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Best Hawaiian Cruise Shore Excursions

Hawaiian luaus are among the most expensive shore excursions. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license
Hawaiian luaus are among the most expensive shore excursions. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license

The best Hawaiian shore excursions are often a matter of personal preference. But some of them stand out more than others.

Cruise visitors to the Hawaiian islands have some simple choices with their itineraries. Most of the cruises visit only Honolulu on the island of Oahu as well as the islands of Maui, Kauai and Hawaii. (Yes, the state and one island have the same name.)

There are many more excursion choices that make choosing more complicated. We recommend some shore excursion tips to make choices easier and less expensive for any Hawaiian cruise:

  • Set up an excursion budget in advance of the trip.
  • Choose one favorite idea as a starting point.
  • Choose other favorites only if they fit into the budget.
  • Research prices in advance of the cruise.
  • Book excursions within days of leaving if the weather forecast looks good.
  • Make sure any excursion operator has a 24-hour cancellation notice.

Following are some top Hawaii shore excursion ideas that fit a variety of personal preferences.

Historical Tours

Hawaii offers several ways of exploring history in the distant and more recent past. The most common historical attraction at Honolulu is the Pearl Harbor memorial. It is the site of the devastating air attack by Japan that pulled the U.S. into WWII.

Visitors will board a launch to the Arizona Memorial above the sunken ship that is the resting place of 1,177 crewmen who died there. A typical cost is about $90 per person including transportation.

Hawaii Island, also known as The Big Island, has the historic city of Kona with a variety of sites that capture the island’s past. They include many historical parks, Mokuaikaua Church and Lyman Mission House & Museum.

Cultural Tours

The luau, a massive buffet of local foods along with dramatic entertainment, is one of the most famous cultural traditions of Hawaii.

These big shows are often quite expensive and range in price from about $150 to $200 or more per person. Are they worth it? Yes, if you have a large excursion budget. The one we saw was a bit like seeing a show in Las Vegas. Researching prices is especially important for luaus because they vary quite a bit more than other excursions.

Even simple food tours without entertainment can cost $200 per person, such as the one offered by Norwegian Cruise Line in Maui.

Best of Each Island Tours

First-time visitors to Hawaii on a cruise might consider taking at least one tour of an entire island. It’s a good idea for islands that have more than one appealing attraction that require some time to reach.

An example is a Kauai tour that goes to the 3,000-foot-deep Waimea Canyon and the lush Wailua River with its Fern Grotto.

A Best of Hilo tour includes the “Hilo Walk of Fame” with many banyan trees planted by celebrities. Another attraction on the same tour is Liliuokalani Gardens, the largest ornamental Japanese garden outside of Japan. Many of these “best of” tours cost about $150 to $175 per person.

Grand Nature Tours

Haleakala volcano on Maui is breathtaking in more ways than one—both from the views and the lack of oxygen at 10,000 feet. A typical excursion will cost about $130 or more. Anyone with a rental car can drive to the top as I did.

Cruise visitors on a tighter budget can go only to the previously mentioned Waimea Canyon on Kauai. It is one of the least expensive Hawaiian shore excursions for less than $100.

Another option for a bit more than $100 per person is a hike and visit to Kilauea Iki Crater and Rainbow Falls on the island of Hawaii near Hilo.

Recreational Tours

Snorkeling tours are especially common in Hawaii. If our experience is any indication, people who love to snorkel should take advantage of it on a Hawaii shore excursion. Prices are high at $80 to $100 or more per person but well worth the money.

Sunset sail cruises also are quite common. Prices start at $90 but range higher depending on amenities such as food and alcohol.

Parasailing is available at Waikiki with prices starting at $95 per person.

Maui and Kona have an Atlantis submarine tour starting at about $165 per person.

Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas. He is the author of four books about cruising in the Caribbean, Alaska and Mexican Riviera.
July 21, 2022

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