There is a great intimacy, great camaraderie and great opportunity to meet new friends traveling on river cruises in both the United States and Europe. Several US companies have expanded from only offering these golden opportunities on the Mighty Mississippi, American Cruise Lines among them. Their Independence travels the east coast and by comparison, is one of the smallest of cruise liners that whisk people away for six to 14 days or so of pampering, learning, eating, seeing new and exciting cities and towns, and simply relaxing and enjoying the beauty of the surroundings.
It’s got almost all the same amenities as the river cruising ships that accommodate 200 passengers, just in a lesser degree. For instance, there’s one dining room on the first deck, at the ship’s stern, offering fantastic views of the scenery along both shores as well as traffic on the Bay. It’s got a lounge, but only one, on the second deck, and that’s where all the evening entertainment and the daytime games are held. It’s also where cocktail hour starts usually at 5:30, but early visitors to the lounge readily found out that the staff sets up the bar a half hour or so earlier, and has no complaints if guests go up and help themselves. All the third deck rooms have their own great private decks, with a table and chairs to enjoy passing scenery and feel up close to the seagulls and terns flying near by. The top deck is open, a great place to see the captain as he comes out of the second floor wheelhouse to guide the ship to a dock, or simply just to sit and enjoy cool breezes and the sounds of the sea. There’s a mini putting range on this deck as well, and a few pieces of exercise equipment for those who feel the need.
At most, the Independence holds 100 passengers, and on a cruise earlier this month, there were only 56 aboard because of Covid restrictions. However, a full complement, or so it seemed, of staff catered to the needs and wishes of each of these 56 guests, and certainly worked their hardest to keep them happy from the time they stepped on the boat in Baltimore until disembarking at the same location after stopping at Yorktown, Crisfield, Cambridge, St. Michael’s and Annapolis.
PHOTO: New Jersey members of the Revolutionary army who lost their lives at the Battle of Yorktown and are memorialized in the Yorktown Memorial.
Yorktown is clearly a highlight on the Chesapeake cruise and American Cruise Lines did it almost perfectly. Here again, the ship docks right at the edge of the historic town, and it‘s a walk up the hill to see it on your own. Since it is so full of history, a trolley tour with a local expert obviously proud of her town is the best way to see Yorktown. Yorktown was a pretty exciting place to live in the 1700s, when Williamsburg was the capital of Virginia and there were about 2,000 people living and working in the 250 to 300 buildings around town. Once Richmond became capital, the Revolution was over, and people began seeking other shores, Yorktown diminished in size but certainly not in charm.
The battle lasted about 20 days, and was the turning point and last great battle of the Revolution. The guide will point out houses where the gunshots are still embedded in the exterior walls and tell the delightful story of how General Cornwallis did everything he could to avoid surrendering to General Washington, including sending out his second in command to surrender his sword. According to the storyteller, Washington retaliated with the same, sending his second in command to accept it. Eventually, however, Cornwallis did sign the surrender, which ultimately led to the end of the war and the signing of the Treaty of Paris. Yorktown is also the battle where young America depended on its French friends to win the battle, and Lafayette, our own General Nathaniel Greene, and Rochambeau are held in high esteem. There’s a great memorial high on the hill overlooking the town that commemorates the brave French and Americans, together with many Germans who fought for the colonies.
PHOTO: The gardens are behind the Governor's Mansion at Williamsburg
The Independence also offered a bus trip to Williamsburg, but four hours in this former capital and wonderfully restored city can only give you a hint of the art, music, history, beauty and warmth that surround Williamsburg. With so many buildings to see, but with Covid restrictions limiting the amount, it was only possible to go into the Governor’s House, magnificent in its splendor and size, the court house, where guides in 18th century garb and 21st century masks looked a bit ludicrous, and the armory with its storage of muskets, gun powder and guides knowledgeable on how to load cannon and use ancient weapons. ACL could have done better by scheduling this stop for a weekday, since Bruton Parish Church, historic for the number of Presidents who worshipped there, is closed to the public Sunday to allow for its five or six religious services. The William and Mary Book Store at the perimeter of the restored area has rows and rows of tables devoted to famous Virginians and Yorktown heroes, from Thomas Jefferson to Alexander Hamilton. Enroute to Williamsburg, the bus passed not only the Yorktown Weapons Station, one of the sister bases to Naval Weapons Station Earle, but also the Museum of American Revolution. One wonders why ACL, in this town where Revolutionary War history was made, did not include a visit to this museum among its tours.
Once back on the ship, after cocktails, hors oeuvres and friends talking over the facts they had learned during the day, then dinner, yet the best was still yet to come.
In the evening, ACL had invited the local teen Drum and Fife Corps to have a contingent come aboard to entertain its passengers. And entertain they did. Two fifers and a drummer, all teens, all dressed in their official Revolutionary era regalia, all playing instruments of the era, delighted the passengers first with their renditions of music played during the war, then with their explanations of why the music was so important and what each piece signaled, and finally explaining and demonstrating in great detail each instrument and how it is played. A rousing rendition of Yankee Doodle Dandy with guests singing along, finished off an unforgettable day of remembering what it took, and the lives it took, to preserve freedom and begin a new country.
Next: Crisfield and Cambridge