Snapshot: Blount Small Ship Adventures (BSSA) was founded in 1966 by Yankee entrepreneur Luther Blount as the American Canadian Line headquartered in Warren, Rhode Island. He is largely responsible for the rebirth of US-flag coastal and inland voyages. His three daughters now run the cruise line and shipyard that builds small cruise vessels and excursion boats. Since the beginning Blount has operated small American-flagged ships taking less than 100 passengers on an appealing set of creative coastal and inland waters itineraries from New England and its historic islands, via the Hudson River and Erie Canal to the St. Lawrence River and French Canada, through the Great Lakes to Chicago, and south along the East Coast’s Intracoastal Waterway to the Carolinas and Florida. Belize for its islands and barrier reef and Guatemala for its Mayan ruins are a December and January destinations. 9-day Cuba cruises during February to April are ongoing. The crew is all-American, and captains are Blount veterans and know their waters. Cabins are tiny and the social life amongst mostly senior Americans and Canadians is relaxed and upbeat. It’s destination cruising with few of the frills that characterize the mainstream ships. Most passengers like it that way, that is once they get used to the small quarters. 2016 was Blount’s 50th anniversary for operating small-ship cruises. In 2017 Blount celebrates the bicentennial for the start of the Erie Canal’s construction across New York State in 1817. The NYS Canal System is now National Historic Landmark, and Blount is the only overnight cruise line that can negotiate Erie and Oswego canals.
Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers: GRANDE CARIBE (built 1997 & 88 passengers) and GRANDE MARINER (b. 1998 & 88 p).
Passenger Profile: Mostly American seniors who enjoy a casual social setting with like-minded cruisers, while a few Brits and Australians are now finding their way here.
Passenger Decks: 4, electric stair climber between cabins, lounge and dining room on Main and Sun decks.
Cabins: 44 doubles, with a few set aside for single occupancy.
Price: $ to $$ Moderate
Included Features: Beer and wine at lunch and dinner*; soft drinks and setups for passengers own supplies; occasional walking tours. *(No free wine/beer on 4-day New England island breaks.)
Itineraries: Cruises last 6 to 15 nights.
- American & Canadian waterways between Warren, RI and Chicago using no less than 3 canals, 3 rivers and 6 lakes (4 of 5 Great Lakes). Inland waterway trip par excellence.
- Lake Michigan-exclusively, from Chicago with three spots in Wisconsin and three in Michigan and as far north as Mackinac Island.
- The Intracoastal Waterway, 10 ports in 6 states between Warren, RI, Blount’s headquarters and Charleston, SC. Share the bays, rivers and sounds waterways with small yacht traffic and tie up at towns where you just walk ashore. In April 2018, one northbound cruise embarks in West Palm Beach for Savannah, Georgia, and continues another 12 days up the waterway from there to Baltimore.
- Islands of New England (Block Island, Cuttyhunk, Martha’s Vineyard, & Nantucket) plus inland and coastal Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Activities ashore include sailing in an America’s Cup yacht in Newport, kayaking in Great Salt Pond and communing with birds on Block Island, and learning about oyster farming and fishing at Westport, near the New Bedford port call. Quickie 4-day trips from Warren are available, and in 2018, longer 10-day cruises depart Boston for the Maine coast and New Brunswick in June and July. Also in June/July 2018, 8-day trips leave Boston and call exclusively at Massachusetts ports: Salem, Newburyport, Provincetown, Plymouth and Martha’s Vineyard.
- New York and Montreal via 3 rivers, 3 canals, Lake Ontario, St. Lawrence Seaway, and including Quebec City and some cruises extended to the Saguenay River. This is Blount’s bread & butter route.
- In December and January, three 12-day departures will explore Belize and Guatemala for barrier reef activates, Mayan ruins, birding (500 species in Belize), visiting small towns, paddling the Rio Dulce, and jungle hikes.
- 9-day Cuba itinerary for 2017 & 2018: Havana (4 days docked with ship as the hotel), plus Cienfuegos, Cayo Largo and Trinidad.
Why Go? See the U.S. and Canada close up by traveling along North American rivers, canals and sounds where other cruises do not and cannot go, plus a full program exploring the Great Lakes. Social interaction amongst like minded souls.
When to Go? Itineraries are geared to the preferable seasons.
Cabins: Teeny weeny, ranging from 74 to 96 sq. ft. with a dozen different configurations, so study carefully the detailed cabin plans. Beds may be double-size; parallel and right and odd-angled twins; some upper and lower berths. Cabins may have slide-open windows (fresh air and sounds of the sea), tiny potholes ormay be inside with neither. Some open to an outside promenade (fun for some) rather than into an inside corridor. Showers may be hand-held within the toilet and wash basin space or in a separate compartment. Storage space is limited to a closet, a few drawers and under the bed. Dress is casual at all times. Tip: ask about engine room noise before booking a Main Deck cabin.
Public Rooms: Pure and simple, there is one forward-facing lounge that seats all passengers, with an open bar for soft drinks and set ups, plus games and a large flat-screen TV. Plenty of covered and open seating is available on the top deck.
Dining: Meals are served in the big-windowed dining room located one deck below the lounge, and all passengers are accommodated in one sitting at four- to eight-seat tables. There are no tables for two — definitely not the scene here. Lunch and dinner are at set times depending on the program, and breakfast entertains a one-hour span of arrival.
Breakfast is both buffet-style for cereals, breads, pastries, fruit and juices as well a served special-of the-day such as blueberry pancakes, omelets or Eggs Benedict. Lunch may start with a communal soup bowl on the table, then perhaps a quiche or make your own sandwich with ingredients set out before you. Dinner is served with an appetizer or salad, choice of entrée and dessert. The food is well prepared with high quality ingredients and reflects what the mostly North American passengers like to eat at home or at a good local restaurant.
Activities & Entertainment: A lecturer accompanies most cruises with additional specialist speakers in some ports. Optional shore excursions are available in most ports as well as independent touring. Some evenings may see a musician or local historian come aboard. Bedtime comes early for many, few stay up past 10 p.m.
Special Notes: Line offers a popular BYOB policy and supplies storage and setups; singles have the option of a “willing to share” policy. There is no laundry aboard. The cruise director will know the most convenient “bottle shops” and self-service laundries on longer voyages. Early arrival rates for some dates include an extra dinner and overnight aboard allowing for local independent touring. It’s a nice feature and avoids a one-night hotel stay and another transfer. Keep a keen eye out for specials.
Along the Same Lines: American Cruise Lines and American Queen Steamboat Company though plusher cabins; Ontario Waterway Cruises; St. Lawrence Cruise Lines. UnCruise Adventures (some itineraries).
Contact: Blount Small Ship Adventures, 461 Water Street, PO Box 368, Warren, RI 02885-3900; blountsmallshipadventures.com; 800-556-7450.