8 must-do experiences in Hawaii
8 must-do experiences in Hawaii
You can choose to do the following 8 activities independently (you’ll need a rental car for some of them, which I can help you book) or as part of an NCL shore excursion booked with your 2023 or 2025 inter-island Hawaii cruise booking. You can also find lots more tours and activities through Viator if you prefer to book excursions yourself or if you’re island hopping independently. However, I would recommend booking as early as possible to avoid disappointment.
Since NCL shore excursions can be cancelled up to 24 hours before with full refund, you can book worry free, knowing you won’t lose your money if you change your mind. Many tours and activities booked through Viator are also fully refundable up to 24 hours before. If you decide you’d prefer a beach day instead, just be sure to cancel at least 24 hours in advance (or by the cancellation with full refund date).
Diamond Head Hike, Oahu
I highly recommend visiting Diamond Head as early as possible in the morning to avoid the crowds. There is a very narrow tunnel part way up the trail, but if you suffer from claustrophobia, you can continue up the trail steps instead. If you’re staying in Honolulu or Waikiki for a couple of days before or after your cruise, you don’t need to rent a car to visit Diamond Head and some of the other sites in the city or along the south eastern coast. There is a good public bus system with bus stops in the resort district. You can also visit Diamond Head as part of a NCL shore excursion at the end of the cruise. The tour circles the entire island and includes airport drop-off.
Pearl Harbor & USS Missouri, Oahu
Pearl Harbor is a must-see historical site in Oahu. When we visited, I found it to be a very moving and emotional experience, especially when we visited the USS Arizona and other memorials at the site. Exploring the USS Missouri and sub-marine tours are very enlightening. If you’re not staying for a few days either before or after your Hawaii cruise, book a visit to Pearl Harbor as a post-cruise excursion with NCL. The tour includes airport drop-off.
Road to Hana, Maui
This is a must-do experience if you have never been to Maui before. However, if you wish to do the entire Hana Highway, you need a full day, so you’ll want to do this on the first day of your Maui port of call, either on a shore excursion with NCL or by renting a car. If you’re travelling independently, it’s possible to stop over night in Hana, but you’ll need to book your accommodation well in advance. You can even fly back to Kahalui, but again, you’ll need to book well in advance. When we visited Maui, we drove the Road to Hana later in the day after visiting Iao Needle (it was a spur of the moment decision). We drove to the halfway point, where we purchased delicious ice cream and banana bread to enjoy. We stopped at many view points to enjoy he spectacular coastal views and road-side waterfalls, hiked to a bamboo forest and several waterfalls en route. It was well worth the drive even to just beyond the halfway point, but if I could do it again, I’d dedicate an entire day.
Haleakalā Summit, Maui
Haleakalā can be booked as an NCL shore excursion with your Hawaii cruise booking, or if you’re not afraid of driving on hairpin roads up a 10,023 mountain, you can drive to the summit in a rental car like we did. Many people prefer to watch the sunrise or sunset over Haleakalā but it can be crowded at these times of day and you’ll need to drive in the dark either to or from the crater. We did the drive during the day and enjoyed our experience at the summit without the crowds. You’ll also need warmer clothing for this trip as it can be substantially colder at the summit than at sea level. PS: If you decide you want to see the Haleakalā sunrise on your own, you’ll need a reservation and get up super early to drive to the summit.
Hawaii Volcanoes NP, Island of Hawaii
An International Biosphere Reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site, the only one in Hawaii, there are two active volcanoes in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park: Kilauea and Mauna Loa. Kilauea is currently erupting to form new landscapes as well as destroy older ones. Due to the ever changing landscape and activity of this volcano, I highly recommend visiting Kilauea as part of an NCL small group shore excursion from Hilo, on the east side of the island. Some roads marked on maps may be blocked by recent lava, so a tour is the ideal way not to get stuck going the wrong way. There are a few different volcano experiences to choose from, but I recommend you book early to ensure you don’t miss out. Mauna Loa is best seen on a shore excursion or independently driving from Kona, on the west side of the island.
Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau, Island of Hawaii
Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park is a must-see cultural site on the west coast of the Island of Hawaii which can be visited from Kona either by rental car or as part of the Historic Kona shore excursion with NCL. If you’re visiting independently, you’ll need to pay a vehicle fee and follow the map provided at the entrance. If you also love to snorkel, you can do so at the nearby Keone’ele Cove, which is also a great spot to watch the Honu (Hawaiian green sea turtles). It is forbidden to approach them though, so keep your distance and definitely do not touch (it’s the law in Hawaii!).
Helicopter Ride, Kauai
A scenic helicopter ride was my favourite experience in Kauai. I recommend booking a helicopter ride well in advance and plan to go either as soon after arriving on Kauai as possible or in the late afternoon. That way you’ll still have time to explore the island after your flight, or for another shore excursion and/or beach time before your ride (instead of breaking up the day). Alternatively, book an early morning flight for the next morning, so you have plenty of time to get back to the cruise ship before it leaves port at 2pm. Don’t forget to allow time for a taxi transfer to the airport from Nawiliwili Harbor and back. Although it is less than 3 miles away, it may be busy at certain times of day. If you’re renting a car allow time to pick-up or drop-off your rental.
Waimea Canyon Hike, Kauai
You’ll see Waimea Canyon from the air if you choose to book a helicopter ride. However, I highly recommend visiting Hawaii’s “grand canyon” either as part of NCL’s Best of Kauai shore excursion or by car if you’re exploring independently. Hiking the trail, which winds its way through various parts of the canyon, is a totally different experience as you get to see the rock formations and waterfalls up close and personal. It’s not an exceptionally difficult hike (at least it wasn’t when I did it—I didn’t use a stick), although you may need to watch your footing on certain parts where there is loose gravel or if it’s muddy. I recommend wearing walking shoes with a good grip or hiking boots.