The last town we visited on a six day American Cruise Lines (ACL) cruise on the Chesapeake Bay was Annapolis, the capital of Maryland, the home of the US Naval Academy, and one more elegant, yet charming and historic town amid a handful of elegant, charming and historic towns on the Bay. Yet each has its own personality.
Annapolis was the only port where we anchored offshore and went by small boat into the harbor, the center of town and the naval academy campus both within walking distance. The town is similar to Highlands with its steep hills overlooking the water, but crammed full of 18th century homes, B&Bs, hotels, shops and services for everything from psychics to crab houses. (of course!) Here ACL cruisers had the option of signing up for a guided walking tour of the city, or better yet, doing it on your own, and counting on friendly locals to answer questions and tell you something about their town.
Because of Covid, tours of the Naval Academy were not allowed, but it was still possible to walk onto the campus grounds by way of the Barry Gate, and chat with cadets simply enjoying a bench in the sun, or in uniform, heading out to town for entertainment, amusement, or to meet old friends.
Just inside the Barry Gate is a great statue of the Commodore and founder of the US Navy, thanks to the Irish. The Hibernians wanted their Irish Founding Father to re recognized at the Academy so requested the statue. They got it ten years ago, after a long struggle, but then they also achieved the Barry Gate and Barry Plaza.
The Hibernians originally asked for a memorial; after years of arguing, meeting, being denied, fighting again, they finally were heard and the Barry acknowledgements on one side of the campus were created. The statue and memorial tell the story of the Irish immigrant who served his adopted country and its Navy and was commissioned by President Washington as its first flag officer.
Walking up the hill to St. Mary of the Assumption Church, I wanted to see the home of Charles Carroll of Carrolton, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, as well as the richest man in all the colonies and the signer who lived the longest after the Declaration. He was born in the house still standing on the Carroll family estate, just behind St. Mary’s and across from St. Mary’s elementary and high schools. Tours to his house were closed due to Covid, however, high school kids enjoying the grounds at lunch time are full of the history of their local Founding Father and great fun to talk with. Even so, neither they, nor anyone within the church, nor anyone I spoke with in town, knew why he was known as Charles Carroll of Carrolton rather than Carroll of Annapolis, son of Charles Carrol, also born in Annapolis, and grandson of Charles Carroll born in Ireland, but not Carrolton. I never got an answer.
I did, however, learn from a crab marketer sitting at the Harbor and eager to talk about his beloved Maryland, about the feud between the Maryland crabbers and the Virginia crabbers. He, born and raised in Maryland, was happy to point out, of course, the Virginians ruined the industry, crossed over the line in the bay dividing the state, made laws not stringent enough to protect the crabs, and so much more, a great hour or so of friendly conversation.
Back aboard the Independence for our last night at sea, a farewell dinner and exchange of e-mails and addresses with new friends, a short trip to Baltimore, then an early rising the last morning to depart the ship by 8:30 a.m. to give the crew time to refurbish, scrub, clean, wash, and get ready for the next cruise that afternoon.
Was it a great trip! Absolutely! Is the Bay incredibly beautiful and full of history? Undoubtedly. Could American Cruise Lines have done it better! You bet. And they should, before they lose their reputation for excellence. But I have my doubts that they will. It seems that because of Covid, they have simply lowered their standards, and don’t think little things are important despite the high cost of the cruise.
I’ve cruised the Mississippi and a few other rivers on ACL and until now found them to be impeccable in their dedication to excellence, and downright pampering of their passengers. But Covid apparently gave them an excuse to lower their standards. It was understandable some tours would be cancelled, since the on-land museums or points of interest said no to visitors. We knew that before we boarded. But taking on new crew members with little experience, no knowledge of anything about the ship, the company, the towns visited, or even their jobs aboard ship, and expecting high paying customers to be guinea pigs in their initial training aboard ship is a bit much. Having room attendants knock on the door at 7:30 the last day to see if he could come in and “strip your bed” before leaving means he either had the day off as soon as he finished refurbishing the rooms, or there weren’t enough attendants on board to complete the job in the time allowed. Better to intrude on the customer to leave a lasting reminder the next customers are more important than those who are departing.
Having the daily Ship to Shore news sheet that announces events, times, programs, options and so much more be in error on several items, including the date, is one thing. But having the cruise director say what difference does it make, you’re here, makes me wonder why they took the time and money to print it every day in the first place. Saying there were ‘special treats’ for the Eagle Society members, those travelers who have traveled with ACL before, then inviting everyone aboard to join in is a minor insult if the announced special isn’t really special. Having another announcement that the Captain would meet with passengers, but then failing to do so, with no explanation or reason why, is downright insulting.
These were just the little things. It really started with inefficiency and lack of knowledge of staff members while I was booking the trip. Never got responses to those concerns either. But I booked anyway. So when a cabin for a single person, complete with a private balcony costs over $5,000 or approximately $950 a day, am I wrong to expect a company that has class to show that class?
Will I travel ACL again? Well, I filled out all their forms asking for comments on the trip. Didn’t hear anything. Wrote an e-mail outlining my major complaints. Didn’t hear anything. Wrote again. Got an e-mail back saying ‘Upper staff is looking at your complaints.” Never heard anything from “Upper Staff.” Finally wrote the President by certified mail. Haven’t had a response to that yet. But maybe that’s what generated the response to one of my earlier e-mails in the e-mail I just received. It was an email, a standard, corporate, let’s just shut her up response, allegedly from the president of the company, to whom I had written two letters to which he never responded. The e-mail standard response wasn’t signed, nor even with a stamped signature! Just the typewritten name of the ACL president. Sure, it said, we’ve received your complaints and we’ve made changes. But no apology. No explanation of what changes they made. However, the letter said, they did take the time to research the other cruises I’ve looked into and told me if I wanted to book something by the end of summer, they’d give me a couple of thousand dollars off the price. Really? So corporate’s answer is to buy me? For a lesser price, but another investment on my part, I should subject myself to the same problems I complained about without even an apology? I should pay a few thousand dollars once again with no guarantee anything I talked about was being improved? Isn’t this a business that’s supposed to cater to people? Don’t they need the business of a woman who has traveled extensively and who thinks that for $1,000 a day she should receive courtesy, respect, and at least attempts at perfection?
There’s always American Queen which I also know is spectacular from past experience. And there’s Pearl Cruises going to the Great Lakes, which looks exciting. If I wanted to go back to Europe, I know from several past experiences Viking is super spectacular. All of which makes it seem to me that ACL either wants, nor needs my $1,000 a day. They’ve made the choice. I’m so happy I have other choices!