In answer to almost any request at the Surfrider's bar aboard American Hawaii Cruises' SS Independence, Eamon's ready reply, with a twinkle in his Irish eyes, is "Of course, my man, this is your ship!"

And that's not just his attitude – it's the philosophy of everyone on board. This really is your ship – and it can be anything you want it to be.

Whether you're like Bill and Nancy from South Carolina in one of the two luxurious suites by the bridge, looking for a bit of the elegance Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr enjoyed in "An Affair to Remember" which was filmed on its identical sister ship, the SS Constitution, or if you're like Penny and Sam, honeymoon lottery winners from Idaho, who were experiencing cruising for the first time, there is enough scope in the activities and amenities provided to make sure that you have exactly the holiday you planned.

From the moment they put the fragrant lei around your neck and welcome you aboard with honest smiles, the staff and crew of the SS Independence – drawn from everywhere in the world from Honolulu to Hamburg – give you the rare chance in this exquisite part of the world to relish the different cultures of Hawaii and to enjoy them in which ever way you prefer.

For most on board, the 7-night cruise visiting 5 ports on 4 spectacular islands – Maui, the Big Island of Hawaii, Oahu, and Kauai – is the perfect opportunity to touch on everything the Hawaiian islands have to offer. It's the ideal first time experience – to sample everything and decide what you want to explore more thoroughly the next time the smell of the orchids, the lilting music and warm memories beckon you back.

Having said that. a large number of the passengers are repeat cruisers, but no matter how often they make the journey, for the majority aboard the SS Independence, it's a cultural experience.

So, who better to welcome you aboard than Haunani, the SS Independence's resident guide to the history, myths, legends and culture of the true Hawaii. With an ancestry that encompasses European and far Eastern immigrants and – as rumour has it – a direct link to the Hawaiian Royal family – Haunani is the "kumu", a rare and hard fought honour.

As she explains, "I am teacher and source. Before, I would have stood beside the king. Today I stand beside the captain." She is present at all functions, an enigmatic and gracious host, and spends her days passing on her love, her "aloha", of the islands.

From leading the ceremony of traditional chant, music and dance as the SS Independence sails away under the stars, to filling the first day at sea with a wide variety of activities highlighting the Hawaiian culture – learning the basics of hula, lei making, ukelele playing and even crafts with sea shells – Haunani's busy schedule is devoted to making sure that everybody learns about Hawaii.

And there is plenty to see in Hawaii, from the fern-lined trails of the Io Valley State Park on the island of Maui, to the lush green hillsides, spectacular canons and jagged coastal cliffs of Kauai, to the glowering molten rock of the active volcano of the Big Island; from the history and drama of Pearl Harbour to the fun and lights of Honolulu and Waikiki Beach. And this is just the tip of the list. Activities include everything from diving to whale-watching, cycling to hiking – and more. You may never find the time to get home...

But the pace of the holiday shouldn't sound too hectic – too much to see and do – because one of the joys of the American Hawaii Cruise experience is the ease of the routine.

Although the fun to had in the Surfrider Bar, or any one of the lounges is not cumpulsory, the overriding concern for the staff abaord the SS Independence is that everybody should enjoy themselves.

For some that would be the Captain's Welcome Aboard Champagne Party where passengers can meet the senior officers, staff and fellow guests and enjoy champagne and Hawaiian pupus (local hors d'oeuvres). For others the real treat is the regular moonlit snack served at the Ohana Buffet, or for some, the music and dancing at the Ohana Lounge.

For us it was trying to find a cocktail that Eamon didn't know how to make. A fruitless task.

As the ship heads back to Kahului, the last day on board ends with the traditional lei tossing ceremony when passengers join Haunani and the staff in making one gaint lei out of all the leis you have saved during the trip, and then thorwing it overboard. But the expereince is not a sad one. Nor is the personal farewell Haunani bids you the next morning, because the lei, once thrown, means that one day soon you are bound to return.

Photos: American Hawaii Cruises

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