Québec's Baie-Comeau

Canada Bans Cruise Ships Through Oct.

By Anne Kalosh.

Canada extended its ban of most cruise ships through October. This effectively kills the Alaska, Canada/New England, Great Lakes and Canadian Arctic cruise seasons for most operators.

canada cruise ban equals no Northwest Passage cruises

Canadian Coast Guard ship in the Northwest Passage will have no cruise ships to watch over. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

Applies to ships carrying more than 100 people

Only the smallest vessels are allowed, those with overnight accommodations for up to 100 people.

The decision had been expected given that COVID-19 is still not under control, especially in the neighboring United States.

“Large cruise ships will not be allowed in Canadian waters until at least Oct. 31,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced during a daily briefing. “This decision extends the one we made in March, which was taken to protect our coastal communities. COVID-19 is still a very serious threat.”

The new regulation is stricter than the March ban, which had applied to ships carrying more than 500 people, including crew.

Canada ban cruise ships to places like Montreal

CanadaNew-England cruises known for their fall foliage are curtailed. Here Montréal. * Photo: Cruise the Saint Lawrence

RELATED: Small Ship Lines Likely the First to Resume Operations.  by Anne Kalosh.

Expedition operators

Also, passenger vessels with the capacity to carry more than 12 people continue to be prohibited from entering Arctic coastal waters. including Nunatsiavut, Nunavik and the Labrador Coast, until Oct. 31.

This means no Northwest Passage expeditions or Canadian High Arctic adventures that are often paired with Greenland and Iceland.

polar bears in the High Arctic

No expedition ships will be taking travelers to see polar bears in the Canadian Arctic this summer. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

canada cruise ban means no northwest passage cruises

No Northwest Passage cruises this year. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

Victory Cruise Lines

Coastal operator Victory Cruise Lines, which had earlier decided to field just one vessel instead of two on the Great Lakes this year, scrapped the program altogether shortly before Canada’s notice because there had been too much uncertainty.

John Waggoner, founder and CEO of Victory’s parent, American Queen Steamboat Co., called it “a tragedy for us because the Great Lakes were so well-received, with such positive reviews.”

Canada bans cruise ships

Victory Cruise Lines will not be able to sail the Great Lakes this year because of Canada’s cruise ship ban. * Photo: Victory Cruise Lines

Impact on ports

Many ports will suffer economic losses without cruise ships. For example, the nine ports in the Cruise the Saint Lawrence association — Montréal, Trois-Rivières, Québec, Saguenay, Baie-Comeau, Sept-Îles, Havre Saint-Pierre, Gaspé and Îles de la Madeleine — said the overall economic contribution of the 2020 season would have been $1 billion. This includes direct, indirect and induced impact, as well as 7,000 direct and indirect jobs.

The region had been looking at a record season.

Québec's Baie-Comeau

Québec’s Baie-Comeau will not have any cruise visitors in 2020. * Photo: Cruise the Saint Lawrence

U.S. ports suffer, too

Ports in Alaska and New England will suffer, too. Due to cabotage regulations, non-U.S. flag ships sailing round-trip from the United States need to stop at a foreign port. Without being able to call in Canada, those vessels won’t be able to operate Alaska and Canada/New England itineraries.

However, one ray of hope for small-ship fans: U.S.-flag operators like Alaskan Dream Cruises, American Cruise Lines, Blount Small Ship Adventures and UnCruise Adventures don’t need to touch a foreign port, so they could still sail in Alaska and New England, provided states and communities allow it.

Safari Endeavour in Frederick Sound AK

Small ships like Safari Endeavour operated by UnCruise can still operate all Alaska sailings, as there’s no need to stop in Canada and they are not subject to the U.S. no-sail order. * Photo: UnCruise

Also, their ships are exempt from the United States’ current COVID-19-related no-sail order because they carry fewer than 250 people (passengers and crew) each.

RELATED: Alaska Adventures with UnCruise.  by Judi Cohen.

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AQSC will return to service soon

First to Resume Cruise Operations.

by Anne Kalosh.

With parts of the United States beginning to open and small passenger ships exempt from the COVID-19 no-sail order, it’s possible U.S.-flag lines will be cruising this summer.

American Cruise Lines hopes it could be the first to resume cruise operations. The aim is to restart service initially on three ships: American Song on the Columbia and Snake rivers, American Harmony on the Lower Mississippi and American Constellation in Alaska.

American Queen Steamboat Co has also just announced they plan to return the American Empress to service on July 6 in the Pacific Northwest.
June 20 from Portland

The plan is for American Song to embark June 20 in Portland, Oregon, on a Columbia and Snake rivers itinerary to Clarkston, Washington. American Harmony would sail June 28 from Memphis, bound for New Orleans. American Constellation would follow in June/July in Alaska.

This plan seems different from the stream of continuously changing cruise line announcements about when operations are “scheduled” and is perhaps a more credible possibility given American’s small vessels and its close relationships with local communities and states.

“We feel our ships are perfectly designed to be one of the first to return to service,” said Paul Taiclet, vice president of hotel operations, American Cruise Lines. He stressed this is a collaboration with ports and communities to “make sure they’re comfortable with what we’re doing.”

Resume Cruise Operations

American Song is targeted to begin sailing from Portland, Oregon, on June 20. * Photo: American Cruise Lines

“We’re working on a safe, comprehensive plan to put ships back into service that will satisfy the communities and keep guests safe and crew safe,” he said.

Customers want to travel

According to Taiclet, American has gotten a “very favorable response” from customers booked on these sailings, along with people on canceled cruises who are eager to travel.

“Our guests like the idea of staying within the United States and some live within driving distance of the ports,” he said.

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Ships carrying under 250 souls not part of no-sail order

Besides American, lines like American Queen Steamboat Co., Alaskan Dream Cruises, Blount Small Ship Adventures, Lindblad Expeditions, UnCruise Adventures and others field ships carrying fewer than the 250-person threshold in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s no-sail order.

As the CDC stated in its April 15 rule:

“Based on substantial epidemiological evidence related to congregate settings and mass gatherings, this order suspends operation of vessels with the capacity to carry 250 individuals or more. Evidence shows that settings as small as nursing homes or movie theaters can proliferate the spread of a communicable disease.

“As the numbers of passengers and crew on board a ship increases, certain recommended mitigation efforts such as social distancing become more difficult to implement. In light of the demonstrated rapid spread of this communicable disease in current cruise ship settings, application of this order to vessels carrying 250 or more individuals is a prudent and warranted public health measure.”

But many factors come into play in order to resume cruise operations

Whether these small ships can resume sailing, however, is up to state health authorities, ports and local communities. Do state health officials deem conditions are safe to allow travel and do governors agree? Would passengers from other states and regions be allowed? Will ports open to these ships? Will communities want these visitors?

Taiclet stressed American will operate only if states want that, too.

“The most important thing is that we do this safely for the guests, the ports and the crew,” he said.

American’s initial three itineraries involve Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana; Oregon and Washington; and Alaska. Depending how the first cruises go and the timeline for opening other parts of the country, American hopes additional ships could resume in July with most of its fleet sailing in August.

Restoring confidence in ship travel

But will people feel it’s safe to travel by ship? Will crew want to return to work?

Lines like American, UnCruise Adventures and others say their loyal customers in particular want to sail and, according to Taiclet, his company’s crew are “eager” and “excited” to get back to their jobs.

Still, as an UnCruise Adventures spokeswoman pointed out: The travel industry as a whole, and particularly cruise operators due to the negative impressions of the pandemic, will need to assure people it is safe to travel.

Small-ship lines are betting people will feel more comfortable on vessels with less crowding, on coastal or inland itineraries that don’t take them far away with the potential of being stuck at sea or in a remote foreign port should a breakout occur.

Anyway, for Americans wishing to roam in the coming months, domestic destinations may be the only ticket available.

“We also have close relationships with the small communities we visit, and we don’t want to go anywhere that would cause uncertainty,” the UnCruise spokeswoman continued. “We are working with local and state municipalities to affirm details and are looking at mid-July to resume operations.”

Uncruise plants to Resume Cruise Operations

Safari Endeavour in Frederick Sound AK. * Photo: UnCruise Adventures

Detailed new health protocols

The fact that small-ship operators are publicly detailing their enhanced health protocols when many big-ship lines aren’t saying much for now suggests these domestic U.S. operators expect a quicker return to service.

All are talking about pre-screening of passengers and crew for health conditions, added screening at embarkation, changes to allow social distancing on board, heightened cleaning and sanitation and special procedures for port visits/shore excursions.

Occupancy reduced to 75 percent

At American Cruise Lines, ship occupancy will be reduced to 75 percent initially to ensure social distancing, and Taiclet said there is plenty of public space, along with private stateroom verandas, on the three ships that would begin first.

American Song would not carry more than 180 passengers, American Harmony would be capped at 190 and American Constellation at 175. This makes 450 square feet of space per guest.

ACL plans to Resume Cruise Operations

American Cruise Lines will initially limit occupancy to 75 percent. Here, American Harmony, which sails the Mississippi. * Photo: American Cruise Lines

American also teamed with a seasoned healthcare provider, Vikand Solutions, to manage medical operations, support shipboard virus prevention, screen/test guests and crew before they embark and collaborate with ports and shoreside healthcare facilities.

On the ships, heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems are independent for each stateroom and public space, so air is not recirculated in different areas.

Restaurant capacity will be reduced, and there will be no buffet service. In-stateroom dining can be arranged. Personal protective equipment will be provided on the ship and for guests at each destination, where recommended. Certain shipboard staff will be required to wear PPE.

Shore excursion motor coach capacity will be held to 50 percent. American charters its coaches for exclusive use and they follow the ship. The vehicles will be sanitized before every boarding. The line includes tours on the Lower Mississippi and in the Pacific Northwest so participation is high, ensuring a more controlled environment.

Adding a medical facility and nurse to each ship

Vikand Solutions will provide each vessel a nurse, supported by a shoreside doctor and other medical professionals, and take care of health situations, assessment and an outbreak plan. COVID-19 testing will be available on board, with protocols to be determined as the science evolves. Rooms on each ship will be set aside for isolation, if needed.

