The "only way" to see Hawaii in 7 days, the US-flagged cruiser sails roundtrip Honolulu weekly
Inaugurated during the summer of 2005 after an incident where the ship actually sank during construction. The Pride of America was made from the hull of former U.S. Cruise Lines (American Hawaii Cruises and others) that went bankrupt shortly after 9/11. She is unique in design and will serve the Hawaiian Islands year around offering a 7-day, 4-island itinerary. The Pride of America is the first U.S. flagged ship in over a half of a century and features and American crew
First, let's discuss NCL-America, the parent company. As the only ship left sailing under the NCL-America banner as of March, 2008, it is important to put Pride of America into the proper perspective, a discussion that merits hours, but we will shorten it.
NCL-America (original ships: Pride of Aloha, Pride of America and Pride of Hawaii) has the exclusive right to offer 7-day inter-island Hawaii cruises without leaving the state. This required an act of Congress passed to circumvent two ancient (19th century) federal laws regulating passenger vessels. The new requirements for NCL-America cruise lines specify; U.S.flagged vessels crewed with U.S.-citizen (or green card) Coast-Guard certified people only.
Sounds simple, but outdated federal laws aren't the only reason cruise lines hire foreign national crewmembers; foreigners have a tradition of service, familiarity with ship-board life and a lower cost of living at home. For positions usually filled by Indonesians or Rumanians, NCL-A agreed to hire U.S. citizens and get them Coast Guard trained and certified, an expensive process in itself, before they even get onboard. Finding young Americans willing to work 7-days a week, sharing tiny rooms with one or two other people, for near minimum wages proved to be a challenge. Long story short, the first six months of service for NCL-America became an extended "weeding out" process, eliminating the people just along for the ride. while keeping responsible people who understand they have a job to do.
NCL admitted that they had problems finding the right people to crew the NCL-America ships, and went to great lengths to fix things, including building a mandatory training academy in Myrtle Beach, S.C. for all crewmembers. Things have improved greatly, but you still won't get top-notch Caribbean cruise-style service here, but if all you want is to lay on deck instead seeing glorious Hawaii (this ship is in port every day), you should go to the Caribbean.
Now - on to the onboard experience. When first-time cruisers take this ship they invariably give it high marks. But experienced cruisers who already know that cruise line levels of service are the best in the world, are often disappointed. Frankly, that "spirit of service" usually so prevalent on cruise ships is often missing in these American youth. To sum it up, they can be unduly familiar, too loud, and not deferential enough. More likely offer "Hey, how's it goin'?" than "good morning, sir."
NCL-America ships are a great cruise, but take them as a way to see Hawaii first, and as a cruise experience second, If you don't care where you sail and just want to be on a ship, go to the Caribbean. On the other hand, if you want to visit Hawaii, I can't think of a better way to do it. And truthfully, these are still very good ships, unless you are a curmudgeon. Strap on a smile and treat your room-steward like he is your nephew and you will get along just fine. Just don't expect him to beam with joy when you praise the way he polished the bathroom.
America, America, God shed His grace on thee. This American-flagged, -staffed, and -themed ship is certainly doing its darnedest to encourage Him, filling every nook and cranny with Americana.
Pride of America is a tribute to the United States, with all the public rooms named and decoratively themed after something famously American from Mardi Gras to New York City. The D.C.-based Capitol Rotunda is the theme for the Capitol Atrium featuring stark reds and whites. The Skyline Dining Room is a tribute to the steel of New York City becoming design. It almost has a "Great America" theme park feel to it at times, especially in the lobby and thoroughfares, but the individual public rooms are inspired and lovely. Among the "not to be missed" are the Cadillac Diner with a 50's era Cadillac front end (hood & headlights) framing the booths. The Soho Art Gallery is worth a stroll for a taste of U.S. modern art. The Newberry Street (after the famous street in Boston) Shopping area is colorfully diverting in a cartoonesque sort of way.
The speakeasy-ish Pink's Champagne Bar is ideally located for people-watching and has a good ivory-tickler/crooner. Life-sized Oscar statuettes guard the entrance to the Hollywood Theatre features. The glitzy Mardis Gras Nightclub and the Gold Rush Saloon are both enjoyable venues for tippling. The swanky Napa Wine Bar is lined with walls that look like limestone.
