HAWAII & TAHITI CRUISES
The Hawaiian Islands have long been America's tropical playground, a volcanic archipelago in the middle of the Pacific that is the country's most surprising state. Before they became an American territory, before Captain Cook dubbed them the Sandwich Islands, the Hawaiian Islands were the home of a Polynesian culture whose roots still run deep. In Hawaii's floral-scented valleys and on its black-sand beaches, that legacy lives on in an aloha spirit that promises a welcome as warm as the ocean breezes. Some 4,300 kilometers (2,700 miles) from Hawaii, another legendary archipelago awaits travelers to the Pacific: Tahiti. Here, Polynesian and French cultures meet under blue skies on lush islands ringed by blue lagoons.
Hawaii & Tahiti
Bora Bora, French Polynesia
Hilo, Hawaii, US
Once a busy fishing and farming area, Hilo blossomed into a commercial center for the sugarcane industry in the 1800s. Today’s town—its waterfront rebuilt since the last destructive tsunami in 1960—flourishes as a hub of galleries, independent shops, farmers markets and homegrown destination restaurants. A world-class astronomy center has joined this mix, underlining the awe unfolding through the telescopes atop Mauna Kea (the world's tallest peak from base to summit, outstripping Everest by 1,363 meters, or 4,472 feet!). Meanwhile, leafy Banyan Drive celebrates more earthbound stars with its arboreal Walk of Fame. Look up, look down: Wherever you glance, Hilo looks good.
Honolulu, Hawaii, US
Sitting pretty on Oahu's south shore, Honolulu is a suitably laid-back Polynesian mash-up of influences and experiences.
Surfing may have been invented along Waikiki long before the high-rise hotels arrived to dominate the shoreline, but the vibe is still mellow and it's still the go-to neighborhood. These days, Honolulu adds dining, shopping and cocktails to its repertoire, all done with a view of the Diamond Head in the distance.
But away from Waikiki, you get the scoop on the "real" Hawaii: brick Victorian buildings, including America's only royal palace; thriving Chinatown nightlife; sacred temple remains; and the wartime memories of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Kuto, Ile des Pins, New Caledonia
The Isle of Pines—Île des Pins in French, or Kunié to New Caledonia's indigenous Melanesian people—is located 60 kilometers (37 miles) southwest of Grande Terre, the main island of the archipelago that makes up New Caledonia. With less than 2,000 inhabitants spread across its 152-square-kilometer (59-square-mile) size, Île des Pins brims with enough natural beauty to have earned it the nickname “l'île la plus proche du paradis” ("the island closest to paradise"). Its principal draws are its beaches, where one can swim with colorful tropical fish, while the island’s name refers to its abundant soaring pine trees.
Papeete, French Polynesia
Although all of French Polynesia is sometimes referred to as Tahiti, Tahiti proper is only one island, ringed by a reef that turns the water shades of blue even sapphires can’t come near. Rivers flow down from its high peaks, and every night, the sun goes down behind the neighboring island of Moorea, outlining the mountains like a laser show. Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia, is a bustling business and government center, with black pearl shops on almost every corner. As you move into the countryside, time starts to slip and it’s just the changeless ocean and the almost unchanged forests.