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American Star Cruise Review

Itinerary: Maine Coast and Harbors - July 2008

I had never been to Maine and was really excited to try this itinerary.

We flew into Bangor a day early, the ship sails out around lunchtime so many passengers come in a day early. Bangor’s cruise landing is set alongside a beautiful riverside park, very walk able from downtown. The locals come down for a stroll and dream that they could also sail away on the ship.

The Charles Inn
The Charles Inn

There are a number of hotels by the airport that are suggested by the cruise line but we wanted to be in downtown Bangor so we could walk around and see the sights. We stayed at the Charles Inn, built in 1891 and the only hotel in downtown Bangor. It was quaint and we had a nice quiet room. It was very comfortable and as it could still use some more updating it was big on location location location. We enjoyed walking around downtown and at night going to a free movie in the park.

We were up bright and early and walked to the ship with our rolling luggage. I would suggest calling a taxi for about $5.00, or let them take your luggage and you can walk. There at the riverside park, stewards from the cruise line help you with your luggage. The American Star is beautiful bright white with red white and blue funnels. Boarding begins at nine in the morning and as soon as all the passengers are on they sail away.

The American Star
The American Star

We walked up the ramp to the ship and there was our daughter. She walked us to our to our cabin where our luggage was already waiting. She is working on the ship for two months to make some money before returning to college. It was such fun to see her in her cute uniform. During the summer months most of the crew are energetic college age kids.

Our cabin ... roomy.
Our cabin ... roomy.

Our cabin was large for a small ship at 220 square feet. We had a desk and a chair with a large window that opened, as well as a single chair and coffee table and a king size bed. We had more than adequate drawer and closet space and a nice sized bathroom. There was a TV but we never turned it on. Each cabin has an Emergency Button since there are no telephones in the room. We had a small balcony with two chairs and a small table. We were overlooking the riverside park and was fun watching the new passengers come on the ship.

Lunch was our first order of business once we unpacked. The dinning room has all windows with tables for six or eight. There is no assigned anything, it is fun to sit with new people and meet everyone. Our waitress for our first meal was our daughter, which made it even more special. Our first meal with lobster bisque started off the lobster craze, which continues at almost every meal for the whole week. Between the Maine Lobster and Maine Blueberries, one quickly learns to love this destination.

Our First Port – our first day

I normally love to be outside for the sail away, but lunch was calling. The horn blew and off we were, people at the Riverside Park waving us goodbye. Talk about small town quaint, this was it.

Fort Knox
Fort Knox

In a few hours our Captain pulled up to a small dock in Bucksport. Quite a sleepy little village, which was once a prosperous shipbuilding town. Within a few minutes with the deck hands running here and there with ropes to tie up the ship, the ramp came down and off we went. Some walking into town with its main street, art deco movie theater and a number of cute stores. The rest of us boarded a small bus to cross the Penobscot River to visit Fort Knox. Quite an interesting excursion as we were taken around the Fort by a National Parks Guide who explained the history and unique architecture of the fort. The fort was well equipped to defend the Penobscot Valley during the Civil War. But as history unfolds not a shot was ever fired in anger from the fort.

Returning to the ship it was a beautiful view down the river. We could see our ship in the distance, our home away from home for the next week.

The ship's lounge
The ship's lounge

The first evening I felt like I was on a beautiful floating B & B. Entering the lounge for evening cocktails, which is the norm every night. The lounge is like a comfortable living room with overstuffed sofas in cream and blues. During this hour hors d’oeuvres are passed around by the cute young college age crewmembers. The hotel manger tends bar and all drinks are complimentary. The conversations are lively as we all meander down one flight of stars to the dinning room.

A typical dinner offering
A typical dinner offering

Dinner on the first night was prime rib, fresh fish or a vegetarian selection along with complimentary wines. The table is set with a California merlot and a chilled bottle of Italian white wine, and if more is desired, just ask. Wine is available at lunch too, but it’s not put on the tables unless requested. Bread in a basket is offered at every lunch and dinner and I think the rolls were different each time. We heard from my daughter that we were lucky as we had the best chef and I would agree. I am a very picky eater and I never had a single complaint, nor did I hear any others. Food was a 10 for sure.

I love the fact that the ship stays in port most evenings and you can get off the ship and take a walk after dinner. The first night a few of us took off with the ships lecturer John to see the local graveyard. What fun that was with dates going back to the 1700’s. It started to mist and a light fog was rolling in, I thought for sure we were in a movie.

We returned to the ship where we had a lecture on the history of Maine and a short talk on the places we were yet to visit in our week on Maine Coast and Harbors.

Our on board lecturer for this cruise was John Meffert. He was spectacular. He not only was a wealth of information he was entertaining. No one snoozes during his talks. He has a long list of education and experience with historical organizations. In the future I would go out of my way to join any cruise his is on.

At 9 pm the crew comes out with root beer floats and ice cream sundaes. What fun, most people tried one or the other, as the week went on fewer and fewer gave in to the second dessert in a few hours after dinner. A group of us opened a 1,000-piece puzzle and schmoozed for a few minutes before calling it a day.

