My husband (John) and I recently took our son, DIL, and (most importantly!) our two preteen grandchildren on a 15-day holiday cruise to Hawaii aboard the Crown Princess. We picked this cruise because of the itinerary and the fact that we had large credits from the canceled cruise segment of our Alaska cruise/tour (three of us tested positive for COVID-19 at the last lodge), which had to be used by September, 2023.
Despite some problems with our onboard accounts and the Medallion App, the entire family had a fantastic time on the cruise. Our headaches mainly came, not from Princess, but from our efforts to rent cars in our four island ports.
John and I had cruised to Hawaii with Princess in 2004 on a similar itinerary. We again reserved rental cars for touring the islands and foolishly thought it would be as easy now as it was back then. In 2004, car rental agencies had regular shuttles to and from the various ports. Apparently the pandemic has drastically altered that. We saw a shuttle only in one port and that was only for one car rental group. Taxis were also hard to find in some ports, as were Ubers/Lyfts. We had to scramble to do our planned touring via car.
Hilo was the next port. No agency had six-passenger vehicles (according to their web sites), so we again had two cars reserved. Based on our experience in the previous port, we did not expect to see rental car shuttles taking people to airport to find their cars and we were correct. We also did not see a plethora of taxis at this port. Our group of six tried to find one or two Ubers to get to the airport, but Uber could not come into the port area. We walked away from the port to the Keaukaha General Store parking lot. After quite a while, we actually succeeded in getting an Uber, but it could only fit three of us. We decided to take it and return in our rental cars to retrieve the rest of our group. It would have been nearly a 3.5 mile walk to get a car if we had opted to take a hike instead of an Uber.
When we got to the airport, miraculously, there was no line. Even more miraculously, they said we could switch to an SUV that would hold six instead of getting two cars. (It turns out this was more miraculous that we knew. Two days later we spoke with other passengers who ended up spending hours at rental agencies at the Hilo airport and could not get a car at all. It seems our timing must have been perfect. Who understands the whims of the car rental gods?) Having had enough of miracles, Thrifty did not have information on one of us in their system so the other person got to drive. This was despite the fact that both are Blue Chip members.
We had a great time enjoying Hawaii Volcanoes National Park! After our drive, we had to reverse the process of dealing with the car. We dropped four outside of the port and took the vehicle back to the airport. It took a little while to find someone to check us in, but eventually we succeeded. We then got an Uber back to the port with not much effort. We did not see many taxis. There was no hint of any car rental shuttle back to the port.
Kauai was our first stop. Disembarkation lines were horrendous at all the ports, but especially here because everyone was anxious to enjoy Hawaii after five days at sea. We arrived two hours late due to sea conditions. The port time couldn’t be extended to make up for the missed time because cruise ships can only enter and exit the harbor in daylight.
The port was a real zoo as far as acquiring our rental cars (two for our six-person group since no agencies on Kauai indicated they had minivans or other six-passenger vehicles). There was long line of people trying to get taxis or mall shuttles. We actually saw perhaps two taxis and an occasional shuttle. What we did not see was a shuttle to the rental car agencies (which were at the airport—over a two-mile walk) despite the fact that there was a sign that indicated where to wait for them. We tried Uber, but they were not responsive. After a wait of about 30 minutes and trying to decide what to do, a shuttle from Avis/Budget showed up and was mobbed. Our rental was with Thrifty, but we thought we could switch to Avis once we got to the airport since we had not prepaid. Avis had a long line and we could see the Thrifty shop nearby so we walked there. The Avis people were not happy with us. It turned out Thrifty also had a long (and slow) line. Due to personnel shortages, there was no expedited service for Thrifty Blue Chip customers (which we are).
We eventually got our two cars (after about 30 minutes in line). We noticed minivans on the lot, but they said none were available to rent! We collected our groups and did a quick drive to the sights. We returned four people to the port and the two drivers drove back to the airport. The cars were dropped off and again there was no shuttle to the port (except Avis, but we did not want to test their anger again). We finally got through to Uber and the driver said he was basically the only full-time Uber driver on Kauai. We also gave a ride to another guy who flagged down our Uber because he recognized the car; we split the cost with him. He had actually managed to get this same Uber (the only Uber!) from the port to the airport for his rental car earlier. Old web posts had indicated that car rental shuttles would be available; the pandemic seems have to have stopped that. Even so, Thrifty had regular and frequent shuttles to the airport (actually just a few minutes away). They could have sent an occasional one to the port for their customers! They told us to take the shuttle to the airport, where we might have been able to get a taxi to the port. What a convoluted set-up! If we had known ahead of time, two of us could have walked to get the cars and then driven back to pick up everyone up.
