North American Cruising at Its Finest
By Janet Thomas
Get on board with the North American cruising wave, and you’ll find fjords, rivers, mountains, oceans, islands, glaciers, lakes, and wildlife galore.
It’s incredible how much nostalgia can burst forth from a single, perfectly dried, shockingly red maple leaf. Purposely pressed between the notes and keepsakes of my recent sojourn aboard the Seabourn Quest, the leaf brought to mind the treasured itinerary of New England and the Canadian Maritimes.
Now in its thirty-first year of luxury cruising, Seabourn sees a growing demand for North American cruising. The company’s senior vice president of global sales and marketing, Chris Austin, confirmed: “In response to the growth of travelers’ interests in new destinations, Seabourn has increased our North American sailings in recent years, including the addition of Alaska and British Columbia in 2017 and a new series of cruises to Cuba beginning in the fall of 2019.”
There’s nothing like autumn in New England, and visitors to Boston and Bar Harbor, Maine, will agree. Venture deeper—into a less-chartered territory for many—and you’ll discover Canadian gems like Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Baie-Comeau, and Saguenay. Quebec City, one of the top cruising destinations in all of North America, holds the historic cobblestoned pleasure called Old Town, while cosmopolitan Montreal makes you want to linger for the fantastic food, music, walking, and shopping.
Colorful, quaint fishing villages from a simpler time beckon you throughout this Seabourn itinerary, and what a privilege it is to absorb the sights, sounds, and tastes of Mother Nature. This entire region is a lobster lover’s dream; everything—from fresh jumbo lobsters to lobster rolls—is available. One example is an incredible lobster congee, featuring fresh Nova Scotia lobster, ginger, and green onions in a rich, thick porridge, sold at a seemingly nondescript stand. Elsewhere, maple trees give the generous gift of syrup, which is made into every exquisite butter, jam, and candy imaginable.
Back on board, champagne and caviar seem to be at every turn, and Seabourn’s intimate ships with all ocean-front suites feel like an exclusive—but approachable—private club. Their crew-to-guest ratio makes you feel pampered and cared for—because you are. The team has a keen sense of impeccable service and initiative: mention that you particularly enjoyed something, like the red wine served at dinner last night, and you might just find two bottles of it promptly placed in your suite. Partnerships with Chef Thomas Keller and spa and wellness expert Dr. Andrew Weil, plus purposeful tours ranging from exhilarating Zodiac and kayak adventures to in-depth educational excursions with UNESCO, make for an unforgettable cruising experience.
North America owns bragging rights as the third-largest continent, stretching surprisingly close to both the Equator and the Arctic Circle—and cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean, Holland America, Norwegian, Princess, and Celebrity, are happy to satiate the public’s expanding demand for cruising with impressive, even futuristic, new ships. Think of cruising as an ideal way to unpack once, relax, and visit multiple destinations in one vacation.
Want to ride go-karts on your cruise? Look no further than Norwegian, who ups the ante with a two-level race track on the launch of Encore (did I mention part of the track extends beyond the ship’s side?). Celebrity’s new Edge made a splash with its rooftop garden and Infinite Veranda staterooms, taking guest rooms right up to water’s edge. The Magic Carpet (a cantilevered platform that functions as a moveable deck) makes the Edge recognizable from miles away; and thanks to precise engineering, this delightful feature can be used at different times of the day for various purposes, including Dinner on the Edge.
Not to be outdone in the megaship arena, Carnival’s upcoming Mardi Gras has a guest capacity of 6,500 and debuts the first roller coaster at sea. Itineraries will focus on Western and Eastern Caribbean voyages, including stops in Turks and Caicos, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic. Port Canaveral, near Florida’s Kennedy Space Center, is responding to the burgeoning interest in cruising by adding a massive new cruise terminal that will welcome Mardi Gras. Port Canaveral is a destination in itself, with an entertainment district, parks, marinas, a seven-story event venue, and interactive exhibits.
The seventy-four-foot Hatteras vessel, staffed with a captain, crew, and chef, is like a floating luxury fishing lodge (reeling in everything from bonefish, marlin, tuna, dorado, wahoo, snapper, barracuda, and shark).
Also cruising out of Florida, Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line makes a quick, carefree jaunt to the Bahamas a breeze. Two-night cruises depart daily near swanky West Palm Beach, with a full fun-in-the-sun day on Grand Bahama Island. Stretch your on-island stay a few days to go diving, deep-sea fishing, and biking, or go swimming with those famous local pigs.
