Aloha! I am very excited you are using my itinerary to plan your amazing vacation! Like you, I only have a few weeks of vacation and I want to make the most of my vacations as possible. The focus of my vacation itinerary is to maximize time and experiences while trying to keep expenses as low as possible. Below is the exact itinerary I used when I visited Hawaii, and as you read on, you will discover that I stayed in Honolulu for a few days and then took Norwegian’s Pride of America cruise to 3 of the other Hawaiian Islands. I felt a cruise was a great way to maximize my time and experiences because it travels while I sleep and offers a variety of Hawaiian-themed entertainment and food. To read more about why I chose Norwegian’s Pride of America, please read my Hawaii Travel Guide.
Day 1 – Arrive at Oahu
I arrived in Oahu at around 9 pm, rented a car from Budget Rent a Car, and drove to the Waikiki Prince Hotel. I chose a Budget because they had a drop off location at the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort and Spa, which was next to my hotel. This allowed me to pick the car up at the airport, borrow it for one day, and then drop it off next door at the Hyatt Regency. I decided to use the Waikiki Prince Hotel (It has been closed) because it’s a great value at only $79-$119 a night, and it’s only a couple of blocks from Waikiki Beach. Please note that the Waikiki Prince Hotel is only a 1 star hotel. It has limited amenities and a maid only cleans the room every few days, so if you are looking for something luxurious, this hotel isn’t for you. It does offer safety, cleanliness, affordability, and a great location. Thank goodness my wife isn’t a diva and shares my love of a good deal!
Day 2 – Pearl Harbor/Dole Pineapple Plantation/Aulani Disney resort/Punchbowl National Cemetery of the Pacific
I knew I would wake up early due to jet lag, and I wanted to take advantage of this and utilize my time as much as possible. Pearl Harbor opens at 7am, which is much earlier than most facilities on the island, and if you go early you won’t have to wait as long to take the boat to the USS Arizona memorial. It is highly recommended to purchase tickets in advance, so I reserved a 7am time and arrived there at 6:30 am. I was not the only person on the island who woke up early, so I was on the second boat to the memorial. There is a great informational exhibit to view, so the wait for the second boat flew by. Please note that large bags are not allowed into the facility, but it is advised not to leave any valuables in your car, so plan accordingly.
Once I was finished paying my respects, I headed over to the Dole Pineapple Plantation. The Dole plantation offers several attractions such as pineapples, a train that drives around the plantation, pineapples, the world’s largest maze, pineapples, a plantation garden tour, and of course the most amazing pineapples on Earth! I explored the maze, looked around the shop, and you probably won’t believe it, but I even ate a pineapple! I liked the pineapple so much I shipped several home to my family. The Dole Pineapple Plantation could be considered a tourist trap, especially since they don’t grow very many pineapples there anymore. I think it is worth checking out once, especially if you have young children who would enjoy the maze and train ride, but I would not go back.
Once I got filled up on pineapples, I headed over to the Aulani Disney Resort. I am a huge Disney fan and I was excited to visit one of Disney’s newest resorts. I was also in desperate need of another Disney Hawaiian shirt! The resort was very nice and the beach was clean, but I wouldn’t go here again because parking is 12 dollars an hour, it’s pretty much a really nice hotel, and that’s about it. The worst part is that I couldn’t find a Disney Hawaiian shirt I liked!
Next I headed over to the Punchbowl National Cemetery of the Pacific. The Punchbowl serves as a memorial to honor those who served in the United States Armed Forces. The Punchbowl is a beautiful cemetery with a breathtaking view of Honolulu. I really enjoyed it and I like that is not a very busy tourist attraction. You will probably have the view of Honolulu and the cemetery all to yourself.
After all of this I was probably on my 2nd energy drink and was starting to get tired, so I headed to the Hyatt to return the car. I found that I still had a little bit of energy left, so I took a stroll down the main strip near Waikiki beach. I have strolled down several main strips all over the world but this is probably my favorite. The strip is clean, it’s near the beach, it has several unique shops, but what put this strip over the top is that it’s lit with tiki torches. Hawaii is already romantic enough but once you add the torches it makes a perfect end to your night.
