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UnCruise Hawaii Review: How to Spend a Week in Paradise

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When most people go to Hawaii, they pick an island, choose a beachfront hotel, and call it done. But you’re not most people, are you? 

If you’re considering UnCruise in Hawaii, you already know you want more from your Hawaiian vacation than a tan and a Mai Tai hangover – though you can certainly have both during your Hawaii UnCruise experience! Doing an UnCruise to Hawaii lets you sample the history, culture, and adventure experiences of several different islands. You’ll also enjoy the creature comforts of a cruise – including great food inspired by your surroundings.

UnCruise Hawaii Review Hero

I’ve already done an UnCruise in Alaska back in 2017, which I loved for the solitude and scenery. When I partnered with UnCruise again – this time to cover their itineraries in Hawaii –, I was expecting the same. Instead, I had a completely different experience. I glimpsed the rich history and heritage of Hawaiian culture. I went snorkeling more times than I ever imagined. And I had an ultimately relaxing trip that made me feel like I actually saw Hawaii – instead of just a resort. This feeling (of actually seeing the destination) was what I truly loved about my trip in Alaska, and why I said it was the #1 way I recommend people cruise in Alaska.

Read on to learn more about cruising with UnCruise to Hawaii` and the other islands and my UnCruise Hawaii review. I’ve shared as many thoughts, details, and photos as possible to give you a real insight. I also end with some final thoughts that will hopefully address any lingering questions you have. Let’s set sail!

Best of all, I’ve got an UnCruise discount code! If you want it right now, use code VAL500 to get $500 off per person on your UnCruise Hawaii adventure… but if you still need to be sold on the experience, read on.

In this post, I promote travel to a destination that is the traditional lands of the Kō Hawaiʻi Paeʻāina (Hawaiian Kingdom) people. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.

This post was originally published in May 2019, and was updated in April 2023.
All prices and itineraries should be accurate for the 2023 season.

The UnCruise Hawaii Itinerary

As of 2023, UnCruise offers one main itinerary in Hawaii.

Hawaiian Seascapes is a one-way cruise, starting from either Molokai or the Big Island and ending on the opposite island. In between, you’ll visit Maui and Lana’i too. This itinerary is offered from November through May annually; in March/April 2019, I went on this Hawaiian Seascapes itinerary in the Molokai to the Big Island direction.

So how much does UnCruise in Hawaii cost? Cabins for a Hawaii UnCruise start at $6,200 per person, based on double occupancy. You can also reduce your UnCruise Hawaii cost by booking during ‘Wave Season’ each winter – UnCruise typically offers discounts per person based on specific dates or itineraries (especially in other destinations where they offer more than one itinerary).

An Average Day on Your Hawaii UnCruise

Before I launch into the day-to-day details of my experience with UnCruise Adventures in Hawaii, I wanted to give a quick rundown of how an average day onboard might look:

  • Start with exercise on the top deck or a leisurely cup of coffee on the bow of the ship.
  • Enjoy breakfast and learn about the day’s activities from your Expedition Leader.
  • Head out on the morning’s excursion – usually, this is snorkeling in a new place, or with new creatures!
  • Come back to the ship for lunch.
  • Head back off the ship – usually for one of the islands – for a cultural experience or free time in town.
  • Re-board the ship for dinner and an evening talk about one of the biology or culture topics you’ve experienced.
  • Rest easy in your cabin before starting all over tomorrow.

Now, let’s dive into the specific activities and experiences Mr. V and I had on our Hawaii UnCruise so you can get more of an idea of what this actually looks like.

Day-by-Day Itinerary with UnCruise to Hawaii

On the Hawaiian Seascapes itinerary, here’s a little more insight into what each day might be like. Be aware that your experience will not be identical – the crew will always adjust the itinerary based on the weather, the wildlife, and more.

Day 1 – Embarkation

UnCruise Hawaii - Safari Explorer

On Embarkation Day, Mr. V and I flew from The Big Island to Molokai, where we were set to embark in the late afternoon. We spent most of the day on tiny Mokulele Airlines planes, hopping from Hawaii to Maui to Molokai. After a short wait in the hospitality area, we transferred to our home for the next week: Safari Explorer.

Day 2 – Molokai

Our first day aboard the Safari Explorer… wasn’t aboard the Safari Explorer! I’ll admit – I was actually surprised and a little put off that the first excursion was land-based. That is dramatically different than UnCruise in Alaska, where the boat was central to our experience 95% of the time.

So yes, we boarded a big van, driven by Danny Trejo-esque Molokai local, Hans. We wove along the two-lane roads to the eastern part of Molokai, arriving at Halawa Bay in the mid-morning. There, we met Uncle Pilipo and his son Brian. Their families are among the last original residents of this area – and they believe that the first Hawaiians settled in their valley centuries ago.

