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NCL America - Pride of Hawaii Part 2

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Honolulu, Oahu:


This was the port of embarkation and disembarkation, not an actual PORT.  However, I wanted to make a few comments about it.  NCL offers quite a few combo tours on the final day where you can tour all day and see sights, and then be dropped at the Honolulu airport.  You might think this is normal and ho-hum, but most flights from Honolulu back to the mainland are red-eye flights leaving very late.  This gives a full day where you don’t have a hotel room, but want to see stuff.  Remember there will be tours that let you see all of Oahu, the Polynesian Cultural Center, Pearl Harbor and USS Missouri, etc.  Keep this in mind and consider booking one of these tours for your last day in Hawaii if you’re not overnighting post-cruise.


My family actually had that 2-night stay in Honolulu before the cruise, so Marie and her friend went to Germaine’s Luau and had a blast Saturday night.  We didn’t want to go to any luaus so this was perfect for them to do without us.  I arranged this as part of our land package, and the luau people picked up my family right across the street from our hotel.

Another thing we booked on our one full day was a Pearl Harbor & City Tour though my land vacation package.  I really enjoyed seeing Pearl Harbor and only wished I’d had a bit more time there.  Our tour was supposed to include the Punchbowl Cemetery, but it was closed for a function or day, so we got to spend more time at the ‘Iolani Palace and the state government buildings instead. (Nice architecture.)   I’d say Pearl Harbor is a must-see, and it’s important to do that early as they only allow so many guests into the Memorial per day.  We rented a little audio player thing there for $5 that told us stories when we were looking at the informational placards around the facility.  I’d strongly suggest that.  You get so much more out of it hearing the commentary and interviews of those that were there. 


Last comments – no particular port:


One of the most highly rated luaus, besides the one in the evenings at the Polynesian Cultural Center is the Old Lahaina Luau in Maui.  If you want one luau in your week, and don’t want to brave the Kauai one done by NCL and you’ve got a rental car in Maui, you might want to pre-reserve that one.  I sell it often to land vacationers in Maui as it’s very good and very popular and does sell out.


And remember, the new rule is you need a photo ID AND your cruise card to get back into the pier to re-board the ship.  Remember to always have your ID with you when you disembark.


There were shopping free shuttles to the Hilo Hattie’s store on every island, and also some to shopping centers and malls.  For Marie and her friend who didn’t plan anything out on their own, they ended up taking in quite a few Hilo Hattie’s stores.



Dining & Dress Code:


NCL gives their ’14 restaurants and bars’ a lot of press as part of the Freestyle Dining / Freestyle Cruising concept.  I will agree that there are a lot of choices.  You can expect a casual (meaning Dockers and collared Hawaiian shirts) dress code for dinner every night, with no formal attire required.  No shorts.  And Jeans are allowed if they’re not torn or shabby.  If you WANT to dress formally, bring the clothes along, there is an optional formal night where one of the main dining rooms requires dress up.  And they still have photo-taking in the atrium on ‘formal night’, expecting there to be a lot of folks wanting family photos.  I enjoyed NOT taking my formalwear, and wearing my new Hawaiian dresses most nights.  SO much more comfortable!


As far as the dining goes, I’d suggest you read my Freestyle Dining Tips review, but, in general, the pay-extra restaurants are good and worth the fee.  We did Cagney’s Steakhouse the first night, and were very impressed.  And we did the Jasmine Teppanyaki (live cooking in front of you like Benihana) one other night. Both of these are $20 per person surcharge places.  Cagney’s actually has a few items on the menu you can pay even more for, such as lobster.  I didn’t see the point in that though, as lobster was on the menu on another night of the cruise for free in the main dining rooms.  My favorite might be the Papa’s Italian Kitchen though, and it’s free and very small.  REALLY hard to get a reservation there though.  They take reservations for all restaurants except the buffet, so if you know where you want to have your meal, try to plan it ahead.  Reservations open at 7am for the NEXT night.  There is a dining reservations desk at the end of the Purser’s Desk in the lower lobby, or a dedicated phone number listed in your Freestyle Daily.


