KAILUA-KONA — Kailua Village businesses face a second week without their Wednesday cruise ship boon after Norwegian Cruise Line announced Monday it would forego for another week Hawaii Island ports.
The 2,186-passenger, 920-foot Pride of America will visit neither Hilo Bay today nor Kailua Bay on Wednesday as part of its weekly interisland itinerary, Norwegian Cruise Line confirmed Monday in an email to West Hawaii Today. The vessel did not visit Kailua-Kona last Wednesday and has not come to Hilo since May 1.
Norwegian Cruise Line did not address specifics, including its reasoning for skipping Hawaii Island ports, particularly Kailua-Kona, which, as the crow flies, is 72 miles from Kilauea Volcano’s lower East Rift Zone eruption. In addition, the company has refrained from mentioning the volcano or volcanic activity in its prepared media statements.
“Our top priority is the safety and security of our guests and crew. We have been closely monitoring the phenomenal geological conditions impacting Hawaii and have modified the itinerary of Pride of America to ensure that our guests have the tremendous vacation experience they have come to expect from Norwegian Cruise Line,” the company said Monday after noting it’s visited Hilo and Kona 52 weeks a year for the past 14 years.
Though it provided no duration for the cancellations, Norwegian Cruise Line did say the company would “commence calls to the Big Island of Hawaii as soon as conditions allow.”
The Pride of America is currently slated to visit Hilo on May 29 and Kailua-Kona on May 30, according to the Hawaii Port Call website, which provides vessel schedules for harbors.
“We will continue to assess the situation carefully and will make changes to our planned itineraries if conditions warrant necessary,” the company said when asked about next week’s Hawaii Island port visits.
The most-recent notice of plans by the cruise line to skip island ports comes amid an already struggling tourism industry on Hawaii Island, with the continuing Kilauea eruption causing widespread cancellations from would-be visitors, despite the vast majority of the island still being safe to visit.
Since the eruptions started May 3, five cruise ship visits to Hilo have been canceled, including three visits by the Pride of America and vessels owned by Royal Caribbean and Princess cruises on May 7 and Friday, respectively.
The Crystal Symphony, operated by Crystal Cruises, has reportedly canceled its Wednesday visit to Hilo and the visit is no longer listed on the Hawaii Port Call website. The vessel is scheduled to port in Kailua-Kona on Thursday, and stay an additional two hours.
Kailua-Kona has fared better with just two Pride of America cancellations, which includes this Wednesday’s visit.
Ross Birch, executive director of the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau, said Norwegian Cruise Line’s decision to skip Hawaii Island ports is likely being made based on the information being put out by government officials and agencies.
“We would think, from a tourism standpoint, that they would feel comfortable with the messaging that we’re sending out,” he said referring to information from the bureau and agencies like the Hawaii Tourism Authority assuring travelers the impact is limited to a remote region on the island’s eastern side.
“The island is a safe place to visit. Both of the ports are open and all the businesses are ready,” he said.
The news of the Pride of America staying at sea did not sit will Monday with various Kailua Village area businesses that benefit from the scores of visitors the cruise ship has brought to shore each Wednesday for more than a decade.
“It’s an important day. Just like every other retailer here, naturally, the cruise ship is a prime day,” said Harold Dungate, owner of Kona Jewelers at the Kona Marketplace on Alii Drive.
Mark Storfer, chief operating officer of Hilo Hattie, said going without the Pride of America visit last Wednesday was definitely felt at its location in the Kona Inn Shopping Village.
“It certainly is having an impact to our Kona store,” he said. “We rely on the cruise ship industry in Kailua-Kona and we’re disappointed Norwegian Cruise Line has decided to divert the ship two weeks in a row.”
The company has sent a letter to Norwegian Cruise Line iterating the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau and Hawaii Tourism Authority position that Kailua-Kona is safe to visit.
“They thanked us for it and said they would take it under advisement,” Storfer said. “We’ll see what happens.”