Norwegian Cruise Line Pride of Aloha Hawaii August 8, 2004
This may surprise many of you who have read my postings over the last few months but . I enjoyed this vacation.
Why would I say that after mostly nothing but negative things to say about Pride of Aloha? It's because my wife and I traveled with friends - new and old - that we love dearly. Plus we have traveled with this charter group before and thoroughly enjoyed the entertainment and other activities planned exclusively by the travel agency. So we endured the problems on POA, made the most of a bad situation and adjusted when we had to in order to save this vacation.
This cruise also showed me that the American spirit is alive, well, and living in our young people. This crew is NOT made up of the lazy Americans that I heard about so frequently on these boards, just a group of people who have been given an impossible task. You could see the fatigue in the eyes of the staff, but they continue to give it their all against the odds created by a company that is abusing them. There HAS to be labor law violations on this ship, and they will come to light in time.
I would never do another Hawaiian cruise, on Norwegian Cruise Line, in particular, or on a cruise ship, in general. Hawaii was not made for cruising. There is simply too much to see in port to be restricted to the usual 10-11 hours you spend there. A Hawaiian cruise is best suited for those who have never been to the islands and want to get a taste of each port. I want more than that.
For those of you who are diehard NCL fans let me get to the point and save you from reading the rest of this very lengthy review. I don't like NCL, I didn't like Pride of Aloha and I feel like NCL ripped me off with a second rate cruise.
I suggest that if you are booked on this ship and haven't reached the penalty period then cancel out. If you haven't booked yet . then take your business elsewhere. If you're stuck with this cruise . well . you can make the most of it if you lower your expectations and realize this will not be like any cruise you've ever been on.
Our group of 8 people included a family of four from Chicago, a couple from Phoenix, and us, from Connecticut. The adults are all in their 50s, the "kids" are 21 and 19.
This was our third trip to Hawaii, so we were well aware of the impact of that six-hour time difference coming from the east coast. We came in three days early to avoid jetlag, and I suggest that others cruising on POA do the same because that time difference can be murder. The couple with the family came in a week before we did (without the kids) to do a little golfing on Oahu, Maui and the Big Island. Many on this particular cruise flew in the same day - including some from Boston - and paid for it.
My wife and I flew into Honolulu on August 5, and a short inter-island flight later we were on Kauai and driving to Marriott's Waiohai Beach Club on Kauai. What a way to start a vacation . three days . in paradise . on the island of paradise. This is one of Marriott's newest (and most breathtaking) timeshare properties. Don't belong to the Marriott timeshare family? You can rent a two-bedroom unit for about $330 a night (including tax and fees), We had two two-bedroom units, each overlooking a beautifully landscaped garden area that included a couple of picturesque ponds, palm trees, golf course putting green-like grass, and twin waterfalls. Instead of the "superpool" you see at most big hotels, there were three individual pools, and three relatively secluded hot tubs. And of course, right beyond the biggest pool is a gorgeous beach. Wow! And best of all, Internet access was free so that I would stay in contact with my message board buddies.
Over the next three days, we drove as far north as possible (including a stop at the Princeville Hotel), lunched at Zelo's Beach House in Hanalei, and took in the grandeur of the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, Waimea Canyon. NOTE: Wherever you go in Hawaii, take your camera. Photo opts are just around the corner.
On Sunday, we headed back to the airport in Lihue for the flight back to Honolulu .. ready for the challenges ahead.
Four of us took a cab to the ship for a total of $36 including tip. As we closed in on the pier I finally got my first glimpse of the Pride of Aloha. My first thought? This ship sure is small, especially after sailing on the 142,000-ton Adventure of the Seas in mid-july.
But this isn't a bad ship, just not what we expected when we signed on for the brand spanking new Pride of America. And with exceptional service people probably wouldn't be so upset that POA is an older, smaller ship. Unfortunately, the lack of service only makes the ship shortcomings more obvious. Except for the dining rooms, the new furnishings look rather cheesy. The carpet is already beginning to bead up in high traffic areas, and the burlap strings along the edge of the carpet on Deck 6 outside of the jewelry store are already coming up. I never really got use to the bright furnishings, especially the blue carpeting. Particularly garish is the Blue Hawaii Lounge, with more colors than the rainbow, none of them matching.
The ship is easy to negotiate. I did hear complaints about having to walk up the stairs from the Crossings dining room on Deck 5 up to Deck 6, and then back down to Deck 5 to get to the Palace dining room. But there are maps of the ship posted at every elevator and in other areas, so you should never get lost. Then again, the ship is so small ...
Every day I found toilets in pubic areas that were not working. Either the bathroom floors were covered wall to wall with water (at least I think it was water) . or else the suction wasn't working and the toilets were overflowing with urine and the other stuff. Totally disgusting. If you don't want to take a chance, just go back to your room each time you need to go .. But I'm told that some of those toilets didn't always work either.
The cabins . they were just as small as everyone had said. Fortunately I was prepared and it really didn't bother me much. We always bring a few extra hangers so we were able to put most of our clothes in the closet, including my shorts. We left nothing in the suitcases except for things we would not use on this cruise. Everything else found a place either in the three drawers, two shelves and the closet. Our four suitcases fit nicely under the bed, as did my laptop computer case.
