We too, highly recommend arriving a few days early to adjust to the time change. Our city-view room at the Waikiki Marriott was very comfortable. The view was actually of both the ocean and city (not that we spent much time there). I think we may have just lucked out because our room happened to be on the end of a corridor and had two windows. By booking this with NCL, we took advantage of the pre-registration and were able to skip a few of the steps when it came time for boarding the ship. Once we arrived at the hotel and until we departed from the airport, NCL took care of our luggage with no problems.
My husband and I have only cruised two previous times, most recently in '01 with Princess on the Ocean for an Alaskan Cruise & Land Package. Concerning the cleanliness of our cabin, we found it to be taken care of adequately. The bed was made early, turned down at night, and two small generic mints left behind. The bathroom was actually very nice even though small. Our shower and the rest of the plumbing worked fine without any problems. I can only think of two negatives, (1) the cabin carpeting did not seem to have been swept daily (if at all) and (2) electrical outlets are very limited. I am not sure that a power strip (that was suggested on a previous thread) would have worked because of the number of prongs.
POA did offer the usual amenities. My husband was able to get a good work-out in the fitness center. There was a variety of equipment, all in working order. We did not use the spa, feeling it was overpriced. There were numerous photo opportunities, but again we did not purchase any because of the cost factor. We did not use room service, but our travel companions found it acceptable and on time. Several weeks in advance their children ordered flowers and a fruit basket for them to help celebrate their 25th anniversary. Both arrived early on into the cruise but without a card. For several days we were kept guessing as to who had sent them. I was disappointed that our TA and/or NCL had not done something special for them, even though I had talked to both about their celebration. Our waitress over heard us celebrating at dinner and did present them with a small anniversary cake to enjoy in their stateroom.
We didn't spend much time in the lounges because of our early excursions. We found them usually empty and the drinks overpriced. Our comments on these amenities are typical of most cruise lines.
As for the shore excursions, we booked something for every single day through NCL because this was the first time for both of us to the islands. Even though the prices of the excursions are higher than booking them yourself, we found it easier to do it this way. NCL's prices seemed to be in the same range as other lines offering the same or similar tours. If we were to ever do this again, we would probably rent a car and/or book our own because we now know something about the islands and where things are located in proximity to the ship's ports.
Our excursion tickets were in our room when we arrived. Our husbands were to do "Kauai Sportsfishing" but unfortunately their tickets were missing, with no note or explanation. This meant getting into a long line at the main desk to find out the problem. We found out that it was canceled due to some mechanical failure on the fishing boat. An enclosed note in our packet would have saved us some time and frustration. We thoroughly enjoyed all the excursions that we scheduled, especially the Maui Downhill, Mokihana Helicopter, Kilaueea Lava Viewing Adventure and Valley Waterfall Hiking in Kona.
As for the onboard entertainment, I had high expectations for the evening shows from what I had read from this board. On Monday we saw "South Seas Island Spectacular". We were spoiled by our show at the Polynesian Cultural Center so my husband and I weren't that impressed. If you haven't seen an island show before you will probably like it. "Hey, Mr. Producer!" was performed on Tuesday. It was my favorite because I recognized many of the tunes they performed. The magic show of John Shryock was on Wednesday and was also on my "not to be missed" list. "Sea Legs Cirque" was on Thursday and again we weren't too impressed. It may have been because we are not fans of this type of entertainment. On Saturday "Runnin' Wild", also performed by the Jean-Ann Ryan Company, was performed. This show was good. It should be noted that because this cruise's itinerary spends a great deal of time in port, it did not bother me that there were few activities to do on ship during the day; we wouldn't have been able to do them anyway.
As for the dining experience, we found that the long lines seem to have disappeared. Granted, we did eat early, and had 5:30 reservations. (They accept reservations for 5:30 or 9:00 for parties of 8 or more.) In fact, we found that the Palace actually opened up earlier than the stated 7:00 AM. The same was true of the Crossings 5:30 opening. The only problem that still remains is the food. We may be too critical, having several members in the family in the food/hospitality industry and being concerned about eating healthy. We are not fans of buffets and having read many negative reviews of them, we tried to avoid them. The one lunch buffet we tried reminded us of cafeteria food. The food in the restaurants is not gourmet quality, there are no chocolate or midnight buffets, or ice sculptures adorning the tables. On Monday there was an optional formal night but most did not dress up as much as we've seen on Princess. We ate most of our breakfasts in the Palace and dinners in the Crossings restaurants. The eggs benedict I usually ordered for breakfast was inconsistent. One time they actually forgot the Canadian bacon. Our one experience in a specialty restaurant, Palm Bistro, started off on a sour note. We had made reservations during our pre-registration at the Marriott for 6:00. When we arrived, there was no record of it. They asked for our reservation card, which we had left in our cabin. It was Sunday, our first night on the ship. We were dressed appropriately, the restaurant was just about empty, and yet we felt like they were doing us a big favor to seat us. Fortunately the dinner and service were excellent and we soon forgot about the hostess' rude behavior. This was the only cover charge restaurant we tried, feeling that the Crossings was fine. When we ordered we would give our waiters our entire order, including desserts to save both of us time. Our dinners usually took 1 to 1.5 hours and were very enjoyable reminiscing about the day's activities.
POA's young staff is trying extremely hard. For many of them it is a grueling routine that they are not accustomed to. We were not charged the $10 per day service fee but were initially charged the $5 donation to the Bishop's Museum. This donation can be removed from your bill anytime during the cruise, preferably before the last day.
We would recommend this itinerary to anyone who wants to see as many of the islands as possible in the shortest amount of time. Seasoned cruisers may be disappointed in the service and food, but others will love the freedom of freestyle and the lengthy stay on the islands. I firmly believe that with any vacation, having a positive attitude and not dwelling on the negatives helps to form an enjoyable and memorable experience. (Before we set out on this vacation I promised my companions not a complaining word would come out of me, and I kept to it!) Again, we are so glad we continued with our plans and strongly feel this has become one of our favorite vacations.