We tended to eat in the buffet for breakfast and lunch (if we were back on the ship).  I did more buffet eating on this trip than I’m used to, but it was fine.  The service in the buffet was pretty good.  There was a bit of lack of tables, but before you get frustrated, just keep walking towards the back of the ship.  There is a really big outdoor eating area and quite an extended seating area inside beyond the food stations area as well.  Don’t get hung up on sitting right next to the main entry of the buffet.  There IS a lot of seating.  Also, there is a whole separate buffet serving area outside on the back terrace.  It tends to be a lot less crowded than the main one off the amidships stairs and elevators that most people use.  Help yourself avoid some frustration by checking that aft buffet area for breakfast.   And the grill by the pool also does some breakfast and lots of lunch items. 




We had a Category BB regular balcony, #9096.  Although I really like mini-suites, I felt a balcony cost us what we had budgeted, and since we were off the ship so much, it was really all we needed.  Our side was docked next to the pier at all the stops, which was a bummer.  It was the correct side to be on for the Napali Coast sail-by though, so we liked that.  Marie was in #9596 on the direct opposite side of the ship, just in case her side had been better for the volcano or the Napali Coast.  We always try to book one cabin on each side for this idea that we’ll have everything covered!  Marie came over to our cabin during the Napali Coast sailing and there was plenty of room for the four of us to stand and gawk.

Another thing to consider when booking an NCL cruise is your cabin location in relation to restaurants.  You know how I mentioned there were SO many restaurants?  Well, guess what?  They move the chairs around, clean up late, prep food early, etc. in those many restaurants.  I’d previously been on a couple other NCL cruises where I had been forced to book a guarantee and got stuck in a cabin right under a restaurant or galley.  NO sleep for me!  So, if you like sleeping, I suggest you pick a deck that is in between two other cabin decks if you can.  I always suggest this actually, but pretty strongly on NCL.  This is another reason why I didn’t choose a mini-suite.  It would have been right under the buffet, pool or spa.


The cabin was sufficient, and even spacious.  This is going to be a perk of the Pride of Hawaii, being one of the NCL Jewel-class ships though. Pride of Aloha and Pride of America have smaller cabins.  Since cabins on those two are pretty small, so be sure to book as high of a category as you can.  I’d even suggest a suite on both of those if possible.

This was my second time on the Pride of Hawaii, as I’d sailed her 2-night inaugural as well.  ON that one I had an oceanview.  And I’d say the cabin was plenty large and comfortable, but the location was challenging as I mentioned above.





I thought the entertainment was very good.  I skipped the “Welcome Aboard” show and the “Farewell Show”, but did watch all three production shows done by the ship’s singers and dancers.  They offered “On Broadway”, “Elements of Illusion” (magic show that integrated the dancers and singers as well), and “Soul Rockin’ Nights”.  These were offered on nights the ship sailed.


Of course, the cruise is unique because it has two OVERNIGHT port stops.  During these overnights, many guests did stuff off ship, but NCL did have some pay extra offerings that they encouraged everyone to do as well.  The Maui overnight did have entertainment in the evening, it was “The Not-So-Newlywed Game” and in Kauai they had a comedian.  We skipped both of these.


In our Maui overnight they offered the pay-extra “Tony & Tina’s Wedding”.  You might have seen this show at the Rio in Las Vegas, but basically you attend a fake wedding as guests or hired help and it’s a comedy/dinner show in which you participate.  I’ve heard it was quite fun, but I had other plans for the Maui overnight evening.   Tickets for the Wedding are $25 per person for most and $34.95 per person for the Bellisima Package which gave you better seating and first go at the Italian Buffet.  Guests must be at least 13 to attend the Wedding.  The Wedding is a new thing for NCL, and I didn’t hear any comments the next day good or bad about the show, but I’ve previously heard good things about the one in Las Vegas, so I’m sure it’s just as good.


The Kauai overnight port stop pay-extra option was the luau I mentioned.


Daytime entertainment was almost non-existent.  If you plan to stay on the ship when it’s parked in the ports, don’t expect NCL to entertain you.  Like most cruise ships, not much is offered when the ship is in port.  Since this ship is in port MOST of the time, this is a big disappointment for those that aren’t keeping that in mind.  NCL will feed you during the day, but entertainment is pretty much left to the islands themselves.



The Ship:


I’m going to keep this part very brief and just tell you that the Pride of Aloha was redone in 2004.  It used to be another NCL ship, Norwegian Sky.  It has the same deck plan as the Norwegian Sun, and I sailed on it in 2004 when it first became Aloha.  Please look for my Pride of Aloha Review for notes on the ship. 


