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The best Hawaii cruises for every type of traveler

Sept. 10, 2022
16 min read
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Cruising the Hawaiian Islands offers U.S. travelers an immersive South Pacific escape with all the comforts of home. In fact, our 50th state is in many ways an ideal cruise destination. It has year-round sunny weather, four main islands featuring varied topographies — including sandy beaches, cascading waterfalls, volcanic mountains and vibrant green valleys — and a wide array of land- and water-based activities.

The main caveat? Cruise options are somewhat limited — just a fraction of what’s available in the Caribbean — and many itineraries involve multiday crossings from the West Coast. Only one cruise line offers Hawaii itineraries throughout the year; seven others visit during specific months or when repositioning ships in spring and fall.

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Looking for the island sailing that’s right for you? Here’s a look at the best Hawaii cruises for every type of traveler.

Norwegian Cruise Line’s 7-day Inter-island Hawaii

Norwegian's Pride of America lets its passengers sample four Hawaiian islands over seven days. NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE

For travelers who want more aloha time than the typical eight-hour port call allows, Norwegian Cruise Line has a solution. Its 2,186-passenger ship, Pride of America, lets its passengers sample four Hawaiian islands over seven days, with overnights in Maui and Kauai, plus port calls on both Hilo and Kona on the island of Hawaii. In total, this itinerary offers nearly 100 hours of shore time.

Pride of America sails round-trip from Honolulu every Saturday year-round. As a U.S.-flagged ship, it’s the only large vessel permitted to sail this way. Not only do you skip the long Pacific crossing, but passports are not required for U.S. citizens and you can tack on pre- or post-cruise stays on Oahu.

The overnights on Maui and Kauai also mean it’s possible to try several of Hawaii’s signature experiences that most port calls don’t allow. Passengers can catch dusk or dawn from atop Maui’s massive 10,023-foot dormant volcano with sunrise and sunset excursions to the Haleakala Crater. And with the ship in port all night on Kauai, guests who want to enjoy traditional Hawaiian cuisine, music and hula performances can book the Luau Kalamaku for a fun evening out.

Pride of America, which has been cruising Hawaii since 2005, doesn’t have the onboard thrills (race track, virtual-reality gaming, waterslides) of Norwegian’s newer ships, but that’s okay because the islands, not the ship, are your main destination. Its American-themed decor celebrates U.S. cities in a vibrant, and at times, kitschy way, but a 2021 refurbishment has left its staterooms and public spaces feeling refreshed.

Many of Norwegian’s specialty dining venues (which incur a surcharge) are on board, including Cagney’s Steakhouse, Le Bistro (here, it’s Jefferson’s Bistro), Moderno Churrascaria and Teppanyaki, although several are closed through late 2022 due to staffing and capacity limitations.

Who should go: Anyone seeking a convenient way to island-hop — and see a lot of Hawaii — by making the most of the generous shore time with a combination of independent exploration and shore excursions. Most sailings attract couples ages 50 and older, although summer and holiday sailings have plenty of families on board.

Related: A beginners guide to picking a cruise line

UnCruise Adventures’ 7-Night Hawaiian Seascapes

UnCruise Adventures' cruise to Hawaii is an unconventional trip designed for those who enjoy going off the beaten path. UNCRUISE ADVENTURES

Cruisers seeking a less traditional, more carefree Hawaii experience can have it from November to April aboard UnCruise Adventures’ 36-passenger Safari Explorer. The seven-night Hawaiian Seascapes itinerary, which begins either on Molokai or the island of Hawaii, is an unconventional one designed for those who enjoy going off the beaten path in an intimate and more authentic setting. U.S. passports aren’t required to sail.

UnCruise visits four islands — Maui and Lanai plus Molokai and Hawaii — and focuses on not only their striking landscapes and underwater beauty but also the cultural traditions, cuisine and music of the Hawaiian people. On Molokai, where there’s not a single traffic light and the lifestyle is slow-paced, passengers get a chance to “talk story” with locals and enjoy a pa’ina (feast) and evening jam session. Lanai activities range from snorkel, paddleboard and kayak excursions to off-road adventures exploring the privately owned island’s dramatic sea cliffs, red rock formations and vast fields once filled with Dole pineapples.

