Home   Cruise, Port and Shore Excursion Reviews   Features   Forums   News   Humor  Quizzes   Links

Cruise Ship Review
John Lotz

Independence Hawaiian Islands Cruise September 1997

Saturday (Honolulu GPS location: N 21 deg 18.428 min W 157 deg 52.010 min)

I arrived at Aloha Tower at 12 noon. My cab pulled in ahead of a bus that had just arrived. A dock worker was right there to take my bags. He didn't have his hand outstretched for a tip. In fact, he was almost gone before I could give him one. I successfully made my way to the ticket counter before the people on the bus created a line. While checking in, I arranged for a boarding pass for my friend. (American Hawaii allows guests on board anytime after 3pm.

I next checked in with the Holokai Hui (Seafarer's Club) desk. This is the repeat cruisers program which offers several benefits. I was given a lapel pin to wear that would let the crew know I was a repeater. Fruit cups, juice, and ice tea were available while we waited to board. (For everyone, not just the repeaters.) We were also given a letter telling us that due to "necessary maintenance", the arrival and departure times for our first stop on Kauai had changed. We would not spend Sunday at sea cruising along the Na Pali coast, but rather, we would dock at noon, and depart early Monday. At 2pm versus 4pm. I later found out that there was a problem with the starboard engine, reducing our max. speed. I'll describe that in more detail later, but our schedule was to be a little off for the whole week.

At about 12:45pm Keith Clark, our Cruise Director, escorted the repeat cruisers onboard for Welcome Aboard reception in the Kama'aina Lounge. On the way up, we stopped for our "obligatory" picture. I also dropped off the boarding pass for my friend with the AB Seaman handling security at the gangway.

The Kama'aina Lounge

At about 1:45 I was shown my room by a cabin attendant. Here I was introduced to one of the "quirks" that come with a ship originally designed to have three separate classes of passengers. The Kama'aina Lounge is located midships on one of the upper decks. The only "main" stairways are located forward. My cabin, 517, was located on the Kauai deck. The lowest passenger deck, the rooms are all in the stern, and there is no stairway that goes to the Kama'aina Deck. To get to my cabin, we went forward and took the elevator down 3 decks to the Maui deck. Here we "cheated". The attendant took me through the closed Hibiscus Dining room, aft through a connecting dining room to the Orchid Dining room. From there we took an elevator down two more decks to the Kauai Deck. After crossing through two watertight doors, we arrived at my cabin.

Cabin 517 is a single cabin. It was basic, and a little small. To the left of the door was the settee. A couch by day, it dropped down to be the bed at night. On the other side of the door was the niche to hang clothes. The hanging rod was hidden via a curtain, rather than a door. Just past the closet was the bathroom. It was compact, and could have used a new floor. But there was plenty of hot water for the shower. Just past the end of the settee, and the door to the bathroom was a niche located at the far end of the room. This contained a two drawer chest, and the only table top. There was no desk, or chair. The table top contained a too large desk lamp and the phone. The phone had a data port for a modem hookup. An interesting fact about the phone prices is that when the ship is docked in port, phone service is via land line; local calls are $0.75 for the first 3 minutes! At sea, it's only $2-3 per minute.

After checking out my cabin I was ready for some lunch. So I headed aft and made use of the rear most stairwell. I used this one quite a bit. An addition in 1994 lets you go all the way up to the large fantail on the Ohana deck. This was also the stairwell that led to the gangway for use by wheelchairs and crew. Anyone could use it, and depending on the location of the ship to land, it was sometimes more convenient to use that gangway versus the main gangway midships, three decks up.

Lunch was served at the Ohana Buffet. This area was used for buffet breakfasts, and lunches. Seating was either under cover port/starboard, or out in the open aft by the pool. Not having put on my sun screen yet, I opted for eating under the tarp (which rolls up while underway). The buffet also features a drink area open all the time consisting of sodas, juice, coffee, milk, etc.

After lunch I went to unpack. I found that one of my 2 drawers was broken. A trip to the purser's desk took care of that problem by dinner time! I also got to say hello to my favorite bird, Howz'it. He is a scarlet macaw that lives in a large cage in the Main Foyer. There is a sign that warns people not to pet him, as he might bite you, or your buttons. But by the end of the week I was able to scratch his neck; when HE wanted it. It was then that I noticed several of the changes made in June of 97 in the shipyard. The Main Foyer has a new marble floor; there is new carpet on several decks and stairwells, and low level lighting pointing the way to the exit has been installed.


