Just Back From a Hawaii Cruise: What It's Like Post-Natural Disasters and 5 Reasons to Visit Now

October 9, 2018
Na Pali Coast

(11:48 a.m. EDT) -- Volcanoes. Hurricanes. Tropical storms. With all these terms floating around in the headlines of stories about Hawaii the past several months, it's no wonder travelers are a bit skittish about visiting. But there's good news: Hawaii is safe and thriving.

This isn't breaking news, but it's news we want to reiterate because we don't feel it has been given enough attention, and Norwegian Cruise Line -- whose Pride of America is the only ship to offer Hawaii-exclusive itineraries year round -- agrees.

"The media do a tremendous job when there's excitement," said Andy Stewart, Norwegian's President and CEO. "But when everything calms down, and normalcy returns, it's radio silence."

The silence has been so deafening that bookings have seen a slight slump due to concerns over the current state of the islands.

Cruise Critic just returned from a weeklong Hawaii cruise on Pride of America, and we can assure you this gorgeous place is more striking and welcoming than ever. Below we'll give you a breakdown of five breathtaking experiences that will make you want to visit the Aloha State now (if Norwegian Cruise Line paying for your flights to Honolulu isn't enough of an incentive). But first, we'll offer a recap of the disasters' scope and what it's like in the destination currently.

Flightseeing tour over the Kilauea volcano

What Happened

The state of Hawaii comprises eight islands: Oahu, Maui, Hawaii/Big Island, Kauai, Niihau, Molokai, Lanai and Kahoolawe. Of those, the Big Island of Hawaii was the most affected.

Home to the Kilauea volcano, which experienced a series of eruptions that began in May 2018, the Big Island lost hundreds of homes to lava that spread so far it increased the size of the island by more than 500 acres and created several new black-sand beaches.

As the volcano's activity began to settle, several islands experienced air quality issues, due to residual ash; Tropical Storm Olivia paid a visit; and Hurricane Lane flooded parts of the Big Island and left residents there and on Oahu without power.

What It's Like Now

Electricity was quickly restored, flood waters have receded, ash has dissipated, and nearly all businesses are back up and running, including ones offering shore excursions and shopping to cruise passengers. Just last week, too, the United States Geological Survey downgraded the volcano alert level, following more than 30 days sans active lava.

In fact, there's not much at all to indicate the devastation Hawaii saw just a couple short months ago -- a testament to the locals and their resilience.

Powerful waves wash up on pristine beaches where surfers do what they do best, juicy pineapples adorn expertly prepared food and drink, prehistoric landscapes evoke sheer wonder, and welcoming locals make every visitor feel like ohana (family).

Hawaiian dance performance

Top 5 Experiences That Will Make You Want to Visit Hawaii Now

1. Flightseeing Tours Over the Volcano: There's no better way to conquer a fear than to stare it right in the face. That, and scenery that stops your breathing for a second, are what make flightseeing so incredible. On our third day in Hawaii, we boarded a seven-person helicopter on the Big Island and flew directly over -- and disturbingly close to -- the mouth of Kilauea's crater. From first-hand experience, we can tell you that, although it's still steaming from the incredible heat beneath, there's no active lava in sight. On a sadder note, we also flew over many of the homes that had been swallowed up by the eruption, lending a sense of perspective to just how mighty nature can be.

2. Scenic Cruising Past the Na Pali Coast: After we left the Big Island en route to Kauai, our sailing included a scenic cruise past the one-of-a-kind Napali Coast, complete with informative narration. Sheer cliff drop-offs, wild waves crashing against red lava rock and rolling, rippling, serrated valleys of bright green vegetation are just some of what make this "Jurassic Park"-esque area something you have to see to believe.

3. Indulging in Local Fruit: It seems minor, but Hawaii is basically the mecca of exotic fruit: starfruit, dragonfruit, guavas, papayas, mangoes and, of course, pineapples. (You haven't had a pineapple until you've had a Hawaiian pineapple.) Whether you tour a local farm and enjoy a tasting or wander into the local organic grocery store to give them a try, you're sure to be impressed. What's hot right now? We're told the mangoes are particularly sweet this season, and after a taste-test, we couldn't agree more. (Note: Although we were able to bring fruit back onto the ship with us, we're told we aren't able to take it back to the continental U.S. after our flight home.)

4. Soaking Up Sun on the Beaches: If you're a beach bum, you've come to the right place. Sparkling blue waters and sands of all colors make a day of sunbathing and swimming a delight, and there's a beach within walking distance or a short Uber ride of most major tourist areas. We learned that all beaches in Hawaii -- even those near hotels and resorts -- are public and open to everyone. We also learned that, if you're not a local and are hoping to surf, you can only do so in certain places, as you'll likely be boxed out of the morning lineup by those more experienced. In Hawaii, surf chops have to be earned.

5. Meeting the People: Even after our many years of travel, we'd be hard-pressed to find locals more welcoming to visitors than those of Hawaii. They are proud, disciplined people who still, above all else, value family, nature and the traditions that surround them. The best part is that they're eager to share their customs with us. From ancient legends and rituals to dances and cuisine, continental Americans could learn a lot from their Pacific brethren. In that vein, we greatly enjoyed a trip to an old sugar plantation, where we saw examples of local art, enjoyed some traditional Hawaiian food and watched hula and fire dancers perform to tell the story of their ancestors.

--By Ashley Kosciolek, Editor