Embarkation: Very smooth. We arrived at the pier at around noon, checked our bags and got in line. They opened the doors at around 12:30 to let us in out of the heat, though we continued to wait a short while inside. We were on the ship by 1:15.
If you can swing it consider the pre-cruise deal at the Marriott with NCL. You check in at the hotel and then are dropped at the pier where you go through a separate entrance and then right on board.
The Room: We had aft balcony 9077, kids inside in 9351 and in-laws in balcony 0245. Two rooms were ready when we got on, one was being finished. One room had their bags there within a half hour of embarkation. The rest of us waited until 10:30 pm. The balconies did not look clean and were not touched during the cruise. I cleaned the furniture with a soapy washcloth. There was a dirty bag of clothes under the bed, presumably from last week's occupants. The bathroom was clean when we got on, but the floor was not swept during the week (I have dark hair, I can tell). We did have the bed made each day, clean towels and turn down at night in all three rooms. Two rooms had their ice buckets refilled morning and night.
Dining: A bit of a disappointment, but after reading reviews we had lowered our expectations. The good is that the three specialty restaurants were excellent in both food quality and service. Service in the main dining rooms was hit or miss. We ate there 4 nights (once just to keep the kids company as they were tired of pizza or the buffet). Only one night was truly bad, the night of the diving accident which affected service on the ship. Got to the dining room at 6:45 and were seated at 8:20. We finished the meal at 10, just in time to pick up at kids program. This was lobster night, I don't eat it but the rest of my group did and said it was dried out. I believe this was Tuesday, but it is kind of a blur to me (they really could use the day of the week carpets I have had on RCCL and Carnival in the elevators!). Many people were irate that night and really giving the staff a hard time. I would like to have seen uniformed officers at each dining room so that pax would have someone to complain to besides the bottom line staff. There was someone handing out champagne, which was at least a nice touch. Another night we took the kids to eat in main dining room before our dinner at Le Bistro. My son ordered a peanut butter and jelly from the kids menu (he didn't say the word sandwich) and he got a plate with a variety of jellies and a peanut butter tub in the middle! The assistant waitress was from Thailand and apparently unfamiliar with American food or the menu. I asked for bread and she came back with two pieces of mangled and frozen white bread! He ended up using the French bread from the basket. The last night we lucked into a waiter, Dino, who was recommended by someone on the repo cruise. He was great and it was a good meal to end the cruise on. My main complaints about the dining room are the hit and miss aspect to finding a good server and the fact that the menu was basically the same all week, with the addition of a small flap of specials. I am used to having a totally different menu each night. There were times of the day when food (other than pizza or room service) was not available. Coming back to the ship after an excursion late in the afternoon those where the choices and ice cream from 3-5. I would have liked to see some kind of snack food around 9-11, especially on those nights that we ate earlier than we would have liked in the dining room to avoid a wait.
Service: I think that for the most part the staff was hard working and trying their best to please. The ship is understaffed-cruise director stated during a show that there were 800 crew on board, supposed to be 950 according to brochure. We ran into many people unhappy with their room stewards, the worst being a young couple who claimed to have had no room service all week and of being told where they could go to get clean towels. Each of my rooms had a different steward, so we were lucky to get three decent ones. Service in the dining room was hit or miss. To avoid the wait we got there at 5:00 and waited in line. Service in the extra fee restaurants was incredible, as was the food.
Cruise Critic Party: It was nice to meet everyone and connect a face with the posts! I apologize for the confusion which initially caused us to have no drinks available. I was expecting a cash bar to be available, but they had not thought that we would want that. In my contact with NCL I was asked if we needed any AV equipment, to which I answered no, and somehow that was interpreted to mean that I didn't need anything. Gary the Group Services Coordinator stopped by and our very own Joy convinced him to make Mai Tai's for the group (a big thank you Joy for making that happen). Advice for those planning these in the future-be very specific in your expectations.
Kids Club: A big disappointment for my 12 yo. He has been on RCCL and Carnival and both allowed him to sign himself in and out. Not so with NCL. It wouldn't have been a problem had they not lied to parents on the first night by stating that the 6-9 and 10-12 would be in separate groups doing age appropriate activities. This was simply not true. When we picked him up they were all together. Not cool for a 12 year old! We ended up buying two way radios in Kauai so that he could reach us to come get him if he wasn't having a good time. My 15 yo met a group of kids through the teen's program and they would either hang out together or do the activities of the program. She was much happier.
Bishop Museum Fee: NCL will charge your account 2.50 for each person. I don't have a problem with the idea of making a donation, but would have preferred that they had gotten permission in the first place. A simple question at embarkation would have saved them a lot of headaches on the last night when people were having it removed from their bills. The line was quite long and I am sure there were people who would have removed it if they didn't have to wait in line to do it.
Debarkation: We had a 2:30 flight so signed up for the Natural Wonders of Oahu that was designed to get you to the airport by noon (flights after 2 pm only could go on the tour). It was a good idea, but the way the pier is configured, there is a limit to the numbers of tour buses that can wait at any one time. Tour was supposed to leave at 8:30, but due to the bottleneck did not leave until around 10:15. We knew it would be tight so talked to shore excursion staff on the pier and they agreed to credit back the price of the tour and put us on NCL bus to airport at no charge. I think they handled it well, we shall see how easy it is to get our credit. I would think carefully about arranging a post cruise excursion, particularly to Pearl Harbor. Those didn't leave until between 9-10. At that point the wait to get in will be very late.
Entertainment: The shows were quite good, I was surprised that I enjoyed the Star Seekers as much as I did. I was a bit disappointed that there wasn't much going on in the evening, but with all the time in shore, maybe pax were too tired for much activity. Sports trivia was fun-we won two times.