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Voluptuous women swaying in grass skirts, raging waves dotted by tan surfers on sleek boards, deserted beaches framed by swaying palms, fresh pineapple served alongside roast pork at a rocking luau: Whatever you envision when you think of Hawaii, it's accessible by cruise ship -- and right here in the United States.
The eight major Hawaiian Islands are volcanic, each created from at least one primary volcano. And each is different, with distinct climates and attractions -- an aspect that makes cruising there even more appealing. On a given sailing, you might sail by the dramatic cliffs of Kauai's Napali Coast, sunbathe on Honolulu's bustling Waikiki Beach, reach the volcanic summit of Maui's Haleakala Crater and taste some of the world's best coffee in the verdant hills above Kona.
A voyage to Hawaii presents a tricky situation for cruise lines: To comply with passenger shipping laws, foreign-flagged ships (which most cruise lines have) cannot sail an entirely U.S.-based itinerary without calling in at least one foreign port. Norwegian solved the problem by launching Pride of America, a U.S.-flagged ship with an American crew, which can sail exclusively in the islands; this move was not without added cost and headache to the cruise line, as it initially struggled to solve service issues and attract passengers. Most other major cruise lines fulfill the requirement by sailing out of Vancouver on repositioning sailings, hitting up Ensenada on roundtrip cruises from the North American mainland or visiting Hawaii on longer transpacific sailings.
Regardless of whether you opt for a short or long itinerary, Hawaii is bound to overwhelm you with its bounty of attractions and activities. Because a cruise can only give you a quick taste of island life, don't be surprised if you return home and start planning a longer land vacation to your new favorite port of call.
It's one of the most common cruising questions: When is the best time to cruise Alaska, Australia, the Caribbean, Canada/New England, Hawaii, Europe or the South Pacific?
The answer depends on many variables. For example, fall foliage enthusiasts will find September and October the best time to cruise Canada/New England, whereas families prefer to sail in summer when temperatures are warmer for swimming. The best time to cruise to Alaska will vary depending on your preferences for viewing wildlife, fishing, bargain-shopping, sunshine, warm weather and catching the northern lights.
For most cruise regions, there are periods of peak demand (high season), moderate demand (shoulder season) and low demand (low season), which is usually the cheapest time to cruise. High season is typically a mix of when the weather is best and popular travel periods (such as summer and school holidays).
However, the best time to cruise weather-wise is usually not the cheapest time to cruise. The cheapest time to cruise is when most travelers don't want to go because of chillier temperatures or inopportune timing (too close to holidays, the start of school, etc.). But the lure of cheap fares and uncrowded ports might make you change your mind about what you consider the best time to cruise.
As you plan your next cruise, you'll want to take into consideration the best and cheapest times to cruise and see what jibes with your vacation schedule. Here's a when-to-cruise guide for popular destinations.