Overall Cruise: We went into the cruise with some reservations. We went on the October 10, 2004, cruise. We were called by our travel agent during the previous week to tell us that NCL was offering a full, no penalty refund if we chose to cancel our trip. We were on the Big Island and went to the port in Kona when the ship docked to talk to passengers that were on the POA to find out how their experience had been. We were happy to find out that they had overall been pleased with the ship. So, we forged ahead and took the plunge.
First off Hawaii is the most beautiful place I have ever visited. The POA offers a easy way to get to see many different things in a short amount of time. Most of your awake time is in port. The staff is very very friendly, they are trying their best, and are still undermanned but do a good job. NCL waived the $10 a day "Resort Fee" on our cruise so, it was back to tipping at your discretion. Overall I would recommend this cruise as a way to see a lot of Hawaii. If your primary reason for going is to go on a 5 Star cruise ship, I would probably look elsewhere. I was in a group of 6 and we enjoyed our time on the ship and loved Hawaii, and expect the ship service levels will continue to get better as time goes on.
Embarkation: THe whole getting on the ship process was handled easily. You just have to wait in line similar to the airport security lines and pony up to the desk get your picture taken get your room keys and go. Make sure you have submitted credit card info ahead of time, to avoid delays at check-in.
Public Rooms: Are certainly nice enough. They have the usual over-stuffed furniture for seating. One problem that we found was how many fellow passengers smoked. This made for an unpleasant situation on more than one occasion. The way the seats are located in the theater makes quick entry or exit very hard to do. I don't know if it is because there are more seats than were planned originally, but getting in and out of the rows proved a challenge.
Cabin: The room was not as small as we had expected, a pleasant surprise for sure. The room steward service was certainly adequate. We had none of the issues others had talked about such as the bed not being made up or dirty sheets, our room was made up as expected each day and was clean.
Shore Excursions: We did our own shore touring. I had reserved a car at Kauai and Maui prior to going on the cruise. All car rental agencies pick you up right at the ship and bring you to the cars. We did use the suggested ship tours as a guide for what we wanted to do. We did not rent a car on the Big Island because we had spent time there previously and did see the need for it. Having a car is certainly necessary if you are going to try to visit any of the islands. The cars run about $30 a day, certainly less than you would spend with a NCL sponsored excursion. To the best of my knowledge the only stop where cars are not available was Kona because of the distance to the airport, the shuttles won't come to the ship. Also Kona is the only stop where you have to tender to shore, all others you dock right at the pier. A must do is the bike ride down the mountain in Maui. There are several bike companies that do it and make sure you make reservations ahead of time, we used Mountain Riders in Maui and were very happy with the ride. They pick you right at the gate, though you must go outside of the security fence because they are not allowed to go in to get you. The only NCL tour we took was the Natural Tour of Oahu on the Sunday morning at the end of the cruise. It was a way to kill a couple of hours, have our luggage travel around with us, and see some things around Honolulu and surrounding areas that we had not seen previously. Our tour guide was extremely well informed and could answer any question thrown at him.
Dining: This is still an area that needs some work. The POA staff certainly are trying hard, but and still undermanned and it impacts dining more than any other activity on board. The service in the 2 dining rooms is not consistent. One night you'll have a professional well trained waiter and the next night you'll have someone who must be serving their first meal ever. The overall menu was less varied than we have had on other cruises. There was one special of the day along with maybe one other different item but, for the most part the menu was identical every day, the appetizers were the same all week, only one item changed on the dessert menu daily. The buffets were OK. The lines were not too bad and the staff is trying very hard but there are times when drinks are empty, no cups, no napkins, but overall food was OK and as always the view from high above is beautiful.
Entertainment: There was a production in the theater most nights that was good. The second seating for the show was rarely more than 1/2 full, so seating was easy. One thing that we found is that there was not much activity around the boat besides the primary theater. Once the show was over there was nothing going on. We were in a group of 6 so we did things as a group, but there was not much ship sponsored things to do.
Fitness & Recreation: The exercise room is of good size and there are 5 or 6 treadmills and stationary bikes as well as weight equipment available. The only time I found it hard to get a machine was before 7am. There was usually a wait, but the rest of the day you pretty much had the place to yourself.
Value for Price: Certainly this cruise is on the expensive side. It cost us more than double what a Caribbean cost us last year. But, you are in HAWAII!!!!! It is pretty economical when you figure that it costs at least $120 to fly round trip via Aloha Air or Hawaiian Air between the islands. The opportunity to visit several different islands makes the cost a little less painful.