Just to let you know a little about me...I grew up in South Florida and have been cruising about once a year since I was a little kid. I'm currently 30. My recent cruises have been on Celebrity Mercury, Oosterdam, Norwegian Sun, Serenade of the Seas, Radiance of the Seas and Liberty of the Seas.
I arrived in Honolulu after a few long flights, very excited for this week-long cruise with my family. Eleven of us were traveling together, ranging in age from 10 to 60. I arrived at the port around 4:30 and embarkation was quick and easy.
THE SHIP The Pride of America is a weird ship. There's nothing "wrong" with it per se. It's just got a weird vibe of something thrown together and not properly thought out. The ship is nice, clean and functional. It is a more than adequate floating hotel for the week. But leave at home your expectations of grandeur and opulence as they won't be met here. I would personally recommend that NCL remove and rethink some of the overtly American elements that give the ship and uncomfortable, almost serious vibe--completely at odds with the relaxing Hawaiian Islands.
FITNESS CENTER On the upside, I have to say the PoA has probably the best gym at sea that I've seen. There is brand new fitness equipment, plenty of free weights and state-of-the-art cardio with individual TVs. I used this gym every day with my brother and we loved it.
CABINS Four of our cabins were on the 4th floor and featured large windows. The rooms seemed pretty standard to me and we had no complaints. One of us had a balcony cabin on the 9th floor. The balcony was small, but nice. The teak on the railing was peeling badly. This, along with other aspects of the ship, made it seem much older than a 2005-build.
THE CREW There is a strong sense of frustration that people's needs are not being met on this ship. There was a lot of complaining about the American crew. I just don't get it, and didn't really encounter these problems. I mean, we are used to being served by Americans at restaurants and hotels all the time. What is the big difference here? Our room was always made up promptly. Everything was clean. Towel animals were left for us a few times. The crew seemed helpful and pleasant. A special shout-out to Michelle at the Waikiki Bar who really took care of me and my brother and sister! Thanks!
RESTAURANTS - EAST MEETS WEST - We ate there the first night. Service was slow but good. Avoid the sesame chicken and go for the special beef, which was really good. - LIBERTY RESTAURANT - Ate there once only. Service was adequate. Food was ok. - SKYLINE RESTAURANT - Ate there once on lobster night. Steaks and lobster were really good. Avoid what they labeled "beef wellington." At either Liberty or Skyline, skip the desserts offered and just go for the chocolate ice cream. For some reason it is so good. I hear you can get it through room service too. Don't confuse this with the soft serve in the buffet which is only so-so. - CADILLAC DINER - Ate there twice. This was a disappointment because I read such great reviews. Chicken wings were ok. No onion rings like I had been told about were available. Shakes were tasty. - ALOHA BUFFET - This became our three-meals-a-day location by the end of the cruise. The food was consistently good and it's just convenient when you're busy. The made-to-order omelets were great every morning. I also liked the Indian-style vegetarian selections and the wraps. Take your plate and head all the way aft for outdoor seating with a great view off the back of the ship.
PORTS AND EXCURSIONS
- MAUI, DAY 1 - MOLOKINI CRATER SNORKEL What an awesome, awesome place. I booked this snorkel trip though the ship. As a fish and aquarium lover I was in heaven. The concentration of beautiful fish in this one protected location is a treat. After snorkeling the crater, we moved to a site called "turtle town" where we saw green sea turtles and spinner dolphins. After that we had lunch with open bar included. This trip was a highlight for me. Highly recommended. A+
- MAUI, DAY 2 - WAILEA BEACH Rented a car and drove about 20 mins to this small, beautiful beach. All beaches are publicly available, and we parked ourselves on chairs right in front of the Four Seasons resort. This was a great day of kayaking and snorkeling. B+
- HILO - CAVE, WATERFALLS & LAGOON TREK Booked though the cruise line. I can only describe this as ok. Apparently there hadn't been much rain so the waterfalls weren't really flowing. My sister did the kayaking in another lagoon and seemed to have a much better experience. If you are looking for one day to just relax on the ship and skip excursions altogether, I would recommend Hilo. B-
- KONA - SCUBA DIVING Three of us are certified divers, but there wasn't room for us on the NCL scuba trip. So, we booked through Kona Honu Divers (888) 333-4668 for a two-tank dive. This was an extremely well-run dive company with a great crew. We saw tons of coral and fish on both dives and were surrounded by spinner dolphins on our surface interval. A+
- KAUAI, DAY 1 - TUBING THE DITCH Only three of us were lucky enough to get on this trip that only allows 19 people. Book this early! This was one of the most fun and memorable parts of my cruise. You get all geared up in gloves, shoes and a headlamp to go tubing for miles down a hand-dug irrigation ditch. There are plenty of tunnels and rapids. This is really, really fun! A+
- KAUAI, DAY 1 CON'TD - LUAU KALAMAKU What a joke. We rushed to our meeting point in the theatre at 4:30 because our tickets said "Group A." Come to find out, half the ship is on this excursion, and everyone is in Group A! That meant over an hour of waiting in the theatre for our bus to be ready. We arrived at a cute small plantation where we were forced to take a photo. There were a few booths selling trinkets. Open bar was only until 7:30, and by the time we got there that didn't leave much time! The food was pretty good. The show was of the "high school drama club" variety. Thank god we ran to the first bus back! C-
- KAUAI, DAY 2 - We just rented a car and drove up the coast a bit. Stopped at a Long's drugstore which had great prices on souvenirs. That night we did the scenic cruise of the Napali coast which is really spectacular.
Disembarkation was a mess. We were never given colored luggage tags, so we just walked off the ship after breakfast. After about a half hour of panicking, I found my bag in the middle of the "Blue" section. Don't ask me why--there were no tags of any color on it! Bus transfer back to the airport was fairly efficient. I had to catch a flight, but my family was able to check their bags before heading to Pearl Harbor for a few hours.
All-in-all, I had a wonderful trip. Despite the strange vibe of this ship, I would recommend it and would go again myself. As many have stated, this is a great way to see the Hawaiian Islands. I really hope that NCL will be able to work out the kinks and improve the experience for future cruisers. But I have to ask, why did they send their best ship to Europe to become "Norwegian Jade?" They should've kept that ship as the Pride of Hawaii in my opinion and sent the Pride of America back to the steel mill. (Sorry, I know that is harsh). But, when I imagine the same week on a gorgeous ship like Serenade of the Seas, instead of the weird PoA, I've no doubt it would've been a 5+ star instead of a 3 or 4 star, no matter what nationality the crew was!!!