One of the most classic cruise destinations, Hawaii evokes the best of vacation: warm sand beneath bare feet, curling azure waves, and tropical drinks with tiny umbrellas. But its capital city, Honolulu, is cosmopolitan too, with an incredible food scene and plenty to do after hours. If you’re wondering what to do in Honolulu, don’t leave without having these seven experiences on Oahu.
1. Contemporary Honolulu
Every cruise to Honolulu should start with basics: Get a taste of modern Hawaii on the Honolulu City Tour. From lively Chinatown to the historical Civic Center, you’ll encounter the area’s most famous neighborhoods and landmarks you’ve probably seen on television (hello, King Kamehameha statue). You can also visit the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at the Punchbowl Crater and see the Kawaiahao Hawaiian Church.
Cap off the experience with Germaine’s Luau, a Hawaiian-style beachfront barbecue featuring a buffet of traditional grub as well as Polynesian entertainment. Prepare yourself for the Samoan Fire Knife Dancer!
2. Hawaiian Culture
Delve deeper into the region’s history during your cruise vacation with a stop at the Polynesian Cultural Center, voted Hawaii’s number one paid visitor attraction. Great for those on a family cruise, six educational exhibits feature various Pacific Island villages, with context about each culture.
For a more detailed look at the Kingdom of Hawaii in particular, the Monarchs & Missionaries: Hawaii’s Royal History is another great option. You’ll drive through rainforests in the verdant Nu’uanu Valley; get breathtaking views of the isle at Pali Lookout, where King Kamehameha I conquered the island; pass through a tunnel of trees en route to the Royal Mausoleum, where six of the Hawaii’s last ruling monarchs are interred; take a guided tour of the only royal palace in the U.S., Iolani Palace; and visit the Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site, where you’ll learn about the effects Christian missionaries have had in Hawaii.
3. Modern History
A boon for history buffs, Oahu is brimming with history. Prior to being admitted as the 50th state in 1959, Hawaii–particularly Oahu–played a pivotal role in World War II. The Stars & Stripes tour takes visitors to the Pearl Harbor Visitors Center, where you’ll learn about the events leading up to the Japanese attack and detonation of the USS Arizona, which lies on the harbor floor to this day. Board a Navy shuttle bound for the memorial, a striking 184-foot-long structure that straddles the sunken battleship in memory of the 1,177 crewmen who died on board.
Nearby, Ford Island is the gateway to the USS Missouri battleship, also known as Mighty Mo. Explore below deck to get a peek into the logistics of operating such a massive boat. For a full day trip, try the Call to Duty: Pearl Harbor Museums & Memorials tour. In addition to the aforementioned sites, you’ll get to see the best-preserved submarine from WWII at the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park, a designated National Historic Landmark, as well as the hangars at the Pacific Aviation Museum.
On any Hawaii cruise, beach time is a must. And where better than Waikiki Beach, the birthplace of surfing? The Waikiki Beach Break excursion will outfit you with surfboards, stand-up paddleboards and boogie boards. Those who wish to remain a little more sedentary on their vacation time will enjoy the set-up on some prime Waikiki Beach real estate, in the heart of the area’s waterside action.
No cruise to Honolulu is complete with seeing Diamond Head, an imposing volcanic crater that looms near the city. The Iconic Diamond Head Adventure Hike will take you on a 45-minute walk, where you’ll learn about the landform’s history as you ascend its 763-foot summit. After besting the stairs (including a spiral staircase!) and a 200-foot lighted tunnel, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking 360-degrees views of bustling Waikiki Beach, the shimmering Pacific Ocean, and island’s lush verdure.
Want to get even higher? Tour Oahu by air on the 50-minute Honolulu Island Tour by Helicopter. Or, explore the depths on an Atlantis Submarine, part of the world’s largest fleet of hi-tech passenger subs! At the Atlantis dive site, you’ll descend 100 feet underwater (in air-conditioned comfort, of course), with large viewing ports that yield front-row views of aquatic life, including fishes, coral, and turtles. The crew is happy to share their knowledge as you explore sunken shipwrecks, an airplane, and other artificial reefs.
7. North Shore
Farther afield, the North Shore Adventure excursion will give cruisers the lowdown on the northern side of Oahu. Follow the scenic highway to the Valley of the Temples, where you’ll visit the beautiful Buddhist Byodo-In Temple located in the shadow of the 2,000-foot Koolau Mountains. Continuing north, you’ll pass by the Mokolii islet and Kahana Bay, both fabulous photo ops. Grab a plate lunch at one of the local shrimp trucks before continuing onward to Sunset Beach, famous for its big-wave surfing in the winter months. Afterward, the picturesque Waimea Valley and Turtle Beach are on the schedule, as is historical Haleiwa Town and views of some of Hawaii’s last pineapple fields.
It’s no wonder Honolulu is a must-visit destination when cruising to Hawaii. With its white-sand beaches and rich cultural heritage, this island paradise is truly one of the best cruise destinations around. So what are you waiting for?
Note: Onboard activities, shore excursions, and dining options may vary by ship and destination.