Before COVID-19, American did not have medical centers or nurses. As a domestic, inland operator, it was not required to do so. The company is now taking these extra proactive steps to ensure a higher level of safety.

Additional training for crew will cover the new operating protocols and heightened sanitation practices. PPE will be provided for positions like housekeeping and galley staff.

American Queen Steamboat Co.

AQSC‘s partner is Ochsner Health, a system that serves Louisiana, Mississippi and the Gulf South. (The company plans to announce a healthcare partner for its Pacific Northwest itineraries on American Empress in the coming weeks.)

AQSC has partnered with Ochsner Health.

AQSC has partnered with Ochsner Health.

Ochsner Health will conduct assessments of American Queen, American Duchess and American Countess and work with AQSC to implement disease prevention and mitigation strategies across the fleet. Also, Ochsner will reassess the AQSC vessels on a monthly basis and update recommendations as needed based on scientific data and CDC recommendations.

AQSC wants to Resume Cruise Operations

AQSC plans new dining room procedures to enhance safety. Here, American Duchess. * Photo: American Queen Steamboat Co.

Virtual access to experts

A virtual clinic, powered by TytoCare, will allow employees and passengers access to shoreside healthcare professionals, including infectious disease experts.

In addition, each vessel will carry a certified medical representative to assist with urgent medical care, implement quarantine procedures and coordinate shoreside medical assistance. In an emergency, AQSC and affiliate Victory Cruise Lines have the ability to quickly transfer anyone to facilities ashore by coordinating pick-up at municipal landings and docking facilities.

Ochsner Health personnel will oversee the pre-boarding screening process and assessments for all itineraries embarking in New Orleans, and AQSC plans to identify healthcare partners for its other ports.

Elevated safety protocols include pre-cruise screenings, crew screenings, updated boarding processes, increased sanitation measures and systems like MXP Protect, which incorporates the use of thermal imaging.

AQSC is planning on Resuming Cruise Operations

Embarkation on AQSC vessels like American Queen will include a temperature check with thermal cameras. * Photo: American Queen Steamboat Co.

Sister brand Victory Cruise Lines

Victory Cruise Lines, operated by AQSC, will implement similar health and safety protocols when it resumes its operations on the Great Lakes and Canadian Maritimes in 2021 (Victory just canceled its 2020 season.) Note, Victory’s two coastal ships are flagged to the Bahamas, not the U.S.

Prior to embarkation, all passengers and crew will have to complete a health questionnaire and a medical travel screening survey. At the pre-cruise hotel, medical personnel will screen each guest and conduct a temperature check. Boarding will be denied to anyone deemed to pose a health risk.

There’s a 24-hour window between the pre-cruise hotel stay and vessel embarkation.

Once people are cleared during the pre-cruise process, embarkation will be conducted via one controlled access point with thermal cameras supplementing the manual temperature checks of the pre-cruise screening.

An on-board medical representative will conduct the gangway screening, complete the health and safety survey and provide reports to the master and hotel director.

Monitoring during the cruise

Throughout AQSC voyages, trained staff will maintain protocols and observe passengers and crew for symptoms. Anyone who has an elevated temperature, shows signs or symptoms of illness or who vessel management determine needs further assessment will be sent directly to a local medical partner for evaluation and testing. Anyone testing positive for a contagious condition won’t be allowed to rejoin the vessel.

Using MXP Protect, AQSC will be able to monitor critical areas on board with thermal scanning. All passengers and crew will be monitored by passive thermal imaging when returning to the vessel in addition to random manual screening.

Public room/stateroom cleaning

And there’s more, much more that AQSC is doing.

Increased sanitation of all contact surfaces such as handrails, tables, chairs, desks, work surfaces, door handles, telephones and elevator controls — both front and back of house — will be conducted hourly with an all-chlorine solution.

All public and crew spaces will be fogged twice daily and multi-purpose disinfecting wipes will be made available in staterooms.

Cabin staff will clean and sanitize all surfaces of the room and use an EPA-approved disinfectant spray, as well as Protexus Electrostatic Sprayers to fog staterooms daily.

AQSC will fog cabins daily

AQSC’s heightened sanitation measures will include fogging staterooms daily. Here, an American Duchess suite. * Photo: American Queen Steamboat Co.

Self-service buffets are suspended, and waiters will be stationed at buffets to serve food. Crew will minimize guest touch points by manually entering cabin numbers rather than using guest swipe cards and by replacing communal items such as salt/pepper pots, sugar bowls and butter bowls with single-serve packets.

Tables, chairs and countertops will be sanitized on the hour or when vacated by the guest, and menus will be printed on single-use paper and discarded after each use. All table items will be removed each time a table is vacated. All crockery, glassware and cutlery will be washed even if unused. Self-service areas are suspended in the bars, too, and individual bowls of bar snacks will be available on request.

Deck rails, swimming pools, the gangway and other external hard points will be sanitized at least every hour when in use, with the gangway sanitation occurring every half-hour when in use.

Motor coaches will be reduced to a maximum 52 percent capacity. Bus seats, windows and handrails will be sanitized with an EPA-recommended solution daily before boarding and every hour when in use. Liquid hand sanitizer dispensers will be available at the door. All shore excursions will be conducted within the guidelines of the local municipalities visited.

Alaska will be very different this season

If small-ship lines do resume sailing in the coming months, they may have some places to themselves, given many big-ship cancellations in regions like Alaska and Canada/New England.

“Sailing in Alaska this season will be more pristine than ever, and not likely duplicated anytime soon,” according to Capt. Dan Blanchard, CEO of UnCruise Adventures.

Capt. Dan Blanchard with Wilderness Adventurer in Alaska. * Photo: UnCruise Adventures

He added that Alaska “has always had my heart. I’ve sailed there since I was a boy and I’m excited to get back on board. With anything we do, we will respect local community requests and in part, our sailings are determined by the market.”

RELATED: Alaska Adventures with UnCruise.  by Judi Cohen

quirkycruise bird



RELATED: A Q&A with UnCruise CEO Dan Blanchard about the new seven-member US Small-Boat Operators Coalition.


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American Melody new for American Cruise Lines

What’s New At American Cruise Lines.

By Anne Kalosh.

U.S. river cruising is getting more and more interesting.

With European powerhouse Viking poised to enter the Mississippi market, there’s going to be a wider choice of brands. And with American Queen Steamboat Co. (AQSC) growing its paddle-wheel fleet and American Cruise Lines its modern-style vessels, travelers can pick classic or contemporary.

American Cruise Lines recently announced the acceleration of its new build program on strong demand for the modern-style boats and continues a “Cruise Close To Home” marketing campaign.

Viking Foray

This comes as AQSC introduces its fourth paddle-wheeler, American Countess, in late March and as Viking is ready to reveal its long-awaited plans for the U.S. (Check back here after April 7 for details.)

American’s reaction to Viking’s entrance?

“It’s good. It just brings more exposure to the market and increases the visibility of river cruising in the country,” said Charles B. Robertson, who succeeded his late father as CEO of American in February. “We’ve built our own market and will continue to define our own market. We’ve got a different market and there’s enough business for both of us.”

AQSC, he added, “has a different product also and is attracting a different segment.”

American Cruise Lines CEO

American Cruise Lines new CEO Charles B. Robertson. * Photo: American Cruise Lines

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Small Ships, Big Appeal

The fact that multiple brands are thriving stateside shows “There’s such a big market out there … People are realizing river cruises are available and are fantastic in this country.”

One challenge when American started was just educating people that about cruising on America’s rivers. Now, with availability of modern boats like those in Europe, “There is more appeal. We’re really getting the message out,” Robertson said.

American Jazz begins sailing the Mississippi in the third quarter this year, bringing the fleet to 12, and the decision was recently made to add two new builds — up from one — in 2021. American Melody’s inaugural was moved forward to June from September next year, and construction just began on a sister vessel.

Though nothing has been announced, Robertson wouldn’t be surprised if two more new builds also follow in 2022.

A competitive strength for American Cruise Lines is the ability to build at affiliated company Chesapeake Shipbuilding in Salisbury, Maryland. The facility has five hull fabrication buildings and more than 1,000 feet of deep-water bulkhead to build and outfit multiple ships at the same time.

Robertson said American continues tweaking things with each new build, making small improvements. Passenger capacity will stay under 200, though, an “important threshold” to enable the delivery of the small-ship experience the line’s known for.

(And this fits nicely into the QuirkyCruise focus on vessels carrying up to 300 passengers.)

American Song

American Song on the Columbia River. * Photo: American Cruise Lines

Big Rooms, Lots of Glass

Robertson said accommodations on American’s modern-style boats are 70 percent larger than the average European river vessel, while suites may be double the size. Balconies have gotten larger, and have more furniture (table and chairs), with the bigger suites adding chaise lounges.

The real distinction, though, is the design aesthetic. There are large glass areas to let in light and provide better views — so vital for river cruising. The colors are more contemporary, the exercise room is larger and a yoga venue added. Besides the single-seating dining room, a top deck café serves casual fare like burgers, salads and pizza.

Pricing is inclusive. Mississippi, Columbia/Snake rivers and Alaska programs include an excursion at every port; more extra-cost tours are available in New England.

American Cruise Lines balcony view

Balcony view. * Photo: American Cruise Lines

No More Paddle-Wheelers for Now

American doesn’t currently plan to build more paddle-wheelers, having switched focus to the modern-style boats with American Song in 2018, continuing with American Harmony in 2019.

“We love the paddle-wheelers we have and will continue to operate them, and there’s a fabulous market for them,” Robertson said. “But the modern riverboat style is where we see a concentration of demand and market appeal.”

This type of vessel better appeals to the younger end of American’s market, where future growth lies. But Robertson was quick to state it’s “critical we don’t alienate the older end of the market, and we’ve seen they’re comfortable with either style: traditional or modern. We were concerned our loyal passenger base might not like the modern style as much and are thrilled that’s not the case.”

