My wife and I have been on a handful of cruises consisting of Carnival, RCCL, and NCL. We chose a Hawaiian cruise because we have been to Hawaii three previous years, each time visiting a respective island for a week, and we felt that a cruise would allow us the perfect amount of time to do the remaining things we didn't have time for before on each island. Therefore, what was most important to us was the itinerary and the amount of time the ship was at each port. We chose NCL b/c they fit this criteria plus the price was the cheapest of all the cruise lines for a balcony AND we like the freestyle dining concept. We HIGHLY recommend spending a little more for a balcony on this type of cruise. It's completely worth it.
First, let me start off by saying that the Pride of America is one of the LEAST impressive ships of NCL's fleet. It's obvious when you walk on the ship that it's one of their older vessels. But again, we didn't care b/c we had our balcony, a perfect itinerary, and freestyle dining which works perfect for us. We didn't spend any time on the ship except to eat, sleep, and shower. That's it. So as far as shows and activities on the ship go, I can't comment on any of that. Besides, who in the hell goes on a Hawaiian cruise to spend a lot of time on the ship anyway? That defeats the entire purpose for visiting the Hawaiian islands.
EMBARKATION/DEBARKATION - We can't comment on this b/c we were one of the last to embark and one of the last to debark. We rolled the dice to save $300 on our flights from Chicago to arrive in Honolulu 1.5 hours before the ship set sail and we made it with some time to spare. As far as debarkation, we booked a hotel at the Waikiki Sunset the Saturday the cruise ended, so we were in no hurry to leave the ship.
DINING - I've read many other reviews and understand the pros and cons of freestyle dining. Freestyle cruising to us is awesome b/c we like to eat whenever we want and due to wearing suits everyday to our respective jobs, don't want to bring nor dress formal in order to eat dinner most nights. I see people complaining that why should they pay a surcharge to eat in the specialty restaurants in order to get great food, but here is my response: The price of an NCL Hawaiian Cruise is almost ALWAYS so much cheaper than any other cruise line.....so SO WHAT if you have to pay a few more bucks to eat at a specialty restaurant. You do the math. Winner: NCL. And the other restaurants on the ship aren't that bad anyway so who cares. If you're going on an NCL Hawaiian Cruise for a special dining experience, you've come to the wrong cruise line. You might want to go elsewhere. With that being said, unless your mother had a hard time keeping food in your mouth you when you were a kid, the food was adequate to above average and you shouldn't be disappointed if you keep your expectations low for this. We felt that Little Italy was O.K., Skyline and Liberty were above average, and Cadillac Diner was surprisingly very good. Jefferson Bistro was excellent b/c it was a specialty restaurant. We didn't go to any other specialty restaurant. For breakfast, it's a madhouse to eat at the buffet (kind of like the movie Titanic when everybody is running around in chaos b/c the ship is sinking....well, this is what the buffet is like), but here's a secret. There is a smaller section outside with seats and food, away from the crowd, that you can enjoy breakfast in a less chaotic setting.
PORTS OF CALL - It's MANDATORY that you rent a car when visiting the Hawaiian islands, no questions asked. We used Thrifty b/c they were simply the cheapest when calling around...about $30 - $40 per day. I'm not sure what all the hype is about being a bluechip member, but we found out through talking to others at the company that this doesn't make one iota of difference. We never did an excursion through NCL for many reasons: 1) they're a rip off and we didn't want to mortgage our house; 2) we wanted to do excursions/activities at our own pace and 3) our activities and excursions were 100% more fun than anything the ship could have offered. You just need to do one thing. Buy the Hawaii Revealed Books for each island (only $15.99 each and WELL worth it), which tell you every single thing to do on each island WITH directions. I can't stress enough how awesome these books are. Buy them now and plan your trip that way. Here are the activities that we did at each port of call:
Honolulu - Set sail at 8 p.m. on Sept. 29th. Hilo, The Big Island - Got car from Thrifty and drove to Akaka Falls for a couple hours and than drove to Puna and hiked 2 miles to a natural lava swimming pool, which we had to ourselves the entire day before heading back to the ship by 6 p.m.
Kahului, Maui (2 days) - Get car from Thrifty and did the Road to Hana stopping and secluded areas we never hit before on previous trips, utilizing the Revealed Book, and staying away from the mobs of people at the more popular stops. Visited Blue Pool, Venus Pool, and other hidden pools and waterfalls. You can park your car overnight for free near the ship if you're lucky, otherwise, you pay $10 to park the car, no big deal. The second day we got up at 3 a.m. to drive to Haleakala Crater to watch the sunrise, which was so incredible. We also did a separate hike after the sunrise to view the inside of the crater. Then we stopped back on the ship to have breakfast with all the crazies, changed out of our Haleakala winter gear, and drove to Kaanapaali Beach to sun our butts the remainder of the day. Very nice.
