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Pride of Hawaii / Norwegian Jade 2-night cruise to nowhere

Cruise Line: Norwegian Cruise Line

Ship: Pride of Hawai’i / Norwegian Jade
Sailing Date:
May 17, 2006
Itinerary: Round-Trip San Francisco to “nowhere” (out to sea and back) for two nights, one day

 

*** Special note.  The Pride of Hawaii SHIP will sail it's last Hawaiian islands cruise in 2/08.  At that time it will go into wetdock and be rebadged with the Bahamas flag, have a casino added, and become the Norwegian Jade.   Since this review was about the SHIP and not about any ports, it will work as a review of the Norwegian Jade perfectly.   The Norwegian Jade's first deployment with it's new name will be Europe in 2008.***

 

To read about the NCL America 7-night Hawaii cruise experience Click here for my review of the Pride of Hawaii 7-night cruise.

 

Review of Pride of Hawaii  / Norwegian Jade– the ship, no ports

 

This cruise was NCL’s first cruise with any type of passengers at all, for travel agents and press only.  The purpose was to give us agents an opportunity to see, experience and get to know the ship while it was still stateside on the continental US before heading to Hawaii for the foreseeable future.

 

Pride of Hawaii is the third and final “America” ship of NCL – ships with US registry and a US flag and a US crew following all US employer laws.  This distinction gives NCL the opportunity to sail around the Hawaiian Islands without having to go to any foreign ports.   And with them having three of these beauties, they’ve got a ship in each of the ports every day of the week.  I think it’s the best way to see the islands.  So you can see more than one island without having to pack and unpack or spend a valuable vacation day traveling from one airport to another.

 

Itinerary:

 

Of course, my own itinerary had no ports and just one day at sea. 

 

Pride of Hawaii will normally run a 7-night cruise, round-trip from Honolulu on Mondays, sailing at 8pm so you can fly to Hawaii the same day if needed.  She heads for Hilo on the big island for Tuesday, then Maui for two days (overnight Wednesday), Kona on the big island Friday, and Kauai for two days (overnight Saturday).  The arrival time back in Honolulu on Mondays is 7am, disembarkation usually starting two hours after that.  Somewhere in this itinerary, they’ll sail by the Kilauea Volcano “conditions permitting”.

 

One thing folks looking at NCL America ships need to just take a deep breath and understand is that the NCL America ships are really floating hotel spa resorts rather than a traditional cruise.  They’re awesome for their purpose, but you might be disappointed if you cruise often.  They spend nearly ALL of their time in one Hawaii port or another.  There is no “at sea” time to speak of.  There is no casino.  There are no duty free shops.  There are not a lot of activities during the day, as they expect you to be off enjoying the islands.  It’s just the best way to see multiple islands.  And it’s a great value since the food and entertainment is included.

 

Embarkation:

 

This is the dreamy part of sailing on NCL America ships.  All that’s required is a photo ID.  It’s not an international ship, so passports are not required.  Sure, take it if you have one, but this is the one place you could come and go with just your Driver’s License, similar to a domestic flight.

 

First time cruisers take note: no matter what the official boarding time is on your ticket, noon, 2pm, whatever, always try to show up at 11:30am to noon.  Most lines will let you on early.  You avoid some lines of those that don’t know any better and actually show up at the ‘official’ boarding time AND you get to get on and start your vacation sooner!

 

Dining & Dress Code:

 

This 7-night sailing has no formal nights, as NCL is always “Freestyle”.  This means no t-shirts, jeans, or tennis shoes in the dining rooms in the evening, so you should wear Dockers or some other kind of “business casual” in the evening, but you’re never required to fully dress up.  There will be a night or two where dressing up is optional and you can go dine in a specific dining room with others that are dressed up more, but you don’t have to partake if you don’t want to.

 

It seems to me that NCL ships are ALL about the dining and drinking and not about other things at all.  They’re just packed full of restaurants and bars!  It’s an interesting concept, but the choices are dizzying!  There is always a buffet and a couple of very nice “main dining” restaurants, and usually another casual dining experience or two.  And then there are multiple “pay extra” restaurants to choose from.  These REQUIRE a reservation.  Please read my “Tips on NCL Freestyle dining” page in the Cruise Reviews section of my Website to gain a better understanding of this Freestyle Cruising.

 

Cabin:

 

We had a Category EE, Oceanview #5602 on the 5th deck, amidships. The size was good.  If you’re a light sleeper like me, avoid it!  We were right under the galley for the Alizar main dining restaurant and they banged around above us from 3:30am onwards both nights of the cruise.  It was terrible for me.  My roommate snored right though it.  I had a similar experience on my NCL Spirit cruise in 2005.  We were right under one of their “pay extra” steakhouses on that one.  If at all possible, try to get a cabin that has a passenger sleeping deck above you.