American Melody new for American Cruise Lines

American Melody — One of two modern-style riverboats coming in 2021. * Rendering: American Cruise Lines

Two by Two

Next year American will field two modern-style boats and two paddle-wheelers both on the Mississippi and in the Pacific Northwest.

American Harmony will shift from the Mississippi to the Columbia/Snake, joining American Song and a pair of paddle-wheelers. American Melody will replace American Harmony on the Mississippi, joining American Jazz and two paddle-wheelers.

Cruise Close to Home

Many lines have stopped advertising due to uncertainties surrounding coronavirus. American continues its “Cruise Close To Home” marketing begun in November.

Ninety percent of the U.S. mainland population can drive to an American cruise within a “reasonable amount of time,” according to Robertson. That cuts out the need to get on a plane.

ACL’s “Cruise Close To Home” marketing campaign.


“We are definitely affected by [coronavirus], but it’s having less impact than on the rest of the industry,” he said. “We’re insulated a bit by virtue of the smaller ships and entirely domestic itineraries. We’re dealing with it like the rest of the industry and, yes, we take it absolutely seriously.”

American adheres to Cruise Lines International Association policy and procedures to avoid transmission of the virus.

Some travelers whose overseas cruises were canceled have come to American as an alternative. “That’s not something we’re promoting,” Robertson said. “We’re not looking to be opportunistic.”QuirkyCruise Review



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QuirkyCruise Review QuirkyCruise Review of American Cruise Lines

An American-flag coastal and inland river company manned by an all-American crew, the line operates ten vessels (passenger capacities 100-185) offering a high level of comfort while undertaking a varied menu of itineraries along the U.S. East Coast from Florida to New England, the Mississippi River system, Columbia and Snake rivers in the Pacific Northwest, and North to Alaska and cruises within S.E. Alaska.

American Cruise Lines 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 the Great Lakes, Eastern Canada & USA East Coast itineraries.

The fastest growing cruise line under the U.S Flag also offers the largest cabins, many with balconies, and dedicated single cabins and operates along the Mississippi River system, U.S. East Coast, Pacific Northwest and Alaska.

RELATED: Click here for a QuirkyCruise feature article about American Cruise Lines.

Queen of the West. * Photo: American Cruise Lines

Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers

AMERICAN SPIRIT (2005); AMERICAN STAR (2007); INDEPENDENCE (2010); QUEEN OF THE MISSISSIPPI (2012); AMERICAN EAGLE (2015); AMERICA; and acquired ship QUEEN OF THE WEST (1994). Note: QUEEN OF THE MISSISSIPPI became  AMERICAN PRIDE and repositioned to the Pacific Northwest in spring 2016.

Note: 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  in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. A sister, AMERICAN CONSTITUTION (175p) followed in 2018 to cruise the U.S. East Coast.

Also in 2018, a new style of riverboat appeared, more akin to the European models, rather than Mississippi sternwheelers. Four decks high, they will take less than 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 is being built at the company-owned Chesapeake Shipbuilding. AMERICAN SONG (184 passengers) went into service in the second half of 2018, AMERICAN HARMONY (190 passengers) followed in August 2019, and sister AMERICAN JAZZ in summer 2020. These last two riverboats have six decks, and the JAZZ features wraparound balconies with the Grand Suites.

American Cruise Lines Passenger Profile

Mostly Americans, 55 and up, and a high rate of repeaters. Some British, mostly in groups, and a few Australians.

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

American Pride. * Photo: American Cruise Lines

Passenger Decks

4 – 6. Elevators connect all decks, except not highest deck on American Constellation/Constitution

Ships Built Year Built Passengers Passenger Decks Cabins With Verandahs Singles
America 2016 185 5 99 96 14
American Constellation 2017 175 6 89 78 5
American Constitution 2018 175 6  90  78  6
American Harmony 2019 190 6 98 98 9
American Jazz 2020 196 6 99 99 8
American Song 2018 184 5 94 94 7
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


$$$  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. Many itineraries will begin with an included hotel stay; check the specific itinerary.

American Cruise Lines Itineraries

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

  • East Coast: 8 days up the Hudson River Valley from New York in the fall foliage season; 11 days Chesapeake Bay, Eastern & Western Shores between Baltimore and Norfolk; 8 days Historic South & Islands between Charleston and Jacksonville; 8 days Great Florida Rivers from Jacksonville/Amelia Island; 11 days Grand New England from Boston as far south as Newport RI and north to Bar Harbor, ME. 8 days New England Islands from Providence, RI; and 8 days Maine Coast from Portland, ME. One-way East Coast itineraries: 8 days Baltimore and Charleston, SC; 8 days Charleston, SC and Jacksonville; and the granddaddy of them all 15 days Baltimore and Jacksonville.
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 5, 8 to 11 days. The complete Mississippi from New Orleans to St. Paul is the longest at 15 or 22 days.
  • Pacific Northwest & Alaska: 5 and 8 days along on the Columbia and Snake Rivers; 8 & 11 days for the Puget Sound and San Juan Islands; 15 days along Alaska’s Inside Passage between Seattle & Juneau; and 8 and 11 days in Southeast 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.
American Cruise Lines

American Song, with its European-style profile, entered in 2018. * Photo: American Cruise Lines

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.


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, tw0 ships, AMERICA and AMERICAN PRIDE 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


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.

American Cruise Lines Contact Info

American Cruise Lines, 741 Boston Post Road, Suite 200, Guilford, CT 06437;; 800-814-6880.


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New England Islands Cruising

By Ted Scull.

(Note: updated from an original December 2015 post.)

To visit New England’s enchanting islands, a small ship cruise is by far the best way to sample them as trying to do the rounds independently involves making individual round-trip ferry reservations to each one, a costly proposition and in the height of the season often very difficult to get. Yes, you could leave the car behind in paid parking lots and then when you arrive, you are on your own to get around, while a small ship cruise will offer half-day and full-day trips to the best of the island’s attractions and advice how to do some of your visits independently. When you return to the car on the mainland, you have to drive to the next ferry landing and park the car again.

Two U.S.-flag lines, American Cruise Lines (ACL) and Blount Small Ship Adventures make the rounds, and I have sampled both on roughly similar itineraries. The price difference between the two is staggering. ACL is very expensive (starting at $3,970 per person), and many who could afford the higher fares would be happy right down to the less expensive cabins. Aboard the 84-passenger Blount pair, the Grande Mariner and Grande Caribe, the difference between higher end cabins and the least expensive is quite pronounced, and the lower end are very small and some are inside with no natural light. However, with the lead in per person rate at $2,259,  they allow some people to travel who cannot afford more, and all share the same ship facilities — dining, lounge, deck space and the itinerary. The highest rate on Blount is still less than the minimum rate on ACL.

Note: Blount’s cruise is six nights and ACL’s is seven. However, on many departures, Blount offers a $150 supplement for early boarding that includes dinner, the night and breakfast, a day in advance of sailing and make the cruise seven nights.

Blount’s New England itinerary is to embark in New York then call at Block Island, Newport, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and ending in Boston, or in reverse by starting in Boston. Go to for a description of the two identical vessels, their layout and accommodations.

To get the full flavor of what the New England Islands’ cruise is all about, I will use an American Cruise Lines cruise I’ve sampled, as the example.

American Cruise Lines

Approaching the Independence, the ship shows off a rakish, four-deck profile with a sharp bow, two backward-leaning masts, sloping red, white and blue funnel, prominent sun visors above the pilot house, and square picture-windows punctuating the length of the superstructure. Not a porthole in sight. A wonderful conveyance for New England Islands cruising.

The cruise line’s American Star is similar and together they operate seven-night cruises May to September from Providence, Rhode Island to New Bedford, Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, Block Island, Newport and Bristol/Fall River, then returning to Providence.

Read Ted’s “12 Irresistible Reasons to Visit New England on a Small-ship Cruise.”

For the passenger seeking roominess on a small ship, the Independence offers space in spades. All double cabins measure 265 square feet, and those with balconies add an additional 48 square feet. They come furnished with two chairs and a table, and the four single cabins on these decks also have balconies.

Unlike most other U.S.-flag coastal vessels, the Independence and the rest of the ACL fleet have multiple lounges, allowing passengers to seek a quiet or social place to read, play games, talk or work on the computer. Two rooms have seating for about eight and often double as entrance foyers in port. The forward Chesapeake Lounge, with good views ahead and to both sides, is arranged like a plush extra-large living room with very comfortable upholstered chairs and couches and occasional chairs.

Forward corner of the main lounge. * Photo: Ted Scull

Forward corner of the main lounge. * Photo: Ted Scull

The dining room is aft on the lowest passenger deck. Breakfast begins at 7:30 a.m. and runs for 90 minutes. All meals are open seating at tables of four, six and eight. The buffet offers a small selection of fruit, cereals and freshly baked muffins. Orders are taken for main courses such as blueberry pancakes, Belgian waffles, and eggs Benedict, or eggs any style, served along with bacon, sausages, toast and bagels.

Dining & Lecturers

At breakfast, passengers check off their choices for lunch and dinner, a preparation guide for the chef rather than fixed-in-stone selections. Typical lunch (12:30 p.m.) items on a New England itinerary are Rhode Island clam chowder, oysters Rockefeller and a mixed green salad as appetizers, plus Maine lobster ravioli, shrimp salad sandwich and corned beef Reuben as the main courses.

Dinner (6:30 p.m.) might be soup of the day and shrimp cocktail as appetizers and then grilled swordfish, beef tenderloin or a whole steamed lobster; a vegetarian selection is always available.

The quality of the ingredients is high and preparation ranges from good to excellent. Complimentary red and white wines are on the dinner table, and if the selection does not please, there are other choices. Wine is also available at lunch for the asking.

Conversation flows along with the wine at dinner. * Photo: Ted Scull

Conversation flows along with the wine at dinner. * Photo: Ted Scull

A lecturer with skills in photography traveled with our cruise, and local guides added regional knowledge. Occasionally, musicians come aboard. Shore excursions by bus and on foot are fairly priced while some are complimentary walks into town or along the waterfront.

