Pride of Aloha - Hawaii: Norwegian Sky Cruise Review by Anchovy
Overall Member Rating
Pride of Aloha - Hawaii
By now, it's widespread knowledge that NCL America (NCLA) is having significant problems with their new Hawaii cruise offering. NCLA is a new company formed by NCL under which three US flagged ships will eventually operate. At the current time, the Pride of Aloha (formerly Norwegian Sky) is the only ship in the NCLA fleet and is the first U.S. flagged cruise ship in approximately 50 years. Its crew consists of U.S. citizens and individuals who are in the United States legally.
I commend NCLA for what they're trying to do that is to provide high-paying jobs and offer an efficient Hawaiian cruise (under U.S. maritime laws foreign ships can't travel from U.S. port to U.S. port, and in Hawaii's case cruisers had to touch base at the Fanning Islands before heading to another Hawaiian destination)—. The challenges they face are understandable, but people took time for a vacation with More NO idea they were paying to be part of a poorly executed experiment. This should have been stated upfront and the price adjusted accordingly. I was told by two NCL employees training Pride of Aloha staff that NCL is well aware of the problems. Unless NCLA quickly enacts major changes to future cruises and refunds money (cold hard cash, NOT discount vouchers for NCL cruises) to former passengers, they are destined to fail. Word of mouth and the Internet give NCLA a tiny window in which to react. They are dealing with a public relations nightmare that requires bold and decisive action.
In the hope that NCLA is reading these reviews, I'm going to make a number of suggestions; afterwards you'll find my review of the July 18, 2004 cruise. If you're not interested in my suggestions to NCLA, please skip to the bottom and read my review. I find it hard to believe that many of the items I list were not instituted after the first or second voyage because they seem to be common sense. I realize change costs money but NCLA has got to be bleeding money and if they eventually fail, the little bit they spend implementing these suggestions will seem like a drop in the bucket.
SUGGESTIONS TO NCLA:
1) Focus on getting the basics right. Don't attempt anything where you can't deliver on increased expectations (e.g. specialty restaurants). The food you offer should be within the capabilities of an average kitchen staff. Concentrate on solid buffets offering good, simple and delicious food. Case in point: The Asian buffet offered during the July 18 cruise was extremely weak.
2) Refund all former passengers at least 33 percent of their ticket price. Do NOT send vouchers for discounts on other NCL cruises because that will add insult to injury.
3) Send a letter to future passengers informing them of the challenges NCLA is experiencing and offer them the option of a full refund if they cancel or a discount if they choose to take the cruise. It's much better to set expectations in advance since it's harder to make things "right" after the fact. I realize it's difficult to say you're not up to snuff from a corporate perspective, but it's the ethical thing to do and a public relations plus.
4) Due to the short staffing issues, reduce the number of passengers on the cruise by 25 percent to approximately 1,500. Many staffers were trying their best and working hard, but NCLA has put them in a position where they are destined to fail even with the best of intentions. No matter how diligently an employee worked, the inadequate staffing made it impossible to do their job effectively. Under the existing conditions with inadequate crew to passenger ratios, NCLA is going to have continuing morale and retention problems.
5) Move your best management/troubleshooters to the Pride of Aloha and make sure passengers are aware of their presence by their proactive behavior and having them wear special uniforms. Many of the floor managers and restaurant hosts were young and obviously inexperienced. They had no business being in those positions and were clueless about handling upset passengers. HINT: When the waits at the restaurants get long, offer those waiting complimentary drinks and appetizers.
6) The Pride of Aloha is a cruise of the Hawaiian Islands, so it's a "no brainer" to serve the tropical fruits (guava, papaya, passion fruit, apple bananas, etc.) and fresh vegetables Hawaii is known for Right? Not if you're NCLA. How about adding a little Hawaiian "punch" to the fruit buffets? This is cheaply and easily corrected and should be done immediately.
7) NCLA offers two levels of dining in addition to the buffet—regular dining and specialty dining. The specialty options extract additional fees of about $12.50-$15 per person. My suggestion: Close the specialty restaurants and either place the staff in The Crossings and Palace Restaurants or make the space available as regular dining. Additionally, refund the service charges former passengers paid to eat in the specialty restaurants. The specialty restaurants are mediocre and serve as nothing more than an additional revenue stream for NCLA. Frankly, it's a bit insulting.
8) Improve the overall food quality at all dining establishments but especially at the buffet. You do NOT serve rotten salad ever. If something is stale, rotten or old, do NOT serve it.
9) Install large staffed busing stations in the buffet areas until your staffing levels increase. This will allow passengers to hand trays off when they're finished eating. I don't think passengers would mind helping out when they're done eating, but on our cruise, passengers essentially had to act as bus staff when they wanted to use a table that had not been cleared.
10) On the day of embarkation, augment your staff with independent contractors to help clean the staterooms and ready the ship for voyage.
