Aloha! It’s been nearly a month since I embarked on my POA Hawaii cruise, so I’ve forgotten some of the details. But my major impressions remain and that’s what I’ll share with you.
About me – I’m a single, middle-aged woman and a sometimes solo traveler. I’ve been on about a dozen cruises (mostly NCL, Carnival and Disney) and have sailed on the Gem and the Epic .(my first solo studio experience). I was itching to go to Hawaii, so when I learned that NCL was adding four (a whopping FOUR) solo studios to the POA, I didn’t hesitate to book. I contacted my long-time TA, who booked my room, facilitated my onboard credit, and offered trip insurance (yes, I buy trip insurance). I could book it on my own, but it’s just something I do to give her my loyal business. I booked the trip over a year out, and she set up a monthly payment plan as well.
The rest of the planning I did on my own: hotel, air, tours, excursions, etc. A big part of my enjoyment in traveling is the planning process. For me, anticipation is almost as good as the actual experience! I turned to Cruise Critic, Trip Advisor, and a slew of other sources (various websites, Anne Vipond’s “Hawaii by Cruise Ship” book, the “Hawaii Revealed” series, and some travel podcasts) to help me out with planning.
I initially planned to spend three days in Oahu prior to my cruise to adjust to the time change (I traveled from the U.S. East Coast) and do some sightseeing. As I began to realize how much I wanted to see and do, I decided to arrive four days early, and I’m so glad I did.
I booked the Park Shore Waikiki for my pre-cruise stay, based on trip reviews, photos, etc. I really wanted an ocean view and didn’t want to pay for internet. This hotel is on the Diamondhead end of Waikiki, just across from the Honolulu Zoon. It’s not a luxury resort, but it was newly renovated and very nice. They’re right across the street from the beach, and I had a fabulous oceanfront balcony. Park Shore has NO resort fees, free wi-fi, a small fridge in the room, and a small pool. Rates were very reasonable, and I was not disappointed. Everything was as I had hoped, and they even had a nice manager reception poolside on Wednesday afternoon with beverages and hors d’oeuvres.
On my first night, I strolled down to Kuhio Beach to watch the free Torch lighting and Hula show. This happens every evening – I think it started at 6 p.m. While in Waikiki, I took two tours with Discover Hawaii: a half-day Pearl Harbor (primarily Arizona Memorial) and city tour, and a full-day Ultimate Circle Island Eco-Adventure tour. I also signed up for a Sunrise Photography Tour (Oahu Photography Tours) and attended Germaine’s Luau with a friend who lives in Oahu. I won’t go into details here, but I had done a lot of research and was very happy with my choices (I actually won the luau in a podcast contest).
A word of advice – I left my afternoons free (except for the full-day tour) so I could relax, and I’m so glad I did (that’s where the oceanfront balcony paid off). Jetlag will slow you down, and even though I planned to do some more dining adventures, I chose to stay close to the hotel on a couple of nights just due to fatigue.
I boarded the ship sometime around 12:30 on Saturday. The embarkation process was very smooth, and I decided to eat lunch at the Skyline Restaurant and avoid the typical chaos in the buffet. It was very quiet, and the hostess sat me with a very nice couple.
I had arranged an informal meet and greet with my roll call at the Napa Wine Bar. No one had indicated interest in a formal meet and greet with the staff, so I suggested that if anyone wanted to meet up, we’d be in the bar right after the lifeboat drill. I was expecting maybe eight people and about twenty showed up! It was great to put faces with all of the names, and we’d run into each other throughout the cruise.
My solo studio was pretty much what I expected, with a couple of exceptions. If you’ve stayed on the Epic, you’ve probably enjoyed the Studio Lounge gatherings and group dinners. Those don’t happen on this ship – there is a nightly Solo Traveler’s gathering in one of the lounges, but it’s very lightly attended. I couldn’t even locate the “Studio Lounge,” until I tried opening what appeared to be a connecting door in my stateroom – there was a small room, like a waiting room, with four chairs and a TV. I NEVER saw anyone in that room. It was just rather weird. The other differences between my solo studio and the one on the Epic are minor—the room lighting is either white or blue, the phone is now on the desk, and the TV is a bit smaller – except for one important detail. Those cool “windows” that open to the corridor are completely opaque from the hallway on the Epic. NOT so on the POA. If you open the window shade, someone can see right into your room from the hallway. This is a good thing to know. I wonder why they even put them in there!
I attended the Port and Shopping talk – I usually avoid these but I had entered the drawing for a free spa treatment, and attendance was mandatory in order to claim a prize. The talk was actually quite entertaining, and quite a few items were given away (just not to me). I also attended the Solo Traveler’s gathering and met a few people there, although none of them were staying in the other solo studios.
