Planning a Hawaiian cruise in 2018? I am! And, I am planning to repeat much of what I have done in the past on the Pride of America cruise ship on the Norwegian Cruise Line cruise that begins and ends in Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii every Saturday. My husband and I plan to enjoy Oahu and then board the cruise to see the Road to Hana, Mount Haleakula, and Lahaina on Maui; Volcanoes National Park near Hilo and Coffee Plantations in Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii; and Princeville and the Nā Pali Coast at Kauai. So, if any of those destinations sound good to you, follow along as I recommend a plan for enjoying these places on their own or on a Hawaiian cruise based on the best of what I have done on our Pride of America cruise stops. Click on the audio link at the end of the article to listen to the podcast for even more about the ship and the things to do on this fun cruise.
Norwegian Cruise Line’s Pride of America Ship
The only cruise that does not leave the Hawaiian Islands during its journey is Norwegian’s Pride of America ship. As someone who likes unpacking as few times as possible and touring more than cruising, this makes the perfect ship for me. The ship mostly cruises at night, so each new day brings an opportunity for sightseeing on Hawaii’s major islands. I will follow the typical itinerary as I share with you what my husband and I enjoy visiting on each stop of the cruise. The ship leaves Honolulu, Oahu, each Saturday evening and returns from the 7-day voyage the following Saturday morning. We try to board at lunchtime on Saturday, enjoy lunch on board, and get to know some fellow passengers. We enjoy sail-away up on deck as we cruise past Waikiki and Diamond Head on our way to Maui. Then, we usually have dinner in the Liberty Dining Room on the first night of the cruise.
We usually stay in a suite with a hot tub on the deck on this cruise. The weather is so nice in Hawaii, so this is one cruise where you will get to use your balcony. Suite guests have a private dining room available for breakfast and lunch, so we really enjoy that perk. Plus, priority exit from the ship is a nice option, too, especially on days when there is a crowd to get off the ship.
The Pride of America cruise begins and ends in Honolulu on Oahu every Saturday, so be sure to see my three earlier articles and podcasts about my favorite island of Oahu, Hawaii here:
Next the Pride of America docks for two full days, Sunday and Monday, on Maui. Read my plan for enjoying your two days on Maui on my blog and podcast here:
Hilo, The Big Island, Hawaii
Welcome to the Big Island of Hawaii! The ship will dock at 8 am on Tuesday, and you will want to exit the ship as soon as possible for the best day of the cruise, in my opinion. Catch the rental car shuttle to the airport, pick up the car from the frequent renter line, and drive straight to Volcanoes National Park.
Volcanoes National Park, The Big Island, Hawaii
From the Hilo airport, drive 28 miles on HI-11 and then turn left on Crater Rim Drive for 1/3 mile to begin your visit at the Kilauea Visitor Center at Volcanoes National Park to see the volcanic crater, lava tubes, steam vents, and lava flows of one of the world’s most active volcanoes, Kilauea. Admission is $25.00 per vehicle.
Kīlauea Visitor Center
Kīlauea Visitor Center is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Check the latest information on trails, road conditions, and safety precautions. Make sure the atmospheric conditions are safe to drive to the end of Chain of Craters Road if you will drive to the Holei Sea Arch. Note that you many not have Internet or cell service in Volcanoes National Park. Before you go, you may want to check the official website below for the latest information.
Thurston Lava Tube
To avoid the crowds and hopefully be able to find a parking spot around the tour buses, skip other stops for now and drive 2 miles directly to the Thurston Lava Tube, known as Nāhuku. To get there from the Kilauea Visitor Center, drive back toward HI-11 and turn right on Crater Rim Drive. When the road comes to the junction, turn left. The Thurston Lava Tube parking will be about one mile from the junction. A 15-minute 1/3 mile walk through a beautiful forest will take you to the lighted cave that is actually the remains of a prehistoric lava flow. A local newspaper publisher, Lorrin Thurston, discovered the lava tube in 1913.
Chain of Craters Road and Holei Sea Arch
Next continue on Crater Rim Drive and turn left in about 1.4 miles when it becomes Chain of Craters Road. Drive 18.6 miles for about 45 minutes down the steep and windy road around old lava flows and volcanic steam vents to the end of Chain of Craters Road to see the volcanic Holei Sea Arch. (Make sure you have water and gas.) When you reach the end of the road, park along the road just before the car turnaround and look for the short path to the ocean to reach the Holei Sea Arch. Carefully look over the stone wall to see the arch. (Note that there is a well marked hiking path where the Chain of Craters Road previously continued before it was covered by lava, but the best views are right here at the arch.)
