Young family at Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Hawaii
Young family at Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Hawaii

Cruise Hawaii – Images by Lee Foster

by Lee Foster

The undulating dance of the hula had been missing for some time in the cruise world.

Hawaii, however, once again became available dependably and year round on the cruise scene when Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) positioned an American-flagged vessel, Pride of Aloha, now replaced by Pride of America, in Hawaiian waters.

One unique task was to assemble a happy crew of 900 or so mainly American cruise workers, allowing them to get trained and functioning smoothly. A substantial portion of crew is from Hawaii, giving a passenger the benefit of lots of local expertise and enthusiasm.

Rationale of Hawaii Cruising

Hawaii is a special place for cruising, unlike anywhere else in the world. The aesthetic beauty of Hawaii equals anywhere else on earth. Sailing past the Na Pali Coast of Kauai compares favorably with approaching Bora Bora in the South Pacific or the Pitons at Saint Lucia in the Caribbean. If you sail Hawaiian waters in the winter months, it is likely that you will see humpback whales, especially on the day sail along Kauai’s Na Pali Coast. The Caribbean, Mediterranean, Mexico, and the South Pacific are other warm-weather cruise regions competing with Hawaii. However, to be truthful, the resorts of Hawaii are the stiffest competition of all for an Hawaii cruise provider. A cruise company must create a magnificent floating resort to compete with the land resorts.

The temperature in Hawaii is comfortably tropical year round. Four major Hawaiian islands, each with much to offer, await a visitor. It is expensive and time consuming to fly between them. So a cruise ship, with the convenience of only one unpacking of luggage, is a plausible choice if you want to see several islands.

Seeing Hawaii on an “American flagged ship” is unlike any other possible cruise alternative. On an Hawaiian cruise, the unionized American crew speaks American English and receives an American-level wage, so the crew is not desperate for tips to survive. The Hawaiians on the crew (both “native” Hawaiians, meaning the South Pacific blood lines, and the many “white” or “Asian” Hawaiians, such as the several-generation Portuguese Hawaiians) take delight in recommending ways to enjoy “their” islands. Your server at lunch may ask what you plan to do ashore on Maui, and may have some informed recommendations.


Hawaii as a destination is also an especially comfortable place to explore on a cruise. There are few impoverished or aggressive locals, such as in Jamaica, who can threaten and disturb the pleasures of a trip. There are few hygienic anomalies on the ship or on shore that could lay you low. The legal system is understandable if you misbehave, something that can’t be said of “code Napoleon” countries. You will be driving on the right side of the road in your rental car.

This is not to say that Hawaii is culturally bland or uninteresting. Au contraire, Hawaii is the most “foreign” U.S. state, competing for that title only with New Mexico. A day on the Kona Coast of the Big Island of Hawaii, exploring the Place of Refuge National Historic Park and the Hulihee Palace in Kailua, will enlarge the sensibility of a traveler. An inquisitive explorer will learn about the substantial cultural contributions of Hawaii to the “mainland” U.S. Kamehameha the Great, the founder of modern Hawaii, decided to live at Kona, and he could have lived anywhere, so Kona obviously has some virtues.

There is an important political reality that affects which cruise lines can operate in Hawaii. The nuances of this are somewhat complicated to explain. A 1920 law known as the Jones Act, passed to protect American maritime interests, requires that any ship leaving a U.S. port can only return to that port after it has visited a foreign country, unless the ship is “American flagged.” Other cruise companies, with their ships registered in the Bahamas, for example, can pass through Hawaii , but they must make an extended two-day journey out to the nearest foreign country before returning. This means steaming for two days, or 1,100 miles, to Fanning Island in the Republic of Kiribati, for example, before returning to Hawaii. This is not an efficient or practical option if the goal is year-round, weekly Hawaii cruising.

An “American flagged” ship must have its steel hull created in America with American steel (even if the company later goes bankrupt and someone buys the hull and outfits it in Germany). Moreover, the cruise company must employ an American crew, either citizens or green card holders, and must pay American minimum wages, plus overtime, plus American taxes, and abide by stricter American safety standards.

For many of the passengers and crew, there is an element of American pride in the knowledge that Pride of America is an “American flagged” ship. Maybe Uncle Sam can still compete in this maritime niche.

