It was great to find out first hand that most of the negative stuff I had read about the NCL Pride of America was, in my personal opinion, not true. First of all let me say that this review is based on my 14-yr. old son's, my ... Read More
It was great to find out first hand that most of the negative stuff I had read about the NCL Pride of America was, in my personal opinion, not true. First of all let me say that this review is based on my 14-yr. old son's, my husband's and my experiences aboard the NCL Pride Of America cruise to Hawaii we took from 10/3-10/10. Secondly, we are not loyal to any one cruise line and we are experienced travelers. So, having said that, here is my very LONG and thorough review.
We were met at the airport in Honolulu by a representative from NCL to help us transfer to the bus that would take us to the POA. The NCL representative was very friendly and helpful. We had landed in Honolulu (arriving from Los Angeles) at about 11:00a. This was the first time we had made travel arrangements through NCL. The airline times NCL arranged for us were excellent. This was one of the first nice surprises as on Cruise Critics' NCL Boards we had read all kinds of negative stuff about arranging your airline tickets through your cruise line. Our airline arrangements through NCL couldn't have been better for our personal time-constraint needs.
Embarkation: Fast and friendly. We are Latitudes members (Bronze Level) and have cruised on NCL 4 times now. Our membership allowed us to get into the line that is for Latitudes members only. This was a really nice perk as the line for non-members was pretty long. We had arrived in Honolulu by air at 11a and by 12:25p we were sitting in the Gold Rush Saloon eating lunch! That's how fast we got through transferring from the airport to the cruise port,embarkation, ship security, and having our pictures taken with two lovely Hawaiians. The embarkation person we signed in with was very nice and helpful. No complaints at all about embarkation for us!
Our next really nice surprise, after boarding the POA, was that every staff and crew member we met was incredibly friendly and helpful (unlike all the negative reviews we had read on CC about the American NCL staff). We followed a tip I had read on CC and got our lunch from the Aloha Cafe (the buffet), which was delicious (our next good surprise and again opposed to all the negative CC reviews about the Aloha Cafe's food)and took it to eat in the Gold Rush Saloon. The Gold Rush Saloon staff, especially "Valerie", were super friendly and helpful in getting us our unlimited Soda card and Teen card for our son. We spent a lot of time in the Gold Rush Saloon and Valerie was always there with a smile and an offer of whatever service we needed.
Gold Rush Saloon: This section of the ship was a great find! When the Aloha Cafe is crowded you can take your food here and always find a table to eat on. We found the service in the Gold Rush Saloon to be fast and courteous. Also, we were able to watch the College basketball finals, the Masters golf tournament, and American Idol on a big screen TV. You also can get free, hot, delicious popcorn in there. This was one of my favorite places on the POA.
One of the first things we did on embarkation day, besides eat lunch in the Gold Rush Saloon, was to go to a Meet and Greet that was set up by one of our lovely co-passengers on the CC NCL Roll Call Board. We were totally blown away by the reception we were given. At the meeting, which was held at the Diamonhead Auditorium, there was a very nice setup of food and drink but the most outstanding surprise was that we were greeted by just about every head of staff on the ship, including the Captain himself! The staff of the POA is unique to any other ship we've sailed on in that they really care very much about making your cruise the best it can be. We were asked what our needs were, what we expected from the cruise, and were given business cards from each head of staff so that if we needed or wanted anything we just had to call them and ask. This kind of greeting had never happened on any other ship I've been on.
The Staff: I'm sorry to say that at the moment I can't find my stack of business cards that would allow me to mention each and every person that we met at the Meet and Greet but when I do find them I will post them on the CC NCL Board. This is without a doubt the friendliest staff and crew we have ever met on any cruise ship that we have sailed, and we have sailed for many years on many different cruise lines. The POA staff is superior and I can't for the life of me understand why there are so many negative complaints about the POA's staff and crew on the CC NCL Board. These people really care about your enjoyment of the ship they work on. Not only were greeted by most of the heads of staff at our Roll Call's Meet and Greet, they asked us to come back on the last day of the cruise and give them our feedback about our experiences on the POA so that they could correct any problems that we found and make things better for the next cruisers. Again, I have never been so greatly impressed with any cruise ship's staff or crew as I was with the POA's. Every time we passed a crew member on the ship, whether it was the Captain himself or one of the service staff, we were greeted with a smile and asked if we were enjoying our cruise and if there was anything they could do for us. I've just never experienced this level of service on any ship we've ever been on and my husband and son feel the same way. We have no complaints about the POA staff and crew. Hands down they are the best ever!
