Hilo dock gets Norwegian cruise ship
By Janis L. Magin
The Norwegian Star will not return to Kailua, Kona, during its weekly cruise of the islands and will continue to call at Hilo, Hawai'i, where passengers can walk off the ship, Norwegian Cruise Line officials said yesterday.
The decision to alter the ship's original itinerary comes two months after the ship began calling at Hilo as a temporary port, after cruise line officials in January said rough winter seas made it difficult to get Norwegian Star passengers into Kailua, Kona, for the six-hour stop.
Because Kailua, Kona, does not have a facility the ship can dock alongside, the ship must moor offshore and ferry passengers in on smaller boats. The ship was to return to using Kona April 1.
"Lack of sufficient shoreside tender availability coupled with the extremely positive feedback from our passengers has prompted us to make this temporary move permanent," Colin Veitch, president and chief executive officer of the Miami-based Norwegian Cruise Line, said in a statement.
The 2,200-passenger Norwegian Star began its weekly Hawai'i cruises Dec. 16. The ship has 10 gourmet restaurants and a 1,000-seat theater for live productions.
The ship leaves Honolulu on Sunday, and stops at the Big Island on Monday before heading out to sea en route to Fanning Island in the Republic of Kiribati a required stop for foreign-owned lines that cannot ply entirely domestic routes before returning to Hawaiian waters with calls at Lahaina on Maui and Nawiliwili on Kaua'i, on the way back to Honolulu.
The Fanning Island run means the ship can only remain in port at the Big Island for seven hours.
The process of ferrying passengers into Kailua-Kona was taking anywhere from an hour and a half to two hours, said Susan Robison, a spokeswoman for Norwegian Cruise Line. "Obviously the fact that people could get off at the Hilo dock is a plus, and our passengers really liked that," she said. "I think they like the fact that they can do the volcano from Hilo, and I think they like the fact that they can get right off the ship."
Rep. Jim Rath said that perhaps repairs can be made to the Kailua Pier in the future.
"What we really need to do is do away with the Jones Act so we can get a lot more cruise ships in here and that would certainly stimulate our economy," said Rath (R-North Kona-South Kohala).
Another Norwegian ship, the Norwegian Wind, will call at both Kona and Hilo, with longer cruises scheduled for the last week in March and two weeks in April.
Businesses in Kailua, Kona, suffered a blow in October when American Classic Voyages went bankrupt, taking away the weekly visits, and passengers, from its cruise ships, the SS Independence and the Patriot.
But Rath discounted any negative effect the Star's change in itinerary might have on tourism in west Hawai'i.
"We get an awful lot of visitors," said Rath. "The Kona side of the Big Island has done extremely well and continues to do extremely well in the tourism business. People flood there, and we have additional ships aside from the Norwegian line that do call in Kona."