Pride of Aloha
by Jeff Green
September 8, 2006
I just returned from a Hawaiian vacation on NCL's Pride of Aloha. This was my first time on this ship, but I've been to the islands many times. I'll start by listing the Pros and cons, then expound on each and private my recommendations.
This ship also picks up passengers in Honolulu, where I believe they pick up the majority of passengers. The ship stays overnight in Maui, and there is parking at the port. Literally, we parked, flagged a porter, walked to the ad-hoc customer service desk, got our SAIL/SIGN cards, waked through security, and got our picture taken all in less than 10 minutes. For those that have taken Caribbean sailing from Miami, where it can take hours, this is a blessing.
One discouraging note is that there isn't any cruise staff to "welcome" you onboard the Pride of Aloha. I was in room 00335, having been upgraded to a balcony, but was unsure if deck "00" was deck 10. I led my party to deck 10, got off the elevator and saw a Pride of Aloha employee standing there. When I asked him if we were on the right deck, his response was "I have no idea". He then turned to walk away. Just then another young gentleman in officer's clothing strolls by and we ask him. He says he things it's "down that way". I don't know about you, but I get nervous when the ship's crew doesn't even know where they are going.
Disembarkation was a breeze. We got off around 9:30am, got our luggage and went to our rental car bus. Again, 10 minutes. The Pride Daily activities sheet said that they would call our colors (based on your cabin) starting at 6:30am the morning of debarkation, but they never broadcast any announcements in our room the entire trip. We were up at 6:30am (I live in Atlanta), but we never heard ANY colors being called, either on deck or in the Hukilau (buffet) restaurant.
I can't imagine those getting off in Honolulu had it this easy. For those who haven't cruised, imagine 2000 people trying to get luggage from a carousel. If you are going to take this ship, opt for the Maui departure if you can just to save luggage and crowd headaches.
Because we had some first timers, we did the obvious things at each port. Here's a note people... Other than Oahu, if you want to see anything in Hawaii, you'll need a car. Rental companies all pick up at the cruise ship pier. It's worth it, and not difficult to navigate the islands at all. Most only have two main highways or roads. On Maui, we drove over to Lahaina and eat lunch at the Lahaina Fish Company. The next day, we took a trek up Haleakala volcano to the nearly 11,000 foot summit. Bring warm clothes if you go. There is a Haleakala weather page. When we went, it was raining ice and high winds at the visitorís center, 10 miles from the summit, and clear at the summit. If we'd taken this trip through a tour company or the ship Shore Excursion desk, it would have cost us at least $50 each. By renting our own car, which cost 28.99 + the Tri - Park pass for Haleakala and Volcanoes National Park (25 per car). And we came and went as we pleased.
Honolulu was all about Pearl Harbor. We'd previously flown into Honolulu from the mainland days earlier, so we'd done Dole Plantation, Haliewa town, Diamond Head, and the Polynesian Cultural Center.
NOTE: Pearl Harbor is free! There are no tickets that a company can get for you; they issue the tickets when you get there. Any Pearl Harbor tour is just a cab ride.
Kauai. Our group included seniors, so we took it easy in Kauai. We took a trek to Waimea Canyon (again renting our car - $35.99). Afterwards, we drove out to Hanelei and saw the sights. There is a very nice beach in sight and easy walking distance to the ship, even though we didn't go. Hilo. Hilo is all about Volcanoes national park. Car rental at airport 1 mile from port, then straight shot (about 40 minutes) to the park. Either pay $10 per car one time admission, or get an annual pass for $25 that covers all three Hawaii National Parks. If you're reasonably fit, take the Devastation Trail in Volcanoes National Park. Very cool. If you've got time, drive past Hilo to the east to look over scenic cliffs on your way to Waimea.
Even though it will void your rental car agreement just to go on this road, some will take the saddle road that goes between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa to try and reach the summit of Mauna Kea (14,000 feet). The rod past the visitorís center isn't paved, and you WILL NOT make it without a 4-wheel drive. The roads to the visitor's center are steep also, and you'll hear the strain on your engine.
