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Cruising Experience on Hawaiian islands

Discovering the beauty of Hawaiian Islands on a cruise where adventure awaits. Cruising the islands, I definitely immersed myself in the culture and history. 

By i.c Golina
Hawaiian island cruise route.

Many travel to Hawaii for a once in a lifetime vacation. Feeling no stranger to Honolulu, as I have visited this beautiful island on many occasions before but only for an over-night stay each time. This meant that I never got the time to explore this city. After arriving in Honolulu on a 20 day cruise from Sydney to Honolulu on Radiance of the Seas cruise-liner, I still had 10 more vacation days left before taking a 10-hour flight back to Sydney. Contemplating on how I was going to spend my next 10 days, I decided to go on a an other cruise. This time taking a 7-day cruise around the Hawaiian island on “Pride of America”. I wanted to something more exotic, enticing and with unexpected surprises. 

The thought of visiting each island on air was not on my list of travel itinerary. The trouble of going through each airport security systems, disembarking and embarking on each flight, check-in and out of hotels, packing and unpacking on each destination would have been my “Holiday in Hell”. 

Without delay, I organised my Hawaiian island cruise with “Pride of America” through a local travel agent operating beneath the Waikiki Marriott hotel where I was staying. MS Pride of America cruise ship sails around Hawaiian islands on weekly basis most year around. This cruise ship was built in the United States but it is operated by Norwegian Cruise Lines. It has a carrying capacity of almost 3000 passengers and 1000 crews.

After 20-days of cruising on sea, I thought life on sea would be a nightmare experience and probably will never cruise again but it was completely an opposite reaction – which took me by surprise. I now realised that I just love cruising on High Seas. In taking this unique Hawaiian island cruise, not only gives me the chance to see each island with its own different unique features, landscapes and history but it also gives me the chance to get over-nights in both Maui (Kahului) and Kauai (Nawiliwili) and the Big Island of Hawaii which (Hilo & Kona) are located. This cruise also gives me great opportunity and time to discover some of the most amazing cascading waterfalls, active volcanos, white sand beaches, historic sites and pristine unspoilt nature on this mix island adventure and carefree cruising. Each of the islands are unique and have its own history with modern blend with traditional Hawaiian culture in the most wonderful way, giving each island an unique charm for its visitors that sure to stay with you forever.

Nawiliwili, Kauai is known as “The Garden Isle”. It is old-school Hawaii with its traditional architecture and free-roaming chickens while the Big Island of Hawaii has the active volcano. 

The cruise began in Honolulu, Oahu which is the capital of Hawaii. A vast and populated with high-rise buildings with white sandy beautiful beaches, it is a mega touristy destination for millions of visitors that flood the island annually. About 10-minutes ride by taxi from the hotel was the Honolulu cruise terminal. All guests have to check-in early hours of the morning due to security reasons and have to be on board 2 hours before sailing. The check-in process at the cruise-terminal had no major delays as I was boarding and cruising in American waters only. As I stepped onto the cruise-ship, I was totally immersed in the colour, culture and flavours of Hawaii – “Aloha Spirit”. I just indulged myself in Aloha mood and was already in so much fun and more. I thought to myself, this is going to be a magical start to my cruise.

High rise buildings
Boarding Cruise-ship - Pride of America

By lunch time, I was already onboard the cruise-liner and headed straight to the buffet restaurant area for my lunch while enjoying the views of the city from the cruise-liner. The cabins was not ready for another 2 hours as the cruise staff had to do a quick turn-over after arriving from the previous cruise. After having my light lunch, I ventured off to the top deck. Like all cruises, all meals are included in the fare. If I wasn’t going to control my eating habits for the next 7 days and by the time I disembark back in Honolulu with extra pound added “Jenny Craig” won’t be happy about it. 