Drive back the way you came and drive all the way back to Kilauea Visitor Center. Park across the street from the visitor center at the Volcano House. Have a comfort food or traditional Hawaiian plate lunch at the Volcano House restaurant, or at least walk into the lobby of this hotel and restaurant. Here you will see a great view of the Kilauea caldera and the billowing Halema’uma’u Crater. Lunch prices are reasonable, and there is a nice shop at the Volcano House, too. See the latest menu and information at the official website here.
If you have time, continue on Crater Rim Drive to the Jaggar Museum (the next left turn after Kīlauea Overlook). The museum displays equipment used by scientists in the past to study the volcano, working seismographs, and clothing and gear from scientists who got too close to lava. There is also a gift shop with books, videos, maps, and other items for sale. The museum’s large windows and the overlook outside the building offers a similar views of the volcano as seen from the Volcano House.
After visiting Volcanoes National Park, if you have an extra 45 minutes before returning the rental car, stop and see Rainbow Falls, only a 10-minute drive from the airport. This plan would allow about 30 minutes at the waterfall.
To get there from Volcanoes National Park, drive back on HI-11 toward the airport for 26 miles, and turn left on Puainako Road. Drive for 1.6 miles and turn right on Komohana Street. Follow Komohana Street for 2 miles and turn left on Waianuenue Avenue. Follow Waianuenue Avenue for about ¼ mile to Rainbow Drive and park at the falls entrance. Park in the paved parking lot, and lock the car. There is no fee to visit the falls. Follow the path for about 5 minutes to the viewing platform to see the falls.
Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden
Or, after visiting Volcanoes National Park, if you have an extra two hours before returning the rental car, visit the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, only a 20-minute drive from the airport. This plan would allow about 80 minutes at the gardens.
The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is set in a 40-acre valley overlooking the ocean. The natural greenhouse is protected from buffeting tradewinds and blessed with fertile volcanic soil. The garden includes nature trails, a tropical rainforest, bubbling streams, several waterfalls, and ocean vistas along the rugged Pacific coast. The garden was founded in 1977 by Dan and Pauline Lutkenhouse with a goal to preserve as many species of flora and fauna as possible for the benefit of future generations. Pauline died in December of 2017.
The Garden is open from 9am to 5pm everyday, except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day, with Garden admissions ending at 4pm. The self-guided tour takes an average of about an hour and a half. The walking distance is just over a mile, round trip. Admission for a day is $18 for adults, children ages 6 – 16 are $5. Children under 6 are free. For current updates, check the garden official website here:
To get to the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden from Volcanoes National Park, drive back on HI-11 toward the airport for 28 miles. Then use the left 2 lanes to turn left onto Hawaii Belt Road/Kamehameha Avenue for about a mile. Turn right onto HI-19/Hawaii Belt Road/Pauahi Street and continue for 5.4 miles. Turn right onto Old Mamalahoa Highway. After only 0.2 mile, take a slight right to stay on Old Mamalahoa Highway. The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden will be on the left in 1.5 miles.
Return to the Pride of America Ship at Hilo, The Big Island, Hawaii
The ship will most likely leave Hilo on Tuesday at 6 pm, so you will need to return the rental car no later than 4:30 pm to catch the rental car shuttle back to the ship and be on board by 5 pm. Of course, be sure to verify these estimated times while you are on the Pride of America.
If you are leaving from Rainbow Falls, leave no later than 4:15 to allow 15 minutes to get to the airport. To return to the airport from Rainbow Falls, return to Waianuenue Avenue and turn right on Komohana Street. Turn left on Mohouli Street and follow it until it ends at Kilauea Street. Turn right on Kilauea Street and left on Kekuanaoa Street. Follow Kekuanaoa Street to the airport rental car return.
If you are leaving from the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, leave no later than 4:00 pm to allow 30 minutes to get to the airport. Return the way you came on Old Mamalahoa Highway to HI-19/Hawaii Belt Road and turn left after about five miles on HI-19 in order to continue on Hawaii Belt Road/Kamehameha Avenue. After about 1.0 mile, turn right onto Hawaii Belt Rd/Kanoelehua Avenue. Turn left onto Airport Road/Kekuanaoa Street after about 0.7 miles and follow it to the rental car return.
