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Midnight Blue

Pride of America (POA) - Review of cruise November 16-23, 2013

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Introduction

 

I and my family of choice just completed a cruise on Pride of America (POA) from November 16-23, 2013. Some of you may have followed my trials and tribulations with NCL leading up to the cruise (see my other posts both on this forum as well as in the Hawaii forum). This review will not revisit those issues unless it’s necessary to explain something that pertains to the cruise itself. This post (and the follow up posts) will focus on the cruise itself, with some commentary on our pre- and post-cruise activities.

To orient you to who is telling the story, my ohana is made up of 3 adults ranging in age from our late 40s to our late 60s. We are all fairly active, although one of us (my partner) is 40% disabled due to injuries she received while in military service with the U.S. Marine Corps. None of us are big on laying on beaches and soaking up sun. We like great food, getting off the beaten path, learning about the ecology of the places we're visiting, and in at least the case of one of us... shopping. (Yes, that would be me.)

This review will not be a chronological, full-blown travelogue of our day to day schedule, sightseeing, meals, etc. Others have done a fine job of posting that kind of review for this particular cruise ship itinerary, so you don’t need me to do to it again. Instead, I am splitting the review up into topics such as “Introduction,” “Embarkation,” “The Ship,” “The Suite - 12006,” “The Off Ship Activities,” etc. This first post is the introduction and then I’ll respond to this post, addressing a different topic in each of my responses. As noted, this review will not necessarily be in chronological order – for example, I’ll lump pre- and post- cruise comments together in a topic at the end of the review.

The review also will not feature lots of photos – again, others who are better at photography than I am have already provided beautiful shots of the amazing scenery. I do plan to post some photos of our particular suite at the appropriate time in the review and possibly an exterior shot or two of the infamous Deck 13 suites overlooking the pool.

I hope you find this review helpful. I know how much I have learned from the reviews many of you have written, so I appreciate the chance to “pay it forward.” Mahalo!

Edited by Midnight Blue

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Let me start by making some general comments on the reason we’re all here – The Pride of America. There have been many reviews and comments written here at CruiseCritic about this ship. Even after POA came out of drydock earlier this year, many people have commented that the ship isn’t attractive or looks worn.

 

What is everyone complaining about? Clearly, I must have received a surprise call from the Ship Upgrade Fairy and found myself on a different ship than the one I’ve seen described here.

 

The POA in my estimation was lovely and in very good shape. I and my family saw evidence everywhere of the upgrades done during drydock. No, she isn’t a brand- spanking-new-with-every-bell-and-whistle-Breakaway kind of ship. But clearly, NCL put significant money into spiffing her up and it shows.

 

The only “downside” is if you like a ship with a big, multistory atrium/Main Street kind of configuration, POA will disappoint you. Yes, it has the center area with the presidential seal embedded in the floor, curved staircases and some lovely stained glass, but that’s it. Also, if you need a ship with the latest waterslide, newest pool, waverider, miniature golf, etc. then this isn’t the ship for you.

 

But if you’re looking for a freshened up ship that has a more intimate, manageable feel to it, POA is it. She does have all new carpet in the public areas. Everything looked painted and polished nicely – no evidence of any significant wear and tear. At least some of the deck loungers looked new to me, and none of them looked worn out. One of my family members was on his first cruise and his major concern was that he would feel claustrophobic on the ship. He didn’t on POA.

 

I'll make separate posts about the ship's restaurants, spa, entertainment, staff, etc. so stayed tuned for those.

I do have to note that on the first night out of Honolulu, this ship rocked and rolled, and I don’t mean in the musical sense. Granted, it’s winter and apparently that means larger waves around Oahu. Our suite was higher up in the ship (Deck 12) and forward, making movement more likely to be felt. And all of my cruising to date has been in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico (the Gulf is like cruising in a bathtub, most of the time). But I still was surprised when I had to break out the Dramamine. Things seemed to calm down as the week went on.

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Awesome!! I can'twait for the rest of your review. We are leaving Thursday for Hawaii and set sail on Saturday. So excited!!!

 

Sent from my SPH-D710 using Forums mobile app

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Sounds like we were on the same ship you were ;) we also thought she was just lovely. I look forward to reading more of your review!

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Thanks for taking the time to share your experience. Out of all the ships I have been on, the interior decor on the POA is right up there on the top of my list. The Liberty Dining room for example beats any restaurant on the Dawn and Jewel class in my opinion. The Library, Pink's Champagne bar, the Bistro..all very well done.

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My ohana stayed in 12006. This suite (the Grande Suite) happens to be unique on the POA -- there isn't another one like it (or really even close to it), so please keep in mind that my comments about it can't necessarily be generalized to any other suite or stateroom on the ship.

 

First of all, this suite is BIG. It's over 1,300 square feet, including the balcony. It sits pretty far forward on the ship on the starboard side of Deck 12. Even though the Key West Bar and pool access as well as the kid's club are located on this deck, the suite was very quiet. No noise issues.

 

NCL booking representatives had told me nothing had been done to 12006 during the drydock and subsequent refurbishment other than to replace the carpet. That was absolutely not correct. In fact, 12006 received a full makeover -- new carpet, completely new furniture, new flat screen TVs, new curtains, etc. The color scheme is now gold, brown, and burgundy (rather than the old color scheme of shocking pink the website displayed). The suite is very nice, and ranks up there with some very fine hotels. Other amenities provided include a set of binoculars and a laptop computer on the desk in the bedroom (internet minutes are NOT included).

 

I can absolutely confirm without question that 12006 is a one bedroom suite. There is a real, honest to goodness bedroom with a sliding door -- not a curtain. The bed in the bedroom is king sized and quite comfortable. The mattress feels new. The famous NCL Pillow Menu provided me with a variety of pillow options, which I took full advantage of.

 

The couch in the living area folds out into a king sized bed. We requested that an egg crate mattress topper be put on it and it was fine. Not as comfortable as the bed in the bedroom, but quite livable. We had the cabin steward put the bed back into couch configuration in the morning and then make it up as a bed each night when we went out for the evening.