 

Some of the features of the cabins:  They had a coffee maker in each cabin, but hadn’t yet figured out we needed cream as well.  (Since we’re the first cruisers ever, I assume they’ll get this straightened out.  You could get little buckets of creamer at the buffet.)  There was a fridge, but it was a locked mini-bar, so it was of no use to us.  And they had a huge, heavy industrial-strength looking stainless steel hairdryer that didn’t blow all that great and just tired out your hand if you used it a while.  (Nothing like using a 10-pound weight first thing in the morning!)   You might consider taking your own if you have a smaller travel one. The bathroom for oceanviews and above is cool.  It has sort of three “compartments”.  On the left, a toilet with a sliding glass door that you could close for SOME privacy.  There is a wavy “frosted” pattern on the door that you can absolutely see though, but it gives a little privacy.  The sink is directly in the center of the bathroom as you walk in.  And there is a really nice, big shower with another sliding frosted door on the right.  The inside cabins have a similar shower, but the toilet and sink are all in the other section.  Insides and oceanviews have liquid soap dispensers on the wall by the sink, and foaming bath soap and shampoo in a dispenser on the wall of the shower.  The highest category cabins got little bottles of amenities, but I’ll have to look through the photos again to try to figure out at what level you graduate from the wall dispenser to the cute bottles.  I didn’t really mind the wall dispenser though.   There is only one electrical plug at the vanity (as many ships have).  As always, I suggest you take one of those adapters that makes three sockets out of one.  I have one that has a little nightlight on it and it was perfect.

 

Besides regular, inside, oceanview, balcony and mini-suite cabins like most ships have (all with obnoxiously-bright décor I might add), this class of NCL ship has some special suites at the top of the ship that are really cool.  They have two “Garden Villas”.  These are great for families or groups of friends.  There are three bedrooms, a private courtyard, a private Jacuzzi, a large living area and a large dining table and a bar in the shared area.  One of the bedrooms is obvioulsy the “master”, and the other two are nice balcony or mini-suite sized cabins with full baths with tubs and their own private balconies.  They’re priced like any other cruise cabin.  The first and second in the Garden Villa have an outrageous price, but then the third through sixth in the cabin have a lower price.  If a family or three couples were going to get three mini-suite cabins next to one another anyway, they should consider the Garden Villa and how it might compare for their cruise.

 

The other really unique category for the Pride of Hawaii (and the Norwegian Jewel, Norwegian Gem and Norwegian Pearl), is the Courtyard Villas.  These are mini-suites that unrelated folks can purchase that have their own shared Courtyard.  There are 8 Courtyard villas that are two bedrooms (one smaller one for kids with no windows, and one large one that basically is a regular mini-suite).  And then two Courtyard Villas that are the mini-suite only without the additional inside cabin added on.  Anyway, all of these Category A3 and A4 cabins share a private Courtyard with lounging areas, a small pool, a whirlpool, a sauna, a small workout area with a treadmill and a stationary bike, and a very large private sun deck with lots of loungers on the top of the center section of the ship.  The Courtyard has a sliding glass roof so I presume it will be open most of the time in Hawaii.  It was closed during our cold coastal from San Francisco.

 

The last really big suite is a “one and only” it’s the A2 Deluxe Owner’s Suite at the very top of the ship in the front of this Villa and Courtyard area.  Your room key is required to get the elevator to go to Deck 14 at all in the center of the ship, but to get to this A2 Deluxe Owner’s Suite you must walk up one flight to your very own Deck 15 private access.  Folks with difficulty with stairs should not even consider this big suite.  Anyway, it was very large, with two small private deck areas, a large living area, a very large bedroom and a second half bath for guests.  It’s 1195 square feet!

 

The view from the Garden Villas (there are two, one on each side, and also the A2 Deluxe Owner’s Suite) are towards the center pool area.  They’re in a great location over the very center of the ship.

 

Please look through my online photo album for the Pride of Hawaii posted May, 2006, to see many room category type photos.

http://www.kodakgallery.com/suzycruisy

 

Entertainment:

 

The quality of the entertainment was pretty good, considering we were the VERY first passengers for them to perform their production show for.  We watched Rock and Soul or something like that the first night.  They did a decent job, but they need to work on their lighting a little.  The second night we saw a comedian in the Spinnaker Lounge and he was good.  An NCL regular that had changed ships.  They also had a second production show, but we didn’t go to it.  After the lack of sleep from the first night being under the dining room galley, I didn’t want to stay up for the production show the second night.   I believe they said there was three different production shows though, so it’ll be great on the 7-night cruise.

 

The Pride of Hawaii:

 

You’ve probably gotten the jist of my opinion by now that I liked the ship overall, but it seems like there should be more public areas that aren’t restaurants.  Maybe not when in Hawaii though.  I plan to sail in Hawaii in late 2007 to try out the regular 7-night cruise to see if the floating resort “all restaurants and bars” thing really works.  Maybe with no sea days I won’t miss more public spaces.

