Updated by Ellen Uzelac, Cruise Critic contributor, and Erica Silverstein, Features Editor
Pride of America Overview
Pride of America debuted in 2005 as the first U.S.-flagged passenger cruise ship to be built in more than 50 years. The ship is distinctive in another way: The crew and officers are primarily American or citizens from U.S. territories. The advantage to the U.S. registration and the staffing requirement is that the vessel can sail seven-night itineraries around the Hawaiian Islands without having to stop in Vancouver or Ensenada. Nor does it have to travel thousands of miles out of the way to visit Fanning Island. That's because the Passenger Services Act, requiring foreign-flagged cruise ships to stop at foreign ports when leaving or returning to U.S. waters, does not apply to this ship. That means itineraries are chock full of port stops and overnights in the beautiful regions of the U.S.'s 50th state.
Also notable, Pride of America is currently the only ship to sail Hawaiian waters year-round. More often than not, it's the sole cruise ship in port, which makes for a far more relaxing visit for passengers.
Pride of America is a paean to the United States. Everything onboard the ship celebrates American culture and history, from the 1950s kitsch of the Cadillac Diner to the sober statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Liberty Dining Room. You get a feel for the ship as soon as you board: Stepping into the marble lobby, you're greeted with a huge seal of the United States embedded in the flooring. It almost feels irreverent to walk across it.
The ship is big but not too big. It's easy to navigate, with the exception of a few "you can't get there from here" spots, like the Deck 6 Liberty Dining Room (only accessible from an upper or lower deck) or the Deck 12 spa and fitness center (tucked away on a half deck at the aft of the ship).
Does a staff or crew comprising mostly U.S. citizens offer a different cruise experience? You bet it does. At once familiar but different, it does take a while to get used to being served by people from Plano, Texas, or Eugene, Oregon -- all who greet you with the Hawaiian "aloha!" -- as opposed to the international staff that is typical on most oceangoing cruise ships. Overall, the service is friendly but not always perfect. On a ship with such an island-intensive itinerary, it's unlikely to affect your vacation much.
The way we see it, the cruise experience is less like going to Morton's, Ruth's Chris or Le Cirque every night and more like going to Applebee's or T.G.I. Friday's. Food, service, cabins and entertainment are all perfectly fine, but it's the destination, rather than the ship, that will provide the "wow" factor.
Pride of America Fellow Passengers
Pride of America's passengers run the gamut from multigenerational family groups to honeymooners and everyone in between. There is also a nice international flavor to the passenger mix. After Americans, Canadians and Australians are the biggest groups; our cruise had a significant number of Japanese travelers, as well. During school holidays, expect up to 500 kids onboard; a low-season cruise might have just 50. This is a relaxed but destination-intensive cruise, designed for people -- no matter where they're from -- who want to experience Hawaii. While the ship offers everything you'll need or want, it's understood that it plays second fiddle to the islands' allure.
Pride of America Dress Code
If you've been hoarding those Hilo Hattie muumuus or surf shirts that were popular in the '60s, bring 'em along. Dress is tropical-casual day and night, with one discretionary formal night on which you're not required to dress up. The occasional "Polynesian" or "Hawaiian" theme night calls for dressing island-style, but many don their aloha-wear throughout the cruise. People also bring white duds for the "White Hot Party" and do go all out; we saw clingy white dresses and white suit jackets. Beachwear, tank tops for men, ball caps and visors, flip-flops and overly faded or torn jeans are not allowed in the dining rooms; swimwear is allowed in the buffet during the day. For dining in the Jefferson Bistro or Liberty Dining Room, women may wear tops with slacks, jeans, dresses or skirts, and men are advised to wear slacks or jeans with collared shirts and closed-toe shoes. Kids younger than 12 can wear nice shorts in any dining room.
Pride of America Gratuity
Pride of America has an automatic gratuity program that costs $12 per passenger (3 years and older), per day, and covers tips for all services -- including those provided by room stewards and restaurant waitstaff. Passengers can adjust this amount in either direction by asking at the reception desk.
There's a 15 percent auto-gratuity for bar bills and 18 percent for spa services and fitness center classes.
Very convenient sailing at night and get to the islands in the morning. Cabin OK. On board entertainment poor and the included food not too good. My wife and I had just one good dinner. Can't say anything about the non included restaurants as we ...continue
Recently returned from a Pride of America (POA) Cruise (November 15 - 22, 2014) and I have nothing to say but but good things. It was my first cruise and I traveled as a solo traveler. Stayed for three nights at the suggested POA hotel (Waikiki ...continue
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We just returned from our trip to Hawaii which included a cruise on Pride Of America. I have read a lot of comments on this ship and this is our 24th cruise = so here it goes!
WOW - The ship is excellent, the crew was Great and the port ...continue