 

The suite has a large living room area that includes a seating area with a sofa, several chairs and a coffee table; a wetbar area with a sink, small refrigerator, bar/counter and several stools; a butler's pantry with another sink, storage, the famous Lavazza coffee maker and small refrigerator (no microwave); and a dining area with a table and 6 chairs. A small 1/2 bath is just off the entrance way with a toilet and sink. The living room also contains my vote for Most Wasted Space in a Cruise Ship Suite -- a baby grand player piano. My family used it as a place to put all those things we didn't want to forget when we went out, as well as the designated spot to leave each other notes.

 

The bedroom contains as noted earlier a king sized bed. It also has two bedside tables and a small desk and chair. The walk in closet is very large and has plenty of both hanging and drawer space. The three of us didn't come close to filling the closet.

 

In addition to the guest half bath, there is a very large en suite master bath. It includes a very long counter with storage and two sinks and a smaller dressing table area with lighted mirror, stool and additional storage. The toilet is in an enclosed space with a glass door which also has another counter and sink. The shower is glass enclosed with a rainshower head (my favorite). There also is a jacuzzi tub large enough for two. Finally, the bathroom features a large window that lets in lots of natural light.

 

One of the highlights of this suite is, of course, the lanai. It stretches the full length of the suite, and that entire wall of the suite is glass, giving you fabulous views. The lanai has a dining table that seats 6, a couple of additional chairs, two chaise loungers and a storage chest. There also is a hot tub that seats 4. We used the hot tub several times over the course of the week and really enjoyed having it right there. Even with all of that, the balcony still has lots of room. All of the balcony furniture was new and it looked to me like the decking on the balcony may also be new.

 

Overall, we were very, very happy with 12006. Although I didn't go into any other Deck 12 suites, based on glimpses of them, it looked to me as though all the suites on this deck were refreshed in the same was as 12006.

 

Next, I'll make a short post about some CC wisdom that just doesn't apply to POA 12006 and then I'll try to post some photos of the suite.

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Let me take a moment to dispel a few common beliefs that are often shared here on CC that just don't apply to 12006. Your mileage may vary when it comes to other staterooms on POA and definitely on any other ship.

 

Myth 1: Every wall in a ship stateroom is metal, so bring magnets to tack up things in your cabin.

 

Truth: In POA 12006, the only metal walls I could fine were the door to the suite an the door to the half bath just inside of the suite. A roll of transparent tape would have been more useful. (Or in the case of 12006, just put everything on the top of the grand piano!)

 

Myth 2: You need to bring something to hang up to put all of your toiletries in because there is very little storage space. (Over the door shoe organizers are highly recommended.)

 

Truth: There were 3 of us. We desperately tried to fill all of the storage space in the suite and couldn't. I estimate that we filled maybe of 1/2 of the available storage space. And the doors were too thick to hang up the over the door storage organizers. This is one of those things that is almost certainly unique to 12006, but if you stay in this suite, storage space is the last thing you have to worry about.

 

Myth 3: There are only a few electrical outlets. Bring power bars.

 

Truth: In fact, there were many electrical outlets in 12006. We did use one of the two power bars we brought because there weren't a lot of outlets near the couch when it was folded out as a bed. But seriously. There are lots of outlets.

 

Myth 4: When you wash out a few things in the sink, you can hang them on the clothesline in the bathtub.

 

Truth: Not in 12006. You've got the separate shower/jacuzzi tub thing going, so no clothesline. (If you're wondering, I stretched mine between a couple of chairs on the lanai.)

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There's been a lot of discussion on this website about the Deck 13 Suites on the POA. I did not see the interiors of any of those suites, but here are some photos of the Deck 13 suites which have balconies overlooking the pool. To orient you, I took the photos from Deck 12, looking toward the front (forward) part of the ship -- so these balconies face toward the back (aft) part of the ship. The pool and live entertainment are on Deck 11, there are deck chairs and the Key West Bar and Grill on Deck 12 (where I'm standing) and then the suites directly above on Deck 13. Anyone looking out of the balconies in these photos will see immediately below them the pool and Key West Bar and Grill, and then down the length of the ship. To the right and left, a person on the balcony of one of these suties could see ocean, island, whatever the ship is passing at that point, but would be seeing it through the high glass panels that surround this deck.

 

 

11060550014_9872ced39e_n.jpg

IMG_0606 by titaniumfemme, on Flickr

 

 

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IMG_0607 by titaniumfemme, on Flickr

 

 

11060521626_c0a968c16c_n.jpg

IMG_0608 by titaniumfemme, on Flickr

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Thank you so much for posting this. We are departing 12/7 staying just above where you were in 13004.

 

Please take photos.

 

I'm still looking for someone staying in 13502 to take pics! ;-)

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Hi MidnightBlue,

 

We were very glad to hear from you.

 

It's sounding like you had a good cruise?

Still waiting for your comments about the plumbing leak - did they get it fixed before your arrival? And it's good to know there is a "proper" bedroom (one at least!), because the floor plans didn't make that clear at all.

 

Meanwhile, we had an unexpected event.

DH had emergency surgery yesterday, and we've just cancelled our entire trip. The trip was to celebrate a couple of major life events, so it's especially difficult. But health comes first.

He should be okay, but he'll need frequent monitoring for a while.

(We'll reschedule. This trip to Hawaii has been a dream for many years.)

 

We look forward to reading the rest of your reports!

Thanks for the time you are spending, so we can all learn more about the pros/cons...

 

GeezerCouple

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Hi MidnightBlue,

 

We were very glad to hear from you.

 

It's sounding like you had a good cruise?

Still waiting for your comments about the plumbing leak - did they get it fixed before your arrival? And it's good to know there is a "proper" bedroom (one at least!), because the floor plans didn't make that clear at all.

 

Meanwhile, we had an unexpected event.

DH had emergency surgery yesterday, and we've just cancelled our entire trip. The trip was to celebrate a couple of major life events, so it's especially difficult. But health comes first.

He should be okay, but he'll need frequent monitoring for a while.

(We'll reschedule. This trip to Hawaii has been a dream for many years.)

 

We look forward to reading the rest of your reports!

Thanks for the time you are spending, so we can all learn more about the pros/cons...

