I find it easier to review my experience on the ship in one entry, then breaking it up by day. So I’m going to go ahead and review Pride of America now…
“Let’s go island hop! Hawaii! Let’s go island hop on Maui!” Does anyone else remember these Norwegian Cruise Line commercials from about 5-6 years ago? Well, I do!! When we decided to cruise Hawaii, picking Norwegian Cruise Line’s Pride of America was an easy choice. It is the ONLY ship that sails roundtrip from Hawaii through the Hawaiian islands. All other cruises leave from the U.S. mainland and must stop at one international port, making the cruise 10 or 14 days long with 5-8 sea days! Vacation time is precious to us and we’d rather spend vacation days seeing the islands than at sea. So if you’re looking for a cruise that starts/ends in Hawaii with minimal sea days, you really have no other choice than Pride of America.
I absolutely agree when people say to book as early as you can. We only saw the cruise price go up and up for our sailing! I booked my cruise for November in January and during the course of those 11 months of planning, I read a lot of reviews about how poor the service was on Pride of America due to the American staff, how the food was horrible, and basically think of POA as a floating hotel, not a cruise. I was worried about what I read and kept my expectations low but I’m happy to report it wasn’t too bad.
Pride of America docked in Kahului, Maui
As I mentioned in my Day 4 post, check-in was a breeze around 11:30 am on Embarkation Day. We had no problems finding a porter to help us with our bags. Security is tight at the port. We have to show our ID’s and cruise docs twice and go through X-ray screening before reaching the check-in area. While we didn’t stay in the waiting area, NCL provided water, entertainment, and chairs. There was also a small table selling leis and other Hawaiian souvenirs. When we came back from sightseeing around 4 pm, we had to show our ID and cruise card and we had to go through the X-ray again. Otherwise, we walked right on to the ship. Along with our suitcases, we also checked in a tote bag with 2 gallons of bottled water and a 6-pack of Coke. We received the bag with our other suitcases with no problems.
Disembarkation was also a breeze. The Disembarkation Talk was held on evening we left Kona at 5:15 pm. We did not attend but we happened to go to Deck 5 right before the talk was over and a table with all of the Disembarkation Luggage Tags were out in the Capitol Atrium. There was a display that showed our choice for disembarkation time beginning with express walk-off to 9 am. Each time had a corresponding colored luggage tag. We quickly grabbed the last possible time and I would recommend that you get your luggage tags early. The latest times were already all gone by the next day! We put 4 suitcases outside the night before Disembarkation and they were all waiting for us when we got off Pride of America!
Disembarkation has not always been this easy for us. On our Alaska cruise, someone accidentally took our suitcase, instead of their own. We now put bright yellow luggage straps on all of our bags as well as luggage stickers so that they will be more easy to distinguish from other suitcases.
Room & Housekeeping
We booked a BD balcony for the price of a BH when NCL was offering a 4-category upgrade sale. Speaking of balconies, everyone wants to know (as I did) if they should book a port or starboard balcony. Here’s the info you need to know to make a decision…
- Maui: The port side faces the ocean and starboard side faces West Maui.
- Hilo: Both sides face land. The port side faces the pier and south side of the island. Starboard side faces the north coast of the island.
- Kilauea volcano sail-by will be around 9:45 pm after leaving Hilo and will be viewable from the starboard side only.
- Kona: The ship tenders and while anchored, it rotates so both sides face land or sea at some point.
- Kauai: Port side faces the port area and the town of Lihue. The starboard side faces the southern hill and open water.
- The Napali Coast Sail-by occurs around 5 pm after leaving Kauai. It will be viewable from port side first and then ship turns around for starboard.
I originally booked a port-side room but switched to cabin #9056 on the starboard side after reading these tips on Cruise Critic. Our room was on Deck 9 near the Forward elevators.
Having seen photos and reviews of POA balcony rooms, I expected the room to be small and it was. This was our 5th cruise and we have always had balcony rooms. This was the smallest one we’ve ever had. There was just barely enough room to walk through between the bed and the wall it faces. The desk was small and molded to a set of drawers that held up the fridge and TV, which was a small CRT television (not a flat screen TV as we’ve started to see on other ships). The closet was also smaller than we have seen but there were many shelves inside of it too. That being said, we had plenty of room to unpack all 4 of our suitcases into the room. NCL did a great job in squeezing storage space everywhere in the room. There is even a set of small shelves inside the bathroom behind the mirror. The bathroom was typical size. The shower used a shower curtain, where I prefer sliding doors, but it didn’t attack me, like the curtain did on Island Princess. It was also not so teeny tiny that I had to turn the water off to soap and shampoo, like I did on Island Princess. The bed was comfortable but they don’t use fitted sheets so a few nights, the sheets got bunched up after we slept in them. Our stateroom attendant took care of it every morning but I hate feeling the sheets bunch up around my feet while I’m sleeping. The balcony was typical size as well. One thing I loved about the rooms on this ship was the little wheel on the front of the door that told the stateroom attendant when you were ready for the room to be made up, turndown service, or do not disturb! Very cleaver and you don’t have to worry about losing that little door hang you usually find elsewhere.
