ONBOARD THE AMERICAN EAGLE — If the trend for large cruise ships is to make them feel like floating resorts, American Cruise Lines’ (ACL) vessels are going in the opposite direction, evoking small and quiet hotels.
The river and coastal line in August added the first of 12 coastal catamarans it plans to build over the next four to six years. The design results in a comfortable, no-frills vessel and one of the smallest in its fleet.
“The whole point of that new class is to bring everything we’ve developed for the rivers over the last five or six years and introduce that on the coasts,” said Charles Robertson, CEO of ACL. “It’s really designed to feel like our river product.”
The 3,000-gross-ton ship carries 100 guests and represents the newest generation of ACL’s coastal vessels. I sailed the Eagle with 78 other passengers on its Maine Coast & Harbors roundtrip itinerary out of Portland, which went as far north as Bar Harbor, in early September.
The biggest feature of this ship is its small size, giving it the ability to fit into tiny ports — including on rivers. On my sailing, the ship ventured up the Penobscot River to reach Bangor, a destination most ocean cruise ships can’t reach.
I found the ship, cloaked in light blue and gray tones, straightforward and easy to navigate. One of the features that makes this ship different from others in the ACL fleet is that the Eagle’s dining room is shaped like a horseshoe around the galley in the center, maximizing window space. ACL’s other coastal ships have the galley on a wall, blocking valuable views.
The Sun Deck is spacious and inviting, with comfortable, padded loungers, chairs and couches along with plenty of tables from where to enjoy the view or a card game. I spent a fair amount of time playing chess on the deck’s oversize, outdoor board behind the ship’s red, white and blue funnel. The funnel, however, is quite loud, and Robertson said the Eagle’s sister ships will have taller funnels that reduce the noise. ACL will also work to muffle the sound of the Eagle’s funnel this winter.
Indoor and one deck below is the Sky Lounge, one of two indoor lounges. The area is filled with couches and ample table space for programming, such as the arts and crafts classes that took place during my cruise, offering projects like decorating a journal. The lounge has a minifridge with juices and Coke products and a coffee machine for lattes and cappuccinos. A counter offers cookies, chips and other snacks.
Finishing touches coming up
The cabins are spacious, and guests told me they enjoyed them — so much so, it seemed, that after dinner the Eagle was a bit of a ghost town, with only a dozen or so people staying out for the evening entertainment.
At least one touch the cabins lack is bathroom shelving, leaving my guest and me to pile most of our toiletries on the sink vanity. Robertson said he plans to have shelves installed on this ship and its sisters. It’s among a few changes Robertson said would be made after seeing the catamarans in service.
“The first boat in a class, there’s so many great things about it but you also learn a whole lot,” he said.
The Eagle’s Chesapeake Lounge features a theater-in-the-round design, putting performers in the center of the room. Robertson said he’s inclined to change that after performers said they didn’t like turning their back to one side of the audience while performing to the other.
And on the third and fourth catamarans, the American Liberty and American Legend, every cabin will have a balcony. The Eagle and the second ship, the American Glory, have balconies on all but 14% of staterooms.
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