First and last NCL all inclusive - Hawaii
We used to cruise regularly with NCL until they went all inclusive a couple of years ago, and virtually doubled their prices overnight. However we wanted to cruise Hawaii without the 4 sea days each way from the west coast of the USA, so decided to use up our future cruise deposits on Pride of America. It is the only cruise ship based down in Hawaii, and has a great itinerary with 2 overnights in port. The ship has a very different feel to any other cruise ship we have been on, due to all the staff being from the US. As the ship never leaves US waters they have to pay the going rate for US wages and I suppose other employment laws such as age, as I have never seen so many older waiters etc. on a ship. Im not saying that is bad thing, its just different. We enjoyed the ship, just large enough to give you enough choices of bars and entertainment for the evenings. We particularly enjoyed the Pink Champagne bar (which doesnt serve pink champagne!), the piano player in here was good, and the guitar player who I assume covered for him on his night off. We didnt watch the singers and dancers shows, but there was a comedian who was very good, managed to be funny without swearing or bad language. We had a nice balcony cabin with a small sofa, bigger than the Princess cabins but not as big as Celebrity, RCI and MSC. Bathroom had the creepy shower curtain which personally I hate. The food was good and plentiful, large portions as you would expect on an American cruise line with a reasonable amount of choice. The buffet was a bit crowded at times, as all cruise ship buffets, but particularly so on the last day when the ship sailed at 1pm. There is also an American style diner open all hours which served great snacks (chicken wings etc.) but the service could be slow. Talking of the service Im not a fan of all inclusive including the gratuities, and this cruise proved why. Our cabin was not ready until 2.30pm the latest we have ever had on any cruise (and we have been on approx 70). Our cabin steward was probably the laziest we have ever had, and seemed to try and get away with only coming in once a day. He certainly wasnt interested in going the extra mile for extra tips, and barely even went the distance. Restaurant service it was my 60th birthday on the cruise a big one I think, and other than a small card in the room that was it from NCL, no ballons, nothing on the door, so a bit disappointing. We ate in the Bistro that night, and although the waitress was pleasant, nothing special. My husband asked for a cake, so she bought over a small cake, no waiters singing, nothing. Compared to a previous birthday cruise on MSC, they bought over a huge cake with my name on, lots of waiters singing etc, and that wasnt a special birthday. The 3 nights we ate in the main restaurants - the first night the waitress was fine, very efficient. The second night the waiter forgot one of the appetizers, brought over the main courses while we were still waiting for the other appetizer. The third night the waiter bought both our appetizers together and dumped them both in front of us, which was awkward and difficult to eat, I felt poor service. Since with the freestyle dining you dont get the same waiter twice they dont seem to make much effort. The all inclusive drinks package included a good choice of wines, spirits and cocktails. All the drinks had a whopping 20 percent gratuity charge on, fortunately included for us on the drinks package. BUT the tax is not included, and since this ship spends a lot of time in port, including the two overnights, over the cruise this added up to some $40 extra on the cruise account. I also noticed a bit of a scam going on a Cosmopolitan on the menu was $10.95, but it kept appearing on the slip to sign as $14.95 (spookily the limit of drinks allowed on the drinks package). I realised this meant the waiters 20% is more, and over the course of a cruise this would add up and I dont have a problem with that however the tax was not included which we had to pay so that was a tad annoying. Moving on, the itinerary was great and we did get to see 4 of the islands pretty well. The 2 days with overnights in port we hired cars the first day where we did not have to worry about missing the ship. All the major car hire companies had a pick up from the port, so this was a great way to see the islands for less that 50 a day. Much cheaper than cruise ship excursions and you can go at your own pace. On the big island we did a helicopter ride over the volcano which gave fantastic views of the lava fields. You have a headset on so you can hear the commentary from the pilot. It was about a 50 minute trip and quite expensive, and it was a lottery who got to sit up front by the pilot and who sits in the middle at the back. They said it was weight distribution which I dont deny, but it seemed a bit unfair that the person with the great view at the front paid the same as the person sitting in the middle in the back not even by a window. I was lucky enough to be by a side window, but unlucky for my husband sat in the middle. I would certainly have paid more to sit up front. We had 4 nights in Waikiki beach pre cruise, and managed to fit in a visit to Pearl Harbour, Honolulu, and even a few hours relaxing on the beach. Overall I would recommend this cruise as a good way to see more of the other Islands. Interesting while we on the cruise NCL back tracked on the compulsory all inclusive for the UK market, although there is still no option to not have the gratuity charges included. So unless NCL prices become more reasonable well probably be sticking with Celebrity, RCI and Princess in the future.
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