Embarkation, Norwegian could take a leaf out of Carnival's book and stagger embarkation times to reduce the huge amount of people waiting around to board.
we figured since boarding could be as early as 11:30am, that arriving at 1:30pm the lines would be reduced, alas even with a delay in transport to the pier and not arriving until 2pm, the lines were enormous... it took about 20-30 minutes to get through baggage check and security check-ins... then once inside the terminal awaiting to get issued room cards etc. were hundreds and hundreds of people... easily another hour of queuing, luckily our booking included two adjoining rooms, one of which was a suite on deck 7, so we were all eligible for priority boarding, we 'jumped the queue' to a small room off the main terminal and waited with about 10 other people going through their check-in... we had a few snacks from the provided food table and a cup of coffee and within 15 minutes we were ready to board. up the escalators and onto the ship for a quick briefing and then we were ushered into the Steak House for a complimentary lunch on account of being suite guests.
The service was good, we all ordered medium rare steaks... however 3 came out medium-well and only one medium-rare, the waiter had no explanation, then after we'd eaten most of our meals our starters arrived... I'm not one to hold a grudge and it was towards the tail end of the lunch window anyway, so I'm not going to judge the experience based off the first minutes on-board, however, whilst not a conscious decision at the time, it was to be the last meal we'd eat in the steak house on account of timings, we tried twice more during the day and always missed the cut-off... alas, it wasn't the end of the world
After lunch we checked into our cabins, as mentioned they were port-side aft 7680 and 7678 adjoining on deck 7. we've only been on one other cruise on the Carnival Spirit, so it's the only comparison I can draw against... the rooms on the Pride of America (PoA) were noticeably smaller than the similar class on the 'Spirit. However this wasn't a surprise, and we knew this going in... which is why we booked adjoining rooms, with the doors open the two staterooms offered ample space between 4 adults and 1 child. One word of warning the fold-out/trundle beds are TINY, again this wasn't a surprise... however me as a 6'2" male, would have had at least 2' of legs hanging out the end if I was sleeping on it... and they were very firm, no complaints from our 4 year old daughter however. The King-sized beds for the adults were very comfortable.
The showers were also very small, I'm very surprised how some guests managed to shower at all however!
Cabin noise whilst cruising was minimal with the doors fully closed and acceptable partly opened as well... I can't recall hearing the next door neighbours in 7682, other than the occasional toilet flush early in the morning on the 2nd day docked in Maui.
Exploring the ship was relatively easy-going... the maps and floor plans scattered around the ship were easy to interpret in the event of a wrong turn taken, we spent the afternoon prior to sail-away just wandering around exploring the ins-and-outs of the ship, at around 6:30pm we went back to the room, had a coffee on the extended balcony of the suite room and watched as they prepared for departure... we stuck around in the room till about 7:30-8pm until we were outside in the open water sailing past the Diamond Head crater... we opted to skip the main dining rooms and ate dinner in the buffet, there was hardly any other guests up there, the food was in abundance and good quality, we watched the water roll by... it was a windy night sailing to Maui so the seas were a bit rough, but the ship was relatively stable.
The quality of the ship was top notch, all carpets were nice and clean, all hand rails were smooth and polished, everything was clean and tidy... toilets and common areas were all in the highest order, bar a few exterior signs of wear and tear (expected) it was better than my expectations had lead me to believe.
upon waking the next morning we'd already docked in Maui and by the time the captains call came over the radio it seemed the majority of guests had gone on their merry ways off to their pre-arranged tours/activities... I figured we could wing it and just get off the boat and see what random tours were available outside the harbor, there wasn't much to do as all the big tours had gone and that only left exploring the local Maui mall... being Australian we found many things we couldn't by locally particularly in the clothes and toy range for our daughter, we also at this point checked into the local AT&T store to order a pre-paid mobile sim so we had the ability to call for things and get online for Google searches etc., the PoA's internet plan wasn't exactly cheap, the internet was SLOOOOOOOOOOOOOW and charging per minute when things take forever to load is a bit of a scam, compared to Carnival which just charges a flat rate for internet access, so noteworthy to future cruisers, AT&T have a $60 pre-paid sim for unlocked phones with unlimited calls and texts with 2GB internet, this was usable in every port and for a significant time sailing away surprisingly.
