My wife and I sailed on the Norwegian Pride of America. This was our third cruise experience having previously sailed on Carnival and Princess. We choose Norwegian because they were the only cruise line that did a 7 day tour of Hawaii. We wanted to see as many islands as possible. Going on what we had heard and read, we anticipated the cruise experience was going to be inferior to our previous cruise. We decided to make Hawaii the priority and not the cruise. For the most part the cruise was inferior, but there were some surprises. First, we found the entire staff of Pride of America to the equal of the other cruises. They were courteous and all spoke fluent English. The guides on our excursions were extremely knowledgeable and very personable. Excursion tickets had information on pertaining to what we would need to bring for the excursion which was very helpful. The buffet meal presented at breakfast, lunch, and dinner was the most extensive I have ever seen on a cruise ship. Also, we appreciated the fact that NCL did not push alcoholic drinks as much as the other cruises that we were on.
Now for the negatives. NCL promotes itself with "Freestyle Cruising." They offer no more freedom to passengers than any other cruise line. For example, NCL enforces a dress code in their dining rooms. Pride of America allowed embarkment at noon. We got on the ship about 1:00. However, upon entering the ship we attempted to go our stateroom. We were told rooms would not be ready until 2:30. This meant we had to mill around the ship with our carry-ons for about an hour and a half. Fortunately, the lunch buffet was open.
Our biggest disappointment was the food. As I stated previously the buffet was very good. However, we do not go on cruises to eat buffets at every meal. We like fine dining and the cruise ship pampering that goes with it. POA claims 14 dining rooms. 4 of the dining choices are basically burgers and hot dog places, 7 are restaurants with a cover charge, 1 is the buffet, and the last 2 are the fine dining restaurants with no cover that we like. These two are the Liberty and Skyline. Both have the same menu but the Liberty does not allow shorts, jeans, or sneakers. This last fact we had to figure out on our own. We were disappointed in the menu selections in these two restaurants. The food appeared to prepared way ahead of time and often was not hot. The salads were especially bad. The wait staff was good in both the restaurants. We ate at two of the cover charge restaurant. The first was Jefferson's Bistro, a French themed restaurant. The cover charge was $20 per person. A section of the menu included extra good items like lobster for an additional $10. We went for the lobster so the meal cost us $60. The meal and staff were excellent. We also at an American themed restaurant, Lazy J Steak House. Their cover charge was $25 and they also had the $10 extra stuff. Once again we got it all for a total bill of $70. Once again the meal and staff was excellent. I forgot to mention that we had no drinks or the meal would have been more. We would have loved to try a lunch in the Liberty or Skyline but it wasn't offered, leaving the buffet as the best option.
NCL did not give us any shipboard credit. They gave us a coupon book with coupons that were of no value to us. Also, my wife would have liked to attend a couple of aerobics classes but none were offered. The evening entertainment in the theater was okay but nothing real memorable. The comic magician was pretty good as were the Polynesian dancers. The singers were okay and the comedian wasn't very funny.
Considering that the POA is in port every day getting off the ship is a big part of this cruise. We like to book excursions ahead of time with NCL so we can get what we want. If we went again we would consider doing more of our own thing like renting a car. I thought the excursions were pretty pricey but they were mostly all day affairs and we went with ones that provided lunch because food is very expensive in Hawaii. One thing that I didn't like was that tax was added on our bill for the excursions. This further inflated the price. Following is a rundown of the ship's itinerary and what we did:
Day 1 (Maui ): Maui seems to be the most laid back of the 4 islands that we visited. We went on an excursion called, "Hana Picnic." We traveled in a limo van with a total of seven people. We traveled the famous Hana Road. It was by far the most winding and interesting road that we have ever been on. Our guide, Gary, was just a wealth of knowledge about Hawaiian history, culture, and vegetation. We made numerous stops and a very nice lunch was provided on a black sand beach. We visited a pineapple field, flower shop, local vendors, and many other neat places selling crafts and tasty treats. It lasted about 9 hours but it was a great day.
