There are some very good reasons why the Hawaiian islands are some of the most popular cruise destinations in the world, and those reasons are reflected in the islands’ many festivals. Colorful, joyous celebrations which welcome in both Hawaiian and haole revellers alike, Hawaii’s best festivals include a range of things to do for visitors both young and old; from stately parades to all-night parties, whole cities put everyday life on hold to celebrate the beauty and history of these remarkable islands.
Although there are fantastic events across each of the islands, Oahu - and the state capital of Honolulu in particular - is home to some of the most famous and exciting. Visitors quickly succumb to the city’s beauty and hospitality even on the calmest days, so imagine the scene when the city shows up to celebrate; there’s nothing else like it in the world.
For three days in March (2015’s will be held from March 6-8), Honolulu descends into revelry. Parades, performances, and fireworks all draw people from across the islands - and around the world - to celebrate Hawaii’s diversity and its deeply-felt connections to the other countries and islands of the Pacific Rim. These connections are seen from the moment you step off your cruise ship - Hawaii is a rich blend of Asian, South Pacific, and American influences, and by taking part in this 21 year-old festival, visitors are able to immerse themselves in Hawaiian life and culture.
Take the famous performances, for example. Examples of the traditional dances of Hawaii and other Pacific islands are available everywhere from shopping malls to luaus, but the Honolulu Festival is the place to be if you want to see Alaskan Native dancing and Japanese samurai performances, as well as the brightest talents of the islands showcasing the hula and other Hawaiian dances. Singing, drumming, and even acrobatic performances all have their place here as well, celebrating the diversity of Hawaii’s thriving culture.
Of course, nobody can visit the Honolulu Festival without taking in the Grand Parade, traditionally held on the last day of the festival, followed by a spectacular fireworks show. For four hours, the parade winds through the streets of Waikiki, treating everyone to some of the highlights of Hawaii’s heritage and diverse culture. Richly decorated floats, marching bands, dance troupes representing not only Hawaii but all the cultures of the Pacific islands, and other traditional performances from across the Pacific Rim will keep revellers of all ages enchanted and entertained until the sun goes down. Alongside the parade route you’ll find games, food booths, and much more, ensuring that by the time you reach Waikiki beach (or your ship) for the fireworks show, you’ll have had your fill of fun and excitement.
King Kamehameha Day and Floral Parade
On June 11 every year, the Hawaiian islands come together to celebrate Kamehameha the Great. During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, King Kamehameha united the islands, preserved their independence, and helped to establish their place in the growing Pacific trade routes. For over 140 years, Kamehameha Day has brought Hawaiians together in celebration of their unique history and heritage, and the modern festival is the perfect time for visitors to take in the real Hawaii.
Although celebrations are held across the islands, the most famous festival - the King Kamehameha Floral Parade - takes place in Honolulu, Oahu. Held on the first Saturday after King Kamehameha Day, the Floral Parade will reach its 100th running in 2016, and is a much-beloved part of Oahu life. Celebrations begin with the ceremonial draping of leis on the statue of Kamehameha the Great, while leis are also placed on a Kamehameha statue located at the United States Capitol. The parade route starts at the beautiful ʻIolani Palace (open as a museum, and well worth a visit) before winding its way through Oahu and ending at Kapi’olani Park; Waikiki is one of the major hubs of activities (and easily accessible by most cruise docks), but if you’d rather watch the float away from the worst of the crowds, Ala Moana is a good compromise.
The parade itself is a wild profusion of music and color, from some of the island’s best marching bands to the intricate, spectacular floats which utilize the exotic flowers and plants found on this island paradise. Be sure to catch the traditional pa’u riders, one of the parade’s most popular sights; decorated in flowers, leis, and flowing clothes, the pa’u “royal court” of queen, princesses, and ladies-in-waiting is sight to behold. Once you’ve had your fill of flowers and music, visit Kapi’olani Park for the Hoʻolauleʻa - with arts and crafts, games, food, and even more performances, this party is the perfect way to cap off a perfect day in Oahu.
Celebrated across the Hawaiian Islands, the Aloha Festivals - held in late September for over 60 years - are one of the most exciting times to visit Honolulu. Think of the biggest block party you’ve ever seen, and you won’t even come close; the streets fill with celebration, Hawaiians and visitors alike join together to have fun, and the soundtrack is provided by rock bands and traditional musicians. Wandering through Waikiki during the Hoʻolauleʻa, you’ll find traditional dance performances, food booths with mouth-watering offerings, the chance to make a lei of your own, and many more attractions.
Aside from the block party, the Aloha Festivals feature many other highlights as well. The festivities begin the day before the party, with the ceremonial recognition of the festival “royal court”, complete with hula, chanting, and a glimpse at Hawaii’s past. A floral parade then kicks off the next day at nine am, ten hours before the Hoʻolauleʻa. Here you’ll see pa’u riders, floats, and more music. You’ll think you’ve seen the best that Hawaii has to offer, but then the Hoʻolauleʻa will begin, and you’ll realize that there’s still a whole world of excitement left to discover in this beautiful, exciting city.