American Cruise Lines Small Ship Experience for Families

We’re in an era when made in America and stayed in America travel experiences are what families are looking for and, for the right family, the all American American Cruise Lines delivers.

American owned, the company proudly sails three styles of small ships on 35 different itineraries between February and December, plus theme and holiday cruises, along rivers, and coastal and the inland waterways. For 2021, they will sail in 30 U.S. states.

The company will resume cruising with extensive safety protocols and reduced capacity at 75% in Spring 2021. 

The Independence seen moored near the Charleston waterfront.
The Independence seen moored near the Charleston waterfront. photo c. American Cruise Lines

Why Cruisers Choose American Cruise Lines

The company began in 1991 sailing river cruise ships they custom built in the U.S.A. The Line continues to build new small ships each year and maintains an enviable reputation. In fact, after several years of winning the World’s Best Award for “World’s Leading Small Ship Cruise Line,” in 2019, American won 15 industry awards, more than any other U.S. cruise line.

So, after learning about American Cruise Lines years ago aboard one of their small coastal ships, Independence, we thought it was time to see what’s new and special about this type of family vacation.

Virtues of Small Ship Coastal and River Cruising

The modern riverboat, American Harmony
American Harmony is one of the fleet’s modern riverboats. photo c. American Cruise Lines

In the past decade, small ship and river cruising has exploded in popularity, with guests discovering that the one-price-includes-almost-everything rate makes for a relaxing and affordable adventure. Add in seeing new destinations every day, without the stress of changing hotels or packing and unpacking, and the small ship family cruise vacation may make perfect sense.
If you’re ready to book a cruise, there’s no need to limit yourselves to 5,000-passenger ships with skating rinks and movie theaters. American Cruise Lines currently sails 12 small 100-190 passenger ships and will have 14 ships in service by 2021.

Grandparents and parents can choose a domestic river cruise or small ship coastal cruise that stops at unusual ports of call across the country, in unique places which cannot accommodate the big vessels.

Family Adult Cruising Aboard American Cruise Line

Verandah suite on an American Cruise Lines boat.
Verandah suite on an American Cruise Lines boat. photo c. American Cruise Lines

The happiest passengers are those who know the product they are selecting well. According to a spokesperson, American Cruise Lines trips are more ideally suited for family groups with adult and older-teenage children along with parents and grandparents.

The itineraries are destination-focused, educational and culturally based. Most are a week long, but American offers cruises from five to 22 days in length – so there are many options.

Some travelers might be disappointed in not having certain big-ship facilities; for example, these small ships do not have swimming pools, play facilities, kids’ programming, babysitters or running-around facilities that families with young children may need.

However, most guests love the low-key, small-ship style of cruising and any history buffs onboard will truly appreciate the educational aspects of their journey. Adult guests and many inquisitive students and grown kids are sure to be engaged because the destinations are all augmented by daily shore excursions at each port of call and complimentary enrichment programs on board.

American Cruise Lines: Independence

Here’s a Vine Video of my ship’s tour.

Staterooms on Independence, one of the Line’s smallest 100-passenger ships, are still relatively large by industry standards. Independence is comfortably furnished, and all but the ones on the main deck have their own verandahs. Some ships in American’s fleet are configured so that up to three cabins can be connected with balcony partitions removed, ideal for multigenerational vacations.

American’s newer coastal ships and modern riverboats offer many connecting cabins; four new riverboats will join the fleet by late 2021. The newest ships have additional amenities and on board spaces not found on Independence, but even American’s smallest ships offer more space per passenger than any other line.

On the Independence, the pleasant bar and lounge doubled as an entertainment venue when musicians were onboard, a lecture hall or a bridge tournament room during the day. 

All American’s ships have a number of single cabins for relatives traveling alone (and the Line does not charge a single supplement for the single cabins). In addition, the ships all have several handicap accessible rooms, and there is elevator access to all decks. Ships also offer a custom-built launch whose special ramp exit allows the mobility impaired to participate in shore excursions.

American Cruise Lines Dining American Style

Panoramic views seen from the lounge of American Cruise Lines' modern riverboats.
Panoramic views seen from the lounge of American Cruise Lines’ modern riverboats. photo c. American Cruise Lines

Meals are served in a large dining room with open seating and panoramic views of the passing scenery. While each ship serves seasonal specials and recipes from the region they’re traveling, the focus is on American cuisine.

Special diets and allergy concerns are easily handled by the staff with advance notice. The Line’s complimentary amenities include beer and wine with both lunch and dinner, plus complimentary full bar cocktails each night before dinner on board.

All-American Itineraries with American Cruise Lines

The lounge and stateroom suite on an American Cruise Lines paddlewheeler.
The lounge and stateroom suite on a classic American Cruise Lines paddlewheeler. photo c. American Cruise Lines.

Itineraries are based around U.S. regions and include four routes through New England and six routes in the Southeast: trips around Chesapeake Bay, the East Coast or mid-Atlantic Inland Passages, Georgia’s Golden Isles, Florida Rivers and a cruise themed to the American Revolution (with a rare stop inside Washington D.C. at the Wharf).

Other options sail the Pacific Northwest, with itineraries in Puget Sound and  the San Juan Islands as well as cruises on the Columbia and Snake Rivers, with routes that follow in the famous footsteps of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. American Cruise Lines also sails different routes in Alaska, roundtrip from Juneau as well as a longer Inside Passage cruise between Seattle and Juneau (all the Line’s Alaska cruises have exclusive small-ship access to Glacier Bay).  

Many of American’s most popular itineraries explore the Mississippi River. Most recently, the Line introduced the country’s first modern riverboats (available on the Mississippi and the Columbia and Snake Rivers.) Another popular option is the beautiful paddlewheeler, Queen of the Mississippi. On the Mississippi alone, there are more than 10 itineraries: Lower and Upper Mississippi River cruises, Cumberland or Ohio River cruises and cruises themed to music, food and wine, Mark Twain, fall foliage and more.

Since these are American-flagged ships and the staff and crew are American, some travelers have found this to be a truly authentic all-American experience. Another plus — many of the homeports are near major airports or within convenient driving distance of many Americans’ homes.

Current Cruise Vacation Planning with American Cruise Lines

Upper level sundeck on American Cruise Lines ship.
Upper level sundeck on American Cruise Lines ship. photo c. American Cruise Lines

Large family groups may also be eligible for special Group Travel discounts. Due to the uncertainties of travel surrounding the coronvirus pandemic, check with them on cancellation and refund policies before booking. Note that many complimentary perks such as land tours and pre- or post-cruise hotel packages may be available for 2021 cruises. To learn more, please visit the American Cruise Lines site, call 800/814-6880 or call your travel agent.

Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.

2 Replies to “The All American Cruise Lines Small Ship Experience”

  • Thomas McGee

    great work ! While river cruising’s epicenter is undoubtedly situated over in Europe, the waterways of the United States are becoming more competitive with each passing year.

  • Robertino

    If you Love small cruise tour visit Amsterdam