As we were the beneficiaries of so many wonderful tips from the CC boards we wanted to share our review of the NCL POA here and give everyone our experience and insights during the trip. But I will apologize in advance for how long this will be. Before we give you thoughts and reviews we should let you know that we are active adults who enjoy travelling as well as our budget permits. We chose NCL POA because we felt it was the most efficient and cost effective way to have a taste of the most of the Hawaiian Islands.
We stayed in Oahu 3 nights prior to the cruise. We were lucky to have stayed on the North shore of Oahu at a B&B. Waikiki is not for us. Using recommendations from CC we used Thrifty Car Rental in all islands. However, we did not know that Thrifty is not directly on site at the airport in Honolulu. Not a huge deal but since we had travelled direct from the NY/NJ area 11.50 hours on a flight, it just added to the length. That being said we were thrilled with Thrifty on all the other Islands.
Also, I cannot stress strongly enough -- figure out your destinations. PACK your own GPS AND PRE-PROGRAM YOUR GPS before leaving home. This will save enormous amounts of time and frustrations with spelling Hawaiian road names.
Also we purchased all of the "Ultimate Guide" Books by Andrew Dougherty. There is one for each island. Hey you are spending all this money to get to Hawaii and take the cruise. We found the maps and the information in these books invaluable compared to their actual cost.
Day 1 Oahu
Our target goals were a nice drive around the Island with some highlights. Keep in mind our base of operation was the North shore. So stop 1 Ho'Omaluhia Botanical Gardens. End of Lulu road, Kaneohe We packed nice picnic lunch and some wine and had a lovely drive-thru and picnic here. Stop #2 the Byodo-In Temple, Kanehoe. After Byodo, drove the scenic Drive 83 on the windward side and loved some great areas here especially the area near Chinamen's Hat. Kualoa Regional Park/Chinaman's Hat (nice for pictures). The Polynesian Cultural Center is also along this road but we did not visit so we have no specific information here. Along Route 83 in Kahuku is where the famous roadside "shrimp trucks" are -- great for lunch.
Dinner was at Turtle Bay. There are several restaurants here. Be prepared this property was very dark at night and parking was a challenge. But we found it worth it for a wonderful seaside dinner at Ola.
Day 2 Oahu Pearl Harbor Tour Day / Ko Olino
We debated doing this as our final day (when we disembarked from POA). But I am so happy we did it pre-cruise. IMPORTANT -- you can now purchase tickets to the USS Arizona Memorial ONLINE. This is an excellent thing to do but does require you to commit to being on site at a specific time. We should note throughout our trip we found that the earlier you were out in the morning the better off you were from a crowd management perspective. Never was that more true than at PH. At a minimum plan to spend 5 hours here. There is a lot to cover and there are not any other places in the US that reflect WWII history like this. Give it the amount of time you need to.
Aulani -- Disney's new Hawaii Resort Ko Olino.
We are Disney people (even though we have no children). This was a beautiful area to visit. I had pre-scheduled a spa visit. Hubby hung out at bar and walked around both Aulani and the adjacent Marriott. Dinner was at Ama, Ama at Aulani and we had made reservations several weeks in advance so we were guaranteed an amazing table at this ocean side restaurant as well. We were treated to a long view of the adjacent Marriott's entertainment too.
Cruise Departure Day (Saturday)
Make your life easier and do all the online NCL paperwork that they suggest. Have all this printed and with you especially if you're dropping off luggage in advance (see below).
We had originally planned to tour Oahu more and then decided we were already a bit toured out and with the drive from North Shore to the Aloha Tower area of Honolulu we would just head to the ship. IMPORTANT -- since we already had the rental car -- we FIRST dropped off our bags at the pier and then returned the rental car. This was great information we had gleaned from CC boards.
More IMPORTANT -- when we returned in the Thrifty shuttle there was no one on the pier to tell us that we did NOT have to wait on this incredibly long line of people with luggage. We were not the only ones -- several of us were waiting for more than 45 minutes before it was figured out. Poke around and ask questions. There was not a great deal of direction given.
But once we got through that we were breezed onto the ship. They do take a photo for fun with you as you enter the ship so be prepared for that if you are the type that likes to purchase these things. We chose the 11th deck after extensive CC research. We were happy with this decision although I had pre-cruise concerns. Actually easy access to many public areas including the pool, spa, buffet. Noise was not an issue but we made sure to choose a cabin further towards the front of the ship.
Packing tips for the POA
GPS system pre-programmed, Sunblock, ZIP LOCK BAGs, Packable COOLER. The ziplocks are for ice (you can ask your steward if you can have some -- be sure to tip for the service!). Rain Jacket (for Hilo!), some slightly warm jacket (for Hilo and the top of Haleakala). Plus of course Hawaiian wear -- bathing suits, short etc.
