This was our 5th cruise, the first on NCL. We are both middle aged, and left the kids at home this time. We spent 3 days before and 3 days after the cruise in Oahu. We had the top inside cabin, category [ii], deck 11. We booked cruise only, no fly or stay packages with NCL.
This embarkation was the smoothest ever. Check-in is supposed to start at 1pm at the Aloha Tower, and we drove by at 11:30 to see what was up. There was a bit of a line, about 20 yards long, which was not moving because the doors were not open yet. But luggage reception was open, so we parked and got rid of our luggage, which is just across a sidewalk from the car, into the terminal door, and they take it right there. Then we left to turn the car in. When we got back by cab at 12:00 the line was about 30 yards long but the doors were open and it was moving. So we looked around the shops till 12:30, when there were only a few people in the line,and then went in. NCL staff have trays of juice drinks if you are thirsty, a nice touch. Check-in was fast, getting our ship cards and going through security, and we were on the ship in about 15-20 minutes with a gorgeous orchid lei. At 1pm there was no line at all.
We had some lunch on the ship in the Market Café buffet, and then left the ship to do some more things. If you are off the ship at 5pm you miss the hot and boring fire drill. All aboard call is 7:30 for 8pm sailing. There is a baggage holding service there which will hold your luggage for $5 per bag until 7:30pm. There is no reason to use them if boarding, just give the ship your luggage, but it might be useful if staying in Honolulu for the afternoon after your cruise.
The Star is beautiful and well maintained. The cabins are a bit smaller than CCL, more the size of Celeb, with cherry/redwood trim, lots of mirrors and chrome, a great shower with a door instead of a clingy curtain, and enough storage space with luggage under one of the beds. It would have been a classier cabin without the sailor knots bedspread, and the loud carpet. Bring a power bar for the one outlet on the vanity, and you might want a clock to wake you up in port. The hairdryer was good. Outside the door is a cool disc you can turn on the wall indicating "Don't Disturb", "Make up Cabin", "Turn Down Cabin", "Welcome", a nice improvement over the door knob cards that fall off all the time. The ice bucket fits in the fridge, keeping it cold longer. Free soap and shampoo in the shower, and a clothesline in the shower.
Our only cabin complaint was the thin walls, as other reviewers have noted. If your neighbors raise their voice you can hear them talking through the walls. This was ok with us, except our neighbors on one side ran their TV night and day, and we could easily tell which show they were watching, and a lot of the dialogue. Several nights after midnight we got the ship to ask them to turn it down. We don't really fault our neighbors, just the thin walls. We hardly ever heard the people on the other side.
And the ship is creaky out in the ocean when we got into the swells, it sounded like someone was walking on a squeaky floor in the next room, and another noise was a patter like a raccoon running across the roof. This didn't bother us, but if you like it quiet when you're sleeping you might bring earplugs. The Market Café was the deck above us, so we heard lots of restaurant noises when they shutting down at night and gearing up in the morning.
We also agreed with other reviewers that the 2 large yellow waterslides make the pool look more like Disneyland than a cruise ship. Pool lounge chairs were hard to find between 10 and 4, as on all the ships we've been on, but there are lots of other areas with chairs to relax and tan.
The gym was a bit smaller than on the CCL and Celeb ships, and it would have been nice if the treadmills faced the ocean instead of the atrium. The jogging track was good, not slippery when wet, but it narrowed on each side of the ship so you had to squeeze past people. There was no water fountain at any point on the track like other ships had.
The ship has an internet café (coffee only), which charges 75 cents a minute, or package deals for about $50 and another for about $100. If you wait to use it until the first day at sea you get a first logon credit of $3.95. All passengers automatically get an email account as you'll see on your cruise ticket, but you could just surf to your web email and use that. To check a couple messages and write short replies ate up between $3 and $4, which we did a few times. We joked with the webmaster that we were his stingiest accounts. There were about 12-15 stations, and always lots of room, not very busy.
The ship was sold out, so to alleviate congestion they turned 2 pay restaurants into free ones, the Endless Summer (Hawaiian) and the Trattoria (Italian). The 2 other free ones are the Aqua and the Versailles, and the meals were fine in both of them, lots of choice, and equivalent to an upscale city restaurant. The Aqua is more casual, and the Versailles is formal, modeled after a European chateau. The most dramatic table locations in the Versailles are by the side or rear windows, with a view of the ocean as you dine. You can't reserve at the Versailles, so to be sure to get a view table you have to arrive when they open at 5:30. Later you could get one if people are leaving as you arrive, or you could tell the maitre'd you'll wait for one.
The menus in the pay restaurants (about $10 pp) are the same every day. The Trettoria has pizza, lasagna, chicken parmagana, and sirloin steak. The Endless Summer has ribs, tuna, rock cod, and coconut chicken. The Bistro (French) has filet done 2 ways, salmon, chicken w/ cognac, seabass, and a veggie dish. In the Ginza (Asian Fusion) you can choose 2 entrees from a list of 11. The Soho (Pacific Rim cuisine) has monkfish, tiger shrimp, steak, lamb rack, cider veal, and a veggie dish. I haven't listed all the sauces/creams or how they cook the dishes, or the other courses with the meals . appetizers, starters, soups, salads. The Blue Lagoon is a 24 hour snack bar with free wings, potato skins, fish and chips, etc, but milkshakes are $2.50. The Market Café is the main ship buffet, open for all meals. It's great for breakfast or lunch, but better to have dinner elsewhere. Every day at the pool they do a rib, chicken, and steak b'b'cue with salads and fruit, very good. Free water and ice tea, all other drinks are billed to your cabin.
The only pay meal we had was in the Bistro because it's a lovely romantic setting, and the food was fine. We tried getting into the Endless Summer, but it was usually booked solid. You can book the pay restaurants a day ahead. Only large groups can book the Aqua or Versailles. We had a booking for the Endless Summer one night, but when we saw things we liked better in the menu posted outside the Versailles, we cancelled the Endless Summer reservation and went to the Versailles.
The entertainment was fine, good song and dance shows, good comedians, and very good Asian acrobats. The pool band rocked, and all the bars had some type of live entertainment. Kareoke was popular, and hot dance lessons in the disco were too, line dancing, etc. Swing music by the ship band in another dance lounge. A fun Asian rock bank at the pool. Something for everyone. Plus various ship activities, games, bingo, pool contests, etc. It's got as much action as a Carnival cruise.
If you boarded in Maui you'll have the whole day in Oahu, and if you board in Honolulu you could embark at noon, have lunch in the Market Garden café, and be off the ship by 2 to see the sights. It's tempting to stay on board and check out the ship, but there are several interesting things to do in the port area that can easily be done before the all-aboard call at 7:30 or 8pm sailing. And you would miss the hot and boring fire drill with your lifejacket on, at 5pm.
We spent 3 days before and 3 days after the cruise in Waikiki. Waikiki Beach is a quick $15 cab ride from the ship, and it's always hopping. The main drag running along the beach is Kalahaua Ave, with tons of people strolling along, shops of every kind, from Gucci to an International Market of stall vendors, hotels, bars, and it's beautiful and clean. Have your cabbie drop you off around Kalahaua and Lewers St., and then stroll east on Kalahaua towards the Diamond Head crater/mountain. After several blocks the beach gets too close to the road for any more hotels on the beach side, and you are walking right along the edge of the beach. The action runs out a few blocks further along where the hotels end at a park. Then you can walk back to the Lewers area on the other side of Kalahaua, or lay around the beach (if you can find a spot to sit) for awhile and watch the surfers.
Another interesting sight is to take a cab up to Diamond Head, perhaps a $10 ride from the beach. You drive through a tunnel into the Diamond Head crater, where there is a parking lot, and you can stroll around the crater, perhaps a mile across. You can pay $1 to enter a path that goes up to the crater summit, a half hour walk and climb. There are stairs and rocky switchbacks, and you shouldn't do this if you are out of shape, but a granny and grandpa made it up by taking their time, and there are lots of rest benches. The view from the top is amazing, you can see all the way to Honolulu, and east up the coast.
Another quick and interesting sight is a 15 minute drive up hwy 61 into the mountains to the famous Pali lookout. Then if you had time (and a rental car) you could take the longer 40 minute drive back to Waikiki around the coast on hwy 72, lots of great viewing spots along that route.
Another sight is the Pearl Harbor memorials, a short drive from the port.
Another fun activity is to take one of the catamaran cruises along the coast. There are 2 that leave Waikiki beach every hour or so. Each operator has a clock at his docking spot showing when the next cruise leaves. And there's one that leaves from the marina near the ship at 11am, 1pm, and 3pm . it appears to be bigger than the Waikiki ones. The cruises are about $20.
It would be cheaper and more convenient than cabs to get a rented car at $30 a day to do some of these. And the rent-a-car companies have great maps on every island, better than the Visitor's Bureaus, lots of detail, notes on exits, food places, etc, at least Alamo did, and I would think the rest would too. When you debark at each island there are staff helping you get through the terminal, just ask where the rental car shuttles are and they will tell you.
If you have some extra time to spend in Oahu and want info on kayaking, walking/hiking, local art displays, surfing lessons, or driving directions just email us. You can order a free Tourist Bureau vacation planner online at: www.visit-oahu.com (1-877-525-OAHU).
The next port is Hilo. In the Hawaiian ports you have three main choices for tours . chopper, bus, or car rental. The people who took chopper rides had a good time, but we just preferred to be on the ground close to the sights. The bus tours cost about $60-80 pp, and the people who took them said they stopped at too many shops, and too many bathrooms, and there are some sights the bus can't get into due to size. Car rentals were about $25-40/day, depending on size, and if you booked ahead on the net. We used Alamo, who rent a full size for $34 on the net on any island. When you leave the ship, walk into the terminal, turn right and walk along the yellow fence to the right hand side of the terminal, and that's where the rental car shuttles are. Alamo has a rep at this port with a cell phone, and he lets you know when the next shuttle is coming, and checks your name on his clipboard. Our name wasn't on it, but he wasn't concerned when we showed him our res number, and the office had a car for us (whew!). All the car rental companies had shuttles at each port which ran every 10 minutes or so, but when you're anxious to get going on your sight-seeing it seems like hours to wait, and some reviewers jumped in a $6 cab to the rental site, but we waited and tapped our feet. We didn't hear of anyone who reserved a car who didn't get one.
