Itinerary & Ports: We really liked the large amounts of port time. Do some research and plan your port time before you go to maximize your time in port. We had reserved rental cars in each port, which was very inexpensive (<$30/day) and allowed us to make our own way around the island. This was easy except in Kauai, where the Thrifty car rental folks were very inefficient and it took us 2 hours to pick up our car. We were able to park the car at port overnight in Kauai (for $10) and Maui (free). Note: the seas in Hawaii are rough, so bring remedies if you think you might be seasick. Generic Bonine tabs were available free if you asked the reception clerk. A "don't miss" was viewing the lava from the ship at night between Apr. and Kona. Kauai's Na Pali coast was also gorgeous seen from the ship although the on-deck commentary was brief.
Service: If you are looking for a white glove pampering experience, do not book this cruise. However, if you are not expecting this and just want a reasonable level of casual service, everything will be fine. For example, if you are used to waiters that silently provide what you need before you know you need it and then disappear without a sound, you may be disturbed when the waiters laugh and talk to each other as they clear tables or suddenly start telling you about the fun they have when the dining room closes. You might need to wait while the buffet staff finds you a spoon. A bar waiter gave us someone else's drink tab twice in a row. We didn't see much of our cabin steward but our room was made up promptly each day and turned down with chocolates on the pillow each night. Everyone was friendly but inexperienced and generally seemed to being trying hard. The $10 per day service charge was waived, and since NCL didn't make it obvious how to tip, we didn't (except in bars, where you could add a tip to your bill).
Food: The food in the main dining rooms was very good and the menu changed nightly (we heard they had a new head chef). Some of the things on the menu were lobster, chilled fruit soups, and Asian duck dumplings. We never had to wait more than 5 minutes for a table for two, and dinner took a reasonable amount of time, not too fast or too slow. We tried the main dining room for lunch one day and choose to share a table, which made lunch take much longer, but it was fun talking to the other people and it was our one afternoon at sea, so we weren't in a hurry. We did not try the specialty restaurants as we saw no reason to pay a $15 cover when good free food was available; however, some people seemed not to know about the main dining rooms (all dining venue hours were clearly listed in the newsletter, folks!) The special chocoholic buffet was good and worth returning to the ship a little early for. I took an extra plate back to our room for my husband who was busy returning the rental car.
There was a different buffet theme each night (seafood, Asian, Mexican, etc.). The buffet food was just OK, not efficiently organized, and not available 24 hours. It also seemed like the dishwashers had a hard time keeping up, because the plates were usually warm and dripping, and occasionally not clean enough. NCL seemed to be trying to fix the traffic inefficiencies by moving people out to the adjacent pool deck when possible. Several times a yummy BBQ was available on deck in the early evening and you could listen to a band by the pool while enjoying a hamburger or ribs. There were also waffle and omelet stations by the pool each morning. The small Longboard Bar offered burgers and similar with table service when the buffet was closed and also had popcorn.
Shows & Activities: All of the shows we saw were excellent - for example, the in-house troupe performed a Broadway revue with songs from Cats, Phantom, etc. one night and a Cirque du Soleil type show with dancers and acrobats another night. A comedy magician and a Polynesian dance troupe joined the ship other nights. It would have been nice to have a real show the first night, but all they had was some staff introductions and games by the pool. I don't agree at all with Cruise Critic "long" that the entertainment was geared toward older people. Numerous activities were available and we didn't get to try everything. The deck offered basketball, golf driving, ping pong, fitness center, and shuffleboard along with swimming and hot tubing. We played trivia a few times, made leis, played video games, and sang karaoke.
There were also hula lessons, various fitness classes, a Mr. Sexy Legs contest, cooking demo, a small Hawaiian museum onboard, and quite a few other things. Most of the activities started in the late afternoon as they assume you will be out in port during the day seeing Hawaii! READ the daily newsletter so you'll know what's happening where and when.
Cabin: We booked a guaranteed inside cabin and were given a "superior inside" cabin on the 8th deck forward. It was larger than cheap cabins we've had on other ships and had a little sofa. Suitcases fit under the bed easily. There is next to no drawer space, so bring extra hangers. I had to put most of my shirts on the nightstand shelf. Shelves above the safe in the closet would have been a dramatic improvement. The bathroom did have plenty of shelves (excellent!). Bring a nightlight if you have an inside cabin - total darkness in a strange place in the morning can be very disorienting. One problem we had was that there was no water in our cabin a couple of times. Both were fixed within ½ hour but we had to walk by workers in the hallway and bad smells/wet carpet on our way to our cabin for the second half of the cruise - the issue seemed to originate a few cabins down the hall.
Ship Layout: It bothered us that halfway through the cruise, we were still always lost. I never did figure out how to enter the buffet at what appeared to be the "main" entrance. Upon reviewing a map of the ship, we determined that the specialty restaurants were placed in what were probably public throughways prior to the ship's refitting. This makes the traffic flow illogical - you always seem to have to go through some single small crazy doorway or bar to get to the main areas of the ship. For example, to get to one of the main dining rooms, listed as being on deck 5, you have to go up to deck 6, then take a small stair down to the entrance.Passengers: There were a wide range of people on the ship. Since it was spring break, there were lots of families with kids. Many people were in their 30s or 40s, but there were lots older and younger as well.
Boarding and Disembarkment: Boarding was simple and painless, although they had the main lifeboat drill before everyone was aboard, which was stupid. We were scheduled for a make-up drill while the ship was in the port the next day but did not attend as we’d already made plans for the port time. Getting off the ship was usually OK, although once we had to wait in a packed elevator bank for ½ hour while people from some other line flowed past and off the ship. In Kona, you have to tender into port – the other stops are all walk-offs. Beach towels were available free for use off the ship. You and your bags will be scanned/searched each time you reboard. We saw bottles of sand and fruit taken away, and they smelled my water bottle once but ignored my pocket knife, so they seemed to be looking for agricultural items and alcohol. I am not sure what they were looking for when searching a woman in a bikini with a metal detector wand! Final disembarkment was easier than on other ships I’ve been on – there were no mobs of people wandering around everywhere with carry-on luggage.
Overall, we found NCL a good way to sample the various islands without needing to move our luggage or waste time at the airport!