12 Hawaii Cruise Shore Excursion Ideas For Every Budget

Hawaii, USA By

Cruising the Hawaiian Islands for 15 days on the Carnival Miracle sounds like the perfect family vacation… and it is! Warm weather, swimming pools, endless buffets, sandy beaches and the Aloha spirit. 

And the best way to complement the memorable on-board experience is with shore excursions on each island. I’m sure you’ve been waiting for your big vacation to Hawaii, so if you’re able to, I recommend saving up and splashing out on once-in-a-lifetime activities.

But if your budget is tighter, don’t worry. Your family can still have a wonderful time. I’ve put together a few tips, hacks, and inspirational ideas from our recent Hawaii cruise… and your hip pocket will thank you for it (except for idea #9).

Hawaiian dancers at Old Lahaina Luau, Maui

Booking Activities

Some of these suggested activities can be booked through Carnival or you can go out on your own. It’s entirely up to you. If you want extra peace of mind then go through Carnival.

Here’s the reasons why:

-  Carnival compares all the available activities and choose the best operators.

-  Price match guarantee

-  If the tour runs late, the ship won’t leave without you

-  Easily search the Carnival website by price range, activity type, duration and minimum age.

Activities By Port

We covered a wide range of activities and attractions that will match anyone’s budget – ranging from just a few dollars to several hundred. The great thing about each port is there’s always something fun to do. Or if you don’t want to step off the ship you don’t have to. The buffet on Lido deck or Bacchus dining room is only an elevator ride away. Hmmmm… tough choices!

Price guide (USD):

$ - Less than $50

$$ - $50 to $100

$$$ - $100 to $200

$$$$ - $200+

Bacchus dining room… in case you change your mind

Maui (Kahului)

1. Take a road trip ($) - Hire a car at Kahului airport (book on RentalCars.com) - prices are as little as US$30 for the day (plus gas). Take the Hana Highway east (towards Hana) and enjoy one of the best scenic drives in Hawaii. Even if you only make it half way (like we did), it will still be worth the trip.

A few recommended stops: Ho'okipa Beach (surfing lookout), Twin Falls farm stand (delicious banana & pineapple smoothie), Halfway to Hana (home of the “original” banana bread), Haipuna'ena Falls (go for a swim), Huelo Lookout (beautiful views & a fruit stand). 

Driving on Hana Hwy
Ho'okipa Beach
Huelo Lookout fruit stand
Huelo Lookout view

2. Old Lahaina Luau ($$$)– Since you’ve already got the rental car, drive to the west side of the island for an unforgettable night of roasted pork (cooked in a traditional underground oven), spellbinding sunset views, fun hula lessons, traditional crafts, delicious buffet, and a world-class show. If you’ve never been to a luau before, you’ll be in for a treat!

Mia learning a Hawaiian dance
Amazing traditional dancing and songs

See more activity ideas in Maui…

Oahu (Honolulu)

3. Scuba diving ($$$) – We took to Hawaii’s warm water with Kaimana Divers. After earning our diving certificates in Mexico, this was our first open-sea dive “on our own”. The instructor and captain were friendly and very helpful, ensuring we remembered all the important safety procedures. Free drinks were provided on board. We enjoyed 2 dives in locations known as “Nautilus” and “Horseshoe Bend”. If you have kids over 10, help them get up close to amazing reefs and sea creatures. Or you can leave younger kids playing happily in Camp Ocean (kids club) on the cruise ship.

Getting geared up, ready to dive

4. Shopping (free, unless you pull out your wallet) – take a taxi to Ala Moana Center, the world's largest open-air shopping centre with more than 340 shops and restaurants. Most days there is free live music and hula dancing performances. Check out their website for details and times.

Honolulu skyline

See more activity ideas in Oahu…

Kauai (Nawiliwili)

5. Kalapaki Beach (free) – Catch the free shuttle bus from the cruise ship terminal to the nearby beach precinct. Stroll through a few small shops and restaurants and then relax on the sandy beach or splash amongst the waves.

