We are early seventies and tried our first “small ship” cruise aboard the Independence for three reasons: One, the itinerary from Amelia Island to Charleston was of significant interest. Two, with the world in questionable turmoil, we decided to avoid overseas flights and spend our money “at home.” Three, the likely demographics onboard suited our desires, fifty something to older than dirt… perfect!
Bottom line: Excellent experience such that we booked again for next year, though one must evaluate the cost/value compared to the larger ships, usually Holland America in our case. That said, let’s talk some (a bit long!) detail.
American Cruise Lines operates under an interesting business model. It’s all American, from the shipyard where the vessels are built to the staff… top to bottom. Most interesting is the use of young folks for stewards, deck hands and servers. They have just enough training, are in most cases only onboard for a 12-week “tour of duty” and in most cases will be using this experience as a steppingstone to bigger and better careers.
The ship’s captain (most gracious and available), first mate, pilot, and senior staff are, on the other hand, very professional career folks who offer customer service beyond reproach… never have I experienced better. Back to the youngsters for a moment, if you expect error free service with a lovely foreign accent forget it. If you love to engage young folks, offer a bit of wisdom from time to time, and see the virtue of mentoring our American youth you will enjoy this experience like no other. Overall their customer service is outstanding, offered with great cheer and good intent.
We flew from LAX (Los Angeles) to Jacksonville, Florida, the day before. The cab to Fernandina Beach City, Amelia Island, was simple and cost 70 dollars. Arrival at the Florida Inn, just 3 short blocks from the dock around 4:30pm, was uneventful. Review of the inn can be found elsewhere. Post checkout on Saturday we simply walked to the dock, luggage in tow. If you can stay at the Hampton Inn, across from the dock, do it.
Barely in sight of the ship, red-shirted staff came running for our luggage… a great start to be continued throughout the voyage. Always dapper Chet, the “hotel manager”, was immediately available for questions, logistics and cabin availability status. Soon onboard, a breeze, we settled in, walked the ship, and sat for lunch at 12:30pm. While some reviewers find the ship’s décor to be bland in its neutral colors (it is), the glitter and glitz was immediately discovered as we met the other fascinating 92 souls. That is the essence of this experience.
Entertainment was simple but satisfying, without a hint of off-Broadway shows, and effectively self-generated beginning with a hosted cocktail hour from 5:30 to 6:30, followed by dinner at 6:30. This social hour proved to be very entertaining as we all shared our life’s stories, told amazing lies when appropriate, and shared the day’s doings all while becoming fast friends. Aboard was a historian with vast knowledge, and a huge personality, adding considerable value to the cruise. At 8 o’clock the next day’s activities were discussed, often with fun banter, followed by local talent for a variety of music and song of considerable skill. An interesting fact is that the cruise line will acquire your favorite beverage if not already in the ship’s locker, in my case a preferred NA beer. Nice…
Briefly on the food: Just fine overall. Plenty from which to choose with a caveat or two. The salads, soups and desserts are quite excellent. I found the main courses a bit bland for my taste but one must understand the general demographics onboard, thus bland is not all bad. The portions are huge but half portions are available. Breakfast was a treat with a wide selection available. Missing for me was a lighter fare for lunch, perhaps an interesting sandwich or two, though a burger or BLT is always available… just ask. Don’t miss the pork bellies if offered… the best ever.
Can’t really say much about the cabin service, it just happened as it should, without intrusion on us at all. Towels were replaced as we desired, beds made, cleaning done, all good.
In terms of excursions, do want sounds good as offered by the ship. They are all quite good, fairly priced, and the transportation is a breeze in quality coaches. As I don’t walk well the transportation was always close by, much appreciated. The ship offers wheel chairs and electric carts if needed, together with that cheerful staff… all top-notch. Just the scenic cruising alone is quite remarkable, but we particularly enjoyed the Sea Turtle Center and follow-on tour, the Lady Jane Shrimp Boat Tour (most informative), the Sapelo Island tour (a must!), and the Citadel Parade.
Oh, you don’t see the Citadel Parade listed as a ship’s offered tour, do you! Pre-cruise, I discovered this event occurs most Friday afternoons at the Citadel in Charleston at 3:45pm. Being a fan of everything military or patriotic, I had an interest in attending. The ship arrives Charleston around 2pm so I bugged Chet to arrange transportation to same for 6 of us. His response was as expected: “Give me something difficult next time.” So we 6 attended, sat in the viewing bleachers, and watched a thousand plus cadets, of both genders, clad in dress whites, march theirs hearts out on bright green grass. Around town, when encountering these uniformed men and women, it was always yes sir and no sir… a breath of fresh air, as it should be I thought.
… just one problem with all of this, the huge spectacular band is led by about (lump in throat) 20 bagpipes. When the colors were presented and the Star Spangled Banner played I got all teary-eyed… very damn emotional… actually not a bad thing at all for a sometimes grumpy old vet. Just do it. You won’t be sorry.
So this longwinded story comes to an end with disembarking the ship, same as climbing aboard, a breeze thanks to the wonderful crew… taxi cab waiting thanks to Chet again. Two more days in Charleston, staying at the wonderful Indigo Inn, completed our trip. Life is good…
By chance we ended up in Cabin 213, a HC cabin, and spotless, with a full king-sized bed. It’s huge, with a usable balcony. The general cabin sizes are, as promoted by the cruise line, quite generous. The bathroom had plenty of counter space, storage and a wonderful shower with instant hot water. General storage and closet space in the cabin was more than we needed. A request for additional hangers was answered instantly… a novel concept. No complaints here whatsoever. With the comfortable lounge just outside, containing a Wi-Fi computer/router, connection to the Internet was decent most of the time.