We docked at 6:45. On this island the main attraction is Volcanoes National Park, and it's truly amazing. It's a 40 minute drive straight up hwy 11 into the 4000 foot mountains, 4 lanes most of the way. Turn left into the park entrance, pay $10/car and they will hand you a great map of the park. No need to stop at the visitor's center a bit further on unless you want to talk to a ranger about something. Then you take Crater Rim Drive, several miles, around Kilauea Caldera, an area containing various volcano craters, stem vents, dead lava flows, sulpher deposits, and volcanic landscapes. There are view stops every couple minutes, and it will take your breath away to stand on the edge of these craters, half a mile to a mile wide, looking 100's of feet down at swirls of dead lava and colored deposits, imagining them blowing sky high. Most of them blew between 1950 and 1980s.
If pressed for time you might skip the first stop, the steam vents, where rain gets in, is heated by the magma way below, and comes out as steam. But don't miss any other stops, each crater has it's own character. They aren't currently active, and to see lava flowing you have to drive down the Chain of Craters road to the coast, which branches off this Rim road about three quarters of the way around. Then drive a short way along the coast to the East Rift Zone, where Kilauea has been active since '83, and the road is destroyed by recent lava flows. Then you hike into the lava flows. We compared notes before we left with other drivers, and there was no way we could fit that into the time available. We had time to go down the Chain of Craters Road about halfway, I think we got to Mau Loa Manuna Ulu before we were at our midpoint in time and had to turn back. Back on the Rim Drive you come to the Thurstone Lave Tube, a tunnel carved in rock by lava, which you can walk through. It's in a beautiful fern grotto. Then one more stop, Kilauea Iki Overlook, and you're back at the park entrance. We figured we had to leave the park by 11am to make it back to Alamo by 11:40, and get the Alamo shuttle to the ship by 12:15, which we did. All aboard call is 12:30 for 1pm departure.
If for some reason you aren't up to doing the volcanoes, there is a short drive to 2 pretty falls near the ship, the Rainbow Falls and the Akaka Falls, and the Panaewa Rain Forest zoo is near, and the Lava Tree State Park with beaches nearby off hwy 137.
Fanning Island is an atoll of 3 islands, each about 10 miles long and half a mile wide. There is no electricity, plumbing, or phones. The one road is a sandy 2-track path used by the 1 pickup truck on the island. The islanders live in grass roof huts, unchanged for the past 100 years. NCL built a school, a warehouse style building, in exchange for beach rights. There is no doctor or dentist on the island. There are pictures and descriptions at the Pacific Island Relief Org site: www.interpac.net/~fanning/
Passengers are tendered ashore, and tender tickets are handed out on a first come basis starting at 8am the day before Fanning. We went at 10am and got tender # 12. On Fanning day they call 2 tender tickets at a time, and we were called at 9:15. There is no need to get up early for a lower tender ticket, everyone gets ashore by 10am, and the last tender back is 2:30pm, enough time to do everything. If you miss your tender they let you on a later one. The tender ride is about 10 minutes over a rolling sea. Oh, one tender tip, don't take the red/white enclosed tender from the midship gangway, it's stifling hot because the breeze can't get to the passengers, and everyone gets off panting, a bad start to an already hot island. Take the larger blue/white open air tender from the forward gangway, and you'll feel a nice breeze all the way in.
When you step off the pier, the islanders village and their craft area are to the left, and to the right is the NCL area for passengers with 3 or 4 small sandy beaches, with beach chairs, and several b'b'cue areas for the free lunch. Go to the last beach for the most space. Drinks are charged to your cabin, but there is free cold water behind the second beach. Also behind the second or third beach is a pavilion where the islanders put on a dance show, lots of action and energy.
On the left of the dock the craft area has perhaps 50 tables set up. The islanders are rather shy, and will not approach you to sell anything, a big change from places like Jamaica and Mexico. They know enough English to tell you how much things cost, but that's about it, although a few have better English. They will smile and say hello if spoken to. There are a few flies buzzing around as noted by other reviewers, but no biting insects that we found.
Most of the crafts appear home-made, with 2 exceptions that we saw. There are T-shirts for $15, which are 3/$10 on any other island. And they sold those conical shells that have a scene carved in the top, on a pink background, as if the shell coating has been peeled away to reveal a pink underlayer, and then a scene carved in it. Those are sold at every tourist trap we saw on the cruise. So some stuff is getting imported.
We took gifts for the island kids, a dozen finger puppets for the 3-6 year olds, and 50 cent frisbees for the 7-11 y. olds, and gum. We were trying to take things that were easy to pack and carry. When my wife came across a 3-4 y. old at the craft area, or near the huts, or on one of the paths, she would squat down beside the child and show him/her a finger puppet. The kids don't seem afraid, but are cautious and curious. None of them knew what to do with the puppet, probably had never seen one before, so Wendy showed them how it worked on her finger, then asked them to stick out their finger, and put it on for them. Then we put one on our fingers, and wiggled the puppets and did some little puppet conversations. They stared in amazement, then with more coaxing and puppet noises they would move their fingers and smile a bit. Some of the older kids knew what to do with the frisbees, but we had to show others, who then quickly ran off to find a friend to practice with. Almost all of them said thank you, and if a mom was near she reminded them.
We heard the school was desperately in need of supplies, and I'm in education, so we took a few things, colored chalk, stickers, pencils, etc. We got chatting with one of the dads at the craft area who spoke good English, we gave him a Canadian flag clothing pin to wear which put a big smile on his face [he'll probably trade it for something later], and when we asked him if we could meet a teacher he told his son to take us to find one of the teachers in the village. He found one of the teachers, Tara, on one of the paths, and we gave him a frisbee which produced a big smile, and he was gone. We told Tara what we had brought, and she took up back to her hut, and we sat down at a table outside the door, and had a good visit. She spoke good English, which she learned at a high school on another island. She got a piece of paper and wrote down what we brought and what it was for, to show the headmaster. I don't think she'd ever seen stickers or clothing pins. We gave her a pin saying "Kids First" with an apple on top, and she asked why the apple. We told her about the North American custom of kids trying to please the teacher by bringing her an apple for a snack, which seemed strange to her. Maybe she didn't know what apples were . we were told most of the islanders have seen nothing of the outside world, being isolated in the central Pacific. We had to show her how to put the clothing pin on, and she was careful to figure out how the squeeze-clasp behind it worked.
She said paper is scarce, and the kids do their schoolwork on hand-held chalk boards, like in No. American about 100 years ago. We got thinking later that they could perhaps use some acetate boards, the kind you write on with a no-ink pen, and erase it by pulling up the clear acetate cover sheet. Perhaps they would rather have some scribblers or notepads, but we tried to think of gifts that would be easy for us to pack and transport.
The height of the island is 10 feet above sea level, which would be completely underwater from the tidal surge if a hurricane hit. We asked Tara about that and she just said they'd never had a hurricane, just storms. I don't think she really understood the power of a hurricane. If the one that destroyed 70% of Kauai in 1992 hit them I don't know how any of them would survive, they're too isolated for an evacuation.
So we took some pictures and said our good-byes, and strolled further down the path along the beach, coming across a few more craft tables, and an empty primary "school" under a large thatched roof, the teacher's name on a log beam, and the kids mats in rows. We were reluctant to walk through their hut areas, that seemed to be their personal space and it felt like we were in someone's back yard. After a bit we went back to the lunch area, feeling a bit embarrassed at the excess of food there, when the islanders live on coconut, breadfruit, and fish.
NCL rents bikes for $10, but there is no reason to do that, there is nowhere to get in a hurry, and it just works up a bigger sweat. Also, the path has puddles and the wheels throw up sand and water on the riders backs (no fenders).
We read a couple reviews by people who where "disgusted" at being taken to a scene of such poverty. If you think this would bother you, you should probably just stay to the right of the dock in the b'b'cue/beach area.
Maui was a heartbreaker because of time constraints. We knew we arrived at 1pm, but not that everyone had to go through customs before debarking. First, about 10am find a chair on the starboard side of the ship somewhere and you can watch some nice scenery as the ship approaches Maui. The captain will announce which islands you're passing.
After clearing customs (first US port after Fanning) we debarked at 2:30 and were in our rented car by 3:15. The 2 awesome sights too see in Maui are Haleakala National Park and Iao Valley State Park and the Iao Needle, where they shot many movies such as Jurassic Park and Indy Jones. Iao is a valley with amazing vertical carved walls and cliffs on each side, and the famous Iao Needle is a pointed mountain. Waterfalls and streams wind through the valley.
Haleakala Park is an erosion crater carved into a volcano 10 thousand feet high. Newer volcanic activity has added cinder cones and lava flows, which give a variety of colors and scenery. Their site is www.haleakala.national-park.com which describes some nice short 10-15 minute hikes/walks at the top. And there is another site which describes in detail how to get there, how long each segment takes, and what you will see . http://alternative-hawaii.com/hnp.htm
Sunset is about 7:15pm, after which it's too dark to see any sights. From the ship it takes about 3 hours to do Haleakala, and about 45 minutes to do Iao. So at 3:15 it was decision time, and we decided we couldn't do both places, so we gave up on Haleakala and went to Iao. The top deck cabins clear customs first, and Americans clear before non-US, so some lucky Yanks were off by 2pm, and would have had time to do both places.
