Small Ships in the Old South

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And often, the experience begins the moment clients step off the ship. “Our ports are so historic, so whether they’re doing it by horse-drawn carriage, old-fashioned trolley or modern motorcoach, how we bring them there is also part of the excitement,” he says.

“Our passengers are looking for something that’s exclusive for them,” he continues, “so everything we do, we have to make it very unique for them. That’s why passengers continue to cruise with us over and over. We have the highest repeat passenger rates in the business.”

American Cruise Lines’ most traditional itinerary is its Historic South and Golden Isles cruise, which follows roughly the same path as Blount’s Southern Antebellum cruise with a few differences. In addition to stops in Charleston, Beaufort, Savannah, Jacksonville and Jekyll and Amelia islands, clients have the chance to explore Hilton Head Island, with a boat tour of the Sea Pines Forest Preserve and its native alligators; and St. Simons Island, Georgia, a sleepy, quaint destination where clients can tour antebellum plantations and a historic lighthouse. “It’s a mix of really quaint, remote, quiet places and also larger cities,” Beebe explains. “And we run it in the spring and fall, to capture the best times of year. Spring is gorgeous with flowers coming out in March and April, and it’s also great in fall so people in the north can take advantage of the last-minute warm temperatures before the winter.” Rates for the 8-day, 7-night cruise start at $3,595.

American Cruise Lines is also the only company offering an in-depth exploration of Florida’s waterways, with its Great Rivers of Florida cruises. “That’s more focused on wildlife and nature,” Beebe says. “We spend one night anchored in Lake George, and it’s just amazing because all you hear all night are birds and other animals…. It’s a unique experience, with tons of alligators and other unique wildlife along the shores.”

Departing from Jacksonville, clients visit Palatka, once a major port along the historic St. Johns river that today shows off grand restored plantation homes and the colorful flowers of Ravine Gardens State Park. Clients also have the chance to visit the natural mineral spas of Green Cove Springs, reputed to be a fountain of youth, before cruising the Tolomato River with a naturalist guide who’ll point out the wildlife on the shores. A stop in St. Augustine, the oldest continuously occupied European established city in the U.S., rounds out the cruise.

Cruising Florida’s rivers entails a bit more time on board than other cruises, so American Cruise Lines ensures its ships are as enticing as its ports of call. “Our fleet is brand new,” Beebe says. “The vessels we have are uniquely designed for us…. Along with our style of cruising—personalized service, historians and lecturers we bring on board—it’s a nice, complete package we provide for our passengers.”

The American Glory, which cruises Florida’s Rivers, has a maximum capacity of 49; the Independence, which debuted in June 2010 and runs the Historic South itinerary, has a capacity of 101. But don’t expect cabin fever on any American Cruise Lines trip, Beebe says. “We make sure life on board is conducive to camaraderie. Guests really get to know each other; it’s one big family once they’re on board.

“It’s amazing to see,” he laughs. “I had my own folks on board, and I was going to pick up the last days of the trip. When I got into the lodge for the cocktail party, everybody knew everybody’s business—who had three grandchildren, who did what for a living. Everybody got along.”

Rates for Great Rivers of Florida start at $3,595.