Cruising with Pride
|||About the Pride of Aloha (graphic)|
|||Pride of Aloha offers Elvis, Island themes|
By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Travel Editor
Now you're wondering about how that differs from the Sky's new incarnation, NCL America's Pride of Aloha, Norwegian Cruise Line's first U.S.-flagged ship, which began a seven-day interisland cruise schedule here last week.
The short answer: More Hawai'i feel. A tiny bit less room. Shorter itineraries. More time for playing onshore.
Sailing aboard the Star, Hawai'i was all around you outdoors, but there was little evidence of the Islands inside, in the decor, on the menus or in the general approach. A single contemporary Hawaiian CD played on an endless loop, and there was a woman who taught a hula class. But otherwise, the ship said "Europe."
Aboard the Pride, Hawai'i is with you all over the ship in the giant plumeria and orchid lei decal along its sides and the kitschy-to-classic Hawaiianized decor inside, in the well-designed Kumu Cultural Center, and most obviously in the form of lots of local-born staff who make you feel at home just by being themselves. "Eh, sistah, da pua look so nice in your hair!" a staff member called out to me as I toured the ship last weekend, and it was heartwarming to experience this kind of outgoing friendliness after the more formal coolness of the Star. This ship says "Aloha!"
The Pride is slightly smaller than the Star, and this is evident in the compact cabins, the surprisingly diminutive swimming pool and the intimate showroom. Specifically, the Pride is 112 feet shorter and 3 feet narrower, has three fewer guest decks and accommodates 238 fewer guests. The Pride is two years older than the Star.
In case you're confused, the Pride we're talking about isn't the brand-new supership that's under construction in Germany that's the Pride of America, which suffered damage in drydock during a winter storm and isn't expected in Hawai'i's warm waters until June 2005, to be followed in 2006 by a Pride of Hawaii ship. Meanwhile, the Norwegian Wind continues to offer 10- and 11-day itineraries that include the Hawai'i stops and Fanning Island.
The thing that strikes you most forcefully in touring the Pride is the color scheme. As one VIP commented after a tour of the ship, "I need sunglasses." It's like a bougainvillea garden gone wild in there, or a fruit basket out of control, with all the fuschias, the limes, the aquas, the passion fruit and plum colors.
This is especially true in the Aloha Atrium, the central lobby of the ship, which runs from decks 5 through 11. Inspired, says the PR material, by the colors of the rainbow and the sails of traditional canoes, an angular fabric sculpture is suspended in the center of the atrium and the area is pierced by columns outfitted with mock carvings splashed with every color of the rainbow and some no rainbow has ever seen. Yow!
Touch of class
But the Pride also seems a trifle classier in select spots, particularly in the wood-paneled Captain Cook's Bar and Cigar Club, the glass-fronted cases in the peaceful library, the gracious Plantation Club with its muted colors and period artwork, and the luxurious Kahili Room with its reproductions of portraits of Hawaiian royalty (plus some leftover Michelangelo-style sculptures that appear to be from the ship's previous incarnation). Another incongruous note is that the Kahili Room features not Hawai'i Regional Cuisine or even East-West fare but fine Italian dining still, it's a lovely space, with two tiers of tables all with ocean views. It's one of several alternative restaurants aboard for which passengers pay a small premium, in this case $15 per person.
There is grace, too, in the creations by Hawai'i artists, including murals in the Aloha Atrium by Arthur Johnsen of the Big Island, stylized Hawaiian images by another Big Islander, Avi Kiriaty, scattered about, and contemporary works in the Pacific Heights Restaurant.
The Stardust Theatre is particularly lush, all in cream and taupe, with comfortable, velvet-soft upholstered sofas and chairs (rather than movie-theater-type seating), little coffee tables for drinks, and a proscenium stage. It seats 1,000 on two levels as compared with the Star's opera-style three-story theater with 1,037 seats.
One difference between the Star and the Pride is in the design of the cabins. In the outside ocean-view balcony class, the one favored by most passengers, instead of a wall of glass with a door inset, as on the Star, Pride cabins have a large porthole and a narrow glass door opening onto the balcony. This gives the 154-square foot cabins a slightly more enclosed feel, and they're smaller to begin with (comparable cabins on Star, in the BA and BB class, are 166 square feet).
Otherwise, however, the basic cabin fittings are the same in the two ships: a double bed (or twin beds) and a small couch, a desk with a small TV above, a closet and a trim bathroom with shower. Based on my trip last spring, these cabins are surprisingly comfortable especially given that few people spend much time in them and offer more storage space than you'd think (which is still no reason to overpack!). Expect to spend from $1,700 and up per person, depending on time of travel, location of cabin and other factors.
By the way, if this is the class of cabin you want, book as soon as you can. Pride has fewer outside balcony cabins than did Star, and pretty much all are booked for the summer and into October, according to Ray Miyashiro of Regal Travel.
Danny Ching of Non-Stop Travel said outside cabins without balconies are in short supply, and there are sometimes cancellations. But both agreed that you should be booking now if you're thinking of traveling in winter or later.