Reckoning that groups ought to be able to do anything aboard a ship that they can do at land-based resorts, NCL has made Pride of America one of the best meeting and small convention facilities at sea, with a circular auditorium and multiple conference rooms ideal for lectures and lessons. Its Hawaiian Cultural Center provides unusual insights into Hawaiian history.
The library, well stocked with books about the South Pacific, isn't open nearly as much or as regularly as bibliphiles would prefer. But the excellent Internet center charges quite reasonably (as low as 50 cents per minute) for both wireless (using your own laptop) and on-site connectivity.
The two main restaurants, Liberty and Skyline, have open, restaurant-style dining for all three meals. Skyline features decor inspired by one of New York City's most memorable landmarks, the Chrysler Building. Liberty is a salute to American values.
There are four reservations-only restaurants with a cover charge, Jefferson Bistro is named after the famous patriot who idolized French culture, serve as ambassador in Versailles and even had his own slave trained at a French Culinary school. The food is French-inspired with delicate sauces; scrumptious and with huge portions to boot. You might find yourself taking some back to your cabin refrigerator to enjoy later. Lazy J's takes its theme from the Hawaiian cattle ranchers known as paniolos at the Parker Ranch on the island of Hawaii. East meets West is the Pacific Rim restaurant, with a good variety of seafood selections and teriyaki meats.
The Cadillac Diner offers all-American food in a 1950's James Dean inspired decor. Hamburgers, shakes and French Fries are featured. Great for lunch, not for dinner.
If something lighter than a full menu in the dining room is more your style, there is the Aloha Cafe on the Lido deck. Weather permitting, there are frequent barbecues on deck. The ice cream bar dishes up sundaes, sherbets, and plain old ice cream.
NCL had to change its tipping policies after Pride of Aloha became an American-flagged vessel with an all-American crew, sailing round-trip from a U.S. port; the standard prepaid gratuity gave way to a mandatory $10 "service charge." In bars, you must add a tip manually, while spa charges have a 15% gratuity automatically added. The "service charge" of $10 per person per day is added to the bill, replacing a gratuity. Rotten service has embarrassed NCL into canceling pre-paid tipping entirely on many sailings; if you find someone good, be sure to slip him or her a buck or two.
Hawaiian-inspired, most of the entertainment is good. Indeed, the Tihati Polynesian Show, featuring very talented locals doing folkloric dances in eye opening costumes, scheduled when the ship overnights in Kauai, is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. Hula line dancing classes are almost always packed, as are the coconut husking classes, shell jewelry, and lei-making.
More typical cruise ship fare -- dancing, cabaret, and Broadway-style production shows - is presented other nights in the main Hollywood Theatre, in which the ship's resident theatrical troupe offers two staged Broadway-style musicals per week.
One of the most salubrious spots on the ship, the Mardi Gras Cabaret Lounge & Nightclub is the late night spot where the DJ spins unto the wee hours. Diamond Head Auditorium, high atop deck 13 and all the way forward, offers a panoramic ocean view. The Napa Wine bar is tastefully elegant and features wine by the glass. Pink's Champagne & Cigar Bar, located on Deck 6, is inspired by Hawaii's Royal "Pink Palace" Hotel on Waikiki Beach, the bar also includes a cigar lounge.
There is an Internet cafe onboard that offers wireless service, but only in the vicinity of the cafe.
The usual NCL children's facilities are available. Separate facilities for different age groups.
Best For People Who Want
A convenient and affordable way to see & experience the beauty of Hawaii; those who plan a lot of activities onshore during the 96 hours the ship is in port (every day of the cruise).
Should Be Avoided By People Who Prefer
a typical cruise experience with lots of onboard activities, humble foreign service staff, formal nights where everyone dresses up.
On board, Pride of America has eight restaurants, over 660 balcony staterooms, three pools and extensive children's facilities. Firsts for NCL include an indoor live flower and plant garden called the Conservatory, a new category of family suites, a tennis court and an art gallery. The S.S. America Library features memorabilia and artifacts from the historic ship now owned by NCL. The ship's hull has colorful artwork depicting the Stars and Stripes combined with the United States' national bird - the Bald Eagle by graphic designer Keith Allan who also created the hull art for Norwegian Dawn.
