No cruise ships until 2022

  • In this 2019 file photo, crew and passengers are given lei by Destination Hilo volunteers as they get off the the cruise ship, MSC Magnifica in Hilo's port. (Tribune-Herald file photo)

Anyone hoping to travel on a cruise ship to Hawaii this year can forget about it.

“Given the preparations and coordination needed to ensure Hawaii residents feel confident in the plan to resume cruising, we do not anticipate approving port call for cruise vessels with passengers in the time remaining in 2021,” state Department of Transportation spokesman Jai Cunningham said Thursday.

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“We do anticipate completing an agreement and allowing resumption of passenger dockage in early 2022,” Cunningham said. “… Cruise operations can resume, per the terms of the agreement, after that agreement has been executed.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s conditional sail order, which requires an executed agreement with any cruise line prior to resumption of cruise operations to any U.S. port, is set to expire on Jan. 15, but the CDC has extended that order before.

In Hawaii, the DOT’s Harbors Division would be the executing authority.

The conditional sail order — which had dry-docked the cruise industry since March 13, 2020 — also requires cruise operators to show 95% of crew and passengers on cruise ships arriving to and departing from U.S. ports to be vaccinated against the novel coronavirus.

Florida’s ports have accommodated cruise ships for about five months since a June 18 federal court ruling that the CDC couldn’t enforce its conditional sail order on cruise ships in Florida waters, a victory for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, who sued the CDC in April.

That ruling, however, applied only to the state of Florida.

In addition, a number of other states now are allowing cruise ships in their ports under conditions of the CDC’s order, including Alaska, Washington, Texas and California.

There has been pushback from at least one cruise line about not being able to bring passengers to Hawaii, a popular destination for cruise enthusiasts.

On the cruise industry website Cruise Hive, a headline for a Nov. 10 story reads “Carnival Cruise Lines Cancels Sailing to Hawaii From Long Beach.”

According to the story, the Carnival Miracle was set to depart Long Beach, Calif., and dock in Honolulu on Dec. 3. It said Carnival “has been working with the authorities in Hawaii to try and keep Carnival Miracle’s Nov. 28 departure to Hawaii a reality.”

“Despite the cruise line agreeing to all the necessary protocols, Hawaii is still not ready to welcome back cruise ships for guest operations,” the article stated.

The article quoted John Heald, Carnival’s brand ambassador as saying, “While the ship is ready and we agreed to all the protocols required by the state, they will not be ready to restart cruising in Hawaii until 2022. I want to assure you that they made every effort to preserve this but, unfortunately, we now have no other choice but to cancel this cruise.”

When asked about the cruise line’s statement, Cunningham replied, “Carnival is aware of the preparations relating to the (state’s) Safe Travels digital platform to accommodate the additional approved vaccine types as well as the user interface for cruise passengers. They were aware of these preparations and likely timetables when they took their bookings.”

Cunningham said the state Harbors Division “has been coordinating with cruise lines, counties and local health and emergency management agencies on port agreements that clearly outline the resources available and responsibilities regarding potential health emergencies. The state has jointly prepared a framework for such agreements, which includes adaptation of the Safe Travel prearrival screening program for cruise travel.

“… And with only a few weeks left in the calendar year, it is not feasible to execute port agreements in that short a time.”

The website Hawaii Portcall — which many cruise enthusiasts rely on but the state has described as not official information — lists Princess Cruises’ Grand Princess to dock in Hilo on Jan. 9 and the Viking Orion on Jan. 11. While those dates can’t yet be ruled out based on the DOT statements, they seem overly optimistic considering the CDC’s conditional sail order remains in effect until Jan. 15.

Hawaii Portcall also lists Norwegian Cruise Lines Hawaii resuming weekly Tuesday Hilo port calls for its interisland cruise ship Pride of America on Jan. 25.

“We miss them,” said Dinnie Kysar, president of the tourism nonprofit Destination Hilo. “As far as I know, we’re expecting cruise ships in January, but nothing the rest of this year.”

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“We’re hopeful that the Pride of America will start up at the end of January so that we start greeting passengers down at the pier and even have our Hilo Hula Tuesday performance at the Mooheau (Park) Bandstand,” she said.

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

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