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  • Waikiki-Beach-panorama - A wide shot of Waikiki Beach in Honolulu with Diamond Head in the distance.
  • Hanauma-Bay-Oahu - More than 1 million people from around the globe visit Hanauma Bay on Oahu each year. Visitors must watch a short documentary before entering the park.
  • Waikiki-Beach-sailing - Catamarans and sightseeing boats take off every half hour or so from one stretch of Waikiki Beach.
  • Aloha-Tower-Marketplace - Aloha Tower Marketplace and downtown Honolulu skyline at dusk.
  • Waikiki-Beach-volleyball - Guys play volleyball on crowded Waikiki Beach, one of the most famous stretches of sand on the planet.
  • sea-jellies-Waikiki-Aquarium-2 - "Take me to your leader": Sea jellies at the Waikiki Aquarium seemed to resemble creatures from another world.
  • USS-Arizona-Memorial-3 - An aerial view of the USS Arizona Memorial, visited by more than 1 million people each year.
  • Snorkeling-scene-Hanauma-Bay - The scene on Hanauma Bay, which attracts snorkelers lured by the rich coral reef.
  • boy-shark-exhibit-Waikiki - A boy watches a shark in a "Hunters of the Reef" exhibit in Waikiki.
  • Oahu-sunset - Sailboats skim the Pacific waters off the shore of Waikiki at sunset, as seen from Sans Souci State Recreational Park.
  • heron-Hanauma-Bay - An egret, a member of the heron family, in Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve Park on Oahu, which attracts a million visitors a year.
  • tiki-torches-Hawaii - Tiki torches at dusk in Waikiki, Oahu.
  • Iolani-Palace - Iolani Palace, the only royal palace in the United States. The palace is a four-story Italian Renaissance palace built by King David Kalakaua in 1882 in Honolulu.
  • Ponant-Hawaii-Honolulu.jpg - See the downtown skyline of Honolulu in style on a Ponant cruise.
  • Waikiki-Aquarium-shark-exhibit - Kids watch a shark in an exhibit at the Waikiki Aquarium.
  • USS-Arizona-Memorial - Visitors inside the USS Arizona Memorial in Honolulu. The memorial straddles the sunken hull of the battleship USS Arizona and commemorates the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
  • USS-Arizona-Memorial-2 - The USS Arizona Memorial marks the resting place of 1,102 sailors and marines killed during the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It's visited by more than 1 million people each year.
  • banyan-tree-Oahu - An otherwordly banyan tree — which resembles the spiritual tree in "Avatar" — in Sans Souci State Recreational Park, right off Honolulu's main drag.
  • Golden-Princess-Honolulu-Hawaii - Golden Princess at nightfall in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Honolulu port guide: Urban center & tropical playground

our guide

The vibe

Honolulu, Hawaii, the largest city and state capital of the Hawaiian Islands, is a montage of white-sand beaches, high-rise hotels and condominiums, with a myriad of shopping, dining and entertainment.

 

While it has a tropical ambience, Honolulu — and the entire island of Oahu — is the state’s political, economic, military, educational and cultural center. It’s an urban metropolis with a bustling downtown and attractions like museums, historic sites and performing arts.

Honolulu is all about taking time to reflect upon where you are in any given moment. You pass a park with broad, leafy banyan trees and detect the scent of a bamboo orchid that lingers in the air. You savor the taste of freshly caught seafood. You feel the sand beneath your feet while local musicians perform traditional music.  You take time to watch the sunset each evening and appreciate everything this place has to offer.

Cruise lines that call on Honolulu

Top reasons to go

  • Snorkeling and sun bathing at Hanauma Bay gives you a close up view of some of the many varieties of fish found in Hawaiian waters. You might even spot a sea turtle, if you are lucky.
  • Visit Iolani Palace, the only royal palace on U.S. soil.
  • Shop 'til you drop. Honolulu offers the most diverse shopping experiences in the Hawaiian islands.
  • Diamond Head State Park offers trails that lead to spectacular views of the Hawaiian coastline.
Sunset over Waikiki, Oahu.
Tor Johnson / Courtesy of Hawaii Tourism AuthoritySunset over Waikiki, Oahu.

Things to do & see

Waikiki Beach

Located on Oahu’s south shore, Waikiki is Honolulu’s tourism central. Once a playground for Hawaiian royalty, this is the city's main hotel and resort area, with dozens of properties located on the beach or within a short walking distance. World-class shopping and dining can be found along Kalakaua and Kuhio Avenues and at places like the Royal Hawaiian Center and the Waikiki Beach Walk. And when the sun goes down, there’s plenty of nightlife and live music.