 

GeezerCouple

 

Bottom line, I and my family did have a very good cruise -- thanks for asking! I'll try to post some more installments tonight. It will probably take me a few days to get through all the topics, but I'll move it along as quickly as time and upcoming "Turkey coma" will allow.

 

The leak in the bathroom was not fixed before my arrival but turned out to be quite manageable. It was definitely water (not sewage of any kind) and a towel on the floor easily dealt with the problem. Just before the cruise, NCL gave me additional, appropriate OBC compensation for all of my additional stress and worry about the leak. Bottom line, we're glad we stayed in 12006 and didn't move to another suite.

 

I am so very sorry you've had to cancel your trip. Please know that you're both in my thoughts for a speedy recovery. And you definitely have to reschedule -- as I hope my review ultimately shows, it's a cruise worth taking!

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Another much written on topic when it comes to POA is the service (or lack thereof). The general agreement seems to be that the all U.S. staff on the POA just doesn't provide the same level of service as can be found on other NCL ships or other comparable cruise lines with international crews. (Interestingly enough, I was told by several crew members that POA's crew now is actually 80% U.S. citizens and 20% citizens of other countries.)

 

To give you a sense of my point of view in rating service, it's probably worth knowing that in addition to NCL, I've cruised Carnival and RCCI ships with international crews. I've stayed in more than my fair share of 5 star hotels and dined at a number of 5 star restaurants.

 

Personally, I thought the service was not especially better or worse than what I've experienced on Carnival or RCCI. Sure, there were some occasions when service was lacking (our servers in Moderno and the Cadillac Grill), but there were also times when the service was really outstanding (our butler, our server a couple of times in Cagney's, the people with the squirt bottles saying "washee washee" with smiles on their faces every time). I can't remember ever passing a staff member without receiving a smile and an "Aloha" or "how are you today?" The biggest issue for me was that when something would go "wrong," instead of just apologizing and making it right, several of the staff said things like, "Oh, someone else gave me the wrong information" or "That was so and so's fault." Note to POA staff -- if you're the one on the spot when a problem arises, it doesn't matter whose "fault" it is. Just apologize and fix it. Work out the fault issue later with your colleagues, when the guest isn't around.

 

Was the service on POA 5 star service -- no, it wasn't. Was it bad enough to really impact my cruise experience -- no, it wasn't. Should NCL continue to work on the POA service issue -- absolutely, because this isn't a cheap cruise and NCL's customers deserve to get their money's worth. But if you'd like to see Hawaii by cruise ship, don't let the relatively small service lapses deter you from taking a look at POA.

 

Here are my thoughts on some specific staff members who made impressions on me (for better or for worse):

 

George the Butler-- George is a rock star. Just that simple. I know the butler is supposed to handle everything in the suite and the concierge everything outside the suite, but George did it all. From making sure that our wine was predelivered to the restaurant to be chilled and ready for our arrival, to delivering the daily afternoon snack, to making restaurant reservations, to ordering desserts to be boxed up and delivered to our suite, to escorting us to the head of the line to get off of the ship in port, to showing up in the restaurant to make sure our dinner was to our liking, to keeping our suite stocked with San Pellagrino, George did it all and more. With a smile. If you are lucky enough to be assigned George as your butler, get down on your knees and thank the Cruise Fairy because your cruise just got 100% better.

 

Thomas the Concierge-- Thomas was an excellent concierge. He was in Cagney's every morning to find out if we needed anything. He showed up every evening where we were eating dinner to check that everything was okay and to see if we needed anything. He personally escorted us to the head of the line for the Kona tender boat. He arranged for a porter and a taxi and escorted us off the ship when we departed. Really outstanding service.

 

Leo the Cabin Steward-- Leo started out a little slow in the service department -- for example, he seemed a little shocked that we actually wanted him to put away the sofa bed every morning -- but he improved over the course of the week. He was very pleasant and always had a smile for us.

 

Guest Services -- The couple of interactions I had with Guest Services were pleasant. The desk was well staffed and easy to deal with. My only quibble is that when I wanted to use OBC to cover gratuities for our butler and concierge, the Supervisor at the desk said that wasn't possible. I explained that yes, it was possible -- I understood I couldn't use the kind of OBC I had to cover the DSC, but that it could be used to cover gratuities outside of the DSC. He finally called his supervisor, who told him I was correct. So if you find yourself in the same situation, don't take no for an answer. Make them call someone.

 

Restaurant Staff -- Generally good, if not always super polished. The service in Moderno was disappointing -- a waiter who seemed bored and then chided us for not sampling all 10 of the meats on offer. And while I didn't expect much in the service department in the Cadillac Grill, it would have been nice to feel the server cared. At all.

 

Cruise Director-- I didn't really do any of the stuff that would have brought me in close contact with the Cruise Director. He seemed pleasant enough and was quite visible around the ship. I never quite got over hearing him introduce himself as Marky Marc, though.

 

Next up... food on the ship....

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Is there a side of the ship that you recommend?

 

If the lava isn't flowing, the Starboard side might not be as important?

Which side has better viewing of arriving and departing from the different ports? Or other considerations?

 

Your comments are REALLY helpful!

 

Thanks very much.

 

GeezerCouple

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The only “downside” is if you like a ship with a big, multistory atrium/Main Street kind of configuration, POA will disappoint you.

 

This is one of thing we like about NCL is the lack of gaudiness to their atriums and they seem to make good use of the space unlike the overtop gaudiness of Carnival ships.

Edited by Ilovesailing

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Is there a side of the ship that you recommend?

 

If the lava isn't flowing, the Starboard side might not be as important?

Which side has better viewing of arriving and departing from the different ports? Or other considerations?

 

Your comments are REALLY helpful!

 

Thanks very much.

 

GeezerCouple

 

There's definitely no lava flowing into the sea, I'm sad to report. So you're right -- being on the starboard side doesn't have any particular advantages right now.

