Background: Aloha! We are just back from the cruise and I can't say enough good things about my experience. I traveled with my husband (30 y/o), parents (55&56), and younger sister (21). We all have never been on a cruise or to Hawaii.
Flights: We are from Michigan so it was a long plane ride. My parents and sister arrived Wed before the cruise while my husband and I had to wait until Friday due to work schedule. From Chicago we took the 9 hr plane ride to Honolulu which I would recommend. Coming home we had two layovers which we were basically running to the gates just to board another flight.
Hotel: We all stayed at Park Shore Waikiki which was a great hotel. Its a little older however was just remodeled. The beach is right across the street and walking distance to all the shopping. We took Roberts Hawaii from the airport to hotel like $13 per person. They meet you at your gate and guide you to baggage claim. They even give you a shell lei which I thought you had to pay extra for. On Sat prior to the cruise my sister and I went to Sea Life Park to swim with the dolphins. We have never done that before and it was amazing.
Embarkation: I have never been on a cruise but this was very smooth especially since we were in a suite. If you are able to book a suite or higher category room- I would definitely recommend it. When you get to the pier everyone drops their bags off and goes through security which was a total of 10 minutes. Then the normal check in line is very long however if you are in a suite including a family suite you go wait in a room for only like 10-15 minutes and then they escort you on the ship and our room was ready for us! The normal check in line might take you like 45 minutes to 1 hour however I didn't have to stand in it so I'm not sure.
Restaurants: I enjoyed every restaurant we went to. For breakfast we mostly ate at the Aloha Cafe which was the busiest restaurant but we had a system where one person would find a table while the others got their food. I did notice towards the end of the trip, they were opening up La Cucina (Italian Restaurant) which is near the cafe so people could eat in there also. As a suite guest, you were able to eat breakfast and lunch at cagneys steakhouse which was good but it was basically the same food but the atmosphere was quiet and not as busy. For dinner we ate at La Cucina and Cagneys which both of them I enjoyed. La Cucina is similar to Olive Garden.
Ports: All the ports were great. Each of them a little different. We did all of our excursions with NCL which I would do again. All the ports cater to the cruise guests. There are shuttles at every port that will take you to shopping (Hilo Hatties), beaches and even walmart and Kmart. In Kona, we walked to the brewery which had good food and my husband enjoyed the beers! In Kauai I learned how to surf with Kauai Beach Boys at Kalapaki beach. That was a great experience and I even got up the 1st time! The beach and surrounding area is gorgeous.
Entertainment/Services: We went to all the shows but one and had a great time. I was tired most nights from the excursions but they are worth it especially the comedian and Oh What A Night. My mom and I also went to a lei making class which I wasn't planning on going but glad I did. My husband enjoyed the fitness center. There are free weights, strengthening machines and cardio machines (treadmills). Its like a smaller version of planet fitness.
Disembarkation: It was just as easy as getting on the ship. We did the Pearl Harbor excursion but you put your luggage outside the your room the night before. You then meet at your designated location which is on your shore excursion ticket and disembark the ship. Once you find your luggage it stays on the bus until you get to your airport. One thing I noticed with all the shore excursions is that it ran smoothly. There are plenty of signs telling where to go.
Overall: I would recommend this cruise to everyone especially someone that has never been to Hawaii. You get to see a little bit from every island. I would even go on this cruise again. I would recommend a balcony room. Hawaii is so pretty especially Kauai. We even got to see lava flowing from our balcony in Hilo. The staff was great. Everyone catered to your need and you got many Alohas everyday! I was surprised to read many bad reviews. I didn't have one bad experience. I hope those reviews don't deter people from booking the cruise. Also I appreciate every one's review and helpful hints when I was planning this trip. Mahalo