Honolulu is a frequent stop for cruise ships repositioning in the Pacific, cruises going out of the west coast of the U.S. And Canada as well as cruising the Hawaiian Islands. It is the largest city in the islands, the states Capital and gateway to Hawaii’s most developed island.
Honolulu is located on the island of Oahu with a number of areas to visit and sights to see. Nearby is Pearl Harbor with the museums and memorials and in the other direction is Waikiki Beach with the hotels and shopping. This island and city are major tourist destinations and to get a feel for Oahu you need a number of days.
Where The Ships Dock
The cruise piers are located on the northwest side of Honolulu between Waikiki Beach and the International Airport. Cruise ships dock at either the Aloha Tower (pier 11) or Pier 2 about a quarter mile more to the south (primarily used by NCL for Hawaiian cruises). Aloha Tower is conveniently located not far from the downtown area and the Aloha Tower Marketplace. There are facilities located at the cruise terminal and you can walk out without much difficulty. “Downtown” with its shopping and “Waikiki Beach” are not the same location so if you want to visit this famous beach area you will need transportation.
For a short visit we would recommend trying to share a cab with others to get to Waikiki Beach, share costs and save time. Local public service is with TheBus and the ride to the beach doesn’t long. If you want to take TheBus a 1-Day Pass is $5.50. Ask your bus operator for the 1-Day
Pass before placing your money in the farebox. It’s valid 12:01 a.m. To 2:59 a.m. the next day, for up to 27 hours of unlimited rides. Our preference is to rent a car. Rates are usually very reasonable and since you are in the United States your insurance covers you. Oahu is a pretty big island with 3 major highways (H-1, H-2 and H-3) and we would strongly suggest that you use GPS navigation. The street anmes are difficult to pronounce and remember and the roads tend to wind around.
This is the 50th state and the US Dollar is currency.
We’ve taken the Waikiki Trolley tour and found it way overpriced for what you get to see. Again we recommend renting a car if you want to see the island. A short taxi ride into the center of the beach is a better investment. If it’s going to be a first trip don’t miss a visit to Pearl Harbor with the USS Arizona Memorial (last we heard it was closed for refurbishment) and the USS Missouri. In Honolulu there are almost too many attractions to count, from shows to an aquarium and zoo. For the best view on the island drive up to Hawaii puu ualakaa state park with the overlook above Honolulu on Mount Tantalus. We love the North Shore with the surf at the Banzai Pipeline and Waimea Bay and a number of great small towns (look for the food trucks) and Waimea Falls Park. There is also The Dole Plantation in mid-island and also a couple of beautiful gardens to check out. Above all else is the ocean and the beaches and the reefs. Snorkeling and diving opportunities abound and depending on the season you can go whale watching too.
There are no docking facilities so cruise ships anchored out, using tenders to get ashore. The tenders will dock right at the intersection of Palani Road and Ali’i Drive in the heart of town. Ali’i Drive runs along the waterfront and there are a number of restaurants and shops. Going straight up Palini about a mile will bring you to a Walmart, Post Office, Grocery and a Home Depot.
The actual town is small and pedestrian friendly. If you want to get out into the countryside the best option is to rent a car which are available at a few agencies in town.
Along the waterfront in town
Hawaii is a state in the United States and the currency is the U.S. Dollar.
Kailua-Kona is a town on the west coast of Hawaii Island (the Big Island) with a few sites located near town. Hulihee Palace is a former royal vacation home dating from 1838. Mokuaikaua Church, from the 1800s, is Hawaii’s oldest Christian church. On Kailua Bay, reconstructed thatched houses at Kamakahonu National Historic Landmark are erected on the site of King Kamehameha I’s residence. There are a number of good coral reefs which located just off Kamakahonu Beach. Kona is also near to Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park with some nice hiking trails.
