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With Mexico out of favor, cruise ship traffic to Hawaii increased in 2011

By Audrey McAvoy / Associated Press


More people are setting sail for Hawaii.

More than 104,000 travelers arrived in the islands on cruise ships -- mostly from the West Coast -- in the first 11 months of last year, according to the most recent data available. That's a 14.5 percent increase from the same period in 2010. There were 59 cruise liners that pulled into Hawaii ports during that time, an increase of 11.3 percent.

There are several reasons for the growth, industry experts say, including the presence of more cruise ships in the Pacific and a fear among some travelers of ongoing drug cartel-related violence in Mexico.

The industry still hasn't matched its pre-recession peak of about 130,000 passengers reached in 2007, but travel agents say demand for West Coast-to-Hawaii cruises is strong.

Donna Ratte, owner of the Cruise Holidays travel agency franchise in Palm Springs, Calif., said many of her customers who used to board ships to Mexico are heading to Hawaii instead. There isn't as much interest in Mexico among senior citizens, who make up a big portion of the retiree community, she said.

"Most people are still kind of scared about going, so they're gravitating more towards Hawaii and those ships are just selling out," Ratte said. The vessels sell out quickly, and it's hard to get a cabin, she said.

Cruise passengers haven't been killed in any attacks in Mexico.

Even so, cruise lines have cut some Mexican ports -- like Mazatlan -- out of their itineraries because of the violence. As a result, some seven-day cruises to Mexico might stop at only two ports, leaving some passengers wanting more.

Rich Skinner, who owns a Cruise Holidays franchise in Woodinville, Wash., near Seattle, said the perception of violence and the reduced itinerary have kept some people away.

David Uchiyama, vice president for brand management at the Hawaii Tourism Authority, the state agency that promotes Hawaii around the world, said the trend among cruise ship companies is to keep vessels in the Pacific instead of taking them to the Atlantic.

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