 

The ship does sail by the Na Pali coast line with the port side facing the coast first. This is when the cultural ambassadors give some information about what you're seeing. BUT you can only hear that narration if you are on the port side and are in a public area, such as around the pool (where everyone is jammed against the port rail). If you're on your private lanai (even on the port side), you won't hear the narration. The ship comes to a brief full stop with the port side facing the coast line. Then it sails on and turns around, making a very slow pass (no stopping) along the coastline so that the starboard side of the ship has the view. So to me, there wasn't much difference between being on the port side or the starboard side in terms of seeing the Na Pali coastline. (Which was quite magnificent, I might add!)

 

Generally when the ship is in port, the starboard side is facing land. Frankly, none of the ports are much to look at -- all of them except Kona are industrial areas.

 

Bottom line for me is that I didn't see much difference between the port and starboard sides. If I were sailing POA again, I'd just pick the cabin configuration and location I liked best, and not really worry about whether it was on the port or starboard side.

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I'll second your sentiments about George - he is fantastic & I echoed many of your comments in my review from our trip in May. Sounds like we had a different concierge & CD than you did though. Thanks so much for your review; I'm really enjoying reading along!

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Thank you so much for taking the time to write the review. We loved POA and it is the ship that got our addiction to cruising started. I always love hearing stories and photos about her

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As far as I can tell, food is a "hot button" issue for every cruise line and every ship. And what is great food to one person is pig swill to someone else. So in this area, more than probably any other, you mileage may vary.

 

In this post, I'll give you my impressions of nearly all the specialty restaurants. What I can't give you is any opinion on the main dining rooms, Liberty and Skyline, because we never ate there. (There's actually a non-quality related reason why we ate a lot of our dinners in specialty restaurants -- we had a lot of OBC to burn, and as none of my ohana are big drinkers, this was a good way to spend it.)

 

So without further ado, my comments on food on the POA:

 

Moderno: This is the Argentinian churrascaria. We've eaten in this type of restaurant a number of times back home in Houston, so the bar for Moderno was set pretty high. The space (apparently formerly part of the Aloha Buffet) was attractive in a kind of retro-modern way. The salad bar that all churrascarias feature was very good, with lots of choices and the cheese rolls and side dishes were great. My ohana agrees with me on these points. But here we part ways -- the two of them didn't particularly like the meat offerings, while I thought they were fine. One of them, who tends to eat his meat medium rare or rare, really didn't like it because all of the meat was cooked medium well or well done. I actually thought it was pretty good -- not as good as the churrascarias at home, but good.

 

The service, however.... not so much and this certainly influenced all of our opinions. Moderno was the only restaurant where I saw a group of waitstaff just standing in the middle of the restaurant in a circle, talking to each other and not paying attention to the tables. It was a slow night, I'll grant you that (first night of the cruise), but it left a bad impression, especially given the bad rap POA takes for service anyway. Then our server chided us for not being able to eat some of each of the 10 different meat offerings. (The choices included chicken, sausage, lamb, beef ribs and several different cuts of beef.) If I were on POA again, I'd probably give it another try but I doubt my family would join me.

 

Cagney's -- As suite guests, we could eat in Cagney's for breakfast and lunch at no charge and then, like everyone else, at dinner for an upcharge. Lunch appeared to me to be very similar to what you'd be served for lunch in the main dining room. It was just fine -- not 5 star gourmet, but perfectly satisfactory.

 

Breakfast featured order off the menu items (omelet, a couple of kinds of eggs Benedict, pancakes, french toast, eggs, etc.) and a small buffet with cold cereals, fruit, pastries, salmon, etc. The French press coffee was excellent. As others have noted, service was not speedy, so we could only eat breakfast here when we weren't rushed to get off the ship. You should plan on about 45 minutes (at least) if you eat breakfast in Cagney's.

 

Dinner was very good. The steaks were very high quality, well prepared. The side dishes and appetizers were also quite good. My ohana was in agreement that Cagney's was worth the upcharge for dinner.

 

Cadillac Diner -- For some reason, I've been calling it the Cadillac Grill in all of my earlier posts, but you get the idea. This is a no charge dining alternative to the MDR or buffet. It features American comfort food like burgers, hotdogs, potato skins, shakes, etc. The potato skins I ordered were just okay -- not much cheese and I have a sneaking suspicion the potato mixture in the skin was mostly processed potato flakes. The regular and hot wings were a surprise hit -- both were very good. The fish and chips were fine, nothing to rave about, but fine. We didn't get a shake (there is an extra charge) but saw another table's order and they looked very good. The burgers at that table also looked good. Stick with burgers, shakes and wings and you'll be just fine here. Service was a bit lacking. Once our main meals were brought we never saw our server again.

 

La Cucina -- I'll start with the restaurant's physical appearance. I've said that I think POA is a lovely ship and I do. This was the one place on the ship where to me, decorating looked like it had been an afterthought. Not that the restaurant was dirty or dingy or in bad shape. It just looked like a small Italian restaurant in a strip mall that they owner just didn't have the money to fully decorate. The space also is long and narrow which makes its layout a little awkward. But the food was good, and even one of my family members who generally doesn't like Italian found something he enjoyed. If you want to really put yourself into "meat coma," get the osso bucco, which is what he got -- it was HUGE and really very good, much better than I would have expected on a cruise ship. Service was fine. I think it was worth the upcharge, and I'd go back.

 

Shabu Shabu (East Meets West) -- Now it gets confusing. There is an upcharge restaurant on POA called East Meets West. Really, this is 4 restaurants in one space, and you need to know that in order to make reservations for the correct one. East Meets West features Asian fusion and is order off a menu (upcharge applies). Then there is the Sushi Bar, which is order by the piece of sushi, sashimi or roll and is part of the main East Meets West dining space. Third is Teppanyaki, which is in its own enclosed space inside of East Meets West. (This is the Benihana style hibachi dining experience and is probably the toughest reservation to get on the ship. There is an upcharge. Book early.) Fourth and finally is Shabu Shabu, which you won't even see mentioned on the NCL website and which I only discovered from reading the ship's daily. It is also an upcharge.