Cruising is an appealing way to see Hawaii. You unpack only once on the cruise trip; you immerse yourself in the floating resort; but you have a chance to spend a day or so on several islands. Itineraries will change, depending on the number of nights in the sailing, so check the NCL website for details. But you will likely visit Kauai, Maui, and Kona and Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Hawaii Ports of Call

Plenty of interesting shore excursions await the traveler who chooses to leave the floating resort at the various ports of call.

Favored options on Kauai include a tour to the arid Waimea Canyon with a final end-of-the-road stop overlooking the verdant Kalalau Valley. A zodiac boat trip journeys up the Na Pali Coast to see whales, green sea turtles, and dolphins, with stops for snorkeling. The tour to the northern part of the island to view the Hanalei Valley and the green taro fields below is another delight. Hanalei boasts several engaging beaches for swimming, including the famous Bali Hai beach that appeared in the classic movie South Pacific.

The Kona Coast on the Big Island was the chosen living environment of Kamehameha the Great and later Hawaiian potentates. You can see Kamehameha’s favorite lodging where the tender boats unload passengers, since Kona is not a major port with cruise ship docking. Just a few yards away is the Hulihee Palace, the authentic lodging of Hawaiian nobility in the 19th century, now carefully restored with many exhibits about the personalities who shaped Hawaii’s past. Take the Historic Kona tour and you are sure to spend quality time at the Place of Refuge, now a National Park. At Place of Refuge, Hawaiians who committed a kapu, an offense, which might require immediate death, could be absolved of their crimes by the kahuna or high priest if they made it to the Place of Refuge alive. Every society has its codes of conduct and its punishments. A commoner’s shadow crossing the shadow of an alii or elite person might not seem all that terrible to us in the 21st century. But in earlier Hawaii it was punishable by death.

Young family at Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Hawaii
Young family at Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Hawaii

At Hilo the glorious adventure to take is a tour of Volcanoes National Park. You ride up to the Kilauea caldera and see the sulfurous crater within it. A stop at the Jaggar Museum acquaints a traveler with the seismic devices that monitor Pacific earthquake activity. The tour also pauses at the Thurston Lava Tube to allow a walk through a rainforest environment and a lateral lava tube once used by molten lava on its route to the ocean.

On Maui an intriguing getaway adventure would be a trip out along a twisting road to the secluded Hana resort area and then beyond to circle the island, showing the wild scenery on the far side of the Haleakala Volcano. It is best to take a tour rather than do this yourself in a rental car. The tour bus driver will know this extremely convoluted road and how to negotiate all the curves. A Hawaiian tour leader will likely also know all the flora, one of the main pleasures of the ride to Hana. The tour leader may be informed of ancient Hawaiian culture as well as the more recent paniolo cowboy traditions on the huge cattle ranches beyond Hana.

The road to Hana has 677 curves and 54 small bridges. Your tour driver may make several stops to show the rainforest plants and the introduced vegetation, such as rainbow bark eucalyptus trees. Sculptured lava flows and crashing surf are appealing at Keana. Among the many waterfalls to enjoy, Waikane is one of the more spectacular. After lunch, possibly at the Hana Ranch Restaurant, the drive may proceed into the lightly inhabited, vast ranchlands and stunning rocky beach landscapes on the back side of the Haleakala Volcano. Sweeping vistas at Kahiki Nui will remain long in memory. The tour may end with a sampling of the Carnelian and Chenin Blanc grape wines, plus pineapple wines, at Tedeschi Winery.

Cruising Hawaii

The worldwide cruise traveler has a lot of options. Some travelers go for the ship, of course, and are not too concerned about the destination. Warm, sunny weather is the only requirement. Such cruisers could be anywhere, and would be happy, never leaving the ship. The modern cruise ship is a destination in itself.

Other cruisers use the ship primarily as a vehicle to explore new territory.

The Caribbean is the #1 worldwide cruising destination, departing primarily from Florida. Alaska is also major, but seasonal, late May through early September. West Coast Mexico is an option, partly because of its warm weather promise and the convenience of leaving from Los Angeles or San Diego .

The Mediterranean, the Baltic, the South Pacific, Asia, and the South American coast are a few other exotic options.

Now, there is also a dependable provider of cruising in Hawaii, Norwegian Cruise Line, with its ship Pride of America.

Cruise options, for the consumer, have never been better.


Cruising Hawaii: If You Go

Full information on Norwegian Cruise Line’s Hawaii ship, Pride of America, can be seen at




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