We were on the Pride of Aloha 4/8/07~4/15/07. This was our third NCL cruises (the other two were Southward to Baja, Mexico and Sea to Panama Canal.) We also cruised twice on Celebrity to Alaska (Galaxy and Mercury), once on Carnival Elation to Western Caribbean, and once on Princess (don't remember the name of that ship.) This was our first trip to Hawaii. I was a bit worried because of the negative reviews, but we ended up having a wonderful trip and totally enjoyed it.
Air and transfer: Air and transfer were included with our cruise. By the time we got to HNL, it was 3:30pm. I would have preferred to be there earlier, but was unsuccessful in rescheduling for an earlier flight. Transfer was smooth. Greeters were at the gate as we leave the plane, and also at the luggage pick-up area. After we got our luggage we were directed to the area where they checked off our names, put our pieces of luggage on the truck and we waited for about 10 minutes to get on our bus. There were quite a lot of people and some had to catch the next bus. Our bus driver was very funny; he also gave us a tour on the way to the pier by pointing out all the interesting sights and gave us a brief history of Hawaii.
Embarkation: Very easy, short line at the security and ID check area. No lines at the check-in counters. We got in the front of the Latitudes line and then were told to go to the regular line because the counters were empty. This was the easiest check-in that we've ever had. It took maybe five minutes. After we got on the ship I immediately went to the reception desk to ask for the possibility of upgrading. Was told to put our names down on the waiting list and wait for 48 hours. Our room was ready when we got to the ship, but the set-up was only for two people while we should have three in our cabin. Bumped into a cabin steward outside and asked if he was our steward, he said "yes", told him about the bed and towel problem, he fixed it before we got back from dinner. We also received our Latitudes pins, the invitation to the Captain's reception, and the $20 pp onboard credit on our door. The OBC was a surprise. We still don't know why we got those. I've called our TA before and asked about the NCL promo OBC, but was told that it was for new bookings only. Out of the three families, two families got the OBC, and one never did. They asked about it for three days and couldn't get an answer. We are all Latitude members.
Muster drill: At 5:30. They took this very seriously. After we got to our station "J" on Deck 6, they had us line up six in a row, from shortest to tallest. Then they checked off our names on the list. This was the longest drill I had ever had.
Sail-Away party/BBQ: 6:00 on deck 11. Long lines for the BBQ, they were serving hot dogs, hamburgers, steaks, and various salads. We were planning to have a late dinner in the main restaurant so we just took a bit of salad and a small piece of steak. Steak was a little dried, the salad was good. My suggestion is to skip this BBQ and wait for dinner. Crew members were giving out beautiful leis to all the ladies near the stage. We stayed and enjoyed the music and dances until the ship started pulling away from the pier.
Ship: A beautiful ship that puts people in the right mood for Hawaii. Maybe because we were on the Sea two years ago, which was a much older and smaller ship, we found this ship to be modern and good size. The only thing that bothered us at first was that one of the main restaurant "Crossing", which is usually the only main restaurant that opens for breakfast, lunch, and some dinner, is in the back of the ship on deck 5, you have to go up to deck 6 and walk all the way to the back of the ship then back down to deck 5. A lot of walking, but we needed to walk off the calories we put on anyway, so it was fine. Overall, the ship was clean and well kept. The one place that I had to hold my breath every time I walked past was Deck 7, outside the theater. For some reason, there was a strong odor from that area. Smelled like garbage.
Cabin: We were on Deck 4, ocean view with a big porthole. It would have been nice if it was washed and cleaned because of the water stain, but we could still see out. The room size was adequate and comparable to any other cruise lines that we had been on. We had two beds and the pull-out sofa worked as the third bed, which was better than the Sea. On the Sea, they had a little cot that was pulled out from under one of the bed. It was almost like sleeping on the floor. We had to leave some of our things in our suitcases because not enough drawer space. We had two large duffel bag type of luggage, and they worked well in this situation. Plenty of space for hanging your clothes though but we didn't bring enough hangers to put everything up. Bathroom was adequate with three shelves on each side of the mirror. The circular shower worked well, curtain won't stick to you because they have something inserted into the curtain to keep it straight. My son is 6' 2" and 210 pounds, he never complained. After we talked to our cabin steward on the first day, we always had enough towels for the three of us. Only once did I have to ask for soap in the dispenser. I just left a note near the dispenser and it was filled that day. Never had towel animals, and only had mints on the last two nights, but that didn't ruin our vacation.
