Spacious, Upscale Cabins: At more than 200 square feet, cabins on American Cruise Lines vessels are some of the most spacious in small-ship cruising and feature large bathrooms, picture windows and even a handful of balcony staterooms.
Modern Amenities: Many American Cruise Line ships boast satellite TV and complimentary Wi-Fi in every cabin, conveniences not typically found on ships of this size.
The Cost: Starting at more than $4,000 per person per week for the smallest cabins, these small cruises can take a big bite out of your wallet.
Still relatively unknown to many Americans, American Cruise Lines is a niche operator of upscale small-ship voyages to Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, the Mississippi River, and to other lesser-explored areas like coastal New England, the Hudson River, and the waterways of coastal Florida.
Founded in 1999 by Connecticut entrepreneur Charles A. Robertson, family-run American Cruise Lines offers a true slice of Americana: Sailing exclusively in the United States, its ships are U.S.-built, U.S.-flagged, and staffed by an all-American crew. Robertson’s original vision of offering gracious hospitality and personalized service in an intimate, small-ship setting remains the line’s mantra, and the line’s vessels are relatively new, modern, and environmentally friendly, with lots of upscale amenities. Hallmarks of the line include elegant, locally sourced cuisine, nightly entertainment (something not always found on small ships), and daily lectures by historians, naturalists, and local experts.
American Cruise Lines vessels sail 35 different itineraries to 28 states, which include both river and ocean cruise options. The vessels operate in the U.S.’s Pacific Northwest, Alaska, New England, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, and Mississippi River complex.
The line tends to attract experienced travelers who are mostly well educated, professional, and over 50 years old. In the mix are some singles and a smattering of younger passengers who share a
Common interest in history and cruising (and the money to afford American Cruise Lines’ high rates). DINING
American Cruise Lines’ vessels have a single main restaurant. Each evening, before dinner, passengers enjoy complimentary cocktails and hors d’oeuvres in a lounge, then it’s off to the dining room, where meals are open seating, served by waiters and ordered off menus (no buffets here for any meal).
Generally the line offers a choice of a couple of appetizers, two or three entrees, and a few dessert selections, all expertly prepared. At both lunch and dinner, wine is always on the table, included at no extra charge, and beer is also available at no charge.
There is no midnight buffet, but you can go to the main lounge any time and find snacks, coffee and soft drinks.
During days in port, most activities take place off the ship. American Cruise Lines includes shore excursions in its pricing, and most passengers take advantage of them Some are quite elaborate, such as the jet boat tour of Stikine River near Wrangell, Alaska. You’ll talk about that one for a long time. In Glacier Bay, where American Cruise Lines has a highly sought-after permit to cruise, an official park ranger and native interpreter come on board to point out the sights and discuss folklore and history.
Onboard activities are few but on American Spirit, there’s a small putting green. At the cruise director’s discretion, additional activities such as wine tastings or a hot chocolate bar are arranged for passengers.
While kids are welcome there are no programs for them, so be prepared to create your own fun. ENTERTAINMENT
American Cruise Lines is unusual among small-ship companies in that it has nightly entertainment. Offerings can range from lectures and slide presentations covering wildlife, geography, and history to a talk from the captain followed by a tour of the bridge to see how the ship navigates. More lightweight evenings might include activities such as bingo complete with silly prizes. On some nights, singers and musicians perform classic American songs, prompting passenger sing-alongs. In an American Cruise Lines tradition, at some point during the evening’s program, a waiter makes his way through the audience with a tray full of ice cream sundaes.
Gracious hospitality, offered by an all-American crew, is a hallmark of the line and and passengers can expect warm, personal service. While American Cruise Lines says tipping is left to the discretion of its customers, passengers on weeklong cruises leave about $125 per person, on average.
American Cruise Lines’ vessels range in size from the 49-passenger American Glory to the 150-passenger Queen of the Mississippi and American Eagle paddle-wheelers. Nearly all are less than a decade old, giving American Cruise Lines one of the youngest fleets in small-ship cruising. The line’s newest ship, under construction as this book went to press, is due out in mid-2017.
American Glory – American Spirit – American Star – Independence
With uncommon small-ship amenities like balconies, these vessels are real winners if you can afford the price of admission.
THE SHIPS IN GENERAL
Launched between 2002 and 2010, these four vessels are far newer than many competing ships of the same size. Other superlatives: They offer larger cabins (some with private balconies), more space per person and a wider selection of suites than their peers. The smallest of the four, American Glory, still manages to offer a Grand Dining Room, outdoor observation decks, and even an exercise area and putting green. Her sisters can best be thought of as stretch versions, with the 104-guest Independence coming in at the top of the scale.
Cabins If the thought of staying in a tiny, traditional small-ship cabin has put you off, these ships are the ones for you. No staterooms are smaller than 200 square feet, and some of the top-of-the-line suites push the 400 square foot mark. Each room has double beds that can be converted to a King, with bathrooms that are as spacious. Boats even have a handful of single-occupancy staterooms available, a rare and welcome touch. That being said, decor is frumpy like something you’d see at Grandma’s house, with matchy-matchy curtains, window sashes, and bed skirts paired with banquet-style furniture in the dining room The line’s newer ships are rectifying this somewhat, but don’t expect cutting-edge style.
Public areas & activities For ships of this size, the amount of public rooms on board is refreshing, including several lounges for socializing, snacking and reading (one features a library). The ships’ Observation Decks offers plenty of deck chairs, exercise equipment and a putting green but no pools or hot tubs. Sorry, no spas, either.
Dining Meals are served in the aft-facing Dining Saloon, which is large enough to seat the all guests in a single sitting. Meals tend to be comforting rather than elaborate, with an emphasis on local ingredients and specialties.
America – American Pride – Queen of the Mississippi – Queen of the West
Paddle-wheelers recalling the grand old days of riverboat travel, these four ships boast more amenities and features than Mark Twain could have ever dreamt of.
Built between 1995 and 2016, these four ships are mostly identical despite sailing on two entirely different rivers. American Pride and Queen of the West call Washington & Oregon State’s Columbia and Snake Rivers home, while America and Queen of the Mississippi can be found on the Mississippi River. Of these, the 1995-built Queen of the West is the most different, having been built for the now-defunct American West Steamboat Company. All offer a modern take on small-ship river cruising, wrapped up in historic packaging.
Cabins For ships of this size, cabins are positively massive. In each room, you’ll find twin beds that convert (in most cases) to a king; a writing and vanity desk; a closet, and private bathroom with shower. Staterooms for singles are offered on all four ships, in both oceanview and private balcony varieties.
Public areas & activities Queen of the West has four passenger decks, the other three all feature five. The ship’s main dining room is located on Main Deck, while one deck above it is an American Cruise Line trademark: the Paddlewheel Lounge. A sweet Huckleberry Finn -era space in looks, it has views aft over the ship’s rotating, vibrant-red paddlewheel. Each ship boasts a library and a number of comfy lounges. All ships except Queen of the West feature a small putting green, while American Pride benefits from a wraparound promenade deck on her 5th Deck that her sisters lack. Outdoor exercise equipment is also present on most ships. No pools or hot tubs on board.
Dining Meals are not gourmet but are usually quite tasty, reflecting the regions the ships sail through. So in the south, get ready to chow down on gumbos and mud pies; in the Pacific Northwest there are lots of succulent salmon dishes. All meals are served in the main dining room.