It's no secret that the Pride of Aloha, NCL America's U.S.-flagged and U.S.-crewed ship that sails seven-day inter-island Hawaii cruises, has hit some rough spots since its maiden voyage this past summer. Complaints about an overworked, under trained crew - some published reports claim the Aloha lost as much as 50 percent of its crew in its first three months at sea - disheveled staterooms and maintenance issues abound in cruise-centric Internet chat rooms and have been well-documented in the press.
But Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) said it's got the issues well under control and things are quickly looking up. "Things are not slowly improving, they are steadily and rapidly improving," said Colin Veitch, NCL's chairman and CEO. "The product today is delivering well, and passenger satisfaction scores are, on average, at the 'very good' level on our five-point scale."
Many of the issues stemmed from having to hire and train an all-American crew. A spokeswoman for NCL said the cruise line is actively recruiting in American Samoa and Guam and has implemented increased training for all of Aloha's crew. "We have instituted onboard training at the mid-manager level as well," she noted.
It doesn't appear that the ship's past problems have affected bookings: NCL says it is booked at more than 90 percent through the rest of the year and is about 70 percent booked through the first quarter of 2005. The line has also recognized the Aloha's shortcomings and has refunded 50 percent of past guests' daily per person mandatory "service charge" - a particularly thorny issue for guests who felt the Aloha was subpar - as well as issuing cruise credit certificates for future sailings. NCL has also allowed passengers who were booked on Aloha cruises up to the Oct. 17 sailing to cancel without penalty - and has now suspended, for the time being, the service charge, which it may reinstate as time goes on and if it feels service levels warrant it.
Richard Goldstein, a travel agent with Cruisemart/Four Corners Travel in Miami, sailed with a group of 400 in the beginning of October and can vouch for the Aloha's steady upswing. 'I'm happy to say that we had a good experience," Goldstein said. "The crew tried really hard. Some of them were really good, others were young and learning but really tried, and that made up for a lot of the shortcomings. I would definitely recommend the cruise."
It's a sentiment echoed by Rona Smith, a customer service agent with travel agency Cruises N More. "We've read about the problems but simply have not experienced them in this office," she said. "We've had no issues whatsoever."