And the days after…

The ship usually sailed in the early morning and after breakfast we found ourselves in Bar Harbor. We were tied up at the pubic dock among fishing boats, sailing ships, lobster traps and a few huge yachts. We were to be here for about 24 hours, which gave us the opportunity to explore. We were the only cruise ship in port, yet it was still a very busy little town. Set up for tourists with shops and restaurants. I looked forward to other days when we would be in less populated areas of the coasts. In the morning we took a waking map that the ship gave us and explored the town on our own. After lunch we decided on an excursion to Acadia National Park (in my 1,000 places to visit before you die book). It was a lovely afternoon with a little mist and sweeping views from the top of Cadillac Mountain with our ship a speck in the distance on the Bar Harbor waterfront. Going up to the park we were entertained by our guide who educated us on what we were passing. Bar Harbor has quite a history with a devastating fire in 1947, which destroyed a good portion of the town and surrounding areas.

Linda experiencing lobster harvesting
Linda experiencing lobster harvesting

Every day on the American Star had a unique twist to it. Each town we visited had it own unique charm and character. We learned that the tides and the weather in Maine play an integral part in our schedule. A storm was brewing so our Captain announced we would leave Bar Harbor a few hours early and arrive in our next port Rockland much earlier than expected. At this point we were passing through hundreds of colored buoys we would later learn were lobster pots, each color belonging to different fisherman. We learned no one touches other than their own buoys and that the traps had to be checked every day or two as the lobsters are cannibals.

Past Lobster Festival poster
Past Lobster Festival poster

Lobster was a fun part of this whole cruise. From lobster bisque, lobster ice cream, lobster cakes, lobster on the shell, out of the shell, to live lobsters on the dock watching the fisherman unload their morning catch. We met Captain Jack who offered to take a few people at a time on his little boat to check his traps. My husband jumped at the chance and had a great experience. The big males you throw back, the females with eggs you throw back, the small ones goes back, and many times the traps are brought up and they are empty. By the end of the week we would be a walking encyclopedia on lobster as food and lobster as an industry.

Our next port Rockland was wonderful. More of what I pictured coastal Maine to look like with old quaint buildings downtown. Dairy Queen was the hot spot and the crew on their hour off during the day head right over there. Tours were offered as well as one of the crew members walked us over to the local museum, which I thoroughly enjoyed. A visit to the Farnsworth Art Museum is a must. Three generations of Wyth’s, Maine’s most famous artists hang in a lovely complex of buildings.

Returning to the American Star
Returning to the American Star

Our next port was Camden, just up the bay, we anchored off Camden, one of the coast’s most attractive towns, the center mostly constructed of handsome brick following a fire in 1892. It was the first time we had seen traffic backed up since U.S. Route 1 passes through town at a snail’s pace. But it made no difference as we checked out the art, craft and clothing shops along Main Street. The quality was good, and the prices seemed high.

Camden is known for Belted Galloway cattle. They are nicknamed Oreo cows because they have black fronts and rears and a white middle, they look just like a double Oreo cookie.

Castine was the most enchanting with its quiet, non-commercial setting of beautiful historic summer homes in traditional New England styles -- federal, colonial, Queen Anne, Victorian and combination thereof with the additions of a porch or a turret or a row of dormer windows. Castine does not have a dock large enough for our small ship so we had to anchor in the bay and tender in. We again were at the public dock with all the fishing and sailing boats. Fisherman going here and there sailing out or bringing in their catch. We felt like locals walking along the docks.

We walked around town with Jim Stone from the Castine Historical Society and marveled at the unique architecture. We were told John Travolta has a summer home overlooking the bay where our ship was docked. Castine was at one time the second wealthiest community in the US based on trade of whale oil. As with all the ports we were provided information, maps. Usually the night prior a thumbnail sketch on the history and community life in the town we were to visit the next day.

Belfast is built on a sloping hill and beautiful as we sailed in leaving the infamous Maine fog out at sea. A member of the Chamber of Commerce came on the ship during breakfast and provided a wealth of knowledge about the historic village as she called it. A shore excursion took us out to the Penobscot Marine Museum. One quickly discovers why the Belfast area was selected in 1997 as American’s premier destination by travel writers. Walking street after street in this town is a joy.

We sailed overnight and arrived back in Bangor mid day. Many went out on walking tours of the town, as they hadn’t explored before they came on the ship. Some went to the casino and some to the winery. We used this time to hang out on the top deck, get some sun, a few games of ping-pong and some reading done. A relaxing afternoon after our many days of exploring so many lovely nooks and crannies of Maine’s coast.

The fantastic crew
The fantastic crew

Our last night on the ship had us exchanging numbers and addresses. Many of the passengers had sailed on American Cruise Line before. Others had been on other small ships and for some this was their first sailing. Ages ranged from 19 – 85, the majority being retired or like us in our 60’s and not quite retired yet. With such a small ship everyone makes friends. The crew is for the most part young college age kids with great attitudes and always a big smile. They work really hard and hours that only college age kids could keep. The passenger gratuities is their salary and of course very important to them.

We thoroughly enjoyed our week on the American Star. Sailing from one small town to another allowed us to feel the differences in personality and prosperity. We learned what made the towns historically grow from fishing, farming, mining, paper mills, ship building and when their fortunes changed how the locals were able to cope and find other sources to sustain their economy. Tourism and the summer population bring Maine alive with its history and beautiful coastline. We truly loved this trip.

—Linda Androlia - Sunstone Tours & Cruises

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