We’ve been watching NCL Pride of America sail around our Hawaiian islands for years and wondered from a distance what it would be like on board. This ship, the only US flagged cruise ship, sails Hawaii on its seven night itinerary, 52 weeks a year.
Pride of America Reviews
When the ship first launched back in 2005, the reviews indicated a not so stellar experience. After receiving many questions about the cruise from our readers, we decided to check it out and spend a week on board. We honestly didn’t come with high expectations and ended up being pleasantly surprised by the service, food and caliber of staff.
In this, our first of several posts, we’ll be reviewing the Pride of America ship and its itinerary. Next up in Summer 2016, we’ll be cruising with the just dry-dock refurbished Pride of America. Thereafter we’ll cover changes to the unique ship, as well as our own tips for making the best use of your time on board and in port.
Why Choose Pride of America
Perfect for anyone wanting to see “Hawaii In A Nutshell.” If you like the idea of visiting four islands in one week and unpacking only once, this is the itinerary and ship for you. Pride of America surprised us with its nonstop entertainment and plethora of activities on board.
Pride of America Hawaii Itinerary
Look for our tips next week on each Hawaii port. Stops on Maui and Kauai are two nights each offering many opportunities for independent travelers to rent a car. This is highly recommended both for the independence and cost savings over other options. Another big highlight on the last day was sailing close to the Na Pali Coast. With the exception of Kauai, most of the other sailing happens after dark (except in summer with longer days). The other day ports are at Hilo and Kona, with Kona being the only one requiring use of tenders. If lava should again flow to the ocean from the volcano on Big Island, you will also get to experience from the sea.
One of your editors is somewhat prone to this and had no issue including transiting the notorious Alenuihaha and Kauai channels during the week.
We arrived during their busiest time, around 2pm, and the average wait was perhaps 90-120 minutes from arrival to stepping on board. If you want to avoid lines, arrive early or after 4:00pm. Stay tuned for tips on check-in that will save you up to 60 minutes.
Accommodations | Pride of America Stateroom Experience
Extremely functional while not large cabins with large closets and extra storage. We booked a standard balcony room and found it to be a highlight. Cabins can be configured for two twin beds or one king size bed. Great soundproofing between cabins. The only time we heard others was when standing on the balcony. Suitcases fit easily under your bed. You can remove mini bar items and use the refrigerator. Other requests seen to without fail included nightly turn-down and ice daily. Our room steward, Laurence, quickly learned and remembered our preferences and was fast to respond to any special needs or issues (like spilled water). Most times Jeff commented that you could just open the door and whisper his name for him to appear. After the first day, we realized the outside door had a signal for requests. In-room safe was not functional when we arrived and was fixed the same day.
We have suggestions upcoming on cabin selection and other tips to ensure you really enjoy your room.
Food On Board
Jeff is beyond fussy in this regard and was not expecting much. He was pleasantly surprised. Food is much higher quality than some reviews led us to believe. One review said it was tantamount to high school cafeteria food. Admittedly, however, the presentation at times was odd. The main Aloha Buffet was an unexpected highlight where we could assemble food just the way we wanted. It was fun to try a sample plate and then return for the exceptional items.
What you need to know is that the staff wants to meet your expectation. For example, poached eggs were delivered hard the first two days. We mentioned it the second time it happened and there were no problems thereafter.
Head chef Alain who hails from France and cooked for Julia Child is fantastic and oversees 12,000-20,000 meals daily. We’ll be talking more about our behind the scene food tour and many food tips later.
Food highlights we experienced included delicious croissants, exceptional pizza, Indian food, fresh Kona lobster ($40 surcharge for that, but worth the price) and fabulous sushi and sashimi.
Specialty Dining Rooms
Food quality is the same as the public dining rooms. The difference is a smaller themed venue with highly personalized service. We dined at Cagney’s, twice at Jefferson Bistro and once at East-West. An additional charge applies from $15 to $30 per person.
Public Dining Rooms
We dined at Liberty, Skyline and Cadillac Cafe. Our favorite was Skyline with prompt service. Tips on reserving a table are upcoming.
Cruise director Markey Mark combines genuine enthusiasm with talent. Under his direction there was no shortage of activities all day long. We were impressed with their Hawaiian Cultural expert, China, who embodies the best of the islands with warmth and sophistication. You’ll like her. Another entertainment stand out was the pianist Katie Guglielmo.
