I found the Pride of America to be a lovely ship with a gracious crew and staff. I have cruised on Carnival and Royal Caribbean and was actually a little afraid of NCL when I read so many negative reviews of the POA. We went ahead and booked anyway because the Hawaiian itinerary suited us perfectly. How bad could it be? It's Hawaii, for crying out loud.
What I liked:
The lei greeting. I got flowers. My husband got shells.
The ship is beautiful. The dEcor is understated, as far as cruise ships go. I liked that it was low-key, not as glitzy as some other ships I've been on. I didn't find as many clashing patterns and over-the-top shiny, glittering mirrors and glass that make you feel like you've stumbled into a high-end funhouse. I loved the carpet in the library and in the cabin hallways. The ship was immaculately clean. My husband commented on how well polished all the wood was in the Liberty Dining Room, for example. Not a smudge or fingerprint to be seen.
The staff was as good as any I've had on other cruises. Our cabin steward, Marino, did a fine job keeping our cabin clean and keeping us supplied with whatever we needed. He was pleasant when we saw him in the hallways. The best staff member we met, by far, was Cathleen in the Liberty Dining Room. If you want to be treated courteously and professionally, request to be seated at one of Cathleen's tables. She and her assistant Tyler are efficient and very personable. We were lucky to find her on the first night of our cruise and we frequently requested to be at one of her tables, even if it meant waiting a little while. We also made the acquaintance of Jack Plewa, the restaurant manager. He is funny and talkative, puts you at ease, and gives great advice for shore excursions due to his many years spent in Hawaii.
The food is very good. We didn't eat in any of the specialty restaurants, but we did try all of the included restaurants. Two nights I chose the chef's selection and both times the meal was wonderful. The Cadillac diner was fun and had good, basic diner food. (See comment in What I Didn't Like.) We ate one night in the Aloha Cafe, but decided that we preferred to be seated and served on the other nights.
Our cabin (7540) was roomy enough for two with plenty of storage space for our luggage. We had a small balcony on the starboard side of the ship. The bed was very, very comfortable. The room had a powerful hair dryer and a safe. We had a tiny problem with the safe at first. The previous passengers shut it, thus locking in their code. We couldn't get it to open. We dialed 00 and waited in our cabin for about 30 minutes until a staff member could open it. After that it worked fine. Marino delivered two very nice NCL robes for our use during the cruise.
The one lecture I attended (Hawaii's Path to Statehood) was very interesting. I wish I had attended the others, especially the lei-making demonstration, but I didn't even realize there were lectures until about halfway through the week. Actually we were on shore during some of them, so I couldn't have attended anyway.
The tender system in Kona is efficient and moves well.
The itinerary can't be beat.
Local people lined up on the pier as we were leaving Nawiliwili to bid us Aloha. That has never happened to me on any other cruise.
What I Didn't Like:
The shower is small. It was fine for us, but I think a bigger person might have a problem.
Why are the milkshakes in the Cadillac Diner extra? I don't see the difference between the desserts in the dining room and the milkshakes. I thought that was a rip-off.
The menu didn't include any local Hawaiian food. Unless you opted for the Luau shore excursion, you didn't get to try poi. There was pineapple on the fruit bar in the Aloha Cafe, but I'm sure it wasn't the much-touted Maui Gold. Our driver from the airport to the pier told us to try apple-bananas if we got a chance. We never did.
The tipping policy was very confusing to me. NCL automatically adds $12.00 per person per day to your account. I guess that gets divided among the crew and staff members you would normally tip on a traditional cruise. We wanted to give Cathleen and Marino extra tips because we had the most contact with them and because we felt they did an excellent job. When I inquired at the Customer Service desk in the lobby, they said if we wanted to tip extra we could do so at each meal or on the last night of the cruise. I found it difficult to figure out how much to tip at each meal since there were no prices on the menu and tipping is usually based on the price of the meal. Instead, we chose to tip on the last night.
What I'm Conflicted About:
Freestyle dining. On the one hand, it IS nice to be able to eat whenever and wherever you choose. On the other hand, I really missed the camaraderie that usually develops with other passengers in traditional cruise dining. Plus I missed having my own server who knew my name and what I drink by the 2nd night. I have no experience in restaurant management, but I think there must be a way to accommodate passengers who choose to have the same server throughout the cruise even if they don't have the same tablemates or the same table.
The casual atmosphere. While I loved it during the day, I must admit that I missed dressing up for a formal Captain's Dinner.
This cruise is a great way to see a lot of Hawaii in a little bit of time. The spirit of Aloha is hard to describe. It's something you have to experience for yourself.
Ea'o aku, a'o male e mahalo aku, mahalo mai. (Learn from one another and respect all people.)