Pride of America debuted in 2005 as the first U.S.-flagged passenger cruise ship to be built in more than 50 years. The ship is distinctive in another way: The crew and officers are primarily American or citizens from U.S. territories. The advantage to both the U.S. registration and the staffing requirement is that the vessel can sail seven-night itineraries around the Hawaiian Islands without having to embark (or disembark) in Vancouver or Ensenada. Nor do they have to travel a couple of thousand miles out of the way to visit Fanning Island. That's because the Passenger Services Act, requiring a foreign-flagged cruise ship to stop at a foreign port when leaving or returning to U.S. waters, does not apply to this ship, creating itineraries chock full of port stops and overnights in the beautiful regions of the U.S.'s 50th state.
Also notable, Pride of America today is the only ship to sail Hawaiian waters year-round. More often than not, it is the sole cruise ship in port, which makes for a far more relaxing visit for passengers.
Pride of America is a paean to the United States. Everything onboard this ship celebrates American culture and history, from the kitsch of the Cadillac Diner to the sober statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Liberty Dining Room. You get a feel for the ship as soon as you board: stepping into the marble lobby, you are greeted with a huge seal of the United States embedded in the flooring. It almost feels irreverent to walk across it.
At 81,000 tons and with 1,069 passenger cabins, the ship is big but not too big. It's easy to navigate, and having a largely American crew brings its own rewards to the ambience. It's fun to hear "Mornin'!" or "How y'all doin'?" while walking the hallways or public spaces.
Does a staff or crew comprising mostly U.S. citizens offer a different cruise experience? You bet it does. At once familiar but different, it does take awhile to get used to being served by people from Plano, Texas, or Eugene, Oregon, as opposed to the international staff that is typical on most ocean-going cruise ships. Overall, the service is good, it's fun, and while not always perfect, it's just about right on a ship with such an island-intensive itinerary.
The way we see it, the cruise experience is less like going to Morton's or Ruth's Chris or Le Cirque every night, and more like going to Applebee's or T.G.I. Friday's. It was an enjoyable change of pace, and as the week wore on, we appreciated it more and more.
Norwegian's signature Freestyle Cruising concept means you can dine anytime you want, with whomever you choose. To that end, the ship has eight restaurants, including two main dining rooms, the casual buffet-style Aloha Cafe and the no-charge Cadillac Diner. The four specialty restaurants levy a surcharge, and reservations are recommended.
The main dining rooms, Liberty and Skyline, are located at the aft, one above the other. Both carry through the Americana themes, with Skyline serving as a Deco-version of New York City and Liberty paying homage to American patriotism. Liberty is open for dinner only, 5:30 to 9:30 p.m., though hours may vary slightly. Skyline serves breakfast from 7 to 9 a.m. and dinner from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Depending on the itinerary on any given day, Skyline also offers lunch. Service gets high marks, but plan on sitting with other passengers at large tables in the two dining rooms.
During the 2013 refurbishment, a dance floor will be added to Skyline to accommodate dinner dancing. Both restaurants offer basically the same menus. Core entrees include beef rib-eye or New York strip steak, pork tenderloin medallions, grilled chicken breast, braised lamb shank, filet of salmon and pasta.
Coming in 2013, due to customer demand, there will be more attention to lighter fare and indigenous foods. Low-carb, heart-healthy, Kosher and other special diets can be accommodated in the two main dining rooms with advance notice, but they are not, at present, part of the menu.
The Aloha Cafe, Pride of America's Lido Deck restaurant, is set up with self-serve stations for breakfast (6 to 11:30 a.m.), lunch (noon to 3 p.m.) and dinner (6 to 9 p.m.). A continental breakfast starts at 5:30 a.m.
The full breakfast includes French toast, waffles, pancakes, Eggs Benedict, made-to-order omelets, bacon, pork sausage, fresh fruit, hot and cold cereals, yogurt and pastries. Lunch and dinner feature hot entrees like Spanish chicken with chorizo, and shrimp and scallop paella; Asian fare like veggie stir-fry and Kung Pao chicken; and a selection of individually sized salads (Caprese, Cobb, calamari). There is usually a "carving board" with meats like prime rib, as well as a made-to-order pasta and a couple of soups. You'll find pizza, sandwiches, hot dogs and burgers at lunch. There's also a fruit and cheese buffet, an ice cream stand and a dessert bar that offers everything from Jell-o and no-sugar-added strawberry Napolean with raspberry coulis to ricotta cheesecake with lemon honey syrup and Italian casata cake.