The “Big Island” of Hawaii is the largest and southern-most island in the State of Hawaii. It is home to The Volcano National Park which includes Kīlauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, and Mauna Loa, the world’s most massive shield volcano. The other major town on Hawaii is Hilo on the southeast coast and another favorite stop for cruise ships.
The Largest Volcano on the Hawaiian island of Maui
The Hawaiian island of Maui is actually two volcanic cones joined by a small piece of land. The larger volcano to the southeast is Haleakalā towering 10,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean and still considered active, though currently quiet.
The Haleakalā Observatory, also known as the Haleakalā High Altitude Observatory Site, is Hawaii ‘s first astronomical research observatory.
Haleakalā is a unique place since there are very few places on earth where you can drive from sea-level to ten-thousand feet in just a couple of hours.
The trip up the slopes to the Haleakalā National Park from the seaside town of Kapalua is a full two-hour drive. The steady climb up the slopes represents half the trip but the views from the summit are worth every minute it takes to get there. From the summit looking off to the north you will see the coast with its reefs and surf just offshore from the coastal Hana highway. Looking south is the spectacular view out across the caldera with its numerous smaller eruption cones and gorgeous multi-colored deposits of cinder and earth. The landscape makes you feel as if you are on the planet Mars.
A popular expedition is to go up to the 10,000 foot summit before dawn to watch the sun rise out of the sea (you need to get a permit for the pre-dawn trip). Mark Twain called sunrise from Haleakalā “the most sublime spectacle I have ever witnessed.”
The best way to really experience the park is by walking its trails. There are 35+ miles of hiking trails in the Wilderness Area that guides hikers through sub-alpine scrubland, rain-forest, and cinder desert.
On the slopes of Haleakalā are a number of native birds and over 800 species of plants with over 300 species native, or endemic to Hawaii, found only in the islands. At the higher elevations you will find the Maui silversword or Haleakala silversword, a rare plant, part of the daisy family Asteraceae.
The silversword in general is referred to as ʻāhinahina in Hawaiian (literally, “very gray”). The Haleakalā silversword is found only at elevations above 7,000 feet on the Haleakalā volcano, on the summit depression, the rim summits, and surrounding slopes in Haleakalā National Park. The Haleakalā silversword has been a threatened species as defined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, since May 15, 1992.
If you are only spending a day or two on Maui probably the least costly way of getting to see Haleakalā is by rental car. Cars are usually about $75 for a day and at the most $100. It is also worth pointing out that the best time to visit is in the morning. Because of the islands height it has a tendency to develop clouds around the peak in the afternoon and while it is a beautiful sight being above the clouds on Haleakalā you could miss some spectacular views of the island.
Banzai Pipeline, Waikiki Beach, Pearl Harbor, Diamond Head – these are all names we associate with Hawaii and they all are found on O’ahu. There are numerous reasons to visit all the Hawaiian islands but O’ahu is the real star. This island offers the excitement of Honolulu and Waikiki Beach, the laid-back island style of Hale’iwa on the North Shore and historical sights at Pearl Harbor and a number of Hawaiian and Polynesian cultural centers around the island.
Thinking of a trip to the Hawaiian Islands? We recommend you start with O’ahu. There is just so much to see and do on this island while getting to other islands takes time and can get costly. Hotel rates aren’t as outrageous as you might think and you should plan on renting a car (oddly our rental car costs have been lower than average in O’ahu), you will save a lot by getting around the island on your own. Besides getting to see more of the island, having a car can help with finding economical places to stay, eat and shop.
The way we see O’ahu is to think of it as a number of regions:
Honolulu and Waikiki Beach – All the excitement of a major city with restaurants, nightlife and great shopping and it all stretches along one of the world’s greatest beaches. Nearby is also the Honolulu Zoo and the Waikiki Aquar
Pearl Harbor – Visit American history at the Visitors Center, the USS Missouri and the USS Arizona Memorial (as of this writing the Arizona is closed for repairs).
