My husband and I were split. I wanted to travel to Hawaii and rent a house/condo and do some island hopping so we could spend more time in each place and he wanted to cruise. The NCL Pride of America offered a bit of both. We spent two nights in ports, so you didn't have that rush to get back to the boat which was a nice change of pace. The ship was clean and well-maintained, but the stateroom was a little smaller than other cruise lines. There was plenty of room to spread out and enjoy yourself. Overall the cruise was a great experience and I would highly recommend it.
This was our first time cruising NCL, so things were a little different. First is the "anytime dining." We prefer to have a reservation, sit at the same table each night and get to know the wait staff. Here you sit somewhere different every night, even in the same restaurant. We learned once you get on board that you can make reservations at all of the restaurants (except buffet), but you sit at a different table each night. And note, the times fill up quickly, so don't delay if you want a specific time. Turned out to still be really fun because the wait staff were delightful! We met waiters and waitresses from all over the US and they remembered us from night to night. They would come over to our new table and greet us and ask about our day. One staff member saw us in port and yelled to us "Hey, North Carolina friends..." and then came to talk to us. She didn't have to take her limited shore time to say hi, but she did. Another member of the wait staff is Turkish and my mother speaks Turkish, so they spoke to each other for days. I say all of this to emphasize that the personal touch was still there.
There were a variety of activities during the day and evening that appealed to a variety of age groups and interests. We particularly enjoyed the piano entertainer/singer as he played music from the 50s to the 90s. It was great because the age range on the boat varied by that or more! We were a little disappointed in a few of the other entertainment options. The show times also made it tough for people who choose to eat a little later. We often dined at 7:30 which meant we couldn't see the later shows at 8 or 8:30 p.m. Yes, we could have chosen to eat earlier or quickly, but we like to hang by the pool until around 4 or 4:30 p.m., go back and take a nap, then get ready for dinner and have a drink before going into the dining room. And clearly, based on what times were available when we tried to make reservations, many others preferred to dine a little later, too. So this wasn't just us.
Napa Wine Bar was a delightful place to have a quiet drink and chat before dinner! It was dark and quiet so it really helped set the mood for a relaxing dinner. Our 14 year old son is a sports fanatic, so he enjoyed dropping by the Gold Rush Saloon to check sports scores from time-to-time. The back pool bar also had a TV and we were able to keep an eye on the NFL draft from there. Another disappointment was that they put a great guitar player in the Gold Rush Saloon and that was a poor choice. TVs were on with sports and people were rowdy, so you couldn't hear him. He would have been much better somewhere else.
We learned while on the ship that because it sails under the US flag, 75% of the crew members are US citizens. Just an interesting fact since most other ships employ crew members from many different countries. We enjoyed meeting crew members from NC (our home state) and hearing their stories about why they chose to work on a cruise ships when we asked.
My parents also traveled with us. My father is a Vietnam veteran and really appreciated the veteran reception the ship hosted. He said there weren't many people there, but it was a nice way to recognize their service and meet others on the ship who also served.
There are PLENTY of shore excursions designed to meet your interests, so you are never at a loss for things to do. However, they are pricey. In most ports you can find the exact same excursion for much less if you are willing to do a little legwork. We talked to a lot of people who rented a car in port and did their own exploring. In Hawaii (Hilo I think), there was a Hop On Hop Off bus for $20 that made 7 or 8 stops. A lot of people did this and really enjoyed it! We chose one excursion a day and did most of them in the morning. We were up anyway since we are from the east coast. We would get back to the ship by 12:30 or 1:30 p.m. and that allowed us time to eat and still get some pool/relaxation time every day.
We went rappelling down the waterfalls. Note here - this is a level 3 activity and it was every bit of that! IF YOU AREN'T IN GOOD SHAPE, DO NOT sign up for this. But if you are in good shape and looking for an adventure, this is a great one. Beautiful views and super fun guides! Our 14 year old son did this with us and LOVED IT!
There are several opportunities to take a helicopter tour. We did ours over Kilauea. I was expecting a smoking/lava volcano and that is NOT what we got, but we are still glad we did it. We saw an older volcano that had the smoke plumes coming out of the top, but Kilauea was just a small fissure and none of them had any lava or red/glowing rocks like you see in the pics. The views were spectacular, the guide gave us so much history about the Volcano National Park and the volcanos within the park and could answer all of our questions. We also went around some of the coastal areas and the views were fabulous!
