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River cruising in America surges


Courtesy Blount Small Ship Adventures
Without Luther Blount, America may never have seen the river cruising boom it enjoys today.
Blount, a shipbuilder and founder of his own cruise line, Blount Small Ship Adventures, developed many inventions and gained 20 patents for technology that would help improve navigation for small ships on America’s rivers during the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s. His innovations include the shallow-draft bow landing ramp, which allows passengers to walk right off the ship onto a dock, and the retractable pilothouse, which allows his ships to go under many low bridges.

Blount’s inventions helped his ships gain access to remote American destinations that larger ships could not reach. Today, those ships are just some of the numerous overnight passenger vessels plying American rivers.

Blount Small Ship Adventures

The popularity of domestic river cruising reflects the surge in overall cruise growth and a desire to explore America in leisurely style. It’s paying off well for Blount.

“Blount Small Ship Adventures has certainly seen the effects of a renewed interest in river cruising,” said Nancy Blount, president of Blount Small Ship Adventures and daughter of the late shipbuilder. “Over the past two years, the company has averaged 15 percent growth, and we are continuing to expand as a result. We have brought back some of our classic itineraries, including Maine, the Bahamas and New Orleans to Chicago. Plus, we’ve extended our season into November, December and January to meet the demand.”

One of the company’s most popular itineraries is a 16-day trip from Warren, Rhode Island, to Chicago. Along the way, passengers sail on the Long Island Sound, the Hudson River, the Erie Canal, the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Great Lakes.

“It is a huge advantage over oceangoing vessels that have to travel around the Gaspé Peninsula and go up the coast of Maine and Nova Scotia [to try to follow that same Blount shipping route],” Blount said.

The Blount route also pays off handsomely for passengers with striking water views of such cities as New York and Chicago and contrasting panoramic views of rural areas of Eastern and Midwestern states along America’s most historic waterways.

Of course, Blount can take passengers on other excursions along America’s East Coast or north up around the Canadian border to Lake Champlain or the Georgian Bay, or into America’s interior along the long and winding Mississippi River.

Many groups travel on Blount ships; they include just about any kind you can name — alumni, church, bank customers, elderhostel and many more.

“They create their own little fun. On our small ships, passengers feel comfortable, hang out together,” said Esther Pato, reservations manager for the ship line. “It’s not like a big ship, where they might not see each other all week. They eat together, have a drink together. It’s a real bonding time,” she said.

“What is most memorable,” said Blount, “and why people keep coming back again and why groups return is because when they’re on board, the crew makes an effort to remember them, some by name, and such things as how people like their tea or coffee. That makes passengers feel special. They feel like they’re traveling with family.”