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Cruise Ship Information
American Spirit is a small cruise ship owned and operated by American Cruise Lines (ACL). Also owned by ACL are the smaller American Glory and American Eagle, as well as the American Star of the same size built in 2007. American Spirit was built in 2005 by Chesapeake Shipbuilding in Salisbury, Maryland. Up to 100 passengers can be accommodated in her 51 staterooms. All staterooms have interior entrances and windows, and 26 have small, private balconies.
 
American Spirit launched in 2005, the American Spirit is a larger version of its 2000 and 2002 built running mates, the American Eagle and American Glory, respectively. The basic premise behind these ships is simple. Small, American-flagged coastal ships have historically been hand-me-downs with tiny cabins and even smaller bathrooms. Enter American Cruise Lines, which built three modern ships, with more on the way, with a standard of comfort and spaciousness not found on its competition.
 
A small ship cruise on the modern American Spirit is for the traveler who pursues the exceptional. Uniquely designed to navigate the inland waterways of Alaska, the American Spirit brings passengers to some of the most beautiful locations in America. In the intimate atmosphere onboard, guests find that fellow travelers share their passion for these historic places, and often become fast friends. It's easy to relax and feel comfortable in the huge, public spaces onboard.
 
With American Cruise Lines' American Spirit, the name says it all. Operating exclusively along the U.S. East Coast, crewed entirely by Americans and built on the Chesapeake Bay, this small, 100-passenger ship is about as American as they come. Exploring historic and scenic ports where big ships could never think of calling, it offers a comfortable and relaxed cruise for those who are interested in both the destination and a friendly, well attended cocktail hour.
 
It isn't just by accident, or some patriotic fervor, that these ships bleed red, white and blue. Rather, a law entitled the Passenger Vessel Services Act limits the transportation of passengers between two U.S. ports to ships that are built in the U.S., owned by a U.S. company and registered in the U.S. Only a few companies are willing to brave the difficulties of flying the U.S. flag, and the experience on these coastal ships is very different from cruising on the Caribbean mega-ships.
 
First, American crews, and American taxes, cost more, so the fares are high (we'll say that again -- you pay a whole lot more for an American Cruise Line voyage than you would for a typical seven-night cruise out of Miami.) Second, don't expect rock climbing walls or ice skating rinks; these ships are simple; cruising is stripped to the basics. Lastly, don't expect gracious, polished service from waiters with 30 years in the industry whose fathers served onboard the Normandie.
 
Instead, you'll meet fresh faced college kids looking to do a contract or two while getting a chance to see part of the country. They are friendly, eager to please and receive pretty good training onboard, but this isn't their career. Don't be surprised if you are addressed as "sweetie" by at least one crew member, or if their knowledge of the menu is limited to, well, what is written on the menu. For many passengers, it probably feels like their cute but not-quite-grown-up grandchildren are serving them.
 
Other advantages, of course, are the wonderful itineraries along the East Coast. Imagine cruising Maine's rocky shoreline, watching lobsters being hauled out from Penobscot Bay early in the morning while a schooner sails by. Visit the former whaling captain of Nantucket one day, and walk to a lighthouse on Block Island the next. Enjoy the fireworks of oranges, reds, and yellows on the Hudson River fall foliage cruises while passing the US Military Academy. There won't be a casino or a 24-hour restaurant, but you'll get to venture inland and experience it all from an intimate, personal setting.
 
So, once you've decided you can live without art auctions and "gold by the inch," why should you choose American Cruise Line over some of their competitors that offer similar itineraries? For most people, it comes down to the ships.
 
Atmosphere on board
Despite the ship's diminutive size, there are three dedicated lounges onboard. The Chesapeake Lounge is located forward just below the Bridge and consists of a dark blue carpet and some cream colored couches and chairs. Three sides of large windows, however, keep the room bright and draw your eyes to the surrounding vistas.
On the port side all the way aft, a large TV plays the latest football or baseball game, and while the volume is kept low, it seems a bit out of place, especially given that every cabin has (an admittedly small) satellite TV. Also in the lounge is a small bar, with snacks, fruit and drinks always complimentary.
 
