My husband and I just returned from a 7 day Pride of America cruise in the Hawaiian Islands. This was a trip I planned for 25 years. In 1986 I flew into Honolulu with anticipation of visiting 4 islands in 2 weeks. Unfortunately, I was quarantined for 10 days of that 2 weeks with the measles. I vowed, like MacArthur, that I would return.
After much research, we determined that the most effective way to go in the time allowed would be on NCL Pride of America. We decided to use the ship as a floating hotel and avoid airports and checking in and out of hotel rooms.
We were traveling from Maine, so we decided to arrive 3 days early to enable our senior citizen bodies to recover from jet lag. Our stay at the Outrigger Reef on the Beach was wonderful. It is well located within walking distance to most everything on Waikiki Beach. Our ocean view room had a great view and we actually saw Pride of America arrive in port.
Much of the fun in planning this trip involved joining and participating in the Cruise Critic Forum Group. There were members from Canada, Australia, and points north and south in the US. We had months of trading ideas, making excursion plans, and getting to know each other. We all finally met face to face on the first day on board POA at a Meet and Greet set up by Rachel, the POA Group Service Coordinator. I will have much more to say about the hospitality shown by the POA Staff to our Cruise Critic Forum members later in this review.
First, before actually beginning to give a review of the POA, I would like to explain why this cruise is impossible to rate against any other ship or itinerary. It is very unique. Everything is expensive in Hawaii. Everything must be shipped, so you pay freight for almost all consumables. By law, this American flagged ship must have a high percentage of US citizens. They must earn a minimum wage and overtime. There have been complaints on this Member Review Site about the shortage of help and poor service. Carey, the POA Hotel Manager, explained his dilemma. Hiring and training is an on going process, needing to adhere to US rules and regulations. It takes 90 days or more just to get the proper security clearance for a new employee. Then training begins. Many new employees have been using this as a stepping stone, so it is a constant turnover process with periods of help shortages. This is a unique situation in all of the cruise industry. It is the price we pay to have the US port of Honolulu and not need to spend 3 sea days on sometimes rough seas from a foreign port.
We spent 3 days in Waikiki. This gave us time to adjust for jet lag and recover from the 18 hour flight from Maine. First morning we had a delightful, if expensive breakfast at the Outrigger Reef. For dinner we arranged to eat at Duke's Canoe Club. The view there was lovely of Diamond Head, but the food was only mediocre for the price and it was very noisy.
Second day we made arrangements with Paradise Cover Luau to be picked up to attend their luau. My only advice about this is don't do it if that is what you are planning for your trip. Save your money and go to the luau offered by NCL. The Paradise Cove luau was just short of a carnival and the drinks were watered down. Not worth the high price charged. We received lots of good feedback from those who attended the one on the cruise.
The third day my husband went to the Arizona Memorial while I did the a 5 hour Hummer Movie Set Tour. Both tours were set up through Tom Barefoot's Tours on line. The company picked us up at our hotel and made all necessary arrangements for us. Both tours were well worth it.
The Army Museum next to the Outrigger Reef is a good take. We only allotted ourselves an hour before embarkation to do this and wish we had more time there. It is an excellent museum about the history of Oahu and the military in Hawaii.
We arrived at the dock at 1:30 PM. We splurged on this trip and booked a penthouse suite, so we were escorted onto the ship to meet our concierge and butler. They offered Champagne and snacks while Jim, our concierge explained the suite experience. Cruising in a suite is really worth the price. You get special treatment and rarely need to wait in any line. Form our initiation meeting with Jim and our butler, Mathew, we were escorted to the Lazy J for lunch. If you are a suite dweller you have the advantage of breakfast and lunch served there every day. It is a wonderful advantage. They have the best breakfast on board the ship.
Our suite was a bit smaller than other suites we have had, but it was quite nicely laid out with a large bathroom with a full tub, separate dressing area, king sized bed and a living/dining area. Our suite was really special because the deck was located beneath the Bridge. We could see the officers through the side and floor windows of the Bridge. We have several pictures taken of the Captain and his officers. The Captain even waved a couple of times.
Our butler, Matthew and stewardess, Lucia were absolutely wonderful. I just wish I could have brought them home with me. I do not know when Lucia ever ate or slept. Every time I opened our suite door she was in the hall as though she were there just waiting for us to make a request.
Meet and Greet:
Rachel arranged our Meet and Greet for 3:00 - 4:00 in the Napa Wine Bar. It was wonderful finally meeting our new friends from the Cruise Critic Forum. Rachel Donnelly was wonderful to have arranged for so many of the POA Staff to take the time to introduce themselves to us. We were invited to attend the VIP Cocktail Party the following afternoon and then received an invitation to dine with the officers at the Liberty Restaurant on Tuesday evening. Rachel and the other officers really outdid themselves to make our experience with POA truly memorable. We had VIP treatment the whole way. They were very concerned about changing the image given sometimes on the Cruise Critic reviews and arranged to have all of us meet with them to give a critique before disembarking. For the most part all comments at this meeting were favorable.
We had 2 dinners in the Liberty Dining Room. Both experiences were very nice. Food and service was good. Our second dining experience there was with the Hotel Manager, Carey and the Paymaster, Tom. These officers could not have been more hospitable. This was a fun evening and very memorable. Dinner and service was impeccable.
Little Italy was good, but not worth the extra surcharge. Service was very good, but the food was nothing to write home about.
Jefferson Bistro was a huge disappointment. We were looking forward to experiencing a great meal and it was less than mediocre. My husband swallowed very hard when presented with the bill. We are moderate drinkers and only had 2 glasses of wine with our meal, but it was an outrageous price. We get 4 or 5 star meals in New England for the price we paid. We do not mind paying the price if it is worth it. This was not.
Aloha Cafe was like having a go home place to run to. We were usually so tired after our days on the islands that to have the Aloha to pick up a bite to eat was wonderful. We found the food very good. The atmosphere is a little crazy and uncoordinated. There is a huge variety to choose from and everything I tried was very good. I would recommend offering some more variety of desserts.
I enjoyed Freestyle Dining given the itinerary we had. This was our first experience of true Freestyle, so it was a day of two to get accustomed to it. I missed the social sharing of sitting with the same people and sharing the days' experiences with them every evening though. It is also a nice thing to have the same wait staff every day too. We adapted nicely.
Overall the ship is really beautiful. She is showing her age and getting a little tattered around the edges. She is in need to refurbishing soon. We had maintenance issues almost every day in our suite. They were always promptly addressed, but this should not be issues the cruise passenger should be made to deal with. I have been on many cruises and this was the only time there were so many maintenance issues in our suite. This is a clue, to me, that POA needs to take her time off and get refurbished. She is a lovely ship and the staff is very proud of her. She should get her face-lift and sail proud.