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Bringing Back "Boat Day".

A Nostalgic Hawaiian Tradition Is Revived

As the Silver Cloud slips alongside Honolulu's Pier 9, cruise director Ray Solaire announces, "It's a glorious day somewhere ... but not here." Alas, it's a gray, drizzly morning, but don't tell that to the ti-leaf-skirted, plumeria-lei'd hula dancers on the pier, who sing and sway to the more positive meteorological strains of Blue Hawaii.

Lucky us, our ship's arrival marks the anniversary of the revival of "Aloha Boat Days," a fondly remembered Hawaiian tradition of greeting arriving and departing passenger ships in a style that is island-indigenous and therefore unmistakably warm and welcoming.

Sleepy passengers crowd the decks and instantly identify the 184-foot-tall Aloha Tower--since 1926, Oahu's ultimate beacon of welcome. We are quickly prompted to a chorus of "oohs" and "ahs" as a helicopter gingerly swoops above the ship and drops a floral shower of plumeria, ginger, and bougainvillea, which hits the intended "target" on Pool Deck below. "It's like an old Esther Williams movie," a passenger giggles. Actually, it's a tradition that goes back before Esther.

DeSoto Brown, collections manager of archives at Honolulu's venerated Bishop Museum, places Boat Day in something of a historical perspective: "Remember that ships have always been important to Hawaii. They brought provisions to the islands, as well as mail, materials, and people--and that included tourists, honeymooners, celebrities, and military personnel who were reporting to duty at the local Schofield Barracks."

Pageant-like with color and crescendo, the scene back then was enhanced by the lush island melodies of the Royal Hawaiian Band, the excited scurrying of passengers to locate and claim luggage, and a profusion of animated friends and relatives poised pierside to proffer leis.

Brown recollects that "Boat Day reached its pinnacle in the 1930s and continued as Matson liners, like the Lurline and the Monterey, brought passengers to Oahu." When Matson passenger traffic was discontinued in the early 1970s, apparently so too was the tradition of Boat Day--until quite recently.

Those of us aboard Silversea Cruises' pamper-prone Silver Cloud watch ondeck as the ship's lines are secured. Undaunted by the rain, we are soon transformed into a sunnier outlook by dockside hula dancers and musicians now joined by confetti-and-streamer-throwing volunteers. Above the music and over the booming public address system at the Aloha Tower Marketplace, a soothing voice competes with the petal-dropping helicopter's whirling finale. "This is our gift of aloha to you and mahalo [thank you] for visiting us today in Oahu." Our official greeter is Honolulu's honorable council-member Rene Mansho--active in spearheading the revitalization of Aloha Boat Days.

"You see," she later explains, "in December 1998, I had lunch aboard the Silver Cloud with friends in the maritime industry. We talked about the decline in the economy and how much local businesses were hurting and needed help."

Ultimately, a public/private partnership emerged, uniting the departments of Parks & Recreation, Harbor Division, Fire Department, Culture & Arts, U.S. Customs, etc., as well as the Aloha Tower Marketplace, Oahu Visitors Bureau, Royal Hawaiian Band, and local businesses. Kamaainas (locals) and tourists alike were advised of ship arrivals and departures and were encouraged to come down to the piers "to make memories for our visitors." Aloha Boat Days were officially relaunched on January 24, 1999, when four ships were berthed in Honolulu Harbor. The response was enthusiastic. Mansho reports that while typically 30 to 50 people appeared to say "aloha" on an average Boat Day, the festivities last July 4th brought out nearly 8,000.

As smiling fellow passengers linger to listen to the music, I spot several cruise-mates still perched on the balconies of their plush veranda suites, simulating the unmistakable jolts of beginner's hula. Some of us visit the nearby Information Desk to acquire walking maps to Waikiki, a bulletin of current events in Oahu, and a list of local shops. Traveler's checks at the ready, we fan out into the tempting shops that comprise adjacent Aloha Tower Marketplace (for us, the economic initiative of Boat Day seems to be working).

Alas, the day quickly slips by and I soon embark the Silver Cloud for our 11 p.m. sail-away from Honolulu. It is quiet harborside on this Sunday night, though a dozen or so vocal and enthusiastic diners at nearby Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant shout their alohas. Council-member Mansho returns late at night with her happy band of volunteers: hula dancers, singers, musicians, streamer tossers, and confetti throwers. (Alas, our particular departure does not feature the Royal Hawaiian Band, whose appearances are subject to availability, and "old salts" onboard note the absence of coin divers.)

The ship's lines are dropped; Captain Mazzetti gently nudges the sleek Silver Cloud from her berth. We hear Ms. Mansho call, "Take our aloha with you!" The helicopter returns and sprinkles Pool Deck with petals. "We shower you with our tropical blessing of flowers. Thank you for visiting us. Sure you don't want to stay?" Soon the band plays the traditional Hawaiian song of plaintive farewell, Aloha O'e. We drift away into a black and breezy night, mesmerized by the song's marvelous melancholy: "Farewell ... until we meet again...." By now, many of us are waving to diminishing figures on the pier. The flashing lights on land are the only glitter on a starless night.

A fellow passenger interrupts my reverie. Teary-eyed, he is obviously touched by the island's farewell. He smiles and says, "You'll never get a sendoff like that on an airplane."

During 2001 some 116 "Aloha Boat Days" are scheduled to greet passengers arriving and/or departing on 26 different ships. For information and schedules, visit the website at For recorded ship arrival/departure information in Honolulu Harbor, call (808) 537-9260. For more information on cruises calling in Hawaii, contact your travel agent.
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Title Annotation:cruise travel in Hawaii
Author:Leshner, Marty
Publication:Cruise Travel
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U9HI
Date:Jul 1, 2001
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