The following are our personal IMPRESSIONS of the trip.
You have never seen beauty until you have seen the Hawaiian Islands! So green, so lush, so beautiful!
The plants that grow wild are awesome. Split Leaf Philadendrons growing wild up the sides of trees. Ferns from the smallest maiden's hair fern to 20 ft. tall fern "trees."
And the volcanic formations are just unbelievable. Each Isle has it's own "Natural Personality." Some are dry while others are a virtual rainforest.
The 2 most contrasting islands are Kauai and the Big Island (Hawaii).
Kauai is called The Garden Isle, and that is so true.
It must be due to the wettest spot on earth being found on Kauai. They get an average of over 400 inches of rain at that spot. (That is over 35 FEET of rain a year!) I believe it was Mark
Twain who said "If the Hawaiian Islands are Paradise, then Kauai must be the Garden of Eden."
Hawaii, The Big Island, is dynamic in the truest sense of the word. The Kilauea Volcano, the most active volcano on earth, sees to
that. This island is still growing. There are barren deserts on this island, and stark lava flows. That's not to say that the whole island is
that way. No, there are many lush green areas on Hawaii, too. In fact, when we took our tour to Volcanoes National Park,
our first stop was at the Thurston Lava Tube. You can see from the pictures of Day 6 that this is a very lush area.
I was thinking, "This was NOT what I thought of when I pictured Volcano National Park!" Then we rode on another 5 minutes to
the Kileaua Crater! What a difference with steam and sulfur vents and lava flows all over the place.
We were told that it often snows atop the Mauuna Kea (now extinct) Volcano. The top of this mountain is 13,796 ft. above sea level. We
were also told that, from base to summit, this is the tallest mountain in the world. You see, there are over 18,000 ft. of the mountain under water!
That would make Mauuna Kea over 31,000 ft. tall from base to summit. This is over 2,000 feet taller than Mt. Everest.
I don't want to ignore Maui. Maui was formed when 2 volcanic islands merged with the one lava flow from the Haleakala Volcano.
It is a spectacular place to see. The West Maui Mountains are older and more eroded. There you can see the Iao Valley with the Iao Needle
(see the pictures from Day 4, Day trips) are a true wonder. The Eastern portion of Maui is formed by Haleakala, the tallest dormant volcano
in the world at 10, 023 ft. Can you believe some people
met and left the ship at 3:15 a.m. so they could bicycle down Haleakala at dawn!?!?
Parts of Maui are quite dry, but other parts are quite wet. The Iao valley is the 2nd wettest spot on earth!
Maui has a lot of agriculture (sugar cane, pineapple coffee, macadamia nuts, and now asparagus). The sugar industry is declining but farmers are
switching to coffee, macadamia nuts and asparagus.
Then there is Oahu, The Gathering Place. When I was asked which one of the islands we had visited I'd like to return to,
I thought a moment then replied, "Oahu." Oahu has it all. The beauty, the culture, and many, many things to do.
There is more of everything on Oahu. There are more restaurants, more shows and more shopping. One can't forget
Hanauma Bay, Diamondhead, the Polynesian Cultural Center, The Kodak Hula Show, Waimea Falls, Waikiki Beach, and the International
Market Place. There are Luau's, the Bishop Museum, and Iaolani Palace. There are just too too many things to mention.
THE CRUISE STAFF
Everyone on the ship was very friendly, from the ship's master on down to the lowest worker we met.
There was always a cheerful "Hello" as we passed people in the passage ways. The Kumu (Kahea Beckley) and
the Cruise Director (Kamana'opono Hattori) were very helpful, cheerful and friendly at all times.
The Ship's Master (Dana A. Wirkala) could have a career as a stand-up comedian if he ever decides
to give up the sea.
The SS INDEPENDENCE is a fine old gal. She is the perfect size, carrying about 1,000 passengers.
She has charm! That is why we like to cruise on these older ships. They aren't the floating "glitz-boxes" as I like to call them.
She was built in 1951, and has seen many many passengers. The cabins are small but comfortable, and the bathrooms are tiny.
She was redecorated/refurbished earlier in the 90's. Unfortunately, that is the last time some things appear to have been done. Take the aft decks for instance.
It seems as if the owners haven't heard about varnish. These decks don't appear to have been varnished since the ship was
refurbished earlier this decade. Some of the upper decks appear to be getting downright dangerous, particularly if you are a woman
wearing heels. There are many places on the sun, boat and bridge deck where a woman wearing heels could catch her heel in
a hole and fall, twisting her ankle. Then there are the broken "windows" (for a lack of the proper ship term) on the port side of the
Ohana Deck just outside the buffet area. It is a shame they haven't taken better care of her.
We understand that American Hawaii Cruises will be
introducing 2 new ships in the next few years. They are to be much larger than the SS INDEPENDENCE. I just hope they
are not sacrificing the intimacy and charm they already have on the SS Independence for new supergiant, impersonal "glitz-boxes."
