Thursday, February 19, 2009

Hawaii Shore Excursion Ideas for Cruisers

When I cruised the Hawaiian Islands last year, the shore excursions were definitely my favorite part. Just being on a cruise ship is already a great vacation, but it's hard to beat the Hawaiian weather and all the activities you can partake in while visiting the islands.

Today I'll talk about a few shore excursions you may want to check out if you book a trip to the islands (a couple of these I did personally and the others are on my for-next-time list since folks I talked to on the ship had a great time doing them). Here's the list:

Hawaii Shore Excursion Ideas

Helicopter Tours

The fact that the islands were formed by volcanic activity makes for a diverse topography that is truly inspiring. The helicopter tours are expensive ($200+ per person), so if you're trying to save money on your cruise, you may not want to fork over that kind of cash for the whole family, but I think it's definitely worth doing once.

You can take a helicopter tour on different islands, but most of the folks I talked to recommended signing up for the one in Kauai, and that's just what I did.

You get to see the Waimea Canyon, which is a fantastic lush and tropical version of the Grand Canyon. It's 10 miles long, one mile wide, and more than 3,500 feet deep, and it's truly majestic. The Kauai helicopter tour also takes in the impressive NaPali Coast, much of which is inaccessible by land because of the vast cliffs with their sheer drops of thousands of feet (you'll go by them on the cruise ship if you're visiting this island, but they're even better by air!). Lastly, I think Kauai is the island to take a helicopter tour on because so much of it is undeveloped and uninhabited. You won't be looking down on housing developments here.

A note on the helicopter tours... if you get even mildly car sick you probably get helicopter sick (I'm usually fine on airplanes, but this was the air version of driving along a twisty mountain road!). Take some Dramamine before you go. ;)

Zip Line Adventure Tours

If you're an athletic adventurous type (who isn't afraid of heights!), you'll enjoy the zip line adventures. All of them involve getting into a harness and sliding down a rope at top speed, through jungle canopies and the like. Some of them also have you climbing, swimming, and enjoying other adventures while you're at it.

One of the great things about the rigorous adventure tours is a lot fewer people go on them than the more sedentary sight seeing tours. (While cruises appeal to folks of all ages and lifestyles, physically fit adventure-seeking types are on the rarer side.) You won't have to wait for head counts and slow pokes, and the transportation isn't likely to be crowded.

Zip line adventures are common cruise shore excursions, but the beauty of Hawaii's treetops make it a particularly spectacular place for this type of adventure.

Volcano Hikes & Sight Seeing Tours

One of the unique things about Hawaii (as opposed to other popular cruise destinations) is not only that the islands were formed from volcanic eruptions but that land is actually increasing each year because the lava continues to flow!

There are quite a few shore excursion opportunities that allow you to hike out to the edge and see live lava plopping into the ocean.

Distances vary, so find a hike that's just at your level. There are opportunities for just about everyone to get up close and personal with the lava.

Kona Coffee Tours

Hawaii likes to boast about its Kona coffee, and if you're a fan of the stuff (or you're just looking for an alternative to all these "active" tours), then you'll enjoy touring the coffee plantations.

An example shore excursion takes you to the Holualoa Kona Coffee Estate where you can wander the grounds, tour the processing facility, watch (and smell) the coffee being roasted, and--of course!--sample the products.

Packages of Kona coffee also make nice gifts to bring home to the coffee fans in your life.

If you're looking for other island foods to see in their original growing habitat, look into pineapple plantation tours (Oahu) and the Hawaiian Vanilla Company (the vanilla farm is often packaged with the Holualoa coffee tour).

That's all I have time to write about right now. Some other Hawaii classics you may want to look into are surfing (duh!), snorkeling, and the Polynesian Cultural Center on Oahu.

If you've already visited Hawaii, feel free to list some of your favorite spots in the comments below!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Is Cruising Only for the Wealthy?

Before I took my first cruise, I had the notion in my head that cruising was a real luxury vacation (AKA something only wealthy and/or retired folks can afford). I'd heard of months-long around-the-world cruises and didn't know about all the very affordable week-long (and sometimes even shorter) cruise options there are.

There are even two-week and longer cruises that aren't out of the realm of affordability for many of us (of course, it can be harder to get away for more than a week when you're a regular, working stiff).

What I've since learned is that cruising can be a very affordable vacation, and it can actually cost a lot less than many other excursions. Certainly there are luxury cruise lines that cater to higher paying clientele (these ships are less crowded and less commercialized and mainstream), and if that's what you can afford and what you want, enjoy it!

But if you're just looking for a low-stress way to get a vacation, a cruise on one of the mainstream ships can be just the ticket. We had a bowling team cruising together on my last trip. It doesn't get any more "Middle America" than that. Maybe I should say "Middle Globe" because, depending on where you're traveling, you'll often be hanging out with guests from numerous countries.

Because meals, room and board, and transportation are all included, cruises make quite affordable vacations. In fact, the cruise lines are banking on you spending extra money on things that aren't included (alcohol, gambling in the casino, art auctions, exotic shore excursions, etc.), but if you don't go crazy on the extras, your trip can stay affordable.

Getting the best deals on cruises

While there are still travel agents who can help you book cruises, you can get great deals just by browsing about online. I booked my first cruise with a travel agent, but have since just used Travelocity. The last time I booked with them (late 2008), their rates ran about $30 cheaper per person than the rates posted on the cruise line's site (you can book online with your specific cruise line too).

The downside is that they didn't offer to create a package linking my flight, cruise, and transportation to and from the airport (something an agent will do for you). It's more of a barebones situation where you get to piece things together yourself. Still, it's possible to get exactly what you want this way (my parents did a package deal cruise to Hawaii and ended up with a layover halfway the opposite direction across the U.S., so it was a really long flight).

You can browse Travelocity for cruises more than a year out (though if you can get away "last minute," that can be a great way to get deals):

Visit Travelocity for Cruise Deals