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Can you imagine eating lobster every day for a week while on a cruise experiencing blue skies and great scenery along the beautiful Maine coast. That’s the way it was on the Lobster Festival Cruise on American Cruise Lines’ 100-passenger Independence.

We arrived in Portland two days early to see Maine’s biggest city, and to make sure we got to the ship on time. We stayed at the Eastland Park Hotel, within walking distance of the waterfront, and only a 5-minute ride to the dock. They even had a free shuttle to take us to the ship. The Eastland was built in 1927, with Charles Lindbergh being honored at a banquet there. The historic hotel now has 200 rooms, the Top of the East lounge with a nice view of the city, and wireless internet and is across the street from the Portland Museum of Art. They also are dog-friendly, and will provide your dog with a doggie bed and treats.

On our first day in Portland we took a 90-minute tour on a trolley with Portland Discovery Land & Sea Tours that gave us an overview of the city and a visit to Fort Williams Park and the Portland Head Light, a lighthouse commissioned by President George Washington in 1791. Then we grabbed a take-out lobster roll and went on their sightseeing boat to see the harbor and spots around Casco Bay. We had time that evening to walk the art gallery area and the waterfront and appreciate the cobblestone streets and old buildings -- it was easy to imagine the many tall ships that were once in the harbor. Portland was a port for Canada as well as the U.S. east coast and is still a port for Montreal with a pipeline going directly from the Portland waterfront to Montreal. The next day we went to the Saturday Market with its bright locally grown produce and went to the Portland Museum of Art, which had an impressive exhibit of Winslow Homer paintings and wood engravings. The Museum was founded in 1882 and Homer (1836-1910) exhibited here in his lifetime. (The U.S. Postal Service has introduced a new stamp featuring Winslow Homer’s painting Boys in a Pasture. They had a stamp in 1962 of his Breezing Up, a painting of a father and son sailing.)


Passengers were able to board Independence anytime after 10 a.m. on Saturday.  We got to the ship about noon, our luggage arriving in our cabin in minutes, had lunch, and were unpacked by the time the ship departed at 3.

There are three decks of passenger cabins on the Independence.  Deck 1 has the dining room, deck 2 has a large lounge with windows on three sides, deck 3 has a library, and deck 4 is the observation deck with lounge chairs and views in all directions. (Binoculars are available to use any time.) There is an elevator to all decks. There are two computers with free internet service.


The Independence, built in 2010, has 52 cabins, with 1 wheelchair-accessible cabin, and 7 single cabins. According to the home office the single cabins are the first to sell out on all their cruises since they avoid the single supplement.

Our cabin, on the port side of deck 3, had a balcony, and the library was just a few steps away on the starboard side and also had a balcony, so even without going up to the observation deck we could make sure we saw things on both sides of the ship.  (A neat trick on any ship if you are traveling with another couple is to get one cabin on the port and another opposite on the starboard so if there is a whale sighting or other interesting sight you all will be able to see it quickly.)

Every cabin has satellite TV, DVD player, individual climate control and a large window that opens. Most have balconies. There is an emergency button in case you need medical help.

Meal service includes an early riser Continental breakfast as early as 6 in the lounge, regular breakfast from 7:30 to 9, lunch at 12:30, dinner from 6:30 to 7:30.  There is open seating – sit anywhere with anyone. There is complimentary wine and beer with lunch and dinner, and complimentary wine or cocktails at the 5:30 cocktail hour in the lounge. There is always coffee, hot chocolate and juice in the lounge. Sometimes there was a chocolate treat. Dress is resort casual. There is no Captain’s Night, no suits or ties ever.


Evening entertainment consisted of entertainment by locals such as Sam the lobsterman, who told tales and answered questions about Maine lobstering and his career in the industry, or a lecture by the onboard historian Sam Ladley, enlightening us with the fascinating history of the region. Sometimes it was considered part of Massachusetts, sometimes part of Nova Scotia, sometimes had no government so the people here are used to doing things themselves. The northern part of the state still speaks mostly French.  Sam the lobsterman explained that Maine was abundant with lobster because from the beginning they have had strict rules that lobstermen followed about not taking very small lobsters or very large lobsters, allowing them to grow up to reproduce.

The ships of American Cruise Lines, either about 50 or about 100 passengers, are American-flagged and have a smiling friendly American crew. Passengers also mostly are American. They have cruises in Maine in July, August and September. Our cruise was a Lobster Festival Cruise, and indeed I managed to eat lobster every day.  We went from Portland north to Bar Harbor, then worked our way along the coast back south, going through the many islands and around peninsulas into bays and harbors, many times threading our way through many yachts, classic sailboats, and working fishing and lobster boats. The ship either came directly into the downtown waterfront areas of ports we visited, or if anchored out, passengers were taken into shore by launch.

In Bar Harbor we had all day and overnight for those who wanted to check out the night life. There was a nature cruise available in the morning. And there was a bus tour to Acadia National Park, winding up the road to the top of Cadillac Mountain (the highest peak on the Eastern seaboard) where we had a grand view of the coast and islands, made perfect as a traditional schooner made its way between the islands. At another scenic stop we could see the bar that Bar Harbor is famous for, the one where tourists walk or drive out to Bar Island for the day, then later discover when the tide comes in that the bar is covered with water and they are marooned. There area 14-16 ft. tides in this area.


In Bar Harbor we had lunch on shore at Stewman’s Lobster Pounds on their deck looking out at the harbor. We had their Complete Lobster Experience, starting with the best lobster bisque I have ever had followed by a freshly steamed lobster with mussels and clams, corn on the cob, and potatoes made with rosemary, thyme and garlic. Lobsters make up most of Maine’s economy, with potatoes and blueberries strong second crops. To do our part in support of the economy we had blueberry pie for dessert.