The North Shore – This stretch of coast has a laid-back feel (maybe with a few tourists thrown in) with small towns like Waialua and Hale’iwa (be sure and visit Matsumoto Shave Ice), along with a few of the world’s most famous surfing beaches including Waimea Bay and the Banzai Pipeline. Further to the east there is also Sharks Cove Park with great snorkeling and just across the street is a lot full of some of the best food trucks on the island. If you are looking for a nice hike visit Waimea Valley Park with a nice nature trail getting to Waimea falls.
Southwest Coast – West out of Honolulu about fifteen miles is the recently developed area of Kapolei with new shopping centers, several good golf courses, and the Wet n’ Wild park. Just four miles further out on the west coast is Ko Olina with another golf course, the Ko Olina Beach Park and a stretch of beach with resorts like The Four Seasons, and Disney’s Aulani.
East Coast – East out of Honolulu along the Kalanianaole Highway (Rt 72)
is Diamond Head Beach Park, KoKo crater and some of the most spectacular coastline anywhere (stop at Lanai Lookout to take in the scenery). Continuing on are a few more great beaches and the Sea Life Park of Hawaii.
Island Center– If you’re up to hiking the central island has a number of good trails and a couple of nice waterfalls like Manoa Falls and Likeke Falls. Be sure and check out the Dole Plantation and Visitors Center (try a Dole Whip) along with the nearby Green World Coffee Farm where they grow and roast their own coffee. Also not far away are the Wahiawa Botanical Gardens.
Lush tropical landscapes, a mild climate and the Pacific Ocean make this island a true American paradise. Make the best of your visit and try learning to surf or at the very least go snorkeling, there is nothing like swimming thru the coral reefs, tropical fish and Hawaii’s crystal clear waters. In the winter the islands are home to a number of species of whales and there are several whale watching boats available. Aloha…
O’ahu is a destination where we strongly advise getting a car. Hawaii has a good road system and while O’ahu has just a few major highways we find Hawaiian names difficult to follow. If you are not able to navigate using your cell phone be sure and get a GPS in your car.
If you are going to the North Shore be aware that traffic congestion is a major issue when the big waves come in (usually around October). We had spent a couple of days visiting the area with one morning spent at Waimea Valley Park and another day having lunch at the food trucks at Sharks Cove wand there were no traffic delays. A few days later we returned with a specific restaurant as our destination and didn’t realize that the surf was up. That afternoon it took us four hours to get back to the highway along coast road. Most cars were carrying surf boards and beach parking lots were so full they were stopping traffic from getting past on the road.
We were concerned about visiting Waikiki Beach and how difficult parking would be. A number of the beach resorts advertise really high rates for using their garages. Our first trip was late in the morning and we discovered that it wasn’t that difficult to find metered parking on the side streets, often only a block off the beach.
The Asian culture has a very strong presence in the islands and with that comes some really interesting finds in restaurants. There are a number of noodle and seafood fast food places that offer really good dishes at very economical prices. Look for Ramen Bones, Ramen-Ya, Sushiman and Original Roy’s. The well known American hamburger chains are everywhere but there are a number of Hawaiian fast food places that are favorites with locals like Painacafe and Fatboy’s.
We spent one day in the island center visiting the Wahiawa Botanical Gardens followed by a stop at the Dole Plantation. While Dole is a merchandising operation disguised as an attraction, it’s worth the stop just to get a Dole Whip. We were also impressed with the miles of pineapple fields lining the roads. Earlier we had stopped at the Green World Coffee Farm for coffee and pastries and would recommend a visit if you’re in the neighborhood. They’re only a few years old and their roasted coffee is worth packing a pound or two in your suitcase if you’ve got the room.
Another side trip that is worth consideration is a trip up Round Top Drive to the Tantalus Lookout. You climb up hairpin turns thru residential neighborhoods to a park with spectacular views of Honolulu and the south shore.
Also be sure to put at least a half day on your itinerary for a visit to Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial and Visitors Center. The exhibits, movies and displays really bring WWII into sharp focus. You can also visit the WWII era battleship USS Missouri where the Japanese surrender was signed along with a number of other historic ships.
For a refresher on the Jones Act see Cruising and the Jones Act Here.
Back in 2016 we booked a back-to-back set of cruises with Celebrity. The first cruise was an Alaska cruise starting in Seattle and finishing in Vancouver. The second cruise continued on from Vancouver and finished in Honolulu. It took a little while but Celebrity came back and said we could not book this as it violated the Jones Act.
After reviewing the itineraries we realized that the Alaska cruise stopped in Victoria, Canada the day before arriving in Vancouver. We went back to Celebrity and asked that if we disembarked the ship in Victoria could we overnight there and rejoin the ship the next day in Vancouver therefore avoiding the Jones Act?
Asking a large organization with many layers of management to do something that hadn’t been considered before is usually a daunting task and this was no exception. Celebrity said they would look into it. Later when asked again Celebrity said they would look into it. Somewhat later when asked Celebrity said maybe it would be possible and they would get back to us. Following up on that hopeful news we were told probably not. Later we enlisted the help of our travel agent who got higher up the chain of command. The response she got was that they didn’t see why not but would look into it. A couple of months later Celebrity got back and said it was okay with them but that they needed to get permission from the Canadian Immigration.
Finally everything was cleared for us to stay on this back-to-back. We asked if we could just leave our things in the stateroom when we got off in Victoria? The response was – don’t ask and we won’t tell.
One interesting thing was that when we got off the ship in Victoria we were joined by eight other couples with some doing just what we were. Celebrity now has a process for accommodating cruisers wanting to do this back-toback.
Everything on this trip went very well. The one issue was a lack of planning on our part. We knew that a ferry went from Victoria to Vancouver at a nominal price but we failed to look up the actual terminal locations. It seems that the Vancouver Island terminal is a good distance outside of Victoria and the ferry docks a long way from Canada Place (the cruise ship dock) in Vancouver. Fortunately we found a bus service (The BC Connector) that left from only four blocks from our Victoria hotel, went onto the ferry and than delivered us right to Canada Place all for a reasonable fare.
Hawaii is a destination on many bucket lists and if it’s not on yours you should add it. There are eight major islands in the Hawaiian archipelago so it is important to decide how to handle a visit. Our first choice is cruising as you are able to see several of the islands in one trip. Alternatively, you can select an island to visit and just stay, with Oahu being our first choice. There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches so be sure to do research before making your decision.
If you go with a cruise, only one company at present does weekly sailings around Hawaii and that is Norwegian. They offer 7 night trips in and out of Oahu with stops usually on three other islands. Alternatively, if you have around 14 nights available, you
can sail round trip from several different California ports or one way from Vancouver Canada or even consider an Australia – Hawaii cruise. The advantage to the one way sailing is that allows you to spend extra days on the island where the cruise begins or terminates and only pay for a one way plane ticket. With any of these options, you are likely to visit four or five different ports giving you the ability to do some exploring on your own or taking a ship’s tour to see the island.
The advantage to cruising is that you know many of the costs upfront and you know you will have good meals and a comfortable bed every night. You get sea days to relax and port days to see as little or as much as you want. You also have the option to try food and drinks ashore and see highlights in each port (like volcanoes), and shop at local stores and galleries. Some ships also bring on board Hawaiian performers and craft instructors to teach you things like making leis. Our last cruise had a naturalist on board giving lectures on whales and other things you MAY see. The disadvantage to cruising Hawaii is that your time in port is limited so you may not get to all the highlights on a particular island.
If you decide to fly, you need to select which island you want to visit. Roundtrip air can be pretty expensive and, if you want to visit more then one island, you will need additional inter island flights, also not cheap. Flying is the main transportation between islands as there is only one ferry service and it only connects Lahaina (Maui) and Lanai. Hotels are also fairly expensive as many of the hotels are beach resorts. Food is more costly then what you find on the mainland, especially in restaurants. If you don’t mind fast food, there are lots of options available to help keep costs down and Hawaii has some unique offerings that we hadn’t seen before. Because of the Asian influence you will see lots of sushi and noodle places and don’t pass up the food trucks.
