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Cruise Diva Goes Ashore in Hawaii
Sights to see & things to do

Oahu:  Honolulu, Waikiki & Beyond

Honolulu is a bustling city with skyscrapers, thriving commerce, bright lights, five-star restaurants, great shopping, and, thanks to television and feature films, some of the most recognizable scenery on earth. It may seem that every visitor to the island is vying for a sandy spot on Waikiki—the most famous of all Hawaii's beaches—but all the serenity of a tropical paradise is as close as a twenty-minute ride away.


When Hawaii became a state in 1959, the Aloha Tower was the tallest building on Oahu and the venerable Moana Hotel and bright pink Royal Hawaiian were the centers of tourism on Waikiki. As they have for decades, cruise ships dock at the base of the Aloha Tower, now the center of a harbor front marketplace. For maps and to find out what’s happening, pick up the literature that’s freely distributed and available on nearly every corner. Check out the bus schedules as well—public transportation around the island is cheap and easy to master. The open-air Waikiki Trolley also stops at the Aloha Tower and makes a loop around Honolulu and Waikiki, stopping at a dozen key sites. For one fare, riders can hop on and off all day long.

There's so much to see and do on Oahu, and it’s so spread out, that a rental car or guided sightseeing tour make sense if your ship is only in port for a day. For those extending their vacation with a pre- or post-cruise hotel stay, relax and “hang loose”—you have ample time to hit the highlights listed here and much more.

Near Aloha Tower (at Pier 7), the Hawaii Maritime Center traces Hawaii’s rich maritime past from the ancient Polynesians to the cruising days of the Matson Line. In downtown Honolulu, the Mission House Museum covers the startling cultural changes that took place when missionaries arrived in the islands in the 19th century. The Iolani Palace, built in 1882 by King Kalakaua, is a glorious monument to the Hawaiian monarchy and a must-see. You might recognize it from reruns of Hawaii Five-O.  

The Bishop Museum houses the world’s most extensive collection of natural and cultural artifacts from Hawaii and the Pacific. In addition to the exhibits, a daily hula show and craft making demonstrations make the museum a worthwhile stop. 

One of the most moving experiences of a lifetime is a visit to the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. Arrive early as crowds are huge and the wait can be from one to three hours. To pass the time, peruse the fascinating museum. Navy launches ferry visitors to the stark white memorial that spans the hull of the sunken vessel to pay homage to those who perished on the great battleship on December 7, 1941. The great warship seems almost to weep with her visitors as oil seeps to the surface of water and creates oily rainbows.

Another legacy of foreign wars, and a symbol of Hawaii’s importance in them, is the National Cemetery of the Pacific, also known as the “Punchbowl” for its location in the cone of a volcanic crater. 

Across from Waikiki Beach, the Honolulu Zoo at the entrance to Kapiolani Park is a favorite with families. Just across the street, the Waikiki Aquarium is located on a live coral reef. The Lyon Arboretum on Manoa Road occupies nearly 200 acres covered with botanical marvels from huge breadfruit trees to the most delicate orchids.

Around the island, scenery reigns as the main attraction. Plan to stop inside Diamond Head, the most recognizable of Hawaii’s natural symbols. Hiking to the top of the crater rewards hearty climbers with an incomparable view of Honolulu and Waikiki. A drive along the windward coast road passes the Holana Blowhole, Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden, the Polynesian Cultural Center, and beach after beach—each one more enticing than the last.

A drive along the Pali Highway through Oahu’s interior reveals a more peaceful face of the island. Restored by the Daughters of Hawaii, the Queen Emma Summer Palace is an interesting blend of Victoriana and symbols of Hawaiian royalty. Near the summit of Pali Highway, Nuuanu Pali Lookout is noted for its gale-force winds and breathtaking view.

On Oahu’s North Shore, the former sugar plantation town of Haleiwa is the capital of world-class big wave surfing. Designated as a historic cultural and scenic district, a walk through Haleiwa is a step back into the last century. This stretch of coast is home to Sunset Beach, Waimea Beach, and the infamous Banzai Pipeline, and when surf’s up it’s a fascinating show. This is where the surfers really "hang loose"! Don’t leave without trying a shave ice, one of Hawaii’s favorite treats. 


Top-drawer made-in-Hawaii goods and unique local crafts are found in dizzying profusion throughout Oahu. Over a thousand stores occupy space in the eleven major shopping centers and display everything from aloha wear and t-shirts to designer merchandise with posh European labels. Sift through the tacky to find treasures at Ala Moana Center, the Aloha Tower Marketplace, Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center, Kahala Mall, Ward Center and Ward Warehouse, and dozens of boutiques in the Waikiki resort strip along Kalakaua Avenue. 


Waikiki is a string of beaches that stretches from Duke Kahanamoku Beach on the west to Sans Souci State Recreational Area near Diamond Head on the east. It’s fantastic for swimming, bodysurfing, canoeing, sailing, snorkeling, or just sunning. Beyond Diamond Head, Sandy Beach and Makapuu Beach Park are popular bodysurfing beaches but are not recommended for swimmers. Instead, watch the experienced bodysurfers there and then head for Hanauma Bay’s clear, warm, protected waters to snorkel among the colorful reef fish. This beautiful beach can get crowded but it has complete facilities and is easily reached by The Bus or the Hanauma Bay Shuttle from Waikiki.

Further east along the Windward Coast are Lanikai Beach, Kailua Beach, and Kualoa Regional Park, all scenic and good for swimming. On the North Shore, stop at Malaekahana Bay State Recreation Area or Waimea Beach Park for swimming. When the surf begins pounding the North Shore in winter months, plan on watching the surfers but don’t get too close to the treacherous waves.

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