A trip to the tropical paradise of Hawaii is on many people’s bucket lists. Whether you have extended vacation time or you’ve retired and have a flexible schedule, the Aloha State is likely on your mind.
The 50th state comprises six main islands and several smaller islands. All have beaches, waterfalls, beautiful landscapes, and unique culture. If you want to see more than one island on your bucket-list trip, the easiest way to do so is to take a cruise. But which cruise should you choose? Let’s take a look at the possibilities.
Several popular cruise lines visit Hawaii, including Princess, Crystal, Celebrity, Norwegian, Holland America, and Royal Caribbean. Norwegian has a large ship based in Hawaii that sails from Honolulu and visits the other islands. If you are an adventurous type, expedition lines like UnCruise Adventures sail to Hawaii’s smaller, less-visited islands. There’s a lot of variety when it comes to Hawaiian cruises, and you’ve got options when it comes to size of ship, ports to visit, type of excursions, length of itinerary, and more. One thing’s for sure: There’s a cruise out there that’s right for you.
As I evaluated the following cruises, I looked at the following criteria:
- Cuisine: Are there a variety of quality food choices? Are they part of the package, or do they cost extra?
- Service: Were previous cruisers happy with the service?
- Value: How is the quality for the cost?
- Size Of Ship: How large is the ship in comparison to similar ships?
- Age Of Ship: How old is the ship? Has it been refurbished?
- Decor: Is the decor modern? Traditional? Dated?
- Target Clientele: Does the cruise attract families? Boomers?
- Entertainment: Are there a variety of activities on offer? What are they like? Are there both active and relaxed options?
- Passenger-To-Crew Ratio: Are there enough crew members to meet the needs of the passengers? How are the service and attention to detail?
- Itinerary: Which island stops are included?
- Length: How long is the cruise?
- Excursions: How many excursions are available, and what are they like?
If you’re looking to cruise to, from, or around Hawaii, here are some great cruises to consider.
1. 24-Day Mexican Riviera & Circle Hawaii Collector On Holland America’s Koningsdam
Holland America’s Koningsdam is a luxurious, reasonably priced ship known for outstanding service, exceptional cuisine, and a variety of entertainment options.
Launched in 2016, it is a fairly new ship with a fun music theme. Previous cruisers rave about the many food and entertainment options.
Holland America ships are known for their adult-only areas and outstanding specialty restaurants. The Koningsdam takes this to the next level, with ship highlights including a double deck with a glass roof, a surround-screen theater, and solo cabins.
Holland America has a reputation for attracting mature passengers who are well traveled. One of the most accessible ships in the industry, the Koningsdam has accessible staterooms, and passengers can make arrangements ahead of time to secure wheelchairs, scooters, and other amenities for people with disabilities.
Excursion Highlight: On the Deluxe Coastal Cruise With Whale Watching excursion, you’ll learn about the humpback whale and its habitat aboard a comfortable catamaran. Enjoy the great views without having to exert yourself. Be sure to bring your camera!
Pro Tip: Families flock to this ship during the summer months and holidays. May and September are better months for less noise.
2. 11-Night Hawaii Cruise On Celebrity’s Solstice
Celebrity’s Solstice is an elegant, modern ship that’s the height of sophistication. While it’s great for people of all ages, the “modern luxury” touches are geared toward couples in their mid-50s.
Navigating the ship is easy, and passenger flow is fantastic, with nary a line in sight. The attentive, speedy service is likely due to the low passenger-to-crew ratio.
The only real downside to this cruise is the upselling of drink packages and specialty restaurants that takes place within the first 48 hours on the ship.
Excursion Highlight: On the Mauna Kea Summit Adventure, you’ll travel from sea level to the highest point in the Pacific for spectacular views. This excursion requires a moderate level of activity. Don’t forget the sunscreen and your camera!
3. Hawaiian Island Shores On Crystal’s Serenity
Crystal’s Serenity excels in entertainment and service. Refurbished in 2018, the Serenity combines the best of big-ship cruising and luxury travel to give passengers an upscale experience on a smaller ship.
The ship’s public areas are spacious and provide more than enough room for a wide range of activities on sea days. And when it comes to entertainment, the Serenity can’t be beat. On any given evening, multiple live performances, a movie, several live music shows, and talks are offered.
The onboard food venues function like restaurants. There are no large dining rooms with assigned seating.
Most passengers are empty-nester Americans who have time for longer vacations.
Excursion Highlight: No visit to Hawaii would be complete without a luau. The Polynesian Cultural Center Luau Island Buffet Package excursion features an award-winning dining experience including a luau buffet dinner, live show, and a scenic drive to the Polynesian Cultural Center. You’ll only need to bring your appetite -- and your camera.
4. 11-Night Hawaii Cruise On Royal Caribbean’s Serenade Of The Seas
This cruise boards in Honolulu, stops at four of the Hawaiian Islands, and then sails to Vancouver.
Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas offers plenty of options, from dining to entertainment. This ship is a great value for the money you spend and appeals to a wide range of travelers, from families to singles to couples to groups. Families cruise during the winter and summer holidays. When school is in session, the passengers are mostly 50+.
Housing nearly 3 acres of exterior glass in its design, Serenade of the Seas brings the great outdoors inside with remarkable views from most public areas, including the glass elevators.
This ship is easy to navigate, with similar venues clustered together. It has both an indoor and an outdoor pool -- a real luxury.
While this ship is perfect for many, some may miss the Royal Caribbean signature outdoor attractions such as climbing walls and waterslides that some cruisers have become accustomed to.
Excursion Highlight: On the Adventure to Hana excursion, you’ll discover an unspoiled tropical paradise on Maui in a town tucked away on the island's undeveloped east coast. When you visit the charming and serene Hana, don’t forget your hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. Moderate activity is required on this excursion.
