American Constellation cruises the Pacific Northwest

American Cruise Line’s American Constellation

I’ve always been an equal-opportunity cruiser. From the world’s largest ocean-going ships to the smallest hotel river barge, I’ve never met a ship I didn’t like. Each has its own character and its own draw. And while the biggies are great for nonstop onboard action, small ships boast their own unique appeal in their scaled-down size, homey atmosphere, and the ability to get to know fellow passengers and crewmembers. It’s true what they say: By the end of the cruise, a small ship like American Constellation really does feel like home.

Meanwhile, in New England….

By Richard Varr

I had never heard of the term “sea smoke” until I found myself engulfed in it.

It’s just after 8 a.m. as our transport boat slowly maneuvers through a glistening ethereal-like mist — a thick, steamy fog that has settled over Camden’s harbor. Our captain dodges anchored sailboats on eerily quiet and glassy waters, their masts bare of puffy sails, almost like they’re still asleep in the early morning light.

“It’s like living in a ghost world,” whispers a woman sitting next to me.

The view becomes clearer as we approach the shoreline, where metal-mesh lobster traps clang as fishermen stack them on boats. Seagulls flutter along the docks. I see a waterfall tumbling down a hillside and a whitewashed New England-style church steeple shooting out from atop the tree line — seemingly spotlighted by sunbeams flittering through the mist.

And I soon learn that “sea smoke” is just another way of saying fog formed when cold air settles over warmer water, a more descriptive way, perhaps, to capture the essence of a summer morning along Maine’s jagged coastline.

It’s Day 4 of my 11-day New England Grand Cruise aboard American Cruise Line’s 175-passenger American Constitution, on a journey that departs Boston and visits nine ports of call along the rocky and sandy shores of Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. One of the cruise line’s newest ships, the Constitution clings to the water with Rolls-Royce stabilizers. Creative three-course menus (yes, lobster specialties are on it), comfortable plush lounges, and outdoor decks enhance the journey.

Along the way, there’s no shortage of panoramas with briny fishing vessels, sleek sailboats, and coastline surrounded by outer islands — a stunning view, in particular, from atop Acadia National Park’s 1,527-foot Cadillac Mountain at Bar Harbor. Yet each coastal town — although similar with ice cream stands, walking tours, and tourist-filled souvenir and antique shops — has unique character accented by its own history, traditions, and even local fare.

In Boothbay Harbor, for example, I stop by the storefront selling cream-filled Wicked Whoopie pies found only in Maine. Martha’s Vineyard has its so-called gingerbread cottages trimmed in cool hues of red, gray, and Caribbean blue. And in Cape Cod’s Provincetown, I climb the imposing century-old, 252-foot granite Pilgrim Monument commemorating the Mayflower’s first New World landing in 1620.

Historic Portland sights include…

From the moment we first boarded American Cruise Lines’ American Constellation in Seattle’s picturesque Shilshole Bay Marina — picking up our name tags at the bottom of the small gangway as a friendly crewmember grabbed our bags to send to our cabin — we knew we were in for that quintessential small-ship sailing experience. We were bound for the Pacific Northwest’s Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands archipelago, where nothing but scenic vistas, amazing wildlife, and picture-perfect ports awaited.

Home Away From Home on American Constellation

American Constellation is one of the line’s newest cruise ships purpose-built for sailing coastal shorelines. Having debuted in 2017, it offers everything you need to enjoy the best of scenic cruising, from large staterooms with private balconies to expansive observation decks and forward-facing lounges. Various inside and outside spaces are perfect for relaxing while keeping an eye out for pods of orca whales, famous mountain peaks, or historic lighthouses — depending on the day.

There are 90 staterooms (including six singles, no single supplement required), which range from approximately 200 to 450 square feet with either a picture window or private balcony; there are no interiors. Their relaxing ambiance is enhanced by beachy artwork, a comfortable bed and chairs, and soothing coral, blue, and green hues.

When it came time to dine, all meals were casual, open-seating, and featured a variety of standard American fare as well as regional specialties that showcase the cuisine of where the ship is sailing. We enjoyed lots of seafood dishes, including crab, salmon, and halibut; wines from Washington, Oregon, and California; and other locally sourced ingredients like cheeses and vegetables. For those with round-the-clock appetites, there was also 10 a.m. cookie time, 3 p.m. tea time, 5:30 p.m. complimentary pre-dinner cocktail hour complete with an abundance of passed and plated hors d’oeuvres, and other various snacks available throughout the day.

Lounge the Day Away

Besides the two main gathering spaces — the Cascade and Sky lounges, which are both spacious and offer comfortable plush seating and tables surrounded by expansive panoramic views — other nooks and amenities include a library, card room, complimentary guest laundry room, and a small exercise room. Expansive outdoor deck space boasts plenty of seating, including some that is covered, as well as a putting green.

One highlight was the opportunity to tour the bridge, which is offered several times per cruise to ensure that all passengers get a chance to see the space and learn about docking in small harbors, anchoring off shore, or steering through narrow waterways.

Another perk was having a knowledgeable, experienced, and enthusiastic onboard guest speaker such as Katie Phillips, an expert in forestry and wildlife, who was always nearby to answer questions about the region or to point out wildlife or famous sites along the way.

“There are whales off the port side!” she announced over the PA system just hours into our cruise, prompting passengers to head to the Cascade Lounge for the lucky opportunity to spot whales while learning more about these majestic mammals. During the week, Katie also presented scheduled talks on topics from salmon populations to Washington’s rainforest.

RELATED: American Cruise Lines Reveals New Class of Modern Riverboats

Scenic Cruising and Picturesque Ports

While American Constellation served as our cozy retreat for the week, the starring role of this itinerary was the stunning scenery, seaside towns, postcard-perfect marinas, and snow-capped mountains.

The 8-day cruise sailed round-trip from….

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By Jodi Ornstein

Photo: American Cruise Lines

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