Most UnCruise sailings are during Maui’s humpback whale season, so sightings while calling on historic Lahaina are likely. A “Captain’s Choice” day is a wild card determined by the weather, marine life in the area and other factors, while the final two days are spent exploring the Big Island of Hawaii—including a hike up Hualalai volcano and a skiff ride along the rugged coast.

Constructed in 1998, Safari Explorer was designed with adventure itineraries in mind (in summer the U.S.-flagged ship repositions to Alaska). Its size allows it to navigate areas larger ships can’t reach, which in Hawaii means bays and coves ideal for snorkeling or watersports.

With such a small number of passengers aboard, guests get to know each other — and Safari Explorer’s friendly and knowledgeable crew — quite well. Passengers come together over meals featuring locally sourced ingredients, and as all UnCruise fares include unlimited wines, spirits and microbrews, shipmates can raise a glass without worrying who’s buying a round. It all lends itself to an exclusive yet utterly relaxed week of cruising.

Who should go: The ship’s laid-back onboard vibe paired with its land- and water-based activities make the Hawaiian Seascapes itinerary ideal for active travelers seeking a nature-focused itinerary — although cruise fares (which start around $5,595 per person) are among the priciest for a Hawaii cruise.

Related: Why it's easier to meet new people on a smaller cruise ship

Holland America’s 18-Day Circle Hawaii

Holland America's cruise is perfect for travelers who have more than two weeks to spare to explore the islands of Hawaii. HOLLAND AMERICA LINE

Travelers who have more than two weeks to spare and who prefer to arrive in Hawaii via ship rather than an airplane can do so on Holland America's 18-Day Circle Hawaii itinerary. They'd better also love sea days because crossing the Pacific from San Diego to Honolulu and back requires 10 days.

That means passengers enjoy five days in Hawaii, with 10 to 12 hours of shore time daily (but no overnights) on Kauai, Oahu, Maui and the island of Hawaii. This itinerary, available in early 2023 aboard 2,650-passenger Koningsdam, also calls on Ensenada, Mexico before its return to San Diego, so passports are required.

Travelers with more time on their hands can also visit Hawaii as part of longer Pacific island cruises with Holland America. Koningsdam will sail longer 35-day Hawaii, Tahiti & Marquesas itineraries in 2023 and 2024 that combine visits to four Hawaiian islands with calls on five islands in French Polynesia (and a total of 19 sea days). A smaller sister ship, the 1,432-passenger Volendam, will sail 51- to 56-day Tales of the South Pacific itineraries that visit multiple islands in Hawaii and French Polynesia along with ports in the Cook Islands, American Samoa and Fiji.

Holland America is popular with cruisers ages 60 and older, many of them retired, who have time to enjoy longer itineraries on ships that offer good value with a focus on culinary and musical enjoyment. Two of Koningsdam’s most popular venues are the four interconnected spaces known as MusicWalk — B.B. King’s Blues Club, the Rolling Stone Rock Room, Lincoln Center Stage and Billboard Onboard — where a variety of musical genres can be enjoyed nightly, and World Stage, a theater with a 270-degree screen used for both special BBC Earth in Concert and theatrical productions.

Onboard specialty dining options (at an added cost) include Pinnacle Grill for steaks and seafood, Tamarind for Pan-Asian cuisine and Rudi’s Sel de Mer for French Brasserie specialties and seafood.

Who should go: Mature travelers who prefer not to fly and who enjoy a more traditional cruise experience. They should also love sea days as much (or even more so) than port exploration.

Related: 16 mistakes cruisers make on cruise ship sea days

Princess Cruises’ 15- or 16-Day Hawaiian Islands

Princess Cruises has a large selection of sailing dates to Hawaii. PRINCESS CRUISE LINE

For the largest selection of sailing dates — almost two dozen between October 2022 and April 2023, for example — Princess Cruises is a good option for longer sailings. The cruise line offers numerous round-trip itineraries to Hawaii from Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego.