If you are leaving from Volcanoes National Park, leave no later than 3:30 pm to allow 60 minutes to take HI-11 for about 28 miles to get back to the airport. Turn right on Airport Road/Kekuanaoa Street off of HI-11 and follow it to the rental car return.
Bonus – Seeing Lava Flows at Night from Kilauea Volcano
If lava is flowing into the ocean, the ship will travel around the volcano at night and you will see lava flowing from Kilauea into the ocean. We have taken the Pride of America three times, and once we were able to see this. If you have the opportunity, get out on the deck as early as possible to get along the railing, bring binoculars, and stay until the last possible time to see lava. It is an amazing sight!
Kona, The Big Island, Hawaii
On Wednesday, you will most likely arrive in Kona at 7 am. This is a tender port, so you probably won’t reach the pier until 8 am or 8:30 am, and you will most likely need to be back on the ship by 4:30 pm.
Since time is limited on Kona, this might be a good day to take a ship excursion, especially if you want to do a beach or active excursion and not have to watch the clock. Ship excursions here include helicopter tours, rafting,norkeling, parasailing, catamaran sailing, and beach transfers for enjoying a day on the beach.
If you want to explore the coffee plantations, the countryside, and some of the other historic sights, there are ship excursions for this, too. Or, rent a car from the King Kamehameha Hotel, just two blocks from the cruise dock. We reserved one from Hertz for 9:00 am. Here are a few things you will want to see if you are on your own:
Kona Coffee Tour
Begin your day by driving to a Kona coffee plantation. Hula Daddy Kona Coffee (http://www.huladaddy.com) offers a good $10 per person 45-minute tour of the coffee orchard with free coffee tasting. It is open during the week from 10 am until 4 pm. It is located at 74-4944 Mamalahoa Hwy, Holualoa, HI 96725, about five miles from the King Kamehameha Hotel. Just drive north on Palani Road and turn right on Mamalahoa Highway.
Discovery Antiques and Ice Cream
Continue for about 13 miles on HI-11/Hawaii Belt Road to Discovery Antiques and Ice Cream on the right. This quirky shop has vintage antiques and unusual finds and delicious ice cream, too. It is open daily from 11 am to 5 pm.
Lunch or a Snack with a View of Kealakekua Bay at the Coffee Shack
Continue for another five miles on HI-11 to the Coffee Shack. Sit on the lanai and have lunch or a coffee as you view over 26 miles of Kealakekua Bay, where the famous explorer Captain James Cook first arrived in Hawaii. The Coffee Shack is perched high on the mountain slope overlooking the lush mountainside of fully producing 85 year old coffee trees.
Saint Benedict Catholic Church (Painted Church)
Continue on on HI-11/Hawaii Belt Rd/S Kona Belt Rd toward Keei Road for 4.4 miles and turn right onto Keala O’Keawe Road for about a mile. Turn right on Painted Church Road. The small, beautiful, Saint Benedict Catholic Church (Painted Church) will be about ½ mile on the right.
Belgian priest, Father Jean (John) Berchmans Velghe painted the interior of the church with scenes from the Bible and the lives of the saints in the mid-1800’s. This was critical to the religious teaching tools for the many parishioners who could not read or write at this time.
Magic Sands Beach
If you have time to enjoy the beach, stop at Magic Sands Beach at La’aloa Bay, south of downtown Kona, on your way back to the ship. It is one of the best Kona Beaches. It is usually suitable for swimming, surfing, boogie boarding, even snorkeling and scuba diving. During low surf when the water is calm, snorkeling is good along the rocks on either end of the beach. Sometimes, especially in winter, the action of the surf here pulls the sand off the beach, exposing the lava rocks that were buried by the sand. When the sand is removed from the beach, the underlying lava rocks are exposed. So, be aware of safety warnings and use extreme caution in or near the water, as this action of the surf can cause a strong rip current. There are restrooms, showers, a lifeguard, and free parking along the street.
To get to Magic Sands Beach from the Painted Church, Head north on Painted Church Road, and turn left onto Middle Keei Road. Continue onto Napoopoo Road, and turn left onto Mamalahoa Bypass Road for five miles. Continue onto Alii Highway. The park will be on the left in about three miles.
Return to the ship at Kona
From Magic Sands Beach, continue with the ocean on the left for four miles. King Kamehameha Hotel will be on the left at Palani Road. Remember to give yourself time to turn in the rental car, walk to the dock, catch the tender and get back on the ship by the required time, probably about 4:30 pm.
