With a change of attitude,
smooth sailing ahead
Friends told us that the Hawaii media carried reports of how terrible things were aboard the Pride of Aloha during a cruise my husband and I took last month. Inspired by travel writer Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi's Aug. 1 column in the Star-Bulletin, "Buoyed by Pride," we had booked a stateroom. Our experience so closely matches Tsutsumi's glowing account, I felt it only fair to Norwegian Cruise Line that I write a corrective.
Yes, the Pride of Aloha was short by about 200 crew members; and yes, I felt apprehension as soon as I learned of the short staffing. My disappointment turned into self-condemnation: Why had I pushed my husband to take this trip?
This kind of thinking was leading nowhere, so I found a quiet spot to sit and reflect more positively: This is not a mistake; this is a good idea. We're taking this cruise to get an overview of Hawaii, to become better acquainted with the state we are relocating to. No, it's not a mistake, but the right thing to do!
Other surprising thoughts arose: We are on the only U.S. registered cruise ship, with an honest-to-goodness U.S. crew. Unique! These U.S. citizens are learning about a new, to them anyway, service industry. And women "of a certain age" are working as crew (something I'd never seen before). Suddenly, I was happy we were taking this cruise -- buoyed. I was supporting the U.S. economy and U.S. jobs. This trip was becoming purposeful and important to me.
Previous cruises we've taken have been occasions for self-indulgence. We never lacked for anything; crew members seemed to outnumber passengers. The food was extraordinary. We enjoyed wonderful entertainment and other activities while en route to interesting ports.
My husband and I decided we were going to rearrange our priorities this time: We were going to be more interested in people we met, engage in more substantial conversations, focus on the ports we'd be visiting. We would be less concerned about having everything just so.
As a result, we were especially appreciative of all the special amenities that were available: A museum quality exhibit of Hawaiian artifacts and history; excellent entertainers; passages carefully timed to give guests the best views. We passed close to the Na Pali Coast of Kauai as the afternoon sun hit, and, at night, we slowly passed (and turned around so all could see) the fires of the erupting volcano on the Big Island.
Yes, guests complained about waiting in lines. But these lines were pretty much eliminated by the third day. The officers reconfigured the workers and fully opened their two main restaurants. Guests were served quickly and things ran smoothly from then on.
The cruise line sent two letters of apology, cut the service charge (gratuity) in half, gave $50 shipboard credit to each guest and put in place a credit for each one to sail again with NCL at a reduced price in 2005.
It is understandable how disappointed some might have been, but their trip could have been salvaged, as ours was, had they been more open to all the good at hand. Many passengers were having as good a time as we were, and we had this one touching experience.
An 18-year-old boy plopped down at our dinner table one evening. I had seen this young man talking abusively to crew, making an ugly scene. This evening he said he had to get away from his father because his father was still so angry. Two high school teachers were sharing the table with us, and we included him in our conversation. He was very open and inquisitive; also a bit troubled. I know my heart went out to him. When he left, he expressed much appreciation not only to each of us but to the waiter. He gave him a big tip, shook his hand and thanked him. He thanked us and said at last he had met five nice people on this ship. Of course, he had met many; he just didn't know it.
The Pride, its officers and crew deserve commendation. They surmounted a huge crisis with much success. They worked hard all week to please all who would let them. With the increased demands on each of them, they never lost their morale or their pride. This ship's crew has true aloha. The Pride of Aloha deserves Hawaii's support and Hawaii needs the business it brings to its islands. How do you say bon voyage in Hawaiian?
Virginia Aycock lives in Naples, Fla., and in Honolulu.