 

Shabu Shabu is basically two rows of tables within East Meets West which have heating plates set into the middle of the tables. You are brought a pot of very hot broth, a big plate of vegetables and tofu, a plate of thin sliced raw beef and a bowl of uncooked soft noodles. You toss what you want into the hot broth to cook it, fish it out with tongs and/or a slotted spood and then dip it into one of several sauces provided. You can also create a soup by pouring some of the broth over your cooked veggies, meat and noodles. Your server will replenish your meat, vegetables and noodles as often as you like. I really enjoy this style of Japanese cooking and I thought the vegetable choices were fresh and good. The only problem I had was that because of the size of the table and the fact that the heating element was not recessed into the table (as I've seen in done in land based restaurants offering this style of preparation), actually cooking your food was awkward. You couldn't really see into the pot to monitor what was going on or to snag your meat/veggies/noodles when they were done. It just became a big hassle and we gave up pretty quickly. One member of my family didn't like it at all -- she just didn't like the preparation. I and the other family member thought the food was good, but got tired of trying to maneuver the awkward set up. All in all, food was good, but I wouldn't go back and pay the upcharge again.

 

Jefferson's Bistro -- This is the French restaurant, and one of two dining venues on the ship for which you are asked to dress up. (The other is one of the main dining rooms.) On POA that means a collared shirt and slacks or nice jeans for men and nice jeans, slacks skirts or dresses for women -- it's not a high standard. But naturally, we were seated next to a table where the two men wore shorts and the two women were in tennis shoes and "clamdigger" pants. So much for a dress code.

 

French is not my favorite cuisine, but I very much enjoyed my lobster. (There was an additional $10 upcharge for the lobster.) One of my family members had the duck, which he said was very good. Service was good and the restaurant was quiet and nicely decorated. I think my whole family would pay the upcharge to go back to this one.

 

Aloha Buffet -- This was the surprise "hit" of the cruise for my ohana. One of my family members had never been on a cruise and the idea of going to a "buffet" simply does not meet his standard of dining. :cool: But one night, none of us could make a decision on where to eat, we weren't that hungry, so we all agreed to give it a try. We did and were pleasantly surprised. Sure, there were some things that didn't look so great. (I had flash backs to my cafeteria dining youth at the sight of the hot dish stations.) But the salad bar was amazingly fresh and varied, the made to order pasta station was good, the pretzel rolls were outstanding and the made to order crepes were excellent.

 

The Aloha Buffet so impressed my non-buffet-eating family member that he suggested going back for breakfast and we did. As others have said, avoid the scrambled eggs (powdered) in favor of the made to order omelets, which were excellent. The pancakes with bananas and coconut syrup were very tasty as well. Unlike Carnival, there were no "bacon police" doling out strips so you could eat bacon to your heart's content. And one family member rejoiced to find Cream of Wheat available. (There's no accounting for taste! :p)

 

The physical buffet space was very attractive, done in aqua, sand and other "beachy" colors. The servers were pleasant and helpful. Chairs and tables were comfortable and we didn't feel crowded. The coffee was better in Cagney's (French press, after all), but not bad at all in the buffet. I would actually eat in the Aloha Buffet more often if I cruised POA again. And that's a huge surprise to me.

 

Room Service -- On those days when we had to be off the ship early, we ordered room service. It was mediocre, at best. Scrambled eggs were powdered, pastries were nondescript. The best thing I can say is that it was convenient as we could order it the night before to be delivered at a certain time. But if I had it to do over again, I'd get out of bed earlier and run down to the buffet.

 

All in all, I was favorably impressed by the food on POA. It was definitely better than what I had on Carnival just this past summer or on Royal Caribbean a few years ago. For me, the key is to set my expectations appropriately. A NCL cruise ship is not a place where I'm going to find 5 star dining by an acclaimed chef and impeccable service. That's okay -- I live in a major city where I can eat in those kinds of restaurants any time I like. All I want from a cruise ship is reasonably good food, both in variety and quality, and basic good service. POA met my expectations on both counts.

 

Coming up next...getting on and off the ship and services on the ship.

Edited by Midnight Blue

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Embarkation:

 

If you've read any other reviews of POA, it will come as no surprise to you when I say the Honolulu cruise terminal is... industrial... at best. It's like a big metal warehouse. It makes the Galveston cruise terminal look plush, and that's saying something!

 

We took at taxi to the terminal, arriving about 11:30 am and immediately looked for a porter. In Galveston, they're all over the place -- you practically trip over them. In Honolulu... not so much. But they were there if you looked (look for guys in matching aloha shirts -- they were blue the day we arrived) and once we waved one down, he quickly swept away our checked luggage. Off we went to check in.

 

NCL does a nice job with embarkation, at least for suite guests. First stop was security, where we showed our cruise tickets and drivers' licenses (since we're U.S. citizens). We also were handed a letter that said the just ended POA cruise had a higher than usual incidence of diarrhea, and we should be certain to wash our hands frequently and thoroughly. (There were hand sanitizers all over POA -- even in the elevators -- and I was glad to see the "washee washee" crew was in full force. The member of my ohana who had never been on a cruise became fascinated with the focus on sanitation and made it point to never miss a sanitizing station. :cool:)

 

Next, we put our luggage and ourselves through the appropriate metal detector and X-ray machines. We were directed into a cavernous room where we were given leis. To the right of us were a number of folding chairs with people watching a performance of traditional Hawaiian dances while they waited to be allowed on the ship. Directly in front of us, at the back of the huge area, was a line (pretty long) of folks waiting to approach what looked basically like an airline ticket counter to check in.

 

At this point, if you are a suite guest, it is critically important that you find someone from NCL and ask them where suite check in is located. It isn't marked, and I was told that it occasionally is moved to a different area of the giant room. So do NOT be shy -- ask.

 

We were directed to the left, avoiding the big line, and into an area with some chairs and one NCL representative at a table. He checked us in, took our photos and issued our ship ID cards, directed us to the tea, coffee and cookies and told us the concierge and butlers would be down in just a few minutes. Check in took less than 10 minutes and sure enough, Thomas (the concierge) and George (the butler) showed up shortly afterward. After a few minutes of small talk while we waited for a few other suite guests to check in, they whisked us off to the ship.

 

Soon we were on board the ship and in the Napa Bar, with glasses of champagne in our hands. George took our carry on luggage and promised he would take it to our suite. Thomas gave us some information about our suite perks and a rep from the spa and shore excursions told us about their offerings. Then we were escorted into Cagney's for lunch. The spa rep came around to our table and we booked massages for the afternoon.

