understandably disappointed.
Having been on 7 other NCL ships, I am of the opinion that food aboard the Pride of America has declined since 2006, no doubt due to expenses. I have seen all the best talent of NCL gather on the Pride for a Hawaii gig, but sadly this past voyage was average in my opinion.
The Pride of America is a very unique ship with high operating expenses. But in comparison to airfare, cheap hotel, car, and (modest) food costs done independently to duplicate the Hawaii itinerary, still comes out far ahead. Less