Pride of America Entertainment
Norwegian has always been at the forefront of entertainment options, and this ship is no different; the entertainment is excellent. The house bands and musicians throughout the ship are top-notch, and Pride of America passengers have also benefited from the recent re-introduction of two Broadway-style productions.
The Hollywood Theatre is fairly small and just one story, with excellent sight lines for most people. It also features life-sized Oscar statuettes at the entrance. A bank of chairs has been set aside for wheelchair and other mobility-impaired guests, which we thought was a nice touch. The two signature shows in the theater are the feel-good "Lights, Camera, Music" and the campy "Rock-A-Hula."
The Chicago-style speakeasy, Pink's Champagne Bar, is located perfectly for people-watching, and its piano player/vocalist will have you swooning. The Napa Wine Bar is elegant, coolly lined with faux limestone walls -- and it's a good spot for a quiet drink. The Gold Rush Saloon is a sports fan's delight, with multiple flat-screen TV's. There's nothing quite like watching an NFL game at 7 a.m. Hawaii time.
Karaoke is hot onboard Pride of America, whether it's taking place in the Gold Rush Saloon late at night or in the Mardi Gras Nightclub just after the main entertainment. The glittery Mardi Gras is a great venue for all-night dancing and for the funky themed parties it hosts, such as the New Year's Eve Bash and Disco Night.
Note: Kids are allowed in the Mardi Gras and can take part in the fun until 11 p.m., at which time it's 18 and older only. Drinking alcohol is strictly limited to those 21 and older.
Hawaii allows no gambling, so there is no casino, and no bingo. Onboard activities include art auctions, 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 three "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, though, in terms of any educational enrichment programming.
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. After awhile, though, there is a sameness to the offerings. 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 $460 for a helicopter ride. There is discounted pricing for children 12 and younger. Note: The excursions in 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 an overnight accommodation.
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 is American-flagged, -staffed, and -themed sailing the waters around one of America's most glorious states, and the overall effect -- with 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 1950's).
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 open during very limited hours, so 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 both 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. Package buy-downs go as low as 40 cents per minute. On top of that, there is a one-time $3.95 activation fee.
The shore excursion and reception desks are located on Deck 5, just around the corner from the ship's shops. Norwegian ships usually have fabulous shopping opportunities, but the shops 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. There are some good deals though -- $12 for a Norwegian Cruise Line T-shirt, $35 for a rain jacket and $22 for an Aloha shirt, as examples.
There is no self-service laundry.
Smoking is allowed in limited areas onboard, but not in any restaurant nor in the showrooms. Even outside, smoking sections seem to be quite limited, and since there is no casino, there really wasn't any area that got particularly smoky.
Pride of America will give up its business center on Deck 13 in 2013 in order to add 32 double-occupancy cabins, mostly suites, and four solo cabins. But it will still have some nicely appointed and private meeting spaces.
Pride of America Spa & Fitness
This ship (and this itinerary) is a fitness buff's dream. Not only is there the well-equipped Santa Fe Spa and Fitness Center, 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 bikes) with their own TV screens. Fitness classes include yoga, indoor cycling and TRX-Suspension Training (for a surcharge). There's a jogging track on Deck 13 and a sports court with hoops on Deck 14. Ping-Pong is available just outside the Aloha cafe.
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 Cafe's aft section, at the rear of the spa, this little pool is ideal for a quiet break. The main pool is surrounded by four hot tubs; the smaller Oasis pool area has one, off to the side. There is a "Quiet Zone" on Deck 13 for folks looking for just that: quiet.
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. 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 golf pro is always onboard, and you'll find a driving range and putting green on Deck 13.
Note: You can bring your own clubs or rent from a full line of Nike clubs onboard, but you cannot take your clubs with you to your stateroom. The pro onboard cleans and stores the clubs and delivers them to the gangway for pick-up on port days. There is a $20 storage fee.
The Santa Fe Spa, located at the aft of the ship, 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.