I was a little apprehensive about taking this cruise after reading the reviews on this website, but it was for my honeymoon and my wife has never been to Hawaii. I thought the cruise would be a great way for her to see the most of Hawaii at the lowest cost.
After taking the cruise, we decided that critic demographics would be a nice feature on this site so I'll give mine so you know where I'm coming from with my review. I am male, 30-35, no children, first cruise, and obviously newlywed. We booked our cruise through an agency and found airfare online as a separate purchase. We booked an inside stateroom using NCL's "guarantee" feature and were upgraded to an exterior room on deck 7 with a window.
The embarkation was confusing for us, we made it to the pier with no problems but there were no signs instructing us where to leave luggage and get in line. We just followed the crowd and made it all the way to the security screening before anyone told us that we were supposed to leave our bags at another entrance. The security team was polite and didn't make us wait in line again. We arrived at about 4pm and seemed to miss the rush of people boarding the boat, it took us 45 minutes from the time the shuttle dropped us at the pier to go through the line, run the bags back to the right place, get checked in, pictures taken, and in the ship's lobby.
Once there we encountered our only real complaint of the trip. Reading this review and talking to other passengers in line, the recommendation was to make dinner reservations in the specialty restaurants as early as possible. Talking to the crew, we were told several different stories about making the reservations: directly at each restaurant, over the phone, or at the main desk. After trying all three, we then heard that we couldn't book until 6pm so we waited. We then started trying restaurants again and were told the system was down and we could book after 9pm.
We ate dinner at the Skyline and had a really good meal with great service. Every server that came to our table was smiling and ready to bring us whatever we asked for. Food came quick and we were pleasantly surprised at how good it was based on some of the reviews we had read. It was our first experience with the size of the portions and for us they were excellent. Each course is small so we could both order an appetizer (the lobster pumpkin bisque and crab cakes were awesome), salad, entree, and dessert without overly stuffing ourselves. We felt that some of the complaints may be from those expecting the chain-restaurant style plates that can easily feed two. If that's you, double up on everything and you'll be fine.
Back to reservations...At 9pm we were told that no reservations would be taken that night and we would have to start at 7am the next day. Looking back on it, it was a trivial matter, but my wife wanted our cruise to be perfect and running around the whole first night trying to book dinners was frustrating. The next morning she went down to the front desk and spoke with the dining coordinator. He was very helpful and booked our reservations for 3 nights at each of the 3 restaurants we wanted right on the spot.
With that taken care of, our cruise was almost perfect afterwards. We booked the lava hike excursion in Hilo for the first day and had an absolute blast. I must warn you that it is not an easy hike, our guide mentioned we walked 9 miles that day over very rough terrain. They literally take you over the lava flow which is uneven and the rocks are like jagged glass. After a vigorous hike, we were rewarded with walking over the "newest land on earth" and were able to get within 40 feet of lava flow. Because it is an active volcano, they warned us that the flow is not predictable, not always visible, and can be dangerous. We were close enough to get great pictures, but were told that 2-3 weeks earlier they got the group within 15 feet so I guess its luck of the draw on what you see. The 4.5 mile hike back was pretty tough so that's were they get the "intense physical demand" warning before you book. It was about 85 degrees out and slightly overcast and they said we were lucky. Remember that lava rocks are black and there's places where you're walking over a flowing lava tunnel so it felt like we were walking across an asphalt parking lot in Vegas in mid-August. The guides give you plenty of water and carry more for you in their packs but it is definitely a workout.
That night we ate in the East Meets West Asian restaurant and had an excellent time. Reservations were at 6 so it was early and we had 3 servers waiting to bring us more food. There is a $10 co-pay per person and the wife ordered sushi which is $1-3 per piece on top of your co-pay but we still had an excellent meal including drinks and tip for under $25.
The next day was our first day in Maui and we took it easy and hung out on the boat all day. Everyone else was off on excursions so it was nice to have the pool area empty to relax and enjoy the frozen drinks. This was also the day of the NCL exclusive luau. Growing up in Hawaii I have been to many and my wife was not excited about paying $95 each for it so we booked the Lazy J steakhouse for dinner. -Don't take this as me saying you shouldn't do the luau, they are a lot of fun, plenty of unique foods and all you can drink, we just didn't feel like doing it.
The Lazy J steakhouse was spoken of very highly in the reviews so maybe my expectations were set too high, but that was my most disappointing meal of the trip. The service was excellent and appetizers, salad and dessert were delicious. My NY strip steak was average at best and the wife's filet was only decent. At a $15 co-pay per person we were expecting more.
After dinner we hit the bar on the main level near the reception desk, John Adams coffee bar. If he's still on the ship, Nick from Dallas was our bartender. He had served us the night before but it was busy and we couldn't really talk to him. With everyone at the luau this night, it was just us at the bar. Humor is in the eye of the beholder so you may not agree, but he had us cracking up laughing with some of his stories and jokes, and tipping him every other round was just as generous with his pours.
