I’ll start by saying the trip will be fondly remembered by my wife and I, but not for the time spent on the ship. The sites and scenery were wonderful once you get past the dock areas at each port. Before you sign up for this cruise be informed it’s not a cruise but a hotel room for getting you from one set of excursions to the next. Most all the sailing is done at night so when you wake up you are ready to leave the ship for whatever that island has to offer. We signed up for the 11-day land and sea package since this was a retirement gift for the misses. This is our 6th cruise. First with NOL.
We arrived HNL about 2:30 PM local time and were greeted in baggage claim by a NOL representative who guided us to the Marriott hotel transfer. Rather smooth I must say.
The next 2.5 days were spent being bused to all the tourist stops in Oahu. Very interesting and some beautiful, but very rushed. The routine is the same, stop the bus everybody off, and snap a few pictures, everybody back on and to the next stop. Don’t forget the gift shop; every excursion has at least one. We wasted little money there. On Saturday afternoon we were bused to the ship arriving about 3:30PM
Embarkation - No lines. Basically walked on, slowing down just enough to swipe the credit card and answer a few questions. I’ve read complaints here about not being greeted onto the ship and I guess some folks expect that. We prefer to be left alone and explore, so we did. We found our room and the bags were delivered about an hour later.
The Ship – POA seems to be very well maintained with only minor signs of wear and tear about the ship. We found it easy to navigate from area to area and love the fact valuable real estate is not wasted on a casino. I can’t say we made it to every nook and cranny of the ship, but what we experienced was nicely decorated and relatively clean. I have to say this cruise looked like an AARP convention rather (I include myself in that) than a normal distribution of the population. I would estimate the average age was between 60 - 65. Very few of the younger crowd other than a few newlywed couples.
The Room – Yes they are a bit smaller than what we have been used to but enough to hold us and our three suitcases of travel gear. The balcony is also a bit small and you can hear conversations all around you from other balconies. Something I don’t remember having to deal with on other ships.
Entertainment - We went to only one show, Tony Beau. There is a reason some artists only have one hit. Enough said. We didn’t go back for more. The theater is small but lightly attended the night we were there. Seems most people come back from their excursion, eat and crash until the next day.
Food – This was the low spot for us and many we talked with during the week. We ate all dinners in the Liberty and Skyline main dining rooms. With little exception the menu did not change so by mid cruise we were struggling to find something we hadn’t tried but still wanted to eat. I had a steak one night followed by the “special” pork shop the next. Both were dry and tasteless. I initially assumed the lack of food quality in the main dining rooms was due to a business model to steer people to the specially restaurants. Not so, many we talked to who parted with the extra dollars were equally dissatisfied. Portions are small but sufficient for those that eat until they are no longer hungry verses eating until they are tired. Breakfast is a bit of a free for all. If you can’t find something at breakfast buffet you like you just aren’t hungry and it’s had to mess up breakfast. Given everyone is anxious to eat and get off the ship be prepared to spend several minutes looking for a place to sit if you get there after 6:30 AM.
Service - I’ve read several reviews about poor service or unfriendly staff on POA. Although no one bent over backwards to go above and beyond all we met were friendly and provided reasonable service. I assume NOL has made a concentrated effort to improve in this area since you couldn’t get within 15 feet of a staff member without them saying aloha. It was nice even if a bit forced at times.
Debarkation: Reverse of getting on. No problems at all. Loved it.
Bottom Line: Would I take this cruse again – No. I’m glad we did but it’s a one and done kind of thing. I would like to go back to Kauai someday but not on the POA. I recognize the cruise industry is not what it used to be. NOL used to have three ships in the area, now just one. That should tell you something. The final insult is the standard gratuity added on your bill “for your convenience”. Really ? Just add it on the initial price of admission. What’s next baggage fees? No wonder young people don’t want to cruise. Back to Holland America for my next cruise.