Just for kicks, we toured a a penthouse suite ($9,599 for two) which featured a living and dining area that could be converted into a second bedroom, a bedroom with full bath, a walk-in closet, wet bar and mini-kitchen, a half bath in the outer area, a full-size TV, a private deck with patio furniture and a tub-size whirlpool bath. And butler service, don'tcha know.
The menus on board the Pride of Aloha have a distinctly East-West turn, and Hawai'i celebrity chefs are being invited to create dishes to serve as daily specials in the Crossings Restaurant, one of the ship's two main dining rooms, where meals are included in the cost of travel (as opposed to the smaller, alternative restaurants, where you pay extra).
Menus sound as though they came right out of one of our Hawai'i Regional Cuisine restaurants: sashimi, kalua duckling potstickers, pork with lehua sour plum glaze, spicy beef and long rice salad, Maui onion soup, mahi mahi with mango salsa, kalua pig and Puna goat cheese, quesadillas, Kona spring rolls, mac nut-crusted snapper, liliko'i cr¶me brõlÚe, coconut cream pie.
Two scoops nothing
But Advertiser columnist Wade Shirkey came back from an overnight charity cruise July 3 with disturbing news: Still no rice! It had struck me forcibly during a cruise aboard the Star last spring that you could find grits and pickled herring aboard ship, but no steamed rice except in the specialty Japanese restaurant. Assuming that the menus for the charity cruise are similar to those on the regular itinerary, prepare to go riceless.
Still, after a travel-industry tour of the Pride last Saturday, travel agent Darlene Laster of H&L Travel was enthusiastic. "She's beautiful. I sailed on her (as the Sky) about five years ago, and I wouldn't have recognized her. The ship is very Hawaiian now. Locals should love it," Laster said.
Ching, of Non-Stop, said the response from Islanders has been very good. "they like the fact that the ship stays in Hawai'i and they can go to Maui or Kaua'i overnight and visit family," he said. "We get bookings from all over the world, but Hawai'i bookings have been pretty good in comparison to the population."
Miyashiro of Regal Travel spent five nights on the Pride of Aloha between Los Angeles and San Francisco, where he and and his wife watched how the staff performed.
There had been a great deal of speculation that the new American crew couldn't keep up the standards of the formerly European-dominated crews, and wouldn't be willing to tolerate the working conditions.
Coming off a disastrous airplane trip back East during which his luggage was misplaced, his cell phone lost and everything that could go wrong did, Miyashiro said he had one of his best cruises ever on the Pride.
He didn't experience the slow service in restaurants or long lines for boats ashore that some other passengers reported. Of the staff, particularly the Islanders, he said, "They did very well. You could see that they weren't as experienced because this was the first or second cruise for them, but as far as attitude, they were great. If they can maintain that attitude as they increase their experience, they'll do very well."
Touring the ship, we met Dana Sato, 24, of Hawai'i Kai, assistant maitre d' in the Hukilau Cafe, who said the staff is really happy to be home. A travel-
industry management graduate of the University of Hawai'i, Sato is on her third contract with NCL, having worked in the Caribbean, Canada and Mexico.
She said the seven-day itinerary with its generous shore time will work in the staff's favor: Fewer people on the ship mean fewer workers needed in restaurants and elsewhere. Computerized bookings aboard the ship allow them to track registration for shore excursions, and past experience tells them how many are likely to debark for shopping or other independent activities, allowing planning for the closing of certain restaurants at lunch or dinner, or curtailed service.
"We get time to rest and do laundry," said Sato, noting that it's difficult to find time for the mundane things when you work six or seven days a week.
She said NCL America has promised to try to juggle schedules so workers can get a few hours off on their home islands.
The old Star itinerary (the one now followed by the Wind) allowed for 31 hours in port and included two "sea days." This itinerary features 96 hours in port. "Sea days are our busy times. Now it's gonna be so much easier," said Sato.
Things to note about Pride of Aloha, based on a tour July 3 before the inaugural voyage:
- Folks who participated in this charity cruise reported that as has been the case in the past, check-in was relatively quick and well-organized, with a dozen lines in constant movement. Just remember that security is almost as tight on cruise ships as it is at airports. You must have your picture ID, and no joking around with the security people. The same contraband rules apply (no sharp objects, weapons, etc.), and be prepared to open up computers and divest yourself of metal items to go through a metal detector.
- Travel agents learned that there is a new $10 per-person, per-day ($5 for children 3 to 12) cover charge for passengers aboard the Pride. This is not a tip charge but a nonnegotiable fee. NCL district sales manager Debbie Connick said tipping is not mandatory and not routinely expected by staff aboard this ship because of higher, American-style salaries. Tips recognize extraordinary service, she said. This fee, along with base cruise charge, taxes, and so on, is paid in advance. Passengers receive a plastic credit-card-like ID with which to charge for amenities and settle up at the end of the voyage.
