Review of NCL America's Pride of Aloha Sailing Date July 11, 2004
Our experience with NCL America began last July when we booked our cruise for the new Pride of America. We were very pleased with the new ship and our cabin selection (Cat. BA, 11524). As everyone knows, and beyond anyone's control, the ship encountered a terrible storm while being built. NCL America had a tough time getting everyone rebooked on the older ship, now the Pride of Aloha. We were downgraded into a lower category as well as many others. Since the ship was fully booked NCL America didn't believe they needed to compensate for the downgrades. (A select few did receive credits.) My travel agent (Costco) and I went around with them for some type of compensation for the inconvenience. (A simple $50 onboard credit would have made me feel better.) They simply had the attitude that they didn't have to do anything!
OK time for the ship review, I will attempt to be very objective to point out the positives and negatives. First of all, this cruise should be viewed as TRANSPORTATION BETWEEN THE ISLANDS OF HAWAII. This cruise is NOT, or certainly wasn't for us the "cruise experience" we have had with our last 3 cruises on RCCL and Carnival (which were all magnificent!). If you go into this cruise with the idea that you are going to enjoy the beauty of Hawaii you will have a GREAT TIME. If you go into this cruise with expectations from other cruises (great food, personalized service, no hassles etc) you will be very disappointed! Realizing that our cruise was the second voyage, I have tried to take out the idea that it's new and will change when the kinks are worked out. I think some things will change over time, such as food, but I'm not sure the "attitude" of NCL America will change. They were very short on staff (except in revenue producing areas, i.e. pictures) which was very noticeable.
FREESTYLE CRUISING: This idea was great to me, I was very excited about it. It provided the easiest disembarkation ever. We opted to carry our own luggage off and were off the ship by 8:15! We had breakfast (available in dining room, buffet or room service) and were on our way. No hassles! The attire was resort casual with a formal night option. Dining options are a great idea but takes away from the personalized service received from having the same wait staff. This also takes away the opportunity to meet others when dining. If you don't want to wait a long time for a table you must make reservations (main dining room) which takes away from the "freestyle" way of eating when you want. They do have 3 specialty restaurants for an additional charge of $12.50 or $15.00 per person. The main dining rooms are open from 5:30 until 10:00, seated by 9:30, which isn't really convenient for shows etc. The buffet closes at 9:00 P.M. which isn't convenient. The "Automatic: No Hassle Tipping' is a great idea, but on the POA it is a mandatory "Resort Fee" and not a gratuity. So at every meal you are inclined to leave a gratuity if proper service was given. Bottom line, "freestyle cruising was a great idea but wouldn't want to do it again."
ROOMS/ROOM STEWARDS: Our room stewards, Raymond and Alexs, were great! Our room stayed clean and we always had clean towels. We heard many other people who were not as fortunate, their rooms not being made until 1 P.M. The staterooms are very small (ours was Balcony 9224) but this is common. We had to have our TV replaced 2 times and our coffee maker never worked until the last 2 days. The TV is important because one of the channels broadcasts the public addresses and show the camera on the front of the ship. We were on the gangway to tender into Hilo when a Room Steward was quitting and the Housekeeping officer was begging him to reconsider his resignation. When asked who was doing his job now he said his assistant was, maybe this is why some had such poor room service.
DINING: The dining situation on this ship is absolutely HORRIBLE!!!! First of all there are NO midnight buffets on this ship. The buffet is open until 9 P.M. The food on the buffet line reminds me of "slop," and only consists of a few choices. BTW the scrambled eggs are substitutes so don't think your getting good tasting scrambled eggs! The buffet has free drinks on certain nights but don't look for any alcohol content. Also, don't go to the buffet thinking you can just "grab one" of these drinks. One night the host rudely told a lady, " This isn't free happy hour, you will have to dine with us to get a drink." You will not have the option of a filet in the main dining rooms, you'll have to settle for a "striploin." The food was always cold if not luke-warm and the Appetizers, Soups and Salads in the Main Dining Rooms NEVER CHANGE so be prepared to eat the same thing every night. There are about 4 main dish selections that change daily. The Appetizers, Soups and Salads were actually pretty good but the main dishes were consistently bad. The dining room experience will take at least 2 hours for 2 people. The wait staff was not the best but we did have a couple of very good servers. There are 3 specialty restaurants where you pay additional (why take a cruise?) $12.50 or $15.00 cover charge per person. We ate at the Kahili, the Italian one, and had an okay meal. It cost us $75.00 for the two of us, which included a bottle of wine. The food wasn't very good. I did hear some comments that the other specialty restaurants were good. Oh... don't ask for a second entrEe in the specialty restaurants, they will have to charge you an additional cover charge. You can get a filet at the Royal Palms. My wife and I wanted real scrambled eggs (you can get fresh eggs cooked to order in the main dining rooms) but when asked they said they couldn't do one scrambled, only fried. Now why can you fry an egg but not scramble is beyond me. However, this is the universal problem with this ship, there is no room for negotiation, no personalized service. It is what it is and that's that! The room service was always fabulous, at least in terms of service. The menu is very limited; veggie plate, ramen noodle soup, sandwich, pizza (cheese or pep), PB&J and a dessert. The food was edible and a nice change at times. It is available 24 hrs per day. Did I mention no midnight buffets? The bottom line is that the dining experience on this ship is bad. My wife is happy however that this cruise she actually lost weight!!
