Overall I have to say I really enjoyed this cruise. My husband and I had never been to Hawaii and found this to be a fantastic way to see several islands in a short amount of time. Now I have a good idea of which island I'd like to spend more time on and exactly what I'd want to do when I go back. I don't think I'd take this cruise more than once, however. It's a great taster, but I think it would get old if you repeated it.
We've been on cruises several times, usually Royal Caribbean, and have to say if you are looking for a luxury cruise experience, this cruise is not the right one to pick. It's more about the ports of call than about the cruise itself. You really aren't on the boat long enough to do a lot or experience all that a luxury cruise would have to offer. It was a great place to unwind after a busy day though. Think of it as a floating hotel rather than a cruise. If you've been on a cruise before you'll see what I mean, if you haven't...don't take this thinking it's a typical cruise experience. It isn't. I'd go more for a Caribbean cruise if you want the typical one. Something that has a few days at sea. Take this if you are wanting to see a lot of Hawaii in a short amount of time.
We both noticed the average age on this particular voyage was well over 55, so if you are a honeymooner be prepared to be...well, alone lol. Don't take this cruise if you expect to make a lot of friends or spend time with ship people doing fun things. I noticed the event planners had a heck of a time getting people to participate in anything at all. It felt a bit awkward being the youngest people we'd see in any given area (and we're in our early 40s! just to give you perspective). We also missed the set dinner time where you get to know your table mates such as Royal Caribbean has. Freestyle is ok in that you aren't tied to a time for meals, but at the same time we really didn't meet anyone or talk to anyone but ourselves. Be prepared for that, if you are used to other cruise lines.
Speaking of meals, the food is..meh. We never ate in Liberty but heard it was ok. We ate once in Skyline (or whatever it was called). It wasn't good at all. And for some reason made my husband sick. We spent most of our dinners in the specialty restaurants. The steak restaurant was good. Expensive but good. Fantastic shrimp cocktail in there. Plenty of food too, I was so full! We also tried Teppenyaki and had a great time in there and the food was very good. Little Italy was fine too. All three were better than the buffet which I have to admit was a beating. Maybe because I'm only 5'2" but I kept getting pushed around by people. I had to fight my way to the food and fight my way back out. It was like pigs to a trough! And the food was..ok. Nothing spectacular here. Nothing special. I expected better. I mean usually people rave about the food on cruise ships. Not this food! Other cruises we've had the food was very very good and there was usually special nights that were even better. All I can say is maybe the good stuff was in Liberty? lol. Also, here is a tip...get your food and then head into the Gold Rush saloon. You are allowed to eat in there and usually there are plenty of tables open. Plus the tv is usually on, less people to fight with and generally a lot more relaxed of an atmosphere. Plus if it's dinner you can get a drink! We ate every meal in there except the specialty restaurant dinners.
I thought the workers, from the steward to the servers and everyone in between was extremely nice, happy, helpful and overall bent on seeing that we had a great time. As a matter of fact the rudest people on the journey tended to be our fellow passengers! I've never been around such a group of selfish people. Usually people on cruises are very friendly. There's usually a "we're all in this together" atmosphere. Not so on this one, it seemed people were constantly pushing me out of the way, running into me, just generally bent on a "me first" kind of atmosphere. Not sure why that was. They were all older? The time of year? Maybe people just aren't friendly anymore? Not sure. But it's not the cruise line's fault. If you don't let it get to you you'll have a great time. Any kind of vacation is, after all, what you make of it.
There were plenty of activities if you wanted that kind of thing, there was plenty of opportunity to be alone if you craved that. I loved that they swung by both the lava flow and the Na Pali coast. It was like having an excursion! I got some great photos. (had to fight for position along the rail, so head to the decks early!)
