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The Expert in Baby Boomer Travel

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American Cruise Lines

Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau. Photo by Clark Norton

Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau. Photo by Clark Norton

No matter where you go in Alaska, you’re guaranteed to see sights you’ll see nowhere else in the United States.

But the way you see them – the vantage point and the experience – can vary greatly, depending largely on which type of ship you choose, particularly its size.

Alaska cruise ships range from small yachts that carry a dozen passengers to mega-ships capable of hauling 2,500 people or more. For many cruisers, the larger ships — operated by Carnival, Celebrity, Norwegian, Holland America, Princess, Disney, and Royal Caribbean cruise lines — have a lot to recommend. (Disney, by the way, is geared toward adults as well as kids.)

Averaging around 2,000 passengers, they’re geared toward satisfying a wide variety of tastes — visiting the most popular ports and serving up near-round-the-clock food and entertainment — and are loaded with abundant shipboard… Continue reading

American Cruise Lines' paddlewheeler Queen of the Mississippi. Photo from American Cruise Lines.

American Cruise Lines’ paddlewheeler Queen of the Mississippi. Photo from American Cruise Lines.

On our recent cruise down the Mississippi River aboard American Cruise Lines’ paddlewheeler Queen of the Mississippi,  my wife, Catharine, and I started in Memphis and ended in New Orleans.

In between came stops in ports as large as Baton Rouge, as small as St. Francisville (Louisiana) and as medium-sized as Natchez, Mississippi. We also stopped at several lovely antebellum plantations that illustrated the wealth of the region before the Civil War, built on cotton, sugar and the slaves who worked the fields or served the plantation owners and their families in their homes.

The most striking of the plantations, to me, is called Oak Alley, which we visited the last full day of the cruise before reaching New Orleans. It’s on the west (Louisiana) bank of the Mississippi, where a… Continue reading

Huey Long campaign poster -- his song and slogan were

Huey Long campaign poster — his song and slogan were “Every Man a King.”

Along with the LSU Fighting Tigers, Baton Rouge, the capital of Louisiana, seems obsessed with Huey Long.

LSU, whose football stadium holds 92,450 people and whose mascot, Mike, is a real 750-pound tiger who lives in a $3 million enclosure until it’s time to come out to the games and roar, is clearly number one in local hearts, but Huey Long — the long dead ex-governor and senator, assassinated some 80 years ago–  must be number two.

Long, who gave himself the nickname “Kingfish,” is the subject of sizable exhibits both at the Capitol Park Museum (part of the Louisiana State Museum system) and at the Old State Capitol building, an architectural gem — it resembles a castle — that Long hated and where he was once impeached.

Long hated it so much that… Continue reading

The Myrtles Plantation is said to be haunted by a variety of ghosts. Photo from National Park Service.

The Myrtles Plantation is said to be haunted by a variety of ghosts. Photo from National Park Service.

On my recent American Cruise Lines’ voyage down the Mississippi aboard the paddlewheeler Queen of the Mississippi, we left the state of Mississippi behind about halfway through the week. Our new destination was Louisiana, on the western side of the river, making our first stop in a very inviting looking town called St. Francisville, which, despite a pouring rain that morning, proved one of the most interesting ports on the Mississippi.

St. Francisville is actually the second oldest incorporated town in Louisiana, with Spanish and British roots rather than French, as you find farther south in the state. Nearly 150 structures compose its National Register Historic District, recalling the world of the antebellum South. The artist and naturalist John James Audobon did a number of his famous bird drawings here.

It… Continue reading

Longwood, an unfinished mansion in Natchez that's the largest octagonal house in America. Photo by Clark Norton.

Longwood, an unfinished mansion in Natchez that’s the largest octagonal house in America. Photo by Clark Norton.

I’d like to be able to convince you that the life of a travel writer aboard a cruise ship sailing down the Mississippi for a week was one of arduous labor, a dawn-to-midnight whirl of interviews, note-taking, picture-making, fervid sightseeing, cabin inspections, food critiques, and long hours spent at the computer chronicling it all.

And yes, that does describe many cruises I’ve taken professionally. But on this cruise, American Cruise Lines’ Queen of the Mississippi voyage down the lower Mississippi from Memphis to New Orleans, I took a different tack. I relaxed and enjoyed myself much as if I weren’t working at all.

Maybe it was being in the South, where the pace of life seems a little slower than in New York. Maybe it was the languid heat that proved such… Continue reading

Vicksburg's stately Old Court House is now a museum. Photo by Clark Norton.

Vicksburg’s stately Old Court House is now a museum. Photo by Clark Norton.