Usually the ship is docked by dinnertime and sails to the next port in the early morning or late afternoon. This allows an after dinner walk, often still light enough to enjoy the evening light and possibly a gorgeous sunset with the sun dropping the sea.


Over a Memorial Day Weekend, my wife and I took a six-night New England Islands cruise from Providence, Rhode Island. The embarkation dock, located at the head of Narragansett Bay, is just 10 minutes by taxi from the Providence railroad station, the city’s airport and several downtown hotels. Passenger boarding started at 9 a.m., and we simply showed a ticket at the gangway and walked aboard with our luggage trailing right behind.

Once all had embarked, the Independence sailed south through Narragansett Bay’s sheltered waters, out into the Atlantic for about an hour, then finally slipping through the flood gates into New Bedford, Massachusetts late in the day, to tie up at State Pier amidst a vast fleet fishing vessels. On a 90-minute harbor tour, we learned that, in terms of value of the catch, New Bedford ranks number one with deep-sea scallops the main source followed by fish, clams, and crabs.

Fishing, especially for scallops, is a lucrative New Bedford tradition. * Photo: Ted Scull

Fishing, especially for scallops, is a lucrative New Bedford tradition. * Photo: Ted Scull

The city rivaled Nantucket during the whaling days and shows off outstanding examples of substantial 19th-century houses built by sea captains and local industrialists. With a street map from the tourist office, we took in the rich architectural variety in the space of a delightful hour. In fact, everything of interest is within walking distance or via a rubber-tire-type trolley, including the outstanding whaling museum (allow an hour or more) and the nearby Seamen’s Bethel (Chapel) that featured in the novel “Moby Dick.” In the evening, a semi-retired fisherman boarded and regaled about it is like to make a living at sea. It’s a tough life but the monetary rewards are there for those who hustle.

Large houses are a legacy of New Bedford's whaling days. * Photo: Ted Scull

Large houses are a legacy of New Bedford’s whaling days. * Photo: Ted Scull


Leaving New Bedford well before dawn, we crossed Nantucket Sound and slipped between the jetties leading to Nantucket Island’s harbor as a regatta of several dozen sailing yachts headed out. The ship dropped anchor just beyond the huge anchored flotilla of visiting yachts, and a launch took us ashore.

The town is a National Historic District and an absolute treasure trove of New England architecture, from simple grey shingle-style salt boxes, some topped with widow’s walks, to large Federal-Style brick mansions. The most prominent are the elegant “Three Bricks” on cobbled Upper Main Street, built in 1836-38 by whaling merchant Joseph Starbuck for his three sons.

Unlike Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket has very few buildings from the wooden High Victorian period. When the whaling industry collapsed, the island became quite poor; hence there was little new building in the last half of the century. Recovery did not start until the summer resort role took hold in the early 20th century.

The Jared Coffin House, built in 1845, offers oeriod rooms and lounges, a tap room and restaurant. * Photo: Ted Scull

The Jared Coffin House, built in 1845, offers period rooms and lounges, a tap room and restaurant. * Photo: Ted Scull

My wife and I planned an all-day trek that would take us to the dozen houses that my family had rented or owned since my grandparents and great aunt and uncle started summering on the island in the 1920s. Situated in town, on high bluffs and close to the beach, most were happily little changed, while two have been enlarged and one torn down to be replaced by something much larger.

One of a string of houses we rented for the month of August, now many years ago. * Photo: Ted Scull

One of a string of houses we rented for the month of August, now many years ago. * Photo: Ted Scull

Meanwhile the other passengers took a three-hour island tour or used the inexpensive local bus system to reach the tiny village of ‘Sconset, eight miles distant on the island’s east side or south to the Atlantic Ocean at Surfside for a beach walk and to watch the breakers.

Some spent their time in the enchanting town center, walking the cobble-stoned Main Street and following a suggested residential district loop. Turn left off Main and follow Orange Street as far as York, then right and right again on Pleasant. The street returns to the upper end of Main Street opposite the Starbuck’s handsome Three Bricks.

The Vineyard & Block Island

During the evening social hour, we sailed around Brant Point Light and across the Sound to Martha’s Vineyard, docking just after dinner at Vineyard Haven. Here we remained for two nights.

Some opted for the island tours to the Victorian village of Oak Bluffs, upscale Edgartown and the dramatic headlands at Aquinnah, while the more independent-minded used the island’s subsidized bus network to visit many of the same places.

We joined friends who own a tiny gingerbread Victorian in Oak Bluffs, one of over 200 built as part of the Methodist Camp Meeting Association in the 19th century and now a National Historic Landmark.

A lovely row of gingerbread Victorian at Oak Bluffs, Martha's Vineyard. * Photo: Ted Scull

A lovely row of gingerbread Victorian at Oak Bluffs, Martha’s Vineyard. * Photo: Ted Scull

In the middle of the night, we pushed off for a seven-hour sail to Block Island, a small dot in the Atlantic that a good walker can navigate on foot in a day. The island rose to utterly charming prominence in the second half of the 19th century when several wooden New England-style hotels were built facing the Old Harbor or on high ground just inland. The prominent ones that remain are the National Hotel fronting directly on the harbor and the Spring House set high on a hill overlooking the sea.

The National Hotel facing Old Harbor, Block Island. * Photo: Ted Scull

The National Hotel facing Old Harbor, Block Island. * Photo: Ted Scull

Vans tours set out from New Harbor to explore the hilly island with its lovely freshwater ponds, steep cliffs, bird sightings, and the main attraction — the impressive Southeast Lighthouse overlooking the Atlantic.

As we are walkers, my wife and I followed roughly the same route on foot then found the lighthouse enshrouded in thick fog and doing its thing, sending out a powerful warning that can be heard miles out to sea.

Newport on Many Levels

The short sail to Newport had us tie up at Fort Adams, a military defense built following the War of 1812. We used the launch service to downtown Newport and explored the city’s original 19th-century town center and its narrow lanes, just two blocks inland from Thames Street’s tourist shops.

Scheduled rubber-tire trolleys and a ship’s bus tour operated to the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum and the Breakers, one of the dozen extravagant mansions along Bellevue Avenue that are open to the public.

A former Newport summer cottage, now Salve Regina University, seen from the Cliff Walk. * Photo: Ted Scull

A former Newport summer cottage, now Salve Regina University, seen from the Cliff Walk. * Photo: Ted Scull

After our tour of Touro Synagogue, built in 1763 and the oldest remaining synagogue building in the United States, we walked past the Catholic Church where John and Jacky Kennedy were married. Continuing on, we followed Memorial Boulevard to the start of the dramatic Cliff Walk that I frequented during my boarding school years; it offers front-yard views of many estates. The first section is easily walkable passing the Breakers, Rosecliff, the Marble House and its charming Chinese Tea House to Doris Duke’s Rough Point. The path thereafter, badly damaged more than once by hurricanes, is best left to those who can spring from rock to rock. A section may be even closed but there is plenty to see along the initial two-mile route.

Our final stop at Bristol, Rhode Island, a charming waterfront setting facing Narragansett Bay, put us right across the street from the Herreshoff Marine Museum, the site of the former shipyard that once produced eight America’s Cup defenders, sleek private steam and sailing yachts, fast torpedo boats for the U.S. Navy, and waterline models.

Don't miss the lovely residential district near Brown University in Providence, RI. * Photo: Ted Scull

Don’t miss the lovely residential district near Brown University in Providence, RI. * Photo: Ted Scull

Later in the afternoon, we sailed north to the head of the bay, returning to Providence for disembarkation the next morning after breakfast.

For most passengers, New England was a first-time experience, and with three off-shore islands involved, an itinerary such as this would be awkward and hugely expensive to drive due to the considerable cost of taking a car on the ferries. For us, this is a region we have known over a lifetime, and one that we cannot get enough of.  And the weeklong New England island-hopping cruises offered by ACL and Blount are a great way to travel!

Click here for booking information on American Cruise Lines.  And here for Blount. 

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UnCruise USC Kayaking

Cruising Alaska on a Small Ship

By Ted Scull.

Alaska, America’s largest state, is 2.5 times the land area of Texas and 430 times the size of Rhode Island, and unlike all the other states, except Hawaii, its mass is not contiguous to the Lower 48. For many folks, it appears to be two different states — the huge central portion that is most obvious on a map and location for the major cities of Anchorage and Fairbanks and Denali National Park, and the longish Alaskan Panhandle that juts southeast along the British Columbia coast. I

t is to the latter that most visitors go for the majestic sights of snowcapped mountains, deep fjords, the multiple moving tongues of ice in Glacier Bay, forests habitats to bears and moose, varied activities such as fishing, kayaking, paddle boarding and hiking, visiting native Alaskan communities and walking amongst those tall colorful totems, some recently carved to carry on the tradition.

The big cruise ships depart northbound for the Panhandle from Seattle or Vancouver or southbound to one of those two cities from Seward, a port just south of Anchorage. Many cruises are round trip from Seattle or Vancouver. Steaming time between the Panhandle and any of these three ports is two nights and one day each way. That necessarily limits the number of Alaskan port calls to three or four.

For the small ship fleet featured in QuirkyCruise, nearly all departures are from a prime Panhandle port, usually Juneau, the state’s capital, or Ketchikan. Both cities have direct flights from the Pacific Northwest. Being positioned in Alaska the week is spent entirely in the Panhandle making one of two port calls or landings a day.

These voyages are more expedition-style than the mainstream mega-cruise ships. Some small ships sail the Inside Passage to position themselves in the Panhandle for the summer, with a single voyage up in May and down in September, while most others spend the winter layup in Alaska.

Why Go? 

To experience America’s vast last frontier, a natural wonderland of fjords, mountains, forests, glaciers and wildlife.

The Panhandle’s prime cruising area is relatively small requiring just a few hours of sailing time each day to locate sea lions, sea otters and harbor seals basking on the rocks, watching black bears and moose come down to the water or spotting pods of whales and dolphins in Icy Strait. Getting close up views without putting them in danger is easy for highly maneuverable small ships.

