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Mini-Review - Great Rivers of Florida Cruise - March 10, 2018 to March 17, 2018


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Travel Day - March 9th

 

This cruise begins and ends in Jacksonville, Florida. Jax is a 5 1/2 hour drive from my home according to MapQuest with no stops. I drove and with a couple of rest stop breaks, a stop for lunch and congested traffic that crawled at 25 mph on the interstate at one point, I was there in approximately 7 hours.

 

I arrived in Jax and parked my car at the Economy Parking Lot #1 at the Jax airport which is a flat open lot and offers a rate of $5.00/per day. $40/week was more economical than the $20/day that the hotel was going to charge me to leave my car in downtown Jax, even with the cab fare to the hotel and shuttle by ACL back to the airport. It was also convenient for my travel route. I took the parking lot shuttle to the airport terminal, got in line for a taxi and was on my way to my downtown hotel, the Hyatt Regency (225 East Coastline Drive, Jax), to meet my friend who would be on the cruise with me for the week.

 

I really recommend staying at the Hyatt Regency as it is on the St. John's River and the ship, American Star, is just a very short walking distance away. Additionally, there are a number of restaurants in an area called Jacksonville Landing on the river, just a short walk from the hotel.

 

My friend had opted for the hotel parking at $20/day, so after we checked in, she moved her vehicle into the parking garage and we headed to Jacksonville Landing for an early dinner. We saw the American Star docked very close to the hotel and further down, we saw the Independence and learned from a crew member that it was leaving the next day as well on the Historic South & Golden Isles cruise (Jax to Charleston).

 

I will mention that another option for a hotel that was in the Welcome Aboard brochure I received before the cruise was the Crowne Plaza Hotel at the Jax Airport (14670 Duval Road, Jax). ACL offered a shuttle from the hotel to the ship at 10:30 a.m. on departure day. For those flying in the day before, this may be a convenient alternative hotel.

 

Next: Embarkation and Cabin

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Embarkation and Cabin

 

Embarkation was very easy. The ship, American Star, was just a very short walk from the hotel. There was a representative from ACL as we headed to the ship prepared to offer assistance with our luggage. We dropped our luggage and were directed to a table outside the ship where we were requested to show identification and boarding passes.

 

The cabins were ready, so we went immediately to ours before heading to the Chesapeake Lounge for welcome aboard refreshments and music. We had booked a Category A cabin on the main deck and we were very satisfied with it. It had twin beds (as we requested) and was approx. 258 sq. ft. with a small picture window. There was a welcome gift of chocolate chip cookies as a repeat passenger and an ACL/American Star tote bag. There was only one tote bag provided in the cabin, but my friend expressed that she had enough tote bags and wasn't inclined to ask for another one.

 

We went to the Chesapeake Lounge for refreshments and snacks and met some of the other passengers. The Associate Hotel Director told us there were approximately 68-69 passengers onboard the cruise. I think we met and had a chance to talk to everyone by the end of the cruise.

 

We did have one minor issue with the cabin with a clogged drain in the bathroom sink the third day. We reported it and it was quickly corrected with no further problems.

 

Next: A Change In Itinerary

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A Change In Itinerary

 

When I initially went to my cabin, I glanced at the Welcome Packet on the desk and noticed that there was a significant change in the Planned Cruise Itinerary. Our first port was to be Brunswick, Georgia. What??! In 2016, I was on the Historic South & Golden Isles cruise from Charleston to Jacksonville and remembered this was the port for Jekyll Island and St. Simons Island.

 

When my friend and I arrived at the Chesapeake Lounge, some of the other passengers were 'buzzing' about the change in itinerary. After muster, the Captain informed us that an 100 year old railroad bridge was undergoing repair for the next 8 days and we would not be able to go down the St. John's River. The railroad bridge would be down (it raises for river traffic) and the Coast Guard was not allowing any river traffic. We would not be docking in Green Cove Springs or Palatka, instead we would proceed north to Brunswick, GA, then back down the intracoastal waterway to Amelia Island/Fernandina Beach, St. Augustine and back to Jacksonville. At first I thought, geez, been there, done that in Georgia, but it ended up being very well rearranged. I will discuss it later in my review under Ports & Shore Excursions.

 

 

Next: Wi-Fi

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Wi-Fi

 

The Wi-Fi on the ship was abysmal. Wi-Fi is free on all ACL vessels, but on this one, I either couldn't get on or if I was on, it would kick me off after a short period of time. I had the same issue not only in my cabin, but also in the main lounge, one of the mid-ship lounges and the top deck. I tried a number of locations. When we docked back in Jacksonville, I couldn't connect to the ship's Wi-Fi, but as we were close to the Hyatt Regency Hotel, I was able to connect to their free Wi-Fi while on the ship!

