Finally, a bit of sanity for Hawaii cruising
This coming summer, for the first time in more than two years, about half of the Americans wanting to sail on large cruise ships within the Hawaiian Islands will no longer have to pose the above questions to their travel advisers. Starting July 4, and continuing every week thereafter, one of the two major cruise ships permanently stationed in Hawaii (the Pride of Aloha) will no longer make a 1,700-mile round trip in the course of its cruises to tiny, inconsequential Fanning Island in the South Pacific. While its sister ship (the Norwegian Wind) will continue to make that weird detour from Hawaii, we should all be grateful for at least some progress.
How did Fanning Island, in the wholly unknown Republic of Kiribati, become a factor in Hawaiian cruising? More than 50 years ago, for the purpose of protecting the fast-disappearing U.S. maritime industry, Congress decreed that no ship other than an American-flagged ship could transport passengers between one U.S. port and another; if they were not U.S.-flagged, they could sail only between a U.S. port and a foreign port.
One purpose of this so-called cabotage law was to ensure that the classic cruise itineraries within the several Hawaiian islands would be monopolized by American vessels. And sure enough, a company called America Hawaii Cruises (later known as American Classic Voyages) soon emerged as the only cruise line to offer sailings simply within the Hawaiian Islands. Its vessels were the rather ancient Constitution and the Independence, making heavy use in summer of American college students as waiters and room stewards, and for many years it made sluggish use of its monopoly position. Other lines, if they were to cruise the Hawaiian Islands, had to make the obligatory detour to Fanning Island (Norwegian Cruise Line chose that somewhat unattractive option) or had to originate the cruise in Ensenada, Mexico, or Vancouver, British Columbia, sailing vast stretches of the Pacific to reach Hawaii.
Nobody fared too well at this, and shortly after 9/11, American Classic Voyages went bankrupt, leaving Norwegian Cruise Line (with its Fanning Island burden) as the sole remaining specialist in Hawaiian cruises. A classic policy of economic protectionism had achieved nothing: The U.S. maritime industry hadn't grown at all, and the tourist industry of Hawaii had been badly damaged by the limited number of passengers who could be attracted to Hawaiian cruising.
Most recently, Congress has given Norwegian Cruise Line a limited exemption to operate foreign-built ships in Hawaii, but only by creating a new "NCL America" line that would hire a largely American crew for at least one of its ships. Starting July 4 the newly repainted and refurbished Norwegian Sky will be renamed the Pride of Aloha and will confine itself to seven-night itineraries solely in the Hawaiian Islands, spending at least 96 hours each week at ports in Hawaiian cities.
The other Hawaii-assigned Norwegian Cruise Line ship--the Norwegian Wind--will sail 10-night and 11-night itineraries of the Hawaiian Islands, detouring on each sailing to that irresistible tourism magnet called (you guessed it!) Fanning Island. And why? So that we don't open the door to a torrent of foreign competition for that "American" company, the Norwegian Cruise Line subsidiary operating the Pride of Aloha.
Starting July 4, and for much time to come, we can now book a seven-night cruise of the Hawaiian Islands on at least one ship--a single ship--that isn't obligated to go back and forth to the remote Fanning Island.
If you'd like to book, you can contact a travel agent, or call NCL America at 888-625-4292. The Web site is www.ncl.com.