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Honolulu, Hawaii:  Tour of 4 Hawaiian Islands by Cruise Ship (Part 2)

Honolulu, Hawaii: Tour of 4 Hawaiian Islands by Cruise Ship (Part 2)


By avatar  Scott
Posted On 03/20/2019 16:58:27
Trip Date 05/02/2010  

Destinations | Cruises | Hawaii | Golden Princess | Oahu | Honolulu | Self-Guided Hawaii Travel | DIY Travel | Honolulu Road Trip



On our cruise aboard the Golden Princess, we traveled from California to Hawaii and back with members of both of our families. The cruise was a dream cruise for Stacy's mom, and we therefore chose it to celebrate her 75th birthday. As Stacy and I had previously been to Hawaii, we decided to do self-guided island tours where we would act as "tour guides".

If you are considering visiting the Hawaiian islands by cruise ship, this is the second of four posts that will help you make an excellent plan for touring the island on your own. There are so many places to see on each of the Hawaiian islands that it can be overwhelming to plan, and often hard to choose which sites to see. Our second port was at Honolulu on the island of Oahu. If you have a full day and evening at port like we did, there's a lot that you'll have time to see ... and the planning is already done for you!

Port of Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii

After our departure from Hilo, we sailed to Honolulu where we again rented a car for our quick drive about the island. Just as in Hilo, our go to rental car agency was Discount Hawaii Car Rental. With great prices and super convenient locations for cruise ship passengers in the Hawaiian Islands, we highly recommend checking them out. No matter if you are a party of two or six, they'll have a good option for you if you reserve your car before all of your fellow passengers. Once at the cruise port, just disembark your ship and follow the instructions given to their pick-up area. After signing your paperwork and checking out the car, you'll be off to start exploring. (Make sure that you also understand the return policy hours - especially if you plan to keep your car out later than normal business hours.)



Pearl Harbor

One of the most moving places to visit in the United States is Pearl Harbor. The good news for those arriving in Honolulu via cruise ship is that the memorial is very near the cruise port. It would be very easy to spend a half-day or more seeing all that there is to see in this complex. In addition to being the home to the USS Arizona Memorial, there are numerous programs and exhibits, a documentary, memorials and monuments all dedicated to helping visitors understand the December 7, 1941 attack. Partner sites to the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center include:
  • Battleship Missouri Memorial
  • USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park and
  • Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor.


Reading Markers at Pearl Harbor

Reading Markers at Pearl Harbor

The Battleship Missouri allows you to step onto what was once one of the most powerful warships in the United States Navy. Now a floating museum docked on Fort Island at Pearl Harbor, the ship is being meticulously restored by the USS Missouri Memorial Association to highlight the different eras in which the ship served.

Although at the time that this article is being published, the USS Arizona Memorial is closed for repairs due to damage to the visitor loading ramp, it is one of the most visited tourist spots in Hawaii. A time commitment of 75 minutes is required to fully experience the memorial and pay tribute to our nation's fallen heroes. The visit includes an introduction, documentary and shuttle boat ride courtesy of the U.S. Navy to and from the memorial.


USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor

USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor

With the limited amount of time that cruise ship passengers have on the island, each must decide what the "must visit" sites include and the amount of time to devote to each. Our group decided that, for this visit, everyone wanted a taste of several places on the island which meant that we had to limit our time at the memorial site. If you decide to devote the additional time to really experience this site, there are several ways to get tickets for the USS Arizona Memorial including making 60 day in advance or next day reservations or day of visit walk-up tickets.



Iolani Palace

Iolani Palace, the last official residence of the kings and queens who ruled Hawaii, is the only true royal palace in the United States. King Kalakaua and Queen Kapiolani completed the palace in 1882. The design of the palace was influenced by King Kalakaua's world travels and was one of the first royal palaces worldwide to be equipped with telephones and electric lights.

After serving as the monarch residence, it served as the Capitol first for the Territory and then for the State. After the new State Capitol was built in 1969, the palace was restored to its former royal grandeur. The palace grounds include the Iolani Barracks, Royal Tomb, Coronation Pavilion and gift shop. Tickets are available for both self-guided and docent led tours and visitors can wander through the grounds and see the exterior of the building with no entrance fee.


Oahu's Iolani Palace

Oahu's Iolani Palace

Hawaii Capitol District

Several other historical sites, all within walking distance of Iolani Palace include the King Kamehameha V Judiciary History Center, Hawaii State Library, Hawaii State Art Museum and Mission Houses Museum. You may recognize the Judiciary History Center building (also known as Ali'iolani Hale) as it serves as the police headquarters in the fictional Hawaii Five-0 television series. (Book'em, Danno!) Again, with the time limitations that cruise travelers face, decisions must be made as to where time should be spent.


Hawaii's Judiciary History Center

Hawaii's Judiciary History Center

Hilo Hattie

Located on Ala Moana Blvd., Hilo Hattie has Hawaii's largest selection of Hawaiian fashions, gifts, souvenirs, t-shirts, home & beach accessories, beauty products, gourmet foods and stunning island jewelry. The company guarantees shoppers the best value, largest selection of Made in Hawaii gifts and a 100% quality guarantee on thousands of Hawaiian products. Hilo Hattie has grown into Hawaii's largest retailer, manufacturer and wholesaler of Hawaiian fashions and gifts.


Hilo Hattie's on Oahu

Hilo Hattie's on Oahu

Waikiki and Waikiki Beach

The world-famous city of Waikiki was once a playground for Hawaiian royalty. Known in Hawaiian as "spouting waters", Waikiki is still a gathering place for people from all around the world. Along the main strip of Kalakaua Avenue, you'll find plenty of retail stores, restaurants and entertainment.