After seeing Iao we drove across the island to Lahaina, where the ship used to stop. It's a scenic drive along the coast most of the way. Lahaina is a pretty bay, and a tourist town with tons of shops and people walking along the strip. We didn't come to Hawaii to do tourist traps, so we got ice creams and drove out of town further up hwy 30 to Napili, where they shoot the famous sunsets. Around 7pm we found a good viewpoint between Napili and Kahana, and got some nice shots of the sun setting over the angular edge of a mountain, golden reflection in the water, beach and trees in the foreground. Then we drove back to the ship for dinner.
The Maui Visitors Bureau vacation planner had the best map of all the planners we got from the islands, almost as good as the car rental map. You can order one at www.visitmaui.com
Finally a port where there is enough time to do everything! The big attraction is the famous Waimea Canyon, similar to the Grand Canyon. It's a mile wide and 3600 feet deep, and has amazing colors. It's about a 40 minute drive from the ship to the first main lookout, with lesser lookouts before that. Regarding weather, the rule of thumb is that if you have bad weather when you reach the first main lookout, there is no point in driving another half hour to see the other lookouts further down the ridge road, it will not get any better. But if you have good weather, drive further down the canyon to the Puu Hinahina lookout, and then the Kalalau lookout, and Puu o Kila lookout at the end of the road.
Then you can drive back on hwy 50 past the ship to the Wailua Falls up hwy 583, and Opaekaa Falls up 580, which feed the Wailua River. Then go back to hwy 56, turn back south on 56 for a few hundred feet, and turn right into the Fern Grotto tours place, I forget the name. There are other smaller vendors selling grotto tours, but the main one has a big parking lot, restaurant, etc. Tours are $15 and last 1.5 hours. The ship price is $45. The tour goes up the Wailua river, lots of great scenery, to a fern grotto where the locals put on a bit of a show. Then you can drive back to hwy 56 and check out the beaches along the coast. Waipouli Beach in Wailua Bay at the junction of hwy 56 and 580 has some nice big breakers to watch. Lydgate Beach, a mile south, is better for small kids, it's calm and has lifeguards, and good snorkeling. There's a beach every couple miles on this coast.
You can order the Visitor's Bureau travel planner online at www.kauaivisitorsbureau.com
Debarkation was very smooth, very few lineups. As with all cruises, your luggage goes out in the hall before Sat. midnight, so the crew can take it. Your bill is delivered to your cabin in the wee hours Sunday morning, and if you find errors they ask you to come to the desk by 7:30am to correct them. There were lineups of people, but our bill was fine. Luggage is color coded and was easy to find in the terminal, and the cabs are right outside the terminal door, not way down the sidewalk like in Tampa.
Thanks to all the Cruise Critic web site people who helped us with info before we left . Chuck, Glenda, Kris, Bryan, Patti, Narda and Max, and Joanne. [Cruise Critic members meet in the Beer Garten at 6pm on Mondays of each cruise, and get a tour of the garden villa if possible, and some nice perks and freebees.] The crew on board said you were all a pain in the butt, so we pretended we didn't know you ;-}
Rather than write a review that is structured, I am going to just free-flow through my impression of the cruise and hopefully cover some areas that might have been missed in the past.
First, my overall impression of the Star - this is only my third cruise, and my second with NCL, so I may be a bit of a neophyte, but we had a fantastic time. The ship's appearance and architecture is stunning. It took us the better part of the week to learn our way around, and we still had days we went aft instead of forward! But I digress.
We flew into Honolulu the day before and took the Roberts shuttle to our hotel, the Ilikai on Waikiki. It was a beautiful hotel that was recently renovated and is a short walk over a causeway to the beach. We went over to the Aloha tower to get something to eat at a seafood restaurant recommended by the hotel, and get a feel for where the ship came in on Sunday. We also went over to the Ala Moana Shopping Center and got our Hilo Hatti trip out ofthe way! After that we went down into the heart of Waikiki on Kahahahu Ave, but the jet lag started to get to us. I am not much for touristy type stuff, and was a bit turned off here by how commercialized the whole area got with the Hard Rock Cafe type restaurants, and the people passing out flyers and such. It made the whole experience seem not that much different than NYC or New Orleans, and that is certainly not what I went to Hawaii for.
The next morning, I woke up early and hit the beach for a run. I wanted to watch the Star sail in, and as I made my way day Waikiki she appeared over the horizon and headed towards the harbor. We spent that morning basking on the beach before we packed up and took a cab over to the pier. We got there about noon and it took us a little under 15 minutes to check in our bags and clear security on to the ship. I must say that security on the pier was even more restricted than in the airport, and I was impressed that every port we went to that NCL continued that policy. You are issued and green scan card to get in your room, and have to show that and a picture ID to get on the boat every time. My wife got a beautiful flower lei, while they gave me a shell lei, we got our picture taken and headed on to explore the ship.
We were in a mini-suite, number 11100. The room was a great size, with a huge closet, close to the central elevators. It was definitely worth the extra expense. We went down and had lunch in Aqua, explored the ship, then got off and did a little shopping in the Aloha Tower Marketplace. That night we had a worst meal of the trip, in the La Trattoria Italian Restaurant. Part of it had to be that they have simply taken part of the Market Cafe and cordoned it off, but I think it was the limited menu and the fact I have eaten much better Italian in my life.
The next day we got to Hilo, where it was drizzling and cloudy. Our excursion there was the volcano biking adventure around Kileaua Caldera. The tour driver was very informative on the way there, and assured us the squall line would clear when we got to the park, which it did. The ride and the view of the crater was very impressive - the power of nature is something to behold. We got some beautiful pictures of rainbows over the crater.
That night the captain cranked up the engines and pointed the ship towards Fanning. We had brought patches just in case, but even in 7-12 foot seas I thought the roll was not all that bad, and got used to it pretty fast. It took some adjusting to your balance, but once we were over that things were fine. While I would love to spend more time in the Hawaiian Islands, I did not mind having the sea days to lounge around the pool and read. The ship has a ton of activities to keep you busy.
I thought Fanning was great. We spent the extra $10 to go to the private beach, and it was well worth it. The beach is huge, and relatively untouched. There were perfect shells to collect in the water if you are into that. NCL has a cabana over there to rent out paddle boats and Hobie boats and such, and sell drinks. They have hammocks and picnic tables and umbrellas and chairs set up on the beach. The water is shallow and blue. You only get to spend about 3 hours over there, then they tender you back to the main beach where the food is. It was real crowded over there. The locals have quite a market going. My wife wondered if they really made all that stuff over if it was made in China! I guess they are learning quickly how to make a buck. There was even a pickup truck with a sign that said "Island Tour" that ferried people up and down the same road you could rent a bike and ride. I brought a bunch of plastic baseballs, balloons, pencils and such. The kids were not lined up like a bunch of beggars like I had read. Most were a bit cautious to accept stuff, but really seemed to enjoy getting something. One mother stopped me and gave me a beautiful shell she had polished. I was touched by the exchange, and consider it the best souvenir I have ever gotten. The people danced and sang and smiled a lot, taking donations and making a good deal of cash from what I saw. I am afraid that a few more month's of this will change this unspoiled island. One guy had a generator and lights around his hut. I think getting to see it in is current state was quite a new experience for us. Then it was back on the boat, crank up the engines, and back to Maui.
Maui was our biggest waste of time, as we were delayed getting in the harbor by a barge. We went to a luau, since neither of us had done one before, and got a to see a sunset like you only hear of on the beach in Lahaina. I hear that in the future NCL may start charging for the free shuttles. We only had about 5 hours in Maui, and wasted more time with the huge crowds getting off and on the boat.
The next day in Kauia we went on a snorkel to Poipu beach, and got to swim with the huge green sea turtles there. That was a great trip, and again the excursion leaders were well informed, and safety was greatly emphasized. Our last day we took the tour of Pearl Harbor and downtown Honolulu, which we also enjoyed. Now back to the ship. We ate most of meals in the speciality restaurants and the main dining rooms. We ate in the Market Cafe once, but I get enough BBQ here in Texas that I did not want to eat it day in and day out like lots of folks. Besides, the Market Cafe was always short of space, and the pool deck was crowded. We loved Versaille - the room is impressive. We also ate at Soho, Ginza and LaBistro. Great experiences at all, presentation was fantastic, and all the wait staffs were friendly and efficient. Reservations are taken at all restaurants 24 hours prior.
The Barong Spa is a great hideaway that no one seems to use much. They have comfortable lounge chairs that look out floor to ceiling windows on the back of the ship, and a huge lap pool, hydrotherapy pool and hot tub, all of which you can use even if you don't use the Mandara Spa. The gym is on the next floor up, and is well equipped, but I thought it a bit cheap how NCL was now charging for most classes they offered, even as an introduction to what they offered.
I can't say enough about the treatments on the boat, the paintings in the stairwells, the trim in hallways and the grand atrium. I think the ship is a stunning achievement and was a joy to spend a week on. Now for my complaints. The huge fruit wallpaper was too much for me in the market cafe, so I am glad I did not eat there too much. We ate breakfast and lunch most days in Versaille. The constant harping on the tv and before shoes and over the speakers for the selling and discounting of future cruises got a bit annoying after 3 days. I guess it was the captive audience syndrome. The same for the art sale. The port talks that featured select restaurants and merchants was a poorly disguised affiliation between NCL and those merchants, and I felt that was a bit unfair to the rest of the economy of Hawaii. I am not big into theme restaurants, and Tom's hype and free giveaway of stuff from Bubba Gump's made me think that the reason he loved the place so much is that he probably ate there for free every week the ship is in Maui. For the most part, these complaints are quite small and in only a very small and insignificant way took away from the overall trip. I really enjoyed this cruise, and I think most people will feel the same.
I will be happy to answer any questions people might have on the cruise, the history of Hawaii or anything in general. One last thing - we did make all the shows in the Stardust Theater and enjoyed them immensely. The Jean Ann Rand Company has some fantastic singers and dancers, and a juggler by the name of Henrik Bothe was funny, and also later in the week put on a display of photographs he has taken of the active volcano on the Big Island that were stunning.
