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Is a Hawaii cruise right for you?

SmarterTravel

Hawaii is no longer a small star on the cruising map, particularly with the arrival of NCL America’s Pride of America in Honolulu on July 23. Families, honeymooners, and other island hoppers still flock to the island, but many now wonder if they should opt for a cruise instead. If you’re deciding between a cruise and a land vacation to the Aloha State, here are a few reasons why you might want to choose a cruise.

You want to see all the islands

Cruise ships can visit the four main Hawaiian islands—Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island of Hawaii—in one seven- to 10-day trip. Try doing the same itinerary yourself, and you’ll be out hundreds of dollars on interisland flights, plus you’ll be spending your precious vacation days re-packing your bags and waiting at the airport. With a cruise, you’ll spend one or two days on each island, and have time to relax on the beach, explore volcanoes and tropical forests, and experience Hawaii’s nightlife. But you’ll only have to unpack and re-pack once.

You want an all-inclusive vacation

A cruise to any destination is a good value because of the all-inclusive nature of a sailing vacation. For one price, you get accommodations, transportation, meals, and entertainment. Plus, your cruise line can arrange airfare, pre- or post-cruise land packages, and shore excursions for you at an extra charge. You won’t need to spend extra time searching for hotel deals, choosing restaurants, or otherwise planning your vacation.

The all-inclusive nature of cruises is an especially good value in Hawaii. “There are no all-inclusive resorts in Hawaii,” explains Bruce Fisher, owner of HawaiiCruising.net. “Hawaii is an expensive destination, so if people like to get everything for one price, they should choose a cruise over a land vacation.”

You want more bang for your buck

When you add up the cost of airfare, cruise fare, shore excursions, and incidental costs (alcohol and soft drinks, spa treatments, etc.), a cruise may end up being more expensive than a land vacation. However, according to Fisher, “You may spend more money but you’ll get more bang for your buck.” That’s because a cruise makes it very easy to do and see many things in such a short time. A land vacation for a comparable price would most likely involve a stay on one, perhaps two islands, in lower-tier hotels. Plus, you’d never be able to accomplish the cruise line’s itinerary on your own without spending many more dollars than your cruise fare is likely to cost.

You’ve got the right travel personality

Probably the most important factor to take into consideration is your travel personality. Cruises are best for families or people looking to fill their days with as many activities as possible. “It’s hard to please everybody on a vacation, but on a cruise there is always something for everyone,” Fisher says. Golfers will especially enjoy Hawaii cruises; the NCL Golf Hawaii program arranges for players to tee off on every island and even rents clubs. And Dawn Gillis, director of merchandising at VacationOutlet.com, also recommends cruises for first-time travelers to Hawaii, who might not know which island would suit them best and want to try it all.

However, if you’re looking for the ultimate in relaxing vacations, Fisher does recommend a land vacation with lots of beach time and no deadlines (such as getting back to your ship before it sails). Also, water sports enthusiasts may prefer to stick to the surfing, windsurfing, and kite-surfing meccas of Maui and Oahu, rather than visit all of the islands. And if you like to spend your evenings in the onboard casino, you should know that Hawaii does not allow gambling, either on- or offshore.

Tips for getting the most out of your Hawaii cruise

If you’re convinced that a Hawaii vacation is for you, we have a few more tips for how to get the most out of your island cruise.

  • Norwegian/NCL America offers the most Hawaii cruises. Other cruise lines with Hawaii itineraries include Carnival, Celebrity, Holland America, Princess, and Royal Caribbean. With the exception of NCL America sailings, all other cruise lines must call at a non-U.S. port, usually Ensenada, Mexico, or the Fanning Islands, during a Hawaii cruise. Be sure to compare fares and itineraries before you book.
  • Some cruise lines offer round-trip Hawaii cruises from the U.S. West Coast. You may save on pricey airfare to Hawaii, but you’ll spend more time on the ship sailing across the Pacific than you will in port in Hawaii. If you want to focus your vacation time on Hawaii, choose a round-trip Honolulu sailing. Plus, Gillis recommends booking your airfare through your cruise line. “Cruise lines offer reduced airfares from their gateway cities, so ask them about deals from your area,” she advises.
  • Gillis also predicts that 2006 will be the year that the world wakes up to the possibility of Hawaii cruises. And when sailings become more popular, prices skyrocket. She recommends cruising this year, or purchasing your 2006 cruise in 2005 to take advantage of the lower prices. VacationOutlet.com has sailings on several lines starting from around $100 per day. Gillis says that in general, Norwegian will have the lowest prices since it has the most capacity in Hawaii, and the fall is usually the cheapest time to cruise to the islands.
  • Once you book, you will be bombarded with the number of shore excursions available on your Hawaii sailing. Fisher has heard rave reviews from customers about helicopter tours and zip-line adventures. He also recommends renting a car, and seeing the island at your own pace. In major ports, you can pick up the car right where you get off the ship.

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