Though it was my third cruise on a big cruise-liner but the experience onboard is always different. Our cruise left Honolulu in the early hours of late afternoon. As I sat there onboard the cruise-liner on the top deck, looking out and enjoying the views of Honolulu as we slowly leave the shores, into the open sea, I thought to myself afterwards, If the cruise was not the best choice, I was going to replace it with something exotic and exciting when I get back to Honolulu. But with the thought of visiting different Hawaiian Islands and getting lose myself in the lush rainforests, magnificent waterfalls, embracing the soaring cliffs of the Napali Coast which will take my breath away and cruising by Kilauea Volcano, the most active volcano in the world, I felt a sight of relief that I was going to have a great time on the cruise and the adventure is waiting for me around every corner.

View from the top deck: The city of Honolulu

Cruising Lifestyle

Yes, like every other cruise-liners, when you are onboard they make sure that no cruise is never the same. There is so much to do while you’re at sea. The variety of activities they offer on board for every passengers to experience and enjoy from young to adulthood is endless. You can choose to enjoy the live entertainment, world-class cuisine, island-spired activities and endless ocean views or do nothing at all. The best thing about this, it’s all included in the cruise fare. For me, I personally prefer to join every activities and attend every shows. Without any exception, doing all this, I have certainly discover a whole new world of fun activities and meeting people from all walks of life. 

After enjoying the views of Honolulu, I did a quick self-familiarisation tour of the cruise-ship. The main priority, wherever I am on the cruise I always make myself familiar with: the main foyer area – reception and information centre, the main dining-in restaurants, buffet restaurants and swimming pool areas before other things. Other deck-levels where bars, gym, theatres, casinos, shops and many other entertainment areas can be casually explored during the cruise. Within first 2 hours or less, I then return to my room by than the rooms were ready. After unpacking few accessories, I made myself comfortable on the balcony relaxing while reading the program for that evening and other entertainment activities and off shore excursions.

Main swimming pool area
Main swimming pool top deck level
One of the main dining of two restaurant
Hallway to the main restaurant, bars, etc
Hallway to the room cabins

In every cruise I have been on, I always have rooms with own private balcony. For me, having a cabin with private balcony definitely gives me an unique and different cruise experience. It is a perfect way to sit back and enjoy the breathtaking views, fresh ocean breeze and famous Hawaiian sunsets from your own balcony. It gives me pleasure and great way to relax on board as we sail along towards our next island destination. To me, having a cabin without balcony is like wandering around in an aquarium or sleepers on a semi sub-missile boat.

During the cruise, rooms are cleaned daily by your room attendants and they are very artistic in their folding skills. They display their skills in the room anywhere that is eye catching. Every evening on daily basis, they also place the “daily activities” program for the following day in the room. In that way, passengers are aware and can plan ahead what interest them. As most cruise-liners know the destinations that we will be visiting, what there to see, do and experience they offer variety of excursions to choose from in every port we visited.

Monkey hanging in the ceiling of the room
Bed made up along with Daily program for the following day left in the room
Display of folding skills

Kahului: Maui

An over-night cruise from Honolulu, our first port of call to begin our island cruise was Kahului in the island of Maui. Kahilui is the largest town and commercial centre of the island of Maui in Hawaii. On this island, I did a private off-shore tour, “Road to Hana” with another person on board. With just two of us on this tour, I was lucky enough to be seated in front and glad I was in the front seat. Though we seat back and enjoyed the sights along the famed Hana Highway without having to navigate the twisting, curving and through this lush tropical rainforest, I was wide awake, nervous, holding and squeezing anything nearby. Every views were incredibly breathtaking but navigating through sharp curves, one-lane bridges and very narrow road along this jaw-dropping and cliff hanging back drops made it very uneasy for me. After arriving safely back on the same route, the other man admitted that he wouldn’t have done the tour if he knew how heart-pumping and bumping trip that was. For any single mistake on the road, it was 100% sure that we were to plunged down to our death. We stopped to explore various sites, tumbling waterfalls, lava cliffs, rugged northern coastline, lush hillsides of feathery ferns, trees laden with tropical fruits, lookouts and villages along the way in this wonderfully natural and pristine landscape. Though, the driver claimed to be an expert at the wheel and drove along this road many times through wet and dry conditions, my trust and confidence in him were totally thrown out the window. This tour is not recommended for those people who are prone to motion sickness or suffer from back problems. It is unbelievably very windy and some part of the road is unpaved. In my travel experience around the world, I have never seen such a road in that windy condition. If there was no strangers on the tour, I would have wet my pants and stopped the tour bus to drain the water from the front seat where I was sitting. It was absolutely terrifying for me.