Understated Americana theme as you’d expect by its name. Stateroom corridors offered floral carpeting and Hawaiian artwork on the walls. Central areas had large murals of scenes from America and beautiful wooden staircases. Some areas had period designs including Art Deco. Their new suites (pictured above) offer contemporary design which is perhaps a look ahead for the future of the ship and the company. The central atrium was our only disappointment with its darker colors and federal design. We breezed through it but didn’t linger. The pool deck was themed for Miami and had a fun feel.
We took a yoga class ($12 fee) in the Aerobic studio and worked out in the gym. The yoga was not up to par. The gym had many great machines and treadmills. Dumbbells go to 70 pounds.
One of our favorite rooms with its exquisite details, warm furnishing and bookshelves. Perfect for any bookworm looking for a quiet space.
We are happy to respond to your questions about the cruise.
(Beat of Hawaii paid a travel industry rate for this cruise).
Hawaii Cruise Review: American Safari Surpasses Expectations.
My family and I doing the Pride of America in August, 7 day cruise. Would like to know what excursions you would recommend through them or tours with another company?
I was looking for the followup article to the “Review of the Pride of America-in a Nutshell” but could not find it.
Beat of Hawaii says
Some suggestions that come to mind include a car on Maui and on Kauai instead of tours. You’ll need to figure out parking (which is doable) but otherwise you’ll be free to explore in every sense. NCL will of course give priority to those who book tours with them. Having said that, it is a very regular (weekly) cruise and the other companies have certainly worked out the kinks in timing of operations and such.
You’ll love the cruise. Please let us know how it goes.
I can tell you what we did… On Maui we did the sunrise trip to the volcano and we loved it! Be sure to take some warm clothes. We also did the rainforest hike and really liked it. On the big island, we did the circle of fire helicopter tour. Once in a lifetime experience. On the Hilo side, we did the crater hike and loved it also. On Kauai, we did the movie tour, it’s a great way to see a lot of the island. We also did a tour that included the Grand Canyon of the Pacific and the Fern Grotto. Waimea canyon is a must, but the Fern Grotto was so so. On another trip to Hawaii 2 years ago (not a cruise) we went to the Smith Family Luau and would highly recommend it but you may need to make arrangements for that outside of what NCL offers. Have fun, we loved the cruise and plan to do it again!
Bill Walter says
We will be traveling this summer with our two teen kids. Should we plan a luau as one of our excursions, or is there on board entertainment with Polynesian flair? I do not require a roasted pig:)
Beat of Hawaii says
We don’t care much for commercial luaus so can’t speak to that. There is reasonably good Polynesian flair entertainment on board, but not as good as you can find elsewhere. Have you checked to see what events are happening on Oahu, Maui or Kauai that might fit the bill?
Kathleen Gray says
My husband and I sailed on the POA last May and I have to say it was one of the best cruises we have ever taken, and we have taken a lot of them! With the POA you are really only on the ship at night. Every day you are pulling into a different port and you get a full day if not more in each port.. There were nine people in our party (including my husband and myself) and we rented two vehicles between the the nine of us. The guys would pick up the shuttle right by the ship and take it to the Enterprise or Budget car rental and pick the SUV;s up and drive them back to the ship to pick us up. If you are in port overnight and plan on seeing a few more things before the ship sets sail the following day, there is an area by the ship that you can park your rental car overnight. You can then return it to the rental agency the following day and catch the shuttle back to the ship. Everyone in our party had balcony rooms at the very back of the boat (one couple rented the corner suite). If you are going to do this cruise, pay the extra money and book a balcony room -in my opinion it is the only way to cruise and worth every penny. The food was great, the staff, pool, bars, and Pub Crawl were fantastic. We had such a great time that we want to go back and do it all over again next year. You could do this cruise every year and see totally different things on each of the islands. It’s a wonderful way to experience the Hawaiian Islands and all that they have to offer. All of the excursions we planed were not done through the cruise line. One of the girls in our party loves to plan and organize and she did a phenomenal job of planning everything.
We went to Hawaii for two weeks. The first week we did the cruise on the POA, the second week we rented a beach house in Honolulu. It was like two totally different vacations in one of the most breathtakingly beautiful places on earth. We loved it so much we are already starting to plan our return trip 🙂
Denice Menard says
Hi, I would love some information about planning my wedding through the Pride of America. I have already looked through the Wedding Brochure and have read about the individual packages. But I would really like to read a review or hear from someone who has actually used the service. We are planning our cruise / wedding in June of 2015. We would like to hold the ceremony on Kauai. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!