Another change I noticed was in the main showroom. The seating has been rearranged slightly. The new chairs are better arranged around the small tables. You no longer have to move any of them to take your seat. It looks like there are more seats. I was here to hear about the shore excursions for Kauai. Because of our rearranged schedule there would be tours offered on both Sunday and Monday. I filled out a form for the Kauai Myths and Legends tour for Monday, which I'll describe later.

Dinner on the first night was an open seating buffet served from 5-8pm. I went about 6:30, and there was no line to speak of. The food was better than average buffet food. After dinner was a Polynesian Spectacular show on the aft deck, complete with a fire dancer. After that we had the mandatory lifeboat drill. I was assigned to muster station 13. This has a lifeboat designed to hold 140 people.

Soon afterwards, it was time to depart Honolulu. I took the elevator up to the bridge deck, where I found another new modification. A vestibule has been built around the exit to the elevator on the bridge deck. Before, it could be quite windy waiting for an elevator. I went forward as far as I could, adjacent to the starboard wing bridge. From here I could observe Captain Zarynoff pilot our ship away from Aloha Tower and out to sea on our way to Kauai. It was fun trying to locate where my apartment was on shore. (I never did find it!) I also saw the airport, Pearl Harbor, and Barbers Point before retiring for the night.

Sunday (at sea -> Nawiliwili, Kauai GPS loc: N 21 deg 57.274 min W 159 deg 21.351 min)

I came up on deck to a beautiful sunny day. The ship had been extremely stable all night long . The seas were only 2-4 feet, with a 2-4 foot swell. Rougher than most of my Alaska trip, but pretty calm for Hawaiian waters. The ship rode what waves we did have very well. This continued all week long. A number of sailboats could be seen making their way to Kauai. Walking around the decks I noticed that the wood decking, especially on the Sun and Boat decks, looked very good. It looks like almost all of the worn planks were replaced, as well as all new grout.

The first thing today was breakfast with the Captain for the repeat cruisers. It was a fixed menu, but not a buffet. Keith introduced a number of the "bigwigs" of the crew, then the Captain made a few remarks. He updated everyone on the whereabouts of other AHC Captains. Most have retired, and Capt. Haugh is now working for a shipping co. on the mainland. Looks like Capt. "Z" is the last of the old guard.

At 12 noon we made our approach to Nawiliwili Harbor, I always enjoy watching the ship enter this harbor. It is so tight that we had a tug to assist us. To stay in the channels, we had to make a sharp left turn, followed by a sharp right turn. We passed by the breakwater very closely. But soon we were tied up to the pier. I had lunch in the Hibiscus dining room. Breakfast and lunch were always open seating all week long. A number of people ate outdoors in the Ohana Buffet. Everyday at lunch there was a "plate lunch". This is a local style of fast food. Today's was the luau plate. The meats were Kalua pig, lomi lomi salmon, and shoyu chicken; just add a scoop of rice, and a scoop of macaroni to make it a plate lunch!

In the afternoon, I walked over to the Marriott Hotel. It was just reopened last year. Formerly a Westin, it had been closed since hurricane Iniki. It's a very lavish resort with a huge pool (with it's own island!). I walked past the hotel up to the golf course on the other side of the bay. I got some spectacular views of the harbor and the ship from up there. In addition, there were trails leading to the shoreline. There wasn't a beach here, but some very spectacular views of the waves hitting the lava cliffs.

The main show tonight was at 6:30pm for the second seating. It was this way for most of the cruise. The only exception being the night of the Captain's reception, when the show was after dinner for the 2nd seating. I prefer it this way. This was a show with a little of this, and a little of that. Many of the cruise staff are from Hawaii. The assistant Cruise Director, Lanikai, was born and raised in Kona. The Kumu (Hawaiian teacher) was Haunani Kaui. She is also a musician, playing the upright bass. The Cruise host was Kaheakamana`ookaleookalani Beckley. (Call him Uncle Kahea for short!). He is a very tall Hawaiian, and does the hula very well. The headline entertainer was Douglas Dunnell. Every night he did a 30 min. Concert of Broadway Showtunes. Tonight he featured the music of Rogers and Hammerstein.

I was at the last seating for dinner at 8:15pm. (Other times were 5:45pm, 6:00pm, and 8:00 pm). I was seated at a table for eight, but there were only 7 of us; A husband and wife and a sister from Utah, two older single ladies, a personal trainer/body builder from Long Beach, and myself. The only "bad" news was that hardly any of us drank. My TA had had a bottle of wine delivered to my cabin. Since I don't drink, I figured I would just share it with my table. Well by the end of the week, there was still wine left! Oh well. The food all week was quite good, and the service was excellent.

