This is my first cruise review. Since I utilized this forum so heavily to plan our trip, I feel a bit obligated to write something.
All-in-all, this was an incredible family vacation and a great cruise. High luxury on the high seas it is not, but a luxurious and easy way to see multiple Hawaiian destinations it most certainly is.
About us, so you understand the perspective I am writing from. We are a family of four and travelled with another family. The kids ranged in age from 11 to 18. We started the vacation in Oahu, one day before sailing. We were at the boat by 1PM on embarkation day, and it was a smooth process to get on board. They were confiscating any alcohol people brought, however they allowed soda and water to be checked on board. We bought two soft sided coolers and filled them with bottled water and checked them on board as luggage. This proved to be a great way to have bottled water available on board, and the cooler was a great way to bring snacks ashore when leaving the boat. We asked our room steward to empty the mini-fridge, and were able to store the water there. In addition, he filled our cooler with ice anytime we wanted. As I said, we ofter brought snack foods from breakfast ashore with us...just in case we needed something. In addition to fruit at breakfast, they have a sandwich making station. We brought zip lock bags along to make "to go" sandwiches...it sounds very cheap and a hassle, but in came in very handy when we were at remote beaches or parks that didn't have food available.
Boarding the ship, they have a hidden line at the far left of the building (after security) for prior cruisers. There was no wait there at all. If you want to swim soon after getting on board, wear or carry your swim suits. Lunch after boarding is available at the buffet or sit down in the main dining room. We did sit down, and liked it...sort a nice slower transition to the cruise and less hectic than the buffet on day one.
We scheduled one thing to do in each port. We set it all up on our own, and tried not to over schedule. At all ports, but Kona, we used Thrifty Car Rental. They were the least expensive. Join their membership club, and you will avoid the sometimes long lines. Bring your GPS from home. The only time the Thrifty shuttle was not there within 10 minutes of getting off the ship was in Kauai. They were only running one shuttle, and there were a lot of people waiting. It took us 45 minutes to get the shuttle this day.
In Maui on day 1, we went zip lining with Sky-line Eco Adventures at their Haleakala facility. The zip lining was a great time. After zip lining, we drove another 45 minutes to the top of Haleakala crater...what an awesome sight...but lots of turns to get there.
In Maui on day 2, we a discovery scuba dive with Maui Dreams Dive Company. They ran a program for people that are not certified to dive. It was safe fun and the high light of the trip for many.
In Hilo, we drove to Volcano National Park...with no lava visibly flowing, the kids were a bit disappointed. But walking through the lava tube was neat for all. We then drove to the Black Sand Beach and saw turtles playing in the surf...well worth the 40 minute drive. The macadamia nut farm isn't worth stopping at...buy your nuts at the ABC Store.
In Kona, we rented jet skis on the pier. There is only one place to do this, you can't miss it. Jet skis were a lot of fun. We also went parasailing with UFO parasailing at the port...great time for all! If you are in the military it is free...and 50% off for your family. If you are military, be sure to ask everywhere if they offer a military rate...it was pretty significant at some places, even the mall!
In Kauai, went with Alli Kayaks and kayaked, then hiked to a "Secret Waterfall." Very fun thing to do, but be advised kayaking into the wind is a bit physical, but we all made it back safely. The next day in Kauai, we went tubing in an old irrigation canal with Kauai Backcountry. This was expensive, but incredible Check out their web site. This was a high light of the cruise for those that didn't rank diving #1. In Kauai, we probably would have saved significant money by using taxi cabs instead of rental cars.
Back in Oahu, we went to Pearl Harbor and thought it was well worth our time...be sure to rent the headsets for $7.
On the ship, our every need was met. We ended up getting two cabins for each family, but I think in a pinch, we could have stayed in one. We were only in the room to sleep. I didn't see the need to a balcony, it was more fun watching the scenery from the deck. Meals were good, but very slow service and inconsistent. We at at the Tepanyaki and East Meets West. Tepanyaki was great fun for our group of 8. East Meets West was a nice change from the Main Dining Room. All the shows we attended were great. The Pub Hop immediately after boarding was super! No matter what your age, don't miss it...it is a great way to see the ship, meet the staff, and meet your fellow cruisers. It was at 6PM for $25. To save money, we signed up for the NCL Credit Card and earned lots of ship board credits...I know there are other cards that provide more cash back, but this made it easy and semi-guilt free to spend on board. Drinks ran $6 each and up...there is a happy hour on the back of the ship.
All in all, this is a great cruise for all folks. There is far more to do on shore during then day than on the boat, so do your homework before you go. At night, there is a ton to do on the ship. The staff was great. The ship was clean and in good order. The negative reviews on here or out of proportion. Have fun and enjoy yourself. Aloha.