5. 17-Day Circle Hawaii On Holland America’s Westerdam
This cruise sails from Vancouver and stops at four Hawaiian ports before returning to Vancouver.
Those looking for refined, casual luxury will appreciate Holland America’s Westerdam. It’s a great choice for baby boomers and older members of Gen X who want an active cruise.
Destination lectures and enrichment workshops provide edutainment. Cruisers also enjoy the mixture of activities and relaxation options.
If you are a music lover, you will enjoy this cruise. There is an emphasis on live music and a wide variety available, from classical music to rock and roll.
The Westerdam also offers exemplary service and delicious food.
The ship offers accessible staterooms, and passengers can make arrangements ahead of time to secure wheelchairs, scooters, and other amenities for people with disabilities.
Excursion Highlight: On the Heaven & Earth By Helicopter excursion, you’ll take a scenic flight with a bird's-eye view of lush valleys, magnificent waterfalls, and the colorful Waimea Canyon. Don’t forget your camera!
6. 8-Night Hawaii Cruise On Celebrity’s Eclipse
This cruise departs from Vancouver and sails to Honolulu, stopping at three other Hawaiian ports along the way.
A low passenger-to-crew ratio, excellent dining, and lots of quiet spaces to relax make Celebrity’s Eclipse a favorite. It is a big, beautiful ship, but at the same time, it’s not overwhelming. It’s a great option for first timers.
There are many suite perks, but the majority of travelers are not in suites and are excluded from certain restaurants and bars. Passengers report a great deal of upselling once on the ship, and the pool deck can feel crowded if the ship is sold out.
The Eclipse is scheduled for extensive refurbishment in March 2020. The ship, although currently one of the top 10, will be even better when it returns.
Excursion Highlight: On the Haleakala Summit Sunset Adventure in Lahaina, Maui, you’ll ascend to the summit of Haleakala, the world's largest dormant volcano, and experience the sunset of a lifetime. This excursion requires moderate activity. Dinner is included. Bring your camera to capture the sunset.
7. 15-Day Hawaiian Islands On Princess’s Emerald Princess
This cruise sails from Los Angeles and stops at four Hawaiian ports before returning to the City of Angels.
A friendly crew and excellent shore excursions are highlights of a cruise on the Emerald Princess.
An older ship, the Emerald Princess maintains a high level of service but doesn’t have some of the features that newer ships do. There are no climbing walls or waterslides. But the ship makes up for that with fantastic excursions at each port.
The atmosphere is relaxed, and the biggest negative reported was that passengers sometimes had to wait in line to enter the main dining room -- but the food is certainly worth the wait!
Excursion Highlight: The full-day, wheelchair-accessible Kona By Land & Sea features a visit to local shopping areas and a lunch cruise of Kealakekua Bay. Be sure to bring your wallet, since you will have several opportunities to shop.
8. 18-Day Circle Hawaii On Holland America’s Eurodam
On this 18-day round-trip cruise from San Diego, you will visit five Hawaiian ports and Ensenada, Mexico.
Holland America’s Eurodam is an elegant, understated ship for mature clientele. Although it is starting to show its age, it is still a good midsize ship with excellent dining, top-notch entertainment, and enrichment options.
The Eurodam’s staff provides consistently stellar service. You will feel pampered and relaxed.
On the downside, previous cruisers reported challenging Internet service. But for low-tech travelers, or for those looking forward to a time to relax and power off their devices, this might be a plus.
The majority of passengers are middle to upper class, well traveled, and 60+.
Like Holland America’s Koningsdam, the Eurodam is especially accommodating of people with disabilities, offering accessible staterooms, wheelchairs, scooters, and other amenities for those with mobility issues.
Excursion Highlight: On The Bishop Museum: All Access Pass excursion, you’ll get to tour Honolulu's famous Bishop Museum of science and history, which occupies a 14-acre campus with four different gallery buildings.
9. 16-Day Hawaiian Islands On Princess’s Ruby Princess
The Ruby Princess is a great option for a multigenerational trip, offering a variety of activities for the whole family -- kids, adults, and grandparents. The cruise ship has good food choices and a laid-back atmosphere.
If you are searching for quiet, the adults-only section provides the perfect sanctuary.
Although the ship is showing its age in places, the service and attention to detail make up for it.
Excursion Highlight: On the Secret Waterfalls Of Kohala excursion, a four-wheel drive van will take you to the heart of Kohala's countryside, where you’ll encounter old sugar plantations, Hawaiian legends, and natural beauty. This full-day, moderate-activity excursion includes a hike to several waterfalls. You will have the opportunity to swim in a private mountain stream with cascading falls overhead. Be sure to bring your swimsuit and sunscreen.
10. 7-Day Hawaii On Norwegian’s Pride Of America
This round-trip cruise departs from Honolulu on the island of Oahu and includes stops in Hilo and Kona on the Big Island as well as overnight stays on Maui and Kauai.
This shorter cruise on the recently renovated Pride of America is a fantastic alternative for young boomers who are still working and have limited vacation time.
The Pride of America provides stellar customer service and is a great way to see all of Hawaii in style and comfort within a week.
According to reviews, the dining-room food and entertainment could be improved. You’ll find the best food on the Pride of America in the specialty restaurants.
Excursion Highlight: On the challenging Hawaii Volcanoes National Park excursion, you’ll explore the 116,000-acre Kahuku Unit of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. You must be able to walk on uneven terrain and up and down stairs without assistance. Remember to bring comfortable walking shoes. Lunch is included.
Regardless of which cruise you pick, you are bound to have an amazing experience. Hawaii is a beautiful state, and each island has its own special charm.