December 31, 2005
I have never before been on a cruise and I was very excited to visit the different Hawaiian Islands. I had heard from friends who loved the food, service and wonderful mixture of relaxation and fun-packed activities from their various cruises.
I purchased my cruise online based entirely on the itinerary. In the months leading up to the cruise I read very mixed reviews of the NCL Pride of America. It seems that the reviews fell into two distinct categories: Those who had been on cruises before and felt the service and food fell far short of other lines and those who didn't seem to mind the food and service they experienced. They definitely saw the glass as half full. I was determined to be one of those folks. After all, I had already paid and there was no turning back. Why not just enjoy all there was to enjoy and forget the rest?
This proved to be harder than I thought.
12:40pm Embarkation: The pier in Honolulu where you embark has almost no parking near the ship. If you are dropping off the rest of your party with the luggage and want check in with them, this will be a problem. There were no signs listing where to bring your luggage. There were just piles of luggage all over the place. After carrying our luggage way out of the way, we noticed, we were the only people in line waiting with luggage. Finally, we asked someone who had checked our Ids where to go. They directed us to an unmarked table somewhere "out there." We had walked right by it. The person working the table quickly tagged our luggage and we were on our way. Unfortunately, they tagged it with the correct cabin number but used the wrong tag, which stated that our cabin was in the forward section of the ship. We were in the rear (or Aft Section).
This would result in the luggage not getting to the room until 8pm.
Next we went to a cashier of sorts who checked our IDs, swiped our credit card and issued our ship IDs. Some of us were given leis and we were herded before a photographer who snapped our photo. Next, up the escalator and we entered the 5th floor where the main lobby and ship's staff greeted us and informed us that our cabin (and indeed the entire 10th floor) was not yet ready for guests. They suggested we visit the Aloha cafe for a bite and wait.
We did and this is where things began to deteriorate.
Food This cafeteria-style "cafe" features food best described as "Casino buffet meets Hospital Cafeteria." It is as though they took the bland food of a hospital kitchen and combined it with the presentation and the occasional fryerlaytor of a second rate casino buffet. This tasteless mess is then made to sit under hot lights until it expires. And then you are meant to eat it.
Having read the online reviews and cruise website, I knew that it would be important to get reservations at the "specialty restaurants". I left my family and began the frantic rush to literally run from restaurant to restaurant to secure dinner reservations so that we would never again have to visit the Aloha Café. I thought part of the allure of taking a cruise was that you would not HAVE to rush around.
As the cruise progressed, we tried almost every restaurant. I am sorry to report that although none were as dreadful as the Aloha Cafe, they never rose very high above it either.
East Meets West is the Asian-inspired eatery just off the main lobby. I live in New York, so I am used to good Chinese food and a bit weary of a place that features, Chinese, Japanese and Indian. To dine here, you will pay $10 per person and you will automatically get edamame, (1/2 cup to share for 3 people) and dim sum dumplings (3 dumplings and 1 small pork bun) for 3 people to share. Even though there is a limited menu, they will still be out of at least 2 items, even if you are there when it opens at 5:30pm. When your main course arrives, it will be approximately one cup of food and one cup of steamed or fried rice. You may also choose a soup or salad and dessert. My family found the food here the best with the chicken salad particularly good.
There are constant flashes of light bursting into the East Meets West dining room because the eatier's interior windows face the ship's lobby where a photographer's studio is set up. It will surely test the medications of any epileptic in your party as well as your own patience.
Lazy J's Steakhouse charges a $15 per person charge and features steaks that taste better when served on airplanes. The dining room is nice and the service was prompt and efficient.
Little Italy has no per person charge but does require reservations. We enjoyed our 5 rings of calamari and cup of pasta. Pass on the mozzarella on tomato slices and basil. It was a tasteless affair with colorless tomato and a quarter teaspoon of basil chiffonade.
The chocoholic buffet was widely touted by the servers as a wonderful experience. Wonderful is a strong word. Crowds are corralled into the waiters' stations, which have been configured to force you into a long line. Once in this line, you must walk all the way though with escape only at the end. You will be met at the end of the line by a server who politely suggests that you take your plate back to your room. Servers do not want to have to clean and reset tables that are set for dinner. The buffet features many repeating items except chocolate -dipped fruit. Servers will ask you which piece of fruit you would like dipped in white or milk chocolate.
