The hope among countless would-be passengers and a cruise industry still worth many billions of dollars has been that the 2021 holiday season would witness the return of Hawaiian cruises. Sadly, those hopes are now dashed.
No firm date is set, but according to the Department of Transportation, cruises will not be allowed until at least January 2022. This is in contrast to several other US states which have already resumed allowing cruises; including Alaska which, prior to the pandemic, was among the most visited cruise destinations on Earth and by far the most visited in the United States.
Hawaii saw an unprecedented spike in new cases and deaths from COVID-19 in September and October this year; but now, as November comes to a close, those frightening numbers are much, much lower. Governor David Ige and Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi have both recently announced plans to loosen various restrictions, including Hawaii’s statewide capacity limits which ended on December 1st.
Although you’d be forgiven for some jaded hesitancy, this all does sound quite a bit like very good news. Things appear to be heading in the right direction; just not fast enough to make cruises viable by the end of the year.
There are multiple culprits here. One is that Hawaii’s ports have not yet been set up to comply with CDC protocols for passenger safety. Another is that Safe Travels, the program put in charge of enforcing COVID travel requirements for Hawaii visitors and therefore the program in charge of allowing visitors to enter at all, currently has no provision for cruise travelers. Without that, it doesn’t matter how low cases become; cruises will remain bureaucratically impossible until protocols are put in place - or until the Safe Travels program is paused or removed.
Hawaii is inarguably one of the most extraordinary cruise destinations on the planet, especially during the typically popular holiday season. The prolonged ban, amid so many other loosening restrictions within the state and so many other cruise destinations reopening around the globe, is disappointing to say the least. Then again, we’ve seen this before, but in reverse. If a few more months of restriction can produce the public health and bureaucratic infrastructure needed to set the 2022 Hawaiian cruise season into full swing, then it’s worth it.