UnCruise - Day 2 - Halawa Bay

We spent the morning with Brian and his father, learning about their customs, including the traditional greeting. In this, you share ha, the breath of life, by pressing your foreheads and noses together.

It was an intimate and uniquely effective ice-breaker for our group. Some then split off for a hike; the rest of us stayed to learn more about traditional Hawaiian culture. We learned about the history of the island, the great tsunami in 1946, and how to pound poi traditionally.

For dinner, we went to the Meyer Sugar Mill, which is now a museum, where locals served us an outrageously diverse spread of traditional Hawaiian food, including poi, poke, and seaweed salad. We watched a traditional hula demonstration and listened to live Hawaiian music – including a sing-along circle at the end. This day of cultural immersion set a very different tone for the rest of the cruise than my Alaska UnCruise; I’ve commented more on this below in my Final Thoughts section.

Day 3 – Molokai & Lāna’i

We set sail from Molokai early; at 4am, the Safari Explorer engines rumbled to life and woke me up. Instead of trying to sleep, I went to the bow of the ship to watch the Milky Way fade as the sky brightened before dawn.

Even before the sun rose above the towering slopes of western Maui, I started to spot whale spouts in the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary between our ship and Molokai. The sky was awake, and the whales were awake too. We watched mothers and calves surfacing in almost every direction, their shiny backs and misty bursts of exhalation punctuating a quiet morning on the water. We were underway! What’s more – our odds of seeing wildlife were looking superb.

We made our way across the calm waters off Molokai, prompting Expedition Leader Jess to choose a less common spot for our first snorkeling excursion: a ‘coral garden.’ Staff encouraged us to explore a large area keeping an eye out for different varieties of coral including endemic species.

Back aboard the Safari Explorer, swimsuits secured to the railing outside our cabins, we sailed onward to Manele Harbor, the main port on Lāna’i. We boarded skiffs into town, where we split up: most went to explore Lāna’i City while a small group of us went to an unusual attraction I simply couldn’t skip: Lāna’i Cat Sanctuary.

The sanctuary was founded in 2004 to help control the feral cat population on Lāna’i, as well as to protect ground-nesting seabirds. Now, the Lāna’i Cat Sanctuary is home to over 600 cats!

After kitty time, we met up with the rest of the passengers and made the small hike to Pu’u Pele Rock. This sea stack is a popular attraction on Lāna’i with a well-woven folktale of love and loss to explain its name. Expedition Guide Lauren guided a large group of us to an overlook and shared the sad story of Princess Pele. Back down the hill, back along the sandy track to the harbor, back aboard the Safari Explorer for the night. 

Day 4 – Off the Coast of Maui

Another day, another snorkel! (It’s a theme in this itinerary!) We started with a dip off the coast of Maui;  we saw loads of urchins, some fish, and even a sea turtle! (So many exclamations!)

Back aboard, we adjusted our course and plans due to rough waters off the southeast coast of Maui, and spent the afternoon whale watching. A mother and calf pair demonstrated some surprising and extensive fluke and fin slapping for us early in the afternoon. Then it got very quiet for a couple hours, until…

A young Humpback whale decided to make the most intimate and awe-inspiring visit to the Explorer, rubbing its nose and belly right up to the boat! It circled us several times, looking up at us tiny humans (even the crew!) gawking and holding our cameras precariously off the decks. It even breathed right next to us – does that mean we shared ha (the breath of life)?!

Knowing there was not much which could top that experience – possibly ever again in life –, we made our way back to the coast to set anchor for the night.

Day 5 – Maui

Hello, Honu! After another night anchored off the coast of Maui, we rose to great news: our snorkeling spot for the day was the Turtle Cleaning Station. What’s that, you ask? This snorkeling spot is where Green Sea Turtles congregate naturally to be cleaned by small fish that eat the algae off their shells. While there’s no guarantee you’ll see honu here, it’s one of the most likely places on the whole UnCruise Hawaii itinerary.

We were in luck! I’ll admit, my ability to tell turtles apart is limited, but I’d guess we saw a dozen different honu during our hour in the water. I also spotted a black-tipped reef shark down in the depths.

In the afternoon, we skiffed to Lahaina Town Harbor for some time on land. Mr. V and I walked around a bit, souvenir shopping and looking for a delicious, cool treat (or two!). We opted for shaved ice and frozen pineapple – and settled on a beautifully carved Maui’s Hook to bring home and add to our art collection.