While sailing along narrow fjords beneath steep cliffs you may spot a small herd of mountain goats high above you and ease close enough to waterfalls to feel the spray. At the far end of Misty Fjord come face to face with a calving glacier that gently rocks the ship as a block of ice drops into the sea.

When to Go?

The Alaska cruising season begins in May and tapers off in September. The earlier in the season the more snow that will be present on the lower mountain slopes, but the higher peaks are snow-capped year-round. Newborn wildlife will be clearly evident in the spring and early summer. Whales migrate north to Alaska in late winter and early spring, hence the May to September whale period coincides with the cruise season. There are fewer tourists early and late in the season and many more, including families, from mid-June to August.

The Alaska Panhandle has a maritime climate, which means more clouds and possible rain at any time, but little of the searing heat that visitors may face in Alaska’s interior. Mid-summer has the least amount of rain.

Cruising Alaska Itinerary Options

While most expedition cruises last a week, some are longer and others combine two different non-repeating itineraries to make two weeks. Coming all this way, think about adding a land package that takes in Denali National Park and the Alaska Railroad. The train operates between Anchorage, the state’s largest city, Denali and Fairbanks and is equipped with sightseeing dome cars. Denali, the tallest peak, at 20,310 feet (6,190 meters) can be viewed on a clear day from a low base camp altitude that is 1,000 to 3,000 feet, making the mountain’s vertical rise one of the world’s highest. Caribou, moose, Dall Sheep, wolves, and maybe grizzly bears, may be seen in the valley below the park’s access road. Fairbanks is the gateway to sternwheel steamer trips, rafting and a visit to a native Alaskan community above the Arctic Circle and the wilds of the Brooks Range.

Small vs Very Small in Alaska

The ships that we cover may carry as few as a dozen passengers on up to a couple hundred. A group of friends or extended family groups may like chartering their own small yacht with lines like Alaskan Dream Cruises. Those traveling on their own, as singles or as one or two couples, may prefer a larger vessel with more people to meet and a wider variety of activities offered at any one time, yet still small enough to call at isolated ports without the big cruise ship infrastructure that serves thousands.

Alaska Small Ship Port Overview

Many of Alaska’s destinations are not the ports but the majestic fjords, landing at wooded islands for mountain hikes and glaciers, including Glacier Bay that combines several glaciers with abundant wildlife. What follows is a brief description of the main port towns, all but Juneau relatively small, but be warned that some many have more population from the big cruise ships on big boat days than local residents.

  • Ketchikan. Starting from the south end of the Alaskan Panhandle, Ketchikan may be one of the most crowded port call when several massive cruise ships are tied up, and what you see is mostly a shopping mecca. Some small ship operators use this port and for embarkation or disembarkations. While Ketchikan has a lot of mining history and is known as the salmon capital of the world, the most worthwhile sights are the Tlingit village of Saxman, displaying totem poles and the town’s cultural past and the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center, educating all ages life-like displays of rainforests, salmon streams, and native buildings.
  • Petersburg. A much smaller town, Petersburg has a Norwegian heritage that is kept alive with culinary, musical and dancing events with participants (often children) wearing traditional celebratory Nordic clothing. However, it is the fishing industry that is the lifeblood of the economy and the locals give small-group tours.
  • Juneau. Built up against a mountainside, the state’s relatively isolated capital with no road access to the outside world, offers a couple hundred miles of hiking trails, the large and receding Mendenhall Glacier just out of town, the Mt. Roberts Tram for spectacular views, several museums touting the state’s and immediate area’s cultural and gold-mining history, and plenty of shops to peruse. Juneau is often the start and/or end of the small ship cruises. If you’re hankering for a “flightseeing” floatplane excursion above the glaciers and mountains, Juneau is the place to do it because there’s a better chance of clear weather (they’re offered in Ketchikan too, but it rains a heck of a lot there).
Downtown Juneau with Mt Roberts Tramway. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Downtown Juneau with Mt Roberts Tram. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

  • Sitka. Its main claim to fame was serving as Russian America’s capital, and a thriving place Sitka was during that period. Then in 1867 the U.S. bought Alaska and the deal took place at Castle Hill, an historic site with remnants of fortifications and Baranof’s Castle was located. St. Michael’s Russian Orthodox Church is the most impressive holdover and an active center for church services. The original 19th century structure burned in 1966, and then rebuilt in pretty much its original style. If open to the public is well worth visiting for its religious artifacts. Just outside town, Sitka National Historical Park displays a collection of totems set in an attractive 100-acre heavily-wooded forest and the Haida and Tlingit peoples’ cultural heritage is on display here.
  • Skagway. The most northerly of the Panhandle towns, tiny Skagway was once the only coastal point to access the land routes to the Klondike region of northwestern Canada’s Yukon Territory — on foot over the Chilkoot Pass and White Pass or via the White Pass and Yukon Route, a narrow-gauge railroad that stretched all the way to Whitehorse, capital of the Yukon Territory. After gold was discovered in 1898 the railway line became the principal access route to the Klondike. The remaining portion of the line is Skagway’s main attraction for cruise passengers offering a highly scenic mountain and lake ride. The train also serves small groups of hikers. Architecturally, the town retains much of its gold rush atmosphere in spite of the hordes of milling tourists.

Alaska’s Fjords, Straits, Bays & Arms

Icy Strait. Located due west of Juneau and south of the entrance to Glacier Bay, the waterway teems with sea life because of its rich nutrients, orcas and humpback whales that come north in the spring to feed here, and coinciding with the start of the Alaska cruise season. Sport fishing is also a draw, and it is not uncommon to see bears and deer on the nearby shorelines. Small ships have the advantage of being much less of a danger to sea life, while their relaxed schedules permit extended dawdles to perhaps take a position in the very midst of a pod of whales.

Misty Fjord. Designated as a National Monument, a trip along the narrow passages bracketed by sheer cliffs that soar straight up two to three thousand feet, and though unseen, drop down to 1,000 feet below sea level. At the start of the season, the peaks will have a heavy overlay of snow that as it melts creates cascading waterfalls where a close approach can wash the decks. Located in extreme Southeast Alaska in the immense Tongass State Forest, the nearest port is Ketchikan off to the west.

A whale thrusts itself almost completely out of the water.

Tracy Arm.  Along with Endicott Arm, these two 30-mile-long fjords are located 45 miles south of Juneau in Tongass State Forest. Tracy Arm, the better known, is noted for the North and South Sawyer Glaciers that together cover nearly 20 per cent of the surface. In the summer, large and small chunks of ice break off and create a sea of floating ice that the small ships gingerly pass through to reach the face of the glacier and watch it calve. On shore, bears, wolves and harbor seals are often spotted, and if lucky, mountain goats may be staring down at you.

Glacier Bay.  The best known of all Alaska destinations is Glacier Bay, a vast national park with lots of wildlife, fjords and inlets, and no less that nine glaciers, both receding and advancing. The largest receding glacier is also the most famous, Margerie, where small ships stand off of to watch the calving ice collapse into the sea, while the Johns Hopkins Glacier is the longest advancing river of ice.

You can expect to see at least three-quarters of the most common wildlife — humpback whales that enter from Icy Strait, Steller sea lions. harbor seals, sea otters, harbor porpoise, brown and black bears, and if your National Parks guide spots them, mountain goats and moose. Look up to the west when approaching Margerie Glacier and spot the eternally snow-capped Mount Fairweather, at 15,300 feet, taller than any mountain in the Lower 48 states.

Alaska Small Ship Excursions

Generally, small ship Alaska cruises are more active, sporty and hands-on than their larger counterparts. Directly from a small ship, you board a Zodiac accompanied by a naturalist to look for wildlife at close range, or step ashore and take a hike in the temperate rain forest or form a fleet of a dozen kayaks to explore a nearby bay. Excursion options may also include bicycle and rafting tours.

Kayaking around the Wilderness Discoverer in Alaska. * Photo: UnCruise Adventures

Kayaking around the Wilderness Discoverer in Alaska. * Photo: UnCruise Adventures

Small ships spending the afternoon in Glacier Bay, after the big ships leave, often cruise up to multiple tongues of ice, while bald eagles, oyster catchers and blue heron soar above and wildlife comes down to the shore. National Park guides come aboard to supplement the ship’s own naturalist staff.

Flight excursions are super memorable if the weather cooperates. * Photo: Arun Sarna

The small ship fleet may call at towns and villages where big cruise ships cannot to see first-hand what remote native Alaskan island life is like or to experience Norwegian cultural traditions at Petersburg, a charming town where the fishing industry is still paramount and highly lucrative. Fishing trips can be arranged here and at other Panhandle towns.

Your small ship may call at ports where the big ships dock too — such as Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway — though organized activities are kept as separate as they can from the milling hoards.

Ted’s Favorite Small Ship Alaska Moments

Sailing into a fjord, one never knows what lies around the corner, and then you see a slim waterfall or maybe two, one cascading down the cliff face and the other in free fall, a glacier at the far end and another narrow passage forking off from the main channel.

The most serene times of day are early morning and at sunset when the ship is at anchor, and the solitude of the Alaskan wilderness can settle in around you. If I am in a kayak, I like resting the oars and taking in the stillness, sights and sounds of nature — a family of ducks serenely gliding along, dolphins cruising by, and startled fish erupting skyward. On clear evenings, stand at the ship’s railing and watch the moon above reflected in the calm waters below. At times like these you don’t want your expedition voyage to end.

Heidi’s Favorite Small Ship Alaska Moments

My first small ship cruises more than 20 years ago were to Alaska and they got me hooked. One I took with my father, and I still remember the serenity of walking through Sitka’s National Park, dwarfed by the cedar trees and totem poles, and smitten with the cool fresh air and simple but profound beauty of the pristine forest. Another day in Petersburg, we went on a fishing excursion with just four other passengers, on a trawler operated by an endearing couple who looked like Mr. and Mrs. Clause. They helped us catch crabs and then cooked them up for us right on board to eat in the tiny galley with melted butter and plastic cups of white wine. It may have been dreary and drizzly outside, but we were warm and happy clams that afternoon. Still one of my favorite cruise memories of all time.

