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Cruising Hawai'i's waters

by Cari Aguilar


If you have driven by Aloha Tower on a Sunday, you have seen it: the giant cruise ship docked at the pier, completely dwarfing many of downtown’s high-rise buildings. Spending a week on NCL’s Norwegian Star is one of the most enjoyable and economical ways to get a taste of Kauai, the Big Island, Maui, and the foreign port of Fanning Island. If you haven’t visited any of the other Hawaiian Islands, cruising may be the way to go. And if you have visited then cruising offers a very different perspective.

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NCL’s Norwegian Star is the largest floating resort to ever cruise the islands of Hawai‘i, accommodating 2,200 passengers and 1,100 crewmembers. This $400 million ship has 10 distinctive restaurants and 14 separate lounges and bars. In addition, the Norwegian Star has more private balconies and ocean-view staterooms than any other ship in Hawaii, according to NCL’s website.

The Norwegian Star begins its seven-day cruise on Sunday in Honolulu, from which it departs at 8 p.m. enroute overnight to Hilo on the Big Island, where it docks at 6 a.m. on Monday for a seven hour stay . Passengers usually book shore excursions on-board prior to arrival, which can be expensive. The cheapest way to enjoy your time ashore in Hilo is to either rent a car on your own, or hire a taxi for a sightseeing tour. Taxi tours are very reasonable, and drivers are waiting at the pier for disembarking passengers. With a local driver as your guide, you will get to visit places ship-arranged tours don’t offer, such as stops at local fruit stands or historic points of interest, as part of your personalized adventure.

A trip to Hilo should include visits to ‘Akaka Falls, Rainbow Falls, and the most popular destination, Volcanoes National Park. Since Kilauea currently has an active lava flow, visitors have a great opportunity to see molten lava up close. The flow has covered much of the road on its way to the ocean, creating a landscape of hardened lava that you can walk across to see the new lava slowly bubbling and sliding toward the ocean. The Norwegian Wind, which also cruises the Hawaiian Islands but on a different schedule, passes by the park in the middle of the night, so guests can watch the glowing lava flow into the ocean against the night’s sky.

The ship leaves Hilo at 1 p.m., and the next day is spent at sea as the Norwegian Star cruises towards the equator and its next destination at Fanning Island. In order to comply with US law, which states that cruise ships in America have to visit a foreign port between American ports, NCL sails to Fanning Island, the closest foreign port to Hawai‘i. Located in the Republic of Kiribati, this coral atoll lies 3.5 degrees above the equator and 153 miles from Christmas Island. NCL is the only cruise line that visits Fanning Island, and it is basically the only contact the 1,500 inhabitants have with the modern world, besides a supply ship that stops by from Australia two or three times per year. With no electricity and no running water on the island, this is probably what Hawai‘i would have looked like before the modern world discovered it.

The ship arrives in Fanning Island for a four hour visit. Passengers are tendered ashore from the ship to English Harbor. There, native men and women sing and dance to greet them. The entire village comes out on ship days, and the school built by NCL is closed. Just beyond the pier, women and children sell handmade wares, such as baskets and jewelry, for about $5.
The natives speak Gilbertese, but most have learned basic English in order to communicate with the tourists. They are very friendly and love to pose for pictures. Many passengers have started bringing candy for the children, but NCL discourages this gesture to help prevent tooth decay. Since there is no dentist or doctor on the island, any health problem here is difficult to treat. Instead, articles of clothing, bottled water and sunglasses are welcomed, and the natives are very grateful for the donation.

There are several inexpensive options for shore excursions in Fanning Island, such as wandering around the village, which is also where NCL sets up bathroom facilities, a barbeque lunch, and beach supplies; renting a bike for a ride around the island to meet the locals or visit the school; a walking tour of the island, guided by one of the locals; or, paying $20 to tender over to Napali Beach, which is a separate island, for a few hours of sunning, swimming, and perhaps, a beachside massage. This beach is truly paradise, complete with white sand, coconut trees, and crystal clear water. NCL provides mats to float on, and kayaks are also available to rent at Napali Beach. There are refreshments available, but there are no bathroom facilities here. Be prepared to walk about a half-mile from the pier to Napali beach and back to catch the tender to English Harbor.
The next day is spent at sea, as the ship cruises toward Lahaina, Maui. Again, passengers are tendered ashore, since the harbor is not big enough to accommodate the ship. The ship docks all day in Maui, which allows passengers the opportunity to participate in shore excursions, as well the chance to shop in Lahaina. The most popular activity in Maui is whale watching, and it is not necessary to book this type of tour onboard. It seems like every boat in the harbor has some variation of a whale-watching/snorkeling tour available for reasonable rates. However, bike excursions down Haleaukila, golf excursions, snorkeling at Molokini, and visits to Maui Ocean Center should be bought on-board prior to docking in Maui, since transportation back to the pier is required.

The ship cruises overnight to Kauai, where passengers wake up to a beautiful view of Nawiliwili. Since most of the shore excursions are located on the other side of the island, it is recommended that you plan in advance for this destination to ensure transportation. The most popular tours are Waimea Canyon, which is known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, and the Napali Coast, which offer some of the tallest sea cliffs in the world. Since the Napali Coast is most accessible by water, snorkeling excursions are very popular. In addition to the stunning scenery along the coast, boaters often enjoy watching spinner dolphins that love to jump and swim in close proximity to the boat.

The ship leaves Kauai at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, heading to its final destination, Honolulu. The ship arrives early Sunday morning and passengers may disembark at 8 a.m. and must be off the ship by11 a.m., since it sets sail later that day with another 2,200 passengers onboard. For more information about NCL, its ships, and itineraries, visit For great rates on cruises, visit

Note: Kona may be substituted for Hilo or Kahului for Lahaina; these and other changes are at NCL’s discretion. (

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