The classic port call involves arriving at the dock by 8 am and leaving around 4 pm, so a cruise that sails outside of those boundaries is refreshing.
I recently took a cruise that featured two overnights on a 7-day itinerary. That provided a lot more flexibility in the kind of shore excursions I could take and more ability to personalize those excursions.
But not every excursion was well-suited for personalization, which I’ll get to in a minute.
The cruise was aboard Norwegian Cruise Line’s Pride of America, which travels roundtrip from Honolulu to three Hawaiian islands – Maui, Hawaii and Kauai.
The first stop in Maui offered a chance to drive the road to Hana, a narrow, twisting scenic highway along the coast that takes at least three hours each way, with good conditions and moderate traffic.
Paddle boarders in Hana Harbor on the island of Maui, Hawaii. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst
We rented a car for the trip at the airport in Kahului. One of the keys to making an enjoyable trip out of the road to Hana is the ability to stop at your leisure to check out the sights or to take a break from the driving, which can be fatiguing.
We stopped almost before we started, for example, to get a good view of some surfers trying the waves. We also stopped for lunch at a collection of roadside food shacks where we got rotisserie cooked huli huli chicken, a Hawaiian specialty.
When we got to Hana, we chose to bypass the business district to head to the beautiful crescent-shaped harbor. All of those were spur of the moment choices, ones that we might not have gotten on a classic group tour.
By not having to be back to the ship at 4 pm., we gained the freedom to tailor our schedule without worrying about racing back on a road that is not really suited to racing anywhere. Driving in a car also was a much more intimate experience of the road than riding in a bus would have been. My wife gets carsick easily so being able to ride in the front seat, rather than in the middle of a bus, helped with that.
A second excursion in Maui would have also been impossible without an overnight stay – a trip before dawn to see the sunrise at the 10,000-foot peak of the dormant Haleakala volcano. I’ve seen plenty of great sunrises while at sea on a cruise, or pulling into a cruise port, but this may be the first sunrise I’ve ever witnessed on a shore excursion.
This excursion, I might add, was much better done as a group tour through the cruise line than it would have been had we kept the car and tried it ourselves. To start with, parking a car at the Haleakala Crater for sunrise requires a permit that has to be reserved online up to 60 days in advance.
In addition, there was no place at the pier to stash a car, so we would have had to find a remote lot and somehow fetch the car at 3 a.m. to get to the top of the volcano in time. And then there was the unfamiliar drive uphill in the dead of night, which I was happy enough to leave to the bus driver.
So two excursions, one on our own and one through the cruise line, made for a memorable set of adventures in Maui, neither of which would have been enjoyable or even possible, had the ship not stayed in port overnight.