In addition to the main lounge, there are two cozy, cabin-sized spaces (one of which is designated the library and features a small collection of books) with a few couches, chairs and a card table. While these alternate lounges are minimal, they do offer a welcome option for quiet reading or looking out the window when the main lounge is busy. Unfortunately, all rooms, and in fact, all three ships, are decorated with much of the same furniture, carpets and colors as the main lounge. Much like a generic chain hotel lobby, it is not neither memorable nor hardly offensive. A little effort in terms of decor or design would go a long way to making them feel more distinctive! There is no Internet or e-mail service available to passengers onboard, but with the ship in port every day, this doesn't pose much of a problem.
 
Cabins are not only large, but many of them have balconies, and a choice of lounges means that everyone isn't always forced to be together in the only public space onboard. It also helps that all drinks are included and food and service on these ships is probably a step above most of their competitors, but it is the cabins that initially draw many passengers.
 
Despite the comforts onboard, however, the real focus of the cruise is the destination with the ship merely acting as an agreeable means of transport between the ports. These ships were built to nestle into the smallest ports, and they take full advantage of this ability. Itineraries are designed to be in port every day and throughout the night, with only part of the morning or afternoon usually spent underway. Historic homes and museums make popular shore excursions, and a guest lecturer delivers eagerly anticipated talks.
 
While the fares are running towards the luxury end of the market, don't expect caviar, room service and a decadent spa. These are simple, but appealing ships with a friendly atmosphere of happy passengers traveling to quaint destinations. As evidenced by the company's rapid growth, it is a formula that seems to be working and keeps contented passengers coming back time and time again.
 
Forget Freestyle Dining or ten different restaurants. Instead, you eat in the same restaurant at the same time every day. With the room filled with nothing but tables for six, however, choosing with whom you sit and engage in conversation becomes part of the mealtime fun.
 
The food onboard is generally very good and can be ambitious at times, with some particularly memorable meals. Cuisine is American themed, with a fair amount of seafood such as crab cakes, fish, seafood salads or Oysters Rockefeller, and seasonal or favorite flavors like pumpkin or butternut squash spices or apple pie appear on the menu.
 
Lunch options might include a ham sandwich on a baguette with apples and melted brie or pork loin with goat cheese and onion. While there is no official vegetarian choice, tasty salads frequent the menu and special requests can always be accommodated. Chefs are usually graduates of the Culinary Institute of America, but with such a small galley and staff, the change in only one chef can make a large difference in food quality.
 
For an experience aiming towards the upscale end of the market, it is surprising that only two appetizers and two entrees are on the menu for lunch and dinner. If you don't see anything you like, however, alternative meals can be arranged if you give the chef notice in the morning. (Breakfast had a greater variety, with three hot dishes that changed daily and Grand Marnier French Toast or Eggs Benedict complementing the standard breakfast menu.)
 
Like the rest of the ship, the restaurant is pleasant, if a bit plain, and is located all the way aft on the lowest deck. This location can make for some background noise from the engines when underway, but it is kept to a minimum and the ship is often in port during meal times. Large picture windows on three sides allow for fine viewing of the passing scenery no matter your seat.
 
Waiters double as bedroom stewards, but they do try hard and are usually efficient. Expect a level of informality and knowledge of the menu that would be more akin to a local restaurant than a luxury cruise ship. The Hotel Manager and his or her assistant cast their more experienced eye over the room, however, and help out as needed to keep things running smoothly and professionally.
 
Meals are served between 7:30 - 9 a.m. for breakfast, at 12:30 p.m. for lunch and 6:30 p.m. for dinner. Cocktail hour is held every night at 5:30 p.m. with hot hors d'oeuvres in the lounge.Two daily treats are popular and addictive. At 9:30 a.m., freshly baked cookies appear and are usually devoured by noon, and in the evening, root beer floats and sundaes are served following the guest lecturer's presentation. With the vessel so small and having limited crew, there is no room service.
 
