Declare Your Independence
Five reasons to love a small-ship cruise.
There you are speeding through life and you think maybe it’s time to take your foot off the accelerator and slow down a little. You may have cruised before on one of those megaships that hold 3,000 and 4,000 passengers, all rushing to find their way around the ship before the cruise is over.
Well here’s an idea. How about trying a small ship such as American Cruise Lines’ 99-passenger Independence, which is a perfect fit for a laid-back week of relaxation and fun. If you’re still on the fence, here are five reasons to consider a small-ship adventure.
Embarkation Made Easy
The ship’s homeport is Fernandina Beach, Florida, just a few miles north of Jacksonville. We got there early and found a FREE parking spot right on the parking lot near the ship. Attendants were waiting to take our luggage as soon as the trunk was opened. Already a good start.
Once on board it took a huge 20 minutes to tour the ship. Our cabin was on the third deck and was comfortable in size, with a balcony with a couple of easy deck chairs and a small table for your drinks as you watch the world slide by.
In the dining room, there’s only one seating and no one is ever assigned to a table. You walk in, spot someone you think you’d like to spend a meal with, walk over, introduce yourself, and sit down. If the compatibility factor doesn’t quite work out, scout the room again at the next meal.
Also on board is the Chesapeake Lounge, the gathering spot for the evening’s pre-dinner cocktail hour, the place for lectures, and the showroom for each evening’s entertainment. It’s also a great place to sit and enjoy a good book or meet your newfound friends for a friendly game of cards or chess. There’s also a small living room with a computer, and an outdoor deck with a small exercise space with equipment, a golf putting green, and plenty of lounge chairs.
When you sail on Independence, you’ll never go hungry. The day starts with an early-riser’s breakfast snack at 6:30 a.m. in the Chesapeake Lounge before the main breakfast in the dining room at 7:30 a.m. In case you simply can’t hold out until lunch is served, usually at 12:30 p.m., you can get ‘round-the-clock snacks, coffee, and cold drinks in the Chesapeake Lounge.
The main dining room serves lunch, which could be Dijon Glazed Rockfish or Pan Seared Springer Mountain Breast of Chicken. Back up to the Chesapeake for more snacks ‘til the 5:30 cocktail hour, which offers complimentary drinks including sodas, wines, beers, mixed drinks, cocktails, or iced tea. Waiters walk around with hot and cold hors d’oeuvres, and if that’s not enough, there’s also a large table set up with hot and cold snacks. Be careful because the cocktail hour could leave you little room for dinner!
For dinner, how does this sound: Shrimp and Crab Stuffed Lobster Tail or Mustard-Brown Sugar Glazed Mignonette of Salmon or Herb Crusted Roast Rack of Lamb. Of course, if you don’t care for any of that, the chef is more than happy to cook you up a great burger.
After dinner, head back to the Chesapeake Lounge for the evening’s entertainment, which could be a wonderful cabaret singer, a musician, or costumed historian who tells the story of the south with humor and song. In the meantime, waiters are walking around with ice cream floats and sundaes!
Staff and Crew
The ship’s staff was a joy. Not one sourpuss among ‘em. Starting with Captain Gregg Scheiferstein, who’s got his license in 1988 and has been the master on Independence for six years. Captain Scheiferstein is personable and accessible, and you’ll even occasionally find him in the Chesapeake Lounge during cocktail hour socializing with passengers and answering questions.
Another staffer who seemed to be everywhere was the cruise director, Drew Wander, a 25-year-old native of Akron, Ohio, who studied opera at Capital University and then worked at Walt Disney World before joining American Cruise Lines. Wander was likeable, accommodating, and never too busy to solve passenger requests or answer questions. He was on the gangway at every port, went on the tours, and hosted the evening entertainment. His “crazy hat” bingo session was one of the highlights of the cruise.
Dining room servers were also delight. They were never ruffled, and always ready to accommodate a passenger’s request. On top of that, they also doubled as cabin stewards. To say they worked hard is an understatement.
The ports on this cruise offer a terrific mix of history, education, and just plain fun. Once docked in Brunswick, Georgia, you can choose the Sea Turtle Center, a shrimp boat tour, or the island tour. How about Savannah with its Trolley Tour or a tour of the mighty Eighth Air Force Museum, which is one you won’t want to miss. Hilton Head, South Carolina, offers an interesting Alligator Tour. When you dock in Beaufort, South Carolina, consider a relaxing Horse Drawn Carriage Tour of the beautiful Southern antebellum homes that survived destruction during the Civil War. The tour guides are all well informed and never rush you.
To experience small-ship cruising is to remember what it’s like to relax and give your mind and body a chance to exhale. Because before you know it, you’ll be back with your foot on the accelerator.
— Bob Goss
Photos: Bob Goss, American Cruise Lines (2), American Cruise Lines/Tyler Kaufman
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