 

If you're keeping track of time, it's now about 12:30 pm -- so for us, only an hour from hitting the port to eating lunch on the ship. Not bad at all. Thomas expected the suites would be ready by the time we finished lunch, but they weren't, so off we went to the spa. (More about that in another post). It seemed they were running a little late that day getting the ship turned for the new passengers, as our suite wasn't ready until around 1:30 pm or so. But that was no big deal, and I really appreciated the ease of embarkation.

 

It took a while for our luggage to arrive -- so long, in fact, I started quizzing my ohana on whether they had anything in their luggage that would send them to the "naughty room!" They didn't, and all of the luggage did arrive eventually. Again, things seemed to be running a little behind for the ship's crew, but it was truly no big deal.

 

Getting off the ship in port:

 

As a suite guest, getting off the ship in port was a breeze. At George's instruction, we let him know when we wanted to get off and he came to our suite and escorted us to the head of the line. At Kona, the tender port, Thomas took us back through the crew area and ensured we were the *last* people on the tender so that we would be *first* off in Kona. Getting off the ship simply required us to swipe our ship ID card; getting back on required our government ID, ship card and a trip through a metal detector, with our bags going through an X-ray machine.

 

Final debarkation:

 

Although getting off POA was the last thing any of us wanted to do, it was amazingly easy. We didn't have to commit to a debarkation time. Instead, we told George we would debark around 9:00 am and would need a porter and a taxi. He showed up at our suite and along with Thomas, again escorted us to the head of the debarkation line. George and Thomas walked us to where our checked luggage was waiting, brought over a porter, called the cab to be at the front of the terminal and went all the way through the terminal to the taxi with us, where they wished us a great trip home. Total time to get off the ship -- 10 minutes, max. It just doesn't get any better or easier than that.

 

Up next: stuff we did on POA.

Edited by Midnight Blue

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In this post, I’ll round up my thoughts on various activities on POA. Without a doubt, a cruise on POA is port intensive so I didn’t participate in any of the activities like the games or the hula dancing or lei making. But I did take advantage of a few shipboard activities that I’ll describe below.

 

Mandara Spa: I visited the spa twice, once for a massage and once for a facial. The other members of my family also had massages, and one had the Fire and Ice manicure.

 

The spa was not huge, but it was attractive, and I thought the relaxation room was particularly nice with some comfortable couches, low lights, soft music and fruit infused water on offer. The women’s dressing room was small, but included a wet and a dry sauna (I assume the men’s dressing room did as well).

 

All of my family members thought our massages were quite good, and that’s high praise as one member of my family is a professional massage therapist. I rated my facial as fine, but probably not worth the price, and my family member felt the same way about her manicure.

 

On the plus side, very much on the plus side, no one tried any hard sell of products at the end of the treatments. I’ve had that on other cruise lines and I absolutely hate it. So thank you NCL and POA for that!

 

There were some in port specials during the cruise (package deals for multiple services) and on the last two days of the cruise, they offered 10% off “signature services.”

 

You should be aware that the spa automatically adds a gratuity but includes a line on the bill for “additional tip.”

 

Fitness Center: I will quickly admit that I never actually used the fitness center, but I did walk through it several times to get to the spa, so I feel qualified to comment on it. :D To me, the fitness center looked brand new – very bright and clean. There are numerous treadmills, quite a few free weights and some other basic fitness machines. There also is an aerobics room – some classes (like Zumba, Boot Camp cardio and yoga) were offered throughout the week for an additional fee.

 

The Pool: POA is an older ship, so the pool is smaller. But the pool area was nicely maintained and the loungers looked new or nearly new. And again, because POA is a port intensive cruise, loungers were always available. (No need for blue dots, at least not on my particular cruise!) There was a separate kid’s pool and hot tub, but I didn’t really check them out.

 

The Shows: I went to two shows while on POA – “Never Too Old to Rock and Roll” with Toby Beau and “Oh What a Night,” a tribute to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.

 

Toby Beau is a one hit wonder from the 1970s (and is a duo with a back up band, rather than a single person, just so you know). I’ll show my age and admit that I actually know the words to Toby Beau’s one hit, that 1978 smash “My Angel Baby.” (Go ahead, look it up. Then I dare you to get the chorus out of your head for the next month. ;)) The band does covers of a number of 1970s and 1980s vintage rock. I wouldn’t say this is the absolute best show I’ve ever seen in my life, even on a cruise ship where in general my standards are lower, but I’ve gotta admit – these folks worked hard to entertain an audience of people who had mostly never heard of them. They get big points from me for effort. And it was a free and a moderately entertaining way to relax at the end of a long day spent on shore.

 

“Oh What a Night” was also entertaining – both because the band members were so engaging and because of the somewhat... mature... female passengers who apparently were quite taken with the band members. Suffice it to say that there’s only one Frankie Valli, but the show was free and fun (and not overly long), so no complaints.

 

The Shops: No cruise is complete without shopping, at least in my opinion. POA had a small selection of shops, one mostly knick knack souvenir type things, one mostly clothing, and a Na Hoku jewelry store. The Na Hoku store was quite large and offered Hawaiian themed jewelry as well as diamond jewelry and the like at a variety of price points. Na Hoku has stores in every port that I recall, as well. I didn’t cross check the prices, but the on board prices didn’t seem particularly outrageous to me.

 

Of course there was no duty free shopping because you don’t go into international waters, but the stores also stay open in port. No big sales, either – there was a 50% off sale the last day in the souvenir store, but it was a very limited selection of items that looked like they had been hauled out just for the sale. There was also a t-shirt sale (buy 2 , get one free as I recall).

 

Next up: What I did on the islands (and it probably will be a few days before I get to this one).

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For my last post, I’ll do a quick rundown of things my ohana and I did off of the POA:

 

Maui (first day) – Road to Hana with Valley Isle Tours

I’m glad we did the Road to Hana tour and with a couple of caveats, I think Valley Isle Tours did a nice job.

