Our family (12 people in all) sailed on the Pride of America on August 8th, 2009. We are all veteran cruisers (anywhere from 11-33 cruises in the bunch). We have enjoyed cruises on many cruise lines including NCL. Unfortunately, we were less than enamored with the "Freestyle" concept that NCL has embraced. More on this later. After reading the copious amount of tips about the POA here on CC, we decided to arrive at Pier 2 at noon. Trust me, take this advice! Lines were very reasonable and there was NO line for Latitudes check-in. We boarded quickly and enjoyed a glass of champagne before heading up tot the Aloha Cafe for lunch. We found the buffet to be average trough feeding. After lunch, we proceeded up to the pool and did some swimming until our deck (7) was made available.
Our stateroom was clean and furnished adequately, although our upper berths remained down through our entire cruise. This certainly made a small cabin feel even smaller during the course of the day. Our steward, Ray, was adequate. On a couple of occasions, he asked me if we really needed our cabin to be turned down, or if fresh towels were enough. There was one evening when he did not attend to our cabin (night off, perhaps?) Throughout the cruise we were shorted pool towels. Overall, his service was average. After the boat drill, we decided to dine. After our two hour fiasco in the dining room, we returned to our cabin to find that we were still missing luggage. After a call to the Reception Desk, our final piece of luggage (properly tagged, by the way) was delivered to our stateroom around 9:30 PM.
Dinner the first night was horrible! Our party arrived at the Skyline Restaurant around 6:30 and were seated a short time later. Our waiter seemed to be attentive at first, but then just simply disappeared for long periods of time. It did not help that he did not have an assistant, either. As time went on, we realized that we were not going to see the show because of the slowness (It took 1 hour and 40 minutes before our main course arrived). This was our first experience with "Freestyle" Dining. WHATEVER! After two hours, we were not offered dessert or coffee. Not a good way to start our cruise! We walked out rather upset and quite disappointed. My niece talked to the Head Waiter after dinner and he asked us to give them one more shot and that they would find us a better waiter tomorrow. So, we tried again on Sunday. After sitting down at our table, we were greeted by Matt and Anthony. Talk about a breath of fresh air! After a great time with them, we immediately asked the maitre d' to book us with them for the rest of the cruise. He assured us that he would do that with the exception of their night's off. Well, we showed up the next night to no reservation. Matt and Anthony were not available, so we were handed off to another duo who did a nice job. The following night, Matt and Anthony were working in the Liberty Restaurant, so the maitre d' booked us down there. When we arrived for dinner, we were told that there was not a table for our family yet again. We then went upstairs and he told us our table was ready, but he called us by an entirely different family name. This maitre d' was a real work of art! To make a long story a little shorter, the main dining room experience was a comedy of errors and if it wasn't for Matt and Anthony, would have been an awful experience. The food was marginal, at best, and quite frankly, left a lot to be desired. On the other hand, breakfast in the Liberty Dining Room was both quick and good. It took a little longer than the Aloha Cafe, but it was uncrowded and peaceful. It took us until Thursday to discover this gem. The Aloha Cafe served rather tasteless food (although there was a lot of it) in a very crowded and Golden Corral format. We ate several breakfasts and lunches in this area. The biggest surprise for us was the Cadillac Diner. The service was quick and friendly, the food was good and the highlight was the dessert. Although they only have a few offerings, the desserts in this restaurant were the best on the ship. We did eat at Lazy J's Steakhouse one evening and found the beef to be extremely tender and delicious. Worth the $25 up charge, I don't think so, but nontheless, it was the best dining experience of our cruise.
One of the things that really bugged me was the constant up selling and up charging on the ship. The wait staff always asked if we wanted bottled spring water or regular old tap water (yes, exact words). Every class had a fee (spinning, Yoga, etc.). This did not used to be the case and was not on our last CCL cruise. The "Behind the Scenes" Tour had an astronomically high price (another tour that used to be free). I could go on and on. In addition, if you do buy something onboard, expect to not only pay a service charge, but a gratuity as well. WHAT??? What's the difference???
NCL's bottom line is not too good right now and it seems evident that corporate is doing everything they can to raise revenue on the ships. One beer (with service charge and gratuity) cost me $7.00. Trust me, that was the only drink I bought onboard the entire cruise. There is no coin laundry and there was no "bag of laundry" special during the cruise.
I understand that NCL is appealing to the masses, the average Joe's, however, I miss the days of pampering and caring for the individual guest. NCL was quite successful doing it on the Norway (they pioneered the mega cruise ship experience) and did it for years before as well. My wife and I enjoyed our honeymoon on an NCL ship (Skyward). I feel that they have headed in a direction that does not interest me nor my family. Unfortunately, they were operating the only cruise ship in Hawaiian waters at the time that we all could cruise and thus, had no choice. I would have preferred a cruise on another Cruise Line with a stop in the Fanning Islands or elsewhere to get around the U.S. flag requirements that NCL has taken advantage of...that's a story for another time...