This was our 12th cruise, our first (and last) on NCL. One fellow cruiser called it "the cruise from Hell". I wouldn't go that far, but the level of service was certainly not up to par.
We stayed pre-cruise at the Marriott Waikiki, a very nice facility. Our travel agent had told us we could book shore excursions and dinner times at the NCL office at the hotel, but since we didn't book the cruise through the hotel, NCL wouldn't do anything for us.
Boarding was in mid-afternoon, very well organized, in the cruise terminal and onto the ship in about 10 minutes. The size of our room and balcony were a disappointment, both very small. Balcony had a very small table maybe 12inches. Cabin storage for clothes minimal, 2 shelves in the nightstand, 3 shallow drawers and 1 shallow shelf in closet, that was it. So we had to leave half of our clothes in the suitcases, and drag them out from under the bed every day. Safe did not work, had to call 3 times for repair and then a few days later conked out again. Took 27 hours to get an electrician to replace the keypad and battery.
Lifeboat drill was first afternoon, very poorly organized. Many had come on board, then left for shopping, etc as the ship was overnighting in Honolulu. So the crew made a half-baked attempt to see who was there and then we stood, and stood, and stood for almost a half hour, then the captain announced that the crew would show us how to put on our life vests, which they had already done a half hour ago. Then when this ordeal was finally over, they would not let us go back to our cabin by the door at which we had come, but marched us way to the other end of the ship!
Okay, FreeStyle Cruising. No formal nights, eat when you want to. This falls under the category of "Be careful what you ask for, you may get it". No formal nights is fine, but rest ends up being a big mess. You have to make time reservations for dinner in the two main dining rooms, as well as the three specialty (Extra Cost) rooms. BUT they will let you make such reservations only a day in advance. We ate at the Pacific Heights room one night ($10 pp extra); it was okay, but not overly great. Rest of time we used the Palace Main or Crossings Main. Even with a reservation, there was often a wait. Menus same at both Mains, but Palace seemed to be less crowded. After a few nights, we found a great waitress Evelyn at Palace and requested her. Service was slow, 10 minutes or more between courses and a dinner was never less than 2 hours. There was no barmaid nor Sommelier, so the waiter had to handle drinks. There were two buffets, which we mostly utilized for breakfast and lunch, but selections were very limited. No trays, so you had to juggle plates on the rails that were designed for trays. The napkins there were wrinkled; had they even been washed after use by last passenger? In addition to poor selections, the buffet tubs were often empty, which slowed things down. Bar service was horrendous; some bars had no waiters; others had them, but they acted like it was too much trouble to serve you. One person commented that the problem was that most of the service personnel were Americans, who had no training or culture in service. Sad, but probably true. Most other ships have Filipinos or Europeans in such jobs, and they acted like they were willing to serve! Over all, the quality of food and level of service was the worst we have had on any ship. The bars had no swizzle sticks, so you got a straw for that if they remembered to give you one, usually you got no napkin.
We did 6 shore excursions; Pearl Harbor/USS Missouri (must do); whale watch & sunset cruise (saw a lot of them); Kailua Glass Bottom Boat; Luau Kalamaku & Plantation Train; Volcano & Rainbow Falls Deluxe; and Best of Maui. All were well organized, enjoyable, and I recommend all. Be sure to get some kind of trip the Volcanoes National Park. Unfortunately the ship was unable to route past where the lava was flowing into the ocean. The ship had water leak problems, plastic buckets in buffet dining room and in the 10th deck hallway. Room across the hall from us had to have the carpet replaced. Overheard a worker telling someone that the ship is old, the pipes leak and they wont spend the money to replace them. Of the 11 bars in the daily program, 10 had an opening time, but closing time was just shown as "close", so you never knew when they were open. On a cruise of this length, I normally have a bar tab of $1,000-1,500, but on this one it was about 300, simply for lack of service, need I say more? Bar entertainment was almost non-existent, except for a middle age couple who did Eagles, Beatles & Country music sets, and a very good job of each, in the Outrigger Lounge. They had SRO crowds, despite the problem of the temperature being kept at about 50 degrees in the Outrigger. It's my opinion that this FreeStyle Cruising is just an advertising gimmick that masks its real purpose - that of trying to run a ship with a minimal number of personnel. The mundane food and service in the main dining rooms appears to be a ploy to drive patrons to use the extra cost dining venues, thus enhancing the ship's revenues. At one time, NCL had a great reputation for class and service, but that no longer exists. We will take our cruise business elsewhere in the future.