My friend and I had been looking forward to this cruise since we booked it in early September 2002. This was to be a once-in-a-lifetime trip due to the expense and travel time to get to Hawaii from Michigan. We selected this cruise specifically for its itinerary. It included all the islands we wanted to see and included an overnight in Maui. We booked the cruise then made reservations for rental cars and independent excursions in the ports we were to visit. We also booked a snorkel/dolphin watch tour through NCL's advance reservation website. All of our plans had to be cancelled including what was to be the highlight of our trip, a helicopter tour of Kuaui.
We are both experienced cruisers, so we did not expect a perfect cruise. However, neither did we expect so many things to go wrong. At one point, out of six consecutive days at sea, we had only 5.5 hours on land. Ultimately, out of 62 scheduled hours in port we actually ended up with only 46.5 hours in port-we lost a full 25% of our port time (and that's not including time lost waiting to tender).
Embarkation went fine. We arrived at the pier at 12:30 pm and there was no line yet to check in. We checked in and got on the ship right away. We had a CC cabin, 9212. The floor-to-ceiling window was great! We had plenty of room to store our things. We had a complimentary bottle of champagne from NCL that was an unexpected treat. Things started out very well.
March 25 was our day in Kona. We were an hour and a half late tendering into Kona due to high swells. Our attitude at that point was, oh well, that happens on cruises-a minor inconvenience. When we did start tendering, we found the tender process to take longer than on other cruises we had been on. We rented a car in Kona and drove down the coastline. We visited a coffee farm, Greenwell Farms, and took the tour. We also went to the Kahalui Candy Factory where they gave us samples of their chocolates-great stuff! As a portent of things to come, the driver who shuttled us from the rental car agency back to the pier said, "You guys are on the Wind? Well, see you soon!" He went on to say that ship often has to turn around and come back to Kona.
The next day, March 26, we were well on our way to Fanning Island when the Captain announced there was a medical emergency and we had to turn back to Kona. We did not begrudge, nor did we hear anyone else begrudge, having to turn back to get medical help for the ill passenger. We were at least 12 hours out of Kona when we turned around. The passenger was airlifted off the ship around 9:30 am on March 27. We did not learn what our new itinerary would be until well after the passenger was air lifted off. The Captain did mention that we had turned back around, so we were left to assume we were still going to Fanning, 24 hours behind schedule. It was much later that night that we learned of our new itinerary-an extra day at sea, Fanning Island, 2 days at sea, Hilo (a day late), one day at Maui instead of two, then Kuaui as planned. We lost a full day, 8 am to 10 pm, in Maui to keep our day on Fanning Island, which was shortened to 5.5 hours. While we understood and accepted the need to go back to Kona for the medical emergency, we wished we had some input or at least an explanation as to why the new itinerary was chosen.
The captain informed us we would receive a barbeque on our extra sea day and a two-hour open bar as an apology for the extra day at sea/lost day on Maui. We later learned that we would not receive the barbeque that had been planned at Fanning Island, so the 'extra' barbeque at sea wasn't extra at all. To top it off, the lines were so long at the barbeque we held off getting in line until ½ hour before it ended. After standing in the hot, near-equatorial sun for over 20 minutes, there were no ribs or shrimp left so we missed out on even that. The bars were so crowded we barely managed to get two drinks each. Not much of an apology in my book!
't thrilled, either. As I mentioned, we were given no explanation as to why the new itinerary was chosen. From my viewpoint, the itinerary changes were to enhance NCL's bottom line, not the passengers' cruise experience. NCL avoided a $250 per passenger penalty by going to Fanning, and we got a couple of free drinks for the missed port. (I'd be very surprised if NCL didn't have insurance that would cover that penalty.) We spoke with the jewelry shop's personnel on our way back to Hilo, and when asked they told us that sales were booming-people were shopping because they were bored & captive. It occurred to me that NCL probably makes more profit from onboard sales (bingo, shops, drinks, art auctions, etc.) on sea days than they would have made on their share of the shore tours from the port that was cancelled. In addition, NCL did not have to pay port charges for one day, for which we were not reimbursed. Instead we got two free drinks. So now I'm getting a bit upset, but I'm bound & determined to make the best out of it.