We just returned from a EXTRA GOOD cruise around the Hawaiian Islands. I had read the reports on the Star before leaving and had read so many BAD reports that I was ready to cancel. I want to say here that we have been on MANY cruises and this one and the ship Star was exceptional. In fact, it came close to being our FAVORITE ship, a spot the Holland America Amsterdam holds right now. We got our own air with Hawaiian airlines so can't report on that but upon arriving at the ship, our embarkation was super smooth, there were 4 of us sharing a mini suite with veranda...it was crowded but we had a ball. 2 slept on the twin beds and 2 slept on the made up sofa, which our cabin steward Luis had padded with thick foam pads...he was an extra good steward, just waiting to serve us throughout the trip..he also had an exceptional helper, ARgee (both from the Phillipines Islands)...they both have children & families at home. Our son and my sister, our companions, are early risers so they would get up, go tobreakfast and then my wife and myself would arise, eat our breakfast which we had brought to cabin each morning, just what we wanted, and then get ready. The islands worked their magic on all of us.
At Hilo, our only disappointing stop, the weather was misty and cloudy so we didn't try to drive up to the volcanoes. We then headed for the Fanning island but the next day an accident burned 2 of the crew members quite badly so the ship turned around and hurried them back to medical facilities...no one regretted this decision, and later the Norwegian line filled in the itinerary with, to our opinions, was a VERY good itinerary..stopping at Kona and giving us an extra day at Maui.
On Kona we rented a car and spent the day sightseeing, having a lunch at a fabulous spot ending with Macadamia Nut pie...the thoughts make me drool as I write this...on Kauai, we spent the day driving up the Waimea Canyon which was breathtaking (we had seen it before) and it was the most beautiful this time..the valley outlook was fogged in but on the way back we stopped for lunch and enjoyed Passion Fruit Pie...
On Maui we drove to Laihina, got in on a Canoe FEstival and visited Kaanapoli and Kapala, having lunch at the Hula Grill in the Whalers Village at Kaanapoli where we had the best Virgin Pina Coladas we've ever had. All 4 of us thoroughly enjoyed our private veranda, often spending hours out there reading or visiting. We ate at the Hawaiian restaurant which was one of the most beautiful restaurants I've ever seen, located around the atrium...try the shortribs, outstanding and the fish chowder was EXCEPTINAL....another time we tried the Italian restaurant and it was also extra good...would have liked to have tried the Ginza, the Japanese restaurant but we are AGAINST this charging a cover charge so did not try it. We ate all of our lunches on ship and most of the other dinners at the Versailles, again one of the most beautiful restaurants we have eaten in...we finally found a favorite waiter and his helper and asked for them from then on. He was Norbert from Hungary and his helper was also from Hungary...EXTRA GOOD...we heartily recommend them...his station that cruise was clear in the stern which gave a fantastic view during dinner. We always ate at 5:30 when they opened so never had to wait for a table.
We found MOST employees extra cheery and helpful..a very few didn't like their jobs but you find that everywhere...in looking back on the BAD reports I had read, I honestly don't know where they were coming from, they either were very disagreeable people or something to make them write such a report on such a beautiful ship...the ONLY disappointment of the entire cruise was that most of the shows were broadway type shows, VERY GOOD castings, but we had EXPECTED more Polynesians shows, after all this was a Hawaiian cruise ! The cast did do, finally, an imitation of a Polynesian show on the last night but it was pretty well jazzed up. The SHOW LOUNGE is absolutely BEAUTIFUL and the seating can't be beat and the state of the art lighting and sound is outstanding ! Wish I could say as much for the cinema theatre but we found the sound very inadequate and the picture and seating poor, in fact we walked out after 20 mins of the show.
The shopping onboard was not something to get excited about but the shopping on the islands was extra exciting. Anyone that can go to the Hawaiian islands and not become involved in their magic is beyond my beliefs...Kauai is absolutely the most beautiful island among beautiful islands, so lush and flowers everywhere. We LIKED the informal eating arrangement...it was nice to NOT have to dress up constantly or on certain nights and yet one could dress for the evening dinner a little (country club casual is a good name for it) and those that didn't want to could eat upstairs at the buffet line, or out by the pool. Since there was 4 of us, we ate by ourselves all the time, but one could easily became involved with other people if you wanted to. We found the FOOD extra good, if not gourmet a few times...the soups were served piping hot which is a pet peeve of mine, the salad dressings were GOOD, the MEATS were TENDER and tasty..I personally am not wild about their fancy desserts but there is plenty to order and eat otherwise or just ice cream. All the food that was supposed to be HOT was! and the foods that were supposed to be COLD were!
I know Norwegian is considered a "price" line but surprisingly it came very close to equalling Holland America which is our favorite line by far...this, by the way, is ONLY on this ship, the Norwegian Star which we found to be an exceptinal ship..our expderience on the Norwegian Sky last year was very mediocure but thats another story....I would recommend the Norwegian Star and the Hawaiian Cruise to anyone!!! We are NOT fans of the GRATUITIES being taken out as we would rather reward our favorite ones but where one is exposed to so many waiters etc, I can see where it could be hard. And one can reward those that are especially favorites. My wife and myself, after the cruise, flew back to Kauai to spend a week which was superb but that too is another story.
This was our 50th cruise in 29 years, our 9th with NCL.
I would like to start off by saying we enjoyed this cruise very much. Well worth our time and money.
This was a very relaxing cruise with 3 days at sea, ¾ day in Fanning Island, ½ day in Hilo and Maui, full day in Kauai. My favorite part of the cruise was days at sea. Fanning Island reminded me of the private outer islands in the Carribean of various cruise lines. NCL constructed a beach area with facilities for barbecue, sports, entertainment. The native villages are nearby within easy walking distance. There was really little to see or do other than the beach activities. A group of about 20 native dancers provided enthusiastic entertainment nonstop during the whole time we were on the island.
The Norwegian Star is a beautiful ship. I had some reservation with the decoration of the Market Cafe. The Galleria Shop reminded me of JCPenney. The major fault is reserved for the 2 slides in the main pool area which were a eyesore and took up too much room and were hardly used.I understand the slides will be eliminated from the new Norwegian Dawn.
So much were said about the structure noises inside the cabin from other earlier reviews, so I was quite surprised to find that there were not anymore excessive noise in our cabin than on the average ship we were on previously. We had inside cabin #10509 on the 10th deck forward. The dark wood paneling inside the cabin made the room seem smaller.
The production shows on this cruise were typical of a Jane Ryan's production which are the very best on the high seas. Other entertainment and organized daily activities were about average for a cruise ship.
I consider the food over-all above average for a cruise ship, good being the average. We had breakfast every day in the Market Cafe. Its offered the usual typical cruise ship buffet breakfast. The excellent barbecue ribs and pizza were served every day for lunch on the pool deck. These were the best I had on any cruise ship. One day we had beautifully barbacued jumbo shrimps. The server was piling it on our plate right from the grill. I really enjoyed it. With food like these why go inside to the Market Cafe or the main dinning room.
We ate dinner in Le Bistro, SoHo Room, Endless Summer, Versailles, and three times in Aqua main dinning room. Aqua was my favorite resturant on the ship. Contrary to what the brochure said the menu are identical for Aqua and Versailles. The only dinner I did'nt like was at Endless Summer. The jumbo shrimps in the main course were un-eatable. Le Bistro and SoHo were well worth their extra costs of $12.50 each excluding wine.
Blue Lagoon served all kinds of snack 24 hours a day. The snack served here is very unique for a cruise ship. We tried it once and it was very good.
Contrary to what I read on the earlier reviews during the early part of Star's operation about the long wait to be seated and slow service in the main dinning room, we were always seated right the way in a small table for two or four. The services were usually courteous and efficient. We usually ate between 6pm and 8pm.
Considering the many extra resturant personels required to operate the Freestyle dining, the recommended $10 a day tip for waiters and room stewards seems very reasonable.
We like Freestyle crusing. We give Norwegian Star two thumbs up for the execution of Freestyle crusing. I am glad to say that based on our own experience we don't agree with the negative comments that were written prior to Feb 2002 concerning the Star.
This was our 3rd NCL Cruise and a total of 33 Cruises to our credit.
Embarkation was quick, we were on board the ship in 15 minutes, NCL has done a great job on this aspect of the boarding process. We were greeted by several NCL staff people who welcomed us aboard and escorted us to our cabin.Let me say up front the STAR is a beautiful ship with large cabins and very clean in every area we went. Our cabin was 9110 mid ship outside with balcony. The bathroom is very large and the shower area has room to move around in all directions. Bring your own soap NCL uses a dispensor for the soap and it has no lather so bring the soap you will thank me for this. Storage is adaquate for a 7 ay Cruise and we had no problems here.
Before we took this Cruise I reviewed many reviews about this ship and many people complained about the cabin noise. Let me add my name to the list. Our first problem arose the Ist night out on the way to Hilo, the cabin was so noisywe could not sleep, as a matter fo fact the banging, creaking, moaning, squeaking was so bad we actuall had no sleep for 3 nights. I reported this to the front desk and they said they would look into the matter. Well, it was not untill we arrived at Fanning Island we found the problem. The tenders used to ferry the passenges off the ship are located right below deck 9 and most of the noise was coming from the life boats stored under deck 9.
Even though the trip to Fanning was rough as was much of the Cruise, Fanning Island is a complete waste of 3 days, unless you like poverty and millions of flies. It was sad to see 1200 people living in those conditions, I am glad NCL is trying to help them. However The 3 days wasted could be spent at the islands but the Jones Act will not allow it. Any way, after we departed Fanning and the tenders were returned to their resting places did most of the major noise go away. However, the creaking and moaning did not, just as other reviews had said. If you are going on the STAR get a cabin away from deck 9. As far as Fanning Island as a stop, NCL puts on a cook out but the flies will drive you nuts, We made a quick getaway back to the ship.
