Non-stop daily and evening entertainment and activities for families and adults
Onboard Hawaiian ambassador teaches the region’s culture and arts
Butler service is included with suite bookings
Ship’s decor is a mishmash and devoid of Hawaiian style
Specialty restaurants serve the best food onboard -- at extra cost
The nightly shows are a bit lackluster
No casino onboard (as gambling is outlawed in Hawaii)
No adults-only spaces (available on other lines)
With a 2016 multimillion-dollar revamp under its belt, the 2,186-passenger Pride of America is looking fresh and polished. This ship is also the only cruise lines to offer inter-island itineraries around the Hawaiian Islands, making it an easy and cost-effective way to visit several during one trip. Much of the ship's allure is its well-priced port-intensive itineraries, but the ship itself also offers much of what Norwegian fans have come to love about the line: a relaxed environment, plenty of free dining venues, family-friendly cabins, a fantastic pool deck, and a free kids’ club. Some passengers may miss the adult-only spaces or the casinos that are offer on other cruise lines and ships. But most here are thrilled with Pride of America providing a stress-free and wallet-friendly way to see Hawaii.
What's Included (and What's Not)
Pride of America cruise fare includes accommodations, most entertainment, kids’ club activities, and meals in the free dining venues: two main dining rooms, a buffet, a diner, Asian restaurant, and outdoor grill. Non-alcoholic beverages like iced tea, a limited selection of juices on the breakfast buffet, regular coffee, tea, and ice water are also included in the fare.
You’ll have to dip into your wallet if you want to dine at the best restaurants onboard. Specialty venues Cagney’s Steakhouse, Jefferson’s Bistro, La Cucina, Sushi Bar, and Dolce Gelato all charge a la carte prices. Moderno Churrascaria and Teppanyaki charge a flat per-person fee. Some dining packages are available that bundle the costs of out-of-pocket meals (see below). You’ll also pay extra when ordering alcohol, soda, bottled water, and some other non-alcoholic beverages. Drink packages also are available pre-cruise, for those who know they’ll want all-you can drink cocktails or sodas.
Spa and salon services cost extra, as does participation in exercise classes and shore excursions. There’s a convenience charge levied for ordering room service, too. Babysitting services are charged extra, as is the video arcade, laundry services, and internet access. There are three internet packages to choose from: 100 minutes, 250 minutes, or an Ultimate Cruise Plan with a per-day fee.
The cruise line automatically charges your onboard account a per-person, per-day fee for tips. Anyone booking a suite is charged a higher daily service charge; mini-suite passengers pay a lower daily rate. Tips are shared by a variety of crew members, including your cabin steward, the waitstaff in the free restaurants, and behind-the-scenes support staff. Passengers aboard Pride of America also have to pay an additional 4.275 percent state tax. If you want to adjust the tip amount, visit Guest Services and to bump the total either up or down.
Be aware that an 18-percent gratuity is added to bills for salon and spa services, at the bars, and at any of the ship’s specialty restaurants. You don’t need to tip on top of that, but if a server goes above and beyond, you can leave a few extra dollars on the table. Guest Services does sell vouchers to give to servers that translates to money in their paycheck, but that process is overly time consuming. Tipping in cash is better.
The only U.S. cruise ships to sail the Hawaiian Islands
Pride of America is a special cruise ship. Instead of sailing the seven seas, it homeports year-round in Honolulu, on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. Launched in 2005 and fresh from a multimillion-dollar dry dock renovation in 2016, the 2,186-passenger ship is the ideal home base for an in-depth exploration of the Hawaiian Islands. Itineraries pass by the Nā Pali Coast, a part of Kauai that's incredibly difficult to reach, so a cruise-by offers an amazing opportunity to see this natural wonder up close. The cruise might be worth the price solely for this rare photo op.
The 920-foot, 80,439-ton ship offers seven-night interisland itineraries -- meaning passengers only sail to Hawaiian ports and don’t stop at foreign ports. That caveat is important to note, because by not calling on a foreign port, the line must adhere to certain labor laws. That’s why you’ll find an all-American crew aboard the ship. The line hires some top talent to fill the 927 crew slots onboard, but you may still notice differences in service if you’re used to more formality or a trilingual staff.
