FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Norwegian Cruise Line's new ship, the Pride of Hawaii, arrived in Honolulu Harbor on Saturday morning and tied up at Pier 2.
Hawaii gets Norwegian ship No. 3
ABOARD THE PRIDE OF HAWAII » Hawaii's flourishing cruise-ship industry is moving full steam ahead with the largest, most expensive U.S.-flagged luxury liner launching its scheduled service of weeklong voyages around the islands this week.
Arrival of the 2,400-passenger Pride of Hawaii completes Norwegian Cruise Lines' $1.4 billion plan to bring three new vessels to the islands.
The liner is the last in a series of U.S. cruise ships -- joining the 1,900-passenger Pride of Aloha and the 2,100-passenger Pride of America -- in NCL's ambitious venture to turn Hawaii into one of the world's top cruise destinations.
"I view this as the second Alaska, but it's better than that because it's year-round," said Colin Veitch, NCL Corp.'s president and chief executive, in an interview aboard the ship.
The company also has a foreign-flagged vessel, the Norwegian Wind, plying Hawaii waters.
Hawaii's cruise-ship industry has seen unprecedented growth in the past five years, led by Miami-based NCL and fueled by vacation-starved baby boomers.
Hawaii hosted 138,219 cruise-ship passengers this year through April, up 50 percent from the first four months of 2005 and nearly double the same period in 2004, according to the latest state figures.
With the addition of the Pride of Hawaii, the cruise line expects to carry as many as 650,000 passengers annually around the islands by 2007, owning about 85 percent of the Hawaii market. Alaska has about 1 million cruise-ship passengers visiting each year, primarily during the summer months.
"Hawaii is one of those marquee names that everybody wants to go to, but few people have been," Veitch said. "We've now made it more attractive than ever for people to come."
The 965-foot-long Pride of Hawaii is a resort city at sea.
The 15-deck vessel has three swimming pools, 10 restaurants, 12 bars, a full-service spa, basketball court, water slides, stores, art gallery, library, meeting rooms, 1,000-seat theater and extravagant 4,400-square-foot villas that cost $26,000 a week.
Hawaii cruises start at $649 per person for an inside room.
There's colorful island decor throughout the ship, from seashell carpet and palm tree lights to vintage Hawaiiana posters and a statue of King Kamehameha.
The biggest attractions, however, are outside the ship.
Passengers get rare views of glowing lava spewing out of Kilauea volcano on the Big Island, the remote green peaks of the Na Pali coast on Kauai, inviting beaches of Maui and the lights shimmering off the water from Honolulu's skyline.
"Americans are amazed to come here and find this place exists in America," Veitch said. "The dollar still works, people still speak English, but they look around and say, 'It doesn't look like America.'"
Charles Toguchi, the Hawaii representative for the North West cruise-ship Association, said the growth in the cruise industry has been gradual in other states while it has been tremendous in Hawaii because of the new luxury liners.
"Hawaii has become an important cruise destination," he said. "(Cruising) is a great way of sampling the different islands, and people are seeing that it's an attractive package we have in Hawaii."
Despite the growth, there's still more to be tapped in the cruise-ship market.
The International Council of Cruise Lines said more than 11 million people took a cruise last year, up about 40 percent from 2001. But 84 percent of American adults have never taken a cruise vacation.
NCL's growth in Hawaii wouldn't have been possible without federal legislation enacted after the 2001 terrorist attacks. The Pride ships, constructed in Germany but carrying a U.S. flag, are exempted from a law that prohibits foreign-built ships from operating solely between U.S. ports.
The provision gives the company exclusive rights to travel among the islands without having to stop at a foreign port. The Norwegian Wind still has to make a stop on Fanning Island in the Republic of Kiribati, adding more than 1,000 miles to its Hawaii tour.
With its ships finally in operation, NCL can start recouping the $1.4 billion it has invested in its Hawaii ships.