All aboard Blount’s Grande Caribe, for a very different small ship experience

The Grande Caribe sails for Blount Small Ship Adventures

I’ve never met a boat I didn’t like. From huge ocean liners to historic paddle wheelers, if it floats on water, I’ll probably enjoy it. Each vessel seems to have its own charms and I always leave a voyage ready to take another one.

So I was curious to try Blount Small Ship Adventures. Someone described it as sort of like having a friend who has a wonderful yacht and invites you on a cruise. A talented chef prepares delicious meals. An attendant cleans the cabin. A friendly person organizes fun activities. And, best of all, a skilled captain carefully maneuvers the ship into small places where big ships can’t go.

It’s a wonderful way to travel America’s rivers and discover cities and towns from a water viewpoint.

So here we are.

This ship has a very low profile.

My sister Elaine and I are on the maiden voyage of Blount’s Grande Caribe from New Orleans to Nashville. Billed as “Southern Traces,” the 12-day cruise starts off on the mighty Mississippi River and ends up on the Cumberland River. It stops at such historic places as Mobile, Ala.; Columbus, Miss.; Pickwick, Tenn.; Kuttawa, Ky. and Nashville.

“It’s a beautiful part of the country,” says Capt. David Sylvaria. “Our cruises are very laid back and casual. That’s what our passengers like.”

In fact, many of the passengers we talked with our first day on the ship have taken multiple cruises with Blount and plan to take many more. Vern and Karen Taylor of Costa Mesa, Ca., have signed up for a month of cruising on the Grande Caribe, starting with our New Orleans to Nashville trip.

“When you watch the river and the scenery along the way, you feel like Lewis and Clark,” Karen says. “It doesn’t seem like it has changed much with time.”

Cabins are small but comfortable

What do repeat cruisers like best? Comfort and friendliness are most often described. No need to pack fancy clothes, suit coats and ties. Dress aboard a Blount ship is casual. It’s a no-frills cruise.

Children under 14 are not allowed. Most passengers are mature, well traveled, inquisitive and adventurous.

SMALL SHIP AMBIANCE

Built in 1997, the Grande Caribe is 184 feet long and has 48 cabins, plus a dining room and 180-degree vista view lounge. Cabins are small, ranging from 72 to 96 feet with twin or queen beds, private baths with separate showers and individually controlled air conditioning. Smoking is permitted only on the outside decks. Décor is simple and nautical.

Meals are one seating. On our trip, breakfast is at 8 a.m., lunch 12:30 p.m. and dinner 6:30 p.m. – unless a shore excursion means a change in dining time. On our first shore stop at Mobile, breakfast was served at 7 a.m. so we could take morning shore excursions before the ship departed at noon.

Dining is open seating. Sit wherever you like and switch off to meet more of the passengers, cruise director Jenn McDanieladvises. With a maximum capacity of 96 passengers, it is possible to quickly become acquainted with everyone. Fresh flowers on the tables and walls of windows with water views make it a pleasant place to eat.

Food is surprisingly good for such a small galley and staff. The menu is posted on a bulletin board every morning. No choices. As one traveler at our table said on the first day, that makes it all the easier because he doesn’t have to decide what he is going to order. The chef decides. However, anyone who has a special diet or food preference can alert the chef to make something else if the posted choices aren’t sufficient.

Studying the ship's route

Our cruise has just started but I’ve been very happy with the dining choices. Dinner last night was beef filet, mashed potatoes, salad, asparagus and key lime pie. Breakfast this morning was a huge buffet of maple oatmeal, cold cereal, fresh fruit, yogurt and stewed prunes. Then, when we were seated at our dining tables, servers brought big platters of scrambled eggs and bacon to go with the baskets of blueberry scones and toast for family-style dining.

Lunch was sausage and spinach soup – which sounds yucky and something I would never have ordered but was so good that it alone could have been my lunch – along with club sandwiches, pasta salad and brownies for dessert. Fruit and snacks are available 24 hours a day in the dining room and lounge.

UNUSUAL DRINK POLICY

The Grande Caribe wins major points with me for its drink system. It always irks me when a cruise ship charges extra for fountain soft drinks and the price is usually terribly inflated for a small cup of Coke. A shame but many of the ships will do that, especially the higher priced cruise lines.

Not the Grande Caribe. Coke products, juices, coffee, hot chocolate and tea are available 24 hours a day from self serve stations in the dining room and lounge.

The Grande Caribe also has a policy I have never seen on any ship. The Grande Caribe does not sell alcoholic drinks. Instead, passengers are invited to bring their own bottles, store them in the bar area or the ice chest of the lounge and help themselves whenever they want. The Grande Caribe offers all the mixers and garnishments necessary for most drinks. Cocktail hour is always the hour before lunch and dinner.

That way, cruise director Jenn points out, no one walks off a Blount ship owing a large bar bill. Plus, one or two nights on a cruise are complimentary open bar for passengers. The Grande Caribe really puts out a spread of appetizers plus bourbon, rum, vodka, gin, beer, wine, liqueurs and cocktails on those free drink evenings.

Those are just some of the things we’ve discovered on our first day on the ship. But it’s time to go to bed. In upcoming reports, I’ll share more about shore stops, shipboard activities, our fellow passengers and the man who created these unusual cruise ships that can go where others cannot.

That is a fascinating story in itself. Good night for now.

For more information: Contact Blount Small Ship Adventures at (800) 556-7450, www.BlountSmallShipAdventures.com.

Photos by Jackie Sheckler Finch

 

 

 

About Jackie

Jackie Sheckler Finch fell in love with cruising 35 years ago when she rode the magnificent Mississippi Queen riverboat in its inaugural 1976 voyage. A newspaper reporter, photographer and travel writer, Jackie has cruised on large and small vessels on numerous rivers and oceans. Read more...

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