Exploring the Hawaiian islands has always been on my bucket list, so, for our 30th wedding anniversary, my husband, Ed, and I booked a suite on Norwegian Cruise Line’s Pride of America to cruise from Honolulu and visited four islands in seven days, with stops in Hilo, Kona and overnights in Maui and Kauai.
When we booked, the cost for cruises started at $899 per person for inside cabins. We spent three days in Oahu before getting on the ship.
We arrived at the Honolulu International Airport and took a 30-minute taxi ride to the Moana Surfrider, a Westin Beach Resort on Waikiki Beach and just steps away from world-class shopping, art galleries and plenty of restaurants.
We booked a two-night stay in an ocean-view room in one of the newly renovated towers. The space provided a jaw-dropping view of Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head resort.
The Moana was built in 1901 during the Victorian era in the old Colonial style, with grand columns, intricate woodwork and a mixture of Italian renaissance. The original Banyan wing is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Unlike most of the concrete buildings on Waikiki, the Moana exudes elegance, and the nostalgic front porch eases you into the laid-back Hawaiian culture.
Known as the “First Lady of Waikiki,” and the first large resort built on the island, it has a rich history that can be researched in a museum on the top floor of the main hotel. Room rates start around $300, but expect to pay $500 per night and up for a tower premier ocean-view room, depending on the season.
Round-trip cab fare from the hotel to the airport is $100. You can pre-book a Westin airport shuttle for $30 per person round-trip. You can save hundreds of dollars by booking a room that is not on the beach but across the street.
3 things to do in Oahu
Pearl Harbor Memorial — A must see! Admission is free, but I reserved tickets at www.recreation.gov that guaranteed a specific time for just a few dollars. Outside tours may charge as much as $125 per person.
Polynesian Cultural Center — Excellent! We rented a car with a GPS for the day at $129 and drove to the center. Ticket prices are $40 to $200 per person, depending on the package.
Nu’annu Pali Lookout — Worth the trip, and it’s free. Rent a car with a GPS and follow the signs on Highway 61 to an access road. You’ll see views of the windward side of Oahu from a 1,200-foot cliff. Be on the lookout for wild chickens and roosters and take time to check out the interesting trees and beautiful flowers that can only be found in Hawaii.
Aboard Pride of America
The Pride of America is a patriotic themed-ship infused with Hawaiian decor.
Although it was pricy, we were thrilled at the layout and design of our suite, which included butler service and a concierge. The newly designed penthouse had a large private balcony with two outdoor lounge chairs and a dining table for four. Inside was spacious and well-appointed with a king-size bed, side chair, sofa-bed, storage bench and a dining table for four along with a large walk-in closet. Our bathroom was gorgeous with sophisticated clean lines, deep double sinks, a jetted soaking tub and spa shower. However my favorite item was a professional express/cappuccino machine, which made great coffee.
Booking a suite will give you lots of perks, including a butler and preboarding and early departure at the ports.
Maui is a lush tropical island with red, black and gold beaches, glistening waterfalls and treasures hidden and in plain sight. “The Road to Hana” is one of the best ways to experience all of the natural beauty of the north shore. The drive to Hana is not for the faint at heart — with more than 600 twists and turns and several one-lane narrow bridges. We rented a convertible and took on the challenge rather than take the 9.5-hour tour with the ship.
One of our favorite beaches in Maui was Ho’okipa — a white-sand beach and a great place to see world-class wind and kite surfers. Huge waves and rough waters are prevalent primarily due to strong currents and a rock ledge that surrounds a large area of the beach. It’s not recommended for novice surfers.
Wai’anapanapa State Park is a small black volcanic-sand beach in Hana. You can spend the day hiking, camping or enjoying the sights. Take a picture of the interesting natural stone arch and blow holes, or have a picnic lunch. Bathroom facilities are on the property. The park is open daily, and admission is free.
The big island
The big island consists of Hilo and Kona and is the largest of all the Hawaiian Islands. Hilo is more tropical and wet, and Kona is dry.
Hilo is on the east side of the big island and is the most populated, with nearly 50,000 residents. Hilo is known for beautiful waterfalls, exotic flowers and the world’s most active volcano.
Places to see in Hilo include the Volcano National Park and the Thomas A. Jaggar Museum. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. The six-mile drive on the Chain of Craters road to the rim of the Kilauea volcano at over 4,000 feet is riddled with steam vents and rain forests. It is not recommended for people with breathing or respiratory problems due to high amounts of sulfur dioxide gas that may be present at the park. Entry fee is $10 per vehicle.
Rainbow Falls Wailuku River State Park is another beautiful area with an 80-foot waterfall close to downtown Hilo. It’s a nice place to take photos of exotic trees and flowers. The park is free.
Kona is a beautiful seaside town on the west side of the big island. Great shopping and food are located right off the bay in Kailua.
Kauai is one of the most beautiful and lush islands I have ever visited — with extraordinary waterfalls and lush foliage with radiant sandy beaches. Unfortunately, only 20 percent of this island is accessible by car or on foot, so you’ll need to see these gorgeous views of the island and the Napali Coast from a helicopter. The cost for the helicopter tour was about $300 for two. We saved $100 per person based on the price of the cruise ship tours.
Lydgate beach, we were told, is one of the safest beaches for snorkeling and families because of a large sea water pool surrounded by rocks. This beach is near the Wailua River on the east side of Kauai.
Overall, this was one of my favorite cruises, and I didn’t miss not having a casino on board. The Hawaiian Islands are gorgeous, mesmerizing and spectacular.
A little-known fact is that some of the hotels will allow guests to book a room for a half-day while waiting for a flight. The key is you must call ahead and then show up at the hotel to see if a room is available.