My husband and I (both in our early 30's), cruised on Pride of America on May 12th, 2007. This was our first time cruising NCL, our other two cruises were with Celebrity and Holland America, and so I too was worried by the reviews that I read. But, as NCLA is the only game in town for a 7 day Hawaiian cruise, there we were.
As we are from Phoenix, and have been to Hawaii on more than one occasion, we felt comfortable booking our own flights and even flying in the day of departure. We arrived in Honolulu at about 1pm and took a Taxi to the pier. The cost of the taxi ride was $25 with tip. Keep in mind though, that some drivers will charge extra for 'heavy,' meaning "all" luggage. This happened to us on the way back to the airport, and the same ride cost us nearly $10 more.
Embarkation was a snap, everyone was friendly, helpful and it went very smoothly. The only odd thing for us was that once you walk onto the ship, and they swipe your card, someone just points you in the direction of the elevators and tells you what floor you are on. On Celebrity and Holland America a crew member took you to your stateroom. The lack of personal attention made us feel a little unsure about what to expect next. I would say that the day of the departure was the only time that I had an 'adjustment period,' coming to terms with the NCLA experience. The boat is new and sparkly in the way that Disneyland is. The dEcor is definitely over the top American and don't look for elegance anywhere. The ship wasn't necessarily clean. My husband had to convince me, upon reaching our cabin, that it was not conducive to a good vacation if I started cleaning the cabin myself. We kept saying to each other, "floating hotel, floating hotel," and I guess that it took, because for the most part we just ignored what I will call the less glamorous parts of the ship and our experience and had a great vacation.
We reserved a Balcony guarantee and ended up with a cabin on the 9th floor almost directly midship. The location was perfect. Our room steward was polite we saw him just about everyday, and we always had fresh towels, ice, and a made-up room. Clean, maybe not, but we had decided to look beyond that. I found it odd that they never had a bedspread on the bed, just a strip of material that they put over the blanket across the bottom during the day, but it probably saves them a lot of money in cleaning and replacement of bedspreads. Overall we liked the balcony cabin and always feel that no matter the destination a balcony is always worth it. It gives you space to get away from the masses and enjoy some privacy on your vacation.
On to the food. After everything that I had read, I was a little nervous about this one, so just for fun, my husband and I decided that we would try every restaurant on the ship while we were there, so here is my down and dirty on Pride of America dining.
Aloha Cafe/Buffet: One of my least favorite of the dining options. As others have mentioned, the buffet layout really is a mess and people are running into each other as they move from one station to the next with no real flow. It was always busy and the food was definitely nothing special. We too did the back of the boat thing most mornings for breakfast and just grabbed cold cereal, etc. and enjoyed the sunrise
Skyline/Liberty Restaurant: We had breakfast there a couple of times. Just average, but we were able to avoid the chaos in the buffet. We also had dinner there twice, once in the Liberty and once in the Skyline. The service was surprisingly good at each, very attentive, friendly and helpful. The menu was rather limited, and the portions were small (which wasn't a bad thing), and the food was so-so, but there wasn't a service charge and with the friendly service it was good enough.
Teppanyaki: We ate there for dinner on the first night. We sat with a great group and the food was really good. The service was great, friendly, fun, and always giving us little tips about where best to see the lava flow, or what time was the best time to do things.
Lazy J Steakhouse: This was my favorite restaurant food wise, but the service was super slow, and as one other reviewer put it, they were practically falling asleep over their Banana Fosters.
Little Italy: No cover charge and you could tell the difference, but like the Skyline/Liberty the service was excellent, and the lasagna was good enough.
The Cadillac Diner: Just one word. YUCK! I had a burger and fries, the first so greasy I had stomach ache and the second so salty that I couldn't eat it. The service was spotty and I just felt like overall it was really dirty.
Jefferson's Bistro: One of the best meals, but it was ruined by the heavy handed, French accented waiter that made us feel completely uncomfortable. The waiter explained to my husband what pate was after my husband ordered it, questioned what I was ordering, and then actually hounded me when I didn't eat all of my food. It was surreal.
Outdoor Grill: The burgers were good if you got them fresh off the grill and my husband said that the ribs weren't bad. We got there just as they starting serving which was nice because within ten minutes there was a huge line.
We enjoyed some of the bars and not others. We had drinks at the pool bars on several occasions and the bartenders were always rude and often ignored you, rarely knew what the drink specials were, and didn't care to make it anyway. We had much better luck at the lounges. The piano bar had a great staff that made really good alcoholic smoothies we sampled these early on and they became a drink of choice. I made the mistake of ordering a Mojito in another bar, and it was really bad. Think simple or from the menu when you are ordering drinks and you will be okay. We usually get a soda card, but didn't on this cruise (I was annoyed that NCL upped the price so much), but we didn't miss it at all
We didn’t go to all the shows, but what we did go to was very average with the exception of the new show SHOUT (I think that’s what it was called). It was very good, but had some content unsuitable for children, and apparently some of the other guest because I did notice more than a few people walking out. Hey, they were warned in the newsletter. Because of this, I wonder how long this act will be around. Too bad as it was the one good show that we saw.
We did some great excursions. Volcano Ntl. Park in Hilo, Snorkeling at Molikini Crater in Maui, and the Beach Blast in Kona. We also rented a car in Maui and Kauai. We got one at the last minute in Maui with no problem but fortunately reserved one through the ship in Kauai as they were sold out otherwise. I enjoy the freedom and cost effectiveness of renting a car in port, but I have to say that I missed the local stories, insight and information that the guides provide on the excursions. As we had not been to Kauai before I wished that we had booked a guided tour instead.
That about sums up our trip. We enjoyed Hawaii immensely, and the Pride of America acted as a wonderful floating hotel, but had it been any other destination or had we any other options in Hawaii we would have been on a different cruise line. I guess we just like a little more luxury in our cruise experience.