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With a cosmopolitan population of 950,000, Honolulu is Hawaii's largest city. It also is the hub of cultural, educational, political, dining, shopping, business and entertainment activities in the Aloha State.
After Captain James Cook put the Hawaiian Islands on the map of the world in 1778, Honolulu became an increasingly important stop for ships traveling between America and Asia. First came fur traders, who made fortunes exchanging otter pelts from the Pacific Northwest for teas, spices and silks from China. Later, fragrant sandalwood became such a prized commodity that Island forests were nearly stripped clean of it. Then came the whalers, who plied the seas relentlessly in search of the gentle giants that were the source of rich oil.
Around 1843, recognizing the importance of the harbor to local commerce, King Kamehameha III moved the capital of Hawaii from Lahaina, Maui to Honolulu, and it has held that designation ever since.
Honolulu Harbor bustles with activity every day of the week. Fishing boats, tugboats, tour boats, container ships, cruise vessels and barges berth at its piers. A mega-ship, NCL's Pride of America, even homeports year-round in the harbor (at Pier 2). Its centerpiece, Aloha Tower Marketplace, is a trendy shopping, dining and entertainment complex that sprawls over 11 waterfront acres. This is your jumping-off place for an unforgettable Oahu stay.
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Other Hawaii Cruise Ports:
Fanning Island • Hilo • Honolulu • Kauai • Kona • Maui
Popular choices include items handcrafted from native woods (from bowls to sculptures to jewelry); bags and baskets woven from coconut fronds and the leaves of the hala tree; Niihau shell and seed lei; Hawaiian quilts; Island attire (aloha shirts and muumuu for the ladies); coffee table books; CDs featuring the music of local performers; artwork; bath and beauty products imbued with tropical scents; and food (teas, jams, jellies, chocolate-covered macadamia nuts, and Island-grown pineapple and coffee). Stores in or near downtown Honolulu that specialize in made-in-Hawaii gifts include Native Books/Na Mea Hawaii (808-596-8885), Martin & MacArthur (808-524-6066), Nohea Gallery (808-596-0074) and Island Keepsakes (808-550-0996). If you're visiting Honolulu in August, you'll also find quality local products at the Made in Hawaii Festival at Neal Blaisdell Center (808-533-1292 x3).
English is spoken everywhere.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
Numerous banks are located in downtown Honolulu. Hours are generally 7:30 or 8:30 a.m. to 3 or 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday, with hours extended to 6 p.m. on Friday. Most offer foreign exchange services.
Where You're Docked
Most cruise ships dock at Piers 10-11, adjacent to Aloha Tower Marketplace. NCL's Pride of America, which is based year-round in Honolulu, cruises from Pier 2, about a quarter mile south of the marketplace. As a general policy, Aloha Tower Marketplace management will provide courtesy shuttle (trolley) service to port call visits at Pier 2.
With almost 30 stores and 8 restaurants, Aloha Tower Marketplace is a great place to pass some leisure hours. In addition, you can check out the following activities and attractions, all located at Honolulu Harbor, just a short stroll from your ship.
Aloha Tower: The 10-story tower was the highest building in Honolulu when it opened in 1926. On the top floor, the observation deck reveals a breathtaking view of Honolulu Harbor. It's open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily and admission is free. Piers 10 and 11 (808-566-2337).
If you're up for more cruising, Navatek (800-548-6262) and Star of Honolulu (800-334-6191) offer memorable excursions off the coast of Waikiki. From December through April, humpback whales are an additional attraction. The boats are docked at Piers 6 and 8, respectively.
Taxis line up curbside at Aloha Tower Marketplace adjacent to Piers 8 and 9. Rental cars are available, too. Companies that run shuttles between the pier and their lot include Enterprise, Thrifty, Dollar, Hertz and others.
TheBus, Oahu's excellent mass transit system, covers just about the entire island of Oahu. Fares are $2.50 for adults, $1 for seniors (65-plus) and $1.25 for kids from age 6 through 17 (older teens may be asked to show their high school identification card as proof of age). Visitor passes, allowing unlimited travel on all routes for four consecutive days, cost $25. Boarding locations will vary, depending on your destination; call for more information (808-848-4444).
Reminiscent of San Francisco's famed cable cars, the Waikiki Trolley operates more than 50 trolleys on three lines. The Red Line stops at 13 sights in Honolulu, including Chinatown, Iolani Palace and the Aloha Tower Marketplace. The Green Line travels along the eastern coast to Waikkiki Aquarium, Diamond Head Surf Lookout and other scenic stops. Green and Red sandwich the smaller Pink Line, which emphasizes shopping and dining. Free brochures detailing the routes are available online or at the Waikiki Trolley's information kiosks at the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center and Ward Warehouse. Daily fares are $25 for adults and $13 for children aged 4 through 11, including unlimited reboarding. Four- and seven-day passes are also available (808-593-2822).
