My fiance and I booked this cruise because we had never been to Hawaii before and we wanted to have the chance to experience all of the islands in one vacation. It turned out to be a great decision -- having so much time in port helped us fall in love with all of Hawaii, not just the touristy stuff! Our experience on the cruise itself was pretty good, too. We wouldn't do it again, but that's only because we know enough about Hawaii now to pick future vacation destinations on our own. Also, the waves are rough in winter, and many times we could feel the ship pitching and rolling as it traveled between ports. I had to buy a 12-pack of diet ginger ale our first night in Maui because I was so sick, but we both ended up getting used to it.
An excellent local shuttle company, GO808Express, dropped us off at the Honolulu port not long after embarkation began and were on the ship in about 30-40 minutes, even though it was crowded. We checked all bags that we didn't want to lug around the ship for a few hours, which turned out to be a good thing (if you want to swim or tan on deck, keep your swimsuit with you). Our room was not ready for at least another hour, so we ate a simple lunch of hot dogs and hamburgers at the pool bar to avoid the craziness of the buffet (Aloha Cafe), lazed around on the deck then wandered around the ship. Our luggage was not delivered to the room right away, but we received it in two separate deliveries before the ship left the harbor.
Our stateroom and cabin steward were both fantastic -- we were never bothered by noise outside our cabin, as it's tucked into a corner by some suites. Our steward, Gene, was very helpful and efficient. We opted to only have him clean the room once; any more was unnecessary and I think it allowed us more flexibility. I would say the inside rooms are your best bet on this ship. NEVER spend more money on buying an oceanview or higher room on this cruise, as you should be spending every moment you can off the ship or in public areas where you can see the sunrise and sunset (the Na Pali coast cruiseby is easily viewed from public decks, as well).
We ate at the buffet for most of our meals. We gave the Skyline dining room a try, and ate one night at Moderno Churriscaria (delicious!), but honestly, the variety and quality of food available at the buffet kept us coming back. There is a very good salad bar (a few nights pate was available), different meat carved "off the bone" each night, and a few meat and veggie dishes to pick from. There was always an Indian and Asian dish, too. There was a pasta chef to cook those types of dishes for you, although I only stood in the long line one time for that. It was pretty good, though. The dessert selection was pretty spectacular (I was a particular fan of the cobblers with ice cream). I never stood in line for the crepes there. Breakfast was delicious at the buffet, as well. You can have your own omelets made, but again, I never did. I just ate the scrambled eggs, their yummy round hashbrowns and bagels with lox every morning. Bottom line: Don't waste your money on specialty dining on the POA, either. Save it for your excursions. And if you're cheap like me, you can bring food back to your room to package up in plastic baggies and take it with you for lunch while you're gone. Side note: I would not recommend Cadillac Diner. The service was a little less than average, food was worse. We didn't step foot in that place after one meal.
Leaving the ship is truly what this cruise is all about. You need to get away from the harbor area and surrounding town to experience Hawaii. We rented cars well in advance at every port for one day each and consulted visitor's guides and websites for the best destinations. It saved us hundreds of dollars in excursion fees. However, we did book three excursions on days we didn't have a vehicle -- two outside the ship and one with NCL. We hooked up with Cruiser Phil's Volcano Riders for the sunrise biking trip down Haleakala on Monday in Maui, which was excellent! The NCL excursion "Discover Jungle Falls by Kayak" is the best way to fill your last morning in Kauai. If you like kayaking, hiking and swimming near beautiful waterfalls, DO IT. On our disembarkation day, we booked a wonderful north shore tour through Roberts Hawaii, which ended with us being conveniently dropped off at the airport with all of our luggage. Their Pearl Harbor and Honolulu city tour was also popular for those who needed airport transportation (we did Pearl Harbor on our own before the cruise).
We didn't take advantage of most of the entertainment on the ship simply because we got up early, left the ship all day and went to bed early. I did manage, though, to become a Karaoke Idol champion in the ship's competition that week! My only complaint about the event offerings is that all the lei-making classes were only offered while we were still in port, so we missed all but one of them. Otherwise, everything we did was fun!
To wrap things up, our experience as first-time cruisers on this ship was A-OK. Service in all parts of the ship mostly varied from excellent to simply average, but it was never bad. I did have to go round a few times with the guest services desk about not having our money refunded as it should have been for two pre-paid dining reservations I cancelled (lesson learned -- do not prepay for specialty dining on this cruise, it's really not necessary), but the problem was solved with the help of a manager on disembarkation day. Thanks to NCL for helping make our first experience of the islands a good one! We will consider traveling with NCL again to other destinations.