Hilo: Hawaii – The Big Island

The second island to visit on the cruise was Hawaii – The Big Island where the township of Hilo is located. Hilo history in brief, is the largest settlement and census-designated place in Hawaii County, Hawaii, United States. The town overlooks Hilo Bay, at the base of two shield volcanoes; Mauna Loa, an active volcano and Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano and the site of some of the world’s most important ground-based astronomical observations. Much of the city is at some risk from lava flows from Mauna Loa. Also, Hilo is the home to the University of Hawaii and it is one of the world’s leading producers of macadamia nuts. 

Though Hilo is best known for its annual Merrie Monarch Festival – a week-long Hawaiian cultural event and hula competition dedicated to King David Kalakaua, tourism is less noticeable here in Hilo but there was plenty to do. It has its share of some of the world’s most extravagant and spectacular natural beauty and attractions, including Rainbow Falls, Boiling Pots, Coconut Island and Queen Liliuokalani Park. All these fun excursions for the entire family friendly. Having the time on what I can do, I decided to take an all-day official off-shore excursion tour. Official tours on cruises are vitally important than doing a private tours. You’re insured and the cruise-ship will wait for you if there is a delay on the tour, while the private tours are not. Our tour guide was a local resident who has lived most of his entire life on the island. He has been operating his private tours for 20 years. With someone with that tourism background, I knew I was going to get what I wanted to see and experience. He was very informative and took us to places where private tourists coaches are inaccessible.

Hilo: Garden and Waterfall

Within a 10-minute drive from the cruise-terminal is the botanical gardens . Here was the chance to see this breathtaking view of the Rainbow Falls and unique plants which are native to the island. Been a keen gardener back home, to me this was the place where I would have love to spend most of my time exploring this pristine natural gardens.

View of Rainbow Falls
An unique banana plant
Sign Posts shows where the fall is
Different angle view of rainbow falls
Macadamia nuts factory in Hilo

Hilo: Kilauea volcano site

The joy of enjoying this garden and waterfall came to an abrupt end as we continued our tour. We headed up this windy road up the mountain to the top. The view was breath-taking and could see the vast destruction that the volcano has done over the years. Sadly, this is still an active volcano today. Here, Kilauea volcano continues to take centre stage with its eruptive performances. The sign posts details the history of how it all began and continue to do so even now. Standing there, almost seeing the eye of the volcano gives you a completely different picture of how mother nature can be cruel in its own way. At the same time, accepting the natural phenomenal that it occurs. It was just mind bubbling. Standing there in amazement, thinking and visualising how this vast land has been filled with hot lava and ashes completely destroying the biodiversity and the ecosystem. This was nature at its best.  

Hilo: Macadamia Factory

We ended with a tour to the Macadamia factory, which Hawaii is renowned for its leading producers of Macadamia nuts in the world. Getting an education tour of how the plants are first taken care of in the nursery to Human consumption was surreal. Like any other products that are produced throughout the world, the work and the process involved behind the scene is profoundly labour-intensive but the final product that consumers consume don’t realised the time and work involved. As we began to end this tour, my mind goes back to the time when I was in high school where my teacher mentioned that farmers are very important part of human life. He continued to say that: A teacher may teach, a doctor may help patients, a lawyer may fight for justice and pilots may fly aeroplanes but the FARMER FEEDS THEM ALL.

