(Updated 8:54 a.m. EST) -- After reaching an agreement with state and local officials, small ship line UnCruise Adventures announed late Wednesday it has restarted cruises in Hawaii, operating the first sailings in the state in more than 20 months.
Hawaiian officials have not yet approved a restart for larger cruise ships.
The 36-passenger Safari Explorer kicked off the season sailing around the less-visited island of Molokai, including exploration in the Halawa Valley. The line has not yet received permission to operate in Maui and the Big Island of Hawaii but is continuing to work with authorities on those islands regarding "operational details," said Dan Blanchard, owner of UnCruise Adventures.
The cruise company is operating 100 percent vaccinated sailings, with testing requirements for both guests and crew.
"We have worked diligently to ensure that Hawaii’s residents are safe and confident in our operations," Blanchard said. "It is humbling to be granted permission to operate."
Cruises to Hawaii Impacted on Big Ships
Despite last-ditch efforts by cruise lines, Hawaii will not be open to most large-scale cruise ships for the remainder of this year, leaving some passengers out in the cold.
Whether big-ship cruises will be allowed to resume in January 2022 is still a question mark.
"Currently, the earliest resumption of cruises to Hawaii would be January of 2022,” Jai Cunningham, public information officer for the Hawaii Department of Transportation (HDOT) told Cruise Critic. "While no firm date is currently set, HDOT, in coordination with the various State, Federal, and Local entities, is focused on the safest possible resumption of cruise."
Officials told Cruise Critic on December 10 that discussions regarding port agreements are still ongoing.
"The State is currently negotiating Port Agreements with various cruise lines that includes the State’s Safe Travel requirements," officials said. "The CDC’s Conditional Sailing Order requires Port Agreements and executed between the port authority, local health authority, and the cruise line prior to a cruise ship resuming operations."
Cruise Lines Look to 2022 To Return to Hawaii
In November, Viking Cruises cancelled two 16-night Hawaii sailings on Viking Orion that were to embark Los Angeles in December, one of which was a Christmas and New Year’s holiday cruise. Replacing the Hawaii cruises is a Mexico itinerary calling in La Paz, Puerto Vallarta (for an overnight) and Cabo San Lucas (overnight), with eight days sailing the Pacific Ocean. Guests were offered shipboard credit on the new itinerary (the amount based on cabin category), the option of alternative itineraries booked by Nov. 21, or a full refund.
"While restrictions have been eased in most destinations around the world, the impacts of the pandemic continue to make cruise travel particularly complicated in some specific locations," said Richard Marnell, executive vice president, said in a letter to impacted guests. "When we developed our Hawaiian Island Sojourn voyage, travel to Hawaii was possible."
Carnival Cruise Line had also cancelled a two-week Carnival Journeys sailing aboard Carnival Miracle from Long Beach that had been scheduled to embark on Nov. 28, and was to visit several of the Hawaiian Islands and Ensenada. "While the ship is ready and we agreed to all the protocols required by the State, they will not be ready to restart cruising in Hawaii until 2022," John Heald, the line’s brand ambassador, said on Facebook. Future cruise credits were offered, as were refunds.
Princess Cruises also cancelled a sailing that was to cruise to Hawaii, roundtrip from Australia. Australia is also closed to international ships.
Were the ban on ships to continue into January, it could impact other cruise lines as well, most notably Norwegian Cruise Line, which has set the return of its one-week Hawaii cruises on Pride of America for January 22. Pride of America is the only large-scale, U.S.-flagged passenger ship that sails to Hawaii roundtrip from Honolulu.
A Norwegian Cruise Line spokesperson told Cruise Critic the January 22, 2022 voyage of Pride of America would go ahead as planned.
Other lines with Hawaii sailings on the books for January include Holland America Line, Princess, Carnival and Oceania.