The majority of sailings are aboard 3,080-passenger Crown Princess from Los Angeles, 3,080-passenger Ruby Princess from San Francisco and 3,560-passenger Royal Princess from San Francisco. Travelers seeking a summer escape to Hawaii can also book a round-trip cruise from Los Angeles aboard 3,080-passenger Emerald Princess from May to August.

Ships are in port for nine to 11 hours in Hawaii (Hilo), Kauai and Maui and for 16 hours in Oahu. Itineraries include a stop in Ensenada, Mexico (so passports are required), plus nine or 10 sea days.

All four ships were refurbished in 2018-2019 and feature many of Princess’ popular dining venues, including Alfredo’s Pizzeria (a sit-down venue serving personal-size pizzas), Crown Grill for steaks and Sabatini’s Italian Trattoria. There’s plenty of outdoor space for soaking up the sun — including an adults-only sun deck — and a dazzling Piazza for enjoying cocktails, gelato and pop-up street performers. Fans of Princess’ Chocolate Journeys dessert program and Movies Under the Stars poolside screenings (with free popcorn) will have ample time to enjoy these perks on a Hawaii sailing.

Who should go: These sailings will appeal to couples or groups of friends who prefer to have a wide choice of sailing dates, can take the time to enjoy a leisurely Pacific crossing and appreciate Princess’ focus on quality cuisine and a sun deck designed for relaxation rather than thrills.

Celebrity’s 9- to 12-night Hawaii Cruise

Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head Crater in Honolulu. M SWEET PRODUCTIONS/GETTY IMAGES

Travelers seeking modern interior decor on a ship designed with couples in mind can visit Hawaii aboard Celebrity Cruises' Celebrity Eclipse or Celebrity Solstice on itineraries ranging from nine to 12 nights – but only if the timing is right. That’s because the line offers only two sailings per year (in spring and fall) as the ships reposition between Alaska and Australia and New Zealand — and the itineraries are one-way (Vancouver to Honolulu or vice versa) with passports required.

These cruises call on four ports on three islands: Honolulu (Oahu), Lahaina (Maui) and Hilo and Kona (Hawaii) with overnights in two of the four ports on 11- and 12-night sailings, and 10 hours ashore in the others. All include five days in a row at sea. Since the itineraries either begin or end in Honolulu, there’s also a chance for some pre- or post-cruise exploration.

Sea days offer opportunities to enjoy the chic, grown-up ambiance and amenities aboard these 2,852-passenger ships, both recently refurbished. Each vessel offers six complimentary restaurants and four specialty restaurants (at extra cost), including Tuscan Grille for Italian specialties and steak and Murano for modern French cuisine.

Celebrity’s signature Martini Bar, along with lounges devoted to wine (Cellar Masters), craft cocktails (World Class Bar) and frozen cocktails (Slush), keep the grown-up vibe going day and night. Cruise fares include certain beers, wines and cocktails as well as basic Wi-Fi and crew gratuities.

Who should go: The shorter one-way sailings and the ships’ contemporary ambiance make these itineraries ideal for couples and groups of friends seeking a relaxing escape — especially Gen Xers in their 40s and 50s, who are Celebrity’s target market.

Related: 6 national parks you can reach by cruise ship (and 2 are in Hawaii)

Carnival’s 14- or 15-Day Hawaii from Los Angeles

Socializing on Carnival Miracle. CARNIVAL CRUISE LINE

If fun is your cruise mantra, Carnival Cruise Line offers a handful of roundtrip sailings to Hawaii from Los Angeles (Long Beach) aboard the 2,124-passenger Carnival Miracle. Like other roundtrips from the West Coast, these itineraries spend just five days in Hawaii, offering eight to 14 hours of shore time in ports on four islands: Maui, Kauai, Oahu and Hawaii (Hilo and Kona). Along with enjoying nine sea days, guests will also call on Ensenada, Mexico, so passports are required.

Carnival Miracle, which debuted in 2004 and was refurbished in 2020, features several of Carnival’s signature dining venues, including the complimentary Guy’s Burger Joint and BlueIguana Cantina and the extra-charge Bonsai Sushi Express, along with guest favorites like the RedFrog Rum Bar, Alchemy Bar, a WaterWorks aquapark and high-voltage theater shows from Playlist Productions. Expect Lip Sync Battles at night and poolside interactive contests by day.

