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Cruise ships are skipping parts of the island of Hawaii and its devastating volcano. But that may be changing

Cruise ships are skipping parts of the island of Hawaii and its devastating volcano. But that may be changing
Pride of America, a Norwegian Cruise Line ship, cruises in Hawaii year-round. (Norwegian Cruise Line)

No surprises here: Hawaii's Big Island is getting snubbed by the cruise industry, and tourism officials aren't happy about it. But things may be looking up for the island, which has been battered for more than a month by the Kilauea volcanic eruption.

Five cruise lines changed their routes in the last few weeks to avoid portions of the Big Island, site of the volcano, which erupted in early May, spewing lava hundreds of feet into the air.

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Since then, dozens of fissures have opened and more than 600 homes have been destroyed.

Crystal Cruises, Oceana Cruises, Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean International have all avoided stopping at Hilo, the largest city on the Big Island, but have made port calls at Kailua-Kona, on the opposite side of the island.

Perhaps the biggest loss for local merchants, however, has been the cancellation of Big Island port stops by Norwegian Cruise Lines' Pride of America, which sails Hawaii itineraries year-round. It began skipping Hilo at the beginning of May, and released a statement last week saying that it was suspending the Hilo and Kailua-Kona port visits "until further notice," citing concerns over air quality.

On Monday, the cruise line said it was changing course. "After a detailed evaluation and consultation with authorities and experts on The Big Island of Hawaii, we are resuming our regular itinerary for Pride of America," a spokesperson said.

"As we have always said, Hawaii is an incredible destination. We have visited its ports for well over a decade and we are very happy to be returning to Hilo and Kona."

And now, Ross Birch, director of the Island of Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, said Norwegian has told tourism officials that Pride of America will be back again, beginning this week.

Stops at ports in Hilo and Kailua-Kona are back on the schedule starting Tuesday, according to an email sent out Thursday from the state Department of Transportation.

Birch said the line's cancellation of port stops "was truly frustrating, because there wasn't a safety issue to visitors. All airports are open and have been open the whole time. They haven't had any issues."

In fact, Birch said the Big Island's air travel numbers were up in May, having increased 25% over last year's numbers. "And we're tracking 12% higher in June."

Birch said the cruise ships' elimination of Hilo port stops "has really hurt mom-and-pop operations. Those are the people who suffer.

"We understand the cruise lines' concerns. But we want to make sure their passengers don't miss out a great opportunity."

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