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NCL Pride of America Aug 11-18 2007:
This was a family vacation for us, which included my hubby and myself, my two sons and their wives and one set of in-laws; 8 of us in all. Four of us flew in from Los Angeles, and four flew in from Las Vegas. The Vegas group spent a few days on Maui before the cruise. Our group flew in on the day of the cruise.
We arrived at the airport in Honolulu approximately 11:30am. After gathering our luggage, we headed to the front of the airport and immediately found a shuttle to get us to the port. We had heard different costs for getting to the port, but in the end, it cost us a total of $9.00/person because we bought the roundtrip ticket. If we hadn't, it would have cost us $15.00/person. The Vegas group took a limo ride to the port, and it cost them a total of $27. (when we got off the ship later in the week, after the cruise, there was no line at all for the shuttle, while there was a very long line for people waiting for taxis).
When we arrived at the port, there was a very long line to check in, even though we were told we wouldn't be able to get on the ship until 1:00pm. We stood on the line for a total of about 2 minutes until I looked around and realized there was a separate line for Latitudes members. We had sailed on NCL one time before, about 13 years ago, and we are Latitudes members. I did have my number with me, but not the numbers of any of the other members of our group. The lines for Latitudes members had about 5 people on it. They never asked for my membership number, and we were onboard within about 15 minutes.
The staff leads you first to Deck 6 to make reservations for the first night's dinner. I had done a lot of research in advance of this trip of which restaurants were onboard, what type of food they had, whether there was a cover charge, etc., and tried to coordinate with our group about which restaurants we wanted to eat in each day. Since we were a group of 8 people, with everyone doing different excursions each day, it was somewhat difficult to decide what time, and where to eat. We knew we wouldn't be spending a lot of time during the days together, so we really wanted to meet for dinner as often as possible. I had a list of which reservations I wanted to make in advance.
There were about 6 people sitting at a table, taking reservations for dinner for the first night, and 'requests' for the second night. We were not allowed to actually 'book' our reservations for dinners until the day before. This turned out to be the only glitch in the entire vacation. We were able to put in 'requests' for every night, however, the ladies at the computers taking these requests cannot figure out how to put them in, nor can they figure out how to change them if there is an error. i.e.: one of our cabin numbers was 8708. The girl mistakenly put in #8608, and couldn't figure out how to change it. Thus, #8608 had a reservation for the French restaurant one night, but they didn't want that...and we didn't know them! We were told the restaurants would just take our names anyway, not our cabin number, but that wasn't the case. Turns out we had three different people calling us in the cabin each day, telling us what our restaurants reservations were...and at one point, none of them were correct. I spent much more time at the dinner reservations desk than was necessary. If they had just BOOKED the reservations from the begiining, when you first get onboard, instead of just taking 'requests', they could have avoided every problem. We even had to deal with the restaurant manager, who put our entire week's reservations in (not supposed to be able to do that), but the girl who inserted it into the computer did it wrong. This part of the cruise was a nightmare.
After making our dinner requests, we first headed to our cabin. My hubby and I gave this trip to our children and their wives for a holiday gift, and we bought inside cabins for all of us. We have dealt with the same cruise travel agent for almost all of our 15 cruises, and he's been extremely good to us. For this trip, he was able to upgrade all four cabins to balcony cabins, so that was a special treat for us...especially in Hawaii. The cabin was very nice, a small balcony, but just right for us. One of our sons had a cabin in the very back of the ship, so while his cabin was exactly the same as ours, his balcony was at least twice the size of ours.
After leaving our carry-on bags in the cabin, we headed for the Aloha Cafe on deck 11 to start our week of pigging out. The food onboard was plentiful and very good in every restaurant.
At 4:30pm we had Muster, which was very quick and easy. We were free after that to look around the ship until sailing at 8:00pm. My daughter-in-law had mentioned that she wanted to buy a large beach bag. I was walking around the ship and came upon a desk where two ladies were asking for people to sign up to do a survey towards the end of the trip to critique the cruise and they'd give a free beach bag for our time. I brought my dil down to the desk and they gave her the bag. I signed up to do the interview for later in the trip.
We had dinner scheduled in the Lazy J's Steakhouse the first night. The food was very good, however, the timing seemed to be a bit off. They brought all our side dishes about 15 minutes before the meats, so the sides were almost cold by the time we were ready to eat. My daughter-in-law ordered a full lobster, and it looked great...she said it was delicious. The food was very good, just not quite timed right. The restaurant was extremely cold...so cold that my hubby had to go back to the cabin to get his jacket. This is someone who never gets cold.
