We sailed on the Pride of America around the Hawaiian Islands in October 2013. The attraction for us was the fact that it was an easy way to see Hawaii and POA is the only ship that has this itinerary. As this means there is little or no competition, the price is higher than you would expect to pay for 7 nights on a 4 star ship.
Don't get me wrong, there is nothing really wrong with the ship, but it's not a great 'cruising experience'. We were lucky to be able to afford a suite and I'm so glad we did. Having seen the balcony and inside staterooms I was quite surprised at how small they are. If you have more than 1 suitcase you'll find it difficult to fit yourself and your luggage into those rooms!
I have previously cruised with Princess (twice); P&O out of Australia (never again) and Royal Caribbean. It wouldn't be fair to compare POA with either the Grand or Diamond Princess as that would be like comparing The Cheesecake Factory with a fine dining restaurant, both serve a purpose and cater to a particular market. Having said that, POA did a more than adequate job for what they are designed to do - which is get you from one Hawaiian Island to another.
The ship is very clean, the rooms were well maintained and our steward (Conrado) made sure that we had clean towels every day and the room was kept tidy. We also had the services of a 'butler' but apart from replenishing our coffee machine and providing us with canapes every night we had virtually nothing to do with her and she seemed somewhat superfluous. The real benefit to the suite, for us, was having a private room for breakfast with the concierge walking around chatting to everyone individually at that time. He was very informative and the chats with him very enjoyable.
Overall the ship feels a bit run down even though it had a refit recently. Things like the air conditioning not working properly (it was fixed the next day); the table on the balcony had a hole in the top from wear and tear and the paint chipping off the chairs.
As far as the food goes, we are buffet fans so the Freestyle type of cruising suits us very well. However, the buffet was quite monotonous with very little meal variation daily. Lunch was essentially the same as dinner with a few more hot options available at dinner time. The stand out for us, as far as food goes, were the desserts and I think they made quite an effort there to vary the dessert options every meal (I'm a dessert fan anyway). However, if you think cruising is all about the food then this is NOT the cruise for you. We tried a couple of the speciality restaurants - Teppanyaki and Moderno. Both were fine but slightly over priced for what you got.
The shopping on board is pretty bad. But then, if you're in port every day you probably don't want to shop on the ship anyway. We only attended one show "Oh What A Night" in the Hollywood Theatre. Having had the good fortune to see the Jersey Boys in Las Vegas we were probably spoilt and had we not done seen that, this show would have been good fun. It appeared that the entertainment on board was lively and prolific although we didn't take advantage of it fully.
If you're a fan of lying by the pool or seeing movies forget POA. The pool is tiny! Late one afternoon we walked past the pools, one was full - and I mean full! of children and the other was occupied by two groups playing water volley ball (who knew that was even a sport). I also think that POA should use their empty Hollywood Theatre, which is very very nice by the way, to run movies during the day for people who choose not to go on shore.
We went on a number of shore excursions through NCL. We're not great at organising our own so it was good to have access to the main sights through the NCL organised shore excursions and overall our impression of those was very positive.
In terms of the ports - wouldn't it be great if every major destination moored in the city or close to downtown rather than being stuck out at a container terminal? We particularly noticed this in Maui where we were stuck in the middle of nowhere at a soulless venue and unless you know where you're going (which we didn't) it was not a great place to be moored at.
The security checks going back on board were extremely irritating! We were in American ports on an American Ship and I realise that security is taken very seriously but this was over the top with several passport checks before you could get back on the ship but mostly the screening of your personal effects which, as it turns out, was to see if you were trying to smuggle alcohol on board rather than weapons of mass destruction. Clearly this is to ensure that you buy your alcohol on board rather than providing your own which, given the price of the fare, I think is really penny pinching.
I have seen criticism of the crew on board the POA on previous reviews of this cruise and I disagree with that. Without exception, we thought that the crew were great. They were friendly and cheerful and always greeted you with an "Aloha" irrespective of whether they had anything to do with you or not.
Would we do this cruise again? Yes, for the destinations as it's easily the most hassle free way to see Hawaii. However, we would probably not go on an NCL cruise again if POA is the pride of their fleet mainly because the overall cruising experience just isn't there. The ship is where you go to sleep and to have a quick meal. I'm glad we didn't have any sea days as I'm not sure that we would have been 100% happy to spend a day on board POA, unlike Princess where you can spend several days on board and still have to be dragged away kicking and screaming.
Our overall impression of the ship is that the crew were great; food was slightly better than adequate and they tried hard to turn it into a cruising experience. For us though, having cruised Princess this experience was lacking. If you haven't cruised before then you would enjoy POA, if you have then you will probably be a little disappointed.