Pride of Aloha
by Dawn White
June 4, 2006
Our cruising experience on NCL's Pride of Aloha was a bit of a let down. Let me begin by explaining that I made a critical error in booking this cruise too soon. I wanted to get in on "NCL's Biggest Sale of the Year" so I booked in February for our June sailing. In doing so we ended up paying more for our outside cabin than others paid for a balcony stateroom. I noticed this before our sailing and contacted NCL through Expedia, who was acting as my travel agent. NCL refused to upgrade me to a balcony even though they continued to sell tickets for less than what I had paid. Lesson learned... .book later if possible!
I also purchased the airport pier transfers... DON'T! NCL charged $100 for two people roundtrip. In reality this is a service available at the Honolulu baggage claim information desk for $8 per person each way. Save yourself the $68 round trip. Even if you were unable to get the shuttle service at the airport, a cab would not be any more expensive than NCL's transfers for this short distance. In the event that you are also planning to spend some time on Oahu before or after your cruise, I recommend booking a hotel in the Waikiki area. We made the mistake of booking at the Best Western Plaza Hotel near the airport for convenience to the Pearl Harbor Memorial. It was not a terrible hotel (a bit old and noisy), but there is certainly more to do and a better view in Waikiki.
On to the actual cruise... the ship was exactly what someone who cruised before would expect. The normal lay out minus the casino due to gaming regulations. Unfortunately, during our vacation the ship was disease ridden. Over the course of the seven days approximately 10% of the passengers experienced illness, some quite serious. Rumor on-board was that this lead to the immediate resignation of many ship staff. If true, it would explain the lack of service we received.
In all fairness I must mention that our stateroom attendant did a fine, timely job. There were only a few inconveniences in this area. For example the tissue box in our stateroom remained empty for the last 5 days of our cruise and occasionally we were shorted linens. We also found it strange that our bed was lacking a top sheet with only a comforter to cover us.
Our dining experience was another story. The buffet was lack-luster at best. Due to the illness passengers were served from the buffet rather than dishing out what we wanted. We were even served our beverages at the beverage station. If one tried to help themselves to anything in the buffet area they had better watch out because a crewmember immediately disciplined them. In addition, the food quality was substandard. The non-pay restaurants were better in food quality, but service was incredibly slow.
Arrive early to avoid a long wait for a table. We left the dining room during two breakfasts without actually getting our entrees after being seated for over an hour each time. There was often people milling around waiting to be seated when at no time during our cruise did I ever see either of the dining rooms full. The "lite fare" at the Longboard bar was ok... .sandwiches, pizza, etc. However be prepared to wait there too. There appeared to be only two crew members working there and the bartender never helped the server who was running around trying to wait tables. Again, for a pizza and beer expect to stay at least an hour.
Speaking of drinks, there were no discounts on this cruise. Even the "drink of the day" was usually $6.95 with beers costing about $5.00. We went to one pay restaurant onboard. The bistro was a delight. The filet was amazing and the service impeccable. I highly recommend it. On the first two nights of our cruise the cover charge was only $5 per person. Then it went up to the normal cost of $10 pp for the remainder of the cruise. Too bad one has to pay an additional fee for what should be standard cruise service.
The last information I have regarding the ship is that the on-board entertainment was not all that great. It was definitely geared toward a retirement-aged crowd. The cruise director, Fith, was over-the-top and appeared very condescending when using his performance persona. Liko, the Hawaiian cruise ambassador, was friendly and hard working. The best performances were the two comedians. The musical and dance performances were a real let down, although I could see how an older crowd may have enjoyed them. I cannot comment on the pools, spa, or hot tubs. We chose to avoid them due to the illness on board.
Now regarding the excursions I have one recommendation. In Kauai do the NaPali Explorer! Well worth the cost. We saw a variety of marine life and snorkeled with the Hawaiian Green Sea turtles. We also explored the coast from both a comfortable van and a pontoon style boat. The tour guides we kind and helpful on this excursion. This was by far the best excursion of the six that we booked. We also had high hopes of the Molokini and Turtle Arches Snorkel in Maui. Unfortunately the water was so murky at the Turtle Arches that nothing was visible.
Molokini was better for visibility but also teeming with Portuguese Man-o-war (stinging jelly fish like creatures). Two people were stung on our excursion. Other excursions include The Circle of Fire Helicopter in Hilo (don't expect to see much flowing lava, although there was a little), Deep Sea Fishing in Kona (We didn't even see a fish. Just spent four hours pulling a lure around.), Beach Day at Ka'anapali (it is about a 45 minute drive each way which eats up a lot of time on the beach), and the Pacific Paradise Luau (extremely over-hyped, but something that you probably should do if you've never been to a Luau. Mostly just a beachfront barbeque, some hula dancers, and watered down drinks, but the fire dancer and the sunset were quite impressive).
Overall, I would say there are better options out there as far as cruising is concerned. Having been on Royal Caribbean once and NCL twice I can say with complete certainty that this will be the last NCL cruise we take. Additionally, with the airfare wars in Hawaii right now one could probably see all the major islands on his/her own for less of a cost.