Because this is the only cruise line to offer interisland Hawaiian itineraries, Pride of America welcomes an incredible range of passengers from honeymooners to families to retirees. Solo travelers even make the trip because of the ship’s studio cabins and destination-immersive itinerary. Most passengers tend to be American, but you’ll encounter Australians and Brits as well. During our voyage, we met a handful of newlyweds as well as many couples celebrating special anniversaries or retirements. There were also a few multigenerational families traveling together.
Norwegian is the line that made Freestyle cruising a reality. That means passengers really can do what they want, when they want, and with whom they want. The onboard vibe is laid-back and the dress code is mostly casual, though you are welcome to dress up on Norwegian’s “Night Out,” once per cruise (but you don’t have to). Passengers should also select smart casual outfits when dining at the specialty restaurants. However, shorts and T-shirts are just fine for the buffet restaurant.
Despite sharing the ship with more than 2,000 people, Pride of America really only feels crowded at peak embarkation times when everyone is heading to port to sightsee for the day. Unlike other warm weather cruises, even the pool deck is uncrowded since so many passengers spend the majority of their time exploring ashore. We never had trouble finding an available deck chair or lounger.
The ship is easy to navigate, but there are some long hallways. Depending on the location of your cabin, it may be quite a hike to any of the restaurants, bars, or theater.
One possible disappointment you might have with Pride of America is its odd lack of Hawaiian decor or flair. It would be lovely to sail aboard a ship that’s fully immersed in the islands' vibe but that’s not the case. There are a few corners of the ship with Hawaiian styling, like the Aloha Cafe buffet, but the rest of the ship is a mishmash of American Colonial, Wild West, and the louder colors of Mardi Gras themes. You’ll find venues with names like the John Adams’ Coffee Bar and Jefferson’s Bistro with interior design befitting those presidents, as well as the Gold Rush Saloon with oak barrels and decorative spittoons.
All in all, Pride of America offers an incredible bang for the buck in a part of the United States that is notoriously expensive.
Not a ton of cabin categories, but it covers the basic options well
Unlike some of Norwegian’s newer ships, you won’t find as broad a range of cabin categories on Pride of America. There are a variety of Inside Cabins, including four 107-square-foot Studio Inside Staterooms for solo travelers. Oceanview options, cabins with balconies, suites that include penthouses, and one- and two-bedroom suites are available. Every single cabin category offers options for families, but the poshest is the two-bedroom Deluxe Family Suite with a Large Balcony. These cabins range from 607 to 650 square feet plus they have a 98-square-foot balcony.
Those looking to stretch their budget should consider a Family Inside Cabin that can accommodate four (albeit not in a super spacious fashion since these cabins range from 132 to 139 square feet).
Each cabin category is decorated a bit differently but all have a crisp, modern look and feature cherry wood furniture. Each cabin is also equipped with a flat-screen TV, radio, telephone, mini-fridge, safe, and hairdryer. Suite bathrooms are outfitted with luxe Bulgari amenities but all other staterooms receive Norwegian’s lemongrass-scent soap, conditioning shampoo, and lotion. Cotton balls and cotton swabs are also stowed in the bathroom.
Depending on which category you choose, most beds will be queen- or king-size and can be separated into two twin beds. The only exception are Studio Cabins, which feature a full-size bed and suites that offer true king beds.
We stayed in an Owner’s Suite with Large Balcony all the way forward on Deck 11. The dining table, loungers, and whirlpools on the balcony drew us to this suite. The downside of the forward location is that there’s quite a bit of wind to contend with when the ship is sailing, but the panoramic views are astounding. The suite can accommodate four people with a king bed in the master bedroom. The sofa in the separate living area folds out to a double bed and there’s a half-bath off the entryway. The master bath has double sinks, a jetted tub, and separate shower. Butler service and access to a private concierge are included. Butlers escort passengers on and off the ship at embarkation and ports of call and are on-call 24/7 to help with anything from unpacking to pouring the free bottle of Champagne that all suite guests receive at check-in. Butlers can assist with dining reservations and special requests, too.
