Hawaii Cruise Gone Bad?
S.S. Independence Review - American Hawaii Cruises
American Classic Voyages

By: Bruce MurrayOnHawaii

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American Classic Voyages, owner of the SS Indpendence, filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and ceased all operations. Norwegian Cruise Lines is now offering cruises in the islands.

LONG BEACH, California - June 20, 2001 - Our Hawaii cruise on the S.S. Indepence hasn't even started and I'm wondering if I've made a big mistake.... Folks tried to talk me out of this hawaii cruise ship, did I listen... NO!!! I thought it would be neat taking this classic old cruise ship around the Hawaiian islands. This ship is run by American Hawaii Cruises / American Classic Voyages.

hawaii cruise on the SS Independence

FIRST BAD SIGN: The press headline reading "American Classic Voyages Co. Boosts Hawaii Bookings; Implements Cost Reduction Program". GREAT!! a ship packed to the max with passengers, and a company that is cutting costs. The article mentioned how the Independence will be running at a "load factor of 110%". This is looking bad.... The company also announced that %15 of the shore staff is being cut. Maybe that is why I had to wait 25 minutes when I called the 800 number with a question regarding my cruise. I've been told by American Classic Voyages that the cuts will not reduce the level of on board service. I'll let you know.....

American Classic Voyages Co., parent company of American Hawaii Cruises, stock symbol AMCV, has dropped from a 52 week high of $21.81 to a 52 week low today of $3.40. (June 20th 2001). This company appears to be under intense pressure, based on my estimates it has gone from a market capitalization of over $400 million to $71 million in just under 12 months.

SECOND SIGN: The Airline connections they set up for me are all messed up. In this day of energy conservation they are flying me from Los Angeles to Hawaii via San Jose! The flight home is even more of a disaster arriving at LAX at 5am!

My ticket says the Independence check-in begins at 2pm and departs 7pm. My flight lands in Maui at 8:58pm!!!

Stay Tuned.....

LONG BEACH, California - June 27, 2001 - So far very little help from American Hawaii Cruises / SS Independence with the airline connections. It appears that they made an error when my Travel Agent booked the cruise. As a result they had to re book my flights at the last minute giving them few options. They say they didn't know I was staying on the islands after the cruise and booked me on an incorrect flight. I wonder why they charged me a "deviation" fee when they say they didn't know about my delayed departure????

After waiting on hold 45 minutes, they did tell me that my late arrival won't be a problem. I wonder why the paperwork they delivered to me gives explicit instructions to the contrary. They also offered to refund my airline charge and let me book my own air, but at this late date airfares are very expensive.

Cruise leaves Saturday June 30th!

maui hawaii

Maui, Hawaii - Sunday July 01, 2001 - Had a great flight in yesterday, was a pain going via San Jose. Using Frequent Flier miles and we were able to upgrade to First Class!

Arrived at the airport and everything went well. The ship was beautiful last night as we approached, it's flower painted stacks bright against the night sky.

ss independence

This morning we could have visited the island of Maui but since we are staying here for three days after the cruise we decided to remain on board. My Wife isn't feeling well, bit of a cold. We set sail at 2pm today, I hope she is feeling better soon.

Temps feel warm, but it is caused more by the humidity than the temperature. Shorts are uniform of the day.

FYI: From the ship you can walk over to a small shopping center and stock up on items you may have left behind.
This is a grand old ship. Built in the tradition of the great cruise liners that used to regularly cross the vast oceans with ease. More on that later.

hawaii cruise
Upper Pool

hawaii cruise
Lower Pool

As you all would expect, your hardworking webmaster only goes First Class. Our Cabin, a suite, is huge. Just the dressing room area and bath are about the same size as a cabin we had on a Carnival Cruise in April.

HEY! Someone should tell Kendal, a supervisor in the American Classic Voyages call center in New Orleans, that when they deliver you to the ship Saturday evening you do indeed miss on board activities.... I knew he was wrong, but he said "you won't miss a thing.... Some excursions book up fast and your out of luck if you arrive late. You also don't get your photo taken as you board. My wife and I have collected these from our past cruises...."
So far we are enjoying the ship. My Wife likes it, the few times she has been out of the cabin. But for me it is a bit sad to see obvious maintenance items overlooked. I don't know if this is due to the financial problems the parent company is having, or just poor management here on board.

Especially obvious are the decorative signal flags that fly above the ship strung from the bow to the stern they are tattered and worn. The decks are also in especially bad shape in spots. Few if any of the individual items that I have noticed will impact any of the passengers on this cruise, but together they bring the image of this once grand ship and the American Hawaii Cruises / American Classic Voyages a bit closer to "just average".

I tend to look at things with a slightly different eye. Having worked in Theme Parks, Theatre, and Television, I often step back and evaluate cruises as if they are a continuous theatrical performance.

NOTE: It looks like I am able to connect to the internet at a reasonable cost when docked. Will try and update this page daily. The digital images (Olympus 3040) you see are cropped, but not color or contrast adjusted. My laptop screen isn't really a very good reference.

american hawaii cruises

Hilo, Hawaii (Big Island) - Monday July 02, 2001 - Sailed from Maui to the Big Island last night. We cruised around the island of Maui, but the cloudy weather reduced visibility.

This morning we did a half-day trip to three different waterfalls here on The Big Island. Trips were available for all levels of activity. We picked one that included a little walking, but not much due to my Wife's illness.

Soon, my wife will feel better...

waterfalls waterfalls

The waterfalls were beautiful, skies were gray and a little rain did fall.

Meals so far have been pretty good. Two basic options for Breakfast and Lunch: Open seating in the main Dining Rooms and a Buffet area. The buffet food is pretty good, fine for kids, and fast if your running late for a shore excursion. The buffet has longer hours than the dining rooms and offers a Moonlight Snack from 10:30 - 11:30pm. For Dinner your only option is your dining room.

