Written by Jana Jones, Cruise Critic contributor; Updated by Ellen Uzelac, Cruise Critic contributor
Pride of America Overview
Editor's note: Pride of America will enter dry dock in March 2013 and undergo a $30 million refurbishment over a 14-day period. Additions include new studio cabins, more suites and inside staterooms, a restaurant (Moderno Churrascaria, a Brazilian-style steakhouse), bow-to-stern Wi-Fi and flat-screen TV's in cabins. Get the full details here.
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 both the U.S. registration and the staffing requirement is that the vessel can sail seven-night itineraries around the Hawaiian Islands without having to embark (or disembark) in Vancouver or Ensenada. Nor do they have to travel a couple of thousand miles out of the way to visit Fanning Island. That's because the Passenger Services Act, requiring a foreign-flagged cruise ship to stop at a foreign port when leaving or returning to U.S. waters, does not apply to this ship, creating itineraries chock full of port stops and overnights in the beautiful regions of the U.S.'s 50th state.
Also notable, Pride of America today is the only ship to sail Hawaiian waters year-round. More often than not, it is 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 this ship celebrates American culture and history, from the 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 are greeted with a huge seal of the United States embedded in the flooring. It almost feels irreverent to walk across it.
At 81,000 tons and with 1,069 passenger cabins, the ship is big but not too big. It's easy to navigate, and having a largely American crew brings its own rewards to the ambience. It's fun to hear "Mornin'!" or "How y'all doin'?" while walking the hallways or public spaces.
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 awhile to get used to being served by people from Plano, Texas, or Eugene, Oregon, as opposed to the international staff that is typical on most ocean-going cruise ships. Overall, the service is good, it's fun, and while not always perfect, it's just about right on a ship with such an island-intensive itinerary.
The way we see it, the cruise experience is less like going to Morton's or Ruth's Chris or Le Cirque every night, and more like going to Applebee's or T.G.I. Friday's. It was an enjoyable change of pace, and as the week wore on, we appreciated it more and more.
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. On one recent cruise, 800 of the more than 2,000 passengers hailed from foreign countries, led by Australia, Canada, Japan and Germany. Taiwan and China are also picking up as passenger categories. 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 '60's, bring 'em along. Dress is tropical-casual, with one discretionary formal night (you are not required to dress up). On "Dress Up or Not Night," as it is called, passengers may have their photographs taken with the captain. Nighttime dress is cruise-casual, with the occasional "Polynesian" and "Hawaiian" theme night for dressing island-style. Beachwear, tank tops for men, ball caps or visors, flip-flops and overly faded or torn jeans are not allowed in the dining rooms. For dining in the Jefferson Bistro or Lazy J's Steakhouse, 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 are welcome with nice shorts in any dining room.
Pride of America Gratuity
Pride of America has an automatic gratuity program that costs $12 per passenger, 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.
My wife, her sister and mother sailed on the POA the week of May 4. For my wife and I it was the second cruise on POA.
We were excited to see the changes to POA after its refitting. No disappointment there. The whole ship has a new feel about it. ...continue
4 prior NCL cruises and a great fondness for the Hawaiian Islands sealed the deal for this 21st anniversary present to ourselves, a trucker driver and an RN, ages 54 and 62. We started with a 5 1/2 hour flight to Honolulu 2 days before embarkation, ...continue
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My wife and I are both seniors 60-564 years old. This cruise was to celebrate her 60th Birthday and retirement as well as our 40th anniversary. We never took a real honeymoon and have always wanted to have gone there.We looked at cruise options on ...continue