11) I have countless suggestions and could go on and on. I recommend that NCLA talk to former passengers to get additional suggestions as well as hire an independent hospitality consultant from outside the cruise industry.
My family took this cruise to celebrate our mother's 70th birthday. Our party consisted of eight adults and two kids. Six of the eight adults had never been on a cruise before; I was one of those "newbie" adults. I'm not one who likes pampering, so I was not looking to be constantly waited on.
EMBARKATION: My wife and I carried our bags onboard and I highly recommend that you consider this since many passengers did NOT receive their bags until late at night. If you're going to hand your bags to NCLA to take to your stateroom, be sure to carry on what you'll need for the rest of the day and evening—maybe a change of clothes and swim gear. Since NCLA felt it flubbed embarkation for our cruise, they provided everyone with a coupon for one complimentary drink at the bar in a commemorative glass. This was a nice gesture, but the embarkation debacle foreshadowed problems yet to come, and by the end of the cruise, I don't think the free drinks did anything to help NCLA's standing with passengers.
STATEROOM: We had an interior stateroom, which was small but adequate. Due to short staffing and the quick turnaround required on the day of embarkation, the room was not clean and had not been vacuumed. There were glasses from the prior passengers that I placed in the hallway and the refrigerator had a juice spill that I cleaned up. Our room stewards were pleasant and tried hard to please even though they were in a difficult position.
FOOD & DINING: This is the area that was the most disappointing for us. Overall, the food was mediocre and service, hit or miss. Some servers were exceptional while others stumbled through the evening and seemed somewhat "at sea." Understaffing in the dining rooms was obvious and the employees seemed stressed. I felt for the people working on the ship because they were in a "no win" situation. Dining every evening became a two- to three-hour ordeal. The plus side of the long dinners was that our family was together for a long periods talking and laughing. If you want a shorter dining experience, the buffet is the only other option. The buffet is not particularly desirable although I did enjoy the pizza and stuck to pizza and salad when I ate at the buffet. The other buffet choices reminded me of college cafeteria fare.
Our worst dining experience occurred in one of the specialty restaurants (Pacific Heights) on my mother's birthday. The whole experience was a poorly executed slog. The hostess although pleasant, had no idea how to manage our cranky table and was obviously inexperienced. The service charges and wine should have been gratis, but she didn't possess the savvy to take charge of the situation and at least try to salvage the evening.
If you want to invest any additional money on food, I suggest avoiding the specialty restaurants and dine off ship during one of the layovers in Kauai or Maui. It will be a better use of your money.
On our last evening onboard, I complained to the head maitre d' (James) at The Crossings and he knew exactly what to do - he bought the whole table two bottles of wine, made sure we received the best service possible and apologized. He is a true professional and James should be a role model for all the restaurant hosts on the ship.
DISEMBARKATION: We carried our bags off the ship ourselves (Express Disembarkation) and were onshore by 8a.m. We left our two bags at the luggage holding area ($5 per bag for the day) and grabbed public transit to the Arizona Memorial. Honolulu has a great bus system ($2/adult, $1 kids/seniors) and we used it to tour the city and get to the airport. The rest of our family disembarked at the designated time for their stateroom level, said it went smoothly and that their bags were waiting when they arrived onshore.
GENERAL: We did not take any of the excursions and instead rented cars. This was a more cost effective option and allowed us the freedom to do what we wanted on our own schedule. If you'd like do any onshore excursions, I believe you'll save a lot of money by arranging them with operators independent of NCLA. You can do this using the Internet ahead of time or by finding businesses that offer excursions once onshore.
The ship captain and piloting crew seemed to be on top of things. We left port on-time and arrived in port on-time. The crew responded admirably to a mayday call from a diving catamaran where an accident severely injured two people off the coast of Kauai. A Navy helicopter evacuated these individuals after they were brought onboard from the catamaran. For more detail on the accident and rescue see http://starbulletin.com/2004/07/23/news/story3.html.
The views from the deck of the Na Pali coast of Kauai and Kilauea's flowing lava off the Big Island were spectacular and one of the pluses of the cruise. The nightly entertainment seemed to be universally enjoyed. I only saw part of one show called My Producer and found it to be quite good.
In my opinion, a cruise is NOT the way to see Hawaii. If you have seven days, I suggest you pick one island, rent a car and condo and spend most of your time touring that island, laying on the beach, etc. If you fly through Honolulu, you can spend a day or two there either coming or going. This cruise barely gives you a taste of the islands and I found it somewhat stressful. I've been to Hawaii before and spent 10 days on the Big Island of Hawaii. It was a superior experience that was much more relaxing and interesting.
Overall, we had a nice time because our whole family was together. If you go with the flow and accept the inadequacies of the Pride of Aloha experience, you'll be okay. If you're looking for personalized service, good food, common sense, etc., you will be sorely disappointed and this is not the cruise for you. Until NCLA works out the kinks, your money will be better spent elsewhere. Less