Food: This is a very subjective subject, but here goes. Again, what's up with all the criticism about NCL's and especially the POA's food?!! I am a very picky eater and my husband rarely dislikes anything he eats. We are totally at different ends of the spectrum when it comes to our tastes in foods and yet we both, including our very picky 14 yr. old, found the food to be very good in every venue on the ship we ate at. I can't speak to any other pay-to-dine restaurant, other than the steakhouse, but at every other place on the ship we ate, includeing the Aloha Cafe (buffet). We were more than satisfied with the food on the POA. We were especially amazed at the quality and variety of the food served in the Aloha Cafe, especially after reading such negative things about it. I was also very impressed with the wonderful variety of fresh breads served everyday in the Aloha Cafe and elsewhere on the ship. And no, the hot dog buns were not stale (and I ate lots of them, at all different times and days of the week)as described on the CC NCL Boards. All and all we have nothing, absolutely nothing negative to say about the food on the POA.
Cabin: We stayed in cabin 4071, an inside cabin that slept all three of us. It was located on the 4th level of the ship and was in a great location. It was near elevators and on port days it was only one floor down to exit the ship. The two main levels of the ship were the two floors above us. We were very happy with our cabin's location on the ship. Our son slept in an upper bunk and my husband and I slept in two single beds that were separated by two small night stands that were placed between them. There was plenty of drawer and closet space for the three of us. There was a small TV that we watched CNN on (we like to keep up with the world news)that also had various other channels which we didn't watch much. The bathroom was small, but there was plenty of room for all three of our various personal toiletries. There is a nice large shelf under the sink for storing stuff. There was both a full-length mirror and a huge mirror over the small desk. The seating in the room consisted of a chair for the desk and a small leather stool. There were lots of shelves for storing stuff both in the room and closet. Also in the room was a safe for storing valuables and a small fridge (it was locked, but we didn't ask for the key because we didn't need to use it). Yes, the inside cabin is small, however, even with three of us in it we never felt crowded. I would describe it as cozy. One thing we really liked is that there is a thermostat so that you can control the temperature in the room. We were only in the room to sleep, rest, or shower so the size of the room was not a problem for us at all. With the exception of last year when my sister-in-law cruised with us, we have only ever cruised in inside cabins. Last year, for her first cruise, my sister-in-law requested that she and I book a balcony room because she wasn't sure she would like cruising and wanted a place to escape to if she felt bothered by the crowds. She loved her first cruise and I loved being in a balcony room for the first time. I won't lie about that, the balcony room was a treat. However, inside cabins have always met our family's needs and in order to be able to afford to cruise more we will continue to book them.
Room Steward: I have to mention our room stewardess on the POA. Her name is Erica and she is from Guam. She is absolutely delightful! We had fresh ice put in our ice bucket twice a day and our room was always clean and neat. Erica met our every request (not that we had many) with a smile and fast service. On one of our port days in Maui I was coming back from a short trip on one of the free Wal-Mart shuttles when I saw someone walking fast towards me and calling my name. It turned out to be Erica who greeted me with a big hug and a smile. Now that's sweet!
Hawaiian Excursions: Wow! What can I say but awesome, awesome, awesome! We have been to Hawaii several times before on land trips, but this trip was still very special as we had never been to the big island of Hawaii before. Hilo and Kona were beautiful places to visit and we hope to go back and spend more time in both places again sometime.
We chose our excursions based on the fact that we did not want to rent a car in each port and spend time driving around as we have done that on many of our other trips to Hawaii.
Maui: On the first day the DH and DS went on the Maui Downhill Bicycle Adventure which we booked through NCL. It cost $109 for each of them and they felt it was worth every penny. They said their tour guide was friendly, funny, and very informative. They had a blast! I slept in late and had a late and delicious breakfast in the Cadillac Diner where the wait staff was friendly and fast. I also took a short trip on the free shuttle to Wal-Mart where I stocked up on some gifts to take back home to friends and family. The Macadamian nuts and candy items are really inexpensive at the local Wal-Mart as are many other Hawaii-related gift items. I shuttled back to the ship and spent some time in the conservatory reading a mindless, but fun romantic novel that I got from the ship's library. Here's a tip. In the ship's library they have a whole section of books that you can have for free that have been given or left to the library by past passengers. When you finish with your books, if you don't want to cart them home, just take them to the library and leave them there for others to enjoy. I finished my book by the time the guys got back (I'm a fast reader) and returned it to the library.
