I was aboard Pride of Aloha for the 9/4/2005 sailing.
There obviously is some truth to some of the complaints we
have been hearing about, because NCL has changed its tipping
policy for Pride of Aloha (I presume they have also changed
the tipping policy on Pride of America, but I don't know that
for a fact). Instead of adding $10 per person per day to your
account, tips now are entirely voluntary. From the
passenger's perspective, it's a bit cumbersome because the
dining room waiters have to be tipped after each meal, since
you can't be certain of getting the same waiter each night.
It also requires passengers to remember to bring some cash
with them to each meal. NCL also failed to give out any
tipping guidelines, so first-time cruisers undoubtedly were
confused about what is an appropriate amount to tip. The only
advice that NCL gave was to tip as you would at a restaurant.
My friends and I booked two pre-cruise nights through NCL at
the Radisson Prince Kuhio Hotel in Honolulu, but when we
arrived we were advised that the Radisson was overbooked and
that we had been transferred to the Miramar Hotel. The
Miramar was adequate, but not luxurious. As compensation for
the switch we were given free buffet breakfasts on Saturday
and Sunday. It appeared to me that the problem was created by
the hotel, not NCL. When I discussed the situation with the
Radisson's reservations manager, she offered to send us
coupons good for two free nights at any Radisson in the U.S.
I doubt that she would have done this if the overbooking had
been NCL's fault.
Otherwise, the transfers from the airport to the hotel and
from the hotel to the ship went smoothly. We had cabins on
the Biscayne Deck (deck 4). Normally I try to avoid the lower
decks, but on Pride of Aloha the Biscayne Deck is actually
quite convenient. The gangway for every port except Honolulu
is on deck 3, so getting on and off the ship was a breeze,
with no lengthy waits for elevators. Likewise, the dining
rooms are on deck 5, so most of the time we didn't bother
with using the elevators when going to dinner. There are no
interior cabins on the Biscayne Deck, so our cabins were
extremely quiet, with very little chatter in the hallway or
sounds of doors opening and closing.
We were in 4210 and 4212. The cabins are on the smallish
side, equipped with a small but efficient refrigerator, a
safe and a television. Storage space is scanty, with three
shallow drawers (odd, because there is room for deeper
drawers) and a single shelf. There is also the typical closet
space for hanging clothes. The space on top of the closet is
taken up by the life jackets -- if I had needed that space, I
would have stowed the life jackets under the bed or on the
small sofa. There is also a small table and a desk with a
chair. Our cabins each had a large porthole. I am a fairly
big man, and I found the bathroom to be more than adequate. I
have been on cruise ships which have tiny showers that barely
allowed me to turn around, but my shower on Pride of Aloha
was quite roomy. I have seen people make complaints about
unpleasant smells coming from the ship's plumbing system, but
I didn't notice anything like that until the last day of the
cruise, when the ship apparently developed some sort of
sewage mishap during our last day in Maui. More about that
There have been complaints about the condition of the cabins
upon check-in, and we saw some evidence of this. My cabin had
been cleaned adequately, except that the inside of the
porthole looked like it hadn't been touched in weeks. My
friends were less fortunate. Their cabin hadn't been
vacuumed, and a pair of shoes left by a prior guest was found
in the closet. The problem seems to be that on debarkation
day the rooms are not cleaned by the room stewards, but by a
crew of workers brought on for debarkation/embarkation day
only. On Sunday morning I walked out of my cabin and saw a
dozen workers, none of whom I recognized, cleaning cabins on
my deck. It appears that in some cases they change the sheets
and towels, but do little else.
After unpacking we made our way to the buffet, on the pool
deck aft. The buffet area has two serving lines inside and
two outside, but the only entrances to the buffet are one
from the starboard pool deck and one from the aft elevator.
There is no entrance to the buffet area from the port side of
the ship. Consequently, on embarkation day there was a long
line at the pool deck entrance, because many people
mistakenly assumed that there was only one line for the
buffet. We got out of the line and went aft, where there was
no line at all. In subsequent days the passengers wised up
and the lines began to even out. Even so, the outside buffet
almost always had shorter lines throughout the cruise.
Although other reviews of Pride of Aloha have accused the
mostly-American crew of being unfriendly and even surly, we
saw little evidence of this. The dining room service is (with
one notable exception) not as refined as what I have come to
expect, but it is adequate. The best service we received was
from a Polish waiter named Robert in the Crossroads
Restaurant (deck 5, aft). Ask for him by name, and you won't
be disappointed. Robert also told us that the crew is about
85% American, not nearly 100% as I have seen noted elsewhere.
