HILO, Hawaii – Is this the year to finally take that Hawaii cruise?
You’d be forgiven for being skittish about the idea. The massive eruption of the Kilauea volcano on the island of Hawaii over the summer initially made a mess of Hawaii cruise itineraries. With lava flowing and volcanic fumes blowing, nearly half a dozen lines canceled calls at the island and rerouted ships. The eruption also closed Hawaii’s top tourist attraction, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, for more than four months.
But the heavy volcanic activity around Kilauea subsided weeks ago, Hawaii cruise routings are back to normal and, as of late September, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is back open. Now would-be Hawaii cruisers have the chance to be among the first to see the new volcanic landscape that the eruption has created. Plus, with at least one cruise line rolling out a significant promotion to lure people back, they’ll find the value of Hawaii cruises as good as it has been in quite a few years.
“Now may be the best time ever to come,” says Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau executive director Ross Birch, noting that visitors in the next few months will get a first-hand look at the immediate aftermath of a major geological event. “What happened over the last three months is something we haven’t seen in over 100 years.”
Intrigued by the idea? Here, a guide to what you need to know:
Is the volcano still erupting?
Officially, yes. Kilauea has been erupting pretty much continuously since 1983, with the strength of the eruption ebbing and flowing. But in recent weeks, volcanic activity has subsided significantly – so much so that for the first time in a long time, there is no molten lava to see at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Still, the fissures that were the source of a lot of the lava that flowed over the summer are still steaming with smoke that can be seen during helicopter tours over the volcano – a popular excursion for cruisers.
Is everything back open?
For the most part, yes. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which normally draws 2 million visitors a year, reopened on Sept 22 after a 134-day closure. But there has been widespread damage to park infrastructure (as well as dramatic changes to the landscape). Visitors still can drive the park’s iconic Chain of Craters Road through hardened lava fields. Kilauea Visitors Center near the Kilauea Caldera also is open as are most of the facilities at the nearby Volcano House lodge. But the Jaggar Museum and adjacent overlook of the Halema’uma’u Crater, highlights of park tours before the eruption, are closed, as is the popular Thurston Lava Tube.
Why go now?
Visitors in the coming months will be among the first to see the dramatic effects of Hawaii’s biggest volcanic eruption in memory. In addition to destroying more than 700 dwellings and 30 miles of road, flowing lava during the event added more than 850 acres to the south of the island, which now can be seen – still steaming – during a helicopter tour. Birch says the world’s newest piece of land will become more accessible in the coming weeks when the island opens an access point to the new terrain, which is located outside of the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park boundary. Visitors will be able to walk onto the hardening lava as part of escorted groups.
Within the park, visitors will find “an incredible landscape,” park superintendent Cindy Orlando tells USA TODAY. Among the new allures is a massive volcanic hole – more than 1,500 feet deep – that has formed at Halema’uma’u Crater where once there was a lake of red-hot lava.
Would-be Hawaii cruisers also will find some unusual promotions available if they book soon. On Oct. 4, Norwegian Cruise Line kicked off a rare “free air” offer on Hawaii cruises. The promotion includes free flights to reach Norwegian’s Hawaii-based ship from five West Coast cities and reduced-cost flights from more than 30 other cities across the United States. Some restrictions apply.
Which lines go there?
Norwegian is the only major line with a ship based in Hawaii year-round and by far the dominant player in the market. The company’s 2,186-passenger Pride of America sails out of Honolulu every Saturday on week-long, all-Hawaii itineraries that feature stops on the islands of Maui, Kauai and Hawaii.
Norwegian’s biggest competitor in Hawaii is Princess Cruises, which operates lengthier voyages to the island chain from its home ports on the West Coast during the fall and winter. Princess typically offers about two dozen Hawaii cruises a year, mostly from Los Angeles and San Francisco. In a major difference to Norwegian’s Hawaii voyages, Princess’s trips include a significant number of sea days due to the long distances its ships must travel between its West Coast hubs and Hawaii. A typical Princess cruise to Hawaii will include nine sea days and just four days of calls at the islands.
Most other major lines including Holland America, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Carnival offer at least a few voyages to Hawaii during the fall or winter. Like Princess, they use ships based on the West Coast, and the trips include a significant number of sea days.
Hawaii also is the winter home of one of the smallest cruise ships based in the Pacific, UnCruise Adventures’ 36-passenger Safari Explorer. The tiny vessel operates adventure-focused, seven-night trips between the little-visited island of Molokai and the island of Hawaii between November and April. The sailings include stops at Lanai and Maui.
What does it cost?
As of this week, soon-to-depart October sailings of Norwegian’s Pride of America started at $799 per person, with November and December priced from $999. Upcoming Princess and Holland America trips start at $1,096 and $1,299 per person, respectively. UnCruise sailings in Hawaii, which are more all-inclusive, start at $3,995 per person.
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