First Look: NCL's Pride of America

| June 27, 2005

NCL cruises

Conceived as a celebration of Americana, the relatively modest-sized 81,000-ton, 2,138-passenger ship is all-American staffed, and boasts a "Best of America" décor paying homage to our nation's regional diversity and revered personalities like Founding Fathers Washington and Jefferson.

That's a lofty objective. And for the most part, NCL Cruise's pride in Pride is justified. The ship is, after all, the long-awaited first U.S.-flagged cruise vessel in nearly 50 years, and the largest U.S.-flagged cruise ship ever built. Never mind that it arrived late to its own party – by more than a year. The vessel's star-crossed start included bankruptcies by both the American shipyard that built the hull, and the German shipyard enlisted for the superstructure; and a mishap in the latter facility left the under-construction ship submerged in storm-tossed waters up to Deck 3.

Thankfully, that's all history now. And last week, amid festivities in New York harbor that included fireboats and fireworks, the ship was christened and warmly welcomed. The inaugural fanfare included raising the American flag that flies over the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. (flown in that day for the Big Apple harbor-side event).

Capitol Atrium
NCL's Pride is so American-as-apple-pie that if you want to sail on her, we suggest that you pack apparel of red, white and blue -- colors that dominate the vessel. The theme starts on the hull -- painted with a version of the stars and stripes and an American eagle so huge it makes you want to sing the national anthem before boarding.

Despite the salute to Americana, the Pride's interior décor is somewhat disappointing. It misses the mark and comes across as hokey-patriotic. The materials are first-rate, but the maritime designers flirt with treason for turning a song of praise into tacky replicas of great American places and people.

Skyline Restaurant
For instance, the Capitol Atrium, inspired by the Capitol Building and White House, features an underwhelming replica of the Washington monument and seems rather spare. And while there is great sweep to our nation, the ship's interior feels dark and claustrophobic in places. Low ceilings in the otherwise lovely Skyline and Liberty main dining rooms made us reflexively want to stoop.

Not surprisingly, a heavy helping of Hawaiiana enlivens the décor -- including staterooms, where pink and orange predominate.

The spa and treatment rooms may be the most aesthetically appealing spaces onboard -- tastefully decorated in soothing earth tones and a southwestern motif.

Diamond Head Auditorium
The Pride boasts three pools, extensive children's facilities (including a miniaturized buffet section in the Lido restaurant with tiny tables and chairs) and, according to the line, the largest dedicated meeting facilities at sea – so big, in fact, it reminded us of a huge surgical amphitheater.

There's also a stunning library, whose pleasing serenity and coziness is equaled only in the ship's Zen-like spa. The nod to Americana here is in the carpet, embossed with authors names and book titles ("In terms of theme, it was the best we could do in this room," quipped NCL president and CEO Colin Veitch). Here too stands a model replica of S.S. America (the vessel from which the library takes its name.)

The sports deck has a basketball and volleyball court. The large South Beach sunning and swimming areas, inspired by Miami Beach's Art Deco district, feature such novel distractions as a gyroscope ride and bungee trampoline.

Hollywood Theater
Early 1900s New England emporia inspired Pride's Newbury Street shopping mall, which, we were pleasantly reminded, can stay open when Pride is in port because it's American – but it also means sales tax is tacked onto goods and services.

If you go for gambling, you'll save money here because there's no casino on this or any other NCL-America vessel.

Happily, you can count on a winning cup of coffee anywhere on Pride. It was among the best java we've tasted at sea.

Santa Fe Spa
In fact, Pride excels food-wise. The ship's freestyle dining program offers eight eateries. American chefs serve up finger-lickin' American fare in the Lazy J Texas Steak House and the ship's two main dining rooms – the Skyline and Liberty restaurants (where a nice decorative touch includes the stars and stripes represented in lights and falling water) – as well as ethnic options like the French fare in the Jefferson Bistro, and Asian cuisine in East Meets West, with a sushi/sashimi bar and a Teppanyaki room. Sampling the vessel's specialty restaurants costs extra, though – from $10 to $20, for dining in the steak house. One nice touch: the Napa wine bar and Cadillac diner both have seating inside and out on deck.

Mardi Gras Cabaret Lounge & Nightclub
We sampled a few of Pride's restaurants -- the Skyline, East Meets West, and Cadillac diner (a novelty hamburger joint more like where Elvis meets Waikiki) – and found service friendly, professional and enthusiastic. After the crew's in-depth training shore-side, they seemed delighted finally to have passengers on board to share their pride, so to speak.

Accommodations are family-friendly. The ship has 660 balcony staterooms, 250 interconnected cabins and, new to NCL, eight 360-sq. ft. family suites, as well as four paired interconnecting family suites ranging from 330 to 380 sq. ft. that can be combined to accommodate up to eight passengers.

Cadillac Diner
The 1,400-sq. ft., ocean-view Grand Suite atop the vessel, forward of the main sundeck, is to die for -- as are five 870-sq. ft. Owner's suites, each named after a Hawaiian flower. The ship also offers six 735-sq. ft. deluxe penthouse suites and 28 504- to 585-sq. ft. penthouse suites.

We can't crow about the 227 inside staterooms that, at just 132 sq. ft., feel quite cramped and short on storage space – a single closet and a few small drawers. (Although that may be sufficient when you're spending most of your days in Hawaii in a pareo, or dressing casually for dinner.) In fact, Pride prides itself on informality, and you might feel out of place in fancy duds. At 144 sq. ft., ocean-view staterooms aren't much bigger. Destined to sail exclusively in U.S. waters, Pride will homeport year-round in Honolulu. Beginning July 23, it offers seven-day roundtrip cruises that include a day in Hilo, Hawaii; two days in Hahului, Maui; Kona, Hawaii; and two days in Nawiliwili, Kuaui. Brochure rates start at $3,299 for the lowest category inside cabin. Early booking rates are available.

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