Pride of Aloha - Hawaii: Norwegian Sky Cruise Review by Ray Slover

Norwegian Sky 5
Ray Slover

Overall Member Rating

Pride of Aloha - Hawaii

Sail Date: January 2007
Destination: Hawaii
Embarkation: Honolulu
Yes, Virginia, it is safe to cruise on Pride of Aloha.

But -- don't think the trip will be perfect.

My wife and I did the Jan. 7 cruise and had a wonderful time. The shipboard experience rivaled anything we had on two previous cruises with Royal Caribbean. In fact, if you've been on Monarch or Vision of the Seas Aloha will feel familiar. We know some people didn't have as good a time as we did, and we noticed problems. We had a few ourselves.

But, big picture: This was a very good experience.

Let us offer a few thoughts to help your cruise experience.

1. Be prepared. We booked this cruise a year ago for an anniversary, knowing it was the trip we wanted to take. NCL America's three boats have the perfect Hawaiian cruise itinerary because they spend the whole week in Hawaii. We would have cruised with Royal Caribbean in Hawaii, but RC and other lines must spend time at sea to meet U.S. maritime requirements for foreign-flagged ships. More

Aloha and its sister ships are U.S. flagged and can spend the entire week in U.S. waters. It's the best bang for your buck in the Hawaii cruise business.

That said, you must be aware of problems you might experience on this trip. Some of them go with the territory of a U.S. ship. Others are kinks any ship might experience. But if you are ready for them and can go with the situation, you will have a much better experience.

Best advice here? Read as many of the previous critiques as you can on Cruise Critic's boards. That way you can prepare yourself to avoid potential problems. It paid off for us.

The biggest you will find is the Hukilau Cafe. Take note of other cruisers' problems and consider the following. The cafeteria arrangement is bad, and the only solution is for NCLA to rip everything out and redo it. Ain't gonna happen.

Our advice: Be aware that when entering Hukilau from the pool area, the first serving lines you reach are the ice cream area on the right and the beverage station on the left. It is crowded and confusing, especially if you're coming into Hukilau for a meal. The tight quarters add to the confusion. Be aware of this bottleneck and either around through the seating area to the other end of the cafeteria or pass through the snag and get what you want. The far end of the buffet line has burgers and pizza. The middle has fresh fruit and salad. The near end has a carving station and heavier prepared dishes. Avoid the breakfast waffle; tastes good, takes too long.

Helpful hint: Unless you are already on Deck 11, the pool deck, come into Hukilau from the backside. From your cabin follow the hall to the aft elevators, go up to 11 and enter Hukilau from there.

Helpful hint: Be flexible. Don't go into Hukilau expecting to get one particular item. If the carving line is full, be prepared to eat a sandwich or pizza. It's all free, and everything we ate was prepared well.

Helpful hint: You can also get food on the lanai, the outside area at on the aft end of the ship. It's a burger and fries kind of fare for lunch, light fare for breakfast. It was plenty for us.

Helpful hint: Go to either area before you are hungry, check the setup and offerings and know what to expect.

My wife and I aren't fussy eaters. We know what we like and stick to it. So we didn't have the problem of cold, runny eggs because we avoided them. But there were problems in addition to the cafeteria's poor design. One station of the lanai was open, when two would have relieved the crush. Beverages were generally available on both sides, but the port-side cream dispenser was inoperable. No problem with me, I take coffee black. My wife takes coffee in her cream, so the port-side beverage station was a waste.

Problem area: Always check your flatware, bowls and plates before using them. We came up with a couple of pieces that weren't thoroughly cleaned. We understand the problem, expect NCLA to remedy it and want you to be aware.

Problem area: Seating is limited in the cafeteria, and the lanai can be windy or wet. You can take your meal back into the pool deck area. Scope out the seating situation before you hit the serving lines and have an idea where you want to sit.

