First you should know this was my very first cruise. Period. Always wanted to take one, never had the time or another person to cruise with. Did I love it...you bet I did. You should also know that I have traveled all over the world, was a marketing executive in luxury consumer products for thirty five years and was used to premier hotels, resturants and tourist venues. I also come from NYC where expectations are high on everything.
Firstly I booked the cruise after a friend said he wanted to do a cruise this summer. The price was great and I've been to Hawaii three times in the past, but never had a chance to see three of the Islands.
After I booked the tour, I read the reviews on this cruise and ship. And to say the least I was very worried I had made a terrible mistake. Guess what. I didn't.
If you read the recent editorial by Carolyn Spencer Brown, the editor of this site, you will have already read the news that NCL had made a major turn around with the Pride Of Aloha. Here's what I found.
Day one: Our flight was on time and no problem, if you don't mind being packed into a tin can with every seat taken and a five dollar bag of nothing to eat. On arrival in Honolulu the NCL representatives were on hand in the luggage area to send us directly to the tour bus to transfer us to the ship. At the pier we went right in, and since the line was a little long (one o'clock) one of the NCL staff took half of the line to the crew entrance line and we were on board in minutes.
Our room: NCl had upgraded us up two cabin categories automaticly at booking. Since I had seen pictures and read the size, I knew what to expect. A small stateroom, with a balcony. It looked exactly like the picture. Clean, modern, bright and light. Two small but adequate closets, plus space under the bed for luggage. The bathroom was small but spotless, and worked just fine, even the shower fit my 6'5" frame. The bed was firm, but I love firm, and they've added a feather topper to it to soften it a bit. Frankly this firmness is good for you back. If you can get a balcony stateroom, it makes a world of difference and is so great to sit out on when you're at sea. The furniture needs upgrading (small and uncomfortable) but the view is great, and the floor with a pillow worked just fine for reading. Oh, bring a power strip for all those battery chargers.
The Food: We immediately made reservations at Kahili, the specialty Italian resturan. I had read that it was good to book ahead, and that's true. I can't say enough about the staff and food quality in the Kahili. It's a charming comfortable euro resturant with an excellent menue and good wine selection. For the few dollars more the specialty resturants and the only way to go.
Food on board the Pride is streight forward. The Hukilau cafe on deck 11 is a cafeteria, with cafeteria food. But the Lanai which is right behind the cafe on the open stern deck has a great view and offers comfortable if sparce seating. We never did eat in one of the two main dinning rooms, instead sticking to the Hukilau for breakfast and Kahili for dinner. Snacks and ice cream were good in the Hukilau. The Longboat lounge has great hamburgers after six and good for those up late.
Rather than go through lines and disappointments, I suggest you find one of the three specialty resturants you like, and book there for at least four nights, and another for the rest. Breakfasts are fine in the Hukilau, but it gets crowded past eight thirty. And yes they do run out of things off and on. But feeding eight hundred guests who are wondering in and out is not easy to project. The breakfasts were equal to most hotel cafe food.
The Ship: I was impressed by the number of well decorated lounges, shops and activity rooms like the cultural room and library. There are plenty of get away nooks and crannies where you are practicly alone. The ship was spotless, well organized and while not the luxury liners of old was really a decent presentation. The stardust theatre was a little dowdy but the Broadway show was good quality so who cared.
The Crew: They are young, American from all over the country. And, they've been put through a new training course that has improved the spirt, style and customer service to a very satisfactory state on board.
Forget those old reviews, the crew is nice, helpfull and friendly almost across the board. Be nice to them, and you'll get nice back in return. They work killer shifts and have a great deal of running around from location to location to do, so give em some space, they deserve your thanks and co operation. We had a great time talking and meeting many of the crew who had all kinds of advise and tid bits of local color and things to do.
The Islands and cruise schedule: What can one say of such beauty? Blue, lapus, emerald waters, eighty three degrees perfect, with many beaches to worship the sun on. This is the only way to see the Islands, and my advise is get off the ship and go see as much as you can.
The hightlights of our excusions included, the reawakening of the volcano just when our Blue Hawaii helo took off, to give us a view of flowing lava in Valcano National Park that blew my mind.
Snorkling with Captain Zodiac off Kona was exciting and it's a great reef area and full of tropical fish to delight and create wonder. Scuba off Maui was just perfect and the water temperature was devine. The Atlantis sub trip was ok, great for kids, but so so for adults comapared to snorkling and scuba.
We had booked two excursions through the ship and the rest on line. You can save nicely by doing it yourself. Thrifty rent a car in Maui was easy, inexpensive, and they automaticly upgraded us to a convertable since we asked for sub compact and they don't have any. The drive on the road to Hana was breathtaking, both from the views of coast, beaches, waterfalls and from the dozens of hairpin turns that made every other drive I had ever taken seem like a California freeway. Don't miss it. Drive past Hana to the Waianapanapa state park with it's black sand beach and then to the Haleakala National park.
The bottom line is if you can take this cruise, do it. It's wonderful and you can't find a more beautiful place on this earth to cruise. And as far as the Pride Of Aloha. She's a grand ol girl and well worth the money. The past problems have been thrown overboard, and what's left is a truly wonderful vacation. Enjoy.