|Tourists inside Castillo de San Marco in St. Augustine, FL // Photo by Susan J. Young|
There’s more to the Sunshine State than theme parks, beaches and blue-water cruising. For clients who love river cruising and desire close-to-home voyages that don’t require the purchase of international air tickets, agents might suggest a relaxing cruise along Florida’s St. Johns River, Tolomato River and Intracoastal Waterway.
American Cruise Line (www.americancruiselines.com) operates a "Great Rivers of Florida" itinerary along these waterways in northeastern Florida. The cruise is so popular the line plans 12 departures this year, including Thanksgiving and Christmas cruises.
Guests sail on the 49-passenger American Glory, a small ship built in 2002. The vessel has 31 staterooms and offers a unique, modern style of cruising.
|American Glory // Photo courtesy of American Cruise Lines|
Day 1: Guests embark American Glory at Amelia Island, FL (www.ameliaisland.com). The closest airport is Jacksonville International Airport. Once guests are onboard, the ship sails for Palatka along the slow moving waters of the St. Johns River, one of 14 designated American Heritage Rivers in the U.S. and only one of three that flows north.
What to stress to eco-enthusiasts? The area is a hot spot for birdwatching as it's home to more than 200 species of birds including bald eagles, wood storks and swallowtail kites.
Day 2: While today Palatka certainly isn’t a household name throughout the U.S., it was in the late 1800s when timber and citrus created a boomtown. In fact, Palatka rivaled Jacksonville as the St. Johns River’s major port. So, many wealthy northerners built grand homes or plantation mansions in the area. On a port call on Day 2, cruisers might take a Palatka city-mural tour to view the city’s artistic murals and visit the Bronson Mulholland House, a historic Greek revival plantation home. Another shore trip option is a visit to Blue Springs State Park.
Day 3: American Glory continues cruising the St. Johns to the freshwater Lake George, bordered on its west bank by Ocala National Forest (www.fs.usda.gov/ocala), the oldest national forest east of the Mississippi River. The lake itself is home to migratory birds, alligators, blue crabs, the Atlantic stingray and striped bass.
Day 4: Warm mineral springs and historic architecture are the draw during the vessel's port call at Green Cove Springs, FL. During the 1800s, steamboats brought such VIPs as President Abraham Lincoln, circus magnate P.T. Barnum and President Grover Cleveland south to Green Cove Springs in search of a warm winter retreat and springs with reputed medicinal qualities. Cruisers might take a carriage tour to view historic homes, the courthouse and a restored theater.
Day 5: American Glory cruises the Tolomato River for the day. Cruisers will view the Atlantic Ocean, which is visible over the Intracoastal’s barrier islands. A naturalist will provide commentary as the ship passes eco-sights and small villages.
Day 6: Cruisers might take a cruise-line shore excursion (a tram ride) through the Old City of St. Augustine (www.oldcity.com), established in 1565 by the Spanish. Scenic views include the massive Castillo de San Marcos Spanish fortress, architecture created by railroad baron Henry Flagler, and narrow streets that were once the center of Spanish rule in the southeastern U.S.
"St. Augustine is a living, breathing lesson in history," emphasizes Margie Jordan, a northeastern Florida resident and travel agent/CEO of Jordan Executive Travel Service in Jacksonville, FL
Day 7: Last port call is at Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island, FL; the quaint Historic District comprises 50 blocks of Victorian homes, antique shops and historic sites. Guests may choose a shore trip that’s a walking tour of the sites, or, alternatively, explore the island’s backwaters and Eagan Creek on a narrated river boat cruise.
Day 8: Disembarkation on Amelia Island.
If clients desire a pre- or post-cruise stay, "Amelia Island provides that tropical luxury experience...with Amelia Island Plantation, Villas and a number of very nice hotels and bed and breakfast options," notes Jordan.
|Amelia Island is the embarkation and disembarkation point for the Great Rivers of Florida itinerary. // Photo by Susan J. Young|
On the Great Rivers of Florida itineraries for 2012, American Cruise Lines plans to bring onboard such experts as wildlife ecologist Rachel Perkins, naturalist Tom Stanley, environmentalist Charlie Petrocci, and biologist Harold Cones. Experts provide commentary and mingle with guests.
Tell clients to leave their ball gowns and tuxedos at home, as the line’s dining is characterized as informal with resort casual dress. Cruisers dine in a glass-enclosed dining room and sit where they want.
Menus include regional and local specialties, based on the itinerary sailed. One treat? Each evening before dinner, passengers enjoy complimentary cocktails and hors d’oeuvres.
At press time, seven-night cruise fares on the “Great Rivers of Florida” itinerary ranged from $3,595 to $4,656 per person double occupancy or from $4,485 to $4,485 single occupancy. Some accommodations have private balconies.
Guests can save $400 per stateroom with early bird savings, if they book three months in advance of their cruise.
"Hopefully, American Cruise Lines does a good job of promoting this sailing to those unfamiliar with the North Florida area," says Jordan. "There's so much to offer here. She says that beyond St. Augustine, "Jacksonville has great museums, beautiful beaches, preserves and you can't overlook our world class golf with Sawgrass being the home of the Players Tournament."
Visit www.americancruiselines.com for information on this itinerary, group policy details on the agent page and a look at other American itineraries.