If you’re searching for paradise on Earth, you don’t have to look much further than Hawaii and French Polynesia. From blue lagoons to fiery lava flows, lush jungles to towering waterfalls, Hawaii and French Polynesia make an excellent case for living every day of your life on “Island Time.”
These Pacific archipelagos are considered some of the most beautiful places on the planet, and we can’t wait to visit in 2020. In fact, we’re already dreaming of those endless beaches, breathtaking sunsets, and vibrant coral reefs that burst with color—absolutely no filter needed!
Are Hawaii and French Polynesia quickly climbing your list of must-visit travel destinations? Here are a few reasons we think they should make the top of your list! Read on to start getting excited about cruising to Hawaii and French Polynesia.
Ruggedly Pristine Parks
Natural beauty is all around you when you visit Hawaii and French Polynesia. Just a stroll along the beach could be enough to leave you speechless, but when you visit the State and National Parks around the islands, you’ll be in for a real treat.
Outside of Nawiliwili, on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, you’ll find the Wailua River State Park. If you get the feeling this park is straight out of a fantasy, you’re right! That’s because the park is home to Wailua Falls, which were featured prominently in the opening credits of the iconic television show, Fantasy Island. Many years ago Hawaiian men would climb to the top of this 173-foot waterfall and leap into the water below to prove their manhood, but today this practice has been made illegal.
Elsewhere on Kauai, you’ll find Waimea Canyon State Park. Affectionately nicknamed “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” Waimea Canyon is a geographical wonder. At 14 miles long and more than 3,600 feet deep, the canyon offers hiking opportunities for novice and experienced explorers alike. While you’re here, make your way to the Puu ka Pele and Puu Hinahina lookouts—these are the ideal spots to take in all the beauty of the canyon.
Of course, no discussion on the parks of Hawaii would be complete without mentioning the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Located 45 miles south of Hilo on the Big Island, it’s is home to some of the most active volcanoes on Earth—including Kilauea, which has been erupting consistently since 1983. Locals suggest these constant eruptions are caused by Pele, the unpredictable Volcano Goddess who lives in the area, though Park Rangers at this UNESCO World Heritage Site also have their own theories. You’ll learn more about these theories in greater detail as you travel through the park’s lush rainforests and volcanic deserts on our Hawaii Volcanoes National Park shore excursion. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of something very unexpected: snow. Flakes have been known to fall on the summit of Mauna Loa that soars high above sea level, but don’t worry, there’s no need to pack your parka!
If it’s awe-inspiring, take-my-breath-away views you’re looking for, this is the cruise for you. Hawaii and French Polynesia are home to turquoise waters, towering mountain vistas, and some of the most sugary white-sand beaches you’ll ever have the pleasure of coming across.
Arguably the most known landmark in Hawaii, Diamond Head can’t be missed during your visit to the island of Oahu. We mean this both literally and figuratively, as this mountainous sight absolutely dominates the skyline. A volcanic tuff cone crater known by native Hawaiians as Leʻahi, it was given the name Diamond Head by British Sailors who were convinced they discovered diamonds on a nearby beach (they were actually calcite crystals). If you ask us, taking in the sheer beauty of this US National Natural Landmark is worth more than any gemstone, and those sailors truly did strike it rich. Hiking Diamond Head will take you a couple hours, but the views it offers of both Honolulu and the Pacific Ocean make it worth every step.
Interestingly, the Diamond Head crater was once a popular site for music festivals. In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, the Diamond Head Crater Festivals routinely attracted upwards of 75,000 fans for performances by The Grateful Dead, The Rolling Stones, and more!
Over on Maui, you’ll find Hawaii’s signature scenic drive—known simply as the road to Hana. Slithering in a distinctly serpentine fashion along the northeast shore of the island, the road to Hana is home to unique landmarks at every (often hairpin) turn, just waiting to catch your eye. Along the way, you’ll feel the spray of towering waterfalls, cross nearly 60 bridges, descend into valleys, and catch glimpses of ancient temples. You may even find a secluded local swimming hole to take a dip and cool off! The best way to tackle this road is by joining us on our Road to Hana shore excursion, where we take care of the details while get behind the wheel and hit the road.
Not to be outdone, the island of Moorea in French Polynesia is where you’ll find Belvédère Lookout. The highest point on the island accessible by car, Belvédère Lookout is a must-visit spot for those chasing stunning panoramic views. From here, you can take in both Opunohu Bay and Cook Bay, as well as Mt Rotui, which keeps the two bays separated from one another. While not the most challenging climb on the island (that honor belongs to Mt Mouaputa), the views from atop Belvédère Lookout are worth the walk (or drive).
There’s nothing wrong with being a land lover, but it’s fair to say if you’re not exploring the waters of Hawaii and French Polynesia, you could be missing some of the best these archipelagos have to offer.
