After 9 months of preparation, reading countless cruise critic reviews, I was prepared for anything on this cruise. I cautioned my family to expect "Ryan's-type" food and we were pleasantly surprised by the good quality we received. Based on reviews, I was concerned about poor service from the staff and found the complete opposite. Maybe the key is going into it with low expectations and coming away pleasantly surprised. We enjoyed our vacation and got a LOT out of our week on the POA.
After a long flight from Charlotte, NC to Chicago O'Hare to Honolulu, we were met by Bob Alfred, the owner of Star Taxi at the airport. For a family of four, he was the best deal to get from the airport to Waikiki hotels ($28 each way) - expect low frills, but efficient and nice guy to talk to. He is from New York state and you can ask him Hawaii questions without worrying about offending him. He is mentioned in Frommer's guide and has a web site (search Star Discount Taxi Honolulu) - cheaper than catching a cab at the airport and don't have to make a bunch of other stops with Roberts shuttle.
Took Roberts shuttle ($6/per)from Waikiki hotel to pier 2 and boarded at 1:00 p.m.. Pretty crowded at that time, but not bad. Ate lunch at Aloha cafe and was busiest time to do so (next busiest was bkfst on last day in Aloha). Not much to do after muster drill. Access to cabin after 2:30-3:00.
Other details as follows: -- Food: Ate one "premium" dinner in Little Italy and our party was underwhelmed. Did not try the Bistro or Asian or Steakhouse so can't comment here. Most dinners were in Liberty (slightly more formal - no shorts) and a couple in Skyline - both have identical menus and Liberty is just one floor above Skyline. Our waiters were great and we made reservations for the same waiter and the same table each night. The meals did drag longer each night - at least 2 hours in either restaurant for a 6:00 or 6:30 time. They will ask first if you have plans to make a show - so they may be able to speed that up a bit. The matre d' in Liberty (Samuel Day) was very friendly and helpful. Our waiter Ryan in the back, right corner of the Liberty was very professional and courteous. Cadillac Diner was great for free brownie sundaes (at any time). Their appetizers were lacking and we did not try the $3.50 milkshake, but it looked good. You can also get food/dessert "to go" from Cadillac if you want something late (they have the longest hours of anyplace. Aloha was excellent for breakfast and lunch. Pretty much the same thing every day. Everything you need and although busy, easy to get to the food (multiple pods of same foods), ice cream machine in back near desserts. GREAT fruit (especially the pineapple - picked when ripe unlike at the mainland). Take your food into the Gold Rush Saloon if too busy in dining room.
--Entertainment - based on review recommendations, we attended Second City, Magician and Comedian. They were all good and I would rank them in order listed. On the last full day of cruise, you can attend a "class" and learn tricks from magician (and buy his book), and one of the Second City players will do some improv activities with you. Fun stuff. The bands that play by the pool in the afternoon are pretty good - especially the one from Maui.
--Facilities/Staff - Great Fitness center with lots of machines, free weights and tons of treadmills. Never all that busy. Three laps around ship make a mile for the joggers. Basketball court (never busy), putting and driving areas as well. Most staff people will greet you as you pass them, but not all - and that is okay. Remember, they get not days off, just a few hours a day and they work a normal "tour" of 5 months. Based on that fact, I thought they were "appropriately" friendly.
--Debarkation - If you can carry your bags, don't tag them to be picked up the night before. Just leave whenever you want on Sat. Just be prepared for a busy breakfast (not too bad, but busy) in a.m.. See port reviews below: