KAILUA-KONA — Staff members of the Target store in Kailua-Kona knew what it meant when team member Renee Mundell strolled in Wednesday morning wearing a pair of shorts.
And with broad smiles and shakas, they rejoiced.
“They go, ‘Oh, the ship is back!’” Mundell said. “‘You’re going back to the ship.’”
The ship in question was the Pride of America, part of the Norwegian Cruise Lines fleet, which hadn’t made port in Kailua-Kona since early May.
Passengers disembarking from the ship Wednesday morning said they were notified shortly before they initially set sail that the Pride of America wouldn’t stop in Hilo or Kona, but instead would spend an extra time off Oahu and Maui.
Reaction was mixed.
“I was a little bit kind of thinking the air quality was going to be bad, so I didn’t really want to deal with being in nasty vog,” said Wendy Jones, whose party planned to stroll along Alii Drive before scoping out a spot to snorkel. “I don’t feel sick yet.”
Charles Edwards and his wife came to celebrate their 51st anniversary. Having been to the Big Island once before, making all the rounds was important to them.
“We voiced our concern that they weren’t stopping,” Edwards said as he waited to board a glass-bottom boat tour.
Roger Maddocks, a geologist, was waiting with his wife and granddaughter to board the same vessel as Edwards. He is rounding out an extended Hawaii vacation that included a cruise, and Maddocks happened to be aboard the Pride of America last week when it skipped port on both sides of Hawaii Island.
He described his reaction to the news as “very bitter,” adding he planned to file a formal complaint upon the conclusion of his visit.
“When we arrived, they changed the schedule yet again,” Maddocks explained. “And we’d made rental car plans everywhere for 17 people, so we were scrambling to change all that.”
Whether passenger complaints played any role in Norwegian Cruise Lines’ decision to call on Hawaii Island is unclear, as the company couldn’t be reached for comment by press time Wednesday.
Edwards was relieved when the cruise line swapped itineraries last minute to include both ports on the Big Island, starting Tuesday with Hilo, where he and his wife enlisted the services of a local tour guide.
“We had a ball. He was very informative,” Edwards said. “It’s just been great.”
He and Jones, who also got off the boat in Hilo, added that while traveling throughout East Hawaii there was no obvious indication that a volcano was erupting roughly 20 miles away.
A sigh of collective relief among the West Hawaii business community could be felt Wednesday, as well, even among well-entrenched businesses with the kind of track record and name recognition to withstand missed ports — each one of which cost the area economy in the neighborhood of $175,000, according to Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau Executive Director Ross Birch.
“We had a good May despite NCL pulling out,” said Michael Bell, a manager with Body Glove. “But it sure is a relief to have them back. All of our staff is getting a full week of work, which is great.”
Mundell echoed Bell’s sentiment.
“Quite a few people come and they spend money,” she said. “And that’s good for this town.”
Cruise ship guests piling onto Kailua Pier were almost universally unconcerned about the vog, which wasn’t as thick or as toxic as in recent days but still lingered noticeably atop and around Hualalai.
“It’s not really a big concern because I’m pretty sure if it was something major, they probably wouldn’t even let the tourists out,” said Ike Immanuel, whose group was on its way beach. “So with that sense of security, we just go with the flow.”
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