Pride of America Entertainment
Unlike on other lines' ships, nearly all of Pride of America's entertainment -- from the ship's singers and dancers to the "headliners" -- are under contract to Norwegian. You won't find B-list celebrities coming aboard for one or two cruises. Groups like Toby Beau (oldies duo) and Oh What a Night (Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons tribute band) are almost always onboard. Every Sunday, the ship also flies in a local Polynesian dance group from Oahu to perform. Mainstage and secondary shows are typically well attended and cater to a feel-good, Baby Boomers-heavy crowd.
The Hollywood Theatre, Deck 5 forward, is fairly small and just one story, with excellent sight lines for most people. A bank of chairs has been set aside for wheelchair and other mobility-impaired passengers, which we thought was a nice touch. The two signature shows in the theater are the Hollywood musical-inspired "Lights, Camera, Music" and the campy "Rock-A-Hula."
One deck above the theater, glittery Mardi Gras is the venue for smaller shows and the funky themed parties, such as the White Hot Party and Sock Hop. By day, it also shows movies or hosts dance classes, lectures and other events.
Note: Kids are allowed in Mardi Gras and can take part in the fun until 11 p.m., at which time it's 18 and older only. The drinking of alcohol is strictly limited to those 21 and older.
Pink's Champagne Bar evokes the classic Hawaiiana of Waikiki's Royal Palace Hotel. Its Deck 6 location between Mardi Gras and various dining venues is perfect for people-watching, and there's always a pianist or guitar player to draw the crowds and get people dancing. The Napa Wine Bar just beyond is elegant, coolly lined with faux limestone walls; it's a good spot for a quiet drink, especially before dinner at the adjacent Cagney's. A guitarist plays there most nights. The Deck 5 John Adams bar serves up specialty coffee, cocktails and a mix of the two (for a fee) and breakfast pastries and all-day sweets (for free). It's right in the atrium hub, and trivia and other ship competitions are held there during the day.
The Gold Rush Saloon is a sports fan's delight, with multiple flat-screen TVs. There's nothing quite like watching an NFL game at 7 a.m. Hawaii time. The western-themed bar is where you'll find movie trivia and karaoke nights, as well as buck hunter video games and a help-yourself popcorn machine. For more gaming, an arcade is located on Deck 13, midship.
Poolside, the Ocean Drive Bar is bucket-of-beer central, the Key West Bar on Deck 12 has a similar vibe, and the Waikiki Bar sits above the aft pool and blasts recorded tunes during sailaway and late a night. The aft end of Deck 11 has been transformed into the Aloha Lanai, with a bar, giant freestanding table lamps, faux wicker chairs and couches with padded cushions, as well as dining tables. It's popular at sailaway or as an alfresco dining venue for a buffet breakfast.
Hawaii allows no gambling, so there is no casino and no bingo. Onboard activities include art auctions, trivia, pool games, dance classes, and arts and crafts classes with Hawaiian themes (make a lei, make a hat, make a seed or shell necklace, etc.). The ship's "Hawaiian ambassadors" also do a super job with port talks. During the cruise along Kauai's Napali coast, one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in all of Hawaii, they give a wonderful commentary about the passing scenery. That's it in terms of any educational enrichment programming. It doesn't really matter, though, as you're rarely onboard to enjoy it.
The absolute best entertainment is the crew show. On other Norwegian ships, the performance showcases the many cultures of the multiple nationalities represented by the crew. Pride of America has one nationality -- American -- but the range of talent is still astounding. We saw an opera singer, a couple of crooners, a guy who does a fire dance with two glow sticks, and country singers.
Given the exotic destination, shore excursions are a huge part of the Pride of America experience. Not surprisingly, many involve water sports (kayaking, snorkeling, parasailing, Scuba diving, tubing, a day at the beach). There are also biking trips, golf outings, zip-line adventures, and waterfall and rainforest hikes. We preferred the excursions that highlighted the uniqueness of each island: Volcanoes National Park, with its active volcano on the Big Island, for example, as well as Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park, which offers a spectacular glimpse of Old Hawaii. It, too, is on the Big Island.
Pricing is all over the map, ranging from $45 for a glass-bottom boat tour to $500 for a helicopter ride. There is discounted pricing for children 12 and younger; some tours might not incur a fee for tots younger than 3. Note: The excursions on Oahu, including tours of must-see Pearl Harbor, take place on the day of disembarkation in Honolulu. The timing makes for tricky logistics. Passengers ought to consider booking return flights late in the day or arranging overnight accommodations.
Pride of America Public Rooms
With a shipwide theme as broad as the U.S., the public rooms have a range of subjects to display, some of them strictly sentimental, some Yankee Doodle Dandy patriotic and some just kitschy, funky Americana. While it did seem a little odd to go from the John Adams Coffee Bar (overlooking the aforementioned seal of the United States and a silly-looking replica of the Washington Monument) to the Waikiki Bar -- or, for that matter, to dine under the New York skyline while moored in Maui -- the ship's public spaces celebrate all that America is, including Hawaii. It's fitting to have a ship that's American-flagged, -staffed and -themed sailing the waters around one of America's most glorious states, and the overall effect, no pun intended, is pride in America.