Downtown Honolulu

For visitors who yearn for a taste of city life, downtown Honolulu is full of historic buildings, a thriving Chinatown, and several cultural attractions. This includes a gallery walk, where the area’s art galleries and museums stay open in the evening on the first Friday of every month.

An aerial view of the USS Arizona Memorial, visited by more than 1 million people each year.
Tor Johnson / Courtesy of Hawaii Tourism AuthorityAn aerial view of the USS Arizona Memorial, visited by more than 1 million people each year.

Pearl Harbor

This site was where America was attacked on Dec. 7, 1941, killing 2,403 soldiers and bringing the United States into World War II. Now a state park, the USS Arizona memorial resides above the wreckage of the sunken ship and is visitable by boat.

Best bets for dining

Like most of the regions in the Hawaiian Islands, Honolulu features restaurants that serve Hawaii regional cuisine made with farm-to-table ingredients and locally caught fish and seafood, with some menus adding an Asian flare to the fare. Hawaii also is known for its mixed plate lunches (and dinners) featuring a main dish, such as Hawaiian pork or chicken, with macaroni salad and rice. Another local dish is “loco moco” — a mound of rice topped with a hamburger patty, a fried egg and brown gravy.

Best time to go

Year-round, Honolulu’s climate is warm and mild, with occasional — and mostly brief — showers and an average temperature of 70 to 85 degrees, although the weather is a bit milder during the summer high season. Winter may get some rain, but it's still pleasant temperatures. While there is some humidity, trade winds keep the islands cooler than most other tropical destinations.

An otherwordly banyan tree — which resembles the spiritual tree in
 J.D. Lasica / Special to CruiseableAn otherwordly banyan tree — which resembles the spiritual tree in "Avatar" — in Sans Souci State Recreational Park, right off Honolulu's main drag.

Fun facts

  • The president of the United States, Barack Obama, was born in Honolulu in 1961 (sorry, Donald Trump!)
  • Unfortunately the King Kamehameha Club from the TV show “Magnum, P.I.” is fictional. In the early seasons it was implied that the club was located in the Waikiki area, a neighborhood in the south east of Honolulu.
  • Hawaii Five-O, both the TV show from the 70s and current show and named in honor of Hawaii’s status as the 50th State, was and is filmed in Honolulu and throughout the island of Oahu.

When you arrive

Docking information

Cruise ships dock at either Pier 11 at the Aloha Tower or at Pier 2. Both are in close proximity to each other with the Aloha Tower located slightly closer to the downtown area.

Getting around

Taxis are plentiful and work well for getting around Honolulu.

Oahu has a great system of buses, but experience riders understand that buses to some of the more popular sites fill up early in the route, so those buses may pass your stop.

Most visitors rent a car, but there are also shuttle services; and, once in Honolulu, you can take the TheBus, Oahu’s public transportation system. There’s also the Waikiki Trolley, which stops at most major attractions. Taxis are also available.

Free Wi-Fi

You’ll find so-called Hotzones in Honolulu, which is the city’s free wireless internet access service provided by the Department of Information Technology and and several private sector partners. This initiative is getting Honolulu on the top of “digital cities” lists.

Need to know

Store hours: Stores in Honolulu are typically open between 9 am and 7 pm every day during the week.

Tipping: A 10 to 15 percent tip on the restaurant/taxi bill is customary. Sometimes a tip is automatically added to your bill; check your credit card slip before adding additional tip.

 What to wear: You’ll be fine with casual wear all over Hawaii. A few finer restaurants might require jackets for dinner. Men will love this: An aloha or “Hawaiian” shirt is the perfect outfit (casual buttoned down or collared shirt) and can be worn at almost any event and occasion.

Safety: Honolulu is considered to be a safe place; the area seldom has any violent crime and most of the crimes committed are petty theft. Be aware that it’s a big city with all the same concerns as the rest of the United States. As always don’t flash cash around and stay in well-lit areas at night.

ShoreFox contributed to this guide.

Your take

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The Cruiseable editorial team consists of award-winning travel writers, cruise bloggers and journalists.

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Overheard

“Sip a mai tai (perfected here in 1944) at the Royal Hawaiian's Mai Tai Bar, preferably in a cabana by the beach.”

San Jose Mercury News

 

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