Dressing on the POA
While it was largely casual during the day ala Hawaii, in the evenings men do need long pants and a bit more formal look. There are strict rules on this in only two locations -- Liberty Dining Room and Jefferson's Bistro. That being said -- I would pack at least one dressy outfit to get into the vibe of "dress up or not" night on Board. We also felt when we participated in the on board entertainment we liked to be a little dressier.
Dining on the POA
So with all the reviews and knowing that we are serious foodies, we decided to pay up and eat at every one of the fee restaurants on the ship. Here is our advice on this and trust me we are tough customers. Choose wisely. We would NOT spend any money to return to Lazy J's Steakhouse. We highly recommend East meets West. We are just Ok with Little Italy but being from NJ/NY it is hard to compete. We loved the Jefferson's Bistro as a "over the top" experience. But what surprised us the most was the quality of the Liberty (general dining room). It was excellent and it was included in your cruise fare.
For breakfast we started with the Buffet which was less than impressive to us but we are often not buffet people. However for pure speed it was often helpful to get us hitting road quickly. But this plan went out the window when on the 2nd day we still could not find hot coffee or for that matter hot food. If you do choose the Aloha buffet for breakfast we encourage the use of the omelet station as it will be fresh and hot. Other breakfasts were at the general dining room and were excellent.
Entertainment on the POA
We loved Tim Kiminski the comedian -- try and catch his show. It was so popular they were standing out in the hallway. We also really enjoyed "Toby Beau" who did all sorts of great music -- the Eagles, Jimmy Buffet, the Beatles. We did not participate in the white hot party or much of the other entertainment.
Other Ship Tips....
There are awesome ice cream shakes (have to PAY extra) at the diner on board.
If you are a wine drinker, you can buy a bottle -- drink part of it and ask the ship to "store it" and you can ask for it to be retrieved from any other restaurant or bar on the ship. This changed how we drank on the ship and was great information. You will not be surprised to hear that our favorite bar was the Napa Wine Bar.
Day by Day Touring Schedules from the POA.
We chose to do NONE of the ships excursions. We are not the group type. Also we saved years for this trip and wanted to see as much of Hawaii as we could since we might never see it again. So each port we had our own rental car and our own plan. Here is our day by day itinerary for each Port:
Maui Day 1 -- Road to Hana.
Out of all the research we did -- this one day was the one I researched the most. There is much written and I found much of it correct. You cannot take the RTH on in your own rental car unless you are truly prepared for a rough ride (all the way around the RTH). You have to be a very confident/patient driver and you should be fine. Each person reading this will have to decide what is right for them. But for the pure adventure, my Hubby loved driving the RTH. In hindsight, I am very happy we did the entire loop but I can see where it is not for everyone.
Highly recommend getting the CD guide it made the RTH a true adventure and gave invaluable information along the way. http://ther2h.com/?gclid=CMT7odr6u7MCFUYw4Aodj1AAxA
We were very dedicated to being off the ship early as the RTH is a huge undertaking in a single day and requires a little discipline in schedules. So we were off the ship by 8:30, caught the Thrifty shuttle, got the car -- make sure to ask for one with CD player!.
1st stop was Mana Foods in Paia. LOVED this place. Able to get everything we need including sandwiches for both today HANA and tomorrow's tour as well. It is incredibly fresh food with great people working there PLUS it is open early. http://www.manafoodsmaui.com/
It is important to reset your odometer as the RTH guide suggests. You can even start playing the guide as soon as you get in the car from Paia -- you can skip back to where you want. Here are our specific stops along the RTH. I used the CC Boards extensively and agree strongly with the comments that Wai'anapanapa State Wayside Park MM32 on Highway 360 was the most incredible place and the area we chose to spend the most time. BUT you will need to be disciplined to get there in a time frame that works. So here are specific targeted stops along the RTH.
Stop #1 The Garden of Eden Haiku. Wonderful views of the ocean and waterfalls. Beautiful. There is an entry fee but being plant people we felt it was worth it. We spent about 45 minutes here. We left by 11:00 AM or so. We used restrooms here.
So that allowed us to proceed directly to MM32 and Wai'anapanapa State Wayside park. We loved it here. Ate a picnic lunch. Small beautiful black sand. Hiked out to the "blow hole". When we reviewed our photos -- this was the area we most loved.
The drive "around the full loop" and back to the ship was long. But I still don't regret doing it. The challenge is where to park your car when you return to the ship because we had the car overnight. We were fortunate the we arrived back around 5:30 PM and still could get parked close to the ship.
