No visit to the Hawaiian Islands would be complete without getting on, into or at least near the water. So whether you like to get up-close-and-personal with marine life, hang- ten in your trendy surfer gear, or view the world from well, the ever-so-polite distance behind (or beneath) glass, there are more options than you can cover in one visit, regardless of your cruise's itinerary.
Here are our ten best picks for water sports options on a Hawaii cruise.
Where: Oahu's North Shore and Waikiki
Why: Surfing is the Big Kahuna of water sports in Hawaii, and lately - thanks to a flurry of surfing-related movies -- it has become popular all over again with the younger set. And while there is great surfing on Maui and Kauai, the true mecca for surfers is and will probably always be Oahu. The North Shore and Waikiki draw fans of the sport ranging from experts to first-timers. And don't be surprised to see kids out there, too.
Watch out for: Surfboards can cause rub burns, even after a two-hour lesson, so be sure to don a rash guard (most surf schools provide them).
How: Hans Hedemann Surf School offers six locations throughout Oahu, www.hhsurf.com. Hawaiian Fire Surf School takes would-be surfers to a secluded beach away from the crowds of Waikiki, www.hawaiianfire.com.
Marine life encounters
Where: Leeward coast of Oahu
Why: Patting dolphins in an enclosed area is all well and good, but how about swimming with (or more accurately, "near") small groups of spinner dolphins in the wild? You may also get eye-to-eye with a family of wild turtles. Check it out on the leeward side of Oahu, where, in winter, you can catch some of the best whale watching around.
Watch out for: Because these are animals in the wild, you need to listen to the guides and follow their instructions on how to behave in the water.
How: Wild Side Specialty Tours offers this unique program, drawing on its familiarity with the animals and their habitats, www.sailhawaii.com/wildside.html.
Why: Lanai Island, accessible by boat from Maui, draws scuba divers by the boatload because of its unusual underwater formations, known at the cathedrals.
Watch out for: When searching for a dive spot, the weather is a key factor. A good dive master will choose a location based on his or her knowledge of the area and other criteria, such as high winds and waves. The key is to be flexible and go with the flow.
How: Opt for a shore excursion or try an outfitter. Maui Dive Shop offers two-tank dives to Lanai three times a week, www.mauidiveshop.com. Ed Robinson's Diving Adventures includes a Lanai cathedral dive tour on Wednesdays, www.mauiscuba.com.
Where: Western Maui
Why: There is great snorkeling on all the islands, but if the tides and winds are just right, you can snorkel inside the rim of Molokini volcano - the crescent of which emerges from the water. The water is so clear that you can see the fish from the boat - including angelfish and maybe even a shark or two -- and the ride to and from the snorkel site is half the fun.
Watch out for: Thin skinned visitors should consider using a wet suit as the water is cooler than you'd expect for Hawaii.
How: NCL offers a West Maui Select Snorkel excursion that offers this experience. Other outfitters include: Maui Princess Cruises, www.mauiprincess.com,
Four Winds II, http://www.mauicharters.com.
Where: Hanauma Bay on Oahu's southeastern shore
Why: If you'd rather be in the water than floating on it, it may be time for snuba, a cross between snorkeling and scuba diving. A 20-foot air line, connected to a scuba tank and floating on a raft on the surface, allows you to breathe as you explore the colorful reefs and many varieties of tropical fish. Hanauma Bay is a great choice because of its 32,000-year-old reef teeming with undersea life.
Watch out for: Kids are welcome, even if they can't swim, but they need to be at least 8 years old.
How: Hanauma Bay, Hawaii Snuba Dive, 808 396-4229.
Where: Kauai's Huleia National Wildlife Refuge
Why: This is an easy river to paddle, with a lazy current and beautiful scenery. Best of all, the route winds along the area used in the Indiana Jones movies - complete with ropes where passengers can stop and swing into the water. If you have time, finish up at the 50-foot Papakolea Falls or opt for the shorter version, which ends through a short hike through nature trails.
Watch out for: While not a strenuous route, it is a relatively long one (an hour-plus), so you should be in moderately good condition. No children under 3.
How: A river kayak shore excursion offering this tour is available, or try Island Adventures, departing from Nawiliwili Small Boat Harbor, www.hawaiiactivities.com.
Where: the Big Island
Why: Spectacular ocean rafting options abound in the islands, but "Flumin Da Ditch" on the Big Island is something else entirely. The tour is a passive rafting experience through some 3.5 miles of the historic Kohala sugar plantation irrigation system via flumes and open ditches. Guides offer plenty of cultural and historical explanations along the way to make this a true eco-tour that will work for adults and kids.
Watch out for: There are no rapids in the flumes and the five-person boats are stable, but - be forewarned - you will get wet.
How: Try a packaged shore excursion or contact Flumin Da Ditch, www.flumindaditch.com.
Where: the Big Island
Why: Kona is considered the "billfish capital of the world." Take the challenge and try your hand at catching a 1,000-pound Pacific Blue marlin, otherwise known as a grander.
Watch out for: Even with an expert guide and the fish a'jumping, there is no guarantee that you'll catch the big one. Keep your expectations realistic.
How: Bite Me Sportfishing, a charter company based in Kona, boasts an award-winning captain (he caught the biggest marlin in 2000, weighing in a 723 ½ pounds) operating a 40-foot, twin-engine Uniflite vessel, www.fair-wind.com.
Where: Kauai's Na Pali coast
Why: Inaccessible by road, the best way to see this wild and scenic shoreline of Kauai is by boat. Choose a catamaran, sailing yacht or Zodiac - whichever fits your style and wallet - and see this undeveloped and beautiful region firsthand.
Watch out for: As with all boating, passengers need to follow safety guidelines, particularly as this is a rugged area.
How: Outfitters include Captain Andy's Sailing Adventures, which offers picnic and dinner sails, complete with snorkeling and, depending on the season, dolphin or whale watching, http://www.sailing-hawaii.com/info.html. Hawaii Fun Stuff offers a variety of vessels from Zodiacs to catamarans, www.sailing-hawaii.com/info.html.
Where: Sea Life Park, Waikiki
Why: Oahu's Sea Life Park is an interactive attraction where visitors can interact with dolphins and take underwater photos of marine life. You can even feed sea lions and get up close and personal with sting rays - under supervision, of course.
Watch out for: The dolphin experience is safe even for children, but pregnant women are advised to sit this one out.
How: Check out www.sealifepark.org for a list of activities and prices.
Where: The Maui Ocean Center, Maui
Why: Billed as the largest tropical aquarium in the Western Hemisphere, the center boasts everything from green sea turtles to sharks and sting rays (every animal on exhibit is local to the Hawaiian Islands). Don't miss the 54-foot tunnel that traverses the huge aquarium for the best under-water views.
Watch out for: Some shore excursions offer only an hour to visit the center, so consider going it alone -- you'll need at least two hours to do it justice, and there are free shuttle buses from the port.
How: Go on line at www.mauioceancenter.com for more information.
Where: Atlantis Adventures on Oahu, Maui and the Big Island
Why: Atlantis submarine rides are the perfect choice for marine life enthusiasts who want the thrill of an underwater dive while staying dry. The submarine rides take you to an underwater site 120 feet beneath the surface, where you can sit in comfort and watch the glories of the lava-formed reefs and colorful fish. Best of all, there are Atlantis submarine programs on all three islands.
Watch out for: The tour is wheelchair-accessible, as long as passengers can navigate a seven-step ladder into and out of the submarine.
How: For locations and additional information, check out www.atlantisadventures.com.