Restaurants: We ate most of our meals at either the Crossings or Palace if we were on the ship. We never had to wait for more than ten minutes. We usually ate our breakfast around 7, no lines, no waiting. The breakfast menu is the same everyday. Usually we can finish breakfast in less than an hour. I noticed that people were waiting outside the restaurant when we were done with breakfast. Maybe the time you go will determine if you have to wait. My teenage son did not want to get up for breakfast, so for the first two days I went up to the buffet to get a plate of food to take back to the cabin for him. The line was slow and long. I just got tired of standing in line. The third day on I just ordered breakfast for him at the Crossings and took it back to the cabin. They had no problem with that. I think we had lunch twice at the Crossings because we were off the ship most days. Dinner usually took an hour and a half to two hours, it was the time we unwind and talk about the days activities, so we didn't mind. It could have been because there were eight of us in our group, we never had to wait for a table regardless of the time. There were many tables for eight people. Some of the restaurant staff had attitudes, but most of them worked hard and tried their very best. Kimberly, James, and Chris were pleasant and provided excellent services. It seems that they put the good servers in the Palace once that restaurant began operation. Kimberly told us that from the next night on she would be working at the Palace and we could request for her. Food was good, especially the sesame crusted tuna, must try. We really find that both the food and services at the two restaurants were compatible to the restaurants on land or better. Only ate at the buffet one day for lunch, and it was just buffet food. We figured that we were on a cruise, why going to the buffet if you can be served at a nice restaurant. They had half price dinners at the specialty restaurants after 9:00 every night but we were unable to make reservation for the last two nights. If you plan on doing specialty restaurants, book early. Oh, lobsters were exceptionally good. They tried to advertise lobsters at the specialty restaurants on lobster night, but the fact is you can get lobsters at the main restaurants too.
Excursion: We did not use the ship excursions. We rented two cars for the eight of us at each port except Kona. Kauai-we rented from Thrifty and Blue Chip helped. People in line asked us how to get Blue Chip when they saw us just walked up to the Blue Chip counter and were served right away. We drove to Waimea Canyon and spent much of our day there. It was beautiful! Had shave-ice at Jo Jo's on our way back (Tropical Rainbow with macadamia nut ice cream at the bottom. They have many other choices also), yum! Don't miss this. For a late lunch we tried the Saimen Noodle that was recommended on Cruise Critic but that was a waste. By then some of us decided to go back to the ship. Some of us drove up to the North Shore to the lighthouse. By the time we got to the light house it was closed. The drive was beautiful but we were rushing back to return the car. I would love to spend more time on this stretch of the island next time. Second day we just took the free shuttle to the mall and beach area. Dipped our feet in the water and then went shopping. Hilo—Rented from Budget. Beware; the shuttle area for rental cars here at this pier is crazy. It was a mob scene when the shuttles came by. We almost missed our shuttle because the van couldn't get near the crowd. The Thrifty shuttle only let the drivers on, everybody else had to wait for the drivers to come back and pick them up. Luckily, there weren't that many people renting from Budget, so all eight of us got on. We drove to VNP and did the drive around the crater. We also walked through the lava tube. There were not many parking spaces there. Then we headed towards Akaka Falls, but decided to turn around because of traffic jam. We were afraid that we might not make it back to the ship on time. We explored the downtown area instead. Got some bread/scones from O'Keefe and Sons, and we went to the Big Island Candies for chocolate covered squid, chocolate covered Lee Hing Mui, and shortbread cookies. It was fun trying different things in there. Lava flow that night was a little disappointing. I was expecting it to be closer and grander. It was still amazing though. Kona—this was the tender port. We did not rent a car here. We walked around the pier, everything was right there. We took the free shuttle to Hilo Hatties. We got some really good bargain. DH bought three shirts for $10 each on the clearance rack. We traded in our coupon from Thrifty for a free box of chocolate. They were suppose to give people from Pride of Aloha free coffee mugs but they didn't seem to know about the promotion. We had to ask for it and they said it was one free mug per family. If you are shopping there, pay for your purchase separately for the free mugs. I forgot to use the coupon