This was my first experience with Freestyle dining and it has some pros and some cons. I enjoyed being able to dine whenever I wanted, within the dining times offered and only once waited for a table, that was good. We did hear others complain about waiting and poor food quality. Overall dining was a good experience but there are some issues, though from what I have heard from past cruisers things are better then they were.
The Pride of America has 2 traditional dining rooms: The Liberty Dining room, the more formal of the two (jeans are not permitted), and the Skyline Dining room where shorts are permitted. Not to be the dining nazi, but shorts at dinner seemed strange to me. The Aloha Cafe is the pool deck level buffet that is informal for all meals. There are also specialty restaurants. The Cadillac Diner is a 50’sish diner serving traditional diner types of foods – burgers, meatloaf, shakes. It’s informal and is open 22 hours a day. We ate mostly lunches here. East Meets West is a group of Asian restaurants – Sushi, Teppanaki, Asian Fusion. Jefferson’s Bistro is a formal french restaurant, Lazy J’s is a steak house and Little Italy serves Italian food. East Meets West, Lazy J’s, Little Italy, and Jefferson’s Bistro all charge an additional fee to eat there. I’m not sure if this is to cover the cost of the better food offered or to limit the number of people eating at them.
|Liberty Dining Room|
We had breakfast in the Aloha Cafe 3 times and each time was awful. The buffet areas were over crowded, there were never tables available and there wasn’t enough staff to clear the tables. I never figured out what was going on in the juice area, was that even juice they had? I didn’t see trays the whole week so I assume they didn’t have them, which made it difficult to get food and a drink. After 2 breakfasts we didn’t return to the Aloha Cafe again until the last morning. Breakfast in the dining room was significantly more enjoyable! The meals we had at the Liberty and Skyline restaurants were much better then the Aloha Cafe, the food was just average but the staff was good.
We did take time to enjoy several of the specialty restaurants. We ate in Jefferson’s Bistro and had George as a waiter who made the experience really enjoyable. While the food here wasn’t fantastic we enjoyed the opportunity to try new foods and have this nice dining experience. However, neither of us felt the need to return here as the menu didn’t appeal to us for a second visit or to pay the $15 cover charge again. We enjoyed our dinner at Lazy J’s, and found the steak here to be far superior to the steak I had in the dining room. The experience and the food was just enough to justify the $25 additional charge. If the cover charge had been a little lower we might have returned to this restaurant, but at $25 felt that it was only worthy of visiting once. At Little Italy we found the food to be average Italian food, nothing special and barely worth the $10 cover charge. We also ate at Teppanyaki which I thought was a rip off at $25 a person. I recently ate at a Teppanyaki type restaurant at home, ordered the same thing and got more food for less money. The chef wasn’t anything special, which was highlighted by the other chef being much more entertaining with his table.
One thing we did enjoy about Teppanyaki was sitting with other people. While we didn’t “click” with the couple next to us we did meet two sisters who we became friendly with. This emphasized one of the problems I had with freestyle dining as it existed on the Pride of America, it was anti-social. When I cruised with Royal Caribbean several years ago at lunch and breakfast they had open dining, you would come any time they were open and they would seat you at a large table with other cruisers. This provided an opportunity to get to know other cruisers and hear about other peoples experiences during the cruise. I expected a similar situation at the main dining rooms on the Pride of America, but it was not the case. Although I noticed a note about it on the back of the Freestyle Daily that you could request to sit with others I never actually saw anyone do it, and since most of the tables are set up for 2-4 people (and the tables for 6 always seemed empty) I don’t think the dining room setting was well suited for this anyway. On past cruises I felt like I got to know a lot more people on the ship then I did on this cruise which took away from the overall experience.
If you’re one of those people who doesn’t like to dress up, but still likes to have a sit down meal at a dining room, then NCL might be the line for you. However, if you want really good quality food then you’ll end up having to fork up some money so that you can eat at the specialty restaurants. As for me, NCL wont be my first choice next time but I’ll still consider it.