Maui Day 2 -- Haleakala
We got in the car a little later and had a nice relaxing (well relaxing compared to RTH) to the top of Haleakala. Watch out for the bikers flying down the mountain as you go up. Using the Dougherty books (see earlier reference) we were able to stop BEFORE the top and do a great little hike. Be patient here as you are climbing in the car from sea level to 10,000 plus feet. You will feel it when you decide to "hike" even just a little.
Drove back down and stopped at the visitor center (yes on the way back down) and ate at hidden little picnic tables just over the mound by the parking lot. We headed back to the Thrifty, took the shuttle back to the ship and enjoyed the hot tub and pool pre-dinner. We also figured with Hilo tomorrow we would need a little R&R time.
Hilo Day 3 -- Volcanoes National Park
The first thing you would need to know about Hilo it is always raining. Or at least according to the ship staff it is always raining. So pack accordingly. This is another park that will require some research. It largely depends on what you want to do. We don't get to see a lot of lava in NY so we were pretty excited to see VNP.
Again up and out of ship by 8:30 AM or so. Thrifty routine. We did NOT pack a lunch today and regretted it. If I had it to do over I would have bought more sandwiches at Mana Foods or from the ship. We ended up at Volcano house and overpaid but it was not the end of the world.
To better manage the visit, we stopped at the visitor's center and got information. But then we did exactly the opposite of the order they said to do things in (you are automatically working against the crowds then). We actually had no crowds at all except at Thurston (which are apparently always there).
So here is our VNP plan. Started at VNP Chain of Craters Road -- recommend you visit Instant Hawaii for information on specific side trips along this road. http://www.instanthawaii.com/
We chose "Devils Throat, the Petro glyphs trail and a 'secret' lava tube. This secret lava tube was all our -- no one else there. It was incredible as compared to the Thurston Lava Tube which we skipped due to the number of tour buses parked there. It was pouring rain by the time we reached the end of the Chain of Craters Road so we did not hike to the sea arch but we had seen several sea arches along the RTH on Maui.
Then the Jagger Museum and then Steam Vents, finally a stop at Volcano House. BE SURE to walk behind the Volcano house for some of the best views of the Volcano itself. Also, absolutely empty of crowds as opposed to Jagger which again had tons of tour buses.
Kona Day 4 -- No Rental Car
Kona is a tender port. You take a little boat off the ship to the shore. It was fine. We were guided before that we did not need a rental car. We had plans to snorkel and swim. Which we did but due to the weather -- cloudy for the most part we stayed close to shore. The cruise staff helped us very much and suggested we walk off the tender and head left. It was easy breezy. In front of a Marriott -- they have "Kona Boys" there who will rent you and umbrella and 2 beach chairs for like 10 bucks. They even watched our stuff while we toured the Town. I loved Kona -- very relaxing. Great shopping. SAVE your shopping for this Port. Wonderful. We are coffee and wine people. Found Cherry hill Coffee right here and bought a bunch including Peaberry which is really only available here! Walked to the historic church (recommended by our Thrifty driver in Maui).
Kauai Day 5
Off the ship. Thrifty shuttle for our one day rental. Drove to Waimea Canyon (takes about 1 hour from the Boat). Great photo ops. Visited Shipwreck Cove beach. Wonderful little hiking trails and shade. Stopped for lunch and cocktails at nearby Keoki's Paradise -- great drinks just OK food. Koloa, HI but it was right near Shipwreck Cove. Returned to the area of the ship where we had scoped out a great beach right within walking distance of the ship. It was right in front of the Kauai Marriott near Duke's. Right across the street from the little "harbor mall". We rented beach chairs. Set up on the beautiful green grass and loved the swimming here. Spent the rest of the day here until sundown.
Kauai Day 6 Helicopter Day
The ship is only in port until 1 PM today. We scheduled our Blue Hawaii helicopter ride for 10:30 AM. We took the free shuttle from the ship to the little "harbor mall" and breezed through the pre-helicopter setup. Please note, I was more than a little anxious about this pre-ride. But I have to say it was the highlight of my trip. I highly encourage those of you who are contemplating it -- DO IT and do it in Kauai. Most of Kauai is not accessible by road, the helicopter gives you views you can get nowhere else. This was a great "end" to our cruise. On the way out of the harbor mall be sure to get a snow cone -- they call it something else in Hawaii.
Disembarkation Day 6 -- Oahu
We slid into Oahu around 7 AM and were very efficiently off. Our flight back to NY was not until 7:30 PM. We toured around Waikiki a little (since it was the ONLY area of Oahu that we did not see pre-cruise). We then closed out our trip with a late lunch at a real Tiki Bar located in an industrial area right near the airport. HIGHLY recommend LaMariana Tiki Bar and the shrimp po boy. http://www.lamarianasailingclub.com/ Read the background story on this place.
We wish you the very best on YOUR Hawaii vacation. Enjoy!