Maine is steeped in nautical history, and we saw this in every port and as we passed the many lighthouses (there are 68 in Maine). We saw the tall white pines that were used for masts (they bend instead of snapping like oak). Convoys gathered here during World War II before making a run across the Atlantic. Submarine nets used to be strung from island to island to thwart German submarines that came to the area. We saw a research vessel that was once a spy boat.

 On Monday we were in Castine, up in Penobscot Bay, for the afternoon. Castine is one of the oldest towns in North America, with trading posts and settlements here as early as the 1600s. As Sam said, when people brag about their families coming over on the Mayflower, people from Castine say “We met the boat”. In fact, new settlers stopped here for supplies on their way to Plymouth Colony .After the Civil War, summer people began coming to Castine, some building log cabins and others elaborate mansions.


There are many 18th and 19th Century Georgian and Federalist houses carefully restored and maintained.  Elm trees still line the streets because the city is so isolated that the trees avoided Dutch Elm disease. Old architecture is everywhere, one captain’s house identified as being from 1790. Everyone seems to be in the lobster business here. Even children in grade school have lobster traps.  We had lunch on board and a second lunch in Castine at Dennett’s Wharf, including an unbelievably decadent blueberry pie with ice cream and a ton of whipped cream. Dennett’s Wharf originally was a boatyard, then a bowling alley in the 1800s (the boards from the lanes became the bar).


Then we moved on to Belfast, and in the morning passengers could join a walking tour of historic homes or simply on their own enjoy the busy waterfront  or quiet harbors or browse around town to see shops and galleries. Belfast homes, like those in all the ports, were mostly of traditional white clapboard, but in Belfast the 1800s were greatly prosperous for shipbuilders and merchants and many of the white clapboard homes are Greek Revival mansions with furnishings brought home from their China trade voyages.


Tuesday afternoon we were in Camden. Some passengers visited Camden Hills State Park with a stop at the top of Mount Battie. Others walked around town and enjoyed the shops and the people.  We had lunch again on shore, this time at The Waterfront Restaurant, a local favorite for more than three decades. They buy direct from fishermen and serve salads and vegetarian and beef dishes, as well as lobster and other seafood. Being green in Maine comes naturally with foods fresh from the oceans and local farms and the Waterfront is typical of the fresh foods served. We chose the Waterfront’s Lobster and Orange Salad, made with chunks of lobster on a bed of fresh mixed greens with orange segments, shaved fennel and a lemon poppy-seed dressing. Then blueberry crisp with more ice cream and whipped cream. We devoured it all while sitting out on the deck with a view of the many boats in the harbor. There are many traditional old schooners in this harbor and they passed right in front of us as they went in and out of the harbor.


All day Wednesday and Wednesday night we were in Rockland, the so-called lobster capital of the world. The day before we got there they had the annual Maine Lobster Festival, where more than 50,000 people came to gorge on lobster and listen to country music. The enormous cooker is said to have steamed up 1,600 pounds of lobster every 20 minutes. The festival only serves soft-shell lobster, which can’t be shipped like the hard-shell kind that you are probably used to seeing.  We went to the Farnsworth Art Museum that specializes in Maine art and saw excellent exhibits of Winslow Homer paintings, and works of three Wyeths -- Andrew Wyeth, N.C. Wyeth, and James Wyeth. The ship lunch was a traditional lobster bake at a waterfront park with lobster, clams, mussels, corn on the cob, all cooked in large cauldrons with seaweed over an open fire. Nearby was the Owls Head Transportation Museum with aircraft and automobiles from the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.



Thursday morning we were cruising, and there was kite flying on the observation deck, or rather there were attempts at kite flying. I don’t know that anyone ever got their kites up since there was no wind. We arrived in Boothbay Harbor at noon. Some passengers took a tour of the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens and others walked around the town and enjoyed the shops and the boats in the harbor. The first ship was built in this area in 1607, many vessels were built for the U.S. Navy during World War II, and vessels are still built here -- from skiffs used to haul lobster traps to full-rigged schooners, modern sailing yachts and military vessels. Lobsters were so plentiful in this area that they were given to the poor; the merchants preferred cod.

Friday morning we cruised up the Kennebec River to Bath with more historic architecture. We pulled up next to the Maine Maritime Museum, with maritime paintings, ship models, ship artifacts, a shipyard, a historic boat collection, and a traditional fishing schooner. There used to be shipyards all along the Kennebec River, and Bath was a main center. The first ship built was launched 400 years ago just 12 miles downriver. Destroyers and other vessels were built during World War II and the Bath Iron Works is still known as a world-class shipbuilder. There was also time to take a narrated trolley tour of the historic homes of Bath.


We left Bath at noon and spent the afternoon on the top deck talking about the cruise we had just taken. We had been able to see first-hand where Winslow Homer and the Wyeths got their inspiration. We went by the islands on the way back to Portland where the Wyeths lived and worked. We had seen the cliffs they had walked along and the rocks they had painted with waves crashing, and there were the schooners and lobster boats sailing near us that were like those in many paintings.



Painting by David  Schleinkofer, artist & passenger on our cruise

The ship returned to Portland in the afternoon so passengers could see Portland in the evening and also be able to leave at any time in the morning, even getting up and leaving the ship as early as 5 a.m to make an early flight, not a problem on a small ship.

American Cruise Lines also has cruises of New England, the Potomac River, Chesapeake Bay, the Hudson River for fall foliage, the East Coast Inland Passage from Baltimore to Jacksonville, and the intracoastal waterway and rivers of Florida, and they have a paddlewheel boat for cruising the Columbia and Snake Rivers on the West Coast. Cruises are planned for the Mississippi River.

-- Shirley Linde
Photos by Shirley Linde & Jeanne Croy

How to eat a Maine lobster

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