Since we are all on travel hold due to the COVID pandemic like everyone else…we kinda have the travel blues. We were scheduled to be on vacation this week for a few days in the Florida Keys and then a 5 day cruise on the NCL Breakaway to Belize and Mexico. Instead of going on that trip, we are at home. In honor of the cruise we are missing, this week we will go back and relive our Hawaiian cruise on the Pride of America. This cruise was a babymoon, so we took it back in the Winter of 2017. One thing it has in common with the current pandemic is that it happened during a different global health crisis: the Zika Virus.
If you are an avid cruise review reader, you’d know there aren’t a ton of pictorial reviews of the Pride of America (POA). You may have heard of the Pride of America, but if you haven’t, it is a Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) ship based in Hawaii. It does a round trip cruise from Honolulu visiting the 4 main islands of Hawaii (Oahu, Maui, Hawaii–aka the big island, and Kauai). This ship has many of the NCL mainstays that cruisers are familiar with (freestyle dining, lots of upcharge restaurants, butler service for certain suites, etc), but it also has a few changes that make it different from most NCL cruises ships. Stay tuned.
How did we choose this cruise? Well I’ll tell you!
Once upon a time two avid cruisers planned and booked a cruise to Bermuda on the Breakaway. This cruise was in October of 2016 and we booked a Haven suite. We LOVE NCL, we love the Haven, and we loved the Getaway so what could be bad about a Bermuda cruise? We traveled to NYC where the Breakaway home ports and were ready to go!
Wait a minute…I thought this was a review of a cruise to Hawaii?? Why is this crazy girl talking about Bermuda and Breakaway?
Sorry, I’ll get there eventually.
So anyway we were in NYC and there was a hurricane coming for the east coast. We will call that Hurricane Matthew. Little to no communication happened between NCL and their customers about alternative plans (as per usual) so our plans continued on as if we were going to Bermuda. We get to the port and head to the check-in. No signs regarding a delayed departure or a change in itinerary, so we boarded as usual. The check-in agents also didn’t know or say anything when asked about a change so we planned on continuing on. If you’re a weather junkie or a good historian you also may remember that about that same time as Hurricane Matthew there was another storm headed straight for Bermuda. We’ll call that storm “Nicole”. We were pretty sure the ship wouldn’t be heading to Bermuda but with no word from NCL we proceeded on. We had lunch in the Haven restaurant and walked around the ship for a couple of hours, and then as we were about to head to Muster drill the captain made the announcement that the ship would be headed on an alternative itinerary to the Bahamas.
Normally, this would be disappointing to someone planning to spend 3 days in Bermuda but one who cruises understands that is the nature of the game. The cruise itinerary is entirely at the mercy of the cruise-line’s decision making and the cruiser basically has no recourse once they change the route or stops. However, we had chosen the Bermuda itinerary for one specific purpose and that is because it is Zika free. Changing the itinerary from a zika-free zone to one with zika exposure was a no-no for us. If you can’t put two and two together that means that at the time there was going to be a third cruiser in the crew!! Fantastic news for our little family, bad news for this Breakaway cruise. Long story short, we got off the cruise. We met with the concierge and he cancelled all our reservations and our room and we took our bags and left the Breakaway 😦 We booked a rental car and a hotel for that night and started our journey home with a quick few day pit stop in Buffalo NY and Niagara Falls (fun places…just not a cruise to Bermuda)
After filing a request with NCL for a future cruise credit for the Breakaway cruise we were granted the full cost of our Breakaway itinerary as a credit. This was per the NCL zika policy circa 2017. We had to prove we were pregnant (i.e. a letter from my physician) and NCL gave us the money as a credit. Although the experience of getting the cruise cancelled stunk this credit made NCL a hero in my book!
So fast forward to this POA cruise! Sorry for the delay…we are finally there. The long explanation was provided because we love planning a vacation, and as we are blogging we think that some of our planning reasons and insights might be helpful to the reader. We probably would not have ever booked this POA cruise had we not had the credit from NCL and the zika aversion. For those who do not know, Hawaii is (was?) Zika-free. We have been to Hawaii before on a non-cruise vacation. While that trip was wonderful, due to travel distance we hadn’t been planning to go back. However, this cruise credit was burning a hole in our pockets. Also, we were expectant parents at the time, and baby we had no idea when our next cruise would be. So we went for it.
We booked the cruise using a personal cruise consultant (PCC) due to the credit. PCC can be found at https://www.ncl.com/help/leads. NCL often does “free at sea” promotions. This means that some cruise benefits not normally included in the cruise cost can be included. How many new inclusions you get are based on what category of room is booked. I.e. a suite gets more “free at sea” allotments than an inside stateroom. At the time of booking there were two “free at sea” promotions offered for a balcony cabin. When I tried to pick two, our PCC told us that on POA only 1 free at sea is possible. PCC and I went round and round about why this is, and ended the discussion on: POA has different (read–less) perks than other NCL ships. Also, FWIW this cruise was a very high price relative to other cruises we have taken with NCL. Our Haven suite price from Breakaway got us a “large balcony” cabin on POA. Taking into consideration the cost of travel to Honolulu, this makes for a pretty expensive cruise vacation.
The POA leaves on Saturdays so we took one extra day off work and headed to Hawaii on Friday. It was a long travel day but we finally made it!
