This was our first cruise and also our first trip to Hawaii. I had to admit I came prepared after reading so many not too great reviews about this ship. But as it turned out, it certainly beats our expectation in every way. We had a great time sailing on POAl and we will definitely sail again with them. Hawaii itself is just a paradise and there is no other destination quite like it. We mainly treated our ship as a floating hotel/restaurant so I have to admit we did not really participate or experience the full cruise experience. But this was what we intended to do. We found that considering it was our hotel and restaurant in one, it really was a great deal for the price we paid.(consider everything in HI costs more!) And in our opinion this is the best way to get a preview of each Island of Hawaii. I can't think of any better way to see the islands than being on a cruise. I will break it down into a few categories below:
1) Ship and stateroom: The ship was clean and well decorated(with cheerful Hawaii theme colors). We had a HH(oceanview) cabin with a round pothole window. Sure the cabin was small, but it was acceptable for cruise ship standard. We found the cabin adequate. We were light packers so luggage room wasn't a problem for us. Only complaint was the weird odor on the bed sheet and pillow cases. They didn't smell fresh and had an odor similar to grease smell.
2) Service: We found the service to be good, but not over the top. Service at the specialty restaurant we tried(le Bistro) was wonderful. We could definitely tell the difference. Our cabin steward was almost invisible to us. Now, the only bad service we received was at the Long Board Bar. And it's just for that one male server because the other tables being waited by another female server were doing fine. We missed dinner one night at the dining restaurants and it was the only thing open at that hour. Little did we know that it took our server 1 full hour to bring out our bar food(chicken wings and sandwiches) without acknowledging us. He never brought us silverware, condiments or check back with us on our drinks. Most of the time we couldn't even see him anywhere in sight! We saw another waitress working there and she was much faster with her tables. We wish she could have been our server that night.
3) Food: We always had breakfast in the buffet. Food at the buffet was above average, and we are not picky eaters. We almost always ate at the Lanai on Deck 11 AFT. They offer the same things as the cafe but shorter lines. LOVE the omelette and waffle(if the line wasn't that line I would have given them a higher score). We were usually out during the day so we only had lunch once on the ship. We found the dining restaurants to have better fare. (sometimes the buffet serve similar/same menu as the dining restaurants)Kudos to the specialty restaurant(Le Bistro). Great service and excellent menu. We LOVED the ice cream bar with exotic flavors like macadamia nut, mango(my favorite), pineapple, etc.. We wish they have a longer hour and shorter line. We always had to line up in long lines getting ice cream. I found the bar food at Long Board below average.(maybe because we had bad service there affect our taste too, we are usually very easy to please in terms of food) Word of advise: If nothing else is open other than Long Board, just order room service. Don't waste your time! But it also depends who your server is. We always eat late(around 8) so wait time at the free restaurants wasn't too bad(about 20 minutes on avg) except one night they totally forgotten to page us and we had waited an hour. I LOVE their desserts selection. They don't seem to mind if we order more than one appetizer or even main course. It's a much better dining experience than in the buffet.
4) Embarkation/disembarkation: No pain at all, fast and efficient. No lines.
5) Excursions/ports: We rented cars in every island so we never did theirs. But you can't go wrong in Hawaii! We dreaded to come home. Our favorite thing to do was snorkeling. We found an excellent snorkeling place at Kona Coast near Hanaunau Bay called 2 step beach. My husband was swimming inches away from a sea turtle! Excellent water clarity there with abundant fish and turtles. We also like Ahihi Kinau Natural Area Reserve in South Mahi. It was a little south of Big Beach. It didn't seem like much above water there as it was a barron lava beach, but the underwater scene was great. And it was easier access to water for beginners like myself. We were in HI for 10 days, 2 days pre-cruise, and 1 day post cruise. Our itinerary in each port/Island:
Day 1:(pre cruise) Honolulu/Oahu: Diamond head hike(wear good shoes), Hanauma bay for snorkeling, east coast beaches(very scenic drive).
Day 2: (pre cruise) Honolulu: Pearl harbor. Too bad we don't have enough time to see North Shore. Maybe next time! Embarkation day.
Day 3: Kauai: Waimea canyon, Poipu beach(I didn't like it as much as I thought I would, very hard to access to if you are not staying at the resort). We parked at free public parking by the beach close to the port overnight next to Anchor Cove Mall. There is also a beach there that is quite pretty and calm. It has free shuttle from the port or you can walk there in 5-10 minutes from the port.
Day 4: Kauai: Drove to north shore to see lighthouse at Kilauea point. Drove until we reached Princeville and it's time to turn back. Stopped by Opaekaa fall(not very big) before returning car.
Day 5: Hilo: Volcano National Park. We did the main loop then drove to the outer crater road to see the seashore. Too bad we didn't have time to hike to see flowing lava.
Day 6: (this is a tender port) Kona: Puuhonua o Honaunau(ancient burial site), then snorkeled at 2 step beach next to it. Drove by Kealakekua Bay(very windy/wavy that day) so didn't do any water activities there.
Day 7: Maui: Big Beach at South Maui, Ahihi Kinau national reserve for perfect snorkeling. Drove to West Maui, stopped by at a lookout point to spot whales(bring binoculars), drove by Kaanapali Beach, checked out the night scene/outdoor seaside shops at Lahaina.
Day 8: Maui: Road to Hana(beautiful drive with many one lane bridges and hairpin turns, allow about 3 hours for one way drive) Tips: you might want to skip Twin Falls if you want to save some time. It was quite a long hike and after rain could be quite muddy on the dirt trails. They are actually very small waterfalls. You could easily spent 1 hour at this stop. There are bigger falls with easier access(no hike) further down the road. We beated the traffic by starting at around noon and reached Hana at 4. On the way back we didn't make as many stops so it only took about two and a half hour. There wasn't much traffic at all on the way back. We did make one stop at Paia to check out those little quaint shores. Then stopped by Hookipa Bay to watch the wind surfers.(it is a world renowned wind surfing beach)
Day 9: Disembarkation Oahu: We stayed at Hyatt Regency Waikiki, did the outrigger canoe at the beach, watched free hula show by the beach during sunset.
Day 10: Oahu: back to Hanauma Bay for more snorkeling before flying back.