At the legendary Waikiki Beach, a statue of Hawaiian hero Duke Kahanamoku welcomes visitors to the city with open arms. Duke grew up and surfed in Waikiki during the turn of the century and today he is regarded as the "father of modern surfing". The city continues to evolve, but always seems to express the ancient spirit of aloha.


Waikiki's famous "Duke"

Waikiki's famous "Duke"

Waikiki is a great place to spend a little time for drinks and a snack, and of course to take some photos. Parking in this area can often be hard to find. We found that parking at the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani Hotel (120 Kaiulani Avenue, Honolulu, HI 96815) was reasonably priced and only a few blocks away from the beach.



Diamond Head State Monument

Probably the most famous volcanic crater in the world, Diamond Head State Monument is located at the end of Waikiki on the southeast coast of Oahu. Although you can see the famous mountain in the distance from Waikiki, we recommend that you drive the short distance and pay the $5.00 per carload fee (cash only) to enter the park. The mountain is 760 feet tall and the crater measures 3,520 feet in diameter. Although you probably will not have enough time to do the 0.8 mile one-way hike to the summit, you should have time to drive inside Diamond Head Crater, around Diamond Head Road as well as drive to the Diamond Head Lighthouse


Diamond Head State Monument

Diamond Head State Monument

Hanauma Bay

The "curved" Hanauma Bay was declared a protected marine life conservation area and underwater park in 1967. With its large rich coral reef and diverse population of marine life, the bay is the absolute best protected cove for anyone who is new to scuba diving or snorkeling. The bay floor is actually the crater of an ancient volcano that flooded when the exterior wall collapsed and the ocean rushed in.

The entrance fee to Hanauma Bay is $7.50 per person age 12 and over (plus $1.00 fee per car for parking). If you don't have time to swim, it's still a great place to stop to view the bay from the overlook and grab some great photos.



Punchbowl Cemetery

Built in 1948, the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific is located in the Pu'owaina Crater ("Punchbowl"). Formerly known as the "Hill of Sacrifice", the cemetery is a memorial to the men and women who defended our country in World War II. It was dedicated in 1949 and the first buried here were casualties from the attack on Pearl Harbor.


Punchbowl Cemetery

Punchbowl Cemetery

In addition to paying your respects to those who have fought for our freedom, you'll have an awesome view of the southern coast of Oahu.



Pali Lookout

A favorite tourist stop with panoramic views of Oahu's windward coast, the Pali Lookout is located on the Pali Highway. Although the lookout is well known, most visitors don't seem to know that there is a trail at the lower end of the lookout. By following the trail along the route of the Old Pali Highway, you'll get a different perspective plus see a wide variety of native plants.


Pali Lookout

Pali Lookout

Since it is hard to know whether or not there will be clouds high on the mountain which will detract from your view, the drive is only five miles so it's worth a try. Unfortunately on the day of our most recent visit, the sky was fogged in with clouds. When there is no cloud cover, Pali Lookout is a tremendous stop!



Paradise Cove Luau

Most cruises to the islands have at least one evening where the ship departs late at night allowing passengers to experience an evening event. No visit to Hawaii is complete without attending a luau. If your "late night" is in Honolulu as ours was, we recommend that you don't miss out on this, often once in a lifetime, opportunity.

Words can hardly describe the experience at Paradise Cover Luau. It is, hands down, the best luau on the island of Oahu. A tropical Mai Tai greeting combined with live Hawaiian music set the mood for the luau. Guests have so many options to fill their time in the Hawaiian Village before their dinner including learning island arts and crafts or playing (and testing skills) at Hawaiian games. Finally, don't miss out on watching the Hukilau and Imu Ceremony which both provide insights into ancient Hawaiian customs.

The dinner feast includes traditional and current Hawaiian dishes along with some "continental" dishes for those less willing to try new flavors. Just as you begin to notice the awesome sunset, singers and dancers will begin dazzling you with an unforgettable evening of entertainment.

Reservations are required for the luau and should be made well in advance by either calling (808) 842- 5911 or making online reservations. Be aware that saturated ground at the Ko Olina Resort from heavy rainfall during the day could cause the luau to be cancelled. Unfortunately, that's what happened when we reserved our second Paradise Cove Luau. We were hungry and eagerly anticipating our dinner, drinks and show. We drove out to the resort from across the island and it was there that we learned that the evening performance was cancelled due to rain. Based on our experience, we do recommend calling on the day of your luau reservation just to confirm that there have been no changes. Because this was our only late night while on the islands, we requested a refund and scrambled to use that money to reserve a last minute indoor luau. Although we all got fed, the luau experience was quite disappointing and definitely not the same as the Paradise Cove Luau that we had previously enjoyed.



Port of Honolulu

As with any do-it-yourself shore excursion, make sure that you closely monitor your timing so that you don't miss your all aboard time. With so much to see and do in Oahu, you really have to watch the amount of time spent at each site or plan to eliminate some. It goes without saying to make sure to allow enough time to fill your tank with fuel, check-in your car (there may be a line of others on the same schedule) and make your way back on foot to the ship. (Of course, if your ship is not departing from Port of Honolulu until late in the evening, make sure to follow the instructions from your rental car agency for after-hour returns.)

Lihue, Kauai

If you haven't already, make sure to take a look at our recommended DIY excursion on the beautiful garden island of Kauai. In Lihue, Kauai: Tour of 4 Hawaiian Islands by Cruise Ship (Part 3) , you'll have access to a driving route that will take you to some of the islands best sites that can be seen in your limited port hours.

Hawaiian Luaus

If you have been lucky enough to attend more than one luau while traveling in Hawaii, which was your favorite, where is it located and what made you like it more than others?


Honolulu, Hawaii:  Tour of 4 Hawaiian Islands by Cruise Ship (Part 2)











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