Kona, The Big Island - We didn't rent a car this day b/c we did everything we wanted to do in Kona on previous trips and decided to pay $20 total for two on a shuttle to take us to a a nearby beach to swim with Green Sea Turtles and snorkel. This was a nice, relaxing day.
Nawiliwili, Kauai (2 days) - Got our car from Thrifty and drove to Ke'e Beach on the North Shore to start our 8 mile roundtrip hike on the Kalalau Trail along the Na Pali Coast (2 miles to Haanakapii Beach and another 2 miles to Haanakapii Falls and then back). This hike is incredible. The beach is usually washed up in the winter but not in the last summer/early fall. We had the waterfall to ourselves for about an hour and then others conveniently showed up later and we exchanged taking pics, etc... We started the hike around 10 a.m. and got back just in time to watch an incredible sunset at Ke'e Beach before driving back to the ship. You can park your car for $10 nearby, just ask around. There is no free parking near the port here. The next day we did a Na Pali boating excursion through Na Pali Explorers (booked two days prior ourselves). This was also effing incredible. This zodiac went into a sea cave and took us along the southwest brim of Na Pali up to Kalalau Beach before heading back to Waimea by 12:30 p.m. We swiftly drove back, returned the car, and got back on the ship by 1:30 p.m. This was, indeed, cutting it close, but this is the only company that caters to cruisers and we did not want to waste this excursion on the first day in Kauai b/c then we wouldn't have been able to do the hike. In other words, it's all about smart time management when visiting Hawaii to get the maximum experience. These Revealed Books certainly allow and assist in an awesome experience.
Honolulu, Oahu - Reached the port by the morning before debarking at 10 a.m., which is the latest you can debark. We stayed at the Waikiki Sunset with balcony room for $98 for a night, totally worth it to decompress from the cruise and just relax at Waikiki Beach for the day. FYI - The beach is only two blocks from the hotel and probably the biggest bang for you buck hotel in Waikiki if you're a low maintenance individual who just wants something adequate to sleep that night. We went to Perry Smorgy for breakfast the next morning. They had an awesome buffet for only $8 each. Many locals go there and consider it one of the best places to eat for breakfast.
Most of the review is devoted to excursions/activities b/c let's get serious, who goes on a Hawaiian cruise to sit around on the ship to look for insignificancies to complain about. Again, we really can't comment on anything about the ship other than it's old. Most of the staff is American so the service was hit or miss, but mostly the staff was willing to help when approached. We did find an International Staff on other cruises to be much better, but to be honest, we could care less about this. Service was good enough. The cabin was smaller than most cruises we've experienced, but again, that's attributed to the older style of the ship. It is what it is. The bathroom was particularly small. If you're overweight, you will probably have some trouble finding room in the bathroom if you know what I mean.
TIPPING - One thing that NCL does have is a mandatory $10 tipping per day / per person. On our 7 day cruise, this added up to $140 billed on your credit card at the end of the cruise. The point of tipping is fine with us, but what does bother us is that you can't choose where this tip goes. What motivation does the staff have to provide exceptional service when they already know what they are getting tipped at the end of a cruise coupled with the fact that individual cruisers may choose to NOT tip excellent service on an individual basis b/c they just forked over the mandatory $140. Ya see what I mean? Not a very good idea by NCL. How about this proposal: Allow cruisers to allocate 50% of the mandatory tipping to individuals of their choice who they felt provided excellent service with the remaining 50% (or $70 for example) going to NCL to disburse equally to all staff. This would benefit everybody in so many ways: 1) Individual staff are being recognized for exceptional service and 2) ALL staff will in some way or form, receive a tip. This concept is not that hard to understand and NCL should consider this. I'm sure they have some intelligent bigwigs that can see the benefits of this and should implement this sooner than later b/c one thing is for sure. Service on NCL can't hold the jock-strap to RCCL or even Carnival for that matter and that should be considered a concern. But I guess when you have Freestyle Dining and have the best prices for a cruise, they feel they can cut some corners. Again, it is what it is. You make the call.
Would we go on another NCL cruise again? Yes, but only if the itinerary is right for us and if the price is right. We do like the freestyle dining concept, the service is adequate, the food is adequate, the older ships stink (Pride of America) but we're never on the ship, and their itineraries are usually numerous and flexible. I guess it just depends what you're looking for. We are in our early 30s and aren't picky at all. We were certainly the minority on this cruise with the cruisers mostly being in their 50s or even older, but again, we weren't on the ship enough to care about this so much. If you want a party ship, why are you cruising to Hawaii would be my first question and my second question would be, why don't you try Carnival?
For visiting and exploring the Hawaiian Islands, NCL Pride of America's itinerary was perfect for us. If you want a place to rest your head at night, eat like a pig whenever you want, and are low maintenance, go with NCL and Pride of America. If you're high maintenance, typically complain about your food being flavorless on cruise ships, etc...get my drift?.....you probably should look elsewhere like Celebrity and Princess and pay much more.
Should you have any questions, I'd be happy to answer them at email@example.com