The Northwest is also home to the Columbia and Snake rivers. Cruises here follow the Nez Perce and Lewis and Clark trails while sampling white water and local wines. New this year, Lindblad Expeditions with National Geographic takes 62 guests up the rivers with two naturalists, a National Geographic photographer, and a photo instructor.
Foodies: InnerSea’s Safari Quest carries 22 people from Lewiston, Idaho, onto the Snake River to vineyard tastings of Washington appellations including Columbia Gorge, Walla Walla, Red Mountain, and Yakima Valley.
American Cruise Lines and Lindblad also explore the Columbia and Snake.
Hawaiian waters are full of oceangoing liners, but only one small ship operator, InnerSea, overnights here. Does size matter? Dixon and Belleville say small makes it a different cruise. “The crew moves the schedule based on what you want to do,” says Belleville.
Safari Explorer cruises the leeward coasts of Hawaii, Lahaina, Maui, and Molokai, giving guests as much play time in the water as possible. They snorkel in sea turtle and coral habitats, paddleboard and kayak, and swim by night with giant Pacific manta rays. In west Maui, they sail a hand-carved Polynesian voyaging canoe, and spend quality time on less traveled Molokai, hiking to plantations and waterfalls and combing remote beaches.
Tide is the shaper of the southern Intracoastal Waterway, where the big ships cannot go. Three American Cruise Lines vessels touch the most beautiful and historically important harbors, from Charleston south to Beaufort in South Carolina, Savannah, Ga., and Fernandina, Fla. A second itinerary emphasizes the Atlantic barrier islands, including Jekyll, the former summer digs of J.P. Morgan and his Gilded-Age friends; Hilton Head, including the Gullah-Geechee outpost of St. Helena; and, optionally, Sapelo, an almost undeveloped sea island.
Unheard-of burgs such as Palatka, Fla., used to be world shipping centers with their front doors facing the St. Johns River. American Cruise Lines takes you there during azalea season, into Lake George on the edge of Ocala National Forest and Silver Glen springs, and down the beautiful Tolomato River to St. Augustine.
Among its many itineraries in Southern waters, the Yorktown offers a spring home and garden tour. Blount’s Grande Caribe adds the Gulf Coast barrier islands on a passage from New Orleans to Tampa.
“Being on this little ship, we had more opportunity to meet people and really get to know them,” says Carol Samuels, of Gulf Breeze, Fla., who had never seen the Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the country. Sailing the Maryland coast with American Cruise Lines, Samuels discovered Annapolis, the hamlets of Cambridge, Oxford, and St. Michaels, and Tangier Island, where families still eke out livelihoods harvesting soft shell crabs.
The route from Philadelphia to Washington offers even more Chesapeake, with a glide onto the Chester River and a visit to Mount Vernon on the Potomac.
The hallmark of a Chesapeake cruise to Yorktown is lecturers such as lawyer-historian David Stewart, author of “The Men Who Invented the Constitution,” and Grace Gary, former director of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. The itinerary cherry-picks from Maryland and Virginia harbors: the blue jackets of Annapolis and St. Michaels juxtaposed with the watermen of Tangier Island; the former Confederate seat of Richmond; and of course, Colonial Williamsburg and Mount Vernon.
New Englanders live in one of the world’s most attractive cruising grounds, yet many have never seen it from the water. Dixon, a lifelong Rhode Islander, discovered Cuttyhunk Island cruising with Blount’s Grande Caribe. In 2013, the company will introduce Prudence Island in Narragansett Bay.
In New Bedford, American Cruise Lines brings local scallopers aboard and sends guests to the whaling museum with 82-year-old Natalie Hemingway, a resident expert. The itinerary visits Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, and Block Island without the ferry crowds.
Guests on the Yorktown watch the leaves turn from the New England islands to the Hudson River.
Two American Cruise Lines ships take to coastal Maine. But the state’s wilder islands must be seen with local charters. On the 13 ships of the Maine Windjammer Fleet, adventurous salts can try their hand at sailing while seeing puffins off lonely Matinicus Island, or the villages of Swan’s Island, which, the town fathers warn, have “no liquor stores or amusements.”
Patricia Borns can be reached at email@example.com.