Should you take a Hawaiian cruise? What are the advantages and disadvantages of Hawaii cruises, compared to just staying on land on one or more of the Hawaiian islands? Which shore excursions should you choose when your cruise stops on one of the islands of Hawaii? How can you decide which cruise company to use for your Hawaii cruise? This page will help you answer all of those questions and more. (Note: this page is about cruises on large ships that go for several days and stop on several islands. For small boats that go for a couple hours for whale watching or dinner cruises or snorkel cruises from Maui, see Maui Activities.)
Advantages of a Hawaii cruise:
1. You can see four islands in one week, without having to spend time checking in and out of hotels, renting cars and flying between islands.
2. All your meals are included so you don’t have to choose, find, get to and pay for restaurants on each island.
3. It’s easy to book one of the Hawaii cruise packages, instead of having to research and book several hotels, cars, tours and restaurants.
Disadvantages of Hawaii cruises:
1. There is not enough time on any one island to see most of the sights or do many activities.
2. By eating all your dinners on the cruise ship, you miss the wonderful food in Hawaii restaurants on each island.
3. The ship docks in towns on each island, but the best sights are far away from the towns, so you have to pay extra for tours or find a way to get to the beaches and scenery.
Below is a discussion of some of the specific Hawaii cruises and cruise lines you can choose from, and which ports are worth stopping at.
Shore excursions – How to choose the best ones
Here are my suggestions for the best shore excursions when your cruise ship stops on the island of Maui. Click on each one for details and choices.
Hawaii Cruises and Cruise Line Choices
U.S. law usually requires foreign-registered ships to visit at least one foreign port on every cruise. Therefore, most Hawaii cruise ships will not go only to the Hawaiian Islands, but will waste a couple days of your cruise going to another country, usually Fanning Island in Kiribati, 1200 miles away, or Ensenada in Mexico, 2600 miles away, or Vancouver in Canada, 2500 miles away. There are three ships that are not required to go to any foreign port, so they avoid this problem, going only to the islands of Hawaii. Those three are NCL’s Pride of Aloha, Pride of America, and Pride of Hawaii.
Norwegian Cruise Line – NCL
NCL operates Hawaii cruises on several ships in various seasons of the year. The three listed in the above paragraph are the only ships that visit only Hawaii during their cruises. Pride of Hawaii is the newest of those three. Other NCL ships, including Norwegian Wind and Norwegian Sun, do spend significant time going to and from Fanning Island in order to fulfill their foreign port requirement.
Carnival Spirit is a ship that does a few Hawaiian cruises. It includes Ensenada, Mexico, or Vancouver, Canada, to fulfill its foreign port requirement.
Celebrity Infinity, Summit and Mercury are three ships that do some Hawaii cruises. They stop in Ensenada, Mexico, in addition to the islands of Hawaii
Pacific Princess, Island Princess and Diamond Princess spend part of the year in Hawaii. Each cruise has a stop in Vancouver, Canada, or Ensenada, Mexico.
Holland America’s ship Zaandam stops in Ensenada, Mexico, or Vancouver, Canada (depending on time of the year) on each Hawaii cruise.
Royal’s Radiance of the Seas includes Ensenada, Mexico, in each of its Hawaii cruises.
Ports on your Hawaii Cruise:
Most Hawaiian cruises visit four islands: Oahu, Maui, Kauai and the Big Island. They do not go to the islands of Lanai or Molokai. But it’s important to know which ports you will be stopping at on Maui and the Big Island. On Maui, Lahaina is much more interesting to see than Kahului. Lahaina is a historic old quaint town with lots of fascinating history and shopping. Kahului is just a big city where most Maui residents live. On the Big Island, it is better to stop in Kona (Kailua-Kona) than in Hilo, because Hilo is the rainy side.
For Maui activities, golf, luaus, whale watching, snorkeling, tours, helicopters, horseback, ATV, parasailing, fishing, biking, beaches, kids & family fun, events calendar, and more, see Maui Things To Do.