Day 3 – Polynesian Cultural Center
One of my favorite things about traveling is learning about the culture of the natives. No place in Hawaii does a better job of this than the Polynesian Cultural Center. At the Polynesian Cultural Center you will get to learn the culture, food and history of several of the Polynesian islands. I highly encourage you to stay for the dinner buffet and luau. The cultural center offers many packages, and I chose the most popular package, which was the Ali’l Luau Package for $104.95 per person. I could have rented the car an extra day, but I paid an additional $25 per person for transportation to and from the center because it would be a difficult drive back to the hotel on unfamiliar roads after dark. Be sure to book this excursion at least 10 days in advanced because you will save 10%.
Day 4 – IoIani Palace/Chinatown/Diamond Head
I purchased a hop on hop off trolley tour for the day at Waikiki Trolley and decided on the 1 day all lines pass for $34. These types of tours are nice because they provide transportation and some information about all of their stops, and you can get on and off at the scheduled stops as often as you like. The red historic line stops at many interesting sights, but you don’t want to miss the IoIani Palace or Chinatown. Iolani Palace is the only royal palace on American soil, and walking around Chinatown is a great experience. I wanted to eat lunch in Chinatown and when I decided on a restaurant I chose a place where only Chinese people were sitting inside. I have no idea what the restaurant was called, and no one in the restaurant spoke English. Our waitress wheeled over the dim sum cart and let me point to what I wanted. I have no idea what I picked out, and maybe I don’t want to know, but it was all very good.
Once I was done with the red line on the hop on hop off tour, I took the green line to Hawaii’s most recognized landmark – Diamond Head. Hiking to the top provides some of the best view of the island. The moderate 0.7 mile hike will take about 1.5 hours to complete, and it can be very hot and humid, so bring some water with you. The last entrance to the park is at 4:30 pm and you are required to leave by 6:00 pm.
I took the trolley back to the Waikiki area, enjoyed another night strolling down the strip, and ended my stay in Honolulu with a nice romantic dinner on the beach.
Day 5 – Waikiki Beach/Pride of America/Aloha Tower
Today was beach day! Waikiki Beach is truly one of the world’s best beaches. The water is the perfect color of blue, the sand is white, the beach is clean, and on how many beaches can you take surf lessons!? Once I got my fill of the sun, sand and especially the salt water (yuck!), I checked out of the hotel and headed to the Hyatt next door to pick up a cab to my cruise ship. Once I checked in to our cruise ship I left the ship to explore Honolulu one more time since I still had a few hours before the boat sailed away. I decided to visit what used to be the tallest building in Honolulu – the Aloha Tower. The tower offers another stunning view of the island and it’s FREE! I then boarded the cruise ship and set sail for Maui.
Day 6 – Maui/Molokini Crater
I went to bed on day five in Honolulu, and when I woke up on day six I was docked in Maui! Logistically, cruises are amazing. You never have to figure out where to be, how to get there, or how to get back. It’s really stress-free travel. What’s not to love?
Since I pulled a David Copperfield by going to sleep and “magically” appearing in Maui the next morning, all I had to do was decide what I wanted to do while I was there. I hadn’t snorkeled yet, and if you’ve read my Hawaii Top 10 List you know that snorkeling is a must-do in Hawaii. I booked an excursion through Norwegian to snorkel in Molokini Crater, which is a sunken volcanic crater off the coast of Maui.
As a side note, booking your excursions though the cruise line is a good idea because, again, it’s stress free. They tell you when to meet and where, which will generally be right off the ship, and after the excursion you will be brought right back to the ship. Even if your excursion goes longer than expected, the ship will not set sail for another island without you. If you book a tour with an outside company and are late to board the ship, it will leave without you.
After enjoying a great day in the crystal clear waters of Molokini Crater, I was taken back to the ship where I enjoyed the rest of the evening on the boat.
Day 7 – Maui/Haleakala
On my 2nd day in Maui I decided to go up Maui’s massive, dormant volcano Haleakala. I booked a bus tour to go up to the summit of Haleakala, and even though taking a bus tour with thirty of your new best friends doesn’t sound like much of an adventure, I enjoyed it very much because it was interesting to see how the scenery changes as you go up the volcano. The vegetation starts out very lush and green, but then as you climb to the summit at about 10,000 feet, it felt like we were on Mars. There is virtually no plant life, the air is thin, the ground is reddish, and you are looking down at the clouds. If you decide to visit Haleakala, dress in layers because it will be chilly when you are on top of the summit.
