My wife and I went to Hawaii on our honeymoon and always said we would go back for our 25th Anniversary. The honeymoon was 12 days and we visited 3 islands. For this anniversary trip we could only take a week off so this cruise seemed like the best way to see the most and get back to all the same islands we visited on our honeymoon.
We have cruised probably 20 times, but never on NCL... Princess, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Carnival. When I first started researching this cruise with NCL I was excited. We booked it almost a year ago. Then I started reading the reviews and thought... YIKES... did we make a mistake? Have you noticed there are very few middle of the road reviews for NCL and this ship... people either love it or HATE it and it seems the hate it is in the majority!
Well, onto the cruise. We did add one extra day to the itinerary and flew into Honolulu on Friday. Stayed at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. I guess it helped with the jet lag, but we pretty much spent the whole cruise waking up early and going to bed early. We barely could stay awake to watch the lava flow as it wasn't till almost 10PM!
Getting on the ship wasn't terrible. We arrived a little before noon and waited in a fairly long single line to check in after dumping our bags. Then they opened a second line, but instead of taking those of us that had already been in line for over a half hour and moving us to the new line, they just put all the new arrivals in it. Know how ticked off you get when that happens at the grocery store? I was NOT a happy camper!
We checked in and got handed a number and told to have a seat. They had dancers and music to help pass the time so it wasn't too bad. Then they started calling numbers and we were able to make our way onto the ship. No cabins were ready yet so we headed to the Buffet for lunch. What's up with the cabin policy? I've been on 20 cruises and never got on a ship that I couldn't go straight to my cabin.
Anyway... the Buffet is as advertised... a feeding frenzy! No flow to it whatsoever, a compete madhouse with not enough tables and chairs. Some days the food selection was "OK"... others it was hard to find anything we even wanted. First day I went for a nice big salad... trying to start off healthy. They didn't have so much as ONE light or low fat dressing! Are you kidding me? It's a SALAD BAR... Some people really do eat it to be healthy and don't want fat laden high calorie dressings! Get with it NCL!
The cabin was definitely smaller than any other balcony cabin we've been in, but it was manageable. Plenty of storage room, the bathroom was fine, balcony was tiny compared to others. Having the in cabin coffee pot is a nice touch.
Our room steward was nice, but he always seemed to get something wrong. One day we got all our towels but no bath mat for the floor. The next day we got a bath mat and bath towels, but no hand towels or wash cloths. We'd just go take what we needed off the cart in the hallway.
Towel animals? I guess he had no clue. Didn't really even think about it until the last day of the cruise and they were promoting a towel animal making class by saying "if you enjoyed all the towel animals left on your bed this week come learn how to make them"... I thought WHAT towel animals?
Crew... nicer than I had expected based on the reviews. I have to admit almost everyone would say hello or aloha. The service overall was decent, but not up to the level of the other cruise lines. It just seems the attention to detail just isn't there. One night we were eating dinner in the buffet and a guy comes walking though the dining area carrying a big bag of garbage. My wife said to me "there's something you'd never see on a Princess cruise". Food... Like everything else, it was "OK"... we did room service for breakfast about half the time. Did the Buffet a couple mornings and the dining room a couple mornings. Most lunches were on the islands. Based on the rotten reviews we only did one specialty restaurant... The steakhouse on our anniversary. The service was good; the food wasn't nearly as good as the steak houses I've done on the other cruise lines. Between the cover charge, a couple glasses of champagne and a bottle of wine the total bill came to over $120! Definitely not worth it. Should of saved that money and had a really nice dinner when we got home to celebrate!
Most of the other dinners we ate in the Skyline. It's the less formal of the two and you can wear shorts! The service was fine and faster than what others have experienced. Food portions are really small. So if you are hungry order every course and double up on some! I started ordering whatever fish they had and then asking for the "always available" steak to go with it... which was NEVER cooked right.
Kind of funny almost every night whatever fish was listed on the menu when I would order it they said they didn't have it and were substituting something else. Had to happen at least three or four times. They would have salmon on the menu but they were substituting tilapia. They would have flounder on the menu and be substituting mahi. I just started ordering the "fish of the day"
We didn't do any NCL excursions. We rented cars everywhere but Kona. Got a Jeep on Maui and drove to Hana in the pouring rain. Turned out to be a mixed blessing as the waterfalls were INCREDIBLE! We didn't turn back; we drove all the way around with no problems at all. Stopped at a little roadside stand at the halfway point for fresh pineapple and fresh from the oven, still warm, banana bread! OMG!
On Hilo we took a cab to the airport to get the car and our cab driver told us about a beach where we could see sea turtles. Don't remember the name of it but it's about 20 miles past the volcano park. It was awesome. We saw at least half dozen sea turtles.
Kona we just tendered in and walked around town for awhile. Did some shopping. Ate shave ice.
On Kauai we only rented a car for the first day. Drove up to the north until the road ended. Stopped at several places along the way. Saw a seal sunning himself on one beach. Then we came back around and drove up to the lookout in the canyon... amazing! We made our second day on Kauai our "sea day" and just chilled.
All in all it was a good cruise. Not very relaxing by usual cruise standards. Between the long flights and jet lag, coupled with the in port every day itinerary, you really go go go all the time. But you're in Hawaii so you have to try and take it all in and rest when you get home!
As far as NCL goes, it wouldn't be our first choice for the next cruise, but if we found an itinerary we liked and the price was right, we wouldn't rule them out either!
Have fun! Aloha!