United States of America is really good at being number 1 in number of things. But one thing it does not have more than anyone else have is cruise ships. That’s because there is only one sole cruise ship based in the United States!
Here, when we talk about the cruise ships, we are talking about one of those big boy ocean ships that carry thousands of people, not one of those low tier ships that go on rivers or lakes or stuff like that.
In that category, this ship, the aptly named “Pride of America” is the only American flagged, American based cruise ship.
Now, to that, you might be wondering is that really true? Well, yes, it is. You see the reason for this is a little thing called “the law.” Onboard ships, the laws of the country in which they are registered apply. That is to say, if you’re on an American flagged ship, you can’t drink till 21; if you’re on a Singaporean flag ship, chewing gum is illegal and so on. But what that also means is that those boring kind of laws doing silly things like, “protecting employee rights,” and “preventing labor expoitation” also apply.
Of course, in the US, one of those labor laws is the minimum wage which is $7.25 an hour. But United States law does not apply in the rest of the world. In Panama, for example, the minimum wage for ship workers is $2.32 an hour. So, let’s say, we take a ship, register in Panama, and pay the workers $2.32 an hour. Well, that’s exactly what they do.
Considering cruise companies pay for their employees’ food and housing onboard, they are able to hire labor from low wage countries and, because they typically register the ships in places with low or no minimum wage like Panama, Singapore, or Liberia, they are legally allowed to pay them very little. Those workers are allowed to work on ship, no matter where it sails, since, for all intents and purposes, it’s the territory of the country in which it’s registered, but there is one major exception for the United States.
The US has a law known as the Jones Act but that is officially titled the “Merchant Marine Act of 1920.” It stipulates that, in order to transport goods or passengers between ports in the US, a ship must be American built, American crewed, and American flagged. Working on a US flagged vessel also requires the right to work in the US, which is not easy to get in comparison to the right to work in a place like Panama, which makes sure regulations are easy for its registered ships since ship registration is a big business for them.
Now, these laws also apply to cruise ships since, technically, when a cruise sails between the US ports, it is transporting passengers between US ports. This presents a problem for the cruise industry which simultaneously wants to build and register their ships outside the US and also cruise to places like Alaska and Hawaii.
They figured out two unique solutions though. One is to sail to the US from not the US. Cruise ships are allowed to sail between multiple US ports if they start outside the US as long as everybody gets back on the ship- that way nobody is getting transported between the US ports, they are just stopping off. Therefore, a lot of cruises to Alaska start from Canada.
The other solution that exempts the ship from the Jones Act, is to make a stop outside the US. That’s why almost every Alaskan cruise leaving from Seattle stops in Victoria, British Columbia. Now, that works fine for Alaska cruises but what about Hawaii? If a cruise is going from the US West Coast, to Hawaii, and back to the West Coast, they will typically make a stop in Ensenada, Mexico, even though that adds up to two days for a round-trip Hawaii cruise from San Francisco.
If a ship wants to do a cruise exclusively around Hawaii, though, there’s really no foreign country nearby that they can stop in. That’s why there’s basically no cruises around the islands roundtrip from Honolulu- except for one. Norwegian Cruise Line, persuaded by the potential of an all Hawaii cruise, and a huge amount of federal subsidies, went through the enormous expense of building a cruise ship mostly in America for the first time in a while, registering it in America, and crewing it with Americans.
The Pride of America, is now the only full-size American cruise ship and it is also the only cruise ship making trips exclusively around the Hawaiian islands. Of course, the American labor is not cheap and so the seven night trip on the Pride of America starts at $1200- exactly triple as much as their seven night cruise from Alaska to Seattle via Vancouver.
Here is a detailed video explaining this interesting fact: