The Only Way to See Hawaii

| 08.04.11

Cruise ships offer the primest coastal perspective of Hawaii's magnificent natural wonders.

The active volcano in Hawaii (the big island) is one of the most amazing sites in the world

The Only Way to See Hawaii

Everyone knows Hawaii is an extraordinary destination, but what is the best way to see it - staying in land-based resort or by cruise ship? The state of Hawaii is actually comprised of several hundred islands stretching nearly 1500 miles, but only four have a significant population. Oahu has the capital city Honolulu, Maui is one of the most popular, Kauai is considered the most beautiful, but the big island of Hawaii is arguably the most interesting because of its very active volcano.

Unfortunately, if you choose a land-based resort then getting from one island to another is a challenge. The ferry system between the islands was discontinued last year. Now the only option is to fly - the longest distance, between Hawaii and Kauai, requiring 90 minutes.

Our recommendation is to take a cruise in Hawaii, but not necessarily to cruise "to" Hawaii. Two obscure federal laws, The Passenger Vessel Services act and the Jones Act, restrict "foreign carriers" from transporting passengers between two U.S. destinations. Since all of the ports within the Hawaiian Islands are in the U.S. the only way a regular cruise ship can give you a Hawaiian cruise is to include a stop in either Mexico or Canada before heading across the Pacific to Hawaii, usually spending four or five days at sea, before you can even begin your Hawaii adventure.

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Only one ship complies with the arcane federal laws; Pride of America operated by NCL-America, a division of Norwegian Cruise Lines. The ship begins a seven day cruise in Honolulu - visits all of the best sites in the entire island chain - and ends in the same spot seven days later - spending every single day in port - with no days at sea and three overnights.

Pride of America sails out of Honolulu on Saturday nights. Sunday, it arrives in Maui at 8:00 a.m. and stays overnight to sail at 6:00 p.m. Monday night. Tuesday it reaches Hilo (Hawaii) at 8:00 a.m. The more adventurous people go to the volcano and hike over the cooled moonscape of black crystalline lava to reach a point where they can see the liquid gold with their own two eyes. I have done this and it is spectacular, but not for the faint of heart or less than physically fit. As you get deeper into the volcano area the oxygen in the air is replaced with sulfur and the temperature rises dramatically. The jagged terrain of solid rock means there is no marked trail and it is very easy to sprain an ankle or cut your foot.

The ship sails from Hilo at 6:00 p.m. You could stay on the Big Island overnight and catch the ship in Kona the next day, but you would miss sailing past the volcano at night - a spectacular sight with rivers of golden lava running for miles before they steam into the sea.

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Day six (Thursday) you arrive in Kauai, the "Garden Isle" where you can visit the famous "Fern Grotto" or Waimea Canyon, known as the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific." You sail from Kauai at 2:00 p.m., Friday, so you can see the most dramatic sunset of your life - along the striking red cliffs of the islands' Na Pali coastline. At sunset these red sandstone cliffs, rising as high as 4000 feet, glow as if on fire. The only way to see this view is from the sea upon a cruise ship.

NCL-America's one ship, Pride of America, is the only mainstream cruise ship (80,000-tons) in the world with an all-American crew. The ship has an "American" theme to its d├ęcor, which is fitting for its name, but in most respects it is a "Norwegian Free-style" ship. There are 10 restaurants on board, some with an extra service charge and some included in the cruise fare. The nighttime shows often feature true Hawaiian folkloric artists - one of the advantages to keeping the ship in port overnight. Because the cruise begins and ends in Honolulu you can also choose to arrive a day or two early and stay in a hotel to see Oahu before your cruise starts.

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Prices for the 7-day cruise start at about $1049 per person for an inside cabin, and about $1549 for a verandah cabin. The rates are slightly higher because it costs the company a lot more to operate a vessel within the restrictions of federal law. They must have an all-American crew and the ship must be registered and maintained in the United States.

The experience of cruising with an all-American staff is admittedly different from an average cruise, but we recommend this cruise highly as a way to see Hawaii. If all you are looking for is a "sit by the pool to drink pina coladas" cruise then you can go to Mexico or the Caribbean for less. But for a fantastic, destination-based cruise, seeing Hawaii on Pride of America is one of the "required" cruises for all experienced cruisers.

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