With the ship in port every single day of every itinerary, going ashore is the most popular activity. Reasonably priced shore excursions are available, and they usually focus on an historical or cultural sight or a place of natural beauty. (On my Hudson River cruise, excursions visited Washington Irving's home, the Hudson River Maritime Museum and the US Military Academy at West Point in addition to other stops.)
When underway for the short periods during the day, life is casual and laid back with few organized activities. The onboard lecturer might sit in the lounge and answer questions or narrate on passing destinations to anyone who is interested, or on some summer sailings, the crew arrange kite flying from the top deck. Otherwise activities are mostly self-started and include reading, Bridge, napping, or chatting to other passengers. Afternoon tea combined with apple tasting one day might provide a culinary diversion.
In the evening, everyone gears up (and dresses up a bit too) for the 5:30 p.m. cocktail hour. This is the social highlight of the day and the room is abuzz with mingling passengers. Following dinner, the onboard lecturer for the week will give a 45-minute talk that speaks about the region and usually ties in with what you will see the next day. One night might also feature a Bingo game or a local entertainer brought in to sing some shanties or geographically appropriate music.
Editor's Note: When choosing on which ship to cruise, remember that the American Spirit carries twice as many passengers as her smaller running mates. When visiting the smaller destinations or shore excursions, I found that some tours would have been easier and quicker if we only had half as many people. With the smaller ships offering the same facilities and service, I might be tempted to try them next time. Others, however, preferred the bigger ship because it offered a greater variety of people. The odds are better at finding companionable travelers amongst 100 passengers rather than only 49.
Despite the ship's diminutive size, there are three dedicated lounges onboard. The Chesapeake Lounge is located forward just below the Bridge and consists of a dark blue carpet and some cream colored couches and chairs. Three sides of large windows, however, keep the room bright and draw your eyes to the surrounding vistas.
On the port side all the way aft, a large TV plays the latest football or baseball game, and while the volume is kept low, it seems a bit out of place, especially given that every cabin has (an admittedly small) satellite TV. Also in the lounge is a small bar, with snacks, fruit and drinks always complimentary.
In addition to the main lounge, there are two cozy, cabin-sized spaces (one of which is designated the library and features a small collection of books) with a few couches, chairs and a card table. While these alternate lounges are minimal, they do offer a welcome option for quiet reading or looking out the window when the main lounge is busy. Unfortunately, all rooms, and in fact, all three ships, are decorated with much of the same furniture, carpets and colors as the main lounge. Much like a generic chain hotel lobby, it is not neither memorable nor hardly offensive. A little effort in terms of decor or design would go a long way to making them feel more distinctive!
There is no Internet or e-mail service available to passengers onboard, but with the ship in port every day, this doesn't pose much of a problem.
Fitness facilities are very, very limited, consisting of an exercise bike and a step machine sitting on one of the aft decks overlooking the wake. Despite what the deck plan shows on their Web site and brochure, there is no small putting green or exercise area on the American Spirit's top deck. Opportunities for independent walking ashore are available every day, though for those who choose not to take the (usually sedentary) shore excursions.
With the average age of the passengers quite high, there are no facilities or staff set aside for children. An occasional family or grandchild helps to bring that average down slightly on the summer New England and Maine sailings. Older, mature children that don't need to be constantly attended, and like trips to their grandparent's house, could get by on a week's cruise.
A third person with cots can be accommodated in the cabins, although this isn't advertised in the brochure.