On the starboard side of the Aloha Cafe is a small area created just for kids, with a junior-sized buffet table, small chairs and tables, and adult seating adjacent. It's great fun, and it gives kids a place to call their own. Brilliant!
For us, the crowning glory on this ship is the duo of espresso/cappuccino/cafe au lait makers available to passengers in both the Aloha Cafe and at the Aloha Cafe's aft stations. There is a coffee bar/patisserie, where you have to pay for cappuccino and espresso, but these machines are gratis -- and so welcome!
The no-charge Cadillac Diner -- a favorite for a basic breakfast, family lunching, early dining and late-night snacks -- is located on Deck 6 with access to limited outside seating. The diner's hallmark is comfort food, such as slow-roasted meatloaf, grilled burgers and English-style fish and chips. It also has a kids' menu, and it's open 24/7.
These restaurants, and the super-casual Key West Grill near the pool on Deck 12 (open during the day only), would be enough for most cruise lines, but Freestyle Dining offers more -- four more, to be precise. These additional venues carry a surcharge and all provide a first-class dining experience. They are open for dinner only, 6 to 9 p.m.
One of the most popular spots on all Norwegian's ships is the French-influenced Bistro, named the Jefferson Bistro on Pride of America and designed like a little slice of the library in Monticello. For $20, you can dine on scrumptious French-inspired cuisine, and, for $10 apiece more, you can add on "fruits de mer" in a puff pastry, a butter-roasted lobster tail or a 32-ounce premium black Angus rib-eye steak for two.
Lazy J's Steak House is dedicated to the Paniolos, America's first cowboys, who continue their traditions today at the Parker Ranch on the Big Island. Menu items include butter-soft filet mignon, double cut lamb chops, a 16 ounce T-bone, and half rotisserie kosher chicken. Also offered is an array of sauces: bearnaise, au poivre, cabernet demi-glace and mushroom. The surcharge there is $25. An add-on of $8 will get you a six-ounce lobster tail.
East Meets West is a gathering place for several types of Asian-inspired cuisine, including Asian fusion ($15), shabu-shabu ($15) and teppanyaki ($25). Teppanyaki is a selection of meat, poultry, fish and veggies prepared table-side by a slicing, dicing and juggling chef. "No clap, no food," our chef told us. We all clapped. The meal was fabulous, and the theater that accompanied it was worth the price of admission.
At $10, Little Italy, on the Lido Deck next to the Aloha Cafe, is the least expensive of the specialty restaurants. The menu features crowd favorites like fried calamari, spaghetti carbonara, pork saltimbocca and freshly prepared pizza.
Reservations are recommended for the specialty dining spots as soon as you board, but don't go to each restaurant. Check in, then call from your room. If, by any chance, you are told that a restaurant is full for the whole week, don't despair. Pride of America has nifty TV's strategically located in public spaces that tell you which restaurants have openings at any given time. If you're flexible, you'll more than likely get to dine where you want. Note: In the specialty restaurants, kids from ages 4 to 12 can eat for free from a children's menu or order from the full menu for one-half of the adult cover charge.
Room service is available at all hours, but the menu for passengers in standard accommodations is limited. The pizza and children's grilled cheese sandwich are good, as is the chicken Caesar salad. Suite passengers can choose menu items from the main restaurants during meal times; those in upper-level suites have a butler to deliver it. There is a charge for some room service items.
At one time, Pride of America hosted a deck-side luau during its cruises -- but no longer. Instead, it has added a shore excursion, Luau Kalamaku, in Kauai. Not surprisingly, the luau is wildly popular, although there is a fee.
Note: Pride of America does permit passengers to bring wine onboard, but it charges a $15 corkage fee per bottle, even if the wine is enjoyed in one's stateroom.
With a shipwide theme as broad as the U.S., the public rooms have a range of subjects to display, some of them strictly sentimental, some Yankee Doodle Dandy patriotic, and some just kitschy, funky Americana. While it did seem a little odd to go from the John Adams Coffee Bar (overlooking the aforementioned seal of the United States and a silly-looking replica of the Washington Monument) to the Waikiki Bar -- or, for that matter, to dine under the New York skyline while moored in Maui -- the ship's public spaces celebrate all that America is, including Hawaii. It's fitting to have a ship that is American-flagged, -staffed, and -themed sailing the waters around one of America's most glorious states, and the overall effect -- with no pun intended -- is pride in America.
The ship's Hawaiian Cultural Center, basically a series of displays along one of the passageway walls, gives an overview of Hawaii's history through photos and artifacts (including iconic bobblehead hula dancer kewpie dolls from the 1950's).
