The most outstanding feature of this ship is the itinerary by far!! We knew that fact ahead of time, and yet still managed to have a fantastic time both on the ship each day as well as in the amazing ports.
We did the Cruise Critic Roll Call, which was a great way to start the cruise and made us feel like VIP's since we had a private meeting with some of the officers as well as the Cruise Director shortly after boarding.
The Cruise Director was fantastic and was highly visible at each event. In fact, I often wondered how she could be at so many places in one day! I also really appreciated the fact that she was Hawaiian. She and the Hawaiian Ambassador, China did a fantastic job of representing the islands that we were visiting. They were lovely, knowledgeable, and fun to be around.
The entertainment was good on the ship, and the crew and Captain were exceptional. Everyone was very friendly and seemed willing to help in anyway we needed. Our Cabin Steward was fantastic, and we were impressed with the service overall.
We were in an aft facing cabin on the 9th floor. The benefits of this cabin were the 2 lounge chairs, as well as the 2 standard chairs that fit on this oversized deck. While the space was nice, I would not chose this cabin again because the sail by on the last day of the Na Pali coast was not visible at all from this balcony. I would choose a Port side balcony for this breathtaking experience!
The only complaint that we had on this cruise was the food in the Main Dining rooms. It was not tasty, and overall very disappointing both in appearance and quality. We tried the specialty restaurant, Cagney's and the steaks were not much better than the main dining room, though the side dishes and salads were above average. We were also disappointed that NCL did not have a traditional Lobster Night on this cruise in the Dining rooms either.
We ended up eating our dinners the last 2 nights at the Aloha Buffet. It was better than the dining rooms as far as quality and offerings. They had freshly made crepes, which was very a nice touch for desserts....but would be better if there were 2 machines since it takes awhile to make them.
Prior to our cruise, I read many reviews about the ports of call and we made our own arrangements for each day in order to save money and have optimal time in each port. I will share the best tips that I found, and what worked for us in each area: (prior to our trip, we ordered flasks called Rum Runners, which are durable plastic flasks that you can pack liquor or any liquids in your suitcase or bag to enjoy on the cruise or at the beach. They worked great, and we saved a lot of money by bringing our own coffee mugs to fill with ice and juice on the cruise and adding our own pineapple vodka!! http://www.easytravelerinc.com/flasks.aspx )
**Honolulu We arrived on Thursday afternoon and stayed at the Holiday Inn Beachcomber Waikiki, which is right in the heart of all the shopping. The small bazaar that is in the city is located next to this hotel, and the beach is located across the street. There are multiple ABC stores very close by, so we bought our pineapple vodka there, and filled up for our Saturday cruise.
*Friday, after touring the city and Pearl Harbor (which is not to be missed), the Hilton has fireworks on the beach for free. We walked from our hotel along the beach to the Ft. DeRussy beach and had a perfect view of the fireworks. There was a vendor on the beach selling a Picnic in Paradise, which was fantastic! It included a bag, a blanket to lay on, and a 3 course vegetarian meal for 2. It was a great idea for enjoying the fireworks under the stars.
*Saturday morning, we waited awhile for a bus to Diamond Head but ended up taking a taxi that was only $5 more and worth every penny! We enjoyed the challenging hike up to the top and especially the views while at the top! We had plenty of time to get there in the morning, hike up and take a taxi back to our hotel before departing for the ship.
Embarkation was a breeze, we arrived at 12:30pm and by 1:15pm we were on the ship. It was simple, quick, and delightful to be welcomed with Lei's. We only had our rolling carryon's with us and went to the buffet for a nice lunch on the ship. Our room was ready by 3:00pm, which allowed us plenty of time to unpack and prepare for departure. We had our Cruise Critic roll call at 3:45pm, then mandatory drill and soon it was time for the evening on the cruise.
For those who get seasick, I will say it was a bit more rough water than I expected but I have found that taking one non drowsy Dramamine 4 hours prior to sailing seems to ward off nausea. I took another one before going to bed and did well during the night.
*Sunday morning pulling into Maui was beautiful. We rented a car both days there from discounthawaiicarrental.com, even called them at 1-800-292-1930 from Maui for same day service! I highly recommend them for the best prices and service. (we were not pleased with Alamo on the island, and you can request to not use them through this service) They use all the major companies, and they all have shuttles at each port to take you to the rental cars. (except Kona, which would be more difficult to rent a car due to time restraints and expense of getting to the airport for a rental)
We went straight to the Road to Hana, and had no problem with traffic whatsoever. We packed a backpack with snacks, water, sunscreen, towels, and some hand wipes to use in the State Park bathrooms, because they are very dirty and offer no soap or paper towels!) We made many stops along the beautiful drive, and stopped for dinner at Mama's Fish House on the way home. The food was very good, but expensive. The atmosphere alone is worth going here for, it is exceptional!
*Monday, we drove to the Whaler's Village area and parked at the Sheraton for $20. The public beach is located there and snorkeling gear is available to rent for use at Black Rock beach. We enjoyed snorkeling with 3 Green Sea Turtles and many colorful fish before returning our car and returning to the ship.
*Tuesday, we arrived in Hilo and drove to Volcanoes National Park for exploring a few hours, then we drove to Big Island Candies for some delicious samples of handmade goodies. We then drove to Akaka Falls, which we enjoyed the most of all in Hilo! They were spectacular falls and gardens, and worth the $1 fee if you park outside the gates. Bring the wipes again for the restrooms tho!
*Wednesday, from the pier that the tender takes you to, there is a shuttle service across the street that rents chairs, snorkel gear and provides rides to and from Turtle Beach. There is fantastic snorkeling here in shallow water. We enjoyed a relaxing beach and swim day here before heading back to town to shop.
*Thursday, Kauai. We drove to Waimea Canyon, which is amazing! Make sure to drive past mile marker 18, which goes into another park for an amazing lookout point and one of the wettest spots on Earth, Wai`ale`ale.
We then drove down the canyon to a state park called, Polihale. It is located about 5 miles down a dirt road, and it was quite an adventure! We later found out that this beach and area are very sacred to the locals, and for good reason....it is truly breathtaking! The Na Pali cliffs surround this beach, and swimming is not an option except at an area called Queens Pond due to the strong riptides. Bring plenty of water to drink and shoes to walk in the sand as this area rarely gets rain and is very hot!
*Friday, we took a taxi to Wailua Falls (Fantasy Island falls), then to the Wailua River Valley. We rode the 9:30am riverboat to the Fern Grotto and enjoyed the sweet family serenading us and dancing hula on this relaxing attraction. Our awesome taxi driver, Jim came back for us afterward and we had plenty of time to return to the ship to prepare for the extraordinary Na Pali Coast sail by. The sail away bar b que by the pool was delicious, and we enjoyed the sail to the coast from the upper deck.
*Saturday, debarkation was easier than imaginable and we were off by 9:00am on our way to getting another rental car for our post cruise night. We drove to The Polynesian Cultural Center for the day and evening Ha show. This too was quite an experience, and Ha was simply astounding!