This is our itinerary for a trip to Hawaii that included a 7-day cruise to four islands + a few extra days in Honolulu. Here we highlight some things to see and do on each island, as well as what you can easily accomplish each day in port (if you’re on a cruise and get a rental car) and how far you can drive and safely get back to the ship on time.
Day 1 – Fly to Honolulu
After several connections and many hours of flying, we arrived in Honolulu mid-afternoon and met our pre-arranged shuttle to our hotel in Waikiki (the beachfront neighborhood on the eastern end of Honolulu). We ate an early supper, walked on the beach, and were sound asleep by 9 p.m., having been awake for more than 22 hours.
Day 2 – Waikiki / Honolulu
Still on Central U.S. time, we woke early and caught the E Noa Tour that picked us up by our hotel. It was an informative four hours on a small bus starting at Pearl Harbor, then showing off the sights of Honolulu, including the State Courthouse and the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. For a more detailed description of our tour, click here and scroll to the bottom. Afterward, we took in the spectacle of Waikiki, playing in the surf during the day, and watching the fireworks show over the water in the evening.
Day 3 – Norwegian’s Pride of America
Since we didn’t have to board our ship until late afternoon, this would have been the perfect opportunity to take the Waikiki Trolley‘s Green Line Tour up to nearby Diamond Head, the volcanic cone that dominates the southeastern part of Oahu. But having a young child in tow, we chose instead to stay close to the hotel for the morning and grab a taxi over to the cruise terminal near the Aloha Tower by early afternoon. As the ship sailed away from Honolulu, we looked forward to being on Maui by morning.
Day 4 – Kahului, Maui
Docking on the north side of Maui, we disembarked in the morning and took a shuttle to our pre-arranged rental car at the Kahului airport, then drove seven miles west to Iao Valley State Park. A few hours in the misty rain forest made us hungry for lunch in Lahaina, which was a 45 minute drive down and around to get to the western edge of the island. After a nice lunch on the water at Bubba Gumps, we set off in search of the Nakalele Blowhole, 17 miles and 35 minutes to the north. We had plenty of time to hike down to the blowhole and explore the rocky caves and tidal pools before circling back to Lahaina for that night’s reservation at the Old Lahaina Luau. Afterward, we returned our rental car and made it back to the ship just before midnight.
Day 5 – Kahului, Maui
For our second day on Maui, we had arranged for a snorkeling excursion to the Molokini Crater and Turtle Arches. We spent most of the day swimming over the reef inside the old, half-submerged atoll, and looking for sea turtles in more open waters. It was an enjoyable and educational day in Hawaii, and we would recommend this excursion to anyone looking for this kind of experience. If you’re not part of a cruise, just book it on your own through the Pacific Whale Organization.
Day 6 – Hilo, Big Island of Hawaii
Dawn of a new day, and the ship was already docked in Hilo, on the east side of the Big Island. Off the ship first thing, and it was the usual routine of taking a shuttle to our rental car at the airport. Then we set our course south for the 30 mile (45 minute) drive to Volcanoes National Park. Here, we had a great view of Kilauea from the Visitor Center which overlooks a vast, barren landscape surrounding the mouth of the puffing volcano. We finished our visit with a short walk through a nearby rain forest and old lava tube. Next, we were on our way further south (about 20 minutes) to the volcanic sands of Punalu’u beach, taking about an hour to explore the rocky shore and tidal pools before grabbing a late lunch on the way back to Hilo. We spent the last few hours of this day off Banyan Drive within sight of the ship, building salt-and-pepper sand castles along the edge of Reeds Bay.
(Another option when you’re in Hilo: Head 15 miles north and visit Akaka Falls State Park and its 422 foot waterfall.)
Day 7 – Kona, Big Island of Hawaii
Circling around to the west side of the Big Island overnight, the ship passed the flowing lava fields of Kilauea to anchor off shore near the town of Kailua-Kona. We made the extra effort to get a car today, since no shuttles wait at the dock here, and an eight mile taxi ride was between us and the airport. Already north of town at this point, and with no destination in mind, we drove for about 30 minutes and ended up at a fabulous public park called Spencer Beach. (Although we didn’t visit, the parking lot is connected to the Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site, which is one of the last major temples built in Hawaii in the late 1700s.) We spent most of our morning snorkeling in the protected cove, then heading a little further north to the tiny town of Kawaihae for lunch and some Hawaiian shaved ice. Already mid-afternoon and mindful of our departure time, we drove the 35 miles back to Kona and explored the seashore along Ali’i Drive before leaving our car in the parking lot of a nearby hotel that, thankfully, had a deal with the rental company.
Day 8 – Nawiliwili, Kauai
The last destination of the cruise found us on the Garden Isle of Kauai. First stop, Wailua Falls, the twin waterfalls seen in the opening credits of Fantasy Island. The traffic in this part of Kauai made the seven mile drive take quite a bit longer than expected, but we still had plenty of time to park in the grass off the side of the road and gape at the rainbow-shrouded waterfalls, no hiking required. Back into the car and it was an hour further north to the Kilauea Point Wildlife Refuge and Lighthouse, a fantastic place to see lots of interesting local birds. Afterward, we decided to drive back down through Nawiliwili, coming out the other side onto the southern tip of the island where the big resorts reside off Poipu Road. A little exploring here, and another empty, secluded beach there… and today’s full day of sightseeing had us returning our rental car in time for dinner on the ship. There actually was no hurry because…
Day 9 – Nawiliwili, Kauai / Na Pali Coast
…the ship remained in Kauai for the night. Since it was an early 2 p.m. departure, we chose to forego the car, stay close, and have some shopping and sand time on nearby Kalapaki Beach. In the afternoon, we were treated to a drive-by of the breathtaking cliffs of the Na Pali coastline before sailing back to Oahu.
Day 10 – Honolulu / Oahu
With our flight home a full 12 hours distant, we took a rental car out of Honolulu, driving counter clockwise along the eastern coast, up to the North Shore and then south back down through the middle of the island to the airport. We pulled in first at the peaceful Japanese Byodo-In Temple, where we explored the grounds and the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park cemetery. Continuing north along Highway 83 to the top of the island, we stretched our legs at a local recreation area, watching the cliff divers plunge into the ocean below. (Being summer, the North Shore’s famous surfing waves were nonexistent, and so were the tourists.) We passed the popular Dole Plantation on our way back south, but were out of time to take the tour. So instead, we simply rode in silence and enjoyed the sights of our last few wonderful hours in Hawaii.
To learn more about our Hawaiian cruise, see our post here.
A good guide book is really helpful when planning a trip to Hawaii. Try this DK Eye Witness Travel Guide that, along with sight-seeing recommendations, includes maps, restaurants, lodging, and a little history of the islands.