This was our fourth cruise experience but our first, and last, on an NCL ship. Our party of 6, all experienced cruisers, were together to celebrate the 25th wedding anniversary of my wife and I. A celebration impacted in many ways by this negative cruise experience. Instead of pleasant memories of good times, good food and great service, we are left with feelings of being short changed.
There is one piece of good news. Hawaii is a beautiful place and whenever we left the ship our experiences were more positive. I only wish there had been more time in each port to explore the natural beauty of Hawaii. I also wish we had done more research before our trip to pick the best excursions and places to tour. Although we saw some beautiful, breathtaking sights, we could have avoided some snoozers. I take full responsibility for this shortcoming of our trip.
A Few Positives & Some Suggestions: For most everyone, getting to and from this cruise involves a very long plane ride. I urge you to get to Honolulu at least one day early and I would recommend staying an extra day after the cruise. We arrived in Honolulu on Thursday afternoon for a Saturday afternoon sail and this was just about right. On the return however, we disembarked at about 9:30 AM on Saturday and our flight did not depart Honolulu until after 10:00 PM that evening. We are from the East Coast of the US so, with time zone changes and flight delays, we did not get home until 10:30 PM Sunday evening.
If you stay in Honolulu before or after the cruise, I strongly recommend the Hilton Hawaiian Village. Most guests with rooms booked through NCL will stay at the Marriott instead. Luckily, our cruise was booked during a time when NCL and Marriott were in a contract dispute so we were put up at the Hilton. This was truly fortunate for us. The Marriott is clearly an inferior property, at least as compared to the Hilton. The Hilton is a HUGE facility sitting directly on the beach and it has every amenity imaginable. If I return to Honolulu for any reason I would stay at the Hilton.
Embarkation and disembarkation were reasonably smooth. We pre-registered at the NCL office located at the Marriott in Honolulu the day after our arrival in Hawaii. We also signed up for most of our shore excursions at this time. I strongly urge anyone going on this cruise to take this step. You can avoid the long lines at the excursion desk onboard and it makes the embarkation process a breeze.
Back to the cruise ship and its positives‚?¶‚?¶.well‚?¶‚?¶there aren't many. I guess that explains why the Cruise Director asked us all to say positive things when completing our cruise evaluation forms. I thought Jesse White in another review you can find on this website put it best; "You will be given the opportunity to evaluate the cruise. 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." ‚?" Perfectly stated Jesse!
Well, I never had the chance to fill in that cruise evaluation form because, each of the 3 cabins in our group were left a "crew" evaluation form (Do you like your job? Is NCL a good company to work for; Do we pay you enough?, etc.). One person in our group even went to the reception desk to ask for a proper evaluation form and they were given one copy. When they asked for three copies to satisfy the needs of the rest of our group they were told, in a terse and derogatory tone, that there were none left. Sorry, I just realized this is supposed to be the "positive" section of my feedback. Let me get back on track.
Of the specialty restaurants, the one with the best food and service is the Lazy J Steakhouse. Our waitress, Tiffany, by far provided the best overall service of anyone on this cruise ship. She was professional yet fun, prompt, efficient and caring, traits severely lacking on this ship. The food at the Lazy J is a 7 on a 10 point scale. Is 7 on a 10 point scale the best this ship had to offer you say? Yes, sad but true.
I give NCL kudos for fully refunding two excursions that were cancelled due to weather. One was for a helicopter tour for two members of our group and the other was for a luau that all 6 of us were scheduled to attend. Both events were cancelled due to rain, which of course NCL had no control over, yet they provided full refunds totaling over $600 just for our small group. Refunds were provided to literally hundreds of guests scheduled for the luau.
The entertainer in the Champagne Bar was phenomenal. I believe his name was WT Greer. He had a voice I could listen to for hours on end. Unfortunately we did not discover him until two days before our cruise ended. If he is still on board when you cruise on this ship; do NOT miss him! The comedian in the Hollywood Theater is rather funny and the Newlywed Not So Newlywed game was a hoot.
We also enjoyed a couple's massage in the spa which is a very nicely appointed facility. This 50 minute massage was a pricey though at over $300 with the included tips. Sorry to say that my second visit to the spa was not so pleasant. We returned one afternoon to inquire about getting a broken nail fixed for my sister-in-law and to ask about getting pedicures for my wife and I. We were told, in a terse and condescending tone, that the spa was booked for the rest of the day and there was a clear inference that a broken nail was the least of their worries. Based on the tone of the person behind the desk we simply left without scheduling our pedicure and no one in our group ever returned to the spa for the rest of our cruise.
