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The Culture and History of Hawaii Comes Alive on Shore Excursions

Cruises to Hawaii are well known for beautiful beaches, lush vegetation and incredible volcanic topography. Lesser known, however, is the rich history and culture of the 50th state. From Hilo to Honolulu, step back in time and gain some knowledge of the area with Holland America Line’s shore excursions. These tours provide a unique glimpse of the history and culture off the Aloha State, while also showing of the stunning scenery and memorable landscapes.

According to anthropologists, Hawaii was originally established around 300-500 AD by Polynesians from the Marquesas Islands. A second wave of settlement followed during the 9th and 10th centuries from Tahiti, radically changing the islands and the culture. Chiefs and ali’i (royalty) governed the isolated islands. The culture is deeply rooted in mythology and nature. As such, the society worked to appease goddesses like Pele, the goddess of fire believed to live in the volcanoes on the Big Island.

Hawaiian history was informed by the islands' astounding natural environment and isolation.

Hawaiian history was formed by the islands’ astounding natural environment and isolation.

British navigator Captain James Cook arrived at the island of Kauai in 1778 forever changing the islands. Years later came the arrival of missionaries that affected the islands in a number of ways. As modern ships and airplanes made the world feel smaller, Hawaii became less isolated. The U.S. military established bases there, and eventually on Aug. 21, 1959, Hawaii became the 50th state.

Today Hawaii is making waves in education and research, with particular advances in astronomy, alternative energy and ocean research. While tourism is responsible for a large portion of the islands’ revenue, and outside influences have shaped modern-day Hawaii, those of Hawaiian descent work hard to preserve and share the history and culture of this paradise.

Akaka Falls is the longest unbroken waterfall in the state.

Akaka Falls.

At Hilo, experience a diverse and well-rounded view of Hawaii on Historical Hilo & Akaka Falls. The tour begins at the Lyman Museum & Mission House, a beautiful missionary home with a fabulous collection of historic Hawaiian relics. There you’ll be greeted with a lei and have the opportunity to browse the artifacts of old Hawaii. The tour then continues on to Akaka Falls, the longest unbroken waterfall in the state.

For a historic look at Kona, check out the Kona See & Sea tour. See some of Kona’s most popular attractions by land and sea. The tour begins with a sample of Hawaii’s world famous gourmet coffee at Royal Kona Coffee. With a little extra energy head to Puuhonua-O-Honaunau, or “The Place of Refuge.” This beautifully maintained National Historic Park played a very special part in the lives of ancient Hawaiians. It was a haven where absolution would be granted for law breakers and vanquished warriors if they were fortunate enough to get here ahead of their pursuers. Today, the park features attractive grounds and interesting displays of Hawaiian history. From there you will visit the Painted Church — a small roadside place of worship known for its dramatic murals. Your motor coach will return you to the pier for a lunch cruise along the Kona coastline. The 65-foot catamaran offers a virtual step back in time as the on-board historian points out Kona’s landmarks and shares legends and local history. Unwind as you travel along the coast to Captain Cook’s Monument in Kealakekua Bay — accessible only by sea. Enjoy live Hawaiian-style music and keep an eye out for your maritime neighbors — spinner dolphins and green sea turtles.

In historic Lahaina, enjoy a world-class performance of Ulalena: Maui Theatre. Staged in historic Lahaina but equipped with modern lighting, sound, and multi-media technologies, Ulalena is a unique theater experience with original music, song, authentic Polynesian dance and acrobatics choreographed by the producers of Cirque de Soleil. The show brings Hawaiian mythology and history to life in a mesmerizing display performed by a stunning international cast.

Experience the culture of Hawaii with historical shore excursions!

Ulalena, right, is a memorable performance.

“First class performance! After a short walk over flat paved terrain, we arrived at a small theatre with ample seating and good viewing areas. The multi-media production was very entertaining and included works choreographed by Cirque du Soleil. What an interesting look at Hawaiian history. — Guest BJ”

The state capital, Honolulu, also has a story to tell. A Tale of Two Palaces: Hawaii’s Royal History takes you on a journey through time as you visit the historic highlights of the 1,500-year-old Kingdom of Hawaii. You’ll even have the opportunity to view the crown jewels! Traveling into the lush Nuuanu Valley, you’ll stop at Queen Emma’s Summer Palace. Queen Emma was the wife of King Kamehameha IV. Born in 1836, she was descended from Hawaiian cheiftains and John Young, an Englishman who became a friend and advisor to King Kamehameha I. There you’ll find an eclectic mixture of Victorian and Hawaiian treasures, rare artifacts and personal memorabilia.

Queen Emma's Summer Palace contains an eclectic mix of Victorian and historic Hawaiian elements.

Queen Emma’s Summer Palace contains an eclectic mix of Victorian and historic Hawaiian elements.

Remembered as “A day that will live in infamy,” the attack on Pearl Harbor is a more recent piece of Hawaiian history. Guests visit the site to pay respects to the men and women that lost their lives, and the event that led the United States into World War II. Pearl Harbor History & Honolulu takes you to the site. First visit the Arizona Memorial, where 1,000 servicemen still lie entombed in the sunken USS Arizona. It’s an incredibly moving experience. Holland America Line team members and guests recently visited the memorial and shared the below photos. Guests echo that the experience is informative, educational, emotionally moving and altogether respectful.

A visit to Pearl Harbor is an important and moving experience. Clockwise from top left: A Holland America Line team member poses at the site of the USS Arizona; A photo of the memorial by guests Petrus and Sylvia Huijgen; A group tour listens to a history lesson and the site.

A visit to Pearl Harbor is an important and moving experience. Clockwise from top left: a Holland America Line team member poses at the site of the USS Arizona; a photo of the memorial by guests Petrus and Sylvia Huijgen; the memorial attracts more than a million visitors each year.

“During our cruise, this excursion was one of my ‘must see’ trips. The tour starts with a very well-done movie appropriate for all ages and ethnic groups. Then, the tour of the Arizona Memorial that is such a special place. This was such a moving experience, one that should be experienced by all Americans! — Guest Powhatan”

After Pearl Harbor the tour continues to metropolitan Honolulu where you’ll visit Iolani Palace, the Hawaii State Capitol, the governor’s mansion and the quaint homes of the early missionaries.

Whether you’re a history buff or just looking for an interesting view of the destination, historic tours in Hawaii are a fabulous way to get to know the islands.

Have you taken a historic or cultural tour in Hawaii? Let us know in the comments!

If you’re taking a cruise to Hawaii and want to add a shore excursion, they can be pre-booked so you get the tour of your choice.

1 Comment
  • Shaun

    “As modern ships and airplanes made the world feel smaller, Hawaii became less isolated. The U.S. military established bases there, and eventually on Aug. 21, 1959, Hawaii became the 50th state.” – you’re a little thin on the details here of the US’ hostile invasion and annexation of Hawaii. Hopefully the actual shore excursion is closer to the truth. Not America-bashing at all, but we shouldn’t hide from the facts of history.

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