On the second day in Maui we went on the Molokini Crater Snorkel which we booked through NCL. It cost us $119 ea. and was worth every single penny! I can't remember the name of the foundation that it was run by (I will mention it as soon as I find my paperwork on the CC NCL Board). This foundation does an awesome job of making sure you have a great time. They serve a continental breakfast of muffins and several kinds of juices and coffee. Bagels and cream cheese where also served. They also provided a barbecue lunch of grilled chicken, hot dogs and hamburgers. Several different kinds of pasta and salads were served with the meat entrees so vegetarians would have something to eat. There were several kinds of soft drinks and alcoholic drinks offered (only after the snorkeling was done though). We were very lucky to experience a rare sighting of a Monk Seal and the snorkeling was very good. We were given a presentation of information about the area we were in and about the fish we were seeing. Very informative. There was also a presentation for the kids and stickers for them to keep. At the end of the snorkel cruise we were dropped off at a small shopping area for about 1/2 hour. There were a few nice inexpensive shops (I got a long-sleeved t-shirt and a couple of shell bracelets) where you could buy gifts and there were inexpensive places to eat. We had some delicious Macadamian Nut ice cream and shave ice. One other thing, I'm blind as a bat and this was the first time ever that I've been on a snorkel excursion that offered prescription masks. I was able to see so clearly that I plan to buy one for myself to use on future excursions. All the necessary equipment for snorkeling such as masks, snorkels, fins, etc. were made available for your use if you didn't bring your own. Also, I'm not the best swimmer and was happy that they also offered waist belts to keep you afloat and "noodles" to float on top of the water with. The boat also had a slide which made it fun to slide down and get into the water quickly. They also offered wet suit tops for rent ($10) which I highly recommend as the water can be really chilly. The crew is wonderful and very knowledgeable about safety and preservation of the ocean and its inhabitants. It was a wonderful excursion and I would highly recommend it to anyone. I would have to add the caveat that this excursion takes place on some very choppy water so if you're seasick-prone be sure to prepare yourself with seasick meds before you go on this excursion. We had a wonderful time and would do this excursion again in a heartbeat. Maui is extraordinarily beautiful.
Hilo: This is one of the ports where we had never been to before on our previous land trips to Hawaii. We had booked the "Big Island - Helicopter Deluxe Volcano Coast" excursion through Safari Aviation. We booked it online and paid $537 for the three of us and saved $201 by booking online. My son and I had never been on a helicopter before and we were very excited to try it. We were supposed to view the Kilauea Volcanic System, but because of some bad weather we only got to go up for about 10 mins. We were at first disappointed, but were soon excited to find out that we had the choice to have our money refunded or they would exchange our excursion for one of their other ones in Kauai. We found the Hilo staff of Safari Aviation to be really friendly and helpful. We were given safety instructions and felt confident in their pilots expertise. There is a weight limit for this excursion but it escapes me what exactly it was as it didn't matter to us because we were all way under the weight limit. I would recommend Safari Aviation in Hilo to anyone wanting to try a helicopter ride. Even though we were only up in the air for 10 mins., it was very very exciting. After the helicopter ride our guide was kind enough to drop us off in downtown Hilo where we did a little shopping and ate some delicious shave ice. There was a free shuttle to and from the ship for the downtown area. It was fun to be a part of the local area for awhile and mingle with the local people.
Kona: This was a port where you have to take a tender from the ship to the dock. That is why we booked the Captain Zodiac Raft, Snorkel & Dolphin Adventure through NCL. We were able to be the first ones off the ship. It is a short tender ride to the dock and we did not have to wait long at all to catch a tender back to the ship when we were ready to go back to it. This was probably my favorite excursion. Not only were our guides very friendly and informative, the captain went out of his way to be sure we saw all the wonderful creatures that inhabit the area. We saw wild, tropical parrots, lots of spinner dolphins that jumped right out of the water and spun in the air right in front of us, we saw lots of fish at the snorkel sight right in front of the Captain Cook Monument, we saw lava tubes and small caves, but most of all the captain went out of his way to take us to see a huge pod of shark-finned, black backed whales. It was an incredible sight to behold! They were coming up really near to the raft and were as curious about us as we were about them. We were served fresh fruit, cookies, a nut/cracker snack mix, juice, water and a variety of sodas. It was a wonderful, beautiful day. This excursion is probably one of the best I've ever been on. I would very highly recommend it to anyone. It cost us $119 each and was worth way more than that as far as I'm concerned! After the excursion we went to visit downtown Kona and went to see the first Christian church ever erected in Hawaii where I sail some prayers for my family and friends. We also went to a local museum across from the church. Using a tip I got off the CC NCL Hawaii Board we had some super-delicious hamburgers, fries, and onion rings at "Splashers" a local ocean-front restaurant right in downtown Kona. We loved Kona. It was my favorite port of the cruise.
