Holland America Line Hawaii Cruise: My Top 5 Lists for the Best of the Hawaiian Islands

Zaandam Dining Room

Deborah Wheeler

I recently took a Holland America Line Hawaii cruise from San Diego and discovered the best of the Hawaiian Islands. I have compiled the best the islands have to offer visitors and my recommendations for great port days on the cruise. HAL offers an exceptional cruise of the Hawaiian Islands including a great overview of the four major islands: The Big Island, Kauai, Oahu, and Maui. Each of the islands has a distinct personality and this cruise provides the chance to gain a true appreciation of Hawaiian life while learning more about each island. Here are the Top 5 best tours, activities, sights, and tips for port days visiting the major Hawaiian Islands on your Holland America Line cruise.


1. Pick up a rental car to drive around Hilo and the National Park
2. Visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
3. Try Kona coffee
4. Admire the views of Mauna Loa
5. Take a helicopter tour over the volcano lava flows

The National Park is 38 miles, approximately a 45 minute drive, from Hilo. Start at the Kilauea Visitor Center at the park to get oriented, then follow Center Rim Drive through the park. The three major sights in the park take approximately 1-2 hours (6 stops take approximately 3-4 hours). Visitors can only see lava flows from a few areas in the park; check at the visitor center for the latest information on that day. Be sure to see the following stops in the park if you have only have limited time there:

Stop 1- Steam Vents
Stop 2- Jaggar Museum and overlook of Kilauea Caldera
Stop 3- Thurston Lava Tube (requires a drive in the opposite direction of the Jaggar Museum, but definitely recommended and worth the stop)


1. See Pearl Harbor (be sure to book your tickets far in advance)
2. Put your toes in the sand at Waikiki Beach (a beautiful, but touristy district of Honolulu)
3. Visit Diamond Head (go for the hikes, views, and meeting locals)
4. Take a city overview loop tour on a Hop on/Hop off bus tour
5. Seek out exceptional Hawaiian and Asian foods around the island

While the busiest areas of Honolulu can feel a little bit like Las Vegas on the beach, it is worth seeking out the best of the city and the island. Honolulu itself is a busy, large city with some of the worst traffic in the U.S. To really enjoy Oahu, it is important to escape the tourist traps and find the true appeal of the island as the locals see it. Get outside of Honolulu and scratch below the surface to experience true island life.


1. Rent a car and drive the winding road to Kokee State Park overlooking the stunning Napali coastline
2. Admire spectacular views of Waimea Canyon
3. From Lihue, take a drive to nearby Wailua Falls
4. Enjoy the spectacular scenery, views, overlooks, and view stops around the island
5. Stop in authentic beach towns for meals, snacks, drinks and opportunities to interact with the locals

Driving around Kauai, the Garden Island, is like driving through a tremendous botanical garden. This island does not have the usual tourist trappings of the other islands and is best appreciated for its beauty and solitude. There are more roosters than people on the island. This is one of the most beautiful islands and a great escape from the other, busier islands.


1. Hire a private guide (I highly recommend Blue Soul Maui tours) to take you to the best spots around the island
2. Drive through a funky, hippie surf town, watch surfers in the big waves, and catch the Maui vibe on the Road to Hana
3. Drive through the sugar cane fields
4. Plan a visit to Iao Valley State Park
5. Stop at a mom and pop island market to try local foods

Maui is a great combination of all things you love about Hawaii: the locals, the beaches, beautiful resorts, lush greenery, surf towns, land and sea activities, beautiful views, delicious foods, and the true Aloha Spirit. Maui provides decidedly upscale amenities with a laid back attitude. This island will call you back time and time again.

On this Holland America Line Hawaii cruise, you will enjoy the best of the islands. You can even combine this cruise with a Mexico cruise on one of their Collectors Cruises to really extend your vacation experiences. And Holland America Line knows how to do cruising right. Ultimately, this HAL Hawaii cruise really gives you a taste of each of the islands and allows you to see and do it all. The only thing left to do after you’ve done it all? Plan your return visit.

Deborah Wheeler

Thurston Lava Tube

Deborah Wheeler

Waikiki Beach

Deborah Wheeler

Lookout of the Napali Coastline

Deborah Wheeler

Blue Soul Surfing

Deborah Wheeler

Iao Needle

Deborah Wheeler

Honolulu Port


Dr. Deborah Wheeler, a travel writer and clinical psychologist, has worked for more than twenty years in the management and leadership of travel, education, healthcare, and criminal justice organizations. She has appeared on television and radio programs as an expert on child psychology topics of interest to parents and served as a subject matter expert in psychology and business. Dr. Wheele...(Read More)

Around the web