I stopped by at the 10:30pm Singles dance. There were very few younger (ie under 50) single people on the cruise. My last two cruises on the Independence had been around Christmas time, and there was a larger number of younger folks and families. There were some families on this cruise, but not too many.

Monday - (Nawiliwili Harbor, Kauai)

Today I had a shore excursion at 8am. It was "Kauai's Myths and Legends Sightseeing Adventure". This is one of the ship's "Hawaiiana" tours that emphasizes the Hawaiian history, culture, and ecology. This tour focused on the first two.

The tour consisted of 3 vans, each holding only 6 passengers. Our first stop was the Menehune fishpond. Legend has it that a Hawaiian King asked the King of the Menehunes to build the pond out of lava rocks. The Menehunes were (are?) a race a small people that work only at night, and in secret. It was said that if you interrupted their work, they would turn you into stone and stop working.

The rest of the tour consisted of other historical locations, such as the ancient Royal summer palace, and an old Russian Fort. There's nothing much left of these sights besides the lava rock foundations. But that in itself is interesting. The way the walls were constructed without mortar was truly interesting. It's amazing that all these locations are still around after hundreds of years.

After lunch, there was a bridge tour for the repeaters given by the Captain. He told some interesting stories about the history of the Independence. For example, the American Export Line wanted to be able to carry cargo as well as passengers. Seven cargo holds were installed on the ship. One was designed to haul gold bullion from the US back to Europe after World War II. That hold is now the location for one of the side thrusters. Another hold was built such that it was accessed by removing one of the pools and lowering cars to it. That hold was converted in the summer of 1997 to crew berthing by placing prefabbed modules in it. The pool was then replaced, and sealed in place.

I saw a very unusual fishing boat while waiting for the tour. It looked like a standard steel hulled commercial fishing boat, except, it had a .50 caliber machine gun mounted in the bow. I found out from the ship's photographer that it was being used in the filming of a new movie starring Harrison Ford. It was then that I saw the camera! They had a very tall crane on shore, with a basket raised over the boat. They raised the camera to the platform. Then they attached it to a bungee cord and let it fall towards the boat. I can't wait to see the movie, and see how it turned out.

At 2:00pm we departed Nawiliwili Harbor. After clearing the sea buoy I headed back to the Ohana deck to keep an eye on the island as we left. I took up station on one of the aft "wings". These two structures, one port, one starboard, extend out past the deck, giving an unobstructed view forward along the hull. They were originally designed to be used in conjunction with the aft steering station, which is still functional by the way. A neat thing you can see from the wing is the propeller. In the clear water of the Pacific I could plainly see it turning! This was also a good vantage point to watch the scavenger hunt.

That evening we had the Captain's Welcome Aboard Reception. This was your standard party, with the photo line, dancing, etc. This was the only night were the suggested attire was anything other than casual. A lot of men were wearing a coat and tie.

After dinner I skipped the night's show, "Invitation to Dance". Instead, I went out on deck and watched as the coast of Oahu passed by as we made our way to Maui.

Tuesday - (Kahului, Maui) GPS loc. N 20 degrees 53.792 minutes W 156 degrees 27.969 minutes

I set my wake-up call for 6am. You do this automatically on the phone by pushing the code, followed by the time desired based on a 24 hour clock. I wanted to be up early enough to watch the entire docking process. I missed sunrise (at 0611), by a few minutes though. Anyway, we docked at the commercial harbor of Kahului. As in most of the ports, we shared a dock with cargo. In fact, there was a container barge already at the pier that we had to go around to get to our spot. The barge was interesting to watch because it had a built in crane. It was mounted on tracks above all the containers, and would pick up a container on the barge, then lower it to the dock where it was placed on a trailer by a lift truck.

Today I set out on my own. The ship offers a shuttle bus from the port to the town of Lahaina. This was an old whaling village that is now the center of tourist activities. I rode the Lahaina, Kaanapali & Pacific Railroad (LK&P), otherwise known as the "Sugar Cane Train". This is a tourist steam train operation, that travels up from Lahaina, through the cane fields to Kaanapali, and returns. Maui is one of the last of the Hawaiian Islands to have active sugar operations. The view from the train is very good. You get views of both Molokai, and Lanai not to mention the lovely golf courses.

After lunch at Planet Hollywood, I toured the Whaling museum aboard the brig Carthaginian. The ship was built in 1920, and was not originally a brig at all, but she was completely rerigged to a brig in 1978. The museum itself is very good; it's a great way to spend some time in air conditioned comfort while you wait for the bus back to the ship.