Food in the dining rooms has been very good. This ship has been known in the past to have problems with the quality of their meals, not anymore. The only problem was that the food was consistently the wrong temperature. Chilled items were only cool, hot items were only warm. Note: Soups were always hot. They need to chill or warm their plates, hot food was served on cool plates. The level of service is also good considering the US staff. This is one of the few US flagged cruise ships of it's type. Captain and most of the crew are US.

Our suite. They don't build ships like this anymore.

FYI: Most of the rooms are much smaller than this. Some are very small, but the small cabins I visited were comfortable.
NOTE: It looks like I am able to connect to the internet at a reasonable cost when docked. Will try and update this page daily. The digital images (Olympus 3040) you see are cropped, but not color or contrast adjusted. My laptop screen isn't really a very good reference.

This evening at 10:30pm we passed the lava flows were molten volcanic rock meets the ocean in a cloud of vapor. Very beautiful. The on board American Hawaii Cruises historian tells the story of the volcanos, very interesting. They are a bit distant from the ship, but with a island that changes shape by the minute, safety is of the utmost importance.

Kona, Hawaii (Big Island)- Tuesday July 03, 2001 (photos added July 16th) - Sunshine finally arrives. Today the trip feels more like a tropical cruise. The past three days the ship has been docked at piers that were mainly designed for containership use. These docks were not directly located at any real tourist or local facilities. Shuttles did exist but you looked off the ship and saw stacks of shipping containers. But today we are anchored in a protected bay just offshore of Kona. A massive tender runs every hour into the pier.

American Hawaii Cruise ship ss Indpendence
View of the ship as the tender leaves for the Kona pier.

The Hawaiian islands have a major problem when it comes to cruise port facilities. $30 million dollars has just been set aside by the state to expand these facilities over the next two years. Specifically Honolulu, Hilo and Nawiliwili. The longer length of modern cruise ships overwhelms these ports designed for much smaller ships, and Honolulu is the only one that can handle more than one ship at a time. Three weeks ago I was in Vancouver British Columbia and saw the major expansion work that is being done to their cruise terminal. They are well ahead of anything Hawaii is doing spending $58 million on their soon to be completed expansion. Nothing visibily appears to be happening at any of the Hawaiian ports we visited. Hawaii needs to get to work ASAP. Harbor Masters have already turned away ships.

We take the morning "Captain Zodiac" snorkel trip. The high speed boats take 16 passengers appx. 14 miles down the coast to a beautiful bay with great snorkeling. It is the same bay where Captain Cook first landed on the Hawaiian Islands. It is also were he was later killed, a monument marks the spot. On the return trip our Captain took us in close to the shore showing us up close details of how these islands were formed. Interesting and fun. Got sunburned... Even if you put on lots of sun screen I suggest you snorkel with a long sleeve t-shirt or spring (wet)suit.

ss indpendence in distance
We depart the dock for our snorkel trip, our ship in distance.



This was a great spot for snorkeling! Beginners and expert alike will enjoy this trip.

After the snorkel trip we had lunch in the building that used to house the historic Kona Inn. Several shops and historic sites are just a block or two from the pier where the tender operates.

Note: These Kona photos were taken with a 35mm disposable Kodak underwater camera. Not my digital Olympus.

Honolulu, Hawaii - Wednesday July 04, 2001 - I was a beautiful morning as we arrived in Honolulu and were greeted by a harbor fire boat salute. Welcoming the SS Independence, on Independence Day, during it's 50th year of operation, now based in the 50th state.

honolulu fireboat

boat days welcome in honolulu

independence in Honolulu

The harbor is in the center of the Honolulu business district, with shopping, a maritime museum, and sights right at the pier. Gotta go to the Hilo Hattie main store, a free shuttle runs from the pier. In fact the ship offers a listing of all the free shuttles at each of the ports, pick one up.

Today we decided to take the morning half day USS Arizona Memorial tour. The wait to get in can be long, so take along a good book. Since the recent movie the memorial has become a very popular tourist destination. I enjoyed the visit, a very moving experience. Don't forget that this is a memorial, suggest appropriate clothing. Men & Women with with an excess of exposed skin may not be allowed to enter. Wear something that covers the shoulders no matter what the heat. 1177 unsuspecting men died in 9 minutes at this spot.

uss arizona memorial

pearl harbor memorial

arizona memorial

If you are interested a tour is available that includes the USS Missiouri, the ship on which the Japaneese surrendered. Between these two you have symobls of the start and the end of WWII in the Pacific.

USS Missiouri and Arizonal Memorial

Everything on the SS Indpendence is touched by it's 50 years of service on the seas. When constructed stage shows now found on cruise ships were not part of the on board entertainment experience. The SS Independence main showroom is not a stage but a small bandstand with a dance floor.

The shows were lots of fun and very intimate. For me I'd rather see a group of performers entertain in these less than ideal circumstances, forcing them to carry the show with their talent, than to see a highly produced production. The other entertainment in the ships louges was all very low key in keeping with the laid back nature of the islands. But one lounge does pick up the pace a bit as the night progresses, giving the younger set some dance mix music.

Suggestion: When booking a cabin in addition for requesting one a midship for the most comfortable ride, ask for one away from the lounges if you are on a deck that includes one. The music might keep you awake.

We decided to stay onboard tonight and not join most of the other passengers who took in a show and dinner at the Polynesian Cultural Center. It was a nice evening for us with most everyone else gone.

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Copyright © 2001 ASSIST Information Services / Top Photo Copyright © American Classic Voyages / All other Copyright © 2001-2004 Bruce Murray