Us: middle-aged. We have previously cruised NCL 3-4 times (Sky, Sun and Dawn). We like the flexibility of Free-Style Cruising.
Why the POA? Our goal: We really wanted to see as much of Hawaii as we could and as easily as we could. The fact that we were on a cruise was very much secondary to the fact that we were in Hawaii. No other cruiseine offers as much time in Hawaii as NCL. Our only other alternative would have been to fly between islands.
Background with Hawaii: My husband and I previously vacationed in Hawaii (flying to Maui, the Big Island (Hawaii) and Kauai). We had spent very little time on Oahu - so one of our goals was to spend some time there.
Our friend had never been to Hawaii before.
Comparing POA cruise to flying to Maui, Kauai and the Big Island: Overall we found the cruise more relaxing than trying to fly to 3-4 different islands. On our last vacation we found that we had spent significant time in airports, checking in to new accommodation and finding food. POA saved us from these concerns. Yes we had more time when we flew between islands but it seemed that when we did that we "wasted" a lot of time with travel and accommodation details (AT LEAST 1/2 day per island). With POA each day we went ashore with only our vacation fun to worry about. SO - if it's your first time in Hawaii I STRONGLY recommend the POA cruise. It will give you the flavour of each of the main islands. Then if you come back in the future you will have an idea of which one or two islands, you would like to stay on.
Comparing POA cruise to previous cruises on NCL and other lines:
Overall it was just fine. Honestly I don't know what on earth some people are complaining about. The service was for the most part friendly and good. The food was what you expect to get from a mid-range cruiseline. Did we have a few problems - sure. Did they "ruin" our vacation - of course not. I will discuss them in the main review.
Overall rating of cruise: Very good
Why: itinerary simply can't be beat for Hawaii and no major issues with cruise itself.
Pre-cruise: We arrived in Honolulu from Toronto Canada on the Sunday before the cruise and stayed at the 'Ilima Hotel for 6 nights.
'Ilima Hotel - good budget accommodation in Waikiki - about a 5-10 minute walk from the beach. It suited 3 adults travelling together perfectly. We had large suite with a king bed and a double bed and a full bath and kitchen. We really liked that we could open the windows and had windows facing 2 directions. Staff were exceptionally helpful. Bear in mind though that this is NOT a luxury beach hotel. The pool is tiny. There is NO on-site restaurant BUT for us it was perfect. We used Johnnycab for all our transfers and highly recommend them.
On Oahu we saw Pearl Harbour, Iolani Palace, Bishop Museum, Waikiki beach area, climbed Diamond Head, toured the North Shore. I will provide more details in Ports
We arrived shortly after noon. Check-in was quick and efficient. You may be told that there will be no-where to leave your carry-ons on-board and that you will have to carry them around the ship until your cabin is ready - this is not true. Our cabin was ready before 2PM.
We went to the Skyline Dining room where we had a pleasant, relaxed light lunch. Service was excellent. This was the only time we ate in a dining room all week - simply because on this cruise, the buffet suited us better (normally we eat in the dining room). Afterwards we ambled around the ship until our cabin was announced as ready.
We had an obstructed Ocean view cabin on Deck 7 - 7602. It had 2 lower beds which could be joined and two upper bunks. It was a good size for 3 people but I think would be crowded for 4 (unless it was 2 adults and 2 children).
Our "obstructed" view was actually NOT very obstructed and our window was almost floor to ceiling - VERY pleased with this.
The "not very good stuff" re: cabin:
Although it should have been obvious that 3 people were in the cabin (3 Latitudes letters in the cabin), it was only set up for 2. It took us FOUR phone calls over a number of hours to get this fixed - not a very timely response. I know they are very busy on embarkation day BUT we even had a hard time getting a confirmation that "something" would be done before bedtime.
Cabin the rest of the week - no problems. Our stewardess did a good job - so after our initial annoyance we still ended up tipping extra at the end of the week.
Basically we dined at the buffet because we were tired after each busy day and we just wanted to eat and fall in bed. It was actually pretty good - probably the best buffet I have encounted on a cruiseship. What we especially liked: Breakfast - omlet station, dinner - carvery, crepe station, Indian veggie food selection (we love Indian food), "special" hot dessert next to ice cream (the rice pudding and cherry cobbler were delicious). Tables were cleaned quite promptly. Staff were exceptionally friendly and helpful. Yes there were times when it was crowded but really - one could ALWAYS find somewhere to eat - even on busy disembarkation day. Only real complaint - the area tended to be FREEZING - wear a sweater.
We went to only 2 shows. The Polynesian show and Toby Beau. The Toby Beau group (a rock group) were really excellent and I wished we had had the time to see more of their shows.
I will do the Ports of Call seperately.