I got back to the ship at about 3pm. People were already lining up to take the bus for the luau at 4:30! A good number of people went to the luau, leaving the dining room somewhat sparse that night. There was only one show tonight, in between the first and second dinner seatings; a medley of love songs, such as "Music of the Night", by Doug Dunnell and Renee Peterson. After dinner it was "Paniolo Country Night" on the open deck aft. A paniolo is a Hawaiian cowboy. There was a live country band providing the music, and the late night snack was a barbecue.

Wednesday - (Kahului, Maui) GPS loc. - same as Tues.

Today I had a 60 minute helicopter flight. We started off by flying over the West Maui mountains, where the Iao Needle is. After crossing the mountains we headed over the channel to the island of Molokai. It was comforting to know that the helicopter we were in had two engines, as we were over water for a good 15 minutes each way. The cliffs on Molokai are very high, some 3,000 up from the sea. It looks as if half the island just slid into the ocean; this is in fact what happened, a long time ago!. We flew along the coast viewing numerous waterfalls. We got up to Father Damien's monument when it was time to head back.

After lunch, I walked over to the Post office to mail a package. It wasn't too far, maybe 4 blocks, but it sure felt hot on the asphalt! I stayed up on deck after our departure, instead of going to the show. I had my GPS unit with me, and surprised the officer on the bridge when I told him we were 3.3 miles off the coast. I had been able to determine that because I had brought along three charts of the Hawaiian Islands that allowed me to follow our progress. A GPS unit is good by itself, but when you add a chart, you are able to determine where you are in relation to the real world.

When I went back to my room there was a slightly foul smell in the hallway outside my room. I was afraid it would migrate to my room, so I went up to the Purser's desk to inform them of the situation. They assured me that they would look into the problem. The next day I received a letter from Roland Boudreau, Manager of Guests Relations. In it, he summed up what the problem had been, (repairs being made to some fans in conjunction with being downwind of a sewage treatment plant) and said they would extend a shipboard credit of $25 to me! I thought they handled the incident very well.

After dinner was the 'Great American Lip Sync. Show", a production with both crew and passengers as performers. People would get in costume and lip sync. to a famous song. The most polished ones were by the crew, but they had lot's of practice. It was great fun to watch!

Thursday - (Hilo, Big Island) GPS loc. N 19 degrees 43.886 minutes W 155 degrees 03.184 minutes

I set the phone wake up early enough to be on deck before the sunrise at 0606 hours. I was very glad I did. As we were heading into Hilo, I could see the glow from the lava above Hilo in the Kilauea volcano. It was interesting to see in the predawn time; later in the day, all you could see from the ship was the steam cloud above the vent. Also, I had great views of Mauna Kea. The 13,000 foot mountain was completely free of clouds, and the sun hit the top of the mountain first, then worked it's way down to the sea.

I didn't have any excursion in the morning, so I stopped by the flower stand set up in the warehouse on the pier. Hilo is very lush, being on the wet side of the Big Island. They produce a large number of flowers here. I bought an arrangement for a friend on the mainland, and a fresh lei for myself; the dinner tonight is "Polynesian attire".

While I was out on the dock, I saw a flat bed truck with a lot of wooden boxes on it. The were labeled as coming from a company in Portland, Oregon. The ship's engineering crew were loading the heavy boxes onto the ship. I found out later that these were replacement parts from the Constitution to fix our starboard engine.

My excursion this afternoon was a helicopter flight over the lava flow of Kilauea Volcano. We first flew over the Pu'u O'o vent. This is where the activity has been for most of the last 15 years. The lava was pretty active. It was bubbling up in the pool inside the vent; plenty of orange to see. There was, however, no surface flow. The lava takes underground tubes to reach the ocean. But all the way down the palis (cliffs), there were skylights where the top of the tube had collapsed, and we could see flowing lava. Next we flew down to the ocean where we saw the glowing lava entering the sea. I got some pretty good shots, even though the steam was very dense.

Further confirmation of the engine repair underway came as we departed Hilo. We left using only the port engine. This required a modification of our schedule. We left a little earlier than normal, at 4:30pm. Also, the ship normally passes the lava flow at 10:30 at night, but we were going to get there at 9:30. This cause us to rush a little at dinner. But it was worth it. The glowing lava is very vibrant in total darkness. I could see the glow up at the vent, the various skylights as it made it's way down to the ocean, and the lava flowing into the ocean. Always a great sight!