Now regarding the Tours, we only took 1 the Crater Tour on Hilo, that was interesting but it poured down rain the entire day so it made for a nasty day. The Tours are very expensive so we elected to go on our own. I only heard comments that the Tours were not worth the money.
Now the Food. The STAR has 10 restaurants and we did manage to go to 3 of them. The best is the La Bistro, excellent food and service and you will spend an additional $35 -$45 to eat there.The Ginsa Japanese is good we ate at the Teppan part and all the food was great.Forget the Italian restaurant they offer 3 items and they were all bad.
The balance of the meals were in the main dinning room the Versailes and I have nothing good to say about the quality of food there and the servive was good some times and very slow others, I blame that on the Freestyle way of dining. By the way it's a beautiful room but at the back of the ship so you will feel every movement of the ship.We did have 1 meal at the Aqua Restaurant and the service was so bad we never returned. The Market Cafe is where we had breakfast every day and after 4 days everything was still the same thing they served so we got bored with it. However everything was always hot but 7 days of bacon and eggs gets old quick. NCL had a cook out on deck around the pool every day and that was good. They served ribs hamburgers skit steaks and salads.
The entertainment was great, a new show every night and everyone enjoyed all the different type shows they put on.
My overall feeling is that NCL has a long way to go with their food quality. This feeling was shared by many who have cruised other lines. NCL takes a back seat to Princess, RCCL and Celebrity when it comes to food quality.However we did not experiene this on the NCL SKY. We had good food and excellent service on that ship.
Our cabin attendent did a great job in all ways to be sure we were comfortable and the cabin was always spotless. As far a freestyle Cruising goes, we like some aspects of it but the service seems to be much better when you have the same waiter throughout the Cruise, they get to know your likes and dislikes. NCL charges your account for the tips so the personnel know they will get it for good or bad service and it showes.
In summary,I would not take the STAR Cruise in Hawaii, if you want to see Hawaii stay on the Islands and enjoy the time, you won't get to see much on this cruise. And if you really want to experience top quality food and service try Princess, RCCL. or Celebrity.
I will not be cruising with NCL again, only because there are better choices for the same money. I was disappointed in this Cruise and I hope NCL improves things on the STAR because we did have a good time with them on our prior cruises with them.
Embarkation & Cabin:
We flew out of LAX on Delta Airlines early Sunday morning and took a taxi straight to Aloha Tower ($16 + tip, 10-15 minute ride). Check-in began at 11:20am and we were in our stateroom before noon. Right before the embarkation photos were taken, ladies were given orchid leis and men received shell leis. There's a shuttle that runs from Aloha Tower to various locations in Waikiki for those that want to get off the ship and get back on later (we did not) - I believe the cost is $2 each way. Taxis and The Bus are other options. The Aloha Tower Marketplace itself has several shops and restaurants. Everyone had to be onboard by 7:30pm.
We booked a Cat F guarantee and ended up in a Cat. C (outside) on deck 8 aft. For those thinking of booking a balcony or suite, I would hesitate to recommend the aft cabins. A few of the days in port (perhaps during refueling?), we would notice the smell of diesel on the outside deck areas in the aft of the ship and also inside the ship around the aftstaircase. It didn't affect our cabin or any of the public rooms, but I would imagine there would be similar diesel smells from an aft balcony. The shower door was great, much better than a curtain, and they have the most powerful hair dryers I've ever used on a ship so no need to bring your own even if you have long hair.
Dining & Decor:
We've cruised on NCL since freestyle before and found it very convenient again. We dined at Versailles, Bistro, and Endless Summer one night each, and the rest of the time at Aqua. I know the menu and galley are the same for both Aqua and Versailles, but the food just seemed to be a little bit better at Aqua. Plus we preferred the ambience of Aqua and it seemed that most people couldn't find the small entrance to this restaurant so there was never a wait. Aqua is also open for lunch on embarkation day if you'd rather sit down than eat at the buffet. On all other days, Versailles was open for breakfast and lunch, and on busy days they would open up Aqua for overflow. We didn't use the buffet except for a couple of breakfasts - it was packed most of the time and usually difficult to find a table unless you got there early. The deck BBQ was good especially on Friday afternoon when they have the grilled jumbo prawns, but again not enough seating around the pool deck. We would usually just take our food up to the Bier Garten where there were always empty tables (bratwurst was available up here on two afternoons during the week). The Blue Lagoon was a good spot for a quick lunch/snack without having to wait in a buffet line. I also liked being able to grab a coffee or juice/iced tea here anytime since it's open 24 hours. Several of the lounges had some snacks/hot hors d'oeuvres available in the evening and each one had different beers on draft. Latitudes members can get 20% off drinks ordered in the Spinnaker Lounge (although they don't tell you this until mid-way through the cruise). Dinner reservations for all of the specialty restaurants can be made for the same or following day by visiting the reservation table set up in the atrium or dialing from your cabin. On the first evening a 50% discount off the cover charge was given for all three extra charge restaurants up until 6:00pm, and the same was offered on several other nights but only for Ginza (and excluding teppanyaki). There were also a couple of days where $10 all you can eat sushi was offered. I didn't partake of the sushi - living in LA I'm used to good sushi and was a little wary of the quality of sushi on board. Food highlights and recommendations: Bistro (escargot, mushroom soup, filet, and chocolate fondue), Italian night in Aqua (carpaccio and veal), Endless Summer (lomi lomi salmon, ribs, and pineapple mac nut pie), Friday afternoon deck BBQ (prawns, prawns, prawns), and fresh fruit outside by the pool during breakfast and lunch (the papaya and pineapple were delicious but they ran out of papaya by the 4th day).
The ship layout can be confusing for the first couple of days. There are several areas of the public room decks that just stop and you have to go up a flight or down a flight of stairs to access another portion of the deck. We learned that the forward staircase is blue, the mid staircase is red, and the aft staircase is green and this helped us figure out where we were. The pool area is hideous - there is just no other way to describe it IMO with the ugly slides and fake palm tree columns (at least they've learned and not done the same with the sister ship Dawn). Some of the other rooms are also a bit over the top to me but I thought the pool area was by far the worst offender. The specialty restaurants and Aqua were nicely done as were the indoor pool/spa facilities and the bars on deck 13. Favorite spot on board: the forward hot tub on deck 13 between 5:00-6:00am - it's just you and the ocean.
Our cabin steward and his assistant were very efficient. We didn't see much of them, but our room was always clean and anything we requested was brought right away. Dining room service ranged from acceptable to very attentive with one pair of waiter/assistant waiter who probably shouldn't be in the service industry. We mentioned this to the head waiter that evening after dinner so hopefully these two will receive some re-training. We noticed that the wait staff is rotated amongst the dining rooms, so it's difficult to recommend anyone in particular. Aside from the two dining room servers mentioned above, every crewmember we ran across greeted us with a big smile.
On Board Activities & Entertainment:
Do try to attend the lei making classes and hula classes offered by the Hawaiian Ambassador, Cathy Foy. She is a great instructor and brings Hawaii to you on a cruise where you see very little of Hawaii (more on that later). The lei making classes were especially popular so try to get there early. Toward the end of the cruise there were over passengers 400 attending - we made kukui nut, orchid, and ribbon leis during the cruise. Also the dance cast of Tihati Productions were outside on the pool deck several afternoons teaching palm frond weaving, but these were not as fun as Cathy's classes.
For those familiar with NCL's Sports Afloat program, you can no longer earn a T-shirt. It now costs $20 to join their program, and you get a T-shirt, sports bottle, and unlimited access to all of the fitness classes. Otherwise, the classes are $5 each except for walk a mile and beginning yoga which were free. And of course the fitness center itself and the indoor spa pool/hot tubs are still free. The fitness center had a good variety of machines and was never very full.
We did not see any of the production shows in the Stardust Theater but did enjoy the two performances in the Spinnaker Lounge by the Tihati dancers (one show was different Polynesian dances while the other show was more hula). Also there are two get togethers each week for Kama'ainas (Hawaiian residents) but mainlanders are welcome too and they play Hawaiian songs and perform some hula. We enjoyed listening to Charles and Shawn in the atrium and Butch O'Sullivan in Las Ramblas each evening.
The Pacific Whale Foundation had a several lectures in the cinema on whales and other marine life. There was also a different movie shown every day in the cinema in addition to the in cabin movies. The library was open limited hours but they did have multiple copies of all of the Wizard Publication guides in their most recent editions (aka Maui Revealed, Big Island Revealed, and Ultimate Kauai) which I highly recommend for exploring the islands on your own. They have the most detailed maps and driving directions of any guidebook and mention a lot of out of the way places that other books never mention - like did you know there's actually a tunnel where you can hike from the east shore of Kauai and end up on the north shore?
Weather & Seas:
I don't know if this is the norm, but on our cruise the days at sea were really cool and windy (much like a Mexican Riviera cruise going in and out of San Pedro). Some days, you could hardly walk on the deck without feeling like you'd be blown over. It was only warm at sea when we got closer to Fanning Island. We did have anywhere from light showers to downpours in each Hawaiian port so maybe it was just the weather that week. The day at Fanning was gorgeous, sunny and breezy and not too hot. Seas were rougher than any cruise I've been on before including the Caribbean, Pacific Coast, and Alaska starting from Sunday night until Friday morning. By the time we approached Maui, it was much calmer. We were fine (didn't take any medication or bands) but did overhear several people saying they felt seasick.
As I mentioned earlier, you will have very little port time in the Hawaiian Island, less than 24 hours total. This is not a cruise that I would recommend to anyone unless they enjoy sea days and don't mind not seeing much of Hawaii. Having been on multiple trips to Hawaii and stayed on each of the islands before and studying the itinerary prior to our cruise, we still were not fully prepared for how short the port times really are when you factor in time spent getting off and back on the ship (we went thru metal detectors, a hand search of our bags, and three I.D. checks before being allowed to re-board at each port), picking up and dropping off a rental car, and having to be on board half an hour prior to sailing. If you understand this, you will be OK.