If you want to explore care-free, do yourself a favour and go on tours with the PoA shore excursions... however you can get better value for money hiring your own car and doing the driving yourself... Alamo and Enterprise have audio tours built into their GPS's which are really good and we found on average the rental experience was half the price of a bus tour... just be prepared to fight other guests for shuttles to the rental offices and wait while queues progress etc.
So while you'll save some money, you'll lose time waiting - this is a GIVEN!
We didn't bother pre-booking and never found ourselves missing out.
The islands visited were beautiful, I couldn't imaging sitting around the ship like some people opted to do when there was so much to see outside... my only change would be if I was running the show would be finishing earlier in the ports and sailing around some of the islands prior to sun down for site seeing...
The day 7 tour of the Na Pali coast line was spectacular, and I'd happily sacrifice a few extra hours in port to see similar on the other islands.
Staff wise we had no complaints with anyone we encountered, Devon in the skyline dining room was good value, very friendly... as was the experience with most of the staff in Skyline... we never had the same wait staff in the 3 times we ate there...
Liberty/Skyline restaurant experiences were the same, we opted to only visit Liberty once on account of the dress code... the other times the more casual skyline was fine and the food was great... the medium rare New York strip steak was easily the best meal on the entire cruise.
we booked in at the Teppanyaki bar on the night when everyone else was off at the luau, and while we had a 7:30pm booking, we didn't end up eating till around 8:30pm due to delays with the waiters who were painfully slow taking drinks orders and serving starters, we (all patrons at the Teppanyaki bar) were seated for nearly 10 minutes before our waiter came in... unfortunately due to the delay in waiting our daughter's patience had worn thin and she became a handful - apologies to the other guests, had we known we wouldn’t be eating for so long we would have booked the earlier seatings... the 30 minute booking blocks are misleading, we were under the impression we'd be in and out in half and hour assuming the next booking was 8pm.
We had lunch day in the Cadillac Diner on day 2 or 3... it was good, can't fault the food at all, we sampled a majority of the items on the menu between our party of five and would have eaten there again, but time wasn't on our side, much like the return visit to the steak house, it just never happened.
Can't comment on the other dining areas, they looked nice... but we just never got there!
A special note to Spencer from North Carolina in the Aloha Cafe/Balcony area... your friendly, happy go lucky attitude upon returning from a day ashore was always refreshing, playing hide and seek with our daughter while we were eating a late lunch kept her happy and occupied while we stuffed our faces! Even going out of your way to say hello and have a chat on your own personal time ashore in Hilo was great to see too - you're a stand up bloke and if there was more staff like you on-board the cruise would have been legendary!
Our Cabin stewardess was great... I'm terribly sorry however, I've forgotten your name! but thanks for keeping our room clean and tidy, there was plenty of times we left it a complete mess on account of hurrying to be on-shore and we always came back to it being spotless!
Prior to the trip - I'd outlined a few things to see and do, however looking back at that list now we just didn't get to some of them! however the stuff we did see was remarkable in itself and I'm not disappointed.
We bumped into a few guests that had done the cruise several times, they were locals to Hawaii... we found the 7 day itinerary action packed and had a lot to fit in, in a holiday the just breezed by! we were in Hawaii for 13 full days 8 of those being the cruise, we left wishing we had a bit more time to see a few more things though, so I guess this is where the repeat cruise appeal comes in... though for us, it could be a while before we have the opportunity to do that again!
In summary, Good cruise, good food, good accommodation. Would do it again if time permits, it's a great way to see islands other than Oahu with plenty to see an do - so be prepared!