My family and I recently returned from our cruise on the Pride of America. I traveled with my wife and two children ages 13 and 10. We also went with our neighbors who have two kids of the same age (cool how that works out). I urge you to ignore the negative reviews you may have seen in researching the NCL option. First of all you're going to Hawaii. Second, the cruise option is by far the best way to see the islands. Third, NCL, and the Pride of America, is the only option if you want to sail out of Hawaii.
Our group began planning this vacation well over a year in advance as it was a celebration of our 20th anniversary (yep is was our neighbors' 20th also, weird huh?) We read all the reviews and began to get nervous. Albeit, some were over the top, like the lady who complained the butter was not positioned correctly at the buffet (do you really take butter that seriously?) However, we did notice a common thread concerning terrible food, a discourteous staff, and a poorly maintained ship. So, we reluctantly booked the Pride of America, kept telling ourselves we are going to Hawaii, and set our expectations low. Across our group we had taken 8 cruises on Carnival, Princess and Celebrity, so we had an idea as to what to expect from a cruise.
Let me tell you, the NCL Pride of America does not deserve the bad press it has received. The ship is great (especially if you appreciate an American theme) and the crew is awesome. Patrick, from Indiana (sorry don't remember his last name), is a waiter in the Liberty Dinning room and he was phenomenal -- all the kids loved him. If you happen to run across Patrick be sure and ask him to sing the free credit report.com song -- he won't disappoint. Having an American crew is a plus, not a negative. My theory on the bad reviews written concerning the crew stems from the old adage, treat others the way you want to be treated (the Golden Rule baby). If you are friendly and courteous to them, they will return it to you ten-fold. On the other hand, if you choose to be discourteous and rude, you get what you deserve.
I won't go as far as to say the food was great. The food at the Liberty Dinning Room was actually sub-par in my opinion, but Patrick made it fun when we ate there. Most of the time we ate at the buffet, and it was great, especially for breakfast. Since we spent most of our time exploring the Islands, it was nice to return to the ship at our leisure and drop into the buffet to get some great food without the wait. We did not eat at any of the specialty restaurants, but I only heard positive comments from other shipmates who had eaten there. I would have liked to have tried the Lazy J, but the one night we decided to give it a shot it was full. We did try the Cadillac Diner and that was a good experience. I just could not understand why they would charge for a milkshake? Very confusing since you can get their brownie ice cream desert (and you should) for no additional charge.
As for the cabins, definitely spring for the balcony. Not only for the view, but also the added space (you will need it if you are traveling with two kids). The cabins are small, but we just needed a place to sleep and clean up. In this area the cabins did not disappoint. The beds are surprisingly comfortable and better than on any other ship I have been on.
The one demerit the Pride of America rightly deserves is the lack of a laundry facility. This was a disappointment since we packed light (especially with the airline restrictions) knowing that other ships we had been on offered a place to do laundry. Don't be fooled, there is no laundry on the Pride of America.
Finally, I must commend NCL on the tremendously efficient embarking and dis-embarking experience. This is the one area of consistently good reviews you will find on NCL, and it is well deserved. Getting on and off the ship was by far the most enjoyable and smoothest process I have ever experienced on any cruise ship (way to go American crew!!!)
So go ahead, book your cruise on Pride of America, go to Hawaii with the right attitude (you're in Hawaii after all), don't be a cruise snob (you know who you are, butter lady), and enjoy a wonderful ship, with a wonderful crew -- have fun and appreciate everything Hawaii has to offer.
If you are not going there to have fun, then stay home, save your money, harass your own family, and position your butter wherever you see fit.