When you cruise to Hawaii, you certainly are not traveling all that distance just to hang out on the ship while you are in port. You go to Hawaii to experience all the culture and natural beauty that the islands have to offer. But with so much that qualifies as unmissable on these lush and majestic islands, you’ll want to know where to go and what to look for when you arrive. To get you started, check out our guide to some of the most important must-see attractions on each of the major islands you are likely to visit on any Hawaii cruise.
Oahu: The Start of your Hawaii Cruise
Most of the time, embarking on a cruise from Hawaii means leaving from Honolulu, on the island of Oahu. While you are in town, there are definitely some must-do things to check out, so it is worth staying a night or two before your cruise leaves and taking in the sights. Diamond Head State Monument is a massive crater located just outside of the Waikiki Beach area where you can hike high over the city for some unbeatable views of the coastline. Reservations are required and it is a steep hike that takes about an hour round trip, so you’ll want to make sure you are prepared! For pineapple lovers, check out Dole Plantation where you can take a tour of the plantation or grab a bite to eat.
Of course if you are looking for something a little less touristy to do before your Hawaii cruise, the bars and the beaches are where it is at. Waikiki Beach on the South end of Honolulu is the perfect place to stay before or after a cruise to Hawaii, with plenty of bars and restaurants to explore. Plus the titular beach itself is one of the most frequented locations in all of Hawaii. Or if you want to avoid the crowds, head to the north shore of the island to Lanikai Beach, where you’ll experience a more quiet beach with crystal clear, calm water perfect for swimming and relaxing in the pristine sands.
Maui: The Valley Isle
Maui is the second largest of the Hawaiian islands and it has some pretty unique sights to see of its own. Haleakalā National Park is home to the dormant Haleakalā volcano, and a ride to the top will reward you with a chance to see the sun rise or set from above the clouds. Planning is crucial if you want to see it, since getting there from port in time to see the sunrise will require you to leave port at 3am. You will need reservations as well and you should plan to dress for the cold, as the elevation gain causes some drastic temperature changes. But this is one view that you do not want to miss out on while you have the chance.
The Road to Hana is another must-see that is perfect for an overnight stay on Maui. The drive along the Hana Highway on the Eastern side of the island is rich with history and beauty, and there are more gorgeous photo opportunities along the way then you could shake a polaroid at! This drive can take up to 12 hours though, so if you have a shorter layover on your Hawaii cruise, check out the town of Lāhainā for some local shops and oceanfront bars and restaurants. If you are lucky enough to be here in the winter months, you may even be able to see migrating humpback whales breach the surface of the water!
Kauai: The Garden Island
Known as the Garden Island, Kauai has an immense amount of natural beauty to experience. The high cliffs of the Nā Pali Coast are a must-see and are best seen either by sea from a speedboat or catamaran, or from the air on a helicopter tour. There are hiking trails through the coast, but they are long and strenuous and not for the faint of heart. Waimea Canyon, commonly referred to as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, is another geographical spectacle on Kauai. Bright green forest decorates steep red peaks to make an unforgettably vibrant view, with many hiking trails to appease nature lovers. But the best spots to view the canyon and get some amazing photos are from the lookout locations that you can drive to and park at.
But you didn’t cruise to Hawaii just to get pics of all the natural wonder, and there is plenty of fun to be had as well. If you want to try snorkeling, a great place to get your feet wet (literally!) is Poipu Beach. You are practically guaranteed to see local fauna like sea turtles and monk seals, both under the water and sometimes just sunbathing on the beach. Alternatively, Wailua River offers kayaking tours that lead to Secret Falls, a hidden cove in the forest that is the deposit of a 120 foot waterfall. It is a short hike from the kayak to the falls, but access is easy enough for any nature lover worth their salt.
Hawaii: The Big Island
The largest of the Hawaiian islands, the Big Island of Hawaii is well known for Volcano National Park, which is home to two active volcanoes, Kīlauea and Mauna Loa. If you are up for a little extra adventure, a helicopter ride is by far the best way to take in all the park has to offer. Of course, there are plenty of hiking trails to explore as well, for any with a fear of flying. Ziplining is another great way to see the park that doesn’t require getting into a helicopter, and the Big Island has great ziplining all over the island with courses that go through forests and even over waterfalls.
The towns here are equally unique and beautiful, and just as deserving of exploration during your Hawaii cruise. The town of Hilo on the East side of the island is a gorgeous place to do some souvenir shopping or grab a drink and a bite to eat. Coffee lovers will want to head to the plantation in Kona to see where this iconic coffee bean comes from. The temperature, the altitude, and the rich mineral deposits in the soil conspire to make a coffee bean that is renowned across the world.
Cultural Experiences for Every Cruise to Hawaii
Every island has something unique to offer, but regardless of which islands your cruise to Hawaii takes you to, there are a few cultural experiences that you are not going to want to miss. You’ll want to attend a luau to feast on the best Hawaii has to offer while you are treated to traditional music and hula dancing. Classes in ukelele or lei making will get you in touch with the unique style of island craftsmanship on Hawaii, while surfing lessons will show you how Hawaiians stay active. And you absolutely must try a Loco Moco for breakfast, a heap of white rice topped with a hamburger patty and a Sunnyside-up egg, and then smothered in gravy.
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