While the room is small, the space is adequate for 2 adults. I’m not sure how I’d feel about having additional adults or even kids sharing the room though. It may be a very tight squeeze.
Our cabin #9056 with my door decorations
Balcony Cabin #9056
Balcony Cabin #9056
Our room was a connecting stateroom. The connecting door is not great at keeping out noise and I was woken up a couple of times by our connecting neighbors’ TV and phone calls. (Our neighbor’s airline lost their luggage. Yes, I found that out by listening from my room while trying to sleep!) I would highly recommend that you avoid getting a connecting room, unless you need it.
The room was very clean when we entered it but there were some maintenance issues: 1 of the major ceiling lights flickered off and on, 1 smaller light over the couch was burned out, and the 2 drawers under the fridge wouldn’t open. We only found 1 robe in our closet and needed ice so we called housekeeping about all of these issues. When we came back from dinner, the robe and ice we requested were in our room. The housekeeping staff had to pass along the maintenance issues to fix. The flickering light was driving us crazy because it automatically turned on with the main room lights and the flickering gave us a headache. Luckily, that was fixed the next day while we were in Maui. The drawers were fixed on the 4th day while we were in Hilo. The smaller light was never fixed and we didn’t follow up because we didn’t really need it. These maintenance issues were a really downer though. It’s not how you want to start a cruise but other than that, we didn’t have any other issues with the room.
Our room attendant, Josephine, was wonderful! When room service brought us ice the first night, Chris asked if the room attendant will fill the ice bucket at turndown because we like to drink something before we go to bed and they said it was uncommon for them to do that so if we needed ice in the evening to just call room service. However, we met Josephine the first morning onboard and asked her to refill our ice at turndown. She always refilled for the rest of the cruise. We tipped her $3 every morning (in addition to the auto-tip) and we got wonderful service. (The first morning, she actually didn’t take the money we left her and when we saw her that night, we told her it was for her and she needs to take it! She thanked us profusely.) She always replaced any towels we left on the floor during room clean-up or turndown service. She was very sweet, did towel animals, always got us anything we asked for, but we didn’t have to ask for much because she always did her job well.
Elephant Towel Animal
NCL provides hand soap, shower gel and shampoo in dispensers that are mounted to the wall, so you can’t take them home. But one pretty pathetic nickel-and-diming by NCL is that if you want conditioner, you have to buy it from the shops downstairs! Never seen this on any other cruise line. It really doesn’t effect me since I bring my own shampoo and conditioner but it’s pretty sad. No chocolates at turndown, like Princess and Disney Cruise Line, either.
We had breakfast in the Aloha Cafe buffet every morning, except for Disembarkation Day. This is my 5th cruise and 4th cruise line I’ve sailed. Every ship I’ve ever been on, when you walk into the buffet, the food and the line is right in front of the entrance. When you walk into Aloha Cafe, you see a bunch of tables. I was confused for about 30 seconds. Where the heck is the food? You have to turn left, walk past the tables, and then you’ll see the food. That immediately put me off. No one wants to get breakfast in the morning half awake and be confused about where the food is. The buffet was very crowded every morning and, as the week went on, it seemed to get busier. Each morning, we had to go further back into Aloha Cafe to find seats but we were always able to find a seat. The food was your standard breakfast fare and it didn’t change from day to day. I liked the breakfast buffet on Island Princess a lot better because it offered more options, varied dishes each day, and just seemed more organized. This was also the first cruise I ever sailed where they didn’t have corned beef hash!! I look forward to eating corned beef hash every morning when I cruise and couldn’t do it on this one! Well, they had something they called corned beef has but it wasn’t recognizable to me and tasted horrible. Lastly, I was not crazy about the decor and the plastic seats. It just reminded me of a dirty, old diner. That all being said, the buffet was adequate and for the most part, the food was good.
As others reported, there is a station with sandwich meats, mayo, mustard, tomatoes, cheese, and onion. You just have to snag some bread from the toast station, bring your own baggies, and you’ve got lunch for the day! We packed sandwiches on the day we were in Hilo and it worked out really well.