But if my wife was sitting at the vanity getting gorgeous, it was tough to get by her and into the bathroom. I would always have to tell her to move the chair closer to the desk. How four adults could stay in a room this size for an entire week is beyond me. By the way, balcony cabins and suites get a coffee maker . we did not. Fortunately, the Arizona couple had a balcony, did not drink coffee and loaned us their coffee maker for our nightly tea.
SERVICE / DINING
I don't have to say much here . but I will.
The staff shortage impacts everything on this ship and is the most glaring problem. The ship is suppose to have a crew of 950 people. On our cruise, that number was somewhere between 650-to-700, and that number fluctuated each day depending on how many quit and how many day workers they brought on in each port. If POA loses any more people this will soon become a self-serve cruise.
Because of the staff shortage, things just didn't get fixed or cleaned in a timely manner. Can't really blame the staff on this one . you can't be in two places at once.
On the first day our keycard didn't work. It took them four hours to get it taken care of because they have a limited amount of people to fix a myriad of problems. That won't change until NCL is able to get more staff and keep them, and that won't happen until NCL stops abusing and lying to staff. And the only reason my keycard problem was fixed the same day was because I pestered the guy at the reception desk three times and he finally got tired of seeing my face.
This ship was never totally clean the entire time we were onboard, even though the day staff boarded the ship at each port. You'll notice people with "visitor" passes pinned to their shirts from the time you board, but not while at sea.
Throughout the week the day workers did many of the tasks that didn't require a lot of brainpower or skill . like cleaning tables at the disgusting buffet. This eliminated some problems talked about on previous cruises, such as passengers bussing their own tables . at least at lunchtime. Now if they could eliminate the buffet all together .
We saw our room attendant just once the entire cruise, another flaw of freestyle cruising. Because they don't really have to impress you, they don't. However, she did clean our room once a day and turned back the bed covers each night . just like on a real cruise. Fortunately we were in port most of every day so we have no idea when she cleaned the room. Only thing I cared about was that it was done when returned to the ship. But I did miss the attendant calling me by name like on other ships. That's what makes cruising special . at least for me.
The crew would talk openly with you about the problems onboard the ship. I can't tell you how many crews members told me that they were finished once their contracts were up. They would look around to make sure management wasn't around and start talking. And because of the stress of being overworked, and taking it from angry passengers daily, you often hear crew members arguing with one another. The more you see the more upset you get at NCL for putting these people in this situation.
However, the really smart ones figure out a way to get it done. Take Amber, a waitress. We got her the second day, and even though we were angry after being bounced from the Palace, to Crossings and back to the Palace, she endured, gave us great service, and invited us to sit in her area the rest of the cruise. I noticed that she did this with another group of 8 people. This was smart because she was able to learn what both groups wanted and not have to adjust on a nightly basis. This also meant that we got superior service every night.
So much for freestyle.
By the way if you find a waiter that you like and want to dine with him/her every night, that can happen. If you can put together a group of seven or more, you can make reservations for 5:30 p.m. or 9 p.m. But we made 5:30 p.m. reservations with Amber, and never showed until 6:30 p.m. That gives you flexibility of one hour . with no wait in line.
Otherwise, expect a wait to get in, and in most situations, a wait to be served.
The easiest night to get into any restaurant is while you're on Maui because of the overnight stay. There are so many things to do it this port that many people will not return to the ship until the wee hours. This may be the situation when the regular cruise overnights in Kauai (we didn't), but probably not because this port closes up early.
As far as the specialty restaurants go, we only ate at Le Bistro. Pacific Heights was closed, which is no surprise since it had the cheapest cover charge. The food at Le Bistro was the best we had onboard, but did not compare with Carnival's supper clubs, or Royal Caribbean's Chops or Portifino. And service was even slower than in the main dining room. My wife and I both had the filet mignon/lobster special for $20 apiece. The lobster was much better than the crappy version served in the main dining room.
Too often I sat in the Palace restaurant wondering if I would ever get a truly good meal. When all else failed I would get the sirloin strip steak, and that was often. Someone commented that the beef Wellington tasted like it was made by Alpo. The Caribbean lobster tails were extremely salty and didn't taste like lobster at all.
And the menus stay the same the entire week, changing three items each day. By the fourth day we were tired of seeing the menu. However, two appetizers in particular were very good: crabmeat fritters and a soup with sausage (can't think of the name).
OK, I will say this one more time . THE BUFFET IS THE WORST FOOD I HAVE EVER EATEN. The beef stroganoff was so bad that the taste lingered in my mouth after just one disgusting bite. I tried to hang on, but I had to eat something else to get the taste out of my mouth and brushed my teeth right away.
