“Get Out There” is a column for itchy footed humans written by Paste contributor Blake Snow. Although weird now, travel is still worthwhile—especially to these open borders.
This year I’m pretty sure I discovered the most convenient, if not affordable, way to island hop Hawaii. It’s called “inter-island” cruising and Norwegian is the only liner exclusively doing it. While other cruises incorporate a couple Hawaiian islands on larger South Pacific itineraries, Norwegian’s 7-day Inter Island Cruise aboard the Pride of America sets sail every week of the year from its home port in Honolulu.
After port-hopping with my wife for seven days to Hawaii’s four most famous islands—Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and “The Big Island”—I’d use one word to sum up the experience: exceptional. As the only cruise ship in the world to fly a U.S. flag from its stern, Pride of America is a special, award-winning, and exotic journey into the heart of the country’s most fabled vacation destination. It’s like one big “Best of Hawaii” tour where you only unpack once while visiting five different ports and spending the majority of your time on land (no sea days here).
From the lush, fin-like cliffs of Kauai to the Big Island’s dramatic volcanoes, and the famous surfing beaches of Oahu to Maui’s mesmerizing mix of all of the above, this has to be the easiest way to survey one of the greatest archipelagos in the Pacific, if not world. As Norwegian puts it, “This is how you Hawaii.”
But if you’re expecting a lot of traditional ship time, activities, and casinos, you won’t find them here. This is a very different cruise. And that’s a good thing.
I, like many of my fellow passengers, came for the islands. That is, instead of making the ship our main attraction, we knowingly used Pride of America as our inter-island transportation, floating hotel, and food headquarters during our week-long stay. Unlike other destinations, you will spend nearly 100 hours at port here.
In other words, it’s all about sightseeing and adventure tours. On Oahu, we paid our respects in Pearl Harbor, went inside two unique craters, and surfed the “gentle giants” of Waikiki with Gone Surfing. On Maui, we luau’d the coast, mistook Iao Valley for Machu Picchu, and rode down a freaking 10,000 foot volcano on bike with Mau Sunriders!
On the “big island” of Hawaii, we gaped at the last rainforest on Earth that’s not being cut with our seasoned guide Kelly Dunn from 808 Hawaii Tours. The next day, we hopped on a catamaran and snorkeled the Kona coast for five hours with the good people and fantastic chiefs (breakfast and lunch included) from Fair Wind. We also witnessed creation in the making as volcanic rock covered much of that coast, appearing like black sheet cake sliding into the sea.
Kauai, the fan favorite, was saved for last. There we tried but failed to see Waimea Canyon (aka “The Grand Canyon of Pacific’’) and the “have to see it to believe it” Napali Coast after clouds seized the island for two full days. We still managed to catch glimpses of the island’s renowned beauty on a second shoreline luau and the Wailua River Cruise to Fern Grotto (aka a real life jungle cruise on steroids).
We achieved all of this with the ship’s notable “best of” excursions on each island, in addition to several private bookings. In between, we took in several waterfalls, sunbathed on both secret and public beaches, caught countless sunsets, ate the best shaved ice of my life, and routinely returned to the ship after a full day of adventure for drinks, ice cream, nachos, pretzel bites, and sunbathing by the pool. I even jumped off a bridge into a clearwater lagoon with the encouragement of some local kids. Aoia!
Thanks to the island itinerary, cruisers will be exposed to dozens of Hollywood locations that have been used to capture some of the most imaginative films in modern history. The list includes Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, and Avatar, to name a few, who all came to Hawaii for its exotic scenery.
Although not as famous as Caribbean ships, Pride of America is cozy, clean, and easily navigable. In fact, it feels more like a huge yacht than a cruise ship. Carrying 2000 guests, the interiors don’t necessarily look state of the art, but they don’t look dated either. I’d call them tasteful.
Like other cruise ships, Pride of America is currently sailing between 40-50% capacity, as the industry works to rehire the required guest-to-worker ratio. For now that means limited dining and entertainment options, and largely sold out sailings through the rest of this year.
Good thing Norwegian has exclusive rights to this itinerary through 2025. Interested passengers should know, however, that the average age of this cruise is 60. You’ll still find younger couples and families aboard, but if you’re hoping for late-night clubbing, you won’t find it here.
As for the food, I’d say both the included and specialty dining options were well above average, especially the main dining room. There were some misses, of course—most notably at the buffet. But those were easy to overlook with the incomparably scenery, itinerary, and sunny staff.
“Many Americans wait their entire lives for a trip to Hawaii,” one guide told me. I can’t think of a better way to introduce them to the greatest number of islands in the shortest amount of time than Pride of America.
PS: Which of the four islands did I enjoy most? That question is splitting hairs. They’re all Hawaii, and they’re some of the most impressive islands you will ever see.
Blake Snow contributes to fancy publications and Fortune 500 companies as a bodacious writer-for-hire and frequent travel columnist. He lives in Provo, Utah with his adolescent family and two dogs.