 

My friend had success using the public computers in one of the mid-ship lounges, but had the same difficulty on her iPad.

 

Next: Dining

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DINING

 

The food was outstanding with the exception of a ribeye steak one evening which was a poor cut of meat.

 

Service in the dining room was excellent. The Hotel Director and Associate Hotel Director, along with some other managers, were visible in the dining room and helped the serving staff when needed. They assisted in pouring coffee and wine, delivering food to the tables and checking to ensure everyone was happy.

 

Next: Entertainment

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Entertainment

 

I enjoyed the entertainment onboard. My friend and I went to the entertainment all of the evenings except for one evening when we dined onshore in St. Augustine. The entertainment each evening was musicians/vocalists. During entertainment, they bring around popcorn, root beer floats and ice cream sundaes, just in case you are still hungry. Fun!

 

There was trivia, bingo and a game of Family Feud offered at various times during the week. I went to one trivia session on movie trivia and it's a good thing I was part of a team as I knew the answers to only a few questions.

 

 

The Cruise Director on this cruise had a sense of humor, was energetic and engaged with the passengers. He was also very visible around the ship.

 

Next: Lectures/Enrichment

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Lectures/Enrichment

 

The lecturer onboard was a retired marine biologist. The lectures were on Florida and marine life. I.did.not.attend.a.single.lecture. I had good intentions to go, but seemed to always end up on the top deck watching the world go by on the intracoastal waterway. Everyone I spoke with who attended the lectures had all positive comments.

 

 

Just One More - Next : Ports & Shore Excursions

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DINING

 

 

 

The food was outstanding with the exception of a ribeye steak one evening which was a poor cut of meat.

 

 

 

Service in the dining room was excellent. The Hotel Director and Associate Hotel Director, along with some other managers, were visible in the dining room and helped the serving staff when needed. They assisted in pouring coffee and wine, delivering food to the tables and checking to ensure everyone was happy.

 

 

 

Next: Entertainment

 

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Thank you so much for posting this review. We will be doing the Revolutionary War itinerary (round trip Baltimore) next month—our first trip with American Cruise Lines. I had been concerned about the quality and availability of food onboard (I am a red-meat eater who doesn’t eat fish or shellfish). Your review sounds like the staff and management are responsive and helpful; they have already told me they can make something (more than a snack) available between meals since I have to eat frequently. We’re really excited about our trip!

 

 

Sent from my iPad using Forums

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Thank you so much for posting this review. We will be doing the Revolutionary War itinerary (round trip Baltimore) next month—our first trip with American Cruise Lines. I had been concerned about the quality and availability of food onboard (I am a red-meat eater who doesn’t eat fish or shellfish). Your review sounds like the staff and management are responsive and helpful; they have already told me they can make something (more than a snack) available between meals since I have to eat frequently. We’re really excited about our trip!

 

 

Sent from my iPad using Forums

 

The first day you are onboard there will be a designated time for anyone who has dietary restrictions or special requests to meet with the chef. Each morning at breakfast, you will receive a small paper menu with that day's appetizers, entrees, etc. and will be asked to mark the menu and return it to your server to give the chef an idea of how much to prepare for each menu item. If you change your mind or forget what you marked, it's not an issue as they always make extra. If there is nothing you care for on the menu, just write in what you'd like (i.e. a hamburger for lunch) and they'll accommodate you. Also, on this cruise, there was a vegan selection available each day for both lunch and dinner. Half portions are also available for most entrees. Enjoy your cruise!

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Ports & Shore Excursions:

 

As I mentioned earlier, our itinerary was adjusted as an one-hundred year old railroad bridge was down for repair and we were unable to proceed down the St. John's River.

 

Our first port was Brunswick, Georgia which is not on the usual itinerary, but was added as a port due to the railroad bridge being under repair. I had previously been on the Historic South & Golden Isles cruise in 2016 which stopped here. This is the port for Jekyll Island and St. Simon Island, Georgia. The shore excursions were Jekyll Island and Sea Turtle Center, St. Simon Island and Sea Turtle Center, St. Simon Shopping (you are dropped off in a central shopping district for two hours on your own) and Lady Jane Shrimp Boat Experience. I had previously been on the Jekyll Island and St. Simon Island tours (offered at that time without the Sea Turtle Center) and liked them both. My friend took the Jekyll Island and Sea Turtle Center Tour on this cruise and gave it a positive review.

