Most winter cruise stories are about the Caribbean or Mexico, but one area that is left out much of the time is Hawaii.
There are many more stories about the other areas simply because more ships cruise there. One of the reasons fewer ships cruise to Hawaii is because not only do you have to cruise four days from the west coast before you can even start cruising the islands, but there's also a restriction on foreign-registered ships. If foreign ships embark and disembark out of U.S. ports they must make a foreign stop in between.
Those cruising to Hawaii out of Southern California often stop at Ensenada, Mexico. Similarly, ships bound for Alaska from Seattle usually stop in Victoria, B.C.
This restriction is avoided if you cruise on Norwegian Cruise Lines' Pride of America. This ship is U.S.-registered, which means it can sail in all U.S. ports but must carry a mainly U.S. crew.
As a result, the Pride of America spends more than 100 hours in Hawaiian ports and embarks and disembarks out of Honolulu where it operates year-round.
At one time NCL had three ships operating in the Hawaiian Islands, which was too many ship chasing too little business. Now there is just the Pride of America and it appears to be doing well.
If you have never been to the Hawaiian Islands, Pride of America offers a great sampler cruise that will help you pick the islands where a lengthier stay might be in the cards on a future cruise:
Day one: Depart Honolulu at 8 p.m. so you have the day in Honolulu
Day two and three: Maui (Kahului)
Day three: Hilo
Day four: Kona
Day five and six: Kauai
Day seven: Honolulu
The next time I cruise these islands, I'll take my golf clubs as most offer an abundance of outstanding courses, many of which are highlighted on professional tours. With overnight stops in Maui and Kauai, you can split the two days between sightseeing and golf.
There are also great swimming beaches all over Hawaii as well as top-rate snorkelling, especially on Maui.
On Maui don't miss Lahaina. A stroll down Front Street offers everything from great ice cream to T-shirts and art galleries to restaurants. For snorkelling, join a charter boat to Molokini or drive to Honolua near Kapalua. If you have the time, drive to the top of the world's largest dormant volcano, Haleakala. Those who have been at the top for sunrise say it's an amazing site.
Hilo offers a live volcano, Kilauea. Where you are allowed to go depends on the activity of the volcano that day. On your way back, stop at the Mauna Loa Macadamian farm. They offered the best prices in the islands when I was last there. When cruising out of Hilo you should be able to see the lava lighting up the night sky
Waimea Canyon is worth the drive on Kauai. When the ship leaves make sure you're up on deck to see the Napali Coast cliffs. They are spectacular. You can also take a small charter to get an up-close look during your stay.
While there are all kinds of tours both from the ship and with other operators, the best way to get around is by rented car or van.
The best price I could find at time of writing for a seven-day Hawaii cruise was $899 US at ncl.com.
Many people sail the Hawaiian Islands mainly from California, which means you're at sea for close to eight days. Considering the number of departures, many enjoy the trip.
The Golden Princess from Princess Cruises sails 14-day trips from October to April from Los Angeles.
Holland America's Zaandam also sails the winter season on 15-day return trips embarking out of San Diego.
RCL's Rhapsody and the Carnival Spirit sail to Hawaii to and from Vancouver after and before the Alaska season.
Visit portsandbows.com for daily updates on the latest cruise news, best deals and behind the scenes stories from the industry. You can also sign up for an email newsletter on the site for even more cruise information. Phil can be contacted directly at preimercanwest.com.