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Thinking Of a Hawaii Island Cruise – Read This

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Beginning in the mid 1970’s through to 1983 I spent anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months spending my winter vacation time in the Hawaiian Islands. Since I began cruising in 1994 I’ve visited the Hawaiian Islands by ship 8 or 9 times.

There are limited options available for Hawaiian cruising; NCL America is the only line offering full time, year round, sailing around the islands, which begin and end on the island of Oahu. This is due to multi-decade old government restrictions, originally put in place to protect the American shipping industry. The same regulations create some difficulties for ships sailing on other itineraries from the ports located within the continental United States, as well as Alaska. However because of the distance to the Hawaiian Islands, its most odious affect is on cruising the Hawaiian Islands.

NCL America made a valiant attempt to structure a company in order to comply with all the U.S. government restrictions to build a brand exclusively for Hawaii-based cruising; at one point dedicating three ships to this goal. Unfortunately, they were eventually forced to move two of those ships to NCL International operations, and today they are left with one ship, The Pride of America, sailing Hawaiian waters.

In Apr. and then May of this year I sailed two different ships; the Sapphire Princess, and then the Crystal Symphony, from Los Angeles (San Pedro) to the Hawaiian Islands and then back to Los Angeles.  Both were 14 day sailings, with identical itineraries; both with a tertiary stop for a couple of hours in Ensenada, Mexico- necessary to comply with the Passenger Services Act (Jones Act).  In essence, both these cruises were compromised of  9 and a half sea days out of the  14. There are several other cruise lines which also offer similar itineraries at various times of the year, either from Los Angeles, San Diego, and occassionally San Francisco.

These are wonderful cruise itineraries for those who really enjoy the muitiple days at sea. But I do have to wonder how satisfying they are for people who set out to book a `Hawaii Cruise`. On both cruises I spoke to people who had never been to Hawaii, and referred to these trips as their `Hawaiian Dream Cruise`.  Does 40 hrs. on land  in Hawaii, out of a total of 336 hours, really justify it being called a Hawaiian Cruise?

A few years back I sailed similar itineraries to these, but this time I noticed a change. These used to 15 night cruises, rather than 14, and they included a stop in both Hilo and Kona (both ports on Hawaii – The Big Island), which at night allowed for the ship passing by the spot one could often see the lava from the  Kilauea Volcano sliding to meet the waters of the Pacific.  As well, they featured an overnight stop in Maui.

I’m not certain why they changed this, as those were two of my favorite memories from previous cruise. I can only guess that the changes were made for monetary reasons. But I am disapppointed in the changes.

The other options for `cruising Hawaii` are repositioning cruises. Most often in the spring or fall cruise lines are repositioning ships from various locals and will offer one way cruises, either to or from the Hawaiian Islands. Normally these are one way trips, either from the mainland to Hawaii, ending in Ohau, or from Ohau to the mainland. These repositioning cruises are normally 10 or 11 days in duration. While the repositioning cruises do offer another choice, they do require either one way or open jaw air to meet your transportation needs.

While I have obviously sailed the Hawaiian Islands many times, and have experienced most of the variations I’ve mentioned in this piece, if I had never spent some significant time on land in Hawaii in the past, I frankly wouldn’t recommend a cruise as the way to see Hawaii; either for a first time or irregular visitor to Hawaii.

Even though I am a cruise travel writer, and you’d probably expect me to recommend a cruise, in my view there is just so much beauty and culture to be enjoyed in the Hawaiian Islands, if a visit to Hawaii is one of your “dreams”, I suggest a land vacation for your first visit. It may cost a little more than a cruise, and you shouldn’t be shy about doing some island hopping to experience it all, in the end I think you’ll be happy with your decision… and my recommendation.

One might think the arguments made here (about lack of time in ports) are true for other areas as well; such as the Caribbean, Europe, or the Meditteranean. The key difference is the distance between ports.

I’ve always thought a cruise should be viewed as an easy and comfortable means of transportation, which offers ports of calls as appetizers of the region. You get an opening portion of some superb tastes, some of which may pique your interest to return for a “full meal” of that port.

But in other locales, where distances between ports are much shorter, you get a multitude of those appetizers during a cruise, which together supply an excellent cruise experience. With Hawaii’s distant location the logistics are necessarily different.

Visit by land first, find all your favorite spots, then return later by ship for a visit.

– A View From the Kuki Side of Cruising –

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Comment from Kenneth Eden
Time July 27, 2011 at 8:01 am

For me the ship is the destination, the ports, diversions. I posted a lengthy review of my February 2011 14 day Hawaiian cruise with QUEEN VICTORIA, hwich was well received here at cruise mates.

Firstly, we had one port change due to another ship that needed the dock, I am assuming NCL/America, since that ship calls there ’round.

As i prefer the ship, Kuki suggests see and stay in Hawaii FIRST then cruise and revisit favorite places – I could not agree more –

For a ship person, I really saw little of Hawaii, and perhaps missed out a lot of great places.

I will not comment on the ships that call in Hawaii, suffice it to say that I was totally enamored, again, by the QUEEN VICTORIA, and for those with 14 days, the cruise is wonderful – bear in mind, as with most Cunard cruises, the ship, not the ports are the reason for sailing.

Comment from Revi
Time November 12, 2011 at 12:24 pm

Hi Kuki, I have been reading your very informative blog posts about the Princess Sapphire to Hawaii. I was wondering if you happened to notice if there were any children on the cruise. We are considering this option, but we will be traveling with our children who are under the age of 8. Thanks!

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