My wife and I have never been to Hawaii and are trying to figure out what to do. There are lots of cruises, but our friends said that it's better to go to one island, rent a car and explore on our own. What do you recommend?
In short, it depends on who you ask. After visiting Hawaii both by land and by sea, there are definite advantages and disadvantages to both. Most travelers choose the non-cruise option, which involves picking an island or two to visit, booking a reservation in a hotel room or local condo, renting a car, and finding excursions on your own. Small inter-island 'hopper' flights are available to get you and your party from one island to the next. Flights runs between $50-$150 per person.
If you're comfortable with navigating new locations, or if you have a great vacation package, the hotel-and-car route will be very successful. It is, after all, still the US (really!) so everyone is English-speaking, drives on the right side of the road, and takes the US dollar. It's akin to a road trip, only you fly there first. The concierge desk at your hotel (or neighboring hotel, if you're in a condo) can help you book any activities like luaus, catamaran sailings, or volcano hikes that aren't included in a vacation package. Local shopping centers or malls are likely to have a Tourist Center or information shop, and they can also help you find things to do.
For those who are fond of cruising, experiencing Hawaii by cruise ship can make for a great vacation because you get to see the islands plus you get all the benefits that only cruise ships can offer. For one, you stop in at least four islands. Each island has a unique character and distinct adventures specific only to their location. You're not going to be able to see flowing lava on Kauai, for example, and you can only visit Pearl Harbor from Oahu. Also, cruise ships are chock-full of activities to keep everyone busy. For guests with kids, do keep in mind that in a hotel, you'll have to keep the kids entertained all on your own, unless you have family activities planned or the hotel has a kids program.
My advice is to try a bit of both - if you have the time and money, of course! NCL runs a 7 day cruise roundtrip from Honolulu, and many guests choose to book extra nights at a local hotel before or after their cruise. For non-cruisers, companies like Pleasant Hawaiian allow you to put together custom Hawaii packages including hotels, condos, car rentals and flights.