On our 10-night cruise, two to four options were offered in most ports. Of the 25 offered tours, 11 were complimentary. There's scant information on ACL's website regarding excursions, including which ones are included in the base fare. There's also no opportunity to book excursions before the ship sails. A cruise director briefs passengers shortly after the ship sets sail, giving them a couple of hours to plot their course for the cruise.
Maybe it's because our cruise directors were just off other ships, but they didn't seem well-versed in do-it-yourself options in the various ports. So, for instance, passengers who hadn't done their homework might not know about the excellent (and free) Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk. And there was no mention onboard of the city's renowned Nauticus complex, though we were docked just steps from the maritime-themed science museum.
In Yorktown, the cruise directors skipped mention of the year-old American Revolution Museum, despite the fact that it was within easy walking distance. Plus, a free trolley ran from the ship to the top-notch facility. The lapse was especially puzzling considering the American Revolution theme of the cruise. However, tours to Colonial Williamsburg ($55 or $15 for transportation only) and Jamestown Settlement ($40) were offered during our two day-stay in Virginia's Historic Triangle region.
At Mount Vernon, where a tender carried passengers to shore, there was no option to get off the ship without paying $50 for a guided tour of George Washington's estate. In Washington, D.C., an ACL-provided free bus ferried passengers on a 3.5-hour tour to four iconic Washington sites -- the WWII, Martin Luther King Jr., Vietnam Veterans and Lincoln memorials -- making it a good option for those with mobility issues. But for those content to go at their own pace, there was no mention of the free city shuttle that makes a loop between the city's Southwest Waterfront, where we docked, to the monuments on the National Mall.
Daytime and Evening Entertainment
With the exception of a lecturer who delivered a presentation on antique medical instruments, evening entertainment consisted of a parade of musicians from around the region. They ranged from a popular Annapolis duo who sang songs about the Chesapeake to a ragtime-playing pianist to performers who specialized in 1950s and 1960s hit songs. The small dance floor in the Chesapeake Lounge saw some action, especially on oldies nights.
The onboard lecturer on our cruise was a nautical buff, which was puzzling to some passengers who expected to hear Revolutionary War stories to reflect the cruise theme. Instead, several afternoon lectures ranged from notable shipwrecks around the world to rum-running during Prohibition and oystering on the Chesapeake. Late in the cruise, a Revolutionary War lecturer joined the ship to deliver a couple of presentations.
A popular crab-picking demonstration educated us on how to distinguish a sook (female) from a jimmy (male). Even better, we got to try our hand at the not-so-easy task of extracting sweet Maryland blue crabmeat from the shell. On another afternoon, the chef assembled regional products -- Virginia ham, jams and peanuts from Mount Vernon, and spirits from local distilleries -- for sampling.
On our evening in Yorktown, three young and engaging members of a fife and drum corps entertained during cocktail hour. They explained that the main purpose of musicians on the battlefield was as a means of communicating the general's orders to the troops. Fun fact: The song "Yankee Doodle" was sung by the British to taunt the American colonists. "Doodle" was British slang for a simpleton.
Two spacious lounges with wicker-style sofas and armchairs are the hub for afternoon lectures, pre-dinner cocktails and evening entertainment.
Chesapeake Lounge (Deck 3, forward): The larger of the two lounges, the Chesapeake, is the venue for evening entertainment and lectures. A bar in the back is set up for 5:30 p.m. cocktails. It's also where to find an early-risers continental breakfast. More than a dozen sofas ensure comfortable seating and upholstered chairs accommodate the overflow. There's a small dance floor and entertainment space. In one corner is a built-in credenza with soft drinks, juices, coffee, tea and 24/7 packaged snacks.
Sky Lounge (Deck 4, aft): Corals, greens and blues in the patterned carpet evoke an undersea fantasy. Cushy armchairs and rockers invite guests to settle in to read or nap. Tables for four attract card players. An early-riser breakfast and evening cocktails are also served here.
Other than the putting green on the top sun deck, the ship's outdoor spots encourage lounging over active pursuits. Just off the Sky Lounge (Deck 4, aft) there's a small outdoor area with seating for two dozen or so passengers. Just above it is the larger sun deck, a portion of which is sheltered by an overhead shade. The expansive area, with its cheerful blue-and-white-stripped outdoor carpeting, seats about 45. On Deck 6, a dozen chaises are set out for sun worshippers, along with sofa seating.
A self-serve laundry on Deck 5 not only offers free use of the machines, but throws in the detergent and dryer sheets, too. It's a nicety light packers will appreciate. A nautical-themed library on Deck 4 has a dining-room sized table roomy enough for solving a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. Two computers and a printer for guest use are tucked against one wall. Books to borrow include a good selection relating to the Chesapeake Bay. The midship lounge on Deck 3 has a large round table that seats six for card games. Comfy leather-like sofa and corner armchair and a small desk and credenza lend a homey feel. Another midship lounge on Deck 2 has a card table for four, and a larger table for puzzles. This is where to find DVDs, guidebooks and puzzles.
A small -- and rarely used -- exercise room is on Deck 5. It's equipped with four cycling machines, plus exercise mats.
Like many small coastal cruisers, this vessel is designed for adults. There's no programming or facilities for the young set.