Once you get over how expensive Hawaii can be, having several days to explore a particular island is a plus. You can walk, ride public transportation or hail a taxi but if you want to do a lot of exploring, renting a car is the way to go. If you book in advance, rental cars are not expensive but you will need GPS either in the vehicle or on your phone (our Verizon iPhones worked great for navigation). The islands are easily drivable but the long and unusual road names make navigation a bit of a challenge.
Whichever way you decide to visit Hawaii, plan your trip in advance so that you can get the most out of it. There is so much to see and do, it will be difficult deciding on priorities.
To get you started here are a few ideas:
Visit the volcanoes on the Big Island and Maui
Take a walk on Waikiki Beach
Learn to surf and/or paddle board
Have a Dole Whip at the Dole Plantation on Maui
Go snorkeling among the 250 marine species that call the area home
Sample coffee on Kona*
Have a Hawaiian shave ice
Visit Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial on Oahu
Hike or bike one of the many lush nature trails
Spend time on a beautiful beach
Bring home Macadamias* or coffee
* Oahu now has a new coffee grower and café located in the neighborhood of the Dole Plantation
**Hint: When you go shopping for Macadamia nuts visit the grocery and drug stores and save over the tourist stores. We visited the Mona Loa factory on The Big Island and their prices weren’t any better. Long Drug is the big Hawaiian drug chain and their prices are usually the best we’ve seen. They have also recently been acquired by CVS so if you have a CVS loyalty card be sure and use it and take your coupons and bucks with you.
When you visit Hawaii it doesn’t take very long to realize you have come to a place like no other on earth. Isolated from continental land by at least 2,400 miles of ocean. It is blessed with year round average temperatures in the eighties and abundant rainfall. Its history is both ancient as well as recent. First populated by the Polynesians over fifteen-hundred years ago it was not discovered by the European explorers until January, 1778, when the English explorer Captain Cook set foot ashore. The native Hawaiians speak a language unique to them and proof of this is everywhere from highway signs to greetings from the locals. Because of Hawaii’s isolation the flora and fauna are a blend of unique as well as introduced species from all around the world. Modern Hawaii has also the most ethnically diverse population found anywhere with seven races each representing over five percent of the population. This includes the Polynesians, Asians with Japanese being the largest segment, whites, Filipino, Blacks, Hispanics with twenty-one percent of the population being of mixed race decent. Even the geology and origins of this island chain are unique. Welcome to paradise…
Hawaii – a Geological Wonderland
Most of the earth’s islands are found at tectonic plate boundaries either from spreading centers (like Iceland) or from what are called subduction zones where one tectonic plate slides under another (like the Aleutian Islands). Hawaii is geologically unique because it is caused by a ‘hot spot.’
There are a few ‘hot spots’ on earth and the one under Hawaii is right in the middle of the Pacific Plate, one of the earth’s largest crustal plates. A geologic ‘hot spot’ is an area under a crustal plate where volcanism occurs. It is easy to geologically explain volcanism at plate spreading centers and subduction zones but not as easy to explain a ‘hot spot’ where molten magma breaks through the crustal plate. (Some theories describe this as a particularly hot part of the molten magma).
Another hot spot under the American plate is Yellowstone National Park with its geysers and other thermal features. The Hawaii hot spot is under the seafloor producing undersea volcanoes. Some of these volcanoes build up to the surface of the ocean and become islands. Over millions of years the plate moves across the ‘hot spot’ and the original volcanoes become extinct and new volcanoes begin to form in the area of the ‘hot spot.’