 

The Valley Isle buses hold about 12 people and have very comfortable “captain’s chairs.” Our tour guide was Pu (pronounced “Pooh” as in “Winnie the Pooh”). She was born and raised on Maui and clearly is proud of her culture and heritage. I enjoyed hearing her stories and the information she shared. It didn’t hurt that she had an absolutely lovely voice.

 

A warning is in order here, because truly, the Road to Hana can be nausea inducing. I ride a Harley and I’ve ridden my bike over some really twisty, elevated roads (including the famous “89A” between Jerome and Prescott, Arizona) with no problems, but I found myself gulping Dramamine on this road. So be prepared. Also, be prepared to have someone in your bus (like we did) who talked... and talked... and talked.... He. Would. Not. Shut. Up. EVER. This certainly isn’t Valley Isle’s fault – it’s just one of the hazards of taking an organized tour. But it definitely made an impact on our day.

 

What Valley Isle does have control over is where you stop on the tour. Clearly, all of the tour companies have arrangements with certain places to stop, and they aren’t necessarily the most interesting places on the road. On our tour, we whipped through Hana itself (which looked kind of funky and cute to me) in favor of stopping at some unidentified place that grows ginger flowers to eat the lunch provided as a part of the tour. But first, we had to make it through a bit of a sales pitch for shipping tropical arrangements back to the mainland and walk past some pretty junky trinkets. We also stopped at Charles Lindburg’s grave, which felt like nothing more than a time filler. Toward the end of the tour, we stopped at local winery – of course, if you purchase a bottle to take with you, you’ll be charged a $15 corkage fee to bring it on the ship, which makes this not a very interesting stop. (When Pu was told about the corkage charge issue she was quite surprised and said she wondered why no one from the ship ever bought any wine.) It’s also worth knowing that because of the heavy traffic on the road, you don’t really stop at any waterfalls – mostly, we just drove by them... very... very... slowly.

 

The tour is long – we left at a little after 8 am and didn’t get back to the ship until almost 5 pm – so don’t plan on anything else for the day. Despite my few criticisms of the tour above, I think it was a good way to see the Road to Hana and a large part of the island of Maui in one day. I wouldn’t do it again, but I would recommend it to anyone visiting the island for the first time.

 

Maui (second day) – One member of my ohana went on the Molokini Crater snorkel excursion. The tour uses a big catamaran that holds 100+ people. She said it was fine, but she didn’t see that many fish. She did see some turtles. I and my other family member rented a car and went shopping in Lahaina. The shopping was not exceptional, but the town was pleasant and we had a great lunch at Kimo’s looking out over the ocean.

 

Hilo – My family arranged for a private tour with Mary Lou’s Tours. We visited Volcanoes National Park, the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut plantation, a very small local coffee grower/roaster, Rainbow Falls and a black sand beach. The tour used a small van and Mary Lou herself drove us around. VNP was the highlight of the day – the rest of it wasn’t all that exciting. But we did get to see a good part of that half of the Big Island and Mary Lou was quite warm, friendly and enthusiastic. The tour started at about 8:30 am and we got back to the ship about 3:30 pm. You could do much worse than this tour.

 

Kona – My snorkeling family member went on the Captain Zodiac snorkel tour and gave it an unreserved two thumbs up. She loved the smaller boats and said she saw more different kinds of fish in the first 30 minutes than she saw during the entire time at Molokini Crater. Highly recommended.

 

The other family member and I went shopping in Kona. Truly not much to shop for there other than t-shirts, knick knacks and, of course, coffee. Still, it was a beautiful day in paradise and who can really complain about that?

 

Kauai (first day) – My ohana rented a car for a self tour of Waimea Canyon. I’m glad we chose this option as we had had enough of scheduled tours and activities by this time. We took our time getting to the Canyon, and the drive was not particularly difficult. It’s quite beautiful, and definitely a sight to see, but seeing the canyon doesn’t take that long (unless, of course, you plan to hike in the vicinity). We spent maybe a half an hour at the canyon.

 

On our way back to the ship from the canyon, we stopped at Kauai Coffee (the largest coffee plantation in the U.S.) where we sampled many of their roasts and had several shipped home. Kauai Coffee offers a free tour or you can do a short (about 15-20 minute) self tour on well marked pathways with various information signs scattered along the way. Following the theme of the day, we chose the self tour and thought it was interesting.

 

After Kauai Coffee, on a whim, we decided to take a little detour through the town of Old Koloa. This turned out to be the absolute surprise gem of the entire vacation. The land around the town originally was a sugar cane plantation, and the town was the “company town” where all of the plantation workers bought their food, hardware, clothing, etc. Nowadays the “town” (really a short row of buildings) is made up of restaurants and unique/unusual shops.

 

We ended up eating at two food trucks that were parked just down the street from the town center – one was Mexican and the other Thai. Both looked to be permanently or semi-permanently parked in the location as they had picnic tables with umbrellas in front of them. We ordered Diablo shrimp from the Mexican truck and spring rolls from the Thai truck. Both were really excellent and all the better for the feeling that we had made an off the beaten path discovery.

 

My family also hit all of the stores in Old Koloa and found a number of reasonably priced, not mass market gifts for ourselves and for folks back on the mainland. I really recommend getting away from the tour buses and their stops and instead making your way to Old Koloa.

 

Kauai (second day): I and one of my family members stayed on the ship and visited the spa again. Our third family member took the shuttle bus from the port to a group of shops at a nearby Marriott. He found some fun T-shirts and one or two other items there. Mostly, we viewed this as our “day at sea” in preparation for the sail by of the Na Pali coast. (The ship leaves port at 2:30 pm on this day, so there isn’t a lot of time to do anything on shore.)

 

Off the ship and back on Oahu: We had most of Saturday and Sunday to explore Oahu, and wanted to get out of Honolulu for at least part of the time. Here’s what we did:

 

Oahu (Saturday): We rented a car and drove around the edge of the island to the North Shore. On the way, we stopped at one of the famous North Shore shrimp trucks – in our case, The Shrimp Shack. It’s permanently parked next to Ching’s Convenience Store (which has been providing convenience since 1935). We got poke from Ching’s and garlic shrimp from the Shrimp Shack, and enjoyed our lunch sitting at picnic tables just a few feet (and one narrow highway) away from the Pacific. Ahhhhh.