Since this ship entered service, the grumbling of disgruntled diners has abated but not disappeared, but it is largely delegated to the Aloha Cafe Lido buffet area where busboys can be agonizingly slow. The food is not bad, there is a meat carverie and a fresh fruit carverie offering papaya, honeydew and mango. There is sushi, a soup station, and plenty of fresh pastries. Outdoors, poolside, are a waffle and an omelet station. The main restaurants have good food, though certainly not the best on board. The alternative restaurants, which carry various service charges, have excellent food and huge portions.
Service on the NCL-America ships may have been scandalously bad in the beginning, but it has improved. Blame the fact that Americans are rather less inclined than Indonesian or Croatians to work 12-hour days for not much money. The best course is to resign yourself to any small shortcomings, and speak up when that is not enough. If your room steward just doesn't "get it," call the front desk and ask to speak with the head of housekeeping. The waiters work hard, busboys are a different story, but they can only work as fast as the kitchen enables them.
In 2013 Norwegian added several suites and a few studio staterooms for single travelers as follows:
The 24 new suites on Deck 13 are 566-square-foot suites sleep up to four people each and feature a large bedroom, separate living area and deluxe bathroom decorated in custom mosaic tiles. They come with premium custom furnishings, fabrics, carpets and luxury bathrooms.
Two of the 24 suites are Owner's Suites. The remaining suites are Penthouse Suites, including two Deluxe Penthouse Suites with Large Balconies ranging from 363 to 459 square feet and can sleep up to five people. The two Owner's Suites have connecting doors to the adjacent Penthouse Suites, sleeping up to 10 people when combined.
These suites also have expansive balconies, ranging from 150 square feet for Penthouse Suites up to 1,200 square feet for the Owner's Suites, giving Pride of America suite passengers the largest balconies in the Norwegian Cruise Line fleet. The company is highlighting this feature as ideal for scenic Hawaii cruising.
Suite passengers also get dedicated butlers and a concierge, plus amenities such as Tranquility mattresses from the Bliss Collection by Norwegian, Lavazza espresso makers, Elemis bath products, private dining for breakfast and lunch, and more.
For solo travelers, Pride of America now has four studio staterooms. These have a full-size bed and a separate bathroom area. Four new inside staterooms were also added to the area on Deck 13.
Pride of America has 1069 cabins, 660 of them balcony staterooms, many of them are family-friendly connecting staterooms including a new category of family suites. If you are planning to take your family and can afford one, take some time to investigate the various suite offerings, as they are all different and interesting in their floorplans. One is all the way forward with balconies overlooking the bow of the ship.
The standard cabins tend to be small, so be prepared to tuck things away and do not bring over-sized suitcases. The closet and drawer space is barely adequate for a week. All that said, each cabin is pleasantly decorated and has a small sitting area, TV/radio, telephone, modem connection, refrigerator, safe and individual thermostat. Plus something rarely seen on a cruise ship, an actual coffee-maker in every cabin. A daily movie program is available on the TV, along with CNN and another satellite channel.
Suite residents enjoy concierge service. The penthouses and owner's suites, located fore and aft, are larger with teak decks and private hot tubs on the decks. There are also connecting cabins for families.
The Pool Deck, Sports Deck and Sun Deck are expansive, and sheltered from the wind. You'll enjoy the views they offer as you sail into a spectacular port. Forward on the Pool Deck, the Body Waves fitness center has one room filled (too filled, in fact!) with up-to-date equipment, and a view, and another for aerobics classes. The free weights area can accommodate only one buffed person at a time. A full-size basketball/volleyball court on the Sports Deck, two golf driving ranges, a batting cage, jogging track and aerobics classes scheduled throughout the day round out the program.
The Steiner-run Santa Fe Spa includes massage and steam rooms. Do note that some of the "traditional" massage treatments they claim to offer, such as the Lomi Lomi massage, are not as authentic as they are when received in the islands because they require well-trained and disciplined therapists who know the craft. Also note that the service fees in the Spa include a space for an additional tip, but that does not go to your therapist (it is pooled) so if you want to tip your therapist, take cash.
"Freestyle Cruising" means you can get as dressed up -- or down -- as you please. It doesn't mean that you're free to wear blue jeans or shorts in restaurants or public areas after 6 p.m.
Mostly Americans and soime Asians. The idea here is to see Hawaii, not spend a lot of time socializing on the ship. You are in port every day and over night on two islands.
Expect the crew to act a bit like fellow passengers - since they are American.