We were not fortunate enough to be on a Celebrity filled cruise nor did we get an invitation to do a "free" two day sail aboard NCL America. We paid fair market value for a below market value experience.
While embarkation went smoothly aside from the long lines for lei greetings and photos, nothing really prepared us for the rest of the week. We were greeted upon boarding by a sign that said the ship would sail at 7:00 that evening (7/23/05) we were still waiting to sail at 11:30pm. It seems that NCL thought it was important to hold a ship with 2000+ paying customers for 27 people who had a bad connection out of Denver. Also, there was no communication about this by the Captain, we found out later from several crew members. This not being bad enough, the Captain tried to make up time and run the engines a little harder only to find out they couldn't take it. Thus, we were 4 hours late into Hilo because of the combined late departure and engine problems. So needless to say there were many cancelled tours or re-booked excursions so 20-25 tour buses getting in and out of Volcano National Park and the Macadamia Nut Factory made for a pretty crowded experience. Not to mention I had really wanted to see a waterfall and this part of the excursion was cancelled.
Let's give a brief run down of the ship. Since it was a new ship, 3 previous cruising prior to ours, you would have thought it should have been grand. While the public areas and the dining rooms were well appointed, the rest of the ship lost something. The cabins were small for two people (we had a BE category on deck 8 with a lanai). Storage for suitcase was limited and closet space was non-existent. The bathroom had less room in it than may bathrooms in a travel trailer. There were plumbing problems evident by the smell of sewage on deck 4 as you walked through. Housekeeping was a whole other issue. While our cabin attendant was adequate, she was by far superior then the cabin attendant for others in our group. One couple walked in to their cabin on the first day to dirty glasses in the bathroom and a "special" surprise in the toilet, while the couple next to us found panties and a dress left behind from the previous cruise.
The second island was Maui. The first day was good the tour guide on Polynesian tours (by the way it is owned by NCL) was informative and entertaining. The West Maui tour was interesting and fun and would recommend it for a low activity tour to families. The second day we tried to Snorkel Molokini crater through a shore excursion book through NCL. Unfortunately, NCL booked a boat that would hold 200+ people and only had the excursion timed for 11:15am. With the trade winds coming through Maui everything we read said to snorkel early and go in a smaller type boat. We were never able because of the winds to get into a protected area with the depth of the hull of the boat. So, while NCL did refund the price of the excursion, my second day in Maui was spent on a boat ride out and back with no snorkeling and just the thrill of riding around with 150 people I didn't know. Suggestion would be to book your own tour independently on the second day unless NCL changes their greedy ways.
Our forth day on board we docked in Kona. This is the only port where you are tendered ashore. You have to have a tender ticket with a time for the transport off the ship to the island. Bear in mind, NCL tours have priority. You will still get off the ship in good time there is just a patience game that needs to be played. There are two tenders going back and forth all day. Just remember if you want to catch the Chocolate Buffet you need to be on the ship at 2:30pm the afternoon you are in Kona or you are out of luck since it is only offered once for 1 hour.
We had two final days in Kauai which I would recommend the Na Pali Explorer excursion hands down. You can book it independently and there are numerous rental car company vans outside of the port authority area for your convenience. We were suppose to view the Na Pali Coastline on Thursday evening, but this was changed. We left Kauai 3 hours early on Friday to do the Coastline viewing also enabling NCL to make sure we arrived into Honolulu in time for disembarkation and to make sure they could get their engine trouble looked at. I might not have resented this if any concession on the cruise line had been made. There were no additional facilities opened to easy the crush of people on the two pool bars and the Gold Rush that was open.
I could go on and on with complaints of NCL but suffice it to say that NCL is a Motel 6 experience operating in paradise. I would jump at the chance to return to Hawaii but I would never consider a cruise there again. NCL acted like once they had my money they had no other obligation to fulfill the contract of what I had purchased. While I will cruise again, I will never open my checkbook for NCL or NCL America. While we planned and looked forward to this for over a year, I can truthfully say that while NCL did not change my idea that Hawaii is paradise, they allowed me to realize that an inept company should not try to do a job they are unprepared to do.