About us: semi-retired professionals, not too fussy, 39th cruise, 13th on NCL, and second on PoA. Cruised with two other couples, all seasoned travellers.
Our cabins were extended balconies, deck 11 forward. Our cabin ws 11526
We arrived three days early to adjust to time and see the sights on Oahu. If you plan on doing a tour of the Missouri at Pearl Harbor, arrive early. They only sell a limited number of tickets and there is no reservation system - first come, first serve. We arrived at 8:30 and got tickets for the 10:30 tour.
We booked a car through Thrifty on all islands except Kona, and had first rate service and vehicles. Be sure to become a Blue Chip member before leaving home and you will go to a special line. We never had a single person in front of us and the rental processing took about three minutes. You will also get a second driver free. It is usally a $12 fee. This does not apply on Kaui, but when I complained because this had not been in my rental agreement, they took it off. In HNL they will shuttle you from the airport rental office to the pier. the bus runs continuously. Be sure when you rent the car that you pay very close attention to where the office is, because the map in the brochure they give you is wrong and it is not near any of the other return sites. Gas was about $4.59/gal
We stayed at the Aqua Palms and it was okay. Very convenient to Waikiki but noisy, with difficult parking and an overworked desk staff. It got great reviews on Trip Advisor but did not live up to the rave reviews. For $99 a night with a beach view and IHOP breakfast included, it was a good deal, but not the great boutique hotel represented in the reviews.
Boarding: Arrived at the pier at 12:15 and there was quite a crowd but it moved quickly. We had two carry-ons, which the airlines allow and PoA allowed last time, but they decided one of them was too big and had to be checked. Unfortunately they did not tell me that until I got to the security check point and had to go back to the opposite end of the terminal to drop off my bag then come back and get in line again. Fortunately, we were VIP so the line was short. Security was similar to airport checks. We were then greeted with a lei (flowers for girls, shells for the guys) and photos taken. Checkin was quick and our total time from drop off to onboard was about 20 minutes. Rooms were not ready until 2:00. There was a bag drop at East Meets West restaurant, which is in the main lobby near the boarding area. Unlike our past NCL cruises, the dining room was not open, only the buffet. This was a disappointment since we always like to begin the cruise with a leisurely meal rather than the craziness of the buffet.
Cabin: nicely appointed with hair dryer, refrigerator, safe, and coffee maker. There is shampoo and shower gel in dispensers in the bathroom. The shower curtain is of the non-cling variety. The extended balcony has two side chairs, a tiny end table and two chaise loungers. Our steward had not conquered the art of putting beds together properly. He had put the gap guard between the beds, but had not put down the overlay on each side so there was a 4" ridge down the center of the bed. We asked several times to have it corrected but he never did. Likewise, there were no robes in our cabin and he said I'd have to call the front desk to get them (unusual since they are standard in balconies, and our friends had them in theirs) It took three days to finally get robes. The room was cleaned daily before noon but evening turndown some evenings did not happen til 9:00 pm. Ice was placed in the room during morning service which meant when we returned to the room in mid to late afternoon, most of it was melted. No ice was distributed at turn down. To get ice it was necessary to either go to the bar or call room service. None of these were horrific events (well, maybe the bed) but it was certainly a deviation from the service we have come to expect on NCL , Dining: I realize this is very subjective. We ate dinner 4 nights in Skyline (main dining room with more casual dress) 1 night in Liberty (main dining room with less casual dress) and 2 nights at buffet. The menus in both MDRs are the same. There is a nightly menu as well as an "anytime" menu. While there was always something I could find, I did find the new menus less exciting than in the past. The chef's special most nights was fish and always well done. The desert menus were pretty uninspired. Chilled soups were completely absent with the exception of gazpacho one night. This was a true disappointment. The food was well prepared and the presentation pleasing.
Service in the dining room was the worst we've had on any of our 39 cruises. Service was painfully slow. The average time between starter and entree was 20 minutes. Dittos for desert, which one night was 30 minutes and another night never came (our server, when questioned said she'd forgotten!) Coffee was usually not served til desert was almost done and one night they could not bring us coffee because they did not have any cups! There was no oversight of the table (refilling of wine glasses, water) and no notice of things like one person at our table of six not getting his entre. There did not seem to be an assistant waiter most nights, just the waiter who seemed very stressed and overextended.
There was entertainment most nights in the Skyline, which was always a pianist who played wonderful dinner music and he was occasionally joined by a vocalist or two. Very nice. However, the tables which bordered the stage area were always occupied by staff members. On occasion the wait staff spent a fair amount of time visiting with fellow staff members, ignoring the patrons. I had to get up and tap our waiter on the shoulder to ask for our water and tea refills after we had waited patiently for some time.
It is possible to make a reservation at the MDRs. We are early diners and usually arrived at the dining room at 6:00. and had little or no wait time. One evening it was 20 minutes, even though we let them know we were gold latitudes (the hostess haughtily told me she didn't care what level we were, there were others ahead of us). Wow. I can understand if the ship's policy does not favor repeaters but I was quite astounded by her lack of tact.
The staff was friendly enough, but we never had a waiter who had been onboard the Pride more than a few months. One told us the xact number of days he had been onboard and the exact number until he could leave. kind of had the impression these young people had signed on thinking this job would be a lot more fun and a lot less demanding. They would have made great camp counsellors- nice but more prepared for play than work.
The two evenings when we dined at the buffet, it was actually because we had all found the dining rooms the prior evening to be exhausting. Surprisingly, the evening buffets were some of our best meals-they even had my beloved chilled soups. A large variety of foods and attentive staff. The breakfast buffet had a very good variety of offerings and the coffee cart attendents were always entertaining. Very friendly and funny.