Who should go: Socially inclined cruisers who love Carnival’s emphasis on onboard fun and can appreciate a colorful ship with a lively ambiance and lots of day and evening activities.

Royal Caribbean’s 9- to 11-Night Hawaii Cruise

North Star sightseeing pod on Quantum of the Seas. ROYAL CARIBBEAN

A megaship cruise experience to Hawaii is available, too — with pricing that’s quite affordable. Royal Caribbean cruises there on two vessels in its newest class of ships: the 4,180-passenger Quantum of the Seas and Ovation of the Seas. All are one-way cruises just before or after the Alaska cruise season (so late April or early May and late September or early October) between Oahu and Vancouver (or vice versa) with calls on two, three or four Hawaiian islands and five days at sea. Passports are required since these itineraries begin or end in Vancouver.

Ovation of the Seas and Quantum of the Seas feature a mix of thrills for all ages. These include RipCord by iFly simulated sky diving, FlowRider simulated surfing, bumper car racing in the SeaPlex indoor activity complex and the North Star sightseeing capsule, which ascends 300 feet above the top deck for 360-degree views.

Both ships also offer 14 dining venues, including the innovative Wonderland, Jamie’s Italian by Jamie Oliver and kid-favorite Dog House, as well as bar options that include Schooner Bar for by-request piano tunes, Boleros for mojitos and merengue and Bionic Bar for drinks poured by robotic bartenders. Entertainment includes live cover bands in the Music Hall and multimedia music and dance performances in Two70.

Fans of Royal Caribbean’s mid-sized ships can also book one-way Hawaiian sailings aboard 2,143-passenger Serenade of the Seas, Radiance of the Seas and Brilliance of the Seas, all of which debuted in 2002 and 2003 but have been recently refurbished. They feature three complimentary restaurants and five extra-charge specialty restaurants (including Chops Grille, Giovanni’s Table and Izumi) as well as 10 bars and lounges.

Who should go: Cruisers who love a big ship with a wide array of dining choices, all kinds of evening entertainment and plenty of exciting activities to pass the time on sea days. Quantum-class ships are great for families, but the sail dates may not work for those with school-age kids.

Related: Do you need a passport for a cruise?

Viking’s 17-Night Hawaiian Islands Sojourn

Rainbow Falls cascades over a lava cave. PRAVEEN P.N/GETTY IMAGES

For a guaranteed adults-only sailing in a relaxed, boutique-style setting, luxury cruise line Viking also offers round-trip Hawaii cruises from Los Angeles in late 2023 and early 2024 on its 930-passenger ship, Viking Star.

What sets Viking apart from most of the other lines offering Hawaii cruises is that it includes a free shore excursion in every port. These include a highlights tour of Honolulu and Pearl Harbor on Oahu and a visit to a scenic waterfall and the Kilohana sugar plantation on Kauai. Additional excursions can be booked at an extra charge.

The 17-day Hawaiian Islands Sojourn sailings visit four islands — Hawaii (Hilo), Oahu, Kauai and Maui — and like other round-trip sailings from the West Coast include 10 sea days and a call on Ensenada, Mexico, so passports are required.

Viking Star will also do 33-day Grand Hawaii and Polynesia sailings roundtrip from Los Angeles in late 2023 and early 2024 that visit four islands in Hawaii and five in French Polynesia.

The ship, which debuted in 2015, features sleek Scandinavian-inspired decor, a soothing spa with a complimentary thermal area, an aft infinity pool and hot tub, a panoramic Explorer’s Lounge and five onboard restaurants. Specialty restaurant Manfredi’s serves an extensive menu of Italian specialties, while The Chef’s Table offers rotating five-course themed menus, including Asian, French and California-inspired.

In addition to the free shore excursions, pricing includes complimentary wine or beer with lunch and dinner, specialty dining at no extra charge, crew gratuities and transfers.

Who should go: Couples who prefer the quieter ambiance of a ship that doesn’t allow anyone under 18 onboard, doesn’t have a casino and offers presentations by regional experts that enhance immersion into local culture. Viking cruisers are generally over age 55.

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Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
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    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

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The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

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  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
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  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases