Small Ship Cruising in the U.S.

River cruising in Europe, Egypt, and Asia might be all the buzz, but discovering one’s own backyard—Alaska, the Northeast in the fall, the incomparable Mississippi, the heartland of America—on a steamboat, yacht, or small ship is an inspiring voyage that beckons the well-heeled traveler looking for adventure close to home.

american cruise lines

Operating a fleet of six ships—with no more than 150 passengers each—American Cruise Lines offers more than 30 itineraries to all parts of the U.S., including the Pacific Northwest, Maine, New England Islands, Hudson River, Chesapeake Bay, the Historic South & Golden Isles, Florida and Alaska, as well as the Mississippi River aboard the brand-new paddlewheeler Queen of the Mississippi (currently under construction).

“It’s a true journey of discovery,” says Timothy Beebe, v.p., American Cruise Lines. “Onboard experts and guest speakers enlighten passengers along the way, educating them on the sights they see, the towns they visit, and more. It’s a very enriching experience.” On board, passengers can expect oversized staterooms—quite possibly the largest in the industry, says Beebe—the majority with private balconies, packed with all of today’s amenities including flat-screen TVs/ DVD player, WiFi, hotel-style full-size bathrooms, either a large picture window or sliding glass door, as well as various lounges and a library, open seating dining in glass-enclosed dining room, and complimentary cocktail hour before dinner (full bar and hors d’oeuvres). Of course, there are also daily lectures from onboard experts, or a performance. Beebe emphasizes that the “atmosphere is friendly and intimate. The captain will often dine and mingle with guests and the crew knows them by name within a day or so. It’s truly a wonderful experience.”

But the shoreline is the reason for the trip, and because of that, says Beebe, “we take special care to research and plan excursions at each port. Each excursion highlights something that makes each destination special. These fine local sites give insight into the area’s culture, heritage and history. And on each excursion, passengers are joined by local experts, historians or naturalists to further enhance the experience. We offer hundreds of different types of tours, all dependent on itinerary: guided walking tours, carriage tours, lobster fishing/shrimp boat excursions, jet boat tours, museum visits, narrated tours on trolleys, wildlife tours, botanical gardens, and so many more.”

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Take for example, the company’s 7-night New England Islands itinerary on board the 104-passenger Independence, which explores Nantucket, Block Island, and Martha’s Vineyard—from its cobblestone streets and 17th century architecture to the inspiration for Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick.” On this tour, clients will visit the famed Gilded Age mansions of Newport, once the summer playground for America’s elite; stroll through elegant Edgartown, a picture-book village with white clapboard colonial homes and manicured gardens; and visit 18th century lighthouses that guided whaling ships back to bustling ports. Departure dates are May through September, with rates starting at $3,110.

“Our clients are very well-traveled,” says Beebe. “They are slightly older in age, 55+, affluent and well-educated. Most have cruised with the larger lines and have now ‘graduated’ to the smaller lines. After cruising on large ships and having to deal with long waits and crowds, eventually they discover American Cruise Lines, welcoming the more refined, unique and intimate cruising experience we provide.”

And this year and next are big years for the cruise line as it’s debuting two brand-new itineraries: Alaska and the Mississippi River. There’s the 7- to 11-night cruises in Alaska’s Inside Passage aboard the American Spirit and a number of cruises—including themed cruises such as Civil War and Mark Twain—on board the Queen of the Mississippi, which is set to debut on the river in August.

For more information, call (800) 460-4518 or visit

american safari cruises

For clients who want to sail America’s great waterways on a yacht, American Safari Cruises—a division of InnerSea Discoveries—offers upscale, active cruises aboard four yachts: the 36-guest Safari Explorer, the 86-guest Safari Endeavor, the 22-guest Safari Quest and the 12-guest Safari Spirit. In fact, the company pioneered yacht cruising in Alaska in 1997, and currently offers itineraries in the state’s Inside Passage, Washington & British Columbia, the Columbia & Snake rivers and the Hawaiian Islands.