Like so many, I was nervous about this cruise, having read the mixed reviews about the NCLA service. In the final analysis, many of my fears were founded, some were not and there were even a few pleasant surprises along the way.
Embarkation was very smooth. I wouldn't pay the $20 NCL charges for the transfer however, as the cab ride from the airport is about $20. We shared a limo with another couple reducing the cost to $10 for each couple.
Our cabin was as far aft as possible, inside and on deck 9. The room is smaller than we are used to but it was not that bad. Had we had a 3rd person in the room which was the original plan, there would have been a problem. The beds have a strange kind of firmness which was OK for us but I can see how some people would want the 'egg cartons' There is a lack of drawers, shelves and hooks to be sure. Our stateroom attendant was as good as we have ever had. She was in twice a day replacing the towels, turning down the bed, filling the ice bucket etc. No complaints there..she even made animals with the towels! I guess we got lucky.
The ship is nice enough but smallish. The pool area is very nice (2 pools and 3 hot tubs) and at the very front of the ship there is another small pool and hot tub which is kind of hidden away. They don't do a good job keeping the deck clean however.
The biggest disappointment was without a doubt the Hukilau buffet. First of all it is too small and crowded and that was on a cruise that was less than full. I can't imagine how ugly it would be if the ship was full. The food is uninspired to say the least. The focus is on hot dogs, burgers and fresh fruit which is fine, but not every day please. There is a token offering of lamb curry or roast chicken but the variety is just not the same as RCL or Celebrity
The main dining rooms were OK but nothing more and certainly a disappointment compared to Celebrity or RCL. The main dining room breakfast setup is awkward. It is a combination buffet and a la carte. The breakfast service is uncoordinated. Service in the main dining rooms (for dinner) was pretty good and some of the dishes were really good i.e. the Crispy Duck, the Ahi appetizer, the prime rib. Here's an example of what lacks: The prime rib comes with a baked potato. But was there any butter or sour cream on the table or offered? No. I had to ask for sour cream and it was like I was the first person to ever ask for it. They finally found some. For the lobster, there was no melted butter or lemon.
We ate at all three specialty restaurants:
We ate at Kahili's (Italian) twice. The Osso Bucco was great. We had Duck a l'Orange in the French style Royal Palm Bistro which was very good as well. The Asian fusion place was OK nothing more. Service in all three was good but not great. Something that really annoyed me was the wine list in the French and Asian restaurants were not the same as in the main dining room. They were more expensive wines. When I specifically asked if the regular wine list was available, the answer was: No.
The itinerary was great. How can you go wrong in Hawaii? The nighttime pass by the active lava flow was a high point as was the sail around the Naapali coast.
We don't partake in shore excursions as they are generally a rip off.
On board entertainment was as good as we have ever had, and in the case of the singers and dancers, we think they were the best we have ever seen in 11 cruises.
The cruise director Ered Matthew and his staff were also the best we have ever seen. No cheese at all. One gag that was new to us was the Liars Club It was hilarious.
Now for some random thoughts:
-The tipping system sucks. For some reason, one feels compelled to tip on top of the $10 a day per person which is a non negotiable service charge. One of our waiters even sort of solicited a tip from us but not in a direct enough fashion for me to make an issue of it.
-The beer and wine was much more expensive than on a RCL cruise we did just a couple of months ago. Example: A pint of draft Bud Light on PoA was $5.25 on RCL a pint of Heineken or Amstel Light was $3.95 After tax and tip this Bud light comes out to just under $7
-Smoked salmon (my fav) is virtually non existent. You have to order it in the dining room and even then you don't get much more than a thin slice. Compare that to RCL's buffet offering every day.
-Some of the restaurants and the main show lounge (Stardust) are uncomfortably cold.
-The pastries and deserts were surprisingly good especially the croissants.
-There is without a doubt a difference with the all American crew. They seem more like a bunch of college kids out for a good time cruising around Hawaii with free room and board as opposed to the career people on the other lines. A number of times I saw crew members checking their cell phones rather than doing their jobs.
-Essentially there is no mandatory muster drill. The first one took place two hours before the ship was finished boarding!! The make up drill fro those that missed it was the next day but there was no emergency whistle or any check to make sure everyone attended.
-The Pacific Heights sushi: I wanted to get a few pieces to take back to my stateroom as a snack. I was told by the Maitre d that the sushi was only available to those who sat down and paid the $10 service charge. When I asked if one had to pay the service charge and then the per item price for the Sushi the answer was : Yes. I rolled my eyes and walked away.
Finally, we cruised with NCL in 2002 and didn't care for the Freestyle thing, nothing has changed in that department. We would joke that Freestyle meant that you were free to wait in line at the restaurant of your choice!!
It wasn't as bad as I had feared but we won't sail with NCL or NCLA again, not so long as Celebrity and RCL are out there. We went on this one because it was a good way to see Hawaii but usually we go on cruises to be pampered and eat great food.