Cruising Through the Past


When you are quarantined or have to cancel your trip, you can still go on a journey. The secret? Join me on my personal Memory Lane for a short tour through cruise liner history when we sailed during the golden era of cruising…

They would sing, dance the hula, throw flowers and a few brave young men would even swim out to meet the ship—something that would be frowned upon today. “Boat Day” was a regular occurrence during the golden era of steamship travel (1927-1978) and occurred each week in Honolulu when one of Matson Lines grand white passenger ships arrived from California. The locals would run to Pier 10 to watch the ship as it came in.

Matson’s ships became such a popular institution in San Francisco as they departed for Honolulu that they declared Aug 9, 1939, as “Matson Day!” Even through the Depression, the popularity of cruising to Hawaii remained high. Hollywood stars were sailing to Hawaii in ever increasing numbers. They included William Powell, Carole Lombard, Jimmy Durante, Collette Colbert, Myrna Loy and Shirley Temple.

During the golden era, cruising was generally the main way for people to travel from the mainland to Hawaii. Usually it was the wealthier upper class who could afford it, that is unless the Navy was footing the bill, which was how I came to enjoy this experience.

My first cruise was on the Matson Line ship the S.S. Matsonia. We sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge on a seven-day voyage from San Francisco to Honolulu in 1957. She was 632 feet in length and carried 700 passengers all in first class with a crew of more than 500. That same year, Elvis Presley also arrived in Hawaii for the first time aboard the S.S. Matsonia. I doubt he was on our sailing or I’m sure my mother would have regaled us with this fact throughout my life. I was probably too young to appreciate how magnificent that would have been anyway.

Travel 1957 cruise jo to HISailing on even a luxury ocean liner back then was fairly primitive if you compare stabilizers then to the stabilizers on liners today as ships would pitch and roll an unbelievable amount while crossing the Pacific. We would be banished to our staterooms to wait it out and I loved it. Fortunately, we don’t have the motion sickness gene in our family; perhaps that explains the Navy part. I remember on one rough day at sea, a drawer came unattached and flew into my little sisters’ bed. She was fine, but our mother was understandably quite frantic, and all the drawers were quickly examined for future failure.

My return from Hawaii a few years later was on Matson’s S. S. Lurline in the early 60’s.The Lurline had resumed her California-Hawaii service in 1948 after her recent U.S. Maritime Commission transporting troops across the Pacific. Upon her first arrival into Honolulu as a passenger liner, again the Governor proclaimed “Lurline Day” with ceremonies and festivities going far into the night.

By the time I boarded the Lurline to sail back to San Francisco, Hawaii had become a state. The Bon Voyage experience was spectacular starting with evening gala parties. At the pier on sail-away day, there were hula dancers, hundreds of tightly rolled streamers being thrown from the ship’s passengers as a final connection to Honolulu locals and waves of farewell.

Matson Lines owner, William Matson, on his maiden return voyage from Hawaii on his early ship, the Malolo, initiated the custom of passengers throwing leis into the sea as the ship passed Diamond Head. The leis floating on the water signify that the passenger would return to the beautiful shores of Hawaii in the future.

Though I’ve cruised many times through the years, I’m sad to say I haven’t yet returned to Hawaii. When it’s time to travel again, perhaps you can join me! I’ll have all the in’s and out’s, do’s and don’t’s, etc. for all of our next travel adventures.

I can just feel Capt. Matson’s tradition of the Diamond Head leis pulling me back to Pier 10 in downtown Honolulu.

Local JoDell Haverfield is the Owner and CEO of Have Travel Memories Vacations with over 25 years as a Travel Advisor. She is an Accredited Cruise Councellor, since 2002, and offers lectures and travel presentations on cruise history, searching your ancestors, and the current cruise and river cruise industry. She and her husband, David, live in Miramar Beach and are the parents of four sons, one daughter and 19 grandchildren!

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