- Although NCL advertises itineraries starting from about $800, expect to spend $1,200 or more for inside cabins, $2,000 or more for outside. Travel agents report trips are booking up. Although NCL does not book on the Web, you can check availability at ncl.com. We noted that outside cabins were scarce through the remainder of the year. Check with a travel agent who specializes in cruises. At the travel-industry event aboard Pride on July 3, Regal Travel and Non-Stop Travel were recognized as frequent bookers for NCL.
- In general, the floors to know aboard the Pride of Aloha are decks 11-12 (or, technically, 12.5) and decks 5 through 7. Deck 12 is the sports deck. Deck 11 houses the pool and some restaurants. Decks 5 through 7 provide all other restaurants and amenities. Decks 4, 8, 9 and 10 are primarily cabins. The other decks house operations and employees. As on NCL's other ships, you'll be given a pocket-size guide with a helpful deck-by-deck graphic guide.
- Key services, including reception and activities desks, are on Deck 5 in the Aloha Atrium.
- Not to be missed, if only for the giggle value, is the life-size statue of Elvis in the Blue Hawai'i Night Club on Deck 6, where there's DJ music and karaoke. Intentionally or not, the wicky wacky woo decor mirrors the mood of Elvis' own Hawai'i-themed rooms at Graceland. I confidently predict that this will be a hot spot for photo sessions. Hula girls and stars cavort across the walls in period murals. In this room, as in others, fake greenery abounds, and monkeys frolic under faux palm trees. Understandably but regrettably, because of the workload it would create, there's nary a real plant on the whole ship. (Pssst. There are no monkeys in Hawai'i.) There's a comedy act here, but I'm not sure you need one.
- The club that really caught my fancy was the commodious Outrigger Lounge on Deck 11, offering a 180-degree view off the bow with beautiful bamboo floors, canoe and ship's models, an ancient-looking hand-carved canoe hanging over the tile bar and comfortable furniture. This would be a nice place to relax even early in the day even though the bar wouldn't yet be open, the views would always be worth a visit. (Bar opens at 5 p.m.)
- Three shows are playing in the Stardust Theatre on Decks 6 and 7: "Runnin' Wild," a Bob Fosse-style salute to Big Band & Swing and a contemporary aerial ballet called "Sea Legs Cirque," both by the Jean-Ann Ryan Company (whose work I thoroughly enjoyed on the Star), and "South Sea island Spectacular" by Tihati Productions.
- The Kumu Cultural Center spans the width of the ship on Deck 7, its walls lined by display cases showing artifacts (real and fake) from Hawai'i history pre-contact almost to present day. A pathway from one end of the ship to the other, it is positioned to capture the attention of even those who aren't necessarily seeking it out. And there's space to one side for talks or cultural presentations, a desk where cultural ambassador Kawika Niau will preside, and a large-screen TV where documentaries about the Islands spool continually. (A piece on paniolos was playing as we walked through.) Herb Kane paintings and quotes from " 'Olelo No'eau" grace the entryways. One reads: "O ku'u wahi opu weuweu la, nou ia." "Let my little clump of grass be yours" a welcoming invocation along the lines of "my house is your house."
- For children and young people, the ship offers a small teen club, a kids' center with supervised play and programs, the pool (of course) and a raucous video game room, but on the whole, this ship seems more set up for grown-ups than children.
- For sports enthusiasts, there is a basketball court, a couple of areas where you can safely practice your golf swing and a deck area for walking or running and a sports bar where ESPN is always on.
- A spot to seek out, and the one where I'd do my relaxing, is the mezzanine above Deck 12 all the way forward on the bow. There, a refreshing fountain splashing into a half-moon-shaped small pool lined with seating and a small stairway leads up to a circular hot tub. All around on this deck are deck chairs. One nice feature here and on Deck 12 is bright blue plastic flooring that doesn't get quite as hot, or as slippery, as the wooden stuff around the pool.
- Norwegian Cruise Lines' innovative Freestyle Cruising feature allows guests to choose when and where they'll dine, also incorporating a nice little profit center; several of the restaurants are "alternative" dining spots and charge a small additional fee ($12-$15 per person). Restaurants that sounded interesting included the high-end Italian dining room, the Kahili Room; Royal Palm Bistro (Deck 12, aft) with its French menu and house specialty of chocolate fondue for dessert (Deck 7, Midship) and Pacific Heights, which offers Pacific Rim cuisine (Deck 11, aft).
- Yes, there's shopping, including jewelry shops, a quite extensive golf shop on Deck 7 (golf excursions are a specialty of the Pride's itinerary because longer shore time allows the leisure for 18 holes on all islands) and, of course, those inevitable art auctions.
- Especially impressive are the Pride's fitness facilities on Deck 11, including a very large exercise floor (mats, steps, etc. for aerobics, yoga and other classes or individual workouts) and a fitness center with exercise machines and full-time fitness counselors. There's also a Body Waves Spa, operated by Mandara, with free steam and sauna facilities, a hydrotherapy room and private treatment and salon.
- An Internet cafe on Deck 7 (yes, there is an espresso bar drinks cost extra) offers nine computer work stations, and you can buy various prepaid packages for online time.