This is an interesting review to write, as this cruise was quite different from any of the four I've taken before. Let me start by saying that we cruised on the same ship with NCL to Alaska in 2003. They have substantially improved the quality of their dining room food, so thumbs up on that. HOWEVER, I must say that Hawaii is not a vacation that lends itself to cruising. Read on and see if you agree with me!
Embarkation was great. You can board the ship from 1:00 pm to 7:30 pm so having such a wide window of time really helped to spread out the crowds. No line whatsoever in the Latitudes (previous NCL guest) check-in. Received fresh flower leis as we boarded the ship, which was nice (don't expect leis from your airline or hotel unless you pay for them). Went to room 5201 (oceanview) and tried keycard...doesn't work. Tried husband's...doesn't work. Go to reception, get new cards...works. OK. Having sailed on this ship before, we knew how small the rooms were, so we were prepared for that. The people complaining how little room there is for luggage pack too much!! We saw several people with like 6-8 suitcases per ROOM! It's Hawaii, people, you bring bathing suits and sundresses!
Anyway, I go to use the bathroom in our cabin...and find a VERY unpleasant surprise. Let's just say that our toilet did NOT work (no water the entire cruise) and someone (last occupant? the maid?) had left a very messy present for us. We immediately went to reception and complained and were told, "Oh my, that's terrible, we'll have someone fix that immediately." This was at 3:30. We go and wait in a common area, and return at 4:30. Problem was not fixed. Complain again.
"Oh, we're so sorry, I'll get someone on that right away." Go to mandatory lifeboat drill at 5:00. Come back to room at 6:00. Problem not fixed. Husband happened to pass a ship's officer in the hall and gave her an earful. Problem got fixed in about 20 minutes that time. Our cabin steward promised that she would get a plumber in there...no one showed up all week. We figured out that in order to get the toilet to flush, we had to fill it up with water from the shower each time, so this is how we spent our week toilet-wise. :-(
Now, lest you think we are complainers, we are NOT. We don't let little things spoil our trip. But Deck 5 itself is CRAP. It did put a huge damper on our trip for the following reasons. First, it's right under the jogging track. There are signs saying, "No jogging between 9:00 pm and 8:00 am." Do you think this was followed or enforced? NO! EVERY MORNING at 6:00 we were awakened to the sound of pounding feet. BOOM boom BOOM boom BOOM boom....Also, the deck plans of the ship do not show that the Deck 5 inside staterooms belong to the crew. They were very quiet, but the hall reeked of smoke the entire time because of a crew lounge area. And the final and most annoying aspect about Deck 5 was that there was a door at the end of the hall (right beside us) that slammed incessantly. It's a major thoroughfare for the crew to walk through, so at all hours of the day and night we heard it slamming. We complained about it to reception and security (could they leave it open? Adjust the hinges so it shut more gently?) and of course were ignored. Oh, I almost forgot, the nights you sleep in port (Maui and Kauai) they do ship repairs all night, so we were awakened at 3:00 am by loud banging to fix the thruster. What does this all add up to? DON'T STAY ON DECK 5!
Before I tell you about the ports, let me say that the ship has the most ridiculously overpriced shore excursions I have ever seen. Book them yourself. See below.
The ports: Kauai. Went to Fern Grotto and Waimea Canyon. Both are great. Cost: $47 for rental car from Hertz, $16 each for Fern Grotto, Waimea Canyon free. Total cost: $79. Ship charged $92 each for Waimea/Fern shore excursion. Savings: $105 for doing it ourselves. There is a beach within walking distance of the ship that belongs to the Marriott that was nice. Ship lets you carry off beach towels. We brought snorkels, masks and floats from home and were glad we did.
Hilo: Probably our favorite port. Rented a car for $43, drove to Volcanoes National Park which is a must-see; entrance fee $10. The park is great; just know you will not see red lava here. Ship charged $47/pp for this shore excursion. Total savings: $41. Drove to Alaska Falls National Park via the "scenic road" (highly recommend). It's free, but I believe the ship charged about $25/pp to drive you out there. Savings: $50.
Kona: Second favorite port. You don't need a rental car here. We rented bikes for $15 each, which was fun, and rode around. Most of the beaches around here are ROCKS, so after about 2 miles of biking, we went back to the pier and snorkeled right there. I have to say about Hawaii's beaches, they aren't what I expected. Honestly Florida has better beaches - the sand is whiter, they are more swimmable, no rocks. Hawaii has better wildlife (saw turtles, sharks, dolphins) and better water sports ability, but don't expect wide expanses of white sand and calm waters. Ate at Pancho and Lefty's - super Mexican food.
Maui: Rented a car from Hertz, $33. By the way, I must say, Hertz is SUPER. Rented a car 5 times, got upgraded without asking all 5 times!!!!! Took a helicopter ride from Alex Air over the west Maui mountains. Awesome! It cost us $75 each. Ship charged $179 each for same flight. Total savings: $175. Played golf at the Waiheu Municipal course. $26 greens fees, $20 club rental, $16 cart rental. 3 holes are right on the water. It was a very challenging and fun course. You could book golf through the ship but all their courses were the most expensive ones; we're talking $180 greens fees and up. Bring your own balls; it was $38/dozen on the ship! We turned in our car that night and rented a new one the next day. Apparently you can keep your car and park it overnight at the pier, but parking was very limited and far away from the ship, so we just found it easier to rent another one the next day. Oh, by the way, rental car shuttles are promptly at the pier as soon as you dock so that's very convenient.
Next day on Maui, we just drove around looking at the different resort areas. Kapalua, Ka'anapali, Wailea. All very nice. We went to the Tadeschi Winery. Decided to go swimming at Big Beach, one of the few public white-sand undeveloped beaches in Wailea. BE VERY CAREFUL. The water is SO ROUGH! Terrible undertows, huge waves...again, not at all like Florida or a "calm" beach that most people are used to.
The cruise itself: Shows were good, even though two of them were the exact ones we saw in Alaska! They are a bit risque, so I would hesitate to brings kids to them, especially the first night (the Hawaiian/Polynesian one) and the "Hey, Mr. Producer" night. They had an art auction every day with free champagne, so there's some free booze for you (feel free to ditch the auction). Less activities than other cruises, but most of your time is spent in port so that's not a drawback. The food had highs and lows...breakfast got old, same old same old in both the buffet and dining room....we always ate lunch off the ship...but dinner in the dining room was great. Good food, good service. The buffets they offer for dinner aren't good - looooong lines, mediocre food. Skip 'em and head for the dining room instead. We keep trying to get reservations for the specialty restaurants but they were always full. We always appreciate NCL's freestyle dining, which enables you to get tables for 2 instead of being forced to sit with 8 people all asking, "Is this your first cruise? Where are you from? Do you have any kids?" every night. Oh, and there was a variety of ages on this ship - young, old, families, singles, you name it.
So, in a nutshell...would I take this cruise again? No. You don't get the relaxing, "Let's go down the beach and have a leisurely day" feel that you do if you stay in a resort. The resorts have the lock on the best beaches because they have paid to make artificial lagoons that block their guests from the waves and currents. What do you get? A Hawaii preview trip, basically. You get to see a little bit of each major island and do a lot of land-based stuff, but you don't get the paradise beach experience. I'm glad I got to see each island, but we found ourselves wishing that we had just stayed at a resort instead. Our Alaska cruise was so wonderful because no one really has any desire to stay overnight in any of those ports, but in Hawaii, you want to stay, relax and linger....this cruise doesn't allow that.