Family with Kids/Teens 
This is a cruise line for older adults, so children are extremely rare. A few families may sail on the summer New England itineraries, but the ships have no kids' programs or activities.
With the average age of the passengers quite high, there are no facilities or staff set aside for children. An occasional family or grandchild helps to bring that average down slightly on the summer New England and Maine sailings. Older, mature children that don't need to be constantly attended, and like trips to their grandparent's house, could get by on a week's cruise. A third person with cots can be accommodated in the cabins, although this isn't advertised in the brochure.A small ship cruise on the modern American Spirit is for the traveler who pursues the exceptional. Uniquely designed to navigate the inland waterways of the magnificent East Coast, the American Spirit brings passengers to some of the most fascinating places in America.
 
Past Passenger Programs
American Cruise Lines, operator of the newest riverboats and small cruise ships in the United States, is pleased to announce the introduction of a renewed loyalty program, featuring new premium benefits for members. The Eagle Society is the line’s way of recognizing and rewarding returning guests by providing a more personalized and enhanced cruise experience. The Eagle Society now features an expanded list of special benefits, including:
 
Complimentary cruise – Upon completion of 10 cruises with American Cruise Lines, Eagle Society members are rewarded with a complimentary cruise.
Complimentary shore excursions – After an Eagle Society member has cruised three times, shore excursion fees are waived on all cruises booked thereafter.
Special Eagle Society gifts – Member gifts range from customized officers jackets to champagne, and are always a guest favorite.
Membership identification – Customized luggage tags indicate Eagle Society belongings and special nametags indicate the number of cruises taken by each member.
Invitations to exclusive Eagle Society cruises – Each year, several dates are chosen for exclusive Eagle Society member cruises. These unique sailings are hosted by company executives and include special tours, receptions and entertainment.
Hometown VIP access – When a ship is in a port near a member’s hometown, American Cruise Lines extends a VIP invitation to come aboard for lunch or dinner.
Non-guest visitation and dining– When in port, members may invite friends or family aboard for a tour of the ship or to join them for meals.
Eagle Society-only savings and promotions – Members are privy to various special
 
Fitness And Spa
Fitness facilities are very, very limited, consisting of an exercise bike and a step machine sitting on one of the aft decks overlooking the wake. Despite what the deck plan shows on their Web site and brochure, there is no small putting green or exercise area on the American Spirit's top deck. Opportunities for independent walking ashore are available every day, though for those who choose not to take the (usually sedentary) shore excursions. Such as spa, hair/beauty treatments and laundry are available in port and can be fully arranged by your hotel manager onboard. Additional services such as tee-time requests and special occasion setups are available upon request.
 
Entertainment
With the ship in port every single day of every itinerary, going ashore is the most popular activity. Reasonably priced shore excursions are available, and they usually focus on an historical or cultural sight or a place of natural beauty. (On my Hudson River cruise, excursions visited Washington Irving's home, the Hudson River Maritime Museum and the US Military Academy at West Point in addition to other stops.)
 
When underway for the short periods during the day, life is casual and laid back with few organized activities. The onboard lecturer might sit in the lounge and answer questions or narrate on passing destinations to anyone who is interested, or on some summer sailings, the crew arrange kite flying from the top deck. Otherwise activities are mostly self-started and include reading, Bridge, napping, or chatting to other passengers. Afternoon tea combined with apple tasting one day might provide a culinary diversion.
 
In the evening, everyone gears up (and dresses up a bit too) for the 5:30 p.m. cocktail hour. This is the social highlight of the day and the room is abuzz with mingling passengers. Following dinner, the onboard lecturer for the week will give a 45-minute talk that speaks about the region and usually ties in with what you will see the next day. One night might also feature a Bingo game or a local entertainer brought in to sing some shanties or geographically appropriate music.
 
Editor's Note: When choosing on which ship to cruise, remember that the American Spirit carries twice as many passengers as her smaller running mates. When visiting the smaller destinations or shore excursions, I found that some tours would have been easier and quicker if we only had half as many people. With the smaller ships offering the same facilities and service, I might be tempted to try them next time. Others, however, preferred the bigger ship because it offered a greater variety of people. The odds are better at finding companionable travelers amongst 100 passengers rather than only 49.
 