Problem area: There are no trays. This was the biggest complaint we had about the Hukilau, because diners are forced to juggle plates, cups and flatware in a crowded environment to find seating. We even joked a couple of times about borrowing a tray from an onshore establishment to use aboard the ship. NCLA would be wise to obtain trays for its cafeterias.

2. Pack for tight quarters. We stayed in the common folk quarters, cabins that are comfortable but compact. You'll find other comments on this site about the lack of drawer and hanger space, the cramped sitting and sleeping areas and tight bathroom/shower facilities.

Yep, some of you might have closets bigger than the cabins. If you can't take the squeeze, get a suite.

We stayed in an outside cabin on Deck 8 amidships. We knew the cabins would be smaller than we had on previous cruises. We also knew we'd have to live out of out suitcases for the most part. No problem. Drawer space is limited, but not unbearable. Closet hanging space was more than adequate for Aloha's casual cruise style. And the bathroom was no trouble at all  and I ain't skinny.

Having an outside cabin on Deck 8 gave us a large circular porthole, and that opened up the room a bit. If you get an inside cabin, you will feel more enclosed.

But folks, you're on a Hawaiian cruise. Get out of the cabin as much as you can, because the temperatures are in the 70s at night and there are plenty of venues and activities to enjoy on the ship. You came on this cruise to enjoy Hawaii, not to sit in your cabin.

Other cruisers commented on the overly firm beds. It was no problem for us. If you like a soft mattress, plan ahead and request a pad.

Helpful hint: The beds are high enough to slide suitcases underneath. We had little difficulty getting our suitcases out of the way. Other nonessentials can be stowed under the bed as well. We packed according to need and had no problem.

Helpful hint: The best cabin advice we got from Cruise Critic critiques was to bring a power strip. Don't go on this cruise without one, because there is one outlet on the dressing table. Most folks will need more outlets for all their electronic gear, including cameras.

Helpful hint: Hot water in showers was always available, but remember you are tapping a limited water supply. Get in, get washed, get done. The ship supplies shampoo and liquid soap in the showers and liquid hand soap at the sink. A hair dryer was provided with the room.

Helpful hint: If you enjoy cold drinking water, you'll need ice. Stewards provide it daily.

Problem area: The entryway space in our cabin was between the closet on the right facing into the room and the bathroom on the left. It's a tad tight. However, it does mean access to the closet and bathroom must be made separately.

3. Dine in style. We didn't bother with the ship's premium dining rooms. We avoided the extra expense and did the main dining rooms. We saw some people who had problems, but we didn't have any.

Our dining experience in Crossings, the boat's aft dining room, was top notch. This was due in huge measure to our waiters, Addy and Patrick. Both were first rate, personable and professional. We ate once with another wait pair, Charles and Eric, and they were also very good and professional. We'd be happy to recommend them to you. But we got a big kick out of Addy and Patrick and loved the time we spent with them. Feel free to ask to be seated with them. If you get a wait pair you like, you can request them every night. You'll get better service.

We never had a problem with our food. Never. Other people did, and they correctly made their complaints known. But the serving staff is on high alert for problems, goes out of its way to accommodate and takes care of its patrons.

Helpful hint: It's another good one from earlier cruisers' comments. Freestyle dining doesn't give you assigned seating, and that can lead to a free-for-all. We expected that and didn't try to eat in the first couple hours Crossings was open. But the time we got to the room, about 7:30 or 8 for dinner, things were slowing down, tables were opening and we had a short wait to be seated. And we did table for two; others who didn't mind mixing in a group got in quicker.

Helpful hint: Watch the monitors in several areas of the boat to see if which dining area has the quickest seating. These monitors aren't dead accurate, but are a good gauge. You also can find menus posted. Have an idea what you want before you enter the dining room.

Helpful hint: Be polite. Everyone we talked to had a good experience with their wait staff, and being friendly with them makes the evening all the more enjoyable. Every staff member we talked to in Crossings was personable, professional and polite. Share some aloha with them and you'll have a great time.

