Erling and Judy next to NCL Pride of America

Our Top 10 Hawaii Cruise Tips

We enjoyed a fantastic trip to Hawaii including visiting several islands on an NCL Pride of America cruise. Here are our top 10 Hawaii cruise tips. Since this was a big bucket list trip, we did a lot of research before the trip. And we learned as we experienced our trip to Hawaii. To help you get the most out of your trip, we are sharing our tips for a Hawaiian Islands Adventure.

Erling and Judy next to NCL Pride of America

Note: we have included links to some of our recommended items. Some of these links may be affiliate links where we may earn a small commission from purchases.

Hawaii Cruise Tip 10: Luggage Tag Holders

Many cruisers travel with a suitcase or two. But, when you board the ship, you can’t bring your bags to your room. Instead, you drop off your bags when you check in.

But how does the cruise know where to deliver them? Before your trip starts, you print out luggage tags at home. But those are paper. They can get wet or torn. We discovered luggage tag holders that protect those paper tags. They are heavy plastic, seal well, and have a metal loop to hook them on to your luggage.

We purchased a set of CruiseOn NCL luggage tag holders. You can find them on Amazon. Unfortunately, each cruise line has different sized luggage tags so if you go on a different cruise line, you’ll have to get a different set. Fortunately, CruiseOn makes luggage tag holders for the major cruise lines including NCL, Carnival, Celebrity, Holland America, MSC, Princess, and Royal Caribbean.

Here is an Amazon link to the CruiseOn NCL Luggage Tag Holders we used. (affiliate link).

The luggage tags used for disembarkation are different. There is no luggage tag to print. You get tags from guest services and then write your information on it.

To get your disembarkation tag, head to guest services the day before your cruise ends. Disembarkation is divided into different times. The tags you use will indicates the time when you need to leave the ship. However, there are only so many available for each time slot. If you need a specific time, be sure to get your tags from guest services early.

A frequent complaint is that the ink written on these tags tends to smear. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen similar tag holders for this type of luggage tag. We sure wish NCL would let you print these out in advance or make them so they fit in a luggage tag holder.

Hawaii Cruise Tip 9: Pack Light and Casual

The Pride of America dress code is pretty casual. The Hawaiian Islands provide mostly warm weather with some possible rain. There aren’t any formal nights on this cruise and few people were dressed up for dinner.

Dressed for dinner on NCL Pride of America

For men, a good choice might be to pack some Hawaiian shirts and polos along with shorts for the daytime and 1-2 pairs of dress pants. For Erling, we packed several no-iron Grand Slam polo shirts purchased at Kohl’s. For shoes, I had Keen hiking sandals, a pair of tennis shoes, and a pair of dress shoes.

Keen hiking sandals

For women, a few dresses that can be dressed up or down can be a good choice. Judy found some from LL Bean dresses that worked great. For the daytime, she had shorts and UV shirts. For shoes, a pair of Keen hiking sandals, tennis shoes, and a pair of dressier shoes.

If you plan to visit Haleakala, it can get a bit chilly. We did pack a puffy coat and a hoodie along with long pants, hats, and gloves for that excursion. You can pack light and casual for this trip.

woman watching a sunset high in the mountains

Hawaii Cruise Tip 8: Bring Laundry Sheets

One way to help you pack less is to bring laundry sheets. These pack flat and are easy to include. When you have access to a washing machine, just add a sheet in place of detergent. If you need to wash out a pair of socks or a swimsuit, you can use part of a sheet in the sink and then hang things to dry in the shower.

Laundry sheets in a laundry room

While you can send things to the shipboard laundry, it tends to be expensive. Bringing a package of laundry sheets might be an inexpensive and convenient alternative.

We found homevative fresh & clean laundry sheets on Amazon (affiliate link).

Hawaii Cruise Tip 7: Where to Buy Souvenirs

You likely want to bring back something from Hawaii. While the Pride of America has a some shopping, you’ll likely have better luck ashore. Here are some of the places we found to get some great Hawaiian souvenirs.

While there wasn’t usually much within walking distance of the cruise ports, there were a few shops on Maui. If you are able to cross a somewhat busy road, you’ll find a Whole Foods and a pharmacy. We checked out Whole Foods and found some great items to bring home including Hawaiian coffee, chocolate, macadamia nuts, and jelly fruit candy.

Nuts and candy purchased in Hawaii

We really enjoyed Rusty’s coffee. It was among the better Hawaiian coffees we brought home.

ABC stores are popular in Hawaii. You’ll likely find one pretty much every where you go. They have a great selection of snacks and often have souvenirs, too. Whether it is a t-shirt, hat, or something else, you can probably get it from an ABC store.

Erling at ABC Island Country Markets store

We visited a few national parks on our trip, too. We love getting souvenirs from the parks. We found some great t-shirts. While we have often purchased refrigerator magnets, this time we decided to get something different – national park playing cards. Now when we play a game, we can remember our trip to Hawaii.

Hawaiian national parks t-shirts, cards, and magnets

One of the best finds was at Volcanoes national park where I found a Hawaiian shirt that was actually made in Hawaii. As a bonus, it was less expensive than the imported shirts sold elsewhere.

Hawaiian shirt made in hawaii

When you are out exploring, you might find other souvenirs. For example, we bought several bags of coffee at our visit to Kauai Coffee.

Thanks to our friend Mike for this last souvenir shopping recommendation. Costco carries a great selection of Hawaiian items you may want to bring home. We found a good selection of Macadamia nuts to share with friends & family.

Our last souvenir tip, leave a bit of extra room in your luggage to bring home some great Hawaiian souvenirs.

