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Quirky Cruise
October 24, 2015

Small Ship Cruise Line Review: American Cruise Lines

Queen of the West. * Photo: American Cruise Lines

Queen of the West. * Photo: American Cruise Lines

The fastest growing cruise line under the U.S Flag also offers the largest cabins, many with balconies, and dedicated single cabins.

Snapshot: An American-flag coastal and inland river company manned by an all-American crew, the line operates seven vessels (passenger capacities 49-150) offering a high level of comfort while undertaking a varied menu of itineraries along the U.S. East Coast, the Mississippi River system, Columbia and Snake rivers, in the Pacific Northwest, and North to Alaska. The company has built all its vessels (except the acquired QUEEN OF THE WEST) in its Chesapeake Bay yard, hence there are many similarities between ships. Sister brand, Pearl Seas Cruises, operates the Pearl Mist on Cuban itineraries.

Click here for a QuirkyCruise feature article on American Cruise Lines.

Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers: AMERICAN GLORY (2002); AMERICAN SPIRIT (2005); AMERICAN STAR (2007); INDEPENDENCE (2010); QUEEN OF THE MISSISSIPPI (2012); AMERICAN EAGLE (2015); AMERICA (May 2016); and acquired ship QUEEN OF THE WEST (1994). N.B. QUEEN OF THE MISSISSIPPI becomes AMERICAN PRIDE and repositions to the Pacific Northwest beginning early April 2016. N.B. A new and larger coastal ship, AMERICAN CONSTELLATION, arrived in spring May 2017 with 350-square-foot cabins for 175 passengers and Zodiacs and kayaks for exploring off the ship. A sister, AMERICAN CONSTITUTION  will follow in 2018. Also in 2018, a new style of riverboat will appear, more like the European models, rather than Mississippi sternwheelers. Four decks high, they will take 200 passengers who will occupy roomy cabins with hotel-size baths and larger and deeper balconies. A bow ramp will give access to more landings and obviate the need to build expensive docking facilities. This new fleet will be built at the company-owned Chesapeake Shipbuilding.

Passenger Profile: Mostly Americans, 55 and up, and a high rate of repeaters. Some British, mostly in groups.

VLUU L100, M100 / Samsung L100, M100 Queen of the Mississippi. * Photo: American Cruise Lines

American Pride. * Photo: American Cruise Lines

Passenger Decks: 4 or 5. Elevators connect all decks.

Ships Year Built  Passengers Passenger
Decks
Cabins  With Verandas Singles
America 2016 185  5 99  96 14
American Constellation 2017 175 6 89 78 5
American Star 2007 100 4 47 27 2
American Spirit 2005 100 4 47 26 2
Independence 2010 100 4 51 40 6
American Pride 2012 150 5 78 66 12
Queen of the Mississippi 2015 149 5 78 72 19
Queen of the West 1994 100 4 70 41 13
American Star. * Photo: Ted Scull

American Star. * Photo: Ted Scull

Price: $$$  Super Pricey

What’s Included: Beer and wine at lunch & dinner, and a nightly pre-dinner cocktail hour with hors d’oeuvres; Internet; shore excursions are an extra charge, except in Alaska.

Itineraries: Many cruises last 7 nights/8 days and some up to 14nights/15 days.

  • East Coast: Northeastern US with New England islands and the Maine Coast, together or separately; up the Hudson River Valley from New York in the fall foliage season; Chesapeake Bay, Eastern & Western Shores from top to bottom; Historic South & Islands; passages between the Chesapeake & Florida along the Intracoastal Waterway; and Florida’s rivers. The New England and Maine Coast cruises feature lobster served several different ways, including lobster bakes ashore, plus clams and mussels, all sourced locally.
Jared Coffin House, named after a prominent Nantucket ship owner was built in 1845. * Photo: Ted Scull

Jared Coffin House, named after a prominent Nantucket ship owner was built in 1845. * Photo: Ted Scull

  • Midwestern Rivers: Mississippi (Upper & Lower), Ohio and Cumberland Rivers from 8 to 11 days. The complete Mississippi from New Orleans to St. Paul is the longest at 22 days.
  • Pacific Northwest: 5, 8 days & 10 days along on the Columbia and Snake Rivers; 8 days for the Puget Sound and San Juan Islands; 15 days along Alaska’s Inside Passage between Seattle & Juneau; and 8 days in Southeast Alaska. N.B. In 2018, the itineraries in Puget Sound and San Juan Islands will now operate throughout the summer months with the 100-passenger AMERICAN SPIRIT, while the newly-introduced AMERICAN CONSTELLATION (175 p) will shift from the East Coast for a summer-long program in  to Alaska.
  • Some cruises offer special themes such as the Civil War, Lewis & Clark, Mark Twain, Nashville country & blues, Columbia Valley wines. Walking tours from the ship are a common offering in many East Coast ports, while buses are used at others and jet-boats ride the Snake River rapids. Two sternwheelers are now positioned here. Most cruises are 7 nights/8 days while a few are 5 and 10, operating from early April to early November.