Crystal C says
Thanks for the review. I can’t wait to read the rest. We are booked for the May 31st sailing. I still need to figure out excursions and rental cars. We are flying in on Friday around 1:30. Do you know if we could rent a car at the airport but return it near the pier? I hate to drive it back to the airport then still need to get transportation back to the boat.
Best transportation option from airport to hotel (or pier) is shuttle. Lots of them…. I can tell you the excursions we took. We loved all of them. On Maui, we did the Rainforest Hike…. Loved it (my wife and I are both early 50s). Then next day did the Crater at Sunrise, this one is NOT to be missed. Be sure to pack some warm clothes for this one. When we returned to the ship we rented a car and spent the day in Lahani. In Hilo, we did the Crater Hike and Waterfall. Again, loved it. On Kona, we did the big helecopter tour. Pricy, but something we’ll never forget!. On Kauai, we did the Canyon tour along with Fern Grotto. Don’t miss Waimea Canyon! Next day we did the Movie Tour, which is a great way to see a lot of different sights. We’ve been to Hawaii 4 times (just once on the POA), but we will definetly do it again.
What luck! I just found your site (was looking for info on a trip to Hawaii) and how lucky that you are reviewing a cruise. I was thinking a cruise might be a good way to see Hawaii for the first time…like a sampler. I have travelled with NCL a few times and like them. Am looking forward to more posts about the cruise. thanks!
John Vermeal says
I’ve been visiting Hawaii for 20 years now. My first visit included an interisland sailing on the old American Hawaii Cruises line (the Independence, I think). It was, and likely still is, the best introduction to this beautiful place.
Cathy Fairhurst says
We went on this cruise in 2008 for a family reunion. It was a perfect way to get a taster of the islands without spending vacation time in an airport, and perfect for a family reunion because there is no need to make complicated arrangements for excursions, meals or hotels. We loved it and would definitely do it again.
Barbara Horan says
I enjoyed the cruise but not the dining. When you can dine anytime you want to be able to walk into a dining room (not at prime dining time) and be able to sit right down, not on Norwegian. They gave us a beeper and told us it would be an hour wait, this with at least 10 tables for 2 empty. When we said we wouldn’t mind sharing a table they put us at a table for 6 and only 1 person joined us. Also, when you do Anytime Dining, you never get the same waiter and we were told to leave cash for tipping. Do not like Anytime Dining at all. Also, don’t forget the ship is not in International waters, so there is no casino.
K. Rote says
I sailed on the Pride of America in early November and LOVED IT. I discovered this website after my trip, and continue to monitor it, looking for new information and specials… fully intending to make a return trip as soon as possible… and to recall my awesome memories of Hawaii until then. It was wonderful boarding this floating hotel, unpacking once, and waking up in a new bit of paradise nearly every morning. If I were to hit the lottery tomorrow, I’d be back on the Pride of America shortly – with my whole family along for the trip. I researched the various options to visit Hawaii a great deal before selecting the Pride of America, with a 4 night stay in Waikiki before hand, via WMPH Vacations. I read cruise critic reviews for months and decided to take a chance with the NCL ship, chalking up the less positive reviews to people who had not done as much research and did not understand that the Pride of America was meant to be your floating hotel and not a luxury liner. I was very pleased with the ship, the service, the food, the activities, the staff, the itinerary, everything about the experience… and have highly recommended it to my friends and relatives since my return. It was wonderful and I can hardly wait to go back. Mahalo, NCL, WMPH and Hawaii. Aloha!
Crystal C says
Any tips on excursions? We are booked for end of May, and still looking at things to do, cant decide.
Kathy Desmond says
Going on this cruise is nothing like staying on one of the islands.
Bob Gunderman says
Love your write-ups & reviews. Where did you sail from on this cruise please?
My wife & I go to Kauai, Maui most times & really enjoy ourselves. We would like to see the other islands some time. Is this a good way to do that or would you recommend an inter island flight?
A happy subscriber
Beat of Hawaii says
Pride of America starts and finishes in Honolulu. It is a unique sampler experience, or as Monika called it, a Pupu (appetizer) platter of Hawaii, but doesn’t take the place of an in depth visit on another island.
Monika Carnicle says
I loved our 2 cruises on the Pride of America. I call it the Pupu platter of Hawaii. The ship itself is nice, not spectacular, but we were more than satisfied! Basically, you sleep on the ship while it sails to a different port.. We ate a great breakfast every morning and a GREAT dinner every night. The staff was wonderful. Really no complaints at all!! We rented a car at every port, which is really very easy (there was a pick up at every port) and explored on our own. I think it is the best way to see Hawaii!!