 

Moving along, we stopped to take a look at the surfers surfing the Banzai Pipeline and then ended up at the small, funky North Shore town of Haleiwa. Haleiwa is the home of Matsumoto’s Shave Ice, which some say is the best on the islands. I don’t know if that’s the case, but it definitely was delicious. Great little shops, a wonderful island vibe – if I ever go back, I’ll definitely spend more time in Haleiwa.

 

Oahu (Sunday): Sunday morning we made our way to Pearl Harbor with the idea of paying our respects at the USS Arizona Memorial and visiting the Mighty Mo (the USS Missouri).

 

If you buy your tickets for the Arizona in advance on line (which I recommend), you will be told you should arrive an hour in advance. Actually, I recommend arriving much earlier than that in order to fully experience the museum that accompanies a trip to the memorial. We had purchased the audio self guided tour which is narrated by Jamie Lee Curtis. (Her father, Tony Curtis, served in the Pacific in WWII.) The museum and audio tour were beautifully done and completely engaging. I think it’s very helpful to have been through most of the museum before going to the memorial itself, and we thought the hour and 15 minutes or so that we had for the museum wasn’t really enough.

 

To visit the Arizona, you board a small boat piloted by Navy sailors. You are (quite rightly) reminded that you are visiting sacred ground – a burial site. I won’t say much about the actual memorial except to say that it was incredibly moving. I’m not ashamed to say that I was moved to tears, especially when a member of my family who served in the Marine Corps stood at attention and saluted the tablet memorializing the names of the Marines who lost their lives that day. A visit to the Arizona is simply not to be missed.

 

Next, we were scheduled to take the shuttle to the Mighty Mo – but my family decided that we were too emotionally and physically worn out to do that. Instead, we went back to the hotel room we had kept in order to shower and change for our flight home.

 

And so, that evening, we bid aloha to Hawaii... a vacation none of us will ever forget.

 

Mahalo for joining me on our journey – and may your visit to Hawaii be as beautiful and unforgettable as ours was.

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Midnight Blue, Sis and family also had Pu as their guide and the very first thing they mentioned was her voice. She must be quite impressive. They did stop at the waterfalls however.

 

We had Ken from Mary Lou's for both Hilo and Kona, and the Mary Lou's tour of Kona was the highlight of the trip for us. So glad the cruise worked out for you!

 

el henry

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I agree about the road to Hana. I never get carsick, but I couldn't wait to get off that road!! I was nauseous about an hour into the 5 hour trip! It was extremely beautiful and we got awesome pictures, but doing it once was plenty for me. We rented a jeep and drove ourselves. We caught up with busses at one point and thought as bad as we felt, it must be worse on the bus! I highly recommend everyone try it once though.

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My ohana stayed in 12006. This suite (the Grande Suite) happens to be unique on the POA -- there isn't another one like it (or really even close to it), so please keep in mind that my comments about it can't necessarily be generalized to any other suite or stateroom on the ship.

 

First of all, this suite is BIG. It's over 1,300 square feet, including the balcony. It sits pretty far forward on the ship on the starboard side of Deck 12. Even though the Key West Bar and pool access as well as the kid's club are located on this deck, the suite was very quiet. No noise issues.

 

NCL booking representatives had told me nothing had been done to 12006 during the drydock and subsequent refurbishment other than to replace the carpet. That was absolutely not correct. In fact, 12006 received a full makeover -- new carpet, completely new furniture, new flat screen TVs, new curtains, etc. The color scheme is now gold, brown, and burgundy (rather than the old color scheme of shocking pink the website displayed). The suite is very nice, and ranks up there with some very fine hotels. Other amenities provided include a set of binoculars and a laptop computer on the desk in the bedroom (internet minutes are NOT included).

 

We were snooping around the 12th floor and the door to 12006 was open (the concierge told us it was empty and they were doing work on it so he would "ask" if we could go in to see it. Well, we just gave it a shot on our own and it was definitely being "worked on". I have some pictures of your suite the past week:

 

ImageUploadedByForums1386573454.898252.jpg.e644b03fcf3cd8df48725a4bbf3bf303.jpg

 

ImageUploadedByForums1386573494.912625.jpg.56f5aff7a4d753a51bfd4c4bdf8eb14e.jpg

 

ImageUploadedByForums1386573568.186541.jpg.09e431ecfb3cb39aac388abb25039ac1.jpg

 

They seemed to be working in the bedroom, but I couldn't really tell what they were doing. It is an awesome suite though.

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Many thanks, Midnight Blue, for a superb rundown of your trip. It's balanced and smoothly written. Thank you for "painting" all those pictures of what it will be like for others, in advance of our trip!

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Thank you so much for posting this. We are departing 12/7 staying just above where you were in 13004.

 

@skycheney

 

Hi there!

 

I'm going on my honeymoon soon, staying in room 13004 too! How did you like that room?? Any chance you have some pictures you don't mind sharing?

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Giantfan,

You will not be disappointed. Stateroom 13004 was beautiful. The balcony is huge as is the bathroom. My photos are on another computer, so I will try to post a few later.

 

But, we were very pleased with the suite. The location is great. It's out of the way and very quiet. Everything is new and there is plenty of room to spread out and relax. My only wish is that we could have spent more time there instead of running around trying to see everything. But that is the nature of this cruise. The destinations are so magnificent, that you don't end up spending much time aboard.

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Giantfan,

You will not be disappointed. Stateroom 13004 was beautiful. The balcony is huge as is the bathroom. My photos are on another computer, so I will try to post a few later.

 

But, we were very pleased with the suite. The location is great. It's out of the way and very quiet. Everything is new and there is plenty of room to spread out and relax. My only wish is that we could have spent more time there instead of running around trying to see everything. But that is the nature of this cruise. The destinations are so magnificent, that you don't end up spending much time aboard.

 

I agree about spending more time running around off the ship. I think if I ever take this cruise again I will just get a regular balcony room as we were hardly ever in it (and most of the cruising was done at night so couldn't really see anything on the balcony anyways). I did love Hawaii though!!:D

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