Problem area: Steak is available every night in the dining rooms, but you can expect a long wait for one that is well done. In fact, this was the biggest problem we found. One quest returned a steak twice because it wasn't done to her satisfaction. And well done steaks take longer to cook, which will add to your holdup. My taste in steak is simple: Burn it. I usually take it very well done. But I've learned that well and medium well are just as good, and maybe better. Adapt.

Problem area: You don't have to tip the wait staff, but you do get a drinks bill that includes a space to add a tip. It appears you'll tip the bartender but not your servers. Fear not. The tip is divided among the waiter, assistant and mixer.

Problem area: As with most boats the dining area is a tad cramped. Passage through it isn't always easy. NCLA could open up some space between tables or provide better pathways.

4. Have fun. We spent several great evenings with activities and in entertainment venues. Our first choice and last call every night was in the bars (yeah, we're a couple of lushes). We thoroughly enjoyed our time with three entertainers: pianist/singer/diva Robin Lukas, electric guitarist Dave Morgan and acoustic guitarist Bruce Crichton.

Robin plays Captain Cook's, a nice bar that suffers from being open to a shipboard thruway. She has a good repertoire of songs, is an excellent pianist and has a voice like Diana Krall. You'll love her if your musical taste is bistro/lounge/jazz/show tune. She's a joy to hear.

Dave is in the Paradise Lounge, more out of the way at ship's aft. He plays solo with prerecorded accompaniment and is an excellent guitarist. Bruce's five-week engagement ended with our cruise, and we wish we could have caught him a few more times. He really bends the acoustic guitar strings.

All three were engaging, talented entertainers with great personalities. NCLA is well advised to keep such talented people on its entertainment roster. We would gladly go Robin, Dave and Bruce in any venue.

We caught a stage song-and-dance show and a comedian in the ships main showroom. I'm not big into stage shows, but the performers were talented and attractive, and the production was as good as any we've seen on a cruise. The comedian was a hoot, a combination of wit, rubber face and voice humor.

The Pride of Aloha band did a number of deck shows, and there was a guitar duo that mixed Hawaiian and popular songs. Both were class acts.

Helpful hint: You'll find plenty of room in the lounges, especially later in the evening. We closed out the room every night. All three musicians were friendly and approachable, have a request list and are can't miss.

Problem area: Seating in the Blue Hawaii Room is best described as sardine can. The room generally was overpacked, all seats are on one level so seeing the stage is difficult at best and the acoustics are poor. Hit the music lounges instead.

5. Get out there. Oops, wrong cruise line's ad tagline. We overdid our shore excursions, and generally the bus drivers made the tours work. The two best tours we booked  well in advance, by the way, thanks to Cruise Critic board tips  were the luau and the Eruption of Flavor. Can't do Hawaii without a luau, and we did it with 660 of our closest friends. Good show. The Flavor tour stopped at three small-scale, family-operated businesses, producing coffee, chocolate and vanilla. This is a vast difference from many of the destinations that were overly commercial.

Book these two excursions and you won't be disappointed. Rent a car for all other destinations of your choosing. NCLA owns the tour carrier, Pacific Adventure Tours, and the buses they use are comfortable. The drivers (thanks, Jane, Nick and Uncle Charlie) are personable, knowledgeable and entertaining. But most of the destinations are easy drives for most anyone. Driver and save big bucks on every island.

If you've read through this entire review, thanks. We hope you'll find it helpful for your cruise. We've already used our experience to help a co-worker who's cruising on Pride of America.

Summation: We prepared for the worst and got better than a whole boatload of previous cruisers. Maybe we're just lucky and they weren't. We would recommend Pride of Aloha, which gives great bang for your buck for touring Hawaii.

Just be smart, adaptable and prepared to roll with the aloha spirit. Then extend your right arm, make a fist and stick out your thumb and pinky. It's the Hawaiian hand sign for hang loose. That's the spirit.

Mahalo. A hui hou. Less

Published 01/26/07

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