Hawaii Cruise Tip 6: Book a Port Side Stateroom

What is the best room on the Pride of America? That really depends on your preferences. Whichever room you choose, you get to enjoy exploring Hawaii.

Island view from Pride of America cruise ship balcony

We selected a Port side balcony room. It was fantastic. We loved watching the view from our balcony as the ship sailed into each new port. While your view may be of a working port, the Port side view in Kuai was pretty fantastic.

Do your research and decide what is best. But, for us, the Port side balcony was a great choice.

Hawaii Cruise Tip 5: Plan to Arrive 2-3 Days Early

For most people, getting to Hawaii is a long trip. We started our travels by driving to a hotel closer to the airport so we could catch a very early flight. After a short flight and a layover in Atlanta, we had a nine-hour flight to Honolulu. From the east coast, there was a significant time change. You can anticipate feeling a bit jet-lagged when you arrive. We arrived mid-afternoon and were ready for bed by 8:00.

With any cruise, it is a good idea to arrive the day before the cruise departs. However, for Hawaii, we suggest that may want to add a pre-cruise stay of 2-3 days. You’ll have time to get used to the time zone and you can also spend some time exploring Oahu.

Sunset view from Waikiki Beach Marriott

We did our pre-cruise stay at the Waikiki Beach Marriott and enjoyed exploring the Waikiki Beach area. We walked along the beach, swam in the ocean, and visited Pearl Harbor.

We hadn’t taken a port-heavy cruise before. With the Pride of America, we were on the go every day. We wanted to ensure a bit of relaxing time on the trip so we added a 2 night stay after the cruise, too. We headed to Disney’s Aulani resort in the Ko Olina area of Oahu. It was a great end to our vacation.  

beach view showing Disney's Aulani resort in distance

To help with your planning, you can check out our reviews of Waikiki Beach & the Waikiki Beach Marriott as well as our review of Disney’s Aulani as possible options for your stays. Waikiki is a more city-like experience while Ko Olina is a quieter setting.

Hawaii Cruise Tip 4: Create a Daily Plan

What do you enjoy when you are on vacation? Hiking & outdoor recreation? Eating interesting local foods? Spending a day relaxing on the beach?

Hawaii offers a wide range of fun things to do. There is likely to be something you’ll enjoy. There are also some must-do Hawaii vacation activities like going to a Luau. You’ll have the opportunity to do something interesting every day.

hula dancing at luau

We created a daily plan listing what activities and dining we wanted to do each day. It wasn’t too structured but just had the main items. We left time in the plan for enjoying the ship like the pool and entertainment.

We chose to do shore excursions and shared what we did on a NCL Pride of America Excursions video. But there are so many things you could do. I guess we’ll have to go back again.

There are so many other things to do, we’ll need to go back again. We’d love to hear about what you loved best about your Hawaii trip. Leave us a comment with your favorite adventure or excursion.

Hawaii Cruise Tip 3: Make Reservations in Advance

With your daily plan in place, you can start reserving things well in advance of the cruise. We booked all of our excursions before leaving home. Note that excursions can sometimes sell out so it is better to book in advance, if possible.

Once we know when we would be out exploring, we could select which nights might work best for specialty dining. With Free at Sea, we had two specialty dining meals included. But, it wouldn’t be a good idea to book an early dining experience if you are arriving late from an excursion.

Shrimp dinner at Cagney's Steakhouse on the Pride of America cruise ship

Once everything was reserved, we could relax into the vacation, not worrying that we were missing out on something we really wanted to experience.

Hawaii Cruise Tip 2: Pay in Advance

I recently read a book – Happy Money. The authors shared five core ideas for getting more happiness in the way you spend your money.

One of their tips was to pay in advance things like vacations. When you pay as you go, you might be able to save some money. However, too often, it feels like you have to watch every penny. You may find yourself saying no to things you’d otherwise enjoy.

We learned early in cruising that it’s pretty easy to have a large surprise bill at the end. By the time you add a few excursions, get a few pictures, and enjoy a nice meal or two, the tab can add up.

Instead, consider treating your trip like an all-inclusive. Pay for everything before you go. We opted to book 1-2 excursions at a time and then pay for them that month. By the time we left for Hawaii, almost everything was already paid for.

When you combine that idea with the Free at Sea program that includes many cruise expenses into your fare, it can be a relaxing way to travel. For us, Free at Sea included gratuities, beverages, 2 specialty dining meals, a basic wi-fi plan, and a daily/port excursion credit.

If you take this approach, consider bringing your receipts so you can have proof of payment in case it is needed.

You can find Happy Money on Amazon (affiliate link).

Hawaii Cruise Tip 1: Go

You never know what happens in life. Sometimes you just have to do those things that have been on your bucket list for too long. If you can do it, book the cruise and enjoy your trip to Hawaii.

Our Top 10 Hawaii Cruise Tips YouTube Video

Check out Our Top 10 Hawaii Cruise Tips YouTube video where we share our top tips to help you plan your trip to Hawaii.

Erling and Judy in front of the NCL Pride of America cruise ship


We really enjoyed our Hawaiian Islands Adventure. Hopefully our top 10 Hawaii cruise tips help you plan your vacation to Hawaii.

Be sure to check out the rest of our Hawaiian Islands Adventure series.

Waikiki Beach

Waikiki Beach Marriott

NCL Pride of America Cruise

NCL Pride of America Cruise Excursions

Disney’s Aulani Resort

What is your favorite Hawaii cruise tip? We’d love to hear all about it. Please leave us a comment.

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