Embarkation: Slow, crowded and inefficient. On prior cruises, we dropped off the luggage with porters right from the taxi or shuttle and then went to check-in. The process in Honolulu had everyone standing in two long lines, lugging our baggage along for 25-30 minutes, just so you could hand it over to two guys that put it on their one and only X-ray machine. This was slow and inefficient, and could be significantly improved by doing what other cruise ports do. After that, we stood in another line to check in and get our ship cards. There were about 20 stations, so that went quickly and we were on board.
We got on-board at 2pm, and learned that our rooms were ready. Very nice. We dropped off our carry-ons and went to the Aloha Cafe for lunch.
Meet & Greet: we had signed on to a Cruise Critic Roll Call, and one of the cruisers had set up a Meet & Greet in the Shuffles Card lounge. While about 30 people had signed in on-line, only about 12 showed up. POA did a very nice job in providing lemonade, fruit juices, and a cookie assortment for our group. They also had six or seven of their key staff and officers attend. Silas, the Cruise Director, welcomed us and introduced the team to us. He stressed how important it would be for us to provide them with feedback, good or bad. This was a very nice touch; something we had not seen on other ships.
Cabin: This is an expensive cruise compared to cruises in the Caribbean and to Alaska. At least twice the cost per person. Because it's a US-flagged ship, they have to comply with US labor laws and that raises costs for the crew. It is also the only US-flagged ship that cruises the Hawaiian Islands, so you pay teh going rate. We had a large balcony on deck 9, port side. We chose port side so that we would have a great view when passing the Na'Pali Coast later in the cruise. The cabin was well laid out, and very neat and clean. Plenty of room to store everything we had. The bed was high enough off the floor that we were able to fit our suitcases under it. The bed was very, very comfortable. The AC system was efficient, and kept the cabin temperature just right. The TV was small, with only a few channels, most of which provided information on ship activities and services. Only one TV station and one movie channel. That was ok, since we had little time to watch TV. The door to the balcony was a sliding door, which made it easy to leave open so we could hear the waves while at sea. Didnt need the bungee cord as on other ships with the swing-out type of door. The balcony had two lounge chairs and to regular chairs. Very nice and comfortable. Thanks to Cruise Critic, we knew to find a medicine cabinet with shelves behind the bathroom mirror. Otherwise, we would not have known to pull hard on it to open the cabinet door. We brought a power strip so we could plug in all of our chargers. Our steward kept the cabin serviced, with fresh ice every time we came back to the cabin. Just outside the cabin door was a small sign that you could rotate to show Make up Cabin, Turn Down Cabin, Do Not Disturb or Welcome. A very simple, efficient system wed not seen before.
Dining/Food: I am a vegetarian, but my wife is not. We both had plenty of delicious selections, whether in the Aloha Cafe (buffet) or in the dining rooms. We ate most of our lunches in the Aloha Cafe. Different from other cruises, POA does not provide trays in its buffet, making it a bit more difficult to get what you want in one trip. However, it was not a madhouse like on other ships, since they had duplicate stations for everything on each side of the ship, which kept the cross-traffic at a minimum. Great idea. The Asian selections were great for both of us; healthy options that were very tasty and well-prepared. I ordered a veggie burger twice; once it was grilled, but the second time the cook dropped it into the deep fryer basket! We ate breakfast on the last morning in the Skyline Dining Room. Service was quick and there were plenty of selections. It was a good way to enjoy the last few hours on the cruise, while the Aloha Cafe was even more of a madhouse as everyone was tanking up for the last time, and stuffing their purses with to-go items for later.
We ate all but one dinner in the Liberty Dining Room. With the Freestyle Dining option, we walked in, and were seated within 2-3 minutes, regardless of what time we went to dinner. We ate in the Skyline Dining Room only one night, and found it much noisier and busier. Since access to both dining rooms was on the deck for the Skyline, it seems that more of the diners went there. Liberty was nicer and quieter.