The non-Americans are legal resident aliens. Also, at the
buffet are two assistant waiters from Seattle named Rachel
and Kendra who are always cheerful and helpful. The food in
the main dining rooms is comparable to what I have
experienced on other cruises. One recent reviewer
inexplicably complained about small meal portions at dinner.
NCL allows you to order as much as you like, so you can order
two entrees, or a double portion of an entree, or any
combination thereof. I never felt that I didn't have enough
The buffet on Pride of Aloha features the best hamburgers I
have ever had on a cruise. The pizza, on the other hand, was
disappointing -- the chef seems to have an aversion to using
sauce on pizza. The desserts had lots of variety and some
were quite good. We got to see and hear the famous singing
waffle man, but he is now on vacation. NCL should consider
creating a separate waffle station. Currently it is in the
middle of the serving line and it causes traffic jams of
people waiting for their waffles, so if you don't want a
waffle feel free to go around the line. Of particular note is
the ice cream bar, which is open daily until 9:00 p.m. or so.
The flavors change each day and there are assorted toppings
available, including a very thick chocolate fudge sauce.
One of NCL's trademarks offerings is the chocoholic buffet.
Inexplicably, on Pride of Aloha the chocoholic buffet was
held on Thursday afternoon, while we were in port in Kona.
What was NCL thinking? I'm sure that more than half of the
passengers had no opportunity to attend the chocoholic buffet
because they were ashore.
My friends and I did not sign up for any NCL excursions, so I
can't comment on them. I'd been to Oahu, Kona & Maui
previously, and my friends had been to Kauai before, so we
rented cars on each island and did our own sightseeing and
swimming/snorkeling. The exception was at Hilo, where we
arranged our own helicopter tour with Safari Helicopters. The
volcano/waterfalls tour with Safari was $50 cheaper and 15
minutes longer than the helicopter tour offered by NCL.
Safari picked us up at the pier and brought us back to the
pier after the flight. Likewise, the car rental companies
provide free shuttles to and from the cruise piers.
The only day that we felt pressed for time was Thursday, on
Kona. It takes a little time to get ashore because you have
to tender to the pier. The best swimming beaches on Kona are
up north, so we spent several hours at Hapuna Beach and then
we drove to the northernmost part of the big island to see
the Pololu Valley Lookout. The traffic on Highway 19 gets
very heavy in the afternoon between the airport and Kailua,
so anyone planning to rent a car has to allow sufficient time
because the last tender to the ship leaves the pier at 5:30
We kept our rental car for two days on Maui. Free overnight
parking is available a short walk from the pier. Having a
rental car is the best way to visit Lahaina because you can
spend as much time there as you want.
As I noted earlier, upon our return to the ship on Saturday
afternoon we noticed a sewage smell when we boarded the ship.
Nobody was talking, but clearly something was being repaired
because we did not leave port until 7:30 p.m., about 90
minutes later than scheduled.
Another mishap occurred on Wednesday evening. During the
transit from Hilo to Kona, the ship passes by the lava flow
around 10:00 p.m., and passengers line the outside decks to
get a view. For some reason the ship's maintenance people
chose Wednesday afternoon to paint portions of the railing on
the Promenade Deck, and they compounded that error by failing
to put us "wet paint" signs. Several passengers had their
clothing damaged when they pressed up against the railing. My
understanding is that NCL is accepting responsibility for
The pool deck is very nice. There seemed to be ample deck
chairs. Both the pools and the four hot tubs are available to
use late into the evening. On our last night in Maui, the
pools and hot tub could be used until 1:00 a.m.
The bottom line? If you are looking for the ultimate cruise
experience -- i.e., where the cruise itself is the top
priority and the ports are secondary -- you probably should
look elsewhere. The Pride of Aloha and Pride of America
itineraries are port-intensive and these cruises are geared
for people who plan to spend a lot of time ashore. However,
if you want to see as much of Hawaii as possible in one week,
these cruises are hard to beat. The longest continuous
stretch at sea is about 18 hours, during the transit from
Kauai to Hilo.
While it appears that many of the criticisms of Pride of
Aloha have had some validity, my experience suggests that
either the ship's service has markedly improved since then or
the criticisms were exaggerated. Either way, I would not
hesitate to recommend this cruise for someone who likes the
itinerary. Freestyle Cruising is what it is -- people either
like it or don't like it. If it isn't for you, cruise with a
different cruise line.