Smaller luxury ships are a growing segment in the North American cruising market. We often think of the Caribbean and Alaska for dreamy cruising—with good reason—but venture outside that box, and you’ll find other fascinating and unique itineraries. Explore all that the Great Lakes have to offer with Pearl Seas cruises to see parts of Wisconsin, Michigan (yes, Mackinac Island!), and Ontario, Canada. What an incredibly refreshing destination this area is in late summer and early fall!
Take Me to the River
Europe isn’t the only destination for river cruising. American Cruise Lines showcases the mighty Mississippi River with sailings on the lower Mississippi (hello, New Orleans and Memphis!) and the upper Mississippi between Saint Paul, Minnesota, and Saint Louis, Missouri. Build a few extra days into your vacation to stay and play on land. In New Orleans, for an excellent example, stay at The Saint Hotel’s over-the-top Archangel Michael or Archangel Lucifer suites, nosh at Tempt Restaurant, and indulge at their Burgundy Bar. (Sensing a whimsical theme here? It’s like wicked with a wink.) In Memphis, look no further than the Peabody for a refined stay, and Rendezvous or Corky’s for the best in slow-smoked barbecue.
Another example of river cruising that might not come readily to mind lies in the pristine Pacific Northwest. Immerse yourself in stunning nature with a journey along the Columbia and Snake Rivers, where highlights include the Columbia River Gorge, Multnomah and Palouse Falls, and Mount Saint Helens.
Also cruising out of Florida, Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line makes a quick, carefree jaunt to the Bahamas a breeze. Two-night cruises depart daily near swanky West Palm Beach, with a full fun-in-the-sun day on Grand Bahama Island.
North American cruise companies continue to push the envelope when it comes to new ships. American Jazz, set to debut in 2020, is the third vessel in American Cruise Lines’ Modern Riverboat Series. Operating the largest and newest American-built cruise ships in the United States, the company has a total of five sleek riverboats planned for the series, each welcoming just 187 passengers. Themed cruises cater to history, culinary, and music enthusiasts. Another exciting itinerary is the East Coast Inland Passage, which includes stops at Savannah, Hilton Head Island, Charleston, and Baltimore.
Intimate and Exclusive
If you’d like to check out the polar opposite of the megaship category, treat yourself and five other privileged guests to an ultimate, intimate yachting experience in the Bahamas by booking the Eleven Mothership. The seventy-four-foot Hatteras vessel, staffed with a captain, crew, and chef, is like a floating luxury fishing lodge (reeling in everything from bonefish, marlin, tuna, dorado, wahoo, snapper, barracuda, and shark). Local Bahamian guides lead guests on a multitude of angling adventures on your preferred schedule. Completely customized trips of any length await, as does the Mothership’s sister boutique property, the Bahama House on Harbour Island, well known for its idyllic, laid-back luxury and pink sands. The chic Bahama House dates back to the 1800s and is exquisitely restored to bring guests the utmost in stylish service and authentic Bahamian culture.
All about Adventure
As for unique North American cruising destinations, Cuba is undoubtedly holding the public’s interest, and several lines are dedicating more ships to that market; these include Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Oceania, Viking Ocean Cruises, and the supersophisticated Silversea. Alaska continues to be a huge draw, with 2019 likely to be a record cruising year. New vessels like the four-thousand-passenger Norwegian Bliss help ensure that demand for space will be met.
Another welcome respite for some cruisers is an exploration-style line such as Lindblad Expeditions or UnCruise, who promise small ships with big adventures. These ships can navigate areas the big guys can’t, and small-group travel affords a closer connection to the land and culture you’re visiting. Imagine the hiking, kayaking, and paddleboarding possibilities of the UnCruise Olympic Wilderness and San Juan Islands itinerary. Expect to see whales, seals, sea lions, orcas, and eagles as you depart Seattle and discover Puget Sound, the Salish Sea, Deception Pass, and an abundance of lush islands such as Lopez, San Juan, Orcas, and Sucia. Cap off the journey with the prized Olympic National Park.
Now venture into the future with Ritz-Carlton as the brand launches its custom-built yacht collection in 2020. Each of its three ships will feature 149 luxury suites—choose one suite or consider a private charter of the entire yacht. Perhaps not too surprisingly, Richard Branson has also tossed his hat into the posh cruising ring with Virgin Voyages, where they say there are no passengers, only “RockStar sailors.” Expect the adults-only Scarlet Lady to ply the Caribbean in 2020, and more yachts in the coming few years.
So you see, the sea’s the limit. Select your North American cruising dream, get on board, and get out there. Bon voyage!
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VIE contributor Janet Thomas has penned articles for Modern Luxury, Dallas Morning News, Organic Spa, Jezebel, and other publications. She’s a former editor-in-chief of American Airlines’ premium magazine, Celebrated Living, and travels the world for good stories with heart and soul.