After the excursion, I boarded the ship and still had time to enjoy some of the ship’s activities. I put my masculinity aside, took a hula lesson and went on to make my own kukui nut lei. Both activities were more fun than I expected, and they definitely made me feel like I got to experience more of the Hawaiian culture. After dinner and another wonderful great night show, I headed to bed knowing the next day I had a big day planned the Big Island.
Day 8 – Big Island of Hawaii/Hilo/Volcanoes National Park
Today the boat docked by the city of Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii. Since Hilo had so many things to offer, I booked a sightseeing tour that took me to Volcanoes National Park, Akatsuka Gardens and Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory. It took an hour long bus ride to get to Volcanoes National Park, but it was worth it once I saw 70 million years of volcanic history all around me. I’ve never been anywhere like it and I certainly had never stood on an active volcano before. While still in the park I got to visit the Jaggar Museum, which is a museum dedicated to the history of volcanoes, and I also got to walk through the Thurston Lava Tube, which is an enormous tube formed by a river of lava.
Volcanoes National Park could have been the only stop on my tour and I would have been happy, but we also stopped at Akatsuka Gardens, which is an orchid nursery and gift shop. Our last stop was Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory, where you can buy much more than nuts, believe me. My wife was able to find nuts, honey, chocolate, tea, and then my credit card.
After the excursion I was back on the ship and off to the other side of the Big Island.
Day 9 – Big Island of Hawaii/Kona
My second day on the Big Island was spent discovering Kona on my own. One of the first objectives I had was to find a post office to ship home all of the extra souvenirs my wife bought that wouldn’t fit in our luggage. Lucky for me, my phone worked, and Google was able to direct me to a post office. After this I wandered. I found a Wal-Mart, a giant tiki statue, and a liquor store where I bought a coconut full of some kind of alcohol. I needed a place to enjoy my coconut concoction, so I wandered in the direction of the port and found the main shopping strip. There was a small café right off the water, so I sat down and enjoyed some world famous Hawaiian shave ice with my coconut while gazing across the vast ocean in a tropical paradise…what, too much?After that I boarded the ship and headed to Kauai.
Day 10 – Kauai/Waimea Canyon/Kauai Coffee
There are so many things to see on Kauai, so I booked another sightseeing tour. I got to explore Waimea Canyon, which is one of the most popular attractions on Kauai. It is called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific because it’s 14 miles long and 1 mile wide. It is definitely worth a visit. After that our bus headed over to Kauai Coffee Company. I got to sample all of the coffee I wanted and enjoy the beautiful grounds. Then we finished at Spouting Horn, which is an impressive blow hole by the ocean. After so many days of sightseeing and adventures, I was ready to collapse, so I spent the rest of the day relaxing on the boat.
Day 11 – Kauai/Na Pali Coast
I took it easy this day. The Kauai Marriott is in walking distance of the docking location of the ship, so I took advantage of what the Marriot had to offer. I enjoyed a lazy day on the beach and rented a kayak to explore the lagoon. On my way back to the boat I visited a couple of small shopping centers and finished the day off on the cruise ship. One of the great features of this cruising itinerary was that the last day on Kauai was cut slightly short so that we cold slowly sail by the Na Pali Coast. This famous coast was featured in the original Jurassic Park movie and it is considered to be one of the most beautiful coast lines in the world. It didn’t disappoint, and we sailed along it so long that we got as many amazing pictures as we wanted, then I headed to dinner and had a great view of both the coast and the sunset. What an unbelievable end to my trip!
Day 12 – Honolulu
I arrived back in Honolulu and checked out of the ship. Then I took a taxi to the airport and flew home.
I really had an incredible vacation! If you take advantage of my itinerary, you will get to explore 4 islands, see a royal palace, hike on an active and dormant volcano, attend a luau, see a wide variety of scenery, and so much more. I hope your vacation is as amazing as mine was. Please comment below and let me know if I missed anything…not that I need another reason to go back! Mahalo!
You may also like:
Read Next: Top 10 Things to do in Hawaii