The rooms are fine. They are smaller than other ships, but again you really aren't in them that much. I would say if there are 4 of you...get two rooms lol. I don't know how 4 people would fit in an inside cabin without killing each other unless 2 are very small children and even then you might kill each other heh. There was more than enough room to put our clothes away and store the luggage under the bed. The bed was comfortable, although I hated the pillows. I begged the steward for a softer one and he found me one somewhere! He was the best, his name was Wilmur. I really appreciated him going above and beyond to help me get better sleep! They have a decent hair dryer in the room so don't pack yours. Definitely bring a good pair of walking shoes (tennis shoes) and some other shoes that work well in and around water. I saw a lot of people wearing crocs of various forms. I have to admit I bought a pair while we were there and they worked great. But for viewing volcanoes and lava flows you need closed toed shoes. Those rocks are SHARP.
About excursions....we only did one through the ship, the Oahu Grand Finale tour. Now that I've finished the trip my advice in this area...don't do ANY excursions through the ship. See my excursion notes below for what we did. Don't let them worry you about not making it back to the ship on time. We never had any trouble getting back to the ship. And every excursion we did was at least $40 cheaper PER PERSON. they really rip you off on the excursions. Including the Grand Finale one. I did it because I thought it would be a good way to not have to deal with luggage and to spend the day since our flight was a late one. Now that I've done it....well, see notes below. It's not worth the money they charged. If you have a full day...rent a car and drive yourself! Or take a Roberts tour.
One final word of advice, get the Revealed books (Oahu Revealed, The Big Island revealed, etc.). They were worth the money. Fantastic advice in them and every word true as far as I could tell. We took their advice on excursions and didn't regret a single decision.
Small but not cramped, plenty of storage space, tiny shower, very quiet. No noise from either above, below or hallway. Great location if going for an interior cabin.
We had a fantastic time in Maui, there is a ton to do there. The first day we took the Road to Hana tour from Valley Isle excursions. They use 12 passenger luxury vans, and they pick you up right at the pier so no worrying over how you are going to get there! They are also the only group that takes you all the way around the back side of Hana.
I loved this tour, it was a lot cheaper than the NCL excursion, stopped at more places and the guide was terrific! He gave a great history of the island and area along the way and was funny and entertaining. Be ready for a very curvy road and a very bumpy ride along the back of Hana. It was amazing to see the different sides of the island, one side is so lush and the other so arid and dry, like Texas! There were plenty of photo ops along the way, and I can now say I've been on the famous road! And I'm so glad I wasn't driving! Seriously this is one that I wouldn't drive, there are portions of the road that ride right along the edge of a cliff...scary! And it's twists and turns. Whoever is driving will not get to see the amazing scenery along the way because you really have to focus on the road. There are numerous one lane bridges as well.
It is essentially a long car ride so if you have small children, or even teens, they will be bored out of their minds. But if you are an adult you'll appreciate the scenery, and the hike to the 7 Pools, the dip in the cool water....I liked it! I booked directly with Valley Isle. It includes a great BBQ chicken lunch stop along the way, and beverages. They really take care of you!
Our second day in Maui we spent on a Molokini Snorkel excursion. We booked this one through AdventureMaui.com and were on the Pride of Maui. We took a cab to the harbor, which cost us $40 I think. If you have more than 2 people consider renting a car and be sure if you do to reserve it in advance. We watched a lot of frustrated people trying to rent without reservations and didn't envy them at all. For us, the trip was so early in the morning that we didn't want to mess with the rental that early. On the way back you can actually take a bus from the harbor shops right there. $1 a person, what a bargain! The bus takes you to the mall (I think it's called Queen Center). From the mall there is a FREE shuttle back to the boat! You catch it by the Starbucks (you have to walk through the mall to get to the Starbucks from where the city bus drops you). It sounds complex but it's not, it's very easy! The bus picks up every hour, at about 9 minutes after the hour. The shuttle runs every 15 minutes. So that made the cab ride worth it for us. But if you have more people renting a car would make sense too.