From 8 am Thursday until 2 pm on Friday you will be docked at Kauai. We like to rent a car on Thursday and stay near the ship or take a ship excursion on Friday. That way, all day Thursday can be spent exploring the island, and there is no need to worry about the time.
So, on Thursday, take a 75-mile driving tour of the main sights of Kauai on the east side of the island. This will take all day, but if you were to drive it without stopping, it would take only about 2 ½ hours.
Catch the free rental car shuttle from the cruise dock to the airport as soon as you are allowed off the ship at Kauai. We have had good experiences with Thrifty car rental at Lihue airport. Make sure you join the frequent renter program before you leave home, so you can bypass the lines and pick up the rental car. If you are renting a car just for the day on Thursday, ask the rental car staff how late the free shuttle back to the ship will be running. If you a keeping the car until Friday, ask the rental car staff what time you need to return the car on Friday in order to catch a shuttle back to the ship in time to meet the ship’s required “back on board” time, likely 1 pm.
Begin the 75-mile driving tour of the east side of the island by visiting Opaeka’a Falls, about 15 minutes from the airport. When exiting the airport, turn right onto HI-51 North and driving north and east. Continue as HI-51 becomes HI-56 North. Turn left about 5 miles from the airport onto State Highway 580/Kuamoo Road. Opaeka’a Falls will be about two miles on the right.
Opaeka’a Falls are some of the easiest falls to see in all of Hawaii. Signs mark the roadside lookout at the convenient stop that offers a great view from a scenic lookout. It is easy to see the 151-foot-tall, 40-foot-wide waterfall. There are picnic tables and restrooms here, too. Opaeka’a translates to “rolling shrimp” in Hawaiian. At one time shrimp were plentiful in the hidden pool below the waterfall.
Kilauea Point Lighthouse and Wildlife Refuge
Next, drive for about 40 minutes to the Kilauea Point Lighthouse and Wildlife Refuge. From Opaeka’a Falls, return to HI-56 and turn left to continue north for 17.4 miles. Then, turn right on Kolo Road and, after only 500 feet, turn left on Kilauea Road. The Kilauea Point Lighthouse and Wildlife Refuge will be on the left after 1.6 miles.
Kīlauea Point offers some of the best views overlooking the Pacific at the Daniel K. Inouye Kīlauea Lighthouse, as well as the opportunity to observe seabirds in their habitat. The lighthouse was built in 1913. It is list on the United States National Register of Historic Places in 1979.
An entry fee of $5 is required for adults 16 and older. Children under 16 are free.
The Refuge accepts only cash or traveler’s checks for entry fee or pass purchases.
The walk from the entrance booth to Kīlauea Point is less than one-quarter mile. The Refuge is open Tuesday – Saturday from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, except for major federal holidays. Note that lighthouse tours are currently only offered on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The Visitor Center features information highlighting native Hawaiian habitats and wildlife. There is a bookstore offering a selection of natural history books and other items.
Lunch in Princeville at the St. Regis
Next, drive to the resort area of Princeville and have lunch poolside overlooking the Pacific Ocean at the elegant St. Regis Princeville. To get there from Kilauea Point, return to HI-56 and drive for 4.6 miles north. Then, turn right on onto Ka Haku Road and, at the traffic circle, take the 3rd exit and stay on Ka Haku Road for 0.1 mile. At the traffic circle, take the 3rd exit and stay on Ka Haku Road. The resort will be 2.2 miles ahead.
Princeville sits on the site of what was a sugar plantation in the mid-1800’s. The original owner named his land after the son of King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma. He never became king, because the little prince died when he was only four years old.
Park your car at the resort with the valet, bring your towel if you will swim after lunch, and take the elevators in the St. Regis Princeville resort down to the pool. Have lunch at the Nalu Kai Grill and Bar, located beside the pool overlooking the ocean. Enjoy casual, Hawaiian influenced cuisine in the shade of a gazebo near the pool. Lunch is served beginning at 11 am daily. Check the menu here:
Swim at the beach at Hanelei Bay, Princeville
From the St. Regis pool area, walk down the hill to the left along the ocean. Located below the St. Regis Hotel and Hanalei Bay Resort, this beach has views of Hanalei Bay and is usually safe for swimming. The St. Regis pool staff will rent beach and snorkeling items if you are interested.
Waioli Huiia Church at Hanalei, Kauia
From the St. Regis, head northeast on Ka Haku Road for one mile, and turn right onto Lei O Papa Road. After only ½ mile, turn left onto Hanalei Plantation Road. Turn right onto HI-560 West. The Waioli Huiia Church will be 2.6 miles on the left on Kuhio Highway.