We did get to Fanning and we really enjoyed it. The island was beautiful and the locals put on a nice show. We had heard through the grapevine that the planned barbeque on Fanning would not be held. There was no notice given of that, so we asked at Reception and they confirmed it. I don't know how (when) others found out about it.
This is a good place to add my thoughts about the ship since we had spent so much time on her by now. We had cabin 9212. Our cabin steward & assistant were top-notch; however, they were not able to get our toilet clean. It looked as though it needed a good scrubbing. We did have a frequent problem with our toilet not flushing. It stopped flushing at least once every other day. We were told that someone on our line kept plugging it up. Perhaps the sewer line problems caused our toilet to look so dirty. The walls to our room were paper-thin. We could not only hear the TV and the people talking next door, we could make out the words they were saying. We did like the curtain that separated the sleeping and living areas of the cabin (my friend likes to stay up late reading). There was plenty of shelf space in the bathroom, but I've been in phone booths that were bigger than our shower. We noticed a strong, musty smell in our cabin and in various areas of the ship. Some said it was a sewage smell, but I didn't think it was quite that bad.
While I found the food to be good, I found the food on all my other cruises to be much better. The exception was Le Bistro. Our meal there was very good. We found two dining room staff members that we loved-Amelia & Chilette in the Terraces Dining Room. They were among the best wait staff I've ever had at sea or on land. We really enjoyed Freestyle Dining and rarely had to wait for a table. The Sports Bar was the buffet restaurant, but it was nowhere near large enough. It was often difficult to find a seat..
The Chocoholic Buffet was great, although the scheduling didn't make much sense. We were able to attend, but many people were upset because they stood in a long line but didn't get in. The Buffet was held from 3 to 4 in the Four Seasons Dining Room, and the hours couldn't be extended to accommodate everyone because they had to set up for dinner. We had the best chocolate mousse there; it was like eating a chocolate cloud!
We found the shop personnel to be very friendly, especially in the jewelry shop. The port consultant, Matt, was not very knowledgeable. When we asked him for a recommendation for a black sand beach, he said he had heard about them, but had never been. He had no information about them.
I found the entertainment on the ship to be very good, and I liked the cruise director, Steven James. We loved everything Rudi was in, especially the amazing Power of Two show. We saw one production show, Forever Fame, and it was typical cruise fare, perhaps a bit better. The Matagi Production Company, the Polynesian dance group, was excellent.
The Stardust showroom was a terrible venue. It was so full of chairs I had the thought that when they stretched the ship and expanded occupancy, rather than expanding the size of the show room they just crammed in more chairs. It seemed that there still wasn't enough seating, so people were arriving an hour before the show to get seats. We missed one show entirely because there was no room left.
Due to the itinerary change, we used the Internet cafe to rearrange our rental car in Hilo and cancel the Old Lahaina Luau we had planned for our cancelled day in Maui. As I mentioned prior, it seemed as though the changes that NCL made to our itinerary were all in their favor. That is, they picked an itinerary that would avoid extra cost to them while allowing them to generate greater revenues. They didn't reimburse our port charges for the missed port, so I felt the least they could do was to waive their Internet fee so we could cancel or change our existing reservations. I did manage to get the Internet fee waived after complaining to the Purser, but it wasn't easy. Prior to logging in, we asked the Internet manager if he could waive the Internet fee to cancel reservations we would otherwise be charged for. He said he could not do it. When I asked the Purser whether they could remove the charge, they told me that only the Internet manager could do that. They contacted the Internet Manager who told us that he could only cancel the charge within 24 hours of the use-a complete reversal of what he told me earlier. The Sr. Purser overheard my frustration and called my cabin later to tell me she was authorizing removal of the fee.