The library, on Deck 6, is well stocked, especially with books about the region. It and the card room next door are popular places to take refuge. The library is open during very limited hours, so make sure to check the schedule if you want to access any reading material.
The small Internet center is also located on Deck 6; rates for both wireless (using your own laptop) and on-site connectivity (using the ship's computers) are the same, starting at the standard 75 cents per minute for the pay-as-you-go plan. Package buy-downs go as low as 40 cents per minute. On top of that, there is a one-time $3.95 activation fee.
The shore excursion and reception desks are located on Deck 5, just around the corner from the ship's shops. Norwegian ships usually have fabulous shopping opportunities, but the shops on Pride of America are small and a bit pricey. There is no duty-free option, and many of the local (Hawaiian) items carry hefty price tags. There are some good deals though -- $12 for a Norwegian Cruise Line T-shirt, $35 for a rain jacket and $22 for an Aloha shirt, as examples.
There is no self-service laundry.
Smoking is allowed in limited areas onboard, but not in any restaurant nor in the showrooms. Even outside, smoking sections seem to be quite limited, and since there is no casino, there really wasn't any area that got particularly smoky.
Pride of America will give up its business center on Deck 13 in 2013 in order to add 32 double-occupancy cabins, mostly suites, and four solo cabins. But it will still have some nicely appointed and private meeting spaces.
Norwegian is one of our favorite lines for family cruising, and Pride of America is no exception.The ship's Rascal's Kid's Club is bright, cheery and well attended. Potty-trained kids from 3 years old are welcomed; there are age- and destination-appropriate activities available for children up to 12 years old. Kids younger than 3 are not allowed, even with a parent. For those younger than 3, Norwegian's 2 Zoo Program has been enhanced to include hosted activities, such as painting classes, sensory play, storytime and baby circus. The program requires a parent to participate. Activities vary, so it's best to check the schedule on embarkation day.
The Connections Teen Club, a "mom and dad-free zone" for the 13- to 17-year-olds, is comfy and relaxing with its leopard-print couches and beanbag chairs, music library and computer stations. We saw young adults in there at all hours. (Parents might not be allowed but, you can see into the space through the windows.)
Pride of America also encourages family togetherness by way of family craft activities, pizza parties and the like.
Programs for the kids are free of charge; some late nights are included. Norwegian doesn't offer private childcare, but it does have group sitting services on port days ($6 per child during mealtime slots) and nightly from 10:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. ($6 per hour, per solo child, or $4 per hour, per child, if there are multiple siblings).
Children must be 6 months old in order to sail on Pride of America.
Standard oceanview cabins on this ship, at 144 square feet, tend to be smaller than the industry standard. What the cheerfully decorated cabins lack in space, however, they more than make up for in convenience and efficiency. The staterooms have so many drawers and cubbyholes, shelves and closets, that you'll have no problem arranging everything, and you'll still find room for more.
Standard rooms are decorated in colorful tones of turquoise, fuchsia, yellow, lime and orange. But rather than feeling garish, these hues exude tropical good cheer. The cabins each have two single beds that can be converted to queen-size, a vanity that doubles as a desk and a shower-only bathroom. The oceanview rooms each feature a picture window, though some of the staterooms do have obstructed views.
Pride of America's standard cabins also include trays with ice buckets and glasses, room books and other reference materials. One nice touch is Norwegian's signature -- not to mention much-appreciated and well-used -- coffeemaker with complimentary coffee, cream and two heavy ceramic mugs. There is also a mini-fridge and an Internet connection.
Smaller still is the 132-square-foot inside stateroom. This shower-only cabin has two single beds (that can convert into a queen) and a small sitting area. There's also a refrigerator, TV, and tea and coffee maker.
The addition of a balcony extends the "living space" to the outdoors, and since 62 percent of all cabin categories have balconies, even the smallest spaces expand into the Hawaiian atmosphere. The 612 balcony staterooms range in size from 179 to 233 square feet, and each features two single beds that can convert to a queen, a sitting area and a floor-to-ceiling glass door that opens to a balcony. Each balcony has a small table and a couple of chairs. There is nothing in the world like sitting on your own private verandah and watching the lava from Mt. Kilauea flow into the Pacific at night, or, if your stateroom is on the other side of the ship, gliding past the breathtaking beauty of the Napali Coast, with its jagged outline rising directly from the sea.
There is a wide variety of suite accommodations, including several with verandah hot tubs. We love the cheery, breezy decor of the suites -- no pretentiousness, just pure island fun. All of the suites include Elemis bath products. The only suites that offer bathtubs in addition to showers are at the penthouse, deluxe family penthouse, deluxe penthouse, Owner's and Grand levels.