Lobster night was even more hyped by the staff. It is served in the Liberty and Skyline restaurants (different levels of basically the same restaurant). You may think "Lobster Night" would feature an all you can eat lobsterfest or even a menu with a few different lobster dishes. You would be wrong. On Thursday night, the menu featured one lobster dish - small warm-water lobster tails. The meal that warranted this hype is 1/2 cup of saffron risotto, 2 spears of asparagus and 1 1/2 half lobster tails (approximately 4 ounces of lobster). My family found the lobster bland and tasteless "a butter delivery system" as they are used to Maine Lobsters. I enjoyed it. Chocolate decadence is a strange dessert that resembles a hostess Ring Ding but it is filled with so many hazelnuts, it has an odd mouth feel, part cake, and part brittle. I can't tell if it was a good idea executed badly or just a bad idea.
Drinks: I do not drink so I purchased the "soda program." It cost $35 plus tip for the week and you will get a sticker on your ship ID. In theory, you just have to flash your ID whenever you want a soda and there is no charge. In the Aloha Cafe, a lonely person stands with an improvised beverage cart of sorts. If you ask that person for a can of soda, they will tell you that you can't have a whole can. You will have to come back for another cup of soda when you want it. The reasons given for this ranged from: "Well, you are supposed to only have fountain soda." To "I'll get in trouble if I give you the whole can." I also do not drink coffee but one of the most disgusting things I saw on the ship were scores of dirty cups presented as clean. Early on, diners at the Aloha cafe knew to look into the coffee cups. Some featured lipstick, coffee rings or general food stains. I would say that 100% of the time, I had to pick up at least 3 cups before I found one to be clean. When I explained that there were tons of dirty cups mixed in with the clean ones, I was met with a staff member displaying what can only be described at the John F. Kennedy autopsy stare.
Cabin: We had 3 people sharing a balcony cabin which we found to be in good condition and pretty new and nice. The pullout sofa was very comfortable. There is a room safe that is easy to use and a fridge and coffeemaker in the room. Within the first 5 minutes in our cabin we killed a roach, but never saw another one.
Housekeeping was a bit of a challenge. Despite the fact that we had 3 people in the room, the room attendant would only leave 2 towels. The first day, I just called down and someone came up with some. They apologized and mentioned they would leave a note for the housekeeper so she would leave more towels. That day, I left a tip on the bed along with my laundry. When I returned, the tip was on the dresser and there were still only two towels. Day in and out, I would call down and ask for another towel. When I would see the attendant in the hall, I would explain there are 3 people in the room. She would apologize and then the next day it would happen again. You wouldn't think that something like this would be a big deal, but you'd be surprised how something so simple could become so irritating. One day it took 2 hours to get another towel. On the last day of the seven-day cruise, she again left two towels.
Laundry: You will not be allowed to bring an iron on the ship. The ship does offer laundry and dry-cleaning services. I found this to be very bad. I had to go to the front desk to get a laundry bag and ticket as none was left in my room. I left my laundry on my bed at 8am as directed for express service to be back by 6pm that same night. When it was not back at 8pm, I called housekeeping and they explained it was not done and "hopefully", it would be done by noon the next day. The following day at 6pm, it was still not back. I called and 2 hours later a gentleman came to my room with my laundry unironed but on hangers and apologized. As I placed it in the closet, I noticed it contained items that did not belong to me and were even labeled with a different cabin number on it. During my stay I overheard other guest complaining about lost laundry at the front desk.
Television: My room had access to 15 television channels. Three have broadcast programs, the rest are commercials and reruns of old movies. They are: #21 Ship info, explaining what is on each deck, #22: ship travel info: seas, sunrise and sunset, next port, report from bridge, time, date, etc. # 23 commercials for shore excursions, 24: commercials for cruises, port shops, etc. # 25 a live bow cam showing the bow of the ship, # 26: ESPN, #27: CNN International, # 28: Cable Network TNT, # 29 Favorite Show: reruns of series, #30: Reruns of movies (like Sound of Music, Batman Begins) #32: Activity channel, which rebroadcasts whatever the cruise director staff did last night in the "Hollywood Theatre" on the ship, #33: Safety channel, safety information about the ship, #34: reruns of old movies, #35: Commercials for ship's restaurants.