Other excursions included zip lining in Kauai, the mud bugs(ATV) in Kauai, a bus trip up to the Haleakala volcano, and snorkeling and dolphin trip in Kona where we saw 4 or 5 different pods of spinner and bottlenose dolphins right there at our boat! The trip up to Haleakala included a long, hairpin turns filled road. If you easily get motion sick, take some ginger candy and motion sickness pills. The ride up they gave you multiple opportunities to get off the bus and walk around, but there are no stops on the way down. Two people on our bus got sick coming back down. The mud bugs were fun, but it hadn't rained much so the trip was very dusty and pricey. Definitely one you can book on your own. But boy the views were awesome! Lots of movies filmed within the craters where we were traveling, including Jurassic Park and Jurassic World.
Finally to the point of the second part of my review title...the extra charges. We paid for everything up front, or so we thought. Once we got on board, both my husband and father checked our accounts. We discovered that you still have to pay taxes on all of your drinks (usually about $0.50/drink) AND you pay $15+ a day/person for tips. We knew we had paid a service charge up front. When we went to guest relations, they explained that was for food and beverage. The other $15+/person/day is for the rest of the cruise staff. We certainly don't mind tipping but that was NOT made clear up front, nor do we recall seeing anything about that on the website. We ended up paying several hundred $$ extra that we weren't aware of. It isn't a big deal for us, but if you have a budget, make note of this and plan accordingly.
The other pain point we had was disembarkation. What a cluster compared to other ships. First, you could select your departure time by picking up colored tags. That's great except they put the tags out on Thursday night at 6 p.m. when 1/3 of the ship's passengers were off at the luau. On Sat. morning, we woke up to lines snaking down the halls and room corridors with people and their gigantic suitcases all trying to get on the elevators to go down to the departure floor. The ship offers to take your luggage and you pick it up in the terminal, but it looked like half the ship chose to keep their bags and take them off personally. You couldn't move around all the people and luggage. My parents had an excursion that morning back in Honolulu and barely made it because they were stuck on the stairs for more than 30 min. No one from the ship offered to help them get off and make their tour.
As for my family, we chose to put our luggage outside the door Friday night and let the ship's crew handle it for us. So we waited patiently for our disembarkation color to be called...and we waited...and we waited. They kept calling other colors, but never called orange. Finally they put an all call out for any passengers remaining on the boat to leave now. Several of us looked at each other and realized that we were all orange and they never called our color. So we left the ship and went to get our luggage. Three of our four suitcases were there, but one was missing. We filed a report before leaving and it's now 48 hours later and no word from anyone. I looked at our report yesterday when we got home and at the bottom is says, "Don't call us..." and if they don't find our luggage in 7 days they will email us and tell us how to file a claim, but we will only get $100 back for our loss. That suitcase included most of my dinner dresses, a pair of Jack Rogers sandals and another pair of shoes, at least 3 pairs of my shorts and several of our bathing suits, plus other items that I just haven't discovered yet. $100 won't touch the replacement cost for those items.
We've also cruised Royal Caribbean and Princess. At the end of the day, if we have a choice, we'll likely go back to one of those. But for this trip, NCL offered the best option. You didn't waste 3-4 days sailing from LA to HI before getting to land. We were able to spend 7 full days on the islands and really take advantage of the beauty and splendor of Hawaii! Bottom line...take the trip! You will love it!
Overall it was well-appointed and more storage than other ships. There was a built in coffee bar that had shelves and two extra draws, as well as baskets and shelves inside the closest! They also provided robes, which is something we haven't gotten on other cruise lines.
But, the room itself was slightly smaller than other ships. And, our cabin steward left the pull out sofa partially out every day so that cut down our ability to move around the room. It also meant that we didn't have anywhere to sit except our bed.
We loved it! The views were spectacular, and you really got a sense of the diversity of the island. At the top, you almost thought you were on Mars or the moon. Couple of words of caution - take a jacket. It was 50 degrees and 50 mph winds at 11 a.m. Also make note that the road has many hairpin turns. You stop 3 - 4 times on the way up, but not on the way down. If you are prone to car sickness, take some meds and have ginger candy available.View All 108 Haleakala Crater Reviews
I was expecting lots of fire, smoke and lava, but there was none of that. Despite it not being what I expected, this was a winner! The views were spectacular and our pilot gave us great history and facts about the volcanos and the island.View All 134 Volcano National Park & Hilo Waterfall Tour Reviews
It hadn't rained in a while, so it was more "dry dirt" than it was mud. The driving was fun, but I think the mud would have made it much more fun. The scenery though was nothing short of spectacular. We saw waterfalls, chickens, a wild boar, the crater where tons of movies have been made, as well as some WWII bunkers that were used as look out points. Definitely fun and allowed you to really see some of the island's interior beauty.View All 9 ATV Tour Reviews