My husband and I just returned from the 8/15 sailing on Pride of Aloha. I had tried to cancel the cruise after reading the comments at this site but was unable to do so without losing our money. So, we did go into this cruise prepared for it's shortcomings and it helped us avoid a lot of the anger we seemed to witness from other passengers. We had cruised once before, 15 years ago on the Royal Caribbean, and this is what I have to compare this cruise to. While the cruise had many problems I can honestly say that we enjoyed our cruise and my biggest disappointment was in the passengers themselves.
The amount of complaining and arguing and anger displayed made it embarrassing to be a part of the cruise. I am talking about the passengers behavior not the staff. Two families were kicked off the cruise when the father's got in a fist fight at the pool. One man was caught stealing a piece of art work. When an area was blocked off for a short time due to a chemical spill passengers had to be threatened with security being called in because they just moved the barricades and attempted to get in the area anyway. While I understand the frustration of paying a lot of money and not having top of the line service, I was amazed how many people seemed to let the problems with the ship destroy their entire vacation. We did not receive the pampering that we had on our previous vacation but then again, this cruise has an American staff and how many Americans are raised to kiss butt to people no matter how bad they are being treated? We continually saw staff being yelled at in situations that were totally beyond their control.
We stayed 3 nights prior to the cruise at the Aston Beach Hotel. The Marriott was next door and we went to the NCL office at the Marriott to get some questions answered. That is when we found out that the people staying at the Marriott could pre-register to board. The lady in the office was polite enough to pre-register us since we stood in the line there. This was great. When we arrived at the ship there were long lines to board but the people pre-registered had a separate, very short, line and were on the ship in about 15 minutes. The Aston was cheaper than the Marriott so we got lucky. I would highly recommend staying prior at the Marriott just for the pre-boarding benefits. (or, if you are at a hotel close to the Marriott to go over to their office and bring all your paperwork and ID and try to pre-register with them and hopefully you will get lucky like we did).
Our room was not cleaned when we arrived but our cabin steward was in the process of cleaning other rooms and met us in the hall and apologized and said she would get to it as soon as possible. In talking to staff later in the week we found out that part of the problem is not only shortage of staff, 60 employees didn't show for work for our cruise the first day, 12 more left at the next port, but also shortage of supplies. To me, this is a glaring sign of the employees not being taken care of by NCL. One employee was hired to work in the salon after having gone to college for hair, massage, etc. and got on ship and told her application was lost and she would be cleaning rooms. We were told by staff that they were promised a benefit package and after hiring on were informed that many of those benefits were not available to them. One employee (I'm not naming names here because I don't trust NCL to not retaliate against employees) told us she had a passenger from a prior cruise call her afterwards and check to make sure she got the tip they left for her on their bill and the employee never saw the money. So please, if you are going to tip make sure to do it in cash and not add it to the bill like NCL tells you to do. The rooms are small but we had staff explain that their room was smaller than ours and shared by 4 staff with two sets of bunk beds and needed to have all their clothes, supplies, etc. in the one room.
There is a very short turn over time between passengers getting off and the new passengers arriving. There is not enough linen to put clean sheets on the beds so that staff has to strip the beds, wait in line for the 4 washing machines on board to wash their own sheets to replace on the beds. Hence, rooms not being cleaned in time. The room attendants start out at $6.25 an hour and work 5 months straight, 7 days a weeks, before they get 5 weeks off. Staff were not openly complaining about their working conditions to us. We started asking them questions about their working conditions to figure out why so much staff was quitting. Their time off aboard the actual cruise is a couple of hours here and there. We actually heard passengers complaining that they saw staff getting off at the ports to play and thought they should be on board working since things were not being run well and there was a shortage of staff. We saw very few people tipping since there was so much anger about the $10 a day service charge. I can say that I wouldn't work for $6.25 an hour for 7 days a week, 5 months straight and then having to deal with people yelling at me most of the day.