We did not have lunch on the ship during the cruise. For dinner, we ate at the Skyline Dining Room every night, except Dress Up Or Not Night, which we spent at Liberty. You are allowed to wear shorts to the Skyline Dining Room. No shorts are allowed in Liberty Dining Room so we found ourselves in Skyline every night because Chris didn’t want to wear pants. =) I wore sundresses every night. We were happy with the food in the main dining rooms and didn’t feel the need to go any of the specialty restaurants. We did spend the 2 overnight dinners (Maui and Kauai) at port though so we really only had dinner onboard 5 times. We ordered an appetizer, soup/salad, entree, and dessert every night. On Lobster Night, they only served half a tail with fish. Our server said we could order another one after finishing the first one, which we both did, so we walked away with our whole lobster tail. The half tail thing was pretty disappointing for us. We’ve never been served half a lobster tail on any other cruise line on Lobster Night. On Princess a few months before, we got a whole lobster tail with shrimp, none of this half tail and fish crap! It seemed like the seafood entrees were a bit on the small side too.
Day 4 Dinner – Scallops
On “Dress Up or Not Night”, I wore a short dress and Chris wore an aloha shirt with slacks. We did not see many people who were dressed very formally at all. Mostly, resort wear or not dressed up at all. It was nice not having to worry about bringing formal clothes on the trip. If this was a cruise with more sea days, I probably would have missed having a Formal Night though. For this cruise, I didn’t miss it.
Dress Up or Not Night
The iced tea, which is my drink of choice, was as horrible as I read on the Cruise Critic NCL Forum. It was very, very bitter. Luckily, our travel agent gave us a bottle of wine as a gift and we also brought our own Coke, so we drank those. No servers gave us a hard time about bringing our own Coke either and were glad to bring us glasses with ice to drink it.
The service in the dining rooms was good. Just like any “anytime dining” program on other ships, sometimes you get decent servers and other times you get excellent servers. The first night, we had our worst server. She just seemed very grouchy. Not rude but just not friendly. She was the worst so it really wasn’t that bad.
We also never had to wait more than one party to be seated and usually we could walk right up and be seated. Since there were no sea days for us to rest during this cruise and we had to wake up early every morning to get off the ship, we ate dinner around 6 pm. While we ate, we could see lines forming and people being asked to wait so it seemed like 6 pm was a good time to avoid lines.
Since the itinerary was so intense, we chose going to bed early, rather than staying up for the shows. The only entertainment I did was participating in the Kukui Nut lei and orchid lei classes. It was a bit tiring to go straight to these classes right after spending the day sightseeing but I’m glad I did both of them. There were several opportunities to buy the nut lei kits after the class and I decided to buy enough kits to make gifts for my family. They turned out to be wonderful and inexpensive gifts! My family was so impressed that I made the leis too!
Making a Kukui Nut lei
The orchid lei was also fun to wear for professional photos and we got a bunch of great photos! It’s also fun to look at the photos and remember that I made the lei!!
Making an orchid lei
Professional photo with me wearing the lei I made
With no sea days and 2 overnights, it felt like we were barely on the ship! When we got back onboard on the 2nd day in Kauai, we finally spent some time exploring the ship and there were all these places we never saw the whole week! LOL! It’s truly a different cruise experience than any other cruise we’ve been on. We didn’t spend much time on any part of the ship, except for Deck 5 since that’s where the Skyline Dining Room, shops, Guest Services Desk, and Photo Gallery are. She is a beautiful ship and I didn’t see much wear on her. I found the layout a bit confusing but that could be because we didn’t get to spend much time getting used to her. I would have loved more time to really enjoy the ship but the Hawaiian islands call!
Chris did get to hit a few golf balls in the driving net, which he enjoyed. I also partook in the last day sale in the shops. Get there early because it gets crazy!!! I had my own little Black Friday on the ship!
Golf Driving Net
I usually take more interior photos of the ship but this cruise went by so fast, I didn’t remember!
One thing to note is that only the midship elevators goes to the gangway, which is located on Deck 3. So when you leave your cabin, go to the midship elevators to get down to Deck 3. You can tell you are at the midship elevators because the carpet has blue stars, whereas the aft and forward elevators have red stars. Also, there are 2 sets of elevators at midship and only one set goes down to Deck 3. Check the signs next to the elevators to make sure you get on the right one.
Another thing to note, our cruise had VERY rough seas. The crew said that the winter months usually have rougher seas but our week was unusually rough. The captain even made an announcement to warn everyone to hold handrails when walking around and take precautions. The roughest night was from Kauai to Oahu but every night we were sailing was pretty rough. We even had things fall off the shelves in our room! Fortunately, neither of us got sick on the cruise ship itself. We always take Bonine every morning no matter what. See my tips on preventing seasickness.
I definitely don’t think Pride of America was as bad as some of the reviews I’ve read. Then again, it wasn’t the best cruise experience either. I think having the attitude that you’re on a floating hotel and you’re really here to make the most of the Hawaiian islands is your best bet! I hope I don’t sound like this was a bad experience because it wasn’t. I do feel that other cruise line provide a better experience but I hear that Pride of America is not a good example of what a real NCL cruise is like and you can’t beat the itinerary that Pride of America offers! It was a good cruise and I’d do it again in a heartbeat!