Thrill Tours Debut in Hawaii: Travel Weekly

From volunteer tourism activities to fireworks cruises and an ever-changing snorkeling adventure, there are some new options to consider when booking Hawaii tours as the destination returns from its pandemic hiatus.

• In Pearl Harbor, the Ford Island Bus Tour is one of these new options. It shuttles visitors to Ford Island to see the USS Oklahoma and USS Utah memorials, which are otherwise inaccessible because they are on an active military base. The 90-minute guided tour is led by a National Park Service ranger who will give an interpretive talk and answer questions. Reservations are required.

The Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum takes visitors to the top of Ford Island’s restored control tower. Photo: Courtesy of the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum

• Also on Ford Island, the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum opened the Tower Top Tour, which takes visitors to an operations building, through a fire station exhibit and up an elevator to the top of the red-and-white control tower, which was completed just months after the attack on December 7, 1941. After a $7 million renovation, the tower gives visitors a 360-degree view of Battleship Row, military bases, and the USS Arizona Memorial.

“The Ford Island Control Tower stands as a symbol of resilience and peace, watching over this sacred land,” Elissa Lines, executive director of the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum, said in a statement. “It’s time for the world to witness Pearl Harbor from an aerial perspective.”

There are only 120 Top of the Tower tickets each day, so it’s best to book early.

• Earlier this year, Hilton Hawaiian Village’s long-standing Friday night fireworks tradition returned after a two-year hiatus due to Covid-19 restrictions. The return of the popular weekly event has opened the door for tour operators to launch evening cruises to see the pyrotechnics spectacular.

Known for its scuba diving tours and whale-watching cruises, Atlantis Cruises now offers a Friday fireworks and cocktail cruise aboard Majestic, a three-level ship with a full-service cocktail lounge and bar. The Waikiki Cruise departs from the Aloha Tower at 19:00 and guests can roam freely and watch the sunset from its decks, listen to live entertainment and enjoy uninterrupted views of the fireworks.

Atlantis Cruises offers a Friday night cocktail cruise to view the fireworks off Waikiki.

Atlantis Cruises offers a Friday night cocktail cruise to view the fireworks off Waikiki. Photo: Courtesy of Atlantis Adventures

• Hawaii Wow Tours launched a Waikiki gondola experience on the Ala Wai Canal in June. Offers daytime and evening tours, including a Friday night fireworks cruise.

“Our gondola cruises provide that unique romantic or family/friend setting where you can relax and enjoy luxury,” said Chantel Kalmanson, one of the owners of Hawaii Wow. “You can sip chilled sparkling apple cider and enjoy delicious pastries as your friendly personal gondolier takes you on a melodious journey to Magic Island for majestic views of Diamond Head and then passes under three bridges on what we affectionately call the Big Waikiki Channel.’

• On the Big Island, Hawaii Forest & Trail added a private lava tube tour to its Volcano Unveiled tour in 2018 and late last year launched a volunteer tour called the Mauna Kea Summit & Stars Give Back Experience. The tour takes visitors to the Waikoloa Dry Forest to participate in the collection of native seeds before climbing to the summit of Mauna Kea.

“The experience allows our guides to immerse guests in this endangered dry forest, as well as learn about the area they will be visiting on Mauna Kea and how to better preserve it for future generations,” said Jonathan Wilt, director of sales and marketing for Hawaii Forest and trail. “After the return leg, guests continue to Mauna Kea for sunset at the summit and then stargaze at a lower altitude with our Celestron and Stellina telescopes.”

Volunteer activities like this are on the rise as regenerative tourism continues to be at the fore in Hawaii, thanks in large part to the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s Malama Hawaii program. Volunteer tourism opportunities include restoring a native fish pond with the Malama Loko Ea Foundation, planting native trees with the Hawaii Heritage Reforestation Initiative, and participating in the restoration of the USS Missouri Memorial.

Snorkeling on the Maui Nui Wild Side Lahaina Tour with PacWhale Eco-Adventures.

Snorkeling on the Maui Nui Wild Side Lahaina Tour with PacWhale Eco-Adventures. Photo: Courtesy of PacWhale Eco-Adventures

• PacWhale Eco-Adventures is offering a new Maui snorkeling tour that takes visitors “where many of the larger ships can’t.” The adventure, called Maui Nui Wild Side Lahaina, is a six-hour tour aboard a 34-passenger vessel that departs from Lahaina.

Offering guests an open itinerary, the captain will select two destinations on the day of the tour based on ocean conditions. Potential snorkeling spots could include Honolua Bay, the Carthage wreck, or even a few spots off the island of Lanai.

“They will see an abundance of beautiful reef fish and coral with possible sightings of dolphins, green sea turtles, octopuses and many other marine animals,” the company said.

Owned by the non-profit Pacific Whale Foundation, the tour will feature certified marine naturalists to answer questions. Lunch and refreshments are also provided.

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