Our room was cleaned by 6pm and we had our room cleaned every morning and evening. We saw our cabin attendant, Monica, every morning and evening and she was very sweet and helpful. Others on the ship weren't as lucky. We heard complaints of no pillowcases in their rooms for 2 days, no bedspreads, the cabin not being cleaned from the prior passengers for 2 days after boarding. We had coffee in our room every day but were told by one staff member that coffee was not resupplied and only 2 decks on the ship had coffee available. Once again, we seemed to get lucky with not running into these problems. But, we also were tipping during the week which may have helped our service. (Hint, no irons on board so either pack a travel iron or be wrinkled. Me, it's vacation, I chose wrinkles. There were hair dryers at both the hotel in Oahu and on ship. Also, you do not need to pack beach towels. The hotels, and the ship have towels you can check out and take to the beaches.) The beds were very hard and I requested an eggshell pad and it was delivered that evening. Another well kept secret and I only knew about it from reading the message boards on the web site. We had a balcony room with a small pull out couch that would accommodate a third person in the room and I took the mattress off that couch and put it on top of my bed and was comfortable. Luckily my husband likes hard beds so we had a strange 2 tier bed effect but it worked.
When we arrived we found them selling packages for the beverage service. For $28 you can have unlimited soft drinks and we bought this. It was not worth it because if you pay for a coke you get a can of coke. With the beverage service all you get is the pre-mixed "fountain" coke. Not as good. Plus, we learned early on that you can bring food and beverages on ship. We went into port and bought a 12 pack of coke and snacks and sailed right through the screening lines. The only food you can not bring on board is fresh fruit and alcohol. My advice would be to bring your own drinks, candy, snacks on board to save money. It was a well kept secret. People saw us bringing a full case of coke on board and they were shocked. Next port we saw arms full of cases of bottled water, pop, etc. We did not encounter one rude employee. There were people in the halls that when they saw us looking around, asked if we needed help.
The food service is the biggest problem. The first night we had pre-booked reservations at the Le Bistro to avoid the problems we had been hearing about in the comments. We were seated immediately. My complaint here is that it is a $15 a person charge but when seated and presented the menu two items on the menu were $20. My problem with the specialty restaurants is having to pay extra for a meal when free meals is one of the things that makes the price of a cruise worth it. The service and food were excellent. The second night we went to the crossings restaurant. We arrived at 7pm and were told there was a 30 to 45 minute wait. We waited an hour and 15 minutes to be seated. This would not have been so bad because I reminded myself that if we go out for a nice meal back in Michigan on a Friday or Saturday evening it is not unusual to wait an hour to be seated. What was frustrating was that during the wait we saw people continually go back to the hostess and berate her. The lady was keeping her cool but fighting tears. People were relentless. I was embarrassed to be in the crowd. Once seated we were served immediately. Between the appetizer, salad, main dish, desert it took an hour and a half but we never waited long between courses. If I recall correctly, on our first cruise we took that long for a meal, the difference was that the meal itself was entertainment. Waiters singing and dancing as they presented your food and this did not happen on this ship so I have to wonder if that isn't why people are so focused on how long everything takes.
Our food was excellent and we had no complaints. The second time we ate in a "free" restaurant at the Palace we got smart and stood in line at 5pm. The doors opened at 5:30 and so were were seated immediately. By the third night more people had caught on to this. Once again the rudness of people was overwhelming. A line was formed and the minute the doors were opened, people rushed in and cut into line. I was disgusted by the behavior of the adult passengers and from that point on we ate at the cafeteria. The lines were not long and there weren't seating problems. Yes, the tables may have been full but there were tables out by the pool you could sit at and we never had a problem with seating. The food was not great but edible, which we expect more from a cruise ship but they always had fresh salad and fruit so we never went away hungry if we didn't like the selection. We ate breakfast one morning at the Crossings and the food was good but it was hard to work breakfast at the restaurant around shore excursions. Breakfast in the cafeteria worked better but was not that appetizing. Once again we relied on the fresh fruit and rolls. We used room service two mornings for breakfast but it has limited choices. Fruit, danish, juice and it arrived within 1/2 hour of ordering it. My suggestion, take some ziploc baggies along and a water bottle to fill with orange juice. The end of the week we went to the cafeteria during suppertime and made a tray with fresh fruit, pound cakes, orange juice and we brought it to our room, stored it in the the fridge and saved it for breakfast the following morning. The food service was definitely the big disappointment of the cruise but if you are willing to be flexible and not let it become your focus on the cruise you will have a great time. We saw too many people that seemed to get so caught up in the negatives that they couldn't enjoy the positive things this cruise had to offer and that was a great tour round the islands.