I give the on-board photographers an "A" for effort and a "C" for results. Of the two dozen or more shots we had taken during the week, the only photos we fell in love with were shots taken with a flag in the backdrop (the Pride of America logo), which took away from the photo.
The remaining positives about this cruise really have nothing to do with NCL; we'll credit the good Lord. The views of the Na Pali coast are to die for. It is difficult to describe this breathtaking experience as you cruise slowly and closely along this expansive and dramatic coastline. During this portion of the cruise we also saw literally dozens of whales playfully meandering around the ship. I even got to experience a full breech. What an awesome sight! There was one thing that took away from this experience though. While the 2,000 guests were enjoying the magical view and the whales passing ever so closely, you could hear a pin drop. That is, until several crew members decided they wanted to play basketball in the open court on deck 14. Couldn't they have picked a different time?
The nighttime cruise past the glowing red lava of the Mount Kilauea Volcano was also a sight I will never forget. Hearing the sounds of steam being created as the lava hit the waters of the coastline was simply awesome.
Excursions: We had four excursions planned including the luau that was cancelled due to rain as I mentioned earlier. I only wish we had done more excursions or ventured out on our own in rental cars as there is so much natural beauty to experience in Hawaii and I was left with the feeling that, although we experienced some beautiful sights, much was left to see.
My strongest recommendation for an excursion is the Valley Waterfall Hiking Adventure in Kona. This is a MUST DO! You will experience sights and remote beauty unseen by even many of the locals. Do not let the word "hike" scare you away. It is basically a flat ground walk with only gentle slopes easily walked by people of most abilities. Only if you have a raw fear of heights should you avoid this excursion. Colleen was our tour guide and she was caring, truly knowledgeable of the island, its history and all the vegetation. This tour operation as a whole was extremely professional. They had every detail covered including sufficient bathroom stops (sometimes porta-potties but clean ones), walking sticks, fanny packs, ponchos in case of rain, bug spray if needed, plenty of bottled water and a fresh and tasty boxed lunch. Every detail was covered including offering wet wipes to remove any bug spray from your hands so would not ingest any or get any in your eyes. All of this was included in the price. WOW!
I also recommend the Maui Downhill Bike excursion on Mount Haleakala. We did the 22 mile midday tour. There is also a 38 mile morning sunrise tour that I was told on a clear day is an incredible trip. Now, 22 and 38 miles may sound like a looonnngggg bike ride but, these bikes are very comfortable and you are simply sitting and coasting down the mountain. On our ride there was only one spot about ¬ľ mile long that required some easy pedaling. The rest of the trip was simply coasting. Driving up the mountain in our transport van we experienced some incredible views. Unfortunately, during the rainy season in Hawaii, the weather can change at a moments notice. When we reached the mountain top there was a light snow on the ground ‚?" yes, I said snow. It began to rain as we suited up and it rained for our entire ride. In fact, it even hailed for a time. The tour operator I would rate as a C minus. Their base camp operation was run down and tacky, the rain gear was old and less than effective and they provided nothing other than the van ride, bike, guide and rain gear. It is a long day and they do not provide water or lunch. Regardless, I highly recommend this tour but watch the weather closely. Also, there are several operators doing very similar downhill bicycle tours. I suggest you check out some of the others not tied to NCL.
Our last excursion was the Waimea Canyon, Wailua River and Fern Grotto trip. This trip is mostly a boring, long, long; did I say long (?), bus ride. The 3 major stops were a must see but, rent a car and do these stops on your own and you will be much better off. This tour lasted nearly 9 hours and cost the 6 of us $500+ in total. We could have accomplished the same trip in 4 hours with a rental car at a total cost of approximately $200.The Negatives:
Let me highlight some of the negatives.
- None of our documents such as cruise tickets, hotel reservations and flight reservations arrived until a week before our trip. We booked this trip at least 6 months in advance so the late arrival of these documents did not make any sense. These should arrive at least two weeks in advance if not 30 days.
- The process at the Honolulu airport was unclear. I am a very experienced traveler having done business travel for 30 years and yet I found the process confusing and harried.
- The toilet in our cabin was dirty on arrival; and I mean dirty.
- Cleaning supplies had been left in our bathroom on arrival.