 

In the meantime, here are some comments about the ship.  I think their traffic flow in the ship is a little weird, but not terrible.  It takes a bit of getting used to.  They seem to like to have a walking hallway on one side of the ship, and then have the restaurants and bars butt clear out to the outer glass on the other side.  There is not two walking hallways like I’m used to on other ships except towards the aft of Deck 7.  There are also some “dead ends”, where you need to go down or up, but can’t go forward or back from there.  Again, not the end of the world, just different.

 

The kids area is really big, which families will like.  It’s also right by the buffet, and the buffet actually has a kids “section” with low tables and stools, and a lower buffet section that will have kids’ favorite foods.  There is a big arcade, and a movie theatre, and a very large separate section for teens.  Since I expect that during the “kids out of school” summer and holidays they’ll have a lot of children, it’s good.

 

There is a HUGE basketball, volleyball, tennis court above the buffet in the back WITH STADIUM SEATING to view the action.  That was new.  It could be very popular with groups of folks that like to play these sports. 

 

The spa is VERY big, with lots of amenities.  There is a men’s and women’s locker room that is much more than just a changing area.  Each one is an area onto itself that you could hang out in with a private whirlpool, sauna, plunge pool, relaxing area, and the standard lockers and showers.  Just really nice.  In the “middle” they have a dual-sex area with an even bigger Jacuzzi, and some hot stone beds you can lay one and relax.  And all of these are high on the front of the ship, so the view is great.  And then there are the private treatment rooms, of course, and then just a massive retail area in the lobby for buying the Elemis spa products.  (Like most ships, the spa is run by Steiner.)  There is also a full salon with hair and nail services adjacent to the spa check-in and retail area.

 

The library is large and comfortable, and there are two flexible rooms that would be card rooms normally I believe, but they were filled with NCL folks on my cruise.  And, of course, there is a huge pool and sun area, complete with an awesome-looking water slide that I wanted to try but it was too cold outside.  The slide isn’t always open, so check the “Freestyle Daily” for the list of times it’s open.  (The Freestyle Daily is the daily newsletter that gets delivered to your room at turn-down each night listing the activities and entertainment and dining times the next day.)

 

Above the spa at the front of the ship are two “sun decks”.  One is I’ll guess a normal sun deck (lots of deck chairs and room up there) and then up a little higher a smaller deck that has a sign that says “Freestyle Sun Deck” before you go up the stairs.  And when you get to the top it says crew only, but I’m not sure about that.  Could be for anyone wanting to tan without lines.  We’ll have to wait for some paying passengers to sail and report back on that one.

 

Another thing that NCL does well is have a lot of meeting rooms.  NCL ships are great for companies that want to put on conferences.  I am always impressed with the number and amenities of their meeting rooms on their ships.  Many cruise lines don’t have a SINGLE meeting room.  The Hawaii has a few near the showroom.  The Pride of America actually has a lot more meeting space though, if someone were looking for that.

 

Last, but certainly not least, again I’ll mention the restaurants.  Besides the complimentary ones I’ve already mentioned, there is a great steakhouse called Cagney’s, NCL’s signature French restaurant Le Bistro, and their Japanese restaurant called Jasmine.  Jasmine has three sections.  A sushi bar, a sit-down Japanese restaurant, and a Teppanyaki where they cook at your table.  The Teppanyaki room had four grills with 8 seats at each one.  All of these would normally have an extra charge, and are very good.  I tried the Teppanyaki the first night and Cagney’s the second.  Remember to read my review that gives tips on NCL Freestyle dining.

 

There are three restaurants that I’m confused as to whether they have an extra charge or not, but I don’t think so.  They are Papa’s Italian Kitchen – awesome atmosphere in a down-home upscale Italian place.  The Blue Lagoon off the Aloha Atrium that is open midnight to 4:30pm for breakfast and lunch.  Casual, American food like burgers and macaroni and cheese.  And Paniolo Tapas & Salsa Restaurant.  This is just Mexican food with a fancy name.  It’s open for dinner and has one side of the deck above the Atrium, but also spills around and takes up the Blue Lagoon sitting area in the evening.  Since the buffet seemed to be cleared out at night, I believe room service and Blue Lagoon are the only places open for midnight snacking.

 

Atriums – if you’re used to big, soaring open atriums, this is not going to compare at all.  They have a two-story Aloha Atrium at the center of the ship with the Aloha Bar in the center, a stage and a big screen up on the second story above it, and then those two restaurants I just mentioned flanking the top level.  At the bottom is the reception desk, the shore excursions desk, one shop with some nice crystal and nick-knack stuff, and the future cruise sales desk.  It’s not spectacular, it’s just there.  It’s OK, but it’s rather unimpressive compared to other ships.

