I recently returned from this cruise with my husband (41), daughter (16), and son (14). The islands were beautiful and shouldn't be missed, but if there were any other cruise line in town, I would choose it over this one. We have sailed 5 times on Celebrity (our personal favorite), Princess, and Costa, and NCL didn't come close to any of them. I felt that the trip was filled with extreme highs (island-centered) and extreme lows (ship-centered), which I will detail below.
Embarkation/Debarkation - one of the only compliments I can give this ship - absolutely outstanding in both speed and ease
Food - I didn't expect much having read other reviews, but still, it didn't even meet my low expectations. There were two or three nights when I didn't eat dinner, either because the selections were so limited or the food was inedible. By the time we realized how poor the dining room food was, all of the specialty restaurants were booked. In a way, I didn't care so much (fewer calories to work off), but it was such a disappointment after the excellent dining we have experienced on other ships.
I must comment specifically on the layout of the Aloha Cafe, which offers buffet-style dining. On previous ships, one would gather a tray, plate, and silverware, and proceed to the buffet line, pointing out preferences to the servers and proceeding in an orderly fashion to the drink station, where a waiter would hold the tray while one filled up on drinks then escort the guest to a table. Oh, how I longed for those days! The Aloha Cafe is like the worst Golden Corral on the planet, made even more hectic by sweaty, hungry people who have been at the beach all day. The multiple stations make for people dashing from one station to the next in mass bedlam, all vying for position in front of their favorite entrees. Don't count on anyone helping you with your tray or finding you a table - more on service, or lack thereof later. In short, I hated the whole dining experience. There was nothing relaxing about it whatsoever - I dreaded going and I couldn't wait to leave.
One more dining story to give you a sense of the service - every single time my husband put his full glasses of juice on the table and went back to the buffet to make a plate, the waiters would remove his juice and clear the table. It became a running joke, but not so funny when I fought the crowds to finally produce a somewhat edible breakfast plate, placed it on a table with a full cup of coffee, and returned to the buffet for a spoon, only to return to find a waiter having just cleared my plates. Conversely, my husband and I would sit for an hour with dirty dishes in front of us and no one would clear them.
Service - Extremely unpredictable. Some of the staff bent over backwards to accommodate the guests, while others acted as if you were bothering them. One of the staff members yelled at me for taking towels out of the pool area, and when I set them down and apologized, he continued to tell me that I should listen to the announcements, etc. However, when I wasn't thrilled with a drink I had ordered, a pool waiter could not do enough to try to satisfy me, and this is pretty much what you can expect - complete inconsistency. We had no cabin service for two days and complained at the front desk three times, but got no help. Finally, another cabin stewardess introduced herself, and when she heard that we were having trouble, she asked to be assigned to our room, and from that moment on, everything was perfect. Restaurant service was also a crapshoot. Some nights, dinner was served promptly and kindly, and others, it was absolutely torturous. I can only attribute this to the required tipping that is automatically tacked on to your bill, thereby eliminating the incentive to work hard. At the end of the week, it took a good bit of haggling to have our tip charges removed for the first two days, and it was only because we had registered multiple complaints that the ship credited our account. But beware, I spoke to another woman who tried to adjust her gratuity and was told that the tip is set and can't be adjusted. They certainly were not nice about it and did not make it easy.
Entertainment - the best word I can use to describe it is "lame." It consisted mostly of audience participation-type games and weak attempts at comedy. The staff talent night was particularly painful, and while the 3 Mo Tenors were amazing singers, I didn't need to see them three times in one week. The ship had a feeling of emptiness every night, like most people ate dinner and went to bed. I couldn't blame them, given their options, but I really missed kicking back and relaxing in the theater to take in a night of entertainment.
Excursions - we are independent adventurers who rarely take an excursion, and this trip was no exception. We rented a car on every island and took in the sites at our own pace. Below are the not-to-miss highlights from each island:
Oahu - Wakiki Beach and the International Marketplace Big Island - Volcanoes National Park, Akaka Falls, Rainbow Falls Kona Coast - snorkeling at Kahalu'u Beach Park (free and beautiful) Maui - snorkeling at Kaanapali Beach, part of the road to Hana, sunrise from the top of Haleakala Kuaui - spouting horn, Waimea Canyon, taking in the glory of the Na'Pali coast as the ship slowly sails by...
If you are like us and like to find your own way around, research the above on the web and print out the directions from the port ahead of time. You will be so glad that you came with a detailed itinerary and don't have to deal with the frustration of trying to find your way around when you're on vacation.
One Kudo to the ship regarding the islands - they do a great job of sailing past the volcanic lava at night and narrating the experience, and of doing the same along the Na'Pali coast. It was a great, unexpected addition to the tour, and we thoroughly enjoyed both experiences.
Teen Program - my teens both eschewed it after the first night. They have been active Teen Club members on all of the other ships, but they were completely disinterested in this one. Supposedly, the counselors shut the door to the Teen room when they are off doing an activity, so there is no place for the teens to just hang out and relax together. My son formed his own "posse" and had fun around the ship, and my daughter stuck to herself and did a lot of reading and relaxing. It all worked out, and we spent more time together as a family, so mom and dad were happy.
Overall, I would say that Hawaii is a fantastic place to visit and a cruise is the perfect venue in which to see multiple islands. But go when you can get the best deal possible, because the ship is certainly nothing to write home about!