Kauai: The DH and DS played golf on their own at a golf course near the Marriott Hotel. They said it was one of the most beautiful courses they had ever played at. I took one of the free shuttles to the local K-Mart, to buy some more inexpensive Hawaiian-related gifts and did some shopping at the mall right next door to it. The DS was happy to learn that there was a "Lids" (hat store) at the mall and we went back later in the afternoon after their golf game to get him a new baseball hat. He was thrilled! On our second day in Kauai we finally got to go on our helicopter ride and it was amazing! Kauai is one of the most beautiful places you could ever hope to see and seeing it from the air in a helicopter was such an unbelievable, exciting adventure! We saw so many beautiful waterfalls, the area where Jurassic Park was filmed, and the incredibly beautiful Kauai coastline. I just don't have enough words to describe the beauty of Kauai. The staff at Safari Aviation in Kauai couldn't be nicer. We really enjoyed doing business with them and would highly recommend them to anyone that wants to experience an amazing helicopter adventure. It was, for lack of a better word, "awesome", or as my DS would say it was "Beast!" (which I believe is adult for "awesome")LOL.
Entertainment: We are not really big fans of cruise ship Vegas-style shows and so were not upset that there weren't many, if any of those on the POA. We did enjoy the magician, the three Second City shows we saw, and the "White Hot Dance Party" was also a lot of fun. The cruise director was a riot with his angel wings! There were several other shows and musicians playing around the ship, but unfortunately, because this cruise was so port-intensive we didn't have enough time to get around to seeing every show or performer. What we did see and participate in we thoroughly enjoyed.
Teen Club: The DS is not a kid-club type guy. However, on this cruise, on my advice, he did sign up for the Teen Club and though he didn't participate in many of their actual activities, he did meet lots of nice kids between 14 and 18 in the club. This was a spring break cruise and he got to meet a lot of kids both guys and girls. Several of his new friends are from Australia and he is now in touch with some of them via Facebook. He and his new friends would meet in the Teen Club and then they would hang out together all over the ship and they would go to dinner, shows, and get late night snacks in the Cadillac Diner. According to my DS this cruise was "Beast!"
The POA: We can't say enough good things about the POA and its ultra-friendly staff and crew. On a scale of 1 through 10, 10 being the best, we'd rate them an 11! We have absolutely nothing negative to say about this, our 4th NCL cruise. As I mentioned at the beginning of my review, we are not loyal to any one cruise line. We book our cruises based on itinerary and price and nothing else. Last year we cruised Carnival's Triumph to the Eastern Caribbean and had a wonderful time. Having said that, I do want to say that all of our four NCL cruises, one to the Western Caribbean and Central America on the Dream, one to the Mexican Riviera on the Star, on the Star again to Alaska, and now on the Pride of America to Hawaii, have all been really great, fun cruises. We really enjoy "Freestyle" cruising. We are really glad that NCL offers a laid-back style for cruisers who don't want to be dressed up "fancy" all the time. We were able to dress up or down as much as we wanted, whenever we wanted. The DS and DH on the POA were able to wear jeans and dress shorts with collared golf shirts to all of the restaurants on the ship. I wore nice blouses and tops and capri pants with heels to every restaurant we ate at. As I've mentioned above, we only ate at one pay-to-eat restaurant (the steakhouse) so I can't say what the dress code is for all the other pay-to-eat restaurants, but for the steakhouse and all the other eating venues on the ship we were able to dress as nicely or as casually as our family wanted. On "Dress Up or Not Night" I wore a nice dress with heels and the DH and DS wore dress pants and dress shirts, otherwise it was jeans and nice shorts with collared golf shirts for the guys and nice blouses, tops, capri pants and heels for me. Our family has been on many cruises (usually during spring break because of the DS except for Alaska which we did in Aug. of '08) and we would gladly sail on NCL anytime. They offer a wonderful experience for a really decent price and have some great itineraries. They, regardless of whatever negative stuff you may read on cruise boards, really care about you having the best time possible on their ships. This is especially true of the crew and staff on the NCL Pride of America. There is no question that I would choose to sail on NCL in the future and I would recommend them to anyone anytime. Our family loves to cruise and what we experienced on the Pride of America is exactly the kind of cruise experience we love and enjoy. Read Less