 

Further down the Deck 7 hallway from this main Atrium is what I’d call a secondary atrium type thing where you again get to look down into a two-story hole in the middle of the ship.  (Not sure exactly how to explain it!)  The Jasmine restaurant flanks three sides of the Deck 7 part of the ship, along with the walking hallway, and then you can look down into Bar Central with the Champagne Bar, and the entry to Le Bistro down on Deck 6.

There are a couple of nice bars on the ship, but the most interesting is the Medusa Bar.  It has an underwater theme, a decent dance floor, and I think they’ll be Karaoke a lot here.  There are also three private Karaoke rooms off Medusa, so that’s fun if you want to try it without the whole ship hearing how bad you are!

 

The ship has a wedding chapel that holds about 25 guests, and lots of services to help you with weddings.  The chapel is physically tucked into the entry hallway of the Spinnaker Lounge up on Deck 13.  If a Hawaiian wedding is in your plans, be sure to ask me about it.  I was married on a ship myself!

 

The last comment I’ll make about public areas is that there was the typical “photo gallery” along one side of Deck 7 towards the aft, and the “art gallery” along the other side, leading to the Galleria Shops at the back of the ship.  Next to the art gallery is the internet café.  It costs $3.95 to activate your account (one time) and then a certain amount per minute afterwards.  I’m sorry, I didn’t get the pricing on my super short cruise.  On my deck plan in the brochure it shows “meeting rooms” at the aft of Deck 7 but that’s not true.  In the large rectangular area at the aft of Deck 7 is a large shopping store.  Remember, this is not duty-free. This is just regular shopping at an American store.  They have jewelry, clothing, NCL logo stuff, golfing gear, and tons of Hawaiian products.  I bought some Hawaiian coffee and some NCL t-shirts.  The meeting space they have is tucked in to rooms near the entry to the Stardust Theatre.

 

Tipping:

 

On NCL they charge tips to your shipboard account automatically as part of the “Freestyle Dining” concept.  Since you can eat in many places, they spread the tips around among the staff of those many places.  It’s a $10 per person total per day.  You can always go to the purser’s desk and complain if you have a bad experience and have it lowered, or ask them to give more, or just give someone more of a tip if you think they deserve it.  Bar bills get 15% added automatically.  The only real place you need to be concerned with remembering to tip on your own is that room service should get something for bringing you stuff, as they’re not part of the main dining tipping pool.  The spa services have an automatic 15% added as well.

 

In Summary about ALL three NCL America ships, some pointers:

 

With three ships doing pretty much the same itinerary around the islands for 7 nights, you probably don’t think there is any difference between them except the day they depart Honolulu.  That is NOT true.  There are some differences to help you decide between them:

 

The Pride of Aloha is an older, smaller ship that was rebadged with an American flag and put into Hawaii service in 2004.  It’s still not small, but it’s smallER.  The rooms are small and it has less amenities.  It’s still fine, but it’s going to be the least expensive of the three most of the time.  It sails on Sundays from Honolulu and Fridays from MAUI.  (Half of the ship embarks / disembarks in each port.)  If you want to try round-trip Maui, this is the only choice.  I sailed it in 2004 on a 2-night cruise, and wrote a review if you’d like to look for it.

 

Pride of America launched in 2005.  I sailed on this for one night in 2005, but never wrote up a review of it since in one night, all I had time to do was run around the ship and not really experience a ton of the service and amenities.  I liked what I saw.  The ship has a red, white and blue American décor.  The public areas are named after American places (like the Napa Wine Bar and the Capitol Atrium that IS an impressive atrium).  The only drawback at all of this ship is that the cabins are, again, smaller than the average cruise ship.  NCL bought an American hull half done with this one, that already had all of the cabin compartments manufactured, so they had to go with what they had.  The public areas where you’ll spend the most time are fabulous tough.  The America sails on Saturdays from Honolulu and you can expect it to be the medium-priced ship of the three.  This one has the largest meeting room complex of the three, so for groups that want to hold corporate retreats, this is probably the best ship.

 

And this review was about the newest and final one of the three, the Pride of Hawaii.  The Hawaii is built fully custom on the same basic design as NCL’s other big, new ships in their international fleet.  The cabins are roomy, and the public areas are nice.  Since I like spacious rooms, I’m going to suggest this ship most often.  It sails Mondays from Honolulu, which is less convenient for some folks than a weekend departure, but it’s got a lot more cool features so most of us used to a more Premium cruise experience are going to feel more at home on this one.  Also, I think honeymooners getting married on the weekends should gravitate to this one since it’s the nicest.  Fly to Hawaii at your convenience.  Maybe overnight in Honolulu before or after your cruise.  And then enjoy the honeymoon cruise around the islands on Monday.

 

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