- Shoes from the prior guest had been left under the bed and were not found by the cabin steward. This happened in two of the three cabins our group was occupying.
- The carpets in all of our cabins were dirty and looked as though they had not been fully vacuumed to the corners in weeks. This may be why shoes left behind were not found.
- One party in our group needed to ask for towels on more than one occasion. One of our cabins asked about getting face cloths as none had been left ‚?" they never arrived.
- One cabin in our party was left without toilet paper.
- Each cabin is outfitted with coffee and creamer. I am a coffee lover. The problem is that the coffee maker was missing from our cabin. I pointed this out to our cabin steward on the second morning of our trip. A week later ‚?" still no coffee maker.
- In all of my prior cruise experiences I had been in awe at the efficiency of the cabin stewards. It always seemed as though my room was cleaned or picked up every time I left the cabin, even if only for an hour. Not so, on this cruise line. One cabin in our group actually went two days without being cleaned. We would return from day long excursions to find that at 3:00 pm our cabin was still not made up. In fact, one day someone in our group returned at 4:00 pm and their cabin was not clean so they asked the cabin steward to get it done so they could prepare themselves for dinner. The cabin steward said that it would need to wait as she was going on break and would not return until 6:30 pm. That would NEVER happen on other cruise lines.
- We had laundry done and all of the clothes were returned with a stiff starchy feeling. This was not dry cleaning, it was laundry.
- My wife needed a zipper replaced on a nice pair of slacks that were part of a suit. We were pleased to learn that they had a tailor on board ‚?" great! The next morning the laundry room called to say they could not replace the zipper. I was ok with that as I understand that their supplies and capabilities were probably limited. The issue was when it took two requests to our cabin steward and a trip to the reception desk, and I will admit to not being pleasant about it, in order to get the slacks back. All in all, a three day process. And, when they were returned they were rolled up in a laundry bag. Speaking of laundry bags, there were none in our cabin. I requested that our cabin steward provide some, to no avail. I ended up going to the supply closet later that day to get some myself.
- Each cabin has a $4.50 bottle of Evian water and a bottle of Pellegrino. They are tagged with a note indicating the price and suggesting that if you use up the supply to simply fill out a slip to request more. On day three of our trip we used up the water bottle. I was never left a slip to ask for more nor did I ever get anymore.
- Each cabin is outfitted with a nicely designed welcome sign that can be rotated to indicate do not disturb, to request turn down service or to request that the cabin be made up. Don't bother using these signs as they are completely disregarded by your cabin steward. They clean cabins in sequence and only in sequence.
- The very first person I spoke with upon embarking could not answer any, none, nada of my questions. Now, if I was managing this ship and I assigned four or five greeters to work in the gangway during embarkation, I would be certain they were some of the most knowledgeable crew onboard. Not so, this person told me he had been here only one month! Why was he a greeter?
- Smoking is acceptable, or at least condoned, in several public areas on this ship. For example, every public restroom has ash trays in the stalls.
- Ahh...the Aloha Cafe. It could best be described as the worst possible hospital food served buffet style. My food quality expectations whenever I go to a buffet are not very high. This buffet could not even come close to my lowest expectations. For example, the eggs are simply not palatable. If you had time you could wait in line and have eggs prepared for you but there was always a line. Each and every day the bacon was like wood paneling. The coffee was terrible and fully half of the latte machines were broken and stayed that way all week. Finding a spoon to stir your coffee was always difficult. They would only put out about 100 spoons at a time and with over 2,000 people feeding themselves every morning they always seemed to be out of spoons. The coffee cups are disgusting. At least every other cup one touched was coffee stained. They saved money by buying plastic coffee cups and the dishwashers will simply not remove the stains. There were never any utensils at the fruit bar. You could pick up a plate and some nicely done fresh fruit but needed to go elsewhere to get utensils. Fruit, salads and desserts were the only edible foods in the Aloha Caf√©. Forget trying any of the hot foods.
- If you must use the Aloha Cafe, I urge you to use the area at the aft of the ship. It is outdoors and offers some pleasant seating. The outside buffet is not as crowded and has all the offerings as the inside cafe.
- To avoid the hospital quality buffet in the Aloha Cafe we took to having breakfast and lunch in the Skyline restaurant. The problem was this. Breakfast took from 1-2 hours and lunch was always well over an hour. In fact, on the last day of our cruise breakfast took over 2 ¬Ĺ hours. That is simply unacceptable.