One more thing, if you go on cruises to gamble (all the Caribbean ships have casinos), you are out of luck. They do have BINGO on the ship,
but that is all you'll find in the way of gambling.
THE SHORE EXCURSIONS
There are those who advocate your renting a car or hiring a taxi/guide to see the islands. We, on the other hand, are on vacation
to relax and relaxing doesn't mean spending time arranging rental cars or negotiating with taxi drivers. We like to do the shore-excursion-thing. Yes, they
may be a little more expensive in some cases, but then the "lack-of-a-hassle" is worth it. The are sooooo many shore excursions
for you to choose from on this cruise, you could go batty! (Their shore excursion booklet has 67 pages of tours you can book.) They offered something called
"The Captain's Choice Shore Excursion Package" and "The Captain's Choice Deluxe Shore Excursion Package."
We chose the deluxe which included a 1/2 day shore excursion each day in port, an on-shore luau & show one night, and a trip
to the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor when we returned to Oahu. You can see what each day brought us via our pictures.
If you are more adventurous, you can pick from snorkeling, mountain biking down a dormant volcano at dawn, kaiaking, para sailing, helicoptering over extinct or active volcanoes, and hiking.
They have whale watching in the winter, historical tours, cultural tours, and just plain "see the beauty of Hawaii" tours. There truly must be something for everyone
in their shore excursions booklet.
THE SHOWS, ON BOARD ACTIVITIES AND THE FOOD.
Let me just start off saying that if you are accustomed to the Broadway style reviews seen on
some of the larger Caribbean lines, you are going to be disappointed. The Hoi Hoi Show Room is the single biggest drawback of this ship.
There are only 4 rows of audience in front of the stage-area, and only 8 on either side. This room is sooooo small you have to get to the
show room AT LEAST an hour before show time to get a good seat (if you want to take pictures and don't have a zoom lens.)
Putting that aside, the singers and dancers (2 guys and 3 gals) were excellent. Their only problem is, they play to the 4 rows in front of the stage
and have a tendency to ignore the 8 rows that are to the right or left of the stage.
One night we were entertained by a vocalist. He had a good enough voice, but he would have been better had he not forgotten some of the
words to one of the songs he was singing.
Another night we were entertained by a European Juggler/unicyclist/comedian. He was quite entertaining.
OTHER ON BOARD ENTERTAINERS AND ACTIVITIES
There are a variety of lounge singers, pianists, and a guitarist. All of whom were quite good. Our favorite was a group from the islands called HAWAI'IKI NUI.
They played what they called "Island Contemporary." They would even take some Main Land songs and refit them to Hawaii. One example
was a redone version of "RT. 66" called "H1" after the "Interstate" highway on Oahu. They were quite good and well worth
searching out in the evenings.
The ship also provided a myriad of daily activities such as:
Lei making, corsage making, ukulele lessons, hula lessons, line dancing, morning exercises, a passengers talent show,
the Newlywed/ Not-so-newlywed game, a pajama party, and much, much more.
The meals were excellent, always having at least 4 entrees from which to choose. And we appreciated the use of some common
vegetables such as peas and green beans with many of the dinners. (We are a little tired of the "fancy" vegetables served on so many
of the Caribbean cruises.) One thing we would suggest to the American Hawaii Cruises: Put in a section of "EATING HEALTHY" entrees
on your evening meals.
We never ate breakfast in the dining room. We ate on the deck from the buffet every morning. They had such a wide variety of choices, it wasn't worth getting up
to go down and be served. They always had a good variety at the noon buffet, including PIZZA. Although, the lunch food in the dining rooms was also good.
There are 2 little things we did appreciate VERY much. The have a soft serve ice cream machine with a variety of sprinkles
available 24 hours a day in the buffet area AND they not only had coffee and tea available 24 hours a day, they also had Soft drinks and
juices available too. It was nice not having to buy a can of pop for $2.00 (like you do on Caribbean cruises)
every time you are thirsty.
I do think the bar prices are outrageous on this cruise. We are not big drinkers, but we
do enjoy a refreshing umbrella drink and a light beer while listening to good music in the evenings. The 2 could cost any where from
$6.95 (for 1 umbrella drink and a light beer - IF you got the daily special drink) to $9.95 if you picked something
that was not on special that day. TOO expensive for my blood for more than 1 round a night!
THE CRUISE AS A WHOLE
Please remember that we have been on a number of cruises, so we tend to compare them all in our minds. The negatives I mentioned are nothing more than our comparing this cruise to all the others.
If we do that, there will always be negatives to every cruise. Overall, this was a most enjoyable cruise! The scenery was beautiful, the people friendly, the food was good, the
entertainment was good, and it was the best way I can think of to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. With the one you love in one of the prettiest spots on earth!
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