I suppose I owe a debt of gratitude for the countless members who chose to bash this cruise ship repeatedly on this board. As a result, I had very, very low expectations for our vacation, as I was half expecting to be languishing in a non-airconditioned cabin with an overflowing toilet, wait staff who spit in our food before throwing it at us, and lines that wrapped the ship.
I'm very happy to report that although not perfect, we had a wonderful cruise aboard Pride of Aloha (08/26/07 - 09/02/07). Having previously cruised on Holland America and Disney, I felt as though we had a fair handle on what to expect as a bare minimum on a cruise, and the Pride of Aloha mostly exceeded those expectations. On board with my wife and three children, we were greeted by almost universally helpful staff between the waiters and cabin stewards, and the ship appeared to be very clean and well-maintained.
While I am not a gourmet, I would probably rate the food in the main dining room average to above average, whereas the buffet was also average. If I were to put my finger on one issue, it would probably be a lack of variety. Since we had the kids with us, we did not try out the specialty restaurants. Moreover, since we were a group of 5, we were allowed to make reservations in the main dining rooms, which really made things easy. Frankly, we were used to having a set dining period as on other ships, and were expecting the worst out of "Freestyle" cruising, mostly due to the comments on this board. Suffice it to say that during the times that we typically would have eaten anyways, there never seemed to be much of a line, if any.
I suppose my main complaint with the food had to do with the morning buffet, the only time we ate at the buffet. There seems to be a problem with the flow of traffic in the buffet area, making it seem way more congested than need be. One tip that has been repeated often is that the lines at the aft buffet were universally shorter. The only omelette bars are also located in that area, whereas fresh waffles were only available inside. If your kids like waffles, simply line up right at the waffle station rather than through the rest of the buffet, as the lines are separate from each other. As for seating, there were times when we had to hunt around for a table, but this was a minor nuisance at best.
As for embarkation and departure, everything was remarkably smooth. The shuttle buses to and from the airport were easy to find, so the transfers are well worth it.
As for our cabins (we booked inside cabins with a connecting door on the inside), they were typically small, but we were very comfortable throughout our stay. In light of the fact that we only saw the cabins when we turned in for the evening or were getting cleaned up for dinner, it hardly seemed worth it to us to get outside cabins with a window or balcony. There was an issue with the rollaway the first night, but the cabin stewards were very helpful and appreciated our patience, and everything was straightened out quickly.
As for the destination, Hawaii simply cannot be beat. We decided all along to avoid the NCL Shore Excursions and simply rented a car in each port of call. Obviously, with 5 of us, the shore excursions would have been extremely costly, and we found that a cheap tour book and a rental car suited our needs extremely well. Check out www.discounthawaiicarrentals.com for good rates on all of the islands. All of the ports had car rental shuttle buses, except for Kona where the Dollar desk was in a hotel across the street.
As for entertainment, we really enjoyed the shows that we attended (two production crew shows, two magic shows, and one "variety" show). While certainly not lavish, the shows appeared very professional.
All in all, my family would go back on this cruise in a heartbeat. Suffice it to say that for every negative review on this site, there are probably 100 other travelers on the same ship who were at least satisfied with their cruise, if not very, very happy.