Question: I need to travel from Oahu to Los Angeles or something close to Los Angeles for business reasons, and I can no longer fly. I know there are lots of cruises that go from California to Hawaii, but I don’t see any that go from Hawaii to California. Can you help me?
— Carly Ferrin, Honolulu
Answer: The song “If I Could Turn Back Time” is now running through my head, although in this case, the regret is not unfortunate things said, which is the song’s lament, but the words I must say:
“Jet travel” and “protectionism.”
Those are the issues, now and in the distant past.
Passenger service between the West Coast and Hawaii began to take off in the 1930s as the islands became a popular vacation destination.
For many Americans, vacation in the olden days often involved taking the waters, sometimes involving mineral waters in a spa-like setting.
Better health would result, it was thought.
But others took to the waters, striking out for Hawaii, which worked its own sort of magic, first on Matson Navigation Co. passenger ships, then, after disembarkation from the five-day cruise, on the abundant pristine beaches.
Matson is credited with popularizing Hawaii, thanks to its passenger service and the hotels it owned. The Moana Surfrider and the Royal Hawaiian are still going strong.
Not so passenger ship service. It started to fall apart when jet travel got travelers to Hawaii in a few hours.
By the early 1970s, passenger service to and from the islands joined the Chevy Corvair, the Twist and granny glasses on the scrapheap of history.
Sure, there were (and are) people who preferred that method of travel, but their hopes were (and are) held in check thanks to U.S. legislation from the 1880s that sought (and seeks) to protect American shipping companies.
The Passenger Vessel Services Act of 1886 decreed that ships from foreign countries could not carry passengers between two U.S. ports.
The law is still on the books, which makes life interesting because most cruise ships are foreign-flagged.
That means “non-U.S. flagged ships are unable to cruise from one U.S. port to another without first stopping in a foreign port, so cruises from the U.S. (mainland) to Hawaii will first stop in Mexico, and cruises from Hawaii to the West Coast will sail directly to Canada,” said Chris Gray Faust, senior editor at CruiseCritic.com.
(But wait. What about those Hawaiian Island trips on Norwegian Cruise Line? American-flagged.)
Although some ships do sail round trip, Hawaii-L.A., “At this time, no cruise lines allow you to take just one leg” of that itinerary, Gray Faust wrote in an email.
“For this particular traveler, the best bet would be a cruise from Honolulu to Vancouver, Canada,” Gray Faust said. “The options available are eight- to 12-day sailings, depending on the cruise line you choose.”
And the bad news?
“These are repositioning cruises,” she said. “Ships sailing one way from Hawaii to Canada are being redeployed to cruise to Alaska in the spring and summer months, so (departure) dates are limited to April/May.”
This fits the reader’s timeline for getting to the mainland, but she will need to be prepared for a long stay: “There won’t be return trips to Hawaii until September, when the ships return for Pacific sailings,” Gray Faust said.
Getting to the mainland
CruiseCritic came up with this list of sailings to the mainland:
12 nights, Honolulu to Vancouver
Leaves: April 29
Ship: Celebrity Solstice
From: $934, based on two people in a cabin, a.k.a. double occupancy
Eight nights, Honolulu to Vancouver
Leaves: April 28
Ship: Holland America’s Noordam
From: $979, double occupancy
10 nights, Honolulu to Vancouver
Ship: Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas
Departs: May 3
From: $1,099, double occupancy
You can find the return trips at this link, lat.ms/returntohawaii, which includes a Carnival ship and a six-day Holland America trip.
If you can stand a small craft (small as in a vessel that is about 50 feet, kind of small when you consider the Celebrity Solstice is 1,041 feet), you may be able to find a company that will let you sail an “empty” leg, as private jets often do. (And by “let you,” we don’t mean you won’t pay for the passage.)
Chartering a full yacht is a tad on the expensive side as well, but works if money is no object.
But, like time, it often is. Paradise has its price, and only the resident can say whether it’s too steep to bear.
(Have a travel dilemma? Write to email@example.com. We regret we cannot answer every inquiry.)