We were on the 8-22 to 8-29 sailing of the POA. I was both apprehensive but optimistic for our cruise. I felt that I was well armed with information gleaned from previous passengers to weather anything the ship threw at me. I thought some of the negative reviews may have been over the edge, boy was I wrong.
The ship is every bit as bad as these recent reviews have indicated and I have a new found respect for those that have written them. Don't attack them, in my opinion they are right.
First, the ship itself: it is a beautiful ship. Very nice decorations. The Blue Hawaii was a personal favorite of mine with its vibrant colors. Even the main atrium where the Palace restaurant and the reception and shore desks are are pretty. They kept much of the older wood background in the atrium, but with the new Hawaiian murals, they have made it look wonderful. The Palace restaurant was the most pretty of the restaurants in my opinion. Don't miss the Outrigger Lounge on Deck 11 at the front. Great place to sit and enjoy the view, especially at night. Hint: don't miss the front outside deck area of this lounge. Many people don't realize that you can get out there. There is a door leading to this secluded deck area near the front left of the Outrigger Lounge.
The staterooms are small as has been reported, but adequate for a ship that is basically transportation between islands. There is no reason to make a fuss about the staterooms, that is part of the ship's design and it can't be changed. I will say that the rooms appear to not be cleaned adequately. We had a room with a big window and it was streaked. There were crumbs on the floor of our cabin when we arrived and it took me three days of requests before it was vacuumed away. (finally had to go to the reception desk and register a complaint). As I have said before, the thought of used sheets nauseates me, so I stripped our beds as soon as I arrived and put the linens in the hallway. Went and found a room steward and told him what I had done and that I wanted the room made up with fresh sheets. He grumbled but before long he and another steward arrived and put fresh sheets on the bed. I don't know if my sheets were clean or not, but after reading other reviews I decided why take a chance. I saw our room steward only one other time all week but our rooms were made up each day and then turned down at night. There was also an odor to our bathroom. I went ashore in Kauai and bought some air freshener and it was much better. Again, that could be the fault of poor bathroom air circulation due to ship design (the bathroom fogged up easily when showering or shaving, so I am not blaming anyone there either but perhaps the room stewards could spray each bathroom with a disinfectant spray between cruises to help.
Entertainment was wonderful. A highlight of the cruise. Don't miss the production company, the Jean Ryan Company, wonderful. Another of the best suggestions that I got before this cruise was to skip dessert in the main dinning rooms, go up to the buffet and grab dessert and a beverage and take it to the theater to enjoy while waiting for the show. (Thanks Jeconnk). They usually offered to bus our tray in the theater after we were finished. Hint: Make sure to get to the theater early as it fills up fast. Stay away from the balcony, the railings tend to limit your view up there. I also found the swivel chairs to be more comfortable than the couches.
Did not use the kids club or the internet cafe.
I found the lounges to be a little pricey for the drinks you got. It got to the point where we would just bring our own drinks from the buffet to save money. Some were noisier than others. Captain Cooks Bar and the starboard side of the Blue Hawaii tended to be not as quiet as they were in main traffic areas.
We booked our own shore excursions or rented a car for a lesser price than the ship offered, so I can't comment on the ship's excursions.
Embarkation and Debarkation were a breeze. NCL has these two areas down to a science. I echo another poster's comments about not buying a lei in the lobby of the pier, they will give you a free one upstairs just before you board. As far as debarkation, the only thing I wish is that we had gotten our tags earlier in the week.
The crew deserves all the credit they are getting. Most of the ones still there are hard working and are trying their best to give you a good cruise. The problems are there are not nearly enough of them and they can only work with what they are given and that is where the problems lie.