Cruisers who aren’t necessarily foodies can certainly make due with the free dining options and never get bored. The two main dining rooms, Skyline and Liberty, offer the same dinner menu and Skyline is also open for breakfast. However, families and more casual diners are drawn to the Aloha Cafe buffet -- open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner -- which has a special kids’ cafe section with a low-to-the-ground buffet area where little ones can serve themselves favorites like mac and cheese or pizza. The large complex includes both indoor and outdoor seating for 680 people, so it can get busy and loud during peak dining times. Breakfast features just about everything, including oatmeal, yogurt, fresh fruit, eggs, potatoes, sausage, bacon, pancakes, waffles, and French toast. The lunch and dinner menus tend to be geographically themed and may feature Mexican, Indian, Chinese, or Thai dishes as well as stalwart options like burgers, salads, and pizza. The dessert station is expansive and includes a soft serve ice cream station.
Gourmands eschew the main dining rooms and buffet and instead focus on the specialty restaurants. There’s a Brazilian-style steakhouse, Moderno Churrascaria, which carries a set per person surcharge. It’s a favorite across Norwegian’s fleet, as is Cagney’s Steakhouse a la carte menu. For dining around a hibachi with a group, try Teppanyaki (also with a set per person fee) or get your fill of sushi at the a la carte Sushi Bar. La Cucina is the spot for Italian delicacies and Jefferson’s Bistro presents continental cuisine such as lamb chops and pan-seared sea scallops. Both venues offer an a la carte menu.
If you think you’ll spend most of your meals at specialty restaurants, buy one of Norwegian’s specialty dining packages before you set sail. Dining packages include your choice of three to 14 meals at most specialty restaurants for a set price, plus the automatic 18-percent gratuity.
Room service is available and while the menu, with the exception of Special Occasion meals, is free, there is a $7.95 service fee per order and a tip is recommended.
Norwegian is a leader in flexible options at sea and most cruisers love Freestyle Dining, where you can dine where you want, when you want. Just make reservations at the specialty restaurants online before boarding or make them once on the ship. Most restaurants can also accommodate walk-ins, but you may have to wait for a table.
Bars with a view offering tropical drinks and the scenery to match
There are a plethora of compelling spots onboard to grab a drink, from coffee, espresso, and cappuccinos at the John Adams’ Coffee Bar to cocktail venues with a view. For spectacular vistas all day long, try the Napa Wine Bar, which has some outdoor seating; the Aloha Lanai Bar behind Aloha Café; and the quiet Ocean Drive Bar, which you’ll find adjacent to the South Beach pool. The open-air Key West Bar & Grill also overlook the South Beach Pool area. For smokers, the Waikiki Bar, which is perched above the Oasis Pool, is the only place smokers can go to enjoy a drink and a cigarette.
Cruise fare includes beverages such as ice water, iced tea, select juices at breakfast, regular coffee, and tea. Order these drinks at any bar onboard or get them from the self-service machines in the Aloha Cafe. A variety of drink packages are available for purchase, including unlimited fountain soda (Pepsi products); bottled water; an Unlimited Beverage Package that includes a range of wine, spirits, cocktails, beer, and soft drinks; and a Corks and Caps Package that entitles you to select wines, beer, and soft drinks throughout your voyage. You can also buy premium Lavazza coffee at venues like the John Adams’ Coffee Bar.
Passengers can’t bring most beverages -- non-alcoholic or alcoholic -- onboard, but there are a few exceptions. Wine and Champagne is allowed, although guests will be charged a corkage fee for each bottle. The wine and Champagne can be enjoyed in state rooms, restaurants, or bars, and staff will provide wine glasses and pour the wine on guests’ behalf. Alcohol purchased in any port of call will be held by the cruise line until disembarkation day.
Pride of America offers a wide range of options for evening entertainment, but it’s not known for knock-your-socks-off performances. It really comes down to the itinerary itself. With two overnight port calls -- one in Maui and one on Kauai -- and nighttime departures from other ports, many passengers aren’t onboard when some nightly events are staged. But, if you do feel like enjoying cocktails and live music, or a show, you can find that each evening.
The Gold Rush Saloon offers up karaoke and the Mardi Gras Cabaret Lounge is a solid spot for dancing and a nightclub scene. An incredible piano player mans Pink’s Champagne Bar and often gets the crowd singing. The Hollywood Theater stages two performances per night and you can expect to see Broadway-style shows that pay tribute to musicians like Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Comedians and magicians often perform at the theater as well. At night, passengers can often join a trivia session at the John Adams’ Coffee Bar.
A handful of shops selling souvenirs like tote bags, jewelry, and Hawaiian-print shirts offer another diversion. Note that unlike many other mainstream cruise ships, there is no casino onboard, as gambling is banned in Hawaii.
Two pools, a variety of whirlpools, ample lounge chairs, and private cabanas
There are two options for taking a dip onboard: the midship South Beach Pool and the aft Oasis Pool. The expansive South Beach Pool on Deck 11 is ideal for swimming and sunbathing and also offers four whirlpools and the Ocean Drive Bar. A kiddy pool with an animal theme is nearby, and it’s complete with waterslides and a play area. Dolce Gelato is also just a few steps away from the main pool area and scrumptious frozen treats (for a fee). Lunch is also steps away at the Aloha Cafe (included in rates), which is at the opposite end of the deck.
If you’re looking for a bit more peace and quiet than the main pool deck, visit Oasis Pool at the aft of Deck 12 (behind the spa). And, for those who seek a whirlpool all their own, look on the starboard side of Deck 11. Most passengers assume all of the whirlpools are clustered around the South Beach pool and never find this one, that’s off the beaten path.
While neither pool offers cabanas, you can find them on Deck 14 on a first come, first served basis. Each cabana is shaded and includes two lounge chairs. The views are fantastic so be sure to bring your camera to capture the moment.
Other activities can include ping-pong, shuffleboard, basketball, table tennis, or volleyball tournaments; chess matches on deck; classes ranging from arts and crafts to the latest dance moves; and culinary demonstrations -- all depending on your sailing. Pride of America also has an onboard Hawaiian ambassador who teaches passengers more about Hawaiian culture.
Expert treatments from Mandara Spa-trained therapists
Deck 12 is home to the Mandara Spa, Mandara Salon, and Pulse Fitness Center. Spa prices are what you’d expect at a land resort and include treatments like hot stone massages, aroma seaweed wraps, and Swedish massages. The spa features a coed relaxation room and a thermal suite with heated loungers, which you can use before or after your treatment. Day passes are also available for the entire voyage. The salon next door books haircuts, manicures, pedicures, and other beauty treatments.
Outfitted with TechnoGym equipment, the fitness center is open 24/7. There’s a large workout room as well as a series of rooms for group classes such as TRX, Pilates, yoga, and indoor cycling (for an extra fee). There’s also a jogging track on Deck 6: three laps equals one mile.
Great kids’ clubs, late-night babysitting, and the Entourage Teen Club to keep your brood happy
While this particular Norwegian ship doesn’t have the character breakfasts or meet-and-greets found on other lines, there are plenty of activities to keep little ones and teens busy -- though with such action-packed, port-intensive itineraries, families may not even use the onboard facilities.
The kids’ program is divided into three sections: Guppies for kids under 3 years old (children must be at least six months old on the day they board the ship to participate); Splash Academy for those ages 3 to 12 with kids 3 to 5 categorized as turtles, 6- to 9-year-olds are seals, and older kids are dolphins. Pastimes may include splashing in the animal-themed kiddy pool, playing board games, trying ping-pong or shuffleboard, getting creative in arts and crafts classes, or watching movies.
The Entourage Teen Club is designed for anyone ages 13 to 17 and features things like game show nights, selfie competitions, and dancing. The club has a video jukebox, plus air hockey and foosball. The ship also offers a Late Night Fun Zone, where adults drop off their kids for a per-hour fee per-child between 10:30 pm and 1:30 am. But note that the ship doesn’t offer in-cabin babysitting.
Pride of America offers plenty of family-friendly cabins and dining is a breeze with free choices like the Aloha Cafe and Cadillac Diner that both serve the type of food kids love.