Back in 2007 my mom was coming out of a divorce and had the right idea to blow off some steam and head to Hawaii. However, she’s never been to the islands or let alone anywhere else that required planning by herself and the cruise seemed like a good idea. I was lucky enough to join in-and that’s how my love affair with the islands began.
Ten years later, I though I’d review whether a cruise around the islands is actually a good idea, the pro’s and con’s so you can see for yourself it it’s your cup of tea.The cruise was booked with NCL, a more expensive and reputable company than other, such as Princess and Carnival, and entailed 2 days and 2 night in Honolulu, then a week of cruising the islands, visiting Kauai, Maui and the Big Island on both sides. The accommodation in Honolulu was basic, but in a good location and gave us a good opportunity to acclimatize to the tropical weather and humidity.
Before we knew it, it was cruise time! Long lines to get on the boat, check in, screen the baggage and get situated, but once we got on there was plenty to see and do (and, most importantly, eat!). Food was plentiful at all times, some evening entertainment was always to be had, but in general, after day 3 or so, it began to get a little dull. It’s a good thing that most days we were too tired from the day’s activities and lulled by the waves into deep slumber before 10 pm.
Regarding the activities, here’s where you need to be smart to avoid paying 2-3x/price. The cruise company itself will always try to sell you the excursions even prior to you getting on board, convincing you that booking anything outside is risky, complicated, non-existent, etc. The reality is, if you’re comfortable with driving on the islands (and most people would be, as traffic is almost non-existent and road signs are plentiful), then your best bet is to book a car for a day’s rental and most companies on the islands will deliver the vehicle straight to the port at the designated arrival time and have someone waiting to pick it up when you get back. The cruise industry is strong and there are plenty of companies aware of the demand for a daily car rental. Split it 2-3 even 4-ways and you’ve got yourself the cheapest excursion possible!
Don’t feel like driving and navigating? Do a little research about what you would like to do on each island and look up the tours being offered by the local companies. Again, most are aware of the huge crowds coming in weekly on the cruise ships and you’d be surprised at how easily everything can be arranged, with pick-ups and drop-off according to the cruise schedule, again for at least 50% less than what you’d pay on board.
Since we didn’t have a clue about Hawaii nor did we have time to get prepared, it was the most touristy vacation to date. We’d paid an insane amount of money in excursions (roughly 80% of the cruise ticket alone), but we did get to see and do as much as we wanted, as back then we didn’t even have a clue that Hawaii would become an annual (or even bi-annual in some years) destination, we certainly did not want to miss out.
First stop was Maui, where we took the plantation tour, visited the Aquarium, Iao Valley and went up 14,000 feet to the Haleakala National Park, home to the dormant volcano crater.
Next, we went to the Volcano National Park on the Hilo side and snorkeling on the Kona side of the Big Island. The second was simply via a bus that left from the port, and caught a taxi on the way back. The snorkeling itself was only 10$ a person with the largest variety of fish I’ve seen to date (in a largely unimpressive tiny lagoon).
Interestingly enough, back then the lave flow had not yet blocked the ring road and we were able to drive all the way around the main caldera, unlike today.
Up next, was the island of Kauai. Both days were out of the Nawiwili harbour, one spent at the infamous Waimea Canyon (worst excursion by far! Not because the canyon’s not pretty, but because we were incredibly rushed, spending less than 20 minutes at each viewpoint after over 1.5 hours driving time) and the other, being a half day, was spent at the Kalapaki beach, with a free shuttle between the nearby store and the cruise ship. There, rather than paying for an excursion, we’d rented a kayak at 15$/hr at the beach shack and had a nice refreshing swim before heading back to the cruise ship to catch the much-anticipated sunset as we sailed past the Napali cliffs ( a free bonus!).
So do I think a cruise of all the Hawaiian islands is good idea? Well, that depends on what kind of traveler you are. The biggest drawback for me was being tied to a strict schedule and spending a lot of time on the boat in transit when I could’ve been enjoying it doing activities on land. However, it was a terrific way of seeing what each island had to offer and gave me a very good idea of where I would like to come back to next.
The main take away is this:a cruise can be a great time and a rather cost effective tool to travel, provided you follow the tips above and know what you’re getting into. For the more adventurous and independent traveler, I would strongly recommend spending at least a week on each of the islands (minus Oahu).
What do you think? Have you been on a cruise around the islands? What was your experience? Please let us know by commenting below!
Whether it’s your first time or your tenth, if you feel overwhelmed by all the choices and are not quite sure what kind of Hawaiian vacation experience you would like to have, we are here for you!
–> Contact Me with your questions and queries and we’ll help you put together a custom travel itinerary that will take all the stress and guess work out of a vacation!