I arrived in Baltimore two days prior to the cruise since I had never visited the city and had heard great things about the waterfront, all true. The streets at the inner harbor are as busy as Time Square so I was glad I had booked a hotel at Fells Point, a quaint older section of the port with cobbled streets and great old buildings including some good restaurants. I had an enormous room at the Inn at Henderson’s Wharf, with huge corner windows facing the wharf. It was a five-minute walk to the water taxi, a delightful way to transit the bay and just a ten minute ride to the Inner Harbor. Rides are just 7 dollars, 12 dollars for a day pass.
I must say after seeing sensational aquariums in other cities, Baltimore’s was a huge disappointment. The setup is confusing, the windows are small and the tanks are not stocked with particularly attractive fish. I quit after half an hour, not waiting to watch the dolphins jump through hoops. Phillip’s Seafood has a huge restaurant right near the USS Constellation adjacent to the aquarium so I enjoyed their famous but pricey crab cakes for lunch. For dinner I chose Riptide in Fells Point, where I watched the waitress demonstrate to nearby diners how to attack the blue crabs. So much work for so little crab! I opted for the lobster tails.
Passengers boarded the American Spirit the morning of June 1. I had booked a single cabin on the American Glory the previous week but it was cancelled and I was upgraded to a double cabin on the Spirit with a nice discount. The cabin was spacious and cheerful with a picture window, and located right next to the comfortable Chesapeake Lounge where activities took place including happy hour, plus round-the-clock refreshments and an ice machine. Unlike many cruise ships that gouge for web access, internet is free but not available in the cabins, and the signal was weak many days
We departed Baltimore after lunch and enjoyed a spectacular view of the harbor including Fort McHenry, the siege of which in the War of 1812 inspired the U.S. National Anthem. We awoke on Sunday morning at the dock at Yorktown, near the battlefield that ended the Revolutionary War. It was a short bus ride to nearby colonial Williamsburg where we had a good walking tour of the historical buildings but no pass nor sufficient time to do all the interiors, and the shopping time was far too much longer than the guided tour. After lunch on board I took the free tourist trolley around Yorktown, but skipped the battlefield and the optional tour to nearby Plymouth, too much for one day. I enjoyed the excellent film on Plymouth archaeology that evening. I’d rather we had spent two nights here.
Monday took us past Tangier Island where I looked forward to watching the watermen harvest crabs and oysters but a rainstorm made it too difficult for the ship to provide launch service to the island. So we went on to Cambridge MD earlier than expected. It’s an attractive city with lots of old homes, but nothing special other than a chance to take a ride on a skipjack (oyster dredging vessel). We had two overnights in Cambridge with other options like a Georgian-home museum or a walking tour of nearby Oxford Md which I took. I would not have chosen two nights here preferring to spend more time at Yorktown and Annapolis. I felt the same about our next two nights at St. Michaels MD, where we were docked at a superb 18-acre maritime museum. The museum curator led us through various buildings like a small-craft repair shop, an ancient crab processing plant, and an exhibit hall with an excellent commemoration of the War of 1812. We enjoyed a special reception in the crab-packing plant with crab cakes, crab dip, and desserts. The walking tour of historic homes around the harbor was pleasant but I skipped the eco-tour on a tributary.
Weather reports of the first hurricane of the season were not optimistic for our Friday arrival in Annapolis, the city I had most looked forward to visiting. Rain was expected and we did go ashore in our uncovered launch with a light rain making the seats wet. From the dock it was a five-minute walk to the U.S. Naval Academy where a retired captain gave a good walking tour of the main buildings. The rain was not too bad, we had umbrellas, and we did spend time inside some buildings like Bancroft Hall and the chapel and crypt where the first U.S naval hero John Paul Jones is buried. The tour started and ended at the visitor’s center, where a chartered tourist trolley took small groups on a tour of the attractive city.
Returning to the ship for lunch, the motor stalled on our uncovered launch and the weather had worsened with heavy rain and blowing winds giving us a good soak before the mate got the motor restarted after about ten minutes. Given the weather conditions the captain opted to return to Baltimore that afternoon rather than the following morning. The ship tied up at the Inner Harbor if anyone wanted to debark to shop or check out the nightlife. But with lobster tails and prime rib scheduled for dinner most people stayed aboard. I had to share this bounty with 90 other passengers, but the servings were always generous.
Wine and cocktails are free with lunch and dinner and the complimentary happy hour included delicious hot appetizers daily. My favorites were the lamb chops, mini-crab cakes, and bacon-wrapped scallops. The variety of beverages available was excellent for such a small ship. I hate lines like that which result because almost everyone arrives at the start of the hour. That might be avoided if the hour were stretched to 90 minutes so passengers might not be in a rush to arrive. The additional cost to the ship would be minimal.
We enjoyed several excellent lectures during the week, by a husband/wife team, he a journalist discussing historical events of the Chesapeake area, she a naturalist who explained the nature and challenges of the bay. I learned more than I expected to. And evening entertainment was pleasant with a pianist, a duo of dulcimer and guitar, and a semi-Sinatra impersonator who will not win the up-coming competition for Sinatra impersonators.
One of the main reasons I booked this sailing was the “Crabfest” theme. We were treated to two kinds of crab cakes, crab salad, crab bisque, crab and corn chowder, crab-claw appetizers, soft shell crabs, crab omelette, crab quesadillas, crab quiche, open-face crab sandwiches, Caesar salad with crab, and crab-stuffed lobster tails, although there was always a meat or vegetarian choice if one preferred. I especially liked the dining setup with open-seating tables for eight which allowed single passengers like me to mingle with different groups each meal.
I can appreciate why there were so many passengers with multiple repeat sailings. If you book another cruise while aboard there is a savings of 400 dollars per person. After the third trip, all excursions are free. The eleventh trip is completely free. There are no activities for young children which is fine since there are cruises that specialize in that. Most passengers are quite elderly and the ship’s crew members are extremely helpful and patient with them and quick to provide a wheel-chair when needed. I suspect the demographic is due to the infirm being reluctant to suffer the challenges of a long flight abroad. The destinations are easily reached with relatively short flights by U.S. airlines. My review with photos can be found on my blog at jimhornnews.wordpress.com.
This was my second voyage with American Cruise Lines and it won’t be the last. There are numerous other interesting destinations you can find on their website.