we got on United Airlines "Half Way to Hawaii Game Card", two free mugs if you spent over $50. Oh well! After that we went back to the pier and took another shuttle to Wal-mart and got coffee there. Good prices for coffee and macadamia nuts. Maui—got a rental from Alamo and drove to Iao Needle Valley. It was beautiful and very green. Then we went to the Tropical Plantation. We did not take the tram tour, just walked around the garden. The restaurant had a lunch plate special for $10.95 Teriyaki steak and coconut shrimps, delicious! The plate came with rice and macaroni salad. After lunch we headed over to Lahaina because we booked the Old Lahaina Luau for the evening. This town is very touristy with lots of shops and restaurants. We saw the amazing banyan tree. After walking around town we drove to OLL. It was too early so they told us to walk around at the mall across the street. By 5:45 they were passing out Mai Tai and ready to take the guests inside. Some people were complaining about the food, but it's Hawaiian food, so we looked as it as an experience. Don't expect to get $89 worth of food and drinks but you are paying for the whole experience. Great performances except they do not do fire dances. It was over around 8:30. We got out as fast as possible hoping we may find parking spaces when we get back to the pier. No luck. We couldn't find any parking even at the area where the sign says "cruise ship parking." We saw some parking spaces past the open-gate and parked there. Then we saw the sign at the iron gate that says "No parking beyond this point." We didn't know what to do but there was no other choice, we just left the cars there and hoping that they won't be towed away. Thank goodness they were still there the next morning! We did the Road to Hana on the second day. It wasn't as impressive as I have expected. If you have been on Highway 1 in California you would have seen better views. Garden of Eden charges $10 per person to drive through the unpaved road, we just skipped that. If you have other places to go, I think you may better spend your time somewhere else instead of spending hours driving through this stretch. I would think if you have a few days in Maui, you may want to do this, but being there just for two days on the cruise, I felt it was a waste of our time.
Onboard Entertainment: Because we were off the ship most of the time, we did not participate in the ship activities. We did go to the Broadway show and the magic show. The Broadway show was like college production, we were tired anyway and some of us slept through it. The magic show on the other hand was great! He was funny and did an excellent job entertaining the audience. They had the captain and the crew members came out at the end of the magic show which was a surprise. Shows were not attended well, many empty seats. Whenever we past through the Blue Hawaii Bar and Nightclub in the evening they always have something going on. The night of the Captain's Reception for Latitude members at the Outrigger Lounge, the band played wonderful music and seemed to interact nicely with the people there. A couple of evenings, DH and I watched the ongoing movies at the Kumu Cultural Center, very educational. They had a table set up at the back part of the gift shop that had excellent sales. $2 Pof Aloha mugs, $1.50 small picture frames, $2.00 medium size picture frames all made of wood. We bought some picture frames, a mug, a triangular wooden box with glass that holds a folded up American flag ($10), and a map of Hawaii which we had the captain and crew members signed their names on ($2). Latitude members automatically get 10% off all purchases on board so it is cheaper to get the leis at the gift shop on the ship than the ABC Stores.
Disembarkation: Our flight was at 1:00, so we were not in a hurry to get off. We enjoyed our last breakfast at the Crossings, and then waited for our color to be called. It was very easy and orderly. The line for the transfer back to the airport was a little long.
All in all, we enjoyed this cruise very much and I will go again in a heartbeat. Sure, there were some things NCLA needs to work out, but going in knowing what to expect helped us making the best of this cruise. I think some crew members should not be on the ship in the first place and they had no business working with people. We found the reception desk to be unfriendly and defensive. Their attitudes were like "What do you want from me?" One greeter at the main restaurants offended many people by the way she presented herself, talking down to the customers. As teacher, I don't even talk to my students in such a manner. Several times I was relieved that she wasn't there when we walked past the entrance to the restaurants. A couple of times we heard someone in the kitchen let out a loud cry. We didn't know what that was about. I honestly think that most of them are trying very hard. I'd say, go and enjoy the cruise and the islands, have a great time. Don't let the minor things get into your vacation!