We had an amazing time aboard the PoA cruising the Hawaiian islands! Below is our detailed trip plan and experience.
Our background: We are an newly married couple, no kids, vegetarian, and like being active, but not too adventurous. Once we decided on Hawaii for our winter vacation, we did a bit of online research and thought the cruise would be a good idea for first time Hawaii visitors.
Booking: We booked the cruise using Avoya travel. Our agent was very helpful, and gave us discounts on rooms. We got the family balcony cabin for the price of an indoor, and we loved the balcony! She gave us all the information we needed, along with recommendations and tips to enjoy our trip. Would definitely recommend the travel agency! She even suggested we book the flight ourselves since she would not be able to offer any extra discount, which is what we did.
Trip itinerary: We landed in Honolulu, Oahu on Dec 14 (a day before the cruise). It offered a little padding in case of flight delays and cancellations. The cruise was supposed to start 7pm on Dec 15, so we spent the morning going around Honolulu and boarded the ship after lunch at around 3pm. [TIP: It is probably best to board your ship between 1pm to 3pm so that you avoid the lunch crowds but give enough time to find the ship.]
Embarkation: The ship is on Pier 2. Getting on the ship was a breeze. Everything seemed pretty self-explanatory to me although since it was DH's first time cruising he seemed a bit on edge to make sure luggage was checked-in and we were in the right line. It helps to do the online check-in prior to boarding the ship. After checking in luggage into security scanner (nobody told us where they go after that until we asked if it would come to our room and they said yes), you stand in line to give your credit card and information and finally we were on our way into the ship. There was already a list of activities we could do on the ship starting at 2pm, so no reason to get board.
Cabin: Our cabin was small, even though it was supposed to be the family balcony. But it had everything we needed and was very comfortable. The balcony was spacious and we enjoyed it every day. There were charging ports for our phones, and a coffee maker and fridge, which we used to keep food for the next day. There was breakfast order forms that we used to order complimentary room service that saved us a ton of time.
Ship: The ship was a standard for any cruise - it had different dining choices, fitness center, entertainment arenas, game room, etc. The entertainment was pretty good. You never had to feel bored, there was always something going on.
Food: The food was decent. The food at the sit-down restuarants were way better than the buffet but the buffet had more choice. The sit-down restuarants had one vegetarian entree every day. So, we would walk by, read the menu and decided if we wanted to eat that item, which we only did for one day. We also took the tip from CC to pack lunch for the next day. We made ourselves veggie sandwiches for the following day and kept it in the fridge. We had taken a collapsible cooler that we took the sandwiches, fruits, baked goods, and yogurt in for snacking on through our day of touring...it saved us a lot of time and money. Most places we visited did not even have food to buy.
Car rentals: We booked cars in all islands using discounthawaiirental.com atleast two months before the trip. The prices were much cheaper than Thrifty and the service was very reliable. They just book you with Avis or Alamo, and at every location we got a very reasonable car (we even got a convertible for the price of an economy since they ran out of cars!). We heard from people there that rental car prices were three times what we paid, if you hadn't booked early! [TIP: If you are using rental cars and planning on parking them overnight near the ship, use your phone's GPS to bookmark where the pier and overnight parking is. It is very hard to find your way back to the ship at night!]
Things to pack:
Ziploc bags of various sizes (very useful for packing baked goods, snacks, sandwiches, etc. for your day on the road). Food is hard to find in most places and you will save a lot of time if you don't have to go hunting for lunch.
Raincoat/windbreaker: If you plan on going up Haleakela mountain, or even Waimea canyon/Iao valley, take a light jacket with you. It rains a lot in these places, and gets windy and chilly too.
Smart phone for use of maps
Tour book (from your local library) is very useful because it outlines the important sights to see and saves you time