I was a little nervous after reading previous reviews listing problems with the American crew, restaurants and other complaints. I am here to tell you things must have changed!
We booked a pre-cruise package at the Marriott. You can take advantage of advanced ship check in and pre-book excursions and even the speciality restaurants. Be sure to double check the reservations once on board, though. They forgot to forward our dinner reservations and it caused some confusion. The lines at the Marriott's advanced check in were out the door at some times and other times there were no passengers to be seen. If there is line, go back in about an hour.
If you book a pre cruise stay at the Marriott, you are invited to an orientation breakfast at 6:30 a.m. before the cruise. They bus you to Maui Divers Jewelry where you are also given a tour of their factory and showroom and "invited" to buy their jewelry. The breakfast consisted of a banana, medium size muffin, juice and coffee. You could have seconds if you wanted. The main thrust of the breakfast is to sell the excursions. If you are curious about the ship's excursions, you might want to attend. If not, skip it and do something else for 2-1/2 hours.
About 3 blocks from the Marriott on Kuhio Ave. is a Food Pantry grocery store. There is also a grocery store in the Ala Moana Mall. You can pick up soft drinks and bottled water there. The pop was about $5 per 12 pack...much cheaper than on board and you don't have to haul it from the mainland.
Our cabin attendant was great. She always had a smile and friendly conversation. The room was tended to twice a day with fresh ice and towel service. The evening service was accompanied with a bed turn down with chocolates on the pillow and an occasional towel animal.
Every crew member we encountered had a smile on their face and a friendly greeting. Crew members were constantly cleaning and caring for the ship and public areas. It was also nice that all the staff were from the USA or Guam, so language was seldom a problem.
The restaurants were good. The buffet was typical of steam table held food, similar to Old Country Buffet or other buffet meals. There is a second buffet line out the aft doors with a double buffet line that was never crowded. The main restaurants had identical menus but for some reason, we preferred the food at the Palace Restaurant. We ate at Royal Palm Bistro twice. There was an additional $10 per meal charge, but it was worth every penny. We had some of the best meals we had ever eaten. I literally cut the filet mignon with my fork. I wish I knew how they tenderized the meat.
We sailed by the volcano and were able to see laval flowing down the mountain, the the captain turned the ship 180 degrees so both sides could see it. We were fortunate enough to get a starboard balcony so we saw it as we approached as well as leaving the flows. The Na Pali coast on Kauai was visible from the port side. We watched from deck 6, which gave a great view. You might want to stake out a spot about 15 minutes in advance of coming up on the coast or volcano to be sure to get a good view. If you try to photograph the volcano, you need at least 800 speed film. Even if the ship is not traveling, the waves will rock you, moving the camera and blurring the picture.
The ports of call were amazing. Each island has its own flavor. We rented cars from Thrifty on each island except Oahu (traffic is terrible and the bus is only $2). I recommend becoming a Blue Chip member and reserving online. They guarantee their best rates and it never took more than 5 minutes from the entering front door to getting into the car. Be sure to book any rental car in advance. At some ports, the shuttles wouldn't even let you on board without reservations and some passengers were not able to get cars.
The only tours we booked were on our own. We did a helicopter tour of Kauai with Island Helicopters. They did a great job, were competitively priced, picked us up at the pier and even gave a generic VHS tape of a typical helicopter tour. We also booked a whale watch tour in Lahina through Boss Frog. They offered a 2 hour tour for 2 for $29.99. It was on a larger boat with 2 decks of seating. We chose the lower deck which offered shade and was much less crowded. This turned out to be a good choice. We saw several whales. One even surfaced about 20 yards from the boat. The boats can not get within 100 yards of a whale, but the whales get curious and go wherever they want.
Entertainment on the ship was very good considering the performers are pretty much amateurs and have other jobs onboard. I was amazed that the dance routines went very well, even though the ship was moving and occasionally rocking. There were 2 Broadway style dance and vocal productions, a Crique type program, a comedian and a magical comedy act twice. Admittedly they were not Broadway professional quality, but they were still enjoyable and I would recommend seeing them. We are not "bar-type" people so the evening entertainment at the theater was appreciated.
Embarkation was very easy, but a little congested. You have to go through security just like the airports and the lines backed up when people didn't have their ID or documents ready. Some got belligerent with the process and that didn't help matters any. There was also a small backup as you got your mandatory embarkation photo taken, but they moved passengers through pretty quickly and the pictures turned out to be decent.
Disembarkation was equally easy. The luggage tags are distributed at the Front Desk the day before and color coded by deck. Take some self stick return address labels to put on them and save a lot of time and effort. You could also make your own adding a home phone number with 1 X 2" or 1 X 3" labels and not have to write anything. I wrapped yellow tape around the handles of the bags and we were able to spot them from across the room. Made it lots easier since there were literally hundreds and hundreds of bags that all seemed to be the same color.
I would recommend this cruise to anyone. We had a great time and only encountered some minor problems. (I've never done anything didn't have at least some problems.) Some passengers were not happy with the American style. They treated the crew like underlings and assumed the rules did not apply to them. If you want to be treated like you own the entire cruise line and everyone onboard, you might not get along too well. If you want great service and friendly hospitality, this is a great place to do your cruising.