The ship's Hawaiian Cultural Center, basically a series of displays along one of the passageway walls, gives an overview of Hawaii's history through photos and artifacts (including iconic bobblehead hula dancer kewpie dolls from the 1950s).
The library, on Deck 6, is well stocked, especially with books about the region. It and the card room next door are popular places to take refuge. The library is always open, but shelves are unlocked and books available to take out during limited hours. Make sure to check the schedule if you want to access any reading material.
The small Internet center is also located on Deck 6; rates for wireless (using your own laptop) and on-site connectivity (using the ship's computers) are the same, starting at the standard 75 cents per minute for the pay-as-you-go plan. Two packages are available at $100 for 250 minutes and $55 for 100 minutes. On top of that, there is a one-time $3.95 activation fee and a $0.50 fee for each print job. We had great Wi-Fi access in our cabin; it's the slowest just before dinner, when everyone is back onboard.
In the same Deck 6 corridor, you'll also find a photo studio for anyone really serious about getting a family portrait done.
The shore excursion and reception desks are located on Deck 5, just around the corner from the ship's shops. The three shops -- a Hawaiian fine jewelry boutique, an alohawear and logowear shop, and a sundries store selling Hawaii souvenirs like coffee and macadamia nuts -- on Pride of America are small and a bit pricey. There is no duty-free option, and many of the local (Hawaiian) items carry hefty price tags. Across from the shop is the photo gallery, where you can browse (and purchase) photos of yourself posing with a giant, fluffy pineapple or the cruise director dressed as Uncle Sam.
There is no self-service laundry.
Smoking is allowed in limited areas onboard, namely your stateroom balcony and the Waikiki Bar on Deck 13 aft, but not in any restaurant nor in the showrooms.
Pride of America Spa & Fitness
The South Beach pool, located in the center of Deck 11, is appealing and active ... so much so that many people overlook the fact that there is a smaller, quieter pool -- the Oasis -- at the aft on Deck 12. Shhhhh! Perched above the Aloha Lanai and behind the spa, this little pool is ideal for a quiet break (except for when the Waikiki Bar turns up the tunes). The main pool is surrounded by four hot tubs; the smaller Oasis pool area has one, off to the side. Onboard pools and hot tubs are supposedly open until 10 p.m., but we saw people in the hot tubs later than that. If you don't need to lounge by the pool, there are deck chairs scattered on Decks 12 through 14. Look for the giant rubber duck statue hidden away on Deck 14; it's sitting under a giant showerhead that actually works. There's also a special kid's pool adjacent to Splash Academy on Deck 12.
This ship (and this itinerary) is a fitness buff's dream. Not only is there the well-equipped Santa Fe Fitness Center on Deck 12, there are also plenty of spots for walking, jogging and sports onboard. The fitness center, remarkably, is open 24/7. It has more than 30 cardio machines (rowing, treadmill, elliptical and cycling) with their own TV screens, as well as resistance training machines. Fitness classes in an enclosed group class area include yoga, indoor cycling and TRX-suspension training (for a surcharge).
There's a jogging track on Deck 13, as well as shuffleboard. A sports court with hoops is on Deck 14, and giant chess and checkers are on Deck 12. Ping-Pong is available just outside the Aloha Cafe.
One of the best fitness and recreation aspects of this cruise is the range of golf programs offered. Imagine golfing in paradise every day, sometimes more than once, at each of the islands visited. Norwegian partners with Paradise Caye Golf to offer an onboard golf pro who holds complimentary group clinics and extra-fee private lessons, access to the V1 Digital Coaching system, gear rental and storage, and guided excursions with priority tee times. You can choose your courses from an array of municipal and private greens, from reasonably priced to outrageously expensive. One of the most special courses on the itinerary is the 18-hole Kiele at Kauai Lagoons Golf Club, redesigned by Jack Nicklaus in 2011. A driving range and putting green are on Deck 13.
Note: You can bring your own clubs or rent from a full line of Nike clubs onboard, but you can't take your clubs with you to your cabin. The pro onboard cleans and stores the clubs and delivers them to the gangway for pickup on port days.
The Mandara Spa, located at the aft of the ship next to the fitness center, is big and elegant. Run by the Mandara division of Steiner Leisure, it offers the usual at-sea spa treatments, but the destination also allows it to creatively provide themed services like the traditional Hawaiian Lomi Lomi massage, created for Hawaiian royalty and passed down through the generations. Port days (and there are a lot of them) mean discounts on everything from manicures to teeth-whitening. There are also complimentary sauna and steam rooms.
Note: Almost all signage indicates that you have to use the aft stairs to get from Deck 11 to the spa, but mobility-impaired passengers can access it by using one of the aft elevators. We actually got quite lost looking for the spa and fitness center. The stairs/elevator are right by La Cucina, adjacent to the very end of the Aloha Cafe seating. (If you hit Moderno, you've gone too far.) There are also doors from the outside deck behind the Oasis Pool.