 

We both went on the Lady Jane Shrimp Boat Experience. If you port in Brunswick, Georgia on any cruise with ACL, I really recommend this shrimp boat experience. The shrimp trawler holds an educational license and there is a naturalist on board that was excellent. It goes out into the estuaries and makes a total of three drags. The net after each drag then drops whatever marine life is caught onto a table in the shrimp boat and the naturalist explains what was found in the net. The marine life is then released back into the estuary. I also learned a lot about the shrimping industry. An unique experience.

 

The small town of Brunswick is within walking distance of the dock. There are some shops and restaurants. If you'd like to just shop, your better option is the St. Simon Shopping excursion.

 

 

Next Port: Amelia Island/Fernandina Beach

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Amelia Island/Fernandina Beach, FL

 

I should point out that this cruise is all about what I call "Old Florida". Amelia Island/Fernandina Beach is really a summer resort, so there were not a lot of visitors when we were there. We anchored off of Fernandina Beach and tendered in as the dock was destroyed in Hurricane Irma and was still waiting to be repaired.

 

There were two shore excursions offered: A walking tour of Fernandina Beach and an Amelia Island River Cruise. I signed on to both; however, the Amelia Island River Cruise which was in the afternoon was cancelled at lunch as the weather was deteriorating (rain).

 

I enjoy learning about the history and culture of places I visit and the walking tour - it was more of a stroll for 90 minutes - took us by many historic places such as Florida's oldest inn and Florida's oldest bar complete with saloon doors. Our walking tour guide was a native of Fernandina Beach and had previously been a lecturer onboard for ACL. Fifteen were on the walking tour.

 

Once you take the tender, it drops you right off in town and you can certainly explore the town on your own. There are a number of unique shops, restaurants and of course a place that sells fudge. The tender ride was only about 5 minutes.

 

Next Port: St. Augustine (Including Green Cove Springs and Palatka, FL)

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St. Augustine, Florida

 

We were anchored/docked at St. Augustine for three nights. We were required to anchor until around 8:30 p.m. each evening and then we were permitted to dock for the night. Hurricane Irma was again the culprit in limiting our access to dock space. Tenders ran when we were anchored and the ride into the marina took 15-20 mins.

 

We had two full days here. The second full day there were two shore excursions offered in St. Augustine, a trolley tour of the city and a visit to an alligator farm which also had a rookery. My friend took the alligator farm excursion mainly to see the rookery as we were told the birds there were nesting. She gave it a "thumbs up" and I heard positive comments from others. I've seen many alligators in my lifetime, so I passed on this experience.

 

I was in St. Augustine ten+ years ago and had seen many of the sites. It's Florida's oldest city, founded in 1565 by Spanish explorers and very historic with lots to do. I took the trolley tour and it was a one hour overview of the city. It was o.k. for an overview, but my recommendation would be to buy a hop-on, hop-off trolley ticket on your own and just spend a day exploring St. Augustine. The Red Train Tours is right at the marina. Another hop-on, hop-off trolley is Old Town Trolley which is a green and orange trolley. Walking is also always an option.

 

There are many nice shops and restaurants in St. Augustine. The first evening my friend and I dined in the city. Need a recommendation? Try the Columbia Restaurant, www.columbiarestaurant.com

 

The first full day we were anchored, shore excursions were offered to Green Cove Springs, Blue Springs State Park and Palatka. I'll be reviewing those next.

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Blue Springs State Park - If you signed on to this excursion, due to its length, you could not do the Green Cove Springs or Palatka excursions. A box lunch was provided that was selected at the time of signing up for the excursion. The excursion included a eco-boat tour with an opportunity to possibly see some manatees. Neither my friend nor I went on this excursion and I didn't hear enough feedback from others to further comment on it.

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Green Cove Springs - Green Cove Springs (pop. 7,000) is one of the places we would have docked had we been able to go down the St. John's River. There were two excursions offered, a walking tour and a carriage ride. The carriage ride was really two large wagons drawn by horses with a guide in each wagon. My friend and I opted for the walking tour. There were approximately 12 who took the walking tour. Our guide was a long-time resident of the town and was also a lecturer for ACL. He was going to be onboard in a couple of weeks for the Great Rivers of Florida cruise.

 

The attraction years ago was the warm mineral spring, known as the "Original Fountain of Youth". Back in the 19th century, it attracted many wealthy northerners who believed it promoted healing and was medicinal (some drank the water). As I was walking through the park where the spring flows, I could readily smell the sulpher from the spring. The spring also flows through a public swimming pool which it naturally heats (closed in the winter) and then down to the St. John's River.

