Norwegian Cruise Line Pride of Aloha Hawaii May 22, 2005
My husband and I went on this cruise to celebrate our first anniversary and his 37th birthday. The following is what we experienced with NCL:
We had little trouble checking in because this is a US flagged ship, and therefore no proof of citizenship is required for US citizens. We went through the usual wait for security and getting on board, and then the ubiquitous photograph taken with the plastic life ring and hokey background. Getting into our cabin was not a problem. We had originally booked a Cat. N but when we got our docs we got a Cat. K. Initially, I was not disappointed with the cabin, but when I noticed that our steward was not cleaning our bathroom or giving us adequate turndown service, I began to get concerned. We came back after dinner the first night to find no amenities in the bathroom, no schedule for the following day, and no mints on the pillow. Minor things I know, but it's all a part of what we paid for.
I really have no complaints about the food quality or timeliness of service. We were seated immediately for every meal. The menus are limited and this is probably because of the Freestyle Dining Concept. In order to serve quality food they have to cut down on the entrees and selections to avoid contamination and waste, which I totally understand. I feel that for what it was worth, the food was adequate. The Hukilau Café Buffet was always a madhouse though. Many passengers cut ahead of each other and shoved their way through all the lines and this made for a poor dining experience. A lot of them didn't observe any kind of dress code, and after we saw one man in line without a shirt on and enough hair on his back to braid a lei, we never ate in there again.
We had 2 specialty dining experiences, one in the Royal Palm Bistro and the Kahili Restaurant. Both were very nice facilities with friendly staff. The best entrees I had were the Spinach Salad with goat cheese croutons, and the chocolate fondue course, both served at the Bistro. The best breakfast I had was in the Palace Restaurant, one of the main dining rooms. It was the Cheese Blintzes with cinnamon pears, and it was delicious. For the best intimate dining experiences, avoid the buffets and eat in the Palace or Crossings Restaurant and the specialty establishments. You cannot go wrong there.
On the second morning of the cruise, our shower flooded because of a clogged drain, and our steward did nothing to correct the problem after it saturated the hallway carpet. We let him know immediately and by the time we returned for dinner that evening, the mildew smell hit us as soon as we opened the door. I brought it to the attention of the guest services and housekeeping manager. All the steward had done was remake the beds and sop up a little of the water with towels. They finally moved us by day 3 to a cleaner cabin, and this one actually had bathroom amenities. Unfortunately, the ship was completely full and some of the cabins on another deck flooded and they had to be recarpeted at sea, and then we were moved into one of those. This concerns me because it means that NCL is struggling for inventory to meet the demand. Hopefully this will be remedied when the newer ships, Pride of America and Pride of Hawaii are delivered within the next 2 years. For the price NCL charges for a Cat. K stateroom, the cabin service was simply inexcusable. I felt like we were staying in a cheap and filthy motel.
The Shore Excursion Desk was exceptionally crowded every day, and therefore I recommend that cruisers book their excursions beforehand online, or do them on their own when they get to port. It takes a lot out of the time and money spent to come and enjoy Hawaii, only to stand in line after line to do this and that. The golf excursions are really a hit with passengers though. I would recommend going with NCL's pre-arranged tee packages. You can golf on each island and the pro shop on board carries everything you need, including all the essential logo items.
The regular shopping on board was terrible however. Most of the merchandise selection was marked up Tommy Bahama products, and the clerks were rude to boot. I would recommend shopping in port instead. There are free shuttles to Hilo Hattie's, and even Wal-Mart and Kmart if you so desire, although I have a hard time understanding why anyone would come all the way to Hawaii and then go shop for souvenirs at Wal-Mart and Kmart.
The cruise was probably a little more active than I like, with much more port time and less time at sea. Of course, this is Hawaii, and people go on this cruise to sample the islands. It would be nice if they could add Lanai and Molokai to the ports of call down the road, even if it means more days and more expense for the passenger. Those were places I really wanted to see, but will have to experience later when I have more time.
On the day we sailed by the Napali Coast on Kauai, they closed the decks due to high winds, so we got a table at the Longboard Bar with a window view. Unfortunately, while the Hawaiian Ambassador was explaining the history of the island over the PA system, the staff never bothered to turn off the music videos playing in the back, so we heard nothing of the historical aspects of Kauai. That was disappointing, and made the experience feel much more "mass-market" than it should have. Many of the windows were filthy and some were very difficult to see through. A great reason to book a balcony stateroom, although I'm sure NCL is aware of this "problem" with the windows and might be trying to cash in on it by forcing people to book the more expensive cabins.
Instead of a casino, NCL has placed a cultural center in the space occupied by the Monte Carlo establishment on the former Norwegian Sky. It is very nice and adds a certain uniqueness to the cruise. Unfortunately, on some decks they still had signs pointing to the casino, so I think they need to go back to the drawing board on that one.
On the night we sailed by Mount Kilauea, the captain turned the ship 360 degrees so that everyone could get a good view. We were close enough to see some fantastic lava flows. Photography is a bit difficult though, so I would recommend videotaping in addition to photography. Again, another reason to book a balcony cabin and take a tripod.
We never really experienced any rough sailing, but it is summer and the tides tend to be lower during that time. I have read reviews where passengers ha a difficult time keeping their food down during winter sailings.
The public areas on the ship were very nice and unique. I thought the décor was fun and appropriate for the experience they are trying to promote. Elevators are small however, so this will increase your wait time to get from one part of the ship to another. We enjoyed the "Runnin' Wild" show performed in the Stardust Lounge on our last night. I would not recommend this performance for small children, as it was a bit risqué. But I understand that the Polynesian show is very family oriented. We missed that due to extra excursions in Kauai.
Disembarkation was easy. We waited until the last possible moment to get off the ship, enjoyed a late breakfast, and our bags were already in the terminal and we had no wait. I would say that for the money spent, it is a great way to see the islands without having to pack and unpack every three days. But for the product offered, I would give serious consideration to waiting and booking a balcony cabin on the next 2 ships slated to sail in Hawaii, because NCL is really overwhelmed with demand and with only one ship to deliver, that's not enough in my opinion to be really competitive. Of course, they do have the monopoly on the inter-island market but that is still no excuse to take shortcuts on service. I noticed that they were understaffed in many areas. I learned that many of the so-called "veterans" of the Aloha were recently transferred to the America for its inaugural sailing this summer, so this left a lot of newbies to try and pull the load. Most of them did their best to be helpful and courteous however. The journalism staff on board needs to take another course in basic English, because when we finally did receive our "Freestyle Daily" schedules, many words were misspelled and the layout was sloppy. Out of a rating of one to five stars, I give the Aloha a 3.5.