Hawaii is considered as one of the most popular tourist destinations for Americans. Therefore you could assume that cruises from the west coast of the U.S. to the Hawaiian Islands are always avaible. But there are no cruises from the U.S. West Coast to Hawaii because in 1920 a maritime law passed to protect U.S. shipping.
The law - commonly known as the Jones Act - prevents foreign cruise ships from boarding passengers in one U.S. port and letting them disembark in another unless they visit a foreign country at some time during their voyage. Since the only two foreign countries anywhere near the U.S. and Hawaii are Canada and Mexico, that really limits the options.
With so many U.S. cruise lines, you may be wondering how this applies to them. The answer is that to save money, all U.S. cruise lines - except one - register their ships in other countries, such as the Bahamas.
Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) believed that the market for Hawaii cruises was big enough to offset the added expense of registering their Pride of America in the U.S. And today, it's the only U.S.-flagged cruise ship. They also had to hire U.S. staff and crew, which were more expensive than foreign crew.
All the other cruise ships that let passengers travel one way to Hawaii start their Hawaii cruises in Vancouver, British Columbia, in order to comply with the Jones Act.
Carnival, Princess, and Royal Caribbean all have repositioning cruises from Vancouver to Hawaii at the end of the Alaska cruising season.
Cruising is a good way to see Hawaii because the distances between the ports is short, so you can visit several different islands in a few days - without ever having to get on an airplane. There's plenty of time ashore and in many cases the ships overnight in port, which lets you go to a luau or other evening activity ashore. Plus, the scenery from the ship is almost always amazing as you glide through the island chain.
You'll need to arrange a one-way ticket from Honolulu back to your home city, but at press time, one-way tickets to Los Angeles were less than $ 250.
It usually takes five or six days to sail from Vancouver to the Hawaiian Islands, so these cruises aren't a great choice for those who don't enjoy days at sea or are prone to seasickness. Thanks to the leisurely journey, you'll arrive in the islands rested and rearing to go.
The 2,667-passenger Carnival Spirit arrives at Kona on the Big Island first, then calls at the island of Kauai and Hilo, also on the Big Island. Passengers have an overnight on board the ship in Kahului, Maui, and in Honolulu.
The much smaller - 710 passengers - Royal Princess visits Hilo and then goes to Lahaina on Maui and Kauai. Travelers can leave the ship in Honolulu or stay aboard and sail to Papeete, calling at Bora Bora, Raiatea, and Moorea en route.
Rhapsody of the Seas, Royal Caribbean's 2,500-passenger floating resort, sails past the Big Island at night so passengers can see molten lava spewing out of Kilauea Volcano. Cruisers spend a day each in Hilo, Kona, and Kauai, and have overnights on the ship in Lahaina and Honolulu.
When you consider that the cruise fare includes transportation, meals, and your accommodations in Hawaii, a repositioning cruise can be a better deal than an air and hotel package.