To digress a little, tonight's show consisted of a juggler and an illusionist. Normally, they do a show on Oahu, but had flown over to do the show on the ship.

Friday - (Kailua-Kona ) GPS loc. N 19 degrees 37.658 minutes W 156 degrees 00.272 minutes

I was up bright and early again. The Tradewinds Daily Guide said we would anchor at 8am, but I knew from how things went the previous days, all the action would be over long before then. It was another gorgeous day in Hawaii. The third officer had the "conn" as we approached our anchorage. I was pleased to see that he was taking sights on shore landmarks to determine our position, versus trusting the magic of GPS.

By 8am, the anchor was set, and the "launch" was in the process of rafting with us. There is no large dock in Kailua-Kona. We had to take a tender to shore. The "launch" that the Independence uses is a very large catamaran that is normally used for a dinner boat. It could take 450 people per trip! I was taking an early snorkel trip, and needed to take the 8:30 launch, so I had a quick breakfast at the Ohana buffet, and made my way down to Hawaii deck at about 8:20. The line was very short as I got there (10 people?). To get to the launch, you take one gangway to a floating platform, and then walk up another to get on the boat. The seas were very calm on this trip, and it was no problem. On other trips I've made, the water was a little rough, and crossing between the two was an adventure in itself!

The snorkel trip was very pleasant. I took the Kamanu Snorkel Sail. We motored out to Pawai Cove, just north of where the ship was, and had about an hour of snorkeling in Pawai Cove. After a snack it was time to raise the sails and head back to the boat harbor. Of course, due to Murphy's Law, there was only a slight breeze. We still made good speed.

After lunch I attended a tour of the engine room. It was conducted by the Engineering Cadet, Josh. Josh is a student at the United States Merchant Marine Academy. To graduate, the students there need to spend a certain number of days at sea. Josh said his choices were a research ship in the Antarctic, or the Independence. He seemed to think he had made the right choice!

I won't go into the details of the tour, as I wrote about that elsewhere in The SeaLetter. But as part of the tour, Josh explained the engine problems we were having: The first sign of trouble had been a horrible noise in the starboard engine room when they started to use it. They determined the problem to be the linkage between the low pressure turbine and the reduction gear. A shaft about three feet long, with gears, and bearings, etc. The gears had been worn quite a bit. After some work, they were able to run the starboard shaft at up to 60 RPM without trouble. In the meantime, the parts needed were taken from the Constitution, which was laid up in Portland. Because of the way the parts were originally built, they couldn't be sure whether or not individual parts were interchangeable, so they had to refurbish, and ship the entire linkage. The parts had arrived in Hilo. The starboard shaft was locked down for our passage-making. Normally, the Independence uses only one boiler in each engine room. But during the repair both boilers were online in the aft (port) engine room, and one boiler remained on-line in the forward (starboard) engine room to provide electrical power. Josh expected the repair to be completed sometime overnight, but they would not be able to test it underway. So, testing would have to wait until Honolulu.

The last launch from shore was at 3:30pm. Once again, we left a little early. It must have been quite full, as it took a long time to get everybody onboard. After we got underway, I headed back to the Ohana deck for the lei tossing ceremony. All the leis were tied together, then tossed overboard. It has been said that if you do this, and the lei heads to shore, you are destined to return to Hawaii! Tossing the lei into the wake of the ship made sure of that!

That evening I spent my time packing, saying my goodbyes at dinner, and just enjoying being at sea. I spent quite a bit of time up forward on the Boat deck just watching the ship cut through the waves. Later in the evening, I could see Maui in the distance, off our starboard side.

Saturday - (Honolulu, O'ahu)

When I got up on deck, we were just passing Diamond Head. We lined up with the harbor entrance right on time. But we had to slow down to allow a tug and barge to depart. As we entered the channel, a tug tied up to our bow. This was just a precaution, because we only had one engine. Nothing dramatic happened, and the Captain expertly had us docked by 7:00am.

I enjoyed a relaxed breakfast in the dining room (buffet). Then I just hung around. There were no lines to get off. That's a nice thing about this cruise. You don't need to pass thru Customs. I got off about 8:30. I should have waited longer, as my bags weren't available till about 9:00. I wasn't concerned though; It was just a short taxi ride to get home.


This was my fourth cruise on American Hawaii. I enjoyed this one as much as the others. The work done this last summer to the ship was all very good. I'm not sure when, but I know I will be taking them again!

John Lotz is a computer programmer from Honolulu and the Single Cruisers Section Leader on the CompuServe Cruise Forum. He can be reached for questions or comment at: 70402.3163@compuserve.com.