The Pride of America was launched brand new in 2005.  It’s a one and only ship for the NCL fleet, as it was purchased with the basic hull and all of the components pre-manufactured from an American cruiseline that went bankrupt after 9/11/01.  NCL got to put their hand in all of the soft goods (fabrics and painting and décor), but the size and location of cabins was already set when they bought the pieces.  Therefore, even though it’s a newer ship, it’s got smaller cabins than NCL usually builds on it’s newest ships.  You just need to know that, and move on with your vacation because you’re just not going to spend a lot of time on it anyway.  I did do an overnight cruise on her when she was new and thought she was quite beautiful.


The Pride of Hawaii I sailed on was new in 2006 and is a twin to NCL’s other new ships of that time.  She is a twin of Norwegian Jewel and will be taken out of Hawaii, re-flagged, and have her name changed to Norwegian Jade 2/08. 


The only thing to remember, really, about the Pride ships is that they have no casino.  This is really a bummer for some folks, and made for quite a different experience than we’re used to when we cruise.  It’s really OK though, you’re just so tired with a port every day, that you’ll likely want to go to sleep at a reasonable hour rather than stay out super late like you might do on a cruise with sea days.





NCL calls tips the “Service Charge”.  They apply $10 per day in service charges on each person’s shipboard account during the cruise.  This covers the room steward and wait staff for all the dining areas.  If you feel someone does something extra special great for you, then you can give extra.  The spa charges a 15% service charge onto every service AUTOMATICALLY, so don’t add another one unless you really want to.  And when purchasing things from the bars, you can add a tip at your discretion.  They do NOT add something automatically there.


If you have ‘issues’ with your service, you can go to the purser’s desk and have some of the service charge removed for good reason.  They actually make you do the compliant to adjust it though, so if there are any problems they’re sure to know about them.  We had issues with our room steward the first day and a half.  Basically, nobody showed up on the entire first night (not to introduce themselves nor turn our bed down or anything!), and the next day we did a morning shore excursion that got us back to the ship at 1pm and our cabin hadn’t been touched still!  We called housekeeping and our cabin was finally serviced for the very first time the second day of our cruise. So, at the end of the sailing we had the room steward’s tip removed for the first two days.  It was pretty painless to do the complaint and have the tip lowered.  This is my first time ever doing such a thing as that, but I was pretty disappointed those first few days.  He was much better most of the rest of the week, although he forgot to give us new washcloths a couple of times after that as well.  When we left a note about it, we got MORE washcloths and towels than we would ever need for the rest of the week!  


Comments about service you might have read in other reviews:


When NCL launched the NCL America brand in 2004, they really had no idea what they were getting themselves into.  It was truly a learn on the job type of experience.  And with the Pride of Aloha in 2004, it really went badly.  They were required to have a mostly American crew, and Americans aren’t used to working 7 days a week for months on end.  Many started and then gave NCL the “take this job and shove it!” routine.  I sailed on the Pride of Aloha when she launched in 2004 and wrote up a review on it then if you want to learn more about that time.


NCL America had to frantically find, hire, and train new staff, which was difficult.  They worked really hard at it, even designing an entire training camp type base in Maryland where potential crew could live and work in an environment that was similar to the ship to see if they liked it.  Many didn’t pass through this training camp, but that was better than the really bad apples making it onto the ship.


Throughout 2004, 2005 when Pride of America launched, and 2006 when Pride of Hawaii launched NCL America was in a continual ‘staff the new ship’ mode, and couldn’t afford to fire anyone.  They simply needed those workers, even if they were not good performers.  NCL America gazed dreamily into the future to 2007 when they would no longer be trying to staff a new ship but could finally fire or not re-hire some of their least favorite staff, and keep on really only those that enjoyed the work and wanted this as their career.


Look at me.  I’m a travel agent who knows all about the situation, and I chose to take my own personal family vacation on the newest of the three.  And I booked it on the cruise when Pride of Hawaii launched new in 2006.  This ship, the Pride of Hawaii, only in the last few months (about a year after it launched) is getting guest satisfaction ratings as high as NCL’s international fleet.  Of course, I planned it that way.  I knew they were working on it. I knew it would get better.  I’m here to say I not only survived but had a great time.  Don’t be afraid of the negative reviews you might have read.   Be sure to check the dates on them.  And remember there will always be those that see the world as half empty.


