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Pride of AmericaPride of America
Hawaiian Islands
May 31 thru June 7, 2008

by Nathan L. Kimes, Sr.

My wife and I are experienced cruisers having been on lots of other lines such as Princess, Cunard, Celebrity, Holland America, Royal Caribbean, etc. We are both 57 and well traveled outside the cruise scene. We realize that you have to be flexible, tolerant, and not expect perfection if you want to enjoy your cruise. Don't take everything too seriously and you will have a great time. Relax! You're on vacation. That being said, we booked our Hawaiian cruise on NCL America since they are the only line dedicated to the Hawaiian Islands. Originally booked on the Pride of Aloha, NCL took the ship out of service and notified us that we could change to the Pride of America or be refunded our deposit. In just one phone call we re-booked on Pride of America sailing just three weeks later than our original departure date and had a wide variety of cabin choices as well as an on-board credit for the inconvenience. NCL also reimbursed us for the cost of changing our airline reservations and we received a check for that in less than two weeks. Great customer service! (Remember, be flexible, be nice, relax.) The only problem with the change was that we had to fly into Honolulu one day earlier since the airlineNorthwestwas booked for the Saturday inbound flights we needed. This worked out great since it gave us one night in Honolulu before we left on the ship and we really enjoyed our Friday afternoon and night on Waikiki and the next half-day in Honolulu.

I had reserved a taxi/limo to take us to our hotel from the airport and this is absolutely the way to go. You can take the airport shuttle for $9.00 per person or pay a limo $30.00 to do the same thing. However, the shuttle is a full size bus that does not leave the airport until it is full. This could take thirty minutes or more than an hour, depending on the time of day you arrive. Also, they drop off everyone at their hotel and depending on where your hotel is, you may ride for another hour or two before you get delivered. The limo picked us up where the airport shuttle stops and we were in our room in thirty minutes from pick-up, and this on a Friday afternoon at rush hour. Call Passport Taxi & Limo four or five days before your arrival and they will e-mail you all you need to know about where to meet them after you get your luggage. We were in a fairly new Lincoln Town Car with a great driver that handled all our luggage at both ends of the trip.

We had a deluxe room at the Waikiki Sands Villa Hotel and they upgraded us to a corner room with a balcony on two sides at no extra charge. The hotel is only three blocks from Waikiki Beach and our room overlooked the Ala Wai Canal and golf course and the other balcony had a great view of Honolulu and Diamond Head and, of course, a limited view of the ocean. The room was very clean, very comfortable, and with the balcony doors opened we had a wonderful cooling ocean breeze. The entire staff we dealt with were very friendly and accommodating from the front desk to the bell hops. We ate dinner in the hotel bar and grill and the food was really good and priced very reasonably. Service was slow but the waitresses were very friendly and took care of us. We loved the open air lobbyreally puts you in the mood for Hawaii.

After checking in, we headed out toward Waikiki. It is no big walk being only three blocks from the hotel and plenty of nice little restaurants and shops on the way. The hotel is on Kanekapolei Street and this dead ends into Kuhio Beach Park (Waikiki). That night they had a dance school giving a performance of Hawaiian dances and also some professional entertainers and musicians in what turned out to be a two to three hour show open to the public at a stage area right on the beach. Just walk up, sit down, enjoy. While this is going on, behind you are people surfing and swimming as the sun sets. Quite a photo opportunity and just what we hoped Hawaii would be.

Saturday morning we walked a couple blocks from the hotel to the International Market Place and some of the many stores and shops in the area and out on the pier at the park again before taking a taxi to the ship. We arrived at the ship where we found out you are on your own when they drop you off. You have to carry or wheel your luggage about 100 yards through security and into a warehouse where you are checked in. No body from NCL is anywhere to give you directions or help. You have to figure it out by yourself and hope you are going in the right direction.

Check in was fast and we were on the ship quickly once we found out where the check-in area was. However, unlike every other cruise we have been on, our room was not ready and we had to wait two hours to get into our cabin. And we arrived at the ship at 3:00 pm! Oh well, be flexible, relax... go have a drink and something to eat and look over the ship.

The Pride of America is staffed with an American crew and staff throughout. Service is not quite what you get with a European or Asian staff but is sufficient and they get the job done. Almost everyone was friendly and carried on conversations when you spoke to them and acted like you were friendly also. Our cabin steward, Paul, did a great job in keeping our cabin clean and supplied. He even left clean beach towels daily and you can take them with you off the ship if you go to the beach. My wife would always pick-up at least two more clean bath towels every day when she passed a service cart in the passageway since two towels a day are not nearly enough for us. We could not get Paul to remember extra towels so we handled it ourselves. Be flexible, adapt, relax...