Why Go? East Coast America begs to be seen from a small ship whether it’s exploring Maine’s indented shore line, lovely New England islands, the beauty of the Hudson River in autumn, land of pleasant living in the Chesapeake Bay, charms of the Deep South, and the Intracoastal Waterway that ties it all together. The mighty Mississippi and its tributaries take you to America’s heartland of small towns and large river cities. A passage up the Columbia and Snake rivers offer more variety of landscapes and shore-side attractions than any stretch of river in North America. Cruise the Inside Passage up the British Columbia coast to Alaskan wonders and for an indelible slice of American history and wonderment.

When to Go? The itineraries are scheduled for the best times of the year in most regions. However, the Mississippi and Columbia/Snake river valleys can be beastly hot in the summer months.

Cabins: There is no question that the cabins are amongst the largest in the small ship fleets with the vast majority 200 square feet and larger, and expanding up to 600 sq. ft. on the brand-new AMERICAN EAGLE. Amenities on all vessels include windows that slide open, many cabins with narrow balconies furnished with two chairs and a small table, good-size bathroom, free Wi-Fi, satellite TV and DVD player, writing desk, roomy closet and drawer storage. All ships have dedicated single cabins, from just 2 to 19. Additionally, three ships, AMERICA, AMERICAN PRIDE and AMERICAN EAGLE offer in-cabin coffee machines and internal phone for ordering room service, including a balcony breakfast, ideal for those who are not particularly chatty in the morning.

American Pride suite.* Photo: American Cruise Lines

American Pride suite.* Photo: American Cruise Lines

Public Rooms: The fleet shares similar layouts with the main observation lounge furnished with comfy upholstered living room-style armchairs and settees. Additionally, there are a couple of cozy mid-ship lounges (doubling occasionally as embarkation accesses) and a library. The single dining room is invariably on the lowest deck and aft over the engines, which depending on the speed of the ship may generate some noise. The highest deck offers shelter and open lounge and deck chair seating.

Forward observation lounge aboard the Independence. * Photo: Ted Scull

Forward observation lounge aboard the Independence. * Photo: Ted Scull

Dining: The entire fleet can accommodate all passengers at one seating, mostly at communal tables of four to eight. Tables for two are not normally part of the lively social scene. Breakfast offers a window of time for getting your day started, while lunch and dinner are at set times, occasionally depending on the port schedules. The food is very good American fare with high quality ingredients and special regional offerings such as steamed lobster, and lobster included in many dishes in New England, plus Chesapeake blue crabs, Georgia shrimp, Florida oysters, Iowa pork chops, Wisconsin artisan cheeses, and fresh salmon and sturgeon in the Northwest. Fresh produce is often bought locally, and the food preparation is uniformly very good to excellent. Passengers choose their lunch and dinner options at breakfast to give the galley a rough idea of what to prepare. Changing one’s mind later is no problem. The young American college and post-college age staff (sometimes seen as temporary grandchildren to some passengers) provides friendly and efficient, if not always polished service. Dress is always casual.

American Pride - Paddlewheel Lounge.* Photo: American Cruise Lines

American Pride – Paddlewheel Lounge.* Photo: American Cruise Lines

Activities & Entertainment: An historian, naturalist or scientist accompanies all cruises with special interest speakers in some ports. Entertainers and musicians also come on in some ports.

Special Notes: All ships have a small number of dedicated single cabins. Suggested tipping is high at $120 per person for a week’s cruise.

Along the Same Lines: Pearl Seas Cruises (sister company); Blount Small Ship Adventures (on U.S. East Coast and at a lower cost); American Queen Steamboat Company on the Mississippi River system and the Columbia/Snake rivers.

Contact Info: American Cruise Lines, 741 Boston Post Road, Suite 200, Guilford, CT 06437; Americancruiselines.com; 800-460-4518

TWS

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Alaska, American and Canadian Waterways, Coastal America, Coastal Ship & Line Reviews, Cruise Regions, North America, Rivers Ship & Line Reviews, Ship & Line reviews, Uncategorized


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