I highly recommend renting a car so you can go at your own pace and see things that interest you. It's really easy to get around each of the islands. We reserved our cars online prior to our trip and at each port the rental car shuttles are usually waiting at the dock (if not, just remember to bring the local rental office phone number to call and they will send one right away). They shuttle you to the rental locations at the airport only a few minutes away on each island.
Hilo - Our arrival was at 7:00am instead of 6:00am as posted on the NCL website and documents (no explanation why). Expect it to be raining in various degrees in Hilo anytime of the year. NCL distributed disposable rain ponchos at the gangway which were greatly appreciated as the rain was pretty heavy that morning. We rented a car from Dollar, waited about ten minutes at the dock and a short ride to the airport where we picked up the car. Only took a few minutes to process our paperwork and pick up keys to our car. Note: check your car carefully (we did not as it was pouring rain); our car had a small scratch on the bumper which I suspect was already there, but they made us fill out a damage report anyway since we didn't check. We rent cars often and have never had a rental agency make such a big deal about such miniscule damage - seems counterproductive on their part. If you've never been to Volcanoes National Park, GO THERE. It's about a 40 minute drive from Hilo and you'll have just enough time to see the highlights. Since we had visited the park last year and the time in port was so short, we decided to see some other sites closer to Hilo. We drove up to see Akaka Falls north of Hilo - there are actually two falls here, Kahuna and Akaka, and you can see both of them by taking the circle loop through the park. On your way from or back to Hilo, take the 4 mile scenic route off of the highway (look for the sign). This is the "old" road before the highway was built - it's meandering and narrow in areas and you'll see beautiful, lush rain forests. One of the biggest botanical gardens on the island is also up in this area, but we decided to head south of Hilo to see Lava Tree State Park. There is loop trail that goes through this park and around some of the tree form specimens. While interesting and unusual, it's not really a must see if you're short on time. Neither of the two parks I mentioned require a great deal of time.
Maui - we were on deck around 9:00am watching for whales. The ship sails up the channel between Lanai and Maui with Molokai in the distance, past Lahaina, and around the north side of Maui to dock at Kahului. This is prime whale watching territory in winter season. At this time of year, we only saw three whales and couldn't see enough of them to tell if they were humpbacks. Before anyone can go ashore in Maui, each passenger (U.S. citizen or non) had to present proof of citizenship at the immigration desk set up in Dazzles. I had heard this was not a requirement on one of last month's cruises so I don't know if it's new or random. The entire process took about 2 hours and you were assigned a time to line up according to your excursion departure time or cabin deck. When you presented your proof of citizenship, they checked your name off of a list and gave you a voucher which you then had to turn in at the gangway before being allowed off of the ship. The wait wasn't too long, but it just seemed unnecessary considering each passenger's proof of citizenship had already been checked at embarkation. Luckily the immigration officers embarked by vessel out of Lahaina, so by the time we docked in Kahului, almost everyone had been cleared (we were given the OK to go ashore around 1:20pm). We debated whether to rent a car on this island and ended up just taking the shuttle to Lahaina. The NCL shuttles ran continuously and there was very little wait if any. In Lahaina, we just walked around and did some shopping. There is a shuttle that goes up to Kaanapali for $1 each way and leaves from Lahaina Cannery Mall. For those that are interested, the schedule can be found at http://www.lahainacannerymall.com/shuttle_schedule.html The drive to Lahaina took about 40 minutes and the drive back about an hour due to traffic. The ship's luau (which we did not attend) is at the Sheraton in Kaanapali.
Fanning Island (Republic of Kiribati pronounced "kiribas") - this port received the most mixed reviews, we thought it was a picture perfect South Pacific atoll (think Bora Bora without the island in the middle), others thought it was a complete waste of time. All of the swimming is in the inner lagoon and the water has beautiful varying shades of blue depending on the depth. We did the Napali beach excursion for $5 which I highly recommend. They take a limited number of people by tender to this beach. It is far less crowded than the main beach and you do not have to swim in a roped off area. You can take the morning or afternoon excursion - I recommend morning as your time will be longer (I suppose if you paid them $10 you could stay all day). There are no restroom or food facilities (you can buy drinks though) on this side but you can tender over to the main area and back. There's a 10 minute walk on a flat unpaved trail to get to/from the tender drop off area to the beach. NCL has beach chairs/umbrellas set up and a beach mat is included in the cost. Watersports rentals are only available from this beach not the main beach - they had paddle boats, kayaks, and hobies. They don't rent snorkeling equipment as there is nothing to see around the beach area and it's too dangerous (according to NCL) to run excursions to the reef due to currents. The lagoon is very shallow and calm, and you can walk pretty far out from the beach and still be in waist deep water. Sign up for this excursion using the Dive-In form, it's not listed on the regular shore excursion form. Around noon, we took a tender to the main area, had lunch, and did some shopping. Items for sale were mostly shell products, items woven from palm frond, and maps of the island. There's also a store that sells local stamps and coins. I purchased two Republic of Kiribati coins, one from 1979 (date of independence) and one from 1989 (tenth anniversary of independence). NCL has beach chairs set up here too but it's much more crowded and the roped off swimming area is very small. They also have volleyball courts, bicycles for rent, restroom facilities, and picnic tables. There were a flew flies but we didn't find it to be a problem and it wasn't any worse than your average picnic outing. The local islanders performed on a stage set up near the beach. This was our favorite day. Gifts: Many people have been talking about bringing gifts and the one thing we wished we had brought (which I would never have thought of) were strings and replacement parts for acoustic guitars and ukuleles. We saw one musician playing a guitar with only four strings and he was missing two of the bridge pins. Bet that's not easy to find on the island. So for those of you wondering what to bring, there's an idea.
Kauai - this is the only island where you will have a full day. We docked at 8:00am and everyone had to be back on board by 6:00pm for a 6:30pm sailing. The captain said that they would have liked to stay even later, but the port authority will not allow ships to exit Nawiliwili harbor in the dark. Again we had pre-reserved a car with Dollar and they had two shuttles waiting at the dock to take us to Lihue airport which is only a few minutes away. Registration was quick and we were off to the north shore. I love the north shore of Kauai - it's so lush and gorgeous. I've never driven the road to Hana on Maui, but I can't imagine that it could be any prettier than the north shore of Kauai. We drove all the way to the end of the road past Hanelei, Haena, and over many one lane bridges to Ke'e Beach. This is where the 11 mile Kalalau trail begins. This trail runs along the coast and is one of three ways to view the Na Pali cliffs - the other two ways are by helicopter or boat. We planned to hike in only about a mile or so to see the views. It's possible to hike the first two miles to a beach (not recommended for swimming) and another two miles inland to a waterfall without a permit. The first two miles will take you about 2 hours roundtrip not counting stops along the way. After the hike we went swimming at Ke'e Beach. The water here is protected by a reef and is like a calm swimming pool (at least in summer). We didn't bring snorkeling gear but saw many people snorkeling here. Then we drove back toward Lihue, stopping at some of the caves along the road, walked around Hanalei, had lunch at Bubba's Burgers, and stopped at the outdoor fair in Kapaa (I think it's every Thursday through Sunday) where we bought some fresh plumeria leis. We wanted to spend some time at Kalapaki Beach (closest beach to the pier and where the Marriott hotel is located) but it started to rain so we just had some drinks at Dukes and returned the car.
Disembarkation:We had a flight out of HNL at 12:50pm so had a leisurely breakfast and waited to disembark when they called the final group of passengers around 10:00am. I can't remember when the first group of passengers were called. If you have a late flight, there is a luggage check at the pier for $5 a bag or it may be easier to just rent a car and return it to the airport. Security at the Delta terminal took quite a long time due to the fact that there were several international flights departing around the same time and they had two terminals of passengers funneling into only three metal detectors. I don't think this is the case with every terminal because we had flown out of a different terminal at HNL around the same time of day in March and the security line wait was only 10 minutes, but just be prepared for a possible long wait.
We had a great time and enjoyed the cruise but feel that it may not be for those that really want to experience the Hawaiian islands.
First a little background:
This was our 5th cruise. My wife and I have had the opportunity to take our children along on the last 4 cruises. Jay is 16 and Julie 13.
We have gone with a large group of 400 plus each and every year, sponsored by a radio station in Milwaukee. The travel agents do a wonderful job and it is almost effortless. Of the 400 plus I go with a group of approximately 18 being a mixture or friends and family.
We flew out of Milwaukee on a non-stop flight. It was a charter and really went smooth. We had free drinks as soon as we were in the air so that made the flight seem not as long. Prearranged transfers to the Hilton Hawaiian Village went smooth. The HHV is a huge complex located on the end of Waikiki Beach. It has everything you would need. Although prices were high it was expected being in Hawaii. They have fireworks at night, a huge pool, penguins, pink flamingoes, water sport rentals etc. I was in the Tapas tower built in 1982 and it was in wonderful shape. Ifound a reasonable coffee shop just outside the HHV.
We arrived on Friday afternoon and found a excellent place to get some pizza within the HHV complex. It was called Round Something?? Pizza. It's nothing fancy but delicious. Easy to carry back to the room if you so desire. Other restaurants are real pricey so that is why I'm bring it up.
Saturday was the ProBowl and it was outstanding. Being there for the opening ceremonies in a outdoor stadium with thousands of people on the field and four F-16's come overhead in a fly by was something I'll never forget.
We went to a Luau at Paradise Cove that night. It was about a 1/2 hour drive from Honolulu. The setting was perfect on the west coast of the island. They have you do corny little games like throwing spears and rolling rocks. They did a presentation in a circular outdoor arena with dancing and a reenactment of digging the pig out of the ground. I could be wrong but it looked fake. Friends next to me said it was probably a plastic replica. Then we sat down for dinner. It was ok but nothing to go back for seconds. Then they put on a show and although I felt the actors/dancers really had there heart in it, mine wasn't.