In Lahaina, visitors can travel 125 feet below the surface of the ocean in the Atlantis Submarine on one of our shore excursions. As you navigate the waters from the comfort of the Atlantis (which features air conditioning and large ports for viewing), tropical schools of fish and colorful coral reefs will present themselves. You’ll learn more about “Carthaginian II.” Once a steel-hulled sailing boat (as well as a whaling museum), it was intentionally sunk in 2005 to create an artificial reef that is now thriving under the surface of the Pacific.
Bora Bora is renowned as a snorkel and scuba diving paradise. It’s easy to explore deep blue lagoons and swim alongside dolphins, fish, and rays, or marvel at the brilliantly colored coral gardens hiding just below the surface. While you’re here, you can even take a walk underwater on an Aquasafari! Swimming is one thing, but setting foot on the floor of a blue lagoon and walking amongst native flora and fauna is an absolutely unforgettable experience.
If you’d rather do your ocean exploration from the comfort of a boat, there are plenty of opportunities for whale watching. The waters off Maui are especially ideal for catching a glimpse of majestic (and massive) humpback whales. Humpbacks migrate to these waters annually to give birth to their calves, and during your visit, there will be opportunities to see male whales compete for the affections of females, as well as mother humpbacks nurture their babies and prepare them for life in open waters. Join us on our whale watching excursion, and you’ll hear the whales communicate with each other, thanks to a little help from an underwater hydrophone.
On our 15-Night Tahiti & New Zealand Voyage, the Cook Islands’ port of Rarotonga offers even more amazing opportunities to catch a glimpse of humpback whales. In 2001, Cook Islands declared its surrounding waters as a whale sanctuary, a move that has earned the country kudos and accolades from around the world. Thanks to these initiatives, it’s not uncommon to see humpbacks in the waters that surround Rarotonga. Actually quite the opposite—many travelers have been able to see these whales breaching the surface of the water from the shore!
There’s no mistaking that the natural beauty of Hawaii and French Polynesia make them popular destination for many, but they’re also hotbeds of history certain to capture the imagination of any traveler with an interest in the past.
In Pearl Harbor (off the shores of Honolulu on the island of Oahu), is the USS Arizona Memorial. Built to commemorate the Pearl Harbor attacks that catapulted the United States into World War II, the memorial pays tribute to the servicemen who lost their lives on December 7, 1941. The USS Arizona Memorial had been built directly over the sunken midsection of the USS Arizona, and is only accessible by boat. Visitors can actually see what remains of the USS Arizona, thanks to large cutaways inside the Memorial that provide bird’s-eye views of the Pennsylvania-class battleship beneath the waves.
The island of Oahu is also home to Iolani Palace. As the only royal palace on US soil, Iolani served as the official royal residence of Hawaii’s monarchy from its construction in 1845 under Kamehameha III of the Kamehameha Dynasty, until the overthrow of Queen Liliʻuokalani of the Kalākaua Dynasty in 1893. Today, the palace has been meticulously restored to its 19th-century grandeur and is recognized as the spiritual and physical multicultural epicenter of Hawaii. Visitors to the palace can take a guided tour to learn more about its fascinating history, or visit at their own pace on a self-led audio tour. While visiting, stop by the basement gallery exhibits to get a closer look at centuries-old treasures from the royal collection.
If Polynesian history stokes the flames of your curiosity, the Bishop Museum will leave you captivated. Visitors and locals alike have been known to refer to the Bishop Museum as the Smithsonian of the Pacific—an assessment that continues to prove apt. Founded in 1889 by Charles Reed Bishop, the museum is a tribute to his late wife, Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop. Originally built to house the Princess’s impressive and extensive collection of Hawaiian objects and heirlooms, The Bishop Museum has since expanded to include over 24 million artifacts and treasures from many Pacific island cultures—all helping to tell the story of these people and how they are intrinsically linked. Be sure to visit the J. Watumull Planetarium during your time at the Bishop Museum to explore the skies over Hawaii and learn about ancient Polynesian navigation techniques. You can even get a copy of a daily star map to help you identify constellations once the sun goes down.
On the island of Moorea in French Polynesia, immerse yourself in island history as part of our Culture & Traditions of Moorea excursion. Learn about flourishing local flora with a botany expert as you make your way toward Toatea Lookout. Then, spend time with a welcoming local family who will share their history and island way of life with you. Enjoy a traditional Polynesian meal together, then learn the secret to creating your very own flower lei—the perfect souvenir for you island adventure.
Set Your Watch to Island Time!
Paradise isn’t far away. In fact, it’s waiting for you in the Pacific! Join us on an upcoming cruise to Hawaii and French Polynesia and say “Aloha” to the beauty, history, and tranquility that awaits.
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