When most people go to Hawaii, they pick an island, choose a beachfront hotel, and call it done.
You’re not most people, are you?
If you’re considering an UnCruise in Hawaii, you already know you want more from your Hawaiian vacation than a tan and a Mai Tai hangover. UnCruise itineraries in Hawaii let 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.
I’ve already done an UnCruise in Alaska back in 2017, which I loved for the solitude and scenery. When I partnered with UnCruise 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 UnCruise in Hawaii and my experiences. 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!
UnCruise Itineraries in Hawaii
As of 2019, UnCruise offers two main itineraries in Hawaii:
- Hawaiian Seascapes
- Aloha Hawaii Adventure
Both of these itineraries are multi-island, 7 night cruises, but there are a couple differences in them.
Hawaiian Seascapes is a one-way cruise, starting from either Molokai or Hawaii and ending on the opposite island. In between, you’ll visit Maui and Lana’i too. This itinerary is offered in November and December 2019, and year-round from 2020 onward.
Aloha Hawaii Adventure is a round-trip cruise starting on Molokai. It does a round-trip loop from Molokai to Lana’i then Maui and onto Hawaii – and then back to Maui and Molokai. This itinerary is only offered in July and August 2019.
In March/April 2019, I went on the Hawaiian Seascapes itinerary from Molokai to Hawaii. The rest of this post is focused on that itinerary.
An Average Day on UnCruise in Hawaii
Before I launch in to the day-to-day details of my experience with UnCruise 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 activities and experiences Mr. V and I had in Hawaii so you can get more of an idea what this actually looks like.
Day-by-Day Itinerary with UnCruise in Hawaii
If you choose the Hawaiian Seascapes itinerary like the one I was on, 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
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.
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 for 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 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 urchin, 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 shave 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’s excursion, we had a choice: kayaking or skiffing. Mr. V and I split up: he went kayaking 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 excursions: 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 mantastic 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
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 shark and whales on the way out, 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
Leaving an UnCruise is 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 in different points: Molokai and Hawaii. 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!)
My Experience on UnCruise & Safari Explorer in Hawaii
Some of the most common questions I get about my UnCruise Alaska 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 up front 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.
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 – 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
1. I 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 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.
3. While snorkeling everyday might have become tiresome, the crew did a great job of selecting snorkeling spots. Each had something different, including coral, urchin, turtles, mantas, and fish. This diversity made it worthwhile to suit up each day even when I was cold or tired.
4. 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 every one rose to the occasion. Bravo, team!
Have other questions about UnCruising in Hawaii? Let me know in the comments!
This post was produced in partnership with UnCruise. All activities and opinions are included at my own discretion.