Small Ship Lines That Serve Alaska

Abercrombie & Kent
Alaska Dream Cruises
Alaska Marine Highway (regular ferry routes on ships with cabin accommodations)
American Cruise Lines
Lindblad Expeditions
Silversea Expeditions
UnCruise Adventures

These lines range from operating a single ship to a small fleet, with the latter naturally offering many different itineraries and the possibility of returning for a second expedition cruise in another area and with a different thrust.

Read More About Cruising Alaska on a Small Ship

Alaskan Dream Cruises Adventure by Lynn & Cele Seldon

Alaska Cruise Adventures with UnCruise by Judi Cohen

Finding My Route to Alaska by Car, Ferry, Trains & Small Ship

Small Ships vs Big Ships in Alaska

Definitely an UnCruise Adventure: Safari Endeavour to Alaska is a Wonderful Small Ship Cruise 


QuirkyCruise Review


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First Modern-Style Riverboat for Mississippi River

First Modern-Style Riverboat for Mississippi River

By Anne Kalosh.

American Cruise LinesAmerican Song, the first modern-looking riverboat in the United States, has just begun its inaugural season from the Port of New Orleans. Until now, the U.S. rivers have been plied by Victorian-style paddle wheelers.

This 184-passenger vessel has contemporary interiors and no paddle wheel. It’s long and sleek, closer in profile to a European-style riverboat. The bow articulates up, allowing a gangway to be hydraulically deployed.

First Modern-Style Riverboat for Mississippi River

American Song, with its European-style profile, entered service in 2018. * Photo: American Cruise Lines

Inside American Song, a four-story, glass-enclosed atrium is topped with a large domed skylight, and lounges with triple the glass of other domestic riverboats afford great views. The accommodations come with bigger and wider private balconies and hotel-sized bathrooms. Some rooms are for solo travelers.

“It is only fitting to see the first modern riverboat in U.S. history debut on the Mississippi, the nation’s most storied and iconic river,” American Cruise Lines CEO Charles Robertson said.

A schedule of eight-day Lower Mississippi cruises will operate throughout the remainder of 2018 before American Song repositions to the Columbia and Snake rivers of the Pacific Northwest in 2019. Next year a sister ship, American Harmony, is scheduled for Mississippi service. It will join two of American Cruise Lines’ traditional-style paddle wheelers, Queen of the Mississippi and America.

Three more of the modern riverboats are planned by American Cruise Lines in the years ahead.


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American Cruise Lines 5 New Riverboats

American Cruise Lines 5 New Riverboats

by Ted Scull.

American Cruise Lines, operators of the largest cruise fleet under the U.S. flag, has nearly completed the first of a new series of riverboats at its own yard, Chesapeake Shipbuilding in Salisbury, Maryland. The 190-passenger American Song is expected to begin cruising on October 6, 2018 from New Orleans northward on the Mississippi River.

American Cruise Lines 5 New Riverboats

American Song, built at the line’s Chesapeake Shipbuilding. * Photo: ACL

American Song’s sister ship, American Harmony, second in the series of five, will go into service in the spring of 2019 on the Mississippi River to join the two paddlewheelers Queen of the Mississippi and America.

When it debuts this October 2018, American Song will cruise the Lower Mississippi River for the remainder of the year and then reposition to the Columbia & Snake Rivers in 2019.

American Cruise Lines operates over 35 itineraries in 25 states, along rivers and coastal and inland waterways from New England south along the East Coast, Mississippi River System, Pacific Northwest, and in Alaska.

American Cruise Lines 5 New Riverboats

American Cruise Lines 5 New Riverboats. * Photo: ACL

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QuirkyCruise reader review

Allison Karel from USA.


American Cruise Lines.




San Juan Islands.




May 2018, from Seattle.


5 out of 5 stars (5=excellent, 4=very good, 3=good, 2=poor, 1=terrible)

-Food Rating: 4

-Cabin Rating: 5

-Service/Crew Rating: 5

-Itinerary Rating: 5


I’ve been on 1 small ship cruises.


I went on this cruise in early May.  The staff was delightful. The ports were great.  Very relaxing cruise.  The pastry chef was amazing.


🐧’s American Cruise Lines Review

An American-flag coastal and inland river company manned by an all-American crew, the line operates nine vessels (passenger capacities 100-185) offering a high level of comfort while undertaking a varied menu of itineraries along the U.S. East Coast from Florida to New England, the Mississippi River system, Columbia and Snake rivers in the Pacific Northwest, and North to Alaska and cruises within S.E. Alaska. American Cruise Lines 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, Great Lakes, Eastern Canada & USA itineraries. Read more.


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By Jodi Ornstein.

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with nature since I was 10 years old. I loved it enough to play in the woods all day as a kid, building forts and swinging on tires that hung from sturdy trees, but hated it when I came down with a horrendous case of head-to-toe poison ivy. I loved it enough to travel across the United States when I was 14, pitching tents at more than 30 campsites along the way and exploring national parks, historic sites, and wonderful waterways, but hated it after that one time I stepped directly on a fallen beehive along a nature trail.

So when this assignment came up to cover an 8-day Pacific Northwest cruise aboard American Cruise Lines’ 175-passenger American Constellation, which, according to the line’s website promised “natural beauty, beautiful sunsets, and magnificent views of the passing landscape,” I figured it was time to reconnect with nature. To finally forget those childhood moments of mayhem and rediscover tranquility. To put away my smartphone and … ok, who am I kidding? How else would I share the experience with those back home as well as curious cruisers who are wondering what all the fuss is about and who want to know more about small ships and their unique, often remote, itineraries.

Pacific Northwest Aboard American Constellation

The 175-passenger American Constellation. * Photo: ACL

This journey would take us roundtrip from Seattle to sail Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands, visiting the ports of Anacortes, Friday Harbor, Port Angeles, Port Townsend, and Poulsbo, Washington, along the way. Each one, we’d find, would be brimming with small town cuteness, fishing heritage, and friendly locals.

Miraculously, my sister, Wendie, was able to join me on the 7-night sailing, something we’ve never had a chance to do together. For two busy moms, this weeklong getaway was unheard of, so we pretty much sought out one thing: relaxation, quality time together, and fun (ok, three things) as we’d soon discover the quaint, small-ship difference aboard American Cruise Lines.

Pacific Northwest Aboard American Constellation

The author & her sister in Friday Harbor with the American Constellation in the background. * Photo: Rachel Livingston, i.e. the third sister

Who’s on Board?

As we boarded the ship in Seattle’s picturesque Shilshole Bay Marina, it was clear that:

A) Two 40-somethings maaaaaaaay stand out in this crowd and

B) This small-ship experience was going to be waaaaaaayyyy different than those on big ships. This we knew quite clearly before we even walked up the gangway.

Check-in entailed our names being ticked off a list as we were handed a lanyard and badge with our names and where we’re from. In all of one minute we were on our way to the Cascade Lounge to await our suite. We grabbed some refreshments and a seat on a comfy, cushiony couch and started to get to know our fellow cruise mates. The panoramic views of a sailboat marina on one side and snow-capped mountain on the other was also a taste of the scenery that would make up the coming week.

Pacific Northwest Aboard American Constellation

A Veranda Suite aboard American Constellation. * Photo: ACL

On our sailing, it was a mostly 70+ crowd, with some passengers in their 40s (such as daughters traveling with their parents and other couples in their 50s to 60s). There were also a handful of single travelers in the mix, including a spunky 94-year-old woman who’s my new travel idol. It also took no time for us to meet Rachel Livingston from Corvallis, Oregon, our newfound BFF and the self-proclaimed “third sister,” who was traveling with her parents from Easton, Pennsylvania. Every passenger was from the United States — from the West Coast to the East Coast and many different states in between. Many were repeat passengers (or Eagle Society members) as indicated on their name badges (one star for every past cruise), so it was easy to strike up conversations and learn what it is about American Cruise Lines (and small ships in general) that they love.

Likewise, many repeat passengers also appreciate the consistency they experience aboard American Cruise Lines, from the routine daily schedules to familiar faces of crewmembers they may see from one cruise to the next.

On their fifth American Cruise Lines cruise, David and Lea Mills, a retired professor and college administrator from Henderson, Nevada, pointed to the cruise’s learning opportunities as one thing that they enjoy on board. In fact, there’s a guest lecture, expert, or historian on every sailing who speaks about the local history, wildlife, and culture of the region you’re sailing.

On our cruise, for example, guest speaker Katie Phillips, an expert in forestry and wildlife, was always nearby to answer questions or strike up conversations about the region. During the week, she presented scheduled talks on topics from salmon populations to Washington’s rainforest. But what was even better were the unscheduled talks, like the one on the very first day of the cruise when Katie came on the PA system to announce, “There are whales off the port side!” as passengers made their way to the Cascade Lounge for an impromptu whale spotting lesson on these magnificent creatures.

The Mills’, who’ve also sailed on big cruise ships, say they also love the intimacy of small ships and prefer smaller groups.

“On big ships, if you meet someone at dinner, you may never see them again,” said David. Impossible on a ship this size.

Karen Freeborn and Jeff Gaudio, who split their time between Ohio and California, were on their third ACL cruise and said they enjoy the small-ship experience because the line is so accommodating, especially when it comes to Jeff’s dietary requirements, which are gluten-free, dairy-free, and soy-free. In fact, on day one of the cruise, any passenger with dietary restrictions or allergies meets with the head chef to go over their food options. Jeff told us there’s even a photo of him hanging in the galley, which indicates his allergies, and that the chef will sometimes even go shopping in port to obtain certain requests, and even whipped up a bottle of specially-made salad dressing.

Small Ship Bonus: The Crew

Since American Constellation is a U.S.-flagged ship, it’s required that it has an all-American crew. And with small, friendly crews come teamwork that often includes numerous staff performing additional roles in ways you don’t often (if ever!) see on big ships: the captain at the end of the gangway helping to on-load the evening’s provisions or pointing to his favorite spot in town, or the cruise director, hotel manager, and tour director behind the bar during cocktail hour.

“Kimberly, the housekeeping manager, makes the best margaritas,” Rachel pointed out one night. And indeed she did.

