Cruises take travelers to four major Hawaiian islands -- the perfect way to see it all without having to coordinate interisland flights and multiple hotel stays. As restaurant prices can be high on the remote islands, a cruise can also be an affordable way to explore since you can eat your meals on the ship. Some ships even offer sailing along the Napali Coast, so you won't have to book your own boat tour in Kauai.
Beach time and water sports are popular in the islands, with snorkel and kayak trips and surf lessons topping the list. Scenic cruises to see the seasonal whale population or gaze at the gorgeous Napali coastline are more sedate ways to get onto the water. The famous Road to Hana twists and turns to reveal beautiful waterfalls and lush sceneries to tourists with steady stomachs. Caffeine fiends can tour a coffee plantation and taste the local wares.
Hawaii's volcanoes also top the activities list. You can bike down Haleakala on Maui (or take a bus to the summit to see the sun rise or set), wander through lava tubes at Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island, or tour the observatory at the top of Mauna Kea.
A Hawaii cruise lets visitors experience Hawaiian culture as well. Ships stay in port late so passengers can attend a luau, offering a chance to try local culinary favorites and watch a spectacular show with hula and fire dancing. You can also visit places like Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, a refuge in olden times and still a sacred site for Hawaiians.
You can cruise to Hawaii year-round, thanks to Norwegian Cruise Line's Honolulu-based ship. High season is the winter (late December through April); summer is also popular due to honeymoon season and school breaks. Early fall can see an uptick in cruise ships, as cruise lines route ships to the islands on their way from Alaska to a warmer destination.
The slow travel season between Thanksgiving and Christmas is one of the best times for deals. Summer and fall see the least amount of rain, but seas can be rough in August. If you're looking for whales, January through March are the peak months for sightings.
Most cruises to Hawaii call on the same limited number of ports: Honolulu on Oahu; Hilo and Kona on Hawaii (the Big Island); Kahului Harbor or Lahaina on Maui; and Nawiliwili Harbor on Kauai.
Small-ship cruise line UnCruise sets sail for smaller harbors, such as Molokai, Lanai and Olowalu in West Maui.
Honolulu is the main departure port in the islands. Norwegian Cruise Line sails roundtrip from that port, but most big ships sailing to Hawaii depart from mainland North American ports, including Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and Vancouver, sailing one-way to Honolulu. Smaller ships can depart from Molokai and Kailua-Kona.
Here are our best tips for finding a cheap cruise or cruise deal to Hawaii. If you book a “guaranteed cabin” (they select for you), a cabin on a lower deck or sail on an older ship from a brand you like, then you can get the best price for a specific cruise to Hawaii. Last minute cruises deals to Hawaii appear as you get closer to the sail date, usually 1-2 weeks in advance. Taking a cruise to Hawaii in the shoulder season (before or after the peak season) can also be a great way to find a cruise deal.