I saw a great price come up for this cruise, so decided to go despite reading some shocking reviews about this ship. We embarked late in the day at around 5:00pm. Living about 2 miles from the cruise ship terminal in Honolulu, we didn't have any hassles with airlines/baggage/transfers etc. It seemed that most other people had already checked in as there wasn't anyone else at the check in counter when we arrived - check in took around 10 minutes.
I purchased the cheapest inside cabin available when I booked, and was upgraded to a larger inside cabin prior to departure. At check in it turned out we'd been upgraded again to an outside cabin with an oceanview. The cabin was tidy and well maintained, everything seemed to work properly and there were no problems with plumbing or cleanliness during the cruise. Apparently there was a mandatory life boat drill, and a make up drill the following day for people who missed the first drill. I missed both of them and no one said anything, More
so I wouldn't be too concerned about being on board for this.
After getting settled we made reservations for meals at each of the 3 specialty restaurants. The specialty restaurants were really good, as were the regular dining rooms and the buffet. The room service menu could use a little more variety. We never had more than a 2-3 minute wait for any dining room. The drinks on board are similarly priced to a high end restaurant or cocktail lounge on shore. We bought some alcohol on board with us, so that helped us keep the bar bill down somewhat. Over the course of the cruise we watched two comedians, a magician, and the on board "American Idol" competition. All shows were very entertaining.
First port was Kauai. We rented a car from Alamo and drove up the Waimea canyon and then to Hanalei Bay on the north shore. Make sure you get the correct rental car bus in Kauai, as the rental car companies aren't all next to each other at the airport here. I'd advise people to buy a beach umbrella in Honolulu to bring on the cruise with them, as with the exception of snorkeling gear, there are surprisingly few beach equipment rental places in Hawaii. There is a nice beach a few minutes walk from the pier in Nawiliwili for those that don't want to rent a car. Second port was Hilo. Rented a car from Enterprise here and visited the volcanoes national park and took a helicopter ride over the lava flow. Both well worth it. Advantage of renting from Enterprise is that queues are shorter and bus doesn't fill up at the pier. I think this is because Enterprise don't rent through the travel web sites outside of their own, so less bargain hunters book with them. Third stop was Kona. Went parasailing, which was outstanding, and then drove up the coast to the Mauna Kea resort and beach. Snorkeling here was great. We rented a car from Enterprise in Kona and were happy we did as their office is in Kona town as opposed to the airport with the other car rental companies. The airport is quite a few miles from Kona, so a lot of time would have been wasted having to rent and return at the airport. Off airport rentals don't attract airport concession recovery fees either, so price is better. If you want to go to the beach in Kona you need to rent a car, as there are no decent beaches within walking distance of Kona. Fourth port was Kahului. Rented a car with Alamo and drove over to Lahaina. You can catch any rental car company bus to the airport to pick up your car in Kahului, as all the firms are next to each other. Second day in Maui we rode the sugarcane train, then went to the beach at Wailea. We really enjoyed both. We didn't purchase any shore excursions from the cruise line, and were glad we didn't. All the activities offered by the cruise line can be organized directly with local tour operators for a cheaper price via their respective web sites. A lot of the cruise line excursions are simply riding around in a coach. You can generally rent a car for cheaper than the excursion ticket price and do the same tour on your own. If you shop around online prior to the cruise you should be able to book a compact rental car at each port for less than $30 per day. We were upgraded to a midsize or fullsize at every port as the rental car companies don't seem to carry many compact cars in Hawaii - mostly Jeeps and convertibles.
In summary, we really enjoyed the cruise. The research and planning we did before the trip really paid off. With the exception of Kona, there isn't much to do within walking distance of the ship in the various ports, so you need to plan ahead. I'm not sure what people who have written negative reviews about this cruise were expecting, but we loved this cruise and would do it again. Less