After leaving Kauai the ship did not go straight to the next island but toured around the whole island of Kauai. This was great because we had a balcony cabin on the port side and could sit on our balcony during the day and see the entire island coast line. Also, at night the ship cruises past the lava flow on Maui and the ship is turned around so that both sides of the ship cruise past the glowing lava. A once in a lifetime experience for me. We had a great time on all the islands. We booked the tour bus on Kauai so see the canyons. I would recommend renting cars and going off on your own. Our bus had a lot of older people on and it seemed to take a lot of time just getting people off and on the bus at different stops. We could have seen much more on our own. On Hilo we rented a car through Alamo prior to the cruise for $68. You can rent them from the cruise ship and I am sorry to say I didn't compare the prices to see which way was cheapest. We had plenty of time to tour the Volcano National Park, which was amazing to me, and then drove to the water falls. Enjoyed both places. On Maui we did the downhill bike tour and felt it was worth the money. We both loved it. You are driven to the top of the mountain and start the bike cruise above the clouds. 22 miles downhill. You have a guide that leads 10 bikes in a single line and they were very competent. A little scary going around sharp turns where all you can see is sky with no guard rails but a great experience. We paid for the bus ride to the town of Lahaina and again felt it was worth the $28 round trip per person. I don't know what a taxi would cost each way. If you have 4 people to split the price I am sure you could pay for a taxi cheaper and not be limited by the bus times.
I loved the town and could have spent more time there. A great place to shop that includes some great specialty shops instead of all the tourist shops. We ate at Kimo's and had great hamburgs with a table overlooking the ocean. I've read that the ships shows were not good. I enjoyed them and found them entertaining. Maybe I'm too easily entertained. Actually, talk to my husband and you will find I am a huge critic. He hates going to movies with me because the joy for me is picking them apart on how they could be better. But, on vacation I am not going to waste my time with finding the negative. I'm happy to be away from work and home and having down time.
Sorry this is so long but so much negative has been written about this cruise that I felt that people should be aware that there is a lot of positive also. One night I needed to drop something off at the front desk and there was a line, I asked the man what the line was for since I didn't want to cut in front but didn't want to stand in line if it was the wrong place. His reply was, "This is the line for people that want to hit somebody". Sitting at the airport after the cruise a lady sat across from us, she didn't know we were on the same cruise, and I heard her go into detail to a stranger next to her how horrible the cruise was and their biggest highlight was hitting the Walmart at each port because the cruise had nothing to offer. It was these attitudes that made the cruise a disappointment for us more than the shortcomings of the ship itself. Even at disembarkation we had to sit for close to an hour listening to people all around us compliant about the wait. We took the post cruise excursion to Pearl Harbor and that was a great way to kill some time since our flight didn't leave until 9pm. We were to meet at 8:00 am to catch the tour and waited an hour before getting off the ship and this caused a lot of grumbling but once again, there were 4,000 pieces of luggage to unload and the ship docked at 7 a.m. I am baffled by some of the expectations of the passengers.
We had 2,200 passengers on board and it seems that at least 2,000 of them expected to be first in everything. While the ship was lacking in the dining and food areas I felt the staff to be very polite. I felt sorry for the staff because you could see they were working hard and trying their best with the shortage of staff and supplies. My problems are with NCL for letting their employees take the brunt of the problems and not fixing them quicker. Would I take this trip again? No, but then I take so few vacations that I never go the same place twice. Maui was my favorite island and if I were to go to Hawaii again I would book a hotel on Maui for the week and see all there is to see there. NCL did send a letter around during our cruise and apologized for the service and offered the typical 20% off our next cruise with them for the year 2005 (at the 2004 booking price) but that is a joke to most people that can't afford a cruise that soon. They did refund all passengers 1/2 of their $10 a day service charge and that was taken off our statements at the end of the cruise. For never having been to Hawaii I think this cruise is a great way to get around to a lot of the islands. It beats packing and unpacking at different hotels all week. As frustrating as the waiting in lines was, to take different flights around to the islands would still have required waiting around. If you have done a prior cruise and expect the same pampering you will be disappointed.
We saved 10 years for this cruise and my initial reaction to these postings was why should I have to lower my expectations to have a good cruise? I'm paying good money to expect the best. But, in knowing ahead of time that it obviously wasn't up to par and being prepared for some of the problems it made our cruise enjoyable. I am well aware that with better food and service that there wouldn't have been so many angry people so the problem initiates there. However, it was passengers attitudes that were the main thing that I would list as the unenjoyable part of this cruise.