June 2014 - Pride of America to Hawaii
This was our second Hawaiian cruise on Norwegian and our third trip to the islands. We had cruised the islands on a different Norwegian ship a number of years prior to Norwegian's acquisition of the Pride. The unique nature of a US-flagged ship allows for more time in Hawaiian waters and subsequently longer port stays which is what prompted us to book this cruise. Additionally, we have 2 young children so we thought a cruise would be a good way to introduce the kids to Hawaii.
As far as the ship is concerned, the overall appearance and common areas were nice enough. Elevators were a bit small especially considering the number of passengers. I did not like the all-American decor present throughout the ship versus the primarily Polynesian influence and decor we experienced on our prior Hawaiian cruise. The pools were relatively small and the toddler pool was miniscule. The cabins were a bit smaller than I expected and smaller than I have stayed in on previous cruises looking at a comparable category of cabin. Additionally, the cabin space and storage was not as well laid out as I have seen on other ships - more of an issue for us since there were four of us travelling together. The bars and lounges were adequate although most closed a little earlier than I would have liked. The fitness center was sufficient for my needs and was uncrowded at night when I used it.
Food was a bit disappointing. The buffet was adequate for breakfast, so-so for lunch and disappointing for dinner. The main dining areas were mediocre at best and the menu varied very little day-to-day. Each night there were perhaps one or two new appetizer and entree choices and a "regional" specialty however, "regional" did not mean Hawaiian/Polynesian, but was simply whichever type of cuisine they chose to prepare for the night. Having recently returned from a cruise on Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas, we found the food on this cruise disappointing.
Service in the main dining rooms was okay although at times the staff was less attentive than they could be and on more than one occasion I felt as if I was being rushed out of dinner. Our cabin attendant was excellent - the room was always clean, ice always refilled and we never wanted for anything in our stateroom. Outside of these areas, I found the staff as a whole relatively inattentive and less than helpful. Restaurant staff seemed poorly trained, tables were not bussed efficently and you could overhear various staff members complaining about their assigned duties which is something that I have never experienced on any other ship I've cruised on. Staff members would almost never ask if you needed anything let alone be proactive at providing missing items or other forms of assistance. To illustrate my point, I attempted to schedule a reservation for dinner in one of the dining halls and was told by a gentleman in guest services that I could not schedule reservations after 5 PM. I then walked down the hall to the dining room where the woman working the dining room was able to place a reservation for dinner. At no point did the gentleman in guest services tell me I could go to the dining hall to schedule, nor did he offer to call the dining room to allow me to place a reservation - a little thing but something that speaks to the level of customer service experienced throughout this cruise.
"Freestyle dining" - in theory a good idea and in fact, on our previous Norwegian cruise, it was implemented quite well. On this cruise, if you didn't have reservations for dinner you could expect to wait for anywhere from 15-45 minutes unless you went to dinner very early (5-5:30). I attempted to make reservations every night of the cruise only to be told each and every time that there were no reservations in any of the main dining halls until 8:15 PM which is too late for young children. So invariably, we ended up going to the dining room and waiting, something which is also not easy with young kids. In addition, since we had travelled with another couple and their children (8 total) we had to sit at separate tables a few nights to avoid a very long wait. Meanwhile, upon being seated, we noted that at least a quarter of the dining tables were empty each night. I am unsure whether some of these tables were awaiting a reserved party or whether there was just not enough staff to service the tables. I have to assume that many people must have scheduled reservations for dinner each and every night upon boarding the cruise which defeats the purpose of freestyle dining. In my opinion, if you are going to advertise freestyle dining, you should not allow reservations or at least not for smaller parties of 4-6 people.
As far as ship entertainment, there is no casino since gambling is illegal in Hawaii and the ship does not leave Hawaiian waters. The evening shows were not something that appealed to either my wife or myself and certainly nothing for my kids so we typically had dinner and drinks and then bed for my wife and kids and off to the fitness center for myself.
Ports-of-Call/ Itinerary - This is the real reason to take this cruise. The Hawaiian islands are beautiful and there was a good amount of time in each port to experience each island. Having been on the islands before, we were familiar with the activities and sights so we rented a car at each port so that we could tour the islands on our own. As such, we did not participate in any shore excursions.