Overnight, we made the crossing from Maui to Hawaii. This crossing – over the ʻAlenuihāhā Channel – is the roughest part of the cruise, and I’ll admit I didn’t get a great night of sleep with the rocking, creaking, and engine noises. I try to be a seafarer like Mr. V, but I’m just a landlubber at heart!

Day 6 – Off the Coast of Hawaii

For the morning excursion, we had a choice: kayaking or skiffing. Mr. V and I split up: he went kayaking and then stand-up paddleboarding, while I took the skiff. We visited sea caves and learned about the history of ancient Hawaiians on this part of the Big Island.

Our afternoon was a quiet ‘Critter Cruise,’ which is to say I took a nap on the top deck. I was definitely working on this trip, but I know an opportunity to have a mini-vacay when I see one!

But what about snorkeling, you ask? Never fear – we did that! Our day ended with Mr. V’s most anticipated excursion: the night snorkel with manta rays. After a chat by enthusiastic Manta Mark, we wetsuited up and boarded the skiffs for a controlled and regimented swim with the rays. 

Like all wildlife, there’s no guarantee you’ll see the rays – but like our luck on every other day of the itinerary, we did! Several huge manta rays made swooping arcs through the water underneath us as they fed on the plankton gathering in beams of light on the ocean floor. 

I’ll admit: I was scared. I don’t love deep water, I’m afraid of the dark (yes I know I love stargazing – it’s a conundrum!), and I don’t like big sea creatures. However, this was a “manta-stic” experience I highly recommend bucking up for. Mantas are among the safest large creatures to snorkel with, since they’re filter feeders and have few natural predators due to their size. 

Day 7 – Hawaii

On our last full day, we did the snorkel-town double-whammy. We were actually old hat at that by the end! Our morning snorkel was in Kealakekūa Bay, where Captain Cook was killed in 1779. This area is now a marine reserve, and home to the greatest diversity of fish we saw on the whole trip.

To reach Kealakekūa Bay, we transferred to a local guide company. Our pontoon captain, Colin, was a firecracker and made the 45-minute ride to and from the Bay a real treat. We looked for sharks and whales on the way, and took an extended, meandering, often high-speed journey up the coastline on our way back to the Explorer. My only complaint from the day was that I got severely sunburned because the excursion ran long… but I’m a grown adult who knows I need sunscreen every 15 seconds, so I’ll take the blame on that.

In the afternoon, we skiffed into Kailoa-Kona, one of the biggest towns on The Big Island. After a desperate shopping trip to buy aloe at CVS, Mr. V and I had drinks and coconut shrimp at a waterfront restaurant with a view of the harbor. 

Our last night aboard the Safari Explorer included one final blow-out dinner, extra drinks for almost everyone, and a slideshow of photos shot by the crew of our week-long paradisical adventure. Some of the photos in this post were taken by the crew. I’ve credited UnCruise accordingly because they helped capture moments when I was ‘in it’ and unable to photograph.

Day 8 – Disembarkation

UnCruise Hawaii - Safari Explorer
Photo by UnCruise

Leaving an UnCruise is always bittersweet – perhaps that’s why most guests are repeat sailors! We awoke, packed our bags, and had one last breakfast before disembarkation on The Big Island. Like my Alaska UnCruise, our itinerary began and ended at different points: Molokai and the Big Island. This is why Mr. V and I had flown from Hawaii to Molokai for Day 1, and why we stayed on to have a few days on the Big Island

With a waving crew aboard the ship, we boarded the UnCruise-provided airport transfer bus and drove away from the Safari Explorer forever… or hopefully, maybe not! Having done two UnCruises, I’m sold on doing it again. (Baja? Costa Rica? Or maybe a new route if they open one!)

A Note on 2023 Itineraries

I noticed when updating this post for 2023 that the Hawaii Seascapes itinerary has changed a little bit. It now includes less time in Maui and more time on the Big Island – including a hike up Hualalai Volcano or into one of its lava tubes. I think this is a super cool addition to the schedule and makes me want to cruise with UnCruise in Hawaii all over again!

The Safari Explorer & UnCruise Hawaii

Some of the most common questions I get about my UnCruise Alaska review and experience are about the ship cabins and the food. I wanted to address those both on this cruise, so I took special care to document these aspects for you.

My Cabin Aboard the Safari Explorer

It’s important to state upfront that a ship’s cabin is not going to be as spacious or luxurious as a hotel room – unless you choose to rent a mega-yacht or something. Aboard the Safari Explorer, Mr. V and I stayed in a Master class cabin, with a queen bed, ensuite bathroom, and plenty of built-in storage.

UnCruise - Ship's Cabin

It’s cozy, but it has everything you need – and you’re not going to spend much time in your cabin except sleeping. Your cabin linens are not thousand-thread-count – again, it’s more than enough to be comfortable for the week.