We stayed overnight in the Courtyard Marriott Waikiki Beach. It was just for one night and it was just ok for a pre-cruise stay. If you are going to Waikiki on vacation IMHO there are much better places to stay. This Courtyard Marriott is a few blocks walk to the beach but not right on the beach. The room sizes are small but adequate. The pool was relatively small and not at all scenic.
When we woke up Saturday morning we went for a walk and did a little shopping in Waikiki. Note: if you have not been to Hawaii and are planning on POA cruise you should definitely plan on a day or two early or after the cruise so you can see Honolulu. Some must-see sights from our last trip included hiking Diamond Head, visiting Waikiki Beach, and Pearl Harbor. There are post cruise tours that allow you to do most of those things but you may wish to spend more time than that there.
We are normally “first to the port” kind of cruisers because we like to get our cruise started ASAP. Since this cruise leaves later in the day we spent more time hanging around the beach area and shopping and also had lunch on land instead of on the cruise. One of our favorite restaurants in Hawaii is Duke’s. There is one in Waikiki, Maui, and Kauai. We walked there from our hotel as it is just a few blocks. The one in Waikiki has a view of the beach and it has our favorite dessert…Hula Pie.
By the time we finally got on the ship, it was after 2 pm but the rooms were still not ready. We headed to the guest services desk to see if we could get our latitudes pin. For those that have never cruised before, NCL used to give you a pin with the ship’s name and logo. It would be in your room when you were a return cruiser and a member of their loyalty program called Latitudes. In 2017, they apparently had to be picked up instead of being delivered. We kinda got the run around trying to get the pin. Good thing we stuck with it though, since now I don’t think they give them out at all 😦 Next we headed to the restaurant reservations desk. Since NCL has freestyle dining, there are no assigned dining times. You are welcome to just show up at the main dining rooms and wait for a seat, or you can try and make reservations. Reservations are strongly recommended for the specialty restaurants, and we love eating in those. Luckily the line was short at embarkation time, so we got right in and were able to get a reservation we wanted for almost every night. We had the 3 dining plan package for our “free at sea” and so we booked those plus specialties for the other evenings we planned on eating on board.
The rooms STILL weren’t ready so we headed up to check out the pool area. Ben got a tropical drink and I had a fake one and we posted up in some chairs until they made the rooms-ready announcement. The way they get the rooms ready on this particular ship is not an “all in one” announcement. They announced them by floors, as in “the rooms on floors 12 and 10 are ready”. It felt like it took longer than other cruises we had been on but I didn’t time it so I can’t say for sure. Once our room was ready we headed down. Luckily since we waited so long for our room, our luggage had made it there too so it was time to unpack!
We planned this cruise in a matter of 3 weeks so we didn’t have as much research time to plan what to do in each port. There is a large amount of port time on this cruise with two days and an overnight in Maui, two days on the Big Island with one in Hilo and one in Kona, and then two days and an overnight in Kauai. We ended up planning to do more cruise ship based excursions than we normally do due to the short time frame we had to plan. Before leaving for Hawaii we pre-booked a beach day excursion in Maui and one in Kona. We also planned to book a tour of Volcanoes national park on the Hilo day once we boarded the ship. We went to the shore excursions desk and a relatively unfriendly gentleman “helped” us pick an excursion for the park. The one we chose had only the tour of the park and no other stops supposedly. Then for some reason he told us to cancel our beach day in Kona. Per him, the trip to that beach was a little far and would take up much of the day. He insisted that a great beach was walking distance to the port and we would enjoy that just as much and be able to see more of Kona. For some reason we gave in to that…more on that on the Kona day.
Our plans were as follows:
day 1: embarkation in Honolulu. Shopping and lunch on land as mentioned above.
day 2: relaxing morning on board, maybe pool or fitness center, head to port for the afternoon. Old lahina luau that evening. This was booked in advance not through the cruise line.
day 3: Maui beach day through NCL
day 4: Hawaii volcanoes national park tour through NCL
day 5: Kona. Beach near the port per shore excursions guy
day 6: Resort for a day in Kauai (booked through www.resortforaday.com, not through NCL)
day 7: TBD…somehow gonna see waimea canyon, either through NCL or on our own
day 8: disembarkation and day in Waikiki before 10pm flight
Anyways, back to unpacking. After finishing un-packing it was almost time for Muster Drill, which was later in the day (maybe 445 or so) and sail away was planned for 7ish. After muster we had early dinner plans at our favorite NCL locale…CAGNEYS. Cagney’s is an upcharge restaurant that is a steakhouse. It is really pretty good for a cruise ship!
As we finished our dinner, the waiter brought us the dessert menus we were both disappointed to not see our favorite dessert on there. We were informed that they no longer had oreo cheesecake at Cagney’s. We were so disappointed.
After dinner we went to the welcome aboard show. It featured the NCL crew singing some cheesy songs, a comedian who was very funny, a comedic-magician who was pretty good, and a group of singers performing Frankie Valli. The Frankie Valli people were amazing. We enjoyed the show but it was in no way similar to other NCL performances we have seen. We have seen Blue man group on Epic and Burn the Floor and Legally blonde on Getaway. I love those broadway style performances!
One other major difference entertainment-wise was the lack of casino and Bingo. These are not allowed to be on this ship due to Hawaii rules vs American flagship rules or whatever but we did miss the gambling a small amount. It was super nice though that there was no inside smoking area. For the smokers who may want to take this cruise they do allow smoking on the outdoor bar aft on level 13 so there is a place designated for that.
After the show we headed to sleep!It had been an exhausting few days for this pregnant lady!
Wanna keep following along? Read about more of our adventure here.