Finally I couldn't take it anymore, so I called the reception desk and asked to speak to a chef. I was on hold forever, but when someone returned to the line I told him that I would wait as long as necessary. He tried to persuade me that the buffet was the problem of the travel agency that booked this charter. I cut him off immediately and informed him that the travel agency doesn't cook the food. So he got the hint and got me to the chef in charge of the buffet. Of course, he tried to pass the buck, and swore that he did not know who was in charge of the menu or quality of the food. So it was back to the reception desk, and then passed on to the assistant hotel manager. Holly said the ship was in the process of getting a new distributor for the food onboard. She acknowledged plenty of problems onboard the ship and although she didn't say it she knew the buffet food was horrible.
In fact, I didn't find a single crew member who would admit eating there. So not only are they not lazy Americans, they aren't stupid American either.
I only ate lunch at the buffet, never dinner, but I didn't see the lines that many had talked about. Perhaps the other passengers were smart enough not to eat this swill. I was dumb enough to eat here three times.
One other little thing that I need to point out. The reason service improved slightly while we were onboard is because, 1) one day an NCL corporate executive was onboard investigating the many complaints; 2) Transportation secretary Norman Mineta and Hawaiian political types were onboard checking out their "investment." Of course service was going to be stepped up while these folks were onboard. If we could keep them onboard maybe us common folks could get a decent cruise.
Lastly, for you Internet junkies like me, the Internet service onboard may be fast, but your money will go even faster. It cost me $28 for 32 minutes on the ship at 70 cents a minute. In port, I paid $3.00 for 15 minutes at a bookstore at Harbor Mall (free buses from the ship), $2.25 for 15 minutes right off the ship (walking distance) in Kono, and the best bargain, 10 cents a minute at an Internet Café in Lahaina across the street from the Banyon tree.
Another reason this cruise wasn't a total disaster is that Hawaii is magnificent. How anyone could ever be stressed in this place (unless you work on POA) is beyond me. Of course, if the Pride of Aloha was based in the Caribbean, then passengers would have staged a mutiny by now. Being in Hawaii is no reason for NCL to place an inferior, second-rate cruise here . and that's what Pride of Aloha is.
We didn't use any of the NCL excursions this time, and I suggest others do the same. Either make plans in advance, or else wait until you get off the ship and make them in port. You will save a lot of money this way, up to $50 per excursion. You can go jet skiing in Lahaina for as little at $29.
Then again, you can do like we did and rent a car in port and discover each island on your own. We had cars on Kaui, Oahu, Maui and Hilo. We did not rent a car in Kona - the only tender port - and just walked around, did a little shopping and used an Internet café. By the way, the tender was the easiest and quickest I've ever experienced. We were on and off the tender in 5 minutes, coming and going.
Because this was a charter, we were able to alter the itinerary to give us more time in Honolulu, where we overnighted on Sunday. We then had day stops on Kauai, in Kona & Hilo, and then an overnight on Maui.
Monday on Oahu we drove along the western coast of the island for magnificent views, past Sandy Beach all the way up to Turtle Bay resort, and then back down to the Dole Plantation for a tour through their beautiful gardens. It was easy to get back to Honolulu from there, and it was back to the ship so we could set sail that night.
Since we had already spent three days on Kauai, we just took the free Hilo Hattie's shuttle to their store for a little shopping and purchase of bottled water from Wal-Mart.
On the Big Island, we checked out Volcano National Park south of Hilo, an awesome display of nature's ferocity. The park is easy to get around, and the lava crater is awesome, but I like a little green in my national parks so the Grand Canyon and Yosemite are more my taste.
After the park we checked out Akaka Falls, but if you go here plan on doing a little walking - up and down. But it is worth the hike . and a good opportunity to walk off that bad buffet food.
My favorite place in Hawaii will always be Maui because there is so much to do here. You can be a regular tourist hitting all the popular spots, or you can explore some really magnificent parts of this island that mostly only the natives know about.
Unfortunately, this time we only made it to Lahaina, Kaanapoli and Kapalua because the women wanted to shop. On the second day we made it to Iao Neddle & Valley State Park for the magnificent views they offer. It was only 5 minutes from the ship. But alas, we had to turn the car in. At just $49 a day total, we probably should have kept the car for the rest of the day and did a little more exploring. After all, we still had another 6 hours on this island. Lahaina was the highlight the day before. If you go, you have to check out the Banyon Tree. And if you're hungry I suggest you check out the Cool Cat Café, directly across the street from the tree, for the best food we ate all week. You can get a covered outdoor table and check out the people as they walk along the street. The 10 cents-a-minute Internet café is on the same floor. There are plenty of other restaurants in Lahaina so you won't go hungry here, and the women will have a field day shopping.
There is so much more to see on this island that you would need at least a week. So if you really want to experience this island I suggest a land vacation.
I went into this cruise with low expectations and NCL lived up to them. I'm done with this cruise line, despite today's announcement that I can cruise next year on Pride of America for the same price I would have paid last year, plus 20 percent off that amount if I choose to. I could also use that 20 percent off any NCL cruise I want over the next year. But I choose to bid NCL farewell . and move on to RCCL's Jewel of the Seas in January, and then Sapphire Princess in November '05. Who knows where my cruise adventures will take me after that . it just won't be on NCL.
So I'll try my best to forget about NCL . and I hope I have more luck than I've had in getting the taste of that beef stroganoff out of my mouth.