Kauai is gorgeous but we had little time to enjoy it. We only had enough time to drive to Waimea Canyon State Park and visit two of the overlooks before we had to head back to the ship. Note that many Hawaii State Parks now impose parking fees for non-residents; for Waimea Canyon the fee is $10 per car plus $5 pp, credit card only.
The third port was Oahu. Again, the standard car agencies showed no availability of any vehicles sufficient to hold our group of six. Fortunately, we found Lucky Owl on the web and they had a six-passenger van. Lucky Owl is a family-owned business that rents cars and things like surf and boogie boards. It’s not at the airport like other agencies, but in a light industrial area. They provide a shuttle to and from the airport, but not from the cruise port (none of the standard car places have a cruise port shuttle either). Fortunately, taxis were plentiful at the Honolulu cruise terminal, so two of us trundled off to get our car. This would have been a ridiculous 4.5 mile jaunt on foot!
The vehicle was not showroom fresh, but the people at Lucky Owl took extensive photos and video to document the various dings and dents. They were really professional and nice. After our drive, we dropped four of our group at the port and returned to the Owl. We easily got an Uber back to the port.
Of our four Hawaiian port calls on this trip, this was the easiest as far as car rental. However, Honolulu has big city traffic to contend with! Also be aware that to visit the Arizona Memorial, you need to reserve tickets in advance. There is some chance of same-day visits, but there are lots of people who want to go so plan ahead. Check their website as to when tickets will be made available and get them that same day. Ship excursions will not provide tickets to this memorial. Oahu is popular and we had some troubles parking at various roadside attractions.
Our last Hawaiian stop was Maui. Our ship docked in the industrial port of Kahului instead of tendering into Lahaina due to construction work at the Lahaina dock. This was actually better for us. While Lahaina is charming, tendering is a pain and time consuming. Kahului is much closer for driving to the Road to Hana and Haleakala.
We had a car reserved with Thrifty (this was the only port we visited where national chains offered a six-passenger vehicle on any car rental web site), but they no longer provide a shuttle to and from the port. We did not know this prior to our trip, but, this being the fourth port where we had planned to get a rental, we knew the hurdles. Fortunately, Maui is popular enough that there are plenty of taxis. There was a smoothly operating taxi line at the port (unlike Kauai and Hilo!) and we took one to the airport. There are actually a couple of car rentals places in close walking distance from the port, but we did not care to use them because of bad experiences in the past. On the other hand, there seem to be no good car rental experiences these days. Thrifty would have been about a three-mile walk and there was also a decent bus connection here. But we were happy with the quick taxi ride.
Our taxi driver said we would have to take an airport trolley to the car rental mall, but we could see it as we drove past. We opted to walk/jog on the clearly-marked path to the car places, reasoning that everyone on the trolley would be in competition for a spot in line at some agency (probably ours!). This was a good choice. The car places were less than five minutes away with our quick pace. There was already a substantial line at Thrifty and it got longer when the next trolley arrived. As was typical on this trip, there was no benefit to being a Blue Chip member (usually you can just walk up and get in your car!). It took at least thirty minutes to get to the head of the line. Patience is a virtue except when you know the ship will leave you and you have things to see! I was also not happy that the agent tried to up sell me insurance for the car when my paperwork already indicated that my credit card covered that. After all the paperwork, they told us to take any vehicle in row nine. There was exactly one vehicle, an SUV, in row nine. The rest of our party had to walk some distance from the port to the Maui Village Mall to wait for us since private vehicles are not allowed into the port area.
We drove to the top of Haleakala on a wonderfully clear day! The views were spectacular—we could even see snow-capped Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on the Big Island in the distance. And we did a tiny bit of the Road to Hana. We were fortunate that we did not attempt to do more because we hit a traffic jam on our return to Kahului. We dropped off four at the mall near the port and two of us went back to the airport. There were plenty of taxis and we snagged one for our return. We actually recognized some other cruisers on the way back to the port. They were walking back from the car rental shops at the airport.