Hawaii cruises to resume

  • JOHN BURNETT/Tribune-Herald Princess Cruises' Emerald Princess eases into Port of Hilo on Feb. 10, 2020.

After 15 months in dry dock because of the coronavirus pandemic, the passenger cruise industry is gearing up to make Hawaii port calls before the end of the year.

Ross Birch, executive director of the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau, said Friday that cruise industry officials are “pretty solid” in their plans.

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“It looks like, after the conferences they’ve had recently and the Florida situation, a lot of them are sticking to 100% vaccination of passengers and crew,” Birch said. “In order to be able to cruise, they’ve got to start the reservation system now for November launch dates.”

The “Florida situation” Birch referred to is a June 18 federal court ruling that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention couldn’t enforce its conditional sailing order on cruise ships in Florida waters. It was a victory for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, who sued the CDC in April.

The conditional sailing order required cruise operators to show 95% of crew and passengers are vaccinated, or to hold test cruises with volunteer passengers to prove they can mitigate coronavirus risks.

“The recent ruling applies only to the state of Florida and does not apply to other states at this time,” said Shelly Kunishige, spokeswoman for the Hawaii Department of Transportation. “The Hawaii Department of Transportation does not intend to deviate from the guidance provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in their conditional sailing order, to include the need for formal agreements with local jurisdictions.”

That said, Norwegian Cruise Lines Hawaii is booking seven-day interisland cruises aboard the Pride of America for November and December, as well as January 2022. All passenger cabins, except the suites — the most expensive passage — are sold out. Suites still available are priced in excess of $10,000 for cruises departing Nov. 27, Dec. 7 and Dec. 18 from Honolulu.

According to the website hawaii.portcall.com, the Pride of America, which can accommodate 3,236 guests, has port calls in Hilo scheduled for Nov. 2, 9, 16, 23, and 30, and Dec. 7, 14, 21 and 28.

In addition, NCL’s Norwegian Jewel has port calls in Hilo scheduled for Nov. 3 and 10.

Princess Cruises’ Grand Princess is scheduled for Hilo stops on Nov. 11, Nov. 25 and on Christmas Day. The Ruby Princess is scheduled to dock in Hilo on Nov. 12 and Dec. 15 and 27. Holland America’s MS Zuiderdam has Hilo stops logged for Nov. 27 and Dec. 11. And the Carnival Miracle is slated to call on Dec. 6 and 12.

The industry is eyeing an even earlier return of passenger liners to Kailua-Kona.

The Carnival Miracle has port calls in Kailua-Kona scheduled for Sept. 24, Oct. 24, and Dec. 5 and 11. The Celebrity Eclipse is slated to drop anchor on Sept. 27. Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas has an Oct. 11 port call. The Norwegian Jewel is due to arrive Oct. 12, Nov. 2 and Nov. 9. The MS Zuiderdam has port calls on Nov. 28 and Dec. 12.

And the Pride of America has Kona stops scheduled for Nov. 3, 10, 17 and 24 and Dec. 1, 8, 15, 23 and 29.

“We are anticipating the return of the Pride of America later this year and have a positive outlook that the cruise industry in Hawaii can operate safely,” Kunishige said.

Natalie Sampaio, owner of Hilo Ocean Adventures — which offers snorkeling, scuba diving and tours to view sea turtles and humpback whales — said any arrivals of cruise ships in 2021 would come as a surprise.

“I thought it would actually not happen until early next year at some time,” she said. “I’d be curious to see if it really does … make it that early. But if it does, it’s going to affect our business hugely. First of all, all of the guests that come from the ship walk directly right by our facility, so it’s very visible to them.

“The other part, though, is we’re so short-staffed, we don’t know if we could handle that right now.”

The shutdown of the cruise industry and quarantines on arriving air passengers caused Sampaio to have “almost zero business” earlier in the pandemic, forcing layoffs.

“A lot of our staff were students, so they ended up having to go home back to the mainland. We never really got them back,” she said.

Sampaio said business has picked up because of the lifting of restrictions on trans-Pacific air arrivals.

“We’ve been trying to hire at a fever pitch just to get anyone to help out with our guests when they come in,” she said.

“And it’s not just my business. Everybody is short-staffed, everywhere I go. The businesses are just packed, and the people there are just slammed. And they’re doing their best, but everybody’s short-staffed.”

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The Tribune-Herald reached out to Norwegian Cruise Lines, which didn’t respond in time for this story.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.