Shipboard Food on the Safari Explorer

Dude. I cannot rave enough about all the food I’ve enjoyed on UnCruise Adventures – both in Alaska and Hawaii. The chef (Mira) and pastry chef (Kiley) aboard the Explorer were queens of the galley, whipping up dishes I never would imagine possible on a small ship.

In particular, I want to call out chef Mira’s stunning vegetarian options. Since my UnCruise in Alaska, I’ve transitioned my diet away from meat (not entirely, but mostly), and I don’t love seafood, so I defaulted to the vegetarian dishes for most meals. From the best black bean patties I’ve had to a hearty curry that warmed me up after a chilly snorkel session – Mira made the vegetarian food as interesting (if not more) than the other options for each meal. P.S. Always try the dessert!

A second shout-out to Jess behind the bar. I loved trying the cocktails each day while cruising in Hawaii. Jess kept the tropical cocktails interesting, and her special Mai Tai was top-notch. If you plan to take advantage of the fully included drinks as part of UnCruise, you’ll be well cared for.

Final Thoughts on UnCruise Hawaii

UnCruise Hawaii - Valerie on the BOw
Photo by UnCruise

To wrap everything up, here are a few more thoughts to round out my UnCruise Hawaii review:

  1. found it hard to not compare my Alaska UnCruise with this one in Hawaii – and they offered totally different experiences. While Alaska offered the great solitude of the remote Wilderness with a diversity of adventure activities, Hawaii was more about cultural immersion with a narrower set of active options. My guess is that it’s safe to say every location UnCruise Adventures operates is going to have a different tone and style!
  2. In addition to the organized excursions (usually snorkeling or town time), Jess often let us do other activities at the end of each session. This included SUPing, taking the leap off the side of the ship, or just swimming in Hawaii’s deep blue waters.
  1. While snorkeling every day might have become tiresome, the crew did a great job of selecting snorkeling spots. Each had something different, including coral, urchins, turtles, mantas, and fish. This diversity made it worthwhile to suit up each day even when I was cold or tired.
  2. Speaking of the crew: it’s impossible to say enough nice things. Eternally cheerful and helpful, every member of the crew I met is critical to customer experience – and everyone rose to the occasion. Bravo, team!

If you’re sold on visiting, use code VAL500 to get $500 off per person on your Hawaii UnCruise (or any other UnCruise itinerary, including Alaska and Baja!).

Have other questions about my UnCruise Hawaii review? Let me know in the comments!

This post was produced in partnership with UnCruise. All activities and opinions are included at my own discretion.

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I was born on the East Coast and currently live in the Midwest – but my heart will always be out West. I lived for 15 years in Alaska, as well as four years each in California and Washington. I share travel resources and stories based on my personal experience and knowledge.


  • Lisa

    Loved your recap. I too am vegan, and no seafood in Hawaii- that somewhat deters me from taking the trip. How cold were you on the shop/ in the water? And how rocky was the water? What happens if there’s a storm during the week you’re booked?

    • Valerie

      Thanks so much – great questions.

      Yes, you should be able to eat vegan – they can definitely accommodate that as long as you let them know!
      For snorkeling, I was never cold on the ship, and I was only sometimes cold in the water… but most other people had no problem at all being cold.
      The water was totally calm with the exception of the main crossing, but that happens at night. I just took dramamine that night and snoozed through it.
      Lastly, if there’s a storm, the crew will do whatever they can to keep the activities and excursions as planned. You could always reach out to UnCruise directly for advise on which months are least likely to have storms.

      I hope you have a great trip if you go!

  • Jenn

    That cabin is the cutest!! Thanks for the full recap – I am not much of a cruise person (having only survived on 17-day Mediterranean one) but I like the idea of an un-cruise. I also haven’t been to Alaska yet, so maybe I should check that itinerary out.

  • Glenn

    we did an uncruise to alaska 4-5 years ago and it was excellent. i have seen some very unflattering reviews about the condition of the ship used for the hawaiian cruises — water and plumbing — and was wondering about your experience. additionally we do understand we will not be in our room but to sleep and one person’s cute is anothers tired, but a few reviews seemed to say the boat was old and showed its age. again just wondering about your experience.

    • Valerie

      Hi, Glenn! So I uncruised in 2019, and the ships do change… but my Alaska experience was aboard the Safari Endeavour and my Hawaii experience was aboard the Safari Explorer, and I didn’t notice in any difference in quality between the two. It looks like they’re still using the Safari Explorer, so it is five years older now than when I went, but I didn’t notice anything with the ship when I cruised! I hope that helps.

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