Understanding all of this explains why in the Hawaiian islands, the more southeast you go, the more active the volcanoes are. This shows that the plate is moving northwestThe island farthest south is the big island of Hawaii with no fewer than five volcanoes with some active most of the time. The farther north you go, the islands are older and the more time erosion has washed away the land. Niʻihau is the largest and last lightly inhabited island before the ten islands and atolls in the uninhabited Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
He iconic profile of Diamond Head east of Waikīkī Beach on the island of Oahu is the crater of a long extinct volcano.
Hawaii – The Big Island
The three largest volcanoes on the big island are Kilauea, Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. Volcano National Park encompasses Kilauea with a number of different volcanic features.
Picture caption: Halema’uma’u, a pit crater, inside Kilauea Caldera started erupting in 2008 creating an almost constant plume of steam and volcanic gases (sulphur dioxide).
On a recent visit to the big island we went up to Kīlauea. The caldera was shrouded in rain and fog so we didn’t have an opportunity to see much but we did get to Halema’uma’u. We spent time at the USGS museum and also hiked thru the Thurston Lava Tube.
Thurston Lava Tube is part of a trail in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Visitors enter through a ‘skylight’ (collapsed roof of a lava tube), walk a ways through the tube and exit via another ‘skylight.
Lava tubes develop as the lava flows and hardens on the outside. The inside continues to flow and may drain out of the ‘lava tube’ entirely. Some of these lava tubes are small but some are very large (as much as 20 feet in diameter). Many of the lava tubes have a flat bottom as the lava hardens when it slows down and look like subway tunnels. When the top of a lava tube breaks through it is called a ‘skylight.’
Due east of Kilauea, lava from Pu’u O’o volcano travels downhill for miles in lava tubes to reach the ocean where it spills out along the shoreline creating large clouds of steam and volcanic gas. Our cruise ship crossed around the southern coast at night and around midnight moved to within one mile of the lava flows as they poured into the ocean. Viewing the display at night from the sea is an awesome event. There are also trails that allow hikers to get down near the area where the lava spills into the sea but we’ve been told that the hike down and back can take most of the day.
In addition to the volcanoes on the island of Hawaii there is a new eruption just south of the island called Loihi. This volcano has been erupting from the sea floor and currently its peak is at a depth of 3,000 feet. At its present rate of growth it will probably break the surface of the Pacific after another 10,000 years.
Haleakala is home to the highest peak on Maui, at 10,023 feet. It also holds the world record for climbing to the highest elevation in the shortest distance- a mere 38 miles from sea level to the top! Because Maui is north of Hawaii the volcanic activity is dying down. It is believed that the last major eruption was in the seventeenth century with only a few smaller events in the twentieth century. The USGS lists the eruption risk now as normal. A Normal status is used to designate typical volcanic activity in a non-eruptive phase.
We visited the top of Haleakalā a couple of years ago and it is almost like traveling to another planet: bare peaks and slopes covered in a spectrum of colored rock, dirt and sand. Clouds hung near the slopes with vistas across the crater* that stretch on forever and views back across the island are breathtaking. The drive to the top of the volcano is an adventure in itself as the road snakes back and forth up the slope with temperatures dropping as you ascend and winds blowing as you reach the summit.
The profile of Diamond Head on O‘ahu is the western rim of an extinct volcano and is perhaps one of the most recognized volcanic mountains on earth. In addition to Diamond Head there are a few additional extinct vulcanoes on the island including Hanauma Bay, Koko Head, Punchbowl Crater, Mount Tantalus and Aliapa’ak.
Throughout the Hawaiian islands the high and jagged peaks catch the tropical trade-winds causing huge amounts of rainfall. This micro-climate results in a lush landscape crossed with rushing streams and dotted with beautiful waterfalls. The islands are noted for their vertical cliffs, isolated valleys, incredible beaches and acres of farm land. This tropical climate and rich soil yields plentiful cash crops that include pineapples, macadamia nuts, coffee and cacao nibs used for making chocolate. Welcome to paradise…