I’m sitting quietly, watching TV and all of a sudden up pops an ad for a European river cruise. The destinations look romantic, the scenery beautiful, the smiling couples taste wine and other local delicacies. Wow, I want to go. Actually, I did go and I loved it!
The trip got me thinking about American river cruises. Paddlewheel trips down the Mississippi came immediately to mind, but were there any other navigable rivers with cute and historic towns in this country? Thankfully, the answer is yes!
I was astonished to learn that many areas of the country are home to river cruises. There are trips to both the Upper and Lower Mississippi, the Columbia and Snake Rivers, the Hudson River, the St. Johns River, the Intercoastal Waterway in the Southeast, Alaska, the Great Lakes and the New England Islands. I’m sure there are others.
One big difference between a cruise at sea and an inland cruise is the size of the ships. Ocean cruise ships tend to be huge, with several thousand passengers. River cruise ships are smaller, with 200 guests or less. This creates a quiet atmosphere of intimacy onboard. The smaller size also allows the ships to dock at smaller ports which can be less congested.
A myriad of American river cruise companies exist. Although the cruises aren’t cheap – the cost is on par with the European river cruises – each company has several cruise options.
So think about getting out on the water this summer. I’m sure you will see something different from a water view. Our country is beautiful, and it’s about time we took a look!
Here are our five favorite US river ports…
5. Palatka, Florida
Palatka began as a fishing and farming location for Native American tribes. Over time, the aboriginal population dwindled and by the late 1700’s western Europeans were showing interest in settling the area. Several folks tried unsuccessfully to establish a settlement, but in 1821 what is now Palatka was finally born.
Palatka became a tourist destination as early as the 1850’s, and continued to attract winter-weary northerners until the Civil War disrupted travel. Although Palatka suffered during the war, once the hostilities were over, it quickly became a desired vacation destination, with a host of new hotels and activities. Palatka also became a railroad hub due to its location on the lower St. Johns River.
“The Gem of the St. Johns”, has two historic districts, the North Historic District and the South Historic District, both with many buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. For shopping, tourists will want to visit Lemon Street and Palatka’s downtown area.
Palatka is surrounded by restored plantations and opportunities for observing nature. The Ravine Gardens State Park which was constructed as a WPA Project is 59 acres in size. The park is known for it’s many plantings and walking trails. The Florida Azalea Festival is held here in the spring when all of the 100,000 plus azaleas are in bloom.
You might also choose to attend the annual Blue Crab Festival or the St. Johns River Catfish Festival.
Actually, late winter or early spring are a great time to take a cruise which includes Palatka. No snow, no freezing rain or ice. Warm weather, blue skies, seafood, and beautiful azaleas. Sign me up.
4. Warren, Rhode Island
Warren, which is located a few miles from Narragansett bay along the Warren River, began as the Indian village of Sowams in the 17th Century, fell into the hands of Pilgrim offspring, becoming part of Massachusetts before it was finally incorporated as Warrren, Rhode Island in 1747. By the way, the town was named after a British admiral, Peter Warren. Another interesting fact about Warren, it was the original location of Brown University.
In the 19th Century, Warren’s waterfront was developed as a commercial port for both the whaling industry and shipbuilding. Later, it became known for its textile mills and other manufacturing businesses.
The river cruise ships that arrive in Warren today tend to be on the small side, with around 100 passengers. Many have traversed from the Great Lakes, down the Hudson River, through Narragansett Bay and up the Warren River.
As you dock in Warren, you will be struck by the ageless beauty of the waterfront. Although you arrived on a modern vessel, you may get the feeling that you have stepped back in time, into a previous century.
If you have time, take a tour of this historic and typically New England town. Begin at the Massasoit Spring, which is located near the ancient home of Massasoit, the great Wampanoag chief.
Stop to look at Narragansett Steam Engine Company #3, home of the town’s first fire company. The architecture of the Liberty Street School is worth observing, as is Marble’s Blacksmith Shop with its meeting hall rising above on the second floor. The First United Methodist Church, with its five stage steeple, stands sentinel over the harbor, reminding visitors of New England’s roots.
Other side trips may carry you into Newport, Rhode Island with its decadent mansions or possibly up to the beautiful city of Providence with its historic districts and Water Fire celebration.
Summer or autumn sailing to Warren allows passengers to witness the lovely New England scenery first hand.