DH and I took a two-week trip to Hawaii to celebrate our fifth anniversary. I am 32 and he is 46. We have previously sailed on one other cruise, which was a Princess cruise to Alaska several years ago, so that is what we have to compare to. We spent five nights pre-cruise in Honolulu/Waikiki area. I won't go into too much detail about those days since this is a cruise review, but I will mention a few things of interest regarding Honolulu.
We stayed at the Shoreline Hotel Waikiki. This hotel was about half the price of the big name hotels and only two blocks further from the beach. It was a clean, basic, hotel with extremely friendly and helpful staff. Valet parking was $28 per day which seems typical for the region. If you don't need all of the extra amenities in a hotel such as a restaurant, spa, etc., I would highly recommend the Shoreline. We were able to walk to Waikiki Beach every day, enjoyed breakfast in some of the other resort's restaurants, walked to the Royal Hawaiian shopping center.
For activities in Honolulu, obviously you don't want to miss Pearl Harbor. You don't need to bother paying for a tour there if you have a rental car. Just drive your car and the tickets for the Arizona memorial are free. You can also reserve your ticket times online in advance for $3.00. Way cheaper than a tour and you can enjoy at your own pace.
We shopped at Ala Moana shopping center, which is HUGE! Be sure to grab a map as soon as you walk in. I am a shopper that has been to a lot of malls, and this is the first one I ever needed the map for.
Hotels that line Waikiki Beach have lots of rentals available; we booked an outrigger canoe and had lots of fun riding the waves. You don't have to stay at the resorts to rent from them; they are happy to take anybody's money :-).
Now, let's get to the cruise! We are pretty low-maintenance travelers, and even so, I went into this prepared with all of the information I've gotten from other reviews. We stayed in cabin 9700, which is an aft balcony. I originally booked a regular balcony, but when prices dropped after final payment, I called and was given an upgrade to the aft. The aft balcony is quite spacious. Photos online make it look like a long tunnel, but it's really not. It's more like a big square shape. We found the room to be roomy and comfortable. There was more than enough storage space for all of our belongings, and in fact, we enjoyed spreading out. There were ample drawers and shelves everywhere. Arnold, our cabin steward, was fantastic. He was very attentive, and when we asked for a foam topper for the bed, it was on the bed the same night. All in all, we found the cabin to be quite comfortable and I was quite pleased that it did not live up to the bad reviews I have read.
Embarkation was easy. We dropped our bags off before returning our rental car and then took a taxi back to the terminal. Although there was a long line, it moved right along and probably only took about an hour to get through all of the steps. Once onboard, they were directing people to the Aloha Café for lunch, but if you read the daily they handed you when you get on, it says that Key West Grill is also open for lunch. We headed there for grilled burgers and enjoyed less of a crowd. Our stateroom was ready by 2pm; bags were delivered one at a time and I think the last one arrived around 5:30pm. We spent this time exploring the POA. I quite liked the décor of this ship. I have read countless reviews about this, but I truly didn't see anything displeasing. DH and I both thought Pink's Champagne Bar was beautiful, the Liberty dining room looked quite stately, the skyscrapers in the Skyline dining room were so pretty and sparkly, and the Cadillac Diner was funky and cool.
We ate several meals in the Aloha Café simply because with all of the activities in port, it was hard to find time for established sit-down meals. We had breakfast twice in the Cadillac Diner; the scrambled egg croissant was delicious. We had breakfast in the Skyline restaurant once and this was our least favorite meal. The gravy for the biscuits was very salty; plus, our tablemates couldn't resist bringing up politics, so that might have contributed to the unpleasant meal. Aloha Café selections were huge and varied; I am a very picky eater, and even I could find something here that I wanted to try. They don't really put much out during the between meal snack times. My recommendation during these times is to hit up Cadillac Diner, which is always open. We went there for several snacks-the mozzarella sticks were tasty, the brownie sundae was delicious; DH really liked the hot wings and we went back for more later in the week. We went to La Cucina one night since it was my birthday; the food there was pretty delicious even though again, I found some things to be a little too salty. They have macadamia nut ice cream that is heavenly! Also went to Moderno the last night for our anniversary dinner; I really enjoyed the whole experience. The wait staff was superb, the food was delicious...the only bad part of the evening was I began feeling under the weather and had to retire to our cabin before dessert! We also had dinner in the Skyline dining room the night of the luau, which was perfect because it was not crowded at all. Service was again excellent and the food was delicious. DH enjoyed the sushi bar twice on the cruise and couldn't say enough good things about it. He was amazed at how much sushi he got on a plate for the price paid and he was in sushi heaven!
As mentioned earlier, service was outstanding. I tried really hard to see the bad that I have read about so often, but I just couldn't find it. Every single member of the crew that we passed in the hallways said aloha to us, even if they were busy washing windows or spraying hand sanitizer. All of the service in all of the restaurants was top notch. We eat out a lot, and this was definitely on the high quality end of service standards. A lot of the crew could be seen having meals at the café, and I thought it was refreshing to see everybody mingling together.
We booked three excursions through NCL. The first was the Waterfall & Rainforest Hike in Maui. This was arranged through Hike Maui and we had a group of 11 people. The guide, Roger, was so informative and knowledgeable, it was such a treat spending a few hours with him. Do take seriously the warnings about getting wet and wearing comfortable shoes. It is not a strenuous hike, but parts of it were quite rugged. Swimming beneath a waterfall made it all worth it.
Next, we took the Crater Hike & Akaka Falls excursion in Hilo. This is a 4-mile hike through a volcanic crater. Please, please, take it seriously that this hike is not for the faint of heart. I am of average physical fitness and I thought the hike back up out of the crater was going to kill me! Okay, not really...but it is a very physically demanding hike. That being said, it was so worth it! We had a group of 8 people led by our amazing guide, Katie. It was stunning and awe inspiring.
The last excursion we booked through NCL was the Big Island Snorkel in Kona. I had never snorkeled before and in fact, I have a fear of water that goes deeper than my height. So I was pretty nervous. We had originally booked the Captain Zodiac tour, but after one of DH's coworkers described it and didn't like it, decided it wasn't right for us. I am so glad we switched to Big Island Snorkel. We went out on a catamaran; it was a huge group, I think about 90 people. This was actually better for me because I could just take time to calm my nerves and not feel like the attention was on me. The crew onboard the Body Glove catamaran were fantastic. They got sooo excited when they heard it was my first time snorkeling, and they went out of their way to make sure I was comfortable and having a good time. The snorkeling was amazing and we had the time of our lives! A delicious lunch was also provided.
We only went to two shows onboard, the Frankie Vallie tribute and the Lights, Camera, Music show. These were both okay. They aren't broadway, but they were entertaining at a time when there's not a lot of other activities happening. DH and I love attending our local community theater, and I would liken it to that level of talent, which was okay with us. DH did the pub hop on embarkation day and he thought it was hilarious and obnoxious at the same time. I used the spa to get a Sole Delight pedicure and it was very enjoyable and I felt that it was worth the price.
We truly had such an amazing time on this trip, both on the ship and off. Obviously, the highlight of this cruise is the time spent in port. However, we both had a really enjoyable time while we were onboard also. The ship was clean and had fun, funky Americana décor; all of the staff was outstanding, the food was good, and the amenities were just enough. When comparing it to our previous cruise, we actually much preferred this NCL cruise to the one we took on Princess.