With so many different ships crossing the Pacific between Australia and Hawaii at either end of the peak cruising season, the question arises – which direction is best?
There are positives and negatives to consider, which we will look at here.
Cheap fares – Cruise lines generally exist to chase the sun and the warm months, and if summer lasted all year in Australia, they would probably stay here all year. But as it warms up in North America, they too have high demand for cruising and so the ship has to go back.
However, due to taking place outside of main holiday periods, it can sometimes be difficult for a cruise company to fill all the cabins for the crossing back over the Pacific, and as such, a heap of incentives will be wheeled out to boost occupancy numbers. Without a great deal of effort, travellers can enjoy discounted speciality dining, onboard credit to spend, low prices for onboard merchandise and even cheaper beverage packages.
Extra service – While at times it may not feel like the ship is emptier than it normally would be on a round-trip cruise from Australia, there is a high likelihood the ship will not be travelling at 100% occupancy. So with fewer people to look after, the crew will be a little more relaxed and will be able to provide more personable service to you.
So your waiter in the main dining room may have an extra minute or two to chat from time to time as he or she serves your courses, the barman may regale you with some of their stories from his or her cruise career to date, or any time limits on some of the games or gym equipment may either not apply, or will be much more generous.
Fewer people onboard – In addition to the above, with fewer fellow passengers crowding the hallways or breaking the rules of the buffet, this can certainly play into your hands. Finding a seat in the lounge will be easier than ever, you won’t have much of a problem getting your preferred spa time and finding a lounger by the pool will be a breeze.
It can get even better. With shorter lines in the buffet, items such as the omelette station might see the chef take even more time and care than they normally might to prepare your dish with extra fillings or cooked for longer (omelette standards are usually outstanding anyway, but that extra spoonful of filling never goes astray). Drink service will be even easier too with fewer people to jostle amongst at the bar.
No baggage restrictions – For the shopping addicts, this solves the question on which direction you should fly and which direction you should cruise in favour of Westbound.
Hawaii offers some amazing shopping opportunities, especially in Honolulu where the enormous Ala Moana Shopping Centre and their department stores can lure anybody. In addition, a short drive from Waikiki will take you to the Waikele Outlets where brand name goods are significantly discounted every day of the week.
And while it may be fun struggling with all the bags back to your hotel, the cruise lines don’t care. If you can carry it on and off the ship and can store it in your cabin, you can bring as many bags onboard as you like.
Different ports rarely visited – As we looked at yesterday with the various itineraries the Trans-Pacific ships are embarking on, there’s an excellent chance your ship will visit some of the smaller island nations which are completely inaccessible during the regular season due to their location. These include Samoa, the Cook Islands, Tonga and of course Tahiti.
Perfectly positioned on the way to Hawaii, ships will often stay for three days to give its passengers a chance to explore the idyllic locales of Bora Bora, Moorea and Papeete.
Ships are fresh and often refurbished – The Australian cruise season is so busy, the last thing a cruise ship is going to want to do is lose two weeks worth of revenue by being laid up in dry dock undergoing a refurbishment or renovation. For the ships based here year-round, that’s what winter is for. As such, the ships only here for the peak summer will take some time once they’re back in the United States for their maintenance programs.
What this means for travellers is that if you’re onboard for the journey back to Australia, there’s a good chance you will be among the first to see some of the new features, amenities and products that have been added to the ship. Staterooms, restaurants, bars and lounges may have been remodelled, new shows may be playing in the theatre and you’re first to see.
Accommodation is particularly cheap in Hawaii – Visiting Hawaii in late April or early May when the cruise ships arrive from Australia, and then August or September before they venture down here again, is usually the shoulder season in Hawaii. The islands are more popular at different times of the year, so hotel room prices will usually be more competitive either side of the peak mid-year summer months, meaning great deals for consumers.
What’s not so great?
Stretches at sea can be long – If you like being able to hop off the ship every day or two to explore a port or city, a Trans-Pacific cruise may not be for you. As the ships have strict timetables to meet and want to keep their relocation cruises as short as possible, they will often do long stretches at sea – often five consecutive days, maybe more – without a break.
Of course, there’s no shortage of things to do on the ship, however if you suffer from cabin fever and need to feel some dry land under your feet, you might want to look elsewhere.
Not as many ports – Due to the longer periods of time at sea, these repositioning cruises to and from Hawaii would go direct without a break if they could. Fortunately for passengers, they need to restock their supplies and offload what they don’t need, so a minimum number of stops will be added purely from necessity.
There are many more ports in New Zealand, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Fiji and elsewhere which would be more than willing to host the passengers for the day, however as mentioned, these ships have other places they need to be.
Flying one way can be expensive – This one kind of links back to the point made earlier about shopping. If you’re a fan of shopping but can only cruise in March or April, you are going to have to be more restrained in your retail therapy in Hawaii, or else risk a mighty bill for excess baggage from the airline on your flight back to Australia.
Also, some airlines charge a very similar amount for a one-way flight than they do for a return trip, so do your research and perhaps look into flying low-cost on the way to Hawaii, especially if you know you won’t be taking much luggage in that direction.
Weather can be particularly rough in parts – There’s a reason flights between Australia and the United States are much shorter east-bound than they are coming back, and that is due to the trade winds, which also affect cruise ships through sea patterns.
If you’re heading east from Australia to Hawaii, the later your ship leaves, the better. This is due to prevailing winds moving in a southerly direction down the east coast. The southern currents will also be at their weakest so it should make for some calm seas before you run into the strong trade winds later in your voyage. Modern cruise ships however are designed exactly for conditions just like these, so you won’t see much of a difference during the day.
Ship may be trialling new menus or programs – If a ship has indeed undergone a refurbishment or renovation in between Australian seasons, the crew may be still getting used to the new offerings. Some products, such as alcohol, may also be more expensive.
For this reason, you may find a longer wait for some products. This will be rare as training will always be carried out in advance, however like with any new skills, putting them into practice can take time. Your patience and understanding will likely be richly appreciated and rewarded though, if you show it.