Taking a small ship cruise

... seeing the Maine Coast from the ocean side

by Kay McCarte

The Grand Caribe is docked at Bath waiting for passengers to return from the tours which were offered..

It's the best kept secret in New England. The American Canadian Carribean Line (ACCL) of Warren, Rhode Island, attracts passengers from all over the United States and Canada, but very few from New England (even from Rhode Island) have ever heard of it.  

It is a small ship cruise line of three ships, Niagara Prince, Grande Caribe and Grande Mariner, with each ship carrying about 100 passengers, captain and 16 crew members. Their itineraries are extensive, from the New England coast and islands, the waterways of the United States and Canada, the inland waterway to Florida, and then, in the winter, they head to the Carribean.

After perusing their catalog, eight of us decided to go on the Coast of Maine trip, leaving Portland, Maine on July 29, 2008 and returning to Portland on August 5, 2008.

In the morning a two hour drive bought us to Portland where we were to embark about noontime. After dropping our luggage (which was picked up by the ship's crew) at the Portland Ocean Terminal and parking the cars in the nearby parking garage, we boarded the Grand Caribe for our adventure, seeing the Coast of Maine from the ocean side.

Upon boarding we were directed to our respective cabins where we found our luggage had already been delivered. While exploring our new quarters a bell was rung to announce luncheon was being served. We descended a flight of stairs, which also has a stair lift, to the dining room where we found tables set for eight. Our group, later dubbed the "posse," found a table in the corner by the window and close to the kitchen.

Our cruise director Jennifer (don't call me Jenny) McDaniel introduced herself, Captain Michael Valenti, Chef Andy Viele, Assistant Chef Katie Johnson, First Officer Michael Kiernan and the rest of the crew, and told us a little about what was going to take place that afternoon. We would cruise to Bath and on the way, when the signal was sounded, we would have our mandatory emergency drill. We would assemble at our designated area in the dining room with our life jackets either on or with us. If we were not close to our cabin we were to go directly to the dining room and the crew would bring our life jackets to us.

After struggling into our life jackets, making sure we would know how to put them on in an emergency, we returned the life jackets to our cabins and settled down to see the rocky coast, the islands, seabirds and, of course, lighthouses, with commentary from the very knowledgeable First Officer who related the history and anecdotes of the area we were passing over the loud speaker.

Upon docking in Bath we were serenaded by a local band of musicians and after dinner we were entertained by a group who call themselves the Romeos (you, know, "Retired Old Men Eating Out"). In the morning several of us took a trolley tour of the town which included visiting two renovated homes which had once belonged to executives of the Bath Iron Works. The present owners were delightful as they showed us what they had done to restore their beautiful old homes. We also visited an old church which is in the process of being restored as a function hall and meeting area for the people of Bath.

As would be our schedule for the next days, we cruised during the afternoon, arriving at our destination late in the day or early evening. In the morning we took tours or just walked around the seaside towns.

From Bath we cruised to Rockland where the Maine Lobster Festival was in full swing. Some of us went to the Festival and others just walked around the town where we were disappointed to discover that the air conditioning at the Puffin Exhibit was being fixed and was not open.

By now the fog had rolled in and we could see very little of the scenery on our way to Bar Harbor where we arrived at about 7:00 p.m. The next morning, in light rain, we boarded a bus for Acadia National Park. While we could see what was close to us our driver would say, "Now use your imagination and off to the right is ----" and all we could see was fog.

A little rain could not stop us or the people who took the carriage ride in Arcadia National Park.

We visited Belfast and Castine, home of the Maine Maritime Academy, and Port Clyde, with its Old Fashioned General Store, and the Village Ice Cream Shop, which had wonderful ice cream.

In Belfast Shirley was intrigued with the fish head mounted on a bicycle, Jesse found a dog she had to pat, and then she could not resist standing between the carved faces on some poles.

We left Port Clyde early in the morning and arrived in Portland about 1:00 p.m., and the weather had turned warm and sunny. We had a trolley ride around the city, ending at the Portland Head Lighthouse, probably the most photographed lighthouse on the Coast of Maine.

And what is a cruise without great meals? The chef and assistant chef kept us supplied with the most delectable food. Each evening the menu for the next day was posted so that, if there was something you didn't like or couldn't eat, all you had to do was to speak to the chef and he would substitute something you wanted. Two at our table don't like lobster (can you believe?) so one got chicken and the other a piece of salmon which she said was the best she ever had.

Margie and Kay dig into their Maine Lobster and one of the many pictures taken of the Portland Head Light.

Along with the juice, cold cereal, etc., every morning a breakfast of cut up fresh fruit, a different kind of muffin and different main course - blueberry pancackes, french toast, eggs benedict - was served. Lunch consisted of soup (different every day) and sandwiches made with different types of rolls (which we watched being made from our vantage point near the kitchen) as well as cookies that were to die for.

Dinner included a salad, a loaf of a different kind of bread each day, vegetables and the main course, such as Beef Wellington, pork roast, swordfish, prime rib, and, of course, lobster. On Italian night there was a bottle of wine on each table.

Wonderful desserts ended each meal, including tiramisu and a special "celebration" cake when we celebrated the terrific trip, the places we had been, the friends that we made, and, on the last night, we watched as Katie made up the swans with puff pastry and cream.

Although this is a BYOB cruise there is a bar where they supply all kinds of mixers and snacks, and a place to keep your bottle with your name on it. However, we did have two nights with a cocktail hour supplied by the ship, with hors d'oeuvres that we could have made our dinner, but, of course, we didn't, especially the night prime rib was on the menu.

As one of our members was not feeling too well and did not come to dinner we were honored to have Captain Mike sit at our table on our last night in Portland Harbor.

Captain Mike Valenti joins the "posse" at our last meal aboard the Grand Caribe.

After breakfast the next morning we said goodbye to the captain, crew and new friends and headed home with memories of a very enjoyable trip.

If your idea of a cruise is a big ship with lots to do, great entertainment, visiting exotic places, then this cruise is not for you.

But if relaxing with friends, meeting new ones, having time to read that book you've been unable to get to, working on a jigsaw puzzle, playing silly games, or just watching the scenery go by, log on to and read all about it.

A few of the many pictures taken on this wonderful trip.

Flowers grow profusely along the Coast and Port Clyde gives a warm welcome.

A four-masted schooner on a foggy day and the bow of the Grand Caribe when the sun was shining.

Wharves with brightly colored lobster pots and buidlings.

At the Portland Head Light on the final day of our trip.

January 2, 2009

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