Back to the ports: We were now scheduled for Hilo on April 1. The night before, we learned that we would have to go through customs before leaving the ship. I was very disturbed to see that customs was not scheduled to begin earlier than our port time of 8 am. Those of us who did not schedule ship tours had to wait until 8:50 before going through customs. This meant that even though Hilo was one of just two ports in which we didn't have to tender, we still had to wait to leave the ship. And after spending six days at sea with only a few hours on land, we were eager to get off the ship as soon as possible. If NCL couldn't arrange to have customs start sooner, they should have switched the Kona & Hilo stops to make Kona the first port after Fanning. We had to wait to tender in Kona, so it wouldn't have added any more wait time to do customs there. This was just poor planning that caused a delay that should have been avoided. By now it's getting harder to roll with the flow, but I'm still gonna have fun, dagnabit!
Had a great time in Hilo (April 1)-we rented a car and saw Volcanoes National Park and the lava flow (okay, ooze). It was really incredible to see brand new earth. We also found a beautiful black sand beach near the lava flow.
We had reserved one excursion through NCL prior to our cruise via their Internet system. We selected a dolphin/snorkel tour for (what was then) our second day in Maui. We received our tickets on board, but didn't look too closely at them. After our first day in Maui was cancelled, we were informed that all first day tours were automatically changed to the same or a similar tour on the second Maui day. That didn't concern us, we thought, because our tour was for the second day. At that time we looked closely at our tickets and saw they were for the first day, not the second day as we had ordered. Mistakes happen, right? Well, we learned that the mistake was that the website did not have an up-to-date excursion listing. The tour we booked was not offered on the second day. (Why bother having an advanced reservation system if you aren't going to keep it current?) Since the tour was for the first day, NCL automatically swapped it for a different tour on the second day that started later, lasted longer, and cost more than our original tour-unacceptable to us on all three points. Although we were told we could cancel any tour NCL booked us on that we didn't want, we still had to cancel more than 24 hours prior to avoid a cancellation fee. I can't believe they would attempt to enforce a cancellation penalty on tours that passengers didn't even book!
We got to Maui (April 2) with nothing booked. We booked a whale watch tour with Pacific Whale Foundation when we got to shore. Since we had some time, we did a bit of shopping. I had a bit of trouble-my pocket was picked and I lost my traveler's checks and some jewelry. After a brief period of mourning my jewels (and a stiff Mai Tai), I decided not to let it ruin my vacation. We went ahead with the whale watch we had booked, and it was one of the highlights of our trip! We had whales surface right by our boat. It was just incredible. It took the sting out of my earlier loss.
After returning to the ship, we learned that due to a mechanical problem with an engine, we would not make our call in Kuaui. It was not surprising that we had an engine problem-they had to run the ship faster to get to Fanning. That meant, of course, we would miss out on what was to be the climax of our trip, a helicopter tour. After trying to shrug off disappointments the whole trip, this was just about the last straw. We were not told until the next day that we would spend that day in Maui from 8 am to 10 pm. Then I noticed that although the departure time was listed as 10 pm, the last tender from shore was at 9:00, not 9:30. At all our other tender ports, the last tender was a half hour before departure, not one hour. So now we've lost a half hour for no apparent reason. Then came the next announcement--we would not arrive back in Maui until 10 am instead of 8 am because we didn't have enough time to make fresh water. Many of us questioned whether we could have made it to Kuaui after all. To make matters worse, the ship did not offer any shore tours-everyone was on their own. None of us could make it into port early enough to book any morning snorkel tours, and afternoon tours were not available. And, of course, we got late tender tickets and didn't get to shore until noon. Okay, now I'm officially PO'd at NCL, no more trying to shake it off. And from talking to other passengers, it seemed that most of them were just as upset.
As I mentioned above, we were not expecting a perfect cruise. However, we did fully expect that if things went wrong, NCL would do their best to make things right. The two free drinks we managed to get from the crowded bars did not make things right. I have sent a letter to NCL asking for a refund of a portion of our cruise fare and reimbursement for the port charges for our missed port. I will post their response when and if I get one. I will hold off on my decision whether to cruise NCL again until I see what, if anything, they offer me. I irks me that I have to ask for them to refund our port charges-we didn't get to port so we shouldn't have to pay that tax.
NCL Wind, 3/03; Carnival Legend, 12/02; Zenith, 1/02; R5, 5/01; Destiny, 9/00; Westerdam, 1/00; Sensation, 11/99; Tropicale, 11/98