Cruise Smaller Rivers in America


(Recently published in Travel Weekly)

The newly formed Grand Majestic River Company will launch an overnight passenger paddlewheeler, the Grand Majestic, in September.

Last year, Capt. Joseph Baer — founder, president and CEO of Covington, Ky.-based Grand Majestic — bought the former casino boat Diamond Lady, which was originally built in Bettendorf, Iowa in 1991 and had been laid up for years.

He said the company is putting “many millions” into the riverboat to transform it into a 70-passenger overnight river cruise boat that will be able to sail along some smaller inland waterways due to its shorter height and lower draft.

“We’re small enough and have a light enough draft where we can drop our stacks and get up into Catoosa,” said Baer, referencing a city on the outskirts of Tulsa, Okla. Baer noted that the smaller size of the Grand Majestic means it can clear some bridges and shallower waters that other overnight passenger vessels sailing the Mississippi River System can’t. He said the company plans to do cruises up to Omaha, Neb.; Sioux City, Iowa; Charleston, W.V.; and into the outskirts of Chicago.

The vessel is getting a complete overhaul, and will feature one main dining room and a separate lounge area that will host entertainment. There will be several stateroom categories ranging from a superior stateroom with access to the main deck, to suites large enough to have their own private dining room, for which full sit-down meal service can be ordered. All passengers will be able to order room service.

The ship’s interiors are being outfitted to make passengers feel that they are stepping back in time, but “not so overdone antique-wise that you feel like you’re staying at a B&B,” said Baer. There will also be modern amenities such as satellite TV and WiFi. Staterooms will be ADA compliant.

Excursions will be included, along with one hotel night prior to boarding the vessel. An example of an excursion, according to Baer, is a visit to Mammoth Caves in Kentucky, which includes a tour of the caves and a picnic lunch.

The Grand Majestic is slated to launch on Sept. 23, 2017, after which it will sail a variation of seven- to 21-night cruises along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, as well as along several smaller tributaries.

Cruises start at $3,800 per person, a price that includes the pre-cruise hotel night.

Small Cruise Ship May Be Better


(This was recently posted in Cruise Hive)

New cruise ships are launching nearly every year, and the focus always seems to be bigger, bigger, bigger. While it’s true that bigger ships can have amazing features, they can also be overwhelming and many cruisers find that they actually prefer smaller ships. But what is it that can make smaller ships better than today’s biggest vessels, and which size is best for your cruise vacation?

Bigger Isn’t Always Better

The biggest cruise ships can be phenomenal. These mega-liners are filled with fantastic features that may include dozens of bars and restaurants to choose from, luxury spas offering the most exotic treatments, expansive gyms with specialty classes, multiple pools and whirlpools and a wide range of unique attractions such as ice rinks, bumper cars, 3D theaters, indoor skydiving, zip lines, robot bartenders and more. With so much to see and do right on board the ship, one of these larger vessels can be ideal for a diverse group of passengers or anyone whose idea of a great vacation is one big adventure with something new around every corner.

But there are drawbacks to these humongous cruise ships. Part of being bigger is accommodating more passengers, and with 4,000-6,000 or more passengers on board, lines can be longer and the ship may feel more crowded. Fares for these ships can also be higher because of the demand to try out all the latest features, making the vacation more expensive no matter where the ship may be traveling. Itineraries can also be less diverse on larger ships, because many smaller ports of call may not be equipped to handle either the docking needs of the vessel or the influx of so many passengers at once. And while so many fun features can be attractive, passengers may find themselves overwhelmed on board and forced to miss out on opportunities because there’s just too much to do.

Why Keep Cruising On Ships

Photo By: Russell Otway

Why Smaller Ships May Be Better for You

Smaller cruise ships, on the other hand, offer a very different experience than the largest vessels afloat today. On a small ship, there are fewer passengers and crew, and everyone has a better opportunity to get to know one another, to swap stories and to make friendships that can last far longer than any one vacation. Passengers can also get to know the ship better, discovering every nook and cranny of the vessel – that case of awards and recognitions for the ship and crew, those unique volumes in the ship’s library, which café or bar offers the best drinks, just the right time for the best sunset views from the promenade deck – without missing out on other activities.

Because smaller ships don’t offer as many bells and whistles built in to the ship, the focus of their sailings is more often on a broader, more in depth appreciation for each port of call. Instead of elaborate Vegas-like show productions in mega-theaters, for example, a smaller ship is more likely to host local dancers, musicians or other entertainers while in port, offering guests a unique opportunity to experience the region’s true culture and heritage. Historical or cultural lectures are more common on small ships, and there is often a better selection of unique shore tours that allow passengers to thoroughly get to know every port they visit.