- Jefferson's Bistro; sounds upscale doesn't it? This is where we celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary dinner and a sad evening it was as we were expecting a fine dining experience. It was not to be. Our evening began with an assistant to the Maitre d' ignoring our arrival and simply looking down at the computer screen of table assignments. He eventually walked away without ever acknowledging our presence. When the Maitre d' arrived sometime later she ignored us and carried on a conversation with a waiter. Whatever he whispered to her was upsetting and she huffed and sighed loudly while looking at the group seated at one of the tables. She eventually acknowledged our presence in a "you're bothering me" tone. When making our reservation we were told that the ONLY available table for six was 6:00 pm, much earlier than we wanted to eat, yet, more than 50% of the restaurant remained empty throughout our 3.5 hour dining ordeal.
Next we met our waiter. I would describe him as arrogant, ornery and condescending. He was frustrated with every question we asked during the ordering process. I could write several paragraphs about this one part of our dining experience however, two events say it all. First, the chef's special that evening was a petite filet mignon and lobster tail (at a $15/person additional surcharge by the way). We asked if the lobster was Maine lobster or something else. He said he didn't know and seemed rather irritated by the question. He stood there looking at us so we asked if he could find out the origin of the lobster. His response, again in an irritated tone was, "Why, does it make a difference". When we indicated that it did in fact make a difference he proceeded to tell us it was "probably from Indonesia". Again he stood there. We then asked him directly to ask the kitchen. He left in a huff. He returned a few minutes later and announced to the table that it was in fact Maine lobster. Great, five of the six in our party ordered the filet and lobster tail special.
When our entree's arrived it was clear that the lobster was not from Maine. You see, we are all from New Hampshire and we are very familiar with the appearance, taste and texture of Maine lobster and, yes, it does make a difference. So, basically the waiter lied to us to appease the group. There was another issue with this waiter that we were so upset by that we nearly walked out in the middle of the meal. We had entered the restaurant with our drinks from the adjacent John Adams bar. This is an accepted practice when cruising. One member of our party was not consuming alcohol that evening so he had a glass of Coke with him as well as the remainder from the can when we arrived. When he ordered another Coke the waiter said "I suppose you want that in a can". He said this in the most condescending tone you could imagine. All of us were both insulted and embarrassed.
- One evening we had a 5:00 pm reservation in the East Meets West restaurant, specifically in the Teppanyaki room. This was again the "only available" seating. Well, the restaurant did not open until 5:10 pm. By now even simple things like a restaurant opening late irritated me. And, as was so often the case on this cruise, only about 50% of the seats in the restaurant were used during our dinner. Why is it we can only get a five o'clock reservation but seats go unfilled all evening? This seemed to happen in every specialty restaurant. I will give credit to our Teppanyaki chef. He was funny, flexible and he made the meal enjoyable. These Teppanyaki tables are designed to seat 10 per table. The staff put eight Japanese speaking guests at one table, our English speaking party of six at another table and they seated a young couple with us that was also Japanese speaking. In fact, they knew hardly any English. If the restaurant had customer service in mind, they would have seated those of similar language together. After all, there were only 16 of us in the entire Teppanyaki room and the issue was very obvious.
- One night in the Liberty Restaurant, one of the more nicely appointed facilities on this ship, our waitress had a few concerns. She told us how she hated her work, how she had this job only as a way of trying to become one of the entertainers, how she was jealous of the high pay and treatment of the entertainers and how tired she was of working so hard. Now there's good customer service for you. And, it gets better. We asked about the specific preparation of the Osso Bucco veal shank. The waitress proceeded to tell us, in complete disgust, how veal was actually baby lamb. Oh my!
- "Free"style dinning simply means you fight for a reservation at some time other than when you want to eat and you pay more. Did you know that the $10-15/person cover charge is just the beginning? Most of these theme restaurants also charge you even more for their better entrees? Supposedly you can dial extension 50 to make dinner reservations. Most times this was a waste as no one would answer the phone. This left you walking from restaurant to restaurant trying to find a reservation that worked for your party.
- Let's talk about sewage. This ship either has a design flaw or a system malfunction which causes strong smells of raw sewage to be prevalent at different times and at different locations around the ship. You can be standing on deck 11 aft and suddenly you are met with strong sewage smells. Later you might be on the walking area of deck 6 about midship and the same smell is pervasive. Whenever you tender to shore, the sewage smells in the area of the gangway are particularly strong. The worst was one evening when I was returning to my cabin on deck 4. That evening the sewage smell had permeated the entire cabin area in the ships aft to midship. It was strong enough to make one sick to their stomach.