Kona: Hawaii – The Big Island

Still on The Big Island, we had an over-night cruise to our third port of call, Kona. Kona is a moku or district on the Big Island of Hawaii in the State of Hawaii. Each year in October in Kailua-Kona, the world-famous Ironman World Championship Triathlon is held there. 

Kona offers the quintessential Hawaii experience. Sunny, warm weather and crystal blue waters which entice visitors to partake in a variety of surfside fun, snorkel, kayaking trips and many more fun and adventure activities. Without exploring much of the town, I was chauffeured to a waiting air-conditioned coach with 15 others driven to a helipad about a 20-minutes drive from the Kona’s cruise terminal. Driving along this barred road without ground/plant life on either side of the road but just black volcanic rocks. It was evident that volcano eruption caused the lava to flow through this massive hectares and hectares of land, ruining and causing vast destruction throughout this entire land, once abundance of plant life, towns and villages. 

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Massive land destroyed by the lava
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Massive holes created by the lave, once a death hole
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More ruins by the lava
Helicopter flight

Eye of the Volcano

On the final day of my two days in Hilo, I took my first helicopter flight to see the eye of the volcano and the vast destruction from above. Volcanos are most dangerous natural phenomenal which is beyond human control and left to take its form naturally. Launching off from the Hilo’s Blue Hawaiian heliport, located in the heart of barred land with black lava rocks resulting from the volcano eruption over the years. 

The aerial perspective got me above some of the most dangerous terrain around the volcano with comfort and safety at its maximum. Flying and seeing the eye of the volcano and the sea of lava for miles and miles from above was most impressive and beautiful in a terrifying way with the smoothest air and best visibility. Taking this helicopter flight was the best way to go and get the best view possible of the remote lava eruptions.

Photo credit

Nawailiwili, Kauai

Another over night cruise to Nawiliwili, Kauai, I took my second helicopter flight to see this majestic view of Garden Island. Named after the Wiliwili trees, this town has the picturesque harbour. This lovely port of Kauai is the gateway to what I believe to be Hawaii’s most beautiful island. The Garden Island truly defines the island’s natural nature, from the dramatic mountains of Kokee to the cool rainforest of Haena. Taking this scenic flight and sight-seeing the major facets of Kauai in a 2-hour helicopter ride took me to the most remote, beautiful and majestic areas of the island with a smooth comfortable limo in the sky. Before taking the flight on air, headphones supplied are wired directly for communication with the pilot during the flight as we explored this island with Hawaii’s top pilots. Communicating directly with the pilot during the flight answered most of my questions. Taking this flight narrated by the pilot added an unique experience as I was mesmerise by everything below and the whole experience on air. I must say, taking this Hawaiian cruise, with a flight over this island was by far the best experience I ever had. It was the most efficient and unforgettable way to see all the nature she offers by taking this helicopter tour. Hawaiian Blue helicopters are built specifically for air touring. The helicopter features a lot of windows for easy 360 degrees viewing in every direction. Camera constantly clicking and flashing almost the whole duration of the flight. If you happens to miss, capturing any scenery from waterfalls to landscapes from above, you’re assured to take home with the entire flight as the helicopters has 4 cameras onboard recording your actual flight. Taking this flight to the air by helicopter totally with full mobility to float freely above and around the islands through many types of terrains proves to me that there is so much that can only be seen from above.    

Visiting each island was different and made it even more exciting as I didn’t know what to expect on the next island. Back in Honolulu, after arriving from the cruise, it was time to pack up my suitcases. I boarded my 10-hour flight back home to Sydney. This was a journey that would stay in my mind and heart forever.

From a personal perspective:

Cruising the Hawaiian Islands not only provided me to discover and explore Hawaii’s hidden secrets; beautiful landscapes, lush tropical rainforest, rich Hawaiian cultural history and white sandy beaches but realising the destruction of the active volcano has done certainly provided with full of surprises how nature can it be at its best.

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