Review of American Melody Cruise: Small Ship Cruising Done Perfectly

Standing on shore, spectators looked as though they doubted whether the beautiful American Melody could dock in such a tiny place.  Mississippi River was low. Rocks lined the water’s edge. No dock built here.

But the American Melody neatly maneuvered next to the shore, opened its unusual bow and lowered a platform for passengers to easily walk ashore.

Amazing! No wonder people often line up to watch the riverboat dock at many of its destinations along America’s waterways.

“Never seen a large boat do that,” Samuel Mitchell says, snapping photos with his cellphone as he stood onshore. “One of these days, I’m hoping to cruise on her because I know it must be great.”

The Natchez man was totally right. It is great to cruise on the American Melody. For our eight-day cruise, my grandson Logan and I traveled from Memphis to New Orleans with interesting stops and shore excursions along the way. American Cruise Lines’ motto is “Small Ship Cruising Done Perfectly.” Our cruise certainly showed that to be true.

Logan at Gladys’ Diner at Graceland where diners are invited to sit in the Cadillac to eat.

Although he is an adult, Logan was the youngest passenger onboard the American Melody. He never got bored. After all, a cruise is what each passenger wants it to be. For us, the cruise was a chance to see more of America from our country’s great waterways and to spend time together.

“Cruising with my grandmother on the Mississippi River was truly unforgettable,” Logan says. “From Graceland to the Peabody duck march and Vicksburg National Military Park, each moment held its own charm. The journey’s richness was heightened by the shared experience, making it even more memorable.”

Boarding American Melody: Rating 10/10

American Cruise Lines certainly knows how to make boarding a ship as easy as possible. When Logan and I arrived at Memphis International Airport after our flight from Indiana, all we had to do was pick up a phone at a large sign near airport baggage claim and call The Guest House at Graceland to send a complimentary shuttle for us.

American Cruise Lines has an excellent program where passengers arrive one night early for a cruise and stay at a local hotel. With the way airline flights can be delayed or cancelled, that is a smart feature to make sure that cruise line passengers have extra time to get to the cruise departure destination.

American Cruise Lines also offers a two-day pre-cruise “Elvis Experience.” That means two nights at The Guest House plus admission to Graceland. That extra night or two allows passengers a chance to see the historic city, get a good night’s sleep, eat breakfast and leisurely board the riverboat.

The morning of embarkation, Logan and I put our luggage inside our Guest House door for transfer to a cruise coach while we went to breakfast at the hotel’s Delta’s Kitchen, so named for Elvis’ Aunt Delta, his father’s sister.

Delta moved into Graceland in 1966 after the death of her husband and lived there the longest. Even after Graceland opened to the public in 1982, Delta lived in a room near the kitchen until her death in 1993. Tours stayed out of the kitchen and Delta’s room while she lived there.

The Guest House buffet was complimentary and offered a bounty of tasty food. After checking out of our room, we met with other passengers in The Guest House lobby at 9:15 a.m. to board a large cruise coach for a three-hour Memphis City Exploration.

The cruise coach tour is an excellent way to showcase a bit of Memphis while the American Melody prepared for our arrival. After all, passengers from the previous cruise had disembarked that morning so I’m sure the ship’s crew needed time to ready the ship for us.

Stops on the excursion included the historic Peabody Hotel to watch the famous duck march; Sun Studio where Elvis recorded his first record; Beale Street for a quick walk along the music mecca and the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King was assassinated and is now The National Civil Rights Museum.

When we arrived at the American Melody, our staterooms were ready with our luggage already delivered to our staterooms and lunch being served in the ship dining room. No long lines to board. No paperwork to do. No waits for our luggage to arrive. Or not to arrive.

With a guest capacity of 180, our cruise had 166 passengers and 46 crew members. The average age for passengers was 72. States with most passengers were Florida, Tennessee and California.

American Melody Ship: Rating 10/10

Launched in 2021, the five-deck American Melody has 91 staterooms, all with private balconies with full-length sliding glass doors. The ship has several spacious lounges, fitness center, large dining room, café for casual dining, sun deck, library and an impressive four-story glass atrium in the center of the ship.

Beautiful artwork aboard the American Melody

Founded in 1991, American Cruise Lines specializes in small-ship coastal and river cruises throughout the United States. Each American Cruise Lines vessel is a traditional USA-built (at Chesapeake Shipbuilding in Salisbury, Maryland) as well as American-flagged and crewed.

The series of six modern American riverboats all have musical names – American Melody, American Jazz, American Song, American Harmony, American Serenade and American Symphony.

Although that fascinating ship’s bow is certainly an attention getter, it also has a very important function. Not only is the ship a sleek beauty, she also has that bow that opens like some mythical creature’s jaws. Then a retractable gangway can be extended from the bow for passengers to comfortably walk on or off the ship. With its shallow draft and unique bow, the American Melody can dock in places other ships might have to pass by.

The vessel’s décor is elegant with a serene color palette, high-quality woodwork, beautiful furniture, well-planned lighting and plenty of places for a quiet time or to socialize with others. For those who like to stretch their legs, the upper deck offers a lovely walkway with ever-changing sights as the American Melody cruises the river.

The Sky Lounge

On Deck 3 forward, the River Lounge serves as entertainment center for musical performances, games, talks by guest speaker Jim Schweickart and rundowns of the next day’s events by cruise director Colin and excursions director Meg. Titled “Chart Your Course,” the preview of tomorrow’s activities was quite useful and not to be missed.

With no theater on the ship, the crew was kept busy arranging and rearranging chairs for different River Lounge uses.

River Lounge with seats arranged for game time

Our Stateroom: Rating 10/10

Opening the door to our stateroom for the first time is always exciting. Outside our cabin door was a neat gadget that replaces those awkward “Do Not Disturb” signs that seem to fall off door handles or get lost. All we have to do is turn the message in the gadget to “Welcome,” meaning the cabin attendant can enter to clean or turn it to “Do Not Disturb” meaning exactly that.

Located on Deck 4, the cabin that Logan and I shared had big comfy beds with quality bed linens and duvets, two pillows and a cushion on each bed, nightstands and lamps beside either bed, two cushy chairs pushed together to make a small sofa at the bottom of our beds, a mini fridge, large flat screen TV, long dresser with plenty of drawers, two chairs and a desk with a Keurig coffeemaker.

Our stateroom 426

Even for two people, the stateroom had enough electric outlets for our cellphones, camera and computers. The big bathroom had plenty of hot water and great water pressure. That isn’t always the case on cruise ships so I was quite happy.

‘Ship to Shore’ Newsletter: Rating 10/10

Our cabin was cleaned every day with a turndown each night including a chocolate candy and a copy of the daily “Ship to Shore” newsletter. The double-sided newsletter contained a wealth of information – when the dining room and Ellipse Cafe served meals, hours when ship services were open, when the boat would dock in each river town and what time the boat would depart.

The front page of the newsletter featured weather for the day, free WiFi network and password, important phone numbers for crew officials, information about the day’s shore stops, the evening entertainment and more.

Details about the various cities along our cruise route was fascinating. For example, did you know that Graceland, home of Elvis Presley, is the second most visited private home in America, next to the White House in Washington, DC?

The reverse side of the Ship to Shore newsletter, titled “River Rundown,” had a valuable listing of the day’s activities aboard the ship, including games, entertainment and guest speaker programs.

Dining: Rating 10/10

Alcoholic drinks and soft drinks are complimentary on the American Melody. A great idea since it can get very tiresome signing expensive drink bills on cruise ships. I paid almost $5 for a can of Coke one time (price included port tax and gratuity). Never again.

The ship had a nice choice of beer, wine and custom-made cocktails. My lunch favorite was Abita lager beer since it is not easily available at home.

 

Dining room table where we dined with three other couples.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner were served in the dining room. Breakfast from 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m., lunch from noon to 1:30 p.m. and dinner from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Plus snacks and other food were available around the clock on the ship.

A more casual breakfast and lunch was served in the open-air terrace Ellipse Café on Deck 4 aft. Just order what you want and have it delivered to wherever you are sitting – inside or outside.

Ellipse Café breakfast from 6:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. featured scrambled eggs, breakfast pastries, yogurt, fruit and berry salad, smoked fish platter, bacon or sausage, oatmeal or grits and the daily creation breakfast sandwich.

For lunch, the Ellipse Café served from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. for fresh baked pepperoni or four cheese pizza, hamburger or veggie burger, grilled hot dogs, chicken salad wrap, albacore tuna salad wrap, tortilla chips and salsa and nachos with cheese sauce or chili. Throughout the day, the Café Bar served complimentary drinks, light snacks and water.

At 5:30 p.m., it was time for cocktail hour in the River Lounge. There were so many hors d-oeuvres and cocktails offered that it would have been easy to substitute cocktail hour for dinner in the dining room.

Then there was always something to eat available 24 hours a day in the Sky Lounge. The setup was very handy and unusual on a ship. A choice of boxes of cereal, packages of assorted nuts, candy and snack bars were always in the Sky Lounge as well as microwaveable noodle soup. Fruit and pastries were often set out on the bar counter. In the self-serve fridge, passengers could always get cartons of milk, soft drinks, fruit drinks and water.

Every dining room menu had good options and the food was delicious. Sometimes I ordered half serving of an entrée and it definitely was enough. Servers were friendly and did their best to serve food quickly. Everything I ordered was tasty and cooked the way I liked it. Chef and crew did a great job.

Snack area in the Sky Lounge is always open.

Entertainment: Rating 8/10

A talented pianist, Steve Merritt was the onboard entertainer in the ship’s River Lounge which served as the onboard theatre. Other musicians were brought aboard at different stops – the Sole Shakers blues group, Mel & Leah’s “Music from the Movies,” Waylon & Dwight’s “Country Cajun Show,” and Judy Whitney-Davis’ combo of humor and vocals.

Waylon and Dwight’s Country Cajun Show

One evening, guest speaker Jim Schweickart took passengers on a whirlwind tour through the history of the guitar. He shared songs from Chet Atkins, Les Paul, James Taylor, George Harrison and other guitar heroes.

Guest speaker Jim Schweickart heads off for a shore excursion.

During the day, passengers also could play cards, bingo, trivia games and an unusual game called “Two Truths and One Lie” in which passengers shared three things about themselves. However, one of these “facts” was a lie and the challenge was to figure out which was true and which was false. Sounds simple but it wasn’t. Some very interesting folks on our cruise.

Shore Excursions: Rating 10/10

The American Melody offered an excellent choice of shore excursions whenever the ship docked. Logan and I had scheduled our tours before we left home. American Cruise Lines offers detailed online information about the tours along with a “Physical Activity Level” to let passengers know if an excursion required low, moderate or high physical activity and how long the tour would last.

Logan listening to the docent at Oak Alley Plantation.

Each stop offered free shore excursions along with one or two excursions that cost extra. Logan and I took the complimentary tours and were never disappointed. Among our favorites was Houmas House and Gardens. American Melody was docked right across the road from Houmas House and it was easy to stroll over to see the famous 16-room plantation. We didn’t even have to worry about crossing the road. An overpass created a pleasant place to walk from the riverbank to Houmas House.

Houmas House

But passengers who had mobility problems or didn’t want to walk could take the cruise coach or ride on one of the ship’s onboard golf carts driven by a crew member.

Houmas House is where the old 1964 Bette Davis/Joan Crawford movie, “Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte,” was filmed. Make that the Bette Davis movie. Joan and Bette got into a fight so Joan packed her bags and went back to Hollywood. They got Olivia de Havilland to replace Joan and had to reshoot all Joan’s scenes.

A Houmas House bedroom is where Bette Davis stayed. Her hat and purse are placed on the bed as though she has just stepped out for a cocktail and plans to return.

Bette Davis’ bedroom at Houmas House

For other stops, Logan and I liked to take the ship’s hop-on, hop-off cruise coach loop ride to showcase what the town has to offer. A local guide aboard the bus pointed out sights and shared history of the town. Then Logan and I would start the ride over again and get off for the places we wanted to visit. The cruise coach usually would come around again every half hour to pick up passengers for other stops or to return to the ship.

The American Cruise Lines cruise coaches are easy to spot with red, white and blue American Cruise Lines logos. The cruise coaches follow along on the cruise to make sure that transportation is always there when and where it is needed. The coaches are very large and comfortable with air conditioning, heat and complimentary bottles of water.

A cruise coach follows the American Melody for transportation when the ship docks.

For shore excursions, the cruise coaches have several front seats set aside for passengers who have difficulty walking or climbing. The motorcoach drivers stow wheelchairs and walkers in the vehicles’ under- bus luggage compartments and have the devices waiting when passengers disembark from the cruise coach.

An unusual and enjoyable shore excursion was the “Cochon De Lait Experience” at The Oyster Bar near St. Francisville. For the free lunch, we climbed aboard the cruise coach for a ride to Bayou Sara for a true Louisiana treat. Cochon de lait is the art of cooking a pig before an open hardwood fire, a custom that began at least a century ago.

A complimentary shore excursion offered lunch and entertainment at The Oyster Bar.

Lunch was ready when we arrived including the pork, Louisiana boudin, potato salad, green beans, vegetable salad, bread, crackers and sauces, plus beer, wine and soft drinks. Pronounced “Boo-Dan,” boudin is a cooked sausage made from pork meat and rice, plus various vegetables and seasonings, all stuffed in a natural pork casing.

Lunch also included Cajun music from two musicians as well as dancing which some of our passengers joined in. Then we boarded the cruise coach to ride back to the ship with enough time to take another St. Francisville excursion that afternoon.

A lunch plate at The Oyster Bar at Bayou Sara, Louisiana

Our Itinerary:

Day 1 – Memphis

Day 2 – River Cruising

Day 3 – Vicksburg, MS

Day 4 – Natchez, MS

Day 5 – St. Francisville, LA

Day 6 – Baton Rouge, LA

Day 7 – Houmas House, LA

Day 8 – New Orleans

Disembarkation: 10/10

Disembarking from American Melody was as easy as embarking. Only, Logan and I didn’t want to leave. American Melody and its crew has a way of making people feel so welcomed that it was difficult to pack up and walk off. In fact, quite a few passengers said they had already booked their next American Cruise Lines cruise. I can certainly understand that.

Included in Cruise Costs: Rating 10/10

American Cruise Lines doesn’t nickel and dime passengers as some other ships do.

On American Melody, these are the costs included in the fare:

– All onboard alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages

– All meals (no specialty restaurants or added costs)

– All ship gratuities for ship staff.

– Pre-cruise hotel stay

– Most shore excursions.

American Melody can dock along the river where many other ships can’t.

Photos by Jackie Sheckler Finch

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