A dozen suites are outfitted for families. Eight, at 360 square feet, feature living rooms, separate dens and private bedrooms, each with two single beds that can be converted to a queen. Each living room has a double sofa bed and entertainment center, and the den houses a single sofa bed. There is also a balcony. The other four family suites have two interconnected staterooms, ranging in size from 330 to 356 square feet. The larger of the two staterooms is an outside cabin with two single beds that can be combined into a queen, a sitting area with a double sofa bed, and an interconnecting cabin that features two single beds and two upper berths.
The 28 penthouse suites, 494 to 598 square feet, each offer a king-size bed, separated from the sitting area by a privacy curtain. There is a walk-in closet; a bathroom with shower, tub and separate dressing area; and a living room with a Bang & Olufsen entertainment center and wet bar. The balcony has lounge chairs.
The two deluxe family penthouses, 607 to 650 square feet, offer everything the penthouse suites do and then some. Extra features include Jacuzzi baths and separate second bedrooms with their own bathrooms.
Add-ons at the deluxe penthouse suite level, which offers a private bedroom with king-size bed, include a spacious balcony with a private, outdoor Jacuzzi. These suites range in size from 676 to 697 square feet.
The six Owner's suites, 766 to 875 square feet, take it up a notch, with private verandahs and Jacuzzis, outdoor dining and lounge chairs. The one and only Grand Suite, 1,382 square feet, also has a separate dining area, featuring a baby grand piano and teak table with seating for six; a powder room for guests; and a full bathroom with a shower, Jacuzzi bath and double vanity sink.
Passengers at the deluxe family, deluxe penthouse, Owner's and Grand levels also have a dedicated butler and concierge, as well as an array of amenities that includes Tranquility mattresses from the Bliss Collection by Norwegian, Lavazza Espresso-makers and private dining for breakfast and lunch.
There is a wide range of ADA-compliant staterooms in all configurations.
If you've been hoarding those Hilo Hattie muumuus or surf shirts that were popular in the '60's, bring 'em along. Dress is tropical-casual, with one discretionary formal night (you are not required to dress up). On "Dress Up or Not Night," as it is called, passengers may have their photographs taken with the captain. Nighttime dress is cruise-casual, with the occasional "Polynesian" and "Hawaiian" theme night for dressing island-style. Beachwear, tank tops for men, ball caps or visors, flip-flops and overly faded or torn jeans are not allowed in the dining rooms. For dining in the Jefferson Bistro or Lazy J's Steakhouse, women may wear tops with slacks, jeans, dresses or skirts, and men are advised to wear slacks or jeans with collared shirts and closed-toe shoes. Kids younger than 12 are welcome with nice shorts in any dining room.
Pride of America has an automatic gratuity program that costs $12 per passenger, per day, and covers tips for all services -- including those provided by room stewards and restaurant waitstaff. Passengers can adjust this amount in either direction by asking at the reception desk.
There's a 15 percent auto-gratuity for bar bills and 18 percent for spa services and fitness center classes.
Norwegian has always been at the forefront of entertainment options, and this ship is no different; the entertainment is excellent. The house bands and musicians throughout the ship are top-notch, and Pride of America passengers have also benefited from the recent re-introduction of two Broadway-style productions.
The Hollywood Theatre is fairly small and just one story, with excellent sight lines for most people. It also features life-sized Oscar statuettes at the entrance. A bank of chairs has been set aside for wheelchair and other mobility-impaired guests, which we thought was a nice touch. The two signature shows in the theater are the feel-good "Lights, Camera, Music" and the campy "Rock-A-Hula."
The Chicago-style speakeasy, Pink's Champagne Bar, is located perfectly for people-watching, and its piano player/vocalist will have you swooning. The Napa Wine Bar is elegant, coolly lined with faux limestone walls -- and it's a good spot for a quiet drink. The Gold Rush Saloon is a sports fan's delight, with multiple flat-screen TV's. There's nothing quite like watching an NFL game at 7 a.m. Hawaii time.
Karaoke is hot onboard Pride of America, whether it's taking place in the Gold Rush Saloon late at night or in the Mardi Gras Nightclub just after the main entertainment. The glittery Mardi Gras is a great venue for all-night dancing and for the funky themed parties it hosts, such as the New Year's Eve Bash and Disco Night.
Note: Kids are allowed in the Mardi Gras and can take part in the fun until 11 p.m., at which time it's 18 and older only. Drinking alcohol is strictly limited to those 21 and older.
