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I went on my first Hawaii sunset cruise 30 years ago and, to this day, I still remember it vividly. There was something dreamy about gliding along the water during that magical time just before dusk. The vibrant orange sun urged everyone to stop what they were doing and watch as it melted silently into the sea. The tradewinds caught their breath, and the day's warmth gave way to the comfortable cool of evening as lights began to blink at us from the shore.
Sunset sails are a great way to bundle several fun activities - boating, cocktails, dining and entertainment - into one experience, but not all cruises are created equal, said Star of Honolulu Cruises reservations manager Yvonne Sio. For best results, visitors should do their research before making a booking.
"Travelers shouldn't hesitate to let a cruise company know exactly what they are looking for," said Sio. "For instance, they should clarify whether they want something luxurious and romantic or family-friendly. They should know what their budget is, and they should state if they would like a table-service dinner or buffet, if they prefer hula or jazz entertainment, if they have any dietary preferences and if they require special assistance."
While the islands lay claim to dozens of reputable late-afternoon cruises, I realize that the experience is highly subjective. One person's rave is another's rant. That said, here are my suggestions for five Hawaii sunset cruises that you just might remember decades later.
Atlantis Navatek Cruises (Oahu)I chose this trip because of the boat: the Navatek I, a sleek and stable 140-foot-long beauty designed to ensure smooth cruising. Another plus is the route, which runs not only along Waikiki Beach but beyond Diamond Head, all the way to the Kahala coastline. The Royal Sunset Dinner Cruise is the higher-end affair with steak and lobster served in an elegant dining room. The less expensive Sunset Buffet Cruise is a good alternative for budget-watchers. Both are enhanced by live entertainment and opportunities for dancing.www.atlantisadventures.com
Capt. Andy's Sailing Adventures (Kauai)This reliable firm offers several options for various budgets and time frames. A two-hour jaunt on the motorized sailing catamaran Akialoa plies Kauai's south shores while offering pupus, cocktails and live music. The same vessel hosts the four-hour Na Pali Sunset Dinner trip past the fluted sea cliffs of the north shore, including a buffet dinner. For the ultimate coastal experience, book the four-hour Na Pali Dinner Sunset Sail on the 65-foot luxury yacht Southern Star, with a freshly prepared meal and dramatic viewswww.napali.com
Ocean Sports (Hawaii Island)Three world-class sailing catamarans, ranging in length from 50 to 65 feet, take visitors on sunset sails out of Kawaihae Harbor - north of the resorts lining the Kohala Coast - as well as Anaehoomalu Bay, next to Waikoloa Beach Resort. If you have dinner plans afterward, book the Moku Nui Cocktail Sail featuring upbeat music, light pupus and an open bar. For the full dinner experience ask for the Champagne Sunset Sail, boasting a Hawaiian-style barbecue buffet, an open bar and champagne as the sun goes down. www.hawaiioceansports.comStar of Honolulu (Oahu). With four decks, two elevators and a 1,500-passenger capacity, this impressive ship has a sunset cruise for everyone. The casual, value-oriented Pacific Star option includes a buffet and a Polynesian show. For $10 per person more, the Star Sunset trip features a three-course dinner with a Hawaiian show and dancing. Upgrade further to the Three Star cruise with a five-course dinner and continuous entertainment, or pull out all the stops and book the Five-Star experience on the top deck, with a seven-course French dinner and live jazzwww.starofhonolulu.com
Trilogy (Maui)This well-established family-run operation is best known for its daytime snorkel tours to Lanai. It's equally impressive at day's end, however, when its two-hour catamaran rides steer visitors toward the evening in festive fashion. The Kaanapali Sunset Sail is ultra-convenient for Kaanapali Resort guests, who simply wade into the water and climb on board. The South Maui Sunset Sail departs from Maalaea Harbor, closer to central Maui. Both feature pupus and drinks, with great opportunities for whale watching from December through April.www.sailtrilogy.com