This is my 8th cruise, so the comparison I have here is based on a range of cruise experience with Princess, RCCL, Celebrity & Carnival.
What I like most: The Hawaiian itinerary. That's what brought us to POA, two overnight stays in Kauai & Maui are especially enjoyable. The NCL excursions though a little more expensive than locally arranged ones are overall very good. They gave us great overview of each ports. We especially enjoyed the Road to Hana in Maui, with Meryl the pearl - Tour Operator Extraordinaire @ Polynesian Adventures tours. His flamboyant humor and insights along the way made a beautiful trip awesome and out of this world. The guy truly enjoys the drive himself even though he's been in the business for 21 years. We were pleasantly surprised at how good the snorkeling was at Kona's Culture and Snorkel in the Place of Refuge.
The evening entertainment was very good. We went to all the Jean Ann Ryan Co. productions and they were excellent. Scott Alexander's magic and comedy was good, although some of the tricks were not original. As reported, Stardust Theatre is cold! Too cold to be comfortable, and the chairs were not that comfortable. We went there early to get good seats in the early shows. Perhaps the older crowd had something to do with it, the late show did not have any problem, majority of the passengers went to bed early and got up early for shore activities. The other factor is jet lag for East Coast people.
Embarking and disembarking are efficient and up to standard. The only thing we found different is they did not use x-ray machine to search the bags, but they did it by hand. In Hilo & Maui terminal, it made for a 30 min. line up wait to get back on board when everyone was getting back at the same time.
What I did not like most: As a cruise experience, the POA is less desirable than most we have been on. However, with lots of warnings from earlier CC passengers who posted on these boards, we were prepared. Still, the dining room experience was underwhelming. While the food prepared was presented beautifully, it was usually very bland and portion small as warned by others. Service was below par, while everyone tried very hard to please and was enthusiastic & friendly. But they were not adequately trained. The two nights we spent at Palace & Crossings, the service was slow. Understaffing is part of the problem, our one server was doing everything by himself: drinks, food, bus and clean. His inexperience also meant inefficiency. All the other time, we ended up eating the buffet at deck 11 Hukilau Lanai. The food is tastier there and we can eat a lot faster. The staffs there tried very hard to clean up right after people left. There were complaints by those who just happened to arrive before cleaning up was possible. I do not think it was a fair criticism, especially at Breakfast peak time.
Perhaps the dining room deficiency has increased the workload for the buffet in the evening as well, if it worked out better down stairs at Crossings and Palace, I am sure less people will end up eating at the deck 11 buffet. We did try the two specialty restaurants - Royal Palm Bistro and Kahili (for my wife's birthday). While food at both are good and service excellent, we thought we should have got those kinds of service in the regular dining room as in other cruise lines. We do not like paying extra for service that should have been standard. Cocktail drinks were atrocious, especially from the dining room, my Pina Colada was tasteless and at another diner, my wife's Pineapple smoothie was so watered down that she asked for another one twice. The Maitre D' did intervene for the third attempt. We missed the experienced international crew from other cruises.
The Ship: It was beautifully and colorfully decorated. I enjoyed the Hawaiian theme, especially the Kumu Cultural Centre midship on deck 7. Having the Hawaiian Ambassador Kamana'o was a delight, I enjoyed talking with him on various Hawaiian subjects. The cabin was smaller than others, but functional otherwise. Bringing additional cloth hangers was a great tip from many who had gone before us. Our cabin steward was slow, she missed the evening turn down most nights before we got back to our cabin following the shows. We did tip her first thing when we met her on Sunday, but that did not seem to help the rest of the week. We were treated as special guests in other cruises, but not this one. The beds were firm but fine for us, not as hard as others have made them to be.
Overall: Like other reviewers, I recommend this cruise to those who want to see Hawaii. It is a great way to see at least 4 or 5 places within a week. Unless you have more than 12 days, doing a comparable land package would be difficult. It is unfortunately not for traditional experienced cruisers. This is not a ship for you to enjoy for the sake of the ship itself. It is better than a floating hotel and resort, if only they improve on food and the dining room service. I think things have improved from the first two months, thanks to many CC's comments and effort, but it is still somewhat below par, compared to other cruise experience we had.