We were a party of three (two adults and a 16 year old) in a balcony cabin, part of a larger group of 31 cruising together. This cruise was booked almost a year in advance and I did due diligence in research. I read reviews so I had a good idea of what to expect. Even so there were a few surprises.
The good:*Greeted with a mimosa on embarkation. I think this sets a bar that NCLA then fails to meet. *The closet in the room, love the shelves, just wish I could have figured out how to get the light to work. *Smoothie card for teens, this worked very well for us and allowed our daughter to "buy a round" for friends without breaking our bank (she just adjusted the number she got for herself). *The hula show before sail away *Maintenance was prompt in fixing our slow draining shower. *At least one server Havier of skyline comes to mind. Also our server at Jefferson's who's name escapes me. ***The Hawaiian ambassadors June and Malulani, miss them and you miss the best part of the cruise. *The lava and napali coast sail by was excellent. *I love the food station on the back deck of Aloha Cafe (as I found the cafe itself chaotic) *The debarkation complete with cookie possibly the best I've experienced. *Easy fly was a big winner for us as we still had a full day in Honolulu.
The Average: Most of the shows we saw, the crew talent show, broadway night, liars club and trivia were OK. People were doing their best with limited resources. Aloha Cafe breakfast, good selection and easy to get what you need, if you can deal with the crowd and the noise (tip go early) The "pay extra" dinner at Jefferson. This food was at least served at the correct temperature with a waiter with personality. Another tip, if you are outside of Jefferson's remember if you are leaning on the window you are giving the folks eating a close up view of you backside. The spa, this was as nice as other spa's on ships. Read the bill, the tip is 18% and included. The gym was nicely equipped and never busy. The pools and hot tubs seemed fine, although I would have loved to see an area that was exclusively for adults.
The bad: - Just like any job there are stars who drip personality and charm and interact with everyone. These were very few and far between. While most employees at least greeted us, some you could not pry a smile out of with a crowbar. - Once servers at dinner found out we were not drinking, the attitude seemed to change and not for the better. I really blame the included tips for this. There is just no reason for these folks to give anything more than the minimum. Some did not even give that. Our first dinner at Lazy J comes to mind. I know 31 is a big party, but there is no excuse for missed appetizers, underdone potatoes and taking 30 minutes from the start of service for the entree till the last person was served. Half the table was served then the other half. Awkward to say the least, either cold food or eat before everyone was served. -Alcohol prices, $13 for a chocolate martini, give me a break. Saved a bunch because I refused to get another drink on the ship after that. -Freestyle, either you love it or hate it. Put me in the hate it column. If you don't plan a couple of days in advance, then you eat either really early or really late. Sometimes this happens even if you do plan a few days in advance.
The ugly: Ok I knew going in the room was small and shower tiny. It did not help that our room steward decided that our daughters couch bed should be a bed the entire time. By tuesday we left a note asking her to turn it back into a couch during the day. Even then she never managed to put the extender on the bottom. We figured that out and starting doing it ourselves. What I find inexcusable is that I found an unused syringe in our room. When I brought this to her attention and asked that it be removed, I was ignored. When we took it to guest service, they seemed to think that this was no big deal. I was spooked enough that I took antibacterial wipes to the stains that looked like they could have been dried blood in the bathroom (and before you ask, yes I am a nurse). The shower is tiny, but still managed to have mildew where the lining was peeling up. More antibacterial wipes. The balcony windows were really, really dirty so we cleaned those ourselves, as well as picking up the used sugar wrappers on the balcony. My other big complaint is not the service, but the temperature of the food. Hot food should be hot and cold food cold. Almost everything came at room temperature. The waiters seemed to make a big deal of knowing which entree belong to which person, hard to do as one person took the order and the others usually brought the food. I just wanted my food to be either hot or cold. The quality and quantity of the meals was about what I expected (which was not much)
The islands. Wow spend your time off the ship. Rent cars, do your research find what you want to see and go, you won't be disappointed. We had great luck with Thrifty, only used Alamo on Maui and won't use them again. We relied on the revealed books and had an amazing time. The beaches were beautiful, the parks amazing. Mountains, waterfalls, canyons, small out of the way towns with great ice cream, great shopping, even a brewing company with some super beer. These islands have it all. We did two snorkeling trips with NCLA and enjoyed both, but they could have been done cheaper elsewhere or just snorkeled off the beach. We did end up seeing more than we expected just because we didn't want to return the ship.
Think of the ship as a cheap room that will get you to where you want to be. If you want good food, eat off the ship. Service will be hit or miss. I wish you lots of hits and very few misses.