My husband and I had rented a car through the cruise ship for Hilo, and had our youngest son and his wife with us. It was $39 for a compact, and we always take Lost Waiver Damage insurance (our son works for a car rental place and tells us always take ONLY this insurance). The insurance cost us $19.99. When we got to the airport (there is a shuttle that picks you up at the port), there were no cars available for any of the car rental places. There were people waiting for all cars. Not...there are no compact cars available, not there are no cars available to upgrade to, just, there are no cars available...period. The car rental places definitely need to stock up on cars in the city of Hilo. It was 45 minutes before we were able to get a car.
We drove to Kilauea Crater, and spent most of the day driving around, enjoying the scenery, taking lots of pictures.
That night we ate in Teppanyaki, the Hibachi Japanese restaurant. This had a $20 cover charge, and in my opinion, was worth much more. The food was delicious and it was fun to have a show, seeing it prepared right in front of us. The restaurant, East meets West, is divided into three different restaurants, so you need to request which one you want (this was not explained when we first got on board, and I only realized it after we had explored the ship on our own).
The next day was Maui (Kahului), and hubby and I rented a car again, drove around on our own. This time there were plenty of cars available. Went into Lahaina, had lunch there, took pics of the Banyan tree, shopped a little, etc.
We stayed overnight in Maui, and the following day, we headed out to do a Zipline at Haleakala Ranch. This is not 'my' kind of excursion, however, I was the one who chose it. It is listed as 'moderate activity' in the brochure of excursions, and I thought our family would enjoy it. Let's just say that if 'I' can do this, ANYONE can do this. They start you off by giving you a lot of equipment including a harness and helmet. There is a short hike to the first zipline (there are 5 ziplines), ranging from 'bunny slope' to 'expert'. By the time the excursion was over, we were all experts...we had to be, because there's no way to get back to the lodge except do the zipline! I will say I wasn't too nervous until we got to the last zipline. It was long, long, looooong. We also had to hold on a little differently than with the other ziplines. We weren't just stepping off, we were running to get a start, which made us even faster. It's the sort of excursion I'm glad I did, once in a lifetime, and at the time think I'll never do it again. But, I'm pretty sure I will do it again some time. It was the highlight of the trip.
For Kona the following day we had a Pinnzgauer excursion scheduled, however, during the day before the captain came on the intercom and told us we would not be able to stop at Kona because of a possible hurricane. We spent the day at sea instead and they had plenty of activities scheduled for us. I wasn't all that disappointed about missing out on the Pinnzgauer...after the zipline, I needed a relaxing day at sea. (the ship did not have any problems w/ the hurricane...never felt it)
In Kauai hubby and I rented a car again, and we watched a woman ahead of us take the last compact car. The staff at the car rental place apologized and said he could only give us a full size car or a convertible. Awwww....a convertible in Hawaii? What a sacrifice. So, off we went and drove north to see the wet and dry caves. Made a number of stops along the way and took pictures. The following day our oldest son had a convertible and we hopped in the car with he and his wife and we headed south to Waimea Canyon. Beautiful scenery, and we enjoyed the day.
That evening we did the Luau Kalamaku. I've only been to one other luau, and that was years ago in Oahu. This one had people selling beautiful crafts, dancers, games to play, then a ceremony for the pig, and then the feast and show. The food was good, not exceptional, but the show was very good, and entertaining.
After we sailed on Friday, my hubby and I went up to the conference room to do the interview I had signed up for earlier in the week. The interview was run by Synovate, and they told me they have been travelling around with NCL on different itineraries, getting the opinions of people who are cruising with them. The interview took about an hour, and I unloaded on them. I told them I felt they were discouraging large groups from travelling with them because of their policies for making reservations for the different restaurants. There is no problem when it's just two of you, but for a large group, it's impossible. That was our main complaint about the cruise. I really think they can even have people sign up for restaurants online in advance just like they do for the excursions. For my time, they offered me a $20 onboard credit and a bottle of wine. We don't drink wine, so they gave me a blanket instead, and this was in addition to the beach bag my daughter-in-law received.
The last night we all ate in Little Italy, a specialty restaurant, but no cover charge. The antipasto was wonderful. I had chicken parmegian, which was delicious, and then for dessert the 'chocolate salami'. Sort of like a fudge, but it really looked like salami.
In general, the cruise was wonderful, and like I said, the only glitch was the dinner reservations. The ship is beautiful, easy to navigate. The food was delicious, and the service on board ship was excellent. We really enjoyed having an American crew. Our cabin steward, Arnold, was never around, but somehow he anticipated our every need. We just left him a note if we needed something, and when we got back to the cabin, the item was there.
We had heard bad things about this cruise before we even left home, and none of it came through. We're already looking into our next Freestyle cruise (this was our first one)...we loved it, and we'll certainly do it again.