The next day in Maui we rented mountain bikes from a place right near the dock called Rip Current. The name is because they also rent electric powered bikes. We again decided to be adventurous and rent the non-electric bikes to ride over to the Ocean Center. Another warning here, if you decide on this one it is about 7 miles each way along a highway. There is a nice wide shoulder on the road and we felt relatively safe, and the winds blowing through the valley helped us get there quick...but also made for a brutal ride back. 45 minutes to get there and about double that getting back. The boat leaves early on the second day so if you do ride, plan your time accordingly.
Next port was Kona and our favorite. We liked the laid back atmosphere for the town and of course the scenery was beautiful. The boat does not port there so you have to take the tender (life boats) to shore. In the morning there is a ticket process to manage the crowd getting off the boat so we decided to sleep in, eat brunch, and then head down around 11. Around 10am they announced that the ticket process was over and you could just line up. By 11 we waited in a small line and got on the next available tender with only a 5 minute wait. Using a tip given to us by one of the bell clerks for snorkeling, we did not book any of the excursions and instead took a cab to Turtle Beach. $15 cab fare to get us there and mask, snorkel, and fins for $8 each. This turned out to be one of the best days we had. Almost every fish we saw at the Ocean Center was right there in the cove and swimming all around. They say there are sea turtles further out but we saw plenty right in the cove. The water is only about 5 feet deep so anywhere in the cove we could stand up if needed. There was also a bar and grill right there so if you're into snorkeling you can make a full day out of it.
We got back on the boat in time for the choco-holic buffet that afternoon and that is where we realized what can make cruising bad, the waste of food. We waited in line for about 20 minutes watching people walk by with plates spilling over with desserts. When we got inside, there was still plenty of food -everything was desserts- but everyone was acting like it was the last time there would be food on the boat. (All the desserts served are the same ones you can find at the buffet throughout the cruise so don't worry if you miss this, with the exception of chocolate dipped bananas). We shared a plate and then sat back to watch the frenzy, shocked at how much some people took on their plate. Of course the next morning there were half eaten plates of chocolate outside of almost every cabin door in the hallways. Another example was in the buffet when a server joked that he set down the last tray of melon. The next lady in line filled a plate full of it thinking he was serious.
Other than seeing some of cruisers wasting, we had a fabulous time on this cruise. Every crewmember was happy, smiling, and very helpful.
Our absolute best meal on the ship was at the French restaurant. This was our personal dress up night (first time cruisers we didn't know about the shipwide formal night) and this dinner was part of our honeymoon package. We both had the full dinner, french onion soup, salads, filet mignon, and cheesecake. With the formal atmosphere, bottle of wine, and excellent service I felt like we should have seen a bill for at least $150
Oh, one of the other complaints we read about was housekeeping. We had Marian on deck 7 and she was fabulous. Every time we came out of our cabin she was in the hallways working on something but still stopped what she was doing to say hello, ask if we needed anything done to the room, and to have a great day. We couldn't have asked for better service, she must have been in our cabin 3 times a day to make it up, turn down the sheets at night, and just to refresh towels and empty trash.
So...long review here but we've only been back a week and it's all fresh in my head.
My recommendations for deals are: -Turtle Beach for snorkeling -Longs Drug Store in Maui, walking distance from the boat and chocolate covered macadamia nuts for $1.69 a box. Couldn't find them cheaper anywhere else that we looked -Swap Meet at the Aloha Stadium on Oahu if you have time. We did all of our souvenir shopping there for 1/2 to 1/4 of the price anywhere else. Men's aloha shirts made in Hawaii for $10, T-shirts 4 for $20 and the big shell necklaces for $4 each vs. up to $18 at Hilo Hatties. -drinking, you're in port every day so it's easy to pick up a small bottle of your drink of choice every couple of days and get it back on board, moderation is the key. -Onboard deal: honeymoon/special occasion package for $79 included a bottle of champagne and chocolate covered strawberries in your room for embarkation, the $10 each co-pay for the French restaurant including a bottle of wine with dinner, a free 5x7 picture, a champagne and cake party for all the special occasion people, and appetizers brought to your room one day. If you take advantage of everything, it's about a $120 value.
If you're considering this trip, I would recommend it highly and do it again in a heartbeat. We had a pretty diverse group of people on board but the majority was the 30-50 age group. As a teen or college partier it probably would have been boring but it was perfect for our honeymoon.
My lowest rating was for entertainment and the only reason I gave it average is because we only went to two shows. The Newlywed game was a good time, and the comedian was entertaining as well. You could tell he was pulling punches to keep the show PG-13 and would have been funnier to me if he had a late night show.