American Cruise Lines

Whoever said, “Everything old is new again,” might very well have been talking about American Cruise Lines. Part of the boom in small, American flagged coastal cruising that started in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, the company operated simple but comfortable ships on US coastal itineraries from Maine to Florida and the Mississippi River system, until it went out of business in 1989.

Jump to 2000, and the same owner who initially started the line (but sold out before they went under), decides to do it all over again, including owning the shipyard where his ships are built. Using the same name, same logo, mostly the same itineraries and the same concepts, the company was reborn with the then brand-new 49-passenger American Eagle (which has since left the fleet). Since then, the American Cruise Lines has steadily grown, introducing new ships for the coast and rivers at a rate of about one per year.

Unlike the competition, ACL offered much larger cabins (averaging 220 square feet), the first and only balcony cabins in the U.S.-flagged coastal industry, and multiple public rooms instead of the industry standard of just one forward observation lounge. Sailing exclusively along the Eastern seaboard of the United States and a handful of American rivers, American Cruise Line’s ships are American built and American crewed. The emphasis is on comfortable exploration along sheltered, inland waterways and in the smaller ports and inaccessible to larger ships. Itineraries are scheduled to be in port every day and alongside the dock at night. An onboard lecturer helps to provide a focus on the historical significance and natural beauty of reach region.

One of the delights of sailing with American Cruise Lines is the lack of hassle. There is no need for ID cards — passengers just walk on and off, with the crew member at the gangway recognizing everyone by face. If you have a friend in one of the ports you are visiting, just let the hotel manager know and it won’t be a problem to have your guest join you onboard for dinner and the nightly lecture. Decide at the last minute you don’t want to do a shore excursion you signed up for? No problem — if you don’t show up, you won’t be charged (at least one daily excursion is offered free on the river sailings).

With such a small, cozy ship, getting around couldn’t be easier. If you forget your glasses, you are only a few feet from your cabin, and some passengers don’t even bother locking their door when onboard. Repeat passengers feel at home the moment they step on the gangway, as all ships are basically interchangeable, with not only the same layout but also the same carpets, furniture and decor! As well, complimentary drinks during Happy Hour create a pleasant, relaxing atmosphere that is a step above its competition.

Sailing mostly in protected and inland waters, the ships rarely move and make a popular choice for anyone worried about becoming seasick. When they do get into any sort of exposed passages, however, their small size, basic design and lack of stabilizers mean there will be some uncomfortable motion. These passages do not last long, but they can be unpleasant for those not used to cruising. Independence, however, was built with stabilizers.

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