If I can think of one word that would sum up all of the problems with the service on board the Aloha, it would be: "FRUSTRATION." The passengers are frustrated by the slow service, the lack of crew, the low quality of food, etc. The crew is frustrated by the shortness in staff, the long hours they have to put in as a result and the complaining passengers. From the news reports we have been reading, the TA's are frustrated with NCL for not improving the product, the Hawaii tourism people are frustrated with the negative comments from the passengers for fear it will hurt their tourism. I also do believe that NCL is frustrated by the fact that the America sank, the Aloha is not shaping up as quickly as planned and they are having serious staffing issues. Frustration can turn into unhappiness and unhappiness can turn into nastiness, etc. Like so many other passengers, I witnessed other passengers taking out their "frustrations" on crew members as well as crew members taking out their frustrations on other crew, etc. The most important thing to remember is NOT TO BLAME THE CREW. They really can't change what they have been given, voice your complaints to the people who can do something....the officers on board and/or NCL corporate.
I also believe that all of this negative publicity in news organizations are helping the POA. It is forcing NCL to admit there are problems and to come up with solutions. I also think the 20% credit and refund of the service charges are attempts by NCL to put an end to some of the talk of lawsuits. (Yes there was someone on the last night passing around a petition on board asking for our names and addresses if we would like to be part of a class action lawsuit against NCL, we did not sign it.)
Now for the food and food service: I am almost hesitant to make these comments because so many posters on this board get attacked when they claim the food was bad but here it goes: IN MY OPINION it was the worst cruise food that I have ever suffered through. IN MY OPINION, it was the poorest quality of food I have ever been served. The buffet food was hideous and so after the first couple of days I only went up there for desserts. The eggs were runny, the bacon was mostly undercooked and the beverage stations always seemed to be out of something. In the restaurants, it was the same thing every night except for a few entree changes. The food was usually cold by the time it got to you and was very bland. The wait times between courses were ridiculous. Two to two and half hours to be served dinner is unacceptable to us. We paid for a cruise to enjoy what the ship had to offer, not to be sitting in a dinning room. I tried to order the filet mignon one night in the main dining room and the waiter told me it wasn't available in that room and when I said that I had read the people on an earlier cruise had got filet in the main dining room, his reply was: "that option was only available for the repositioning cruise."
I will not blame the crew for the food selection or quality, that is strictly the fault of NCL. I think NCL could purchase better quality of food for the Aloha, they have enough other problems that will take longer to solve, this is one they could solve now. As for the buffet wait times, there is no way to solve that problem due to the design. HINT: if you are brave enough to try the buffet, I suggest that go to the rear of the ship to the "Lanai" area. (outside dining) Those two lines seem to have less people using them.
As for the slow service, that can only be solved when and if NCL can hire additional crew. The crew will flat out tell you to your face (when no officers are around), that they are grossly understaffed and it doesn't appear that the low staffing issue will go away anytime soon due to people leaving, recruiting going slowly and the mandatory merchant marine/coast guard training that new hires have to go through. How in the world they plan to staff two ships next summer is beyond me.
One of the things that I learned from previous passengers was to go early to dinner to avoid the lines. 5:15 was our target since the restaurants opened at 5:30. I found many others used this strategy as well and even more did as the week wore on. If you were not there by 5:45-6, you could count on waiting. As a result, we often found ourselves rushing back from shore to get to the restaurants on time. We even cut some trips short and avoided the free shuttles on occasion just to make it back so we wouldn't have to wait. That is what diminished my vacation in Hawaii and is my biggest gripe about this ship. I built my vacation time around my desire to avoid the problems on the POA.
There you have my whole review. The most important thing that I can tell future POA passengers is to read all the reviews, positive and negative and LEARN from them. Pick out some ideas to make your trip better like we did. (getting to dinner early & skipping dessert in the dinning room and getting it at the buffet to eat in the theater, were the most helpful). Finally, don't bash those who have bad things to say about the POA, let's hope that postings like that serve to help NCL improve the product. Just because someone is negative does not mean they have an "agenda" against NCL and just because someone is positive for NCL does not mean that they are "NCL rah-rah's" (as someone called them). Everyone is entitled to their opinions and no two opinions may be the same. Respect is deserved for both sides because only together can we be helpful. Thanks Beth