This was my 6th cruise, my first with NCL. We sailed on Pride of Aloha with 3 young children. After reading all the reviews, we were a bit nervous about traveling with NCL. The check-in process was great!! From the time we arrived at the pier, to the time we got on the boat was only about 15 minutes. From that, it went downhill.
We spent almost 2 hours waiting for our room to be ready. Fortunately, the children's pool was open, and we had packed the kids suits in our carry-on, so they happily played in the pool while we relaxed in the lounge chairs nearby. Finally, our room was ready, and we piled in.
We had 2 balcony rooms. One for the two of us and our youngest. One for Grandma and our older two. To say the rooms were small, was an understatement. When the pull-out couch was out for our youngest, there was absolutely no space to move. Thankfully, we had a balcony, and that saved us. Our beds were set up as singles, even though we requested a double. We finally just slid them together ourselves, which let us find out they weren't even beds just cots, and a few left overs from our rooms previous occupants. They were hard as a rock. We requested egg crates and extra bedspreads for 4 days, but finally gave up. The housekeeping was one of the worst parts of our trip. Most nights, it was or before she came to make up our room. By then, the kids were asleep. We requested extra towels almost every day, but never got any (we had 3 people in our room, but only 2 towels). We finally gave up and just got beach towels from the pool to use. One day we requested new sheets and vacuuming (we had sand everywhere from the beach). That was the only day we got new sheets or the floor vacuumed!
Most other reviews found the food horrible. Actually, the food was one of the highlights of our trip. Maybe they have worked hard on this aspect? Wonderful food, and in general very good service. Most dinners took 1-1 1/2 hours. But with 4-5 courses, it was fine and very well paced(our kids took their Gameboys, so they were happy with the long dinners). The food was very good-not the best ever, but definitely good. We ate at the PacificHeights (Japanese) restaurant. It was incredible!! A definite must. We had breakfast out on the lanai each morning-it was adequate breakfast fare. Same thing everyday, but that was fine with us. They had small boxes of cereal on the buffet that the kids delighted in picking out to take for a snack later in the day. Most days, we ate on the islands for lunch. The dessert place was great, but had long lines!! Waiting 20 minutes for an ice cream cone in the middle of the day is crazy. We had fish and chips in Longboards one afternoon-some of the best fish I've ever had!
The one big problem we encountered was with shore excursions! We had booked rental mini-vans through the cruise line. We received the tickets in our room and went to get the van on the first island. They did not have our reservation and were out of minivans. Fortunately, we found another rental company that had a van for us, which we rented and headed on to enjoy our day. Back to shore excursions on the boat, and they informed me that "Alamo had been letting them down." Then proceeded to refund my money for the van (but not the difference in price from the van we did get). They then told me to go book my own vehicles on the other islands. They sent me to the internet cafe (promising to credit the money, but they never did). The internet was so slow, I couldn't get anything booked. Finally, called home to get phone numbers for rental companies and spent 2 more hours, before they were booked. Ridiculous for a business to be so un-customer friendly. They should have booked the vans for me and eaten the difference. Instead we ended up spending almost $150 more on rental vans that we should have. So, that really put a dent in our vacation enjoyment.
As for the islands, they were beautiful! We had done lots of research and found beautiful beaches on each island to go and enjoy (remember we had 3 little boys with us). It was a hassle to do the tenders in and out on Kona with the kids and all the stuff, but they had it organized very well and we didn't have to wait very long.
We did a few activities with the Kids Club. They had evening sitting for the kids from . My 7 year old loved it and wanted to go back every evening. My 3 and 5 year olds enjoyed super hero night! They also had a movie one afternoon, which all 3 enjoyed, and it gave us an hour-and-a-half to ourselves. Most kids on the boat loved the kids activities (I overhead many kids asking to go). They had "port play" every afternoon, but charged extra money for it, and at $11 an hour for all 3 kids, that adds up quick. So, we spent most afternoon enjoying the kids pool with our kids.
Overall, the NCL experience was fair at best. We've traveled with Royal Caribbean, Princess and Carnival. I will not cruise NCL again. The only reason we did, was because of the destination. No other cruise line cruised the Hawaii islands during the time of year.