Sunday we went on a tour to the Arizona Memorial. It is a must see and the National Park Service does a pretty good job of moving the crowds through. My suggestion is go early and remember there are NO cases, purses, bags of ANY kind. We then did a 45 minute city tour that was very interesting.
Ok, lets get on board the ship!
With our group we had pre registered online with NCL. That was helpful because we were on the ship in 15 minutes maximum!! Luggage came in bits and pieces but we had it by 6pm. We had a Penthouse Suite in the front of the ship. It was outstanding with the interior done with a lot of class. This particular suite had a dining and living room table although they were all in one large cabin. The balcony was huge. We had a party of 18 people and a butler in our room and some had to resort to the bed but it was fun. Our children were in a regular balcony room and it reminded me of the ones on the Sky and also sized similar to the Destiny's. Some complained of creaking but ours never did.
I headed for food and drinks as soon as we got on board. At 4:30 pm they did the lifeboat drill. That was the first time we didn't have to go out on the decks but had us meet in lounges etc. We sailed on time at 8pm. The first night we ate in the Endless Summer. This used to be a pay restaurant but it was changed as I understand it to relieve pressure off the main dining venues. ( Aqua and Versailles ) This restaurant is excellent, so good we went there twice. Ask for Louis to be your waiter and you will not be disappointed. The second time we went there two ladies from India served us and they were equally pleasant and efficient. I didn't get their names. I had different meals each time and my wife loved the seared tuna. The fish chowder was so good some people were ordering it as a meal so you would get a large bowl. Everything was like it was cooked to order and came out hot. Louis introduced us to a new system NCL has. My wife drinks wine, I don't. Instead of ordering by the glass he suggested ordering the bottle. They would save whatever you didn't drink with your cabin number to identify it. It gives you approximately two extra glasses of wine instead of ordering by the glass. Sure enough when we went to the Le Bistro the next night we simply said we have a bottle in storage and it was at our table in less than 10 minutes. We did it several times and it worked fine.
Monday we arrived in Hilo instead of Kona. I would rather dock for sure versus wondering if weather and tenders could possibly keep us off an island. I had a 8 passenger van reserved and a friend had a car waiting. We took the Thrifty shuttle to the airport (7 minutes) away. When I got there I jokingly said do you have a school bus I could rent. She then told me she had a 15 passenger van so I took it for $150. We all piled in and it was a gas. Off to the Volcanoes National Park which was a 45 minute drive. I'm very glad others suggested going there. It was wonderful and everyone loved it. Stop at the main info building to get maps and ideas on what you want to do. We circled the crater rim stopping at all if not most of the sites. There was a road you can drive down to the bottom but I must have missed that sign. A local cab driver had mentioned to me he takes his customers down there so it must be worth it. I suggest you see the different views then get your group back into the car to the next one. That way you can see much more. Someone I met on the ship also drove down to another area near the sea but he had a convertible and I had that huge van with a lot of people so I had to take it kind of easy. I have a really neat way to enjoy the Thurston Lava Tubes. It was suggested to me by someone else and it was really cool. The Thurston Lava Tubes are for the most part well lit with floodlights. At the end of the tubes there is a sign with a swinging gate that tells you if you want to go further you can but you need flashlights. You need to be careful going in there but it is real safe. You will proceed further into the unlit tubes. Go as far as you want but we went where we couldn't see the natural light anymore. Then turn off your flashlights and you will have some very memorable pictures in the tubes. One of the members in our group said he got some real neat pictures on his VCR. Our pictures just came in and they came out nice, very different.
Monday night we ate at Le Bistro. It was optional formal night and also lobster night. What I thought was neat was there was lobster EVERYWHERE on the ship. The were grilling it out by the pool along with almost every restaurant. My filet mignon was good as was the lobster. Natalie didn't like her chicken dish. We didn't say anything as there was plenty to eat with the lobster.
Tuesday was at sea. Lots of laying around at the pool. They set up these huge grills and make steaks and ribs and etc. everyday. They were delicious. I ate ribs almost everyday along with other things. These grill stations free up the Market Place Buffet and also relieves the pressure everywhere else. Endless Summer was so good Sunday we invited 10 more from our group to join us. Again a great meal and good service.
Wednesday was Fanning Island. I got off on tender #4 I think. It really didn't matter as I think almost everyone who wanted to get off was on the island by 10:30 am. We took one of the ships lifeboat/tenders to the island and one of the (2) 200 plus passenger catamarans back. (More on that later) I went right to the bike rental shed and there was more than enough bikes. $10 for the first hour and $5 per hour after that. I recommend the bike at first because you can cover a lot of ground. You can always drop off the bike and do the beach/walk around and shop later. All those things are real close by. Yes, there are flies but they didn't seem to be that bad and they didn't seem to land on you. I brought along a can of off and never touched it. We started out by riding down to the primary and elementary schools. We brought along balloons, bubbles and candy and it was a big hit. Yes, the people are in poverty but that is how they live. They were very friendly and didn't ever beg or bother you. Yes, it is a long way to go to see it but there is no other alternative until the useless laws are repealed. Deal with it or go on a ten day Hawaiian cruise that still puts you at sea 4 days! I didn't eat from the food provided by NCL. I would suggest eating breakfast on ship and then lunch also on ship. We got on the island by 9:30am and was heading back at 12:30 pm. We didn't lay out at the beach so add some time for that and you will have done everything there is to do. Bring singles onshore with you . The natives aren't going to cash travelers checks and not much is over $10. On the way back we took the large catamaran tender. When we got close to the ship the tender kept bobbing up and down. The crew had to improvise with the walkway. Luck would have it when my wife and daughter tried to cross the gangway the entire gangway rose 3 feet in the air suspending them up there. Luckily my son grabbed Julie and I made Natalie jump off. They were more scared than unsafe but the reason I bring it up was the water appeared very calm. The crew did a great job with the conditions. I say nuts to the guy who complained a month ago about how he couldn't get off at Fanning even though it seemed ok to him. I believe that was the time someone on the crew injured their leg. If they say it's too rough believe them.
Wednesday night we had the best and most entertaining dinner on the cruise. We reserved the entire Teppanaki Room at 7:30pm . All twelve of us were served by two quality young ladies in Japanese garb and the cooks put their souls into cooking for us. The food just kept on coming and it was outstanding. We gave the servers and the cooks $20 in cash each as an extra tip for their efforts. It was worth it seeing their faces in appreciation for the extra tip.
Thursday was a day at sea with the usual laying out by the pool. We ate at Soho that night. Three of us had the live lobster. I had mine sent back as it was undercooked and way too small of a portion. The Maitre d' tried repeatedly to have me reorder or try something else but I didn't want anything. The others in our group felt the value wasn't there but didn't say anything as to whether theirs was cooked properly. Natalie had a lobster medallion dinner with pasta. She said some of the lobster medallions were good and others not. My opinion on this restaurant is the items are overpriced. This was the only restaurant that was disappointing to me but out of 14 restaurants that isn't bad. Maybe I hit it on a bad day.
Friday was Maui were we docked instead of tendering. I rented a car and took a cab to the car rental place rather than wait for the shuttle. The cab was only $10 with the tip. We headed out on Highway 36 ( the road to Hana ) . First stop was a town named Paia ? which is a hippie town that takes you back to the 70's. Stopped at Hoopanki Beach to see wind and kite surfers and breathtaking views. Further down we went to a place called Twin Falls Park which had a neat pool you could swim in. I tried to head up into the mountains but every road sign looked like it had the same name and there were lots of forks in the road so we drove back through Paia to have a early dinner then back to the ship. From everyone I talked to it was better than going into Lahina for strictly shopping. Friday night we ate in the Versailles restaurant and had a marvelous waiter named Dingo. Another one to ask for when you go there if you want a great waiter. The food was delicious.
Saturday was Kauai. I rented a helicopter from Island Helicopters months before the cruise at a considerably cheaper rate than on the ship and other tour operators. It was the first helicopter ride for all of us and was one of the most incredible things I have ever done. It is a must do in Kauai as 80% of the island is not visible by car or bus, plus you see it all in 1 hour. Their is a Marriott Hotel near the ship with a nice beach and all the rentals etc that comes with it. I opted for the ship and all the comforts it provides. The girls went shopping at a mall right next to the Hotel and free constant shuttles took them there and back.
All 18 of us went to dinner in the Aqua Restaurant. Another outstanding meal served by a man named Santos. For him to put up with our group deserves an award! Debarkation was smooth and you can store your luggage for $5 a piece and pick it back up by 7:30pm.
Some thoughts on the ship:
I really enjoyed freestyle dining. For the little bit extra it cost at the specialty restaurants it really didn't matter as it gave us an opportunity to make reservations when and if we wanted to. A lot of people stuck to the "free" restaurants which there are so many you won't have to eat the same meal ever. In my humble opinion there really isn't anything to complain about. The dinners in the "free" restaurants had outstanding food and service. I have a peculiar habit of observing people and workers in action. I'm a manager so it's hard not to be observing even on vacation. Throughout the entire cruise I never saw so many management people present then on this cruise. They were either training, guiding or simply observing. Each and every meal had the Maitre d' come up to our table to simply talk and see if everything was ok. The captain walked through Soho the night we were there talking to people. The main chefs were out by the pool making sure the grill operation was going smoothly. I watched staff spend hours on a perch watching the entire pool area. I met Rob the Assistant Food Director who was all over the ship making sure everything was going smooth. He deserves credit for the effort he put in to see that everything was going running smooth. It seemed to me like they are on a mission to make sure this concept works and that everyone is happy.
The ship is huge with so many places to eat, drink and relax you can't do it all in a week. I figured the card room would be empty so I had a poker game organized during the days at sea. It was packed with people using it so we had to play out on our own deck. Things like a library, cinema, basketball courts etc were things I never got to. I barely made it to Las Ramblas for free hors d'oeuvre and two for one cocktails. Take the Karaoke Bar as an example. We had a gas but they also provide private rooms for up to 12 people to make a fool of yourselves in private.
