This was cruise #6 for my wife & me. We have previously sailed in the Caribbean on Premier-Oceanic (now defunct, was the official cruise line of Disney when we sailed on it back in 1989), Royal Caribbean-Sovereign of the Seas, Celebrity-Century, and Windjammer-Polynesia. We also sailed on Princess-Dawn in Alaska.
We were in room 10730, an outside stateroom with a balcony on deck 10. The room was above average; the shower and fixtures are very nice. However, the patio sliding doors are a major pain. When you go outside on patio, you can slide door shut, but not lock it. As the ship tilts from right to left and back, the door slams open and shut. If left open, all the air conditioning escapes from room. We complained twice without any response. Our neighbor's patio doors slamming back and forth woke us up several mornings. Eventually, we figured a way to jam the tail end of my scuba fin in door and prevent it from sliding. This problem is probably more acute in the front and rear of ship than the sides.
Cruising down to Fanning, the sea was rough. I heard it should be calmer in the summer. How rough? Well they had to drain the small pool in Spa area because the water was splashing out and hitting ceiling. The rocking was from the front to the rear, not side to side. Neither of us has ever been seasick and it did not bother us in the least. I find it soothing to sleep with the ship rocking.
I like the concept of Freestyle dining as an option. They advertise eat when you want, where you want. That is not reality. This was a Christmas cruise and it was jam packed; 1800 adults & 600 kids. Dinners on Christmas Eve and day were nightmares in main dining rooms. People were stacked in stairways complaining. I know some waited over 2 hours. Of course, they were some parties of 20 to 25 people and this backed things up. My wife & I learned it was best to eat late. We would typically eat appetizers in Las Ramblas on Deck 13 (very good), go to early show, lounge around at then eat dinner at 9:30PM. At that time the crowds had thinned. Also, when booking reservations at alternative restaurants (we dined at La Trattoria and Endless summer), the only times available were late around 9:30PM. So, if you are flexible on when you eat, it is not that bad. We found the food to be good, not exceptional and not on same level as some of the other cruise ships we have sailed. We never dined in the pay restaurants. Not once, did I think the service was exceptional. Occasionally it was good, but mostly it was slow. In traditional cruising, you have a wait staff that knows you and the little things, like learning you want ice tea and bringing it before you ask. With Freestyle, you never get to know your wait staff and never receive this personalized service.
The Star tenders at Kona, Fanning, and Lahaina in Maui. You will dock at Nawillwilli in Kauai and in Honolulu. If you book an early shore excursion through NCL, you will leave ship on first tenders and do not need to get a tender ticket. Your shore excursion ticket will list that its serves as a tender ticket. They glance to ensure you have these tickets before letting you off ship.
On the 12-23-01 sailing, no passengers were allowed to go ashore at Fanning Island. It was for "our safety". It was a rough when we arrived but by 9:00AM it had calmed down. At 9:15AM, they announced the decision not to go ashore. I think it was because they knew from the week before they would not be able to get everyone off and then back on in time. So, they played the safety trump card. You don't have to refund any money if you make a decision based on safety. We did complain to Front Desk manager and asked for same consideration as 12-16 sailing, $200 per cabin credit. We were denied. However, they did grant us $150 credit for another problem we discussed.
My wife & I are fairly active. We went kayaking and snorkeling in Kona, booked a Luau on our own in Maui, went scuba diving in Kauai, and took some pictures from ship of Fanning :.). In Honolulu we stayed an extra couple of days and went snorkeling in Hanauma Bay, Hike up Diamond Head, drove up and saw waves at North Shore, and visited Pearl Harbor. Kauai was by our favorite Island, less crowded and more lush and tropical.
Disembarkation was typically of all cruise lines despite NCL's promises of a relaxing day. Luggage was to be set out by Midnight. They said we had to settle account from 5:30 AM to 7:30AM, which is way too early. Reality was they did not even delivery finalized bill to room till after 7:30AM. It was correct, so we did not have to go down to front desk.
What about the positives? The shows were the best of any cruise ship we have sailed. The seating at show is great; stadium style seating with no bad views. They have a lecturer on board discussing Hawaiian and Polynesian cultures through which I learned a lot. Of course, the ship is gorgeous. The spa area is great; they have a wet steam room, dry sauna, two different hot tubs, and a small pool. These are free to use even if you do not book spa services. Also, they do not allow children in spa areas, so it is a good place to escape and leave the crowds behind.
Overall, I would not recommend this cruise as a good way to see the Hawaiian Islands. If you like days at sea, and don't care to see Fanning Island, and don't mind slow dining service and waiting in lines to eat, then book this cruise. Otherwise, I would suggest visiting Hawaii without cruising until they repel the Jones Act.