What a fantastic trip! They had coffee and a continental breakfast of juice and muffins and fruit waiting for us. They supply all equipment you'll need. They also have underwater digital cameras to rent for $40 (or $30 if you have a disposable one on you. those are horrible and they'll give you $10 for them as a trade in toward the good rental). I rented their camera and was so happy I did! I got fantastic pictures, which they give you on a CD to take home with you. The camera they use is so much better than anything you probably brought with you unless you've bought a really good underwater camera. The first place they take you is Molokini. This time of year there aren't as many fish to see so be prepared for not a lot of fish. However, the water is so clear! And it was beautiful, even if I didn't see as many fish as I expected I still had a fantastic time. If you've never been snorkeling they'll teach you how, and they have all kinds of flotation devices if you feel more comfortable using those. I used the tubey noodle thing and it worked just great. I didn't have to worry about staying afloat while I took pictures.
They serve hamburgers and hotdogs and grilled chicken while they take you to the second snorkeling location. The food was fantastic, probably because swimming made me hungry heh.
The second place was Turtle Town (they call it that, there actually is no such place and I couldn't tell you exactly where we were). The turtles the day we went were shy or were somewhere else. We only saw one, and he went and hid very quickly lol. But it was amazing just being in the same ocean with him, and I did get one picture of him. I heard other people saying they saw more over toward the other side of the area from where we were so don't stay in one spot, branch out a bit. Just keep in mind you have to swim back to the boat!
Overall this was a fantastic excursion. There was plenty of food, the staff were nice. They even had Vaseline for my husband since he has a moustache. We didn't know that facial hair will make the mask not seal correctly (it was only our second time snorkeling ever). The Vaseline made all the difference in the world for him so if you have facial hair be sure to ask them for it.
As I mentioned before, we walked over to the harbor shops after the trip and caught the bus back to the mall, and the shuttle from there to the boat. We were back in plenty of time, probably 2 hours before we had to be.
In Hilo we spent the day doing the Volcanoes National Park and Rainbow Falls tour with Roberts Hawaii. You can find them online at gorabbitgo.com. This was a big bus ride up to Volcanoes National Park. (too many people, I don't think I'll ever do another big bus tour anywhere). It also stopped at the Thurston Lava Tube and Rainbow Falls. Overall the trip was...ok. We knew we were in trouble when everyone on it was a lot older than us. It's a great trip if you are older and don't want to walk much. If you are younger or have young children or teens I wouldn't take this one.
The location is great, but I'd find a better way to get there. It was inexpensive though and the driver was informative and nice. We slept half the way though...not good. I think Volcano National Park is a great place to visit, definitely go there. Just get there another way. I'd rent a car if I had it to do over. That way you could stop at the visitor center, and could stop at the steam vents. Definitely stop at the lava tube, that was so cool! It felt like we were in a movie set.
You won't see any flowing lava but you will see steam rising from the ground and the crater...it is amazing to see. The awesome power of nature is really evident here. Our driver also stopped briefly at a place where we could walk on an old flow. Take good shoes, those rocks are SHARP. It was cool to walk on it, I enjoyed that.
Rainbow falls....skip it. Talk about boring. You can't get anywhere near the falls themselves and it felt more like a tourist trap roadside stop than a trip to a falls. You aren't missing anything. You won't see rainbows either. That was the big joke from the driver...the only rainbow you'll see is on the wall in the gift shop. yep.
While in Kona we took a deep sea fishing trip, booked through Adventures in Hawaii on the Bite Me 3. It was a shared ride, they only take 6 people total. We had 5. It was a LOT cheaper going through Adventures in Hawaii, definitely don't book through NCL. You'll do the same thing but pay a lot more. We took a cab to the pier and back, it was $13.50 plus tip each way. Our driver agreed to be waiting for us when we got back so it was very convenient. There really isn't any other way to get there. Not sure there are even any rental cars in the area.
We'd never been deep sea fishing and had no idea what to expect. Actually I've never been fishing before period. So it was...interesting. It was an extremely relaxing boat ride! The crew was very friendly and tried their best to find some fish but they just weren't biting. None of the other boats got anything either so it wasn't just us. The ride was fantastic, and we found a pod of dolphins (porpoise?) and rode along with them for quite a while which made the whole trip worth it! They were so fun to watch, there must have been over 100 of them!
