We've made a small habit of seeing the sights during the shoulder and off season. Cruising Alaska and Europe in winter were rewarding for both the lack of crowds, the easy to see sights and most interestingly a good mix of other adventuresome passengers. Our 2 week sojourn on the American Star was a prime example of small ship cruising at its best.
We long ago learned to pack for any weather so no matter the climate, it's never an inconvenience to travel. Our November trip came right on the heels of Hurricane Sandy and we wondered what we'd get - that goes beyond control of what we could pack. Our worries were for nought. Though we hit a little rain and some cool weather, the majority of days had enough sunshine that our sunglasses got more of a workout than our rainwear.
The ship was as advertised with a spacious, modern and well appointed cabin. We joked with the hotel manager Adriano, that he could reduce the size of the rooms. We told him that our travel in other parts of the year is in a travel trailer with less square footage than our cabin. Food was excellent and you get any sized portion (or more of anything). We met other passengers with a variety of dietary needs and all we heard was praise (even for the Vegans among us).
The small ship atmosphere allow passengers to get to know each other quicker and it your spouse didn't want to do any shore excursions, then usually it was easy to pal around with another passenger.
Yes, we enjoyed the ship and meeting new friends but we came to see the coastal cities of the south. So much variety between our destinations. Small town Oriental, NC was as alluring as the charming old city of Charleston. Once exclusive Jeckyll Island fascinated us almost as much as Wilmington, NC or Beaufort, SC. Without a doubt, the star for us was Savannah. Though we have now seen it, it's on our bucket list for an early return.
Crew at all levels were very professional and personable. We had two different on-board speakers/naturalists and it was great to hear them flesh out the cultural, natural history and environmental stories of the destinations and the land along the way.
We had an excellent time and hope to cruise again with American.
Missing ports not listed in "Port Reviews":
Coinjock, NC (don't miss nearby Kittyhawk)
Oriental, NC - the local tour guide hired by ACL was full of stories and humor - so is the town
Wilmington, NC - self guided walk. 15 years ago this town didn't have much to offer tourists - they surely do now?
Beaufort, SC - who knew a little town had so much to offer the casual stroller - one of the few untouched by bombardment during the Civil War.
Hilton Head, SC. Maybe if we were into golf or resort living we'd have been more impressed. Not much history but tidal shore excursion by naturalist was very interesting.
Savannah, GA: hard to believe CruiseCritic doesn't have this notable city on its destination list. Best or near best stop on the trip. We had friends take us around but heard from other passengers that trolley tour and walk tour were both excellent.
Brunswick, GA: a so-so city for its downtown but what a great jump off point to see fabulous Jeckyll Island. Personal hit for me was a cruise-arranged couple hours on a working shrimp boat. Fantastic outing complete with all the fresh caught shrimp you could eat and a marine biologist who told us about all the other creatures we caught.
Amalie Island, FL: small riverfront town loaded with history and well guided by cruise arranged historian.