On a cruise to Hawaii, it can be tempting to stick to the well-known destinations like Maui and Honolulu, but you’d be missing out on some of the magic of the Big Island. A cruise to Kailua-Kona promises all the laid-back relaxation of Hawaii with way fewer crowds. Nearly year-round sunshine and minimal rain makes Kailua-Kona a local favorite, but then again, you can’t go wrong with most of Hawaii. Kailua-Kona has become famous over the years for snorkeling in crystal-clear waters as well as local delicacies like Kona coffee, ahi tuna, and chocolate.
Kona is one of Hawaii’s most beautiful and photogenic regions. If you want to go off-the-beaten path to see a quirkier side of Kona, head to America’s only seahorse farm or hike up Hualālai, one of the local volcanoes. Spend time at the beaches, coffee farms, and rainforests for an unforgettable experience in this romantic, tropical paradise during a cruise to Kailua-Kona.
On your Kailua-Kona cruise, a can’t-miss activity is a stop at Kealakekua Bay, a historic sight where Captain James Cook, a European settler, first stepped foot on the island of Hawaii in 1778.
Are you into quirky attractions that you could never see anywhere else? Then the Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm just north of Kailua-Kona is for you. There’s a 90-minute tour of the farm where you can see baby seahorses, learn all about these fascinating creatures, and even hold a seahorse in your own two hands.
Kailua Village used to be a quiet fishing village, but today, it’s a popular spot for vacationers and history seekers. See the oldest Christian church on the Big Island, called Mokuaikaua Church, or visit Hulihee Palace, a vacation home once built for Hawaiian royalty. Mingle with the locals, grab a bite to eat, and tour the preserved village, including the thatched roof homes characteristic of the bay.
A popular way for tourists to see more of Kailua-Kona and the surrounding neighborhoods is to hop on the quick and easy Keauhou Trolley, which takes passengers to a few major stops in the city, including the beach and local restaurants. The trolley is a great way to cover more ground in Kona than you could on your own two feet alone.
Dolphins commonly swim in the warm waters of Hawaii, where ocean temperatures stay around 70 degrees. Whether you’re on a boat or watching from the shore, it’s likely you’ll see dolphins at some point during your Kailua-Kona cruise.
It goes without saying that the crystal-clear waters of Hawaii are some of the most beautiful in the world, but it won’t truly feel real until you’re swimming, snorkeling, or taking a dive into the deep blue. Grab your gear and go for a dip in Kahului Bay.
Kona coffee has become a household name and a reason why coffee lovers return to Hawaii time and time again. Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation is just one local coffee farm that hosts tours, workshops, and even cheese-making classes. Drive up into the mountains where the coffee farms are and enjoy beautiful vistas along the way. Coffee beans make a great gift for your loved ones or souvenir for yourself.
Hawaii is the place to check hiking a volcano off your bucket list. The hikes at Hualālai, one of the Big Island’s active volcanoes which hasn’t erupted since 1801, are just challenging enough for the nature enthusiasts in your group.
The seafood in Kona is as good as you’d expect from the Big Island, where fishing continues to be a huge part of the local economy and day-to-day life. You can’t go wrong trying ahi tuna during your Kailua-Kona cruise, or branch out and try fish like ono and mahi-mahi. In the summer months, kajiki (also known as blue marlin) is a popular option that’s served raw, grilled, or fried. Pick up some local produce from the farmers market, pack a beach picnic, and enjoy a laid-back day in Kona.
Before Honolulu became the capital of Hawaii, the region of Kona was fundamentally important in the growth of the Big Island and saw many changing hands and major development over the centuries. The islands of Hawaii were first settled by Polynesians over a thousand years ago. It wasn’t until 1778 that Europeans like Captain James Cook sailed to the islands. By the 19th century, sugar became a huge export in the region, and Western settlers forced indigenous populations from their homes. In 1900, the Territory of Hawaii was established, and Hawaii became the 50th state of the United States of America in 1959.
The cultural fabric of Hawaii would not be possible without honoring the Polynesian populations who lived on the Big Island and surrounding areas peacefully for thousands of years. It’s the Polynesians who introduced the Western world to its culture, cuisine, and the famous perception of Hawaii’s relaxed atmosphere and friendly people. Without their traditions, including the art of the hula and other rituals, Hawaii as we know it today would not exist.
When your Kailua-Kona cruise arrives, you’ll be tendered from Kailua Bay to the pier in the center of Kona. There’s a famous hotel located not far from the pier, which makes a good photo op for passing travelers. Even though Hawaii is very relaxed, be sure to get back to the pier with enough time to be tendered back to your ship.
There’s a local shuttle called the Keauhou Trolley ready to take passengers to major sights in the town from the pier. Otherwise, many travelers rent a car to get around the Big Island, or cruise passengers schedule excursions and stick close to the cruise port area, where there’s still plenty to do.
Coffee enthusiasts will find plenty of opportunities to find the perfect souvenirs to bring back home. There’s also a popular farmers market Wednesday to Sunday, where locals hawk fresh produce, flowers, artisanal goods, and handcrafted items.
You’ll use the U.S. dollar (USD) when traveling to Hawaii. Most major credit cards are accepted, and ATMs are widespread on the Big Island. Carrying a little bit of cash is always helpful when shopping at mom-and-pop shops or smaller establishments. Tip as you normally would in the U.S., leaving 15% to 20% at restaurants, bars, and for your taxi driver for exemplary service.