My husband and I were on our first trip to Hawaii and our first cruise. I can't think of a better way to get around to so many islands in one trip. We stayed two nights before and after the cruise in Honolulu, so we had time to explore Oahu, also. We both loved Hawaii for it's amazing natural beauty, the interesting blend of cultures, and its "aloha" spirit! The weather in December was warm. There were scattered showers that didn't hinder sightseeing, but did provide a plethora of rainbows. The temperature of the ocean was between 75 and 80 degrees. Great for swimming! We'll definitely be returning.
I would recommend that anyone with mobility issues use a wheelchair for embarkation. Be aware that later in the afternoon, there are not as many available. We had to wait 45 minutes. For me, disembarkation was doable without a wheelchair, as there were no lines. In Maui and Hilo, the port terminal buildings are very long. So, if you have trouble walking distances, you might consider a wheelchair there. Don't worry about tendering at Kona. We saw someone in a wheelchair lifted into the tender boat.
As for the cruise, we enjoyed the convenience of unpacking once for the entire week and cruising overnight to a new destination. Service, which others have complained about, was perfectly adequate. Our cabin steward, Francis, was terrific. However, we discovered that we're not really cruise people. If we didn't spend most of our time off the ship on excursions, we wouldn't have had a very good time.
There were two problems: the size and the food. There were just too many people, as the ship was full. We didn't enjoy the hubbub. Having lived in big cities, it wasn't exciting or fun. I am so glad that we spent extra for a balcony stateroom, as it was a perfect retreat after a busy day ashore. We enjoyed the views of the islands and the sunrises and sunsets, and at night it was warm enough to leave the door open and listen to the waves.
The second problem was the food. I know most people like it. However, we disliked the two-tier system in which specialty restaurants cost more money. We tried the Skyline and Liberty dining rooms. They were noisy and the portions were small. They was a dearth of fresh, local fruits and vegetables. (I counted 7 green beans on my plate when I ordered salmon.) All the servers were friendly and helpful. We went to the Cadillac Diner one night. It had the poorest service and the worst food. It tasted like they'd used old fish in the fish and chips entree. We never went back. We ate at Moderno and East Meets West. I liked Moderno, because the salad bar was great and it's a beautiful dining area and an innovative format. Service was great there and at East Meets West. Sometimes, what was annoying, was that they were trying too hard to be helpful, e.g. interrupting conversation to see if everything was OK. The fusion elements of East Meets West were a little off. My husband ordered Moo Shui Pork and, instead of pancakes, they served toasted flour tortillas that crumbled! In all of the restaurants, there was an emphasis on the same fat/salt/sugar flavor points that make fast food palatable. We liked the Aloha Buffet best, because it offered the broadest selection of fruits and vegetables. There were always vegetarian choices and a big salad bar. However, after a long day onshore, we were tired. It would have been nicer to have the same food offered in a sit-down setting. We ordered room service for breakfast every morning. I asked for scrambled eggs and they always brought some. (We always tipped whomever was delivering breakfast.) Of the three lunches that we ate on the ship, two were from room service and once we went to the Aloha buffet. The room service menu was limited, but sitting alone on our balcony, enjoying a quiet meal was far preferable to the buffets or dining rooms. We spent money to order a few drinks throughout the week...not many. A latte with soy milk was $8.50 with tip at the coffee bar!
As for other activities, we went to the Polynesian show (good effort...regrettable moderator) and one night we listened to piano music in Pink's Champagne Bar (many errors, but great spirit). On the day we sailed from Kauai, I went in the pool, which rough seas had turned into a wave tank. Great fun. The daily ship's newsletter was helpful with respect to ship's activities.
We booked all of our excursions through NCL. This cost more, but was easier. It was a good choice for a first time trip. Your tickets will be waiting in your cabin for you with instructions on when/where to meet. All of tour guides were native Hawaiians or had been in the islands many years. They all were knowledgeable and entertaining. (Don't forget to tip them for their hard work!) I let the NCL Shore Excursion desk know that I have mobility issues. There always were seats reserved in the front of the bus or I was able to sit in the front seat of the vans. This helped out a lot. We met a number of interesting fellow passengers on our excursions, which was an added bonus.
Here is a list of our excursions:
Best of Maui: We especially liked the Maui Tropical Plantation. I liked the Maui Ocean Center coral reef exhibit, as it was a good introduction to what I would see snorkeling later in the week.
Sunset at Haleakala: Bring warm clothes! Also, be prepared for poor weather. You might not see a sunset.
Road to Hana Deluxe: The extra money for the deluxe excursion was worth it. We were in a small van with very comfortable seats. I was able to swim at a black sand beach. This is a better trip the first day in Maui, because you won't have to worry about getting back to the ship. Be sure to ask to stop for vegan coconut ice cream!
Volcanoes National Park: Great excursion, but rushed. I will definitely go back on my own one day.
Hilo Coast & Botanical Gardens: We had never been in a tropical rainforest before. Amazing! Our guide was a Hilo native who made many interesting remarks as we drove through the city.
Historic Kona: My husband loved this and he had time afterwards to walk around Kona.
Captain Zodiac Raft, Snorkel & Dolphin Adventure: Everyone raves about this trip and for good reason. I was a first-time snorkeler with mobility issues but the crew was supportive. It was the highlight of my trip. I developed the confidence to book a snorkeling trip on Oahu later in the week.
Journey to Waimea Canyon: Awesome, even compared to the Grand Canyon. Again, be prepared for poor weather that might obscure views.
Kilohana Manor House & Kalamaku Show: Worst moments of the trip. Absolutely NOT worth the money. Choose a less expensive trip to the luau. If you don't like Las Vegas style glitz, skip the show altogether. We disliked everything about the evening, except for the local craftsman making up the marketplace outside the show pavilion.
Wailua River & Fern Grotto: Nice, easy excursion at the end of the week when we were tired. We enjoyed the musicians and hula dancers aboard the boat.
Pearl Harbor & Honolulu City: This was a Roberts of Hawaii tour that dropped us off at our hotel afterwards. We were exhausted after our busy week, but very glad we made the effort to visit Pearl Harbor. We ended the day with dinner at Duke's of Waikiki!
The other reviews about this cruise were helpful to me in planning my trip. I hope this information is helpful to someone else. I would encourage everyone to take this trip at least once. We are very happy that we went. I might even go again at some point in the future, as it's a good venue for a family reunion. There were many multi-generational groups. I'm not sure about going on other cruises, but this one was a winner.