Check in / beginning
I’ll start with the start. There is no way around it, the booking process is confusing. The NCL website is, well, crap and it froze several times while we tried to make our booking, blocking us out of the cabin we wanted and forcing us to wait an hour for the site to release it again. It took us about four hours to book our cruise and during that time we sent an email requesting help when we couldn’t find a phone number for NCL in Australia. We still haven’t received a response to that email, (we’ve been home now several months) but we did actually find an NCL phone number for Australia.
Once we had finally booked our cruise (a tip – check the pre pay option for compulsory gratuities. You’re going to have to pay at the end if you don’t and if you’ve forgotten about it by the end of your cruise that will be a nasty little surprise) we received an email confirming our booking and telling us to print our eDocs. These apparently disappear 24 hours before the cruise and you need to complete the online check-in process to obtain them. I may have attempted completed our online check in 39 days before our cruise…! There was a problem with the online check in process but after a few emails back and forth we had it sorted and it was completed about 12 days out from our cruise.
Basically, the website crashes a lot and patience is a virtue while you’re booking your cruise!
The boarding process on the Pride of America left a lot to be desired. We’d come directly from Turtle Bay Resort and we were very excited to begin the big part of our holiday but on arrival at the dock we fronted up to the first check in desk and, well, it isn’t fair to say ignored as I held out our cruise documents and they were taken from me by someone whose conversation with his colleague was too important to pause to greet me. As a first point of contact this was dreadful. He handed the documents back to me, still without having made eye contact and continued with his chat. I had to interrupt him and ask where we had to go next as it simply wasn’t clear. The look I got told me that clearly I had ruined his day (which was not so far off the way I felt about the interaction too) as he pointed gruffly to the other end of the dock. I couldn’t see much there but spotted another NCL staff member so we made our way towards them and discovered the baggage drop.
Bags dropped we began the long and arduous process of boarding. It took about one hour and forty five minutes after arrival to get on the ship and my hot tip to NCL would be that nobody wants a picture to remember this time. Having to drop everything half way through this process to pose with fake hula people sucked, maybe they could invest that time and money into handing out bottled water or similar?
Finally, we were on board!! I expected something in the way of guidance to our cabin, you know as if at a hotel they point to the elevator and say ‘go over there and up to level 5′, or whatever? Not on board Norweigan. There were some staff type people there so we asked where our cabin was and she told us where our muster station was. We pointed to our ship cards and said yes, but where is the room, and she shrugged her shoulders so we went off in search of it on our own.
We made a couple of wrong moves but we got there in the end and found the room to be quite lovely. Very clean and well appointed and a very decent size. We had booked a balcony cabin at the back of the ship, which I would hesitate to book again as unless it is the nighttime this ship is usually docked in some of Hawaii’s ugliest ports but that was a lesson we would learn in the coming days! The best balcony cabins, we think, are those located on the left side of the ship – the side most often pointed at the ocean when we were in port.
Arriving at our muster station we heard the safety briefing before going in search of a good spot for a drink or two during our departure and sunset over Honolulu. I thought by the pool would be good but there was the loudest disco dance thing going on, we only lasted about 5 minutes before leaving. We found a perfect spot on the Aloha lanai where we were told they did not serve food or drinks but we could bring them in from elsewhere. No further explanation was provided before this staff member turned on her heel. We had no idea what she meant (later we figured it out. The buffet was nearby and food could be bought in from there and the Aloha bar, same story) so we got up and headed upstairs to the Waikiki bar. It was nothing like a Waikiki beach bar with it’s robot music and blue light where there should have been natural lighting and the dulcet tones of ukulele bands! But it was a beautiful view from the back of the boat as we passed Honolulu and we soon settled into our bottle of champagne and our holiday spirit.
Food and Drinks on Board
Five dining options are included but none of your drinks are included in your NCL fare. There is an option to pay for the Ultimate Beverage Package. We didn’t take it, we purchased a package on board during that first night and got 6 bottles of wine (to be consumed of the duration of the cruise, one week) at 20% off the total. We basically bought 5 of the cheapest bottles including 2 chardonnays, 2 pinot noirs and a sparkling, all of which were quite good wines, plus we splashed out on a bottle of Piper champagne. We were there to celebrate my 30th birthday after all!
The Cadillac Diner was our first food experience on board and no matter how chipper we tried to be it just wasn’t good. The burger wasn’t too bad when it finally arrived after requesting it three times but the fries were awful and they forgot everything, absolutely everything that we ordered at least once.
For me, the Aloha Cafe was greatest surprise of the cruise! This was the buffet and it was awesome with a huge range of dishes at all meal times, many of them particularly good. The Southern biscuits at breakfast on one day in particular were outstanding.
Aloha Lanai Bar was a great way to sit with a drink or a coffee and watch the world go by along with the Waikiki Bar where there was the second and smaller plunge pool however I would stick to beer or wine on board NCL’s Pride of America. The range of capacity in regards to making cocktails on this ship varied hugely and the awful mai tai I received which made with cinnamon and orange put an end to my ordering another cocktail for the rest of the trip until back on land in Waikiki.
We paid $15 per head extra to dine in La Cucina one night. It was the only paid restaurant we opted for and the food was all very good. There was nothing particularly special about the restaurant but the service was outstanding.
Key West Bar and Grill was a typical BBQ Buffet sort of set up. We had lunch here one day and it was fine, just hotdogs and salad, but considerably better than the Diner!
The Skyline Main Dining Room and Liberty Main Dining Room are traditional cruise-style dining rooms and we enjoyed them both for dinner but the breakfast at Skyline was awful. Clearly bought up from the buffet but nowhere near as fresh or as quick as if I just did it myself – stick to the buffet for breakfast.
The Napa Wine Bar is gorgeous! We just popped in once for an after dinner drink, we had gone into the White party event which was supposed to be super famous and excellent (the Cruise Director’s words, not mine) but was actually really tacky and as soon as we sat down waitresses started trying to shove expensive shots in our hands – no thanks. Our escape to Napa Wine Bar and the great service they had there resulted in one of our best nights on the cruise.
Ocean Drive Bar, services the pool area. Cocktails seemed to be a bit better here and staff didn’t mind pouring or serving our drinks in plastic glassware so we could take them into the spa.
Pinks Champagne Bar I found a little disappointing. Maybe I am just too new to cruising (I had never really been before) but I anticipated there to be champagne at this bar and I was looking forward to treating myself to a glass of something fancy. It’s a very nice bar with some really fun after dinner entertainment, but it has the same menu as every other bar on the ship.
We chose not to book any of the organised activities or excursions run by NCL. They all seemed pricey and we like doing our own thing anyway so we basically just booked at Jeep at each port. Jeeps are a really fun and practical way to see the islands.
We did hear great reports of the Roberts Hawaii tours which are not run by NCL but have much better ratings and are cheaper and better value with less people in the groups too.
All in all, I would do it again if the opportunity arouse but I wouldn’t jump to do it again if that makes sense. We had a great time but there were a few more highs and lows, especially in the beginning, than we like to experience on holiday. There were some very weird things happening too, we were told not to drink the water then asked to pay US$40 for 12 1.5L bottles. This size usually sells for around $0.89 per bottle in Hawaiian convenience stores so we just grabbed a couple each day right before coming back to the ship. It’s being ready for that sort of thing that will make all the difference in the future, should we embark on a similar vacation!