Saterooms
More than anything else, it is probably the cabins that differentiate American Cruise Lines from their competition and spurs so many passengers to return. Other coastal ships bring back memories of Charles Dickens' description of his cabin on the 1840-built Britannia, about which he wrote, "Nothing smaller for sleeping in was ever made except a coffin." On the American Spirit, there is ample room for two people to stand at once or even turn around in the bathroom. With all cabins measuring around 220 square ft., they are considerably larger than standard cabins on mass market ships and only slightly smaller than most luxury ships.
 
Amenities include a large dresser, a functional closet, a small satellite TV getting approximately 20 channels and a chair. Beds can be pushed together to form a large queen sized bed or two singles. Simple but spacious, the comparisons to any luxury lines must end with the square footage; don't expect Egyptian cotton bed sheets here.
 
Perhaps the greatest distinction is that the company offers balconies with approximately half the cabins -- an astoundingly high ration for a river ship. While verandahs are narrow (with only enough room for two lightweight chairs and a plastic table), have only canvas partitions for privacy and take up space from the cabin's interior, they still provide a welcome option. The balconies are particularly appealing since the ship is always within sight of land and is cruising to scenic destinations.
 
Happily, even those cabins without balconies still get fresh air. The large picture windows in each cabin open, allowing you to fall asleep while listening to the gentle lapping of water on the ship's side. Delightful!Bathrooms are similarly large with excellent water pressure. Showers are big enough to turn around in without worrying about the curtain clinging to you. Standard toiletries of soap, shampoo and conditioner are, of course, provided, along with a hairdryer.
 
Cabins on the second deck all the way aft do hear engine noise, but with the ship almost always alongside the dock every night, that won't affect your evening sleep. Cabins adjacent to the middle of the ship and the Midships Lounge can be noisier around 11 p.m. when the gangway is brought in.
 
Cabin 301 is larger and designated an Owner's Suite, but special inquiries need to be made through the office to book it. One disabled cabin is available and cabins on the Main, or lowest, deck all the way forward are slightly smaller than the norm due to the curvature of the bow.Unlike just about every cruise line, American Cruise Lines has cabins designed for singles. While the fare is still higher than the double occupancy fares and there aren't many single cabins, we think it is a great step in the right direction and wish other companies followed their lead.
 
Tipping
Gratuities are recommended at $125 (about $18 per day; a bit higher than suggested for big ship cruising) for a seven-day cruise, and they can be charged to your onboard account.
 
Fellow Passengers
American Cruise Lines attracts an older demographic, and the fact that all three ships have an elevator is a highlight for many. Hailing from Texas to California to Florida to Montana, they represent a true geographic cross section of the country and are interested in what the guest lecturer will say about wildlife, art, or the history of the region.
 
A majority of passengers are well traveled and have cruised before, but a large percentage have little interest in ever cruising on a big ship. Others have sailed on the luxury lines and choose American Cruise Line for their itineraries. They know that while the food and service won't quite be comparable to the foreign companies, they will be comfortable and happy. With a high percentage of repeat passengers onboard, each trip becomes a family reunion of sorts as passengers recognize each other from previous voyages. Once you've sailed, it is very easy to walk onto any of the ships and feel at home right away.

Our Recommendation
Make no mistake about it: American Cruise Line passengers are older, and then some. The company's cozy, low-impact, American style of cruising suits them perfectly, and the fact that each ACL ship has an elevator linking all the decks (a rarity in the small-ship world) is a big draw. Hailing from all over the country, passengers generally appreciate changing for cocktail hour, with about half the men wearing a jacket and/or tie. They are also the types who readily wear the provided name tags for the entire week and don't mind visiting four historic homes in one cruise.

In port, slightly less than half of them tend to explore the towns independently, combing antiques shops or just strolling along Main Street. Well educated and usually comfortably heeled, they are eager to learn about the region and enthusiastically attend the nightly lecture. With diverse cruising backgrounds (from luxe Seabourn to mainstream Princess), they do not necessarily expect five-star service, but they do want comfy, spacious cabins along with the conveniences and camaraderie of a small ship. A very high percentage consists of repeaters, who collect the line's various itineraries like game pieces.