Picturesque Ports & Stunning Scenery

Along the way, there was no shortage of wildlife spottings, scenic marinas, lush landscapes, and mountain views including of the Cascade, Olympic and Baker mountains.

Pacific Northwest Aboard American Constellation

Scenic cruising the whole weeklong. * Photo: Jodi Ornstein


We were off to a great start in Anacortes, where we elected for an open-air boat tour of Deception Pass, Washington’s scenic strait that offers panoramic mountain views. We easily spotted bald eagles and other native birds, harbor seals, and porpoises, as we traversed the calm water while hearing the area’s history and passing under the Deception Pass Bridge, a National Historic Landmark that connects Fidalgo and Whidbey islands.

Friday Harbor

We hopped on the San Juan Island Adventure tour in Friday Harbor, which included stops at the historical resort area of Roche Harbor, Krystal Acres alpaca farm (they are THE CUTEST!), and a stop at Lime Kiln State Park for great photo opps of the 1919-built lighthouse with views of Vancouver Island across the Haro Strait. Other passengers opted for a whale-watching cruise, a kayaking tour, or a visit to the town’s Whale Museum.

Pacific Northwest Aboard American Constellation

Feeding adorable alpacas. * Photo: Jodi Ornstein

Port Townsend

Sister-sister bonding time continued in Port Townsend, where we didn’t even fight about whose fault it was that we were late for our tender launch and missed our shore excursion to Finnriver Cidery Tour and Tasting (heavy sigh). Instead, we perused the town’s boutiques and art galleries in search of local souvenirs. Luckily for our tastebuds, what they missed in hard apple cider, was made up for in delicious, oversized donuts from Sluys’ Bakery in Poulsbo, another charming town known for its Scandinavian influence.

Butchart Gardens in Victoria

Another sensory highlight was the day we took the 90-minute ferry ride from Port Angeles across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Victoria, British Columbia for a visit to the famous and ridiculously beautiful Butchart Gardens. It covers more than 55 acres of a 130-acre estate that began when Jennie Butchart had a vision to beautify a worked-out limestone quarry that supplied her husband Robert’s nearby cement plant. The gardens began with a collection the Butchart’s had gathered during their world travels, and today the National Historic Site of Canada boasts a Sunken Garden, Japanese Garden, Rose Garden, and an Italian Garden — one even more beautiful than the next.

Pacific Northwest Aboard American Constellation

The sisters at beautiful Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia.

With so many beautiful places to see, not only in the Pacific Northwest, but in other states that ACL visits, I asked Katie, who’ve sailed various itineraries, about her favorites.

“I like this one [the Pacific Northwest] for its abundance of wildlife and active excursions, and also the line’s Maine Coast itinerary for its stunning scenery, local villages and communities, and interesting history.”

(American Cruise Lines also sails the Mississippi River, Hudson River, New England, Alaska, and the Southeast United States.)

Small Ship Bonus: Plenty of Seats & Space on Deck

There are so many spots with great views, that you’ll have plenty of choices when you want to just sit back and take in the passing scenery. The best part? You’ll never have a problem finding a comfortable seat to call your own. Unlike on the biggies, there are no deck-chair hogs on this ship!

Pacific Northwest Aboard American Constellation

Super comfy stern seating. * Photo: Jodi Ornstein

Onboard Ambience & Memorable Moments

Indeed, places to relax were plentiful, including both indoor and outdoor lounges and observation areas that feature lots of cushy chairs, chaise loungers, sofas, and tables, which are all great spots to read a book, chat with fellow travelers, or simply stare at the views, which changed from snow-capped mountains to pretty lake houses dotting the shoreline to picturesque sailboat marinas.  The rooms are another welcoming respite — they range from 226-square-foot cabins for singles (there are a total of six cabins for singles, with and without balconies) to eight 450-square-foot Owners Suites with balconies; the majority of cabins are 350- to 368-square-foot balcony cabins.

The favorite hour of the day — every day — was cocktail hour. Complete with an open bar, passed hors d’oeuvres, tables of cheese plates, local fish, vegetables, and dips, it was the best time of day to connect with other passengers and chat about how you spent your day and what was on the horizon for tomorrow.

And I have to point out that during every cocktail hour, I looked around and noticed something truly astounding: Not one person was on their phone. Ever.


When it came time for meals, we’d head for the one-time open seating for lunch and dinner, where we’d just pick a table, park it, and chat about the day with other passengers. Breakfast has open hours for an à la carte menu and small buffet table; and room service is available for breakfast only.

We really enjoyed the regional cuisine (as indicated on my scale when I got home). Dishes included lots of local seafood like salmon and halibut (shout out to the Dungeness Crab Cake with Lemon Couscous, Sautéed Green Beans, and Roasted Red Pepper Tartar for being one of the best, most memorable crab cake dishes I’ve had); other locally sourced ingredients (think Oregon Bleu Cheese Wedge Salad); as well as wines from Washington, Oregon, and California (wine and beer are included with lunch and dinner — cheers!). There are always vegetarian options on the menu for each meal.

Pacific Northwest Aboard American Constellation

Crab cakes — yum ! * Photo: Jodi Ornstein

Evening Entertainment

The repertoire included local performers such as barbershop music presented by the all-male An-o-Chords singing group; gypsy jazz-inspired tunes by Fidalgo Swing; a zydeco, gypsy jazz, and swing musical mash-up by Delta Rays; and solo singer Sarah Shae. Held in the Cascade Lounge, the shows are also accompanied by popcorn, root beer floats, and ice cream sundaes — in case you’re still hungry! (Tip: If your biscuits are burning from the day’s walking tour, you can watch the entertainment from your room on the TV.) And I don’t care who you are, who doesn’t love a good game of bingo (with prizes!) — cheesy puns about “be-fore” included.

Pacific Northwest Aboard American Constellation

Afternoon tea is held in the Sky Lounge. * Photo: ACL

“You know it’s a good vacation when you don’t know what day it is,” Rachel said one night during dinner when we were trying to remember what was coming up tomorrow.

And I promise this lost-in-time thinking had nothing to do with the free-flowing wine and everything to do with the remote, tranquil escape that is the Pacific Northwest.

Small Ship Bonus: Bridge Tours

You’re not going to be walking the decks of Royal Caribbean International’s Symphony of the Seas — the largest ship in the world — and suddenly hear, “If anyone wants to do a bridge tour, come on up in 10 minutes.” But it is something you’ll hear on American Constellation, where Captain Bryan Hobcroft provides several tours per cruise of where he and first mate spend their time pulling in and out of small harbors, anchoring off shore, or navigating scenic waterways.

Pacific Northwest Aboard American Constellation

Tranquil wake shot. * Photo: Jodi Ornstein

Just the Facts

Ship: American Constellation

Year Built: 2017

Passenger Decks: 6

Staterooms: 90

Guest Capacity: 175

Length: 280 feet

Onboard Amenities: Putting green, fitness room, guest laundry. Among the cabins, there are six for singles and two handicap cabins (both types with and without balconies).

What’s Included in the Fares: Shipboard WiFi, beer and wine at lunch and dinner, open bar at each evening’s cocktail hour, all-day snacks and drinks in the ship’s two main lounges, and select shore excursions. And, according to the line, guests are not expected to leave a gratuity.

Itineraries & Ships: Following the series of Puget Sound & San Juan Islands, American Constellation will sail various Alaska itineraries for the summer season. American Cruise Lines’ fleet of 11 river ships, small coastal ships, and paddlewheelers sail more than 35 itineraries to 25 states in the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, New England, the Southeast, and the Mississippi River regions. Two upcoming ships in a new class of modern riverboats, American Song and American Harmony, will debut in October 2018 and 2019 respectively.


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By Ted Scull.

In the northern U.S. and the Canadian-American St. Lawrence River Valley, deciduous trees turn from the mostly green of summer to a dazzling display of yellow, orange, burgundy, scarlet and purple. And fall foliage small ship cruises are an ideal way to get a front row seat for the show.

Fall Foliage Small Ship Cruises

Hudson River Valley at Bear Mountain Bridge

For someone who has lived in the Northeast most of his life, I always look forward to following the daily New York Times reports as October approaches to see how the changing colors are progressing south in my direction. While the mostly “gray” Times uses shades between black and white to show the march, there are websites (see below) using color coding that are prettier, but don’t tell shifting color any more accurately.

If the third week of October 2017 was any indication, the St. Lawrence Valley was near to or at the peak height of color, while downriver (northeast on the map) and the higher altitudes in New York State’s Adirondacks and Catskill are past their peak. The Hudson Valley is still in the first and second stages while New York City, 150 miles south of Albany, is still unaware of what’s happening to the north, a typically provincial attitude. This last year our peak was and usually is the first week of November.

Different trees exhibit different colors: red maples turn greenish-yellow, vibrant scarlet or burgundy; sugar maples yellow, orange and red; white ash to yellow, burgundy and purple; and American sycamore yellow and orange.

The cruise lines position their ships where they think the best shows will take place, and it is hit and miss sometimes, especially if the itineraries are east-west rather than north-south where some portion of the voyage will meet the colors at their best.


Blount Small Ship Cruises

Blount Small Ship Cruises operates the most north-south voyages of our lines with three fall embarkations in New York for Montreal or just the reverse if embarking first in the Canadian port aboard either the 84-passenger Grande Caribe or Grande Mariner. This complex route uses the St. Lawrence River and Seaway, Lake Ontario, Oswego and Erie canals and the Hudson River. Viewing is from the spacious top deck, and the pilot house is lowered to slide under low bridges along the Erie Canal.


Fall Foliage Small Ship Cruises

A Blount ship passing the Montreal skyline.

Why choose this line? For Blount’s complex routes and innovative ship design that allows them to navigate waterways other ships can’t.

Read more about Blount here.


Victory Cruises Lines

Victory Cruises Lines sends two 202-passenger ships, Victory I and the brand-new Victory II, west to east and north-south with three cruises in October. The October 3rd departure operates from Boston to Halifax and on the 10th heads back to Boston (both 7 nights). A third 10-night cruise leaves Toronto on October 16 for Portland, Maine. Acadia National Park, during a call at Bar Harbor, ME is one of the top locations to see the colors from the water and from atop Cadillac Mountain.