On my recent cruise down the lower Mississippi aboard American Cruise Lines’ Queen of the Mississippi — built to resemble an old-fashioned paddlewheeler —  “riverlorian” (river lore expert) Mike Jennings summed up the feelings of those who live along America’s mightiest (and muddiest?) river: “We’ve got mud in our blood.”

Jennings, who lives in Vicksburg, Mississippi, was on board to give passengers some historical and ecological perspectives on the river we were cruising down at 13 miles per hour. Over the course of a week, we would cover nearly 650 of the Mississippi’s total length of 2,350 miles, as we journeyed between Memphis and New Orleans. (The lower Mississippi actually starts somewhat farther north in Cairo, Illinois.)

The river meanders so much, Jennings said, that sometimes we would actually be traveling north despite our… Continue reading

View of the Mississippi River from Memphis with bridge to Arkansas. Photo by Clark Norton

View of the Mississippi River from Memphis with bridge to Arkansas. Photo by Clark Norton

With almost 24 hours in Memphis before our boat, American Cruise Line’s Queen of the Mississippi, was due to embark on its voyage down the — you guessed it, Mississippi — to New Orleans, we had a long list of possible things to see and do:

Graceland…Beale Street…eat ribs at The Rendezvous…the Stax Museum…Sun Studio…find the boat dock at the Beale Street Landing (always a good precautionary measure)…have drinks at either the Peabody or Madison hotels, or both…and meet our friends driving in from Chattanooga that day for our own rendezvous.

These are friends I especially like because not only are they very nice, talented artists who love blues music, but whenever they come to visit us they bring us a big box of crispy, yummy Route 11 potato chips, made in Virginia, which… Continue reading

American Cruise Lines' paddlewheeler Queen of the Mississippi. Photo from American Cruise Lines.

American Cruise Lines’ paddlewheeler Queen of the Mississippi. Photo from American Cruise Lines.

River cruising is the hottest trend in the cruise world right now, and not just in Europe. It’s also thriving right here in the United States — and the aptly named American Cruise Lines (ACL)  is leading the
way.

ACL has ships cruising the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest, the Hudson River in upstate New York, the Intracoastal Waterway in the Southeastern U.S., and many more.

But my wife, Catharine, and I were most intrigued by ACL’s cruise down the lower Mississippi — from Memphis to New Orleans — partly because it was an area of the country we hadn’t explored as much as some others, and partly because the ship, the Queen of the Mississippi, was built in the style of an old-fashioned paddle wheeler, allowing us to return to Mark… Continue reading

Uniworld's River Victoria sails Russian waterways. Photo from Uniworld Boutique River Cruises.

Uniworld’s River Victoria sails Russian waterways. Photo from Uniworld Boutique River Cruises.

River cruising has gone global, in a big way.

In yesterday’s post, we had a look at the phenomenal rise of European river cruising over the past few years, to the degree that many 2014 cruises are already sold out or nearly sold out.

Baby boomer travelers are the primary driving force behind the river cruise phenomenon, which has averaged a 14 percent annual growth over the past decade.  (Just 20 years ago, most European river cruises were day cruises only.)

One line alone, Viking River Cruises — which caters mainly to baby boomers —  will soon have 48 river cruise ships operating on European waterways, with 30 of them launched in the past three years.

In Russia, a series of waterways links Moscow and St. Petersburg. Viking, Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, Imperial River… Continue reading

American Cruise Lines' Queen of the Mississippi. Photo from American Cruise Lines

American Cruise Lines’ Queen of the Mississippi. Photo from American Cruise Lines

I’ve written several times previously about the hot European river cruising market (most recently here).

But the U.S. river cruising market is getting torrid as well, thanks in large part to American Cruise Lines, a family-owned company whose six small ships cruise rivers and waterways throughout America. Nearly three dozen itineraries range from the islands of New England to Alaska’s Inside Passage, the Intracoastal Waterway of the southeastern U.S. to the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest, and many points between — including the mighty Mississippi.

Late last week I attended a luncheon in New York City with American Cruise Line executives aboard one of their ships, the Independence, a three-year-old vessel that holds a maximum of 104 passengers.

The Independence was temporarily docked at Chelsea Piers in Manhattan after completing… Continue reading

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According to government and private surveys:

  • Leading-edge baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1955) and seniors account for four out of every five dollars spent on luxury travel today.
  • Roughly half the consumer spending money in the U.S.--more than $2 trillion--is in the hands of leading-edge baby boomers and seniors.
  • Baby boomers (born 1946-1964) travel more than any other age group.
  • When asked what they would most like to spend their money on, baby boomers answered “travel” more than any other category, including improving their health or finances.

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