We had an inside cabin on deck 10 forward. This was only one floor below the Aloha Cafe buffet so was convenient, especially at breakfast time when you are in more of a hurry to eat and go. But all the other restaurants except those at the pool are located on the lower decks so everybody has to take the elevator anyway. The food at the buffet was usually fresh and hot but not a great deal of variety from day to day. The usual stir fry and sandwich type buffet with good salads and lots of fruit and deserts. Breakfast never changed but there was always plenty of it. The main dining rooms had somewhat better food quality but again was limited in variety. And the portions were tiny no matter what you ordered. Two nights we left the dining room after eating and went to the buffet to get something else because the portions are so small we felt like we just had appetizers. I think they do this on purpose so you will go to the restaurants that charge a per-person charge to eat at them. We tried two of thesethe Lazy J Steakhouse and East Meets West Asianand both were excellent in every way and well worth the small price of $10.00 per person. We had to spend our on-board credit so the charges did not matter to us anyway. The only really bad meal we had was at the Cadillac Diner (no charge), where the menu is very limited and all fried food. They try to make a ham sandwich a gourmet meal and failed miserably. I just wanted a ham and cheese sandwich! No big dealjust go back to the buffet and get what you want. Be flexible, relax...

All in all, the food was probably the worst we have had on any cruise but even at that, it was okay and we never went hungry. Just go up to the pool and have a hot dog or hamburger if all else fails. The best thing about "Freestyle Dining" is the open seatings in the dining rooms. If they would improve the food quality I could be an NCL fan but as it is now I don't know that we will be back on NCL for a while. But everyone should try "Freestyle Cruising" once and see how it suits you. It may be just what you are looking for.

The entertainment was very amateurish and was like watching a college music department's show. They tried their best but just did not have much production value to the shows we saw. The usual cruise comic and cruise magician were pretty much run of the mill and neither of them seemed very happy to be there. Have a couple of drinks before going to the shows and you will enjoy them much more or do like my wife and spend the time in the ship's shopping gallery. Be flexible, adapt...

The ship itself was very clean and in very good condition. Someone was always cleaning, dusting, vacuuming, etc. The lobby is really beautiful as are most of the bars and public rooms. The "pay as you go" restaurants are also very nicely decorated and are very comfortable and clean. The pool area was always kept litter free and they washed the area every night. As is always the case, unoccupied loungers are hard to find around the pool but there are plenty available overlooking the pool on the sun decks. In general, the ship was nice and comfortable and quiet at night and the air conditioning worked great in our cabin. What else could you ask for?

The ship made four ports plus Honolulu. This is what we wanted, to see different islands and use the ship as our traveling hotel. This worked great for us and I would recommend this cruise for everyone that wants to see the variety of the islands. We rented a car at each port except Kona and, again, would recommend this to anyone as the way to see the islands. A rental car is cheaper than a shore excursion booked thru the cruise line and you can go your own schedule. The most we paid for any one car was $54.00 and this was because I rented a convertible one day on Maui. A mid-size car will run you $35.00 to $45.00 and all the major rental companies have shuttle buses that pick you up at the pier and take you to the rental location and back to the ship. Driving is just like any place else in the U.S. and traffic was never a problem. However, be aware that they drive much slower in Hawaii than any where else I have been. So don't get in a hurry and enjoy the scenery... relax. There is a lot to see so start out early and have a good map with you. Everyone we met at restaurants, parks, service stations, convenience stores, shuttle buses, stores and shops, etc. were really friendly and accommodating. We were told several times that they depend on us tourists for their livelihoods and how much they appreciate our visiting Hawaii. That was kind of different and nice for a change. It was not nearly as expensive as we were led to believe with food and gas prices only moderately to slightly more than we pay on the mainland.

Some must see places we recommend are:

  • Honolulu - Waikiki Beach, Pearl Harbor (really great!)
  • Maui (port of Kahului) - Drums of the Pacific Luau at the Hyatt, Ka'anapali; the road to Hana (just go half way!); Lahaina town
  • Hawaii (port of Hilo) - Hawaii Volcanoes National Park; Onomea Scenic Drive, Akaka Falls State Park
  • Hawaii (port of Kona) - take the two and one-half hour air tour of the island in a fixed-wing aircraft operated by Island Hoppers. It is better than the helicopter tour, longer, cheaper and you see the entire island. We loved it!!
  • Kaui (port of Lihue) - Waimea Canyon (wow!! and free); Coconut Coast drive if time allows; Niamalu Beach is also a short walk from the ship.

In closing, Hawaii was pretty much what we expectedbeautiful, lush, relaxing and unique in many ways. The people of Hawaii make you feel welcome and want your visit to be a great experience. Ours was and we hope to return to Hawaii again. If you decide to go, just remember to be flexible, adapt, and relax!! Aloha...

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