Fall Foliage Small Ship Cruises

Victory Cruise Lines – Victory I

Why choose this line?  For the comfort and amenities of a larger small ship.

Read more about Victory Cruise Lines here. 


St. Lawrence Cruise Lines

St. Lawrence Cruise Lines’ 66-passenger Canadian Empress cruises more or less northeast and southwest on a 7-night October 15-22 trip embarking in Kingston for the scenic and wooded 1000 Islands, St. Lawrence Seaway to Montreal and return. Passengers have almost the entire top deck to view the spectacle.

St. Lawrence Cruise Lines

Canadian Empress * Photo Credit: Ted Scull

Why choose this line? For the open and spacious top deck.

Read more about St. Lawrence Cruise Lines here. 


Croisieres Jacques Cartier

Croisieres Jacques Cartier, a new Quebecois line, operates mostly the same St. Lawrence route from Toronto, Montreal and Quebec City with continuous 7-night cruises into October aboard the 68-passenger Jacques Cartier. The last departure of the season cruises the Saguenay Fjord for its wonderful fall colors and majestic scenery.

Fall Foliage Small Ship Cruises

A Canadian view in the Province of Quebec

Why choose this line? For a French-flavored onboard vibe.

Read more about Croisieres Jacques Cartier here.


American Cruise Lines

American Cruise Lines provides by far the most fall foliage cruises with no less than three ships based in New York for Hudson River autumn runs along the stunning, and in some sections, deeply wooded valley anchored by stately mansions and lovely scenes celebrated in the Hudson River School of American painting.  The American Star (100 passengers), American Constitution (175 pax) and Independence (100 pax) all operate three cruises each on October 6, 13 and 20th.

Fall Foliage Small Ship Cruises

Thomas Cole, Hudson River School of Painting. Brooklyn Museum

ACL also bases two of its Mississippi riverboats — America (185 pax) and Queen of the Mississippi (149 pax) — on Upper Mississippi cruises in the fall. One operates from St. Paul and sails down river and the other upriver from St. Louis. The best stretch in the autumn is Wabasha, MN to Winona, WI.

Fall Foliage Small Ship Cruises

The woods bordering the Upper Mississippi.

In the Pacific Northwest, ACL sends the American Spirit (100 pax) on 7-nights round trips from Seattle into the island-studded Puget Sound on October 5, 12, 19 and 26.

While the colorful landscapes may be the initial draw, there is so much else to enjoy on these cruises — historic towns; stately mansions, some with notable gardens; and winding foot paths to lookouts above the rivers — all shared by a small continent of fellow passengers.

Why choose this line? They offer the most variety of itineraries.

Read more about ACL here.


More resources

Published by New York State, this fall foliage report lists the best places to see the colors, and has a useful tree leaf color guide.

For the Province of Quebec and the St. Lawrence River Valley, the Official tourist site of the Government of Québec is full of useful info.

Scenic Pathways is packed with tips about the Upper Mississippi, for the stretch between Wabasha and Winona, Minnesota.

The official tourism site for the state of Washington offers great info for visitors to Puget Sound and the Columbia River — technically geared to drivers, the info also applies to small-ship cruises in the same regions. The lines that cruise the Columbia River do not specifically call attention to the fall colors, but in case you are interested they are American Cruise Lines, Lindblad Expeditions and UnCruise Adventures.


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new small ships of 2018

By Anne Kalosh.

There’s a building boom in ocean cruising and, lucky for small-ship lovers, plenty of new choices are coming their way. The new small ships of 2018 range from a square-rigged tall ship to coastal vessels to ice-strengthened expedition ships stocked with cool exploration tools.


French luxury operator Ponant is introducing two expedition ships of a new style that’s slightly smaller than those of their existing fleet to give added flexibility in deployment. The 10,000-gross-ton LE LAPEROUSE and LE CHAMPLAIN will carry 184 passengers each.

new small ships of 2018

A rendering of Ponant’s Le Champlain. * Credit: Ponant

Perhaps their most exciting feature is an underwater viewing lounge, Blue Eye. French architect/oceanographer Jacques Rougerie designed this spot so passengers can become modern-day explorers, following in the wake of Jules Verne and Jacques Cousteau. They’ll be able to hear underwater sounds, too, thanks to hydrophones installed beneath the keel.

For their inaugural seasons, LE LAPEROUSE and LE CHAMPLAIN will sail from North America to the Mediterranean and Northern Europe via Asia, Australia and the Arctic in the northern summer. One voyage will visit Iceland, following in the footsteps of the Vikings.


Australian tour operator Scenic, which has made a big splash in the river-cruise sector in recent years by building up its Scenic and Emerald Waterways fleets, breaks into ocean cruising with what the company touts as a “discovery yacht.” At 16,500 gross tons but carrying just 228 passengers, SCENIC ECLIPSE will be extraordinarily spacious and the most luxurious of 2018’s new small ships.

new small ships of 2018

Scenic Eclipse will have two helicopters and a submarine for exploring. * Credit: Scenic

Travelers will have nine dining options (Italian, French, Asian fusion, steak, a cooking emporium and more) plus 24-hour room service. Among the lounges is a Champagne bar. A nearly 5,000-square-foot spa, indoor and outdoor Jacuzzis, and plunge pools are other features.

new small ships of 2018

One of nine restaurants aboard Scenic Eclipse. * Credit: Scenic

But with an ice-class hull, two helicopters and a submarine, SCENIC ECLIPSE is definitely an expedition ship and will sail widely throughout the Americas, Antarctica, Europe, the Mediterranean, the Arctic and Norwegian Fjords.

Mystic Cruises

Another new operator with river cruise experience who’s branching into the ocean sector is Portuguese entrepreneur Mário Ferreira. His Mystic Cruises is building WORLD EXPLORER, a 9,300-gross-ton ship that will carry 200 passengers in mostly all-balcony-suite accommodations.

new small ships of 2018

Mystic’s World Explorer will operate for Quark Expeditions and Germany’s Nicko Cruises. * Credit: Mystic Cruises

An expedition ship with an ice-class hull, WORLD EXPLORER will sail on charter to Quark Expeditions for the 2018/19 and 2019/20 Antarctica seasons and for Germany’s Nicko Cruises, a company owned by Ferreira, the rest of the year.

The vessel has an energy-efficient Rolls-Royce hybrid propulsion system. A bow observation deck, mudroom and lockers for passenger gear are among the expedition features. Further facilities include a theater/lecture hall, main lounge, observation bar, restaurant, library/chart room, small casino, fitness room, outdoor pool and jogging track.

Star Clippers

Surprisingly, it’s the sailing ship that has the greatest passenger capacity of the year’s crop of small new builds: Star Clippers‘ FLYING CLIPPER, a replica of 1911’s FRANCE II, the largest square-rigged tall ship ever built, can carry 300 travelers. (Though at 8,770 gross tons, it’s not the largest in volume.)

new small ships of 2018

Flying Clipper will be equipped with 35 sails. * Credit: Star Clippers

FLYING CLIPPER will unfurl 35 sails with a whopping total area of 6,350 square meters/68,351 square feet. Among its facilities are a water sports platform in the stern and three pools, including one that funnels sunlight through the atrium into the elegantly appointed double-deck dining room.

FLYING CLIPPER will also have Star Clippers hallmarks including a cozy library, bowsprit net and the alfresco Tropical Bar, where evening entertainment takes place. The ship will sail the Mediterranean in summer and the Caribbean in winter.


Chilean expedition operator Australis, a specialist in adventure cruises around the southern tip of South America, has just introduced its new ship, the 210-passenger VENTUS AUSTRALIS (Latin for “southern wind”). It features all ocean-view rooms, three lounges and a restaurant.

new small ships of 2018

Ventus Australis sails the tip of South America. * Photo: Australis

VENTUS AUSTRALIS plies the Chilean Fjords, Patagonia and Tierra Del Fuego, but what’s really extraordinary is the opportunity for passengers to step ashore at Cape Horn. The ship also offers a new expedition to Condor Glacier.

American Cruise Lines

Connecticut-based American Cruise Lines, which fields U.S.-flag river and coastal vessels, is introducing AMERICAN CONSTITUTION in the spring. The 175-passenger coastal ship is the sister of 2017’s AMERICAN CONSTELLATION. Roomy balcony accommodations and modern appointments characterize these vessels, and their sun decks offer a fun diversion: a putting green.

new small ships for 2018

American Constitution will sail the U.S. East Coast. * Photo: American Cruise Lines

AMERICAN CONSTITUTION will debut with an “American Revolution Cruise” that charts historically significant places around Chesapeake Bay, including Washington, D.C., and Mount Vernon, George Washington’s estate. Other itineraries are “Maine Coast and Harbors,” round-trip from Portland, “New England Islands,” round-trip from Providence, Rhode Island, “Grand New England Cruise” from Boston, and Hudson River sailings from New York City.

Lindblad Expeditions

Completing 2018’s new small ships roster is Lindblad Expeditions’ NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC VENTURE, the sister of 2017’s NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC QUEST. Like the ships of American Cruise Lines, these coastal vessels are U.S.-built, fly the U.S. flag and are staffed by U.S. crew.

new small ships for 2018

National Geographic Venture will be the sister of 2017’s National Geographic Quest, pictured here. * Photo: Ian Strachan for Lindblad Expeditions

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC VENTURE sports special design features, from an innovative bow to customized Mark V Zodiacs, that maximize wildlife-viewing and expedition adventures. Other exploration tools include 24 sea kayaks, paddle boards and snorkeling equipment. In addition, the ship will be equipped with a remotely operated vehicle, video microscope, hydrophone and underwater cameras.

The 100-passenger ship has 22 balcony cabins and six sets of connecting cabins for families and groups. It will enter service on varied Alaska, San Juan Islands and British Columbia voyages.

What a selection of new choices for small-ship enthusiasts! And—great news—even more new small vessels are coming in 2019. Stay tuned !


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