Monday, Feb. 26, 2024|
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Passengers leave the Port of Hilo after arriving on the Ruby Princess cruise ship on Friday.
This spring, the Big Island will see an increase in the number of cruise ships visiting Hilo and Kona.
That’s according to Ross Birch, executive director of the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau. Birch said the increase, however, “will be nowhere near the levels of 2019,” prior to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“In addition, the cruise ships are not currently sailing at capacity,” Birch said. “We have seen passenger capacities to date between 30-70% of capacity as the cruise brands ramp up operations.”
That was reflected by the Ruby Princess, which docked Friday in Hilo with 1,839 passengers aboard, 54% of its carrying capacity of 3,575 passengers, according to the state Department of Transportation’s Harbors Division.
In addition, the Grand Princess is scheduled to arrive in Hilo today with 1,311 guests aboard, just 43% of its carrying capacity of 3,006 passengers.
As of now, only two cruise corporations, Carnival Corp. — which has Princess Cruises and several other cruise lines under its corporate umbrella — and Norwegian Cruise Lines have port agreements with DOT Harbors Division, a prerequisite for docking in Hawaii ports during the pandemic.
“Norwegian Cruise Line’s Pride of America is scheduled to resume seven-day interisland cruising in April,” Birch said. “In addition, we will see a series of cruise calls from Princess in the summer as they have moved capacity from Australia to the West Coast. Australia remains closed to cruising.”
The Pride of America’s first scheduled stop in Hilo is April 12. The interisland cruiser — the only passenger cruise ship operating under the U.S. flag — will drop anchor in Kailua-Kona the following day.
Other cruise lines are preparing to test Hawaii waters, as well. According to the DOT spokesman Jai Cunningham, the Harbors Division currently is in discussion with Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., the parent company of Celebrity Cruises, and also with Disney Cruises, and will make announcements when additional port agreements are signed.
According to Hawaii.Portcall.com, the Celebrity Eclipse is scheduled for a Hilo port call on April 29, and the Disney Wonder is scheduled to dock here on May 8. The Eclipse will also anchor in Kailua-Kona on May 1.
“April and May along with September and October are traditionally high season for the cruise ships as they transition between itineraries,” Birch said.
Cunningham said the DOT has begun to publicize the numbers of passengers aboard cruise ships because media outlets had been reporting only carrying capacities of the ships while many in the public remain concerned about the level of COVID-19 in local communities.
According to Birch, the visitor industry continues “to prioritize the safety and well-being of our community, as we gradually welcome back the cruise industry.”
“As the cruise lines are planning their return to our island, we know they have gone to great lengths to implement robust plans and health and safety measures, including frequent testing and vaccination requirements,” he said. “Cruise passengers really help to support our local and small businesses, from the shops and restaurants to the tour operators, many of which are still trying to regain their footing due to the pandemic.”
Lt. Gov. Josh Green said on Monday lower case counts could mean the Safe Travels Hawaii program that requires arriving travelers to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 or tested before traveling here could be eliminated in March. The port agreements signed by Carnival and NCL include the Safe Travels protocols, Cunningham said.
“It’s different than the airports because the crew itself is responsible for testing the passengers within 72 hours of arriving in Hawaii and getting them documented into the Safe Travels program. So, there is no third-party screener like at the airports,” Cunningham said.
“We do not see the Safe Travels program or the ending of the program having a great impact on the cruise lines, as they have had a sailing schedule in place for some time now,” Birch said. “There are … other regulations on the cruise industry and guidelines established by the CDC that supersede much of the Safe Travels process.
“We do, though, see it affecting our air passengers and regular visitation moving forward.”
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