Kona. All about the beach, water sports, coffee and beer. For those who've been to the Caribbean, this resembles most Caribbean ship ports. Many restaurants, bars, gold and art sellers.
Pride of Aloha/the Ship: Pride of Aloha, in my opinion is overall, an unimpressive ship. She doesnít flow well. Room are hidden, like areas donít seem to be together, etc. There are some lovely spaces, most notably the Outrigger Lounge, which is all the way forward on deck 11. Great views from the front of the ship also. However, this room was hardly used during our cruise. Most things happened in the crowded, noisy, Blue Hawaii room. While the Blue Hawaii room is nicely done, it suffers from foot traffic going around the sides to get to the cigar bar or photo gallery. The bar is also extremely noisy. Most times if you sat over there, you couldnít hear at all.
Cruise ship standards like the Newly-Wed, Not-so Newly-Wed game was done in the Blue Hawaii. There was a nice hula show put on by the Hawaiian Cultural Ambassador and his all passenger hula class there, but they put it on at the same time as the passenger Talent show!
By the way, I never heard or read one announcement about the show until I saw it on the day's activities.
The Crew. Think fast food level service. Many of the crew are young, and while I'm not knocking young people, many in service related jobs arenít the best at customer service. There were some truly helpful people among them, but most seemed to care less. The service IS better on the NCL ships crewed by an international crew. I don't know if it's our non-servile "American attitude, but there is a palpable mood that many in the crew didnít want to be there, or were just watching the clock until their shift was over.
Dining Room(s). We ate in the Palace restaurant twice. The first time, we had a very nice female waitress who did her best to serve us and check on us while our dinner took forever to come out. The second time we had a young man who endeavored to look and act the part of a 5 star level waiter, but couldnít remember to bring our drinks, bring butter, or a steak knife for steak.
Neither night we went was crowded, actually the second night our waiter only had two tables. Hukilau Buffet: The food ranged from dry to decent. People, this is a buffet. So don't expect the greatest. If you want your steak tips just so, then you canít get them here.
There is a Sprinkles Ice Cream bar in the buffet, but it's in the worst location. Right at the start of the buffet line. I did like the fact that unlike some other cruise lines, it was real dipped ice cream and not soft serve. However, none of the flavors was frozen. There must be a problem with the freezer, because I saw the server bring new gallons from the freezer, dip into them and bring up nearly melted ice cream.
One high point about the Hukilau Buffet and all over the ship was the friendliness and honesty of the crew. Many would ask where you were from, and then tell you where they were from, how long they'd been on the ship, etc. If asked, most said they didnít like shipboard life.
Long board Sports Bar. After about 10:30pm, this is the only place to get food (other than room service). Typical bar food, no extra charge.
Cruise Director, staff and entertainment. The Cruise Director, Fith Fithian, is at the low end of the totem pole as far as abilities go, in my opinion. I've been on some ships where the Cruise Director IS the entertainment (John Heald - Carnival), to some where you never saw him or her. The issue I have is that the entertainment staff, as well as the paid entertainment (we had two magicians, two comedians and two production shows), wasnít up to par. Our first comedian was incredibly boring. The second was quite a bit better, but that was really do to one bit where he took a long t-shirt, put it over his knees and pretended they were breasts. The magicians, the same. One was awful, the other comedy magician was much better.
As far as the production shows, I only saw one. It was a Cirque du Soleil type show. It was the worst performance I've ever seen on a cruise ship. The singers were awful and the dancers acted like they wanted to be somewhere else. People were constantly walking out. There was a Hawaiian/ jazz quartet that was good, as well as a husband wife piano/singing duo that were good.
All in all, I'd only recommend this ship to my clients who really only use the ship as a mode of transport. If you are looking to have a great time ON the ship, this isnít for you. But if you want a ship that gets into port early so you can get out on the islands, then come back on, eat and hit the sack in preparation for the next day, it's for you.