The first couple of nights, I ate dinner in the Buffet. I just didn’t feel like doing the whole sit-down table service thing. There was plenty of variety and the food was pretty tasty. I brought along a little sign to place on my table for when I had to get up for a drink ,etc., and it worked really well. The crew members also suggested that I tip my chair against the table as well.
I attended the beginning of the Saturday night show sort of a “get to know your crew” deal, but did not stay for the magician – I turned in early to get ready for my Maui excursion the next day.
Kahalui, Maui – Day One
I booked a “Road to Hana” excursion with Valley Isle Excursions, based on TripAdvisor reviews. This was a small group (12 passenger) tour that did the full Road to Hana, including the rough roads. But we saw some spectacular scenery, did some wine tasting, etc. It was a long day, but worth it. I think my favorite stop was Waianapanapa State Park, which had a beautiful black sand beach and cool little sea cave.
After my tour, I had an early dinner (buffet again). I think this was the only night I tried the hot tub – it helped me relax and get sleepy. I turned in by 9 p.m. so I could get up at 2:30 a.m. for my Day Two excursion…
Kahalui, Maui – Day Two
After a lot of consideration, I booked the “Exclusive Haleakala Sunrise tour” through NCL. The 3:30 a.m. departure time and frigid mountaintop temps were a little off-putting, but I knew this would be a special experience. This is a small van tour and includes breakfast. I had to pack some warm clothes – a fleece pullover, scarf, warm socks, and lined gloves. We arrived at the 9K level pre-dawn, seized a position right against the railing, and watched the show begin. I was VERY fortunate – temps were in the 50s, which is downright balmy for Haleakala, and winds were calm. Skies were clear above the lower clouds, and they slowly became illuminated as the sun crept up. It was spectacular. After the sunrise, we ascended to the 10K level and walked around a bit and took photos. We then traveled back down and had breakfast at the Kula Lodge, which has breathtaking views and a beautiful garden out back. We took time to tour the garden and our guide pointed out the various plants. We also had time to browse the nearby gift shop.
Upon returning to the ship, I enjoyed a facial and pedicure, and just relaxed.
I think this was the evening that the ship hosted the Latitudes members reception in the Mardi Gras lounge. Free drinks and light hors d’oeuvres, nice presentation from the crew, and music/dancing afterwards.
I had my only specialty dining experience this night, at La Cucina. They had a ribeye on the menu that sounded good. Well, it SOUNDED good. The bread and infused dipping oils, and salad, were very good. I ordered the steak medium rare. It arrived more like medium well. It was hard to tell as it was coated with some sort of gravy. Who puts gravy on a ribeye?? NCL, that’s who. They offered to bring me another piece of meat but it was tender (suspiciously so) and edible, and I wanted to make it to the 9:00 p.m. “Showtime: Lights, Camera, Music!” show. I also attended the “Not So Newlywed Game Show,” which is always fun.
Some of my fellow roll call members had booked a Volcanoes National Park tour with Big Island Aina Tours and it was wonderful. There were maybe six of us in a van, and after a brief stop at Rainbow Falls and the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory to pick up a sandwich for lunch, we spent the majority of the day in the park. We walked on the lava fields, walked through Thurston’s Lava Tube, visited the steam vents, traveled down Chain of Craters road and saw the sea arch, and had a scenic picnic on the oceanside cliff. We viewed the Kilauea Caldera and the Kilauea Iki Crater, and wrapped up the day with a visit to an orchid garden/store.
I don’t recall attending a show this night, or where/what I had for dinner.
This was my only stop without a planned excursion. The day was overcast but warm so I strolled the town and did some gift shopping. I’d read about a little Pan-Asian restaurant called Rapanui, and I gave it a try. It’s not a scenic place (it’s tucked into the Banyan Court shopping area) but the food was delicious (I had the chicken satay lunch. I then tried my first shave ice at Scandinavian Ice nearby –YUM! I think I got blackberry/tangerine/black cherry. The ice is really fine and holds the syrup well.
Tonight was the “Oh, What a Night” Tribute to Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons. I enjoyed the show and music but didn’t care for the lead singer’s voice at all – he didn’t sound like he was using his natural voice and often sounded strained.
Nawiliwili, Kauai – Day One
I had booked the “Heaven and Earth Quest” through NCL and this was one of my favorite excursions. This was another small-group tour that combined a tour of the Coconut Coast and a helicopter ride. Wow! From a picnic next to gorgeous Hanalei bay to soaring over “Jurassic Falls,” Waimea Canyon and the Na Pali Coast, this was just spectacular. We were blessed with good weather, which was important because things took a turn for worse on the following day.