Honolulu's Chinatown district is roughly bordered by King, Smith, Beretania and River streets. The Hawaii Heritage Center offers tours on Wednesday and Friday at 9:30 a.m. Cost is $20 per person (no reservations are needed; groups of 20 or more can book any day of the week by calling 808-521-2749). The Chinese Chamber of Commerce conducts tours on Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. Cost is $5 per person (808-533-3181).
Foster Botanical Garden (50 North Vineyard Boulevard, 808-522-7066)is an urban oasis featuring 4,000 species of tropical flora. The venue is often used as a site for weddings and other special events. Guided tours are available Monday through Friday at 1 p.m. Admission is $5 per person, $1 for children aged 6 through 12 and free for visitors under 6.
Hawaii State Art Museum (No. 1 Capitol District Building, 250 South Hotel Street, Second Floor, 808-586-0900) features select works from the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts' eclectic collection are displayed in changing themed exhibits.
Hawaii State Capitol (415 South Beretania Street, 808-586-0178) is the heart of the state's political system. The imposing structure emulates a volcano, with the legislative chambers on either side shaped like cinder cones and the surrounding pools suggesting the ocean that embraces the Hawaiian Islands. Visitors can take self-guided tours Monday - Friday, 9 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Dubbed the "Carnegie Hall of the Pacific," Hawaii Theatre (1130 Bethel Street) opened on September 6, 1922, as the most lavish venue in Honolulu. Tours, usually offered Tuesday at 11 a.m., include a mini organ concert. Cost is $10 per person. Call 808-528-0506 for general information about the theatre and current performances.
Reflecting the opulence of the royal courts of Europe, Iolani Palace (364 South King Street, 808-522-0832) was the residence of Hawaii's last reigning monarchs, King Kalakaua and Queen Liliuokalani. Construction was completed in 1882; 11 years later, the Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown. Tours -- self-guided and guided -- are available Tuesday through Saturday. Guided tours cost is $21.75 for adults and $6 for children aged 5 through 12. Self-guided tours are $14.75/$6. Kids younger than 5 are not allowed on the guided tour.
Dating back to 1842, the stately Kawaiahao Church was built with more than 14,000 coral blocks quarried from reefs off Honolulu. It has been the site of numerous notable events, including the marriage of King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma. Services in English and Hawaiian are held at 8 and 10:30 a.m. every Sunday (957 Punchbowl Street, 808-522-1333).
Learn how Hawaii's first missionaries lived at Mission Houses Museum (553 South King Street, 808-531-0481), a complex of original 19th-century dwellings, including a white frame house that was pre-cut in Boston, shipped around Cape Horn and assembled in 1821. Tours are set Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. (every hour on the hour). Cost is $10 for adults, $6 for kids age 6 to college (with ID) and free for children under 5.
Washington Place (320 South Beretania Street, 808-586-0240) is the former home of Queen Liliuokalani. It's been the official residence of the governor of Hawaii since 1921. Free tours of the historic mansion are scheduled Thursdays at 10 a.m.; among the treasures visitors can view is the Queen's koa piano (she was a gifted musician and composer). Reservations for the tour must be made 48 hours in advance.
Been There, Done That
Farmers' Market: Produce, flowers, baked goods, beef, seafood, cheese, fruit preserves, snacks, seasonings and more -- all made or grown in Hawaii -- draw huge crowds to the Farmers' Market, held on Saturday mornings at Kapiolani Community College in Kaimuki, 4303 Diamond Head Road.
Celebrate First Friday: On the first Friday of each month, more than a dozen galleries in downtown Honolulu stay open until 9 p.m. to celebrate local art in all mediums. Be on hand for new exhibit openings; meet the artists; watch hands-on demonstrations; and enjoy refreshments, talks and live music. Free maps are dispensed at participating venues.
Make a feather lei: Although it was practiced throughout Polynesia, the ancient art of featherwork reached its zenith in Hawaii. At Aunt Mary Lou's Na Lima Mili Hulu Noeau (762 Kapahulu Avenue, 808-732-0865), you not only can purchase hatbands, hairpieces and other lovely feather items, you can learn how to make them. Cost applies for an initial two-hour lesson; supplies are extra. First-timers should call in advance to schedule their lesson.
Visit the home of an heiress: Built in the late 1930s on five gorgeous acres overlooking the ocean and Diamond Head, elegant Shangri La was the home of the reclusive heiress and philanthropist Doris Duke. Striking architectural features and more than 3,500 treasures from throughout the Islamic world (including marble screens, tile panels, ceramics, textiles, carpets and paintings) are the highlights of tours which are offered Wednesday through Saturday at 8:30 and 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Reservations are required. Cost is $25 per person; this tour is not appropriate for children under 12.