Day 2 (Maui): Today went on the "Rainforest Hike and Waterfalls." We went to a rainforest and hiked to several waterfalls where we were allowed to swim. Our guide, Ray, was also very knowledgeable. He provided backpacks, water shoes, bug spray, water, and a lunch which we had to carry. We thought that there would be more hiking and we expected to see some crystal clear water pools which we did not. It was very crowded in the rainforest with many tours being conducted. The trip lasted about 5 hours. If we had it to do over, we would have passed on this excursion and rented a car to sightsee on our own.
Day 3 (Hilo on the Big Island): The Big Island was interesting on the Hilo side. We went on the "Gourmet Volcano Adventure." This turned out to be a great day. I accomplished one of my goals of seeing an active volcano. We went to Mt. Kilauea the most active volcano in the world. We got to stand in steam vents and see dried lava fields. My wife loved the rest of our day which included coffee tasting at a coffee plantation; wine tasting at the volcano winery; and candy tasting at Big Island Candy. Our guide, Haley, was great--a very engaging and knowledgeable girl. She took us took to a secluded park with old growth Eucalyptus trees with a pleasant Eucalyptus smell in the air. She fed us lunch made of all Big Island specialties. The excursion lasted about 7 hours and was the best excursion of the week. That night the ship passed the lava flow that meets the ocean. It was quite a sight and we are glad we got to see it.
Day 4 (Kona on the Big Island): We moved to the western side of the Big Island. We figured we needed a day at the beach so we went on the Kona Beach Blast excursion. It was a 45 minute bus ride which we weren't expecting. There were some really neat dried lava fields on the way. Our fee included use of snorkeling equipment, kayaks, water bikes, and a glass bottom boat ride. We thought it was a little expensive for what we got but it was a fun day.
Day 5 (Kauai): We spend much of the day shopping in Kauai. Free shuttles were available to transport us. About 4:30 we left for the Luau Kauai. In the evening went to a luau. It turned out to be the worst excursion by far. The luau was for POA passengers only and it seemed like most of the ship was at it. It was packed. It included the luau meal with a live stage performance depicted the settling of Hawaii. The meal was lousy and we had the worst seats in the house for the show. I could only see the tops of the heads of the performance and my wife couldn't see anything. All this for $103 per person. I complained when we got back to the ship. I was asked to put it in writing for the excursion manager. The next day I got a letter telling me that I could have had better seats if I had paid more. There was a slip of paper in my excursion ticket packet telling us that. I never saw this slip of paper neither did other passengers that I spoke to about it. I called NCL when I got home and the also asked me to submit my complaint in writing. So far I received a letter telling me that they would look into the matter. To date, I have not heard from NCL again. I do not recommend this excursion.
Day 6: (Kauai): We decided to just go to the beach because the ship left port at 2:00. We rode the free trolley and had a great day on the nicest beach we had seen in Hawaii. All beaches in Hawaii by law are open to the public which is nice. We did rent two beach chairs and an umbrella which was worth it. About 5:00 the ship slowed at the Napoli coast which is one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world. It was really neat to see.
Day 7 (Honolulu): This was disembarkment day. Our flight didn't leave until 6:00 so we went on the Pearl Harbor/Missouri excursion. Our bus driver was kind of goofy but it was an interesting day especially for an American history buff like me. The excursion was a little long at 7 hours. After seeing the Arizona and Missouri we had a drive through Honolulu and saw the Punchbowl monument to the fallen soldiers. It was a good last day.
In closing, I would say that we accomplished our goal of seeing as much of Hawaii in one week as possible. If we had it to do over again, I know we would do the same thing. That said, those who book this cruise should expect a substandard cruise experience. If you are looking for the typical cruising experience this is not for you. However, what you will get is seeing one of the truly unique places in our country and the world. The Hawaiian people were very gracious hosts and they have a great respect for the beauty and splendor of their island paradise. The laid back attitude and pace of the people is really refreshing for those of us from the east coast. The real upside to this cruise vacation is being able to see 4 of the 5 main Hawaiian Islands (no non-Hawaiian are allowed on the 5th island), and not have to worry about motel accommodations or high priced Hawaiian meals. For those with a goal similar to us, I recommend this cruise. That said, I am certain this will be our last cruise on Norweigan.