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Originally published Saturday, March 15, 2014 at 7:04 PM

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Seeing Hawaii’s islands on a cruise

Taking Norwegian Cruise Lines’ Pride of America around Hawaii.

The Associated Press

If you go

Hawaii cruises

Cruises that sail solely between U.S. ports, such as within the Hawaiian islands, are limited, under a longstanding federal maritime law, to U.S.-flagged ships. (Most big cruise ships are registered in foreign countries so they’re not subject to many U.S. regulations and labor laws; hence the relatively few Hawaii cruises.)

Among the Hawaii cruise options:

•Norwegian Cruise Lines offers year-round cruises in Hawaii on its U.S.-flagged Pride of America ship,

•Seattle-based Un-Cruise Adventures also offers weeklong cruises within Hawaii on a 36-passenger luxury yacht, including visits to the smaller islands of Molokai and Lanai. (The company formerly was known as American Safari Cruises and Inner Sea Discoveries.) Hawaii cruises are offered from November to April.

•Other (foreign-registered) ships of the Princess and Carnival lines sail in Hawaii as part of longer itineraries. They include some round-trip cruises in April and the fall from Los Angeles and San Francisco to Hawaii (with a quick stop at a Mexico port to satisfy U.S. maritime law). There are also some cruises between Vancouver, B.C., and Hawaii.

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A great way to sample the many wonders of the Hawaiian Islands without the hassles of island-hopping by plane — like going through security and carting your luggage on each flight — is to take a cruise.

My wife and I did just that on Pride of America, a Norwegian Cruise Line ship that sails year-round from Honolulu. We traveled to the ports of Kahului, Maui; Hilo and Kailua-Kona on Hawaii’s Big Island; and Nawiliwili, Kauai, before returning to Honolulu. We filled the seven-day cruise with sightseeing, shopping and snorkeling during island visits and excursions.

Exploring the islands

Maui is home to Haleakala, which is the world’s largest dormant volcano. You can book an excursion there with the cruise line or rent a car and venture out on your own to enjoy the views from atop the 10,000-foot “House of the Sun” crater. Or if you’d prefer, take a drive along Maui’s twisting Hana Highway which has splendid views of the island’s lush tropical-rain forest and rugged coastline.

Maui also offers whale watching, and we were not disappointed. One of the many huge humpback whales we saw off Kahului displayed its white underside by the bow of our tour boat and then swam past the stern of a nearby boat packed with excited tourists.

The port of Hilo, on the Big Island of Hawaii, is a good place to take an excursion to the active Kilauea Volcano. You can also get a bird’s-eye view of Kilauea on an (expensive) helicopter excursion. Keep your fingers crossed that Hawaii’s goddess of fire, Pele, just simmers.

The Big Island is also home to Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano and the world’s tallest mountain (at more than 33,000 feet) as measured from the floor of the ocean to its peak. However, Mauna Kea’s altitude above sea level is much lower — 13,796 feet. feet.

You can book an excursion to visit Mauna Kea through the cruise line or rent a vehicle to get to Mauna Kea. (Note that most rental-car companies prohibit driving to Mauna Kea because of road conditions, but one rental company, Harper, rents four-wheel-drive vehicles specifically for Mauna Kea.)

Some of the world’s most powerful telescopes are perched on its peak, though the public is not permitted to look through them. But public presentations are offered on research being done there, and stargazing programs using portable telescopes are held when skies are clear.

Many snorkelers from the cruise ship headed for the Big Island’s Pawai Bay, which offers clear water and spectacular views of tropical fish and coral colonies. Other cruise-ship passengers chose scuba diving, catamaran sailing, ocean kayaking and parasailing.

On Kauai, we took a bus tour to Waimea Canyon. It is nicknamed the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, and the colorful reds and browns of its volcanic rock are highlighted by the tropical vegetation. Among other Kauai activities for the more adventurous: zip-lining, tubing through water tunnels and horseback riding.

We are cruise veterans, and this trip was among the most memorable of many. A giant cruise ship, with all its amenities, is a convenient base to see and experience the Aloha State. And you unpack just once.

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