Getting face-to-fin with sharks: North Shore Shark Adventures (808-923-3483) whisks you three miles from Haleiwa Harbor on Oahu's North Shore to meet Galapagos, sandbar, gray reef, hammerhead and tiger sharks ranging in size from four to twelve feet. You'll descend into the sea for a close look at these fearsome creatures, all the while perfectly safe within the confines of a seven-foot-tall barred cage. Tour times are 6, 8 and 10 a.m. and noon. Cost is $96 per adult, and $60 for kids ages 3 to 13 and. If you prefer, you can just ride along in the boat and observe other tour participants' shark encounters for $60/$35. Kids under three can ride in the boat for free.
At the Port
Set pierside, the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant (Aloha Tower Marketplace, 808-599-4877) offers salads, sandwiches, pizzas and pastas all washed down with German-style lagers brewed on site. Not to be missed: hummus and goat cheese salad with salmon served over warm herb flatbread; beer battered fish and chips with malt minegar and spicy remoulade -- and wake-up-your-palate garlic fries. Also serves dinner.
In Downtown Honolulu
Note: Be aware that some of these establishments are only open on weekdays; call ahead before going.
Legend Seafood Restaurant (100 North Beretania Street, 808-532-1868) is a popular Chinese eatery known for its dim sum, which loyal customers swear is as good as anything you'll find in Hong Kong. Servers roll carts filled with steamed, baked, fried and roasted delicacies by your table, and you select whatever strikes your fancy. Also serves dinner.
Bring the family to Benihana of Tokyo (Hilton Hawaiian Village, 2005 Kalia Road, 808-955-5955) for a great teppan-yaki meal and show! Right at your table, as he prepares your meal, your chef will juggle salt and pepper shakers, flip gleaming knives and catch lemons in his apron with the confidence and charisma of a consummate showman. Benihana is open for lunch and dinner.
Buca Di Beppo (1030 Auahi Street, 808-591-0800) celebrates the hearty cooking of Southern Italian immigrants. It's a place where you can smell the marinara sauce before you reach the door and where conversation and laughter often drown out the background music. Dishes are served family style in two portion sizes: large, for four to six people, and small for couples or threesomes. Our mouths are watering just thinking about chicken cacciatore, eggplant parmigiana, spaghetti with meatballs and veal marsala. On the way to your table, peruse the photographs of famous Italian-Americans that adorn the walls, including Joe DiMaggio, Frank Sinatra and Sophia Loren.
The big draw at the Oceanarium (Pacific Beach Hotel, 2490 Kalakaua Avenue, 808-922-1233) is the three-story, 280,000-gallon aquarium that's home to more than 70 species of tropical marine life, including black-tip reef sharks, spotted eagle rays, ulua (crevalle) and wrasses. The fish are fed by a diver several times per day. All the buffets are good, but we usually opt for Sunday brunch, which offers a seafood bar (who can resist fresh oysters and mussels on the half shell?), prime rib seasoned with Hawaiian salt, made-to-order omelettes, Belgian waffles and table after table of other goodies. Serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch.
In or Near Waikiki
Hau Tree Lanai (New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel, 2863 Kalakaua Avenue, 808-921-7066) is an alfresco restaurant with an idyllic setting -- beneath a spreading hau tree right on San Souci Beach. The food is also good. Choose from a nice selection of sandwiches, pastas, fresh island fish, and vegetarian dishes and salads. Also serves dinner; with lights twinkling in the branches of the hau and the rolling Pacific providing soft background music, it beckons to lovers.
Kakaako Kitchen (Ward Centre, 1200 Ala Moana Boulevard, 808-596-7488) adds a gourmet twist to standard lunchwagon fare. The venue serves hamburger steak, shoyu chicken, beef stew under the direction of Chef Russell Siu of 3660 on the Rise fame. Don't miss the daily specials or the desserts (we always make a beeline for the bread pudding and coconut mochi). The prices are reasonable, too; most plates fall in the $10 to $15 range. Also serves dinner.
Even the most avid shoppers will agree lunch at the Pineapple Room (Macy's, Ala Moana Center, 1450 Ala Moana Boulevard, 808-945-8881) is worth an hour's break from an all-day spree. James Beard Award winner Alan Wong oversees a talented team that turns out innovative options such as kalua pig BLT on an onion bun from a large open kitchen. The adjacent Patisserie Bar is a "must" stop for anyone with a sweet tooth. Also serves dinner.
Located in a congested Moiliili residential area, The Willows (901 Hausten Street, 808-952-9200) is a one-acre oasis brightened by lush gardens, tropical flowers, cascading waterfalls and koi-filled ponds. There's buffet dining only here. Lunch features prime rib; roast turkey; steamed fresh catch; a saimin station; Hawaiian mainstays like laulau, kalua pig and lomi salmon; and the restaurant's signature chicken or shrimp curry. Many of the desserts are cut in bite-size portions, so you can try as many as you want, guilt free! Also serves dinner.