The shore excursion staff was consistently helpful and knowledgeable. We did some activities on our own and some via the ship. Monday in Kauai we had prearranged a helicopter tour through Safari Air. They picked us up at the pier. I highly recommend this, probably the best activity we did in Hawaii, and it was only $139pp booked online. Monday afternoon we rented a Harley through Pacific Island Rentals for 6 hours. It was a blast. Tuesday in Kauai is short as you leave at 1 pm. Wednesday in Hilo we rented a car through Alamo and toured the Volcanoes. Our time was short in Hilo because we had a medical emergency the night before and had to stop in Honolulu. We got to Hilo at about 11 am. The Alamo shuttle picks you up at the pier and you can't beat the rate of $38.00 (Rate Code 6T) for a convertible. Well worth renting a car here. Thursday in Kona we did a shore excursion through the ship. It was the Captain Zodiac Snorkel tour, this was a blast. Keep in mind however if you are prone to sea sickness that this is on a large "raft boat." It takes some strength to hold onto the side while sitting on it. Friday in Maui we did the Maui Downhill Bicycle tour through the ship, it was a blast also. Riding a bicycle down a 10,273 foot high dormant, or active as of 6 months ago, volcano is really fun, well worth the trip. The tour guides Chip and Kimo were very knowledgeable and very fun! Thursday night we did the Luau through the ship. It was actually done by and at The Maui Prince Hotel. It was fun and worth it as well. I think there are probably better Luau's available but this one is convenient. BTW, they don't tell you ahead of time but the bar closes at 8pm. Saturday we took the "Road to Hana" excursion via the ship. This was a very boring tour, sitting in the van 9 hours, but was worth it. It was so beautiful and the tour guide (Cousin Cliff) was hilarious and broke up the monotony of the trip. There was a very unfortunate situation that occurred during our cruise. A passenger that booked a shore excursion through the ship fell and hit her head during a Horseback riding adventure. When she went back to the ship the medical office insisted she pay the $50 fee to be seen. I think this is ridiculous given that she was on a NCLA shore excursion. Understanding that you sign a waiver initially, it still would have been nice to make sure the passenger was okay and not insist she pay a fee!
The entertainment on ship was pretty good. We attended the magic show and the Sea Legs Cirque, both very good. There weren't many activities available on the ship, perhaps due to the times spent in port.
SECURITY/GETTING OFF THE SHIP:
The security crew was okay. NCL America, like other cruise ships, was very thorough that passengers didn't bring back any alcohol or food. I understand this and agree with it, however, I think they should make sure they have enough staff to provide an appropriate level of service to the passengers first. They didn't have any staff to help passengers off the ship but yet had more than enough to search and smell for alcohol. One thing that was very apparent during this cruise was that revenue came first, passenger satisfaction and service was not a priority. The lines for getting back on the ship were sometimes long but not terrible. Taking a tender in Hana is necessary and wasn't too bad.
MISCELLANEOUS: If your travel agent provides you with NCL/NCL America "President's Club" coupons, beware. NCL America will not take these coupons. They use the excuse that they are not NCL, that they are NCL America, a totally separate entity. When shown the NCL America logo on the back of the coupon book they still refused to take the coupons.
SERVICE CHARGE/RESORT FEE:
This is, in my opinion, absolutely ridiculous. As many know NCL America charges this fee of $10 pp per day. It is not, and firmly said, adjustable. If this service charge went to the crew it would be one thing but it does not. Or I should say it goes to them as vacation pay or leave pay. If NCL America wants to increase its rates then it should do so, not add a resort fee to the bill. I resent being forced to pay a service fee for poor service. That being said, I tipped our cabin stewards, and a couple of waiters, because they did provide excellent service. I like the idea of a pre-set gratuity if it in fact goes to the crew. However, NCL America specifically states that this charge is not a gratuity. NCL America wants you to believe that the crew doesn't expect gratuities. This is simply not true. After speaking with many of the crew, they indicated how upset they are with this policy. Many people take the policy at face value and don't feel they need to leave gratuities for good service. SO..... that is why the service on this ship is so poor. Remember, it wasn't only the service but the "attitude" of the staff. I do have to commend the officer that was the Asst. of Housekeeping. While on a tender into Kona (the ships crew, while off duty, goes into port with the passengers) this officer (don't know her name) was trying to raise the morale of the crew. She was very positive and was obviously trying to be friendly with the crew amidst their dissatisfaction.
To wrap up, there were some good aspects of this cruise but many bad. Would we ever sail with NCL America again? Probably not. Did we, as well as the rest of the passengers, have a bad experience because this was POA's second voyage? I don't know but I have doubts. I can tell you that we talked with many, many people during this cruise and not one was happy. It was somewhat depressing because it seemed to be the only thing people could talk about, what a bad experience it was.
My wife and I consistently said this, "The one thing they can't mess up is the beauty of the Islands!"