And the future looks really bright!  We’re now approaching four months out from the last sailings of the Pride of Hawaii as we know it.  In 2/08 she’ll change to an international ship, with a potentially international crew.  Think of what that will do to the American staff on the two remaining NCL America ships!  NCL will likely retain only the very best American crew, and the international staff they were able to sprinkle into the mix will likely go to the NCL Jade or other ships in the NCL international fleet.  It will truly be those American staff that WANT to be there.  To me, that sounds like nirvana in cruising.  Likely much happier crew and an even better vacationing experience for us consumers in years to come.






If you want to walk off with your own luggage, and be one of the VERY first off the ship, they offer Self Disembarkation.  With this, you don’t put your bags outside your room the prior night.  You just keep everything and walk off the ship when they call you.  Be ready though, as the Express folks are the FIRST that are offered to leave the ship, at 7am.  Of course, you can get off the ship any time after you’re called, so many of those folks probably disembarked later.  They were waking us all up with announcements in the hall for Express folks at 7am though.  Ick!


The best way to go it seems is if you’re flying home on disembarkation day, you can register for the Easy Fly program.  With this program, you pay $19.95 + tax of 4.166% per person on your onboard account and you actually check your bags straight from the ship to your home.  You must be taking United, American, Continental or Delta airlines, and you must have a flight departing Honolulu after 12:00 noon.  No more than two bags per person.   With this program you actually get your bar-coded bag check things like you’d get at the airport right on the ship, and you put your bags out the prior night with these INSTEAD of colored luggage tags.  Seems really efficient, but we couldn’t participate because we flew on Hawaiian Airlines.


They also have ‘normal’ disembarkation by color / deck.  We did this, as I’m not about to haul my luggage around the ship until it’s time for me to get off.  It worked fine.  I thought it was nice that on the final day as part of NCL’s “Freestyle Disembarkation” they served breakfast later than most cruise lines do, and we could be a little more leisurely about getting out of our cabin in the morning.  We had a 2pm flight, so we weren’t in a rush.

Lastly, we didn’t have post-cruise airport transfers already lined up, as we knew we could get a taxi cheaper.  And even better than that, there were lots of companies lined up as you disembarked to give shuttle service to the airport.  I think we paid $5 per person or something really small like that to get in a van that held about 12 plus luggage.  It was easy to arrange and we spent no time standing in line after disembarking.




Booking your next cruise while onboard:



NCL has been toying with a couple different options as it relates to booking your next cruise while sailing on your current one.  They used to have a traditional ‘book your next cruise’ type program, where you booked an actual future cruise and got some shipboard credits back on that future cruise.  Then they tried a ‘put a deposit down’ type program, but then didn’t offer the option at all of booking an actual future cruise.  This didn’t seem to make customers that were used to the old way happy.  They didn’t understand that they’d still get free shipboard credits on that future cruise, but they weren’t actually booking the exact cruise when they were sailing.  They had to go home and make a booking and apply the deposit. 


They have now come out with a NEW program that is quite different from others I’ve seen.  It’s called the Freestyle Cruise Reward program.  Basically, while you’re sailing you put down $250 per person on an unnamed future cruise and they give you $100 in shipboard credits to use on your CURRENT cruise.  Yes, the one you’re actually sailing on at this point in time.  Then, you take up to 12 months to apply the deposit onto a cruise date, and up to 30 months out into the future you’ll be cruising with that deposit you put down on your current cruise.   Isn’t that interesting?  Not shipboard credits on the FUTURE cruise, but shipboard credits THIS cruise if you deposit.  The only catch is that if you don’t actually book a future cruise, they’ll refund you $150 rather than $250 if you cancel it.  (Because they’ve already given you $100 back.)


And, if you don’t like having that money now (!!!), they do still offer the original future cruise book onboard with shipboard credits on the future sailing program.  They don’t talk about this one anywhere.  They have flyers all over the place about the Freestyle Cruise Reward program.  But if you’re bound and determined to make actual cabin bookings while onboard, they’ll take your money for that as well.   I couldn’t find out much about this program, as they’re encouraging the Freestyle one, but the old book onboard program gave higher shipboard credits the higher category you booked.  I suppose it’s possible that the old program might give you more free money if you were planning on booking a really high category.  You might want to inquire about that one specific instance.  Otherwise, do a Freestyle Cruise Reward deposit and be done with it!



In Summary:


I had a great time and I do think taking an NCL America cruise around the islands is the best way to see Hawaii.  I enjoyed myself thoroughly and do suggest it for seeing many islands.


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I'll add a photo slideshow when I've got time to sort through my hundreds of photos!