These acclaimed restaurants are all within a half-hour drive of Honolulu Harbor.
Chef/owner Russell Siu's food at 3660 on the Rise (3660 Waialae Avenue, 808-737-1177) has been described as "a delicate blend of European, Pacific Rim and Island-style cuisine." All you need to know is it's fabulous. Tip: If you can't decide on an entree after perusing the enticing menu, you can't go wrong with the 3660 medley, which combines beef tenderloin, chicken and a catch of the day. And whatever you do, don't miss the signature appetizer: ahi katsu, sashimi-grade ahi wrapped in nori (seaweed) and deep fried medium rare.
Only Alan Wong could turn an obscure Moiliili locale into a mecca for discerning diners. Winner of the 1996 James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef in the Pacific Northwest/Hawaii, Wong is unquestionably one of the stars of Hawaiian Regional Cuisine, which promotes the use of fresh locally grown produce, seafood and meats. Menu highlights at the eponymous Alan Wong's (1857 South King Street, third floor, 808-949-2526) include seafood cakes; ginger-crusted onaga; chopped ahi sashimi & avocado stack; Maui Cattle Company rib steak.
In 2003, it was chef/proprietor George Mavrothalassitis' turn to snare the James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef in the Pacific Northwest/Hawaii. Editors of Gourmet magazine singled out his eponymous restaurant, Chef Mavro (1969 South King Street, 808-944-4714), as "where we would eat if we had only one night in Honolulu." Dine here and you'll agree the accolades are well deserved. Menus change seasonally. Prix four- and six-course menus are available with or without wine.
La Mer (Halekulani Hotel, 2199 Kalia Road, 808-923-2311) is the epitome of fine dining in Hawaii; it is the state's longest consecutively ranked AAA's five-diamond restaurant. You'll enjoy spectacular views of Diamond Head and Waikiki and the soothing sounds of la mer, the sea, as you dine on dishes inspired by flavors from the south of France.
Elegant and Luxurious:
Halekulani, 2199 Kalia Road, www.halekulani.com.
Kahala Hotel & Resort, 5000 Kahala Avenue, www.kahalaresort.com.
Big and Splashy:
Hilton Hawaiian Village, 2005 Kalia Road, www.hiltonhawaiianvillage.com.
Sheraton Waikiki, 2255 Kalakaua Avenue, www.starwood.com/hawaii.
Hyatt Regency Waikiki Resort & Spa, 2424 Kalakaua Avenue, www.hyattwaikiki.com.
Ilikai Waikiki, 1777 Ala Moana Boulevard, www.ilikaihotel.com.
Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort, 2552 Kalakaua Avenue, www.marriottwaikiki.com.
The Royal Hawaiian, 2259 Kalakaua Avenue, www.royal-hawaiian.com.
Sheraton Moana Surfrider, 2365 Kalakaua Avenue, www.sheraton-hawaii.com.
Royal Garden at Waikiki, 440 Olohana Street, www.royalgardens.com.
New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel, 2863 Kalakaua Avenue, www.kaimana.com.
Staying in Touch
These locations in downtown Honolulu and Waikiki can connect you to the world:
For those in need of a computer, try Da Internet Cafe (Kuhio Village Resort, 2463 Kuhio Avenue, Waikiki, 808-923-2088).
Honolulu Coffee Company (Bishop Square, 1001 Bishop Street, downtown Honolulu, 808-521-4400) offers Wi-Fi.
Shore excursions that include these activities and attractions are sure bets.
Best Choices for Nature Lovers: Great options include Hanauma Bay, Pali Lookout, Halona Blowhole, Diamond Head, North Shore beaches, Atlantis submarine tour, Waimea Valley Audubon Center.
Best Choices for History Buffs: Try the Pearl Harbor (USS Arizona Memorial, USS Missouri and USS Bowfin); Historic Honolulu (Iolani Palace, Mission Houses Museum, Kawaiahao Church, Mission Houses Museum, Chinatown); National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific; U.S. Army Museum; Hawaii's Plantation Village; Queen Emma Summer Palace
Best Choices for Active Travelers: Hiking, biking, snorkeling, surfing, kayaking, windsurfing, horseback riding.
Best Choices for Aficionados of Art and Polynesian Culture: Bishop Museum, Bishop Museum at Kalia, Honolulu Academy of Arts, Contemporary Museum, Polynesian Cultural Center.
Best Choices for Families: Honolulu Zoo, Waikiki Aquarium, Hawaiian Waters Adventure Park, Kualoa Ranch, Sea Life Park, Dole Plantation.
Highly recommended: Roberts Hawaii Private Day Tours
For More Information
On the Web: Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau and
Cruise Critic Message Boards: Hawaii