Hawaii allows no gambling, so there is no casino, and no bingo. Onboard activities include art auctions, dance classes, and arts and crafts classes with Hawaiian themes (make a lei, make a hat, make a seed or shell necklace, etc.). The ship's three "Hawaiian ambassadors" also do a super job with port talks. During the cruise along Kauai's Napali coast, one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in all of Hawaii, they give a wonderful commentary about the passing scenery. That's it, though, in terms of any educational enrichment programming.
The absolute best entertainment is the crew show. On other Norwegian ships, the performance showcases the many cultures of the multiple nationalities represented by the crew. Pride of America has one nationality -- American -- but the range of talent is still astounding. We saw an opera singer, a couple of crooners, a guy who does a fire dance with two glow sticks, and country singers.
Given the exotic destination, shore excursions are a huge part of the Pride of America experience. Not surprisingly, many involve water sports (kayaking, snorkeling, parasailing, scuba-diving, tubing, a day at the beach). There are also biking trips, golf outings, zip-line adventures, and waterfall and rainforest hikes. After awhile, though, there is a sameness to the offerings. We preferred the excursions that highlighted the uniqueness of each island: Volcanoes National Park, with its active volcano on the Big Island, for example, as well as Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park, which offers a spectacular glimpse of Old Hawaii. It, too, is on the Big Island.
Pricing is all over the map, ranging from $45 for a glass-bottom boat tour to $460 for a helicopter ride. There is discounted pricing for children 12 and younger. Note: The excursions in Oahu, including tours of must-see Pearl Harbor, take place on the day of disembarkation in Honolulu. The timing makes for tricky logistics. Passengers ought to consider booking return flights late in the day or arranging an overnight accommodation.
|Fitness and Recreation|
This ship (and this itinerary) is a fitness buff's dream. Not only is there the well-equipped Santa Fe Spa and Fitness Center, there are also plenty of spots for walking, jogging and sports onboard. The fitness center, remarkably, is open 24/7. It has more than 30 cardio machines (rowing, treadmill, elliptical and bikes) with their own TV screens. Fitness classes include yoga, indoor cycling and TRX-Suspension Training (for a surcharge). There's a jogging track on Deck 13 and a sports court with hoops on Deck 14. Ping-Pong is available just outside the Aloha cafe.
The South Beach pool, located in the center of Deck 11, is appealing and active ... so much so that many people overlook the fact that there is a smaller, quieter pool, the Oasis, at the aft on Deck 12. Shhhhh! Perched above the Aloha Cafe's aft section, at the rear of the spa, this little pool is ideal for a quiet break. The main pool is surrounded by four hot tubs; the smaller Oasis pool area has one, off to the side. There is a "Quiet Zone" on Deck 13 for folks looking for just that: quiet.
One of the best fitness and recreation aspects of this cruise is the range of golf programs offered. Imagine golfing in paradise every day, sometimes more than once, at each of the islands visited. You can choose your courses from an array of municipal and private greens, from reasonably priced to outrageously expensive. One of the most special courses on the itinerary is the 18-hole Kiele at Kauai Lagoons Golf Club, redesigned by Jack Nicklaus in 2011. A golf pro is always onboard, and you'll find a driving range and putting green on Deck 13.
Note: You can bring your own clubs or rent from a full line of Nike clubs onboard, but you cannot take your clubs with you to your stateroom. The pro onboard cleans and stores the clubs and delivers them to the gangway for pick-up on port days. There is a $20 storage fee.
The Santa Fe Spa, located at the aft of the ship, is big and elegant. Run by the Mandara division of Steiner Leisure, it offers the usual at-sea spa treatments, but the destination also allows it to creatively provide themed services like the traditional Hawaiian Lomi Lomi massage, created for Hawaiian royalty and passed down through the generations. Port days (and there are a lot of them) mean discounts, on everything from manicures to teeth-whitening. There are also complimentary sauna and steam rooms.
Note: Almost all signage indicates that you have to use the aft stairs to get from Deck 11 to the spa, but mobility-impaired passengers can access it by using one of the aft elevators.
Pride of America's passengers run the gamut from multigenerational family groups to honeymooners and everyone in between. There is also a nice international flavor to the passenger mix. On one recent cruise, 800 of the more than 2,000 passengers hailed from foreign countries, led by Australia, Canada, Japan and Germany. Taiwan and China are also picking up as passenger categories. This is a relaxed but destination-intensive cruise, designed for people -- no matter where they're from -- who want to experience Hawaii; while the ship offers everything you'll need or want, it's understood that it plays second-fiddle to the islands' allure.
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