We have wanted to go to Hawaii for a number of years, but it never made it to the top of our list. This summer, after other plans fell through, we decided to give it a shot, and even though we were a little concerned over the mixed reviews we had seen for the PoA, thought "How bad could it be?".
We booked it last minute, only about 10 days before sailing, and booked a Balcony Guarantee (BX) Cabin. We were assigned our cabin about 6 days before the cruise - a Mid-Ship Balcony (BA) #9612.
We flew to Honolulu a couple of days early, and from our hotel took a shuttle ($8/pp) to the cruise terminal. We got there around 11:45, since we had to check out of our hotel by 11:00, and we decided we would rather wait at the port than in the hotel lobby.
There were only about 30 people in line in front of us for the security check. There are no porters where you get out of the shuttle as there are in most ports, we wheeled our bags into the terminal, where we handed them off to the baggage guys. There were people at the door checking to see if you had your cruise ship tags on the bags, and if not, you were sent to the side to fill them out and attach them to the bags.
We were through the security ID check and the metal detectors in less than 20 minutes. We had opted to take a special bottle of wine with us, and it was caught by the X-Ray person, and we were walked to a table to pay the $15 corkage fee. Next stop, we were given leis, had the obligatory photo taken, and then to the line for check-in. This was a place that Norwegian could improve on the staffing. There were a few staff members handing out spa menus, but nobody directing people at all. We are Latitudes Platinum, and had heard on CC that to the far left there was a line for Latitudes members. There was a sign at the left, but you couldn't read it from the main line. There were only about 20 people in front of us, but I walked over to read the sign, and saw that it was for Latitudes members, and since there was no one in line, we used that line. In 5 more minutes, we were heading up the escalator toward the ship. 45 minutes from hotel to ship was all it took.
Once on, (after more photos), we went up to the Aloha Café (buffet) on deck 11. It wasn't crowded, and we found a table right away. The food was well presented, and there was a good selection as there has been on all of the NCL cruises we have taken. We chatted with 2 or 3 of the folks busing tables, and it was a different experience having Americans clearing the tables. They were glad to stop and chat for a while.
We were allowed into our staterooms around 2:15, about the latest we have seen. Our cabin was pretty much like other balcony cabins on the other ships, although it seemed a bit shorter from hallway to balcony. Our steward Velu, stopped by to say hello and drop off our bags around 3:00.
I won't go into a lot of details on the ports, I wanted to focus more on the ship and the experience. We really didn't feel that it was much different than the International ships, other than no casino. Our steward took better care of us on this cruise than our butler and steward when we had the Owner's Suite on the Jade! We asked him to keep ice in our ice bucket, and it ALWAYS had ice. When we had a bottle of wine in the room, he kept ice in the wine bucket as well.
One difference from our previous NCL cruises was in the wine package. The UBP is not available on the PoA, but they offer a wine package. You buy 6 bottles, and you get 20% off each of them, and any subsequent bottles are also priced at 20% off. The difference (and it seemed weird to us), was that they delivered all 6 bottles to our room on Sunday. It doesn't seem that you can have them store your partial bottle of wine and bring it to you the next night. You have to carry the bottle with you. This means that you have to decide what bottle of wine you are going to have with dinner and carry it to the dining room with you. We ended up taking a robust Malbec to dinner one night when everything on the menu was pretty light. We drank it anyway, but would have had the opportunity to make a decision after we saw the menu. We got smart after that and looked at the dinner menu ahead of time. It just seems strange carrying your bottle of wine around. Maybe this is a new policy on all the ships, and I for one am not thrilled with it.
We didn't go to a lot of the shows. We enjoyed chatting with folks at dinner, and then would walk around the deck and have a drink before going to our room.
We found the food to be on a par with the other ships in the fleet. Some good, some not so good. The staff in the dining room was definitely not the same as we have seen on the "regular" ships. It sometimes took a bit to get the attention of a waiter, as they tended to be in small groups chatting with one another. We only had to wave one down two or three times, so it wasn't bad, we may have been more aware of it because we had heard a lot of negative reports.
The ship itself seemed very clean and nicely appointed. It was pretty easy to find your way around, and there never seemed to be a problem finding seats or loungers, although the ones on the pool deck in the shade were usually full.
We didn't do any ship excursions, except the certified SCUBA at Kona. We rented cars on Maui and Hawaii, and found a local guide on Kauai. We enjoyed just driving around and going wherever we pleased!
Our week was when Hurricane Iselle came through, and we felt that NCL handled it well. We had a letter in our room on Wednesday afternoon saying that we were cutting short the stay in Kauai, and sailing Thursday evening rather than Friday afternoon. There is a rule that ships cannot sail from that particular harbor after dark, so we had to be at sea. The captain took the ship on the leeward side of Kauai, and we spent a nice sea day offshore, in sight of the Na'Pali coast.
Disembarkation was very smooth, and being the only ship in port, it was easy to get off, and to get a taxi. We spent a couple of days after the cruise in Honolulu, so we were in no hurry. A nice thing for us, as Americans, was not having to deal with immigration or customs.
The bottom line, we enjoyed the cruise, ship, and staff. Would we do it again? Probably not, but we don't tend to repeat our vacations. If we went back to Hawaii, we would probably pick an island and stay there.
It was a pleasant surprise after all the iffy reviews, and we were glad that we did it.