Is island ready for a cruise ship a day?

Recent announcements by representatives of Norwegian Cruise Line that no fewer than four NCL ships will be making regular calls on Nawiliwili Harbor by fall of next year has refocused discussion on whether or not the island’s ports, roads and parks can handle the influx of visitors.

While island retail and activities operators are already forging contracts with NCL to move the additional traffic in their direction, some visitor-industry officials are openly worried about community and infrastructure impacts of 200,000 cruise-ship passengers disembarking at Nawiliwili next year.

That is the figure NCL leaders are estimating will visit Hawaii’s ports next year during the four-ship rotation marking the company’s largest Hawaii deployment ever. And that’s just the NCL numbers. Many other ships are planning to call on Nawiliwili less frequently, leading to situations where Nawiliwili may host more than one ship a day in a week’s time.

Nalani Brun, tourism specialist in the county Office of Economic Development, said the increase raises many questions.

“Can we handle the ships? What if they all come in at once?” she asked.

“Some of them are going to be overnight, which we haven’t had in a long time. What are we going to need to make it work, and does the community even want something like that?” said Brun.

“How are we going to approach them?” she asked about community response to the increased activity at Nawiliwili and around the island.

“The big question’s going to be now the cruise-ship nightmare,” she said.

Part of the plan will include letting people know when the ships are going to be in Nawiliwili, so residents can avoid the congested harbor area, “because it’s just horrible for them,” she added.

“Whether it’s a cruise ship or a plane or a rental car,” there are community impacts, said Sue Kanoho, executive director of the Kauai Visitors Bureau.

The increases in cruise-ship arrivals marks a perfect time to again dialogue on island infrastructure needs, said Kanoho. “What can we do to further things along that would make the island better for the residents and for the visitors?

“You gotta take care of the community first, right? We put residents first,” said Kanoho. “The residents need to be happy, and then the visitors will be happy.”

The fact is that, in some weeks during the current calendar year, Nawiliwili successfully hosted nearly a cruise ship a day.

While the current summer season sees many ships redeployed to popular Alaskan and Caribbean cruises, fall’s schedule will once again see six ships in seven days, the first full week of October.

The NCL plan includes some ships staying overnight at Nawiliwili, as Brun indicated. Some shorter cruises, packaged with hotel stays on various islands, will give cruisers a wide variety of options and price ranges.

It is those shorter cruises, combined with the popularity of Kauai and Nawiliwili among the cruisers, that will see NCL planning nearly one ship a day by 2006.

“I’m slightly concerned,” Kanoho said.

“They were saying that it could be six or seven days a week, and that’s just NCL,” said Kanoho.

“So when the other foreign cruises come in, we could have two ships in at one time. It’s a little bit challenging depending on the size of the ships,” she said.

That equates to around 1,500 to 2,000 passengers per day per ship, with most of those passengers booking bus or kayak tours or similar activities.

“So how do we make sure that the infrastructure can deal with that, and do we have enough to start growing towards that?” Kanoho asked.

“The good news is we have advance notice.”

A cruise ship committee meets regularly, and at a recent meeting the consensus was to continue working with the cruise-ship companies. “But at the same time we started to realize, gosh, our infrastructure’s getting taxed now. What are some of the things we can start doing to address that, so that when they come in it’s a positive experience for everybody, for them and for us?” Kanoho continued.

The state Department of Transportation Harbors Division has Nawiliwili improvements planned that should allow the harbor to accommodate the increase in cruise-ship traffic, she said.

“With the improvements, should they all go through, it should be OK, said Kanoho. “Right now, that harbor will be taxed if nothing happens between now and the next five years.”

The economic benefits, based on state Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism studies that show the average cruise-ship passenger spends around $90 each time he or she goes ashore, are ample.

If NCL’s 200,000-passenger estimate holds true, their passengers alone will pump $18 million into the Kauai economy next year.

“I don’t know any businesses that don’t want it,” Brun said.

“Certainly retail will, and activities will” benefit from the additional cruises, said Kanoho.

In addition to the Norwegian Star, which currently calls each Saturday at Nawiliwili, NCL representatives recently announced schedules for an under-construction ship, Pride of America, and the renamed, former Norwegian Sky, which has called on Nawiliwili before, to return as Pride of Aloha.

It’s part of NCL’s new NCL America fleet of U.S.-flagged, U.S.-crewed ships. Two of the ships will sail exclusively between the Hawaiian islands, and two will offer longer cruises that include trips to Fanning Island.

The under-construction Pride of America will overnight at Nawiliwili, beginning in July next year, doing seven-day Hawaii cruises. The Pride of America begins Hawaii cruises July 4, 2004, after an extended series of inaugural events in the United Kingdom and United States.

The Pride of Aloha will start sailing in October of next year, and will spend all day Saturday at Nawiliwili.

Totally, the company will offer three-, four-, seven-, 10- and 11-day Hawaii cruises.

Norwegian Wind will return to Hawaii in May of 2004 to resume 10- and 11-day itineraries, and will remain in the islands all year long. This is the ship that will call on Fanning.

Norwegian Star will continue making seven-day Fanning cruises through April 2004, when it will then make way for the new seven-day inter-island cruises offered by Pride of America. Currently, the Star calls on Nawiliwili each Saturday.

The Star will move to NCL’s Mainland-based Homeland Cruising fleet, offering Alaska cruises in the summer of 2004.

NCL officials hope to capture some meetings and convention business with the variety of cruise lengths offered in Hawaiian waters.

The decision to fly U.S. flags means job opportunities for citizens in the islands, as the company estimates it will need to hire up to 10,000 workers for the ships.

While all the ships are floating hotels or floating cities, depending on how one views them, the newest ship will be the grandest of all, according to NCL officials. The Pride of America will include a myriad of restaurants and lounges, and a world-class health spa.

More information is available at www.ncl.com, or by calling toll-free 1-800-327-7030.

Business Editor Paul C. Curtis can be reached at mailto:pcurtis@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 224).

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