The food was great throughout. Yes, I didn't like my live lobster but so what, they took it back and I didn't starve. Out of every other meal I had I was very pleased. I was real confused when I heard people say oh I wish the weather was better. I don't know what they were drinking or smoking but we had partly cloudy days with the occasional rain shower that lasted for 15 minutes. I liked it when it clouded up as you didn't burn as fast. The seas were calm with minimal rocking. I heard people complaining about Fanning Island. We loved its authenticity. Were these peoples heads in a bag when they read where they were going and how long they would be on each island? If you don't like what NCL offers stay on the regular Caribbean cruises that visit the same islands and sell you jewelry and t-shirts. Wow, not one person wanted to braid my ladies hair on this cruise. I'm not a lackey for NCL so save your breath. I'm simply a realist who spends more time enjoying my vacation than finding something to complain about.
I only went to one show and really liked it. Previous posters complained that the seats in the Stardust were too close together and your knees would hit the chair in the front. I totally disagree because there was plenty of room and the sight lines made every seat a good one.
We were spoiled with a Penthouse suite in the front. NCL really does a better job than Carnival Suites in size and class when it comes to that type of cabin. Arnie the butler was there when we needed him and Ann the concierge was a big help.
Elaine in the Internet Cafe was also helpful setting up an account and gave me some real good tips on were to go in Maui. Her Internet access was easy to use.
Can I suggest as you go to dinner or even lunch bring some cash with you. When you find that waiter that gives you real good service tip them an extra $10 and ask for their table the next time you return. The last day of the cruise I went back to Dingo and Louis to give them something. and they were pleasantly surprised.
I even tipped my room steward and his helper extra as he did a great job. I liked the idea of the tips coming out on your sail and sign card because it made things so easy. I went down early Sunday morning to correct an item on my bill and there were very few in line so I am assuming there wasn't a lot of cheapskates trying to eliminate their tips. So many times on previous cruises you would see empty seats in the dining room the last night because people were too cheap.
I think NCL has a great idea with Freestyle Dining. In my opinion all the petty gripes would go away if they simply made all the restaurants no additional charge. Can it really cost that much more to make a filet mignon in Le Bistro vs. a regular dining room. Then all the whiners who feel they can't afford $10 for a different meal in a unique setting would have nothing to say and people could still enjoy the concept of dining when they want.
We, My wife Janet and myself were quite concerned while heading to Hawaii because on the way over we had read 9 different reviews about this ship others had written. We found all but one were very negative to the point that I felt like turning around and heading home.
I will ( in order to keep this review relatively short ) get right to the point. We neither work for or have any affilaition with the cruise line other than we have been on ten other cruises and have our likes and dislikes like all do. We have been on The Dream ( twice ) and the Norway last year. The others were other carriers. Our bottom line is for this cruise: Go and have fun, we liked the ship 100% the staff 95%, the food 98% and the itinerary 75%.
We truly enjoyed this cruise, it gave us time to relax. The Fanning Island situation (going over 1000 miles one way ) did seem hard to figure, but they have to go to another country because of the Jones law created because they are not an American cruise company. Wereally made the best of this situation and enjoyed the time, and the people of the island were really nice and the cruise line really tried hard in this situation and many others to make it as nice as possible under the circumstances. We could see this extra effort in many other things they did also. We also could not use tenders in Maui Lahaina and went to the other side of the island. The cruise line supplied really nice buses which ran all day long to bring and take people to Lahaina. All in all, we had a great time and as for the reviews I read from others, I'm sure they were factual at the time, but they are really trying hard to improve and in our book, did a great job of it.
We wish we had read the reviews on this cruise prior to sailing. My sister and her husband traveled with us. This was cruise #4 for us and cruise #5 for them. This was by far the worst travel experience we have had to date! It would have been nice had our travel agent warned us it was the rainy season in Hawaii and the seas were rough.We boarded in Maui not Honolulu. The difference in our welcome aboard was very different. No welcome, no pictures just rushed.Check-in at the reception desk took three people and over an hour.Our Itinerary was changed from Kona to Hilo due to rough Seas and docking problems.
When we arrived in Kauai and tryed to disembark for our tour we were told our ship cards were invalid:we needed to check in. I thought we did.So back to the front desk, this happened on three separate occasions on this cruise.In Honolulu we returned to our adjoining balcony rooms to find tuxedos hanging outside the closet our balcony doors wide open TVs on and the beds totally rumpled and cigar smoke eminating from both the rooms.I calledthe front desk asked to speak to a supervisor and was disconnected.Kept calling and finally after 45 minutes a security representative arrived to investigate. Security had no explaination for this and said they would get back to us. This breech of security was totally mishandled instead of NLC making us feel safe and secure, we were made to feel as if we had done something wrong.We never felt safe in our cabins after that. By the way security finally got back to us 3 DAYS later with the explanation that the surveillance film was inconclusive.I told the head of security we had had high expectations of such a respected cruise line and that so far NLC had not lived up to them.We understand the reasons for going to Fanning Island but with the tendering process some people were only on the Island for 30 minutes and had to get back so we could set sail again.
Free style cruising is not what it is cracked up to be, if you don't mind waiting for and hour or more to be seated, and a less then attentive staff and meals that are just edible then you will like your dining experience.Breakfasts in the dining rooms were a disgrace. We waited over 45 minutes on two mornings for coffee creamer,our toast or hash browns never made it to our table after numerous requests.The food was either under cooked or cold.We were very disappointed with the Dining experience on this cruise. Hassle free tipping was convenient, but we found most of the staff did not go the extra yard to smile or be more helpful.My sister slipped and fell walking from the Stardust Theartre and NO ONE on the staff asked if she was injured or if they could assist us in any way. One waiter stood and watch us as we picked her up crying!
Disembark at your leisure meant that we were locked out of our rooms on deck #10 by 10:00 AM. Thats right our ship cards no longer worked again. Our cabin steward finally let us in to get our belongings. The positive is that this is a beautiful ship the facilities on board are remarkable and eventually we hope the staff will improve on it's service. If you really want to see Hawaii this is not the way to go, NLC's Itinerary doesn't give you enough time on the islands, your at sea most of the time going to and from Fanning Island.We wrote a letter to customer service at NLC and are awaitng a reply! I quess after reading the review from Alan I doubt we will get a response.The next cruise we book will be a RCCL or Princess or Celebrity not NCL!!
I have read reviews of this ship on this site and several others and I would like to say:
ANY POSITIVE REVIEWS OF THIS SHIP ARE WRITTEN BY FRIENDS, RELATIVES AND EMPLOYEES OF NCL.
FRIENDS DO NOT LET FRIENDS CRUISE NCL!
My first bad experience with NCL occurred just after I booked the cruise for myself and my five teenage children (three staterooms). A few days after I booked NCL reduced the price by $500 per person with a balcony stateroom. My travel agent, Ruth, called NCL for us and found that they wouldn't let her upgrade our room or refund any money. I would like to add that she ( our travel agent) has several times found special fares for us and negotiated refunds (HAL, Princess). Ruth then gave us NCL's phone # and asked us to call. I then did and was put on hold numerous occasions and transferred to several departments. Eventually I reached someone who promised me a refund! Then was cut-off!!! I called back but couldn't find that person again and I was then told that only my travel agent could call and that this is theirprocedure. I called Ruth about what happened and she said that she would try her best. Several days past and Ruth called to say that NCL would not deal with her and gave her this option - Cancel the cruise, take a $500.00 p/p penalty and rebook the room. $500.00 p/p times seven is $3,500.00! I'm stupid I said OK. I have three children at three universities and two at high school and four different schedules to balance. We went from outside staterooms to staterooms with balconies. Thanks to Ruth we received better rooms at least!
Rooms - small, but adequate for seven days, or less. More than seven would be too small. The rooms are very, very noisy. The ceiling creak in the corners. Out of the three rooms we had booked ours was the worst. I complained about it being unbearable at times to Reception. Of course, they did nothing. More on this later. My wife said she dreamed that the mirror crashed down on us and woke up due to the noise level.
Ship - beautiful, well appointed, but flawed. NCL did not take into account the rough waters of Hawaii. The floors and ceilings creak in every room. Light sleepers will not enjoy this cruise just because of this. I have been in some rough water and on boats that weren't so quiet (Crystal Harmony, Royal Princess), but nothing can compare to the level of noise on this ship.
Freestyle Dining - not well executed. Two and half hour dinners and less than attentive staff makes for a miserable experience. Food was the worst on any cruise line that I have experienced. You are forced to partake in alternative dining since the main dining rooms is packed. Christmas Eve and Christmas the wait was horrible. Of course, it does not feel good with people in the dining rooms wearing beach attire when you make it a point for the family to dress formally on Holy days.
Service - This ship was clearly not ready to serve customers. Rude service at the Blue Lagoon. Restaurant staff that was not well trained. Manager with clipboards running around talking to staff about their shifts and job details (I never saw managers on any cruise talking in front of customers about this ever). Bar servers that danced at events blocking the view of passengers to the band. It goes on and on.
Itinerary - Fanning Island. Didn't see it. The reason - bad water conditions entering the atoll. BS, pardon my language. The waters were calm. We didn't leave the boat so we were at sea for four days straight. The straight dope - the sea from Fanning Island to Maui was going to be rough so the Captain decided to forgo landing so that the tours would be on time in Maui. The previous cruise had stopped, but was late to Maui, canceling the majority of the tours. Big money loser.
Cruise Director - All of the Cruise Directors I have had were fantastic, except one.
Entertainment - shows are short, then...good bands (Ironics are very good), but bad disco. DJ is not experienced and interested in playing what he wants to hear and not what people want to dance. Been to the disco and watched people go to bed. No night life.
It pains me to write a bad review about something that I truly enjoy. I cruise three times a year and bring my family with me whenever possible. I wish that NCL would become a cruise line that will be competitive to Carnival, Princess and RCCL. This is not the case. I was lied to and felt cheated by the level of service of this cruise. This is one cruise to avoid.