Step inside the Waioli Huiia Church, established by Christian missionaries in 1834. The lime for the plaster of the current building was made from coral that was dug at low tide. William and Mary Alexander, the first missionaries to Hanalei, arrived by double canoe from the Waimea Mission. Abner and Lucy Wilcox arrived in 1846 to spend over 20 years as educational missionaries, developing a school here so that children and adults could read the Bible, translated into Hawaiian. Since 1957, the church is a United Church of Christ. Read more about the church here:
Return to Pride of America
Return the rental car to Lihue Airport by driving on HI-56 South, which will become HI-51, for 31 miles to the airport. It will take about 50 minutes to reach the airport from Waioli Huiia Church. Take the free shuttle back to the cruise ship at the end of the day if it is running. Otherwise, take a taxi back to the ship.
Or, if you are keeping the rental car, drive back to the ship Nawiliwili Harbor at Waapa Road. To reach the cruise port from Waioli Huiia Church, drive 33 miles on HI-56 South, which will become HI-51, and turn left on Rice Street/Nawiliwili Road near the cruise port. Then, turn left on Wilcox Road and left on Kanoa Road to reach the cruise port at Waapa Road.
Options for Enjoying Kauai on Friday
On Friday, since you will most likely have to be back on board the Pride of America by 1 pm, either enjoy the things to do near the ship or take a ship excursion that guarantees return to the ship. Below are some options.
Swim at Kalapaki Beach. To reach the nice public beach, exit the ship and turn right. Walk for ten minutes along the road near the shore. Walk toward the beach in front of Duke’s Kauai restaurant. Kalapaki Beach is usually suitable year-round for swimming, surf lessons, boogie boarding and stand up paddle boarding, because it is partially protected from the open ocean by a large break wall. Watch outrigger canoes and cruise ships come and go out of Nawiliwili Harbor. Enjoy a shave ice snow cone at Kalapaki Beach Hut located across the walking bridge at south end of the bay or have a snack or an early lunch at Duke’s. There are some souvenir shops in this area, too.
Waimea Canyon Ship Excursion
The five-hour ship excursion to Waimea Canyon can technicially be done on your own by car, but the driving can be difficult and some of the roads are unmarked. If you take the excursion with the ship on Friday, it would still be possible to see all the highlights of the east side of the island on Thursday and have a guaranteed return to the ship with the shore excursion group on Thursday.
The ship excursion will take about an hour of driving each way to reach Waimea Canyon. When the weather is clear, you will see a colorful, dramatic gorge from a lookout point. The 10-mile long canyon displays a rainbow colors of reds and browns of volcanic rock mixed with blues and greens of tropical vegetation. The gorge is one mile wide and 3,000 feet deep. (Note: The colors are similar to the colors you will see as the ship sails along the Na Pali coast on Friday afternoon.)
Other Kauai Ship Excursions
Ship excursions include snorkeling, parasailing, surf lessons, zip lining, and beach transfers for enjoying a day on the beach. There is a seven hour ship excursion that tours Kauai film locations, but you would miss the opportunity to spend a day on the east side of the island if you take this tour.
Na Pali Coast of Kauai
The grand finale of the Pride of America cruise is the Friday afternoon sail by of the amazing Na Pali Coast of Kauia. If you have a port side balcony cabin, just sit on your balcony and watch the show! The sail away in Kauai is beautiful, as you pass the Kilaueua Lighthouse. During winter, you may see hundreds of whales in this area.
Then, it gets even better about 30 to 45 minutes after sail away as you pass close to the cliffs, caves, and colorful jungle coastline of Kauai’s Na Pali Coast. If you are not on the port side of the ship or if you do not have a balcony, go up on deck and get a good seat by the railing to see the coast. For about two hours, you will have a great view. Bring your camera, and bring binoculars if you have them. Usually, the ship has narration that will tell you a bit about the coastline. Much of Na Pali Coast is inaccessible due to the sheer cliffs, so seeing it by ship is the only way to see most of the 15-mile stretch other than by helicopter.
On Saturday, you will arrive back in Honolulu at about 7 am. Take a taxi to the airport or enjoy more of Oahu. This might be a great to relax for a few days on the North Shore of Oahu as you reflect on your cruise!
Remember to click on the podcast audio bar below for more of my personal reflections of Hawaii and the Pride of America cruise. I would love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until next time, I hope all of your travel days are just perfect!