There is an aft buffet which has a scaled down sampling of the main buffet, but its hours are different. There is also a grill with burgers, hot dogs and all the extras.
Favorite spots: The Waikiki bar on the aft is a nice, open and quiet area. There is a small pool there with padded loungers, so it became our favorite place to relax. Pinks Lounge has a paino player most of the evening and it became a favorite spot as well.
The internet cafe is small, but adequate. The library and card rooms are larger than on many ships and quite inviting.
There is a chapel and Sabbath services were held there Friday evening. It was used for several meetings, but no renewal of marriage vows was listed as on some ships.
The saloon, which is adjacent to the buffet and provides overflow dining area, has sporting events on the TVs there (these were channels not available in the cabin) and had nightly popcorn.
Latitudes: There was a lovely and helpful representative onboard. The main latitudes party was one afternoon from 5:00 - 6:00. The captain, who is quite a chatty guy, gave a wonderful history lesson on Hawaii, and drawings were held for door prizes. I did note that the spa did not contribute anything this time. The Wave, the show band, played very nice dance music and waiters circled with free maitais, and wine. Other drinks were available by request.
A VIP party was held but since it was at 7:00 pm, we were at dinner and did not attend.
Ports: The ports are the main reason for this cruise, of course, and it was a treat to overnight in Maui and Kuai. Disembarking began about 8:00 each day and went well. The ports are all in somewhat industrial areas so there are no grand shopping and dining areas at the dock like in the Caribbean.
Each port had circling shuttles for all the rental companies. Note: we did not disembark in Kona, and I understand this was not the case there There were also vans to WalMart and/or KMart as well as city shuttles and Hilo Hatties. In the terminal buildings were racks of literature and we found the tall skinny guides for each island to have good information, coupons and good maps.
Speaking of maps - get a real set of maps before you go, if you intend to drive. The rental car and guide books maps are not especially accurate and we lost some time because the maps were not quite right.
Maui - our special trip was up to the lavender farm. It is an easy drive and a beautiful place. They serve lunch but it must be reserved in advance. Google "maui lavender" and you will find their website. So calm and beautiful - you can see both sides of the island from the porch while sipping lavender tea and sampling scones.
Hilo - I think the VNP is a must see. Currently you cannot completely circle the caldron because of road work, but well worth the visit. There is a wonderful series of videos at the museum at the caldron. After the VNP, we headed to Akaka Falls. Beautiful and not a difficult walk - but not for the mobility challenged and no handicap accessility at all. Between the two areas, be sure to watch for the "scenic road" sign and take it. A gorgeous road with majestic overviews of the ocean and near the end a terrific food and smoothie stop. What's Shakin' is such a treat for lunch or a snack. The macadamia nut pie (little snack size) are heavenly.
Kaui - we drove to the end of the island and it was an especially windy day so the waves were spectacular. There were two delightful little churches we stopped at and had lunch at a shrimp truck across from a flea market. We spent the afternoon at the beach on the south shore. The second day we did a helicopter tour with Blue Hawaiian and it was the perfect end to our trip. Be advised that you cannot wear white clothing in the helicopter and can only take a bottle of water and your camera without the case. They provide you with a locked bag for your things at the office. The pick up point is at the Harbor Mall. If you book through the ship they pick you up at the pier, but if you book on your own you can take the trolley looking shuttle - or walk, it's only about three blocks.
Spa: The prices are much higher than the deluxe spas near my home, but we did use the spa as our Kona day excursion. The treatment was well done and facilities nice. The restroom in the spa area has a free sauna and steam room. They are small but fine. If you find the cabin showers confining you may want to shower in the spa where they are larger and there is also a very large handicapped shower.
Entertainment: The production shows were only in their second week. Brand new and very nice. The magician was good and comedian was pretty good. Second City was very entertaining. The music in the bars and poolside was the best I've experienced on any ship Bravo!
Misc: There was a buy 5 get 1 free wine program. Drinks were about the same price as nicer restaurants. Soft drinks were $2.00 plus gratuity. There is a soft drink program but I do not recall the price, except that it would not have been cost effective unless you drank multiple sodas per day. Security getting onboard each day is done in the terminal and very stringent. Officers, including Captain Buzz wandered the ship regularly and were very chatty. Shopping is not my thing, but there is probably less shopping area on this ship this most.
There were two Hawaiian Embassadors onboard to do informational talks each day. They were very informative and also did a commentary while we cruised the Napali coast. There is no casino or bingo due to Hawaiian law. There are meetings for Friends of Bill each day, a Friends of Dorothy gathering and there was a Veterans' meeting, although it was during port time, so my husband missed it.
Disembaking: The Pride uses the usual color coded tags, or you can self disembark if you carry off your luggage. VIP's can disembark at their leisure. Rooms had to be vacated by 9:15. The self-disembarking call was made at 7:45 and the first color was called at 8:00. To our disappointment, they no longer offer the EasyFly program, whereby you put your bags out and they were checked through with the airlines. Luggage storage is available at the pier and NCL offers excursions to late flight passengers which store your luggage and deliver you to the airport. Taxis and shuttles were easily accessible the pier. If you choose to shuttle to the airport, the big bus by Roberts is $6 per person.
Summation: This cruise was a disappointment because of our previous experiences with NCL. For some time the Pride has gotten very mixed reviews and we did our first PoA cruise with very low exectations but found it to be fine. As such, we thought this one would be the same and that poor reviews were often times by people with unrealistic expectations. I'm afraid, this go 'round I had to agree with many of them. I still feel the PoA offers the best value you can get for a Hawaiian vacation, but the service sector of this ship certainly needs some serious attention.