Tonight was the original show “Rock-a- Hula,” but due to a last-minute cast injury (not serious), they had to cancel the show. I attended the “Perfect Couple” game show in the Mardi Gras Lounge, and then at 9:30 p.m., they staged the Crew ‘Ohana talent show that was originally scheduled for the next day. I was so impressed with the talent of this crew – this was possibly my favorite show of the entire cruise.
Nawiliwili, Kauai – Day Two
Today was my NCL excursion to Waimea Canyon. This is the only “big bus” tour that I took. The day started out gray and misty, and unfortunately just got worse. We stopped to see the Spouting Horn blowhole, which was pretty cool. We stopped at a large gift shop, for a combo restroom/coffee/shopping break. When we finally arrived at the canyon, the clouds and rain pretty much obliterated the view. I did take some nice atmospheric photos and shots of the close-up foliage but it was pretty much a wash. But after the previous day’s experiences, this day was more of a “bonus day,” and I was okay with it.
Upon returning to the ship, I was supposed to attend a Latitudes gathering on deck, but it was canceled due to the weather.
The “Rock-a-Hula” show was rescheduled for this afternoon from the previous evening, so I attended. This was probably my least favorite show. I don’t mind campy fun but this left something to be desired. Oh well, it was a fine way to while away a gray, misty afternoon.
Fortunately, things cleared up enough for us to be able to view the Na Pali coast, but we didn’t get the nice color in the sunlight – it was pretty gray.
I finally dined at the Liberty Dining Room on this last night – I had a table to myself next to the window, and it was a very nice, relaxing experience (I was reading a book on my iPad).
I attended the Farewell Variety Show, which had a wonderful representation of the crew, and then ended the night at the Best of Broadway Cabaret in the Mardi Gras Lounge.
I chose to roll my own bag off the ship, and disembarkation went very smoothly.
A few overall comments…
Food – This has taken a big hit on the POA. I was not particularly impressed with the entrees (why does NCL insist on putting gravy on top of every steak?) but the salads and bread were very good. I really enjoyed the buffet for breakfast – I’m not an egg eater but the breakfast meats, potatoes, fresh fruit (pineapple!), and pastries were very good. I liked the lemonade and flavored water options as well.
The Crew – I had prompt, courteous service in all of the dining and bar venues. No complaints at all. The whole crew seemed very personable. I was not overly impressed with the cruise director, Malu. It’s not that there was anything wrong with her, it’s just that cruise directors are usually tremendously charismatic or funny (or THINK they’re funny) and this one was just… meh. She’s Hawaiian, and that’s nice, I guess.
My room steward, Jonathan, was a sweetheart, always speaking to me in the hallway, and leaving me little notes. The only issue I had was a mix-up with laundry. I had some of my clothes laundered and they were delivered after I left for dinner. I returned to my room after 11 p.m. and they were lying on my bed – great! – but then I saw something with stripes. Not mine. There was a stack of 4-6 items of clothing laying beneath mine that didn’t belong to me. Fortunately, there was a slip of paper with the room number of the owner attached to the bag. My steward was off duty for the night, so I called the main reception area. No one picked up after a few rings, so I decided to dial the guest’s room directly (forgetting how late it was). I offered to bring the clothes to their room (I was on deck 13 and they were on deck 7) and did so as soon as we hung up.
I asked Jonathan the next day if he had dropped off my clean clothes. He said yes, and I told him that someone else’s clothes were attached. He was apologetic and said he must have grabbed them by mistake, and offered to take them. I told him that I had already delivered them, and he thanked me. I didn’t want to scold him, but I told him that I’m sure that the guest was very worried for a few hours. If something like this happens, there is NO WAY to know what has happened to your clothes, and can only hope that they end up with someone who is honest.
The Ship – I thought the ship was very attractive. It lacks the scale of the newer, bigger ships, but it has a nice feel to it. It was a little awkward to maneuver, though – deck 5 did not always have a clear through-way to the dining room, and getting to my room on deck 13 required making sure that I was fully forward either on the pool deck or on the below decks before taking the elevator or stairs. I’d take the stairs for 2-3 decks and the elevator for longer journeys. I had no issues with elevator wait times unless it was right after a show, and I still didn’t have to wait that long.
If you’ve made it this far through my review, Mahalo! Overall, I think that this is a wonderful way to see the Hawaiian islands, and I’d gladly do this itinerary again – there is enough to see that I wouldn’t have to repeat experiences, and would probably rent a car and do things at my own pace on a return visit.