- Pool deck; too small for this sized ship. I'm guessing that a maximum of 50 guests could sit in the sun at pool level. That is a pretty small percentage of the 2,000 people on board. I recommend that you go to the small pool at the back of the ship. It was quiet and the bar service was better. Fumes from the engines were a negative back here though.
- The John Adams Bar is conveniently located at midship near the main gangway doors. This was a convenient meeting location for our group prior to any events or meals. Sadly though, this bar had the worst customer service of any on the ship. It was nearly impossible to get served if you sat anywhere but at the bar. The waitress was always off roaming the ship and didn't seem to care that people were waiting to be served. Further, with only one bartender, whenever the waitress did wait on tables she became frustrated because the bartender would always wait on bar patron after bar patron before addressing her order needs. Several times during the week she would need to go behind the bar to make her own drinks. Now that is team work for you!
- The staff at the reception desk was generally pleasant (not always as noted above) but they lacked knowledge of many things relative to the ship and they lacked a "can do" attitude. Excuses as opposed to solutions seemed to be the norm. As an example, we needed to check on a possible change to our airport transfers. The reception desk acted as though this was the first time they had ever heard such a question. They eventually gave us an extension number onboard ship of someone who could help us. We called that number, several times, and the phone was never answered. Having gone back to reception, we were given a number to call in Miami. Making that call was a waste of time. They were completely uncaring and unhelpful. Maybe the Miami office at NCL needs customer sensitivity training also.
- STOP..STOP.. the forced or automatic tipping. This degrades customer service at all levels. I believe it is one of the greatest mistakes cruise lines are making today. Forced tipping is an industry wide trend and is not NCL's problem alone. I do propose however, that NCL could dramatically improve its customer service very rapidly if they were to reinstitute the recommended tipping versus forced tipping program. Poor service performers would quickly be weeded out through attrition.
- The design of the Hollywood Theater is simply bad. One must remember that the Pride of America is a smaller ship and as such there are many design constraints. One area where design was comprised is in the theater. The elevation change from one row to the next is insufficient to stop the person in the row in front of you from blocking your view. Other than the first few rows, all the seats shared this problem. I've already bloviated extensively in this review and rest assured I could go on and on, in particular with the negatives. Simply put, most every customer service experience onboard the ship was poor. Only about 20% or less of the crew was caring and professional. It was hard to even get acknowledged when passing a crew member in the hallway ‚?" something you would never find on other cruise lines. Most crew members never smiled. I am going to step out on a ledge a little and give my opinion of what is going on with this ship as compared to other cruise lines. What I am about to say may not be politically correct, but it deserves to be said.
This is one of the few ships sailing from US ports that has a primarily American crew. Sadly, that fact is a real negative for this ship. Crews on ships have a demanding job working seven days a week for weeks and months on end. Most Americans are simply not accustomed to this schedule and many of the crew seemed to resent their treatment or found the routine too difficult. Generally speaking, foreign crew members on other ships are glad to be there, they appreciate their jobs. That was not true of the crew on the Pride of America. In a mere seven days, I was directly told by three different crew members that they hated their jobs. In a fourth case I overheard two crew members going on and on about their hatred for their work and NCL. I also experienced a supervisor disciplining a bus boy for not cleaning up some dishes brought into the Aloha Caf√© by the poolside bar. This was essentially a "turf" debate about who should clean up after whom. This discussion took place in public. When it was over, the supervisor left and the bus boy sputtered loudly enough for all to hear about how he felt while clearing away the dishes from the poolside bar. Every member of our six person party on multiple occasions during the week heard crew members complaining about their jobs. Just what I am looking for when I vacation!
How much of these crew quality issues are the direct fault of NCL due to poor hiring and training and or poor working conditions is not clear to me. I propose, however, that a clean sweep of 80% of this crew must be accomplished and strong consideration should be given to the source of new hires.
Overall Summary: This could be such a wonderful cruise as the ports of call are exceptionally beautiful. But, NCL's poor crew selection and training and the overall lack of customer service as well as the "freestyle" experience ruin an otherwise incredible cruise. Unless a high quality cruise line comes to Hawaii, I strongly urge all comers to avoid NCL and island hop via airplane instead.