American Cruise Lines ship

One day, during a recent journey through several southeastern states, I knocked on an unmarked door and uttered a secret password. I was then admitted into the throwback of a Prohibition-era speakeasy.

Another experience was a horse-drawn carriage ride through a small, picturesque town that has served as a backdrop for more than 100 movies and television series. A different immersion in local lore took place in a history-rich city where visitors feel as if they have stepped back in time.

Adding to the enjoyment of dropping by Savannah, Georgia; Beaufort and Charleston, South Carolina and other historic and architectural gems was time spent traveling from one of them to another.

Sailing On the Intracoastal Waterway

My wife Fyllis and I were aboard an American Cruise Lines ship, the American Eagle. During our voyage from Amelia Island, Florida to Charleston the vessel sailed along the Intracoastal Waterway. This is a 3,000-mile-long stretch of rivers, canals and bays running from Massachusetts to Florida.

The channel is so wide in some places that the marshes, sand bars and sawgrass lining the shore almost faded into the distance. In others, the ship slowed to a crawl as it navigated narrow, shallow sections, providing close-up views of seagulls, pelicans and other birds.

Visiting Charming Southern Cities and Towns

The vessel docked each day at some of the South’s most charming cities and towns. The selection of outings at each port appealed to many interests. For starters, there was a visit to the Prohibition Museum in Savannah, the only one of its kind in the nation. Exhibits, dioramas and other displays bring the “Roaring Twenties” to life in a colorful way.

The Prohibition Museum relives the days of the “Roaring Twenties.”
The Prohibition Museum relives the days of the “Roaring Twenties.” Photograph by Victor Block

Visitors enter into a street scene: A truck transporting alcohol through a mob of angry, sign-carrying mannequin protestors. A soundtrack broadcasts the famed evangelist Billy Sunday as he rails against “king alcohol,” and proclaims Savannah to be “the most wicked city in the world.”

Hollywood’s love affair with Beaufort (pronounced Byoo-fert) began in 1914 when scenes for a film were shot there. The small-town atmosphere, streets lined by graceful antebellum homes and canopies of Spanish moss-festooned oak trees are a photographer’s dream.

Charleston’s low-rise setting, cobblestone streets and romantic appeal recall its founding in 1670. Given that long history, I wasn’t surprised when a guide pointed to a church built in 1855 and referred to it as “new.”

Tours From Gardens to Forts to Wildlife

Enjoying the historic atmosphere of these quintessential southern enclaves set the stage for selecting from a long list of tours available to passengers aboard the American Cruise Lines ship.

In Charleston, they included a visit to the magnificent Magnolia Gardens and Plantation, which was founded in 1676. Another option was Fort Sumter where the first shots of the Civil War were fired.

The magnificent Magnolia Gardens surround one of the oldest plantations in the South.
The magnificent Magnolia Gardens surround one of the oldest plantations in the South.
Photograph by Margaret619-Dreamstime.com

In addition to the Prohibition Museum, Savannah offers walking, trolley and horse-drawn carriage tours. Those who go ashore at Hilton Head Island, South Carolina could check out an alligator and wildlife preserve or take a dolphin-watching cruise.

Brunswick, Georgia meant visiting a rice plantation operated from 1800 until 1915. Or sailing on a shrimping boat to see a variety of denizens of the deep netted and, if desired, handled before being returned to the sea. And the list goes on.

As far-reaching as was this variety of things to see and do on land, it was equaled by almost around-the-clock activities offered aboard the ship. Shipboard activities are enjoyable and enlightening

On-board experts and guest lecturers described the next day’s shore excursions. They delved into topics like the Music of the Civil War, the Civil War at Sea and Early American Religion. Fun and games activities included bingo, trivia and arts and crafts.

A Veterans Appreciation Ceremony honored passengers who served in the military. Those journeying on their own had a Solo Travelers Meetup.

Evening entertainment was equally varied, including musicians, singers, a talented ventriloquist and an equally gifted Gullah woman. She described and portrayed the culture, music and food of that African-American ethnic group whose members live predominantly in the Southeastern states.

Fabulous Food Adds to the Fun

Speaking of food, it added greatly to the enjoyment of the trip. Virtually around-the-clock opportunities for a snack or seated meal proved challenging for weight-watchers.

Warm fresh-baked cookies were put out twice a day. Nibbles and beverages were available in the Sky Lounge, and a casual snack bar offered light breakfasts and lunches. The feast began at 6:30 am with an Early Riser’s Breakfast. There was also a pre-dinner cocktail hour with more-than-ample hors d’ouevres. Following, the dining experience peaked in the white tablecloth dining room.

Food aboard American Cruise Lines’ ships equals that at four-star restaurants.
Food aboard American Cruise Lines’ ships equals that at four-star restaurants.
Photograph courtesy of American Cruise Lines

The dinner menus, which offered a choice of appetizer, entrees and dessert, reflected the culture and tastes of the region through which the ship was sailing. Main course selections included local favorites like crab cakes, BBQ pork chops and shrimp and grits.

Shrimp and Grits
Menus include items common to the regions through which its ships sail.
Photo courtesy of American Cruise Lines

Ships and Itineraries

The American Eagle, like all American Cruise Lines small ships, carries 90 to 180 passengers and was specifically designed to navigate this country’s waterways and coastlines. The vessels are known for offering spacious staterooms, many of which, like ours, have floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors that lead to an outside private balcony.

American Cruise Lines lists a choice of more than 50 itineraries that visit 35 states and last from six to 61 days. Even with its no-tipping policy, every crew member was pleasant and helpful, and left little for passengers to do except to relax and enjoy the experience.

The company boasts about what differentiates it from many similar cruise operations. For example, its ships skip over-touristy ports in favor of small, often overlooked on-shore treasures.

Among items on the list of what it does not offer are inside staterooms, overpriced shore tours and pre-paid beverage packages (unlike its open-bar policy).

For more information, log onto americancruiselines.com or call 1-800-814-6880.

Rambling Writers

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