When we werent having dinner with one of the Cruise Critic roll call couples that we hung out with, we asked to be seated at a share table. This was a nice way to meet two or four new friends and share the delicious dinners. The Liberty Dining Room is more formal than the Skyline Dining Room below it (they are connected by a winding staircase. Service in the Liberty Dining Room was very good, and the selections were wonderful. In addition to the daily specials and entrees, there was a list of menu items that were available every day. A nice touch, just in case you really wanted that cheese cake every night for dessert, instead of the special dessert being served that evening. We did not go to any of the "specialty restaurants" that charge an additional fee.
We only had a service problem with one young main server. She just didnt seem to have the experience needed for the job, forgetting utensils and drinks, not explaining the daily special on the menu, not bringing the bread baskets to the table. I filled out a comment card with the comments from all six people at our table and gave it to Harry, one of the Dining Room managers. The issue was addressed quickly and efficiently with an apology and the next evening we were given a bottle of wine. They really work hard to make sure you have a great cruising experience and they take feedback seriously (just as Silas had told us during the Meet & Greet).
One additional nice touch: fresh, hot popcorn in the Gold Rush Room during the afternoon.
Casino: there isnt one, because the ship does not leave U.S. waters. So the ship is much cleaner and doesnt smell smoky like all of the other cruise ships.
On-board Activities: Silas, the Cruise Director, was the friendliest wed ever met. He was everywhere, keeping all of the ship activities going smoothly. Every time we got off the ship and returned, he was there and reminded us of all of the activities going on during the rest of the day. A great guy. I used the fitness center every day. All of the equipment was in good shape. The layout near the entrance was tight; it was often difficult to find room to use the free weights when people were coming and going through the door.
Entertainment: we went to almost every show and really enjoyed them. The theater is on one level, and well laid out. The Polynesian show was entertaining and informative, giving us a great intro to the cultures of the different Pacific islands. The hula dancers were magnificent, and the ships musicians that played for the different shows were very talented. Troy Threadgill, the comedian, was very funny, with fresh comedy without any bad language. He had an excellent rapport with the audience. Toby Beau, who had the hit My Angel Baby in the 70s, was super talented, and he and his wife Rennetta put on great shows focusing on 70s rock. They did an Eagles tribute one night that was just incredible. We also really enjoyed the Oh What a Night show, a foursome that did two tribute shows based on Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. The range of the voices of two of their singers was incredible, from lows to Frankies falsetto highs. They did shows on two separate evenings. Ive still got Dawn, go away Im no good for you going through my head. Both Toby Beau and the Oh What a Night group set up right outside the theater after their shows to greet everyone, and had CDs available. We also spent time in the Napa Wine Bar, a nice quiet place to relax and have a drink. The entertainment there was either a guitarist or keyboard player, depending on the day and time. All were very talented and took requests.
Ports and shore excursions: We enjoyed all of the islands. I had never been to Hawaii before, and this cruise was a great way to see the best of the main islands: Oahu, Maui, The Big Island (Hawaii), and Kauai. The itinerary provided overnights in several of the ports, so there was plenty of time to get out and enjoy the islands without having to rush back to the ship. We booked all of our shore excursions off ship, based on Cruise Critic and Trip Advisor recommendations. We got a great package deal on four tours on the four different islands from Roberts of Hawaii, which serves all four islands. The motor coaches were clean and cool, and the tour guides were very well informed about the history of their islands. We also booked some additional tours through others. We did a the Haleakala Crater tour on Maui, Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island (out of Hilo), and the Captain Zodiac snorkeling trip out of Kona (we saw spinner dolphins, pilot whales, and rare pygmy killer whales). The reef where we went snorkeling at Kealakekua Bay was amazing. Beautiful clear water and thousands of colorful fish and eels. We also did a tour of Honolulu and the Pearl Harbor area (USS Arizona Memorial) after disembarking on the last morning. After reading about the memorial and seeing this on TV all my life, it was so nice to actually be there and get all of the history and see the actual sunken ship. This Pearl Harbor memorial park area and exhibits are seamlessly coordinated by the National Park Service and the U.S. Navy. Doing this tour was also timely and efficient, because we put our luggage in the bus compartment and didnt have to store it anywhere at additional cost. They dropped us off at the airport at the end of the tour.