 

The walking tour was 90 minutes and very worthwhile. We were transported by bus to the town, but if you are docked there, it would be easy to view the spring and explore on your own.

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Palatka - There was one excursion offered to Palatka, the Palatka City Experience. Only 8 opted for this excursion - only 8! It ended up being one of my favorites - second only to the Lady Jane Shrimp Boat experience. We toured the Bronson-Mulholland Home, an antebellum home built in 1854. It is now owned by the City of Palatka (pop.10,000) and was occupied by both Union and Confederate soldiers at different times during the Civil War. It has an otherwise interesting ownership history that can be found on the city's website, www.palatka-fl.gov/239/Bronson-Mulholland-House There is a small museum on the property and there was an opportunity to visit it.

 

We also toured the Grand Gables Inn, www.grandgablesinn.com It is now a bed and breakfast, the home was the former Sherman Conant Home, built in 1884. It features a turret and a tunnel in the basement that goes to the St. John's River. The turret is accessible by stairs and is not to be missed. There are only a few stairs down to the basement if you wish to view the tunnel.

 

Our third stop was at a railroad museum which is located at the Palatka Amtrak station. There are numerous railroad and Amtrak exhibits. The museum houses two very large and intricate model railroads, one of which depicts Palatka during the golden days of rail in Florida.There was an individual from a model railroading club there to provide explanation.

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Final Thoughts

 

The staff/crew was the very best of the five cruises I've been on with ACL. Great teamwork.

 

The only negative was the Wi-Fi. I hope ACL addresses this. The cruise was otherwise excellent.

 

Disembarkation was easy. I was provided with a tag for my luggage and put it outside my door the night before disembarkation. I identified my luggage outside the ship in the morning and it was loaded on the bus to the airport where I picked up my car from the airport parking lot and drove home. It was $20 for the bus to the airport if you did not reserve it in advance of the cruise.

 

Where am I going next? I've signed on to Puget Sound and San Juan Islands in September. Maybe I'll see you onboard!

Edited by SteelMagnolia9
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Final Thoughts

 

The staff/crew was the very best of the five cruises I've been on with ACL. Great teamwork.

 

The only negative was the Wi-Fi. I hope ACL addresses this. The cruise was otherwise excellent.

 

Disembarkation was easy. I was provided with a tag for my luggage and put it outside my door the night before disembarkation. I identified my luggage outside the ship in the morning and it was loaded on the bus to the airport where I picked up my car from the airport parking lot and drove home. It was $20 for the bus to the airport if you did not reserve it in advance of the cruise.

 

Where am I going next? I've signed on to Puget Sound and San Juan Islands in September. Maybe I'll see you onboard!

 

Thank you for the comprehensive review.

When, in September, are you doing the Puget Sound/San Juan Islands? We will be aboard ACL Spirit for the 15 September sailing. Perhaps we will see you then???

NRayH

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Thank you for the comprehensive review.

When, in September, are you doing the Puget Sound/San Juan Islands? We will be aboard ACL Spirit for the 15 September sailing. Perhaps we will see you then???

NRayH

 

My sailing is September 8th, also on the Spirit.

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My sailing is September 8th, also on the Spirit.

 

Perhaps (if so inclined) you could leave us a note on "things to know/consider" for us Ray and Janet - Cabin 310 ? It would be greatly appreciated. I am confident that either the Hotel Director, or Housekeeping Manager would be able to make this delivery possible, if you are so inclined.

Enjoy your cruise -- we fully expect to enjoy ours.

NRayH

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Perhaps (if so inclined) you could leave us a note on "things to know/consider" for us Ray and Janet - Cabin 310 ? It would be greatly appreciated. I am confident that either the Hotel Director, or Housekeeping Manager would be able to make this delivery possible, if you are so inclined.

Enjoy your cruise -- we fully expect to enjoy ours.

NRayH

 

I’ll be happy to do so. I’ll leave it with the Hotel Director.

 

Did you sign on to the pre-cruise package (hotel, Seattle city tour and transportation to the ship)?

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I’ll be happy to do so. I’ll leave it with the Hotel Director.

 

Did you sign on to the pre-cruise package (hotel, Seattle city tour and transportation to the ship)?

 

Thank you for agreeing to leave comments for us.

 

Yes, we did sign up for the pre-cruise package, mainly due to the pier being so far from center city (about 12 miles). We would normally stay a pre-night stay any way. The pre-night package also includes post cruise transfer to airport (almost 20 miles) where we will stay an extra night post cruise, as we usually also do. The extra hotel cost will actually be less than the additional airfare ( if we were flying on Sunday versus Monday), especially since we can stay using points for the hotel.

 

NRayH

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