I'm another more-than-satisfied cruiser who wanted to post just to reassure those who feel like they're rolling the dice booking this cruise which has had mixed reviews here. Given how port-intensive the cruise is, I felt that the offerings on board were more than adequate. If your dream cruise is more ship-activities intensive, it may not be ideal. But after being out on excursions for most days, dinner and a brief show was more than enough for us.
Especially if you're flying in from the East coast of the US (or further), I highly recommend spending at least 2-3 days in Oahu before the cruise. This made all the difference in the world to us, since we were quite tired the first two days. Had we hopped off the plane and boarded the cruise the next morning I think we would have still had a great time, but probably returned home more exhausted than rested. Instead, we boarded the ship completely rested and had a balanced week of activity and relaxation, and aside from the usual hassles of flying, returned home feeling like we didn't need a vacation to recover from our vacation.
We stayed at the Marriott Waikiki Beach. We were more than satisfied with our "partial ocean view" room on the 30th floor as it had a picture perfect view of Diamond Head with the ocean beside and behind it. Couldn't have been more picturesque -- certainly prettier than looking straight out at the ocean would have been. An amusing aspect of this view was that it also looked down at the zoo a few blocks away. I knew the zoo was in the general vicinity, but didn't put two and two together until I kept going out on the balcony because I heard what I thought were peculiar birds, then heard an elephant trumpet, only then remembered the zoo in the neighborhood, and realized the "bird" sounds were monkeys squawking. Once I looked I realized I could see the elephants walking around their enclosure.
Check in for the cruise was easy, and at various points in line there were ship representatives to keep people's spirits up. My mother somehow dropped her credit card at some point during the security process and an NCL person located us in line and gave it to her just as she realized it was gone and was starting to panic. Thank you, whoever you are!
We had to wait until 2 pm for our room to be ready, but lunch at the buffet filled the time. Our bags arrived shortly thereafter, and we quickly unpacked. There really is plenty of room in the cabin to put away all your things, even if some of the places are a little randomly located. I wonder how many people don't realize there is a medicine cabinet behind one of the mirrored panels in the bathroom? I had heard there was so I went looking for it -- but I still had to pull harder than I ever would have attempted had I not known about it ahead of time. Not a problem once you knew there was in fact a door there, but when you're not sure, you don't really want to pull on glass! The shower was the nicest I've ever had on a cruise, in terms of room and products and the quality of the showerhead and water pressure. I did not notice any shortcomings in the furnishings except perhaps that the carpet was slightly worn down in a heavy traffic area or two, and again, I was looking for this because it had been mentioned here. Nothing about it would have attracted my negative attention.
We found the beds and pillows comfortable, though a little closer together than we've experienced on previous cruises -- enough to reach out and accidently touch the person in bed beside you if you both sleep close to the edge! Our room steward was professional and friendly and in fact we encountered nothing but helpful and positive staff members throughout the week.
I had arranged via fax for a cheese platter and chocolate covered strawberries to be delivered on the second day (Mother's Day), but the strawberries were there when we arrived, along with a note saying the cheese platter would be brought up when we called a certain number. It all worked out fine, but if you're planning an actual surprise celebration for someone for a particular date, you might want to speak with somebody over the phone to do it and not just fax.
We didn't spend too much time on deck listening to the live musicians, but we did attend the Glee-type show, the movie musical show, and the Four Seasons tribute and enjoyed them all. No, they're not Broadway caliber, but a pleasant way to relax for an hour and hear some tunes. The small stage is best suited to simple musical performances -- the Four Seasons show worked great because it was all about the songs and some good musicians. It's too small a venue for big dance numbers, so they're always going to suffer for it -- better to tailor the entertainment to the venue. We saw Tim Kaminsky once and enjoyed him, as well as the Newlywed Show, which is always entertaining. We also took some hula lessons and lei making classes, so many thanks to China and Kaleo for their entertaining and informative presentations.
We had one dinner at Jefferson's Bistro and were unimpressed. We were seated by the window, which in this restaurant meant that we looked out on people in shorts and tank tops schlepping their way back to their rooms. Not that I wasn't a person in shorts and a tank top schlepping my way around the ship most of the time, but it didn't really mesh with fine dining. The food, or at least what we ordered (a lobster dish and a duo of duck that the maitre d' raved about), was good, but not superior. In retrospect it occurs to me that he was probably pushing the duck because nobody was ordering it. At any rate, we weren't tempted to try any of the other specialty restaurants, and from the looks of the message boards around the ship that keep you updated on waiting times for all the dining venues, neither was anybody else. Teppanyaki always seemed to have a wait, and everything else always seemed wide open.
We ate one meal in the Cadillac Diner. Cute room, but the fried chicken I was served had obviously been under a heat lamp for quite a while. We went back once for milkshakes to take to our balcony to watch the Na Pali sail by. They were good, but melted quickly, so might be better enjoyed right there in the restaurant. Having been disappointed in table service on our last (non-NCL) cruise, we avoided it this time around, especially since the menus in the buffet seemed to match the main dining rooms. Eating at the buffet permitted us to move at our own pace and eat whatever particular combination of tastes we craved at that moment. We never had a problem getting a table, and the staff were really on top of cleaning up after people and keeping the napkins/silverware replenished. We were more than pleased with the quality of the buffet food and it was nice to have personal favorites night after night (the papadums with mango chutney became my official dessert!)
We did one non-NCL excursion, the Valley Isle Road to Hana, and enjoyed it very much. It's a long day, but their small coach was extremely comfortable and everybody had a good view. Snorkeling at Molokini was great, and I highly recommend renting the half wet suit for $10. They catered to snorkelers at all skill levels, shapes and sizes, so nobody should be fearful that they can't do it.
We were very happy to have chosen the VIP option for the Manor House Luau. We were the first to arrive on site in our small bus, personally greeted and guided by "Aunty" who escorted us to the train (fun little tour of the plantation), to the pig pit, then past the area where the masses eat their buffet dinner to a small shopping area where local craftsmen had booths. Then we dined in style with private musicians and a hula dancer in a lovely private courtyard, and were escorted back to the show by handsome young men carrying torches, and were seated in the front row. We were also the first to leave and get back to the ship -- worth far more than the ~$40 difference in price. The show itself is wonderful and the talent impressive. The performers really work incredibly hard and their skill is amazing.
I did the Tubing the Ditch excursion and really enjoyed it. The water's only cold for the first few seconds (most of you remains above water), and then it's secondary to the fun of careening around. Everybody just giggled and laughed the whole way, so it was a low key way to be outdoors and do something most of us had never done before. You can't really control how fast you move or in what direction, though, so it's next to impossible to stay with a specific person -- one couple with us had a wife who seemed agitated that her husband got away from her, but I know that without any particular effort on my part, I ended up at various times in clusters with completely different people, so the tube and current will carry you where they carry you, and you will meet up again at the end. Therefore it's probably not the kind of excursion to talk somebody into because you're not likely to be able to stick by them to talk them through it.
Disembarkation was a breeze as we took our own bags and simply walked out. Couldn't have been easier.
I wouldn't hesitate to do this cruise again, and time permitting would do it back to back, just to enjoy it that much longer. It was not the luxury cruise experience that I recall from 20 years ago with hours spent at dinner, formal nights and long evenings of shows, but I didn't go in expecting that, and wasn't disappointed. There are far more expensive and elegant ships that make stops in Hawaii. But for a full week in various ports in Hawaii, this is a great option as a fun, floating hotel.