6. Shuttle to Kmart (free) – Ok, so this is a bit strange for a shore activity in Hawaii, but I’ll be honest… we wanted to stock up on snacks! And the shuttle was free. Tip: while you’re not allowed to bring drinks on board the cruise ship, food snacks are perfectly fine.

If you manage to get off the ship at a reasonable time (unlike us) take the time to explore the beautiful Wailua Falls (either via rental car or a tour – a 16-minute drive). Kauai is definitely one island I have to visit again!

See more activity ideas in Kauai…

Big Island (Kona)

7. Atlantis Submarine Tour ($$$) – Dive! Dive! Dive! See a different side of Kona… 100 feet below the surface. This 45-minute journey ventured into the deep blue where we were greeted with hundreds of fish and haunted shipwrecks. Our kids loved the laminated picture guide to help identify fish whilst the humours guide delivered laughs all round. Tip: Get 1 child under 13 free with a paying adult.

Can you spot the skeletons on the shipwreck?

8. Shaved ice (few dollars) – Nothing says “Hawaii” more than shaved ice. We grabbed a rainbow-coloured ice treat and smoothie at Ali’i Buzz Natural Café. Yum!

Rainbow happiness
Yep, that tastes as good as it looks
Beach shack in Kona

See more activity ideas in Kona…

Big Island (Hilo)

9. Helicopter tour over volcano ($$$$) - If you’re going to splash out on any 1 shore excursion on this Hawaiian cruise, this is it. It’s not cheap by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s an experience that stands out as one of the best I’ve had in my life (and I’ve explored over 70 countries!). We caught a taxi to airport (about US$17) and checked in with the tour operator. The open-door helicopter soared 100 feet above Hawaii’s most active volcano, Kilauea. I could feel the heat radiating from the otherworldly landscape below. And the pinnacle of the tour was flying over the lava flow at Kamokuna. Read my full article for more details. Tip: Try to score a free “car rental” return shuttle from the airport to the cruise terminal harbour.

Spot the red-hot pockets of lava
Volcanic steam venting from the crater
Lava flowing into the ocean at Kamokuna
Hilo from above

See more activity ideas in Hilo…

Mexico (Ensenada)

10. Walking around town (almost free) – We caught the shuttle to the city centre (cost only a few dollars each, return trip). We strolled the main street admiring the numerous pharmacies selling discount-priced Viagra and other medication, as well as local handcrafts and souvenirs. You can’t go to Baja California without eating fish tacos, so we grabbed drinks and tacos at Papas&Beer. Tip: if you’re not good with directions, drop a pin in Google Maps on your phone at the bus depot, so you can easily get back later.

Main street in Ensenada

11. Sea lions near ship (free) – If most of your vacation spending money is gone by this point in the cruise, don’t despair. Just join the honking sea lions near the cruise ship terminal. You can’t miss them since they’re so loud. Tip: Don’t get too close to the sea lions... your awesome selfie won’t be worth it if you end up in a Mexican hospital.

They might look like they’re snoozing, but don’t be fooled. Crouching sea lion, hidden dragon.

See more activity ideas in Ensenada…

Long Beach

12. Queen Mary ($) – Just because the Hawaiian cruise has finished, doesn’t mean your fun is over. The majestic (and now stationary) Queen Mary cruise ship is just a few minutes’ walk from the Carnival terminal in Long Beach. Take a tour around the historic ship or check out one of the special events held throughout the head. While we were there, the winter-inspired “Chill” event was on.

Carnival terminal on left (dome) and Queen Mary in centre

The Bottom Line

There are hundreds of options when considering shore excursions on your cruise to the Hawaiian Islands. But the good news is whatever your budget and travel style, you are sure to have a great time. Just remember to pack your smile and your aloha spirit. Happy sailing!

Reader Comments...

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