Cruise the Hawaiian islands on NCL's Pride of America
By Jane Archer | 27 Sep 2022
Say ‘aloha’ to Hawaii on a cruise through the paradise isles of Maui, Kaua’i and Big Island on board Norwegian Cruise Line ship Pride of America
It’s 3.30am and I’m on my way to the top of the Haleakala volcano on the Hawaiian island of Maui to watch the sun rise. Yes, I know crazy o’clock is not the time you want to be getting up on holiday, but I’m told this is a must-do when you’re in Hawaii so, well, I must do it.
Preston, our guide, keeps the lights off as the coach zigzags up the mountain so those who want to can sleep. Me? I’m wide awake as my body clock is still on UK time, 11 hours ahead of the islands. I peer out of the window into miles of darkness and savour the fact that light pollution has not infected Maui.
“You’re in the most remote place on the most remote islands in the world,” Preston tells us as we reach the top nearly two hours later. Specifically, we’re almost 2,400 miles from California, 3,900 miles from Japan and 10,000 feet above sea level. Not that you’d guess it’s that remote given all the people here, cameras poised, for the moment the sun appears over the horizon.
The sky has a magnificent amber glow and, slowly, the first rays of the sun start to peek through. The day has begun. We return to the coach and commence the slow journey back to Norwegian Cruise Line ship Pride of America, arriving just in time for breakfast.
Island-hopping in Hawaii
I’m sailing from Honolulu, overnighting in Maui and Kaua’i and visiting Hilo and Kona on Hawaii (aka Big Island) – an unusual itinerary this ship is allowed to do because it’s registered in the US and has an all-American crew. I can fly in, hop on and visit four islands and five ports in seven days instead of needing the four or five days’ sailing it takes other lines to get here from the US West Coast (and then the same going back), on top of the time spent in Hawaii itself.
The ship is a shrine to all things America – I have lunches in the Cadillac Diner, dinners in Jefferson Bistro, drinks at Ocean Drive Bar and watch live bands in Mardi Gras Lounge – but also pays homage to Hawaiian culture, with local singers and hula dancers as we embark, a Hawaiian buffet in the Aloha Cafe, lei-making classes and Big Wave beer behind the bar.
Most of the 1,100 passengers (half the ship’s capacity, as dictated by Covid rules) are American, but there are a handful of fellow Brits and a few Australians. Between us we cover all ages, from toddlers to grandmothers. To make the most of the trip, many have added a few pre-cruise nights in Waikiki Beach, where surfers ride the waves by day and buskers and street painters keep the crowds entertained after dark.
What to see and do on a Hawaii cruise
As a Hawaii first-timer, I’m packing in as much as possible this week, starting with a waterfalls-and-rainforest hike in Maui. “Don’t ask me to take pictures of you jumping off the waterfalls because I’ll be busy making sure no one drowns,” is the tongue-in-cheek advice from guide Marko as we set off.
A few brave souls scramble eagerly up rocks beside the first waterfall and jump off – but only once. “That was scary. I won’t be doing it again,” Martin from Australia tells me.
The waterfalls are beautiful, two at 15ft high, the largest more than 40ft, but the rainforest is the highlight for me. Marko, originally from San Francisco, is a mine of information, pointing out breadfruit trees, exotic tapioca, mango and ti plants, and taro, the roots of which are used to make a rather unappetising-looking starchy paste called poi.
“You must try it,” Marko says. There are many things I have to do while I’m here, but I decide that this is not one of them.
What shore excursions should you do on a Hawaii cruise?
All bar one of the ports on this cruise are out of town, so while you can do your own thing ashore, you need to book a hire car, taxi or local tour. The exception is Kona, where a tender normally takes you right into town. Unfortunately, on Kona morning we wake to news that there’s too much swell to get us ashore safely so we have a day at sea instead.
I’m happy to take the ship’s tours as it means I can tick off my Hawaii wish list while gleaning nuggets of information from the guides. There are more than 130 atolls and isles in the archipelago but only eight main islands. Of those, Hawaii is the biggest geographically, but Oahu is streets ahead by population.
Because they are so remote, almost everything has been imported, even pineapples and coconuts, which came with the first Polynesians 2,000 years ago. More recently, rats, mongooses and mosquitoes arrived on passing ships, which is a problem because they are killing off native birds.
I learn that Hawaii used to have more cowboys than Arizona, that the islands are moving a few inches closer to Japan every year and that Hilo is seriously unlucky, having been hit by a tsunami in 1960 that killed 61 people and a volcanic eruption in 2018 that sent ash and lava spewing 11,000ft into the air and destroyed more than 700 homes.
I go to see Kilauea, which is still smouldering to this day after the explosion, in Volcano National Park. “If anyone needs a bathroom, there’s one over there. We call it a lava-tory,” jokes our guide Lili.
She tells me that 20 miles away from Hawaii, deep under the ocean, a new island is being created by volcanic activity. It’s an exciting thought until she admits that it’ll be hundreds of years before it reaches the ocean’s surface.
The Hollywood of Hawaii
Kaua’i is nicknamed the Garden Isle but it should be known as Hawaii’s Hollywood. It’s home to a whole host of celebrities, including Pierce Brosnan, Bruce Willis, Bette Midler and Julia Roberts, and is the place where the Jurassic Park franchise, Raiders of the Lost Ark, King Kong and countless other movies were shot.
We’re staying here overnight, so I book front-row seats at a luau, a traditional Hawaiian party where a pig is cooked in a fire pit, the alcohol is free-flowing and singers and dancers act out the journey their ancestors took to get to Hawaii all those centuries ago.
Next day I take a boat along the Wailua River to Fern Grotto, a lava rock cave popular with couples tying the knot, where our hosts perform the wedding song. “This is a great island for honeymoons because there’s nothing to do in the evenings,” guide Rosario laughs.
Too soon it’s the end of the cruise, but there’s one more adventure to tick off because I’m spending my last day in the islands at Pearl Harbor, the naval base that was attacked by the Japanese on December 7, 1941, bringing the US into the Second World War.
The story is played out in exhibitions, films and on Mighty Mo, the battleship on which the Japanese surrendered. It’s a sobering experience but rounds off my must-do list. Or at least it would have, except I’ve just added Kona to the bottom.
Book a Hawaii cruise on NCL’s Pride of America
A seven-night Hawaii: Inter-island cruise round-trip from Honolulu on Pride of America costs from £3,140 per person departing January 14, 2023, based on two sharing an inside cabin. The ship calls at Kahului in Maui, Hilo and Kona in Hawaii, and Nawiliwili in Kaua’i.
Price includes return economy-class flights, local transfers, a pre-cruise hotel where necessary, drinks, Wi-Fi, some speciality dining and one $50 shore excursion credit at each port.
Flights are often, but not exclusively, via Los Angeles, San Francisco or Vancouver. Contact your local travel agent or go to ncl.com to book.