My Cabin had wired access to high-speed Internet service using a satellite. It was expensive but worth it. $.75 a minute or packages of 100 minutes for $55 or 250 minutes for $100. The ship also has an Internet lounge that offered the same services you can get in your room and is staffed by a friendly, knowledgeable person. There is an extra charge for printing and an even bigger charge to send an email using an email account they set up for you. This $3.95 charge is per email sent.
Sales: I was the least prepared for all the sales activity that I would be subject to while I was on the ship. It is one thing to get a call from a telemarketer. It is another thing to trapped on a ship with a team of them. Every time you exit the ship, you will be herded into a picture. At the ship's restaurants, you will be accosted by a photographer who asks you to stop eating and gather close together so he can photograph you. In Kauai, my Mom was jostled and pushed down the gangway by someone dressed as Uncle Sam who was frantically trying to beat the crowd off the ship so he could assume his position for the photographer. I had to politely tell a person dressed as an American Eagle that I was not interested which I did by saying: "Sorry, I'm in a relationship."
Once your photograph has been taken, it is placed in display cases for your purchase. Ironically, the really bad photos do not get purchased so as the cruise progresses the photo gallery gets filled with more and more hideous photos. It is good for a laugh when you get sick of the 3 TV stations in your room (unless you happened to be in one of the photos I suppose).
There are many shore excursions to choose from and I have to admit I did not do any. I found it just as easy to rent a car and drive wherever we wanted. We could go at our own pace and stay longer or shorter as our interests dictated. We always rented from Avis but I would advise anyone except Avis as sometimes they had a shuttle, sometimes they didn't. I noticed Hertz, Thrifty, and Budget all had much better shuttle service to and from the pier. The Road to Hanna was thrilling; Volcano National Park and Wimea Canyon are must-sees. All of these are nearly free and require only a rental car and a map. If going on the Road to Hana bring food and best to drive a small car. The Blue Hawaiian Helicopter ride in Maui was terrific. We rented a car everywhere except Kona where you will not need one.
Entertainment: I enjoyed playing cards with my family in Shuffles Card room and I enjoyed the "Not So Newlywed Game" which features onboard patrons answering embarrassing questions for token prices. The professional entertainment very mixed. We found the juggler and Chris Alpine (the comedian) to be polished and funny. The America-themed review was the most dreadful thing I have seen in a very long time. Take 4 talented singers and 9 reasonably talented dancers and have them sing a mixture of "America-themed" songs. Despite modern stage facilities, picture recorded music, lip-syncing dancers, lights that don't appear to be focused on anything in particular. Most times the person singing is in the dark. One particularly odd number had a background saying "TIMES SQUARE" and company members in church robes singing about love while a haze machine pumped so much smoke, one wondered if the ship was on fire. What any of those things has to do with one another is anyone's guess. In fact, much of the review is like that. It is so badly conceived and directed, it makes one long to be at a high-school band concert.
The next night, there was a review featuring native dancers from Kauai. This show made the America-themed review look like Broadway. There was nothing redeeming whatsoever. If STOMP can make banging on trashcans entertaining, surely someone can make the rhythmic moves and chats of Hawaii more fun than this!
As I said early in my review of the cruise, my glass is half-full. Whether searching for a clean cup, begging for a towel, enjoying my cup of spaghetti, or running away from the ship photographers, I was determined to keep my sense of humor and enjoy myself.
Spa: My mother and sister enjoyed the La Therapie Hydralift facials at the spa. Each cost $117 plus a $17.55 tip, which was automatically added to the service. They also bought product and came back from the spa like giddy school girls.
>Evaluation: You will be given the opportunity to evaluate the cruise. On Wednesday night, you will get an evaluation form. The cruise director asked that we mark everything "excellent." He asked that guests not let any "one thing" effect their overall evaluation of the cruise. This seems to epitomize the overall service on the cruise. Guests should consider "good enough" to be "excellent." And maybe it is in the cruise line business. I have never been on a cruise before. It's disappointing when essentially a floating hotel can't get the simple things right: Towels, food, and laundry.