First time cruising with NCL, 4th time overall. This was by far the worst of them. The staff was very open when talking and weren't shy to admit their pay was below $8/hr and they were being overworked because of a crew shortage (due to the bad economy... same old excuses).
#1 - If you're a lobster fan, save room for it on Day 1 by not overeating at the buffet. Go to the dining room and have Lobster there the very first day (Saturday).
#2 - Lunch in the Aloha Cafe is good and changes slightly daily. If you like variety, don't indulge too much on breakfast, but wait for lunch.
#3 - Definitely plan out what you want to do on shore/ports, as there isn't much to do on the ship during the day. The shuttles will take you to tourist traps like Hilo Hattie. Walmart shuttles are always available, which is good for buying water and pop.
You can take the Walmart shuttles and then take public transit from there. If you take with you some information on bus routes and such, it will make your life so much easier.
#4 - Utilizing the city bus is not a bad idea. It's $1/trip or $2/day pass per person.
#5 - This cruise is for you if you like to do a lot of excursions and love the beaches. It is not for people who want to relax on board and eat good food and be entertained by what's on board.
We got from HNL to the Pier by taxi (around $20- note, they charge $0.50 for each bag). Embarkation was a total breeze, with no long lineups or anything.
Stateroom: Oceanview Obstructed.
Size of cabin was small, as expected. It was surprising to see an old small CRT TV with like 3 working channels that had external programming. There was lots of storage space. There was nothing extraordinary about the stateroom.
If you want to kill 2 hours a night, go to the dining room. This is not an exaggeration. From the time you sit down to the time they bring your appetizers was almost a whole hour, and the dining room wasn't even that full. The food selection in the 2 (surcharge free) dining rooms was decent, but the quality was terrible.
All too often, the food was way overcooked, with dry or rubbery meats resulting from it. The best dish I had was the Salmon under the 'classics'.
***ALERT: THEY SERVE LOBSTER ON THE FIRST NIGHT OF THE CRUISE***
Typically, on the first day, cruisers will go on board hungry and immediately fill up on the buffet. Then they aren't very hungry or don't bother to check out the dining room, which is why NCL serves a 3oz (half a tail) of lobster for dinner. You can order as many dishes as you like, but the fact that they put lobster on the first day to me, is downright a dirty tactic.
The dining room is a waste of time unless you want to just go and talk with your party a lot. When dinner takes 2 hours, it messes up your entire evening schedule with regards to checking out the entertainment and such.
The Aloha buffet wasn't bad. I liked that they had made-to-order omelet (breakfast) and pasta (lunch/dinner) stations. Pizza was great. The food was typically the same every day except for lunch, which had a few different dishes each day.
The cadillac diner had the worst service of anyone. They take half an hour to bring hot water to people, and their service levels are so poor and the staff is especially rude. They'll stare at you and leave you standing, waiting to be seated for like 5 good minutes, before they can be bothered to come to your attention.
Maybe it's the whole "freestyle" cruise concept, where the cruiseline doesn't do anything, and you're on your own as to what you want to do. The entertainment decent.
Toby Beau was good with their Beetles tribute and the comedian is also worth checking out. If you're not into the musicals/broadway stuff, don't bother going to those shows, as they are boring.
There's not too much else to do during the day on the ship, so be sure to plan ahead in regards to what you will do at the port.
Teen Connection Area:
One beef I had was having things like the Air Hockey table in the Teen room rather than somewhere else. It wasn't like this area of the ship was that occupied, other than for some rude youth workers. Why not give people something fun to do, like air hockey or something?
We talked to quite a few staff members and they mentioned that they were working double/triple shifts. It was disheartening to hear that the staff's rooms were smaller than most inside cabins and had at least 3 of them cramped in to one room. At least that is what they were saying. They also make under $8/hour and get a % of the tips.
The reason I mention the above is because when the staff is unhappy, it shows. In other cruise ships, the staff come to know your name quite quickly and service would be amazing and you would always be greeted with smiles and friendly service. Not so much at NCL.
Apparently our cabin steward (for our floor/area) was on vacation, so rather than bring someone else, they had stewards from other areas fill in, so there was always someone different each day. They didn't bother to clean the washrooms, other than to flush things.
I saw the previous guest's sandals on the floor under the bed... so they can't be cleaning the room that well. Plus, the trash wasn't emptied until the end.
The staff in the dining room seemed uninterested. Maybe I am spoiled by going on other ships where you would go to your table and your drinks would already be there as you like it and the staff would greet you by your first name.
The cleaning staff in the buffet area were typically rude as well. One lady always stood by the door in the morning forcing her sanitizer on people's hands. I told her that I had just come from my stateroom with my family and had washed my hands with soap already. She was extremely pushy and offended by this and insisted I still sanitize my hands! Unbelievable.
The best thing is, she wasn't there during late lunch time, when people came back on the ship and had sticky hands or whatever. Unbelievable.
We went because of the free champagne. They only give you one glass and that's it. So if you're into champagne, just go and sit at the auction for 5 mins, get your glass, and leave! Because lets face it- no one cares for the artwork except a couple of people.
The Gym isn't large (it just looks big because of all the mirrors). There's about 10 treadmills, 4 elliptical machines and a couple others. There's a small area for weights, as well. It serves its purpose and is decent.
The only reason to go on this ship is because realistically, it's the only one that will circle Hawaii all year round. It seems like they have a monopoly on the area (mainly because of Hawaii's staffing rules). Because of this, NCL ensures the service and quality of everything on the ship sucks.
This cruiseline nickel & dimes you worse than any others. Lemonade was served free of charge on the ship, but when going to the Cadillac, they wanted to see that you had that pepsi sticker on your card. Idiots.
In fairness, this cruise is for people who are only using the cruise as a mode of transportation and accomodation and some meals. It's not meant for people who just want to eat and relax. To enjoy anything, you have to go to the ports and know what you want to do.
Hawaii is beautiful and even though the forecast says it's around 100F (35+C), it hardly feels that way with the strong winds. But the ship does sway a LOT, so be careful if you get motion sickness.
I will not be sailing with NCL again.