The Spirit of the East

American Spirit showcases the charms of New England

By: By Judy M. Zimmerman

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If you want to see the entire East Coast by water, there is probably no more comfortable way to do so than to board one of American Cruise Line’s fleet of four small cruise ships,” said Scott Howard, first mate of the 100-passenger American Spirit.

And many people onboard couldn’t have agreed more.


The 53-room American Spirit sails to Rhode Island and Massachusetts. // © 2009 American Cruise line

Instead of entertainment and shipboard activities, passengers were interested in an easy and convenient way to visit six seaports in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, each rich in cultural and historical significance. The majority of passengers were in their 70s and 80s; others were with family or small groups of friends who preferred a casual ship close to home.

The six-day roundtrip began in Providence, R.I., famous for its historical buildings. On Saturday nights from April through October, it’s a special treat to celebrate with Providence locals during WaterFires, a festival of art, music and food along both shores of the city’s Riverwalk pedestrian area.

In the course of the cruise, passengers explored the Herreshoff Marine Museum in Bristol, R.I., and the Whaling Museum in New Bedford, Mass., an enduring testament to the importance of the maritime experience that Melville described in Moby Dick.

In Newport, R.I., the magnificent Gilded Age mansions, all vacation cottages of America’s wealthiest families during the late 1800s, delighted guests, as did the blooming roses and rustic cottages of Nantucket Island and the beauty and tranquility of Martha’s Vineyard.

Onboard each day, the food and friendly service in the open-seating dining room were uniformly good. Lobster was on the menu four times during the week, and special dietary needs were accommodated. Wines were also included in the price.

“The crew does everything,” said my attentive dining room stewardess Mariah Howe. “They wait tables, serve as deck hands and clean cabins.”

According to Howe, the cruise line likes to hire a young, all-American crew — some are summer student interns majoring in hospitality management — for just a seven-week stretch at a time.

Each evening, complimentary cocktails and hors d’oeuvres were served during a popular social hour in the forward-facing Chesapeake Lounge. After dinner, the sofas in the lounge were rearranged for a presentation by the onboard speaker. Topics included New England history, food and trivia.

The decor is simple in the 53 outside cabins, which averaged 220 square feet. Each had a sliding glass picture window, satellite television with a DVD player and a good-size bathroom.

Midship on two decks, the small library lounges that doubled as card rooms were popular with a group of bridge players traveling together. One lounge had two laptop computers with Internet service; however, the connection was not reliable. The top deck offered plenty of outdoor seating and two exercise machines.

American Spirit sails out of Providence from June 27 to Sept. 26, with pricing starting at $2,820 per person.