They don't supply food or drink, so be sure to stop by an ABC and pick up lunch and some beverages. They do have a cooler with ice so you can keep your food and drink cold though.
Overall I had a great time even though we didn't catch anything.
In Kauai we just rented a car and went our own way and I have to say it was the best decision! There's a free shuttle to the rental car places, just be sure to reserve the car before you go so they have it waiting for you. If you don't try to go first thing in the morning you won't have to worry about lines. We went around 9 and there was no one in the car rental place at all! Less than 10 minutes we were driving!
We got the GPS thing and were glad we did, made me feel better. But it's a really easy island to get around on and if you get the Revealed books you'll have plenty of maps.
We spent the day first at Waimea Canyon. I was glad we drove ourselves, we stopped at every single lookout along the way and could stay as long as we wanted. Definitely go see it, it's an amazing site and so beautiful. I think it was my husband's favorite place on the whole trip. It's like seeing the Grand Canyon, just a little smaller.
We then drove over to the Kilauea Lighthouse (north shore, long drive back lol). If you like birds you'll love this place. It's a bird sanctuary. We didn't know that, I just wanted to see the lighthouse. It was a neat stop. If you don't like birds or lighthouses don't bother. The view was fantastic. It'll cost you $5 to get in.
We then had a pre-booked tour with Smith's to see the Fern Grotto Wailua River Cruise, followed by the Smith's Tropical Paradise Luau. The fern grotto is neat to see, but don't book through NCL. It's not worth the money they charge. Smith's charged $20 per person, and it's probably worth about $10. But it was a nice way to spend an hour before going to the luaua. Be sure to take bug spray, the mosquitoes ate me alive! They used to have weddings back in there, it's quite beautiful.
We did the Smith's luau instead of the NCL arranged one because we read good things about it in the Revealed books. We also heard from locals that Smiths is the best. The food was fantastic, except for the mashed potatoes which are instant. Don't eat them lol. They really shouldn't bother, I was surprised to see them. They have an open bar, and the drinks were great. The show was very nice. The whole evening was very very nice and the price we paid for the whole thing was so much better than the NCL arranged one.
We drove back to the boat and parked in a special lot marked "cruise ship overnight parking". Be sure to get there early (before 9:30 or 10:00 at night). There were only around 5 spots left by the time we got there and the guy had gone home for the evening. we went ahead and parked and paid him in the morning when we left. If you leave before 7 am you won't have to pay at all as he won't be there that early. If he's there, it's $20. If there aren't spots left, I heard people were parking at the airport and getting a cab back.
The next day we drove out to a beach recommended in the Revealed book and had a great time just hanging out on the beach. A giant sea turtle had crawled up on shore to have a little sun so we got some cool pictures of that and hung out with him all day! It was such a relaxing day. We took the car back, free shuttle back to the boat in plenty of time for the 1:30 deadline.
We had a very late flight out on the last day (10:30 pm) so we had all day in Honolulu. We arranged with NCL for the Oahu Grand Finale tour. It was the only tour we took through the ship, and now that I've done it I have to say don't do it! We'd have been so much better off simply renting a car. It would have been a lot cheaper, a lot less people (it was a HUGE bus and one of 3 that I saw depart that day) and we could have spent more time doing what we wanted.
The tour basically took us to Pearl Harbor to see the Arizona memorial, then stopped at a lookout point, then stopped at a cheap cheesy touristy place where you bought your own horrible lunch, then went on the the Polynesian Cultural Center.
The Arizona memorial was interesting to see, especially if you like history. The lookout point was a cool place to stop for a photo but had nothing else there.
The Polynesian Cultural Center is a definite must see, either on this day or when you first arrive. I hear their show is very good but we didn't get to stay for it since we had to catch a plane. We did, however, stay for the dinner and it was fantastic. They had entertainment while we ate and the food was the best we had the entire trip I think. Very well done. The center itself is very cool, spend enough time to see all the areas and shows. Of all the luau's and shows we saw this trip, this place did the best at showing true culture and was entertaining at the same time. Worth spending the whole day there. Great place to take the whole family, there is plenty to interest small children and even teens.