I see and hear that question quite a bit. I think each person needs to choose what fits best with them. In general, if you want to be stress-free and don’t mind being in a crowd, then opt for the shore excursion. If you want a bit more adventure and privacy, then opt to do your own thing.
To help you make your decision, I’ve listed the pros and cons of booking excursions with the cruise line. Of course, you can assume the opposite applies for touring on your own.
Pros of Booking Packaged Cruise Ship Shore Excursions
- The tour will be perfectly timed with the cruise ship’s schedule, so you won’t miss your ship.
- You don’t have to do any researching.
- You don’t have to do any navigating and driving. You’re on vacation and along for the ride.
- You will have the benefit of a tour guide who provides the history and background of the significant spots.
Cons of Booking Packaged Cruise Ship Shore Excursions
- You’re sharing your visit to Hawaii with a bus load of people.
- You don’t have any freedom to stop for views and photos that catch your eye along the road. (Trust me, you will regret missing those opportunities.)
- You must keep to the tour schedule.
- You will pay more for excursions compared with the cost of renting a car and creating your own custom sight-seeing plan. For less than $50 you can rent a car for your entire family. Most shore excursions cost more than $50 per person.
Of course you are free to mix and match packaged shore excursions on the various islands. For example, you can take a packaged tour on Maui, but rent a car on Kauai.
If you are interested in renting a car on shore, Dollar Rent A Car has a presence on all the Hawaiian islands. At most of ports of call, you can arrange to have a free shuttle meet you at the harbor dock and take you to the rental car office. Hertz and Enterprise are two others that have free shuttle service from most ports of call. It is best to call and check for the most current offerings and daily rates.
MSN Travel and Pauline Frommer have also touched on the subject of whether to opt for the cruise ships’s excursion or not. I think Pauline gives some good advice of what cruisers should see and do on shore in Hawaii. Though on Kauai, I’d definitely suggest going to Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Parks instead of the botanical gardens. At Hilo, Pauline suggests going to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which I certainly agree with that suggestion. Though she mentions that you’ll see “plumes of steam greet you from where the molten rock is sizzling in to the Pacific.” Since June, the lava has not been flowing to the ocean. Lava flows are fairly unpredictable, so it is best to check with the official Hawaii Volcanoes Observatory for the most up to date lava flow activity.
If you decide that you’d like to plan your own shore excursions, then you will find some of the best picks of budget friend activities to do on each Hawaiian Island here.
Have you cruised to Hawaii? Did you opt for packaged tours or doing your own thing? What was your experience? Please share your comments.
Photo credit to TwoBrowns Photo Files on flickr.